How To Care
For Cartridge Cases
Bench rest shooters sometimes use one case, and frequently use a set of
15-20 cases during a match. Offhand shooters will use many cases during a
match. What follows below applies to both bench rest and offhand shooters.
Always chamfer the inside and outside of the case mouth to remove burrs
and sharp edges. Tools are available from RCBS, Lee and many others.
Always clean the primer pockets when re-priming. This can be done with one
of the available tools, with a screwdriver, with the scraper built into
the Simmons style de/re-primer, or with a small Allen wrench.
Always wipe off each cartridge case before reloading. Make sure to clean
both the forward edge of the rim and the base of the case. Wipe off each
cartridge case after firing at the bench. This will alert you to blow-by
caused by the case neck not sealing to the chamber wall.
Some bench rest shooters segregate cases by weight. The theory is that
weight variation means case volume variation means velocity variation
means less accuracy. Selecting a dozen cases with the same weight isn’t
difficult and may increase accuracy.
Primer pocket uniforming is the process of making each primer pocket the
same depth. The tool used is called a “primer pocket uniformer”; these
tools are available from Sinclair, Lyman, Midway and others. I uniform all
primer pockets. I can’t prove it helps, but it can’t hurt.
Flash hole de-burring is done with a “flash hole de-burrer” available from
Sinclair, Lyman Midway and others. This is done from the mouth of the
case, and removes any burrs that have been thrown up when the flash hole
is pierced in the case. I de-burr flash holes on all cases. I can’t prove
that it increases accuracy, but I do know that there is a wide variation
in the amount of material removed from case to case in the same lot.
How to trim cases to length and why:
We trim cases to the same length for several reasons.
In rifles or rifle-like single shot pistols, cases that are too long can
cause high pressures and perhaps damage the gun.
Variations in case length cause variations in case mouth belling with an
Variations in case length eequal
variation in seating depth, bullet pull and (perhaps) accuracy.
In revolvers, the same “M” die problems exist in addition to problems with
crimping the bullets.
Auto-loading pistols like the 1911 Colt and the P08 Luger headspace on the
case mouth. This means that the cartridge goes into the chamber until the
case mouth meets a step in the chamber. Thus case length for these pistol
cartridges is important, and cases should be trimmed to the specified
length to assure proper functioning of the pistol.
"Joe, this paragraph is in error. The 30 Carbine is the only cartridge
that I know of that actually headspaces on the case mouth. Its OAL is
important; if it is too long, the round will not chamber and if too short
the round may not fire the primer. I check the OAL of fired cases and trim
to a specific OAL (for my rifle) so that the FLS case lengthening will not
be too long, approximately 0.018” longer after FLS. When trimmed as such,
I keep the brass separate from other brass. FLS brass can be trimmed to
longer OAL to fit but will be slightly shorter after firing (+/-0.018”).
The 45 ACP and 9MM PB do have a chamber cut for case mouth headspace, but
most brass is too short to work in that manner. The extractors on these
pistols control headspace. Some 9MM brass can be too long as there are
several versions of 9MM OAL’s besides the 9X19MM Luger, the 9X21 and
9X23MM (perhaps another longer one) could be too long. The 9X18 (380 ACP)
might fit and fire in a 9X19 chamber."
The paragraph above, beginning "Auto-loading pistols like..." describes
the planned or theoretical method of headspacing. See "1911
Johnson" for more. I don't know which of the guns (and there are many)
that supposedly headspace on the case mouth do, in reality, headspace on
the case mouth. I believe that in this context, Case Trimming, it is
proper to recommend trimming these cartridge cases to the "book" length.
Other procedures are for the advanced caster/reloader.
Case trimming is done to get cases to the "right" length, to make
the case mouths square with the case long axis, and more
importantly, to get cases to the same length. The right length is
about ten thousandths of an inch less than the chamber length. The chamber
in your barrel has a step at the forward end, where the cartridge case is
supposed to end. The step is to a smaller diameter called the "throat",
which is a little over bullet size. We don't want the case so long that
its mouth interferes with the step, because that interference can cause
large increases in pressure. If the case is too long it will jam into the
bullet as the cartridge is put into the gun, and this jamming will raise
pressures, causing inaccuracy at the least and a blown up gun at the
When to trim cases:
ALL cases should be checked for correct length before loading, including
unfired, factory new brass.
All cases in a batch should also be spot checked after firing and before
sizing by simply trying to insert a jacketed bullet into the mouth of the
un-sized case by hand. This is a check to see if the case neck is too
thick, or if it’s elongated to the point that the mouth is crimped by the
end of the chamber. Thick necks are rare indeed unless you’ve had to form
your cases from another cartridge, and this can / should be corrected by
neck turning or reaming as part of the forming process.
In either case, the slightest resistance indicates that the cases are not
safe to load until the problem has been corrected. Usually, the entire
batch of cases needs to be trimmed again. If trimming solves the problem,
the jacketed bullet will go in easily and the case is OK to load - at
least from this aspect of case inspection. If the jacketed bullet still
encounters some resistance, try de-burring the case mouth and/or turning
This elongating growth is an absolutely unavoidable result of loading and
shooting. The pressure from firing the load causes the brass case to
expand, exactly as a balloon expands from the pressure of your lungs. When
you resize the case, the expanded brass is squeezed down and elongated for
much the same reason that toothpaste comes out when you squeeze the tube.
How to minimize trimming:
While some case growth is unavoidable, there are ways to minimize the
problem, and even eliminate it for all practical purposes. Since the
elongation occurs when the case is sized down to a smaller diameter, the
way to reduce elongation is to reduce sizing. There are several ways to do
moderate pressure loads. Just as higher pressure will make the balloon
expand more, so will the case expand more with higher pressure loads.
