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Discussion Starter #1
DISCLAIMER: What I am describing was safe in my gun, but may not be safe in yours. I disclaim all liability for any use and/or misuse of this data. Please exercise caution if you attempt to handload 5.45x39.

I finally tested my first 5.45x39 handloads today.

Brass was Remington headstamped 222 Remington. I purchased a 650 degree Tempilstik temperature crayon and marked the necks and shoulders down to where the new shoulder would be, then annealed the cases over my gas stove. Then I trimmed the cases to 1.55", resized using my RCBS sizing die, and trimmed the resulting case once again to 1.55" Primers are CCI 41, to prevent slam-fires.

Bullets I'm using are 70 grain Berger VLD, 68 grain Hornady BTHP Match, and 60 grain Hornady V-Max, resized to .221" using a custom-made Lee lube & size die. Because these bullets are intended for 223 Remington, the ogive shape is too fat too far forward to be able to seat to mag length without jamming into the lands. At lengths up to 2.25" the rounds feed just fine, the bolt closes, and the whole cartridge ejects perfectly, however I'm still a little antsy about pulling the trigger when a bullet is jammed that far up. OAL that I used was 2.175" on the Berger and 68 grain Hornady, and 2.150" on the V-Max. At these lengths, the bullets are off the lands.

Powder is BLC-2. I had heard that case capacity is supposed to be about halfway between 222 Remington and 221 Fireball, but due to the paucity of data with 70 grain bullets, I relied more on 222 Remington data and modified it given the calculated reduction in case capacity.

Because the trimming is so time-consuming, I only tested 16 rounds. 13 were loaded with BLC-2 and the 70-grain VLD, ranging from 17.6 to 20.0 grains, in 0.2 grain increments. My primitive calculations showed 20.2 grains as being a max, but I will have to test that (and maybe some bigger loads) next week. I loaded each round singly from the magazine, and of those 13 rounds, all ejected. The 17.6 was VERY light, the recoil spring was almost louder than the muzzle report. Everything up to 20.0 grains ejected fine, with no primer flow and no visible difference in case bulging. Because of the smaller diameter of 222 Remington brass, the cases of course bulged down the sides, and I will measure the exact expansion tonight. Because of the annealing, none of my case necks or shoulders split, which I had read is sometimes a problem. 1 round was 17.6 grains of BLC-2 with the 68 grain Hornady, and 2 rounds were with the 60 grain V-Max, with 19.8 and 20.0 grains BLC-2. All 3 of these ejected, but were noticeably light.

So, to summarize, what was safe in my gun.

Reformed 222 Remington brass
CCI 41 primer
BLC-2 powder
70 grain Berger VLD - 17.6 - 20.0 grains BLC-2: safe
68 grain Hornady BTHP Match - 17.6 grains BLC-2: safe
60 grain Hornady V-Max - 19.8 - 20.0 grains BLC-2: safe

I'll try to get some measurements and photos up tonight too, and continue updating this thread in the future as I load some more. The once-fired cases should have a nice increase in case capacity.
 

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cool! :grin:
 

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There was a article in this months Guns magazine that listed someplace in San Diego as having brass and bullets for the 5.45x39 but I left it in the break room at work so it's gone, maybe someone else has a copy and will post the info
 

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Discussion Starter #4
Measurements:

Trimmed and resized 222 Remington
Rim: .374"
Head: .374"
Shoulder: .359"
Length: 1.550"

Once-fired (before resizing)
Rim: .374"
Head: .374"
Shoulder: .368"
Length: 1.539"

About 1/4" up from the rim, the case expands to .388" This is about expected, as head measurement on the 5.45x39 is supposed to be .394" Case length has also decreased, although it grows to 1.542" after resizing. Case capacity has increased by 3.4 grains, and the once-fired brass 5.45 case equals the case capacity of the once-fired steel 5.45 case. Case capacity decreases by 1 grain after resizing, but that's still a 9.4% increase in useable capacity from virgin to once-fired.

The photo below shows a 222 Remington run through the sizer before trimming, the once-fired 5.45 brass case, and a once-fired 5.45 steel case that I stuck a 55 grain bullet into for appearances sake. The black arrow shows where expansion begins on the fired case. Sorry about the picture quality, my phone is the only camera I have.

