|READ THIS FIRST
DON'T EVEN THINK ABOUT STARTING THIS MACHINE UNTIL YOU READ AND UNDERSTAND
IT IS ALSO HELPFUL IF YOU READ AND UNDERSTAND "HOW TO ANNEAL"
1. KEEP THE CENTER AXLE LIGHTLY LUBED, A LIGHT GUN OIL IS BEST, NOT
2. SELECT THE WHEEL THAT FITS THE CASES YOU WILL BE DOING. PUSH THE
SPRING LOADED MOTOR SLIGHTLY TO THE
SIDE TO LIFT OFF AND INSTALL THE WHEEL.
3. FOR BEST RESULTS THE CASES SHOULD BE CLEAN AND POLISHED.
4. SET 2 CASES IN THE WHEEL AND LAY A STRAIGHT
EDGE ON THE MOUTHS AND ALIGN THE BOTTOM OF THE
STRAIGHT EDGE WITH THE TOP OF
THE TORCH TIPS BY LOOSENING THE TORCH HOLDER SET SCREWS SLIGHTLY
AND TURNING THE HEX NUTS AT THE
BOTTOM OF THE TORCH HOLDERS. THE TORCHES SHOULD STICK OUT OF
TORCH HOLDERS 3/8". USE THE
BERNZOMATIC TORCH #UL 2317 THEY COME IN KIT #UL 100. THIS KIT ALSO
CONTAINS A CANISTER OF GAS.
5. WITH THE SPARE CASES IN THE WHEEL, LIGHT THE TORCHES, TURN THE
MACHINE ON AND LET THE CASES RUN THRU
THE FLAMES. ALIGN THE FLAMES SO THAT THE CASES MAKE AT LEAST 1
REVOLUTION THRU THE FLAMES OF BOTH
TORCHES. THE TORCH HOLDERS HAVE ALIGNMENT FLATS MILLED ON THE
SIDES WHICH SHOULD BE CLOSE. IF YOU
HAVE TO MOVE THE FLAMES, LOOSEN THE SET SCREWS AND MOVE THE
TORCH HOLDER SLIGHTLY TO GET THE CASE
TO STAY IN THE FLAMES FOR 1 REVOLUTION.
6. TURN OFF THE TORCHES AND MACHINE AND REMOVE THE WHEEL TO PREHEAT
IT UNDER A HOT WATER STREAM.
REINSTALL THE WHEEL AND PUT 1/2" OF HOT WATER IN THE 1" THICK
WHEELS AND 1/4" OF HOT WATER IN THE 1/2"
THICK WHEELS. DON'T OPERATE WITHOUT WATER IN THE WHEEL.
7. RELIGHT THE TORCHES, START
THE MACHINE WITH THE TORCHES TURNED DOWN AND START LOADING CASES IN
ADJUST THE FLAMES SO THAT WHEN THE CASES FALL INTO A DRY PAN, THE NECKS
ARE GOLD WITH
A SLIGHT BLUE
RING FORMING BELOW THE NECK.
Annealing is a process wherein heat is
applied to a metal in order to change it's internal structure in
such a way that the metal will become softer.
Most of us think of "heat treating"
when we think of applying heat to a metal in order to change it's
internal structural properties. The word "heat treating" is most
commonly associated with steel. However, the term heat treating is
not annealing, except
in a general and journalistic sense of the word. Heat treating
refers to a process wherein the metal is made
always means to make the metal
In order to make steel harder, it is
heated to some temperature, and then cooled fairly rapidly,
although this is not always the case. Brass, on the other hand,
cannot be made harder by heating it -- ever -- brass is always
made softer by heating.
The only way brass can be made harder
is to "work" it. That is, the brass must be bent, hammered, shaped
or otherwise formed. Once it has been made hard, it can be
returned to it's "soft" state by annealing. The hardness of brass
can be controlled by annealing for a specified
time and temperature.
BC-1000 Cartridge Case
The After Market
Ken Light Mfg.
Lake Havasu City, Arizona 86405
Unlike steel, which will be made
harder when it is cooled rapidly, brass is virtually unaffected
when it is rapidly cooled. Annealing brass and suddenly quenching
it in water will have no measurable effect on the brass. Cartridge
cases are made of brass. When cartridge cases have been reloaded a
number of times, the case necks become harder. Annealing will
return the cartridge case necks to their factory original state.