Use enough pressure to get the job done, but you don’t need to use more
than that. Higher expansion means more elongation when the case is
2. When you size, don’t over-do the
process. The purpose for sizing is to
make the case small enough to operate (feed, chamber, etc) easily in
your gun. But most guns will work fine with cases that have been only
partially sized. Instead of screwing your sizing die down hard against
the shell holder, back it off a turn or two and see if the case still
chambers easily. Less sizing equals less elongation of the case. The
less one sizes, the less one will need to trim. Partial sizing, or neck
sizing alone is frequently practiced to provide better centering of the
round, but it has the advantage of minimizing the working and elongation
of the case as well.
My practice is to adjust dies to size cases until they will chamber
freely, and then screw the sizing die down 1/4 turn more, to compensate
for the occasional case with more spring-back than usual. The only real
reasons for full length sizing are if your chamber is not round (very
rare) or the ammo needs to fit several different rifles.
3. With moderate loads and modern,
relatively precise chambers, most guns will readily accept their own
fired cases without any sizing at all. If so, don’t bother to size them!
Get a neck sizer and reduce only the neck so the bullet will be held
firmly. In principle, this will also result in some slight elongation,
but for all practical purposes, I find that no trimming is necessary for
neck sized cases. Oh, I still check an occasional case with a jacketed
bullet, just in case, but I have yet to find a problem.
Note: The brass that you trim from the end of the neck doesn’t appear by
magic, nor does it grow like grass. The elongation of the brass case is at
the expense of the thickness of the brass wall thickness. Every time you
size a case, it is a scientific fact that its walls are slightly thinner
than they were the last time you sized it. And so is the safety factor of
your load. My personal recommendation is that you keep track and do not
trim a batch of cases more than twice. With moderate loads, they’ll last
almost forever before they need a third trimming. At that point, you’ve
gotten your money’s worth from them. Consider the cost of replacement
brass as a very cheap insurance premium.
Case Length Measuring Tools
The McMillin-Hyer case length gauge is a NO GO gauge. If the case fits in
the gauge, it is not too long. If the case does not fit in the gauge, it
is too long and must be discarded or trimmed to length. Case length can
also be measured with a dial or vernier caliper. Precision dial calipers
are probably the best tool to use, are not overly expensive, and may be
used for many other measurements.
Case Trimmers These vary from the simple Lee tool to complex
powered machines. The Lee tool works perfectly, satisfies the needs of the
beginner inexpensively, but is not adjustable.
I use a Forster Case Trimmer with accessories for case neck turning. This
tool does a fine job of trimming cases to length, and turning case necks.
Case length vs.
Nov./Dec. 2001 ASSRA Journal article: “The Importance of Case Length in
Cast Bullet Accuracy”, the author stated that short cases yield less
accuracy than cases close to maximum length with cast bullets. The
mechanism proposed is that the unsupported bullet in the gap between case
end and chamber end will be expanded by the firing pressure, then the
expanded section will be swaged down as the bullet moves through the
throat-and the expansion/swaging will be uneven and cause inaccuracy. This
article opened up a potential accuracy-improving easy and inexpensive
shortcut. The article did not include any supporting data, so I imagined
that what was put forth was a hypothesis.
To test this
hypothesis I needed a rifle that shot fixed ammunition at high enough
pressures, with sufficient accuracy, and for which extra long cases could
be made or found.
The only rifle available to me that met these criteria was a Savage
Tactical rifle with synthetic stock in 300 Winchester Magnum, fitted with
a Weaver 3-9X telescopic sight. I owned this rifle for about four years,
and it was reasonably accurate with cast lead bullets at slower
velocities, 1200-1500 fps.
(We are told,
and I believe, that cases that are too long will jam bullet and case neck
into the throat of the rifle and cause
very high pressures on firing.)
Pressure must be sufficient to expand the bullet
into the space left by the short case.
Expansion of the bullet under the gas pressure on firing is sometimes
In a private communication with the author, he said “… obturation of lead-alloy bullets occurs at about 1500 psi
times each Brinell hardness point, e.g., a Brinell hardness 10 bullet requires about 15,000 psi peak chamber
pressure to achieve sufficient obturation to essentially fully seal the bore”
With wheel weights reported at 9-12 BHN, the pressure required to obturate would be 13,500 to 18,000 psi.
A pressure of greater than 18,000 psi was required. The Lyman Cast Bullet
Handbook, third edition, shows a 187 grain 311334 bullet in the 300 WM
with 17.5 grains of Unique at 1605 FPS and 26,400 psi. The load given
below of a 208 grain bullet and 17 grains of Unique should produce at
least this pressure, which exceeds the obturation threshold.
After several weeks of experimentation I found a load that shot accurately
at higher velocity: The 311299 bullet was cast of newly melted wheel
weights, weighing 208.5 +/-.5 grains, sized in a .314” die, lubed with the
NRA Alox-beeswax formula and gas checked (Hornady).
This bullet has three bands and two lube grooves along with the gas check
shank. As loaded, the first band is out of the case with none/little of
the first lube groove exposed.
17 grains of Unique was used with no filler, Remington L.P. #2 1/2
primers, LOA = 3.455”.
I loaded one case at the range, sizing the neck in a Lee sizer, expanding
the neck in a Lyman “M” die and seating the bullet with the Lee loader.
I used this load and loading method for all groups shot in this test.
Extra long cases were made from Federal 300 H&H Magnum cases full-length
sized in 300 WM dies and trimmed to about 2.660”.
The chamber would accept a case of 2.648”, .028” longer than the published
case length and .033” longer than the trim-to length.
Being chicken, I trimmed the cases to 2.643”. After extensive firing, the
cases measured 2.621" to 2.630”. What happened was that the tapered 300
H&H case had blown out to fill the chamber and shortened during firing.
The first test with short cases:
On March 13, 2002, using the load noted above and one R-P case measuring
2.605” long, I shot five 5 shot 100 yard groups that averaged 1.132":
The test with a long case made from a
300 H&H Magnum case:
On March 21, 2002, using a case 2.630” long made from a 300 H&H Magnum
case and the load noted above, I shot five 5 shot groups averaging 1.468".
