• Reloading: Basic Case Preparation

    We get a lot of question on the forum from those looking to start reloading who ask what equipment they need to buy. Most often the replies suggest they purchase one of the many pre-packaged kits from one of the major manufacturers such as the RCBS Rock Chucker Supreme Master Kit or the Hornady Lock-n-Load Classic Single Stage Kit. Both are excellent kits for the new reloader, but both fall short of offering the new reloader everything they need to get started. Also, most responses to these posts don't take the time to always explain why certain tools are needed or explain why certain processes are necessary if you're reloading for precision shooting.

    For those reasons I have decided to start a short series of articles that will cover the different operations or steps involved in reloading and also cover some of the different options for tools to perform those operations. This series is not intended to cover everything or to be a step-by-step "how to" guide for new reloaders, but rather a general overview to help them educate themselves on the process and the tools required as based on my own reloading experience.

    This is my way of doing things, and for those of you reading this who already reload rest assured it's highly probably that you probably do things a little differently than I do. That's all well and good, but please don't post in the comments below that I should to it this way or that way because that's how you do it. If you want to tell everyone how you do things feel free to write and submit your own article and I will happily publish it for everyone to read.

    The following assumes that we are starting with brand new virgin brass. If you are starting with once fired brass from factory loads, you will want to deprime and clean the cases before moving forward with the steps outlined below.

    1. Uniforming the Primer Pocket

    One thing you should always do with your brass is to uniform the primer pockets. Those reloading for casual plinking or hunting often only uniform their primer pockets when the brass is brand new, but serious competitive shooters usually do it each time they process their brass to ensure consistency.

    Uniforming the primer pocket is the process of making sure that the pocket of each case is the same depth. This helps to ensure that the seating depth of your primers will be the same from case to case, thus ensuring more consistent ignition as the firing pin travel and striking energy will be more uniform from shot to shot. The end result will be lower extreme spread (E.S.) and standard deviation (S.D.) numbers.

    Using the primer pocket uniforming tool is pretty straight forward. You simply insert it into the primer pocket and turn until it stops cutting. Depending on the brass you may need to pull the cutter out to clear out the cuttings, but that's more the exception than it is the norm.

    Several companies sell primer pocket uniforming tools, some of which are designed to be used by hand and others that are designed to be used with a cordless drill or motorized case prep station. I myself use the Sinclair Primer Pocket Uniformers that I chuck up in a cordless drill to do my primer pockets. However, for those looking to buy I would recommend this Uniformer Kit from Sinclair which includes a hex screwdriver adapter.

    2. Debur the Flash Hole

    The next step you will want to take in prepping new brass is to debur the flash hole. Often times a bur from the manufacturing process can be left obstructing the flash hole, and if not removed it can possibly deflect or disperse the flash from the primer. This can lead to inconsistent ignition and greatly affect your Extreme Spread and Standard Deviation resulting in fliers.

    Deburring the flash hole is a very quick and easy process, and the tool is fairly cheap as well. I use a RCBS Flash Hole Deburring Tool. The tool can be purchased with your choice of pilot to match your caliber, and you can also buy additional pilots for using it with different calibers. Given the low cost of the tool though, I find it quicker and easier to just purchase a new tool for each caliber to eliminate the need to change the pilots which can easily be misplaced due to their small size. Several other manufacturers such as Lyman, K&M, Redding and others make a similar tool so there are plenty of options out there to choose from.

    To use the tool, you must first adjust the depth of the pilot. Loosen the set screw, then insert the tool into a case so that you feel it bottom out and slide the pilot down into the neck of the case. Give the tool 1 full turn, then while holding it down against the bottom of the case make sure the pilot is bottomed out on the case mouth and tighten the set screw. You're now ready to do the rest of your cases using the same process with one full rotation.

    It should be noted that some like to hold off on this step until after they have trimmed the brass to length to ensure there's no variance in brass length that may affect the pilot seating depth on the deburring tool.

    3. Trim to Length

    The next step when prepping new brass is to trim all of it to a uniform length. Many reloaders skip this step as most new brass is shorter than the suggested trim length listed in reloading manuals, but it's beneficial to take the time and do this step to get off on the right foot as varying length from case to case or having one side of the neck slightly longer than the other can lead to inconsistencies that will leave you scratching your head later on.

