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>> Quench-Anneal: A Process for Soft Nose Cast Bullets :: By The Bullet Caster on 2001-12-12
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Hunters who wish to use cast bullets for large game hunting where bullet expansion is required for best results are faced with a two-way dilemma.  If the bullet is hard enough to withstand the pressures required to drive it at muzzle velocities of 2000 to 2100 fps., it will not expand properly, if at all.  If it is soft enough to expand properly, it cannot be driven at a very high speed without leading the barrel of the gun. 

To overcome this problem, cast bullet users have tried hollow pointed bullets, two-piece composite bullets with a base of linotype metal and a forepart of lead, split nosed bullets and sundry other schemes with some degree of success.

In 1983 I devised a method whereby a cast bullet shooter can have a cast bullet with the body half of 22-24 Brinell Hardness Number (BHN) and the nose half of 10-13 BHN.  The idea is as simple as this:  The base half is quenched in room temperature water according to the instructions by Dennis Marshall in Cast Bullets by Col. E. H. Harrison, and the front half is cooled slowly by incorporating an aluminum plate which fits over the noses of the bullets.  I have produced bullets with the noses initially as soft as 8.5 BHN and with bases as hard as BHN 24 using lead-linotype alloys approximating wheel weight alloys and by using wheel weights alloys and by using wheel weights alloyed with 11% linotype.

This article describes the equipment and methodology for this heat treatment and contains the results of impact-penetration tests with two types of cast bullets that had been subjected to this treatment, which I call the Quench-anneal treatment.

Using the information provided in “Cast Lead Bullets for Hunting” by Harris and Marshall in Lyman’s Cast Bullet Hand Book and after studying Dennis Marshall’s treatise on “The Metallurgy of Molten Lead Alloys” in the same publication, I decided to concentrate on the use of alloys that would fall in that portion of Marshall’s graph bounded by 11% antimony and 20% tin to insure ductile bullets that would not shatter upon impact.  Wheel weights were the first logical choice, but I found straight wheel weight metal hard to cast and did not produce the results I wanted.  Of the many alloys I tried, the three reported upon here produced the optimum results.  They are:  1/3 linotype and 2/3 pure lead, 11% linotype with a BHN of 18 plus 89% wheel weights, and 11% linotype with a BHN of 22 plus 89% wheel weights.  The 11% linotype came about simply because my lead dipper holds 4 ounces of molten linotype and I could easily cast a 4 ounce “muffin” which, when added to two pounds of wheel weights, produced an 11-89% (by weight) lino-wheel weight alloy.  No magic, just common sense.

The quench-anneal apparatus consists of a wire basket that holds a perforated aluminum sheet-metal box drilled with a 10” x 10” grid to hold the bullets upright, and aluminum block 6” x 6 ½” x 1” drilled with a 5/16” drill to a depth of 3/8” on the same grid pattern as the box and an insulating cap to cover the aluminum block.  See figure 1.

The bullets, after sizing and attaching the gas checks, are placed down in the perforated aluminum box and the aluminum block is placed over the noses of the bullets.  The block, box and basket configuration is then placed in a 10” x 15” x 2” quenching pan of water and spacers are placed under the configuration to allow only the body portion of the bullets to be submerged in the water.  When this adjustment is made, the block-box-bullet configuration is placed in a preheated over that is temperature stabilized to 460˚F.  The bullets are left in the oven for 1-½ hours.  This assures that the bullets will temperature stabilize at 460˚F and soak for at least one hour.  Upon completion of the soak time, the basket of bullets is quickly removed from the oven and placed in the quenching pan and the insulating cap is placed over the aluminum-annealing block.  See Figure 2.  This allows for a 1 1/2 hour cool down period. 