"Properly" annealed cartridge cases are
essential to maintaining accuracy and long case life when
using handloaded ammunition. The question is, what is "properly"
annealed? What does annealing do? Can a cartridge case be over
annealed? What part of the case should be annealed? Can annealing a
cartridge case make it dangerous? Below, you will find the answers
to these questions, as well as a number of other questions that you
A great deal has been written about cartridge
case annealing in the popular gun press. A great deal of what has
been written about annealing is misleading, with one exception:
articles and books by Dean A. Grennell. In his "The ABC's of
Reloading" (page 190), Mr. Grennell correctly describes the
procedure. Although it is a very short description, it is correct.
There is one slight error of fact, but it is on the side of safety
and Mr. Grennell cannot be faulted for this in any way. In fact, if
you do not have this book I recommend it -- even for "experienced"
handloaders. There is much valuable information in it, much of it
overlooked in other publications. The photo's are profuse and
excellent, the explanation clear and concise, and the writing is
witty and wry.
After wading through this weighty tome, you
will know more about annealing and cartridge brass than you probably
Few handloaders ever bother to anneal their
brass. The few that do are usually dyed-in-the-wool "gun cranks" (to
use a rather archaic term from the 1940's), "crazy experimenters" or
shooters who are involved in some form of competitive shooting.
There is good reason for this, too -- until now, annealing cartridge
brass was, at best, a spotty proposition. The brass is either over
annealed, under annealed, improperly annealed or some combination of
all three. Annealing brass is time consuming, and for the most part,
the damn stuff doesn't seem to shoot any better than before it was
annealed. Sure, the brass lasts longer, but it does not seem to make
any improvements in accuracy. If anything, it might seem to open up
groups. So much for the way you used to think about annealing.
Now let's find out about doing it right. Not
only will annealing make the brass last up to 10 times longer, but
it will tighten up those groups too.
Before I go into the why's and whereof of
cartridge brass and the right way to anneal, let's review the
traditional methods of annealing, the attendant disaster, and how
The usual procedure is to get a pan, something
like a cookie pan, and place enough water water in the bottom of it
to cover the lower one-third to one-half of the brass. Next the
cartridges are stood on their bases in the water. A flame from a
propane torch is played over the case necks until the brass "just
begins to glow" or "just before it begins to glow". When the magic
moment is reached, the annealing is abruptly arrested by knocking
over the heated case into the water. The fact that the case neck is
heated unevenly and the case-to-case heating is hardly uniform
doesn't seem to get much notice.
The reason for the water is that the
bases of the cases must not be
annealed, or even heated to any appreciable amount, for
reasons you will learn about later on.
Another method is to dip the case mouths into
molten lead that is at the "correct temperature. Of coarse, there
are the problems of lead sticking to the case (soldering), holding
the case, and preventing the base from becoming over heated. This
process is obviously one for Superman: he could hold the case with
his fingers of steel and freeze the base by blowing his supersonic
breath over it.
Quite frankly, I have never seen anyone use the
lead pot method of annealing although I have read many articles
describing it. I think I can see why it is not a popular method. The
next method is described by Earl Naramore in his "Principles and
Practices of Loading Ammunition" (circa 1954).
First the cases are
polished and then placed on a small block of wood or metal. The case
is placed on the platform and a flame from a suitable torch is
played over the neck as the block is turned. This continues until
the brass has a slight color change, and then the flame is removed.
The flame must be hot enough so that the neck is heated
sufficiently fast enough to prevent the base from heating to a
Needless to say, this procedure will work
fairly well, but requires a high degree of skill. It is also very
S-L-O-W! Can you imagine having to anneal several hundred cases
using this method? Another drawback to this method is that you will
have a decided lack of uniformity on the periphery of the case neck,
and the case-to-case results will be even less uniform. So much for
the "old methods".
Our present day cartridge cases represent over
one hundred years of continued development and refinement. Cartridge
cases are manufactured to exacting standards and tolerances from
brass made especially for the purpose.
A cartridge case starts life as a strip of
brass. It goes through a number of processes on it's way from brass
strip to finished cartridge case. It is punched, heated, cooled,
cupped, washed, drawn, annealed, formed, "upset" and trimmed and
polished, though not necessarily in that order, and I have left out
a significant number of steps. Suffice it to say, the manufacture of
cartridge brass is involved and exacting. What we get is truly a
marvel of manufacturing magic.
