Does Cordite decompose in air


March 7, 2006, 02:10 PM
does it. thanks for any help.

plus is there more cordite in live rounds than in blanks?

Ok wrong post. what goes into a nato 5.56 and does that decompose in air?

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March 7, 2006, 03:26 PM

March 7, 2006, 04:44 PM
Don't know even if they still use cordite. They do still occasionally dig up WW1 artillery rounds still loaded with the stuff. They treat it as highly unstable.

March 7, 2006, 05:03 PM
Chemically, cordite is very similar to nitroglycerine, and is VERY unstable as it ages. It doesn't have to be exposed to fresh air to go "bad" - even old shells and cartridges loaded with cordite can be dangerous, or non-functional. Not something to fool around with...:uhoh:

March 7, 2006, 05:04 PM
ok then what the hell is in a modern nato 5.56 blank round then and does that decompose if it is exposed to air

AZ Jeff
March 7, 2006, 06:33 PM
I am not an expert of blank rounds, but I have used a number of propellants over the years, so here's my thoughts:

1. I would expect a military blank round of modern manufacture to be loaded with a small charge of a VERY high burn rate smokeless propellant.

2. Cordite does not fit the category of a "VERY high burn rate", so that's probably not what would be used.

3. Any propellant, when left exposed to the atmosphere, can (and does) absorb moisture, lessening it's effectiveness.

March 7, 2006, 09:20 PM
I don't know about decomposing, but I know that the modern powders leave a scent on my clothes that make people ask 'WHAT is that smell?'. I kinda like it myself, but then the sense of smell is the first to be anesthetized.

4v50 Gary
March 7, 2006, 09:40 PM
I think the Brits and the Japanese both lost a battleship due to a magazine explosion. It may have been in WW I for the Brits and WW II for the Japanese. Be careful with cordite.

Sheldon J
March 7, 2006, 09:55 PM
seem video's of guys salvaging brass that had the stuff in it, after over 50 years it still burned like a rocket engine, as to ageing in air, the WWII dummy that my wife'w dad had used the stuff as a propelent, and I can say it is still good, but is it corrosive?:uhoh:

March 7, 2006, 10:16 PM
Does seem to oxidize..the strings turning harder and darker with age. So far as I know, it's not used in small arms anymore, but that's mostly becasue it is somewhat erosive (high burn temp/fast burn speed).

Salvaged from brit. mil. rounds, can demonstrate some effects. Light one strnad, and it bruns kind of like a fast fuse...hold three togheter and it burns REAL fast.

March 8, 2006, 04:32 PM
thanks guys. any more info on what goes into a nato 5.56?

March 8, 2006, 05:33 PM
Single base smokeless. Nitrocellulose is the primary ingredient, along with chemicals to modify the burn rate and control muzzle flash (typically extra oxidizer).

Cordite like older smokeless is often contaminated with residue from manufacturing. This leads to breakdown of the nitrocellulose and nitroglycerin.

The smell in powder is acetone and ether. Both are commonly used as solvents during manufacture. They can be removed at lower temperatures (compared to other solvents like water) to speed up production.

Jim Watson
March 8, 2006, 05:56 PM
5.56 ball ammunition may be loaded with either single base nitrocellulose or double base nitrocellulose + nitroglycerine powder (usually of Ball process.) Smokeless powder has a shelf life measured in decades, though it is best stored away from air and heat. Which it is in a cartridge or proper powder can.

Nobody has used real Cordite for many years, calling powder in recently produced ammunition "Cordite" is a cheap thriller ignorant gimmick because it sounds kewl.

There were safari guides in Africa loading .458 Win Mag with Cordite salvaged out of surplus .303 ammunition because that was the only way they could get velocity up to .450 NE levels without excess pressure or compressed loads.

5.56 BLANKS have been loaded with 700X which is a common shotshell powder. (I don't know that they all are, but some at least.) It takes a fast burning powder to make a bang in a blank, it is not just a regular cartridge with the usual powder but without bullet. Surplus powder dealers have sold 700X from disassembled blanks for normal shotshell and pistol loading, it doesn't "decompose" faster than any other smokeless powder.

March 8, 2006, 10:03 PM
The .303 used cordite for a bit, I gathered while looking them up that it was responsible for a significant amount of throat erosion, because it burns so hot.

It was used alot more in artillery, where the slower burn rate wasn't a big deal, and is easier to load.

They do still occasionally dig up WW1 artillery rounds still loaded with the stuff. They treat it as highly unstable.Last I knew WWI explosive fillers were TNT and some leftover picric acid(iffy on the last). I don't think they'd use cordite for a filler.

March 8, 2006, 10:28 PM
The only real differnce between cordite and gun cotton (which is an explosive, not a propellant) is (1) codite has been plasticized (2) addition of a percentage of petrolatum (3) it's extruded into long strands. the strands wee shipped in rolls. When loading, the machine was set to cut the length of the strands (and the number of strnads) and seat them into an UN-NECKED .303 brit case...the case got necked to size after the poweder was in place. It's an early smokeless powder, and comparred to others of the same time frame, it was a very good one.

IF it were to be slowed down by way of some ther additives, cut into short-short strands, and coated with graphite, would pass as an IMR stick powder.

Were several variations and sizes (mostly the diameter of the stick...but were some thick ones made into hollow tubes as well) for loading a varitety of rounds....from Battle ship's main guns to pocket pistol ammo, was a Cordite made for it.

But is is out of date and no longer used. Even during WWII, a lot of .303 brit ammow as loaded with US type extruded powders (usually marked with a "Z" in the headstamp).

