Processing brass rifle cartridge cases for reloading

A reloader’s guide to processing brass

Every reloader is eventually faced with a pile of dirty, used brass that has to be processed and returned to a state ready to be reloaded.

Initially, all brass is de-primed, in my case simply by using a universal Lee de-priming die.

Processing brass rifle cartridge cases for reloading
An ultrasonic cleaner cleans brass inside and out

Next, the primer pockets are cleaned with a primer pocket uniformer, cutter/cleaner that keeps the pockets at the same depth and will clean out some combustion residue. 

Necks are then cleaned with common bathroom creme cleaner and some scrap cloth or paper towel.  

After that, the cases are consigned to the vibratory cleaner with crushed walnut shell and some common household liquid cleaner, which should clean up the necks and remove the crème cleaner.

When the necks are clean, all cases get a couple of  four-minute runs through the ultrasonic cleaner, which cleans both inside and out. The cleaning fluid is basic: about a level teaspoon of citric acid and a similar amount of crème of tartar plus a squirt of household detergent in a litre bottle, then fill with water. It’s cheap and perhaps nasty but it works. 

Cases are then allowed to dry naturally overnight.   

At this stage, brass is sorted into groups according to the caliber. 

Each one is then lubricated and run through the appropriate sizing die of the normal variety or perhaps a straight-line die depending on your choice. 

Ammunition reloading dies
A seating die from a standard two-die set (left) and a straight-line seating die

Smaller cartridges used for long-range work have the necks reduced and then expanded with a particular-sized mandrel, cut to four decimal places! 

At this stage, individual cases are checked for length. If necessary, they are trimmed by either a rotary trimmer or filed flat in a form-and-trim die, and chamfered inside and out to complete the process.  

To remove the lubrication, all the cases are returned to the vibratory cleaner.

The last process is to anneal the cases. Just how often you should do so is open to some debate. The simple reason I use it as an every-time item is logistics. With a dozen or so rifles in the family, keeping track of all of the cases with different use times would drive me to drink! It’s much easier to anneal them every time they come across the reloading bench, with no split necks and lower velocity variations as a bonus. 

Finally, I consign all cases back to the vibratory cleaner and a couple of capfuls of automotive polish, then box them up, ready to be reloaded. It’s a fair bit of work but I prefer clean brass.

Other than factory ammunition it is almost impossible to buy old-fashioned cardboard boxes to store ammunition in; plastic has taken over! 

I’d suggest that for some uses, cardboard boxes with a foam tray are preferable to plastic. Outback roads are a typical example: the cartridges do not rattle in the cardboard with the foam tray. 

Ammunition in a box
Ron prefers to store his reloads in a cardboard box with foam tray like this

In addition, a box of 20 cartridges will usually fit conveniently in a shirt pocket. Try that with your plastic box of 50! 

With other cartridge types, I have found that they stack easier in the ammunition box.

Unfortunately, new boxes of this type are unavailable in Australia, as far as I know. A company makes them in the USA but does not export. It would be interesting to see if there was a market for such an item here. 

Yes, I agree you can buy an argument about just how the process should take place. This is simply one man’s version of what can and perhaps should be done to make the brass useable again.




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Ron James