The length of the bullet is a very important factor in the success or failure of this heat-quench treatment.  I first tried the Lyman 308403 with a length of 0.965 inches because of its generous meplat for hardness testing.  The results were not particularly good.  I next tried a Lyman 311291 mould I had lengthened to 1.06 inches that casts a 195 gr. bullet.  This bullet could be quenched-annealed to 22 BHN on the body and to 10-12 BHN on the nose, but I had done such a bad job of lapping the mould, the bullets were not very accurate, so I gave up further testing with them.  (See epilogue)

I acquired a 311284 Lyman Mould and a Hoch 730 mould of the Musselman design featured in the article by Bob Sears in the Sept. 1980 issue of the American Rifleman.  The Lyman 311284 bullets are 1.225 inches long and weigh 223 grains using the 3 alloys previously described.  The Hoch 730 bullets are 1.175 inches long and weigh 209 grains with the same alloys.  These bullets were given two types of quench-anneal treatment.  The first used the aluminum plate for annealing; the second used an open-to-the-air cooling.  The air-cooled specimens had initial nose hardness of BHN 15, so no further testing was done on them.  Although the Lyman 311284 is a base cut-off mould and the Hoch 730 mould is a nose cut-off mould, I could detect no difference in hardness measurement on the bases using the method described in Cast Bullets by Harrison.

I did not care for the prospect of filing meplats on the noses of all the specimens, so as an experiment within an experiment I filed the noses on 50 of the Hoch 730 bullets and bumped the noses on 50 other specimens to produce an 0.20 inch diameter meplat on the Hoch 730 bullets shortened to 1.115 inches prior to heat treatment.  The comparison of hardness between bumped and filed specimens as shown in Table 1.

 TABLE 1

COMPARISON OF BUMPED AND FILED NOSES
ON QUENCH-ANNEALED HOCH 730 BULLETS
OF 11% LINOTYPE (22 BHN) PLUS 89%
WHEEL WEIGHTS

Days

3

15

30

60

90

BHN Bumped

8.7

10.9

10.4

12.5

12.7

 σ

1.96

1.3

0.22

0.82

0.52

BHN Filed

8.2

10.7

10.96

12.7

12.9

σ

1.5

0.91

0.49

0.67

0.49

Three conclusions can be derived from these data.  The first is that the nose portion exhibits an inexorable tendency to age harden, whether as-cast or quench-annealed.  It is futile to try to produce final nose hardness softer than BHN 8-13 with these alloys.  It took me 24 frustrating months to realize this.  Between the second and fifth weeks, the data would become erratic, the hardness would jump unpredictably and I would chuck the whole mess and start over with a new batch of alloy time and time again until I realized that there is no heat treatment on the nose, so it can age harden as the alloying metals’ crystals grow and precipitate.

The second conclusion is that the age hardening is non-linear and as the age hardening is most active during the second to fifth weeks, the scatter, or σ, values are very high.  As the age hardening slows down and the alloy approaches a “steady state” condition, the σ values drop appreciably.

The third and most important thing is that the data show this method will produce a bullet with a BHN of 8-13 on the nose portion and a BHN of 23 on the aft portion using a very simple technique not much more complicated than the full-quench treatment described by Dennis Marshall, so long as an alloy is used that will quench harden to 22-24 BHN and normally age harden to between 8-13 BHN.

There is no significant difference between the two specimens whether bumped or filed prior to heat treatment.

Brinell Hardness Tests were conducted using a homemade version of the T.E.C. BHN tester at 3-day intervals up to 30 days and every 15 days thereafter up to 120 days.  The results of these tests are shown in Tables 2-7.  All data entries are not shown to save space.

 TABLE 2

LEAD + 33% LINOTYPE (BHN 18) AS CAST
(NO HEAT TREATMENT)
               

DAYS 3 6 9 12 15 30 60 90 120
BHN 8.44 9.27 8.74 8.87 9.75 11.1 11.8 12.2 12.15
σ 0.27 0.64 0.74 0.74 0.84 1.34 0.96 0.66 0.35

 TABLE 3

LEAD + 33% LINOTYPE (BHN 18) QUENCH-ANNEALED

DAYS

3

6

9

12

15

30

60

90

120

BHN NOSE

8.1

10.7

10.3

10.6

10.8

12.8

12.7

12.6

13.2

σ

1.1

1.1

1.2

1.6

1.5

1.4

1.1

0.41

0.27

BHN BASE

20.1

22.8

21.86

22.1

23.5

23.6

23.3

23.1

23.7

σ

1.48

1.2

1.3

1.4

1.28

1.4

0.92

0.8

0.44

TABLE 4

WHEELWEIGHTS PLUS 11% LINOTYPE (BHN 18)
AS CAST (NO HEAT TREATMENT)

