How to Remove a Stuck Case from Sizing Die
If you manage to wedge a casing into a die so badly that its rim gets torn off by your press when you try to pull it out, then chances are that you're going to have an interesting time getting the brass back out again. Depending on what equipment you have on hand, and how badly it's stuck, there are a few different ways to go about this. This is my personal work list when dealing with a stuck die, either mine or one that's been brought to me.
Types of Jams
My own stuck-case experiences have been with a straight-walled 50 Beowulf case and a bottleneck 6.8 SPC case, but I recently extracted stuck 223 cases (twice) for a novice reloader before we realized that his spindle was set to travel too low. The neck sizer was able to get past the neck of his brass (see the 'spindle jam' diagram below for an illustration), and then get lodged in the case on the return stroke. The easy way to tell whether you have a spindle jam or a die jam is to remove the spindle retention system on top of the die, then see if you can pull out the spindle. If the spindle will not come out, you've got a spindle jam at minimum, and both spindle and die jams at worst.
Getting the Die Unjammed
To the right is a diagram of a typical die jam for a bottleneck cartridge. The first thing you should try to do is try to pull out the spindle through the top of the die (of course, remove the spindle retainer first!). If you can do this, it'll spare the spindle any potential damage from the process of extracting it from your die, plus allow you to use a nice beefy punch to remove the case. But if this jam is early on in your reloading career, then there's an excellent chance that this will fail because the bulged part (the neck sizer) has gone past the neck and into the case.
The removal procedure is fairly simple, provided that the case still has a bottom. If the entire bottom of the case (not just the rim) was torn off by your press, you're going to have to do the tap+die manoeuvre at the bottom of this article. It's possible that your case is stuck so badly (probably lack of lube or absolutely useless lube like the garbage Cabellas sells for a house brand) that your punch or spindle tears the bottom out of the case.
- Remove the spindle lock. If you have to press on your spindle and the lock is installed, the chance of bending your spindle at the top raises quite a bit.
- If you can, remove the spindle and replace it with a steel punch that goes all the way down to the base of the brass. If you don't have a punch and won't to take my advice to go buy punches now, you can use a Phillips screwdriver instead, with the widest blade that will fit into the die. Just keep in mind that the screwdriver's pointed end will greatly increase the risk of tearing out the bottom of the case.
- Give the top - spindle or punch - a little tap with a hammer. If it comes right out, you're done with this section and hopefully you're all done. If not, move on to 'spindle jams'.
- Place the die on something which will support its rim all around - ideally a steel press plate with a hole of just the right size.
- When picking a backing plate, you want a solid object with a hole just large enough to let the widest part of the case pass righ through it. If, with the die on top of it, you can clearly see the brass through the hole and CANNOT see anything past the die, you have an ideal plate/hole setup. By the way, a thick board with a perfect-sized hole in it is better than a couple of square steel plates that only support part of the diameter. Ideally, you're looking for 360 degree coverage around the diameter of the die, and the closer you get to that the better. Anyway, bear in mind that if you make or find a good backing plate, you can re-use it for future jams of this caliber or any caliber with a comparably-sized rim.
- Use a hydraulic press to apply pressure against the brass, if you have one. Otherwise, you can make do with a hammer and a steady hand, but you are FAR more likely to either mushroom or bend your spindle! This article covers the removal of mushrooming farther down.
To the right is a diagram of a jammed spindle. If you were unable to remove the spindle in the step above, you will typically be left with a spindle jam if you're working with a bottleneck case. The neck sizing ball is a bit larger than the diameter of the neck, so if it goes down into the case body, you're going to have to cut it free from the brass. I recommend going along the blue dotted line in my diagram so that the spindle can be pushed out through the bottom of the case. You don't want to try to cut on the case neck because you have far less air space in the case up top than down below. Plus, should you slip and hit something other than the case, it will only be the decapping pin, which is designed to be replaced when damaged and is generally inexpensive. Even more importantly, most die sets come with a couple of spare pins just in case, so you won't have to wait for a replacement part to arrive via mail order.
