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Backyard Ballistics Report: Accurate #9 to the Rescue

Backyard Ballistics Report

Really  Soft Cast Bullets in the 9 X 19, or 9MM Luger…….Accurate #9 to the Rescue!
By Daryl Colvin

I’ve been an avid handloader and backyard bullet caster for over 40 years.  Over the decades, I’ve noticed that we handloaders really enjoy doing cool & creative things, while simultaneously advancing our art form.   Stuff like : Pretending to save money, improving our self sufficiency skills, being super greenie recyclers, and when those temporary setbacks come……at least keeping our friends properly amused.   The internet has been (despite U-FaceGoogleBookTube and other Leftist-tech censorship attempts) a delightful boon for us in the reloading  community to share both triumph and folly.   Bullet casting in particular has been a fascinating  “black art” that is always in a constant  state of  (dare I say it)  flux.  My deepest thanks to the many other wonderful peers who’ve been so generous with their knowledge and talents.  Most of the “conventional” wisdom that we have all followed over the years is a valuable teacher, having been arrived at by the shared experiences of thousands of others.
For our art form to advance though, it’s sometimes necessary to take what we know, and stretch out a little, with some careful experimentation.   Come to think of it, this is how we arrived at this enlightened  place, where we now enjoy a plethora of alternative organic epoxy-ish, urethane-ish coatings for what in the past would be lubricated bare lead bullets.

Of all the perplexing variety of  choices and methods;  for the sake of this installment, all the cast bare lead bullets discussed here are coated by various incarnations of the currently popular Shake-N-Bake methods. The actual coating material used here, in all instances,  is supplied by Powders Buy the Pound, and called Mirror Green.  (Since there are literally dozens of You-Tube and other videos on this coating method,  I won’t delve into those specifics here, right now.)  This product is a high performance Urethane type powder coat, with the chemical foot long name of, brace yourself now ,…….Triglycidylisocyanurate (TGIC). Please don’t ask me to pronounce that.  It comes with an equally long list of health cautions, which many say are not too big of an issue, once the coating’s  properly cured. I chose the Mirror Green for the highly scientific reason that I like green. There are a plethora of similar products on the market, but this is just simply what I have on hand, and it works amazingly well.

The lowly and unpretentious  9MM, as most refer to it, was designed around  a medium weight  (some report it as 124 grains) lead core, copper/zinc JACKETED Round Nose bullet.  No one has ever told the 9 X 19 about this apparently , and it has been performing very well with untold bazzillions of various forms of lubricated bare lead bullets for the last hundred or so years. This also begs the question: Since both copper, zinc, and lead are all three classified as metals; why is it, that a lead core bullet , with a copper/zinc  alloy stretched around the nosey end of it, with the arse  end still bare lead,  labeled as being full metal jacketed?  The entire projectile being made of METAL of course…….I suppose lead has now ceased to be a metal, much like Pluto ceased to be a planet?…..but I severely digress.

While the 9X19  may not have the Olympic  Power Lifter abilities of its American cousin, the 38 Super,   ( With which I’ve had good results using  bullet weights up to, and including, 180 grains.)  it nonetheless has given pleasing performance for many users with bullet weights,  at least up to 150 grains or so.  The main issue as I see it, is, that our old friend the 9MM is a high performance cartridge that operates at relatively high pressures. This puts a lot of stress on the bullet, as it’s simultaneously being pressed into the rifling, being violently accelerated, (both rotationally and linearly) all the while trying to maintain a good gas seal.  Gas leakage down the sides, during firing, is the absolute BANE of cast lead bullets. It’s the main cause of leading, and when it get bad enough…..keyholing.  This generally means that for best performance, the cast lead bullets in this environment, need to be alloyed and/or heat treated to a relatively high hardness.  Yes, I realize that all this is gross oversimplification; but c’mon work with me a little here.
Despite all these rather well  established beliefs and traditions, I found it curious to explore outside this envelope, by doing the nearly the exact opposite of everything I just stated above.

Enter the somewhat sticky topic of tire store tape weights. When we get scrap lead from our favorite tire store we’re obligated to take a mix of clip (pound) on hard alloy wheel weights, along with tape on  lead weights. Never mind steel and zinc, that’s another topic for another day. These tape weights are considered some kind of impure version of pure lead. This means they should have an air cooled hardness of somewhere around BHN 5. Sure enough that’s where they measure for me as well. This means that his is a material really only desirable for black powder shooters. Many bullet casters usually deal with this by blending  this “pure” lead with other alloys to get a more useable hardness for the pressures encountered in smokeless powder cartridges.  I decided to take a more direct approach and ask the question, no rational person is asking: “What if all we had available to us was just tape weights?” Perhaps an actually more rational question is: With lead being phased out of many processes, including some tire store chains, what will our supplies of scrap lead be like in the future? What will the hardness of  these alloys be.  Knowing how to adapt might be a useful skill.


