Saturday, July 14, 2012

Trust in God But Keep Your Powder Dry

Ammo and reloading stores.  Many of you have them. I was given a couple extra dies for 8 mm Mauser from a retiring friend recently. I already had some, so I called Tam to see if she wanted them.

The conversation went something like this (after the obligatory girl talk which involved Barkley, Mongolian hordes and why does the highlighting shampoo say "avoids brassy tones" like brassy is a bad thing?")

Me: "Before I forget, do you need a couple 8 mm Mauser dies?"

Tam - "I may have some, already, let me check. ." 

There's a pause and I hear her rustling around.  She then  starts listing off about two dozen different dies and I suddenly realized that comparing my reloading gear to hers was like comparing the closets of a nudist and Kim Kardashian.  But you have to start somewhere, and knowing how to store your product is as important as having the right tools and equipment to make it.

Modern ammunition is some pretty hardy stuff and it's going to take an extended period of humidity, or extreme heat and cold, before you would notice any noticeable performance change. I'm sure many of us have encountered folks at the ranges, shooting surplus ammo that's easily 50 years old and this is stuff that's been sitting in shipping containers in less than ideal climates for years .

And it shoots.

For the most part, people I knew who shoot a lot for practice and recreation, tend to use up their ammo before degradation is even a thought. But more and more, people are stocking up on ammo. The economy is a factor there, the cost of all metals continues to go up.. Politics plays into it. Remember after the last election, you couldn't even FIND primers. So for a multiple of reasons, more people are stocking up and more people are reloading their own, storing it for a rainy day or the zombie uprising. :-)

Ammo, stored reasonably well, will last a long time though.  I've posted some basic storage tips before but I've learned a few new things on my own and from others and hope it will help the beginner.  Powders and primers are, however, another story (and another post). The old corrosive primers were immune to about anything.

Not so much the new ones.

What should be of concern for you in regards to long term storage, outside of "how much is legal to store" and "where do I store", is the corrosion of the shell casings. years ago, I picked up a jet that had been in storage in the desert and brought it back to the powers that be one time to put it back into service. It met the inspection for the ferry but let's just say some problems developed on the flight home (I love my peanut gyro). Corrosion. You think in the desert it would have been fine. But what about all the hot days, followed by cold nights, hot days, cold nights. Corrosion folks.

In ammunition, corrosion is caused by too much moisture reacting with the primer or the brass casing. Either can make the round dangerous to fire. Your enemy here? Humidity. On the plus side, there are many, easy ways to store your ammo without excess effort or cost.

Proper storage will make up for a lot of variances in the elements. I think my ammo cans make a nice decorate statement What Og referred to after a dinner for friends in the midst of closing the sale of my house and moving - "Martha Stewart meets the insurrection". But many people prefer storage in paper (i.e. the boxes it came in). In your house, and mine which should have a reasonably controlled humidity level, storage in cardboard boxes should work fine for a year or two. Any more than that and you should invest in some good storage containers and some desiccant (in a pinch, some silica gel cat litter in a knitted up ladies nylon stocking  will work. 

Why the danger from humidity? Humidity equals condensation which can cause surface damage to the metals due to condensation. Let's say you store your ammo in a shop that's climate controlled (i.e. coolish) or it's been an unusually cool night. You open the door to haul some things in and out and in comes all that hot and humid air. You could get some condensation on cold surfaces. If your stuff is stored in cardboard. that should inhibit the humid air and that may be good enough. But if you suspect abrupt changes in humidity in your storage area, take a look at the bullet tops or other spots touching the cardboard, for paper does tend to pick up moisture.

With the right ammo can and proper packing, your ammo (and many supplies) will survive VERY long term storage.  During Desert storm, the soldiers were issued 5.56 ammunition that was manufactured at Lake City (LC 67) (manufactured when I was in grade school) that performed well in the field and showed no signs of degradation.

The life expectancy of reloads can be extended significantly with a light coating of nail polish around the primer and the case crimp.  I rarely wear nail polish, the last time I did, I came out, showed it off and was greeted with the words "mmmm you smell like a model kit!".  But it it is quite handy for  ammo that's going to be used in a wet environment to protect against inclement weather. (and a "seal a meal" defense pouch of ammo for a quick hunting or fishing trip where it's wet is nice to throw in a backpack).As for the polish?  Most folks use clear, but red for the zombie rounds is a nice touch..

Sealed storage is your best bet against "wet". GI ammo cans are great for this so long as you check the rubber seals. Even some old ones like this one that came part of a purchase of some old British .308 ammo were found to be still good for storage.

