"Annealing means heat treating the neck and shoulder of a brass cartridge case to make it softer so it will seal the chamber during firing. Unlike steel, brass gets softer as you heat treat it, not harder. What makes brass cartridges become harder is firing the cases in your gun, and then working them in your reloading dies. Both those operations will cause brass to harden, which leads to splits and cracks in the cases" (Sinclair International, 2018).
Why Do I Need to Anneal?
1. It extends brass life. Those individuals who shoot in competitions, won't have to keep spending more money on brand new brass after it splits.
2. Let's say you are converting .223 to 300 blackout, you'll need to anneal it. Why? because as you cut down into the body of the .223 cartridge where the brass is thicker, it tends to crack after just a couple of reloads. Case necks tend to be pretty thin. You will also need to anneal wildcat cartridges. Especially when you take a bigger caliber and convert into a smaller one.
3. If you notice that your case necks start to crack, find splits on the shoulder, projectiles are sitting easier or are becoming harder to seat, it's time to anneal.
How Do I Anneal?
Well, you can do this a few different ways. But let's discuss the actual way to do it before the types of bench gadgets you can get.
Take your piece of brass and mark it with tempilaq. I prefer using the 650°F on the shoulder and halfway down the body. Also, I use 400°F on the lower half that will tell me if I have over annealed the brass.
Take your butane torch and start the flame out slowly. You will want the blue flame pretty close to the shoulder of the brass you are intending on annealing. You then will rotate the flame around the brass evenly until the tempilaq melts away near the shoulder. If you find that your brass from the middle down where the 400°F has melted away, you have officially over annealed and the brass is ruined. DO NOT, by any means use over annealed brass. You could seriously injure yourself.
Tip: the tempilaq company has known for years that some users may notice the liquid turning black when exposed to an open flame. This is not suppose to happen, but unfortunately happens all the time with their products. The way around this is by coating the inside of your brass with the 650°F and the 400°F on the outside. After you anneal, make sure to give your brass another wash. Your dies won't like all that gunk on it.
So, I know what annealing is. What options do I have machine wise to perform this step?
Here's my favorite: Bench Source Annealer
Not only can you add two butane torches to this unit, it process 500-600 cases per hour and is super easy to use.
Here's a YouTube video I made of the set up process and how to work the machine.
This machine is personally the best option in my opinion. With a step like this in hand-loading, you want to pay close attention. Otherwise, you could really hurt yourself if you shoot an over annealed case. Theoretically, If you over anneal the case neck it will just bend. Although, the last thing you want to do is over-anneal the body of the case.
Having that said, theirs other options out their that have feeding systems that use one butane torch. Having the luxury of putting all your brass into a hopper and not having to worry about it is awesome. Until you get so comfortable and you walk away for a minute while your cartridge gets over-annealed on accident. Different brass manufacturers have different thicknesses of brass. moreover, it might take a tad bit longer to properly anneal something....or over anneal. Be careful please, no one wants to see you get hurt or your loved ones.
As always, be safe, shoot straight, happy reloading!
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