March 24th, 2018

Humidity and Powder Burn Rates — What You Need to Know

Tech Tip Norma Powder gunpowder moisture temperature humidity

Most shooters realize that significant changes in temperature will alter how powders perform. That’s why you want to keep your loaded ammo out of the hot sun, and keep rounds out of a hot chamber until you’re ready to fire. But there are other factors to be considered — HUMIDITY for one. This article explains why and how humidity can affect powder burn rates and performance.

We’ve all heard the old adage: “Keep your powder dry”. Well, tests by Norma have demonstrated that even normal environmental differences in humidity can affect the way powders burn, at least over the long term. In the Norma Reloading Manual, Sven-Eric Johansson, head of ballistics at Nexplo/Bofors, presents a very important discussion of water vapor absorption by powder. Johansson demonstrates that the same powder will burn at different rates depending on water content.

Powders Leave the Factory with 0.5 to 1.0% Water Content
Johansson explains that, as manufactured, most powders contain 0.5 to 1% of water by weight. (The relative humidity is “equilibrated” at 40-50% during the manufacturing process to maintain this 0.5-1% moisture content). Importantly, Johansson notes that powder exposed to moist air for a long time will absorb water, causing it to burn at a slower rate. On the other hand, long-term storage in a very dry environment reduces powder moisture content, so the powder burns at a faster rate. In addition, Johansson found that single-base powders are MORE sensitive to relative humidity than are double-base powders (which contain nitroglycerine).

Tests Show Burn Rates Vary with Water Content
In his review of the Norma Manual, Fred Barker notes: “Johansson gives twelve (eye-opening) plots of the velocities and pressures obtained on firing several popular cartridges with dehydrated, normal and hydrated Norma powders (from #200 to MRP). He also gives results on loaded .30-06 and .38 Special cartridges stored for 663 to 683 days in relative humidities of 20% and 86%. So Johansson’s advice is to keep powders tightly capped in their factory containers, and to minimize their exposure to dry or humid air.”

Confirming Johansson’s findings that storage conditions can alter burn rates, Barker observes: “I have about 10 pounds of WWII 4831 powder that has been stored in dry (about 20% RH) Colorado air for more than 60 years. It now burns about like IMR 3031.”

What does this teach us? First, all powders start out with a small, but chemically important, amount of water content. Second, a powder’s water content can change over time, depending on where and how the powder is stored. Third, the water content of your powder DOES make a difference in how it burns, particularly for single-base powders. For example, over a period of time, a powder used (and then recapped) in the hot, dry Southwest will probably behave differently than the same powder used in the humid Southeast.

Reloaders are advised to keep these things in mind. If you want to maintain your powders’ “as manufactured” burn rate, it is wise to head Johannson’s recommendation to keep your powders tightly capped when you’re not actually dispensing charges and avoid exposing your powder to very dry or very humid conditions. The Norma Reloading Manual is available from Amazon.com.

Real-World Example — “Dry” H4831sc Runs Hotter

Robert Whitley agrees that the burn rate of the powder varies with the humidity it absorbs. Robert writes: “I had an 8-lb. jug of H4831SC I kept in my detached garage (it can be humid there). 43.5-44.0 gr of this was superbly accurate with the 115 Bergers out of my 6mm Super X. I got tired of bringing it in and out of the garage to my house for reloading so I brought and kept the jug in my reloading room (a dehumidified room in my house) and after a few weeks I loaded up 43.5 gr, went to a match and it shot awful. I could not figure out what was going on until I put that load back over the chronograph and figured out it was going a good bit faster than before and the load was out of the “sweet spot” (42.5 – 43.0 gr was the max I could load and keep it accurate when it was stored in less humid air). I put the jug back in the garage for a few weeks and I now am back to loading 43.5 – 44.0 gr and it shoots great again. I have seen this with other powders too.”

If you have two jugs of the same powder, one kept in a room in your house and one somewhere else where it is drier or more humid, don’t expect the two jugs of the same lot of powder to chrono the same with the same charge weights unless and until they are both stored long enough in the same place to equalize again.

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March 24th, 2018

Wave Pattern POI — How Barrel Tuners Alter Point of Impact

Tuner Pascal Bukys Point of Impact shift test 6 PPC benchrest

6PPC Pascal Fischbach Bukys Barrel Tuner sine waveHave a good look at the photos below — this may be one of the most noteworthy target strings we’ve ever published. What you can see is the effect of barrel tuner position on point of impact (POI). You can clearly see that the tuner position alters the up/down POI location in a predictable fashion.

This remarkable 15-shot sequence was shot by French benchrester Pascal Fischbach using his 6 PPC fitted with a CG (Carlito Gonzales) action and a Bukys barrel tuner.

Pascal reports: “After [bullet] seating and load validation, I put the Bukys tuner on, screwing it out 10 turns. According to Carlito, the CG’s super stiff action-to-barrel fit gives a faster vibration modulus that is detrimental below 10 turns [position of the tuner].” Pascal’s procedure was to screw out the tuner 1/4 turn progressively from one shot to the next. He shot one bullet at each tuner position, with a total of 15 shots.

15-Shot Sequence with Tuner Changes
6PPC Pascal Fischbach Bukys Barrel Tuner sine wave
CLICK HERE to SEE Large Version of Complete Test Strip (All 15 shots in a row).

