A poster asked me to submit my thoughts on steel ammunition versus brass ammunition. This is a topic that is as volatile as caliber wars, Glock vs 1911s, open carry versus concealed, or one in the chamber vs empty chamber carry. Unlike the aforementioned topics, this one is a bit more complex. It also encompasses a long list of myths. So let’s begin by defining the object of our discussion. As always, this article is based on my own research and experience. It’s a your mileage will vary kinda deal. I was asked for my opinion, so here we are.
When people speak of brass versus steel, they often confuse two very important items. Ammunition can be steel cases, and steel jacketed. There is a difference.
•Steel/Brass cased ammunition: The cartridge is made of steel or brass.
•Steel Jacketed ammunition: the projectiles are gilded with steel over lead or other type of metal.(common in surplus military ammunition)
•Steel core ammunition: the projectile is steel, with a jacket of copper or other metal.(sometime known as armor piercing rounds)
With that out of the way, let’s answer the common questions. Does steel ammo suck? Will it feed and extract in my gun? Will it ruin my gun? Does it matter if I shoot it out of a pistol or rifle?
Does steel ammunition suck?
•Steel cased ammunition does not expand as well as brass ammunition, so it will not create as good of a seal with the chamber. This will cause more carbon fouling and gases to be expelled back into the chamber and receiver area.
•This will build up carbon faster in the chamber and lead to extraction problems in platforms like the AR which require right tolerances and lubrication to operate properly. If you shoot steel in your AR, make sure you keep it clean and run it wet for best results.
•You will have more wear on your parts like the extractor in an AR. Steel is harder than brass, so anything that steel rubs against will experience more wear. How much wear, and how it affects the reliability of the weapon is on a case by case basis. My Noveske eats steel like it does brass(though I don’t run a ton through it). I tested it for steel because it is my go to weapon. On of my PSA plinkers does not like steel. I have to scrub out the chamber every 200 rounds or so and lube the crap out of it to have it run.
•Steel Cased ammo runs very dirty. This is a product of the propellant powder, not the “lacquer” coating.
It’s not my go to ammo, it’s my plinking ammo. In my opinion, it does not suck for plinking in the right gun.
Will it feed and extract in my gun?
•AR-15 platform rifles are not designed for Steel Cased ammo. They can suffer extraction problems more often than the AK platform which was developed to use steel cased ammo.
•Most complaints about feed and extraction problems with Steel Cased ammo comes from AR platform users. AK users shoot almost exclusively steel cased ammo with out a problem.
Will it ruin my gun?(This is in relation to projectiles, not cartridge case materials)
• Steel Jacketed or Bi-Metal(Copper wash over steel) will reduce the life of your barrel. How quickly depends on the individual gun, the maker, the platform and whether or not your barrel is chromed lined.
•AR-15 platforms are once again the standard by which people say there early barrel wear. Of course steel projectiles grinding on steel barrels, chrome lining or not, will create more friction and more wear. The copper wash on bi-metal rounds are very thin and offer little protection from steel on steel.
•The rate of fire, and amount of continuous fire contributes greatly to barrel life and wear factors. If your barrel is heated up from continuous mag dumps the steel or chrome lining will lose its integrity due to the constant friction of steel, or any other material, on steel or chrome. This decreases barrel life especially if you are using steel jacketed ammo. Steel is much harder than copper.
So no, it won’t ruin your AR. It definitely will not ruin your AK, but it will decrease the barrel life to some degree depending on the individual weapon, and it how fast and long you fire it.
Does it matter if I fire it out of a rifle or a pistol?
•I have not fired any Steel Jacketed (projectile) out of any pistols. I would assume the same applies for a rifle or a pistol as it relates to projectile material.
•I have shot thousands of rounds of Steel Cased(cartridge) out of my G19s and G21s with no ill effects.
In summary, steel cased ammo can cause extraction issues in some AR platform guns. Steel jacketed projectiles can reduce your barrel life. But most recreational shooters will never see the difference. Those who shoot a lot can save enough money to replace the barrel, twice over in some cases, by shooting bi-metal or steel jacketed ammo. Lastly, Glocks are the only handguns I have fired steel cased ammo in and they function fine. I can not vouch for other hand guns.
Lacquer and polymer lubricants don’t “cook up” and cause cartridges to stick. It’s the excess carbon from an improper seal of steel casings. The lacquer has nothing to do with extraction issues.
Sorry for the long post, but it’s necessary. For testing data, and even more in depth information, here are some additional links.