“The cure to what?”, may be the first question popping into the thoughts of TPF’s readers. In this case, it is the cure to the single most complained about, biggest headache for anyone who reloads rifle cartridges. Besides the tedious task of collecting range brass and cleaning it through various means, there are many steps to preparing a spent rifle case before ever assembling a new cartridge for use.
The Steps for reloading rifle cartridges:
- Collect spent cases: Go pick up your brass and if you are lucky, everyone elses!
- De-prime cases: Can be done after step #3 depending on cleaning methods and press types
- Clean cases: Degree of cleanliness is dependant on the reloader themselves. Wipe off, dry or wet tumble, ultrasonic cleaning?
- Size cases: Full or neck only sizing is another factor dependant on the reloader’s desires.
- Trimming brass: Cutting to length and possibly chamfering inside and outside of the case neck.
- Re-prime case: By hand or by press
- Powder charge: Check the type of powder, as well as the levels in the hopper/scoop. Also do not under or over charge the case!
- Bullet seating: Make sure your OAL allows proper feeding!
- Bullet crimping: If necessary and do not over crimp!
So the biggest headache? Step 5. Trimming…
Trimming is the simple procedure in cases preparation that involves the shaving of brass down to specifications for most calibres as set out by Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers’ Institute, aka SAAMI. IF you perform step number 5, there are a huge number of methods available for an equally broad range of retail pricing. However the product on today’s TPF plate for reviewing is the Trim-It II.
Direct from the website the features of the Trim-It II are listed as:
- Built-in micrometer adjustment for cut-length control
- Interchangeable die system, allowing you to trim a wide range of cases with one unit
- Adjustable cutting tool with 3-sided carbide blade that allows for a 15 degree inside case mouth chamfer and 45 degree outside chamfer
- Machined from 6061-T6 Aluminum. This baby is built to last.
- 100% Forever (plus 90 days) Guarantee.
- Made entirely in the good ole’ US of A!
The Trim-It II that TPF obtained came is a small, compact cardboard package which contained everything needed to start trimming. OK. Almost everything… Like most reloading apparatuses, the basic unit does not come with the calibre specific components such as sizing dies and the like. This product is no different, and offers calibre specific bearing dies for many of the most common hunting calibres, pistol calibres, and some of the more popular long range benchrest calibres that are used.
The original Trim-It had a micrometer adjustable depth ability and a four bladed flush cutting head that did just that, trimmed cases to the user’s set length. The secret to both the Trim-It and the Trim-It II? The calibre bearing die. For this review, TPF-Online decided to use the ever popular .308 Winchester round for trimming. Having many, many hundreds on hand to be converted from fired brass condition into usable ammunition was just a stroke of luck as we would never just go out and discharge .308 Win by the scores just for reviewing a trimmer… OK, maybe we would… Alright… We did… And it was worth it! So lets start by explaining the components that you receive in the package when a Trim-It II is purchased… Plus the .308 Win Calibre Die.
- Instructions, 2 pages double sided
- Allen keys, 4 of varying sizes (0.050″, 1/16″, 3/32″, and 9/64″)
- The cap/barrel assembly
- 3-way cutter
- Calibre die, .308 WIN (sold separately)
These are likely the cheapest component of the entire set. Now these two pages seem to be simple double sided photocopies that are folded into 1/8 the original size to fit into the box. One page contains the product warranty details and a fillable sheet for returning defective/broken products. The other sheet is the one that is most important to everyone that is reading… A parts list and instructions on how to assemble, tune, and utilize the Trim-It II. The instructions for this are only on a single unfolded side and also contain the instructions for refitting the original Trim-It with the new 3-way cutting head. Opposite the instructions is a parts list diagram of both the Trim-It and Trim-It II.
The L-shaped hex drivers for adjustments and locking in components with set-screws. You knew this already however, so not going to say any more on these parts…
So the cap serves two purposes, both of which are important for the functionality of the Trim-It II. First is the mount for the 3-Way Cutter that is secured along the cap’s centreline with a set screw. This forces the cap to rotate with the cutter when under power. The second purpose is to act as the threaded mount for the barrel part of the assembly. The barrel houses the Calibre Die, and because it is threaded into the cap, allows for fine distance adjustment for cutting brass to the proper overall length. The barrel has numerous openings which allow adjustment to the cutting head as well as a path through which trimmed shavings can be removed. The barrel has an external o-ring groove which holds the clear polycarbonate sleeve in place to prevent shavings from flying everywhere when in use. A set screw locks the barrel depth into place as well as locking the calibre die into its groove.
