Thursday, June 30, 2005

Gunpowder, An Overview Of Modern Smokeless Propellants

The shooter and handloader is blessed with the widest choice ever of smokeless propellants, commonly called "gunpowder", a misnomer. Gunpowder is that smelly stuff that muzzleloaders stuff down the barrels of those big ol' smokepoles. Commonly called black powder this stuff is a mixture of saltpeter, charcoal and sulfur and is beyond the scope of this particular piece, except to note that for hundreds of years it was all we had.

Black powder has many limitations, it's not particularly efficient in that it doesn't impart a whole lot of power to a bullet, it's messy to work with, it's somewhat dangerous and it leaves a whole bunch of residue behind. The billowing clouds of white smoke were a real drawback in military use. My great grandfathers would be bemused by the resurgence in popularity of black powder.

Smokeless propellants came about, like many of today's conveniences, through military research. The first breakthrough was the discovery that ordinary cellulose in cotton or wood could be soaked in nitric acid to form guncotton in 1845. Guncotton is useless as a propellant as it is impossible to control the burning rate.

Oddly it was a French chemist, a man named Vielle, who made modern smokeless powder possible. He discovered that by soaking guncotton in alcohol and ether one could form it in sheets. Cutting up those sheets into small granules gave us the first smokeless powder. The race was on.

The first cartridge using smokeless was, I believe, a French military cartridge, the 8 mm. Lebel.

Across the Channel the Brits learned that by taking this soft, doughy mixture of wet guncotton and forcing it through a sieve-like apparatus they could make it into a bunch of spaghetti-like strands called "Cordite". It was some decades before they learned to cut up those strands. Initially the Brit ammunition manufacturers simply bundled up a bunch of these cords, shoved them into a cartridge case, then formed the neck of the charged case and inserted the bullet. This wasn't the safest operation in the world. I'm told that the early Brit handloaders were a sight to behold, trying to stick those long cords, one or two at a time, down the neck of a cartridge. All in all, people were extremely relieved when the Brits figured out the concept of cutting those cords up into little pieces.

A factoid about Cordite that some may find interesting is that a large amount of ammonia was used in it's manufacture, along with other chemicals, that gave it a strong, peculiar and unpleasant smell when the cartridges were fired. This gave rise to the term "the stench of Cordite", a term that is still used today by the ignorant. It's been a VERY long time since Cordite was used, the smell of today's propellants is nothing like that. When I was a boy I fired some surplus .303 Brit ammo loaded with Cordite, I know the difference. That ammo was old then, today it would be valuable as a collector's item.

Modern smokeless powder is of two basic types. Single-based powders are made of nitrocellulose. Double-based powders are made of nitrocellulose and nitroglycerine. Each of these types also contain smaller amounts of other chemicals and each is coated in graphite during the manufacturing process. The graphite makes it much easier and safer to work with as it cuts down on static electricity. It's also why smokeless powder is dark gray to black in color. Before the graphite is added the powders are a pale, greenish yellow. A Company in Finland actually makes a powder with yet another ingredient, besides nitrocellulose and nitroglycerine, making it a triple-based powder. The company is Vhita Vouri and the name of the third ingredient escapes me at the moment and I can't seem to get on their website. It will come to me, probably in the middle of some night next week. I'll wake up, shout the name, scare Hell out of the dog, he'll start barking, waking Linda Lou and I'll be in trouble again. Anyhow there are only three of these triple-based powders and I'll pretty much ignore them except to note that they give a velocity boost of some 50-150 feet per second over conventional propellants, at equal pressures.

Besides being classified as to whether they're single, double or triple based, powders are further classified by their kernel structure. By the way, do not refer to each individual speck of powder as a grain. When shooters and handloaders use the word grain, we're referring to a unit of weight. A grain is one seven thousandths of a pound. There are 437.5 grains in an aviorduppois ounce and for those who think in metric, 15.43 grains per gram. Those little bitty pieces of powder can also be called granules.

Back to the classification, powders can be like little bitty sticks, they can be little bitty spheres or flakes and there are some European powders that are formed in big, thin sheets and then die-cut into squares or diamond shapes. The Alcan Powders for shotgun and handgun cartridges were sheet powders, they've been gone for years but they were good stuff. So we call it stick powder, ball powder or flake powder. We Americans don't call sheet powder anything because we never see it.

Stick type powder is quite interesting as it's made like a hollow tube. Each kernel has one or more perforations through it. This is how the burning rate is controlled, by the size of the kernel and the perforation. The spherical or ball powder has it's burning rate controlled by coating each kernel with a chemical that retards burning. Flake-type powders control their burning rate through the chemical composition and granule size. I got to see cannon powder when I wore Uncle's suit, each kernel was big enough to see the perforations.

Smokeless powder is not an explosive, at least in the quantities that even avid shooters keep around not even a particularly dangerous flammable. It doesn't evaporate into a flammable vapor and takes a pretty good spark to light. Unconfined it doesn't even burn very fast. The late General Julian Hatcher, one of the giants of early to mid 20th Century cartridge development, tried to make canisters of smokeless powder explode by shooting into them. It took shooting into a two hundred pound keg before he got anything resembling an explosion, the one and eight pound canisters won't.

