Frankford Arsenal Prep Tool
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- Last updated: 06/10/2020
Frankford Arsenal (FA) is a relatively new name on the reloading scene, but with a rapidly-expanding product range and wider availability due to new UK distributor the Sportsman Gun Centre, it looks set to make quite an impact. There are plenty more exciting products on their way, but the subject of this month’s review is a pair of powered case-preparation tools from FA’s Platinum series.
I’ve been reloading for the best part of three decades, and have always taken care over case preparation, pursuing the consistency essential to accuracy but also finding aesthetic pleasure in cleaning and truing brass cases. I have also always done everything by hand, mostly using a rotary case-trimmer, double-ended chamfer-anddeburring tool, and minimalist primer-pocket cleaner that came with my original RCBS Master kit, supplemented by a pair of K&M primer-pocket uniformers. The latter also being suited for use in a cordless screwdriver or drill. (I’ve never been a neck-turner!)
Hand tools undoubtedly give ‘feel’ but as the years advance, what I mostly feel is the unwelcome ache in my fingers and wrists after an extended case-prep session! Life seems to get ever busier, too –Coronavirus lockdowns excepted-, so the prospect of speeding up the whole process lent added appeal to FA’s powered tool centres.
There are two models: the Case Prep Center (CPC), and the Case Trim and Prep System (CTAPS). The latter is larger, heavier and more expensive. This is because it substitutes one of the four tool stations offered by the CPC for a clever case-trimming system.
Both models feature tough aluminium housings, protected on six of the eight corners with plastic buffers that also serve as feet, meaning you can orientate them either horizontally or vertically. Additionally, the CTAPS comes with a detachable/adjustable stand that lets you set the unit at a convenient angle. Activation is via a simple ON/OFF switch in the side of the base-plate.
Four threaded tools are supplied: large and small primer-pocket cleaners, plus universal case-mouth inside chamfer and outside deburring heads. The latter were agreeably sharp, while the pocket cleaners have chequered heads that are capable of grinding away brass as well as fouling, uniforming as they clean. For long-lasting performance, all the tools are made from hardened HSS steel.
Each unit also provides on-board tool storage. On the CPC this amounts to a line of four holes in a polymer strip inset into the side of the housing. By contrast, the CTAPS has a mini toolbox built into the top with compartments for all the case tools as well as the bushings and collets for the trimmer. Further primer-pocket tools are available separately in a Power Expansion Kit. This contains large and small heads for both pocket uniforming and crimp-removal. It’s worth noting, too, that the output shafts will accept any tool with a male 8-32 thread, including neck-cleaning brushes.
Time now to look at the CTAPS’ case-trim function. Trim length is set by adjusting a chunky steel bushing. Inside the bushing, a plastic collet and an aluminium head-spacing ring control the position of the case. As the head-spacing is on the case shoulder, the CTAPS’ trimmer only works with bottle-necked cartridges, though it will accommodate everything from .17 Fireball to .460 Weatherby. The first step, therefore, is to select whichever of the three collets and six rings supplied best fit the body and shoulder of your cartridge.
To install these in the bushing, simply loosen the locking ring and remove the bushing from the tool station, then unscrew the outer cap and drop in first the ring and then the collet. With these correctly seated and having replaced the cap, bushing and locking ring, you can start making the necessary adjustments.
First, adjust the collet tension by screwing down the cap until the case is held securely but can be inserted and removed easily. Then adjust the trim depth by pushing the case home against the ring, and screwing the bushing in until the case mouth just touches the cutter blades. Four holes in the circumference of the bushing let you confirm this visually. This done, withdraw the case, snug-up the locking ring, and activate the motor.
Run a case into the bushing, gently pressing it against the cutting head until you can no longer feel the light vibration produced by contact with the cutter, then pull it out, measure and adjust the bushing to achieve the desired overall case length. A scale on the bushing gives gradations of 2.5 thou, removing guesswork and so reducing calibration time. Initial set up takes a couple of minutes, but thereafter it takes just seconds to trim, chamfer and deburr each case. Having all three tools uniformly aligned, close together and simultaneously active makes the whole process both efficient and consistent. The rotation rate of 200 RPM strikes a good balance between speed and controllability, too.
A translucent clip-on guard covers the upper part of the bushing, but shavings are free to drop clear through the lower holes, so place something underneath to catch them, and keep a nylon brush handy to clean everything off after use.
In conclusion, if you are short on time, or find case preparation a pain (literally or metaphorically) and if you have space on your loading bench, I would recommend taking the motorised route. Neither tool is cheap, but both are very competitively priced (notwithstanding the usual UK mark-up). Especially good value in this regard is the CTAPS, which is unique in combining a dedicated trimming tool with a set of multipurpose stations in a single unit, thereby saving on the cost, space and inefficiency of separate tools.