DAYS

3

6

9

12

15

30

60

90

120

BHN

7.67

8.0

9.27

9.6

9.7

9.97

11.26

11.1

11.4

σ

0.71

0.9

1.1

0.72

0.85

1.07

0.59

0.28

0.27

TABLE 5

WHEELWEIGHTS PLUS 11% LINOTYPE (BHN 18)
QUENCH-ANNEALED
 

DAYS

3

6

9

12

15

30

60

90

120

BHN NOSE

8.4

9.0

10.6

10.2

10.8

10.6

12.6

13.7

13.1

σ

1.4

0.53

1.7

1.1

1.1

0.85

0.74

0.4

0.29

BHN BASE

21.9

20.9

21.4

22.7

23.1

23.2

23.2

23.6

23.2

σ

1.2

1.3

1.3

1.4

1.6

1.1

0.81

0.33

0.66

TABLE 6

WHEELWEIGHTS PLUS 11% LINOTYPE (22 BHN)
AS CAST (NO HEAT TREATMENT) 

DAYS

3

6

9

12

15

30

60

90

120

BHN

7.54

8.14

9.1

8.9

9.4

9.53

10.5

10.6

10.5

σ

0.38

0.86

1.1

1.1

0.71

0.57

0.45

0.13

0.32

TABLE 7

WHEELWEIGHTS PLUS 11% LINOTYPE (22 BHN) QUENCH-ANNEALED

DAYS

3

6

9

12

15

30

60

90

120

BHN BASE

22.2

22.9

23.1

23.4

23.1

23

23.3

22.9

23.2

σ

1.5

1.4

1.7

1.2

1.2

0.76

0.84

0.73

0.82

BHN NOSE

7.7

7.4

8.8

9.2

9.3

10.0

10.7

10.5

10.6

σ

1.3

1.4

0.51

1.2

1.3

1.1

0.25

0.23

0.27

 

 



Penetration Tests Using Quench-Annealed Bullets

 Penetration tests were conducted by firing six different combinations of bullets and powder charges into wet newspapers at 50 meters (55 yards) and 200 meters (220 yards) to (1) determine the effect of the Quench-annealed treatment on cast bullets and (2) to compare the quench-annealed treated cast bullets against two hunting loads with copper jacketed bullets.  These bullet-powder combinations with such data as their muzzle velocities, kinetic energies and momentum are listed in Table 8.  The data on factory equivalent 30-40 Krag ammunition are included only for comparison; no 30-40 Krag ammunition was fired in these tests.

 The 180-grain Nosler and Hornady bullets at 2660 fps muzzle velocity are factory duplication 30-06 loads.  I have used these loads on deer.  They are entirely too powerful for deer, they destroy too much meat, and they kick harder than a blue nosed mule.  The Nosler and Hornady 180 grain bullets at 2380 fps mv are slightly more powerful, by 172 ft-lbs of energy, than factory loaded 180 grain 30-40 Krag ammunition.  The 209 grain Hoch 730 bullets, cast of 11% linotype (BHN 22) and 89% wheel weight at 2060 fps mv have only 23 ft-lbs less energy than the 180-grain factory loaded 30-40 Krag.  The 223 grain Lyman 311284 bullets of 11% linotype (22 BHN) and 89% wheel weights at 2050 fps mv have only 11 ft-lbs less energy than the 180-grain factory loaded 30-40 Krag.  These are not pussycat loads.  The cast bullets used in these tests, which had been quench-annealed, had noses of BHN 10.4 hardness and bases of BHN 23.5 hardness.  The choice of 50 meters and 200 meters for these tests pretty well encompasses the normal shooting ranges for most deer hunting.

TABLE 8

KINETIC ENERGY AND MOMENTUM COMPARISON 

BULLET

WT. GR.

POWDER

WT. GR.

*VEL.F.P.S.

