Friday, July 11, 2008

Rifle case preparation for reloading, Part 1 of 3

Hand loaders have so many choices. They can decide to do the minimal amount of work needed to arrive at blasting ammunition, or they can take extreme care in loading match level precision works of art. In any case there will be some level of case prep involved.

This series of articles will focus on various techniques of case preparation for hand loaders.

Hand loaders are particular people, and many are quite opinionated. It seems to go with the breed. While I am presenting methods that I choose to use, I am sure others can and will chime in with their own special techniques. Listen very carefully, and then decide what makes the most sense for you. There is seldom a path of failure involved when following the published directions in major reloading manuals, and I personally recommend giving them serious consideration.

This series will follow as some cases are prepped to join their brothers as a set to be used for Hi Power match shooting. In this case, 8x57mm to be fired in the Grand Old Turk model 38 shot regularly in the matches. This rifle shoots decently with Mil-Surp ammunition, but responds spectacularly to carefully hand loaded ammunition matched to the rifle.

Some 50 cases have already been prepped by the methods presented, and another 50 or so will be done here. That should give a little over 100 matched cases. That’s enough to shoot a match and practice as well.

Here is an example of the end product we are attempting to reach:


It might be a surprise to find out these are military cases made in 1944! Despite their age they are fine shooters with the load built for this rifle.

The realm of the hand loader is ripe with gadgets. Tools to do this, tools to do that, and certainly tools to do some other things as well. In each case, the best value seems to be in quality tools, but money can be saved with some common sense choices and adaptations. This idea will be no strange idea to Mil-Surp shooters and hand loaders.


A simple tool that is indispensable will be a ‘loading block’. This is nothing more than a wood or plastic tray with holes to stand cases in. I own both, in many forms. The simplest (and my favorite) is a set of hardwood blocks. Frankly, it needs be no fancy than a chunk of 2”x12”x12” pine board with fifty .5” holes drilled one inch deep.


I chose to, and believe it makes sense to, clean my cases for a short time before going forward with the preparation process. These cases are going to be sized in precision dies, and must be carefully examined. In both instances clean cases work better. Clean brass will also cause less wear in our expensive dies.

The generic vibratory polisher does a fine job, although there are countless ways to clean brass. Tumblers, liquid baths, dishwashers, clothes washing machines..... Hand loaders tend to be resourceful people when it comes to their hobby!


The polisher on the right is running with a load of crushed walnut and about one hundred rifle cases. To my plain crushed walnut I add a few tablespoons of ‘Rain Dance’ liquid car wax as a cleaning and polishing agent. Other commercial polishing media are available, but I find the simple crushed walnut sold as lizard bedding in pet stores does a great job at half the cost of name brand polishing media.

The polisher on the left..... well...... that one is set up with fine steel shot and powdered graphite, and I use it to impregnate bullets with a graphite coating. As said...... hand loaders tend to be inventive tinkerers.

While there are some really neat looking case/media separators sold by reloading suppliers, once again I choose another road. In this case a simple two dollar plastic strainer does a great job. Shaken out over a two dollar plastic dish pan, it does the job in minutes with little stress, and makes fun jingling sounds too!


Once cleaned a short time, in this case about thirty minutes, we have a nice pile of brass to work with.


The first step of our preparation process is to size the cases. If they have been fired in the intended rifle already, then simple neck sizing might be the choice. Since these fired cases were not shot in my rifle, they needed to be full length sized. Not just the necks, but the bodies of the case as well. This calls for a full length sizing die set, and as always quality can’t be skipped in some places. Loading dies is one of those areas. The precision machining required in quality dies cannot be done cheaply.


RCBS makes products generally accepted as top of the line. Their quality is usually exceptional and their guarantee is beyond reproach. The company has replaced parts for me that were damaged by misuse on my part, each time cheerfully, and at no charge.

Now, to full length size brass cases, they must be lubricated. Failing to do so will cause need for another fun tool known as the ‘stuck case remover’. I will confess I own one of these and have had to use it many times. I’m not proud of that, but it speaks volumes that RCBS knows reloading and reloaders so well that they make this product and carry it in their line.

When it comes to case lubes, I have at least four pads and five different kinds of special lube. Do you think I would use any of these? Of course not! Instead I act from shear laziness and cheapness, using a ‘special’ lube procured from the special reloading suppliers handily located within my local grocery store.

I use spray cooking oil...............


Just a few spritzes will do nicely, and a new user will surely spray too much. Just a dab will do, swirling the cases around a bit to spread the oil. Too much lube will cause issues and possible case damage, not enough causing stuck cases. Just a tiny bit........ That’s it!


Since full length sizing was the goal, the die was screwed right down till it nearly touched the shell holder. This insured the cases will function without too much trouble in the tight chamber of the Grand Old Turk mauser.


The result, as illustrated by the case on the top of this photo, is a neck sized about 90% and a base sized only as much as needed without overworking the brass.


As the cases are sized, they are dropped back into the strainer for another easy but necessary step. The excess oil must be wiped from the cases. Once again, laziness provides an easy way to do this job. A clean rag swished around and through the cases gets the bulk of the spare oil off the cases, and ready for the next step.


Now that the cases are sized and wiped down, they must be examined. Each case is held under strong light while searching for any flaw at all. Deformed cases, bad necks, incipient cracks, set back shoulders, corrosion, rim issues, off center flash holes, etc.

As each case is passed through examination, it can now be racked in the loading block.

Make a habit of using the block as a tool to control processes, moving cases from one side of the block to the other as each step is performed.


The sized cases are now ready for their final polish before moving on with the case prep.

While there is much left to be done, none involves lube and of course hands will be clean each step of the way. That being the situation, back to the polisher they go!

My habit is to let the polisher run overnight on a final polish with cases I really care about. Again, they are jingled around the strainer to separate the media, then racked back into the loading block. Shiny brass is a lovely sight!


Some reloaders would stop their case prep right here. Once all the additional steps are done, stopping here in case prep is not a bad thing. On the other hand, the steps to follow are important to accuracy and I seldom pass on them unless the cases have already been fully prepped. Many of these steps are only done once to the case, or seldom done, so the extra time taken here is an investment in accuracy that almost always pays off in a big way.

What follows? LOTS! Tune in again for the good stuff..............................


Peter said...

What media do you use for the final, overnight polish? Same crushed walnut shells? Any more liquid car wax?

Carteach0 said...

Now I'm using plastic pellets made for lapidary tumbling, with a spritz of Ballistol. Only an hour, and very nicely done.

Peter said...

ah, no more waiting all night, then? nice.


Conant said...

Do you discard the media after each load?

Carteach0 said...


No, I use it till it won't clean anymore. Just now I am using a plastic pellet media made for lapidaries. It's quite possible usable forever... so far I am dozens of runs into the bowl full and it works like a charm every time.

I'll have to restart my experiment though, as last weekend the vibratory polisher walked itself off the rubber mat and dumped the whole load on the floor. Made a heck of a mess, but the cases were clean!

Anonymous said...

Just came upon your site while working up loads for my Enfield No. 4 Mk I. A great site, lots of welcome tips.

Was wondering...can you tell me about where you get these plastic beads for tumbler you spoke of? What size to pick? You always use Ballistol as additive? It works better than corncob or walnut? What is longevity of beads' cleaning properties? know, where does all the dirt and grit go if the beads are abrasive but not absorbtive?