September 28th, 2018

“Overbore” — A Practical Definition by the Numbers

Overbore cartridge chart index ratio 50 BMG Case Capacity 30Br

What is “Overbore”? That’s a question rifle shooters can debate to no end. This article from our archives proposes one way to identify “overbore cartridges”. We think the approach outlined here is quite useful, but we know that there are other ways to define cartridges with “overbore” properties. Whenever we run this article, it stimulates a healthy debate among our readers — and that is probably a good thing.

Forum Member John L. has been intrigued by the question of “overbore” cartridges. People generally agree that overbore designs can be “barrel burners”, but is there a way to predict barrel life based on how radically a case is “overbore”? John notes that there is no generally accepted definition of “overbore”. Based on analyses of a wide variety of cartridges, John hoped to create a comparative index to determine whether a cartridge is more or less “overbore”. This, in turn, might help us predict barrel life and maybe even predict the cartridge’s accuracy potential.

John tells us: “I have read countless discussions about overbore cartridges for years. There seemed to be some widely accepted, general rules of thumb as to what makes a case ‘overbore’. In the simplest terms, a very big case pushing a relatively small diameter bullet is acknowledged as the classic overbore design. But it’s not just large powder capacity that creates an overbore situation — it is the relationship between powder capacity and barrel bore diameter. Looking at those two factors, we can express the ‘Overbore Index’ as a mathematical formula — the case capacity in grains of water divided by the area (in square inches) of the bore cross-section. This gives us an Index which lets us compare various cartridge designs.”


Overbore Index Chart

So what do these numbers mean? John says: “My own conclusion from much reading and analysis is that cartridges with case volume to bore area ratio less than 900 are most likely easy on barrels and those greater than 1000 are hard on barrels.” John acknowledges, however, that these numbers are just for comparison purposes. One can’t simply use the Index number, by itself, to predict barrel life. For example, one cannot conclude that a 600 Index number cartridge will necessarily give twice the barrel life of a 1200 Index cartridge. However, John says, a lower index number “seems to be a good predictor of barrel life”.

John’s system, while not perfect, does give us a benchmark to compare various cartridge designs. If, for example, you’re trying to decide between a 6.5-284 and a 260 Remington, it makes sense to compare the “Overbore Index” number for both cartridges. Then, of course, you have to consider other factors such as powder type, pressure, velocity, bullet weight, and barrel hardness.

Overbore Cases and Accuracy
Barrel life may not be the only thing predicted by the ratio of powder capacity to bore cross-section area. John thinks that if we look at our most accurate cartridges, such as the 6 PPC, and 30 BR, there’s some indication that lower Index numbers are associated with greater inherent accuracy. This is only a theory. John notes: “While I do not have the facilities to validate the hypothesis that the case capacity to bore area ratio is a good predictor of accuracy — along with other well-known factors — it seems to be one important factor.”

Permalink Bullets, Brass, Ammo, Tech Tip 1 Comment »
April 6th, 2014

Can Carbon Build-Up Inside Cases Alter Pressure?

As a cartridge case is reloaded multiple times, burnt powder residue and carbon builds up on the inside of the case. Unless the case interior is cleaned in some fashion, eventually you’ll see a reduction in case capacity. One of our Forum members from Australia wonders about the effects of reduced case capacity: “If the capacity of the case decreases as the crud builds up, then it effectively reduces the chamber size. Wouldn’t that change the pressure produced from that of an equivalent clean case?”

Ultrasonic Cleaning Example:

Interesting Test of Case Capacity Changes
Forum member Fred Bohl has actual test results that can help answer the above question. Fred proved that, over a 20-reload cycle, the case capacity of uncleaned cases did, indeed, decline a small amount. However, surprisingly, this did not seem to affect the actual chronographed velocity of the load. ES did increase, but Fred believes the higher ES was due to changes in case-neck tension, rather than due to the slight reduction in case capacity.

Fred reports: “Back when beginning to use ultrasonic case cleaning, part of the motivation was to get the inside clean based on the assumption that allowing burnt residue to build up inside cases would affect capacity, and, ultimately, performance. An experiment was done to test this hypothesis. The load used, 30.5 grains of RL15 behind 107gr SMKs in a 6mmBR, was selected for best group and lowest ES in prior load development. It turned out to be 92% of initial case capacity and neither “full” or compressed. (I would suspect that different powders, load weight, and total case capacity might produce very different results.)