While you could perform this cutting with a hand tool, I strongly recommend a dremel. You could also use a roto-zip, but if you do this, I recommend locking the roto-zip in place and gently maneuvering the brass around it, as opposed to the other way around. I have both tools, and for this task I prefer to use a dremel with a cutoff wheel, set to a mid-range RPM.
Fixing a Mushroomed Spindle
If you had to hammer out your spindle (or tried to before giving up and using a press), you may find that the spindle can't fit back into the spindle lock. This is because, as in the diagram to the right, the tip of your spindle has swollen from being bashed on. It's also become slightly shorter.
You can fix this by:
Whatever route you take, go conservatively and keep trying to fit the spindle into the spindle lock. When you can get it in, stop there. You don't want to remove any more metal from that than you strictly have to, considering that the spindle is locked into the die by tension, and that is strictly reliant upon having a very close fit on the spindle in the first place.
- Cutting off the mushroomed part. While you may be tempted by this, I strongly advise against it! Usually spindles aren't much longer than they strictly need to be, and most methods of cutting you may attempt (hacksaw, bolt cutters, pliers, etc) will not only run a huge risk of shortening the spindle too much, but also deform the area where you cut so badly that you have to take the steps below anyway.
- Chucking the spindle into a drill press or lathe, then holding a piece of sandpaper on the mushroomed end as it spins around. It will eventually get worn down to around the same size as the rest of the spindle.
- The route I personally take is a dremel with a cutoff wheel. I put the wheel parallel to the body of the spindle (i.e. I'm cutting with the top of the cutoff wheel, not the edge!) at a mid-range RPM, then keep turning the spindle along it in an effort to round off the protruding edge. Feel the spindle with your fingers (take it between two fingers and turn it with your other hand) after every few seconds of grinding. Your eyes are unable to perceive the small swelling in the metal as well as your fingers, but your fingers will notice which parts of the shaft are more lopsided than the others.
Extracting Bottomless Cases
This is the most extreme of all the removal procedures, so I refuse to tell you "hey, do this because it's the right way to get a stuck case out of your reloading die!" However, it worked for me on a die so badly wedged that the only other option was to ship it back to Hornady. Normally, lubrication of a case will prevent this, but I was an idiot and had over-tightened the sizing die to begin with. My mistake, but at least it wasn't a failure - I still learned something, and am sharing it here.
The steps to remove a stuck case like this are:
- Use your dremel or roto-zip to grind off any remainder of the brass's base. You want to expose the "tube" so that you can tap and thread it. If you don't have a dremel or roto-zip, then use a drill press (or hand drill, if you must) and carefully ream it out, using the primer hole as a pilot hole.
- Find the appropriate size of tap to just barely make contact and thread the brass. You don't want the tap to penetrate through the brass and scratch your die, so be very careful when undertaking this. I got lucky, and had just the right size for 6.8mm SPC. If you don't have a matching tap, then get one - if you scratch your die up, it becomes useless. Use the tap to put threads on the brass most of the way up to the neck, so that it has a good firm grip. Leave the tap there.
- Insert the punch into the OTHER side of your sizing die. The tap is going to serve as an anchor, holding onto the stuck casing firmly and providing your punch with a surface to push against. Make sure that, however you've set up your vise or press, you have an opening for the brass casing to eject into. The last thing you want to do is simply end up crushing your tap inside the die along with the casing!
- Follow the steps above (using a punch, screwdriver, whatever) for removing the case from the die. I strongly recommend a press at this point instead of a hammer, because you generally only get one shot at this. If you strip out the threads you've just made on the brass, chances are that you will not have enough brass left on the sides for a second attempt.
- Remove the damaged brass from the tap, by clamping it in a pair of pliers (or a vise) to prevent it from spinning freely, then slowly spinning the tap free via the tapping handle.
- Clean your die thoroughly before using it again. Brass shavings from this escapade could result in tight fits for your next load.
- Inspect your die. If you managed to tap the casing off center, you may have scratched it up and it may become more inclined to stick in the future.
These procedures are fraught with peril, but they're the only ways I know to remove stuck cases from reloading dies short of sending it back to the factory. I imagine that they probably do similar things at the factory.
-- SeanNewton - 10 Nov 2006