At the heart of any firearm is the ammo – without it, the weapon is practically useless. And while there are many things to know about ammunition, not everyone is interested. For example, those who use firearms for self-defense prefer not to delve into the technicalities of ammo. But for the enthusiasts who care about their weapon’s performance, there is much to know about ammunition.
However, every firearm owner should know the basics of ammunition. Firearms and ammo work hand-in-hand to form one system anyway. As such, gaining an understanding of ammo can assist you in your decisions as a gun owner. To begin, here are nine facts you need to know about mass-manufactured ammo.
1. The Making of Jackets and Casings is Similar to the Making of Soda Cans
There are many ways to manufacture jackets and casings. Some manufacturers make jackets and cases through forging and casting.
However, the process of choice nowadays is called drawing. In this process, steel or brass discs or sheets undergo a course of drawing dies. These dies progressively shape and punch the sheets to turn them into the finished product.
Each step in the process only makes a small change on the metal. At the minimum, there can be 12 steps in the drawing process. This process is also the process of making present-day soda cans. The drawing process conserves more energy and is more replicable for mass production compared to casting and forging.
2. Quality Assurance and Maintenance May be Different for Each Supplier
It is crucial to know where your ammo is coming from because each supplier employs a different quality system. So, while most suppliers make ammunition in the same way, their testing and maintenance process may differ. As such, particular ammo can have different quality and reliability from other ammo.
The manufacturing process brings pressure to ammo metal. These pressures can wear down the metal, thereby affecting its performance in the long run. The manufacturer must then employ quality assurance and maintenance measures to ensure the finished product’s performance matches its advertised quality. All-in-all, this has an additional cost, but at least you have the assurance of good performance.
3. Manufacturers Use Special Rigs for Testing
The finest manufacturers use special, extremely stable rigs instead of market-available firearms to test their ammo. From each production batch, they randomly get ammunition and load it onto the rigs. They then fire towards a target, sometimes from a remote distance, to minimize human error. Sensors then gather performance data to determine if the ammunition passes the quality specifications.
4. Ammunition Usually Undergo a Process Called “Swaging”
Ammunition metal undergoes high pressure in a process called swaging (pronounced “sway-ging”) to achieve its desired form. Without heat, using a die and a precision press, metal is swaged to form the final shape. Then, there is a filing and cutting process to remove any excess material.
Manufacturers swage materials to make different types of bullets, whether jacketed, non-jacketed or partially-jacketed. Swaging is different from casting that involves the melting of materials before loading in a die. It is also different from machining that uses precision tools on black materials to shape them. While suppliers may use these processes, swaging is the popular choice for mass-production due to its speed and precision.
5. Ammo Can Come in Steel or Brass Cases
Most ammunition in the market has brass cases. However, many manufacturers also make steel-cased ammo. Steel cases are suitable for firearms with relatively violent extraction cycles. One example of these is the AK pattern rifles.
So which is better? Well, the fact of the matter is there is one that is not necessarily better than the other. Each material has its advantages and disadvantages. For example, brass is supple, which means it can better form a seal around the bullet, preventing corrosion and misfiring. Also, brass is much softer than the materials in chambers and barrels. As such, brass can minimize the wear and tear of the firearm.
Nonetheless, steel is more resistant to tearing during the extraction process. Also, ammo with steel casing can be very cheap. However, a price reduction may also mean a discount in quality assurance. Also, it is more difficult to reload steel cases than brass cases. This difficulty may be an issue for shooters who prefer to hand-load ammunition.
6. There are Many Ways to Assemble Ammo
The most popular way to mate cases and bullets is through the process of swaging and crimping. However, there are other processes like gluing, soldering, and welding. Some manufacturers like to use these processes sometimes to minimize the probability of premature collapse.
7. There Are Safety Issues in the Manufacturing of Ammo
Hazardous chemicals, lubricants, and solvents may be involved in the process of making ammo. Dust from lead and brass, along with gas emissions from primers and propellants, may cause unhealthy levels of indoor air pollution. Since safety can be expensive, manufacturers that sell cheap ammo may be scrimping on worker safety too.
8. Modernization Happens Constantly
For at least 150 years, the manufacturing of ammo cartridges hasn’t significantly changed. However, research and understanding of firearms and ballistics have improved. As such, many innovators have set out to improve on previous designs.
As an example, the development of polymer-based cases has started. These polymer-based cases may weigh around 20-30% less than steel or brass casings. This weight reduction will allow owners to carry more ammo without sacrificing performance.
Also, there are on-going experiments on materials, propellants, and even the shapes of bullets. The goal in mind is to improve the performance of currently popular firearms. Unfortunately, these innovations aren’t being made available yet in the market due to different reasons. However, many skilled people still push for more innovation on ammunition.
9. Manufacturing of Ammo Once Resulted in the World’s Tallest Buildings
In the manufacturing of bullets, suppliers used to drop molten lead from shot towers and into water basins. This process results in the forming of an almost-perfect sphere when done at the right height. The height requirement for this is about 150 to 260 feet high. At the time, around the late 18th to mid 20th century, these structures were among the world’s tallest buildings.
Being able to understand the making of ammo allows you to make wiser decisions as a firearm-owner. While the manufacturing process for every supplier is similar, their minute differences can be the deciding factor for you. Such factors include quality assurance, maintenance, attention to detail, and specific materials used. When you understand the making of ammo, you can make better choices. And these choices will improve your experience as a shooter.