Getting case head separations in 38/357

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earlmck
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Getting case head separations in 38/357

#1 Post by earlmck » Fri Sep 21, 2018 11:54 pm

I've been shooting 357 revolvers for something like 5 decades now, keep two bins of cases and when one bin is empty I start loading from the other and will process the first bin when I get around to it. When I start getting neck splits I toss that whole bin and buy another batch of brass. Until a couple weeks ago I had never seen a 357 case failure other than the neck split, somewhere past 10 loadings I'd guess. I would have bet you would never see a case head separation in a 357 or 38 case. And I would have been really really wrong. Look at these separations:
HeadSeparations9606.jpg
The 38 case on the bottom was the first one: this was in my Rossi a couple weeks ago and the grandkid shooting it didn't know anything was wrong until the next round wouldn't chamber. "What's wrong with this dang gun gpa?" And by then the separated neck was well and truly jammed in there: you can see I had to drop a little molten lead in there to give me the purchase to tap it out with a cleaning rod. The load was a moderate-level 357 load in a 38 case because that 187 grain bullet is too long to feed if loaded in a 357 case. I looked close at all my loaded ammo and detected another 3 rounds with that little tell-tale wee bit of a ring indicating incipient head separation close to the bottom. They were all Federal 38 cases. I decided I had some faulty or puny 38 cases and I sifted through my collection and discarded all cases of that Federal brand. Problem solved I assumed.

The 357 case on top happened to my friend Butch as we were testing some loads in his fairly new 1873. This is a WW 357 case and came one day after I'd tossed all those Federal 38's. And it was a 38 special level of load put in the 357 case because that makes a nice fit in this 1873. It wasn't wedged so it brushed out readily with a brass brush (when we got back to his shop).

Both these rifles are reasonably tight in the headspace department -- certainly tighter than my old revolver. Although I've got all those decades with 357 revolver shooting I've only been shooting the 38/357 in a rifle for about 10 years -- is there something about these pistol cartridges in a rifle that makes them vulnerable?

I am really scratching my head here: can hardly believe we are getting head separations in straight-walled pistol cartridges. Any words of wisdom for a badly puzzled old feller?
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Re: Getting case head separations in 38/357

#2 Post by gundownunder » Sat Sep 22, 2018 4:13 am

I've been shooting 357 out of a rifle for about 12 years now, both at 38 spl levels and at full house silhouette load levels.
Never had one separate, and I use every case until it has passed its usefulness. I don't throw out whole batches when I get a split, I just throw out the split and keep going with the rest. That said I consider a split to be even the smallest of splits, like 1/16" long.
I know all the literature says to full length resize, but I don't. Back when I had my revolver I partially resized only enough so that all my brass would fit into the smallest of the 7 chambers that I had. Now I only size for my rifle.
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Re: Getting case head separations in 38/357

#3 Post by GunnyMack » Sat Sep 22, 2018 4:52 am

I have seen this in the past, was nickel cases too. What caused it I do not know but I suspect the brass and nickel combo has something to do with it.

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Re: Getting case head separations in 38/357

#4 Post by milton » Sat Sep 22, 2018 5:14 am

I hope you find out what is going on,I had the same thing happen the other day! Except I was shooting cast 158 grain bullets in a S&W model 67 with Remington brass .I have never seen this happen before in any of my older .357 and .38 spl brass.
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Re: Getting case head separations in 38/357

#5 Post by Bill in Oregon » Sat Sep 22, 2018 8:24 am

Well I'll be darned Earl. New one on me, too. Nickeled cases you say, Gunny?

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Re: Getting case head separations in 38/357

#6 Post by JerryB » Sat Sep 22, 2018 8:52 am

Thanks Earl, I reckon that I will be checking some cases today. Most all of my .38 and .357 brass has been through a Marlin and Rossi rifles and 3 handguns.
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Re: Getting case head separations in 38/357

#7 Post by crs » Sat Sep 22, 2018 10:31 am

Same story - never happened to me - YET !

