Friday, February 15, 2013

Reloading Wolf steel cases.....

Well..... THIS should be interesting.....

In the process of working my way through my Mound-O-.45 brass, I stumbled on a few Wolf steel empties that somehow made it through my sort process.  Hey.... we all make mistakes... and that's why I have a quite a few 'quality control procedures' built into the reloading methods I use.  Part of that is examining each case at several points, before, during, and after loading. It was at one of these checks I discovered a couple Wolf cases hiding amongst the thousands of pieces of .45 brass.

Setting them aside, I continued with reloading.... but there they sat... challenging me to think about them.

The Wolf Brand .45 acp is part of their 'Poly Performance' line, and the steel cases are coated with a polymer.... not lacquer as is commonly believed.   Problems involving the steel cased ammo are usually discovered to be caused by small amounts of blow by on firing.  The steel case does not expand as far or as easily (Obdurate) as brass does, and is less effective at sealing the chamber.  Not in any dangerous way, but enough to allow small amounts of the combustion gasses to blow back between the case and the chamber wall, leaving some carbon deposits.

Normally, this would not be an issue.  On the other hand, using steel cased ammo in a firearm with a precise and tight chamber may be problematic, especially when shooting steel cased ammo is followed up by shooting brass, without a good cleaning in between.  The carbon buildup in the chamber can cause the softer brass cases to stick, sometimes badly.

All that aside, lets travel back to those Wolf .45 acp cases mocking me from the reloading bench.  Exactly WHY should I not reload those cases?

First to mind, Berdan Vs. Boxer priming... as much of the steel cased rifle ammo I've seen is Berdan primed.  Examining the Wolf pistol case, I found it be Boxer primed.  

Second to mind, after seeing the Boxer primer in place, was questioning the size of the primer pocket.  Would a standard large pistol primer fit the pocket.  Towards that question, a few of the cases were deprimed and then put to the measure. It turns out the Wolf primer pocket matches US commercial cases to less than a thousandth in dimensions.  Scratch that as an issue then.

How about the polymer coating?  The cases I was looking at had been fired, scrounged from the ground with other range brass, and been through hours of vibratory polishing along with all the other fired cases.  Despite all that, it appeared the polymer coating was still intact both inside and out. 

How about sizing in the carbide RCBS die?  Only one way to tell with that... try it.

At this point, Carteach decided to just 'Bite the bullet' and load those Wolf cases just like any brass empty being recycled.

A few points noticed during the process......
  • The Wolf cases sized easily.  Very easily.  I suspect they do not stretch far on firing, and rebound to almost their original size, unlike brass cases.
  • Seating primers in the Wolf case required firm pressure, but it was quite smooth and definite. There was a good feel to the process, and the primers seated perfectly flush and normal appearing.
  • Case mouth expanding.... happened, but certainly not the extent a brass case would with the same die setting.  The steel case springs back, as might be expected.
  • Bullet seating... felt exactly the same as with a brass case.
  • Taper crimping... left the loading round looking for all the world like a factory fresh Wolf round straight from the box.
The fully reloaded Wolf cases processed well, and reloaded easily without incident.  All that remains is test firing.   I propose to make a range visit soon, and search the ground for more Wolf cases to experiment with.  I'd like to make some measurements pre and post sizing, and compare the reloaded Wolf ammo to factory fresh Wolf ammo.

As always, The Fat Man will report out here on the results, good or bad.   What are your predictions as to outcome?


ZerCool said...

My prediction? That they will go "bang" just fine, and probably be good for a few reloading cycles before seeing case mouth splits. I'm betting on not quite as many cycles as brass, but I could be wrong.

Hartley said...

I've reloaded those, and also some 1950's US military steel 45s - and they seem to work fine. I haven't kept them in the cycle because I have plenty of brass, but I don't see why they wouldn't work. For some reason, Wolf (and Tula) steel-case 45 ACP is Boxer primed, unlike everything else I've seen, which was Berdan.
That "Poly" coating isn't very good at preventing rust, btw (AFAIK, the only reason to coat steel-case ammo) - MUCH worse than lacquer or zinc.

Anonymous said...

This is great! I've set aside the steel (and aluminum CCI cases) wondering how it would work. Yes, I have plenty of brass, but It's nice to know what is possible.


AZRon said...

I did the same thing several years ago. The cases would run fine through my RCBS carbide die, although I would lightly lube every 4th or 5th case.

In .45 ACP, I almost always load a 200gr CSWC over a medium charge of Bullseye or Unique.

I never had a problem until after the third loading, when split cases started turning up. I'll assume that the steel cases "work harden" quicker than brass.

If you're intent on loading steel, I'd suggest keeping a close eye on separating cases into "times loaded" groups.

Anonymous said...

Did you mean to say, "The steel case does NOT expand as far or as easily"?
I predict that they work just fine at least for three or so reloadings like AZRon said. If you had way too much time on your hands, you could check to see if annealing the cases before reloading extended the number of trips you made.

Carteach said...

Good catch Roscoe.