Reloading 101: brass preparation

The first step in reloading for most folks is to get a supply of brass ready. If you have any desire to reload, start saving your brass immediately. I could kick myself for all the brass I’ve thrown away but such is life.

Unless you are buying new brass, you are probably saving your own or picking up “free range” brass at your gun range. The first step is to sort the brass. I like using an old lunch tray. I typically use large plastic coffee cans into which I sort the various cases. Kevin reloads .40S&W, Glyn reloads his beloved .38 Super and I reload 9mm, .45acp and .223 Remington. The rest goes in the trash. There are usually some aluminum and steel cases in there also and those are discarded as well. I try and knock the dirt and sand out as I sort them. If a case is really gunked up or damaged I will discard it. Resizing dies can work miracles on a misshapen case but I would rather toss them than deal with the possible problems and wear on the die.

When I have a fair amount of one type of brass, or I simply need more for reloading, I move to the cleaning phase. I like to use those nylon lingerie laundry bags for this step. They can be found at any dollar store for a couple of bucks. I dump about 500 rounds of 9mm (about 300 .45) into the bag while holding it over a trash can. I then proceed to hold the bag by either end and then lift each end alternately, kind of like you do with a slinky. This causes the cases to tumble back and forth which dislodges most of the remaining dirt and debris. Once I see little or no more stuff falling out the bottom, I dip the bag into a bucket with cleaning solution in it. I really like the Birchwood Casey Brass Cleaner solution. You mix 1/2 bottle with 1 gallon of hot water and it’s ready. I do the slinky routine with the bag while it is in the cleaning solution and let it sit for 3 minutes. I normally slinky them a couple of times during that 3 minutes then I lift the bag out of the solution and slinky it several more times to get the solution out of the cases.

After the cleaning solution I normally dip the bag into a sink full of clean hot water. I then slinky the bag a bunch of times but this time I am lifting the bag out of the water each time, then once the cases have tumbled to one end I dunk them again. Then I drain the water out of the sink and empty the bag into a colander. I use a plastic one because it makes less noise. A word of caution: the cleaning solution is non-toxic but it does etch metal so don’t put it in a metal container and do NOT leave the cases in there longer than three minutes. If you do it really weakens the brass. You can tell because it looks really dull.

With the cases in the colander, I rinse the brass with a sprayer while mixing them around with my free hand. Yes, that’s a lot of rinsing but it gets all the cleaning solution out of the cases and that’s the goal. I then turn off the water and continue mixing the cases, then I begin drying them with a hair dryer. I don’t try to get them completely dry, only mostly dry and the cases hot. This makes them dry out on their own pretty quickly.

I then remove the cases from the colander and stand them on the kitchen counter so they can finish drying out. If you shake the colander, the cases will tend to orient themselves case mouth-up. This makes it easy to grab them 5-10 at a time and set them down in the right orientation. I then usually repeat this process with another bag of brass so that I have about 1k cases on the counter.

cases_on_counterAs you have no doubt deduced by now, I am not married 😉

This process takes about 20 minutes total. I then leave the cases for about an hour to dry out thoroughly. If there’s a lot of moisture on the counter I will use the hair-dryer to blow down on the cases while slightly moving them around with my free hand.

Once the cases are dry, they could be reloaded at that point but I like my brass to be really clean and really shiny so I then put them in a vibratory cleaner for a couple of hours. My RCBS cleaner holds about 500 9mm cases. I use the Lyman’s Green treated corncob media. It works great and there is no dust like with the walnut stuff.

When the cleaner’s timer goes off I dump the contents into a neat little device from Frankford Arsenal called a Standard Media Separator. It sits down inside a five gallon bucket. It has holes to allow the cleaning media to fall through but not the brass. (NOTE: the item in question is the one on the right on the linked page). I then dump the remaining brass into an RCBS media separator that tumbles off the remaining bits of cleaning media. You really do want all of that stuff gone because if there’s any left, it will clog the case feeder on your press. Trust me on this one.

I then place the finished brass into a suitable storage device until it is needed. I like to use clear plastic storage boxes, about shoebox size. This allows me to see the brass so I can tell what type it is and also how much is left.

This might sound like a lot of work but really it isn’t. Once you get the process grooved, it takes little time or effort. Mostly it’s a matter of managing She Who Must Be Obeyed while you invade the kitchen, but I can’t help you guys on that one.

Dillon Super Swage 600: cure for mil-crimp brass

Dillon Precision Super Swage 600

When I started reloading I had three calibers in mind: 9mm, .45acp and .223 Remington. These are the calibers I shoot the most and I had a lot of brass saved up in anticipation of reloading. Many manufacturers of ammunition use a military crimp, or mil-crimp, around the primer pocket. This is a circular stamp that creates a crimped connection between the primer and the bottom of the shell casing. This keeps the primer from easing out of the pocket. This is commonly found on rounds with some sort of waterproofing sealant around the primer pocket, usually military surplus ammo. One common commercial manufacturer that also uses mil-crimps on their brass is Federal .223 in the 100-round bulk packs.

Having a mil-crimp on a pistol round is usually not a problem as the primer seating die will normally just shove the primer right in past the crimp without issue. I would guess that around 1 round in 100 doesn’t seat properly and that is almost always a result of a mil-crimp piece of brass. One notable exception I’ve seen is with Speer brass. I can feel immediately when the primer die tries to set into a Speer case and I stop, back out slightly and remove the case from the priming die and sure enough, it will always say “Speer” on the headstamp.

Unlike pistol rounds, the mil-crimp on rifle brass is a much tougher problem. I’ve certainly loaded a bunch of mil-crimp brass and it can work but the failure rate is much, much higher (I would bet around 25-45% are unusable) and the force required to seat the primers is enormous. This doesn’t do the press any good either.

RCBS Tim-Mate Case Prep Center

So, what’s the solution? For many reloaders the simple answer is to cut away the crimp using a reaming tool either manually or by using a brass prep machine like the RCBS Trim Mate Case Prep Center. This does work but the problem is that it involves removing material from the case. The evidence lies in the accumulated brass shavings around the tool. Any time material is removed, the case is less than when the process began. With the high pressures in rifle rounds this is really not a good thing, especially as the brass ages and is reloaded several times.

Another solution that many reloaders prefer is to swage the crimp back from the primer pocket, pressing the brass back into its original form. Dillon Precision has (of course) an ideal tool to accomplish this: the Dillon Super Swage 600. This small, simple device is basically two pivot hinges on a metal base, one housing the brass holder and the other holding the swaging rod. The rod rolls the primer pocket back such that it ends up with a perfectly radiused edge, transitioning from primer pocket to case head smoothly. No material is lost and the pocket accepts primers perfectly.

I bolted mine to the reloading bench on an angle so that the handle comes out and over the edge. This has proven to be a great way to use the device because it is still sideways enough to allow one hand to position the brass and the other to operate the handle while still standing essentially facing the bench. Even though the process is one-at-a-time, the design with its thumb flip case holder and bullet-proof construction is very quick at processing a large amount of brass.

I consider the SS600 an essential part of my reloading system and recommend it to anyone who reloads mil-crimp brass.