Mid-Winter Blues Busters for Reloaders

Written by Sierra Bullets Ballistic Technician Rich Machholz

The joyous and festive days of the holiday season are behind us for another year and we are back in our normal routine once again for our work lives.  But what about those long winter nights?

Were I to use this time to my best advantage I’d start dragging out my brass from last season in a best case scenario.

The first thing I’d do is sort it by headstamp.  If I knew the number of times the brass had been fired I’d segregate it by times fired also.

If not, I’d move on to cleaning my brass.

Cleaning can be done many different ways.  The vibratory method is probably the most popular and is a very convenient way of getting your cases ready to load.  The various ultra-sonic methods all seem to get a relative clean case but not all get a clean primer pocket.  You do get a clean inside and out however if that is important to you.  It seems to me that the cleaning agent used has at least some bearing on the final result as does the number of cases.  This method also dictates that you have access to a sink and running water for rinsing.  Something we don’t all have plus you have to wait for the cases to dry so the cases aren’t immediately available.  Also, if you are expecting the cases to come out polished and shiny you’re in for a disappointment, they will be rather dull.  I tumble or vibrate mine after resizing which polishes them and removes the case lube. Then there is the Stainless Steel polishing media which is a wet application using liquid soap, lemon juice and water.  It is very effective and yields a very clean case.  New media really doesn’t give a bright polished appearance but it is clean.  Again a tumble or vibratory treatment with nut shell will restore the shine.

Various case spinning methods can turn the outside cartridge surfaces into jewelry quality but do nothing for the interior of the case and you still have to clean the primer pockets.  This method can be very useful but there is really only one polish to use and that is Flitz Metal Polish.  Steel wool works and so does Brasso and Mothers and … well the list goes on but Flitz sets the standard.

Now that we have clean and hopefully shiny cases they need to be carefully inspected for flaws, cracks and major dents.  Be sure to inspect the primer pockets for cleanliness and obstructions.

Throw out the junk.  To keep it may sound thrifty but it will cost you in the end.  Ruptured or stuck cases, face full of gas or just poor accuracy can result, in short nothing good comes out of a bad case.

Since this is the “off season” and we have time, all usable cases should be weighed.  The purpose of this may not to be to match them up by weight per se but to find any that are way out of the norm.

So the hunting loads for my 30-30 are sorted by manufacturer and sample checked for weight.  The way heavy and way light cases are removed but the remainder are ultimately usable.  This is a short range hunting rifle and is not subjected to max level loads so any case prep beyond this is over kill.

My longer range cartridge brass is not only segregated by manufacturer but also weight sorted.  This can be done several ways but a good way is to weigh 20 to get an average case weight.  Weigh the rest and keep all cases that fall within plus or minus of 1% of that average.  The heavy ones can be used for dummies and gauges and the light ones for replacement cases to the working batch should you lose one or two.

My competition brass is all weight matched.  If they are all the same weight that is great so long as I have enough to complete a full match with sighters.  I MIGHT allow a couple of 10ths one way or another if I am short a few cases especially if this is for one of my 600 yard guns.  The 1000 yard cases will all weigh the same.

The next step for competition brass especially is to uniform the primer pockets.  There are many tools to use for this but I have been using a set of Whitetails for years.  The object is to have them all be the same depth with square bottoms.  Following this operation the flash holes need to be uniformed.  Again there is a multitude of tools for this but I use a 4 inch #2 center drill with a .080” drill diameter.  Granted it doesn’t say Sinclair on it but it works for me.  This is a onetime operation and is good to perform on your hunting ammo if you like.

All cases need to be trimmed to length, even the 30-30.  Otherwise the cases vary in length and the crimps will vary even more!  By starting the year of with good even brass I’ll feel better whether I shoot better or not.

After trimming, chamfer and deburring are required.  The standard deburr/chamfer tools are entirely adequate for all but the most demanding shooting.  I like the tubing deburring style deburring tools but the common 3 legged tool on the end of the regular chamfer tool is very serviceable.

I have found that one chamfer tool stands out above all others for competition case prep and that is the K&M.  It has a built-in stop which makes it unique and it is of the VLD style with a very long cut.

There is another VLD style chamfer tool, the Lyman and it works very well.  Holland has one and I’m sure there are others also.

My next step will be bullets.  Now don’t jump out of your chair and holler at me through the computer.  I don’t sort my hunting bullets.  Sierra bullets don’t need to be sorted, especially hunting bullets.

