9mm may be my favorite cartridge to reload. I mention this because 9mm has a bad reputation with some older reloaders. Thirty years ago, few people reloaded 9mm, and suitable components were difficult to obtain. Older Hornady manuals give load data using 158gr .357" diameter bullets! Most of the inexpensive brass was military surplus, which posed its own difficulties. Few people loaded for semi-autos in general in those days, so reloaders would frequently encounter problems with crimp, etc. 9mm came to be known as a "tricky" cartridge to reload.
By and large, this is no longer valid. The availability of quality components is at an all time high. A lot has changed in the last thirty years, and 9mm is now the most frequently reloaded handgun cartridge in the U.S. Dies, techniques, and powder selection have also improved during this same period.
9mm is a direct descendant of the first smokeless handgun cartridges, and it was never intended to be used with black or semi-smokeless powders. It is somewhat peculiar in that it is actually a 7.65x21mm (.30 Luger) cartridge cut down to accept a 9mm (.355") bullet. (The slight body taper of 9mm is a result of this conversion.) For these reasons, case volume is relatively small for a cartridge that peaks at 35,000 psi (SAAMI standard). 9mm is not forgiving of carelessness. A new reloader should not be concerned about loading 9mm as their first cartridge, but he or she should understand that it does have a smaller margin for error than some other common cartridges.
A. Brands of Cases
Once-fired 9mm cases are as common and as cheap as dirt. This can be a mixed blessing. Pitch any case that is in any way suspect. This is good advice in general; take it to an extreme with 9mm. It's too common to fool with a damaged case mouth, strange brand, etc.
The vast majority of brands of 9mm cases are suitable for reloading and very high in quality. They have to be, because many foreign manufacturers simply slap a commercial headstamp on their military cases. That said, don't even bother with a headstamp that you don't recognize as a major player. This is not for safety or quality reasons so much as consistency. You may never find another 50 "Dominion" 9mm cases ever again. When you are first starting out, small lots of cases like this are useful, but they aren't worth fooling with when loading in quantity.
CZF members prefer the following brands of cases, in no particular order:
1. Sellier & Bellot (headstamp "S&B");
2. Federal (headstamp "FEDERAL");
3. Winchester (headstamps "WINCHESTER," "W-W," "WCC," etc.);
4. Norma (headstamp "NORMA");
5. Israel Military Industries (headstamps "IMI," "TZ," and "UZI");
6. Starline (headstamp is two stars separated by a line);
7. Speer/CCI (headstamps "SPEER," "CCI");
8. Dynamit Nobel/GECO (headstamp "GECO");
9. Magtech (headstamps "CBC," "MAGTECH");
10. Hornady (headstamps "HORNADY," "FRONTIER");
11. PMP (headstamps "PMP," "DENEL").
The above brands of cases are not exactly equal in all respects, however. Speer/CCI cases are easier to load with CCI primers. Speer and Federal cases are not available as new component cases. Hornady is usually not worth the extra expense for new component cases. Starline is only available as new brass; IMI and Hornady might as well be, even though they do load factory ammunition. S&B has relatively tight primer pockets, particularly if you do not remove all of the lacquer. Norma cases are the most highly regarded, but they are now extremely rare in the U.S., as neither 9mm component cases nor factory ammo have been available for some time. On the bright side, most of the GECO 9mm uses cases manufactured by Norma. PMP commercial cases (blue boxes) are fine, but military PMP/Denel 9mm cases have Berdan primers.
CZF members generally consider the following brands to be less desirable for reloading purposes:
1. Remington (headstamps "R-P," "UMC," etc.);
2. Fiocchi (headstamp "FIOCCHI");
3. PMC (headstamp "PMC");
Remington brass is softer than the other major U.S. brands. Fiocchi has several idiosyncrasies, such as shorter than normal case length. Once-fired PMC brass can require chamfering. These are all good cases for reloading purposes, but not quite as desirable as the previous eleven.
Do not attempt to reload cases with the "A-Merc" "American," or "AAA" headstamps. They are substandard in every regard. No one at CZF has any direct experience with "Ultramax," but their cases are probably similar to A-Merc. Many people advise against reloading 9mm NATO brass. There is usually a primer crimp to remove, even if it is not Berdan primed. If it is brass from a high pressure submachine gun load, it may not be suitable for reloading.
