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Steel vs. Brass Ammo: Everything You Need to Know [Infographic]

Steel ammo vs brass ammo
May 14, 2021 Edited March 14, 2023 16402 view(s)
Steel vs. Brass Ammo: Everything You Need to Know [Infographic]

With the rise of AR-47s (AR-15s in 7.62x39), steel-cased ammo has become a hot topic recently. Many people love the widespread availability and increased stopping power of 7.62x39 combined with the ergonomics and attachments of mil-spec AR-15s, but are frustrated when it does not run as reliably as standard .223 or 5.56 NATO. Here at Bear Creek Arsenal, we sell AR-15s chambered in 7.62x39 and have compiled an infographic designed to show the key differences between brass and steel cased ammo and what you'll need to make sure your AR-15 functions reliably. 

 

Brass vs. Steel Ammo Infographic

 

Brass Cased vs. Steel Cased Ammunition

Price

Lower price is the key and only advantage of steel case ammunition in the AR-15 platform. The price difference and availability have been further escalated by the great ammo shortage of 2021. As of now, steel case 7.62x39 can be purchased for around 40 to 50 cents cheaper per round than 5.56 or .223. In calmer times, that margin can shrink a bit, but steel case 7.62x39 is typically always cheaper than standard brass 5.56 or .223. See our Cheapest Price Per Round Infographic [Updated 2022].

 

Primers

A key difference between brass and steel case ammunition is the primers they use. Imported steel cased ammo like Wolf, Tula, Brown Bear, and Barnaul typically uses Berdan primers which consist of two flash holes as opposed to the cup and anvil design of boxer primers for brass case 5.56. Steel cased ammo is designed for the AK-47 and their primers are much harder than brass boxer primers. This can lead to light primer strikes as mil-spec firing pins and hammer springs often do not pierce the primer enough to cause it to light. To remedy this issue, many people add an enhanced firing pin that has a longer distance from the first “shoulder” of the tip to the very end of the firing point. This allows more of the tip of the firing pin to protrude from the firing pin hole in the bolt. Bear Creek Arsenal has begun including enhanced firing pins in our 7.62x39 AR-15s for increased reliability with steel case ammo. Additionally, a heavier hammer spring can help generate more power to cycle the harder primers reliably. 

 

Chamber Seal, Accuracy, and "Dirtiness"

You may have heard that steel ammo runs dirtier than brass and wondered why that is the case. This is due to the expansion of the round when the gun is fired. Because brass is more malleable than steel, it expands more during firing and creates an excellent chamber seal, keeping gas from escaping around the edges of the case and instead pushing it down the barrel behind the round. Steel cases on the other hand, do not expand as much as brass cases, leading to gas escaping out the back to the BCG. This leads to lower bullet velocity (thus lower accuracy), less gas reaching the gas system, and quicker build-up of carbon on your BCG. We recommend cleaning your upper assembly 2-3 times more often when shooting steel ammo. 

 

Wear and Tear

Running steel ammo through your complete rifle can cause quicker wear and tear to your AR-15 upper receiver and parts. A combination of steel being harder than brass and the unique case dimensions of 7.62x39 have caused problems with mil-spec extractors in the past. To address this issue, Bear Creek Arsenal upgraded their 7.62x39 bolts to be the same as those used for 12.7x42 uppers. As a general rule, steel-cased ammo is harder on AR-15 components and can decrease the longevity of a firearm. 

 

Is Steel Case Ammo Worth It?

Steel cased ammo will continue to be a hot topic as ammunition remains scarce, expensive, and hard to find. While steel cased ammo can be much cheaper than brass, many argue that the increased dirtiness, wear and tear, less accuracy, and cycling issues negate the initial cheaper price. Additionally, brass ammunition can be reloaded if you have the necessary equipment while steel cases are generally not reloaded. We at Bear Creek Arsenal do not recommend using steel ammunition in your complete firearm or upper assembly, but understand if the availability and cheaper price do cause you to try it out. That's why we provide content like this to show you the pros and cons of each and inform you as to how to run steel ammo reliably. To see more real-world data comparing steel case ammo and brass cased ammunition, check out Lucky Gunner's epic torture test. Be sure to browse our selection of enhanced 7.62x39 complete uppers and 7.62x39 AR-15 Rifles. Comment you're opinion of steel ammunition below and check out our other helpful articles like 7.62x39 vs 308 and AR Pistols guide!