The three way cutter is a miniature version of a milling machine’s adjustable boring bar. The cutter insert itself is a simple triangular insert whose corners have been cut to a V shape to trim both inner and outer chamfers and thereby also the length of any brass casing. TPF-Online did not remove the insert, but the V shape is on all three corners of the insert meaning that if you even wear down one of the cutting profiles, you can rotate and have a new cutting profile to be used. Twice… Since these are only trimming brass versus the insert’s carbide, it is likely to last for generations of shooters. The mounting head of the cutter is adjustable itself, with the insert able to be shifted towards or away from the centerline of the cap/barrel. This allows for different diameter necks to be trimmed, but unless you have several of the cutters pre-set, re-adjusting the cutter for each new calibre introduced is required.
These are sealed bearings that are modified by machining a custom inner ring to accurately position brass for trimming. These are precision tolerance bearings which are aligned by the barrel groove machined to exacting tolerances. with the outer ring of the die secured with a set screw in the barrel, the inner ring is free to rotate independently of the cap/barrel/cutter assembly.
How it works… Aka steps for using the Trim-It II:
- Install the 3-way cutter into the cap/barrel assembly so that it is as close as possible to the cap and secure with set screw against the flats in the shaft of the cutter.
- Tighten barrel into cap until it stops (“Zero”) back off until you alight the barrel index line with one on the cap. Unscrew barrel for one full revolution and lock in place with a set screw.
- Insert desired calibre die into place in barrel and lock it with set screw.
- Insert desired brass piece into calibre die.
- Loosen cutter set screw and move cutter until it touches neck of brass. Re-tighten setscrew.
- Slightly loosen cutting head set screw and adjust the position of the carbide insert so that the neck edge will touch the base of the V shape cutout on the insert. Re-tighten cutting head set screw.
- Loosen barrel set screw and adjust for height. Re-tighten. Each mark on the cap equals 0.002″ travel.
- Install into a drill, drill press, dedicated rotary tool, etc… Ensure the drill turns clockwise, otherwise cutters will not work properly.
- While drill is running, insert brass case into calibre die. If not trimmed to the right length shut down and adjust barrel as per Step 7.
- Go trim happy… When you don’t hear the inserted brass being trimmed, time to put in the next piece.
It is a lot of work for setting up the Trim-It II, but once the tool is setup, the unit is spectacularly fast in doing it’s job. For those who only have a hand drill however, the entire setup will be hard on the hands.
- Fast once setup
- Nearly forty calibres available
- Easily adjusted for OAL
- Ease of cleaning due to the polycarbonate sleeve
- Rock solid
- High quality
- Not expensive like a GTC Giraud Power Trimmer
- Adjusting the V-notch could be easier to tune
- Hard on hands if using a hand drill
- Handheld brass case tries to spin while cutting
- Not cheap like a Lee Zip-Trim
- Table top drill press, or dedicated drive unit for the Trim-It that allows for two hands to manipulate and hold brass.
- Design change for the carbide insert adjustment. Use a fine thread screw for adjusting distance from centre line.
The Trim-It II as reviewed is available from brick and mortar store locations such as Select Shooting Supplies in Cambridge, Ontario. Their listed prices are, at the time of this review, $189.95 CAD for the Trim-It II, and $29.95 CAD for each calibre die. Is the Trim-It II a worthy addition to one’s repertoire of reloading tools? Does it fall under the category of Tactical, Practical, or Fantastical devices for firearms owners? That is a simple question that only YOU, the reader can answer.
TPF-Online wishes to thank Mr. Chris V. for his comments and additional input on this review. Between his efforts and those of TPF-Online, nearly 2000 pieces of .308 Win brass was trimmed in very little time.