The last way we classify powder is by it's burning rate. The way it works is that the powders that are right for loading handgun cartridges are not good for loading full-charge rifle cartridges. There are more than 150 different kinds of powder more or less readily available to the handloader today, each with it's range of uses.

Each one of these powders will not burn efficiently below a given pressure and each becomes quite dangerous when it exceeds a higher given pressure. Generally speaking, the slower the powder, the higher the pressure has to be before it burns efficiently. Another generality...Single based powders USUALLY have a wider range of pressures where they work well than double based powders and they are somewhat more predictable as they approach to upper margin. The short answer as to why is that kernel size stays the same and that's what control's the burning rate in single based powders. In the confined area of a cartridge as the pressure builds, so does the heat, the deterrent coatings that control the burning rate of the double-based ball powders works less well the higher the pressure. That's a very simplified statement as that's the way these coatings are designed to work. Otherwise cartridges would fizzle.

There is no "best" powder. There are usually one or two powders that work best in a particular cartridge in a specific range of bullet weights. That's assuming "best" means highest velocity at safe pressures. We aren't always looking for the highest velocity. The velocity minded handloader can find the powder that delivers for her, or his, cartridge by checking several loading manuals. One or two powders will almost always stand out. Given a choice I always try to go with the powder that gives a mildly compressed load. Why? A compressed load means there isn't enough room in the case to put enough powder in to cause a KABOOM. I like that. I like it a lot.

These days I don't fool with trying to get every last foot-second much. I don't have the wheels for long-ranged hunting, nor, with this Parkinson's, would it be fair to the game to try potting it 'way past Fort Mudge'. So, what little hunting I do is in country where the terrain and cover is such that fifty or a hundred yards is a long poke. At those ranges I don't want high velocity. All high velocity does at close range is waste meat and add noise and recoil. By picking the right powder and bullet I can turn a .30-06, or even one of the .300 Mags, into a .30-30 or .300 Savage. In the words of the late, and sorely missed, Elmer Keith "you can eat right up to the bullet hole".

Handloaders who would like to introduce new shooters to centerfire rifle shooting should be aware of Hodgdon Powder Company's H4895 and the Sixty Percent Rule. Any cartridge for which there is data for H4895 can be loaded at 60% of the maximum load for a load that has far less recoil and muzzle blast than full charge ammo. Then gradually increase the load. These are also wonderful loads for a kid just learning to hunt. They're no kind of squib load. The Sixty Percent Rule will, when used in my .30-06, push Hornaday's excellent 130 grain Single Shot Pistol bullet out at over 2500 fps. Hairy-chested he-men drop deer and even elk with those ballistics and their Thompson Contenders, it'd be just the load for a teenaged daughter.

I talked about the wide array of powders available. I believe the choices are about to contract somewhat. Over the last couple of months there have been some buyouts and mergers. Accurate Powders have been bought by the Western Powder Company, the folks who distribute the Ramshot Powders. And the Hodgdon Powder Company bought IMR. Since many of IMR and Hodgdon's powders are so close together that starting load data can be safely swapped I can see the elimination of near-duplicates. We don't need IMR4895 and H4895, nor H4350 and IMR4350. Hodgdon's Varget and IMR's 4064 are so close together that I've switched according to what was on sale and not had to adjust my scope sight when going from one batch of cartridges to the other.

Will the elimination of the duplication of effort lead to lower prices? I can hope. I'm not holding my breath, though.

Powder is expensive and, depending on the locality, there are limits to how much a private citizen can have on hand without building special storage facilities. The most common amount allowed is twenty pounds. That seems like a lot, it isn't really. A shooter with an autoloading pistol and a magnum revolver, plus just one .30-30 and one high-intensity rifle will go over that limit with a fresh eight pound jug of just one powder per cartridge and what handloader is satisfied with just one powder per cartridge? A quick count in my powder "magazine" shows some twenty-one different smokeless powders, some with more than one jug. Add the only real explosive powders, the canister of FFG Black and that jug of Pyrodex that isn't quite smokeless and isn't quite black. Of course I tend to enjoy experimentation. That's one of the nice things about living in the country. I asked my county Fire Marshall about the specs when I built my magazine. He told me not to put a fireplace in it. I love living in the country. My homeowner's insurance agent was somewhat more picky. Two layers of one inch plywood, covered by twenty gauge steel was the request and please make it lockable. It ain't very pretty, it's just a big box with shelves in it. And a padlock. My insurance agent is happy. If I were doing it again I'd just use a junk refrigerator and put a hasp on it. The insulation on even an old fridge is such that either the fire gets put out or the house would burn down before the powder caught.

When thinking powder safety remember, the fire won't start in the powder unless you do something like looking at the level in the jug by holding a match in there. The whole idea is to try to keep it from adding to a fire that started elsewhere. A thick box, an old refrigerator, even those fire-resistant filing cabinets, any of those will either keep the powder from adding to the fire or the powder won't matter because the house is history anyway.

