Proper Lubrication for brass, pistol and rifle

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Proper Lubrication for brass, pistol and rifle

Category : Reloading

A fellow, whom I guess is somewhat new to reloading (he asked a question regarding lubrication for rifle brass in a way that leads me to believe that he’s kind of new at it) , asked a question in a Facebook Group. It seems that he’s gotten a few pieces of 223 Remington brass stuck in his full length resizing die. He’s developed a way to drill out the primer pocket, thread the pocket, and remove the brass from the sizing die. He mentioned that he has been heavily lubing the brass with a specific case lube. There are a few factors which could contribute to the brass getting stuck, and I will go over those. However, the primary basis of this article is the proper selection and use of case lube for assisting with lubricating rifle brass.

Let me start with the subject of pistol brass. In the old days, standard tool steel pistol sizing dies were the only type of die available for full length sizing of pistol brass. Any of those die sets required the use of a lubricating material, or else you were likely to get the pistol b5rass stuck in the full length sizing die. Because the relative friction between the brass and the tool steel was rather low, almost any lube would work, and many people used a variety of lubricants, including products such as Imperial Sizing Wax, WD-40, Marvel Mystery Oil, Liquid Wrench, motor oil, etc. Just about anything that would add some lubrication was seemingly OK.

Carbide Ring Sizing Die. Notice the shiny darker ring around the opening

However, along came CARBIDE resizing dies. The carbide inserts are very smooth, extremely smooth, and almost never require the use of any sort of case lube. Some of us use a lube made for resizing for many of the large pistol calibers, such as the 44 Magnum, 500 S&W Magnum, etc.The use of a case lube just makes the resizing process a bit easier to do, especially if your batch size is several hundred cases. Check any old tool sets that you are considering to purchase to see if they are carbide inserted. If they are really old, and don’t have that darker shiny carbide ring, then be aware that you will have to use a lube for the pistol resizing.

So, while you can buy carbide insert sizing dies for pistol brass, and the use of a carbide inserted die set eliminates most of the need for lubrication for sizing, RIFLE brass full length sizing dies are a different beast.

The first question to ask is, “Does anyone make carbide insert full length sizing dies for rifle resizing?” The quick answer is, “YES.” However, that leads to the second and third questions:
“If I use a carbide insert rifle resizing die set, can I eliminate the use of lube?” That answer is emphatically, “NO!” Which leads to the third question, “Who then, needs a carbide insert rifle resizing die set?” Fast answer: The ammo manufacturers. They still have to lube the brass before sizing it, but the carbide die sets for rifle resizing will last longer, and important factor when you are making millions of cartridges per year. Before I get into the direct subject of proper sizing lubes for rifle brass, let me first address a common mistake regarding the setting of a rifle full length resizing die in your press. Pistol die sets are designed differently than rifle dies are. Pistol die sets ONLY touch the OUTSIDE of the brass.

Pistol full length resizing die. Note lack of neck bump

Rifle resizing dies touch the outsides of the case, but also touch the insides of the case (specifically the NECK area.) Take a pistol resizing die set apart, and compare the primer knock out pin to that inside of a rifle resizing die. The rifle die has a bump area on it that is designed to re-size the neck area of the case. The LOCATION of that bump portion, when setting up the die is critical. Most manufacturers use a dimension of 3/16″ to 1/4″” for the primer knock out pin to be past the end of the die. If adjusted too far out, or not far enough out, the bump portion of the primer knock out pin will not be in concert with the brass as it’s being resized, and could cause the brass to get stuck in the die, even if a proper lube is used. I really like the way RCBS instructions show that adjustment:

Rifle Full length resizing die. Note the bump out near the beginning of the knock out pin

Their instructions are valid for everyone’s die sets, regardless of manufacturer. So, if you set that knockout pin too far out, or not far enough, you will risk getting the brass stuck in the die, and having the neck area of the rifle brass not being sized correctly. That one tip is the biggest cause of stuck rifle brass among new reloaders.

The second issue with rifle brass is WHERE to and where not to apply the brass lube.

Some serious lube dents caused by applying case lube in the shoulder area

The shoulder on rifle brass has a specific function: To act as a gas seal. If it weren’t there, as the bullet leaves the case, the gas pressure would otherwise leak past that part of the case, eventually causing erosion of the chamber. The gas pressure is plasma hot. If, when applying case lube to the shoulder or neck area of rifle brass, most dies will cause the lube to hydraulically be pressed into the shoulder, cause pressure dimples (I call them grease or lube dents.) The gas would leak past those dents, allowing a lot of the gas pressure to be lost in the act of eroding your chamber. Also, applying too much lube, even in the main body area or the cases could cause excess lube to get squeezed into the shoulder area. This could also cause a vacuum when trying to remove a sized case from the die. Most dies do not have a hole through the side to handle gas or lube pressure.

ONLY APPLY a small amount of a proper lube to the sides of the brass rifle cases. Do not apply lube to the outside of the case shoulders of necks. Using a slight amount of case lube on a Q-Tip, it is permissible to apply a thin coating of lube to the insides of the case neck if you feel too much resistance, or hear a squeak when removing the cases from the die.

Finally, the subject of the case lube itself.

The best case lube is RCBS Case Lube 2, which comes in a 2 oz bottle. When used with a lube pad will last you years and years. Apply a small amount to a clean lube pad, and allow it to soak into the pad a bit before lightly rolling the brass on the pad. Do not press the brass too hard. You do not want to roll any lube onto the shoulder or neck.

In my book, the best spray case lube is Dillon’s Spray Case Lube. However, at $13 for an 8 oz bottle, its a bit expensive. The two ingredients to Dillon’s lube is ISOPROPYL alcohol and anhydrous lanolin (not white stuff from the big box store. The white version is mostly water.) It should look somewhat like Vasoline constancy, thick, gooey. You can get Lanolin from a number of places. It;s a common ingredient in lip balm, etc. Etsy is a place to get it. A pound will last you decades. Lanolin is the waxy stuff from sheep’s wool.

You can make your own version, really cheap, as follows:
Get a Dollar Store quart sized spray bottle. Add in a quart of 91% Isopropyl alcohol from Walgreens, CVS or other. Do not use cheap “Rubbing Alcohol”, which is only 40% isopropyl. You can also get 99% Isopropyl by purchasing two pints of HEET “RED” brand of “DRY GAS” from Walmart or a similar store. The blue bottles are Methyl alcohol, and not what you want to use. Use about 1/2 of a 35 MM film canister’ worth (that’s the best way to describe how much lanolin to use) into that alcohol, and stir it with a wire coat hanger stirrer using a drill motor to spin it.

Spray this stirred mixture on the brass, and allow the alcohol to evaporate completely before resizing. If you try to resize while the alcohol is still wet, you will get the brass stuck. If you mix this home made version of the spray lube properly, it will last you a long time, and is what I use for large batches of brass. And, of you are wondering if the lube will get on the shoulders, yes… However, the coating, after evaporating, is so thin that it will not cause lube dents.

Please let me know if this system works for you. I haven’t had a piece of brass get stuck in decades.


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