Throughout my last blog I explained the items that you would need to start loading your own ammunition for rifles and pistols. In the next couple of weeks we will take an in depth look at how you get from empty brass to ammunition ready for the range and field. The topic of today’s discussion will be brass preparation. If you plan on starting out with new brass, this information will not come into play until you have shot some ammo and collected some empty casings. If you have ever done any reloading before, then you know that brass preparation is an essential part of the loading process that demands more of your time than any other aspect of loading, especially if you are loading for rifles. However, having brass readily available is one of the biggest cost saving aspects of loading your own ammo.
Step 1: Tumbling Brass
The first thing that I do when I get back from the range is load my tumbler up with media and throw my empty brass from the day in it. I usually use the Lyman Corncob Case Cleaning Media, but there are plenty of options out there. The great thing about this media is it seems to last forever especially if you use the Lyman® Turbo Charger Media Reactivator periodically. This will add luster back to your brass and it does not take as long to clean. One trick that I always use when tumbling brass is cut up a used dryer sheet into four squares. Drop the squares in with your media and brass and all of the dirt will stick to the dryer sheets instead of your tumbler and media. Tumbling time will be about 2-5 hours depending on how much brass you have and the freshness of your media. The brass should look shiny and clean when you get it out. When you are satisfied with the brass, turn the tumbler off and sift the media into a small bucket or container and make sure that none is left inside of your casings. I usually tumble all like brass together and try to avoid mixing brass because cases become entwined together and do not get fully cleaned when mixed.
Step 2: Sizing and Decapping
Now that you have clean brass, you can begin sizing and decapping. Both of these steps are achieved with one stroke of the press. Refer to the picture on the left to locate your sizing die. Read the instructions included with your die for setting it up into your press and install the appropriate shell holder onto your press.
For rifles, lay your brass out on a lube pad as shown in the picture and spray a light coating of case lube on them. Roll them around a little bit and they are ready to be sized. Also spray just a little bit of lubricant inside of your die. ***DO NOT over lube your casings because bad things can happen. A very light coating is all that you need. Any more and your brass will dimple on the shoulders and could get stuck in your die***. Place the brass into the shell holder and steadily pull the lever down until it reaches the bottom. Steadily raise the arm of your press again. You will feel some resistance as your brass comes out of die when the collate holding the decapping pin exits the neck of the case. Inspect your case to ensure that the spent primer has been punched from the case. If not, screw the decapping pin farther into your die and run the brass through again. Also check your case for dimples or abnormalities. If anything looks split, dimpled or incorrect, dispose the case and go to the next. Shooters that use a bolt action gun may prefer to use a neck sizing die. This type of die will extend the life of your brass but cannot be used in a semi automatic gun or a gun that is clip fed. If you shoot the same cartridge out of multiple guns, you will need to keep that brass specific to each gun if you are neck sizing.
If you read the last article, I recommended buying a carbide die for pistols. If you followed this advice, skip the case lubing for sizing your pistol cases, put them in the press and start punching primers. If you bought a steel die for your pistol, be sure to lube your cases before running them through your die or you could end up with trouble. As far as case lubricant goes, I prefer some type of spray lube. It seems to be less messy and easier to use than the liquid form. In addition, it is easy to control how much is getting onto your cases so you don’t over-lube them.
Step 3: Case Trimming
Now that you have your cases cleaned, sized, and decapped it is time to trim them back to their original factory length. This step is usually not necessary when loading a straight walled cartridge. So for pistols, this step can usually be skipped unless you are shooting a high pressure load. Measure a few until you are comfortable that they will fall under the maximum case length shown in your reloading book. If you are loading rifle ammunition, set your calipers at the maximum case length and lock them into place. Measure each brass case that you have resized to make sure they are under this length. For example, .223 has a maximum case length of 1.760” with a trim to length of 1.750”. Ideally you want your cases to fall in this range, but you definitely do not want them to exceed the maximum case length. Sort them between cases that exceed the maximum case length and cases that are under the maximum case length. Each trimmer will be set up a little different so set yours up as instructed in the manual with the product. Always remember to start out cutting a little long and make fine adjustments until you can consistently reach the length that you are targeting. For example, I will always use a case that is about 1.759” to set my initial trim to length and adjust my trimmer from there. After you trim a case use a deburring tool to deburr and dechamfer the inside and outside of the case mouth. It only takes about a half a turn on each side to properly smooth the case mouth out. After you get your trimmer set to trim to the right length, always check cases periodically to make sure that you’re trimming consistently. Whenever I get through trimming cases I always like to send the brass through the tumbler again to get rid of any brass shavings or case lubricant left on my cases. You do not have to leave them tumble for as long, a half hour or hour should suffice. Once that is finished, sift the media from the cases and inspect the flash hole of each case to make sure that no media got caught in it. If your flash hole is obstructed, use a tack or pin to punch out the object before continuing.
Once you have done these three steps, you have completed all case preparation needed to load your brass. Always inspect your brass carefully for any major dimples, splits, or bulges. Check the rim of your cartridge to make sure that it is intact and don’t take any chances on brass. If it looks bad, pitch it! Brass is usually somewhat easy to come by and a trip to the local range can get you restocked quickly. If you pick up unknown brass or are given brass by someone, always run a magnet over it before putting it in your dies. If it sticks to the magnet, DO NOT attempt to reload it because it is a steel casing that will damage your dies. If you have more brass than you plan on reloading immediately, put them in a cool dry place for storage. I prefer to vacuum seal my brass that will not be loaded promptly. Plastic sealable bags and ammo cans work great too. Add some silica packets to the bags or cans to insure a dry climate for your brass. Hopefully these tips will help you on your way to loading your own ammo. Next time we will add primers, powder, and bullets to your shiny clean brass.