The most important parts of powder safety have nothing to do with fire. Never mix two or more different kinds of powder. Never have more than one jug of powder on the loading bench at one time. At the beginning of a loading session write the name of the powder you're using down. In big letters. Then look twice to make sure you're putting right powder in the measure and putting the leftover powder back in the right jug. Inadvertently putting pistol or shotgun powder in the measure that's set for your 7mm Remington Magnum is a guaranteed KABOOM.

Smokeless powder when mixed with a little common sense and a willingness to follow the recipe is safe to have around. Far safer than that can of lawn mower gas in the garage. So, for safety's sake, handload, don't mow.

Monday, June 27, 2005

I Got It Wrong, Bigtime.

In my post about Captain Chuck Ziegenfuss being wounded I managed to get almost every detail wrong. Worse, I have managed to convey an impression to his friends and family of stupidity on his part. That impression is, most assuredly, wrong. Any stupidity involved rests right behind this keyboard.

Captain Z did not try to dispose of that IED by picking it up and dropping it in the nearby canal. Instead, it seems that it blew up while they were looking for it and the explosion knocked him into that canal. At least I seem to have gotten the part about the raw courage of his XO jumping in after him while weighed down with all that stuff.

I make no excuse. Working through very sketchy information I filtered that info through the faulty prism of a war long ago and far away. That information, filtered through that prism, formed a picture in my mind's eye of what happened that was totally wrong. Worse, I based my post on that wrong picture. I should have known better. Indeed I do know better, most of the profanity I use in my daily life comes directly from reading and hearing descriptions of events filtered through such faulty prisms.

One thing I want to stress, though, is that if the situation had demanded trying to carry a live bomb to a place where it's explosion would have been relatively harmless, doing so would not have been stupid. Incredibly dangerous, yes, stupid, no. I remember such situations. One such was a satchel charge, with the fuse going, that landed inside a TOC bunker during a long and particularly hairy night some thirty-eight years ago. A young radioman was badly wounded getting it out of the bunker, saving everyone inside.

The bottom line? I screwed the pooch. I could go on with why but it would really only be lame excuses. The last point I want to make is that no semi sentinant being, even me, can read Cap'n Z's blog and see any trace of stupidity. Instead we see a bright young family man who follows the profession of arms and does so in the highest traditions of that profession.

I hope everyone involved will accept my profound apologies.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

The Flag Burning Amendment, A Simple Alternative.

Everybody and their Mother In Law are getting all exersised over the flag burning amendment that passed the House recently. Where I live there doesn't seem to be a big problem, as a matter of fact there seems to be a pretty big problem with flags that aren't being burned that should be. I mean, have you SEEN some of the tattered, dirty and faded remnants on some of these poles?

Still, civil libertarians are up in arms on one side, self-described patriot politicos on the other side and then there are a whole bunch of intellectuals trying to explain to us pore dumb rednecks (actually, it's not my neck that's all that red, it's the reflection off the backs of my sunburnt ears) why it's a good, or bad, idea.

Me, I'm having trouble figuring out why it's okay to burn the flag but city folks can go to jail if'n they burn a pile of leaves in the fall but then I don't really understand city folks anyhow. Somehow the Supreme Court decided that burning the flag is a protected form of free speech. Okay, fine. Then why isn't puttin' a good ol' country butt kickin' on one of these yahoos also a protected form of free speech? Or settin' fire to some of these chuckleheaded judges, for that matter. I can see that the flag pisses some folks off, why I'm not exactly sure. So, we've established the precedent, fire equals speech. How 'bout the Democratic Underground crowd? They piss me off. Under that precedent it seems that I should be allowed to whup up a batch of homemade napalm (I have the recipe) and fire those bad boys up.

So, we've established the precedent that burnin' stuff that we don't approve of equals free speech while it's not free speech to talk about a politician some sixty or ninety days before an election. It doesn't make a lot of sense to me but if that's what they want, hand me the matches. I didn't make the rules but I guess I can live with them. Air quality is really gonna suck for awhile, though. On the plus side, once everyone is done burnin' all the things that piss them off it oughta be a lot less crowded.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Hero. No, Two heroes and counting.

UPDATE June 27, 2005. I've been told that I managed to get nearly every single detail of of how Captain Ziegenfuss was wounded wrong. The only reason I don't just delete it is that that once something is out there it's out there forever. Please see my correction and apology posted today.

Just about anyone who reads blogs, especially Milblogs has heard that Captain Chuck Ziegenfuss has been wounded in Iraq. Cap'n Z is the proprietor of the Milblog "From My Position, On The Way".
Mrs. Greyhawk, of Mudville Gazette fame visited him in the hospital just as they put him on the gurney to begin the trip to Walter Reed Army Hospital in DC. If my links don't work, as seems to be normal around here, just click the Mudville Gazette link on the sidebar.

