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Thread: My quest for the "perfect" cast .223 load for my AR-15

  1. #1
    Boolit Man
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    My quest for the "perfect" cast .223 load for my AR-15

    Update as of 2/20/18: I have found that my AR will cycle reliably using 17.5 grains or more of H335 powder, using the Lee .225" 55gr FP boolit. This appears to be lower than the velocity I want for best accuracy, so now I just need to step up the load and take some other measures to get good accuracy. That's what Test #3 will be about, is finding the most accuracy.

    Original Post:
    Hey everyone--

    I've spent lots of time reading here and gotten lots of great info. Now that I've joined the ranks of the AR-15 crowd, I'm tackling my most ambitious casting goal yet: an inexpensive cast .223 load that cycles my "M4 clone" reliably, and is accurate out to at least 100 yards, preferably 200.

    I'm doing a short video series to carefully document my "somewhat-scientific" approach to chasing down this unicorn load. The documentation is more for myself than anyone else, but if it helps a brother out who is as overwhelmed with information as I was when researching for this, all the better.

    This first video is mostly just an introduction and the culmination of my research into the different factors that go into a successful cast load in an AR-15. About 10 minutes of talking and reading off of a paper so I could remember everything I wanted to cover... haha.



    But this weekend or next, barring a life-changing event (my wife is due to give birth to our first child any day now ), I'll be testing out my first set of loads to see where they get me. I will be carefully recording my tests, and documenting my findings for the next video.

    All testing will be done on my rifle with the following specs, so anyone looking to develop a load for their own rifle will have mine as a starting point:

    Anderson Lower
    Bear Creek Arsenal Upper
    16" chrome-moly barrel with 1:9 twist
    Carbine-length gas system
    Standard carbine buffer and buffer spring
    Standard 8620 steel BCG
    Last edited by BHuij; 02-20-2018 at 02:23 PM.
    Currently in the process of developing the "perfect" cast .223 load for my AR-15. Click here to follow my progress

  2. #2
    Boolit Man
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    Test #1 - Results and Comments in Blue

    Video of results:


    Goals:
    • Find out if IMR-4227 will cycle reliably or if I need to find a new powder. Nope, need a new powder.
    • Get a rough idea of POI differences between cast loads in the ~2000FPS range and regular factory j-word rounds Seems just a tad lower, but it's not as dramatic of a difference as I was expecting.
    • See if any of these charges is grouping obviously better or worse than the others The 12.9 grain load (estimated velocity of 2035 FPS) grouped significantly better than any other load, so I'll see if I can refine that "ideal" velocity in future tests with different powders.


    Test Groups (10 rounds each):
    • 12.0 grains of IMR-4227. Estimated pressure is 19733 CUP, and estimated velocity is 1906 FPS. Not accurate, short stroked.
    • 12.3 grains of IMR-4227. Estimated pressure is 20253 CUP, and estimated velocity is 1949 FPS. Not accurate, short stroked.
    • 12.6 grains of IMR-4227. Estimated pressure is 20773 CUP, and estimated velocity is 1992 FPS. Not accurate, short stroked.
    • 12.9 grains of IMR-4227. Estimated pressure is 21293 CUP, and estimated velocity is 2035 FPS. Reasonably accurate, short stroked.
    • 13.2 grains of IMR-4227. Estimated pressure is 21813 CUP, and estimated velocity is 2078 FPS. Not accurate, short stroked.