Tire store scrap mag wheel tape lead tape weights.  Lee 120 TC 9MM 6 cavity mold.
Bullets from Mold after Powder Coat and water quench. These were used AS IS with no sizing or supplemental lube except as noted.

When it comes to non professional (dare we say backyard?) bullet casting, Lee Precision is nearly ubiquitous. While the Lyman Company is whose products I started with, it seems like sooner or later you’re going to buy some Lee products.  The discussion here about making 9MM bullets from soft tape-on wheel weights will center around a well respected Lee bullet know as the 356 120 TC cast in six cavity mold (mould  if you’re British) #90387. To make these, I brought out of retirement a rather old Lyman 10 lb bottom pour lead furnace. I quickly discovered that for this nearly pure lead alloy, to cast well I had to keep both the mold and the lead furnace casting  temp quite hot; but once I got the process down, I ended up with about  500 or so for testing. Some would point out that, without much Tin present in the alloy to reduce oxidation and surface tension,  the casting process would be slightly more difficult. This seemed to be the case, but not that big of a deal.  These newly cast bullets were then sorted and placed with an appropriate amount of  the above mentioned Mirror Green powder coat product into a sealed round Ziploc brand polypropylene food storage container.  After a satisfying amount of shaking, swirling and tumbling, the bullets had a nice static clingy coat of green powder.  After carefully dumping the bullets into a 1/8″ mesh homemade steel hardware cloth baking rack and lightly shaking off the excess powder into a recovery tray, for re-use,  the bullets were then placed into my EZ bake convection oven, sourced from Goodwill Industries for a few bucks.

According  to the very best conventional wisdom, pure lead with its lack of other common alloying metals such as Tin, Antimony, ( sometimes even arsenic and copper), will be impossible to harden by heat- treating. I chose to reject all that. Instead, I followed what for me is a proven protocol of letting the convection oven gradually (over a 15-20 minute baking time)ramp the temperature of the bullets being cured up to 450-475 degrees F then quickly dump them into a 5 gal bucket of cold water. This does a fair job also of breaking  them apart with the rest separated by hand.  Confounding all predictions, these “pure” lead bullets, after 48 hours of post quench aging time, reached a hardness of 6.2 BHN.  This is still quite soft, but obviously a welcome improvement, where every little bit can help.
Worth mentioning that the tech wizards at Powders Buy the Pound assure me that brief exposures to  475 F should  not adversely affect the coating.

I was possibly not the best person for this particular assignment because when it comes to the 9MM, I often get a case of small cartridge syndrome, and really step on the gas pedal.  But more seriously, for a tournament class load like this I expect them to run somewhere around  1050 fps  out of a 5″ bbl and about 1225 fps  out of a 16″ PCC (Pistol Cal. Carbine).  For a bullet this soft, this proved problematic.

To keep things simple these were all loaded with no resizing and no supplemental lube. The Powder-coat did its usual excellent job of hold leading in the barrel to ZERO. Nonetheless, Alliant Sport Pistol was an accuracy  fail.  Alliant Unique fell on its face.  Accurate #7 sort of worked in certain guns, but not others. This is not even a complete list of all the failures. For the record, I hate making square holes in targets I’m not even aiming at! I set the project aside in disgust for a month or so, then thought well……according  to my own pistol loading doctrine of :”match the powder burn rate to the core hardness of the bullet”, well then,  gee,  why didn’t I try Accurate #9?    Insert face palm here.

I had about  a quarter of a pound of my long lost friend, so in the Dillon powder measure it went.  Some quick consulting with the popular Ballistics Program called Quickload predicted that 7.6 grains should yield a nice soft bullet compatible (Black Powder-ish) 14,500 psi; also with speeds that were close to my goals. The results were nearly spot on with predictions.  Groups at 25 yards were actually better out of most of the guns than what they will often do, even with higher end JHP’s! (Click to open files) Lee 120 TC Target Explaination and Test List and lee 120 acc 9  Even at this low pressure, using a relatively mild Sellier & Bellot small pistol primer; 10 shot extreme spreads were in the 30-60 fps range, at the 100 deg F temps we were testing in. So because of Accurate 9’s heretofore unheralded versatility I had produced a stunningly accurate practice/tournament load using straight scrap soft lead that would generally be considered unusable, by itself . The only obvious downside is that at 7.6 grains that’s about double the powder cost, of most match/practice loads for the return benefit of using cheap(er?) soft lead. I’ll leave that to the reader to decide whether such is worth it or not, or to quote famous YouTuber Paul Harrell: “You be the Judge”.

