How to Prep Cases for Reloading

Bolt Action Reloading • July 18, 2023

Preparing the cases

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Defective Brass

The first step to reloading is always going to be preparing the brass cases. Even though it is not specific to only this step you need to inspect your cases every time you touch them. Flaws in the brass like split case mouths, case head separations, excessive bulges, and other case defects need to be removed from the lot of brass that you are reloading. It’s less likely for new brass to have defects, but you need to inspect them as well. With new brass there is a good chance that the necks of your cases were dinged in shipping, so you are likely to want to subject them to at least some part of your sizing process. So you are going to need a press, a full-length sizing die, the appropriate shell holder, if required by your press, and some case lube.

What will you accomplish with this step?

  1. Remove the old primer
  2. Size the body and shoulder of the case so it can fit in the chamber of your firearm
  3. Resize the neck with both the die and expander ball to accept a new bullet
  4. Remove the primer crimp (if your previously fired cases had crimped primers)
  5. Trim the brass to a dimension between the min and max case length.
  6. Chamfer and deburr the case neck to aid in bullet seating and case feeding.

Most Full length dies recommend some sort of the following set up process:

  1. Install the appropriate shell holder. (if required by press)
  2. Raising the ram of your press
  3. Screwing down the sizing die until you make contact with the shell holder
  4. Lowering the ram of the press
  5. Screw down the die an additional 1/8 to 1/4 turn
  6. Tighten the lock ring on your die.
  7. Next lubricate your brass, paying attention to getting some inside the neck of the brass cases
  8. Put the case in the shell holder and cycle the ram on the press to resize the case

Some dies come with the shell holder but it may need to be picked up separately.

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Lee Universal Shell Holder

If you are using brass that has crimped primers you need to remove them in one of two ways. Both methods can be effective and if you are using new brass, or reloading brass that has not been crimped, you can skip this step completely.

  1. Crimp removers that cut the crimp or swage to remove the crimp.
  2. A swage operation that is done with a die on the press or a dedicated unit.
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Crimped Primer Pockets

Some of the cutters can be operated manually but for any quantity you are going to wish you had some type of powered tool to operate the cutter.

After sizing is complete, the case lube must be removed. This can be accomplished with a little alcohol on a rag, but if you are dealing with very dirty brass I prefer wet tumbling. Frankford Arsenal makes a rotary tumbler that I've found works well for this step.

After your brass is sized and clean you need to make sure it is the appropriate length as specified in your reloading manual. Your manual should list a minimum and maximum case length. You will find a pair of digital calipers is needed for this step. If your brass measures between the two values you may skip trimming if desired, but would still recommend a quick chamfer and deburr to make your life easier later. If you want to keep your cases a consistent length, or you need to trim the cases below that max case length, a great tool for a beginner is the Lee cutter and lock stud system. This combined with the appropriate case length gauge, shell holder, and power drill can trim your cases quickly and consistently. After trimming you will still need to chamfer and deburr the cases.

The final step of preparing the cases is brushing out the case neck with an appropriate neck brush. This will ensure that no brass chips affect the bullet seating step and you are ready to start priming your cases.

For a comprehensive overview, be sure to watch the video above!

--Bolt Action Reloading

NEXT UP, Part 2: How to Seat Primers

For the complete 4-part article, see Reloading's Beginner's Guide - How to Start Reloading