KE FT.-LBS

MOMENTUM LB-SEC

HOCH 730

209

H 4350

44

2060

1967

1.88

LYMAN 311284

223

H 4350

44

2050

2079

2.03

NOSLER SBSP

180

IMR 3031

41

2380

2262

1.90

HORNADY R.N.

180

IMR 3031

41

2380

2262

1.90

NOSLER SBSP

180

IMR 4064

48

2660

2825

2.12

HORNADY R.N.

180

IMR 4064

48

2660

2825

2.12

30-40 Krag factory load 180 gr:  KE=2090 ft-lbs, momentum=1.83 lb-sec, vel=2288 fps
SBSP = SOLID BASE SPIRE POINT
R.N. = ROUND NOSE
* = CHRONOGRAPHED

 In preparation for these tests, pads of water-soaked newspapers were piled to about 6-inches in height and then pressed to a height of 4 inches to eliminate air pockets and excess water.  Each pad, 24 x 15 x 4 inches, weighed approximately 30 pounds and DO NOT represent anything but what they are, i.e. water soaked newspaper.  At the firing range, the pads were placed on edge to form a block about 30-36 inches deep and were then squeezed together with 4 cabinet clamps to eliminate air voids between the pads.

The bullets were fired in groups of five into the water soaked pads using a 6 groove, 24-inch McMillan barrel chambered for 30-06.  The penetration depths and penetration channel diameters were recorded at the range.  The recovered bullets were kept segregated and then were weighed and the expansion measured at home upon completion of the tests.

The test results are shown in Tables 9, 10, and 11.

The data from these tests are for the most part, fairly uniform.  The two largest anomalies are the retained weight data from the 50-meter Nosler 180 grain at 2380 fps and the 200-meter Hoch 730 cast bullet penetration tests.  The recovered Nosler bullets ran from 169 to 113 grains and the recovered Hoch 730 bullets ran from 194 to 130 grains, but the penetration data were apparently not affected.  Figures 3 through 6 show examples of the heaviest and lightest recovered bullets.

The data in Table 10 provides a definite answer to the question of what effect does the quench-anneal treatment have on the cast bullets.  In this case, it resulted in a 35% reduction in the penetration and a loss of 30% to 40% of bullet weight while creating a sizeable penetration cavity, which will be addressed shortly.  In previous tests at 50 meter range using a 195 grain cast bullet with BHN of 23 and having an estimated muzzle velocity of 1950-2000 fps, the bullets penetrated 29 inches of soaked newspaper, 1 ½ inches of plywood, and disintegrated when they hit the berm behind the target.  So, the 21.5 inches penetration of the fully quenched bullets (the last ten inches of which they went sideways) is very conservative.

It is noteworthy that the 50 meter and 200 meter penetration and retained weight data for the cast bullets are so very close to one another.  The Penetration Cavity Data in Table 11 will show how unreliable penetration –retained weight data are for comparing bullet performance.  The soft nose portion on the cast bullets that had been quench-annealed expanded then ablated, or sloughed off because there were no copper jackets to retain the expanded lead as the bullet smashed its way through the stacked wet newspaper.  Eventually, only the hardened base portion was left and the bullet lacked sufficient velocity to upset or ablate any further, but the recovered base portion alone cannot describe the damage that the bullet had caused in the impact medium.  Relying on the Penetration - retained weight - Expanded Nose school of comparison, Tables 9 and 10 give no definite guidelines for comparing the various bullets.  The 200-yard Penetration data for the Nosler and Hornady bullets with 2660 fps muzzle velocity make these loads appear inferior to the other loads, which is ridiculous as well as erroneous.  We have an absurd situation here comparable to that of asking a physician to examine the damage to an automobile finder to determine the extent of the injury caused to a pedestrian who was struck by the car fender.  Except for the penetration data, Tables 9 and 10 show only the damage to the bullets caused by the impact medium.  They give absolutely no information as to what the bullets did to the impact medium and this is the most vital information needed for proper comparison of the bullets.

