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Justin Pasternak




Location: West Springfield, Massachusetts
Joined: 17 Sep 2006

Posts: 174

PostPosted: Mon 19 Feb, 2007 12:01 am    Post subject: The longevity of gunpowder and other explosive materials?         Reply with quote

I was just curious to know how long gunpowder and similair materials last, does it become unstable after a given period of time?

Does gunpowder become unstable over a period of years?

I actually have a firearm that belonged to my grandfather, its an M1 Carbine ( I think its from 1943) from World War 2 and it still has a clip full of ammunition.

If I were to fire the M1 Carbine could one of the bullets explode causing serious injury or even death? Worried


Last edited by Justin Pasternak on Mon 19 Feb, 2007 10:14 am; edited 1 time in total
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Daniel Staberg




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PostPosted: Mon 19 Feb, 2007 1:20 am    Post subject: Re: The longevity of gunpowder and other explosive materials         Reply with quote

Justin Pasternak wrote:
I was just curious to know how long gunpowder and similair materials last, does it become unstable after a given period of time?

Does gunpowder become unstable over a period of years?

I actually have a firearm that belonged to my grandfather, its an M1 Carbine ( I think its from 1943) from World War 2 and it still has a clip full of ammunition.

If I were to fire the M1 Carbine could one the bullets explode causing serious injury or even death? Worried


Well the powder in each round always burns explosively when fired, that's not a problem, the guns is built to handle it. The porblem with older muntions is that the powder becomes unstable and burns less efficiently which may leave you with a bullet stuck in the barrel and that is dangerous. Much would depend on the quality of the rounds and how they have been stored. While I was serving in the Swedish army all use of WWII manufactured muntions was halted in 1991-1992 due to the poweder havign become increasingly degraded, up until then we had been using up the still large ammoreserves from the War as cheap training muntions. But this was more due to the ballistics of the rounds having become degraded and unpredictable rather than any real danger.
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Thomas Watt




Location: Metrowest Boston
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PostPosted: Mon 19 Feb, 2007 2:29 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I think it depends on storage conditions.
I know some U.S. ammunition made during WWII is still in use for several calibers (.50 cal for instance). And instances of cannon shells from the 19th century being still "live"...
Exposure to dampness degraded the gunpowder and shells onboard the C.S.S. Alabama during the American Civil War to the point that it turned the tide of battle against the U.S.S. Kearsarge.

It also makes a difference whether you are asking about black powder weapons ("real" gunpowder) versus more modern materiel ("smokeless" gunpowder) because the chemistry - and therefore potential degradant conditions - is different.

Have 11 swords, 2 dirks, half a dozen tomahawks and 2 Jeeps - seem to be a magnet for more of all.
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E.B. Erickson
Industry Professional



Location: Thailand
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PostPosted: Mon 19 Feb, 2007 5:16 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I think it mainly depends on how much moisture has gotten into the powder. If tightly sealed, even black powder can be useable for years. Here's an illustration - about 15 years ago I was repairing a broken barrel tang on a plains rifle from about 1840. I had removed the barrel, had it clamped in a vise, and was using an oxyacetylene rig to do a weld repair to the tang. The breech was getting pretty hot, and all of a sudden KERBLAM!! That gun was loaded, and the heat from the welding set the powder off. The soft lead ball hit the cast iron base of my drill press and spalttered all over the workshop. I was really glad that I hadn't been standing in front of the muzzle.

So the moral of that story: gunpowder can still be good, even after extended periods of time. From that time on, whenever I had to work on an antique gun's barrel, I always checked to see if it was loaded!

--ElJay
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Michael Ahrens




Location: Staten Island & Andes NY
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PostPosted: Mon 19 Feb, 2007 7:12 am    Post subject: check the head stamp         Reply with quote

Justin

if you are really interested is firing the M1 carbine get a box of new ammo. the rounds that are in the magazine may be fine. to answer the question of how old the ammo is, remove a round from the magazine and look at the bottom of the case. most military ammo has a date stamp. i can tell you that i have fired thousands of surplus rounds from WW2, WW1,
and before with little problem as long as storage was good. the one major problem with old ammo is the fulminate primers, if not cleaned properly the barrel will start to corrode. hope this helps.



Mike

Mike Ahrens
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Jean Thibodeau




Location: Montreal,Quebec,Canada
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PostPosted: Mon 19 Feb, 2007 9:07 am    Post subject: Re: check the head stamp         Reply with quote

Michael Ahrens wrote:
Justin

if you are really interested is firing the M1 carbine get a box of new ammo. the rounds that are in the magazine may be fine. to answer the question of how old the ammo is, remove a round from the magazine and look at the bottom of the case. most military ammo has a date stamp. i can tell you that i have fired thousands of surplus rounds from WW2, WW1,
and before with little problem as long as storage was good. the one major problem with old ammo is the fulminate primers, if not cleaned properly the barrel will start to corrode. hope this helps.



Mike


If the rounds have been " stored " in the magazine for years the magazine spring could be very weak and cause malfunctions. Also I wouldn't leave ammo in a magazine just lying around as it makes a stupid accident more likely.

If you have only one magazine and it is usually loaded " someone " might forget to unload the magazine when handling the gun. Eek! ( yes it sounds stupid but accidents happen when people handle firearms without thinking i.e. that one time one forgets to unload the magazine before cycling the gun's action while playing / cleaning it or one forgets about that one round in the chamber ! )

General rule: Always treat a gun likes it's loaded and always know where it's pointed at. Every time you pick one up that you assume is unloaded check to be sure visually and tactilely that it is in fact unloaded, even if you just put it down for a second.

