The Care of Fired Cartridge Cases.
If cartridge cases that have been fired with smokeless powder are to be kept for some time before they are reloaded, they should be stored in a dry place but otherwise they require no particular care. If the necks of the cases are smoked up a litde, this fouling may be wiped off with a cloth, provided the wiping is done within a short time after they arc fired. While this fouling is easily removed when fresh, if allowed to remain for some time it will result in oxidization of the brass. This oxidization will do no harm except that if the brass be left under strain, it will accelerate any tendency to season crack. If cases are kept in a damp place they will have a tendency to corrode, the corrosion being noticcable as discolored patches having a hard granular feel to the fingernail in the early stages. As the corrosion progresses vcrdegris will form. Cases showing any considerable corrosion should be discarded.
Hand books on reloading ammunition have usually carried a description of one or more methods of washing cartridge cases so as to make them practically as bright and clean as when new. In the opinion of this writer, the washing of cartridge cases that have been fired with smokeless powder is not only unnecessary but inadvisable, except under special circumstances. Cases fired with black powder must be washed to prevent them from corroding. Black powder leaves a heavy deposit of fouling in the case and this fouling will gather dampness rapidly. The sulphur in the fouling, when in the presence of moisture, attacks the brass rapidly, causing verdegris to form and weakening the case 24 materially.
If cartridge cases that have been fired with smokeless powder are to be reloaded for military use, or for issue to men who know but little of ammunition and arc apt to judge it by appearance as well as its performance, or if the ammunition is to be stored for a long period of time, there is some justification for cleaning the eases so they will have a new appearance. Otherwise, washing eases is an unnecessary labor amounting to a waste of time. The reason for suggesting that cases be not washed is because most of the factory ammunition being turned out today is loaded with primers containing fulminate of mercury. The mercury left in the case by the fired primer attacks the brass more or less, depending upon circumstances that will be touched upon later, and renders the brass brittle and unable to withstand the strain of further firing. The use of any solution, whether acid or alkaline, on cases that have been fired with mercuric primers will hasten the action of the mercury and cause it to penetrate the brass deeper than it would have otherwise. Even plain water, in combination with the products of combustion in the cases, will accelerate this action. Hence the suggestion that cases fired with smokeless powder should be stored in a dry place and that they should not be washed or chemically cleaned, except under unusual circumstances.
It may seem a bit out of place to suggest methods of washing or cleaning fired cartridge cases immediately after advising against the practice, but the reader should bear in mind that the one serious objection to the washing of cases lies in the possibility of their having been fired with mercuric primers. If a case has never been fired with a mercuric primer, there is no danger attached to washing or cleaning it with any kind of a solution. Such cleaning may be entirely unnecessary, but it will not harm the cases if they have never been fired with a mercuric primer. Please excuse the emphasis on that word 4 never" but the writer has seen 25 too many instances where reloadcrs only give consideration to the type of primer which they themselves use in reloading their ammunition, without taking into account the primer with which the ammunition was originally loaded at the factory. Most of the factory ammunition being produced today is loaded with mercuric primers and one manufacturer in particular who has been loading his ammunition with non-mercuric primers is slowly swinging back to the use of mercuric primers. Their reasons for using fulminate of mercury will be explained under the subject of "Primers."
The best time to clcan cartridge eases is as soon as possible after they have been fired, as the fouling is then soft and has not had time to corrode the brass even superficially. If clcancd promptly, the cases will come out bright with less effort and with a shorter immersion in the cleaning fluid.
Cases fired with black powder should be decapped and dropped into a jar or can of water. The water will soften the fouling and facilitate its removal. If the cases are of a shape that will permit their inside to be easily reached with a swab on the end of a stick, they may be wiped out after they have soaked for a while. The primer pockets can be cleaned with a bit of cloth over the end of a wooden match stick. The best and easiest way to clean out black powder fouling from a lot of cases at one time is to boil them in soapy water, to which a small amount of baking or washing soda has been added. For a soap solution, any kind of soap or soap flakes may be used, including "Gold Dust" or "Oakitc." Oakite is not really a soap but is a good clcaner. It is hard on the hands and should be used sparingly, as directed on the box. Treating the cases in this way will remove the heavy deposit of fouling from them, but may leave them dark and discolored, this will do no harm. Methods for brightening them will be given a little further on.
The fouling left by smokeless powder, while much less in volume than black powder fouling, is much more tenacious and more difficult to remove. To do a good and thorough job, the method that has been published for years in the Ideal Handbook is probably the best and it is repeated here briefly for the convenience of the reader.