Before examining Table 11, let us get an overview of what happens when a bullet hits the impact medium.  When a bullet hits the impact medium, the kinetic energy of the bullet is depleted as bullet creates a penetration cavity, blowing the media material both radially and forward.  The penetration cavity caused by an expanding bullet has two distinct phases.  In the first, I call the shock-expansion phase, the kinetic energy of the bullet is rapidly dissipated as the impact medium is smashed to a pulp and shock energy is radiated outward (see Figure 7), and the bullet nose is smashed backward and expanded radially causing the bullet to lose its velocity until the bullet slows to some threshold velocity below which further expansion of the nose ceases and the bullet enters the tail-off phase and eventually “coasts” to a stop – still causing some damage, but far less than in the expansion phase.  The tail-off phase appears rather abruptly and the penetration cavity diameter drops from 1 ½ or 2 inches to ¾ or 5/8 inches in 2 or 3 inches of travel.  The majority of the penetration cavity volume is in the shock-expansion phase, which in these tests was 69% to 73% of the total penetration length.  The tail-off volume was only about 3 to 5% of the total penetration cavity volume.

Table 11 provides excellent data for comparing the bullets.  It shows the damage caused by the bullets to the impact medium.  The penetration cavity volume of the Nosler and Hornady bullets with a muzzle velocity of 2380 fps and the Hoch 730 and Lyman 311284 cast bullets with a muzzle velocity of 2060 and 2050 fps are, for all practical consideration, equivalent.  There is 10.2% difference between the largest and smallest cavities in the 50-meter data and only 2.2% difference between the largest and smallest cavities in the 200-meter data for these 4 bullets.

The Nosler 180 gr. bullets at 2660 fps mv created a cavity 27% larger than the Hoch 730 209 grain cast bullet at 2060 fps mv at the 50-meter range.  At the 200 meter range, the Nosler 180 grain at 2660 fps muzzle velocity load created a cavity only 12.15% larger than the Lyman 311284 and only 9.14$ larger than the Hoch 730 cast bullets.  Considering the differences in initial kinetic energies between these bullets, , I would say the cast bullets weren’t too shoddy in this comparison at all.  It cannot be denied, however, those 180 grain bullets with muzzle velocities of 2660 fps created some awesome penetration cavities (especially at 50 meters) even though they had less penetration than the cast bullets.

 In conclusion it can be stated that:  These two bullets, Hoch 730 (209 grains) and Lyman 311284 (223 grains) when quench-annealed and driven at 2060 fps and 2050 fps muzzle velocities, performed equally as well as Nosler and Hornady 180 grain bullets driven at 2380 fps muzzle velocity.  These data show that the quench-anneal treatment will produce bullets with excellent penetration, weight retention and damage potential fully adequate for hunting deer up to 200 meters.  I would not hesitate to use them on elk, given the opportunity to do so.

 EPILOGUE

In the sixteen years since this was written I sophisticated my system by adding a ¼” aluminum pan with three adjusting screws like on a surveyors transit for adjusting the water level on the bullets in the quench-annealing apparatus.  This was to give me about 3/8” to ¼” clearance between the annealing plate and the water.  You have to be very careful not to cause any waves in the water when putting the bullets in for if it splashes against the annealing plate it will cool it down too fast and you’ll have to start over.  I also modified the outer basket, or pan, and handles so that I could put the insulation block over the annealing plate in the oven.  I used Celotex for this new insulation block  I also got a LBT  180 grain mould .(A perfect mould in all respects)

At the suggestion of Veral Smith, I tried some 2% antimony in a linotype-lead alloy and increased my muzzle velocity to 2450-2500 fps (he suggested 2600 fps but I was a little too chicken to try it).  I did try some at 2500 fps but the 2450 fps were a little bit more accurate. To achieve these velocities I bought a LBT 180 grain mould.  This combination will kill a bull elk at 200 yards.  I have shot several deer with this load and had excellent results.  I guess it doesn’t kick as much as I thought it would and it killed cleanly.  The 2% antimony alloy has a BHN of 8.9 after age hardening.  This will guarantee a soft nose forever.  I also had to raise the annealing temperature to 490° - 500° F.  If you are going to try the 2% antimony (two parts wheel weight – one part lead by weight) you should let it age harden for about thirty days before sizing it and putting on the gas checks.  I heat my gas checks to red-hot and quench them in water.  This makes a very ugly gas check, but it is dead soft and will not let your nose punch deform the nose when putting the gas check on the bullet.  After I have sized them and gas checked them, I go ahead and quench-anneal them.  When they come out the nose will be about 6 BHN and will finally age harden to 8.9 BHN.  The bases will be 22-24 BHN.  You must quench 2% antimony alloy at 490˚ - 500˚ F to do this.