The general consensus is that your own once-fired brass is the best source for 9mm cases. The best values from a reloader's standpoint are probably value packs of Winchester USA 115gr FMJ or case quantities (1,000 rounds) of S&B 115gr FMJ and GECO 124gr FMJ. S&B and GECO are less common. Depending on where you shoot, it may be difficult to avoid mixing up your cases when shooting Winchester headstamps. In my own opinion, GECO cases are the highest in quality, but they do not appear to significantly improve accuracy.
CZF members who buy significant amounts of new component cases appear to prefer Starline, Winchester, and IMI, in that order. There is some evidence that IMI makes many of the Winchester 9mm cases, but we cannot directly confirm this. IMI/TZ headstamp brass is less expensive than Starline or Winchester. I generally buy IMI cases because no one else at my range uses them.
B. Sorting by Headstamp
DO sort cases by headstamp. Whenever you switch headstamps, back your load off by as much as either 10% or at least 0.3gr of powder if you are anywhere near a max load. Work up the load all over again with the new case type. There are two reasons for this. First, the manuals aren't kidding when they say that different brands of cases vary in volume. It can be dramatic at times. Be especially careful when switching to Remington and Fiocchi cases; they are lower in volume than other brands by a noticeable amount. (Fiocchi cases are fine on their own, but they are so different from other brands that they will cause serious problems if the seating die is not set for them.) Second, accuracy will be significantly degraded when shooting mixed headstamps in the same magazine, even in a service pistol like the CZ 75.
NOTE: This is probably the one subject on which CZF members have a significant difference of opinion. Many 9mm shooters do not sort by headstamp, or at least not for light practice loads. Personally, I definitely recommend this, particularly for new reloaders. It seems like more CZF members sort by headstamp than do not, but I have not counted.
C. Trimming Cases
Virtually no one trims 9mm brass. The general consensus is that you lose the cases too often for them to flow to maximum length. Also, it's too easy to mix trimmed brass up with other range pickups. Accuracy does suffer from ignoring case length. I have never found it necessary to trim 9mm cases when segregating lots of my own once-fired brass. Theoretically, they should all be the same length if each case in that lot was loaded the same each time, the same number of times. In practice, they aren't of course, but this is preferable to ignoring case length all together.
ScottB offered this advice: "I trim all my cases. This is scoffed at by some, but not all brass is equal length, even new brass from the same bag. You should do it once before your first loading, and never bother again. No better way exists than Lee's cheap little setup and a variable speed drill. The Ball stud cutter makes it even better."
I will say this about trimming cases. Many people who obtain better results with the Lee Factory Crimp Die in this cartridge are probably just "canceling out" the case length variations. No one ever complains about the extra step of the FCD, yet few people will take the trouble to trim cases.
In my honest opinion, you can't get away with both ignoring headstamps and ignoring trimming. Safety will become an issue at some point by ignoring both, and your accuracy will become inferior to commercial ammunition. I understand that 9mm accuracy is a relative thing. Obviously, no one is hand-weighing primers for 9mm, but at some point you would be better off throwing rocks if you keep cutting corners! In summary, sorting by headstamp should be done for both safety and accuracy reasons. Trimming 9mm is necessary for best accuracy and ease of loading (see Tips and Techniques below), but it generally will not be necessary for safety reasons if case lots are segregated.
D. Cleaning 9mm Cases
I am not aware of any volume 9mm reloader who does not clean his/her cases. Notice, I did not say "tumble their cases," but I would guess that over 80.0% of these people are using a tumbler or vibratory cleaner of some sort.
Obviously, a tumbler costs about as much as an entire Lee Anniversary Kit, so some people will need to consider other options until they care to spend the money. Fortunately, you have several, but they are all fairly labor intensive. These can be summed up as "dry cleaning" and "wet cleaning."
The simplest dry cleaning technique is to wrap about @300 9mm cases in a bath towel. (Too many or too few do not work nearly as well.) Make a rattail and roll the towel around on the floor with medium hand pressure for about five minutes and inspect. If they look pretty clean, you can stop; if not, keep going. If you are patient, you can actually clean cases pretty effectively this way. Remember to shake the crud out of the towel each time you check the cases.
Richard Lee advocates using steel wool or Scotchbrite to clean cases by hand. I have no doubt that this works well, but I can't imagine a more labor-intensive method.