What is striking is not that Cap'n Z was almost blowed up by an IED, bomb to us folks who don't savvy milspeak, that is something depressingly common. What is striking is just how he was almost blown up. One doesn't have to be a hero to get blown up, just near the explosion. Someone as timid as myself could be blown up just as easily as any hero. The only thing required is that one be near the explosion. Explosions are well known for their touchiness. They like their privacy and do Bad Things to people who invade it.

Here is what happened, as best I can put it together in my head...
Cap'n Z was commanding a routine patrol when an Iraqi civilian came up and told them about an IED (bomb) somewhere near. The patrol beat feet, actually drove, probably, the reports don't make that clear but Cap'n Z is a tanker and those guys aren't famous for walking, to the bomb's location. Me? I would have picked another destination, maybe Cleveland.

When they got there, instead of staying behind something real solid and shouting "run away, there's a BOMB!!" at the top of his lungs while waiting for the EOD (bomb disposal) squad to show up with their special equipment and training, Cap'n Z decided he had to do something. Since the Army pretty much quit giving company commands to peabrains in the big reorganization after Viet Nam I can only assume there was good reason why he couldn't do the safe thing.

There is an age-old maxim in leadership, never order a PFC to do something you aren't willing to do yourself. Giving new life to this maxim Cap'n Z picked up this IED (BOMB!), carried it to the nearby canal and dropped it in. I'm sure that his working theory was that the water would absorb the shrapnel and most of the blast. Aside from the Wicked Witch of the West and perhaps Hillary, few people are seriously damaged by a splash of water, even a big splash of canal water.

Unfortunately Cap'n Z miscalculated the weight of the IED and the equipment he was carrying and wearing and found himself in that canal, with the IED. The IED then exploded. Pulled down by the weight of his gear and knocked unconscious by the blast, Cap'n Z was dying when Captain Jason Spencer, his XO, jumped into that canal after him. Spencer also found that because of the way the weight of the gear he wore and carried he was head-down in the water. Somehow he got right-side up, and got to his CO and got him where other members of that patrol could pull him out, administer first aid and call for medevac.

By now Cap'n Z is probably at Walter Reed where the Docs will work hard to save the badly injured thumb on his right hand. He lost the pinky finger on his left hand, both arms are in casts and he's got too many dings and scrapes to list. Thanks, though, to the courage of Captain Spencer, who jumped into that canal knowing that the weight of that gear would carry him to the bottom, he's going to live to hold his wife, careen, his son Creighton, age five, and his daughter Adelle, age two.

There was once a day when men would sing songs about such men. Schoolchildren would memorize poems about them and boys would pray to grow up with such courage. The outward expressions are gone, today and it's a shame. Yet, still, America can produce men who will pick up a live IED (BOMB!) and carry it to where it can't hurt anyone.

I can only strive to to be worthy to live in a land that can produce such men. I fear I fall short.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Cast Bullets, A Primer.

Economy minded shooters have a love-hate relationship with cast bullets. We love the economy, many of us hate the cleanup. I can sympathize, cleaning a badly leaded barrel is one of the biggest pains in the butt since the invention of the hemorrhoid. Many shooters, even handloaders, avoid the lowly lead alloy bullet for this very reason. It doesn't have to be that way.

There is a lot of good information about shooting the lead alloy bullet that has almost passed from general knowledge as our grandparents passed from the scene. The first bit of information that has been lost is that cast bullets don't have to lead a barrel, and won't if they're the right size, hardness and properly lubricated. This, of course, assumes that the barrel in question isn't full of rust, pits and tool marks. The first step in our quest to eliminate barrel leading is to remove all traces of jacket fouling from our tubes. Fortunately this is easy. A strong solvent like Sweet's 7.62 will remove every trace. Simply run a very wet patch or two through the barrel, wait ten minutes and then dry patch. Warning! Do Not forget about it and leave the strong solvents in the barrel. There have been incidents of these solvents "etching" the barrel when left in. I always like to run a couple of patches of Hoppes Number Nine through the tube after dry patching. I leave that in for a while just in case of burnt on powder residue. Then I repeat the Sweet's, dry patch and Hoppes until my dry patches show no trace whatever of that blue-green jacket fouling. Don't scrub and scrub with a brush, let the solvent do the work.

I am seldom in a hurry so I don't often use the Sweet's. I use Butch's Bore Shine instead. It's a less aggressive solvent that is safe to leave in that expensive barrel. Run a couple of wet patches through and then leave it for a few hours or even overnight. Then dry patch and repeat until we again get no trace of that blue-green. Follow up with a regular gun oil.

Getting the jacket fouling out will eliminate at least half of the potential leading before we even look at the lead bullets.

Next we look at the size of the bullet. Obviously I'm not discussing .45 caliber bullets in a .22. It's important that the bullet be just a thousandth of an inch or two larger than the bore, this keeps the powder gases behind the bullet, where they belong. We have a little leeway here. If the bullet is as much as three or four thou over it seems to swage down just fine. For that matter, unless our alloy is too hard, the kick in the butt from those high pressure gases will slug it up to fit. The proper term for this is obturation, The trouble is, most of the storebought cast bullets are too hard to do this with mild loads. A mistake many handloaders make when shooting storebought cast bullets is going to a lighter load when they get leading. It's counterintuitive but the answer to leading is often to increase the pressure.

