Saturday, March 12, 2011

This Post Wasn't Supposed To Be THIS Post

What I was supposed to post about was how I completed my first reloading session, and had various combinations of hand-loaded, match grade, .223 to try out tomorrow.  But Murphy had other plans.
Gleaming brass from the tumbler.

I ran into a problem priming my brass.  I was able to de-prime it easily enough.  I tumbled it with stainless shot and got it all bright and clean and beautiful, no problem.  But the RCBS hand primer just wouldn't work right.  I barfed up at least half the brass I tried to prime.  Some would go just as smoothly as can be; others would just not prime properly.  When they wouldn't prime, I couldn't remove them from the tool because the damaged or tilted primer hung down and wouldn't allow the brass to pull out of the holder.  One of them had two primers crammed into the bottom, despite the "safety" which is supposed to keep that from happening.

It was really frustrating, and did no favors to the arthritis in my hands.  After way too much time - I took the thing apart and put it back together about 5 times - I realized it just wasn't centered and holding the brass properly.  So if everything lined up nicely (random event), it worked fine.  If it didn't, I messed up a primer badly, and sometimes ruined the brass.

Top view of the hand primer.  You can see that not only is the pin loose and floating around too much, but the white plastic is not symmetrical in the center of the shell holder.  I can't see how you can get accuracy of a few thousandths this way. If you look for feedback online on how these work, you get the usual mixture of some folks with no problems and others with really bad problems (what's a "ka-boom" called when it happens to the hand primer in your hand but not really highly explosive, like in a gun?)

So while I have 16 cases ready to load powder and a bullet, I've called it quits until I can get this hand tool replaced. 

16 primed cartridges in the back, and a bunch of brass waiting for primers.  Many of them have had the damaged primer removed.  The offending tool is at the top (re-set with the large primer guide in it - the way it came, not the way I was using it).    

Maybe next week I'll have it.  Maybe tomorrow we'll just take out the handguns and shoot some paper plates.  We haven't done that in a while.  

Meanwhile, I know I have some reloaders that read this, because we've talked about it.  What do you use for priming?


  1. Sorry to hear about your priming problems. Its frustrating when a dedicated piece of equipment doesn't work right. RCBS has a reputation for making things right and I'm sure they'll take care of you, but it doesn't make it less frustrating or the waiting any easier.

    Most of my priming is done on-press with a Lee Saftey Prime setup on my Lee Classic Turret press. I picked up an RCBS Universal Hand Priming Tool as well in case I wanted to prime off-press (like at the range or something) and I used it last weekend to prime 40 rounds of 30-06. It worked as expected for that job, but that was with large primers. Hold on a second, let me go take a look at mine...

    ...Okay, after looking at it mine is off center as well. It isn't that obvious with the large guide installed, but when I switched to the small guide it looks a lot like your picture above. I haven't loaded anything with small primers yet so I haven't had occasion to use it for that. I'll pull out some .357 brass pretty soon and give it a try and report back to you on how it goes. If mine messes up like yours on small primers then at least neither of us will feel like we're the only one.

    Don't you miss the days when you could buy something from a reputable manufacturer and be sure it was just going to work?

  2. I normally prime on my Dillon 550B, but when I hand prime I use the Lee Auto Prime Hand Priming tool (Sorry for the huge URLs, but with shipping Cabela's is cheaper than Midway, plus there is no $25 minimum/$3.50 surcharge like at Midway.) If you get one, remember to purchase the necessary shell holder. The RCBS ones won't work with the Lee.

    Question: are any of your brass cases in .223 actually once-fired military (5.56)? If they are military cases, they may have had a primer crimp added during their manufacture. This will have to be removed with either a pocket swager or cut out with a primer pocket reamer, such as the Hornady and Lyman reamers. Lyman makes a good case prep tool that will reamer primer pockets and trim and chamfer cases as well: like the Lyman-Case-Prep-Multitool available at Cabela's. There are pocket reamers that are powered, and ones that attach to a drill if you'd rather not do a lot of brass by hand.

  3. GB, I use the standard priming attachment on my Rockchucker press to prime. I have not been reading you much lately, so sorry if I make you repeat yourself, but is this commercial or military brass? If you didn't know this already, the primers in military cases are roll-crimped, squeezing the brass a little bit over the periphery of the exposed head and holding it in the case.
    The spent primer is easily squeezed out past this lip at the mouth of the primer pocket, but it plays hell with seating a new primer. There are primer pocket swagers that smash the lip back outward, but I had unsatisfactory performance with a swager I used way back in the day, and my technique (7.62 NATO, 30-06) is to chamfer the primer pocket mouth with a standard case chamfering tool. It takes me 4 good twists (i.e., if each twist is about 180 deg of rotation of the tool, then I do about 2 full turns of the tool in the primer pocket) to get the lip out. The new primer seats easily and I have never had a primer blow out due to excessive chamfering.
    I should add, there is some play of the primer atop the ram in my press. I have to pay attention to the feel when seating a primer, whether the case is military with a chamfered pocket or commercial, to make sure the primer is fairly well centered and going in right. I lose maybe 1 in 200+ primers by having them flip sideways, without me noticing it, as they are seated in the case. I used to lose more and had to learn what to do & not do.
    I can not tell you anything about hand priming tools but maybe some of the above is helpful.