After shooting, the 2.630” case was 2.626”/2.628” long, it had blown out
The problem was that the 300 H&H cases were tapered, and a 300WM case
formed from them and trimmed to just fit in the chamber, shortened after
firing. I needed longer cases.
The test with a long case made from a
375 H&H Magnum case:
I went to the Internet and asked for samples of 375 H&H Magnum cases,
which don’t have the taper of the 300 H&H. Alston Jennings was kind enough
to send some. I formed three of the cases to 300 Winchester Magnum,
leaving the necks long.
On March 27, 2002, with one case formed to 300WM 2.642" long and the same
load, I shot five 5 shot groups averaging 1.438"
After these 25 shots the case length was 2.646”.
The test with the long 375 H&H Magnum
case trimmed short:
I then trimmed the case to 2.605” and shot five 5 shot groups averaging
1.036", same load as above.
After these 25 shots the case was 2.608” long vs. 2.605” before the
Table of group sizes fired with 300 WM cases of different lengths,
Lengths of 300 WM cases:
"Book" case length:
"Book" trim to:
My rifle chamber length:
Formed from 300 H&H, case length:
Formed from 375 H&H, case length:
Formed from 375 H&H, case length:
All these groups
were shot at a pace determined by the time required for reloading the one
case. No wind flags were used, the range-master stopped the shooting after
each 15 minutes of “hot line” for target change. The gun was cleaned once
at the end of the day.
I don’t like to use cases that are close to the maximum possible length.
If the case lengthens slightly, then excessively high-pressures will be
experienced as the bullet and case neck are jammed into the
The average group size for the 20 groups was 1.23”. Six of 20 were under
Pressure was high enough, bullet hardness was low enough (new wheel
weights) and the bullet had an exposed section outside the case about 1/8”
long ready to expand or obturate. I believe that the results are germane
to all cast bullet shooting disciplines. There were no called flyers in
100 record shots from the bench. There was one stranger in the third group
shot on 3/21/02.
I see no accuracy improvement using longer cases. The hypothesis failed
One test doesn’t establish the fact, but I have seen no data supporting
the hypothesis that longer cases improve accuracy in soft cast bullet
shooting. If longer cases do produce better accuracy, I want to know it. I
would welcome any other data on either side of the issue.
Since writing the above I have worked with a Savage 12BVSS in 223, forming
brass from 222 Magnum cases because the chamber/brass on hand combination
resulted in a gap between the end of the case and the end of the chamber.
I was not able to detect an improvement in accuracy.
And I've been working with my Martini bench rifle and a M54 Winchester
rifle, both in 30/30, both with "long" chambers. Using Buffalo Arms "long"
38/55 brass, I've formed 30/30 brass about right for the chamber.
I was not able to detect an improvement in accuracy with longer cases in
either of these guns. I'm still trying.
Jeff Bowles mentioned (on the CBA Forum) that he makes (from 30/06) 308
Win cases that are .0015" from the end of the chamber and that this
Frank Marshall, in "Neck Length and Accuracy In Cast Loads", TFS
March-April 2005, page 174-9, mentions seeing substantial accuracy
improvements when using cases with "long" necks-not to exceed the chamber
case length of course.
Here are some other test results with "long" and short cases:
"The rifle was a Winchester Highwall, a hunting weight (8 1/2 - 9 lb with
scope), 22" Bauska bbl and a 6x18 Bushnell Banner.The
loads and groups were as follows:
Sept. 24 '01
38 - 55 brass
12.5 gr. H110
30 - 30 brass
12.5 gr. H110
Sept. 25, '01
38 - 55 brass
Lee 311155, ww
1.3" - 4.0"
30 - 30 brass
Lee 311155, ww
Oct. 6, '01
38 - 55 brass
30 - 30 brass
I started out with
only 5 38 - 55 cases, so testing was a little skimpy. These cases were
trimmed by trial & error to just fit the chamber length. The 30 - 30 cases
were trimmed on a lee case trimmer to their standard length. The length
difference was visually obvious, but I have no means of measuring it.
Three different loads, different powders, different bullets, different
days seemed indicative to me that I should buy brass.
It seems to me that
similar results were had with my son's rifle, a rolling block
with a 4x12 scope, but I'll really have to dig for those results.
In a similar vein, there was enough difference to be
obvious even with iron sights when I reloaded 30 - 40 Krag with 303
British brass, then acquired 30 - 40 brass later. This was 35 or 40 yrs
ago, and I don't have a real record of it.
Hope this is of some use to you."
Grouch (Ron Haralson) on the Jouster cast bullet forum.
"We have a
compromise in dealing with case length in a chamber that appears to be too
long. From what I did with making 308 Win from 30-06 brass, I found the
max OAL for my chamber that would lock the bolt on firing yet chambered
easily without any constriction of the case neck. From that experience
only two things could have occurred: one, that the primer strike drove the
neck into the transition and increased PSI or, two, that the cases
actually stretch temporarily on firing. If there was any other
explanation, I couldn’t find it. As for accuracy, the factor that makes a
difference is the condition of the chamber fouling from low PSI loads. An
extra long chamber won’t hurt accuracy as long as the extra chamber neck
length is kept clear of any fouling that might be deposited."
"With cast bullets, it is particularly helpful to keep the trim length
within about .010" of your chamber dimension so that when the cartridge is
fired, the bullet does not enlarge (obturate) to chamber neck diameter
just ahead of the case mouth.
Depending on pressure and bullet hardness, the bullet can upset into the
chamber neck area just ahead of the case mouth, then the remainder of the
bullet will shoot through this ring of lead. With cast bullets, an
indication of this is when a portion of the above mentioned ring of lead
sticks to the case mouth and is withdrawn as the case is extracted. The
unwanted obturation damages the bullet's integrity and leaves a varying
cylinder condition that, at best, is not conducive to good accuracy. Under
some circumstances, subsequent rounds fired in that chamber could cause
The above can happen even to jacketed
bullets with short necked cases and/or long cylinder necks.
