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For the shooter and handloader, a grain is the basic unit of weight measurement. Without them, we'd be in a haze about how much powder to use or what weight bullet is appropriate for our cartridge. But why we use them and where they come from is the interesting part. Our first research led to Hatcher's Notebook, a very old, but tremendously valuable reference for technical gun information. If you can't find it there, you may not need to know it at all.

Hatcher disproves the notion commonly held by many reloaders that the grain we know and love came from the old apothecary system of weights and measures.

Hatcher shows that at one point in history there were two different pounds. One, from the avoirdupois system, has our familiar 7,000-grain pound. The troy and apothecary systems have pounds that are only 5,250 grains.

Our grain derives from the French avoirdupois system that evolved as a means to help regulate the products sold in trade. Every civilization since ancient China has had some system of measurement, but there was no uniformity and little commonality. In fact, units of the same name might be completely different from one region to another.

The development of the metric system in Napoleonic France in the 1700s created a universal language of science, and on the surface it would seem logical for reloaders to use it. Almost all of our medicines are measured in milligrams, not grains. If you see a box of ammo intended for sale in Europe, you'll see the bullet weight in grams. Same for loading manuals. So why don't American handloaders do that?

Let's compare the two systems of measurement. In the metric system, the base unit of weight is the gram; in the avoirdupois (English) system, it's the pound. The great beauty of the metric system is that it is based on tenths. Want something heavier than a gram? Add some zeros to the right or use the prefix "kilo," and it becomes 1,000 grams or one kilogram. Want something lighter? Just put the zeros on the left with a decimal point, and it gets lighter. The milligram then is 0.001 grams.

You can use scientific notation too. One milligram can also be written as [10.sup.-3]. One of the great drawbacks of the avoirdupois system is that it doesn't have convenient units lighter than ounces, with the obscure exception of the dram, which is still used in shotshells.

With this in mind, all at once the grain begins to show some rational value. They're convenient. We rarely use powder charges under one grain -- and not too many over 100. Bullets run from 25 to 500 grains most of the time. One grain is an easy concept, 64.9 milligrams might not be.

It would seem as if we ended up in the best place after all -- at least from the American shooter's perspective, even if almost everyone else uses the metric system.
 A comparison of units of weight:
U.S.A. Avoirdupois Metric
1 pound 7,000 grs. 454 grams
1 ounce 43.75 grs. 28.35 grams
1 dram 24.3 grs. 1.58 grams
 *** 10 grs. 0.0649 grams
 *** 1 gr. 0.0649 grams
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Publication:Guns Magazine
Date:Mar 1, 2001
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