Saturday, August 26, 2017

Reply - Berdan conversion and steel cased ammo

An astute reader has provided his viewpoint on this process and has some very convincing arguments. So I thought I would share his email with you.

From: Tanner
Hey there, I came across your site earlier, particularly the page with the berdan to boxer conversion and the video about steel cases ammo. I tried to leave a comment but it was far to long to post but I wanted you to have the info so I'll just email you. I don't want to be "that guy" that has something to say and I don't want to come off as a know-it-all douche but due to the nature of your site I wanted to share with you anyway.  Sorry about the rant, it's a slow day at work.

There are many more differences between brass and steel than the video talks about. Hardness is one factor but the factor that plays possibly the biggest role is the coefficient of friction. Brass is a relatively slippery metal, due to its content of zinc, which means under pressure it will still slide smoothly against another surface. Steel on the other hand has a lower friction coefficient, that's not to say it will drag or mar another surface but it just means it won't move as easily under a load as brass does.
Brass, especially the work hardened brass of the walls and shoulder of a cartridge, has a certain level of spring-back. When the brass is bent or formed it will move back to its original position, not much maybe a couple thousandths of an inch, but when the cartridge is fired the case expands and is pressed against the walls of the chamber, the brass then will spring back and become a couple thousandths smaller than the walls of the chamber, thus providing easy extraction. Steel, especially soft annealed steel, will have a bit less spring back and will hold a bit firmer to the chamber walls than brass does.
To get around these potential issues with steel cases many developers and manufacturers will do things like coat the steel cases in shellac or other types of lacquer to lower the friction coefficient of the outside surface of the cartridge. Coatings do help with friction and also help protect the case from oxidizing but brass doesn't seem to have that problem... Hmm.
Most ammunition that uses steel cases were developed with all this in mind. Ever notice how the 7.62x39and x54 have such an extreme case taper? It's so the cases can be extracted much easier, even when sub standard material is forced against the wall of the chamber.
Basically what I want to say is that steel cases are fine to use IF the cartridge was designed for it. Using steel cases in something like 223 rem may not be a good idea, now it's not going to ruin your gun or blow up in your face but you may end up with a case stuck in the chamber or experience some short cycling due to a very hard extraction. Steel pistol cases aren't the best idea either, take the 45 ACP, it has a straight wall which will bite hard to the chamber on extraction.
Hardness is only one factor in everything, there are plenty more factors than I even brought up. I truly believe steel cases exist for two reasons: #1 availability of steel, it's the most abundantly recycled metal on earth. #2 cost of steel vs brass, scrap brass is about $1.60-$1.70/lb while steel is what $0.10-$0.20/lb? you can make 8-10 cases of steel for the cost of a single brass case.
Steel does have its strong point, like cost and strength. Steel cases will resist getting dented and crushed when run through semi or even full automatic weapons. But it has weak points, some very weak point such as corrosion. What happens when you need  your SHTF stash of steel cased 7.62x39 that you tucked away in a dank basement only to open the can and find a mess of red rust? Or maybe you're in a fight for you life and liberty, dumping hundreds of rounds through your AK-47 at the advancing enemy then suddenly you have an FTE but it's not that simple... The lacquered coating on the case melted when the round entered a very hot chamber and the case became essentially glued to the chamber walls. You now have an advancing enemy closing in on you and you have to find a cleaning rod and a hammer to remove a stuck case... I don't think that's gonna happen.
Berdan to Boxer conversions can be done safely and is a great alternative solution to being reliant on unsteady sources for ammunition and supplies. The conversion can be done to steel cases as well and an extra step or two will really help in the long run. First off, only use steel cases with absolutely NO sign of rust and be sure to check both inside and out. Secondly, invest the $15 into a 'Lee universal neck expanding die' it will put a slight flare on the mouth of the case and allow the bullet to slide into the neck much easier. This significantly prevents the mouth of the case from digging into the sides of the bullet and scraping off material in both cast lead and copper jacketed bullets (the flare can be removed after the bullet is seated by using the same bullet seater die to make a slight crimp). Lastly go to any hardware store or most automotive part stores and get a can of "silicone spray' lubricant, it's an aerosol can of a very thin silicone based lubricant that dries to a dry film. This leaves a thin, clear coat over the entire round preventing corrosion and also aiding extraction (plus it won't turn to glue...). to use it you just need your loaded ammo and an old towel or t-shirt, lay a couple handfuls of ammo on the towel in a single layer (layed out, not stacked on top of each other)and spray an even amount of silicone spray over the ammo. Let it sit for a few seconds then fold the towel up over the ammo and roll it all around, this helps spread the silicone evenly across all the ammo and also removes excessive amounts. Do this with fully loaded ammo only, if done with primed cases it may contaminate the primer and cause issues with the case being able to hold the bullet strongly enough. Not a whole lot of extra work in all, and you'll have clean, accurate, and functioning ammunition that's made from free range pickup steel cases. If you're feeling particularly ambitious I have seen people powder coat cases, this would also help with the friction and corrosion issues and with a harbor freight coupon for the powder coating system and a thrift store counter top convection oven you'd be in for less than $100 (assuming you have a small air compressor available).
With all that said, a simple google search for once fired 7.62x39 will net at least a couple dozen sites with brass, boxer 7.62x39. The cheapest I saw was $19/100 plus shipping, seems the norm is about $30/100. Hey, I don't like buying cases that I can pick up for free either but it's a good way to pad the stash with worry-free handloads. Hell, the next time you go to the range (and from now on) pick up anything that's brass, even if it's a caliber you don't own a gun for. Take it home, sort it, and keep collecting until you have an amount worth selling and post it on craigslist or another local swappin' and sellin' type site. Use that cash to buy some good stuff to save for a special occasion while you use the steel stuff for practice and for a gradual increase in your arsenal.
Final thoughts,
-Steel cases are plentiful
-Won't hurt your gun but there are better materials out there
-Better materials readily available but steel works
-Berdan conversions are good to know how to do
-If you're gonna do it, do it right
-Be smart, be safe, and be resourceful.
-And for God's sake don't mindlessly believe everything you see or read on the internet, the guy in the video refers to steel cases as steel brass and brass cases as "brass.. uh, brass." Consider the source, if it's questionable then question it.
So, if you can counter his argument respectfully, please do. We are all learning everyday of our life thru the sharing of ideas and viewpoints.
 Thank you Tanner for sharing yours.

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