Reloading Step 1: Resizing the Rifle Case
Updated: 5 days ago
This is the second installment of the multipart Blog all about rifle reloading. In this blog, we will dive deeper into the first step: Resizing the Rifle Case. Organizing it this way will allow for shorter reads and make it easier to find answers to questions you may have.
Here are my top two rules while reloading:
# 1 Rule = Safety
# 2 Rule = Everything should be repeatable
1. Resize Case 2. Seat Primer 3. Add Powder 4. Seat Bullet
Note: These directions are for once fired brass. If new brass is being used, there is a good chance the shoulder does not need to be bumped. A good way to know for sure on new brass, is to reload one and fire it. Dimensions of the fired case can then be compared to a new piece of brass.
Procedure A: Clean the Case
After a fired case is ejected, you may notice a carbon ring on the neck. I like to clean this off before resizing. I doubt if this residue affects accuracy, I simply do not want this “gunk” inside my resizing die. A dirty die/bushing can affect consistency from round to round.
To clean the brass, I use a product called Nevr-Dull (found at most hardware stores). Simply tear off a small section and rotate the case on the Nevr-Dull between the finger and thumb. Clean off the polish and any remaining residue with a rag.
While cleaning the case, look for any malfunctions. (splits, cracks, dents, etc). If any defects are found, throw the case away. When working with damaged brass, the risks outweigh the rewards.
Procedure B: Lubing the Case
There are many ways to lube the brass. No matter which method is used, the main idea is to provide enough lubrication so the case does not get stuck in the die.
I use Imperial Sizing Die Wax. Swipe the index finger across the surface and roll the case between the finger and thumb. Pay close attention to lubing the lower part of the neck, shoulder and body. Try not to get lube inside the case mouth.
When it comes time to resize the case, do not force the brass into the die. Remove the case and apply more lube. A stuck case is a major PITA. After a few cases you will learn how much to use. A tell-tale sign of using too much lube is a dimple on the shoulder of the case after resizing.
Procedure C: Resize the Case
Safety Notice: When performing any reloading operation read and understand the manufacturer's directions.
The resizing die resizes the brass so it can be easily and safely chambered in your rifle and provides the correct amount of neck tension. There are three main types of resizing dies:
* Neck die - sizes the neck of the case and leaves the shoulder and body alone.
* Body die - bumps the shoulder and resizes the body, but does not touch the neck.
* Full length sizing die - bumps the shoulder, and resizes both the body and the neck.
There are many great die makers out there. For competition rifles, I use Harrell’s full length sizing dies. For hunting rifles, I prefer Redding Type S full length bushing dies. I do own a wildcat cartridge (26 macho) which uses a custom Hornady full length bushing die.
Protect your scope during transport, hunting, cleaning, and storage.
Procedure C Part 1: Adjusting the Die for Correct Shoulder Bump
Note: Before you begin the resizing process, make sure the proper shell holder for the cartridge is installed.
Note: I like to find the shoulder bump setting without the bushing in the die. There is no reason to resize the neck several times while searching for the correct shoulder bump.
Experience Tip: If this is a new die, clean the die with Brakleen or similar product. Dies are shipped from the factory with a thick rust preventative and this needs to be taken off before use.
Most dies have a locking collar with a removable set screw. Loosen this screw and move the locking collar up the die. Lower the handle on the press so the shell holder (no case) comes up to the highest point. Screw your die down until the bottom of the resizing die touches the shell holder. Then, back your die out ⅛ of a turn. This should get you in the same zip code as where you need to be. Most likely, you will have to screw the die down further, but this ensures you do not bump the shoulder back too far the first attempt. Move the locking collar down to the top of the press. Do not tighten the set screw.
Next, measure a fired case using a chamber/headspace gauge. For custom barrels, the gunsmith can make a gauge by running the chamber reamer part way into a scrap piece of barrel. For factory barrels, I use Hornady’s Lock-n-Load Headspace Gauge. Both tools are used in the same way.
Experience tip: When measuring a case with a caliper, put the caliper up to a light. You will be able to see if the case is “square” in the caliper.
Insert the same case (lubed) into the shell holder and resize the case. Remeasure this resized case with your chamber gauge. Adjust the die until the desired shoulder bump is reached. For hunting brass, the shoulder should be bumped back anywhere from .001” to .002”. On competition brass, I am shooting for .0005” to .001”.
A fired .22-250 case in chamber gauge before resizing = 3.222"
The same case after resizing = 3.220.