Cartridge brass is annealed several times
during the manufacturing process. Each step is carefully controlled,
and the brass is tested and examined with sophisticated equipment.
As delivered, a cartridge case has a number of
properties especially suited for the job it must perform. Most
shooters think of the cartridge case merely as a convenient way of
keeping the bullet, primer and powder from getting all mixed up and
a handy way of stuffing them all into the gun in the proper
sequence. As Rodney Dangerfield might say, "It don't get no
Actually, a cartridge case is the
primary component with
which we have to deal in handloading ! Not only that, but it is the
cartridge case which seals the chamber when the gun is fired. If it
weren't for the amazing ability properties of the cartridge case,
you would get a hot blast of gas in your face every time you pulled
After the trigger is pulled, the powder is
ignited and creates gas pressure inside the case. Under pressure,
the case expands. The outer walls of the cartridge case press
against the walls of the chamber. As the pressure builds up (as high
as 55,000 pounds per square inch or more in a rifle), the outer
walls of the case press tighter and tighter. The more pressure, the
better the seal (up to a point, of coarse). The primer, held
securely at it's outer walls by the same pressure, and pressing
against the bolt face (assuming we're still talking about a rifle),
does it's part to seal the breach, even though it's primary job is
completed by this time.
As the bullet speeds down the bore, the
pressure begins to drop. Finally, the bullet clears the muzzle and
the pressure abruptly drops to zero (in fact, to atmospheric
pressure). The cartridge case, having done it's job to seal the
chamber, has more "work" to do. It must spring away from the chamber
walls so it may be extracted. If it does not, it will be a bi___ to
remove from the gun. If it fails to spring back from the chamber
walls sufficiently, it will seem to be a little "sticky". If it does
not spring back at all, it will take the hot hammers of hell to
In order for the cartridge case to perform it's
tricky tasks again and again, it must have it's properties restored
from time to time. One of these properties is it's physical
dimensions. These are restored each time the case is resized. When a
cartridge case is full-length resized, every dimension except the
overall case length is restored. Principally, the diameters of the
case and the case's shoulder are restored.
Sometimes only the case neck is resized to
original factory dimensions. This is due to the fact the cartridge
brass has a certain resiliency and is able to spring back to a size
which approximates it's original size. It will still fit into the
chamber of the gun it was fired in, but it may not fit in another
gun, which to all intents and purposes is "identical" in every
respect, except that it's chamber may be slightly smaller. As long
as the cartridges are used in the same gun after each neck sizing,
no trouble will be encountered. Ammunition loaded from brass which
has been neck sized only, may group appreciably tighter. I
say may, because there are so many variables that only you can
determine which is the best combination of components, processes and
techniques for your gun.
Each time the case is fired and reloaded,
changes occur in it's structure. Except for the obvious changes in
dimensions, these changes are not discernable to the "naked-eye".
The important changes occur at the molecular level in the brass
of Cartridge Cases
A finished cartridge case is made so that the
hardness of the metal varies over it's length. It must be "hard" in
some places and "soft" in others. In order to make brass hard, it
must be "worked" or, in a crude sense, "hammered".
Most metals "work harden" as they are formed,
and brass is no different. The term "work" means that the fine
granular structure of the metal is placed under stress and changes
as a result of forming or shaping. These stresses remain in the
metal in the form of changes to it's grain structure. (This is
somewhat oversimplified, but is accurate as far as it goes).
The metallic "grains" can actually be seen if
the brass is etched in an acid solution and examined under a
microscope with the proper lighting conditions -- obviously a
laboratory job, and not a subject which I will take up here. When
the grains become too fine, the metal will easily crack. However,
there are ways to discern the general condition of the metals
structure without a laboratory examination.
The cartridge case, as it comes from the
factory, is not one single hardness over it's entire length. The
neck, which must hold the bullet in place with sufficient holding
power to prevent it's setback while undergoing recoil (as it is
stored in a magazine or clip), is somewhat "soft" compared to the
head of the case.
