Let’s look at the process of reclaiming the brass for reuse. There is nothing wrong with getting ready to reload by buying new brass. However, after you fire that shiny new brass the first time, you’ll want to prepare it to be used again. You may also scavenge the local shooting range or buy some once fired brass for reloading. Either way, here is your ‘primer’ for reclaiming brass for reloading.
Since the brass case expands under pressure during firing, the cartridge case must be resized. We do this with a resizing die in a press. Those who use but one rifle—bolt action or single shot—may resize only the case neck. The benefit of using a case that is formed to the chamber, works well enough for most shooters’ needs. Semi-autos require full-length resizing. All in all, my experience shows that full-length resized cases are about as accurate as neck-sized cases, but the nod goes to neck sizing only when possible.
I think attention to detail when neck sizing can reap benefits. The type of die most of us have used, works the brass excessively by first sizing the brass and then opening it by means of an expander plug. The requirement for care in sizing and lubrication of the inside of the case neck also kills time. Here is where planning ahead is important. Major makers now supply loading dies with interchangeable neck sizing bushings. I have been able to produce excellent results by using such dies. No, I don’t use this type of die when turning out high volume loads for my AR-15 rifles, but when I wish my bullets to go in one line like GI’s waiting for an inoculation, these specialized dies are my first choice.
Next, the emphasis is on the brass itself. Let’s get one thing straight, and I think experienced handloaders will nod in agreement. There is such a thing as bad or weak brass. Some brass won’t survive many reloadings, and others may stretch excessively. Likewise, some brass will suffer wallowed primer pockets more quickly than we would like.
Quite a bit of the foreign-produced ammunition I see offered for sale isn’t in the same league as American-produced products. This refers to Asian- and Russian-produced brass for the most part. I have used Norma brass with excellent results. One my friends, who specializes in high power, military-type, long-range rifles, swears by the Lapua product. Both are expensive, but neither can be faulted on performance.
Firing factory ammunition merely to obtain brass is not economical. In the .223, I have ordered 1,000 rounds of processed military brass and enjoyed excellent results. In heavier calibers, I have ordered 100 to 200 new cases in order to begin a loading program.
New cases purchased in bulk require attention. There are often small burrs around the flash hole in the primer pocket. These burrs are left over from the production process and it is an even bet they are not polished before factory-new ammunition is loaded. Occasionally, the case mouth will sport a similar burr that should be polished. The overall length is usually uniform, but it is good to check a few cases at random to determine that all are consistent in that regard.
Next, attention to the case mouth is important. I have used a small chamfering tool from Lee Precision for several years, with excellent results. Motorized tools are fine, but the handheld Lee has done yeomen service in several calibers. Next, the case neck can be turned for better consistency. This operation ensures cases are consistent from one cartridge case to the next and that bullet pull is uniform. This can be a cut and dry thing, but for the most part, the inside of the case mouth is polished more than cut. Once a cartridge case has been modified to a uniform thickness in this manner, it will not need to be turned again during its useful loading life.
With this initial case preparation done, and the cases nice and uniform, we can turn to preparing to load the cartridge. I am a stickler for handheld primer seaters. There are quite a few on the market, with the RCBS-type serving for many years with little change.
This is another cut and dry or ‘by feel’ skill. I like to feel the primer crunch into the primer pocket. This ensures uniform seating and ignition. Be certain the primer seater is free of so much as a single grain of powder, or you may dent the primer. Next, we are ready to choose the powder and the powder charge, but I’ll cover that in a separate article.
What steps do you take to prepare your brass for reloading? Do you have a favorite tool or brand of reloading equipment that you would recommend? Share your answers in the comment section.
Bob Campbell is a former peace officer and published author with over 40 years combined shooting and police and security experience. Bob holds a degree in Criminal Justice. Bob is the author of the books, The Handgun in Personal Defense, Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry, The 1911 Automatic Pistol, The Gun Digest Book of Personal Protection and Home Defense, The Shooters Guide to the 1911, The Hunter and the Hunted, and The Complete Illustrated Manual of Handgun Skills. His latest book is Dealing with the Great Ammo Shortage. He is also a regular contributor to Gun Tests, American Gunsmith, Small Arms Review, Gun Digest, Concealed Carry Magazine, Knife World, Women and Guns, Handloader and other publications. Bob is well-known for his firearm testing.
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