 

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TLee
May 14, 2021
Given the extra wear on 7.62x39 parts when using steel case, does BCA offer spare parts like extractor, extractor pin, spring, and bolt? Thanks, Tom
John@customerservice
May 14, 2021
We do not currently sell those parts for individual sale, however, all our products have a lifetime warranty if you have any issues
Kenneth Cole Rand
May 14, 2021
I use both brass and steel case ammo with my bear creek arsenal barrel. I use a spikes tactical bolt face and an enhanced firing pin because of hard primers. Even with a Franklin armory binary trigger with the lighter hammer and trigger springs I haven't had a light hammer strike yet between three different 7.62x39 barrels. Set your rifle up for your ammo choice and you will never have any real issues. I did buy a spare bolt face because it takes the most beating so when it fails I have one on hand.
Brian Dunham
May 14, 2021
Right now, the price difference on just 1K steel cased 7.62x39 vs brass .223/5.56 will pay for the 7.62x39 upper. Let that sink in.........
Michael Shackelford
May 14, 2021
Although steel cased ammo is not ideal to run through your AR47 and I definitely prefer brass cased ammo the savings I have over brass has made it worth it. I did install an enhanced firing pin in my AR47 and have run hundreds of Tula and Wolf steel cased ammo through my rifle without any issues. The money I have saved will allow for a replacement extractor or barrel replacement if need be. I typically fire around a thousand rounds of 7.62x39 a year and clean my rifle every three hundred rounds or so. I also make sure it is properly lubricated. I have been completely satisfied with the upper I purchased through BCA and would recommend them to anyone. At a thousand rounds I figure I have saved at least three to four hundred dollars on ammo with steel cased. The money I have saved this year alone would allow me to buy another complete upper from BCA if I wanted. Just food for thought. Thank you for reading this.
Duke Earl
May 14, 2021
I have a BCA 7.62x39 upper and with the ASC mags ot has run flawless. Now I have upgraded the firing pin and extractor to BRC. I also keep a spare bolt in the handle, just in case. I haven t had a single feed issue but would still not trust it as my truck gun. For that, I have a BCA .300 BO pistol. Yes the ammo is 1$ a round, but I DGAF about that when my life depends on something that hits like a AK, but feels like a AR15. I don't mind paying the extra money for reliability. Sure I could have got a AK pistol... But that muzzle flash.... :) It all comes down to preference.
Bill
May 15, 2021
Wow, this article couldn't be more timely for me. I just put together a 7.62x39 AR using your complete upper receiver and a mil-spec Anderson lower I had previously purchased. Took it to the range this week and sent 10 rounds of Norma Tactical brass ammo down range with no problems. Loaded the same mag up with Wolf steel case ammo and the gun would not go bang. Will get the enhanced firing pin and hammer spring. Just wondering if after installing the pin and spring if the brass case ammo will still work correctly?
John@customerservice
May 17, 2021
Glad that you liked the article, yes it will work just be careful of the primers in the brass ammo. With the extra protrusion from the enhanced firing pin, there is a potential for the firing pin to travel too far and rupture the primer of the brass ammo. Hope this helps.
Daniel
May 15, 2021
I run steel ammo in my BCA upper without any problems or issues. I only have problems with steel cased ammo in .223 so I don't use it in my AR-15. The AR-47 eats it just fine.
Randy McConville
May 15, 2021
My 7.62x39 upper will shoot Wolf ammo all day with next to no problems but doesn't like Tulammo. I had a Sig 556R about 7 years ago and it did the same. The only difference I found was the primes seemed to be a little deeper in the Tulammo. I will go back to shooting brass when it becomes available again.
Kevin Mullison
May 15, 2021
Please make more infographics, this is great and gets right to the point
Joe Luttrull
May 16, 2021
Is steel worth it?? In the case of having something that's practical and economic and readily available; absolutely. My guns are my tools I like to use them, I like to go shooting two to four times a week, I've always solemnly thought why people buy tons and tons of ammo in the Never go shooting; at that point it's just potentially an investment and you're just sitting on it as opposed to buying ammunition when you want to use it and go about your activities. If shooting steel 7.62x39 is more affordable and I can do that more often, it gives me more opportunities to go out and shoot my guns at a much more affordable price