Wet cleaning techniques are more common. There are a number of products designed specifically for this purpose. In the long run, using the Lyman cleaning solution will cost nearly as much as a tumbler and its associated costs (media and additive). Fortunately, you don't need to use the Hornady and Lyman cleaning solutions. You can even use soap and water. You will find a number of suggestions for household products for wet cleaning on the internet. Never use products that contain any ammonia whatsoever. These will damage the cases.
Obviously, the cases get wet when using a wet cleaning method; this is a major drawback that cannot be fully appreciated until you try to deal with 2,000 wet 9mm cases. You have to have some space and patience with this method. Air drying works best. You should never try to speed dry cases with anything except a lamp or hairdryer. An oven cannot hold a low enough temperature. Cases get very hot upon firing, but they aren't designed to heat up to 175-200 degrees and stay there for a while.
Here is a tip that I picked up from "http://www.reloadbench.com." You can obtain excellent results by cleaning cases with diluted or straight cider vinegar. I find that just enough straight cider vinegar to cover the cases works best. Here's how: 1) Deprime cases in a decapping only die (see below). 2) Place cases in a bucket or similar plastic container (has to be plastic or glass). 3) Cover the cases in cider vinegar. It can be slightly diluted, but don't get carried away. The acidity of the vinegar does all the work. 4) Soak for 20 minutes, no longer. Some agitation of the cases helps. 5) Immediately drain away the vinegar. You can reuse the vinegar once or twice, but I don't think it is worth the trouble. Corrosion will begin to occur if you leave the cases in vinegar indefinitely. 6) Rinse the cases thoroughly with water. 7) Drain; a collander helps. 8 ) Air dry. This works as well or better than any of the products marketed to reloaders or any of the "mystery formulas" I have seen on the internet (most of which use vinegar anyway). You can buy everything you need for $6-7 at the Dollar General store.
After the cider vinegar method, concoctions of soap, water, white vinegar, and lemon juice appear to work best. Essentially, this just adds acidity to white vinegar, giving it the same characteristics as straight cider vinegar. I don't see much point, as the soap just seems to make the cases harder to rinse off.
In my opinion, you almost have to deprime cases before using a wet cleaning system. There are some potential safety issues (see below in Primers). Perhaps even more importantly, wet cleaning does not work nearly as well with spent primers in place. Forget ever reusing a batch of cleaning solution; spent primers make a gruesome mess.
E. Lube with Carbide
In theory, you don't need to lube 9mm case when using carbide dies. In practice, several members do lightly lube 1 of 5 or 1 of 10 cases for ease of loading. The 9mm has a taper, and this causes new and/or clean cases to gall the carbide on the upstroke. You can see brass deposits on the carbide. This won't hurt anything at first, but over time it will effect the sizing or scratch the carbide insert. You can either clean the sizing die more often, or use a very slight amount of lube. This is usually only a problem with brand new brass or brass that has been polished by a tumbler.
Depending on which brand of media additive is used, this may not be necessary, because some of them leave a slight film on the cases. Cases cleaned with wet methods generally do not have this problem, either. Dirty cases won't need lube with carbide dies, as the nitro fouling acts as a dry lube. Dirty cases do eventually ruin a die on their own, however.
This is a hint I picked up from Richard Lee's Modern Reloading (1st ed.), page 56. Dilute 1 part Lee sizing lube with 10 parts rubbing alcohol (or water, alcohol evaporates more quickly). Put the mixture in a plant sprayer. Spray some cases with a light mist, let dry, and space them amongst the other cases to be sized. More than one in five is serious overkill.
CZF Member Mr. Phil does essentially the same thing, but he uses Hornady One-Shot case lube, an aerosol. He loads on a Dillon progressive and finds that this is easier on the loading arm. I also find that once the cases dry, some lube does actually speed up the loading process.
Both of these products share an important trait. They are applied wet, but are used after drying. This seems to be the secret to their success. Wet or greasy lubes cause their own set of problems.
Once-fired 9mm cases are an excellent source for cases, but some brands are better than others. Sort cases by headstamp for safety and accuracy reasons. Trimming cases is probably not absolutely necessary, but there are many benefits of doing so. Although the initial expense of a tumbler can be postponed, you need to clean the cases with some other method. Depriming cases prior to cleaning is probably not absolutely necessary, but it is also a desirable practice. Ultra clean cases sometimes benefit from a very small amount of dry lube.