There is a simple working mathematical formula that can tell the minimum pressure needed for proper bullet obturation. It requires that we either have a Saeco lead hardness tester or at least know the number that this device gives to the more common lead alloys. The most common commercially cast bullets run a fairly hard alloy, usually the old 85% lead. 5% tin and 10% antimony, this gives an LHT number of around nine or ten. The formula is LHT multiplied by 2,000 + the required pressure, we need a load that gives in the neighborhood of 18 or 20,000 PSI to allow a too-small bullet to slug up. This is important because this is over the allowable pressure for a lot of cartridges and guns. For instance my Cimarron clone of the Colt Single Action Army only allows a maximum average pressure of 14,000 PSI. This means that storebought cast bullets must not be too small because they aren't going to slug up. This is compounded by the fact that the revolver's chamber throats are supposed to be bigger than the bore. In order that the powder gases stay behind the bullet, then, my bullet must be large enough to plug up that chamber. I have two different brands of store-bought cast .45 bullets on hand, Meister and Rucker, both are plenty tight in the barrel, both are too small for the chamber throats. Both are too hard to slug up in those throats meaning I get gas blow by until they're in the barrel proper. There is a very simple way to tell if that bullet is too small for the chamber throat. If we can push it through the cylinder's chamber by finger pressure, it's too small.

Gas blow by is a Bad Thing. It robs the load of power and that hot, high-pressure gas blows the lube out of the groove meaning I've got bare, unlubricated lead going down my barrel. This is why I cast my own bullets. I can size them to fit my particular gun and I can use a soft enough alloy to slug the bullets up at low pressures.

Oddly the suppliers of cast bullets to the handloading trade know that their bullets are cast of an alloy that is too hard for best results in all but full power magnum hunting loads. They know that these magnum hunting loads are less than a quarter of what we actually load. The trouble is that the soft bullets get beat up in shipping and handling. There are a very few commercial casters making soft bullets for the low pressures involved in Cowboy Action Shooting, these bullets are quite a bit more expensive than the hard cast because they have to be carefully packed to avoid damage in shipment. One such supplier is Desperado Cowboy Bullets, LLC.

There are three answers for the handloader that wants those pleasant-shooting low recoil lead bullet loads. Cast your own or buy the more-expensive Cowboy Action bullets. Another answer is the swaged bullets from Hornaday, Speer and Remington. They're available in the most popular calibers, Midway, among others, stocks them. Those swaged bullets are usually a bit more expensive than the cheapest cast bullets, they're quite a bit cheaper than buying those soft-cast.

The third answer is a simple one. Let the barrel lead. Just shoot the cheap bullets and don't worry that the inside of your barrel is looking like a poorly-maintained sewer pipe. It takes quite a bit of leading before accuracy starts to degrade, odds are that you'll be ready to stop shooting before it does, Then, at the end of the shooting session shoot half a box or so of jacketed bullets. The lead will tin itself to those bullet jackets and leave the barrel. How many jacketed bullets it takes to remove all the lead depends on how bad the leading is. Bear in mind that there is no solvent that dissolves lead, not that won't dissolve the barrel. There are many solvents that dissolve jacket fouling. Forget scrubbing the barrel for hours to remove lead, shoot it out.

The shooter with an autoloader seldom has to worry that his store bought cast bullet will be too hard. The shallow rifling in an autoloader's barrel requires a very hard bullet. With only one chamber throat, instead of five or six there is less of a chance that the chamber throat won't match the barrel and, lastly, if the load is stout enough to work the action, chances are it's going to be stout enough to slug up the hard bullets. Working pressures in autoloaders run higher, anyway. While the revolver shooter has to worry that his bullet is too hard, the autoloader must worry that the bullet might be too soft to take the rifling. A too soft bullet in an original Colt .45 ACP will 'strip the rifling', meaning that it won't spin, it will just charge right through and not spin at all. Needless to say the inside of the barrel will be a real mess and accuracy will be nonexistent. It's my understanding that Glock specifically disallows using cast bullets in their handguns and that there have been KABOOMS resulting from such use. The going theory of why this happens is that the working of the cartridge from magazine to chamber scrapes off a tiny bit of lead from the bullet. As this lead builds up in the front of the chamber it eventually results in the gun firing with enough of the back end of the cartridge sticking out that it is unsupported, the cartridge case fails to hold the pressure and we get the KABOOM. I've seen one such gun and the cartridge case, the theory matches the look of both. There was no information on the number of lead bullet rounds were fired before the KABOOM. Avoid lead with Glocks.

Another autoloader that doesn't seem to work with lead alloy bullets is the Heckler and Koch. Here the problem is not KABOOMS but the lack of conventional rifling in the barrel. Instead of regular rifling the barrel is actually a polygon shape and cast bullets don't seem to work well. It's not a matter of safety but accuracy. I know of no serious experimentation with alloys and lubes to try to make cast bullets work in them. I suspect that those who are well-heeled enough to afford an H&K can afford jacketed bullets.