Scott Lewis
May 16, 2021
Just a little info to pass on. Looking at ammo for the 7.62x39 norma is loading brass cased ammo at a really good price. Check out ammoseek.com
Dave
May 18, 2021
Interesting. Most of what I have read is that the difference in wear and firing characteristics have been negligible at best. Maybe after 6,000 rounds of hot firing, but who shoots like that? Brownells, for example,performed a study and calls the steel ammo claim to be not true.
Justin
May 25, 2021
Great explainer. I’ve purchased two uppers from BCA in 7.62 recently and found the enhanced firing pin works. My pistol upper will cycle on every round but my 16” upper still has issues extracting. Where can I find the right extractor that will alleviate this issue? Furthermore, do you see any potential issues with running a brass round for every 4-5 steel rounds? I have friends that have used that method to keep their ARs running while on the range
Devon Vogel
May 25, 2021
I feel you man. I've had nothing but failures to eject, Is yours jumping the rim as well?
john@customerservice
June 2, 2021
Maybe try using your BCG on your 16" and see if that helps otherwise try and reach out to our warranty department see if they can offer any help.
Shane
December 26, 2021
I had the same issue first time I shot my 7.62x39 side charger. Took the extractor off and used my dremel to polish around it. 500 rounds later and still flawless now.
Brian Raburn
June 4, 2021
Great information. Built a 7.62x39 AR 10.5" pistol and love it. Yes, I have some issues (which it why I just bought a new BCG) with stove piping but I am working them out. Anybody have any advise, it will be greatly appreciated. I bought Dura mags but looking for D&H Industries mags if anybody has a supplier.
Devon Vogel
June 4, 2021
I've had nothing but problems in my upper, fte after fte, stuck cases all day long. Didn't even have 100 through it. I'm real disappointed. I tore it apart and inspected everything on the rifle, everything is still brand new. I put an extra strength extractor spring to try and pull them out, but still the same issue, case gets stuck and the extractor jumps the rim.. so I'm not sure if I got the lemon or what, but I've had nothing but issues. I was recommended these barrels by a friend and now I'm just..... ugh
John@customerservice
June 7, 2021
Hey Devon, really sorry to hear that! All our products are covered by our lifetime warranty; send an email to bcatech@bearcreekarsenal.com and they'll give you advice or get it fixed through our warranty program
Lupe
June 17, 2021
I bought my upper to shoot steel cased ammo. End of Story
HockeyJoe
June 27, 2021
I assembled an AR47 a few years ago. The biggest issue for me to overcome was finding reliable magazines. C-Products/Duramag work perfectly in my build. ASC doesn't. Using Tulammo or Wolf steel cased ammo, I can achieve 1.5" groups at 100 yards. With inexpensive, readily available ammo. I'm using a Superlative Arms adjustable gas block, Red Sprinco buffer spring, & H3 buffer. Not unbearable, but the recoil is more than 5.56/.223. All in all, this firearm has functioned WAY better than I expected, WAY better accuracy than I dared hope for, very inexpensive to shoot, and when heaven forbid the barrel wears out (I've shot well over 2500 rounds through it), I will replace it, and still come out ahead due to $$$ savings. I also put together an upper with a BCA barrel specifically for steel cased .223 ammo. Haven't used it much, but same theory. I don't reload, and I want to shoot as much as I can. Makes too much sense not to.
Robert Emanuel
June 5, 2022
Good info, but all your points that render steel cases ammo less than brass are pretty much negated by two NRA evaluations - one in Shooting Illustrated.com via the NRA's official journal and the other via nrafamily.org. Lucky Gunner.com has the most detailed and technical study debunking all your points and asserting that any possible problems from steel cases would not be noticeable much before 10,000 rds, which the average shooter will never realize in a gun. Steel-cased ammo also is typically tapered and thus more easily extracted than much brass ammo. As for funking up a chamber, the extra fouling and residue from steel is negligible and inconsequential if a firearm is cleaned each time fired for the average shooter.
JP
January 18, 2023
