Outdoor Life isn’t known for their shockingly high levels of expertise or their incisive writing. Writing takes time to do right and even more time to do wrong. It’s like carpentry that way. They do have access to industry sources though so if we can wade through all the stuff they got wrong we can find out some cool stuff.
In the article linked below you’ll find TONS of factual errors but, if you look past those you’ll find a few sentences of new information. It appears that no less than the US government and police agencies were responsible for the new lead free primer offering from Federal. Lead styphnate is a pretty dangerous compound to work with but it’s much better as a primer than lead azide or mercury fulminate. Better? Yes. Actually better because it’s a bit less reactive to shock and and friction which means fewer accidents. It’s no worse as all 3 contain extremely toxic heavy metals.
Up till now primers have mostly been focused on simply getting a very hot flame front into a pocket of powder through a small orifice. Well, that’s not entirely accurate. It’s a pretty oversimplified take to be brutally honest. The actual thing that does the lighting off is not a literal flame front. It’s tiny particles that are burning white hot. Those particles collide with gunpowder kernels and well, you can guess what happens next. If you look at the fantastic work done by German Salazar and posted on 6mmbr.com: http://www.6mmbr.com/primerpix.html, you’ll see that Remington primers put out HUGE amounts of white hot particles. Federal 210’s develop a very large very hot flame but not quite so showery in white hot bits. RWS and CCI BR primers show similarly large amounts of white hots compared to say, PMC.
Vigor in the pursuit of improved primers has been super low especially after companies poured piles of money into development of lead free non-toxic primers and ended up with something that was too unreliable for general duty use and which has been relegated to practice ammo. Once bitten equals twice shy so, they never really took the opportunity to improve primers as much as we have bullets and powders and even cartridge case brass alloys. Looking at the pictures from the 6mmbr.com article above, it’s also entirely possible that someone looked and said, “What actually are we improving on?” Looking at the pictures below, I have a hard time thinking it’ll be easy to make them any more functional.
Possible improvements over current lead styphnate primers:
- Make them less susceptible to shock or friction and static electrical discharge.
- Increase the quantity of and mass density of hot particles that are generated.
- Reduce/eliminate powder/primer reactivity issues
- Reduce generated gas volume to reduce pressures
- Increase the time glowing particulate stays hot (increase its specific heat)
- Make them less susceptible to water contamination
- Eliminate dependence on Mexico/Brazil/China (especially China) for ingredients
The New Catalyst Primers
New primers use nitrocellulose as fuel instead of PETN. Nitrocellulose is a deflagrant (it burns and super fast). PETN is a high explosive. Lead has been removed. Aluminum is added and we go from barium to bismuth. Barium I’m not sure of the toxicity of but bismuth is touted as non-toxic though research concerning nanoparticles of bismuth oxide to have serious negative health effects at the cellular level. The oxide in the bismuth oxide becomes more free oxygen for the combustion. The heavy bismuth is heated partially by the burning aluminum which is started off by the nitrocellulose. What you have there is a chain of initiation reactions.
Aluminum instead of lead would be rhetorically great but it’s actually the bismuth that’s supplanting the lead. It gets rid of the lead and the aluminum will lengthen the burn cycle and make sure the flames are white hot as long as possible.
The Old Lead Styphnate
Lead styphnate has more evil in the legend than in the actual use of it in primers. You could eat quite a number of primers without raising your blood lead levels. The real reason I’m betting this went this way was to eliminate the last legitimate civilian reason to possess PETN. Primers don’t contain a lot of it but they do have it and if someone wanted to take a sufficient number of primers and harvest the boom boom butter.
So, let’s chalk up the score. See how Federal did.
|Reduce generated gas volume to reduce pressures||?|
|Make them less susceptible to shock or friction and static electrical discharge.||?|
|Increase the quantity of and mass density of hot particles that are generated.||Yes|
|Reduce/eliminate powder/primer reactivity issues||Yes|
|Increase the time glowing particulate stays hot (increase its specific heat)||Yes|
|Make them less susceptible to water contamination||?|
|Eliminate dependence on Mexico/Brazil/China (especially China) for ingredients||Yes|
I don’t care who you are, that’s a pretty good result for any engineering exercise which seeks to materially improve an existing product.
What we’re seeing in the real world already is handloaders have gone full retard and decided based only on the information that it’s new that they’re not going to use the new primers. We also have others going full retard and predicting that this is some kind of final panacea to fix the marksmanship ailments of lackluster riflemen. Neither is true. If the military is using them then reliability has to be very high. If police are using them then costs have to be pretty low. If Federal Cartridge Company is behind it, I think we can afford to give them the benefit of the doubt.
Finally, not a one of you has much of a choice. Federal is changing all their lines over to this new primer. There will not be 2 lines longer than is necessary to finish converting the 2nd one. Once they make this change you’ve got the existing stock in the market and then you’re going to have to accept that things change. Sure, I have 10,000 primers in my personal back stock too. But I kind of doubt that if you have that many that you shoot little enough to eventually need more.
Get out and shoot!