    Striving for consistency on as many variables as I can control:
    • Projectiles: Boolits are 100% wheel weight alloy, water quenched, using the Lee .225 55 gr flat nose mold.
    • Gas check: Aluminum gas checks are installed after casting using a Lee .225" push-through sizing die. My push-through sizing die appears to have a tiny amount of clearance between the ram and the inner walls of the sizing portion of the die. Gas checks are not turning into nice flat bases, but getting thin "fins" of aluminum protruding around the circumference of the base downwards. Any tips for dealing with this would be welcome; it has never happened for my .358" or .314" sizing dies (which I use for 9mm and 7.62x54R respectively).
    • Coating: Checked boolits are powder coated using Elvis's "heat to 140 first" shake 'n bake method, then baked at 400F for 20 minutes. Powder coat is Smoke's Clear. Coated boolits are then sized again back down to .225". This powder coat is magic, and puts the HF Red to shame. My bullets look like lead instead of lipstick now and I love it. Mad props to Smoke.
    • Hardness: After PCing and sizing, boolits are allowed a minimum of 1 week to age harden before loading. Although I don't have a hardness test, I estimate the process of water quenching WW alloy, then semi-annealing during the PC process, then allowing to age-harden again is leaving me with a hardness somewhere in the range of 15-16 BHN. I was too impatient to wait for them to harden a full week. But no leading, and by the time I get around to shooting any more, those bullets should be well over a week past their PC date.
    • Brass: All I have is range pickup, mixed head stamps. All brass is decapped, lubed with Lanolin + 99% isopropyl alcohol, full-length sized using the Lee .223 pacesetter dies, and then wet tumbled with Dawn and Lemishine for two hours before being allowed to thoroughly air dry. I'm going to need to find a solution for reaming or swaging primer pockets. Had trouble getting primers to seat consistently or without excessive force, I assume because a bunch of my range pickup is military brass.
    • Primers: All primers are CCI 400 small rifle primers (non-magnum).
    • Loading Procedure: Necks are expanded prior to seating boolits using the Lee Universal Neck Expander die. Boolits are seated per reloading manual to a COAL of 2.060". After seating, a light factory crimp is applied to remove belled case mouths and allow the cartridges to chamber, but not enough to swage projectiles down smaller than .225". I'm torn between trying a longer COAL for the sake of accuracy, and leaving it as is for the sake of having somewhat trustworthy estimates on velocity and pressure. I think for now I'll leave them short, and once I have a load that cycles reliably I'll start trying for longer.
    • Shooting Procedure: For the sake of consistency, the same 20-round pmag is used for all testing. As my sights are currently zeroed for factory j-word ammo, I'm going to shoot at 25 yards. I am shooting off a bench using a Harris-style bipod. The bipod is rested on a sandbag rather than the hard bench top, and I am leaning into the bipod to load it for each shot. The short range should allow me to get on paper for this test even if POI is dramatically different with these lighter loads, which it probably will be. I realize shooting at 25 yards doesn't give me the best data for measuring accuracy, but gross trends in 10-round groups should be observable, and this test is really more interested in seeing if I'm cycling the action consistently with this powder, and if I'm getting any leading (I shouldn't be). Once I get a reliably cycling load, I'll re-zero my sights and really dial in the load for accuracy at a longer range.


    Looking forward to testing these rounds and reporting back.
    Last edited by BHuij; 02-11-2018 at 01:46 AM.
    Currently in the process of developing the "perfect" cast .223 load for my AR-15. Click here to follow my progress

  3. #3
    Boolit Bub

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    I look forward to seeing what you come up with.

  4. #4
    Moderator Emeritus


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    I would advise you to google the "Houston Warehouse Experiment" and pay close attention to brass prep. Also get some copper checks to compare groups with.
    [The Montana Gianni] Front sight and squeeze

  5. #5
    Boolit Master PaulG67's Avatar
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    First off, early congratulations on the upcoming life changing event, and unless you have cloned yourself you will find that you will be far too busy for the next month or more to be making any videos. But you will enjoy it, remember every minute of it because they grow up way too fast and post some pics because as you know without pics it never happened...... LOL

    Now about the loading, I was working with an NOE mold, if I remember it was 70 grain GC design. I did not do enough work with it to make it worth writing about so I am much interested in seeing what you come up with. Good luck with both endeavors.
    Paul G


    I am Retired, I was tired yesterday and I am tired today!!!

  6. #6
    Boolit Master

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    H4895 was designed to produce large gas volume to cycle gas operated rifles. I've had good luck getting a 5.56 AR upper to cycle using 16gr of H4895 and 55-62gr boolits. The upper was not mine so I was unable to do much in the way of accuracy testing with it however others have reported decent accuracy using this powder for reduced loads. Some reported needing to use as much as 18gr for proper cycling.

  7. #7
    Boolit Master Thumbcocker's Avatar
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    18.5 of 4895 was needed for full functioning on ours.
    You'll go far providin' you ain't burnt alive or scalped."

    Will Geer as Bear Claw in "Jeramiah Johnson"

  8. #8
    Boolit Master


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    Quote Originally Posted by MT Gianni View Post
    I would advise you to google the "Houston Warehouse Experiment" and pay close attention to brass prep. Also get some copper checks to compare groups with.
    I had never heard of this study and it was an extremely interesting read.
    Don Verna

    NRA Endowment Member

  9. #9
    Boolit Master

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    Quote Originally Posted by MT Gianni View Post
    I would advise you to google the "Houston Warehouse Experiment" and pay close attention to brass prep. Also get some copper checks to compare groups with.
    ^^^ Yeppers! ^^^
    It ain't rocket science, it's boolit science.

  10. #10
    Boolit Man
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    Quote Originally Posted by BHuij View Post
    Hey everyone--

    I've spent lots of time reading here and gotten lots of great info. Now that I've joined the ranks of the AR-15 crowd, I'm tackling my most ambitious casting goal yet: an inexpensive cast .223 load that cycles my "M4 clone" reliably, and is accurate out to at least 100 yards, preferably 200.