With those exceptions, the humble lead bullet is the way to go. In mild loads it's cheap and easy on recoil and muzzle blast. At the other end of the spectrum a well shaped lead alloy bullet will penetrate more deeply in large game than any expanding bullet. For the most horsepower from your magnum revolver it's a heavy flat-point hard cast bullet loaded to the highest velocity.

Update. I realized that I got ahead of myself and neglected to put the LHT number of some of the other more common bullet allys. Here are a few... One part tin to twenty parts lead is just under six. This is my preferred alloy for those low pressure smokeless powder loads. They'll slug up nicely at just under 12,000 PSI. That's perfect for standard pressure .45 Colt loads and other target loads where recoil and very loud muzzle blast are problems.

Another common ally is one part tin to thirty parts a LHT of 2. This is a good alloy for black powder shooters, there is enough tin to help the alloy fill out the bullet in the mold, the main reason we add tin to our bullet metal, yet not so much that the bullet doesn't slug up for proper obturation at those low black powder pressures.

Common wheelweight metal runs about seven or eight on the LHT scale.

One of the harder alloys is linotype with an LHT of ten.

Heat treating common wheelweight runs the LHT number up to 12 or 13. This is hard enough for autoloaders and magnum revolver loads. Heat treating bullets is easy. Get a old cookie sheet, load it up with unlubricated bullets, put them in a 450 degree oven and leave them for about an hour, two hours if there's a large quantity of bullets. Let them cool in the oven and then set them aside for about 24 hours before sizing and lubing. Heat treating bullets made of linotype alloy makes them hard enough to use in rifle loads up to well over 2,000 feet per second if we use a good lube.

Update #2...I know half my links don't work, I can't figure out why. Just google them, I'm tired of fighting with them. Shucks and other colorful comments.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Too Angry To Write

I've been reading and hearing about the "terrible abuses" That the poor innocent little lambs we scooped up for no reason and put in Gitmo have been subjected to. It's had me so angry that I've been unable to post anything I've written because of the profanity and what would be considered threats.

One of the reasons I'm so angry is that the Left, exemplified by this Dick(less) Durbin feller is endangering my family. At once he tries to tie the hands of our law enforcement, military and intel people while he aids the Jihadi recruitment and slanders not only the people doing the interrogations down there but everyone who wears, or has worn, Uncle's suit.

I'm tired of this. I'm tired of hearing about the Geneva Convention rules on POWs. These are not POWs, they're Unlawful Combatants. Under the Geneva Convention rules they have a right to a last cigarette, a blindfold and a stout wall to stand before. Instead they get better living conditions, and certainly better food, than the guys in the rifle platoons serving in Iraq or the Stan. They certainly get more religious freedom that an American kid in public school.

I don't care that some terrorist scumbag gets too hot or too cold. I don't care that the music is too loud. I don't even care if some scantily clad woman invades their personal space. (Pick Me! Torture Me like that!) I would have a difficult time caring if every interrogation session began with the interrogator gouging out the detainee's left eye and eating it like a cherry tomato just to show he's serious. I'm not advocating this, mind you, after all I don't know where these eyeballs have been. I'd hate for our people to get sick.

These Lefty's hatred of the Bush Administration and their lust for regained political power are so out of control that they are willing to have us lose this war in order that George Bush look bad. If we lose this war American citizens will die, not just overseas but here. That's my family they're willing to sacrifice. I won't forget this come election day. More, if by their efforts the Lefties succeed in tying the hands of our intel, law enforcement and military people and my family members get killed or maimed I might just go hunting.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Titegroup and LilGun, Two Powders From Hodgdon

I've been fooling with a couple of Hodgdon's newer canister powders for the handloader and here are my impressions.
Hodgdon's LilGun is a powder designed for loading the .410 shotgun, some of the smaller rifle cartridges and, especially magnum revolver ammo. I haven't messed with the .410 bore shotgun since before I started shaving so my work with this powder has been in the .357 Magnum.

LilGun is a double based powder containing both nitrocellulose and nitroglycerine, it is about the same burning rate as H110, a little slower according to one burn rate chart from Hodgdon and a little faster than H110 according to Ramshot's burn rate chart. This discrepancy in those burn rate charts shows the folly of trying to determine load data simply by looking at the charts.

Fans of high velocity revolver ammo will swear by this powder. Using Hodgdon's max listed load of 18.0 grains of LilGun behind the Hornaday 158 grain XTP hollowpoint I was able to chronograph over 1400 fps (feet per second) out of my Ruger GP100's six inch tube. This is a full 150 fps gain over any other powder I've tried in all the years I've been messing around with the .357.

This same load clocked over 1900 fps in my 18.5 inch barreled Marlin 1894C Carbine. Just because I could I drove up to a friend's in Lawton Oklahoma, this friend has one of those pricey Oehler Ballistic Laboratories, we put a strain gauge on my carbine and tested the pressure. Here I'll confess to exceeding Hodgdon's listed maximum load , something I do not recommend.