See the photo of the resulting anomaly where there was a .050" space
between the case mouth and the end of the chamber neck. The jacket
expanded, and then sheared as the rest of the bullet passed through it.
How to anneal cartridge cases:
Brass "work-hardens". Work-hardening is what happens to a paper clip when
you bend it back and forth until it breaks, except that the case neck will
split instead of breaking. Annealing softens the brass and removes the
effect of work hardening. Brass is annealed by heating it and then cooling
it. There's some metallurgy going on here, changes in the crystalline
structure of the brass, that is beyond me. (The grain structure becomes
smaller and allows more stretching from shooting and resizing without
large grain faults becoming splits and cracks. Bill McGraw)
We anneal, (some say that "stress relieve is the more proper term),
cartridge cases for two reasons that I know of.
First, when forming cases from another case, sometimes annealing is
necessary to keep cases from splitting during the forming process. For
example, when I make 11.15 X 58R Werndl cases from 348 Winchester, I must
blow out the case to fit the Werndl chamber. I find that annealing the 348
Winchester cases before blowing them out keeps the neck splits to a
minimum. Without annealing, most necks split.
Second, when cases are resized and fired several/many times, the brass
work hardens and starts to split, particularly in the case neck. A batch
of cartridge cases that starts to show split necks can be rehabilitated by
annealing the necks.
Now, Mike Barrett points out that if cartridge cases are resized
"properly", in a die that sizes the neck the minimum workable amount; then
there's no/little work hardening, case necks don't split, and there's no
need for annealing case necks.
For example: Case necks fired in my C. Sharps 45/70 measure .4845", round
and consistent. Sized case necks measure .478". Loaded case necks are
.482" at the largest point. Mike's position is that I'm sizing the brass
down too much, that sizing it to .480"/.481" would work the brass less and
still allow the case to hold the bullet tightly enough.
John Alexander brings up the Lee Collet Dies, that allow the adjustment
and fiddling that minimizes case neck sizing and eliminates the need for
case neck annealing.
Then there are the neck sizing dies and bushings available from Wilson and
Redding that allow, through the choice of the bushing dimensions, minimum
neck sizing and no need to anneal.
So, with the proper resizing equipment the need to anneal case necks is
eliminated or at least greatly reduced. I'd guess eliminated.
If you don't have the proper (and maybe either too expensive or
unobtainable) sizing equipment, and if the case necks in a batch of
cartridge cases start to split; then you may wish to anneal the necks of
Only the neck of the cartridge case should be annealed, the bottom of the
case should not be annealed because softening the base of the case could
result in a dangerous case failure. Do not let the base of the case get
very hot at all!
The minimum heat is all that should be applied to the case neck. Shooters
have recommended using a candle, an alcohol lamp, or putting the case neck
in (just) molten lead alloy in the lead pot. I have used a Bernz-O-Matic
Tom Gray points out that cartridge case brass does NOT need to be quenched
in water to be annealed or stress relieved. I think that holding the case
in your hand while heating it, then dropping it in water, will keep you
from overheating the case or from the heat affecting the cartridge base.
After writing this article and receiving comments from other shooters, I
begin to wonder if annealing case necks is worth the bother, possible
danger and possible loss of consistent neck tension affecting accuracy.
Most brass is fairly cheap today, Lee Collet Dies are available for many
cartridges at low cost; maybe we'd be better off using "proper" neck
sizing equipment or just tossing the brass when case necks start to split.
There was an extensive thread on 'annealing' cartridge necks on an e-list
a while back. The upshot of that thread was that cartridge necks do not
need to be "annealed" but merely "stress-relieved".
The consensus on how to stress-relieve cartridge necks, and the way Lake
City Arsenal does it, is to heat them and let them air-cool. At the
arsenal, the cases are paraded past a row of gas flames. The speed at
which they are run thru this gauntlet controls how hot they get, and the
case necks are never allowed to get hot enough to glow. Further, the
really knowledgeable gentlemen over there averred that a plain old alcohol
lamp flame was more than adequate, and dunking the necks into molten
bullet alloy (far below the temperature at which metal glows) was also
perfectly adequate but possibly a bit messy.
They advised that one heats the neck and shoulder area and observes
closely to see the slight discoloration of the metal as it proceeds from
the neck to and past the shoulder. When the discolored area is about the
same size as it is on milsurp brass it is time to remove the case from the
heat source. If one likes, one can drop it into water, or one can just
drop it into a pan for air-cooling. Either way results in the same degree
of stress-relief in the case neck. If one is holding it by the base with
one's fingers, one is going to drop it one way or the other when the
fingers can't take the heat.
I used to get my case necks to glowing with a propane torch and drop them
into water. Since that thread I just rotate them in the torch flame until
the discoloration gets past the shoulder and drop them into a metal pan
for air-cooling. I get the same results either way, but now I don't have
to dry them out.
Cartridge cases are made of brass. Not copper. They are made of a certain
kind of brass called "cartridge brass" where metals are described.
If you ever heated your brass case necks to red hot, you would find that
you had no neck tension to speak of. I know as I've annealed a lot of
brass different ways and made a gauge to measure neck pull using a
polished mandrel the same size as the bullet. Brass is a non-ferrous metal
and does not respond to quenching like ferrous metals do.
It IS good to quench to stop the heat flow into the base of the case where
you don't want any annealing to take place. But, quenching will have no
measurable effect on the amount of anneal that the neck gets.
