Reloading basics - Case Preparation
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- Last updated: 24/01/2021
Recycling cases is one of the most important parts of the reloading process and the manner in which it is done can have a big effect on the accuracy of your finished ammo. The order in which the different stages of the process are done varies from shooter to shooter, but here is my preferred sequence for rifle-calibre cases.
As well as residue from firing, used cases can have all sorts of dirt on them, particularly if they have been on the ground or used outdoors. The best way to clean them up is to drop them into a tumbler and leave them for an hour, allowing the media to do its work. Most types of dry media perform well, but ground walnut shell seems to work the quickest and last the longest before it needs replacing. Tumblers are by far the easiest to use as the newly cleaned brass does not require drying afterwards, a process which can take hours. Keeping the media fresh and regularly replaced does make a big difference and a few drops of Flitz Tumbler Media Additive improves the final polish on the cleaned cases. Also, leaving the primers in at this stage means you do not have to spend time picking media out of the flash holes after they have been cleaned!
Primers are removed with a Lee decapping die, which does not require any case lube so you can handle the cases without getting sticky fingers. This is the first opportunity to check each cleaned case for cracks or other damage and clean out the primer pockets. A simple handheld tool like the Lee Primer Pocket Cleaner gets everything out of the pocket, so the new primer can be seated properly. This tool can be ‘sharpened’ with a file regularly to ensure it gets right into the edges.
Cases need to be resized, either full-length or neckonly, and I treat particular brands differently. Straight-walled .45-70 government cases all get lubed and full-length resized. I neck-size .308 Lapua and Hornady cases, with no need for any case lubrication, but PPU cases in this calibre are lubricated and full-length resized.
I have found that if PPU cases are neck-only resized they just will not grip a bullet in the case mouth, no matter how hard they are crimped in. Full-length resizing overcomes this and bullets will then seat just fine. The issue seems to relate to the thickness and ‘springiness’ of the PPU brass, which is not a fault, just a different characteristic. It is minor differences like this that you have to watch out for when reloading, and tweak your approach, to ensure you produce safe and consistent ammo.
If the brass has been lubricated, I do wipe it all off after resizing, to keep the dies clean and also stop dust or dirt sticking to it. A piece of old denim seems particularly good for wiping off case lube as it is relatively coarse.
The next thing I do is trim the cases to length. Resizing can cause the brass to stretch, so trimming before resizing is pointless. There are loads of mechanised ways of trimming cases (I currently have the Lee Deluxe power quick trim on test so watch this space for an update) but I use the Lee Cutter, a hand-powered tool with calibre specific case-length gauges to ensure repeatable results. This is a very basic but superbly accurate tool and although slow to use, the results are worth the extra effort. It is vital for cases to all be the same length, so they all engage in the dies exactly the same, and consistent accuracy depends on this often left-out step.
After trimming, I chamfer the mouths of the cases, both inside and out, to remove any burrs and sharp edges and also to ensure that bullets will seat smoothly and not get damaged or misaligned.
If I am seating lead bullets, particularly in .45-70 calibre, I give the finished rounds another wipe over to ensure that any bullet lube shaved off during the seating process is removed from the outside of the cases. Again old denim works really well for this purpose.
Once they are all cleaned, resized and cut to length the cases are ready to be reloaded, and the amount of time and effort put into the preparation of the brass will have a direct impact on the accuracy and consistency of the finished ammunition. A lot of my case-prep processes for rifle calibres is slow and hands-on, but this does give the best results. Handling the cases individually allows you to inspect every single one in turn and detect any issues.
With pistol-calibre cases, due to the much larger number of rounds I shoot, I tend to throw them into the case cleaner and then reload them using a Lee Auto breech Lock Pro, without cleaning out primer pockets or trimming to length. Occasionally, I will take the time to inspect and trim a batch of these cases, but unless I am using magnum loads the brass rarely requires cutting back to size.
As I said at the start, this is just my preferred way of prepping cases and some shooters do it differently. As long as the end result is good, clean and consistent cases, with no cracks or bulges, the order in which you prep your brass is up to you. With cases being so expensive it is well worth putting in the time to keep them in top condition and getting as many reloads out of them as you can, doing your bit for recycling.
Lee Precision reloading equipment and Flitz products
Henry Krank www.henrykrank.com