 

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Good job, man. I really wish we had some 5.45 brass. I'd like to shoot some real hunting rounds.
 

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Discussion Starter #6
Before I post today's results, a few caveats, and an explanation of my methodology. Today's loads were working up close to what I would believe to be a max for this cartridge. If anyone tries this data, I would recommend doing as I do, working up in 0.1 grain increments and inspecting primers and cases for signs of excessive pressure. My 5.45x39 loads are based on 222 Remington load data.

222 Remington load data w/ 70 grain bullet
Lee #2: 21.0 grains BLC-2; 2.040" OAL; 2623 fps; 48587 PSI (MAX load)
Out of my 4 manuals (Lee, Sierra, Speer, Hornady) and Hodgdon's online data center, this was the only 70-grain bullet data I was able to find.

Now, I don't know how they were able to get a 70-grain bullet to seat at 2.04". Even 2.14" is impossible for me to do, since that puts the bearing surface below the top of the case neck. Anyway, to create virgin 5.45 brass, the shoulder is being pushed down .087" (1.264 to 1.177), but our OAL increases by .135" (2.040 to 2.175). Because the bullet is protruding less into the case, I used the 21 grains as the max load for virgin brass. I fired both the 68 grain Hornady BTHP and the 70 grain Berger VLD from 20.2 to 21.0 grains in 0.2 grain increments with no externally visible problems.

With the once-fired brass from last week, I loaded the 70-grain Berger VLD from 21.0 to 22.1 grains in 0.1 grain increments, since the case capacity increased by over 9% due to the fireforming. I suppose I could have loaded hotter, but since I am in uncharted waters and have no desire to hot-rod my AK's, I figured 22.1, a roughly 5% increase, was sufficient. If the 222 ballistics data is at all accurate, 22.1 grains should push these bullets at a little over 2700fps and produce muzzle energy of around 1150 ft/lbs. It might be even a little more, since the 5.45 has a slightly more efficient case shape. At any rate, the 70-grain Berger VLD fired safely on top of up to 22.1 grains of BLC-2, out of once-fired brass.

222 Remington load data for 60-grain V-Max
Hornady #7: 24.6 grains BLC-2; 2.160" OAL; 2900 fps; no pressure data (MAX load)
Hodgdon RDC: 23.5 grains BLC-2; 2.160" OAL; 2803 fps; 44000 CUP (MAX load)

Since the Hornady data was developed in a Remington 700, I went with the Hodgdon data, as the pressure is more in line with what the AK-74 can handle. Today I worked up loads in virgin brass up to 23.0 grains, which is getting pretty close to a compressed load. I think I'll probably stop at 23.0 for virgin brass, both because of compression as well as the slightly reduced capacity from bumping the shoulder back. Next week I'll use the once-fired brass to work up loads a little over 23.5 grains, maybe up to around 24.5 grains, and will report how those work. Also, tonight I plan to inspect the twice-fired brass and see how it's holding up, and will section a case or two to see if the bulged areas are thinning or not.
 

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Using military primers to evaluate pressure signs will lead you into territory you really don't want to visit. This is because they are of a much harder cup design, and won't give you the tell-tale signs of pressure. Since you are using 222 brass, you cannot evaluate case head expansion either in your rifle.

For those who are interested in this sort of thing, simply pull your 5.45 bullets, chamfer the inside of the case neck on the steel cases, and seat your replacement bullet over the powder charge you determine. Still cheaper to use the steel cases than it is to go through these gyrations with the 222 brass. Imagine trying to find it in the grass after all that work?

BTW, I should locate my old data on this subject, and sell my bullet sizer and my C&H Tool and Die die set... I sold the rifle quite a little while ago and see no further need of it...
 

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Discussion Starter #8
My understanding of military primers is that, aside from containing a magnum primer compound, their anvil is seated a little further away from the primer, thus making them less susceptible to slamfires. It's not the hardness of the cup itself, but rather the distance of the anvil from the firing pin strike that gives it the reputation for "hardness." I still wouldn't expect to see high pressure signs unless there were high pressure. I used CCI 41 primers to work up loads in 454 Casull with H110, using loads that were 50000 CUP or less, with no signs of pressure in the primer, only some signs on the brass, which is to be expected at that high a pressure in a lever action rifle. An AK-74 is obviously different, as the extraction of a semiauto chews up the brass a little more than a bolt or lever action. But with no rounding of the primer edges and flow around the primer strike equivalent to what I saw on Barnaul and Wolf factory ammo, I knew the primers weren't going to be the best bet for pressure signs.

