of the Reloading Process
steps involved in reloading a cartridge can be reduced to a few
basic operations. Additional operations may be required in some
instances, and omitted in others. These steps are presented in the
order they are usually performed. However, it should be understood
that this order may vary depending on the particular cartridge being
reloaded. Belling and expanding, for example, will occur at separate
points depending on whether the case is of straight-walled or bottle-necked
design. In bottle-necked cases, the expanding process is usually
accomplished in the same die, and in the same operation as resizing.
When the expanding or belling process is done to a straight-walled
case, it must be done after the case has been sized, often being
done concurrently with the powder charging. There are also steps
listed here which may not be used at all in some cartridges, such
as crimping. Crimping is not required in many instances, and should
be omitted unless it is absolutely necessary.
Steps Discussed in This Section Are:
Surface Defects Rim Condition
Small Base Resizing
Chamfering and Deburring
Final Inspection/Record Keeping
should be performed only in an area dedicated to this activity.
A work bench tucked away in an isolated corner is ideal. Wherever
the location, it must be free from distractions! Reloading requires
your full attention, from start to finish. Since propellant powders
and flammable solvents may be present, No Smoking signs
should be posted prominently. This is especially true if the area
is accessible by guests or other visitors who may not be knowledgeable
about the reloading process. The area must be kept clean and well
organized, as a sloppy work area invites trouble. We strongly recommend
that only those components being used for the operation being performed
be out on the bench at one time. Mistaken identification of components,
particularly of powder and bullet weights during the reloading process,
are a common cause of serious accidents. By carefully identifying
your components before you begin, and keeping only those components
out on the bench, this kind of trouble need never be experienced
inspection is a vital first step in the reloading process. Upon
being fired, a cartridge case is subjected to a tremendous amount
of stress. It swells violently out to the chamber walls for an instant,
before the natural resilience of the brass allows it to spring back
to dimensions that are now larger than its original unfired dimensions.
This causes work hardening, which can eventually lead to cracking
or splitting. Careful inspection will allow the timely retirement
of the brass before these catastrophic failures occur. Primer pockets
can be expanded and deformed. In addition, the cartridge undergoes
a series of events that may cause damage, unrelated to the actual
firing. The feeding cycle in an autoloader for example, either rifle
or handgun, can cause damage to cases. Extraction is yet another
violent phase in an autoloaders operation that can also damage rims
badly enough to retire the case. The following paragraphs will list
the primary areas that must be inspected, and what to look for.
necks, in either bottle-necked or straight-walled designs, are a
good place to begin the inspection process. Examine the case neck/mouth
area for any sign of cracking. Resizing bottle-necked cases works
the neck area somewhat more than the remainder of the case due to
of the expander ball. As a result, case necks are frequently the
first area of a
case to fail. Inspect the neck area between the case mouth and shoulder
for any signs of cracking or pinholing. If the cases are OK, this
is a good time to clean the necks with a case neck brush to remove
any carbon or powder residue. This will ease the passage of the
expander ball considerably, resulting in a more concentric resizing
operation. On straight-wall cases, an expander plug is used to bell
the case mouth just enough to allow seating of the bullet without
shaving or galling. This belling creates extra stress around the
case mouth. This is one of the most common areas of case failure,
usually appearing as cracks or splits extending down the side of
the case body. Inspect this area closely for any signs of failure,
and discard any cases that show cracking or splitting.
Case neck splits caused by an excessive number of reloadings.
While this type of loss can be reduced by minimizing the working
of the brass, this is natural attrition, and is a primary reason
for the retirement of cases.
A primer pocket uniformer is used to square the pockets and
cut them all to a uniform depth. This hand-held carbide cutter is
made by Whitetail Design and Engineering.
pockets should be inspected twice; first when the fired cases are
examined, and again after the case has been resized and decapped.
