After your brass has been fired a number of times, it will greatly benefit from an annealing. Brass “work hardens,” meaning that as it is fired, resized, then fired again, the case neck area which used to be relatively soft (as it’s supposed to be) gets gradually harder. This means that the cases become harder to size, and also the spring tension of the neck (it’s ability to grip the bullet “just right”) goes away. You can often feel the need for annealing when you are seating bullets. Some go in harder than others. This is a clue that something is not right with the uniformity of your case necks. Perhaps they are work-hardened after several firings.
The solution is to “anneal” the brass. This is done by simply heating the case neck area with a propane torch to a certain point (a certain highly debated point albeit), then allowing it to cool. After it cools–whether it is water quenched or allowed to cool in the air–the case neck will be softened to the hardness level it was when the brass was new.
It is fine to air cool the cases, and it is also fine to water quench them. Brass doesn’t harden back with water quenching as steel does. I prefer to just let my cases air cool, so that way I don’t have to worry with drying them.
There are various methods of annealing, with various devices for the purpose (some ridiculously expensive). However, unless you’re really trying to impress your friends on the troll-web forums, all you really need is a propane torch. These can be had for less than ten bucks at your local hardware store.
Some folks will use a product called Tempilaq… and this paste turns a certain color at some specified heat level. While it is certainly fine to use such products, in truth, you really don’t need them. The most you need to do is watch for an orange glow on the case neck as you heat it in the flame (in the dimly lit room, see video). Don’t make it cherry red, or you will discolor your brass, and some folks argue that you will damage the brass. Other folks claiming to be metallurgists argue that you won’t damage the brass by making it red. Forget the debates… I say make it orange, and it’ll retain its color well, and annealing will still be adequately accomplished. The proof is always in the results. My brass lasts as long as the next guy’s, and accuracy is always good.
When to anneal is debatable. I like to anneal Winchester brass after 4 firings. Lapua brass after 4 firings. But Federal brass work hardens a bit faster (or sure seems to), so annealing after 2 or at most 3 firings when working with Federal (FC) brass is a good practice in my opinion. Federal has improved their brass alloy in recent years, and it does seem to last longer than it used to.
Adding annealing to your brass care regiment will ensure the longest case life possible (fewer split case necks) and improve accuracy as well.
Here is how I do it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qlIjQ05aKzk