    I'm doing a short video series to carefully document my "somewhat-scientific" approach to chasing down this unicorn load. The documentation is more for myself than anyone else, but if it helps a brother out who is as overwhelmed with information as I was when researching for this, all the better.

    This first video is mostly just an introduction and the culmination of my research into the different factors that go into a successful cast load in an AR-15. About 10 minutes of talking and reading off of a paper so I could remember everything I wanted to cover... haha.



    But this weekend or next, barring a life-changing event (my wife is due to give birth to our first child any day now ), I'll be testing out my first set of loads to see where they get me. I will be carefully recording my tests, and documenting my findings for the next video.

    All testing will be done on my rifle with the following specs, so anyone looking to develop a load for their own rifle will have mine as a starting point:

    Anderson Lower
    Bear Creek Arsenal Upper
    16" chrome-moly barrel with 1:9 twist
    Carbine-length gas system
    Standard carbine buffer and buffer spring
    Standard 8620 steel BCG
    You can get them a lot harder than 15-16 BHN after PC. I bake mine at 450 for 20 minutes but thats with bigger 308 bullets. Try starting with 425F you'll be surprised how hard they can get

    Sent from my SM-G950U1 using Tapatalk

  11. #11
    Boolit Man
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    Quote Originally Posted by dimaprok View Post
    You can get them a lot harder than 15-16 BHN after PC. I bake mine at 450 for 20 minutes but thats with bigger 308 bullets. Try starting with 425F you'll be surprised how hard they can get

    Sent from my SM-G950U1 using Tapatalk
    Are you implying that baking hotter during the PC process (without quenching after) actually makes for a harder final boolit? That goes against my theoretical knowledge of how annealing works, so if I'm not misunderstanding here, I'd love for you to expound on this.
    Currently in the process of developing the "perfect" cast .223 load for my AR-15. Click here to follow my progress

  12. #12
    Boolit Man
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    Quote Originally Posted by MT Gianni View Post
    I would advise you to google the "Houston Warehouse Experiment" and pay close attention to brass prep. Also get some copper checks to compare groups with.
    Read it this morning and it was incredibly fascinating. Thanks for the pointer.
    Currently in the process of developing the "perfect" cast .223 load for my AR-15. Click here to follow my progress

  13. #13
    Moderator Emeritus


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    To me one of the most astonishing things, aside from the brass prep and skewed results with mixed brass, is the variation of several grains of powder in the same batch and still shooting in the tenths. I really miss Felix when it comes to questions like this.
    [The Montana Gianni] Front sight and squeeze

  14. #14
    Boolit Man
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    Quote Originally Posted by BHuij View Post
    Are you implying that baking hotter during the PC process (without quenching after) actually makes for a harder final boolit? That goes against my theoretical knowledge of how annealing works, so if I'm not misunderstanding here, I'd love for you to expound on this.
    Definately water quench after PC bake without delay.

    Sent from my SM-G950U1 using Tapatalk

  15. #15
    Boolit Man
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    Well, my wife was most resoundingly NOT in labor today, and the gun range is very close by. So I went for it.

    I have amended the ďTest #1Ē post to include results as well as a video going in depth. That is post #2 in this thread.

    Not so much luck today, itís looking like Iíll need to try another powder. So far I have seen recommended:

    • CFE223 - Specifically designed for this cartridge (though I assume with j-word bullets in mind)
    • H4895 - Specifically designed for large gas volume for use in semiauto gas guns like ARs and AKs
    • H335 - Apparently a very accurate powder for .223 projectiles, at least according to two separate people I talked to on Reddit.
    • Ramshot Tac - My cousin uses this with great success (again, not with cast).

    If anyone has other suggestions or can vouch for one of those powders (particularly if you can vouch for one using cast boolits in .223), Iíd love to hear. They all seem to fall right around the same zip code for burn rates, and all of them are significantly slower than 4227.

    So barring any really compelling reasons to choose one over the other, Iím inclined to just see whatís cheapest at Sportsmanís Warehouse

    Oh, and on that off chance that anyone is in Utah and wants to trade me a small amount of one of those powders in exchange for Bullseye, AA#2, or 4227, that would be great. Iíd love to avoid a scenario where I spent $30 on a pound of powder that doesnít work for me. I guess worst case scenario I could always work up a new load for my Mosin with the slower powder and see if I can beat the accuracy Iím getting from 4227 in 7.62x54R.
    Currently in the process of developing the "perfect" cast .223 load for my AR-15. Click here to follow my progress

  16. #16
    Boolit Man autopilotmp's Avatar
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    Currently using 19.5 h4895 for the same boolit from a 16" carbine. Reasonable accuracy at 100 yards. Hasn't been mentioned yet but for best accuracy in these tiny pills you gotta weight sort them ideally within tenth of a grain. Found that my rifle will function at 18grains if I use a filler (dacron). Also was not happy with the aluminum checks and switched to copper for better results. I have h335 & varget on hand as well but haven't done much with it yet.

