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Thread: Could old powder damage brass?

  1. #1
    Boolit Master

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    Could old powder damage brass?

    I have an odd question. I'm far from a rookie when it comes to gunpowder and reloading, and have been using various surplus powders and such for decades. I've even seen what happens when powder goes bad. This is a little different though, and has me scratching my head.

    I have a bunch of .223 reloads that are cracking. Something like 1500 rounds that I loaded over a year ago, and they all crack at the neck when fired, some are even cracked from just sitting. They are a couple different bullet types, and at least two different lots of brass.

    I've never had anything quite like this happen before. I've found old reloads that have cracked much the same after 20 or 30 years, but not recent stuff. They all had two things in common: 1. The brass was all stainless-steel tumbled, shiny inside and out. 2. They are all loaded with some surplus Data 2200 powder that I bought at a gun show a couple years ago.

    I've been SS tumbling for several years now, never noticed a problem. I'm a little worried that problems like this could show up in other ammo I've loaded, like nice match 30-06 and such, but so far nothing similar.

    That leaves the powder. Honestly it looks and smells fine. I loaded a few more with the same powder and they shot fine. I pulled down a bunch of the ammo from last year and there was no sign of any corrosion or tarnish. I posted about this in another thread a while back, with no resolution. Ammonia exposure of all this brass is extremely unlikely. I know that annealing plays a part, but this is every single round, of the same type of brass that I've never had an issue with before.

    If ball powder like this was starting to deteriorate, any chance it could affect the brass like this, just sitting loaded for a year or so? It seems like a long shot to me, but something is clearly going on here, and it's got me puzzled.

  2. #2
    Boolit Grand Master

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    I don't know if this is helpful, but I use Data 2200 for many years in several calibers, and I have not seen any evidence of case cracks. However, it sure produces a fireball upon firing!
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    bullets or boolits?
    you know lead alloys with antimony grow with age.
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  4. #4
    Boolit Master uscra112's Avatar
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    Neck cracking with age was a common topic in the '20s and '30s. Something to do with the temper of the brass, they thought. Related to the cupro-nickel jackets that were common at one time. I have the idea that there's something in Hatcher's Notebooks, but too tired to look just now.
    Last edited by uscra112; 12-10-2019 at 02:56 AM.
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  5. #5
    Boolit Master

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    Regular old bullets, 55gr fmj and 50gr JSP.

    The ones that were cracked before even firing, the cracks were invisible but ran the length of the neck, and I could pull the bullets out with my fingers.

    I really don't see how it could be the powder, but that would just leave the wet tumbling as the culprit. I don't see how wet tumbling could embrittle the brass.

  6. #6
    Boolit Master uscra112's Avatar
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    It's probably poor quality brass, or it has been resized/reloaded too many times without annealing.

    Neither powder nor cleaning method would have anything to do with it, unless a strong acid like muriatic were used in cleaning. (stronger than LemiShine).

    Wartime surplus powder that wasn't properly washed to remove the acids that nitrated the cellulose would corrode brass internally, but after 60+ years there's none of that stuff still around, unless you happen across some loaded ammo from that period.
    Last edited by uscra112; 12-10-2019 at 03:02 AM.
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  7. #7
    Boolit Master

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    It’s probably poor quality brass, or it has been resized/reloaded too many times without annealing.
    No, I’ve eliminated this as a possibility. I know for a fact that at least some of it was for certain once fired. There were three lots, one was with some nice brass I’d been saving for accurate loads.

    I’ve loaded thousands of rounds like this before with rarely ever a cracked neck, and suddenly 100% are splitting? I wish it was just bad brass.

  8. #8
    Boolit Master uscra112's Avatar
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    Have you tried annealing some of it? If that stops the cracking, then it has to be a function of the necks having become work-hardened.
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  9. #9
    Boolit Master
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    Did you change anything else in the reloading process? Thinking maybe how you prepped the brass or crimped it?

    You said that some of the brass was once fired, but do you know how old it was? Brass work hardens, and holding a bullet is work, so 40 year old brass might be a problem on first or second firing while fresh brass might be good for more cycles before it splits.

    Pull a few and measure the bullet diameters.

    Ultrasonic cleaning has a hardening effect on copper alloys, but best I can tell from scientific articles it is very minor. I’ve seen nothing suggesting that wet tumbling changes brass hardness. I’ve seen nothing about chemically hardening copper alloys, and any significant chemical reaction would show damage on the inside of the case.