Two one quart jars arc required for the chemical solutions and two jars or other containers for clear water, preferably running water. In jar No. 1, dissolve 2 ounccs of potassium bichromate and add 2 ounces of sulphuric acid, pouring the acid in slowly while stirring the solution. In the other jar, dissolve one quarter pound of sodium cyanide. Potassium cyanide may also be used but is more expensive. Both sodium and potassium cyanides are deadly poison and should be kept out of and away from containers in which food stuffs are to be prepared or preserved. The solutions in both of the jars arc poisonous for that matter, furthermore if mixed they will give off poisonous fumes, so it is best to work with them where there is a good circulation of air.
The proper arrangement of the jars for working is as follows; jar No. r—clear water—jar No. 2—then another container of clear water.
To clcan the eases, bend a piece of brass or copper wire a foot or more in length into the form of a narrow U. Then bend up the ends of the wire to form two hooks, on which the eases may be hung. Hang two cases on the hooks and dip them in solution No. 1 for a few seconds. Then remove them, rinse them thoroughly in clear water after which they should be immersed in the cyanide solution until they are clcan and bright. This should require only a few seconds also but if the cases do not brighten up quickly, they should be rinsed thoroughly in the fourth container of clear water and the entire process repeated. The process of rinsing is important and if running water is not available, the water in the two rinsing jars should be changcd frequendy to avoid carrying any of the chemical solutions from one jar to the other.
Another way to brighten cases and to remove corrosion, xj and one that is not only good but is convenient and as old as the hills, is to immerse the cases in vinegar. This is especially good for brightening cases that have had black powder fouling removed from them, as described previously. Vinegar will not remove smokeless powder fouling as well as the acid and cyanide solutions, but it will remove a lot of it and if the cases are cylindrical, or of a shape that will permit of their being wiped out with a mop or a brisde brush, a very good job of cleaning out smokeless powder fouling can be done as the vinegar will soften and loosen the fouling in a few minutes, without injuring the cases in any way. Vinegar has the advantage of being easily obtainable anywhere, it is not poisonous, and its storage and disposition offers no problem, even where space is limited or there arc children around. The particular kind of vinegar is not important; it may be old fashioned cider vinegar, synthetic vinegar, even the juice drained off from pickle botdes will work.
Possibly this pickle juice idea will stand some elaboration. The whole answer to this cleaning with vinegar is acetic acid. Cider vinegar and, presumably, the synthetic vinegars also, contain about 6% of acetic acid. It is this acetic acid which softens the powder fouling so that it may be wiped out easily with a rag. As to whether "pickle juice" will do the trick or not depends upon the amount of acetic acid (if any) that is present in it.
Acetic acid comes in different strengths, a solution of around 28-36% being used extensively in photographic work. The full strength acid is 99% pure and is strong enough to attack the brass of a cartridge case actively, a piece of a case put into a test tube with the full strength acid will cause the solution to turn blue in a very few minutes. A 10% solution is amply strong for cleaning cases, but bear in mind two things: That the solution only softens the fouling but docs not remove it and, that in common with any other solution, acetic acid will promote the penetration of mercury into cases that have been fired 28 with mercuric primers. However, it is a fine solution to use for wiping the outsides or necks of cases clean, where you want them to look like new, factory "hulls."
Drying of Cases. Regardless of the method used for cleaning cases, they must be rinsed thoroughly and dried prompdy, as otherwise they may corrode. Should any interruption interfere with the drying of eases immediately after they are cleaned, leave them immersed in clear water to keep the air away until they can be dried properly.
If the cases can be spread out in the hot sun to dry, boil them in clear water, dump them into a collandcr, then shake them well and vigorously to remove the excess water. Then spread them out in the sun to dry. The primer pockets are the hardest part to dry and the writer has been surprised to see how long it takes to properly dry cases, even in the hot sunshine of the tropics. One can help and hasten the drying of primer pockets by wiping them out with a bit of absorbent cloth on the end of a small stick.
The best and surest way of drying cases is with the use of artificial heat, but care must be taken not to overheat them, as too much heat will soften the brass and may render it incapable of withstanding normal pressures. Most modern stoves, whether electric, gas or coal, have oven thermometers that arc, at least, fairly accurate. For stoves sold in the United States, these thermometers register degrees Fahrenheit and brass can be heated up to 428 degrees Fahrenheit without undergoing any change in its grain structure. For drying cases it is best to keep the temperature as low as 300 degrees. This heat is amply high for the purpose and offers a liberal allowance for any inaccuracy of the thermometer. If your oven has no thermometer, one can be purchased at small expense in almost any department or five and ten cent store. The thermometer should be placed near the cases as the temperature will not be the same in all parts of the oven. It is also well to place the cases on one of the sliding shelves or racks, away from the bottom
29 of the oven, or the heating element if it is an electric stove.
