“Overbore” Cartridges Defined by Formula

Can a Formula Provide a Useful Index Ranking of Overbore Cartridges?

Forum Member John L. has been intrigued by the question of “overbore” cartridges. People generally agree that overbore designs can be “barrel burners”, but is there a way to predict barrel life based on how radically a case is “overbore”? John notes that there is no generally accepted definition of “overbore”. Based on analyses of a wide variety of cartridges, John hoped to create a comparative index to determine whether a cartridge is more or less “overbore”. This, in turn, might help us predict barrel life and maybe even predict the cartridge’s accuracy potential.

John tells us: “I have read countless discussions about overbore cartridges for years. There seemed to be some widely accepted, general rules of thumb as to what makes a case ‘overbore’. In the simplest terms, a very big case pushing a relatively small diameter bullet is acknowledged as the classic overbore design. But it’s not just large powder capacity that creates an overbore situation — it is the relationship between powder capacity and barrel bore diameter. Looking at those two factors, we can express the ‘Overbore Index’ as a mathematical formula — the case capacity in grains of water divided by the area (in square inches) of the bore cross-section. This gives us an Index which lets us compare various cartridge designs.”

OVERBORE INDEX Chart

Overbore Index Chart

So what do these numbers mean? John says: “My own conclusion from much reading and analysis is that cartridges with case volume to bore area ratio less than 900 are most likely easy on barrels and those greater than 1000 are hard on barrels.” John acknowledges, however, that these numbers are just for comparison purposes. One can’t simply use the Index number, by itself, to predict barrel life. For example, one cannot conclude that a 600 Index number cartridge will necessarily give twice the barrel life of a 1200 Index cartridge. However, John says, a lower index number “seems to be a good predictor of barrel life”.

John’s system, while not perfect, does give us a benchmark to compare various cartridge designs. If, for example, you’re trying to decide between a 6.5-284 and a 260 Remington, it makes sense to compare the “Overbore Index” number for both cartridges. Then, of course, you have to consider other factors such as powder type, pressure, velocity, bullet weight, and barrel hardness.

Overbore Cases and Accuracy
Barrel life may not be the only thing predicted by the ratio of powder capacity to bore cross-section area. John thinks that if we look at our most accurate cartridges, such as the 6 PPC, and 30 BR, there’s some indication that lower Index numbers are associated with greater inherent accuracy. This is only a theory. John notes: “While I do not have the facilities to validate the hypothesis that the case capacity to bore area ratio is a good predictor of accuracy — along with other well-known factors — it seems to be one important factor.”

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