firearms, shooting equipment, and outdoor gear for the average enthusiast.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

reloading steel

On par with 9mm vs 45acp, AK vs AR, Lead and poly rifled bores, and glock vs 1911, is the venerable debate on the reloading of steel cases. Many reloaders and shooters won't fire steel cased ammo at all, let alone reload it. However more and more manufacturers are entering the steel cased
wolf 45acp and 223 steel cases
market (even Hornady), and the metals market in general has been quite volatile. Being able to separate facts from Internet fiction could become paramount in maintaining an adequate brass supply for shooting.

It seems pistol shooters are slightly less reluctant to take the plunge into toying with steel cases, partially (I suspect) due to the US military issuing steel cased 45acp during WWII. However, many rifle users remain reluctant.

I've experimented with 223 and 45acp wolf steel casings to see how they fair in the reloading world. I've learned a little, and shot a lot - and hope this might help other people do the same. In discussing the 223 casings first, know up front that not all wolf 223 is boxer primed. Much of it has been (and I suspect always will be) berdan primed. I can say that as of 2006-07 when I first started trying to reload steel, that both were available, and I never did figure out if there was a way to distinguish which was which from factory packaging.

all reloaded and ready to go
I have noticed three major points in reloading steel for rifle rounds (specifically 223) as opposed to brass. First- their is a slight increase in the amount of effort necessary to process the case. Both the resizing and chamferring of the case mouth requires slightly more effort with steel.

Second, they do not last as long as brass. I have never had case head separation while reloading wolf 223 steel, but I have had cracked necks. The maximum number of reloads I have ever gotten from a wolf steel rifle case in 223 was 5. I lost the nerve to load them after that, or the case mouth just was no longer suitable for shooting.

Finally, the third thing I have learned about steel is quite obvious, you have to dry them fairly quickly after shooting or they will rust on you. After a tumble, you will notice the steel feels extremely smooth, and is actually quite nice to work with.
checking for boxer or berdan primer is as easy as looking down

As far as the longevity of the pistol cases is concerned, I have never bothered to keep count. I lose them or just don't bother with the record keeping on the lower pressure stuff like 45acp.  I can say I have yet to notice a crack in any of my 45 steel- but that could be as much a function of turnover as it is vitality on the casings' part.

As far as the feel of the steel for reloading pistols, I never have had to chamfer or debur a steel case in 45acp. I just treat them like brass and run them through dies (carbide lee dies). They hold bullets firmly, require no crimp modification, and don't seem to have any issues with primer pockets working loose quicker than any other casing.
fired wolf 45acp with factory primer

As far as loading data is concerned, All of my loads with steel (and brass for that matter) are published load data in 45acp and 223. The cases have had no issues with unique and reddot in 45acp, nor have the rifle cases in 223 had problems with 846T, IMR4473, or Win748.

I enjoy having a fair amount of steel around because I really don't care if I lose it / don't recover it. In that regard it is great for ranges or shooting situations where high grass, snow, or terrain makes losing empties the norm.

I also have found that people object far less to you picking up their empty steel casings as opposed to their brass ones. This goes for both ranges and individuals, who even if they don't reload, might scrap their brass to recover some of the cost of shooting.

Also, it was just nice to investigate something myself instead of blindly taking the word of others who are just repeating things they have heard. I've cycled through hundreds of steel 223 at this point, and probably just as many 45acp. I know that is not nearly an exhaustive number, but it is enough for me to know that this is a viable resource I can use to keep myself shooting.
lets be honest, steel also looks badass when it is loaded
We in the gun community participate in a sport that is fiscally tied very closely to the price of gas, metals, and politics. Variation in any of those markets can have large and negative impacts on the ability of the shooter to do what he or she enjoys best- shooting. laying into a supply of cheap steel cased ammo, and knowing that it may be able to at least in part provide you some return beyond its initial firing can be very handy information indeed the next time wolf 223 goes to 7 dollars a box.

Take this information for what it is worth- I am not advocating you go out and hotrod some shitty steel casings you find, but I am saying that I have played with them for a few years now, and have no issues to report when proper care and loading techniques are used.

carry on and shoot well.

UPDATE: follow up article on reloading more steel here


anieb said...

This post is really too informative to us, good perception of images and good description by which any one can get information what they want to this post.......As for as my thinking is concerned this one is the best post.

Thanks for sharing such a informative post.
223 ammo

CTone said...

Good post. I honestly never knew they could be reloaded, though I suspected that they could. Same with nickel plated cases. Now I'm wondering about case volume, and whether steel cases give more room, or handle higher pressures better. The part about primer pockets not loosening up is important; when I hotrod a load, I usually wreck the case after a firing or two, and it's usually the primer pocket that's the weak point.

Steel cases do look badass!

mike's spot said...

Thanks C-tone! what is the best way to do a volumetric measurement on cases? water? lets test it out- I still have some unloaded brass and steel- I'm just not familiar with the best way to measure the differences

Ron said...

Hey Mike very informative blog I have not pondered reloading Steel, one problem I have with it is it is not compatable with my ultrasonic cleaning because after I remove my brass I purge the cases with water 3 times then let them dry in the sun before tumbling them.