    I don’t see how tumbling or powder selection could be causing this problem, but with 100% failure we know that it’s something and it would be good to figure out what.

  10. #10
    What are you using for the wet tumbler solution, and do you run them thru a polishing medium. If so what compounds

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  11. #11
    Boolit Bub
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    I have a friend that purchased the prettiest brass at a gun show it was wet tumbled LC 16 brass. about 20% of the necks had cracks after being reloaded for 6 or 7 months? He has been loading for decades so his assumption was a chemical effect? I don't know if that is what it was or not but we annealed the rest that weren't cracked, and hasn't had a problem since.

  12. #12
    Boolit Master

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    The brass is mostly range pickup, mostly recent manufacture LC or FC, One batch was a bunch of shiny, once fired RP that I'd been saving for quite a while. Everything splits, even the recent manufacture, once fired brass. I think it's safe to eliminate normal brass fatigue.

    I use a little Dawn and Lemishine in the stainless steel pins, but when I started wet tumbling, I had a tendency to use more than was necessary. I've found over time that a very small amount is all that is needed.

    The only differences in the loading process that I've made recently are the use of a WFT for trimming (love it), and I finally set up the Dillon 550 for .223 ammo. I can't imagine how either of these things would cause any problems.

  13. #13
    Boolit Master

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    Quote Originally Posted by wnc435 View Post
    I have a friend that purchased the prettiest brass at a gun show it was wet tumbled LC 16 brass. about 20% of the necks had cracks after being reloaded for 6 or 7 months? He has been loading for decades so his assumption was a chemical effect? I don't know if that is what it was or not but we annealed the rest that weren't cracked, and hasn't had a problem since.
    Very interesting. There must be something we're missing here. I wonder?

  14. #14
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    Lots of possibilities. Is all the brass that splits being fired in the same rifle? Something may be wrong with the rifle's chamber. Were the case necks expanded before the bullets were inserted? Maybe overstretched/stressed if the die is out of adjustment or the expander ball worn out. Inspect the case necks of the unfired rounds for a deep scratch on the neck, indicating a burr in the sizing die at that location. A combination of insufficient or no expansion of the neck and a bullet that is one or two thousandths over specs might stress the neck enough to crack it. If it's not the powder, the brass is properly expanded, the dies not defective, the bullets properly sized, that kind of brings us back to the chamber.

    I've had, and probably still have some extremely old ammo, a 100 years or more, that cracked in the boxes from old age. All military stuff with cupro-nickel bullet jackets that corroded the brass. The bullets are coated in verdigris and have even partially pushed out of the cases. But--the powder will still ignite. As stated in several posts above, cracked brass necks usually indicates that the brass should have been annealed and/or is just worn out from too many loadings. I do not believe that powder attacks the brass, and anyway it's not in contact with the inner surface of the neck which is tightly sealed by the presence of the bullet.

  15. #15
    Boolit Master

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    Cartridge brass that has been exposed to ammonia that is in bore cleaning solvent will ruin the structure of brass.
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  16. #16
    Boolit Master

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    I can guarantee that it's not a chamber problem. So far, test rifles have been a very nice Remington 700, two AR rifles chambered in 5.56, and one in .223 Wylde. They all exhibit cracked brass. The bullets are all standard .224" jacketed bullets.

    I've checked over the dies. I have my original RCBS set that I bought new 30 years ago. A couple years ago I loaned them to a friend, who got a stuck case and broke the decapping stem trying to remove it. RCBS sent me a new stem and expander ball. The ball measures .2215". I measured the ball on a Dillon die, and it's .223". Perhaps that's an issue, but I don't see how?

    I took 20 pieces or the RP brass that I'd pulled down, annealed them, resizes them, and checked closely for cracks. Of those I got 4 that are not cracked. I'll load and fire those, see how they do.

    The powder being the problem seemed like a real long shot, and I was hoping it's not the culprit since I have 16 lbs of it. At this point I'm suspecting it's something I did wrong with the wet tumbling somehow, though I don't know what.

    Added: the ammonia angle was mentioned when I posted about this before. I just can't imagine where or how there could have been any ammonia exposure. I have some ammonia based bore cleaner, but it's out in the garage and I almost never use it.

  17. #17
    Boolit Master

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    Here's an interesting observation. As I'm going through all this brass, checking them over with a magnifying glass, many of them are cracked through the neck and into the shoulder. Those that are just beginning to crack, are cracked in the shoulder area only. The cracks are stating in the shoulder, under the bullet. That seems really odd.