  4. I am #3 above, whoops, commented without checking for previous comments, Reg T covered a lot of what I said.

  5. Thanks for the info, folks. The one thing I didn't mention is that the brass is all .223 Remington brass, not mil 5.65x45. It's a mixture of Federal and PMC, all one-time fired. At one time, I thought the PMC brass was priming better than the Federal, but I did have some PMC prime off center, too.

    There just appears to be too much slop in the centering of the cartridge.

    Since this is my first attempt at reloading, it could be all my fault. Leveraction - or someone - if you could try the small primer setup and seat that .357, it would be good feedback. For what it's worth, I've read a few people say large primers work better than small with this one.

    If we go shoot handguns today, as of now, I'm saving all my brass!

  6. Graybeard, this morning primed 50 .357 mag cases using the small primer guide on my RCBS Universal Hand Primer and only had one mishap with a primer that got sideways (and that one was probably my fault as I was talking to my wife at the time and not paying as much attention as I should). I did notice that the case has a little freedom to move around and "adjust" itself in the jaws of the universal shell holder. Some seemed to do more "adjusting" than others but none of them moved a whole lot.

    You mentioned slop in centering, I've noticed something similar when priming on-press. I have to make sure that the case doesn't drift in the shellholder between leaving the resizing die and the bottom of the stroke where the priming takes place. I push it to the back of the shellholder with a finger somewhere on the downstroke - that makes things go much smoother. Maybe its a problem with the shellholder as well as (or in combination with) with the primer tool?

    When thinking about it last night I had the same question as RegT about using military brass but you answered that above. Another thought I had was the possibility of using a ram prime system. You mount the shellholder on top of the press like a die and the plunger goes on top of the ram. You have to put the primer on the plunger by hand but it looks to be pretty foolproof, if a little slow, and cheap as well.

    Its still crappy that the hand primer doesn't work like it should - RCBS should replace or refund it to you.

  7. Maybe it's me. I put a dozen or so of the de-primed brass visible in that last photo back into the tumbler. Let the metal shot clean out the primer hole. Then I put them onto the hand primer to see if it would close all the way and the plunger go up into the pocket.

    All of them worked. They mostly required a little jiggling. I wonder if most of us do that unconsciously while priming? In any case, I have 8 cleaned shells here that seem like they will prime.

    Naturally, after I left a message with tech support.

  8. SG, excuse me if I'm stating the obvious, but have you tried one of the small pocket "uniformers"? Pretty much similar to a pocket cleaner, but solid instead of a brush or wire bundle. I had some brand new Star brand .44 Mag brass that was being difficult when priming, and that took care of the problem. Pain in the neck to have to do each and every case, but if you run into a particular batch of brass that is giving you fits, either a solid pocket cleaner, uniformer, or reamer used on that batch might help. Even with a sloppy hand priming device.

    That being said, the ram on your hand primer does indeed look far too narrow in diameter, though. There is some room on my Lee Auto Prime, but not that much. RCBS should replace that for you. In the meantime, cleaning/reaming those pockets should help.

  9. Reg - you may have hit it. I have a reamer that came with the kit, for trimming the outside and inside of the bullet seat, and took off a little of the area around the top of the primer pocket. I then was able to prime 4 out of 4 successfully. I did have to jiggle the brass a little to get it to line up, but once I got that aligned, the primer goes in with virtually no force on the handle. A sure clue is that if I need to squeeze hard, the primer is hitting the rim of the pocket.

    What I don't know at the moment is if all the Federal brass needs it, or if it's just these few. My guess is it's all of the Federal. I have 100 casings of Federal brass, but thousands of (unfired) rounds of PMC and Remington UMC for future use.

  10. I have a Hornady primer pocket reamer that I've been using to de-crimp the military 30-06 brass and its worked remarkably well. Leaves a nice bevel on the edge of the primer pocket that would probably do well to guide the primer into the pocket. Might not be a bad thing to have around, and you'll need something to remove the crimp if you ever get hold of any reloadable surplus ammo.

  11. Another vote for the Lee AutoPrime here. And check your brass to make sure it hasn't got crimped primer pockets. When I can't get a primer to want to seat, that's usually the culprit. If "taking a little off the top of the primer pocket" fixed things, I suspect the pockets are crimped. You can punch a spent primer out easily enough, but until that crimp is removed, putting a new one in will be impossible, or next to it.