Monday, January 6, 2014

Reloading with nickel plates cases.....


(click on the photo to enlarge)

There is some question about nickel cases and premature cracking from multiple reloading. Does it happen? A resounding.... Yes. Is it a real problem? Maybe.

The .45acp cases pictured above are of several brands, and all were found to be cracked during examination while reloading. They are in a batch of roughly 500 well used casings of about the same vintage, and have all seen roughly the same loadings.

While the nickel cases in this batch are showing cracking about five times as often as the plain brass cases, it might be worth noting the wear on the cases. This brass has been reloaded in excess of twenty times..... and owes the shooter nothing. As can be seen, it's been through the process so many times the nickel plating is actually wearing off the cases.

I take away two points from this situation:

  • I will not hesitate to reload nickel cases when I have them, and have no fears of 'short' case life with nickel.
  • I will examine nickel cases a little closer during reloading, and reserve them for mild target loads where a missed crack may not be such an issue.
Why use nickel plated cases at all, if they have even this small flaw? There are several good reasons. Chief among them (for me anyway) is that I pick them up at the range and they are free. Secondly, they resist corrosion when used in a carry/hunting pistol, and won't turn your leather gun gear a slimy green with age. Thirdly, they feed nicely in an auto-loader since the nickel plating is rather slick. Lastly, they clean up in the polisher in minutes, rather than hours.

Nickel plated bottle neck rifle ammunition is another story, and can cause reloaders to have fits. The hard nickel coating resists sizing to a point, and the higher pressures involved promote cracking at a much higher rate. They can also be a pain to trim, and are hard on the tool heads.

That said, nickel plated rifle cases are a fair choice for hunting, as they feed very smoothly and won't corrode under even the nastiest conditions. They'll have a shorter reload life than brass cases, depending on reloading method and pressure of the loads, but five or six loadings out of a single rifle cases are still possible.

For nickel plate pistol brass... the photo above speaks to that. Yes, nickel cases will crack more often, but not enough to shy away from using them. All it takes is a little more close examination as they age.

Commenter Sigivald asks a good question, and one I should have thought of myself. Exactly why do nickel plated cases tend to crack more often?

I think it has to do with the nature of nickel and brass, and their being dissimilar metals. They expand and contract at different rates, and react to sizing in different ways. One metal is trying to expand .005", while the other is attempting to go .008". The stress and strain put in place can pull metal apart.

I have read that the internal stresses inherent in the nickel plating itself leaves it stressed at 50% of it's fracture point even while sitting at rest. Add in repeated firing expansions, pressure, resizing, expanding, and crimping.... and something is going to happen. Brass is much more forgiving.

After photographing some nickel plated cases showing flaws (example above) I noticed that some cases have cracks in only the nickel plating... and not the underlying brass. This would imply flaws in the plating process, and delamination of the metals. I have to think such a crack in the plating would quickly lead to a case cracked completely through the body.


Firehand said...

Doesn't just affect nickeled cases, but ran across something interesting a while back:
For lubing rifle cases I've been using something a guy suggested, mix Lee case lube with 90% rubbing alcohol in a spray bottle; makes it easy to treat a bunch of cases at once. Put them on a plastic sheet, spray, then 'bag' it and work them together, then spread out to dry.

While back had some cases really wanted to process but were still wet, so gave them a try; they slid through the sizing die beautifully, with less force needed on the lever. Including the nickeled cases(.30-06), if anything they took less force than the plain brass. Apparently the lube still being thinned by the alcohol is REALLY slippery.

Murphy's Law said...

Often I can get away without belling the case mouths on brass pistol cases if I use bullets that have even a bit of curve to the bases, but with nickel-plated, I always have to, because the nickel means that the brass won't just move out of the way of the bullet body like softer brass does.

Still, I use it for the same reason that you do--it's free.

Phil K said...

There is an additional reason for owning nickel plated brass that I experienced in recent times. That is when it is the only option available. My stash of .41 mag brass was at (all right, beyond) its reasonable expected lifetime. The only available hulls I could find were nickel plated Starline so I bought them.

Like Murphy, I had to learn there were some differences in loading them and managed to wreck a few cases before figuring them out. I also discovered that I couldn't use really hard primers in them as they wouldn't seat all the way, though that is not an issue with brass Starline.

Peter said...

I use nickle cases (that I paid for) for two things. I shoot in Cowboy Action matches and the nickle plated cases are easier to find with the lever action throws them to the ground and, naturally, for the cartridge belts. They are also great for loading for the Frontier Cartridge class as the nickle resists the black powder fouling.