But how can you tell if type seal is still good? Heat something like a large stone in hot water (in this case a rock about the size of a man's fist that I found in a field excavation). Wrap it in paper towels, place in a Ziploc bag and seal in your ammo can. Let it cool. As the stone cools a good vacuum should be formed. If, when you open the can there isn't a noticeable vacuum (should take a really healthy tug and a "pop!") that's not the can to store your ammo.

If you're not comfortable storing ammo in metal cans  you can seal up your ammo in zip lock bags with desiccant and place them in some plastic storage containers from big box mart.  Why the comfort level comment? There's quite a bit of debate on the net as to whether an ammo can makes a nifty bomb in a house fire. I don't think most storage cans are going to get the kind of seal it would take to make a  "bomb".

"BOOM!" - likely no

"POP, POP, POP, (#)@ !" - yes.

Smokeless powder doesn't really "blow up" like one would think, it just burns really fast.  It's not like dynamite. C-4 also just burns unless you get some shock force as well, or so I'm told.  Those bunkers you see in documentaries are made for storing anything from 9 x 19 mm up to 2000 lb JDAM bombs, so all those blast deflectors and giant steel doors are NOT something you need if you're going to have a few ammo cans in your shop. Frankly,  if your house catches fire you're going to be more worried about replacing your ammo then it leaving a crater where your shop used to be.

Unless you have 10's of thousands of rounds (and here is where I put my LEO hat on and tell you to check on what's legal to store in your state) the extra fire risk from a few cans isn't all that high.  Most cans will contain a cookoff, or even several.  Don't store them in a room that looks like a  TV episode from "Hoarders" and have fire extinguishers in your kitchen and shop, but don't lose sleep over it.

But like computers and firearms, everyone will have their own  opinion.

Once you have some good cans with a tight seal, you want to pack the items therein with the lowest humidity possible. If the ammo is stored in the can loose, there's not much to trap humidity, just air. If you are storing in cardboard inside of the can, there are ways to "dehumidify" the materials before placing in the can. (Cardboard will hold in a surprising amount of moisture without actually looking "wet").

One trick is stack your ammo in the can leaving a golf ball size space in a corner. place a piece of cardboard there, and lay a golf ball size chunk of Dry Ice on the cardboard. Push the cover on but don't lock it, set the can aside, out of any breeze or air current, and where no one will jostle it. come back two hours later and seal the can. The CO2 being heavier than air, will displace it.

But for those of you fortunate enough to have a nice gun safe with a built in dehumidifier, place everything, packing materials, boxes, ammo all open, in the sealed safe with the dehumidifier. Let it sit there several days. Go shoot some old Clinton era small pistol primed .40 that you just now polished off.

Remove the supplies, those few days in there should have removed much of the humidity inside the packing materials, ensuring you are starting the storage process from a low humidity base.Place your ammo in the can with a few desiccant packets (I use the 1 ounce ones) and seal it up. If you have some humidity sensor cards to throw in there as well, even better.

Set it and Forget it? Not exactly. You want to check on your ammo. Ignore your girlfriend and she will eventually find someone else of better caliber. Let your ammo sit unchecked as to conditions and you may find yourself standing cold and lonely on the range with a misfire.

You want to check on it every 1 to 2 years (the ammo, not your girlfriend) and preferably when the humidity is at its lowest of the year. (i.e. winter). this will reduce the amount of humidity introduced to your can. Checking any sensor takes just seconds (look for less than 30% humidity). Replace the sensor and the desiccant. It's probably just a couple of dollars per can for those items, well worth it when you think what the ammo would cost if we got another 10 years of Democrats.

Finally - rotate your ammo.

It is important to note: do not store you ammunition longer than necessary. Mark your storage containers with the date you acquired it (not stored it) and type type of ammo. Using the old ammo first keeps your stock fresh Also mark it with something more than caliber. There IS a lot of difference in performance between different ammo's of the same caliber and most of us have ammo we use for "plinking" as opposed to self defense or a match.

Simple, inexpensive steps that will help keep your ammo in good shape come hell or high water.


  1. A most excellent usual. ;-)

  2. C-4 Does in fact burn. In the RVN live fire exercise in '69, we cooked many C-Rations over a burning chunk of it. Much faster than the heat tabs the Army provided!

  3. "I don't think most storage cans are going to get the kind of seal it would take to make a "bomb".
    "BOOM!" - likely no
    "POP, POP, POP, (#)@ !" - yes."