For simplicity’s sake, my pistol bullet casting is all done these days with a blend of various scrap lead as well as various vitamin and mineral supplements (yes I’m kidding) , like 95-5 solder, with a goal of 2-2 alloy (That’s 96% lead with 2% each of Tin and Antimony). For regular solid cast bullets this gets heat treated during the powder-coat process, as described above, to a rather surprising BHN of 19 or so. Bullets of this hardness work well with some of the more popular fast burning propellants. (Accurate #2, despite its unfortunate name, is one of the very best. )
For cast Hollow points, we let those air cool where the same alloy gives a hardness of  about 10.4 BHN. One of my favorites is from a modified Magma Engineering mold called the 09-147 FP BB.  This excellent design mold was then sent to the master machinist at Hollow Point Mold Service and magically made to cast an incredibly sexy pentagonal 145 gr HP that performs as well as it looks. (See Picture of Mold and bullets above.)

Daryl’s two greenish projectiles on the left after ordnance gel testing. The three to the right are RMR 124 jacketed hollow points.

(See also picture of bullets tested in ballistic gel) With slower powders like Alliant Unique, Blue Dot, as well as 2400 (yes I said 2400) and Accurate Seven this bullet has worked really well.  The best results so far though are with 8.0 of Accurate #9.  This load doesn’t quite make major PF in the 5″ 1911 but it’s not far off and certainly more powerful than most things you could buy nowadays.  This load is also a bit crowded in certain head- stamps of the junk range brass we used for the results shown here.

Please note that we were lucky enough to procure the services of noted hand model Jake Wilcox of RMR bullets.

Speaking of best results, we also know of  the conventional wisdom that dictates in the speed-bump shaped rifling of a normal Glock pistol, that bare lead cast type bullets are verboten. Well, we tested the above mentioned load with the same cast 145 soft-ish lead Hollow point and the 8.0 A #9 in my brother’s Glock 19 and got a group 40% better than two other factory JHP higher end self defense loads; again at a power level well beyond anything readily available off the shelf.  According to Quickload, this is at a pressure level nicely below the +P range. Click here to see glock Target:  Magma-145 Pent HP Glock  ZERO leading. I mean absolutely zero. With one push through of a nylon brush the Glock barrel looks like you cleaned it for an hour. Go figure.

Like its little brother  Accurate #7,  A #9 has good enough packing density to get some rather excellent results with a much more ordinary load using a 124 grain Jacketed Hollow Point.  Here’s an example of a very high performing  self defense class load.  I usually condemn the practice of using small rifle primers in small cases like the 9MM but we just happened to have a bunch of Remington 6 1/2’s I wanted to just get rid of, so we used those, with 10.0 grains of A #9 behind one of RMR’s (Rocky Mountain Reloading) awesome produced in house 124 JHP’s.  These are excellent bullets, priced so you can practice with them and with the quality you could use for SD carry.  As you can see, they ran 1289 fps out of the 5″ 1911, 1318 fps out of a 5.3″ Glock 35 with a KKM barrel, and 1545 to 1583 out of the 16″ PCC’s. That’s enough horsepower for most anyone. The only thing I’d change here is that I need to push that bullet back to 1.122-1.125 to keep a couple of those short chambered PCC’s happy. Click here for target picture:  RMR 124 MPR Acc 9–10.0

Please allow me to summarize.   Cast, bare, pure lead projectiles, will usually NOT work in the 9MM.  I MADE  the soft 120 gr Lee Flat Point bullet work,  by doing three things: (1) I coated them with a high quality urethane bake on powder coat. (2) I water quenched them, from the coating oven,  slightly raising their hardness from  5.0 BHN up to 6.2 BHN. (3) I propelled them with a nice cool and slow burning  powder from Western Powders called Accurate #9.

The 145 grain cast pentagonal Hollow point (also coated with TGIC Powder) at 10.4 BHN, had already performed well with other slow burning pistol powders,  but Accurate #9 made it work the best ever.

Accurate #9 has good enough load density to work well with other Copper jacketed self defense/hunting bullets in the 124-147 range. It appears, you can even use small rifle primers, without a loss of accuracy if your particular gun has enough striker energy to ignite them.  I have not tested this yet, but I expect it will provide improved accuracy with plated bullets, because of their rather thin plating and soft cores.

I don’t expect to see A #9 to dethrone  little bro A #7 as the king of high performance 9MM loads but for certain special applications, as well as if you just have some languishing on the shelf,  bring it out to play.  It’s got some major magic if you need it.

BBR   9/13/19