I did it because I had access to pressure testing equipment, we loaded the ammo right there and took extreme care. We worked up in half grain steps, we were trying to break the magic 2,000 fps barrier with the carbine. We did it though the pressure was some 3,000 pounds per square inch over the SAAMI maximum. I won't give the data nor will I use that load for general shooting. My carbine digested it with no trouble but accuracy went to that hot place the preacher warned me about. Stick to the listed max. For another thing it was a real pain working with that much powder, the cases got so full it was difficult to start the bullet.

One odd thing about this powder is that pressure and velocity fell off when we tried sparking the load with Winchester small pistol magnum primers. Extreme spreads and standard deviations also increased with the mag primers. At least in my shootin' irons the standard small pistol primer gives higher velocity and better consistency. Please don't ask me why. Starline brass was used in all the initial tests, later repeated with Federal brass with negligible differences.

Recoil in that light carbine is brisk. Not painful by any means but noticeably higher than with most other loads I've used.

On the other end of the spectrum is Hodgdon's Titegroup. As the name implies, this powder is for lighter target loads. I've tried it with lead alloy bullets in .38 Special, .357 Mag and .45 Colt. In the .38 and .357 I've used it with both my own home-cast 158 grain Lee Semiwadcutters and the Speer swaged 148 grain hollow based wadcutters. In the .45 Colt I've only used it in my home cast 250 grain round nosed flat points, again out of a Lee mold. I confess to loving the Lee molds, not only are they the most inexpensive on the market but the aluminum blocks are light enough that there isn't a lot of fatigue during a long casting session. Also, unlike the other brands on the market you buy the double cavity mold and it comes with the handles already on. Other, unnamed molds (cough, Lyman, cough), the durned handles cost more than the whole setup from Lee.

I haven't bothered setting up the Chronograph working with Titegroup, I'm not particularly interested in the velocity of these loads. They get to the target before I get bored waiting around and they have enough bohemous to fight their way through a piece of target paper and the backing, that's all I'm interested in.

What does interest me is that Titegroup is both clean shooting and economical. In the .38 a load of 3.0 grains behind the 148 grain wadcutter does the trick. That's well over 2,000 rounds out of a pound of powder. I like that. The same charge works fine with that bullet in .357 brass.

I went up a half grain using the semiwadcutter bullets just because there is so much more airspace in the case with the bullets not being seated so deeply. I'm not sure I really needed too but once the powder measure was set I haven't bothered changing it. Again, the same charge worked fine in both the .38 and the .357.

Accuracy in both the .38 and the .357s is close enough to my best loads with other powders that whether one shoots better than the other depends more on how I'm shooting on a given day than on the load.

The .38s I shot this load in were our old Colt Police Positive Special with a four inch barrel and my wife's S&W Ladysmith Model 60. The .357s were the Ruger six inch GP100 and my little three inch tubed Ruger SP101, my preferred carry gun. I haven't tried it in my Marlin Carbine but I suspect it'd be a superb small game load.

In the .45 Colt I went with just under Hodgdon's max load of 6.2 grains, my measure was throwing 6.0 and I quit fooling with the adjustments. My Cimarron Arms copy of the Colt Single Action Army shot more accurately with this load than anything else I've tried to date and that includes the two boxes of factory fodder that I put through it while waiting for my dies and mold to come from Midway. I've loaded Alliant's Unique, Bullseye and Red Dot as well as Accurate's Number Five and Hodgdon's Universal Clays, Titegroup beat them all as far as accuracy goes in my .45.

Hodgdon claims that Titegroup is position insensitive, that it burns consistently regardless of where that little charge is in those fairly large .38 and .357 cases and the cavernous .45 Colt case. To check out that claim I set up a sandbag rest on a fifty yard bench Using both the Cimarron .45 and the GP100 I shot five groups from each, elevating the muzzle between shots and then gently getting on the bags so as to keep the powder charge near the primer. I then fired groups without elevating the muzzle. I'm not a good enough shot to tell the difference. I then fired a couple-three groups elevating the muzzle on one shot and holding the gun down on the next so that the powder charge would be by the bullet one time and the primer the next. There was still no significant difference. It will take a better shot than I am to prove Hodgdon wrong.

The downside to Titegroup is that the charges take so little room in the case that one could easily double or even triple-charge a load. The answer is to take that extra step and shine a small flashlight down every case in the loading block once the cases are charged.

So, there you have it. Titegroup is replacing Bullseye, Red Dot, 700X, Clays and Universal Clays for my light target loads and LilGun is replacing H110, 2400, Blue Dot, 4227, 800X and Accurate Number Nine for my heavy loads. I'll keep some Unique around just for my medium power woodsloafing loads, just because. I'm sure my insurance agent will sleep better at night knowing that I'm replacing eleven different powders with three.