I will admit to sorting my 1000 yard bullets sometimes however.  I sort them from ogive to base using a comparator but I don’t weigh them.  I started with the Davidson tools attached to my calipers which worked very well.  Then Mark King introduced me to the JB Ogive Checker which I like very much.  Darrell Holland has a good tool that is horizontal rather than vertical like the JB and we use it here at Sierra.  Forster makes a very handy tool that not only checks bullets but sized case datum comparisons.

When sorting bullets you aren’t throwing any away but you are grouping them by ogive to base dimension.  There is no value to this for anything other than long range target shooting.  In that scenario bullets of like dimension will group together and eliminate vertical dispersion induced by the varying BC of dissimilar bullets.  Some shooters sort to the thousandths, others two thousandths but all the top shooters sort.  That being said I do know a couple of nationally recognized top tier shooters that found some Sierra long range bullets that had only two thousandths variation over a 1000 or so bullet sort.  They quit sorting but we still check each box of each lot just to be sure.

So that is how I’ll be spending those dark, cold winter nights.  Providing I can get spousal permission of course.

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7 Responses to Mid-Winter Blues Busters for Reloaders

  1. Pingback: Mid-Winter Blues Busters for Reloaders | Rifleman III Journal

  2. Mark says:

    Great Tips and Suggestions!

    Do you recommend tumbling/cleaning the brass prior to re-sizing (in order to prevent the die from getting dirty)?


    • Rich Machholz is out of the office this week at the SHOT Show. Ballistic Technician Duane Siercks recommends “I would always tumble cases before resizing for that reason alone. Clean brass and clean dies!”


  3. Jasper says:

    For myself it depends on which type of shooting I will be doing and how dirty the brass is.
    If it is range brass pickups, then I most often wash it first, then tumble it and then de-prime it, ( i use a dedicated de-priming die for this) then size it. Otherwise most of my brass is clean enough with just a wipe for those that might be dirty, to resize and then go from there.
    I use mostly carbide dies, they are not as sensitive to “dirt”. On my older non-carbide dies, I always make certain they are absolutely clean before the brass sees the die. Some are over 40 years old and still in great shape. 🙂


  4. David Ruppel says:

    Funny you should write about this at this time, because I am in the middle of doing just what you are writing about. Well the inspecting, trimming, deburing, and primer pocket cleaning, part anyway. This is the only part about reloading I don’t care for. But it has to be done to have good shooting accurate hand loads. I wish there was a faster way to do it but really there isn’t. Just one off those tasks that has to be done! I just glad I’m half way done and I can get on with the fun parts of hand loading. Glad it is nasty outside so I have no reason to put it off any longer! I will have it all done and ready to shoot threw my new AR15 build which will be finished the end of Feb. NOW THAT will be worth this boring part of reloading.
    Have fun everyone, Brass prep, “the job you love to hate!”


  5. I’ve been using my own stainless steel media since the 1970’s, but there were a lot of experiments I did to get what I wanted. First is the lube you use and that is RCBS lube 2 it is the only one that is sufficiently water soluble to work as needed, don’t use anything else. Second get a rubber drum from Loitone rock tumbler about a gallon and a half size these last forever. Do all the sizing first and you’ll need not less than 5 pounds of SS media mine is .8 X 3 mm longer and smaller is ok . I use Ivory liquid dish washing detergent for 8 hrs in hot water and sometimes add one small cap of apple cider vinegar even though I’m not sure that really helps that much. Fill the drum to at least 90% full of water. DO NOT allow the cases to stay in the solution any time as the dirt will start sticking back on the cases as the surfactant in the detergent only works when in motion. I have a deep fry basket in half a 5 gallon container already full of water in the sink before I turn the tumbler off and dump the contents into the wire basket. At this point I uses a hand motion that ends up allowing the media to fall clear of the cases , THIS only works while the cases are under water or surface tension sticks the media to the cases. Then once they have all been rinsed I put them on a towel and tap the case mouths down on the towel which get most of the water out . I have MTM case loading trays that I have drilled 1/4 in holes in the middle and set the cases in for rapid air drying. In the summer as it is here in NZ , sorry about your winter there but my cases are dry in 4 hours on the dashboard of the car out in the sun and ready for afternoon loading th next day. Take care that in some places drying make take longer and when using pistoil cases I use the wire basket on the dash board to dry.
    Mitchell Maxberry


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