Left Half of Target Strip (shots with 1/4 rotation change of tuner in sequence)
6PPC Pascal Fischbach Bukys Barrel Tuner sine wave

Right Half of Target Strip (shots with 1/4 rotation change of tuner in sequence)
6PPC Pascal Fischbach Bukys Barrel Tuner sine wave

Pascal observed: “Note the point of impact displacement [from shot to shot] tracks clearly along a sinusoide (sine wave curve).” This is indeed notable and significant! This shows how the tuner’s ability to change barrel harmonics can alter the position of the muzzle as each bullet exits, resulting in a higher or lower POI. Pascal sent his results to Carlito Gonzales in Argentina for analysis.

Pascal poses this question to readers: “Guess which three positions Carlito recommends to try?”

Editor’s Note: While this target sequence clearly shows how tuner position can alter bullet point of impact, this, by itself, does not tell us which tuner position(s) are best for accuracy. That will require further multi-shot group testing, involving careful experimentation with tuner position (and powder charge weights). But for those folks who doubt that a tuner can make a difference on a short, fat barrel, just take another look at the photos. The up/down changes are undeniable, and noteworthy in the wave pattern they follow.

Shooting Set-up and Test Conditions:
Pascal did this test at an outdoor range under very good conditions: “This was shot at my home range, outdoors, with four Smiley flag. The range is a narrow cut in high woods. Wind was consistent with readable flags. I started testing the tuner from 10 turns out and on to 15. I recently… found a sweet spot very close to the rearmost position of the tuner, so the rigidity provided by this super long tenon (just short of 70mm) was not a reason to overlook the recommended Bukys tuning procedure.”

6PPC Pascal Fischbach Bukys Barrel Tuner sine wave

Permalink Bullets, Brass, Ammo, Tech Tip 3 Comments »
March 24th, 2018

How to Prep Mil-Surp Once-Fired Brass

USAMU Brass reloading tip

The U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit publishes reloading “how-to” articles on the USAMU Facebook page. One Wednesday “Handloading Hump Day” post covered preparation of once-fired 5.56x45mm brass. This article, the first in a 3-part series, has many useful tips. If you shoot a rifle chambered in .223 Rem or 5.56x45mm, this article is worth reading. And visit the USAMU Facebook page for other hand-loading tips.

This week, Handloading Hump-Day will answer a special request from several competitive shooters in Alaska. They asked about procedures for morphing once-fired GI 5.56mm brass into accurate match brass for NRA High Power Rifle use. The USAMU has used virgin Lake City (LC) 5.56 brass to win National Championships and set National Records for many years. In this 3-part series, we’ll share techniques proven to wring match-winning accuracy from combat-grade brass.

Preparing Once-Fired GI 5.56 Brass for Reloading (Part 1 of 3)
Assuming our readers will be getting brass once-fired as received from surplus dealers, the following steps can help process the low-cost raw material into reliably accurate components.

1. Clean the Brass
First, clean the brass of any dirt/mud/debris, if applicable. Depending on the brass’s condition, washing it in a soap solution followed by a thorough rinsing may help. [This step also extends the life of the tumbling media.] Approaches range from low-tech, using gallon jugs 1/2 full of water/dish soap plus brass and shaking vigorously, to more high-tech, expensive and time-consuming methods.

2. Wet-Tumbling Options (Be Sure to Dry the Brass)
When applying the final cleaning/polish, some use tumblers with liquid cleaning media and stainless steel pins for a brilliant shine inside and out, while others take the traditional vibratory tumbler/ground media approach. Degree of case shine is purely personal preference, but the key issue is simple cleanliness to avoid scratching ones’ dies.

Shown below are Lake City cases after cleaning with Stainless Media (STM). Note: STM Case cleaning was done by a third party, not the USAMU, which does not endorse any particular cleaning method.

If a liquid cleaner is used, be SURE to dry the cases thoroughly to preclude corrosion inside. One method is to dump the wet brass into an old pillow case, then tilt it left/right so the cases re-orient themselves while shifting from corner to corner. Several repetitions, pausing at each corner until water stops draining, will remove most water. They can then be left to air-dry on a towel, or can be dried in a warm (150° F-200° F max) oven for a few minutes to speed evaporation.

3. Inspect Every Case
Once dry, inspect each case for significant deformation (i.e., someone stepped on it), damaged mouths/necks and case head/rim damage. Some rifles’ ejectors actually dig small chunks of brass out of the case head — obviously, not ideal for precision shooting. Similarly, some extractors can bend the case rims so badly that distortion is visible when spinning them in one’s fingers. These can be used for plinking, but our match brass should have straight, undamaged rims.

Dented case mouths are common, and these can easily be rounded using a conical, tapered tool, [such as a .223 expander mandrel. A dummy 7.62 or .30-06 cartridge with a FMJ spitzer can also work.] If most of your brass is of one headstamp, this is a good time to cull out any odd cases.

4. Check the Primers Before Decapping
Your clean, dry and inspected brass is now ready for full-length sizing, decapping and re-priming. Historically, primer crimps on GI brass have caused some head-scratching (and vile language) among handloaders. Our next installment will detail efficient, easy and practical methods to remove primer crimp, plus other useful handloading tips. Until next week, Good Shooting!

NOTE: The USAMU Handloading (HL) Shop does not RE-load fired 5.56 brass. We use virgin LC brass with our chosen primer already staked in place. However, our staff has extensive personal experience reloading GI brass for competition, which will supplement the Shop’s customary steps. In handloading, as in life, there are many ways to accomplish any given task. Our suggestions are note presented as the “only way,” by any means. Time for loading/practicing is always at a premium. Readers who have more efficient, alternative methods that maintain top accuracy are invited to share them here.

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