  18. #18
    Boolit Master
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    Is it possible that the breakdown of the powder is releasing ammonia or a similar compound that could cause the brass to crack?

    Gunpowder is made up of "Salt Peter" - Potassium Nitrate ( Niter)(75%), in addition to charcoal(15%) & sulfur(10%) , and the Potassium Nitrate, which is often made from guano & urine (& some other ingredients) , which would possibly contain ammonia( I would say more than likely), as the powder ages & the components of the powder possibly breaks down further over time, even after being made into gunpowder.

    As far as the shoulders being the origination point of the cracks, dependent on how the rounds were stored with the powder in them (& perhaps how long stored in that position). Meaning i f the rounds were stored stack on their sides, the chances of the powder being up against the shoulder is more likely & since the neck/shoulder area is likely the part most worked in reloading, as well as likely being thinner than the rest of the case, would it not be a possible factor in the cause of the cases cracking where they are?

    If it is an "ammonia gas" or something like that, then perhaps it is affecting all of the brass case, but the neck/shoulder, is getting the brunt due to the working of that area & the thickness there?

    Just offering up what might be some possibilities for what is happening since the powder is older surplus stuff...

    {Related topic in another forum. Might provide some clues?/
    https://forums.gunboards.com/showthr...0-powder-users!!!!! }
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  19. #19
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    "Gunpowder is made up of "Salt Peter" - Potassium Nitrate ( Niter)(75%), in addition to charcoal(15%) & sulfur(10%) which is often made from guano & urine, which would possibly contain ammonia, as the powder ages & the components of the powder possibly breaks down further, even after being made into gunpowder."

    Uuuuummmmm…...that is the composition of black powder.....referred to back in the day as "gunpowder". The smokeless powder, Data 2200, the OP is using is not black powder...…..

    fatelk

    I've about 1200 rounds of .308W that is loaded with 124 gr jacketed steel bullets over Data 2200 for about 10 years now. They are loaded in 308W and milsurp 7.62 NATO cases of many different makes. It has not deteriorated and the case necks do not split. These cases were all fired 5 time +/- in M1A/M14s back when, with standard FL dies, incipient head separation could be expected in the next couple firings, if FL fired again. They were in a bucket to be disposed of but I salvaged most of them when I started using the RCBS X-die. The rounds now are used in and FR8 bolt action and are still going strong. I also have used a lot of Data 2200 in 5.56 loads with 55 gr fmj's (23 gr) and in 7.62x39 with 123/124 gr fmj's without any split neck problems.

    If you pull some of the bullets and inspect the powder and it looks still good then I suspect something in the cleaning solution is causing the problem. Use the pulled powder in cases that have not been cleaned in that solution and chronograph them. If the velocities are consistent and the case necks do not split then it is indeed something in the cleaning solution.....dump that solution and use something else. I would then pull all the bullets and at least salvage the bullets and powder.

    Given the wide usage of Data 2200 powder by many without the split neck problems I would certainly suspicion the case cleaning problem first.
    Last edited by Larry Gibson; 12-10-2019 at 05:02 PM.
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  20. #20
    Boolit Master
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    Ummmm. OK. Kind of a patronizing way to respond to my post, IMO, but I will reply respectfully with my way of thinking regardless of gunpowder or smokeless powder, be it single double or triple based.

    While I supplied the basic makeup of Black powder( Gunpowder) and not smokeless powder , as I should have done, the concept I mention is the same. Reason being is that if I am not mistaken, in any of the 3 basic types of smokeless, there is still the opportunity for ammonia, or other corrosive gasses/components to be released from decomposing powder due to the types of acids used in the process of manufacturing the smokeless powders.

    The reason why the ammonia could still be present even in smokeless is that if I am not mistaken, many of the powder manufacturers use both sulfuric & nitric acids to manufacture the powder regardless of the 3 types. If there is any of that acid in the smokeless powder as the powder ages it can decompose & the release of the components of the deterioration of the powder. There are "stabilizers" added to the powders, but there is only a finite amount of it in the powder & when that stabilizer is used up offsetting the acids & the byproducts of those acids from the decomposition of the powder over time, the remaining byproducts could cause a corrosive effect on the cases( non ferrous metals).

