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Aluminum-Cased Ammo: Aluminum Casings Explained

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Aluminum Casing AmmoAluminum-cased ammo has had its proponents and detractors since its introduction in the early 1980s, but demand continues among those who want a cheap alternative to brass-cased ammunition. Today, only two major manufacturers are producing aluminum-cased ammo – Federal (with Federal aluminum 9mm among its most popular) and CCI.

Although not in huge demand for small arms ammunition, aluminum ammo is the standard for tank and auto cannon shells, such as the 120mm aluminum rounds used in the Abrams tank and the 30mm ammo used in the GAU-8 – most commonly found in the A-10 Warthog.

Is Aluminum Cased Ammo Bad for Your Gun?

The simple answer is: No, not at all. Shoot it to your hearts content!

Whenever you start changing the material for cartridge cases, gun enthusiasts start getting twitchy about the integrity of their firearm. Indeed, it doesn’t take too much internet searching to find anecdotal stories about how Ammo Brand X is bad for Gun Brand Y and you should never fire it because this one time (at Band Camp) when they submerged their pistol in peanut butter, drug it behind their quad in the mud, and dunked it into swamp water the extractor broke.

Though the above scenario is entirely fictitious (and hilarious), it goes to show you that you can find anything on the internet about ammo and it might not be completely true. The aluminum in the case will not damage your gun’s chamber, extractor, or ejector because they are made from steel.

Hardness is measured on the Brinell Hardness Scale in units of BHN (Brinell Hardness Number). For comparison, stainless steel has rating of 200 BHN where pure aluminum is 15 BHN. There is literally no danger to your firearms steel parts when using aluminum cased ammo.

What you can experience though, is failure to eject (FTE), failure to feed (FTF) and double-feeds when using aluminum cased ammo. Let’s examine why that can occur. Aluminum has a lower melting point than brass (660°C vs 900°C, respectively). Now this does not mean that the case is going to melt into the chamber of your favorite pistol or revolver.

What it does mean is that the cartridge case can be kind of “sticky” during the ejection process. Furthermore, aluminum has a lower surface lubricity when compared to brass which can also cause extraction to feel sluggish.

These two issues can cause aluminum cased ammo to be more difficult to extract during the firing process. However, in my experience, guns are like children. Some of them are picky with what they eat and others aren’t.

The true test is to just buy some aluminum cased ammo and send a few boxes through your pistol. I’m pretty sure after box #2 or #3 you’ll know if your handgun has an appetite for aluminum cased ammo or not. If your gun happily eats it, then enjoy your reduced cost of practice ammo and spend a little more time at the range because you’ll be shooting for cheaper. If your gun treats aluminum cased ammo like my daughter treats zucchini…well…that’s just the way some kids are and you’ll need to feed it brass cased ammo instead.

Aluminum vs Brass Ammo

The difference between brass vs. aluminum is a common question. One big reason that aluminum bullets are gaining fans among the shooting public is cost savings. The price of brass fluctuates based on the current price of copper, and during certain times it can be relatively expensive to mass produce brass-cased ammunition. There's an easy solution found in aluminum, due to more stability in price that is considerably less than brass. An interesting side note is that this metal is also tough enough for use in aircraft while being remarkably light (about 1/3 the weight of brass).

Pros of Aluminum-Cased Ammos

  • Lightweight: When it comes to aluminum casings, you won't find a lighter cartridge. These cartridges are as light as you can get, without sacrificing the integrity of the casing. You can feel quite a difference if you're purchasing in bulk, and you hold a box of aluminum in one hand and a box of brass in the other. Although not a huge difference for the casual shooter on the range, it is most noticeable when being carried in a larger quantity for a longer period of time, such as in military or police applications.
  • Low Cost: A box of aluminum-cased cartridges will typically cost you less than a box of brass-cased cartridges. If you only buy one box a couple times a year, you may not care about the difference too much. But if you enjoy shooting at the range, plinking on your property or hunting, this will add up. For the best savings, buying by the case will typically give you the best deal.
  • Cons of Aluminum-Cased Ammo

  • No Reloading: You'll find reloading debates on firearms and ammunition forums, but the official stance is just don't do it. Though it is very strong, aluminum does have a lower melting point than brass or steel and the structural integrity of the casing simply isn't guaranteed to hold up successfully through one or more reloads. Also, the decreased flexibility of the aluminum case when compared to brass makes the resizing of the case length, and the opening and closing of the neck, a more difficult process. This is due to the increased likelihood of cracked case necks and shoulder separation – both potential disasters waiting to happen. For the common shooter, recycling aluminum cases is the best option.
  • Melting Point: This won't be an issue for most people, but it is an interesting fact. When used in automatic weapons that are specifically manufactured for steel and brass, aluminum casings could melt or otherwise become unstable. Odds are you aren't hunting moose with an M-60 or MAC-10, so this is more or less a "non-issue" for most target shooters or for those training to use a new firearm.
  • Cartridges with an aluminum casing are a great choice for people who have no interest in reloading their spent brass casings. The aluminum cases also provide an excellent choice for long-term storage ammo, as they are extremely corrosion-resistant. Finally, the competitive price makes aluminum-cased ammo a great choice for casual shooting.

    Chris Dwulet
    Written by
    Chris Dwulet