Inspecting Cases

Gavin from Ultimate Reloader, in combination with Frankford Arsenal, discusses the first, and one of the most important steps in the reloading process; inspecting your cases.

What kind of cases can you reload?

Whether you pick up cases off the range or you specifically put every cartridge case you shoot back into your reloading box after each shot, inspecting your cases prior to reloading is an essential step in maintaining safe and reliable reloads. There are some specific criteria you'll want to look for when it comes time to inspect your cases. Initially, you'll want to sort out brass cases. This is more applicable to those who pick up range cases, however, it is a good habit for reloaders to get into. Aluminum and steel cases, which are often gray in color, are not able to be reloaded, so you'll want to stick with reloading only brass cases.

While working through sorting your cases by material, it is also a great time to identify your cases to make sure they fit the proper cartridge specification. For example, if you're reloading .308 Winchester, you'll want to sort out any non .308 Winchester brass. Checking the headstamps is a great way to reliably identify your cases, however, not all cases have the cartridge labeled on the headstamp. If you run into this issue, it is best to thoroughly inspect the case and cross-compare it with another case you know meets the correct specification. When doing this, compare the case neck diameter, the headstamp diameter, and the overall length of the case to be sure the unmarked brass meets your criteria.

Damaged Cases and Primer Pockets

After you've sorted out brass cases that meet your cartridge specification, you'll want to throw away any cases that are significantly damaged with crushed necks, dented shoulders, or bulged sides. This step can be repeated again after cleaning and tumbling, which can make it easier to identify dented or broken cases. After sorting your cases by cartridge and throwing away any unwanted cases, you'll move on to the next step, inspecting the primer pocket area. There are two things to look for here. First, you'll want to look down the case neck with a flashlight and identify whether the primer pocket has one single hole or two small holes.

Cases with the two holes in the primer pocket, called Berdan style primer pockets, are more difficult to reaload, so typical practice is to scrap Berdan primed cases. Cases with one hole in the primer pocket, called Boxer primer pockets, are far more common and are typically what most reloaders use exclusively.

Check for Crimped Primers

After identifying your Boxer-primed cases, you'll want to look at the headstamp area of the primer pocket again and look for a military-style crimped primer.

Cases with crimped primer pockets can be reloaded, they just require one more step, called swaging, to ream out the primer pocket to size. Following all of these steps will ensure your newly loaded cartridges will be safe, reliable, and consistent.

Inspecting Cases in 7 Easy Steps

Here's a quick recap of the seven steps to inspecting a case:
  1. Examine each cartridge to see if it conforms to the proper cartridge specification.
  2. Look at case material: aluminum, brass or steel (green, lacquered, or gray in appearance). Only reload brass.
  3. Check the headstamp (may have manufacturer listed, or date case was manufactured.)
  4. For handgun brass, check for a slight bulge on side of the case.
  5. Check to see if the case is meant for a Berdan, two hole primer or a Boxer, single hole primer. If brass has two holes (Berdan) then it cannot be reloaded.
  6. Check for splits or cracks and dents in the case of the brass and throw them out.
  7. Check for crimped primer pockets on military rifle and pistol ammo. If so, you'll have to swage the pocket out to fit a new primer