Brass case failure


November 18, 2007, 06:33 AM

I am quite curious about brass case failure and its consequences.
I reload my 357Mag hot (16.2gr of h110 with HSP 158gr).

Here are the failures I read can happen:

- Split at the neck
- Separation of the head and case
- Split in the middle

If any of those happen when I fire, can I be hurt, can it damage the revolver?
I read for a semi-automatic handgun, it can be disastrous, but it can not be too. I read many things, but many of those are contradictory. Anyone can give some insights on the most probable causes of case failure in a revolver and a handgun?

Thank you

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November 18, 2007, 07:29 AM
It is nice to have really good brass, and particularly important the higher the pressures and the closer your face is to those pressures.

Splits at the mouth of a pistol case will probably throw the shot out of the group. With the energetic crimping used on revolver cartridges, particularly on magnum ones, this starts to happen after about 4 loads. Such splits do not cause harmful gas releases.

Regarding head separations, I've been shooting pistols some 40 years, and I've never seen the head of a revolver cartridge come off, leaving a tube in the cylinder. In necked rifle cartridges, this happens eventually even without headspace issues, but only after leaving signs of incipient head separation.

I have, very occasionally, seen a split in the middle of a revolver cartridge. I put them down to a flaw in the brass of the case. I've never noticed significant gas release.

A revolver cartridge case can fail in a catastrophic fashion. If the crack is at the rear of the case, starting at the case flash hole and extending up the side of the case. The amount of gas released would be considerable if this was in a Magnum load. The only time I have seen this type of failure in pistol cartridges was in really cheap lightly-loaded South American .38 Special ammo I bought from Century some years ago. In those lightly-loaded cartridges, there was a significant gas release, but no damage I could see. After two let go, I stopped firing that ammo. Also, if this happened in a rifle cartridge, it could destroy the rifle, and because of higher pressures and closer proximity, be more likely to cause injury.

November 18, 2007, 08:09 AM

With a magnum revolver, Will a failure near the head cause revolver damage or physical damage to the shooter?

Thank you

November 18, 2007, 08:53 AM
I am quite curious about brass case failure and its consequences.
I reload my 357Mag hot (16.2gr of h110 with HSP 158gr).

One of my favorite loads, I only use once fired brass for h110 loads (most of my loads are moderate ammounts of bullseye under a 158gr plated). I shoot this mostly in a lever rifle, but occasionally in a revolver. This is also one of the few loads that I will trim brass for. I have some 357 brass that has been loaded lightly about a dozen times, and is still within length specs, but heavy magnum loads can and do streach it, and have found it normally takes about 2 or 3 hot loads to streach it out of spec to where problems could happen. Most people don't trim straight wall pistol brass, and don't have any problems, but to me 15minutes, and a $5 trimmer pilot are cheap insurance.

Split at the neck
happens every so often, worst case with a bad split is that the brass will get stuck, and has to be tapped out from the front of the cylinder with a brass roll pin punch, I have never seen any damage resulting.

Separation of the head and case
Very rare, this happens mostly with new brass, and is often a defect, not from wear. It can blow up a rifle where the breech is locked in place, I would think most of the blast would be stopped by the recoil shield in a revolver, it could light off other cartridges in adjacent cylinders, but if not, there probably wouldn't be much if any damage, possibly some powderburns on the hand.

Split in the middle

if meant as a severe split lengthwise, basically the same tapping out with a brass punch I discussed earlier may be needed, still no damage likely.

now the failures not discussed:

Squib load:
a problem with the loading process or storage, mostly from not paying attention, and forgetting the powder charge, or can be with a slow powder (like blue dot/h110) and a weak primer, or even oil getting to the powder (gun heavily lubed, and stored loaded), basically the primer fires, the powder either doesn't light, isn't there, or partially lights, lodging the bullet in the bore. No big deal if caught, the bullet can be hammered out with a brass rod, if not caugt, and the next cartridge fires, the barell can be blown off, cylinder blown out, or in the case of a guy with a redhawk a couple years ago at my range, a puzzled look as two holes were put in his target, and a slight bulge was seen in the barrel.

Punctured primer:
very rare-firing pin puts a hole in the primer, either by having a chipped or too long firing pin, soft primers, or pistol primers in a case designed for rifle primers (454casull), this can blow a frame mounted firing pin out of the gun, bounce it off of the hammer, and send it flying, more than likely, this won't happen. Most likely is a pit would be burned into the recoil shield face.

primer blow out:
wouldn't have belived it if I hadn't seen it. Basically a delayed ignition in a revolver with an excessive cyl to recoil shiled spec, or thin rims on the brass, could possibly happen with a really loose primer pocket. Where the firing pin pushes the cartridge forward before the primer lights, primer pushes back out of the case, and when the main charge goes off, the unsupported primer blows apart, and basically turns the flash hole into a blow torch nozzle, similar to a punctured primer. The guy that this happened to burned his hand, and had a big black circle burned around his firing pin, bullet hit about a foot low at 25yds, and a peice of the primer bounced off of my safety glasses, I was in the next lane over. (I never have shot without good eye protection after that)

Basically you are most likely to encounter a split case, no big deal, tap it out, most other failures are kind of like winning a bad lottery, very unlikely to happen. Most are due to wrong components/data used, a damaged or worn gun, bad brass or carelesness. Even factory ammo can and does have defects, so pay attention, be safe, keep a close eye on your brass, and happy shooting

November 18, 2007, 11:33 AM

Now I understand a lot better the risks.

Thank you

November 18, 2007, 11:49 AM
Alucard summed it up pretty well; in handguns, a split case is a whole lot more likely than a separation, simply because the main body of the case isn't subject to so much stretching and back-and-forth working. If it DOES happen, it's more likely to be a bad case that got off the production line than a result of reloads.

Steve C
November 18, 2007, 05:59 PM
In straight walled pistol cartridges like the .357 mag you'll find the case usually splits at the neck. Generally this is caused by the case becoming brittle and hardened from being worked when reloaded. Most probably appear during the resizing or expansion process as the case is worked. You almost always find these during the reloading process and don't notice them when firing if they existed at that time. Nickel plated cases seem to crack after fewer reloadings than a brass case.

Annealing the case necks can soften the brass and rifle shooters often do this, esp on cases that are hard to get or are more expensive. Usually it isn't worth the bother or time to do this on pistol cartridges as they will usually last 10 loading or more anyway.

November 18, 2007, 08:18 PM
A friend of mine has experienced a couple of brass failures in 1911s that did some damage to the magazines, but each time he loaded up another magazine and kept on shooting. A friend of his had a case failure in a new glock (this was 2 years ago) when they were both at the range together, and suffered some minor hand injuries. Plastic doesn't offer as much protection as steel (not a slam on Glock, just a simple truth).

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