Written by Sierra Bullets Ballistic Technician Duane Siercks
Once again I have a few cases that were brought in that have some issues. Careful case examination is one of the most important safety aspects of the reloading process. I try to bring this to light in these articles by helping to bring an understanding of the cause of some of the things we see on the cases. So read along and hopefully some light can be shed on something that will benefit you.
Click here to read Part I – Reloading 101: Case Diagnostics
1. Here we have a Lake City 7.62×51 (.308 Win.) case with two heavy marks/dents in the case body.
This one may be a bit of a mystery. It appears as if this case may have been caught in the action of a semi-auto rifle when the firearm jammed or the case failed to clear during the cycling process. I probably would not reload this case just to prevent any feeding problems. This also appeared to be a factory loaded round and I don’t really see any pressure issues or damage to the case.
2. This is a R-P .308 Winchester case with apparent problems from excess pressure.
If you will notice in the picture of the case rim, there are two pressure signs to notice. First, look at the primer. It is basically flattened to about the max of what could be considered safe. If this was the only pressure sign noted, I would probably be fine with this load, but would constantly keep an eye on it especially if I was going to use this load in warmer temperatures. This load could easily cross into the “excess pressure” realm very quickly. But, there is another sign of pressure that we cannot ignore. If you will notice, there is an ejector mark apparent that is located over the “R” of the R-P headstamp. This absolutely tells us that this load would not have been in the safe pressure range. If there were any of these rounds loaded, they should not be fired and should be dis-assembled. This case should not be reloaded. If you did reload you might experience a loose primer pocket due to the excess pressure this case has been subjected to and you could have a hard time discerning whether the next load ever produced another ejector mark or not. There were two marks on the case that I wasn’t sure about. They were located on the body of the case right below the shoulder and then directly above that on the neck of the case. It could possibly have happened when the case was extracted and it hit something on the bench or the ground surrounding. Whatever happened, it appeared to have been caused by a fairly sharp object.
3. Looking at this Lake City 5.56 case initially it would appear that there is nothing going on.
But…. upon very careful observation, two things become obvious. First, the primer is about as flat as it needs to be. I wouldn’t have called “foul” on this alone, but I would not want to really see anymore pressure either. There was a very faint mark on the primer that may have been caused by foreign material being between the round and the bolt-face when the round was fired. This would not be of any real concern except to make sure that we get that object cleaned out. The real issue with this case is the bent rim. From the side it isn’t real noticeable, but if you hold it at an angle it clearly seen. This is an indication that there was an extraction issue. If this was fired in a semi-auto, it probably caused the firearm to cycle with excessive force. The extractor would have applied significant force and have bent this rim. This could be a warning of the round being a bit excessive in pressure. If this was fired in a bolt action, we are seeing a situation where there was excess pressure . Maybe causing the bolt to be hard to open and extra force needed to extract the round from the chamber. I would suggest backing off on the powder charge and reducing pressure.
4. This is a Winchester .308 Win. case that has a real issue.
This case has a very obvious incipient case head separation in the process of being a complete failure. This is most commonly caused by over-sizing the case causing there to be excess headspace on the case. After a few firings and subsequent re-sizing, this case is just about ready to come completely apart. Proper die adjustment is certainly a requirement here. Of course this case is not safe to reuse. Also note that the primer is excessively flattened.
5. This is a Federal .40 S&W case that has without doubt been fired in a firearm without a fully supported chamber.
This situation has been around for a good number of years and can be catastrophic. This case is severely weakened by this bulging. The chamber of the firearm is cut-away on the bottom side to accommodate the round to feed from the magazine. This leaves the case exposed by there not being any support from a chamber wall. There are dies made to help remove this bulging. But be very cautious. Because even though you might remove this “bulge,” you still have a weakened case. This sets up the possibility of this case being fired in another firearm that also has an unsupported chamber. This creates a risk of the case failing and causing severe damage to the firearm and shooter and also anyone close by. This can be a very dangerous situation. While many do reload these cases that have been bulged in the unsupported chambers, extreme caution should be used. Discretion, discretion, discretion……… If in doubt, throw it out!!!
6. Here we have an R-P .22-250 case that has died the death.
Everything looks fine with this case except…. the neck is split. This is a normal occurrence that you must watch for. It is caused by work hardening of the brass. Brass cases get harder with age and use. Brand new cases that are stored for a period of time can become hard enough that they will split like this case within one to two firings. I have had new factory loads do the same thing. Then as we resize and fire these cases repeatedly, they tend to get harder and harder. Eventually they will split. The life of the case can be extended by careful annealing practices. This is an issue that would need to be addressed in an article by itself. Of course this case is no longer usable.
In the classes that I teach, I try to use examples like this to let the students see what they should be looking for. As always, if we can assist you, whether you are new to reloading or very experienced, contact us here at Sierra Bullets by phone at 1-800-223-8799 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.