By "soft" I do not mean to imply that it is
like "dough" or soft like an aluminum beer can. It is "soft" only in
comparison to the head of the case. On the other hand, the head of
the case is not "hard" like a ball bearing is hard -- it is only
"hard" enough to do it's job and no more. If it is too hard or soft,
in the wrong places, the cartridge case will fail, and your first
indication of this disaster may be a cloud of gun parts flying in
into your face. Such a rapid disassembly of a gun is usually
attributed to "an overloaded cartridge," but just as well be from a
normally loaded cartridge
(developing normal pressures) whose case failed rather
catastrophically, and, I might add, rather suddenly, because it had
lost it's necessary properties.
How hard is "hard", and how "soft" is "soft"?
It is not a question which is easily answered, and I will waffle a
bit during the explanation. Normally you will use a cartridge case
until it is no longer serviceable because of two main reasons: the
case necks will become too thin from repeated sizing and trimming
operations, or the necks start splitting. In the first case, you
will probably detect the thinning by simply looking at the case
necks. Your experience will tell you that they are not "right" and
that it is time to get a new batch of brass. In the second case, you
will spot the split necks as soon as they are extracted from the
gun, or possibly during some inspection step during reloading.
If there are only a couple of splits in a batch
of brass, you will begin watching it closely (as the neck splits are
not particularly dangerous) and occasionally (and unconsciously)
touching your wallet as you contemplate the purchase of a new batch
The reason for the case neck splitting is that
the necks have become to hard and are not able to take the expansion
and contraction accompanying the rapid pressure excursion which
occurs within the case when it is fired.
The thinning of the case necks occurs when the
cases are repeatedly resized. Each time the case is run into the
sizing die, it is squeezed back to it's original dimensions. That
is, the brass is moved from one dimension to a smaller one. You have
heard the old adage, "you can't put two pounds of stuff (original
word omitted), into a one pound bag". The same holds true here,
also. When the case is squeezed, the "extra" brass has to go
somewhere. The somewhere that it goes to, is "out the front". The
case gets longer. The "extra" brass comes from the body and shoulder
of the case -- eventually, the case will "run out of the extra
bras". As the case gets too long, it will have to be trimmed. When
the necks get too thin, the cases will have to scrapped.
Another thing that happens during the resizing
also contributes to the hardening of case necks. As the brass is
squeezed back to it's original dimensions, it is work hardened even
more. Each trip through the chamber and the resizing die contributes
to the work hardening of the case necks. The usual method of
correcting this condition is to anneal the
case necks only.
Affecting the Annealing Process
You might assume that
brass is brass and that a little heat can't possibly hurt anything.
After all, the heat in the chamber is actually hot enough to melt
steel, isn't it? Yes, it is. But, the "fire" and attendant heat are
of such short duration that the brass (including the chamber and
barrel) are virtually unaffected. In order to change the grain
structure, time (as well as temperature) is an important
component. After too much heat and-or
too much time, the brass will be over annealed. It will be too soft,
and the entire case will be affected.
The trick is to heat the
neck just to the point where the grain structure becomes
sufficiently large enough to give the case a springy property,
leaving the body changed but little, and the head of the case
Brass is an excellent
conductor of heat. A flame applied at any point on a case for a
short time will cause the rest of the case to heat very quickly.
There are several temperatures at which brass is affected. Also, the
time the brass remains at a given temperature will have an effect.
Brass which has been "work hardened" (sometimes referred to as "cold
worked") is unaffected by temperatures up to 482 degrees (F)
regardless of the time it is left at this temperature. Remember,
water boils at 212 degrees (F), and oil heated in a
frying pan easily reaches 500(F) or more degrees. (All
temperatures will be in Fahrenheit).
At about 495 degrees
(F) some changes in grain structure begins to occur, although
the brass remains about as hard as before -- it would take a
laboratory analysis to see the changes that take place at this
If cases are heated to
about 600 degrees (F) for one hour, they will be
thoroughly annealed -- head and body included. That is, they will be
ruined. (For a temperature comparison, pure lead melts at 621.3
The critical time and
temperature at which the grain structure reforms into something
suitable for case necks is 662 degrees (F) for some 15
minutes. A higher temperature, say from 750 to 800 degrees, will do
the same job in a few seconds. If brass is allowed to reach
temperatures higher than this (regardless of the time), it will be
made irretrievably and irrevocably too soft. Brass will begin to
glow a faint orange at about 950 degrees (F). Even if the
heating is stopped at a couple of hundred degrees below this
temperature, the damage has been done -- it will be too soft. From
this discussion we can see that there are four considerations
time and temperature:
|1> Due to conduction, the
amount of heat necessary to sufficiently anneal the case neck is
great enough to ruin the rest of the case.|
|2> If the case necks are
exposed to heat for a sufficient period of time, a lower
temperature can be used.|
|3> The longer the case
necks are exposed to heat, the greater the possibility that too
much heat will be conducted into the body and head, thereby
ruining the cases.|
|4> The higher the
temperature, the less time the case necks will be exposed to heat,
and there will be insufficient time for heat to be conducted into
the body and head.|
You can see that there are a couple of
catch-22's involved in this annealing business. On the one hand, the
brass conducts heat quite rapidly, and a fairly high temperature
with sufficient time must be attained to do the job. On the other
hand, too much time cancels the effect, and we will be left with a
case that is too soft and not suitable for anything but scrap.