The shoulder was bumped back .002"
To change the amount of shoulder bump, simply screw the die downward to increase shoulder bump or upward for less. This may take several trials with minute changes to the die each time. Use the same case, unless you go past your mark. Once you get your die set up, make sure the locking collar is tight against the press and tighten the set screw.
Experience Tip: When you get close to the correct shoulder bump, you may notice the chamber gauge reading increases. For example: the fired case may measure 2.345". The same "almost" resized case may measure 2.346". I do not know why this happens, but it has happened enough times that I trust that it means I am close (but not quite there) to the correct shoulder bump. This was taught to me by a Hall of Fame shooter and expert gunsmith.
Experience Tip: If you tighten the set screw with the collar snug against the press it might be difficult to unscrew the die the first time. You have two options; 1. Without moving the placement of the locking collar on the die, back the die out of the press slightly then tighten the set screw. 2. Tighten the set screw while the collar is snug to the press and use a die locking wrench to unscrew the die.
What is magical about those numbers? Why not resize everything .005” and call it good? The case needs to be resized to allow for easy and safe chambering. Resizing .005” would definitely do that. However, you can resize too much. A sign of over-sizing is the case will “grow” in length. Resizing the case is also one way to introduce work hardening (more on this later). As a reloader, we want to reduce trimming and prolong the negative effects of work hardening by resizing the minimum needed each time.
Procedure C Part 2: Using Bolt Drop to Check for Correct Shoulder Bump
Once you reach the desired shoulder bump, you can physically check your brass. Remove the firing pin from the bolt. Insert the bolt (with no case) into the chamber to gauge the force it takes to close the bolt. This will be your minimum value. Next, insert a fired case and repeat to get a maximum value. To check your shoulder bump setting, close the bolt on a piece of resized brass. It should take much less force than the fired brass (maximum value), but slightly more than the minimum value. Many Benchrest shooters use this method (or one similar) for setting up their resizing die.
This tutorial video shows how to check for correct shoulder bump by using
measurements and bolt drop.
Experience Tip: I like to mark the die and its correct location on the press. It is a simple way to notice if anything moved on the setup.
Experience Tip: The die and the press are one system. Placing the die in a different press can change how the brass is resized.
Once the die is set correctly, periodically check the shoulder bump. On competition brass, I might check every 200 rounds or so. Hunting brass is usually done once a year.
Procedure C Part 3: Correct Bushing
If the resizing die uses a button to resize the neck, then no need to worry about bushings. Neck tension is controlled by the size of the button.
I like to use dies that allow me to add different sized bushings to control the amount of grip on the bullet. A good starting bushing size is .002” under the over bullet measurement. The over bullet measurement is the location on the case neck where the pressure ring of the bullet is.
Experience Tip: Micrometers are needed when performing the over bullet measurement. Calipers are simply not accurate enough.
Experience Tip: Make sure you leave a slight gap between the decapping rod and bushing. (If you shake the die, you should be able to hear the bushing rattle). This ensures the bushing has enough space to self center on the case neck.
When you are performing load development, the target will tell you if you need more/less neck tension. (For more information on tuning see the Blog titled: Tuning: Part 2 = Handloaders)
Procedure D: Clean Case
The last step is to clean the case. Start with cleaning the lube off the case. I like to use a microfiber cloth. Next, run a proper fitting nylon brush in the neck. This cleans out any lube that may have gotten inside the mouth and smooths out any carbon residue from the last shot. Lastly, clean the primer pocket with a primer pocket cleaning tool.
Items to Watch For:
If you fire and reload the same piece of brass enough times, you will notice inconsistent shoulder bump measurements. This is an indication that the brass has become work hardened. Work hardening can lead to the accuracy killing effect of inconsistent neck tension and decreased shoulder bump when using your resizing die.
Reloaders have three main options when the effects of work hardening raises its ugly head. One is to replace the brass. Simply start over with new brass. Second is to chase the changing shoulder bump and neck tension by altering the depth of the resizing die and changing the neck bushing. The third option is to anneal your brass. Annealing is the process of applying heat to the case to make the brass softer. The main benefit of annealing is that you can keep the consistent shoulder bump and neck tension without changing anything on your resizing die.
Lube is essential when resizing brass. However, this lube can collect dust and other foreign particles. Periodically clean the inside of the resizing die and bushing. I like to use Brakleen sprayed on a Q-tip.
Following these steps will ensure your brass is properly resized and ready for the next step in the reloading process. Please keep in mind, there are many ways to “skin a cat”. However, the end result of resizing should be the same; a case that can be easily chambered and provide the correct amount of neck tension yet prolong the negative effects of work hardening and case growing. Until next time, enjoy the experience.