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Thread: Salt Bath Annealing, Pro's and Con's.

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    Salt Bath Annealing, Pro's and Con's.

    I've been annealing my brass via the salt bath method for about a year now, so I thought I'd post some results for those contemplating starting to anneal their brass but have not decided what equipment to buy.

    I purchased my kit from a supplier in Canada. http://ballisticrecreations.ca/salt_...aling-kit-rev/
    IMG_3260.jpg

    I added a low cost multi-meter to monitor the temps (about 1000 F) and found a Lee lead pot melter on sale. I think my total investment was around $150.00 including extra salt media.


    Here you can see the temp is 1026* F
    IMG_3272.jpeg

    Here is what the baffle/shell holder looks like.
    IMG_3266.jpeg

    Look at how benign that hot salt looks! Also side view of shell holder. I should have placed a case in it to show how it holds just the neck in the solution.
    IMG_3267.jpeg

    PRO.

    1 First and foremost, it's CHEAP and effective. The only expendables are salt and water (no, you don't mix the two in the pot), and start up costs are reasonable.

    2 You absolutely KNOW the temp of the media you are using to anneal your brass, so over heating and ruining the brass is simply not possible. I have left brass in the bath for 5 minutes trying to soften the case head. It got a little discolored, but apparently did not soften. Hardness was pretty consistent with virgin brass according to my test method (not scientific and quantifiable, but nonetheless workable). Therefore the consistency of the anneal is quite good using this method. NOTE: only the neck is submerged in the salt media.

    3 It's quick. Really quick. I typically use 4 to 5 seconds of soak time and because the baffle plate has two holes, I can place one in the bath and while its cooking, take another case out and place it in the second hole. By counting continuously I place the second case at count 4 and remove the first case and drop it in the nearby water bucket at count 5. Then grab another case and place it at count 4 again and repeat. So every 5 seconds I am cycling a case in and out. That's 12 per minute.

    4 Knocking the primer out before annealing is essential. Seriously essential! I had some FTF cases that I pulled down and forgot to segregate from the rest. Fortunately the primer blew after I pulled it out of the bath. I was using a steel pan to capture the annealed brass at that time and the force of the primer explosion flattened the case wall of an adjacent case. It also stopped my heart for a few seconds...LOL. So now I drop them in a bucket of water, both to wash off salt residue, but also just in case I get stupid again. But no further prior action is required such as sizing.

    5 Warnings about 1000 degree salt and water not mixing are a bit overblown using this particular method. I've had cases that I SS pin tumbled and rinsed, but that even after blowing out with compressed air and drying in a hot box, still had some water inside. When it hit the hot salt, it sizzled a bit and that was it. Nothing more. I wouldn't pull a case out of a bucket of water and go directly into the sale bath just to test this scenario, but reasonable care keeps things pretty safe.

    6 Consistency. This is where paying attention to soak time and media temperature becomes a little more important. As it turns out, shiny, polished brass does not turn bluish as readily as dull brass. So if a visible anneal is preferred as a consistency measure, go with unpolished brass and notice how far down the case the tint travels. My pot cools as I am processing brass, particularly large brass. So I will either stop and wait for it to come back up to temp, or simply add a second or two the the soak time and judge the anneal time by the color after it hits the water. I typically SS tumble afterwards to clean out all salt as well as powder and primer residue. But this removes the nice anneal coloration.

    Here is a 308 case after 6 seconds at 1000*F with the neck and part of the shoulder submerged in the salt media.
    IMG_3273.jpeg

    CONS:

    1 Although the Lee melter pot is reasonably priced, it clearly was not designed for use around corrosive salt as it's largely made of aluminum. When I replace mine, I'll use hi temp paint to coat the outside surfaces that get exposed to the salt. The other thing that failed early was the temp controller. When new, it held temps at 1000 F pretty consistently. But after a few uses, it began to wander a lot. So now I baby it, frequently unplugging it as temps go above 1100, or cycling the temp knob to get it to turn on again when temps go below 900. There's probably a much more expensive and better melting pot out there, but I continue to nurse mine along and it's doing the job so I'll keep using it for now.

    2 You don't want to leave the salt in the pot in storage. It will draw moisture from the air and become wet. That will cause it to smoke considerably while heating up, and transport salt into the air of the environment you're using it. So have an air evacuation plan in place such as using it outside or in the garage with a fan blowing across the pot. Unless you don't mind rusting every tool you own along with your delicate measuring instruments. I put the cooled puck back in the jar the media came from (Ballistic Recreations) and that seems to work fine.

    3 For those who prefer dirty, powder residue incrusted necks, this method will affect your neck tension. Some adjustments to the process will have to be made. Although by itself, the salt will not clean residue off the inside of the necks, it will have some affect, especially if you use a water rinse, so plan ahead. A separate neck lube step may be necessary prior to bullet seating.

