Difference Between Ball and FMJ?

Please forgive the very simple question, but I am a bit confused between ball and FMJ. Can they be interchangeable?

Hey Rich

here ya go:
odcmp.org/new_forum/topic.as … C_ID=21978

I’ve always taken “ball” to be a description of the projectile and FMJ to be the type. All FMJ’s are ball but not all ball is FMJ.
E.g. The 455 Webley Mk I proj is ball but not FMJ
7.62 NATO M59 is FMJ and thus ball.

Mind you that’s just my take on it. I could well off.


After reading through that link, Rick, I think I have a definition of ball:

Today, reference to “ball ammunition” means a round of ammunition having a single bullet of any shape.

And, it would seem that Nick is correct.

Thanks, guys.

CONCLUSION: Tomayto-Tomahto

I think Slick Rick may have muddied the water with his conclusion; they are not interchangeable. A lead bullet would be a ball, but obviously would not be a FMJ. Perhaps Rich’s definition could be expanded to:

A round of ammunition having a single bullet of any shape or material.

By “single bullet”, couldn’t this be confused with tracer, AP etc. Also, wouldn’t a ball bullet be
a bullet not designed to expand on impact? Just my thoughts.

Technical definition aside, I believe the term “Ball” has an implied definition meaning that ammo referred to as ball is usually all of the following:

military surplus,
lead core,
typical pressure (designed for standard rifles or pistols),
unpainted tip.

That’s not always the case though, as sometimes ball ammo is simply certain ammo that is originally intended for a weapon, and is the standard load for that weapon. Like I have heard of SS109 5.56 ammo referred to as “ball penetrator” because it is the standard military load for the M4 and M16’s these days. The SS190 for the 5.7x28 has also been labeled as “ball” because it is the originally intended military load for the P90. And also, ammo labeled ball is usually the typical average load, and not Match, subsonic, lead-free, tracer, or anything else. “Ball” is usually the least expensive version of, and most mass-produced version of a certain caliber as intended for military use.

The term FMJ just refers to anything that has such a jacket, and ammo labeled as “ball” is actually FMJ 99% of the time. But all FMJ ammo is certainly not ball, since some FMJ ammo could be AP, API, Tracer, subsonic, match, etc… Most ammo labeled as “Ball” from U.S. military surplus will also have ball-powder, whereas foreign ammo labeled as such from the past 50 years might have any kind of powder, but are just using a U.S. / NATO term to describe typical FMJ ammo with all of the usual qualities of “Ball ammo”

I vote for DK’s definition to answer Rich’s original question: CAN they be interchangeable? (With respect to usage in conversation.)

Yes, they can. One CAN get carried away with minutia, but if you’re in a group of gunny types and say BALL or FMJ, they’ll know what you mean. If in a group of ammo collectors, well, all bets are off. You’ll end up with a lot of YES-BUTs. Can gun/rifle, clip/mag etc? Same-same, with similar nit-picking to ensue.

Can’t we all just get along?

May the horse rest in peace.

I can’t agree that “ball” usually denotes, among the other things listed, a lead core. Lots of pistol ball ammunition has mild-steel cores and some rifle ammunition did, such as German S.m.E. cartridges. In the case of German sintered-iron loads, there is NO core. Nor does it have to be military surplus. Even if one considers “Ball” must always be “FMJ”, which I do not, many companies make FMJ commercial ammunition. Further, there are even ball loads with colored tips - Israel, for one, has used a color tip (silver) to denote ball 9mm ammunition of pistol velocity, as oppossed to SMG with no color tip, as well as a black tip on commercial ball ammunition intended for the Uzi Carbine.

There is always a problem when you try to apply certain, very restrictive parameters to a common term. Also, I know many will disagree as we all like to use professional, technical language when required, but some credence must be given to common parlance developed over years of conversing about ammunition (or any subject) or we will all need to carry around glossaries to talk about the cartridge we shot at a target yesterday.

To me, ball ammunition simply denotes a common bullet and loading, rather than a special purpose load such as high-pressure proof, tracer, AP, blank, dummy, etc. I think we tend to make these things more complicated than they are. It can be ball HP, ball FMJ, ball SP HP, etc. I think of “Ball” as the cartridge type, and then define the bullet shape, material, etc.


Well, I have a belly button, and an opinion, so here it is (my opinion).

Ball was originally used to distinguish between a solid, round, bullet and special purpose projectiles such as buckshot or birdshot. With the advent of fixed ammunition, the term ball came to mean a plain bullet, distinguishing it from other special types such as tracer, incendiary, armor piercing, etc. It was, and still is, primarily applied to military cartridges.

FMJ is nothing but a descriptive term for a particular bullet jacket.

I am well known as a nit-picker and threads such as this tell me that most of you are too. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.


Wow, I didn’t realize this issue was rather complex!

I think the key is to try to keep from overly defining “ball”.

Seriously though, I believe I needed ALL of your replies to really understand this!

Since the ball/FMJ topic has sorta petered out, I say we move on to the specifics of the word nit-picking.

Is the word NIT, as used, referencing the egg, the louse, or the young “hatchling” of the louse?

Should it be in compound word form: nitpicking?

Or hyphenated: nit-picking?

I’ve just spent untold minutes researching this and am still without definitive answers to these questions.


Excellant questions. I’m heading into town to the local library to see if it’s in their book. I hope no one has checked it out (the book).

There are several photos of nit pickers over on the “Meet The Members” Forum. Be careful though. They’re not for the squeemish of stomach.



I note you used the “open” form: nit picker.


I agree with Ray. Ball means a plain, common projectile without any special added features or functions like AP, incendiary, tracer, etc… I don’t think that a hollow point can be called “ball”.

Please, no more talk of nits! My wife works with elementary school aged children and this subject hits too close to home…


Just my two ha’porth (note to save Rick time - old British contraction of “halfpenny worth”, figurative meaning the same as “two cents”;-) on the ball issue.

The meaning of “ball” has changed over time as Ray indicates. In muzzle-loading days it used to mean a round lead ball, which is of course where the name came from. The military then took to referring to all standard rifle/pistol bullets of the plain vanilla variety as “ball”. So it is true today that “ball” is used to mean the standard FMJ military bullet. However, other military bullet types such as AP are technically FMJ as well, so while a “ball” is an FMJ, an FMJ is not necessarily a “ball”.

Thanks Tony

And yes, I would have looked it up. Needing to brush up on the lingo for my soon to be trip over there. :-)


Sorry, I can’t agree that in very, very common parlance, “ball” refers to only a FMJ round. Ray had it right on - same answer as might except he put it far more clearly and succinctly than did I. Ball ammunition as commonly described is “ordinary ball,” not special loadings, regardless of bullet type.

Again, just my opinion, but in the US usage anyway, based on 55 years of discussing guns and ammunition 36 years of at a rate of 8 hours a day, five days a week.

An ordinary auto pistol cartridge, no special loading, with a hollow-point bullet, is ball ammunition.

From the British perspective ball is a much older term and dates back to the days when ball meant just that.

However, the term continued most commonly on military ammunition cases to mean “ordinary” or “regular” ammunition as opposed to anything else like tracer. Like Tony Williams says “plain Vanilla”. Its only used in the military context.

As all “ordinary” or “regular” ammunition by then was also FMJ the terms overlapped.

I would say the term FMJ originated over your side of the pond where as ball is probably still being used by the British military today on their ammo boxes.
I have just been out to my garage, I have a British steel ammo box about 12 years old and written on the side
400 rdns 7.62 BALL L2A2
Thats the most recent case I have. If it was American case I would have expected it to say FMJ