    In addition to just regular decomposition over time, then if one factors in the possibility of moisture content & elevated temperatures in the powder(s) before they are loaded into cases, there is an increased chance that the out-gassing & byproducts may over whelm the stabilizers & create issues after time. Even if the powder has been loaded into cases, temperature extremes could likely play a part in decomposition of he powder, would nt one think?

    So, while I made the mistake of only mentioning gunpowder & not smokeless, the principle of the deterioration of the smokeless powder, with the addition of Nitric acid(Niter), could certainly introduce ammonia as a byproduct of the acid affecting the stored powder.

    Now that I have attempted to correct my use of the term, "gunpowder" and replaced the use of that term with, "smokeless" and the possibility of it not mattering since both could possibly do the same thing with the byproducts, do you approve of this post & the possibility might still remain that this byproducts affect could be a contributing factor to the issues being discussed, or is your last post mentioning that you think it is likely the cleaning solution that is the final say in what is causing the issues & nothing else might be a contributing factor?

    Quote Originally Posted by Larry Gibson View Post
    "Gunpowder is made up of "Salt Peter" - Potassium Nitrate ( Niter)(75%), in addition to charcoal(15%) & sulfur(10%) which is often made from guano & urine, which would possibly contain ammonia, as the powder ages & the components of the powder possibly breaks down further, even after being made into gunpowder."

    Uuuuummmmm…...that is the composition of black powder.....referred to back in the day as "gunpowder". The smokeless powder, Data 2200, the OP is using is not black powder...…..

    fatelk

    I've about 1200 rounds of .308W that is loaded with 124 gr jacketed steel bullets over Data 2200 for about 10 years now. They are loaded in 308W and milsurp 7.62 NATO cases of many different makes. It has not deteriorated and the case necks do not split. These cases were all fired 5 time +/- in M1A/M14s back when, with standard FL dies, incipient head separation could be expected in the next couple firings, if FL fired again. They were in a bucket to be disposed of but I salvaged most of them when I started using the RCBS X-die. The rounds now are used in and FR8 bolt action and are still going strong. I also have used a lot of Data 2200 in 5.56 loads with 55 gr fmj's (23 gr) and in 7.62x39 with 123/124 gr fmj's without any split neck problems.

    If you pull some of the bullets and inspect the powder and it looks still good then I suspect something in the cleaning solution is causing the problem. Use the pulled powder in cases that have not been cleaned in that solution and chronograph them. If the velocities are consistent and the case necks do not split then it is indeed something in the cleaning solution.....dump that solution and use something else. I would then pull all the bullets and at least salvage the bullets and powder.

    Given the wide usage of Data 2200 powder by many without the split neck problems I would certainly suspicion the case cleaning problem first.
    ETA: In re-reading the OP, apparently the method used, stainless steel wet tumbling has not demonstrated any issues with other cases, as per the OP, fatelk. Only these particular ones from his description in the OP. Would it not be likely that perhaps it is a combination of things that is causing the issues & not just the cleaning method/chemicals used? like ,Powder deteriorating as well as a cleaning method/component combination?
    Or not...
    Post #16 might add some clues to this, by the info shared, I would reckon...

    Quote Originally Posted by fatelk View Post
    I can guarantee that it's not a chamber problem. So far, test rifles have been a very nice Remington 700, two AR rifles chambered in 5.56, and one in .223 Wylde. They all exhibit cracked brass. The bullets are all standard .224" jacketed bullets.

    I've checked over the dies. I have my original RCBS set that I bought new 30 years ago. A couple years ago I loaned them to a friend, who got a stuck case and broke the decapping stem trying to remove it. RCBS sent me a new stem and expander ball. The ball measures .2215". I measured the ball on a Dillon die, and it's .223". Perhaps that's an issue, but I don't see how?

    I took 20 pieces or the RP brass that I'd pulled down, annealed them, resizes them, and checked closely for cracks. Of those I got 4 that are not cracked. I'll load and fire those, see how they do.

    The powder being the problem seemed like a real long shot, and I was hoping it's not the culprit since I have 16 lbs of it. At this point I'm suspecting it's something I did wrong with the wet tumbling somehow, though I don't know what.

    Added: the ammonia angle was mentioned when I posted about this before. I just can't imagine where or how there could have been any ammonia exposure. I have some ammonia based bore cleaner, but it's out in the garage and I almost never use it.
    Still think it is just the cleaning solution/method?
    Last edited by JBinMN; 12-10-2019 at 05:33 PM.
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