(Heating cartridge case
necks to red hot) has been proven to be wrong if you are trying to
stress relieve the necks and extend their useful life. Heating them to
full red will hurt accuracy and it will take a lot of work hardening to
get them back to normal neck tension. Tom Gray
"Contrary to Tom’s experience, I have found that completely annealing case
necks IS a viable way to extend the life of much used cases, but given the
cost of a case, by the time you have used a case so much that it needs
to be annealed, you really aren’t gaining much. You’re caught between
using high pressure loads that make it necessary to anneal, after which
you should use midrange loads anyhow, or using midrange loads to begin
with, and have little need to anneal.
I still fully anneal case necks on occasion when I suspect I’m getting
irregular bullet release. I’ve tried all of the methods outlined above,
but find that I am allergic to getting burnt fingers by dipping the neck
in a pot of lead, or holding the case while I rotate the neck in a propane
torch flame. This allergy manifests itself as frequent and sudden sharp
pain in my fingertips, which is usually followed by odd noises emanating
from a cloud of blue air in my immediate vicinity. To avoid this
inconvenience, I have reverted to the old
on those rare occasions when annealing seems called for. Frankly, this is
not very often at all. Brass is generally so plentiful and cheap that the
cost per shot (with reasonably moderate loads) isn’t worth calculating,
even if you don’t anneal.
Granted, this reduces release values to the point that it MAY produce
substandard ignition, but that’s not too hard to deal with by seating the
bullet to engage the rifling. What this WILL do is guarantee a uniform –
if low – release for experimental purposes. And I have obtained some
excellent results –by my standards - with such fully annealed cases.
Granted, I’m not a bench rest contender, and am not likely to ever be one:
My rifles are mostly sporters and hunting guns. But I’ve gotten 100 yard
CB groups of an inch and less from a 30-06 deer rifle (and others) with
completely annealed case necks.
I will also note that contrary to some reports, I have had some very good
accuracy results with heavily annealed cases. I used a Lee target reamer
to make some ’06 National Match cases to uniform thickness, and annealed
them dead soft to guarantee a uniform release. While I realize that the
initial development of internal pressure is important, it can be achieved
by seating the bullet into the rifling as well as by a tight neck grip.
Sure worked well for me.
My only real use for annealing now-a-days is to preserve some oddball
cases that are hard or expensive to find, and to relieve the stresses that
fire forming or other strenuous case modifications can introduce. I recall
(MANY years ago, before odd cases were a recognized market) being forced
to form some 577/450 from 30-06 cases. The alternative was to just let
that classic old rifle gather dust and rust - which isn’t going to happen
to any of MY rifles. But I had to stretch the brass so much that a new
30-06 could be dropped down inside the formed case. Without serious
annealing, I’d have never succeeded. And if I had, the cases wouldn’t have
lasted very long. As it was, I only had about thirty percent case failure
in the forming, and the cases stood reloading for years."
How to turn case necks, and why:
With fixed ammunition, the relationship between case mouth, bullet, and
chamber must be such that there is room for the case to expand and release
the bullet on firing.
says:" With commercial chambers and ammunition, there is seldom a problem.
But after repeated resizing and firing, cases can lengthen to exceed the
length of the chamber." I have checked chamber length in military and
factory rifles by slugging the neck-throat, and in all cases find the
chamber length greater than the specified maximum. I have checked new and
reloaded cartridge length and find that these are commonly shorter than
the published "trim-to" length. I have not found a cartridge case that is
too long for the chamber in many examinations, but Ken's caveat is well
taken and should be kept in mind. See "Case Length vs. Accuracy".)
If there is not enough room, if the cartridge jams into the chamber and is
unable to expand and release the bullet properly; then very high pressures
can result. There are case length gauges available to let you know when
your cases need to be trimmed, but it’s easy and simple to just measure
the length with a caliper. But if trimming doesn’t solve the problem, then
you have a situation where the cartridge case brass is too thick to go
into the chamber easily.
It’s easy to check. If a bullet drops freely into a fired case, then there
is no problem. If the bullet is a snug fit in a fired case that is not
excessively long, then there may be a problem. Measure the chamber neck
(with a chamber cast or slug), and compare that dimension to the diameter
of a loaded cartridge case. There should be a minimum of two thousandths
(.002”) of an inch clearance between the loaded case neck and the chamber
If there is not enough clearance, you must either ream the inside or
(preferably) turn the outside of the case necks to provide proper
Some writers recommend turning case necks to uniform thickness to increase
accuracy. The theory is that uniformly thick case necks will give uniform
bullet pull/ bullet release force on firing, and more uniform velocity and
There are dedicated tools used exclusively for turning case necks, and
some case trimmers, such as the Forster mentioned above, have attachments
that turn case necks. Again, the beginner doesn't need to turn case necks,
the more advanced shooters gain slight accuracy increases by turning case
necks to a uniform thickness.
Hand-held outside neck turners are available from several makers.
There's general agreement that outside turning case necks is better than
The Step Necked
One of the nicest things that can happen to a shooter is that he runs into
a gun, bullet and set of cases that present an interference fit; a fixed
cartridge won’t fit in the chamber in the rifle because the bullet has
expanded the case neck too much.
Find the depth that the bullet will go
into the rifling without undue force. Turn the outside of the case neck to
where the base of the bullet should be. That gives you a case with a
two-outside-diameter neck and a step on the outside. Load the case with 5
grains of Unique, fill the case with Cream of Wheat, smear grease on top
to hold it all together and shoot it in the rifle. (You may have to do
this several times, and finagle a bit to get the case neck to expand.) You
will get a case with a two-inside-diameter neck and a step on the INSIDE,
and into which bullets may be seated without any resizing. Then all you
have to do to reload is re-prime, charge with powder, seat the bullet by
hand, and shoot. I have had this condition with 30/30 and 45/70 rifles,
and it’s wonderful.
"Wouldn’t it be easier on the brass and simpler all around to remove brass
from the INSIDE of the neck as needed to permit a seated bullet to chamber
"I don't think that we can buy reamers in all the different sizes needed.