    4 Working around any very hot, 1000 degree liquid is quite dangerous, and the salt pot at working temperature looks completely benign, nothing like the blowtorch method of annealing. There are no visible warning signs of extreme heat such as smoke or the roar of a torch flame to warn of a of a serious burn hazard. The only giveaway is the meter registering 1000 F. So I clamp my pot down to my table saw so I can't trip over the electrical cord and cause a spill, and I wrap the electrical cord around the table several time too. I also warn anyone coming into my work zone to stay clear. For a very visual example of just how hot the salt is, I dip a wooden paint stir stick into the hot salt. It IMMEDIATELY catches fire on contact with the salt. Quite impressive to the casual bystander!

    Procedures: Set up and use.

    I start the process by mounting the Lee pot to a secure surface and place a 5 gal bucket half filled with water under the table/bench the pot is mounted on. I will use this to drop the hot cases into after annealing. I do this in the garage and open the doors so fumes don't linger around my tools and gages. I summer I will position a box fan to help move air.

    I then pour the salt crystals into the pot, filling it nearly full and turn on the Lee pot. The salt will start to melt at about 375* and once melted I place the baffle/case holder into the pot and let it continue to heat. The thermocouple is inserted into the baffle and meter turned on to register degrees F.

    As the media heats up, it's time to adjust the salt level in the pot. I do this by quickly placing a case in the case holder and withdrawing immediately. This will leave a crusty salt residue on the brass showing the salt level in the pot. I add or subtract as necessary to get the full neck submerged.

    Once the salt is up to 1000*F, i start the annealing process by placing a case into one of the two holes in the baffle and start a rhythmic count. If 5 seconds is my preferred anneal time, I'll place another case in the second hold on the count of 4 and remove the first on the count of 5, dropping it in the bucket of water and taking another case from the box. By doing this continually I can process about 12 cases a minute.

    One case just went in, other coming out, about as fast as you can do it.
    IMG_3279.jpg

    My lee pot will gradually drop in temperature as the brass sucks the heat out of the media, so stopping to let the pot heat again and/or increasing the dwell time in the pot to compensate becomes necessary. There are home made digital temperature controllers that can be used to make the pot work much better than the simple LEE controller with some rewiring. It's not expensive but I've not got around to it yet, so I baby mine along. https://youtu.be/vwDgkrNMJQA

    Once I've finished my annealing, I unplug the pot, remove the baffle and thermocouple (remember, they'll be quite hot) and let everything cool. The salt puck, once cooled can be tapped out of the pot and placed in an airtight jar or the original container. You can use a damp cloth to wipe the pot down if you like, but the aluminum will still want to corrode.

    The annealed brass is retrieved from the bucket and processed as you would with any wet brass.

    I'll wrap this up now. Hopefully this has been informative and helpful to anyone contemplating getting into annealing. Comments and questions are appreciated and expected. So fire away!

    Good Shooting.
    Long distance shooters are a different breed, and I would never want to piss off someone who can "pick you off" from another zip code.

  2. #2
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    Thanks for the writup. If I were ever to take the next step and anneal this sounds like the way I would go...

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    Basic Member DesertDug's Avatar
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    great write up thanks. I was not even aware of this method.

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    Basic Member BB68's Avatar
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    Great write up. I currently do not reload my own, have my friends do it. Both of them complain that one of my brands of brass (first firing) routinely cracks necks, which indicates I need to anneal. I have been gathering the tools to reload, albeit slowly, still I need an annealing system. I am leaning towards salt bath as it looks the easiest/most consistent for a beginner. This looks like a descent kit.

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    I've researched this method quite a bit, and have decided this is the way I'm going to go. I simply cannot justify the expense of other methods for my use. Here are a few things I've picked up while researching salt bath annealing, get the Pro 4 pot vs the standard pot. The Pro 4 has a 700w element compared to 500w for the standard and add a PID controller to manage heat. A Pro 4 with PID will almost eliminate temp swing and the PID is quite inexpensive, has a digital display, and gives you flexibility to set temp where you want it. I'll have to check my saved bookmarks, hope I saved some of my research. Some very good youtube videos on this and the upgrades.

    Here are two I saved, the first is long, but quite informational. The second is much shorter and illustrates the process but slower than needs be and his dunk pan is too small IMO. He does show the brands of the components he used for the salt mix so you don't have to purchase from Ballistic Recreations. I remember chasing it down and cost was very economical compared to "ready to use" (which is still very economical).

    PID controller - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AgixJeF0vEU

    Salt Bath process - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eJ4Ds0D4Tp4
    Last edited by PhilC; 02-13-2019 at 12:16 PM. Reason: Add links

  6. #6
    Basic Member Robinhood's Avatar
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    Thanks 10, Some of my group have been considering this method. Your review and experience is very helpful.
    Standard rings are like a fat girl sitting on a sandwich.

