1. This site uses cookies. By continuing to use this site, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. Learn More.

basic PRimer for a newbie / firearm Types & Cartrdges background

Discussion in 'General Gun Discussions' started by BlindJustice, Feb 12, 2013.

Thread Status:
Not open for further replies.
  1. BlindJustice

    BlindJustice Member

    Jul 26, 2007
    Pullman, WA
    I have been asked to give a ref. to a source of general firearms history
    a basics that would lead into how the development of cartrdges, naming and the infrerrence is the age old Light and speedy vs bigger bore and momentum sort af a work.


    Guy is confused about the USA in inches, and Euro Metric stuff

  2. bdgackle

    bdgackle Member

    Apr 10, 2008
    Northwest Washington
    That is a rather broad topic.

    There are very good Wikipedia articles for any caliber that you can think of, which often go into history and development. Generally, these will cite sources that you can dig into.

    Inch vs mm -- This mostly depends on where the cartridge was developed, and what measurement system was in use at the time. Often, though, the caliber designation is nothing more than a name. .222 Rem and .223 Rem for example both use the same bullet diameter. .38 special and .357 magnum do as well. Sometimes, there are multiple designations for the same round. 7.62 NATO and 5.56 NATO are also known as .308 Winchester and .223 Remington, respectively (with some minor differences in specifications that make them almost, but not quite, interchangeable).

    As far as big/slow vs small/fast -- the basic progression over time has been from REALLY big and slow, to smaller and faster. It is generally a trade off -- do you favor higher momentum, or higher energy?

    There are modern debates about where the ideal balance is (see: 9mm vs 45 ACP, .223 vs .308), but in general, nearly all common rounds at the end of the 20th century were of smaller weight, caliber and higher velocity than nearly all common calibers at the end of the 19th, which were in turn smaller and higher velocity than the stuff at the end of the 18th. Another major trend has been increasing rate of fire.

    There were a few major milestones you can look up that each more or less revolutionized firearms and provide a nice outline to their history – what follows is a super-short synopsis of this, probably with major gaps that people will jump in and fill. Look up the various inventions in Wikipedia for lots more info:

    Gun powder (ie black powder) -- first propellant used, enabled existence of guns -- goes back hundreds of years.

    Muskets -- Most common military arm circa 1700. Early versions used a lit piece of cannon-fuze like material to fire. Later, the fuse was attached to a rotating lock (see "match lock"). There were a few mechanisms that were tried. By the time of the American Revolutionary War, the flint-lock was pretty wide spread. This used a piece of flint striking a pan of fine powder as the "hammer" to ignite the charge. Calibers of most muskets would have been in the .45 to .75 inch range. Maximum effective range was in neighborhood of 50-100 yards.

    Rifling -- Rifling enabled more accurate shooting. It also allowed the stabilization of non-spherical projectiles, leading to more aero-dynamic bullets. It was used for hunting early on, but not widely in the military. Rifles had to have tight fitting bullets, so they fouled and had to be clean after fewer shots than muskets. They also took longer to load. Muskets, by contrast, sacrificed accuracy by using looser fitting balls that left room for powder fouling. Since most military shooters were untrained, the accuracy loss wasn’t considered a bad thing. Muzzle loading rifles could be accurate to 200-300 yards, and sometimes even further.

    Minni-ball -- A cone shaped bullet with a hollow "skirt", like a giant version of the pellets used in modern air rifles. This allowed the bullet to be made smaller than the bore for quick loading. The 'skirt' expanded under gas pressure when the weapon was fired. This invention enabled widespread military adoption of rifles. The US Civil War saw widespread use of these. Combined with tactics more appropriate to the 18th century, this resulted in very high casualties.