Outside turning with my Forster case trimmer with turning gear allows me
to turn the outside to ANY diameter needed, then end up with ANY outside
“This is a very old technique, and it has even been used in military (Carcano)
ammo to keep bullets from being pushed back in the case during handling
and feeding. A similar technique is to neck size a case, and then expand
generously to NEARLY the bottom of the neck with a Lyman step expander.
Done right, the small neck diameter from the sizing die will remain at the
base of the neck, while the rest of the neck is a slip fit for the bullet.
This approach is often used when case forming, to blow the shoulder of a
case forward. The round doesn’t headspace on the short shoulder, but it
headspaces on the bullet, which is a tight fit in the throat."
Nickel Plated Cartridge Cases:
The history of nickel plated cases is that they were intended as a more
corrosion resistant case than ordinary brass cases. There were some
environments that were pretty harsh on brass cases, like seashores and
cops who sometimes left loaded ammo in leather cartridge belts for a
decade or two. The organic acids in the leather has been known to corrode
the brass to the point that officers couldn’t remove the rounds, of if
they did get them out, they were so cruddy they wouldn’t chamber. So
manufacturers started giving them a more resistant nickel finish just for
these situations. (These folks weren’t reloaders, so flaking and die
scratching weren’t issues.) However, they were so shiny and pretty that
folks who really didn’t need the corrosion resistance were buying them for
their eye appeal. But sometimes they gave some problems in the reloading
process, as described below.
While they look snazzy, there are reports that nickel plated cartridge
cases will scratch the insides of sizing dies, and that they are brittle
and crack easily/frequently. Other reports say that these cases respond
poorly to attempts to anneal the necks.
"I used nickel cases in the '70's for PPC and kept them when I started
shooting NRA Bullseye later. These were ex-law enforcement cases and once
A. Will they scratch the inside of dies?
Yes, especially the unhardened older dies and with spray on lubes and
RCBS lube. If cases are tumbled, washed and lubed with Imperial Sizing
Die wax, they will not. I went to Pacific Chromed dies and never had any
more problems. They do not need this if used with carbide insert dies.
B. Are they brittle? Yes, more so than
plain brass cases. Most dies size the cases too much and this makes them
crack sooner. Sizing dies that only size the minimum amount have less
C. Can you anneal them? You can anneal the
brass, but you are not having any effect upon the plated metal. It will
always be as hard as originally applied.
D. The other problems? The plating can also
flake off a case and adhere to the inside of the die. This will scratch
every case until removed.
I still use plated 357 cases to identify rifle loads from pistol loads,
but would not use them in preference to plain cases."
"Can't speak to the die scratching, as I use carbide for the pistol cases,
but they did seem to develop mouth cracks sooner than regular cases;
however this was 30 years ago when I was shooting a lot of pistol and
brass may have improved since then. Today I use nickel in the 7 & 30 BR,
30-30, .308, '06 & 45-70. The bottle necks are all sized in the collet
dies, so very little working of the brass and the 45-70 in a Lyman neck
die with Imperial lube, and again very minimal working on the brass. I run
a brass brush thru the neck/mouth first, size and then thru the "M" die.
Can't recall losing a case to cracks on any of these and they stay cleaner
longer (outside). I like them."
"I do not seem
to have had the problems with nickel plated cases that others have had. I
have gone so far as to neck down .357 Magnum cases to .256 Winchester
Magnum with no problems what-so-ever. The nickel coating is very thin, as
evidenced by the wear on some many times resized .357 cases. Some have
nearly all the nickel worn off, but show no chipping or pealing at all and
are still functioning well.
Tumblers And Cleaning Cases
I don't have a case tumbler, never had one, and never tumble cleaned any
brass. I love my brass. I wipe each case off after firing.
I wash pistol cases every ?3? firings, with the primers out and pockets
cleaned. This gets the lube and unburned powder out of the brass.
I brush inside rifle case necks with a brush in an electric drill.
I've never found any quantities of bad stuff in my brass, although it has
been reported that some rifle cases acquire a BIG buildup of "stuff" in
Some pistol shooters tumble clean to get the dirt etc. off the brass.
"I feel that when I clean my pistol brass in a case tumbler it will be
done much better than if I sat and processed a couple of hundred cases by
hand. They are in the tumbler when I am doing something else, like casting
And when done, they are ready and do not need to sit for hours to dry out.
While some like to run the tumblers until the brass is bright as new, I
just try to get it clean, usually an hour and it is done. And I might even
tumble the cases two times. This would be the case for bottle neck cases.
Once to clean, the second time after sizing, to clean the lube off. There
never seems to be a shortage of things to do while the machine is cleaning
Sometimes I use walnut grit for cleaning and cob for lube removal,
sometimes not, depending upon how dirty the cases are to begin with.
If I had a target rifle and had neck turned the cases and all those other
little tricks to improve accuracy, I might give the cases individual care.
But not for pistol cases that try to hide under leaves and any other
object present at the range."
"I have two tumblers: one vibratory and one sealed drum. I have them
because I shot a lot of black powder cartridge and it is by far the
easiest way to clean cases. I've never worried about my cases being
"factory new" though I know several shooters who spend more time making
loaded rounds pretty than they do making them accurate. But then again,
confidence is often the tie breaker so who am I to judge?
If I can toss a hundred pieces of brass into a
tumbler and go do something else, the cost of the tumbler is priceless to
me. If the brass ends up shiny to boot, all the better.
On a side note, for really ugly cases
put them in a sealed drum tumbler with two cups of water, 1 teaspoon of
Cream of Tatar, and a handful of brass tacks (not plated steel!!) and they
will come out looking like they were just drawn. I do that after my black
powder cartridges get overly dirty.
For a vibratory tumbler I prefer walnut media. It doesn't give the pretty
shine that corncob media does but it will cut the fouling better, and in
"I shoot perhaps 500 rounds of .45 ACP per week. I like clean and shiny
cases. Therefore, I use the liquid cleaning method to get them that way.