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    Administrator J.Baker's Avatar
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    Hey Texas, great writeup! If you could add a photo or two to your first post showing the setup and maybe a step or two of the process I'll promote this up to an article on the website in the reloading section.
    "Life' is tough. It's even tougher if you're stupid." ~ John Wayne
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urgent circumstances, desperate circumstances, profanity provides a relief denied even to prayer.” —Mark Twain

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    Basic Member ktmracer358's Avatar
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    I have been really interested in this thanks for the right up once I get some spair change I will be salt bath annealing.

    Sent from my SM-G960U using Tapatalk

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    Quote Originally Posted by J.Baker View Post
    Hey Texas, great writeup! If you could add a photo or two to your first post showing the setup and maybe a step or two of the process I'll promote this up to an article on the website in the reloading section.

    Thanks, I'll get on that this week.
    Long distance shooters are a different breed, and I would never want to piss off someone who can "pick you off" from another zip code.

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    Basic Member ktmracer358's Avatar
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    A guy I follow on YouTube just did a video on it also. Just for more information if anyone is looking

    https://youtu.be/qaHGwrKzQYY

    Sent from my SM-G960U using Tapatalk

  11. #11
    Basic Member darkker's Avatar
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    Why are you trying to soften case heads?
    I'm a firm believer in the theory that if it bleeds, I can kill it.

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    Basic Member Robinhood's Avatar
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    Case heads? Where did you get that? Necks and shoulders bruh.
    Standard rings are like a fat girl sitting on a sandwich.

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    Administrator J.Baker's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by J.Baker View Post
    Hey Texas, great writeup! If you could add a photo or two to your first post showing the setup and maybe a step or two of the process I'll promote this up to an article on the website in the reloading section.
    Quote Originally Posted by Texas10 View Post
    Thanks, I'll get on that this week.
    Just a reminder.
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    Basic Member darkker's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Robinhood View Post
    Case heads? Where did you get that? Necks and shoulders bruh.
    Re-read the write-up, mentioned specifically trying to and general methodology has three whole critter in the bath. Meaning the heads will be softened some amount.
    I'm a firm believer in the theory that if it bleeds, I can kill it.

  15. #15
    Basic Member Robinhood's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by darkker View Post
    Re-read the write-up, mentioned specifically trying to and general methodology has three whole critter in the bath. Meaning the heads will be softened some amount.

    I have left brass in the bath for 5 minutes trying to soften the case head.
    In the context of this quote, under the "pro's; paragraph 2" Tex was performing destructive testing by letting the brass heat soak with only the shoulders and neck in the bath for approximately 4 minutes 54 seconds longer than suggested time in the directions for a given temperature. This was an exercise to determine if the case head could be softened over a regulated amount of time. The results were much different than a flame from a propane torch that will destroy brass, size of the flame considered, at 5 minutes...or less.

    So what did you get out of it?
    Standard rings are like a fat girl sitting on a sandwich.

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    I got injured at work, forklift driver carelessly tried to load 1300 lbs of shingles into a pickup truck while I was bent over the tailgate pulling out a pallet the customer was returning. Customer was paying attention and screamed at the driver who stopped just as he pinned me against the tailgate. A couple more inches and I'd of been a goner. Went to the hospital to get checked out, and of course, caught the flu bug since the hospital is full up with flu cases, and my flu shot wasn't much good.

    Just wasn't my day
    Long distance shooters are a different breed, and I would never want to piss off someone who can "pick you off" from another zip code.

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    Basic Member Robinhood's Avatar
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    Damn Tex! , I'm 4 hours away but if you need something let me know.
    Standard rings are like a fat girl sitting on a sandwich.

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    Thanks, RH. I appreciate your kind offer, and seem to be mending OK. Doc gave me some good drugs and you know what they say, better living through modern chemistry

    I'm itching to get down your way to tease some speckle trout into my cooler....LOL.
    Long distance shooters are a different breed, and I would never want to piss off someone who can "pick you off" from another zip code.

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    Administrator J.Baker's Avatar
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    Glad to hear you came out of that unscathed for the most part. Could have been much, much worse. I learned long ago never to trust a fork lift driver (even when I was the one at the wheel).
    "Life' is tough. It's even tougher if you're stupid." ~ John Wayne
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urgent circumstances, desperate circumstances, profanity provides a relief denied even to prayer.” —Mark Twain

  20. #20
    Basic Member darkker's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Robinhood View Post

    So what did you get out of it?
    I got that the whole case goes in a roughly 900 - 1,000 degree bath for 4-5 seconds for the process used to anneal. With that heat mass both inside and outside the case, the entire case will be annealed. Given the mass of the case head, it would likely be somewhat different than say the case mouth.
    The temp for annealing(and tempilaq) cases is classically 750 degrees. It's pretty well agreed upon(right or wrong) that no part of a case should reach 950 deg during annealing as it will weaken the case. 800 deg at the case mouth takes only a few seconds to properly anneal. I'm concerned that 1,000-ish degrees inside and outside the case for 4-5 seconds will leave him with Federal-esque cases.

