Monthly Archives: February 2015

Simple brass annealing…


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:

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The 7mm Sharder-Langer


“Yeah, I’m thinking of building me a 7mm Sharder-Langer” a fellow near the firing line muses.

“A what??” another replies.

“A Sharder-Langer” the first smugly answers, happy that he has heard of the Sharder-Langer while the other poor schlub remains uninitiated.  “It’ll do 3000 fps with 7mm 150’s.  Only .6 MOA of wind drift at 1000 yards…”

“Won’t a 7mm Rem Mag do that?”

“Maybe, but you see, the Sharder-Langer is proprietary.  Shoulder angle is set to increase barrel life.”

“How do you get Sharder-Langer brass?”

“You have to fire-form it from 7mm STW brass.”

(which of course wouldn’t cost any barrel life at all, would it? 😉  )…

“And the Sharder-Langer will go 75 feet per second faster than the STW.”

(and the 7mm RUM will beat that if you really need to)…

bangsteel brochure

And so it goes.  A cartridge is “re-invented” to some “proprietary” wildcat that won’t do diddly squat that other existing cartridges aren’t already doing.  Then you have to invest in custom dies, and suffer the inconvenience of not being able to find brass for the gun, let alone factory ammo if you ever were in a pinch.

Which begs the question, “what’s the point?”  I really think it’s an identity thing of sorts, and folks can be easily persuaded by rifle builders to get on the bandwagon of the newest, latest, and presumably greatest thing since… ever. :/

As rifle aficionados, we can (if we aren’t careful and sensible) get bored with the more than sufficient array of options available to us.  “I’d get a 300 Winchester Magnum, but Stosh down the street has one of those and he’d just think I was copying him…  but the 300-338 Lapua now, that’s something to think about… no, not Lapua… too much of that around.  EDGE!  That’s it.  The 300-338 EDGE.  And now, to the troll-webs to sell a bunch of my pedestrian stuff to finance this puppy.”

Okay, that was perhaps a bit mean–but nonetheless not far from the truth.

Let’s consider:  Unless you just popped out of an animal cracker box, you’re aware that the world economy is continuing to struggle, and times are likely to get much harder before they ever get better.  Let’s make reasonable choices for the cartridges which we may have to field in a fallen world.  Don’t be wooed by bizarre creations out there just to be different.  If you need a spinner on your ball cap, let it be a slick paint job on the stock. Don’t throw the utility of your rifle under the bus by chambering it in some obscure, soon to be forgotten cartridge.  Stick with proven and available choices which have been doing for decades what oddities like the contrived Sharder-Langer purports to do.  An extra 50 to 100 fps?  Run some ballistic chart numbers.  That’s not a lot of advantage for any practical situation–and it’s in fact a truck load of disadvantage when you consider the hoops you have to jump through to even get brass for the gun, and the barrel life (and bullet cost) deficit of the fire-forming debacle.

So think about it.  For any given viable caliber bullet you can field, there already exists an established and substantial over-lap of cartridge capabilities that will launch those bullets.  I’m not discouraging wildcatters at all–we wouldn’t have many of the great cartridges we have today if not for those experimenters.  So our hats must be off to them. 🙂  But that said, for the rifles we may have to stake our lives on, let’s stick with the boring old standbys.  They became such for a reason.  😉

And please don’t email me requesting info on the Sharder-Langer.  Only the most elite and esoteric of sold out riflemen can ever hope to own one of those. 😉

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Driving it like you stole it…

“The 308 Win Mag”… 🙂  We teased a good friend of ours who was initially getting some pretty amazing results with heavy bullets and IMR 8208 in his 308 Winchester chambered rifle.  I won’t mention the specific bullet and powder charge–but will say it was a heavier than usual bullet for the cartridge, running in the mid to upper 2700 fps range.  And it worked.  For a little while, anyway. 😮


Ultimately, the cases (sturdy Lake City cases at that) began to separate, primers were getting very flat, and very hard extraction became the norm.  What had happened?

Most of us have perused the shooting forums and blogs on the ‘net and have seen “magic” loads which produce “no pressure signs.”  Pictures of the unscathed case heads and primers usually accompany these threads.  And many will have chronograph tapes showing astounding velocities.

Check into the thread a few weeks later and ask how things are going, and often the reply is resounding silence.  The originator of the thread, while being obviously present on other pages on the forum, has nothing more to report.  The likely reason is he’s embarrassed to tell you that his “no pressure” load is now puking primers and ruining brass–practically every shot.

But what really happened to the “308 Win Mag” load?  In most such cases, the brass has simply taken all the stretching and retracting it can take.  After getting the fire whipped out of it 2 or 3 times, it no longer has the “spring back”  that it needs to allow normal extraction.  When this happens, the cases end up getting trapped in the chamber when the chamber (being steel, of course) reflexes back to its normal dimensions–but the brass does not.  Fresh brass is better able to handle high pressure loads, as it still has the ability to spring back easily.  But fire it 2 or 3 times with an over-pressure load, and voila–pressure problems are evident in hard bolt lift, loose primer pockets, or even dislodged primers.


Chasing extreme for cartridge velocities used to be a hobby of mine, and I do regret ever going down that road. While many of the loads I used in the “old days” were very, very accurate–they were also very, very hard on brass.  When you could just pop into the local Walmart (yes, our Walmart sells reloading supplies) and pick up 50 new 308 cases for about ten dollars, I didn’t even trim brass.  I just fired my over-the-top loads in the cases 3 or 4 times, then went and bought more brass–and threw the old stuff away.

Fast forward to today, and you can’t find brass so cheap any longer.  That’s reason number one to “make it last.”  If I pay 70 dollars for 100 Lapua brass cases, I want to get plenty of life out of them.  Keeping the powder charge levels in the realm of sanity helps this to happen.

Even big ammo makers are loading ammo to pressures that are going to be (without a doubt) too high.  The 6.5 Creedmoor Hornady ammo is super hot, and you’ll very often find that primers pierce in the AR platformed rifles.  It’s simply due to very high pressures.  Hornady has a vested interest in making that Creedmoor cartridge work, and high velocities are what their customers want.  Some hand loaders are driving 140 grain bullets from the 6.5 Creedmoor (and the 260 Remington, the wheel the Creedmoor re-invented) to 2800 fps and even faster.  These numbers rival most published data for the 6.5/284 pushing 140’s!  But the brass does not hold up for many firings, for the very reasons I mention above.  We do get the rare (and suspect) report that a fellow is getting 2800 fps or more from 140’s through his Creedmoor or 260 and he’s on the 6th or 8th firing of the brass and primer pockets are still tight.  He’s the exception–to say the least–if he’s being honest.


Another thing that will occur as over-worked brass begins to fail, is accuracy falls off.  More flyers with the same load recipe (when nothing else can be identified as the cause) can often be traced to brass which has passed its prime.  And there is no faster way I know of to accelerate brass degradation than shooting the brass too hard.

So these days, my 308 loads are more in line with reason.  If I can get 168’s to 2650, or 175’s to 2600, I’m happy, and my accuracy is good, and my brass thanks me.  Do I want more speed?  If so, they make 300 Win Mags every day.  Creedmoor and 260 owners… do you want a 6.5/284?  While the choices are fewer–they make those too.

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