It works for me. If I did not mind tarnished brass, then I could roll the
empties between folds of a damp towel and be done with it."
"I go through about 2,000 pieces of brass for my pistols every month.
I know if I washed my cases and wiped them I would never be able to take
care of that many cases and still have time to shoot. I use corn cob with
jewelers rouge and it cleans them good enough for me"
"One real good reason for using a tumbler is for cleaning the stuff off
your cases that causes "corrosion". I use that term loosely, meaning the
greenish stuff that forms inside and outside the necks if the cases sit
I also use a sonic cleaner on cases. This cleans out the crud on the
inside of cases that reduces powder capacity. If you are making sure all
your cases are the same, you might consider making sure the internal
capacity of those cases are also the same."
"I don't load the old straight cases, except for 45-70 - and dern few of
those, dang it. All my cases are 32, 38/357, and 44 revolver/45ACP stuff
and 222 thru 350 Rem Mag bottleneck rifle stuff. I use Midway polishing
compound sometimes, but mostly I use Bon Ami cleanser as the abrasive as
it is much softer than all the other brands. Never use anything but Bon
Ami from the household cleanser department - the other brands are far too
harsh on the brass. In every load of brass, I add about a tablespoonful of
mineral spirits and a couple spritzes from a squirt bottle of Orange Magic
or one of the similar preparations. The Orange Magic and the mineral
spirits give the brass a lovely jewelry-like finish and they keep the dust
down too. I think maybe the Orange Magic doesn't help much, but it smells
nice. For skuzzy old brass that was picked up from the ditch bank after
lying there for a year, I put a bit extra Bon Ami and run it overnight or
longer. Relatively decent brass that has been fired three or four times
and gotten a bit dirty only needs to run for a couple hours.
As part of the case inspection process I clean/punch out the flash holes
and run a rod down into the case to be sure there's no bits of media left
in there. Usually the primer pockets get scraped a little at the same
time, but I'm not concerned if I miss some.
The drum sifter does a really good job of rattling loose all the media but
for long rifle cases with small necks like 244 Rem and 223 I think it pays
to be sure. Leaving a gob of media in there and then adding the powder
charge would make for much higher pressures than anticipated because there
would be less empty space to absorb some of the powder gases. I don't want
to embarrass myself, and I sure don't want to strain the old Remington
I use the same batch of walnut media for a very long time before I throw
it away and begin using a new batch. I don't know why I throw a batch
away, because it is still working just fine - but it starts to look really
nasty so I get rid of it.
I don't wash any cases or even get them wet with water. If they seem to
need it, I put a half gallon to a gallon of cases (rifle or pistol) on a
towel and splash some mineral spirits on them and slosh them back and
forth in the belly of the towel. This removes all the lube, grease, crud,
dirt, sand, and other gunk really well and really easy. They dry very fast
and there is little or no residue."
"Like John Bischoff I have the Midway tumbler and media separator. Both
work very well. I also shoot a lot of black powder in .45-70, .45-90, and,
now, .50-70. I found John's method of cleaning is the easiest, least
expensive, and most effective that I've tried. The only difference is the
cases must be soaked and washed first to remove most of the black powder
fouling. Tumbling even badly tarnished cases in Walnut with 3 to 4 caps
full of mineral spirits and a tablespoon of Bon-Ami makes them look almost
new and it only takes a couple of hours. It works as good or better than
the treated media and is a lot cheaper and it is almost as good as ceramic
media. Ceramic media does a better job of cleaning the primer pockets and
inside the case in these
large bore, straight cases but can be a real pain with small cases or
bottlenecked cases so I stick with walnut."
"I have a Dillon and have used it since the late 1980s. It is very large
and handles both standard media and the ceramic with liquid, very well I
might add. It is not, however, the most efficient vibratory cleaner. The
sides are tapered straight outwards towards the top and there is a flat
lid on the machine; that is at the crux of the inefficiency.
A friend of mine, a dealer, has a long history of scrounging brass from
anywhere, separating it into calibers, and polishing it. Subsequently he
sells the stuff for a nice profit. I have been at his home and in his
store where tumblers run nearly 12 hours a day for months on end. This has
going on for years now and here is what he tells me:
The best of the case vibratory cleaners, in his long experience, are the
Thumlers; they will stand the hardest usage. Most vibratory cleaners are
made with an eccentric on a shaft that produces the vibration and that
also sets them, inexorably, on a path to self-destruction. The best of the
cleaners seem to have the bearings that will stand the out-of-balance
running. In addition, the shape of the bowl is critical to efficient
cleaning. The best cleaners are those that have circular profiles, here
understood to be the vertical profile; those that have a sort of doughnut
shape produce the best circulating motion in the media. The better the
circulating motion, as the contents churn around, the better the cleaning.
I'll take his word for it because he produces more cases than anyone with
whom I have ever had contact.
My friend also uses only corncob media. Not all corncob media is created
equal, as some of it is produced so that it has a better, harder, finish
before the grit is put on it. He buys his ground corncob plain, in 50 lb
bags and adds the grit. He seems not to worry much about what grit he
uses, as the last I bought from him was some sort of automobile polish in
gallon jugs that he had gotten at a going-out-of-business sale. It works
Geo. B. Carpenter
"I shoot BPCR Silhouettes using nickel plated Remington brass that's well
over 10 years old Several years ago I started using a wet tumbler and
ceramic media to CLEAN the brass because I got tired of leaning over the
sink and scrubbing out each individual piece. I use A Thumbler's Tumbler (Tru-square
Metal Prods.) AR-6 that's has about a 2 qt capacity. It's filled about
half full of media, and will hold about 100 cases. Once the cases are in,
I fill it with water and a squirt of Palmolive dish detergent and let it
run for about 2 hours. Dump it all into a colander, rinse the media and
brass, remove the brass and put it in a bucket of clean hot water to
rinses the cases thoroughly, then let them dry.