    Still a work in progress for me as well, was considering trying adding copper into my lead, using a heavier/longer boolit, and making a sacrifice to the boolit Gods. Either way it's too cold for going to the outdoor range so this has been on hold for a couple months. Am interested in what you come up with.

  17. #17
    Boolit Man
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    From what I'm reading, H4895 is best for function, H335 is best for accuracy, and CFE 223 is the cleanest running. Since I haven't yet gotten mine to cycle, I think H4895 is my next one to try. Maximum port pressure with minimum velocity seems to be the recipe here for these light 55gr cast. If I just absolutely can't get reliable cycling without pushing beyond 2000 FPS, I will consider a lighter buffer spring or a heavier boolit. Thanks for the info! Especially the tip about the Dacron filler allowing for lighter loads, that's good to know.
    Currently in the process of developing the "perfect" cast .223 load for my AR-15. Click here to follow my progress

  18. #18
    Boolit Master


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    If you have not already done so, check your accuracy with jacketed bullets. It gives you a baseline of what you and the gun are capable of.

    The AR is not an easy platform to work with. If you want blasting ammunition, that is an easier goal than accurate ammunition. You will not achieve accuracy unless you visually inspect and weigh every bullet before lubing/coating and GCing it. If you cannot seat the GC squarely, you are wasting time and resources.

    I bought the NATO (I believe about 70 gr) mold to undertake a similar project for my AR’s and decided to abandon it. BTW, A heavier bullet should help. My initial thoughts were to use 4895 and if that did not work, Varget. I think 4895 is a good choice. My alloy was going to be Linotype to get the hardness and if that worked, I would try 92-2-6 next. Both water quenched. My lube was going to be 2500+ from Lars. Lastly, copper GC’s.

    My objectives were to be self-sufficient in case I needed to be, and save some money. I do not reload or cast for “fun” like many here do. Facing the prospect of doing all that work casting, bullets sorting, lubing, sizing, load development etc and likely not matching the accuracy or performance of a cheap Jacketed bullet made me question why bother.

    One of the vendors here had Hornady 55 gr SP on sale for $7/100 in bulkpacks of 6000. It was an easy decision for me. If the supply of inexpensive jacketed bullets ever becomes an issue, I still have the mold and can address it then. So I follow these kind of threads with interest.

    I wish you luck....And yes it can be done. But it will not be easy.
    Don Verna

    NRA Endowment Member

  19. #19
    Boolit Man autopilotmp's Avatar
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    19.5 grains of h4895 was @2100fps from my 16" barrel that was lubed with carnuba blue, copper gc, wd coww, no filler. Would like to try the cfe223 bay see if I can pick some up for the heavier boolits.

  20. #20
    Boolit Man
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    Thanks everyone for the info. I've done plenty of reading (here and elsewhere) over the past few days. My wife and I welcomed our first child, a little boy, into the world on Sunday afternoon, and we came home from the hospital only yesterday. Mom and baby both doing great. While we were staying in the hospital, there wasn't a whole lot to do in between feeding the baby and changing diapers, so I spent a good amount of time researching and putting together my next round of tests.

    Now that we're home and I'm taking the majority of this week off from work, I'm hoping to be able to put a video together soon describing the next test and what I've decided on. We're kind of in the same boat here as we were in the hospital, time wise. Baby alternates between eating, sleeping, and pooping, mom is napping whenever possible, and I have time to kill, but want to stick around the apartment for obvious reasons. So although I've decided on what I'll be trying out next, and will probably be able to put the test rounds all together by the end of the week, we're going to have to play it by ear to figure out when I'll next be able to spend a few hours at the range. It may be a few weeks.

    Anyway, stay tuned.
    Currently in the process of developing the "perfect" cast .223 load for my AR-15. Click here to follow my progress

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Abbreviations used in Reloading

BP Bronze Point IMR Improved Military Rifle PTD Pointed
BR Bench Rest M Magnum RN Round Nose
BT Boat Tail PL Power-Lokt SP Soft Point
C Compressed Charge PR Primer SPCL Soft Point "Core-Lokt"
HP Hollow Point PSPCL Pointed Soft Point "Core Lokt" C.O.L. Cartridge Overall Length
PSP Pointed Soft Point Spz Spitzer Point SBT Spitzer Boat Tail
LRN Lead Round Nose LWC Lead Wad Cutter LSWC Lead Semi Wad Cutter
GC Gas Check