The sad ending to this little story about cleaning and drying cases is, that after you have spent several shekels for chemicals and thermometers and have spent a considerable amount of time cleaning and drying your cases, you will not have added a single thing to their usefulness for reload-, ing. If, by chance, they have ever been fired with a mercuric primer you will certainly have done them some harm.
In discussing the relation of cartridges to their chambers, it has been made clear (I hope) that more or less expansion of the case takes place when the cartridge is fired, and that this expansion makes the case fit its chamber more per-fecdy than it could be made to fit by any other means. It has also been shown that more or less longitudinal stretch may take place, with a consequent weakening of the case. Some of the defects that may occur from these causes have been illustrated and described. The question that will naturally arise in the reloader's mind and especially if he has had litde or no experience with reloading ammunition is:— how can / find out what is happening to my cartridge cases when I fire them? The best that can be done here is to give methods for inspecting cases for some of the more important defects. To find the conditions is one thing and to interpret their significance is quite another, the latter requiring long experience and study.
Ignoring overloading to a degree that will cause a firearm to burst, the only danger in reloading ammunition lies in the use of cartridge eases that have been strained or weakened to an extent that might cause them to give way near the head when fired again. The case must be in good enough condition to hold the gasses in, and even with reduced loads a failure of the case near the head may cause eye burns of a painful nature or permanent impairment of vision. With this thought in mind, we will confine ourselves principally to those conditions that impair the strength of the cartridge case near the head.
3° After firing, the cases should be wiped off with a cloth to remove dirt and fouling on the outer surface, after which they can be examined for external defects. Those with splits or cracks should be discarded. In wiping off the cases, do not rub them too vigorously or twist them around with the cloth pressed tighdy against them, espe-
daily near the head. Brass has the property of charging with dirt and grit, that is, particles of grit become imbedded in the surface of the metal and can not be entirely removed by any means. Also, if the cases are rubbed too hard, the doth will pick up some of the surface grit which will act as an abrasive and polish the case nicely, but this polishing may destroy some of the markings that will give an indication of the cases condition. The surface of a fired cartridge can tell many stories to an experienced person.
Incipient or incomplete splits will show as slight wrinkles or depressions of greater or lesser length, running lengthwise of the case. If well forward of the solid head, they may be ignored. True, the case may split completely at this point the next time it is fired, but this will probably do no particular harm.
Incipient ruptures of the body appear as a motded or wavy band or patch, or as a distinct irregular line on the surface of the brass. Their identification can only be learned from experience and careful observation but as they are of rare occurrence and, in the body of the case, are not dangerous, the reloader can ignore them.
Stretching of the case near the head is usually due to excess head space. This condition will usually, but not always, result in leaving a burnished band around the body of the case near the head. As the side walls are pressed firmly against the walls of the chamber while the powder charge is burning, any appreciable movement of the head to the rear will not only stretch the brass, but the latter, being in intimate contact with the chamber and under pressure, will usually be rubbed or ironed in such a way as to leave this visible band.
To really determine whether the case is weakened near 31 the head and the extent of the weakening, to examine the solid head for possible tears and to find out whether the primer contained mercury or not, it is necessary to section the case. Signs of excessive expansion near the head will suggest the possibility of torn brass but will not prove it. Neither will the examination of a single cartridge case prove that the condition is prevalent in all of the cases that come from one chamber, but if the condition occurs once it will occur again. Where the expansion of the case near the head is sufficient to tear the solid head at all, the cases from that chamber should only be reloaded with reduced loads and then only when the cases are not resized at the head.