Getting brass clean enough for reloading is a dirt simple thing in principle. Wipe clean the outside of the case to ensure does not scratch or deform the brass due to dirt and debris while it feeds into a reloading die. That is all fine and dandy for someone who doesn’t really expend any volume of brass or regularly utilizes a Lee Loader for reloading, but what about the inside of the case? The primer residue and build-up in the pocket? What about tarnish and accumulated dirt and grime? 1911 owners who reload would loathe to leave behind scores of free .45 ACP range brass regardless of how dirty is was. The author fully embraces his Dutch heritage stereotype and if there is unclaimed, spent, centre-fire brass lying about at the local shooting range, it’s getting picked up. Firstly because it’s free brass, and secondly because the author likes to leave the range cleaner than when he arrived.
What to do with the hundreds of free pieces of brass of 9mm Luger or .223 Remington that are strewn about the range on a nearly daily basis? Unfortunately you will likely need to clean them from dirt, grass, and exposure to the elements. Sorting is also an issue, but that will be addressed in a future installment. Back on the topic of case cleaning; TPF did a overview of a Hornady Ultrasonic Cleaner a while ago, and while that method does indeed clean out all the impurities, it does not necessarily mean the result will be gleaming, shiny brass cases. Enter today’s entry into Tactical, Practical and Fantastical, Frankford Arsenal’s Platinum Series Rotary Tumbler. This unit comes complete with the tumbling drum and the drive chassis as well as with inserts, stainless media and a sample of concentrated cleaning solution.
But lets get to the details… The author has been collecting range brass for many years and as such has a fairly decent volume of spent cartridge cases sorted, and stored on reloading shelves. For this review, several hand fulls of .308 Winchester range brass was used for testing the effectiveness of this rotary tumbler. Only after the review did we count out 231 pcs of brass, a far cry from the 1000 pieces of .223 Remington that is claimed as working capacity.
What you get in the box…
- Drum driving base
- Dual layer drum
- Drum retaining cap (x2)
- Clear insert for cap (x2)
- Strainer insert for cap (x2)
- Bag of stainless steel media (2.27kg/5.0 lbs)
- Sample of concentrate cleaning solution
TPF looked over all the components of the unit and some items stood out for being remarked upon. The first item is the 1.85 gallon (7 litre) dual layer drum whose hard plastic outer shell can withstand the rollers and drive wheels and the mass of brass, pins, and liquids. Inside the drum is a softer rubber that is bonded to the inner surfaces of the drum. This is to quiet down the actual noise of an operating unit and also to ensure that the brass and pins tumble instead of just sliding along the inside of the drum. This is important as there are no protrusions internally to help agitate the brass and fluids while rotating. The end caps will normally be used with the clear window inserts which allow observers to become mesmerized by the continuous churning action.
The initial setup was used with the handfuls of de-primed brass, the sample pack of cleaning solution, and filling the container with supplied pins and distilled water. Distilled water, for those readers with a questioning expression, is a water that has most impurities removed and is listed to generate the best results. With the clear inserts in place and water tight, the rotary tumbler was started on a two hour adventure. With a dry media vibratory tumbler the unit settles into a manageable background noise that can be ignored easily. With an ultrasonic cleaner the noise is a hum, plus any case to case vibrations, which can be high pitch, but in general is a low noise level. Compared to either of the others, this rotary tumbler is is not even in the same class. It is loud, as in automotive versus airplane in noise difference… Now perhaps that was from not having completely filled the drum to capacity of cases to be cleaned and allowing huge space for brass and cleaning pins to shift around a large amount contributed to the noise level, it will be revisited in a future utilization.
The base drive unit of the tumbler is quite heavy and has a single set of driver rollers with the second set being a pair of idlng wheels. The controls are very simple for the power unit. It has a rotating dial which corresponds to the desired remaining time of operation. No on/off switch, just turn the dial from 0 to 3 hours. The rollers and geared drive units are listed as being rated for a maximum of a 13.4 kg (30 lbs) drum on top of the rollers. This published limit is there both to protect the drive gearing as well as the axles and plastic rotating wheels from excessive loads. For our review we set the unit into motion of a duration of two hours or the possible three.
