Reloading - Looking After The Brass Cartridge Case
Having arrived at this stage of case preparation, there is one item remaining. Accuracy buffs weigh cases and discard those that are out of the range. The theory is simple enough. If a case has the same external dimensions and heavier weight, the internal volume must be less and hence pressure will be higher when fired. The difference in velocity will affect accuracy.
The author prefers to buy brass in bulk.
As an example, I picked a number of 220 Swift cases at random. They were weighed and averaged. A plus or minus 1% variation applied to all cases and less than 3% were discarded. This, in my opinion, is good quality control for standard commercial cases. Depending on the brand, the discard rate may be lower. One European brand had a zero rejection rate in relation to weight in one calibre.
It is all very well to prepare brass in this fashion but it is also necessary to keep it clean. There is an old saying in hydraulics that cleanliness is godliness and it can also apply to cartridge cases. A dirty case can affect your rifle’s chamber and your reloading dies.
In the days when it was legal to own self loading rifles I can recall several occasions when a Ruger Mini 14 jammed due to dirty ammunition and poor rifle cleaning practices. Of greater concern at the time was the live round stuck in the chamber.
There are many ways of cleaning cartridge cases; my personal preference is to use liquids. Several commercial cleaners are available, however I prefer to use the following. There are variations on the theme but is can be done quite cheaply. After cases are lubricated and run through the sizing die, rinse the cases in industrial thinners or acetone and then rinse at least twice in fresh water.
Dirty, clean and polished brass.
If cases are dirty, soak them in a solution of white vinegar and detergent (2 tablespoons of detergent to 1/2 litre of vinegar) overnight. Some make the solution hot and others add a teaspoon of common salt. Rinse again before the next phase.
To get some shine back on the cases soak them in a solution of fresh water and Cream of Tartar (1 tablespoon to 1/2 litre of water) for about four hours. Rinse at least twice in clean water and allow to air dry. Neither step is an every time item; just make sure that they are clean. It is important to note that there is a difference between clean and shiny brass.
If you want to shine your brass, another alternative is to tumble the cases using walnut shells as a polishing medium: a cheap and simple method.
The hardest part of the case to keep clean is the neck area that has powder and primer residue. This black accumulation is tough to remove, and the above steps are not always successful. To really clean up this area, my preferred method is to use a household cleaning cloth, with the addition of brake cleaner or carburetor cleaner. Hold the cloth between thumb and forefinger and rotate the neck. The cleaner should leave the neck squeaky clean and bright. The cloths are easily obtainable at your local supermarket, and may be washed when dirty. If this fails, perhaps you may have to resort to using very fine steel wool.
Some of the tools used in brass preparation.
You will note that what we have carried out are a series of small improvements to the basic case, history has shown that these small differences do have an effect on group size.
To the average hunter there are not of importance. To anyone who shoots at long range for whatever reason, they are, in my opinion, worthwhile steps. Aside from constantly checking the overall length and cleaning, the rest of the steps are one off items. Depending on the steps you decide to take, preparation of brass may be a time consuming lengthy process. Usually I tend to carry out this procedure during the months when shooting or hunting is slow.
In my opinion, keeping your brass in pristine condition is not difficult, and is time well spent.
Matthew Cameron is a retired Australian Airline Pilot who flew domestically within Australia and internationally out of Southeast Asia. Interested in long range varminting and pig shooting for many years, he reloads for a variety of calibres and has written articles on reloading and associated subjects since the early 1990’s, published in Australia, South Africa and New Zealand. In the last few years he has enjoyed bench rest shooting and gliding when not reloading or writing.
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