To section a cartridge case for ordinary examination, fasten it in a vise by the rim. Any slight compressing or the rim will do no harm for this purpose. With a fine toothed hack saw, carefully saw the case down through the center. The straighter you saw, the less filing there will be to do later. A hack saw will not cut smoothly unless the thickness of the metal being cut is at least equal to the distance between two teeth on the saw, and as cartridge case walls are usually thinner than this, the saw has a tendency to rip or tear its way through the metal. This can be avoided by using a fine saw, then inserting as large a stick of wood as possible into the case, sawing through case and wood at the same time. The wood helps to retard the saw and makes it easier to control the cut. As the thicker portion of the case is reached towards the head, the cutting will become easier and smoother. As a matter of fact, as long as only the lower part of the case is to be examined, the upper part may be sawed off before the case is sectioned. Cutting through the last fraction of an inch of the head may be a litde troublesome but it can be done by removing the case from the vise and rubbing it back and forth by hand, with the cut straddling the saw blade. When sawed, one or both halves of the case should be filed by placing the sectioned surface against the face of a bastard file and rubbing it back
32 and forth with the fingers. When the saw marks are filed out, transfer the specimen to a piece of very fine emery or crocus cloth placed on a flat smooth surfacc and rub it in a direction diagonal to the file marks, until the burn left by the filing come out. It is unnecessary, for this purpose, to bring the sectioned surface to a high polish but regardless of the degree of polish, there will always be a rubbed skin of brass over the surface that can only be removed by etching. This surface skin must be removed, as it may cover up defects.
To etch the case, immerse it in a 20% solution of nitric acid for a few seconds, or until the polished surface takes on a dull or slighdy roughened appearance all over. Do not use too much acid, or the brass will become pitted and pock-marked. When etched, remove the specimen with a pair of tweezers and rinse it in clear water. The action of the nitric acid will clean the fouling from the inside of the case thoroughly and if the surface has a silvery appearance, it is a sure indication that the case has been fired with a mercuric primer. This silver looking coating, which is really mercury, will disappear into the brass after the specimen has stood a litde while, so the condition should be looked for immediately after taking the case out of the etching solution. Unfortunately, the failure of the mercury to appear does not always offer assurance that the case has never been fired with a mercuric primer, but the mercury will usually show up.
If the expansion at the head has been sufficient to tear the brass in the solid head, the breaks can usually be seen with the naked eye and certainly with an ordinary magnifying glass.
Any stretching of the side walls, due to excess head space, will show up in a reduction of the thickness of the side walls and an annular depressed ring in the brass just in front of the head. If the condition is not severe, that is, if the stretching has only caused a slight reduction in the thickness of the case wall, with no signs of breaking, and
33 if there are no signs of mercury, and if there are no tears in the head, the cases from that chamber and of that particular lot of cases may be reloaded with ordinary full charges, provided they are not resized so as to set the shoulder back at all. This applies to both rimmed and rimless cases. With a rimmed ease this means that the reloaded cartridge will be positioned in the chamber by the shoulder instead of the rim, as normally, but the head will be in contact with the bolt when it is fired and any further weakening or stretching of the case near the head will be due to spring in the bolt itself or to a forward extrusion of the brass under the thrust of the gasses. One can check on this by reloading and firing two or three cases a few times, sectioning them as described and comparing them with the original sample.
Another point worthy of inspection is the primer pocket. The heads of fired cases should be examined for signs of gas leakage around the primers. Any cases showing black gas smudges radiating from the edge of the primer pockets should be discarded, as the primer pockets have either expanded or have some defect which permits gas to get past the primer cup. The primer cup acts in the same way the case does in the chamber. The side walls of the primer expand to prevent gas from leaking out between it and its pocket, but sometimes the pressure is sufficient to expand the pocket or some dcfect will permit gas to get by. A litde gas will get past the primer, but ordinarily not enough to be noticeable to the shooter. An examination of the face of the bolt of any rifle that has been fired extensively will show the presence of a ring around the striker hole. Whether caused by erosion, corrosion or a combination of die two, this ring has its origin in the gas that, in small quantities, has leaked past primers. If, when decapping cases, a primer comes out with practically no pressure at all, it is a pretty good indication of an expanded primer pocket and that case should be discarded. If, in seating new primers, a primer goes into a pocket with little pressure, it may be due to an enlarged pocket and it may be a small primer. 34 Trying another primer will tell the story. If all the primers go into the primer pockets too easy, it can be due to the primers being too small. This is an unusual occurrence but happens occasionally, especially if the primers are not of the same make as the cases. Expanded primer pockets are an indication that the charges arc developing pressures too high for the cases to stand and where this condition is found, the reloader should heed it and reduce his powder charges accordingly.
The Vent. The vents or primer flash holes in cartridge cases arc made of a size correct for the primers with which diey are loaded at the factory. The size of these flash holes may differ in different makes of cases and, more rarely, in different lots of cases made by the same manufacturer. Where one has a miscellaneous collection of cases, it is well to decap them all and examine the vents. Visual inspection alone will enable one to detect any material difference in the sizes of the vents, and to separate the cases into groups according to the vent sizes. Variations in vents will cause variations in the ignition of the charges, which will affect accuracy and with maximum charges may cause trouble if the vents are too large for the primers being used.
