October 22nd, 2018

Incipient Case-Head Separation — How to Detect the Problem

cartridge case separation

We are re-publishing this article at the request of Forum members who found the information very valuable. If you haven’t read this Safety Tip before, take a moment to learn how you can inspect your fired brass to determine if there may be a potential for case separation. A case separation can be dangerous, potentially causing serious injury.

cartridge case separationOn the respected Riflemans’ Journal blog there was an excellent article about Cartridge Case-Head Separation. In this important article, Journal Editor GS Arizona examined the causes of this serious problem and explained the ways you can inspect your brass to minimize the risk of a case-head separation. As cases get fired multiple times and then resized during reloading, the cases can stretch. Typically, there is a point in the lower section of the case where the case-walls thin out. This is your “danger zone” and you need to watch for tell-tale signs of weakening.

The photo below shows a case sectioned so that you can see where the case wall becomes thinner near the web. You can see a little arrow into the soot inside the case pointing to the thinned area. This case hadn’t split yet, but it most likely would do so after one or two more firings.

cartridge case separation

Paper Clip Hack for Detecting Problems
The article provided a great, easy tip for detecting potential problems. You can use a bent paper clip to detect potential case wall problems. Slide the paper clip inside your case to check for thin spots. GS Arizona explains: “This simple little tool (bent paper clip) will let you check the inside of cases before you reload them. The thin spot will be immediately apparent as you run the clip up the inside of the case. If you’re seeing a shiny line on the outside and the clip is really hitting a thin spot inside, it’s time to retire the case. If you do this every time you reload, on at least 15% of your cases, you’ll develop a good feel for what the thin spot feels like and how it gets worse as the case is reloaded more times. And if you’re loading the night before a match and feel pressured for time — don’t skip this step!”

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