99.9 % of the time you will be right that it is unloaded but that .1 % where you discover that it was actually loaded will give you cold sweats about what would have happened if you had pulled the trigger without thinking.

Justin: Don't take the above personally as I have NO idea how familiar you are with handling firearms so this is just general advice just in case good for anyone as even " experts " can have an accidental discharge if they get careless through over familiarity and break the basic safety rules.

Oh, and old ammo can be good for decades with only an increase in misfire rates as others have said.

Finally you might consider this old ammunition as also a souvenir of your grandfather and old ammo can also be a collectable to some degree. If you want to practice just buy some new ammo. Wink Big Grin

You can easily give up your freedom. You have to fight hard to get it back!
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Justin Pasternak




Location: West Springfield, Massachusetts
Joined: 17 Sep 2006

Posts: 174

PostPosted: Mon 19 Feb, 2007 10:12 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks everyone for your input on the topic!

And to tell you the truth, I've never actually fired a real gun before, (whether it being a type of muzzleloader or breechloader firearm) the closest thing that I've actually fired is a high powered BB gun. But I treated the BB gun as if it were a real firearm!!!

I know very little about firearms and I have a few more questions.

1) what kind of ammunition can I substitute for the original ammunition for the M1 Carbine's Ammunition?

2) What are the steps taken to clean and maintain a firearm so that it functions properly?


Last edited by Justin Pasternak on Mon 19 Feb, 2007 12:48 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Jean Thibodeau




Location: Montreal,Quebec,Canada
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PostPosted: Mon 19 Feb, 2007 10:54 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Justin Pasternak wrote:
Thanks everyone for your input on the topic!

And to tell you the truth, I've never actually fired a real gun before, (whether it being a type of muzzleloader or breechloader firearm) the closes thing that I've actually fired is a high powered BB gun. But I treated the BB gun as if it were a real firearm!!!

I know very little about firearms and I have a few more questions.

1) what kind of ammunition can I substitute for the original ammunition for the M1 Carbine's Ammunition?

2) What are the steps taken to clean and maintain a firearm so that it functions properly?


M1 Carbine ammunition is still being made and the biggest difference might be the use of softpoint or hollow point ammunition for small game hunting. Military style full jacketed ammo would be best for reliable feeding ( no jambs ) and probably costs a little less than hunting ammunition. Original military surplus ammo may or may not be easy to get but should be the least expensive.

You can give a rifle a decent cleaning without taking it apart to a degree but usually it's best to field strip it to its main components. ( This doesn't mean taking everything apart though to the last screw or spring: That is only for an armorer or gunsmith to do. )

A cleaning kit available at most gun stores would include a cleaning rod that would hold wire brushes and a cleaning patch holder to push / pull and clean the barrel. Small brushes like and old tooth brush can be used to scrub with powder solvents the accessible areas and small drops of gun oil to lubricate moving parts can be applied with a Q-tip.

There are old military manuals showing the field stripping instructions for the M1 carbine as well as for other military rifles and finding one might help as these manuals give most of the basic maintenance instructions needed.

Getting the M1 checked out by a good gunsmith might be a good idea if it hasn't been used in decades and he could do a full cleaning of it if it has gotten really cruddy and make sure it's safe to shoot.

Finding a good gunclub to shoot at and get basic shooting and safety instruction would be a good idea or at least having someone show you how to do it safely. ( I'm assuming someone who actually IS competent and responsible safe user and not just a friend bragging about knowing ALL about guns. )

Oh, and if you live in a rural area where it's legal to go target practice choose a place were your bullet will go into the side of a sandy bank or very high backstop and if you let a shot off at 45 remember that the bullet can travel a mile or more and is going to land somewhere. Eek!

Hope this helps somewhat as your local laws and available resources will affect what you can do legally and safely.
And target shooting can be a lot of fun. Laughing Out Loud

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Lin Robinson




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PostPosted: Mon 19 Feb, 2007 7:21 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Your question has been answered pretty thoroughly but I would like to throw in something else. WWII (and later) ammunition is primed with fulminate of mercury, which is very corrosive (as mentioned by another poster). Firing WWII vintage ammunition in your carbine will necessitate some extra cleaning with hot water or G.I. bore cleaner (using both is a good idea) to avoid further corrosion to the barrel and gas system. If you are, as you say, a neophyte where firearms are concerned, this may be something with which you will need help. It is really best to use the modern ammo, after you have had the gun checked by a competent smith.

Regarding deterioration of powder, modern smokeless powders are chemical compounds. They will deteriorate over the years if not properly stored. Even when properly stored they will break down eventually, but it does take awhile. Loaded milsurp rounds with sealed primers and cases may last 50 years or more, but reliability does come into question with such old ammunition, which is why the military rotates ammo stocks on a regular basis.

Black powder is a mixture of sulphur, saltpeter and charcoal. Because there is no chemical bonding of the components black powder has an extremely long life when property stored. Even when it is not, it can be quite volatile after very long periods. A Union gunboat was raised from the Mississippi during the Civil War Centennial. Stores of powder from the boat were brought to the sruface at that time. Once it had dried out it was just as explosive as it had been 100 years before, when the ship went down. In our part of the world, especially along the coast, unexploded shells from the war are occasionally found. It is then necessary to a call bomb disposal from one of the military bases to deal with it. One exploded some years ago when an amateur relic collector was trying to drill into it. Created a bit of a mess.

Lin Robinson

"The best thing in life is to crush your enemies, see them driven before you and hear the lamentation of their women." Conan the Barbarian, 1982
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