I sectioned the piece of brass that I used to load 22.1 grains of BLC-2 behind the 70-grain Berger. The bulged section of brass, which comes about .100" above the web, is at a section of the case where brass thickness is approximately 60% thicker (.040" vs. .025") than the shoulder area of the case. There is no noticeable thinning of the brass, at least not in the area that I sectioned.

My trimmer apparently moved a bit and was trimming brass below 1.550", so there has been some lengthening of the brass as a result. I will be keeping track of this, measuring brass and sectioning a piece after each firing to ensure that I'm not in danger of a head separation. I will also anneal the necks and shoulders after the third firing to ensure that there will be no neck splits. So far I've fired around 60 rounds with no neck splits, which is pretty good after reading about JA's experiences over the years.

As for cost, if I were to buy commercial or surplus 5.45, pull the bullets, and replace with commercial powder and bullets, I am still coming out ahead by reloading. Based on what I paid, replacing the bullet and powder in surplus ammuntion costs 38.26 cents, including the initial cost of each surplus round. The first handloaded 5.45 case costs 51.15 cents, and since the case is thereafter sunk cost, each reload thereafter costs 29.15 cents. Since I've sectioned my twice-fired brass and determined it to be safe to fire a third time, I should be able to get three firings per piece of brass with no problems. If I get more, great, if not, no big deal. The most important thing is that in the event of a ban on importation of 5.45, or a Russian export ban, or any sort of supply disruption, I now have the tools and knowledge to handload 5.45x39.
 

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Discussion Starter #9
After two subsequent range trips, I have more data. I had significant feeding problems with 70-grain Berger VLD and 60-grain VMax in the homebuilt rifle I was using, which I later found out to be caused by the rifle (10 stoppages in 30 rounds of Barnaul FMJ.) Through my SLR-105, the following handloaded bullets fed flawlessly:

Hornady 60 grain VMax - OAL 2.150"
Berger 60 grain Match - OAL 2.175"
Hornady 68 grain BTHP - OAL 2.175"
Berger 70 grain VLD - OAL 2.175"
Berger 75 grain VLD - OAL 2.245"
Hornady 75 grain AMax - OAL 2.245"

The following MAXIMUM load data I settled on was as follows:

60 grain bullets - 23.0 grains BLC-2 in virgin brass, 24.0 grains after 1+ firing

68-70 grain bullets - 21.0 grains BLC-2 in virgin brass, 22.0 grains after 1+ firing

75 grain bullets - 20.0 grains BLC-2 in virgin brass, 21.0 grains after 1+ firing

I doubt I'll be pushing to max all the time, but I'd like to chrono these at some point to see what kind of velocity I'm getting.

After 3 firings, I sectioned another piece of brass, everything looked fine, so I annealed the necks and shoulders and commenced with the 4th firing. Sectioned another case and still no sign of any weakening anywhere near the head, nor is there any lengthening of the brass. So, I have 11 pieces ready for firing #5, and will section another piece after each firing.
 

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Discussion Starter #11
hcpookie said:
Good job! Keep up the good work on this.
Thanks. Are there any other bullets you might suggest I try? The problem with anything smaller than 60 grains is that in order to ensure enough contact with the neck, the OAL has to be pretty short, probably around 2.150 or less. Plus, I've had problems with non-boattailed bullets seating crookedly and bulging the base of the neck. Also, 24 grains of BLC-2 is about the most I think I can put in without beginning to compress the powder, so any bullets lighter than 60 would begin to see diminishing velocity. I used the photos on this page http://www.6mmbr.com/223Rem.html as a guide for trying to figure out which bullets might seat out to magazine length. Those JLK VLD's look promising, although they're a bit pricey.