The machine chugged away on top of the author’s reloading bench for just over 2 hours and the noise of the churning brass and pins, as well as the drive unit itself could be heard through the floor and across the author’s home. TPF recommends that if you utilize the this wet tumbler, that you perform the actual tumbling either outside, or in a garage as the operational sound level is quite high.
Upon finish of the 2 hours, the water in the drum was murky and dark, yet the cases gleamed like beacons in the grunge. This is where we find the biggest and perhaps the only flaw of this tumbling kit. The strainer inserts are one of the things that seemed lackluster and a far cry from practical. The operator needs to install it onto one end of the barrel and then flip it over to remove the second cover in order to “wash out” the drum and cleaned brass of dirty cleaning liquid and stainless steel pin media. The only problem is that the media does not come out as easily as Franklin Arsenal would lead you to believe. This determination was made AFTER using the strainer in an attempt to “Wash out” the stainless steel media from the cases. Some pins did indeed come out and fell into a home made filtering bucket. However getting fed up with having a clean drum, and pins stuck in cases still, the whole load was dumped onto the filter and the drum rinsed clean and put away.
At this point TPF used a rotary media separator that was partially filled with water which partially covered the load of cases in the rotating hopper. By spinning the hopper, the author proceeded to “separate” media from cases. This method worked spectacularly… What was left was a whole bunch of bright clean and very wet cases. Which is the second part that TPF is less than thrilled about, waiting for cases to dry… The author’s wife put her foot down when the oven was suggested as a means to remove the unwanted water. Luckily the time of year had a nice sunny warm forecast, and the cases were laid down to dry on a towel in the sun. And nearly 6 hours later when the author returned, the cases were dry and better than new in appearance.
The largest deterrents for stainless steel wet tumbling is the media separation, and the drying of the cases. However the end result of the entire process is an awesome level of cleanliness and sparkling bright brass. The resulting output from the Frankford Arsenal Platinum Series Rotary Tumbler (Model# 909544), is extremely clean and makes brass appear new once again. The reviewed unit has an MSRP of $239.00 USD, and can be found at brick and mortar stores across Canada such as Firearms Outlet Canada, located in Ajax, Ontario.
Is stainless steel, wet tumbling worth the investment and worth the time? That is for you, the reader to decide upon and determine for yourself if it is Practical, Tactical, or Fantastical.
Many people ask a common question, over and over. Is it worth it to reload your own ammunition? To those questioning individuals the proper response is, “That depends…”
That depends on a few factors:
- Do you shoot center-fire ammunition?
- How much do you actually save?
- What sort of annual ammunition expenditures do you have?
- How much is your free time worth?
Do you shoot center-fire ammunition?
Do not laugh at the question. People, in their need to make things both cheaper and with their own hands have learned various methods for manufacturing rim-fire rounds. That being said however, rim-fire ammunition in itself is not-re-loadable to 99.99999% of those who shoot it. Center-fire metallic cartridges, used primarily in rifles and handguns have four (4) components; the primer, case, powder, the bullet. Modern shotgun ammunition has five (5) components; the primer, hull, powder, wad, and the load. For this report, only Boxer primer styles are being considered.
- Primer: The source of ignition for ammunition. A small diameter cup which contains a chemical compound which is activated by a percussive force. The activation of this compound results in the ignition of a cartridge’s powder charge in an assembled cartridge.
- Case: Metallic cylinder which houses the primer, powder and bullet. Usually constructed of brass and can be nickel-plated as well and manufactured from alternate alloys. Brass however is the material most used and reloaded.
- Hull: Similar to a Case, but normally has a metallic base, with the sides being constructed with a polymer based material. Some hulls are completely metallic.
- Powder: The high rate burning compound which when enclosed in a case and ignited by the primer, combusts. The resultant gases created from this combustion (pressure) are what propel the bullet or wad/load down the barrel of the firearm.
- Wad: A compressible plastic piece which has two purposes. First to create a seal in order to allow pressure to develop under powder ignition. Secondly, the compression of the wad allows for a larger perssure to be developed before the kinetic transfer of energy to the load (slug or pellets). It is launched out of the firearm, but the lighter mass and design have it fall away soon after discharge.
- Bullet: The projectile launched out of the end of the firearm.
- Load: This can be a single projectile (slug) or multiple ones (shot) which is launched out of the end of the firearm.