We took 30 cases of identical initial capacity and tracked three lots of 10 each:

LOT 1: No Internal cleaning
LOT 2: Cleaned with media in tumbler
LOT 3: Cleaned with Ultrasound machine

Each case (in each lot) was shot and reloaded 20 times. The simplified results after 20 reloads of each lot were as follows:

Lot 1 (not cleaned) – 0.3 to 0.4 gr. loss of capacity, 5 to 8 fps greater ES.
Lot 2 (tumble cleaned) – 0.1 to 0.3 gr. loss of capacity, 4 to 6 fps greater ES.
Lot 1 (ultrasonic cleaned) – no loss of capacity, no detectable change in ES.

There was no detectable correlation of velocity change to the lots. An oddity was that on very hot days Lot 1 velocities were, occasionally, slightly higher. [Editor’s note: That does suggest that the carbon build-up inside the uncleaned cases might cause a slight increase in pressure that shows up on hot days. Fred has posted that “A local shooter reported doing the 20 reload, no clean test on a .308 that gave a loss of capacity of 2.0 grains, doubled ES and signficant velocity changes. However, I don’t have any details on his load weight or powder.”]

NOTE: From results of another ongoing test, I believe the above differences in ES are probably due more to variance in bullet grip tension than case capacity. The ultrasound cleaned cases (LOT 3) did maintain the lowest ES, but we are not 100% sure of the reasons why. More consistent bullet seating might be the reason.

[Editor’s comment: Jason found that with his ultrasonically-cleaned cases, the inside of the necks got so “squeaky clean” that he needed to use dry lube in the necks. Jason uses the $10.95 dry lube kit from This applies ultra-fine Moly powder to the neck using small carbon steel balls] moly neck lube

Permalink Reloading, Tech Tip 3 Comments »
July 13th, 2013

New Primer Pocket Plugs for H20 Case Capacity Measurements

When developing loads, it is important to know the true internal capacity of your cases, both fired and “as FL-sized”. In particular, when using the QuickLOAD program, it is vital to determine true case capacity. The default case capacity values listed by QuickLOAD may be off half a grain (or more) because brass from different manufacturers can vary considerably in capacity. Case capacity is a very important variable that will affect the pressure of a load and the velocity of your bullets.

To determine the true internal capacity of your cases, first weigh an empty cartridge case, then fill the case with water (all the way to the top of the neck) and weigh the case again. The difference in weight is your H20 capacity in grains. But how do you keep the H20 from flowing out the bottom? When measuring fired, unsized cases, you can simply leave the spent primer in the pocket. However, if you want to measure new brass or “as-FL sized” cases that have been deprimed, you’d have to insert a spent primer to “stem the tide”. Until now that is… 21st Century Shooting has come up with a simple tool that plugs the bottom of the case so you can measure H20 capacity with ease.

H20 Case Capacity measurement tool plug

When we saw 21st Century’s Primer Pocket Plug we thought “That’s smart — why didn’t someone think about that a long time ago?”. This handy “end-cap” lets you quickly measure multiple new brass cases or deprimed FL-sized cases so you can get an average H20 capacity. The primer pocket plugs are NOT case-specific (they feature an O-ring that fits the pocket). One version will work with all small-primer-pocket cases, while another works with all large-primer-pocket cartridge types. Price is $19.95 for either small-pocket or large-pocket version.

NOTE: If you want to measure H20 capacity on fired, sized brass, but don’t want to shell out the money for the tool (or re-insert a spent primer), here’s a simple suggestion. When you size your case, first remove the decapping rod from the die. Then you can FL-size the case without removing the primer. Of course, you will eventually have to knock the primer out, and that requires putting the decapping rod back in the die and running the case through a second time. To avoid that hassle, the Primer Pocket Plug may be worth the $19.95 over the long haul. We just ordered one of each (small and large).

Product Find by EdLongrange. We welcome reader submissions.
Permalink Gear Review, New Product, Reloading 8 Comments »