    You are correct unless you got your hands on some of the funkier varieties of 50 .cal BMG. Then you could have a problem - probably with the ATF as well.

  4. I've shot 70 year old 30-06 ammo left over from WWI that worked just fine.

    One caveat on the nail polish on your primers, some polishs tend to like to "creep" into the primer pocket more than others. The primer sealers don't, but they cost more than a 99 cent bottle of polish.

  5. So is that my writing on that vacuum sealed packet of .45ACP?

  6. I don't know how old the Mosin ammo is, but it's still tightly sealed in its sardine cans.

  7. At one time I had a copy of the drawings and specification for ammo cans. They are designed to vent in a fite rather than explode. If you feel really paranoid about this, drill a hole in the box, deburr the edges and cover the hole with aluminum foil tape with acrylic adhesive. The 500 mph tape is ideal.

  8. Murphy - thanks! Hope you are enjoying the new plane.

    Bob - I bet it was!

    mikelaforge - what I have around wouldn't even capture the interest of the Girl Scouts, let alone ATF. :-)

    Res Ipsa - thanks for that info! I didn't know that. I don't mind spending a few bucks to save what is worth so much more.

    Mr. B. - Indeed it is, that's the bag you did for me for the bug out kit in one of the vehicles.

  9. I have a ready supply of the 2 oz "DO NOT EAT" packs from things I do at work. I bake them in the oven at 250* for several hours to ensure they're dry, and toss them in my ammo cans.
    One thing I've taken to doing is to rub some silicone grease ("Dielectric Grease" at the auto parts store) on the gaskets of the cans. It keeps the gaskets pliable, and helps them seal.

  10. That reminds me, I found an old box (550 rounds) of Remington .22 under my work bench. It definitely got wet, at least on the very bottom.
    .22 is pretty cheap, so I'm more inclined to just toss it, rather than try shooting it.
    But where do I throw away 550 rounds of .22?

  11. You're welcome. Carol Pilot and Bob Baker clued me into that and I gave it a try to see if they were right, and they were.

  12. Good stuff. My lesson about this is that it is important to check ammunition stored in magazines or clips as well.

    I once had a squib round (30-06) in an M1 Garand. Turns out it was a 1943 round that had corrosion around the primer, but it couldn't be seen because the round was in the "middle" of the clip so the primer was hidden.

    Needless to say, that was an eye-opener, and I now store only a minimal amount of ammunition already in magazines or clip.

  13. Ammo behavior in a fire doesn't scare me too much. By the time it cooks off, one has bigger problems, and without the pressure vessel of the chamber and barrel, the result is fairly low order -- the heavy piece of lead moves a short distance and the light piece of brass with all the powder in it acts like a low-powered, poorly-designed rocket.

    An exception is a cartridge "in battery" -- you have to expect it to go off should the weapon get hot enough. Again, by the time that happens you've got bigger problems (and hopefully are out of the house), but if you store a defensive weapon with a round chambered, try to think of how to keep it pointed at something approximating a safe direction.

    Primers are scary and deserve special treatment. Store them in their original containers (the plastic is conductive to prevent static), not too many boxes near each other, not too close to your powder, and for sure not in a strong tightly sealed container (aka a bombshell).

    Bulk smokeless powder of course burns like sin, but shouldn't explode unless tightly contained. Keep it in its factory canisters and in a protective yet flimsy locker of some sort.

    Black blasting powder has its own special rules.

    I keep my bulk supplies in a plastic storage shed, in a back corner of the yard near the back corners of other people's yards with a cinderblock fence in between. This is a bit of overkill, but since I have the capability, why not?

    In previous living situations, I'd make a deliberately weak box of 5/8" (firecode) sheetrock and put it in what seemed like a non fire prone part of the house.

    Here is what it looks like to an emergency responder:

    Some further advice from one of the highly knowledgeable people who hung out on rec.guns back in the heyday of Usenet News:

    More information is available from SAAMI, supplies vendors, and, I'm sure, the NRA.

    One final note: The amount of components you may store, and how you should store them, may be limited not only by law, but also by your insurance policy. The aftermath of a house fire is bad enough without handing the insurance company (some are weaselier than others) an excuse to avoid paying.

  14. As we were loading up a safe with some stores, Trooper reminded me of a warning issued by someone else - don't store your ammo in the same safe as your guns.

    If there is a fire and they cook off all your fine weapons are hosed.

    Thus, two safes.


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