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Why Steel?


At BARNAUL, we have been asked this question many times – and really, the simplest answer is cost.  Steel costs less than brass. So there; all the cynics can sit back and say “I told you so”.


However, that is not the whole answer – like when in a Court of Law, you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help you God.  Well, there really is more to it than just cost; so if you are prepared to have an open mind – please read on.


Certainly cost is an over-riding factor in the use of steel cased cartridges; you will see more and more of it in the future and you only have to look at big calibre weapons to see how the use of brass cases has been superseded by steel. However, the use of steel demands more on the part of the manufacture as tolerances are much more critical – Brass is very malleable and “accommodates” variations by simply changing shape under pressure.  Steel is more ductile and retains it’s shape more than brass as well as having a much higher yield point (it takes much more pressure to make steel change shape and often, when it does – it doesn’t go back to it’s original shape).


This can either be used to an advantage or it can be a disadvantage to the cartridge manufacturer.  Providing the manufacturer – like BARNAUL - has researched the behavioural characteristics of steel under heat and pressure in the chamber and has sufficient skill in machining to fine tolerances, all the advantages of steel cases can be exploited.


For example, with the 5.56 x 45 cartridge, BARNAUL, through extensive research and development, have managed to increase the internal dimensions of the case by 8% over other steel case designs. This allows BARNAUL to decrease the operating pressures by up to 10Mpa thus enhancing the projectile’s kinetic energy and producing stable ballistic characteristics for the cartridge. In addition, great care is taken in setting the neck of the case; the care taken in this single operation greatly improves the accuracy of BARNAUL ammunition over other brands.


New precision grinding and shaping of the case body, coupled with exact allocation of case hardening, enables easy extraction even under extreme cases of fouling and poor maintenance and the case can withstand up to 700Mpa of pressure and still be easily and safely extracted from the chamber – this provides a huge safety margin for shooters when using BARNAUL ammunition.


The internal ballistics of the case are further improved by the use of special non-corrosive Berdan primers. BARNAUL uses a specially developed non-corrosive ‘Berdan” primer which has an increased seat and an increased “safe” sensitivity, thus allowing for a more reliable and controlled ignition of the propellant over traditional “Boxer” primed cases. This ensures complete combustion and even pressures throughout ignition and adds to the accuracy of the projectile by ensuring consistency. The move to Boxer type primers was essentially wrought by Hand-loaders who found Berdan primers too difficult to reload. A bit like the VHS/Beta VCR debacle – we all know what we got, however, we know what was the better system.


Many cynics point to the fact that steel is harder than brass and therefore, they say, will wear out chambers quicker than brass cartridges. This sort of comment has had a certain amount of “sour grapes” about it and is based more on feelings than actual measurement. Certainly in well constructed weapons – like the SVD, where you have a chromed barrel and chamber, there is no problem at all as chrome is 10 to 12 times harder wearing than steel.  In the average sporting weapon we would be lucky to ever fire enough rounds in our lifetime to seriously make a difference and perhaps one of the few places this could be evidenced would be in machineguns and weapons in a time of war. Then, many of the weapons are chrome lined anyway. However, BARNAUL have accepted that there is a perception of increased wear and have invested considerable time and effort into researching this question and providing a perfectly suitable answer.


BARNAUL have developed external coatings for the steel cases which actively reduce contact wear in the chamber – the Hunter Grade, for example is marketed with  Zinc, Lacquer or a new Polymer coating on the steel casing – are you seriously going to say that these coatings are harder wearing than steel? These exterior coatings are carefully administered through guarded procedures and include applied metals as well as scientifically formulated specialist lacquer coatings. The especially applied external coating of the steel cases, together with the reduced pressures and lower operating temperatures, greatly reduce barrel and chamber wear and assist in accuracy.


The projectile too has had some major attention. The jacket is a specially developed low-carbon steel, which is coated with copper and passed through a double heat treatment during the manufacturing process. This allows BARNAUL to temper and finish the product so that it looks and behaves like copper.


Lastly, there is the actual propellant – this low smoke, propellant has been highly acclaimed around the world as being of exceptionally high quality. The reduced residue, smoke and muzzle flash all attest to the quality of the propellant. It is specifically formulated to take advantage of the steel cases and deliver low pressure combustion and consistency of burn rate; as evident in the accuracy of the cartridges.


As BARNAUL do not over load their cartridges in order to boast exceptional ballistic specifications, the steel cased loads from BARNAUL will not cause dynamic damage to actions and weapons.