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Metallic Reloading 101 - Part 1: Brass

By Craig Maylam

Reloading ammunition is a topic that comes up from time to time with various articles on facets of reloading. In the next few articles I will show how easy it is to create good, safe and accurate ammunition from start to stop.



There are plenty of good books on reloading, but in this app and computer driven world book sales to the masses appear at least to me to be wavering. A shelf of reference books, even if they’re just powder/bullet catalogues (which are sometimes free) are an invaluable source of information and load data. Remember that load data off forums are opinions only, and may be unsafe for your application.


Bullet charts and catalogues are free from most manufacturers, but comprehensive reloading manuals are not. Make the investment though, a good manual contains a wealth of useful info.



I often get asked the question, why do I bother to reload? When I am part way through a big batch of .223 ammo I repeatedly ask myself the same question! Factory ammunition can be unbelievably accurate and the combinations of projectiles for each cartridge available are comprehensive.


However there is always an omission of some kind in the type or weight of projectile a hunter or shooter may desire. Not many factories will load subsonic centrefire ammunition for example, and to the best of my knowledge no centrefire bench rest match has ever been won with factory ammunition.


Craig hasn’t used his Sako .270 for a few years, so now’s the time to develop a new load for it.


Also, the sheer volume of ammunition some pistol shooters get through would break anybody’s bank. Finally, those of us who shoot rare, obsolete or wildcat cartridges all need to reload so we can keep shooting. So our justification to reload can be broken down into several broad categories: a need for specific components, accuracy, necessity and finally, cost.


I have a couple of mates who just plain like rolling their own ammo - I guess they are in a category all of their own! I fall into most of the above categories: I enjoy loading wildcat, I enjoy the cost savings and the ability to shoot some obsolete calibres without needing to be on the hunt for ammo constantly.


The final point for me is the satisfaction of knowing I hand-crafted the ammunition that just took that particular shot.



The first thing you need are cartridge cases to reload. The number of cases depends upon what you intend to do. If you are going rabbiting in Central Otago you might need 500 cases, but if you’re a once a year deer hunter then 50 cases will just about last you a lifetime.


The cheapest way to get these empty cases is to pick them up after you’ve fired off a bunch of factory ammunition in your own rifle, alternativley you can buy new, quality unfired cases from your gunshop.



There are good cases to have and bad cases. Cases are commonly made from either steel or brass. The brass cases can be nickel plated or just plain brass coloured. Steel cases can be silver coloured, or covered with a brown, shiny lacquered finish.


Boxer primed brass cases are the best, other types of cases (typically Berdan primed ex-military) can be reloaded but they require special techniques that I will not cover in detail.

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A Boxer primed case on the left with its single flash hole, and beside it a Berdan primed ex-military case with twin holes.


It is easy to pick new boxer primed cases as they have a single hole punched or drilled though the centre of the primer pocket into the inside of the case. This flash hole is where the spark from the primer enters to ignite the powder charge. Berdan primed cases have two holes in the bottom of the case.


Boxer primed cases are far easier to deal with because you remove the primer by pushing it out using a small pin or rod mounted in the reloading die - a very simple operation. Berdan cases are much more difficult to reload because the primer has to be removed either by picking it out with a special tool, or by employing a hydraulic depriming tool.


“...those of us who shoot rare, obsolete or wildcat cartridges all need to reload so we can keep shootinging”


Good Boxer primed cases can be sourced from anywhere, but ideally they should be of the same brand and head stamped with the same calibre as the rifle you reload them for. New, unfired cases are available from all the big ammunition companies and although they are not cheap they represent good value.


They’re a long term investment because they will last for many reloadings before the metal stretches (or is stressed) too much and they have to be discarded.


A pair of steel cases on the left (one silver or nickel plated), and two brass cases on the right (one similarly plated).



If you shoot a military calibre like .223 or .308 then you may be able to buy once-fired cases. These can be good value for money but generally military cases have a smaller internal volume than civilian cases, because the brass walls are slightly thicker.


The downside to this lower volume is that your powder gases have less room to expand into, and therefore your load will run at a higher pressure than a civilian case with the same powder/projectile combination.


A bunch of once-fired .223 cases ready for a good clean up and inspection.



Some once-fired cases may have come from an army exercise; if they have been fired in a machine-gun the cases may have some significant damage to them. Cases like this do not represent good value unless they are very cheap because there will be a high cull rate.


Military cases also have a primer pocket crimp which will have to be removed before you fit your new primer. The pocket crimps can easily be swaged out with a swaging tool, or you can use your deburring tool and then scrape a leade in with a sharp knife.



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There are many brands of cases available. All will produce safe ammunition but some cases are built to closer tolerances and of better quality metal. This said, if you can only find one brand of case in the calibre you want to reload then it will be fine.


If you are fussy, cases can be sorted by weight and they can also be measured externally to provide a better, more accurate load. Generally the more you spend on brass the better the quality will be. Using a designated tool to uniform the depth of all the primer pockets, irrespective of brand, is always a sound foundation for a good load.


“If you are fussy, cases can be sorted by weight and they can also be measured externally to provide a better, more accurate load.”


Trade Me and various auction sites can also be a good source of empty cases, but be sure to ask how many times they have have been fired.


When we get further on in this series of articles we will discuss the benefits of having cases that are identical and from the same lot or manufacturing batch.



To reload good quality ammunition you require clean, good quality brass. The first stage before any loading can start is to inspect your brass. First check that all the cases are correct for the calibre you intend to reload. This can be difficult sometimes, especially with ex-military cases because the headstamps may be hard to read.


The thin-walled cases don’t last for ever - once they’re split, corroded, or badly dented they should be discarded.


Discard any cases with splits or cracks in them and make sure you don’t have any cases with Berdan primers mixed in with the Boxer primed cases. Green staining on the outside of the cases, dirt, mud, fluff, small leaves or moisture inside will all require attention before loading.


A batch of really dirty cases can be washed in hot water with some detergent, but afterwards they must be thoroughly rinsed in cold water to remove all traces of the detergent.



The cases can be dried in several ways, in the summer just spread them out on an old towel in the sun for as long as it takes. They can be dried in the kitchen oven but make sure the temperature is kept around 105 degrees Celsius, as more temperature than this will affect the temper of the brass around the critical case head.


The last way is to put the cases on a tray in the freezer! This will dry them and it works really well, although it’s the slowest of all the methods. You should have a batch of nice, bright, clean cases before we move on.


The next stages in the loading process are lubing, resizing and priming which we will cover in the next article.




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