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Pat's Notes from the Field: What's the Deal with Steel?

Since the introduction of Freedom Munitions' American Steel ammo many questions and concerns have come up regarding the case itself.  "Will it wear out my extractor?", "Can the cases be reloaded?", "Will the brass plating peel off?", "Will these cases cause problems for the reloader?" and others.  The short answer is, the American Steel brass-plated steel cases perform just like standard brass cases. OK, end of article, let's go shooting!  Nope! You guys know me and I have to know what I am talking about, so here is how I've come to know what I know about American Steel.

Will it wear out my extractor?  No.  To test that I removed the extractor from my Grand Power K100 pistol and fired a several rounds of Freedom's steel cases, and some PMC and some CCI Lawman brass cases.  What happened? ALL of the cases fell out of the chamber after firing.  That is a pretty fair indication that the extractor is not doing too much work. So let's put that concern to bed. Shoot all you want without a worry.  Extractor less less Video Clip.

Ejection Port 1

American Steel case falls on to empty magazine after firing without Extractor!

Can the cases be reloaded? Officially NO! and CCI says the same thing about their Aluminum cases. But...what if one or two get into your reloading stream? What happens then?  That my friends took me a lot more time and effort to determine as several factors come into play and number one is safety!

We all use "range pickup" brass to make lower pressure plinking and practice rounds. We should all be conscious of what cases enter our loading stream. Of course you have to "weed out" the obvious 380's and split or heavily damaged 9mm cases. So now, dragging a magnet through the collected cases may have to be an added step. I seem to remember the headstamp G.F.L. having a problem with case and head separations and that is one case a magnet wouldn't find. So, be careful.

We comfortably, perhaps too comfortably, assume most any 9mm brass has roughly the same internal volume so our one "recipe" is safe in all. To determine case volume I filled three brass cases (Armscor, PMC and CCI Lawman) with water, weighing them before and after filling, and compared those values with the American Steel case.

Net water weight in grains:

American Steel 14.3

Armscor 14.5

PMC 14.4

CCI Lawman 14.0

Understanding the above, internal volume is not a worry.

Press

Single stage press set-up to test re-sizing effort.

"Will they mess up or get stuck in my press?"  Nope.

To test that I ran un-lubed cases through an RCBS "Rock Chucker" with a Carbide sizing die installed. A weight scale attached to the loading handle confirmed the re-sizing force in pounds:

American Steel 27

Armscor 25

PMC 18

CCI Lawman 21

Aguila 20

Blazer Aluminum 13

Those numbers make sense as steel is less malleable than brass, and aluminum is more!

Scale

Beyond sizing and de-capping, the American Steel cases act just like brass during the belling, priming, bullet seating and crimping phases, except that you may notice slightly more resistance when belling.  Again steel is less malleable.

Let's assume you have employed due diligence in removing all cases not deemed worthy for this loading session, but one got through!  OH NO!  Or rather, oh no big deal.

Having determined that the American Steel cases have the same internal volume as "regular" brass and run the loading press with nearly the same effort,  I actually loaded up 3 cases and shot them and loaded them and shot them and loaded them and shot them!  For a total of 5 loadings and firings!

American Steel Cases look pretty good after 5 firing cycles!

American Steel Cases look pretty good after 5 firing cycles!

For the load I used what I had on hand: the most excellent CZ 85B, a case nearly full of Unique powder and some 124 grain jacketed bullets. The load produced on average 1173 FPS making 145 power factor and is a upper end load for the standard 9mm. As a comparison I also loaded up 10 each of the American Steel and PMC cases with the same load with the same press and die settings. As one might expect given the previous data points, the American Steel cases produced virtually the same velocities as the conventional PMC cases.

 

Chrono 1

Chronograph Data: Left is American Steel---On the right PMC

The case after 5 firings did not expand more than 0.001" more than the once-fired case did. (measured just above the extractor groove.) The primer pockets did not become loose. There were no issues with bullet "set-back" meaning the case/bullet tension was fine.

American Steel once fired.

American Steel case once fired.

Case Measure2

American Steel case after 5 firings"The American Steel Cases throw sparks!

"Hey, I noticed sparks when firing!"  Yep, American Steel cases throw some sparks.  Kinda like the sparks you see when shooting steel targets in low light. In both instances, tiny fractions of material are being "lit up" via high force abrasion. When a bullet hits steel (yes, even standard jacketed bullets) it pushes microscopic bits off the target face. In our case the brass plating is being hit with 25,000+ psi gases! And the Lab Techs have assured me that "sparking has not shown to cause any ill effect on your firearm."

Spark

American as the 4th of July!

So what conclusions can we draw?  First, I did not assemble this information as a guide for reloading American Steel cases, that is a no-go right from Freedom Munitions. Second, I did this work to show that IF...IF you, the diligent reloader finds a case or twenty made its way out the "fun-side" of your loading press, you have nothing to fear. And third, the inter-webs are a great place to share knowledge and first hand experience, but all too often we read posts where the author has of neither of the two.

Yours in Sport,

Patrick

Want to know how American Steel Ammo performs?  Click Here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Patrick E Kelley

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