Please let us know the explanation when you figure it out.
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Re: Getting case head separations in 38/357

#8 Post by piller » Sat Sep 22, 2018 1:28 pm

No idea here, but I am interested to know what you find out.
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Re: Getting case head separations in 38/357

#9 Post by AJMD429 » Sat Sep 22, 2018 6:00 pm

Do you think there's a possibility that a credit ring has build up in front of the 38 cases when you shoot them, and that is grabbing the 357 cases so the rear gets pushed back stretching the case more than otherwise would happen?
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Re: Getting case head separations in 38/357

#10 Post by GunnyMack » Sat Sep 22, 2018 6:51 pm

That's a good thought Doc!

I've never had great luck with nickles brass.

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Re: Getting case head separations in 38/357

#11 Post by 765x53 » Sat Sep 22, 2018 8:49 pm

Nickel grips the chamber walls more aggressively than brass.
Maybe maximum headspace plus dry chamber mouth and oily chamber rear?

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Re: Getting case head separations in 38/357

#12 Post by Sixgun » Sat Sep 22, 2018 9:37 pm

Like you Earl, I've been shooting those calibers decades amounting to tens of thousands. Never have I experienced a case head separation...but......All of mine have been in revolvers and yours has been in rifles. I've had quite a few case head separations in straightwall 45-70's, 45-90's and the like.

OK, rifles vs. revolvers.......It has to be excessive headspace issues. Try this......get a once fired case, measure it, load it warm, shoot, measure, reload, shoot, measure..........see if it grows. I've never trimmed a handgun case as they neck split first and I just wing em in the recycle bucket.

In order for a revolver to be accurate the cylinder has to have tight chambers...or somewhat tight. Colt, Smith, and Ruger make sure of this or the guns would not sell. NOTHING personal here but you know how I feel about imported guns..except Uzi's.. :D ....Anyway, trying to think intelligent here....rifles in handgun calibers do not need to be chambered as tight as revolvers in order to be somewhat accurate....there's more leverage in chambering and extraction .........Unlike revolvers, there's no flash gap and lining up the chamber to the barrel......the loaded cartridge goes right in right up to the rifling...there's more "looseness" in a rifle (lever action) with more points of contact in the action that create that "looseness". The revolver has the cylinder and the solid recoil plate.

All of this mumbo jumbo I just wrote can be consolidated into "play" or excessive headspace. One, because it's a rifle, and two, it's an imported rifle designed for cowboy shooting as these rifles are chambered for less pressure cartridges (vs. .308 etc.) and therefore can be manufactured a bit more "sloppy" and their price usually reflects that......or they would not sell at the numbers they sell at.

Go back to paragraph 2 and if that pans out, I'm right...excessive headspace.----Tonto....General Custer.------6. :D
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Re: Getting case head separations in 38/357

#13 Post by earlmck » Sat Sep 22, 2018 11:33 pm

You fellers' good observations got me motivated to do a little more investigation.

Headspace -- which in my mind is the amount of lateral "slop" your case has in the chamber when the action is closed. So I took a nicely sized (I also only size far enough so they work in all guns, but I size far enough that they work in the Ruger revolver which takes a bit more sizing than would be required to just work in the Rossi). I poked the primer back a bit with the universal deprime die so I had a poochy primer, and closed it in the Rossi. This measures about .010 longer than with primer seated plumb down. Max headspace is generally considered .007" so this .010" would be a bit excessive but not by bunches, especially in a slopily built Brazilian thing intended for us "cowboys".

Then I tried the case with .010 primer pooch in my Colt revolver. Doesn't hang a bit -- in fact the Colt will function fine until the primer pooches out by .015" or so. The Ruger revolver just barely functions with the .010 pooch but does function. So I think all my 357's -- two revolvers and a rifle-- are just a bit sloppy in the headspace department. (If you are willing to buy my concept of "headspace").