Although they will very rarely show any signs of overt failure,
the pocket should be monitored closely nonetheless. When inspecting
the fired case with the spent primer still in place, note the condition
of the fired primer. Is it badly flattened or cratered? Did it leak
any gas in the last firing? Check the small radius at the mouth
of the pocket for signs of leakage, which will appear as sooty smudge
on the case head. This may indicate a point at which the pocket
has allowed gas to escape, due to an excessively hot load or some
irregularity in the primer pocket. Regardless of the cause, once
such a leak has occurred the case is finished.
it, and throw it away. After the spent primer has been removed,
usually during the sizing operation, re-examine the primer pocket.
Inspect the web area, and the flash hole for any burrs or obstructions.
These can usually be easily removed, and the case returned to service.
A flash hole deburring tool, such as this one from Sinclair
International, serves to remove any burrs or irregular surfaces
around the flash hole. These burrs can affect proper ignition, which
in turn can reduce accuracy.
primer pocket condition is an ongoing operation, conducted at several
points along the reloading process. For example, when repriming
the case, pay particular attention to how easily the new primer
seats. If the primer seats too easily, the pocket has
probably been stretched or expanded,
rendering the case useless for further reloading. In extreme cases,
this may even result in a dangerous condition, allowing gas to escape
through the primer pocket and back into the action. Keep a critical
eye on the condition of this vital area of your brass, and destroy
and discard any which become suspect.
In operation, the cutter is inserted into the flash hole, where
a quick turn will remove any burrs left by the manufacturing process.
A serious pressure problem! This case has had its primer pocket
expanded badly enough to allow gas to escape back into the action,
posing a serious threat to the shooter. Always work up to maximum
loads slowly and carefully.
separations will appear as a crack around the circumference of the
case body, just slightlye ahead of the belt, extractor groove, or
rim, depending on the case type. This may appear as either an actual
crack through which powder leaked, or a bright ring indicating a
point at which the brass has thinned. During the resizing operation,
some marking of the brass by the die is inevitable, and is frequently
mistaken for partial head separation. Closely inspect the area approximately
1/8 to 1/2-inch ahead of the extractor groove, under a magnifying
glass if necessary, to determine whether these are marks from sizing
or are actually the faint cracking associated with a pending head
separation. Another useful method for checking incipient separation
is to use a sharpened paper clip. To do this, use a small file to
sharpen one end of a straightened paper clip. Bend the end to 90
degrees approximately 1/8-inch from the sharpened end. The paper
clip is then used as a feeler gauge to check the interior
case walls. Insert the bent end of the paper clip into the case
mouth, and drag the sharpened point along the interior case walls.
Any thinning or cracking can be readily felt as the point dips across
the damaged area.
extreme cases, the head may actually separate from the case body,
leaving the forward portion stuck tightly in the chamber. This is
an extremely serious and
potentially dangerous condition that may result in serious injury
or the destruction of a fine firearm. This is normally caused by
a condition related to headspace, or more accurately,
An incipient head separation, as seen from inside the case.
The damaged area can be seen as an indentation, or thinned ring
just ahead of the web.
may be defined as the measurement from the closed breech face to
the portion of the chamber that stops forward movement
of the cartridge when the action is fully closed. When a cartridge
having insufficient headspace is chambered, the action will be blocked
from fully closing. Conversely, when a condition of excessive headspace
exists, there will be some amount of linear play
of the cartridge within the chamber
when the action is closed. As a practical matter, some amount of
headspace must be present to assure reliable operation and chambering.
In most modern ammunition, this will be something on the order of
four to six thousandths (.004" to .006") of an inch.
manner in which this play is controlled is determined by case configuration.
On a bottle necked rimless cartridge like the .30-06, headspace
is measured from a point located midway down the shoulder called
the datum line. In other words, this is the point of
the cartridge that prevents it from going deeper into the chamber.
