Cartridge (firearms)

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A cartridge, also called a round, packages the bullet, gunpowder and primer into a single metallic case precisely made to fit the firing chamber of a firearm. The primer is a small charge of impact-sensitive chemical that may be located at the center of the case head (centerfire ammunition) or at its rim (rimfire ammunition). Electrically-fired cartridges have also been made. Caseless ammunition has been made as well. A cartridge without a bullet is called a blank; one that is completely inert is called a dummy.

In popular use, the term "bullet" is often misused to refer to complete cartridges. This is incorrect; "bullet" refers specifically to the projectile itself, not the entire cartridge.

Contents

Design

The cartridge case seals a firing chamber in all directions except down the bore. A firing pin strikes the primer, igniting it. The spark from the primer ignites the powder. Gases from the burning powder expand the case to seal against the chamber wall. The projectile is then pushed in the direction that releases this pressure, down the barrel. After the projectile leaves the barrel the pressure is released, allowing the cartridge case to be removed from the chamber.

Automatic and semiautomatic firearms, which extract and eject the case automatically as a part of their operation, sometimes damage the case in the process of ejection. Brass is a commonly used material, as it is resistant to corrosion and ductile enough to be reformed and reloaded several times. However, some low-quality "plinking" ammunition, as well as some military ammunition (mainly from the former Soviet Union and China) is made with steel cases because steel is less expensive than brass. As militaries typically consider small arms cartridge cases to be a disposable, one-time-use affair, the lack of ductility is inconsequential for this application, although the mass of the case affects how much ammunition a soldier can carry. One downside caused by the lack of ductility is that a layer of carbon soot can blow around the steel casing into the chamber and make extraction of rounds difficult. This is less of a problem for weapons of the former Warsaw Pact nations, which were designed with much larger chamber tolerances than NATO weapons. Steel cases found in ammunition are often lacquered, or coated in a thin layer of polymer or copper (referred to as copper-washed) to protect the steel from corrosion. Some ammunition is also made with aluminum cases (see picture). Although more ductile than steel, the low tensile strength of aluminum cases prevents them from being reloaded.

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