Obviously, there must be a solution; otherwise, not even the
cartridge manufacturers could get the job done.
In order to solve the problems of
automatic case annealing, we will need to accomplish the following:
Control the time the case neck will be heated. |
Control the amount of heat delivered to the case neck.
Cause the case to turn at a constant rate while it is
being heated so that the heat is applied evenly around the neck.|
Prevent, or sufficiently limit, the conduction of heat into the
|Add to the above list the
additional frills listed below, and you'll be in hog heaven:|
The annealer must be easy to set up.|
The annealer must be simple and easy to maintain.|
The process must be "dry" -- that is, the brass should not become
wet and have to be dried before reloading.|
The annealing process must be easy... it must not require
expensive testing equipment or unusual skills and knowledge.|
The annealing process must be fairly quick. The machine operator
should be able to anneal several hundred cases per hour.|
The process must be repeatable and predictable. Cases must be
uniform from case to case, as well as from session to session.|
Annealing and Under Annealing
When cartridge brass is under annealed,
virtually nothing has changed. If your case necks have become work
hardened, they will still be work hardened, You will not see any
improvement in case life or in accuracy. You will assume
(incorrectly) that annealing is a waste of time and in this case, it
Over annealing is certainly the worst
condition, and can even be dangerous, as pointed out above. Over
annealing has two aspects: over annealing of the case neck only, and
any annealing of
the lower half of the case. There is no particular danger to over
annealing the case necks, which is the usual result of standing the
brass in water and heating the necks with a torch. All that will
happen is that your accuracy will not improve, or it may become
worse, and the cases may seem to be a little more sticky during
extraction. Case life will be improved because the necks are soft --
too soft. However, you will conclude that annealing is not what it
is cracked-up to be, and may even be a waste of time.
Any annealing whatsoever of the
cartridge base is over annealing and is dangerous.
This area of the brass must retain the properties it had when it
left the factory. If it is made the least bit softer, let alone
"dead" soft, the stage is set for another shooter's nightmare. At
the very least, you may get a whiff of hot gas directed toward your
face. At the worst, you can be seriously injured as your gun behaves
more like a hand grenade than a firearm.
I once heard a tale of a gentleman who placed
his brass on a cookie tray and placed the whole batch in an oven at
650 degrees for over an hour. He wasn't hurt -- at least seriously.
His attitude toward annealing is very negative.
Cartridge brass which has been annealed over
it's entire length will exhibit signs of excessive pressure even
with moderate and reduced loads. Indeed, cases in this condition
are subjected to
excessive pressures. Any
pressure is excessive. Head separation, incipient head separation ,
stuck or sticky cases, blown primers, swollen cases, swollen case
heads, enlarged primer pockets) I mean R-E-A-L-L-Y enlarged) and
just about every other sign of excessive pressure imaginable can
occur with cases which have been annealed over their entire length.
Cartridge Brass for Hardness / Softness
not a definitive
test of case hardness; it is more of an illustration than anything
else. It requires a pair of small
Vice-Grips and a few bottle neck rifle cases in various conditions
of use: a factory fresh empty case, two cases that have not split
but have been fired many times, and a couple of extra cases to set
the jaws of the Vice Grips.
Place one of the used cases base down in a
shallow tray containing water up to the lower 1/3rd
of the case, and deliberately over-heat the case neck -- bring it to
a red heat.
Adjust the Vice-Grips until the jaws barely
touch the case neck when they are fully closed. Then, Carefully
adjust them to go a few thousands of an inch beyond that point. The
jaws should close until you can just barely visibly detect that the
case mouth is deformed when the Vice-Grips are closed.