I'm going into all this detail so you understand the next step........when
dry, I throw them in a vibratory tumbler with corn cob media to remove the
dried soap residue, which, it seems, I'm never able to completely rinse
Now, the brass comes out bright and shiny.......but that's a by-product of
the CLEANING method, not my intent. Most of the shininess is because of
the nickel plating.
My unplanted brass, for 40-70SS, 40-50 Sharps BN and 38-55 get the same
treatment and DON'T come out shiny. They have acquired a patina of their
own, but are not blackened or corroded. The point of all this is the fact
that tumblers can be helpful and labor saving additions to your reloading
equipment without the intent to make the brass shiny."
"Black powder people go to the trouble and expense of using ceramic beads
and polishing compound in a tumbler because they have proved, to their
satisfaction, that clean interior case necks promote consistent neck
tension. Consistent neck tension relates positively to consistent
"I'd like to add a sorta semi-on-topic note: For me, the case tumbler
serves two distinctly different functions:
1. They clean the brass, and
2. They polish the brass.
Polishing is nice: I don't think anyone really objects to nice shiny cases
unless they're in a hunting / camo situation. But it really doesn't serve
a serious function other than cosmetic.
On the other hand, clean is not only nice, it's quite important: Dirty
brass will scratch dies & chambers, and seldom offers really good
accuracy, to say nothing of the best accuracy.
But it's possible to clean cases without polishing them, and it can be
done easily, quickly and at very low cost.
A very weak solution of phosphoric acid is quite safe for your hands:
Phosphoric acid is in most soda pop, so far from being toxic, you can
actually drink dilute solutions. And it's not hard to come by: If you
don't have a chemical supply house nearby, you can use Naval Jelly, which
is mostly thickened phosphoric acid with a little soap added.
How weak? Well, I don't bother to actually measure, but about a tablespoon
of acid in a gallon of water works well for me, but it's NOT critical. I
usually add a bit of ordinary household dish detergent too, but it's not
Just take your dirty cases and drop them in the acid solution. The effect
is immediate and thorough: All traces of green corrosion will disappear
within moments. Even range salvaged cases that have corroded black will
turn a coppery red in a hurry. This solution also loosens any mud, crud,
grit and grime that has found it's way in or on the case, making any
follow-up cleaning (if needed) much easier.
While this solution works very quickly, it seems entirely safe for the
brass: I've left cases sitting in it for a week with absolutely no
evidence of ill effects.
When the action seems complete, pour the solution down the drain, and
catch the cases in a colander. Rinse them with tap water. Hot water will
speed the drying process quite a bit. Then pour them into an old towel.
Now holding the ends to support the cases in a hammock, pour them back and
forth in the towel to remove almost all the water. Then let them sit
overnight (or longer) to dry out inside.
It’s best to use de-primed
cases for this, but if you don’t, just de-prime a few cleaned cases when
you are done,
de-prime a few to make sure
the primer pockets are dry too.
Your cases are now ready to be lubed, sized and loaded whenever you want.
They are obviously clean, but some of the dirtiest cases, with black
corrosion will have a copper look. This can often be wiped off with the
finger, but if you really dislike it, it's much easier to polish the cases
after they've been cleaned like this, if you want bright and shiny."
Cleaning Brass with a
There is some benefit to using a liquid cleaner to clean your brass.
However, there is quite a bit more to the process than one encounters
using a vibratory cleaner with dry media.
Cleaning with liquid is a multi-step process.
First, you place the cases, water, and cleaner in the tumbler (Thumbler's
Model B tumbler; $1?? from Cabela's). Fasten the end cap (six wing nuts)
and place the drum onto the rollers and turn the unit on. After
approximately one hour, slightly more if the brass is REALLY tarnished or
dingy, stop the process and dump the contents of the drum into a strainer.
Be sure NOT TO USE KITCHEN UTENSILS!!! NEVER use anything for case
cleaning that will be used for food preparation or eating. I use a cheap
plastic kitchen strainer that I bought for 99 cents. My drain bucket is a
five gallon pail that wall plaster came in.
Next, rinse the cases with clean water. Swish them around to get any
residual cleaner and soap off and rinse them some more. Cases can be left
out in the sun to dry, or placed on an old towel near the furnace, or you
can put them on a cookie sheet in the oven on low heat. (Again, use this
old cookie sheet ONLY for this process.)
YOU CANNOT LOAD THESE CASES UNTIL THEY ARE
COMPLETELY DRY! This is one reason that many prefer the dry media
From the moment you take the cases out of the tumbler, you can see that
they sparkle. They will continue to sparkle as long as you have rinsed
them thoroughly. Failure to do so may result in some tarnishing.
At the moment, I have not tried removing the primer before liquid
cleaning. I am sure that the primer pockets will be much cleaner than with
the dry media if I did, and there will be no grit to plug the flash hole,
however, if I put the cases into the press to de-prime them, I am just
likely to continue the process and load them without cleaning at all!
This process takes a few hours or even a day or two to accomplish. Drying
the cases is the longest part. Patience is a virtue, one that I have just
a little of, but I am working at it.
I suppose that you want to know what cleaner I use? Well, it is this:
cover cases in the drum.
cup of lemon juice. ($1.39 qt at the local grocery.)
Dash of dish
detergent -- a little goes a very long way.
Well, that is the whole deal. Simple and inexpensive for ingredients. But
takes more time. OTOH, my cases really shine and the time spent on the
process is background time, time that I am doing many other things. Oh,
and another benefit is that there is no toxic dust to ingest lead from as
you sift the cases out of the dry media. You will, of course, have to
dispose of the used cleaner in a safe manner.
As far as this more involved process, I have space to do it, and I
generally process cases in groups anyway, so this is no burden to me. I
always have several hundred .45s ready to load at a moment's notice, so
hundreds more drying near the furnace is no problem."