Update 60/18/05: Having slept on it I thought I should elaborate a bit on what happened when we deliberatly went over the Hodgdon maximum load for LilGun in the .357 Mag. We went up in half grain steps and there was very little change in pressure and velocity the first couple of steps, the pressure stayed under SAMMI Max with a comfortable margin, but little or no gain in velocity. Then, in one half-grain step the pressure went from well under to right at that max. The next step up went to an average of 3,000 over with the highest peak pressure of the test at over 7,000 over max.
In a future carnival I'll write some on what the late P. O. Ackley, one of the gurus of America's golden age of wildcatting called the "balance point" of powders, the point at which the increases in powder charge stops giving easily-predictable increases in pressure and velocity. There is a way, using a chronograph, to find that balance point without having pressure testing equipment. It's too long to include in this post so I'll save it for another time.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Young Men And Women Die

A letter from an Air Force surgeon in Iraq explained the First Rule of War. Get a couple of tissues and go here. I'll wait. (update: seems you have to scroll down to 'Letter From A Doctor in Iraq)
Back? Nose blown and eyes wiped? Yeah the cigar smoke is tough in this little room, sorry. Lemme light those candles, they help some.
Are you struck by the effort those Docs , Nurses and other personals expended before they even looked at the obviously nonsurvivable head wound? No one in that trauma center OR even thought about half stepping, a young man was badly injured by an IED and they were going to do everything possible. They did, they ran the IVs and the ventilator, the X-Rays and ultrasound and checked for other wounds. Then they ran up against Rule Number One. Young Men and Women Die.

Rule Number Two was staring them in the face...Surgeons Cannot Change the First Rule. They've sure modified it, though. They're saving lives. Routinely. They're saving people that, in my war, would have been set aside in Triage with the strongest Nurses and Corpsmen charged with holding their hands while they died. It starts at the point of the injury. All of our Servicemen and women get basic first aid training with a significant number of them getting a higher level called Combat Lifesaver training. Then there's 'Doc', the Medic, usually one per platoon in my day with a few extras for when platoons are sent out as squads in different directions. There are the crews of the Medevac Helos, Dustoff. Everyone wearing Uncle's Suit goes out knowing that if their luck runs sour Dustoff will come. Bad weather? Dustoff comes anyway. Shooting? Dustoff comes with a couple friends, Apaches or Sea Cobras to force the bad guys to keep their heads down for a minute. Once Dustoff comes the trained Medics in the crew start work right then, stabilizing the injured soldier and, as importantly, radioing the hospital with all the info they can get, all while the pilots are firewalling the throttles and blowing on the windshield to get that extra tenth of an MPH.

Back at the Base the Servicemembers having nothing at all to do with the hospital are still involved. Let a whole bunch of people have a Bad Day at the same time and watch the line form at the blood bank.

Young Men and Women Die. It's not for lack of trying.
Hat tip: Mudville Gazette

Monday, June 06, 2005

June The Sixth, 1944 And 2005.

There is quite a little difference in sixty-one years as to how the West reacts to an existential threat. By 1944 the War had gone on for some time, the then version of "Shock and Awe" was resulting in the wholesale bombing of enemy cities.

A combination of legitimate fears of sabotage and espionage and fear for the safety of Japanese-Americans, both citizen and non-citizen, plus some overblown fear for the same things had caused the wholesale internment of those folks. There was also the somewhat more selective internment of Germans and Italians, both citizen and non-citizen. Troublesome Americans were dealt with, extra-legally, most often by locking them up in mental hospitals.

The Invasion of Normandy caused more American and British casualties, KIA, WIA, MIA and captured than we've lost in this entire war, so far. In one day.

Today we're quite different, it seems. Instead of interning anyone who might be an enemy we seem to not only welcome them but to give them a veto over the conduct of this war. In my Dad's War the losing Presidential Candidate, Wendell Wilkie, toured the world as a representative of Franklin Roosevelt both reporting back information and rallying the troops and civilian workers. We see what the losing Presidential Candidates of this new era are doing.

We are fighting the most 'humane' war in history, in large part because of the incredible advances in precision munitions coupled with the superb training and skill of our professional military. That's the tactical end, we no longer have to carpet bomb a whole city to hit one target, nor must we slaughter an entire regiment to render it combat-ineffective. An equally large part of why we're fighting this war so delicately is to keep the vast majority of the billion and a half Muslims in this world on the sidelines. The hope, forlorn as it is, is that the changes we're effecting in Afghanistan and Iraq will cause a change in the dynamic of the entire Muslim world. This change, if successful, will prevent a wider war, the West against all Islam.

I've never been really all that sanguine about the chances of winning this war of civilizations by finesse, I've always thought that the chances of avoiding this huge war by fighting a couple of small wars to be somewhere in the range of four or five to one. Still, I've supported the attempt, wholeheartedly. If it works we avoid a war that will make the Hitler-Tojo fracas look like an argument among Kindergartners, if it doesn't work we'll have important land bases and seaports in in the region where we'll be fighting.

This is what angers me so much about the whole Gitmo, Abby-Grabby, Koran-desecration frenzy. It's not just the fact that the whole thing is overblown and being used selectively to beat the Bush Administration. It's not that it puts our people in more danger. It's that we are being forced into this wider war by the very people who claim to be in favor of peace.

Each day, as I read the news, I grow more convinced that we will be in this wider war within a decade or so.