Case Prep

Steps To Improve Your Handloads

The proof is in the pudding, er, brass — 2,000 .223 cases after final polish and ready to load.

To most, reloading is a simple, straightforward task. Resize the case, insert a primer, the powder and seat a bullet. Yes, it will make a loud noise, but accuracy and even function can be improved — especially with rifle rounds.

What should be the first step is to clean the cases to prevent an expensive die from becoming scratched.

For several decades I used a Dillon vibratory tumbler. I first used crushed walnut shells with a polishing compound, and then tumbled the cases in ground corn cob to remove the polishing compound.

For the last four or five years I’ve been using a Lyman Cyclone Rotary Tumbler before I resize the cases. The Cyclone takes brass cleaning to a whole new level. The “media” is small stainless steel pins combined with a cleaning formula and plain water. The small stainless pins easily slip inside cases and into primer pockets to provide superior cleaning action in these areas — something a vibratory tumbler can’t do. The Cyclone will fit up to 1,000 pieces of .223 cases.

Case in collet of Power Case Trimmer after being trimmed. Note the shine on
the inside and outside of the case mouth as they are chamfered at the same time the case is trimmed.

Pin It Up

I pour in the pins, the cases, about a tablespoon of Dawn dishwashing liquid, fill to the top with plain water and screw on the cap. The built-in timer can run from zero to three hours. I usually set the timer for one hour on this step. When finished, pour out the water and cases into the included sifter pans. The first pan catches the brass and the second pan has a fine screen to catch the pins.

Next I use a Lyman Rotary Case/Media Separator. It consists of two outer covers and a two-piece inner basket. The brass is poured into the inner basket, the outer covers are put on and spun with the crank handle to separate any remaining pins and spin the water out.

In areas with high humidity, some type of heater needs to be used to dry the cases. Here in Arizona, I pour the cases onto a towel, give them a quick once-over and leave them in the sun to dry.

The cases are now finally resized and de-primed. For rifle loads requiring the utmost accuracy, I use a Lyman primer pocket uniformer to ensure all primers are seated to the same depth.

When brass cases are extruded and the flash hole is punched, there is usually some small ragged pieces of brass in the case. A Lyman flash hole cleaner reams out this excess brass evenly so a uniform burn of the powder is achieved.

Lyman Cyclone Rotary Tumbler (above) takes brass cleaning to a whole new level.

Media for the rotary tumbler uses thousands of small stainless steel pins.

Trim It Down

Cases, especially bottleneck cases, will stretch upon firing. I trim all of my brass to the recommended trim length for two reasons. First, long cases can create a safety hazard through improper headspace and possible increased pressure. Second, cases are trimmed to ensure all bullets crimp into the jacketed bullet cannelure equally.

For many, many years I used a Forster Original Case Trimmer. Once set it was very accurate, but it was also tedious putting in one case at a time, cranking the handle and repeating ad nauseum — and each case still needed to be deburred on the inside and outside of the case.
Now I use a Forster Power Case Trimmer. It can be used with most standard drill presses. Quick, easy and accurate, consistent case lengths are controlled by the stop on the drill press.

The Power Case Trimmer consists of a .490 cutter shaft and the base to which the collet housing, collet screw and the collet locking handle are attached.

To use, place a case onto the top of the collet, turn the locking handle to secure it in place. I use a master case of known length to adjust the stop on the drill press. Turn the press on and lower and try a test trim. It may be necessary to adjust the depth to achieve the trim length desired.

The cutter features sharp carbide blades that chamfer both the inside and outside of the case neck while it is being trimmed. Chamfer on the outside of the case neck is 30º and 14º on the inside of the case neck. Everything is done in one step instead of three. Finally, the cases are back in the Cyclone to remove any sizing lubricant and for a final polish.

The steps are the same as above, but this time I add in a teaspoon of Lemishine (a hard water softener), a teaspoon of Dawn and a teaspoon of Armor-All Ultra Shine Wash and Wax. The results are a lustrous shine on the inside, outside and even the primer pockets.

Finish your loads as usual. Don’t be surprised if round-to-round accuracy is more consistent. Function may also improve to a degree as those slick cases will chamber and extract more easily.

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