There’s one way to bring life back when your overworked brass gets hard: heat.
A few months back I was fiddling around with some 9.3×57 cases with the intention of reloading them for practice ammo.
When I went to size these cases, I was a little annoyed to have the first one out of the batch crush out like a beer can when I attempted to push it over the expander ball in the die.
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Disregarding this as an anomaly I tried another case only to have it crack out on one side when I once again tried to push it over the expander ball. It began to appear that my collection of 9.3 brass had reached the end of its road, but why? And what, if anything, could I do about it?
To begin with, I should probably mention that this particular batch of brass had already suffered through a long career. In the beginning, each and every one of them had been GI 30-06 brass from the Twin City Arsenal.
One winter, with nothing better to do, I made use of a hacksaw, a case trimmer and a sizing die to convert them into 8mm Mauser brass. Later on, when I grew weary of playing with the 8mm, I decided to run them through yet another sizing die and turn them into 9.3×57 brass, thus giving them a third incarnation.
If all this sounds like a lot of messing around to create some fairly common brass, my only excuse is that winter lasts about eight months in Montana, and a guy has to do something to fill the hours.
So, what had happened to my beautiful handmade brass? A person might be inclined to think that if it had put up with all I’d done to it up until then, it might very well last forever.
The problem was that I had work-hardened my cases. When you squish, push or pull brass around it gets harder the same way steel hardens when it’s tempered. With all the cutting and squishing I’d put my 9.3s through, they had become as hard as rocks and prone to cracking.
To cure this problem, the easiest solution is annealing – essentially heating the portion of the brass you wish to soften and then allowing it to air cool. This is performed with a propane torch. The base of the brass is held with a pair of pliers and the mouth of the case, neck and shoulder is heated until it is cherry red.
After air cooling, your cases should easily slide over the expander ball once again and be much easier to work with for the next few reloads.
Naturally annealing with a torch takes a little practice. The first few you try will probably melt at the mouth or end up with holes burnt in them, but eventually you get a feel for it.
It is also important to only heat the forward section of the case, leaving the rearward portion as hard as ever.
Once you develop a feel for it, you’ll discover that annealing can dramatically extend the useful life of hard-to-form or hard-to-find cases.
If you work with cartridges that have a lot of neck-down, like the 7mm RUM, or simply have cases that are a difficult to get over the expander ball of a die like some Weatherby offerings, annealing can take a lot of the frustration out of your time at the loading bench.
Ever experienced annealing with a torch? Let us know how it turned out for your reloading needs in the comments.