How To

Reloading: Reclaiming Brass

Two cartridge cases, one showing a crack

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.

Brass cartridge cases for reloading
Sorting your brass is critical.

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.

Two cartridge cases, one showing a crack
Be sure to check cartridge cases for cracks!

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.

Empty and loaded cartridges for rifle shooting
Cartridge prep and choosing the bullet are each important steps.

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.


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Comments (11)

  1. I’ve been reloading for over 25 years. Started with straight wall (pistol) brass then to rifle for last 10+ years. Norma brass is great. Have found Lapua brass not enough better to justify extra cost. You must full length all range brass and any you have shot in any semi-auto rifle. I like using RCBS Full Length X small base dies if available for cartridge as they help reduce case length growth. Otherwise any brand will do a good job. I have polished expander balls in all my full length sizing dies. That helps reduce drag and stretching of neck.

    I then (for bolt guns only) will neck size only until case chambers difficultly and then use a Redding Body Sizing Die that does not size the neck and therefore doesn’t work that part of the brass at all. Neck sizing only extends life of brass as it doesn’t work harden the brass so quickly. I haven’t turned any necks for uniformity. Different brands of brass have different thicknesses of brass and I think the inside measurement of the neck is more important to have uniform than outside and so I don’t use bushing neck sizing dies. I prefer the Lee Collet Neck Sizing die as it presses the neck against a mandrel that stays the same size for that caliber and die. Whereas the bushing die uses an expander ball to set the inside measurement working the brass more.

    I also anneal using a torch and only heat for 6-8 seconds. As previously mentioned, over heating will soften too much and ruins that piece of brass. I anneal after cleaning to get more consistency. I find annealing at least every third reloading improves consistency and group sizes by about 10%. I also always chamfer case mouth inside at least to prevent scratching the bullet.

    I l=also like to use Redding Competition or Forster sleeve style seating dies as they align the bullet with the case better. I then will use an Hornady Concentricity Tool to align the bullet and case. With it I can adjust alignment.

    This all sounds like a lot of time and it is, but I prefer to put time in making the most accurate bullet rather than money into the most accurate rifle. most of my rifles are “off the shelf” brand name rifles. Only a couple could be called “custom” as they have after market barrels like Shilen costing about $200.00 each. Even the most accurate rifle is no better than the ammo you shoot in it.


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