    Brass cartridge cases / Breech lock – To increase loading speed, the next step was to allow loading at the breech instead of the muzzle. There were a few examples of this early on, but they leaked gasses and generally didn’t work very well. It was the invention of the brass cartridge case that really made this take off. The brass case encloses the round, and acts as a gasket or seal to keep gasses from leaking out of the breech. The old 45-70 Government is an example of a round from this era. It was the US military round for a few years later in the 19th century. Big lead bullet, black powder, intended for single shot breach loading rifles. The first brass cases were ‘rimfire’ – like big versions of the modern 22 LR. The 44 Henry was a Civil War era representative of this. Later on, you started seeing center-fire priming as well, which was more reliable and could handle higher pressure. 45 Colt, 44-40, and many other classic “cowboy” cartridges originated in this era.

    Repeating mechanisms – Once you had cartridge cases, various companies started playing with ways to get multiple shots from a rifle. Lever actions were invented mid-19th century. Bolt actions late 19th century. Slide (pump) actions were also invented around this time. Semi-automatic mechanisms started showing up around the turn of the 20th century in handguns, and a little later in rifles. The 30-40 Krag was the first repeating rifle adopted by the US.

    Smokeless powder – Nitroglycerin/Nitrocellulose based propellants replaced black powder in the late 19th century. This had three big advantages: lots less smoke, higher velocities, and more shots before the gun was too dirty to fire. This was the first time that ballistics really changed. Rifle calibers dropped from around .5 inches to around .3 inches. Velocities increased from 1000-1500fps to 2000-3000fps. The first bullets were still heavy and round-nosed by modern standards. The US briefly adopted the 30-’03, which fired a 220gr 30 caliber bullet at around 2300 fps. Smokeless velocities spurred the development of the first copper jacketed bullets to handle the increased pressure and velocity (though modern bullet casting hobbyists have kept improving on lead technology, and can come very close to jacketed performance these days – Google “boolit”). 30-30 Winchester would have been among the first smokeless commercial cartridges. The 30-40 Government from the Krag rifle was the US military rifle in this era.

    Spitzer bullets – The next change was making rifle bullets pointy. This made them more aerodynamic, allowing longer range and flatter trajectory. The US move to the 30-06 Springfield, firing a 150gr 30 cal bullet at around 2800 fps was in response to similar developments by the Germans. Many of the classic military cartridges come from around this time – 30-06 Springfield, 6.5x55 Swedish, 8mm Mauser, 7.62x54R, .303 British, 8x50R. Notice that all of these were in the 6.5mm-8mm range, and all had muzzle velocities of around 2500-3000fps. These are what you’d call standard full power rifle cartridges today. Many modern cartridges in a similar performance range exist today.

    Assault Rifles – After WWII, most militaries started trading some of the (mostly unused) range and power of the full-power cartridges for increased controllability and rate of fire – and the ability for individual soldiers to carry fully automatic weapons. This is how the US got from 30-06, to .308 (which is basically a shortened 30-06 with the same ballistics), to .223/5.56mm. The soviets went from 7.62x54R to 7.62x39… and much later to the 5.45x39.

    That’s military rifle ballistics in a nutshell. The modern militaries seem to think they’ve swung a little far towards the “light and fast” philosophy, especially in conflicts in the wide open deserts, so we see discussion of going back up in caliber (see 6.8 SPC, 6.5 Grendel – and their older equivalent, the 280 British).

    Really, though, since about 1910 or so, there haven’t been any major ballistic developments that have seen widespread use. We’ve just seen some incremental improvements as better powders have come about, better projectile design, and slightly increased pressure has been enabled by better metallurgy. The 30-06 developed in 1906 is a MUCH bigger step from what was available in 1806, for example, compared to what we’ve developed in the 100 years since that. Guns are a fairly mature technology.

    Future improvements – possibilities include lighter/stronger materials to enable lighter weapons, improved optics to enable easier targeting. Caseless ammunition has been looked at… but the fundamental realities of what a rifle can do were mature back around 1900. Modern rate of fire was established around 1950, and we’re just tweaking things ever since.

    Presumably, the next major revolution will come when someone invents the "Phased plasma rifle in the 40-watt range". :neener:
    Last edited: Feb 13, 2013
  3. Sam1911

    Sam1911 Moderator

    Oct 22, 2007
    Central PA
    Minié ball, named for its developer, Claude-Étienne Minié.
Thread Status:
Not open for further replies.

Share This Page