April 16th, 2021

How Bullet Bearing Surface Length Can Affect Load Pressure

USAMU Bullet Ogive Comparison Safety Reloading
Three near-equal-weight 7mm bullets with different shapes and bearing surface.

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.

USAMU Bullet Ogive Comparison Safety Reloading

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.

TECH TIP: Bullets of the same weight (and caliber) can generate very different pressure levels due to variances in Bearing Surface Length (BSL).

USAMU Bullet Ogive Comparison Safety ReloadingBullet 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.

Note: 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.

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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March 30th, 2021

Know Your Terminology — CUP vs. PSI

SAAMI CUP PSI Cartridge Copper Units Pressure PSI
Image by ModernArms, Creative Common License.

by Philip Mahin, Sierra Bullets Ballistic Technician
This article first appeared in the Sierra Bullets Blog

If you asked a group of shooters to explain the difference between CUP and PSI, the majority would probably not be able to give a precise answer. But, for safety reasons, it’s very important that all hand-loaders understand these important terms and how they express cartridge pressures.

The ANSI / SAAMI group, short for “American National Standard Institute” and “Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers’ Institute”, have made available some time back the voluntary industry performance standards for pressure and velocity of centerfire rifle sporting ammunition for the use of commercial manufacturers. [These standards for] individual cartridges [include] the velocity on the basis of the nominal mean velocity from each, the maximum average pressure (MAP) for each, and cartridge and chamber drawings with dimensions included. The cartridge drawings can be seen by searching the internet and using the phrase ‘308 SAAMI’ will get you the .308 Winchester in PDF form. What I really wanted to discuss today was the differences between the two accepted methods of obtaining pressure listings. The Pounds per Square Inch (PSI) and the older Copper Units of Pressure (CUP) version can both be found in the PDF pamphlet.

SAAMI CUP PSI Cartridge Copper Units Pressure PSICUP Pressure Measurement
The CUP system uses a copper crush cylinder which is compressed by a piston fitted to a piston hole into the chamber of the test barrel. Pressure generated by the burning propellant causes the piston to move and compress the copper cylinder. This will give it a specific measurable size that can be compared to a set standard. At right is a photo of a case that was used in this method and you can see the ring left by the piston hole.

PSI Pressure Measurement
What the book lists as the preferred method is the PSI (pounds per square inch or, more accurately, pound-force per square inch) version using a piezoelectric transducer system with the transducer flush mounted in the chamber of the test barrel. Pressure developed by the burning propellant pushes on the transducer through the case wall causing it to deflect and make a measurable electric charge.

Q: Is there a standardized correlation or mathematical conversion ratio between CUP and PSI values?
Mahin: As far as I can tell (and anyone else can tell me) … there is no [standard conversion ratio or] correlation between them. An example of this is the .223 Remington cartridge that lists a MAP of 52,000 CUP / 55,000 PSI but a .308 Winchester lists a 52,000 CUP / 62,000 PSI and a 30-30 lists a 38,000 CUP / 42,000 PSI. It leaves me scratching my head also but it is what it is. The two different methods will show up in listed powder data[.]

So the question on most of your minds is what does my favorite pet load give for pressure? The truth is the only way to know for sure is to get the specialized equipment and test your own components but this is going to be way out of reach for the average shooter, myself included. The reality is that as long as you are using printed data and working up from a safe start load within it, you should be under the listed MAP and have no reason for concern. Being specific in your components and going to the load data representing the bullet from a specific cartridge will help get you safe accuracy. [With a .308 Winchester] if you are to use the 1% rule and work up [from a starting load] in 0.4 grain increments, you should be able to find an accuracy load that will suit your needs without seeing pressure signs doing it. This is a key to component longevity and is the same thing we advise [via our customer service lines] every day. Till next time, be safe and enjoy your shooting.

SAAMI CUP PSI Cartridge Copper Units Pressure PSI

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February 2nd, 2020

How Powder Moisture Content Affects Pressure and Speed

vihtavuori vv moisture content powder propellent
This Technical Report Comes from the Vihtavuori website.

Powder Moisture Content — Did You Know?
Variations in moisture content change the burning rate of a powder and thereby chamber pressures and muzzle velocity. The moisture content of the Vihtavuori N100 and N300 series powders is usually around 1%, while the N500-series’ normal moisture content is 0.6% because of the added nitroglycerine.

So what difference does moisture content make? Here’s an example. In a test, a [Vihtavuori] powder sample was dried by heating it, losing about 0.5 % of its weight. Cartridges were then loaded with the dried powder and fired using a pressure gun. Chamber pressures and muzzle velocities produced by these special cartridges were compared to those produced by cartridges loaded with untreated powder. (The powder charge and bullet were of course the same in both sets of cartridges.)

After Powder Drying:
Pressure Increased 11% from 320 MPa to 355 MPa
Velocity Increased 2.6% from 2526 to 2592 FPS

Comparing results showed chamber pressures increased from 320 MPa to 355 MPa with the dried powder, and the muzzle velocity increased accordingly from 770 m/s to 790 m/s (2526 to 2592 FPS). And note, this is only one example, of one caliber and loading. The difference might be much higher depending on the cartridge and loading combinations.

Recommendation: Store powder below 68°F in 55-65% humidity.

What does this tell us? Well, it seems we need to forget the old saying “Keep your powder dry”! Instead, focus on proper powder storage, at a temperature below 20°C/68°F and humidity between 55 and 65%. Safe reloading everybody!

vihtavuori vv moisture content powder propellent

Tech Tip sourced by EdLongrange. We welcome reader submissions.
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