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Old April 10, 2008, 08:01 PM   #1
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Replacing brass

How can I tell when my brass is too old to continue using? And how can I keep my brass usable for as long as possible?
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Old April 10, 2008, 08:10 PM   #2
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Brass fatigue

Pistol brass will begin to develop cracks at the mouth of the case. When several have cracked in the lot you are using, you can either replace them with new, or if you have the skills, anneal them and the cracking will stop.

With rifle brass the primer pockets may become too large to hold a primer before mouth cracks appear. There is a fix for that, but I will not go into it. If mouth cracks appear in rifle brass you can anneal them also. Or, you can toss them and start over with a new lot.

Keeping the loads light is the answer for long case loads cause the brass to fail faster than target level loads.
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Old April 10, 2008, 09:58 PM   #3
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Annealing can extend the life of your brass considerably if you do it right.

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Old April 11, 2008, 07:47 AM   #4
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One other thing to look for in bottleneck rifle cartridges is incipient head separation. The classic sign is a bright ring in the case wall, between the extractor goove and the max bulge in the case wall (pretty much at the bulge, called the "pressure ring"). If you have a rear locking bolt or a break-open gun, the brass is going to stretch, and in a strong front-locking bolt gun, it can still stretch if your sizing die bumps the shoulder back too far.

If you are annealing case mouths to prolong their life, then head separation becomes more likely. (This is especially true if you do not protect the case wall back by the head properly when you anneal, thus making it too soft.)

One way to monitor the effects of case wall stretch is to use a stiff piece of wire with a 90° bend in it to feel the inside of the case. If you can feel a ring shaped depression on the inside, down near the web, then you are thinning the case there, and it will eventually separate if you keep shooting it long enough. How far you can go before scrapping the case is hard to judge by the "feel" method. I have sectioned a few cases that have a groove I can feel to see how thin they have become. This has allowed me to "calibrate" myself to feel for thinning that is about as far as I personally want to push a case.

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Old April 11, 2008, 08:43 AM   #5
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"...incipient head separation. The classic sign is a bright ring in the case wall,..."

Right. Tumbling polishes that "bright ring" away and seperations can occur without warning. Since most loaders overly FL size their brass and most seem to be using tumblers these days, I'm surprised that we don't hear more about head seperations than we do.
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Old April 14, 2008, 01:47 AM   #6
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Info us Dehermit

What's the fix for the swelling primer pockets? Is it too intensive? Dangerous? I'd really like the info...or where to find it.
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Old April 14, 2008, 10:13 AM   #7
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Not that I would likely bother with it, but I would be interested in how to reclaim loose primer pockets as well. In theory, anyway... I would probably just get new brass.

Also wanted to make sure that it's duly noted in this thread that there can be extreme differences in case failure that should be noted if you are unsure of the pending results.

What I'm saying is... if you end up with neck splits, your ammo won't properly load and the bullet may not stay in place which is not only easy to detect, but most often won't even make it out to the firing line. One lousy side effect of split neck could be enough tension to hold a bullet in appearance, but perhaps NOT when chambering the round. At this point, you can shove a bullet deeper in to the case when chambering which can raise pressures exponentially and put you in a poor spot. Another possible event is that you chamber a round... change your mind and pull the bolt and the brass with split neck extracts, but the actual bullet lodges itself in the rifle's throat. At this point, you'll have dumped 20-60 grains of powder right in to the guts of your rifle AND you'll have a bullet lodged in the throat which will require a quick tap from the muzzle end before you'll be able to shoot again.

Split necks are problematic, but the real danger is with case head separation and that's what needs to be pointed out. When you blow a piece of brass apart, gas leaks in every direction trying to escape. Most modern bolt action rifles have built in gas escape ports that are designed to vent the gas away from your face, but what you are dealing with is akin to a cutting torch and it's happening right down by your face. Add to that the shrapnel that used to be the brass case, and then you are often left with half a case lodged in your chamber with no way to remove it if you are away from your tools.

So it's terrific information on how to look for case failure before it happens, but it's also relevant to see how serious it might be if you've overlooked things and you push your brass too far. Consider this a vote to give rifle pressure a lot more care and inspection than low-pressure .45 ammo. There's higher stakes involved.
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