Rimmed cases, such as the .30-30 or .38 Special, are stopped by
the front face of the rim itself. As a result, their headspace dimension
will be approximately the same as the rim thickness. Belted cases
such as the 7mm Remington Magnum, are measured from the forward
face of the belt, exactly as if the belt was a miniature rim. On
straight wall rimless cases such as the .45 ACP, headspace is normally
controlled by the case mouth resting on a corresponding ledge within
problems associated with excessive headspace are manifested upon
firing. When a gun is fired, the blow of the firing pin or striker
drives the cartridge forward into the chamber until it stops against
some solid point.
will be the datum line in a rimless cartridge, the front of the
belt on a belted case, or the ledge formed by the case mouth in
a straight wall rimless cartridge. As pressure within the cartridge
builds, it forces the case outward against the chamber walls, gripping
them tightly. As the pressure continues to rise, the case will stretch
to fill the chamber, including the area between the head of the
case and the face of the bolt or breech face. The rear portion of
the case actually moves rearward a few thousandths of an inch, while
the forward portion adheres to the chamber walls. This results in
a thinned and weakened area where the case stretched, usually just
ahead of the belt, extractor groove, or rim, depending on case configuration.
As the pressure subsides, the natural resiliency of the brass causes
it to contract slightly, releasing its grip on the chamber wall
and allowing it to be easily extracted from the chamber. This entire
process takes place in a fraction of a second, but if the headspace
is excessive, the damage is already done.
We have a headspace problem! These three cases show partial
head separation, as either a crack or bright ring which appears
just ahead of the web. Handloaders can adjust their resizing dies
you can see, the true headspace is actually a combination of measurements
between the ammunition and the firearm. As such, it is entirely
possible to have headspace problems in a firearm that has correct
headspace, if the ammunition is improperly resized. It is also possible
to experience these same problems with ammunition having the proper
headspace dimensions, if the chamber of the firearm is out of specifications.
Headspace problems can frequently be corrected by proper die adjustment,
but any suspect ammunition or firearms should be checked by a competent
gunsmith. While the condition may be corrected or compensated for,
cases that have developed signs of incipient head separations must
be destroyed and scrapped at once.
problems in general and head separations in particular, are most
commonly associated with bottle-necked cartridges, but we have seen
examples of straight-walled pistol cases giving complete head separation.
Take the time to check your die adjustment, and closely monitor
the condition of your brass. In addition to checking cases carefully
after firing, we strongly recommend using case gauges when setting
up or adjusting dies.
defects include any and all defects on the exterior of the cartridge
case. These may range from slight scratches, to severe dents along
the case body, shoulder or neck. Small dings and scratches are inevitable
(especially when using semi-autos) and of no great consequence.
Smaller dents will be ironed out during the resizing operation and
small scratches (those too small to hang or catch a thumbnail on)
wont affect performance. Deep scratches may weaken the case,
and are sufficient cause to discard it. A quick visual observation
should be sufficient to segregate these, and any other potential
problem cases for evaluation on an individual basis. Those that
show signs of a potential problem should be destroyed immediately.
rims rarely present any kind of a safety problem, but damaged or
deformed rims can have a major effect on reliability. A quick check
for signs of peening, out-of-squareness, or burrs will usually turn
up anything which could develop into a trouble spot. A guns
tendency for rim problems is largely dependent on the type of firearm
being discussed. Revolvers are naturally very easy on case rims,
and will rarely create any problems. Autoloaders on the other hand,
be brutal on case rims. Rims can be damaged during the often violent
feeding cycle, and/or in the equally rough extraction phase. Due
to the incredibly high speeds of the bolt or slide of the typical
autoloader, fixed ejectors will often ding or peen the case rim
as it is ejected. This is especially true in intense loadings, which
operate the action in a more violent manner than do milder loads.
Difficulty experienced in inserting a case into a shell holder during
the reloading process is a good indicator that there is a rim problem.
A quick visual inspection is usually sufficient to locate problem
cases, which may then be discarded.