"Cordite" got used as a term for nearly any gunpowder by the Brittish...a general term, like our use of "powder" in conversaion.

loose cannon
March 9, 2006, 03:18 AM
fired some pakistani mk7 military 303 ball,it had cordite as a propelent and was about 30 yrs old.

it sounded like a musket going off smelled nasty and split the necks of the fired brass.

it was also corrosive.

March 9, 2006, 07:28 PM
I salvaged the components from .303 Brit Cordite rounds. Put all the powder in a coffee was totally full to the brim.

Dropped a lit cigarette on top and ran. It started to burn then burst into a BIG flaming mushroom cloud about 60ft high with a nice concussive effect. The stuff gets seriously fast when a lot of it burns together.

March 9, 2006, 09:23 PM
Cordite had one advantage, as the strands were cut to length for the distance from the bottom of the case to the bottom of the bullet it stayed in place and allowed consistant results with oversized cases such as used in the old double rifles. With todays powders we have a problem when loading for these with excess space allowing the powder shift unless a filler is used.

Nitrocellulose was not used only for gunpowder. It was used as a plastic (celluloid) with a some what lower level of nitration. It was developed as a plastic to replace ivory in billiard balls and piano keys. In the early years of the movie industry it was used for film base and was a potential fire hazard running past a hot projector lamp. Especially if the projector stalled.

I collect slide rules and many are coated with celluloid and/or have celluloid cursor bars. With K&E's in particular, the celluloid will decompose, releasing the nitrate radical wich causes yellowing. This leads to the dreaded disease KERC or K&E Rotten Cursor which often progresses to the point that the cursor bars disintegrate. Camphor was often used as the plasticizer, I don't know that they ever used it for gun powder.

March 9, 2006, 09:35 PM
Nitrocellulose plastics are still used today.

You're correct on your composition front.

Higher grade ping-pong balls are still made from nitrocellulose and camphor, because they've been made that way for ages and ping-pong snobs say they 'feel' different. I dunno from that - all I know is that nitro based balls will burn away to almost nothing with that familiar yellow flame if you light 'em.

The 'plastic' coating on playing cards is also commonly nitrocellulose based, as is the waterproof coating on cannon fuse and all sorts of other pyrotechnic goodies (for those of you living in states where pyrotechnic goodies haven't been outlawed completely...). Acetone can be used to thin the stuff and turn it into what's essentially a solution. This makes a quick drying lacquer that's cheap and easy to apply.

March 9, 2006, 09:44 PM
I will try to answer this question as accurately as possible.

5.56 nato blanks - They have the same charge of the same propellant as a regular 5.56 round (that would be a double base stick powder), M16s function with them only because of the Blank Firing Adapter that obstructs the bore, thereby allowing pressure to rise in the barrell and operate the action.

Cordite is NOT corrosive. It is EROSIVE. It WILL eat the rifling in your bore in most cases. (The Brits had this problem early on when they adopted the first smokeless .303 loadings)

I'm assuming that as with all nitro based substances Cordite will degrade over time. Hope I was of some help :)

March 10, 2006, 01:37 AM
I think the Brits and the Japanese both lost a battleship due to a magazine explosion. It may have been in WW I for the Brits and WW II for the Japanese.Don't forget the U.S.S. Maine.

March 10, 2006, 08:25 AM
The turret "explosion" on the USS Iowa is suspected to have been caused this way. I ran into some one who claimed this sort of thing had happened with samller ordenance.

Local gun shop had fire that was blamed on this too. I'm not sure just how far I believe that.

March 10, 2006, 08:51 PM
Hey look; cordite, courtesy of "Mattias B." of

Dave Markowitz
March 10, 2006, 10:33 PM
.303 Mk. VII was loaded with Cordite.

.303 Mk. VIIz and VIIIz was loaded with a nitrocellulose powder.

As notes above, Cordite is erosive, not corrosive. However, .303 Mk. VII had corrosive primers, so if you shoot any swab the bore afterwards with a water-based solvent (or just plain water) to dissolve and flush out the salt residue. IME, Hoppe's No. 9 will also work on corrosive ammo residue, even though it is not water-based.

Jim Watson
March 10, 2006, 11:11 PM
Best I recall, the British ships lost to magazine explosions in WW I, like at Jutland, were thought due to inadequate flash shutters between turret and magazine, and use of Lyddite (picric acid) bursting charges. Every once in a while a bottle of picric acid turns up at some school or industrial laboratory and the fire department and hazmats go nuts, because the stuff has a reputation for instability. Possibly the touchiest explosive ever deployed for regular military use.

March 10, 2006, 11:52 PM
You recall good, Jim. Not only was the system inadequate, and the Lyddite unstable, but (now if I recall correctly), in the heat of battle, safety procedures regarding the anti-flash shutters were neglected. There is a story (perhaps apocryphal) of a heroic Royal Marine, maimed and blinded by the German shell that peeled back the roof of (Battle Cruiser Fleet flagship) HMS Lion's "Q" turret, managing to close the shutters as he died, preventing yet another catastrophe. Legendary quote by BCF's commanding officer, Admiral Beatty: "There's something wrong with our bloody ships to-day."

The Germans were quite compulsive about damage control on their warships in WWI, as was the US Navy in WWII. The lack of concern for damage control procedures (among other things) cost the Japanese dearly at Midway. Okay, back to Cordite...:)

March 12, 2006, 02:38 PM
Picric acid is a yellow solid. As an explosive it is used in the solid form. In WWI it was sometimes used as the main charge in artillery shells but by WWII it was mainly used for the gain charge in bombs. The fuze in the bomb would detonate to picric acid which in turn detonated the main TNT charge. The TNT required a pretty solid kick in the pants to go.

If disolved and in liquid form picric acid is pretty stable. But these days hazmat and assorted other authorities will go nuts over anything.

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