The Los Angeles Handgun, Rifle, Air Pistol, Hunter/Field Pistol Silhouette Club

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A collection of comments and articles on the many aspects of bullet casting by various cast bullet shooters
Cast Bullets For Beginner And Expert
SECOND EDITION, 2007 - Joe Brennan
Chapter 6.2 Cartridge Cases

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 "M" die.

     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."

Bill McGraw

     The paragraph above, beginning "Auto-loading pistols like..." describes the planned or theoretical method of headspacing. See "1911 headspacing method--Norm 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 worst.

When to trim cases:

Ken Mollohan

     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 the neck.

     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 this:

  • 1. Use 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 sized.

  • 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. Ken

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. accuracy

     In the 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 called "obturation".

     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 and shortened.

     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 shooting.

Table of group sizes fired with 300 WM cases of different lengths, inches.

Lengths of 300 WM cases:

"Book" case length: 2.620”    
"Book" trim to: 2.610”    
My rifle chamber length: 2.648"    
Formed from 300 H&H, case length: 2.630" after firing: 2.626"/2.628"
Formed from 375 H&H, case length: 2.642" after firing: 2.648"
Formed from 375 H&H, case length: 2.605" after firing:  2.608"

Date

13-Mar-02

21-Mar-02

27-Mar-02

27-Mar-02

Case Length

2.605"

2.630"

2.642"

2.605"

First

1.378

1.117

0.978

0.880

Second

0.821

1.073

1.497

1.627

Third

1.111

2.224

1.099

1.106

Fourth

0.986

1.653

1.399

0.785

Fifth

1.364

1.271

1.438

0.784

Average

1.132

1.468

1.282

1.036

 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.

 Comments and Conclusions

     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 leade/throat/ball seat.

     The average group size for the 20 groups was 1.23”. Six of 20 were under an inch.

     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 this test.

     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 enhances accuracy.

     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     group
38 - 55 brass 31141 W/20:1 12.5 gr. H110 1.25"
30 - 30 brass 31141 W/20:1 12.5 gr. H110  1.65" - 2.3"
Sept. 25, '01      
38 - 55 brass Lee 311155, ww +2% 28 gr Called flyer
Ammomart #44 1.3" - 4.0"
30 - 30 brass Lee 311155, ww +2%   1.60"
Oct. 6, '01
38 - 55 brass 311403, W/20:1 8.3 gr. 1.37"
Unique
30 - 30 brass 311403, W/20:1 8.3 gr. 2.1" - 2.8"
Unique

 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."

Bill McGraw

     "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 increased pressures.

     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.

God Bless!"
Norm  Johnson

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 those cases.

     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 torch.

     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. Best regards, John Bischoff

     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 ‘stand-em-in-an-inch-of-water-and-play-a-torch-over-their-necks’ technique 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."

Ken Mollohan

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.

(Ken Mollohan 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 neck.

     If there is not enough clearance, you must either ream the inside or (preferably) turn the outside of the case necks to provide proper clearance. 

     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 accuracy.

     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 reaming them.

The Step Necked Case:

     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 properly?" John Bischoff

     "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 diameter wanted." joe b.

     “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." Ken Mollohan

Nickel Plated Cartridge Cases:

Ken Mollohan

     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 fired.

  • 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 cracking problems. 

  • 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." Ric Bowman

     "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." Keith

     "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. God Bless!" Norm Johnson

Cartridge Case 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 the case.

     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 or reloading.

     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 the cases.

     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." Duane Mellenbruch

     "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 less time."
Dave Goodrich

     "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." Dave Daniels

     "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" Jacob Lancaster

     "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 too long.
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."
Bill Warner

     "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 Rolling Block.

     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." John Bischoff

     "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."
Jerry Liles

     "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 been
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 fine.".
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 away.

     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." Tom Ireland

     "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 accuracy."R. Dale McGee

     "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 really necessary.

     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."

Ken Mollohan

Cleaning Brass with a Liquid Cleaner:

     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 method.

     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:

  • Water to cover cases in the drum.

  • One quarter 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." Dave Daniels

 

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Warning: All technical data mentioned, especially handloading and bullet casting, reflect the limited experience of individuals using specific tools, products, equipment and components under specific conditions and circumstances not necessarily reported in the article or on this web site and over which The Los Angeles Silhouette Club (LASC), this web site or the author has no control. The above has no control over the condition of your firearms or your methods, components, tools, techniques or circumstances and disclaims all and any responsibility for any person using any data mentioned.

Always consult recognized reloading manuals.

 

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