Exactly! The dirtiness has more to do with the powder they use than the fact that it's in a steel case. I've found Tula and Wolf primers to be softer than Golden Tiger. The first two work fine in my AR without a stronger hammer spring so I save the GT for an AK. Tula was also surprisingly accurate given the price. No need to spend extra on brass cased imo.
Ronald
January 18, 2023
The steel case I have used are in 5.56 and 9mm. I have had problems with different magazines, light primer strikes, and cases stuck in the chamber after firing several rounds before hand! I had used steel cased ammunition as far back as 1964. I did not have the multitude of problems, yet the last batches I have ordered seem to be under performing and subject to jamming of magazines and hang fires too often! Of course your mileage will vary! As for me I will shoot up what I have left, hence not buy any more at any price!!! My life might depend on the next round!!!
Jason Schable
January 18, 2023
I have lost count of how many steel case rounds I have spread with my freedom seed spreader and have yet to have any issues other than a light primer strike every now and then, hen it does happen hit it again and bang it goes. I have had quite a few Jams with brass case seeds. I will continue to use steel cased because it was good enough for our guys in the war it’s good enough for me and everyone else. Also haven’t noticed too much difference in dirtiness between steel and brass when cleaning the freedom keepers.
R peacock
January 31, 2023
Dork seeds spreading
David hardin
January 18, 2023
I've been feeding my AR's a steady diet of steel cased Tulammo. I haven't had any reliability issues but I do have enhanced firing pins installed in all my rifles.
Larry Elliott
January 18, 2023
Love the platform but have gone through 3 firing pins in 2 different uppers in less than 500 rounds. Needs to be addressed before I purchase another
Michael
January 18, 2023
Steel case ammo is easier to retrieve from the ground with a walk behind magnetic on my person range. I don't like bending over and picking up casings, especially when I don't reload.
Daniel Hehir
January 18, 2023
I put a toolcraft nickel boron plated BCG in my BCA upper. Problem solved. Another thing to consider with the 7.62x39 in an AR-15, is the size of the BCG. And the fact that the face of the bolt around the rim of the case is thinner. Instead of going to the larger diameter (AR10) BCG, everyone is using the smaller AR15 BCG and milling out the face of the bolt to accommodate the 7.62 bullet. So that's why I went with the toolcraft nickel boron plated BCG. It takes care of the firing pin, extractor, and the durability of the bolt face for steel ammo. I'll shoot steel ammo, but not corrosive, unless I had to.
Mark King
January 18, 2023
7.5" BCA 7.62X39 upper..all ASC mags. I used steel cased to break in the barrel..afterwards i use Brass cased. Not 1 single failure or malfunction issue. Had a partial mag of the steel cased left that i let a friend fire. No probs till after the last round..it didn't lock the bolt back. *Just a side mention...maybe it's the short barrel letting more light in, but i've never looked down a shinier bore than than the one on my BCA barrel.. Great job BCA.
William Mc Caslin
January 18, 2023
I bought your 7.62x39 complete rifle, even though I have brass cased soft point hunting ammo for piggys. I shoot 99% of the time cheap steel ammo, an have had zero problems with it, but its good to know BCA recommends cleaning every 300 or so rounds, it is dirtier ammo than the brass cased ammo I have, difference in powders I guess.
John David. Eugean Chapman
January 18, 2023
Having about ten thousand rounds of steel ammo buried in the ground , in drums , for shtf ! Knowing when sh*t gets real , people will want ammo since they didnt prep in advance ! It wont matter what type ammo. , as long as it goes bang ! You'll be able to trade for anything. You need ! And that steel ammo will be woth a fortune !
Lawrence Campuirciani
January 19, 2023
Thank you for taking the time to explain this problem! As a reloader for over 45 years I personally don't like and won't use steel case ammo. But its great your company takes the time to help educate your customers. I have nothing but praise for my Bear Creek Uppers, I live in Massachusetts we can no longer purchase a complete rifle, because of state laws. But we can legally buy uppers and serval friends and I love yours. Thanks You
Bill potter
January 19, 2023
I habe used steel cased ammo in a.223, on core . it left a wear seat or Grove where the case stoped in the chamber????I no longer by steel cased ammo. (One Contender down )????????
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