Ordinary pliers are not good for this
demonstration because it is too easy to go too far. Vice-Grips, on
the other hand, have an adjustable limit to which they can be
Squeeze the neck of the used, but un-annealed
case. Note the pressure required. Also note that when the pressure
is released, the case neck springs back to it's original shape.
Squeeze the neck of the factory fresh case.
Once again note that the case neck springs back to it's original
shape, and that it takes slightly less pressure to deform it than
the un-annealed case.
Now, squeeze the annealed case. The pressure to
deform it is markedly less and when it is released, the case mouth
remains deformed -- no spring.
One more test -- stand the annealed case on a
metal plate (no water over the base) and heat the upper half to a
red heat. Hold the heat for a few seconds and then let it cool.
Adjust the Vice-Grips so that they can put considerable squeeze on
the head area and crush the annealed case. Now crush one of the
normal used cases. The difference is dramatic. Don't test an over
annealed case in a gun just to see what happens -- take my word for
it, the results can be dangerous to life, limb and eye, not to
mention the condition of the gun. Now crush all of the test cases so
that they won't get mixed in with some good stuff.
If you are a chemist or a metallurgist and know
how to do it, you can make some photomicrographs of sections taken
from the various critical points of several cases for reference. Of
coarse, you could have been out on the range having a good time
instead of fussing with such things, but to each his own.
the Proper Torches
Almost everyone has a propane torch. They are
pretty handy gadgets to have around the house. You will need two of
these torches for the BC-1000 Cartridge Case Annealer. Before you go
out and buy another torch or two, we need to have a brief discussion
on torches. There are torches, and then there are torches.
Some of the older type torches have large
burner tips and very crude fuel control systems. Most of the newer
torches have very efficient tips and fuel valves that are quite
precise. The newer torch tips are small in diameter -- about 1/2
inch -- while most of the older models are in the 5/8ths
inch range. There is nothing wrong with the older style torches, and
you will find that they can perform quite well. However, if your
torch's flame is hard to control, the tip "spits" or "flares", or
the tip has become too deformed because of being dropped a few times
too often and no longer delivers an even flame, some new torches may
be in order.
I happen to favor the BERNZOMATIC
TORCH #UL 2317
torch. The tip is efficient, and the valve is not too sensitive. Any
equivalent torch will do nicely as long as the tip will fit through
the torch holder. This torch will deliver about 4200 BTU.
The Brass for Annealing
The brass does not require any special
preparation before it can be annealed. However, you will need a few
polished cases in order to determine the correct temperature. This
is important if you want first class results. If your first batch of
brass will be pistol brass, don't use plated cases for the testing.
Plated cases anneal just fine, but you will not be able to see the
color of the brass as it heats up under that shiny coating of
If you have a polisher, polish the
brass before annealing it. If you do not have a polisher, use a
little Brasso or other brass polish on a dozen or so cases Polish
them about half way down the case by putting a little Brasso on a
soft cloth and turning them by hand. If you have a polisher, I don't
need to tell you how to polish the brass.
One more thing -
I know this goes without saying, but I'll say it any
Cases in the
Place one of the polished
cartridge cases in a hole near the flame and let it go around the
wheel and drop out. This will take a few seconds so be patient. If
you are using a rimmed, semi-rimmed or belted case, it will have to
be fed from the bottom of the shell wheel and held until the base
can be dropped on the feed ramp. Rimless and rebated cases can be
fed from the top.
It should be noted that one of the purposes of
the shell wheel is to preheat the case as well as provide a heat
sink to keep them from being over heated. All cases should be fed
into the shell wheel in the area of the feed ramp. Starting the
cases too close to the flame will not give them time to preheat to
212 degrees (F).
On a bottle neck rifle case, the central
portion of the flame should be on the case neck, and the outer
portions of the flame will "wash" over the shoulder and down the
side of the case for a short distance. As the cartridge goes around
the wheel, it will turn, causing the entire periphery of the neck to
be exposed to the direct flame at one time or another.
With this setup, the neck will actually reach a
temperature between 750 and 800 degrees. Remember, it is
time and temperature that
does the job. We have raised the temperature sufficiently to be able
to anneal the case necks in 6 to 8 seconds.