This condition is of increasing importance where the newest non-corrosivc primers arc being used.
At the same time that the vent sizes are observed, one can inspect the primer pockets for the presence of fouling or primer "ash.M The fouling from our modern non-corrosive primers takes the form of a hard, brittle substance. It is sometimes present in sufficient bulk to prevent primers from being seated flush with or below the surface of the head of the case, and with some primers will afford a sufficient cushion to the blow of the firing pin to affect the ignition. This fouling is easily removed with a bit of cloth over the end of a small stick with a fiat end, even running a pointed nail or decapping pin around the bottom edge of the primer pocket will chip most of it out.
Resizing Cartridge Cases. The mechanics of resizing cartridge eases is simplicity itself. Some reloading tools have facilities for the full length resizing of cartridge cases and, according to the directions that come with these tools, the cases should be resized full length each time they are reloaded. Now, I have no desire to discredit anyone's statements on this subject. Cartridge cases can be resized completely most of the time, with no other ill effects than a slight loss in the accuracy of the reloaded ammunition, but we have already seen that the complete resizing of an over expanded case may be attended by some danger and in the interests of both the finest accuracy, as well as safety, it is recommended that cartridge cases not be resized any more than is necessary to their proper functioning. In using a reloading tool that is equipped with a full length resizing die, it is not necessary to force the case all the way into the die when operating the tool. Using the tool in this way prevents the shoulders of stretched cases from being set back to their normal position and also avoids any reduction of the case near the head when it is over expanded. At the same time, it does permit the neck to be resized sufficiendy to hold the bullet and any slight reduction of the forward part of the body of the case will do no harm under any circumstances.
The hand resizing dies are quite convenient and useful, and cases can be resized completely by driving them in until the heads are flush with, or the rim is in contact with the surface of the die. The cases are driven out by means of a steel punch furnished with the die. In driving eases into the die they should never be struck directly with the hammer or mallet, but should be started in with the fingers and a block of hard wood placed against the head, this latter should then be struck with the hammer to avoid damage to the case.
The vents in primer pockets arc made by punching the metal out, and as the punches are small they wear quite rapidly. As their edges get a litde dull, the holes arc not 36 punched clcanly, more or less of a burr being left around the edge of the hole, on the inside of the case. If a flat faced punch be used to drive cases out of the resizing die, this burred edge will be flattened, reducing the size of the vent. Uniform vents are essential to uniform ignition of the powder charges, so when driving cases out of the die the knock-out punch should always be concave on the end that is inserted in the case so it will not bear on the metal near the vent.
As the complete resizing of cases is not ordinarily desirable, they should only be driven into these hand resizing dies far enough to accomplish the desired result; the desired result, by the way, being to reduce the ease only enough to permit it to enter and to be extracted from its chamber without sticking. For partial resizing of cases, the hand dies aie uui as convenient as those which are mounted in te-loading tools, also the exact depth of the resizing can not be controlled quite as well.
When cases are to be reloaded without resizing them, otherwise than at die necks, tiiey shuuld first be tried in the chamber of the arm they are to be used in. if they r.in be-
entered in the chamber and the action closed on them completely, without forcing, they will also enter satisfactorily after they are reloaded. If you have a lot of cases that have been picked up on a rifle range and have been fired in rifles other than your own, you will probably find more or less of them that will not enter your chamber. This is due to the individual differences in the chambers of different rifles of the same caliber. Those eases which do not enter properly will have to be resized to a point that will eliminate the tcndcncy to stick. When a case sticks in a chamber before the locking surfaces of the action are engaged with one another, it is a simple matter to knock it out with a cleaning rod. If the case sticks with the action nearly closed, the situation may be a bit embarrassing for a moment. The usual procedure under these circumstances is to curse and tug or hammer on die bolt or lever of the rifle, in the hope that the extractor will not slip but will pull the case out. 37 Sometimes it does and sometimes the extractor strips off the rim, permitting the case to be poked out with a cleaning rod. The best way to get such a case out, without danger of damage to the rifle or your disposition is as follows:
Note difference in head thickness and Interior shape of these .30 U6 cases. The same load will not give the same result in all of them.
Factory cartridge iired once in chamber having loose lit at head— Note torn metal at base which might prove serious with a rimless case.
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