    The first order of business when trimming to length is to determine what your trim length needs to be. This means measuring your cases to find the one that is the shortest and then trimming the rest to that length. It's a tedious process - but one that needs to be done. I recommend doing it while watching TV or listening to your favorite radio program.

    There are a few different methods available to trim your cases to length. Probably the most popular and widely used is the lathe style trimmer such as the Redding TR-1400 unit shown in the photo to the right. Lathe trimmers allow you to change the trim length to whatever you desire which is necessary when trimming virgin brass. The downside is that it can be difficult to adjust them to the exact length you desire. Some manufacturers offer an upgraded model with micrometer adjustment such as the Redding 2400 Match Case Trimmer, but they cost substantially more than a standard lathe trimmer.

    Another option is the Lee Case Length Gauge and Trimmer Cutter combo which is also shown in the photo above. These use a fixed length gauge that screws into the cutter to trim the case, and when the case has been trimmed to the proper length the gauge bottoms out on the bottom of the case to prevent it from cutting any further. These are great when you're working with brass that's already been shot a time or two that are over recommended trim length, but you usually can't use them to trim virgin brass as it's to short from the factory. Note that my cutter in the above photo has been turned down to fit in a 3/8" cordless drill.

    4. Chamfer & Debur The Case Mouth

    Once the brass has been trimmed to a uniform length you will notice that the case mouth is very rough and probably has burrs both inside and out. To clean this up you will need a chamfering and deburring tool (or tools). Several options and styles are available from various companies that make reloading equipment. A basic tool like the RCBS Chamfer and Deburring Tool is very inexpensive and works well, and when combined with a cordless drill adapter or a Forster Tool Base it becomes much more efficient. Several companies also offer chamfer and deburing accessory attachments for their lathe style case trimmers.

    When chamfering the inside of the case mount just a quick turn or two will do. There's no need to apply lots of pressure as you just want to knock the sharp edge off the inside of the case mouth. When seating your bullets this chamfer will help to guide the bullet into the case.

    Deburring the outside of the case is the same process, just using the other end of the tool (or the deburring tool if you have separate tools). Again, there's no need to use a lot of force here, we just want to debur the case mouth and give it a slight bevel so our finished cartridge will chamber smoothly.

    When using a power drill adapter as shown in the photo one has to make sure not to remove too much material as you can easily shorten your case neck if you aren't careful. I do a quick blip of the trigger on my drill and that's it - just as fast as I can pull and release the trigger.

    Additional Info

    Those looking to speed up the case prep process should look to the powered case prep stations that are now being offered by most reloading equipment manufacturers. A couple examples would include the RCBS Trim Mate Case Prep Center and the Hornady Lock-n-Load Case Prep Center. Both of these units offer multiple stations that you can configure to do most of the steps associated with case prep in one quick operation. More basic units will let you clean and/or uniform the primer pockets and chamfer/debur the case mouths. The more expensive units like the Hornady listed above will also allow you to trim the case to length eliminating the need for a separate trimmer.

    There are also other specialized tools designed for high-volume reloaders such as the Little Crow Gunworks WTF Case Trimmer. This trimmer works with any drill, is cartridge specific, and allows you to trim cases at a rate of 10+ per minute by simply pressing the neck into the tool while the drill is running. This tool is great if you shoot semi-auto's and process a lot of brass for one cartridge (i.e. .223 or .308), but given it's cartridge specific it would be cost prohibitive to buy one for a bunch of different cartridges that you shoot.

    Like everything else, it boils down to how efficient you need to be and how much money you have or want to spend. I always recommend that new reloaders start with the most basic case prep and reloading tools as it lets them better learn the process and forces them to pay attention to what they are doing. As they get comfortable with reloading they can then start looking at more efficient tools to speed up or simplify the process, but they have to learn to crawl before they can learn to walk or run. I've been reloading for thirteen years now, and as you can see in the photo's above I still primarily use the most basic of tools for my prep work because they're simple and they work.