August 20th, 2017

TECH Tip: Safe Loading Practices for Different Bullet Shapes

USAMU Reloading Bullet Safety

This article, from the USAMU Facebook Page, concerns reloading safety. In the relentless quest for more speed and flatter ballistics, some hand-loaders load way too hot, running charges that exceed safe pressure levels. Hint: If you need a mallet to open your bolt, chances are your load is too hot. Stay within safe margins — your equipment will last longer, and you won’t risk an injury caused by over-pressure. In this article, the USAMU explains that you need to account for bullet shape, diameter, and bearing surface when working up a load. Don’t assume that a load which is safe for one bullet will be safe for another even if both bullets are exactly the same weight.

USAMU Reloading tips Army Marksmanship

Today, we continue our handloading safety theme, focusing on not inadvertently exceeding the boundaries of known, safe data.

Bullet manufacturers’ loading manuals often display three, four, or more similar-weight bullets grouped together with one set of load recipes. The manufacturer has tested these bullets and developed safe data for that group. However, seeing data in this format can tempt loaders — especially new ones — to think that ALL bullets of a given weight and caliber can interchangeably use the same load data. Actually, not so much.

The researchers ensure their data is safe with the bullet yielding the highest pressure. Thus, all others in that group should produce equal or less pressure, and they are safe using this data.

However, bullet designs include many variables such as different bearing surface lengths, hardness, and even slight variations in diameter. In fact, diameters can occasionally range up to 0.001″ by design. Thus, choosing untested bullets of the same weight and caliber, and using them with data not developed for them can yield excess pressures.

This is only one of the countless reasons not to begin at or very near the highest pressure loads during load development. Always begin at the starting load and look for pressure signs as one increases powder charges.

Bullet Bearing Surface and Pressure
Bullet bearing surface length (BSL) is often overlooked when considering maximum safe powder charges and pressures. In Photo 1, note the differences in the bullets’ appearance. All three are 7 mm, and their maximum weight difference is just five grains. Yet, the traditional round nose, flat base design on the left appears to have much more BSL than the sleeker match bullets. All things being equal, based on appearance, the RN/FB bullet seems likely to reach maximum pressure with significantly less powder than the other two designs.

Photo 1: Three Near-Equal-Weight 7mm Bullets with Different Shapes
USAMU Bullet Ogive Comparison Safety Reloading

Due to time constraints, the writer used an approximate, direct measurement approach to assess the bullets’ different BSLs. While fairly repeatable, the results were far from ballistics engineer-grade. Still, they are adequate for this example.

Bullet 1 (L-R), the RN/FB, has a very slight taper and only reaches its full diameter (0.284 inch) very near the cannelure. This taper is often seen on similar bullets; it helps reduce pressures with good accuracy. The calculated BSL of Bullet 1 was ~0.324″. The BSL of Bullet 2, in the center, was ~0.430″, and Bullet 3’s was ~ 0.463″. Obviously, bullets can be visually deceiving as to BSL!

Some might be tempted to use a bullet ogive comparator (or two) to measure bullets’ true BSL for comparison’s sake. Unfortunately, comparators don’t typically measure maximum bullet diameter and this approach can be deluding.

Photo 2: The Perils of Measuring Bearing Surface Length with Comparators
USAMU Bullet Ogive Comparision Safety Reloading

In Photo 2, two 7mm comparators have been installed on a dial caliper in an attempt to measure BSL. Using this approach, the BSLs differed sharply from the original [measurements]. The comparator-measured Bullet 1 BSL was 0.694” vs. 0.324” (original), Bullet 2 was 0.601” (comparator) vs. 0.430” (original), and Bullet 3 (shown in Photo 2) was 0.602” (comparator) vs. 0.463” (original). [Editor’s comment — Note the very large difference for Bullet 1, masking the fact that the true full diameter on this bullet starts very far back. You can use comparators on calipers, but be aware that this method may give you deceptive reading — we’ve seen variances just by reversing the comparators on the calipers, because the comparators, typically, are not perfectly round, nor are they machined to precision tolerances.]

Thanks to the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit for allowing the reprint of this article.

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