By now you should have sorted yourself out some kit for reloading. If not please look back over the previous articles and go do your shopping! This article will focus on the reloading procedure – how to be safe, efficient and end up with consistent ammunition.
Prepping your brass
We will imagine that we are all going to be using some previously fired brass. If you are opening up a nice box of new brass you can skip the cleaning and removal of old primers. You will also skip primer pocket cleaning.
For the most part shooters are using brass that has already been fired. Try to look after your brass at the range and place it straight back into a dry box when ejected. Believe me it will save you the time and tedium when it comes to cleaning. Why clean? If it were just down to cosmetics I absolutely would not bother. However cleaning actually serves a couple of important functions. Sooty deposits can build up around the necks, flash holes and primer pockets. It is nessecary for those areas to be consistent. A partially blocked flash hole may have an effect on ignition of propellant and effect your trajectory. Although these effects are pretty small you may have multiple effects going on if your brass is filthy. This could mean your shot is several inches off at extended range. The second concern I have with dirty brass is that you are about to put said brass into a press under great loads. That soot will produce deformity in the sizing and some will get rubbed off onto the sizing die. After a while that will produce inconsistencies as well and before you know it you have kit and ammunition that is unreliable….and it will take severe elbow grease to get it all back to clean again.
There a lots of ways to clean brass. Some people use specially built tumblers which clean via friction. Others put theirs through the dishwasher! I do each case by hand with an old rag and either coconut oil or froglube solvent. The bottom line is if it cleans the brass well then great.. Remember to dry it out properly if you use liquids.
The next job is to size the brass and push the old used primers out.
Measuring your brass accurately is vital.
Every time you fire your rifle the brass is under high pressure. It changes shape. The body of the brass will expand to your chamber size. The necks expand beyond a workable size (they will no longer grip the bullet). The sizing die and press reform the brass into the correct dimensions. I use a neck sizing die while others resize the whole body. If I were making rounds to be used in a variety of rifles I would go for a full body die. If you are going to use the rounds in a specific rifle it makes sense to leave the body fire formed to your exact chambre size. Less hassle and possibly gives a little accuracy improvement. The main thing to worry about before you use the die is to lube the brass. Because the tolerances are fine you must be sure to lube all brass that comes into contact with the die you are using without using to much. Big blobs of lube can cause deformitys when you press the brass into the die. I neck size with a Redding Comp S series neck die. I only need to lube the outside of the necks. Fullbody dies may require the whole case to be lubed including inside the necks. I wipe all lube off with an old rag which leaves a fine coating on the brass.. Just enough to stop it getting stuck in the die.
My press with a Lee die.
Presses and dies may differ slightly but generally follow basic principles. You screw the die onto the press with the arm in the down position and the brass holder raised. The die will bump the brass holder as you screw it down. Most dies then require a quarter turn anti clockwise to ensure you do not bash the die onto the brass holder under operation. Please read and follow the instructions supplied with your press and dies because they may be specific to your chosen gear. The sizing die will usually include a decapping pin. As the press is operated the pin will push the used primer out. Many presses inlude a system to catch the old primers. The decapping pin often requires length adjustment to ensure it presses the primers out fully. This is usually just a matter of turning a knob or screw but again I urge you to read your manuals first.
Once the brass is clean and lubed and the press is ready you can begin to run it through. Simply place a piece of used brass into the holder and operate the press slowly but firmly. Ensure the primers are being popped out. If you are using brand new brass just follow the same procedure but obviously no primers will pop out.. Check each piece as you go by feel and visually. You will be able to feel consistency as you work the press. You will find the odd piece of brass will feel unusual as you press it. These are the ones you should seriously inspect for possible flaws and differences. I usually run through 50 at a time because any more can feel tedious. Avoiding tedium is important because you need to remain focused on the task at hand.
Now you have your cleaned and sized brass you should buff any lube off it with a rag. Pay particular attention to lube in the case necks. You must remove any lube as it may dampen powder and cause malfunction later down the line (a click instead of a bang). Cleaning the inside of the necks is fiddly and annoying. That is the main reason I use the Redding comp S dies. They neck size with a bushing which does not expand the neck from within like some other popular dies. The bushing are made with a Ti coating which is supposed to be lubeless. I still use a tiny bit as It feels smoother when operating the press. After the cleaning you will want to clean out the primer pockets. A lot of particles build up there and it is important the new primer fits flush in the pocket. If you use a tumbler or sonic cleaner you may find that it cleans out the pockets nicely. I have also heard people cursing them because they do a poor job. So far I have not used one but I will get around to it soon. I use a primer pocket cleaning tool. It is just a double ended scraper which is rotated in the pocket to remove the deposits. One end for small rifle and one end for large.
Primer pocket cleaner.
Now is the time I would measure my brass to see if it within a safe margin in terms of length. The heat and pressure when the gun is fired softens and moves the brass monentarily. The brass only has one way to move (forwards) once it has expanded to your rifles chamber. Each calibre will have a specific list of dimensions which should be adhered to. You will find them in the reloading manuals. Make sure your case length is within the max stated. Failure to do this could result in a serious malfunction leading to possible injury (over pressure causes the rifle to break or send bits of broken metal hurtling around, not good). If your cases exceed max length which they will after x ammount of firing then they must be trimmed. I use a Lyman case trimmer which is a little like a mini lathe. The case rotates against cutting blades which adjust to precise tolerances. I can then trim all brass to a consistent and safe length. Trimming leaves a ragged edge so I use a chamfer tool to smooth it back nicely. Just a couple of turns in the neck does the trick.
The tool I use to clean up the necks after trimming. Simple and effective.
The only other thing I do with brass is check all the flash holes. They can get build ups of residue which lead to inconsistency. Effecting the burn rate at ignition can cause drops in velocity and thus trajectory is altered. I use a flash hole cleaning tool from Lyman which does a good job of returning holes to the correct and consistent size.
I always mention it and I realise you guys may be thinking *yawn* but it really is the key to shooting. Consistency of position, breathing, kit, rifle, ammunition, trigger pull.. You get the idea. When you prep brass always bear consistency in mind. If a component is visibly damaged bin it. Even if a component feels different from the others as you work on it then you should at least set it aside with any other rogue rounds and use them for fouling shots or plinking ammo. Make sure the rounds you plan to use in a comp are from your consistent batch. You should also be sure to keep your brass in batches and keep track of how many times each batch has been fired. Do not be tempted to just throw it all together if you want to hit consecutive V bulls at 1000yds.
That is all for now.. Next article in the series will look at priming your brass, measuring powder and seating bullets..