Brass vs. nickled cases. This may be a biggy. I never buy new nickled cases -- nearly all my 357 cases are brass and always have been. So the vast majority of my 357 shooting without seeing a head separation has been with brass cases. But nearly all my 38 cases are nickled and that is because these are range pick-up from the good old days when I hit the Carson City Nevada shooting range at least twice a week and always started the day with a tour of the shooting bays to scavenge whatever had been left behind. So I'll never need to buy another 38 case, 45 auto case, or 30/06 case ever again. And nearly all these range pickup 38's were nickled. And my little batch of 357 nickled (I probably have 100 or so) cases probably came from the same source.

So... maybe I have a little excess headspace in all my 357's. And if nickle grabs the case walls harder than brass -- maybe they separate at the head with fewer loadings than brass cases would. Or if there is some adverse action at the brass/nickle boundary. Or if the brass is actually made a little thinner for cases that are going to be nickled.

So at this point you guys have steered me to being suspicious of nickled cases as more vulnerable to head separations. GunnyMack's separations were with nickled cases. Was yours also a nickled case milton?
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Re: Getting case head separations in 38/357

#14 Post by Sixgun » Sun Sep 23, 2018 12:00 am

Earl,
While I'm no ballistician, no mechanical engineer, and the only gunsmithing I can do is parts changes and a bit of restoration work, I was born with a tad of common sense...so...that leads me to this fact.......revolvers vs. rifles.......straight wall cases only.......How come I've never seen cases "grow" with revolvers but it's a common occurance with rifles?

Let's take the 32-20 of which I' have reloaded since 1974 and includes probably 15-20 thousand rounds out of rifles and handguns from about 1885 to 1940. With loads anything higher than say....3 gr. of Bullseye....the cases "grow" from rifles but stay the same from handguns. I've had separations in rifles but never in handguns. The higher the pressure, the more the case "grows".

Maybe it's the "nature of the beast". I don't believe nickel plated cases have anything to do with it.

I still say that sloppy......but within Sammi specs ...tolerances causes case head separations. Why? I don't know, I just know it happens with rifles and not with revolvers. We need Steve or someone with more than the half brain I have to comment.----6
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Re: Getting case head separations in 38/357

#15 Post by milton » Sun Sep 23, 2018 4:30 am

Mine was with a brass case ,I gave up on nickle plated cases sometime back after I started getting a high amount of case failures but even then I saw zero head seperations until about two weeks ago.Could it have anything to do with brass produced in the "rush years" when ammo was hard to find?
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Re: Getting case head separations in 38/357

#16 Post by GunnyMack » Sun Sep 23, 2018 5:12 am

I think I would use a real head space gauge to actually check head space. This really needs to be checked at the rim( in this situation)
As for cases growing:
Revolver, the FP hits the primer, ignites powder then as gases expand the case moves backwards slightly as the brass flows, this gives the majority of the case mass to move, no growth.
In a rifle the case can not move backwards as much( if head space is within spec) this leads to case growth to the front of the case.

As for head separations, if the gun is in battery the case can only separate if given room to move. I've had separations in 22lr from slam firing, my 25-20, very well used cases, 44 mag once, 308 as well. All these were with in spec. Been others also.

Let's face it, brass be it nickeled or not is a consumable it's going to happen at some point.
I don't have the rounds down range that Six has but it's been my experience that I do not get the same life outta nickeled cases.
Brass is a 'soft' metal, nickel is 'brittle' but it is slippery. The soft brass is very forgiving and the nickel isn't. It's gonna happen...

