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Old November 23, 2000, 09:14 AM   #1
Ruben Nasser
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In my limited experience with handgun reloading:
- 38 spl, 44 spl, and 45 Colt brass last a very long time (no matter what brand, when loaded to normal -low- pressures).
- 9x19, even though is high pressure, is usually VERY strong.
- 45 ACP, is low pressure but lasts only as long as 9x19.
- 40 S&W is weaker than 9x19 and 45 ACP.
- 44 mag is more durable than 357 mag, and strengh varies a lot with different brands.
- 357 mag is about the least durable brass (strengh also varies a lot with different brands).
Maybe is not only the brass, but the guns in which they are usually fired (chamber dimensions), what is your experience?

Regarding modern high pressure rifle calibers, my experience is that all depends on the chamber and throat dimensions and the pressure level of the loads, I'm not aware of inherently weak or strong brass by caliber. Some brands are stronger than others, with much heavier brass.
Maybe old calibers like 44-40 are a bit weaker (or trickier).
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Old November 23, 2000, 12:14 PM   #2
Johnny Guest
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Case Life Factors


I agree with your observations that 38 spl and 9x19 are extremely durable. I have some of each, and .45 ACP as well, that have been loaded so many times that the head stamp is almost obliterated. I check length, etc, and find they are still perfectly usable, at least for practice loads. For match use, and hunting, of course, I try to use the newer brass.

Like most people who don't shoot on paved ranges, I tend to lose autopistol brass before it becomes really tired. I have large amounts of 9x19 and .40 S&W brass on hand and it is no chore to rotate stocks so that I don't really notice age of a given piece of brass. Decades ago, there was a lot of Canadian 9x19 military ammo sold, in neat 64-round boxes, with distinctive head stamps. I bought several hundred rounds of that brass when I got my first 9x19 pistol, a first generation S&W model 39. In fact, that was the pistol and caliber that got me started handloading, on my own, back in about 1966 or 67. I still run across some of that brass in shooting my Canadian Inglis High Power, and think, "How fitting," and load it and go on. I guess I ought to start an archive of old brass and the memories associated with it, while I still have clear recollections of it. Anyway--That Canadian brass just seems to keep on working- - -

I also agree with your premise that cartridge case longevity has a lot to do with the particular chamber in which it is fired. My first revolver above .22 rimfire was an S&W .38 Hand Ejector "Victory Model," converted from .38 S&W to .38 spl, simply by reaming out the chambers. The .38 S&W case is a tiny bit greater in diameter than .38 spl, and cases fired in such a revolver have a slight but distinctive bottleneck appearance. Sizing these in the spl die work hardens the brass rapidly, and the cases split in just a couple of loadings.

On the other hand, I have a tight-chambered Colt .357, and the cases fired in it just seem to last forever.

Another factor is the dies used. Internal dimensions can vary, even within the same manufacturer's dies. Combine factors, and case life can be long or short.
Examples: thin-walled brass fired in loose chambers and then resized in a tight die, and the mouth excessively belled--Such a combination will result in very short case life, even with moderate loads.
But use thick-walled brass, fired in a tight chamber, then resized in a die of average dimensions, and mouth-expanded only enough to start the bullet properly--It wouldn't surprise me to get 12 to 15 loadings, even with full power loads (NOT super-duper, overpressure loads.)

Case mouth splits occur early in magnum cases loaded with lead bullets, because many of us tend to overexpand case mouths. When I learned to seat and crimp in two separate steps, my brass began lasting longer, with less lead shaving.

you can greatly extend life of magnum revolver brass by mouth annealing your older cases. Stand cases in a cake pan and pour in enough water to come within 3/8 inch of mouth. Play flame of a propane torch on case mouths, just until water bubbles around the case and STOP. Let stand until cool. This does much to prevent the work-hardening and brittleness. While I have gotten away with using cases so treated for some very heavy loads, I do not recommend it. Use ‘em for low end magnum loads, and this allows you to save your best brass for your hottest loads.

Having written the above, I realize it is a LOT of trouble, as reasonable as the price of brass is today. I started doing it when I only had a hundred or so .357 cases and money was very tight. There were several years when I didn't shoot 20 factory .357 loads--The department furnished only .38 spls for qualification. But I managed to shoot a goodly number of mag handloads.

Also--there are places in the world where many types of ammo and brass are scarce, and one would do well to preserve all the cases possible.

Hope you get a lot of good input about case life.

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Old November 23, 2000, 05:15 PM   #3
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Ruben, Johnny answered much better than I could have however I do have one other thing to add and that is concerning brand names. In my experience all of the major brands are comparable but I think that Federal, then Remington, then Winchester last longest in that order. I do think that the reason is that the Federal and Remington may be a little softer in all areas except the head area. I may be wrong but it seems to me that the Winchester is harder hence more brittle.......annealing will cure that. Believe me the difference is very small. There is one brass that wil not hold up even with reduced loads and that is the US Military .38 Spl. brass from the 141 grain FMJ load that was issued to the USAF in the mid 60's. In my duties then I must have picked up a ton of the stuff, but found that after 3 or 4 light loadings the necks would tend to split. These cases when weighed are lighter than Commercial ammo hence thinner. Anealing does not seem to help.
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