    I have found a way to quench-anneal long bullets for pistols.By long I mean 0.90-inches or longer.I do this by setting up as I do for rifle bullets but put just enough water to cover the bottom band on the bullet and let the rest of the driving bands air cool. This will give you a 22-24 bhn on the bottom band and  a15-17  bhn on the air cooled portion.This plenty for most pistol velocities and will give you very good expansion on the nose.

TABLE 9

PENETRATION TEST RESULTS 50-METER RANGE

BULLET

WT. M V AVG. PENETRATION INCHES AVG. RETAINED WT. GRAINS AVG. % RET. WT GRAINS AVG. DIAM. INCH PERCENT INCREASE IN DIAM.
QUENCH-ANNEALED HOCH 730
NOSE 10.4 BHN
BASE 23.5 BHN
209 2060 14.2±1.7 125.48±2.17 60 0.396 28.7
QUENCH-ANNEALED 311284 LYMAN NOSE 10.4 BHN BASE 23.5 BHN 223 2050 14.3±1.8 127.83±2.17 57.32 0.358 16
HORNADY RND NOSE 180 2380 12.7±0.6 149.43±1.96 83.02 0.596 93
NOSLER SBSP* 180 2380 13.7±1.5 142.96±27.45 79.42 0.495 61
HORNADY RND NOSE 180 2660 10.2±1.3 127.38±10.2 70.76 0.591 92
NOSLER SBSP 180 2660 11.3±0.96 107.96±3.77 59.98 0.439 42

*SBSP = SOLID BASE SPIRE POINT

 TABLE 10

PENETRATION TEST RESULTS 200-METER RANGE 

BULLET

WT. GR.

MV FPS

AVG. PENETRATION INCHES

AVG. RETAINED WT. GRAINS

AVG. % RET. WT.

AVG. DIAM. INCHES

% GAIN IN DIAM.

QUENCH-ANNEALED HOCH 730

NOSE 10.4 BHN BASE 23.5 BHN

209

2060

14.2±1.64

147.36±28.58

70.50

0.375

21.8

QUENCH-ANNEALED 311284 LYMAN NOSE 10.4 BHN BASE 23.5 BHN

223

2050

14.4±0.89

137.8±17.2

61.79

0.394

27.8

HORNADY R.N.

180

2380

13.2±1

151.4±14.84

84.13

0.544

76.8

NOSLER SBSP

180

2380

12.66±0.58

159.53±5.65

88.62

0.578

87.6

HORNADY R.N.

180

2660

6.83±1.25

141.92±20.33

78.84

0.568

84.4

NOSLER SBSP

180

2660

8.8±0.84

139.48±13.44

77.48

0.52

68.8

FULL QUENCH HOCH 730

BHN 24

209

2060

21.5±0.5*

2 specimens

203.3

lost gas checks

97.27

0.308

0

*Traveled the last 10 inches with longitudinal axis at 90° to line of travel.

 TABLE 11

PENETRATION CAVITY VOLUME DATA 

BULLET

WT. GR.

MV FPS

RANGE METERS

VOL. CUBIC IN

NOSLER SBSP

180

2660

50

26.43

HORNADY R.N.

180

2660

50

23.52

NOSLER SBSP

180

2380

50

21.44

HORNADY R.N.

180

2380

50

20.1

311284 LYMAN

223

2050

50

19.61

HOCH

209

2060

50

19.25

NOSLER SBSP

180

2660

200

11.93

HORNADY R.N.

180

2660

200

11.79

HOCH

209

2060

200

10.84

HORNADY R.N.

180

2380

200

10.8

NOSLER SBSP

180

2380

200

10.6

311284 LYMAN

223

2050

200

10.48


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