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Re: Getting case head separations in 38/357

#17 Post by Bronco » Sun Sep 23, 2018 5:46 am

Now Gunny maybe you don't need to put the same amount of rounds down range to learn the same amount as Six :mrgreen:
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Re: Getting case head separations in 38/357

#18 Post by Sixgun » Sun Sep 23, 2018 8:24 am

Explained like the consummate professional he is....thanks Gunny. You have now progressed to the next level of Gunny which is .........."The Gunny"... There are only three more elevations of Gunny.......such as "The Gunny From.....(state)"....and
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Re: Getting case head separations in 38/357

#19 Post by Griff » Sun Sep 23, 2018 9:14 am

earlmck wrote:
Fri Sep 21, 2018 11:54 pm
The load was a moderate-level 357 load in a 38 case because that 187 grain bullet is too long to feed if loaded in a 357 case. I looked close at all my loaded ammo and detected another 3 rounds with that little tell-tale wee bit of a ring indicating incipient head separation close to the bottom. They were all Federal 38 cases
The 357 case on top happened to my friend Butch as we were testing some loads in his fairly new 1873. This is a WW 357 case and came one day after I'd tossed all those Federal 38's. And it was a 38 special level of load put in the 357 case because that makes a nice fit in this 1873. It wasn't wedged so it brushed out readily with a brass brush (when we got back to his shop).
Both these rifles are reasonably tight in the headspace department -- certainly tighter than my old revolver. Although I've got all those decades with 357 revolver shooting I've only been shooting the 38/357 in a rifle for about 10 years -- is there something about these pistol cartridges in a rifle that makes them vulnerable?
I am really scratching my head here: can hardly believe we are getting head separations in straight-walled pistol cartridges. Any words of wisdom for a badly puzzled old feller?
Straight wall pistol cases WILL eventually stretch in a rifle, not so much as in a revolver.

Hotter loads and heavier bullets in a generous SAAMI spec rifle chamber... manufacturers do this because it makes for easier chambering rifles... pistol manufacturers can stick to the minimum side of the spec...

I'm not a metallurgist or anything, certainly not an engineer, (remember I drive a truck for livin'), but have been shooting straight-walled pistol cartridges for 33 years in cowboy action matches... I've only had case separations on full power loads... but, over the years, have generated many thousand longitudinally split cases. Sometimes the split doesn't even extend up the case mouth, where one is told to expect splits.

I can only hypothesis that due to the low pressure of my cowboy action ammo, (generally 6 grains of RedDot behind a 200 gr RFN, making about 825fps; or about 28grs of GOEX behind a 225TC round making about 750 fps), the expansion is not uniform around the case diameter and after several repeats, viola! A spit case!

Without tossing out several thousand 45 Colt cases and starting over with all new, I couldn't begin to know how many times I've reloaded any individual case to know how long before I began to experience a few splits... But, I did notice I had a spate of them at one particular match... about 4 years into my cowboy action shooting adventure... But even then I had several hundred 45 Colt cases that got rotated on a method based on the whimsy of the gods...

I surmise your case separations are directly related to the same root cause as my case splits... you fire a case in a generous spec chamber and it grows to the spec... the hotter the load the more uniformly it expands to fill that space, you eject round, gather them up and process them... which if you're like the typical reloader, includes full length re-sizing the case, whereby you slim that case back down to the cartridge spec, made to easily slip inside that minimum spec chamber in a revolver... then repeat. That brass has thinned where it's been expanded, and sizing doesn't necessarily go back to it's original dimension of wall thickness when re-sized. It stretches... however minutely.

Edited to add... shoulda read all the responses... woulda saved all that typing... I coulda just said, "What gunnymack said." :P :P
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Re: Getting case head separations in 38/357

#20 Post by GunnyMack » Sun Sep 23, 2018 12:01 pm

Thank you Six for the kind words...
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Re: Getting case head separations in 38/357

#21 Post by earlmck » Mon Sep 24, 2018 12:05 am

Well.... I am properly baffled. I thought we were at least circling in on "wisdom" but I wouldn't put big money on it. Did ya' notice that milton's separation was a brass case in a revolver?

So I am headed forth with confidence since I am in possession of a skillfully bent and artfully sliced 30/30 case that nicely directs a dab of molten lead into a 357 chamber for the purpose of creating a plug for extracting a separated case neck. What? Me worry?

My personal bias against chromed cases probably got stronger, however. At least for now.
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