The shoulder will be a bit cooler than the
neck, and the body cooler yet. The case head will be below 300
degrees (F), which is well below the critical temperature
of 482 degrees (F) at which the first changes in grain
structure can occur.
As the case progresses through the flame, watch
it closely. You will detect a slight -- barely perceptible -- change
in color. As the exits the flame, there
should be a light bluish color which develops at the shoulder or a
little below it, while the shine remains on the case body.
The loss of the shine is a clue that the case got a little too hot.
On bottle necked cases you will see that the neck turns to a
noticeably deeper "gold" color.
If the shine is gone, the flame can be adjusted
or the angles of one or both torches can be changed so the case is
not in the flame as long. The height of one of the torches may be
changes so that the cases are not in the hottest part of the flame.
The color will usually develop as the case is in the last flame.
If the cases do not develop any color at all,
then increase the intensity of the flame or adjust the flames so
that they play more directly on the case necks, or a combination of
In any case, you are very much more likely to
over anneal than to under anneal.
Do not expect that the color will be as dark as
it appears on military cases. This darkness of the color on military
cases occurs over a period of time, as do the delicate reds and
purples around the dark color. If you leave one of your cases
sitting out for a few months, it will begin to take on the same
appearance that military cases have.
If the cases have lost their shine, they were
close to a red heat and and may or may not be too soft. You can
gauge the softness to some degree by using the Vice-Grip "test"
described above. If the case mouth doesn't spring back after being
slightly deformed, the case is trash. Don't waste your time with it.
When you get the faint blue color and the shine
remains on the case, you have everything adjusted to perfection.
Start stuffing those little brass cases in those little round holes
until your done. Make mental note of your set-up, and you'll be able
to repeat it in about three minutes the next time you are ready to
Ok, now that you know how to anneal, you need
to know when to anneal. If you shoot light loads, you can go a long
time between annealing. Moderate loads will necessitate annealing a
little more often. Normal loads will work harden the case after an
amazingly short time. Hot or maximum loads will require annealing
very often -- something on the order of once after every two to four
You must also consider that some work hardening
occurs when the brass is resized, so the number of firings do not
tell the whole story. Another consideration is the chamber size of
your gun. If you have a "loose" chamber, you will expand your brass
more. It will need to be squeezed more when it is resized, thereby
causing it to be worked a little more than "normal".
Another indicator is the opening up of your
groups. When you start getting fliers and abnormally large groups,
check your case necks along with all of the other variables; it may
be time to anneal. If your a chemist or metallurgist, you could
acid-etch a case neck and microscopically inspect the grain size.
In the end, it will be your own experience that
will determine the frequency of annealing -- just like every other
aspect of handloading, there are many variables which are peculiar
to your particular problems, methods, techniques, loads, components
and guns. You are the final judge.
The next question is, should cases be annealed
before reforming? I will let Mr. Earl Naramore answer that Question
("Principles & Practices of Reloading", Small Arms Technical
Publishing Company, 1954):
As to whether cases should
be annealed prior to re-forming them to some wildcat shape, much
depends upon circumstances. Re-forming such cases in an ordinary
resizing die puts a crushing force on them and I fear that if this
cock-eyed method is used, the annealing would only make the
crushing of the cases easier. But if a preliminary break-down die
is used, there would probably be an advantage to annealing before
the re-forming is done; it depends on the force of the break-down
die, the nature of the case, and such.
If cases are annealed for
re-forming, the angle of the flame should be set back and it
should be carried to a point where the shine on the cases
disappears. Following the annealing, the cases should be polished
again outside before any sizing is done on them. The loss of shine
means that the surface is oxidizing and such a surface will give
excessive resistance in a die. It is doubtful if one would have
enough of these special cases to justify mechanical washing or
polishing and a little rubbing up with Bon-Ami on a wet cloth will
do. It will be recalled that washing and water polishing follow
every anneal during manufacture of cartridge cases.
[Mr. Narmore devoted quite a bit of space to this subject in his
If you are forming brass and have definite
instructions as to when, where and how much to anneal, by all means,
follow the instructions that you have been given. The "instructions"
above are more in the form of "guidelines" rather than definite
The last question is, "Do I anneal
before resizing, or after"? Theoretically annealing does not change
the diameter of the case neck. In practice, it may or may not,
depending on how much the metal is stressed. Therefore, you should
always anneal before