How about powder? I have IMR 4895 and 4064, both of which show compressed max loads in 222 Remington, and the only other ball rifle powders I have are AA 2520 and 1680. 2520 looks like a likely candidate because in its max 222 load with 60 grain bullets it's only developing 43-45000 PSI, while still getting as much velocity as the faster, higher pressure powders. 1680 looks a little quick, and maybe not bulky enough. I prefer to use slower, bulkier powders both to avoid double charges but also because I don't want to have to worry about SEE.
 

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Discussion Starter #12
I finally bit the bullet and ordered Quickload. I entered two new cartridges, based on the size and water capacity of the virgin and fired brass, and got the following velocities and pressures of my MAX loads.

EDIT: 11/2 - realized I was measuring the water capacity inaccurately. Corrected PSI and velocity figures below.

Virgin Brass
60 grain VMax 47538 PSI 2693fps
60 grain Berger Match 43426 PSI 2627fps
68 grain Hornady 41981 PSI 2442fps
70 grain Berger VLD 42545 PSI 2427fps
75 grain Berger VLD 39317 PSI 2290fps
75 grain AMax 41090 PSI 2317fps

Fired Brass
60 grain VMax 49105 PSI 2747fps
60 grain Berger Match 45118 PSI 2684fps
68 grain Hornady 44440 PSI 2515fps
70 grain Berger VLD 45127 PSI 2498fps
75 grain Berger VLD 41280 PSI 2351fps
75 grain AMax 43044 PSI 2378fps

Max pressure for 5.45x39 is supposed to around 55000 PSI. Obviously if AKs are chambered for 5.56, they're capable of handling that type of pressure. Even if I decide to limit my loads to 50000, I still have a little room to play around with these bullets. Just plugging in a few other powders, it looks as though Acc. 2520, IMR 3031, and IMR 4895 might be other likely contenders.
 

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Discussion Starter #13
Went out and tested some more loads today.

80 grain Berger VLD - OAL 2.245"
80 grain Hornady AMax - OAL 2.245"
75 grain Prvi Partizan BTHP - OAL 2.205"
62 grain Prvi Partizan FMJ - OAL 2.135"
60 grain Sierra Varminter HP - OAL 2.150"
55 grain Sierra Blitzking - OAL 2.165"

I loaded in virgin brass, up to the following max loads:

80 gn VLD - 20.8 gn BLC-2
80 gn AMax - 20.5 gn BLC-2
75 gn BTHP - 21.9 gn BLC-2
62 gn FMJ - 23.5 gn BLC-2
60 gn Varminter - 24.0 gn BLC-2
55 gn Blitzking - 24.3 gn BLC-2

No pressure signs in any of the brass, except that there was a 0.3" split in the middle of one case, I think the max load of the 60 grain Varminter. This was the first case I've had split, and only the second I've lost while loading 5.45 (the other was a small puncture in the neck of a thrice-fired case.) I sectioned two pieces of brass, and there was no thinning of the brass near the area where it expanded. According to Quickload, all of these loads get around 50K PSI. I think I'll use the Prvi bullets with a mild load for fireforming, then get up to max with other bullets once the cases are fully formed. The 80 grain bullets made nice holes at 25 yards, no signs of keyholing whatsoever. If I feel dangerous I may try to load some 90s in the future.

I also tested some new max loads in brass that's seen four loads. Worked up to 22.3 grains BLC-2 with the 75 grain Berger VLD, and 22.6 with the 70 VLD (planning to work up to 22.8.) These are also rated around 50K PSI. I sectioned one case after the fifth firing, and everything looked fine, no thinning of the brass. The bases are starting to fill out to 5.45 dimensions, getting a little tight for the .223 shellholders. After five firings I have 10 pieces of brass left, sectioning one after each firing. I hope I make it to 15 firings.
 

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Discussion Starter #15
That's what I'm hoping for. I'm on the fifth firing now, annealed the cases before trimming, annealed after the 3rd firing, and will anneal again after the 6th, 9th, and 12th firings, if I get that far. The first four firings were with loads only going up to about 40-45K PSI, and I'll be loading from now on with loads approaching 50K, which might reduce brass life. I'm just interested in seeing how long these cases will last. So far they've held up pretty well with no thinning of the brass. It's pretty impressive that they've lasted this long already, given the force of extraction and the dings they pick up when ejected.
 
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