    Federal brass(factory at least) is pretty well known to be soft, and many times too soft. It is great if you are selling factory ammo(use once and destroy), the case obturates extremely quickly and can contribute to the well earned reputation of "accurate" ammo; however not conducive to long life reloading. Prior to being able to test pressures I chocked it up to voodoo or over-pressure factory loads. Since then I've measured how little it takes to wreck some Federal brass; and subsequently, parts of your bolt-head. Measuring both extractor grooves, and case heads before and after measuring with the PT II; I've had "second firing" Federal loads expand and blow out the primers, extractors and etch bolt faces, needing a cleaning rod to hammer out the brass, at measured 50,000 PSI loadings.

    Maybe I missed the vision, and certainly do what works for you, but be cautious about any possible softening of the case heads. Or at least keep spare parts handy.

    Cheers
    I'm a firm believer in the theory that if it bleeds, I can kill it.

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    Basic Member Robinhood's Avatar
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    I've got you now. I agree on the 1000 degrees. The zink will start to liquefy below that I think very close to 900. I am not worried about heat soaking that fast but over annealing is a concern. The guys I know are somewhere around 800 to 850.


    I don't think the process is flawed. One test is to weigh it before and after. If heat soak is a concern, What I did was put some 450 below the annealing line. If 750 is the "anneal" temp for C2600 brass and it never breaks 450 at the body above the head my belief is it is OK.Do you agree?

    As always you have a keen eye for shortcomings.
    Standard rings are like a fat girl sitting on a sandwich.

  22. #22
    Basic Member darkker's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Robinhood View Post
    I don't think the process is flawed. One test is to weigh it before and after. If heat soak is a concern, What I did was put some 450 below the annealing line. If 750 is the "anneal" temp for C2600 brass and it never breaks 450 at the body above the head my belief is it is OK.Do you agree?

    As always you have a keen eye for shortcomings.

    I don't think the fundamental process is any concern, no; only the temps being used.
    I know that Lapua openly admits to using Olin alloy C260, everyone else seems to hold that in the realm of Super Secret Squirrel Sh....

    As originally spec'd, C260 was a certain mix, with a tensile strength spec'd at 70-75,000psi. Which is another reason to not be to enamored with "signs" of case stretch for SAAMI MAP as reliable, but that's a side note. If someone else uses a different alloy, or tensile rating, it may not translate as well as hoped. But yes, 450 at the body wouldn't bother me personally either.

    Cheers
    I'm a firm believer in the theory that if it bleeds, I can kill it.

  23. #23
    Basic Member big honkin jeep's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Texas10 View Post
    I got injured at work, forklift driver carelessly tried to load 1300 lbs of shingles into a pickup truck while I was bent over the tailgate pulling out a pallet the customer was returning. Customer was paying attention and screamed at the driver who stopped just as he pinned me against the tailgate. A couple more inches and I'd of been a goner. Went to the hospital to get checked out, and of course, caught the flu bug since the hospital is full up with flu cases, and my flu shot wasn't much good.

    Just wasn't my day
    Dangitman I feel for you,
    37 years after a forklift accident that almost cost me a leg, (run over in the back of a 48' trailer) I still give them a wide berth.
    I hope you get mended quickly and completely.
    A good wife and a steady job has ruined many a great hunter.

  24. #24
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    Shot some pic today as I annealed 308 and 6br brass. I'll get them up as soon as I can remember how to resize and post.
    Long distance shooters are a different breed, and I would never want to piss off someone who can "pick you off" from another zip code.

  25. #25
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    Quote Originally Posted by darkker View Post
    I got that the whole case goes in a roughly 900 - 1,000 degree bath for 4-5 seconds for the process used to anneal.
    No it does not, only the neck/shoulder region goes in the solution. The case is set on a holder that limits how much of the neck/shoulder region can be immersed. Check the second linked video, this one, the guy is using his fingers to remove the brass and drop in his dunk bowl. No way he'd be doing that if the case head was 450° let alone 900°. Skip to 22:16 to bypass his wordy prelude and just watch the process.

    At 23:58 you can see the depth line on the shoulder of the .223 case. He shows a clearer indication with some "dirty" 300WM brass at 25:28. Tempilaq on the case just above the holder would eliminate any question of overheating.
    Last edited by PhilC; 03-09-2019 at 01:25 PM. Reason: Typos

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