How much can you save?
This is an important factor as it can severely affect the decision for reloading. Why? It has to do with a factory cost baseline of ammunition, and we’ll use cheap factory ammunition.
- Shotgun: 12ga 2-3/4″, #7.5 lead shot. Prices are $8 per box of 25, or $0.32 per round.
- Rifle: .223 Remington 55gr FMJ, Prices are $12 per box of 20, or $0.60 per round.
- Rifle: .300 Winchester Magnum, 180gr SP. Prices are $30 per box of 20, or $1.50 per round.
- Handgun: 9x19mm Parabellum, 124gr RN. Prices are $18 per box of 50, or $0.36 per round.
Lets go right to reloading costs. DISCLAIMER! The author does NOT reload for shotgun and therefore cannot comment on the direct costs associated to reloading that particular genre of shooting. Plus all prices are approximate, there may be certain brands/sales where factory ammunition is indeed cheaper than reloading, but those are few and far between in TPF’s experience…
- Primers are about $0.04 apiece and with moderate loads all brass can be reused for 6 reloads, with many smaller cases lasting 10, 15 or more reloads.
- Brass costs per reload for .223/.300/9mm, assuming 6 reloads from spent factory ammunition is $0.10/0.30/0.06 respectively.
- Powder costs approximately $40 per pound, which is 7000 grains of powder. Case capacity for moderate loads of .223/.300/9mm equate to 25/75/5 grains of powder per respective load or a per round cost of $0.15/0.45/0.03.
- Bullets are the area where costs can be significantly reduced. Typical replacement bullet costs are wholly dependent on mass and construction. in the case of the .223 Remington, 55gr FMJ bullets can be obtained for as low as $0.15 each, and for the .300 WM; aftermarket hunting bullets are roughly $35 per 100 pieces. Plated bullets for the 9mm can be found for $0.11 each.
- Adding up the totals for reloading. .223 Remington can be reloaded for $0.44, or a savings of $0.16 per round. .300WM for $1.14 each or a savings of $0.36 per round. With 9mm, reloading at $0.25 saves $0.11 per factory round.
These numbers are the BASIC savings, as factory ammunition quality/brand increases so do the costs per round. As an example, a high performance .300WM box of ammunition can reach $45+ per box. That jumps the costs per factory round to $2.25 each, and reloading would increase the bullet cost to closer to $0.66 each or $1.45 per reload for a resultant $0.80 saving per round…
So now that we see how much actual savings that can be had with reloading, we get into usage?
How much center-fire ammunition do you shoot annually?
Are you a hunter and if you are lucky shoot a 20-25 rounds of ammunition in a single year? Do you target shoot for fun and use up 100-200 rounds a year or do you compete and throw thousands of rounds downrange every year? This is one of the most important factors to consider if determining to get into reloading. It is a part of the return on investment, ROI, of reloading equipment. As we have already discussed the basic savings per round of reloading, you can determine your ROI. Reloading equipment is not free and what would work best for a re-loader depends on how much shooting is actually done. There are several types of reloading presses and equipment available, every single one can do what it was meant to do. Reload ammunition with the necessary components.
- Portable re-loader kit: A small self-contained reloading kit. Runs about $40-$75. Experienced reloading rate of about 20+ rounds per hour. Can be transported easily. Examples include Lee Loader, Lee hand press, etc…
- Single Stage Press: Only allows for single reloading die to be utilized at a time, therefore only one cartridge receives the associated operation at a time. Base prices range from $100 to $250. Experienced reloading rate of about 40-80+ rounds per hour. Examples include RCBS Rockchucker, Hornady LNL Classic, etc…
- Turret Press: Allows for multiple dies to be installed, decreasing down time and allowing for a complete round to be manufactured by indexing the dies in sequence. Faster than a single stage due to less die change outs. Base prices range from $150 to $500. Experienced reloading rate of about 60-120+ rounds per hour. Examples include Redding T-7, RCBS Turret, Lee 4-Hole Turret, etc…
- Progressive press: Multiple dies, multiple cases at a time. A progressive press combines multiple shell die stations with a multiple case indexing device. Much greater speeds and complexity. Base prices range from $250 to $700. Experienced reloading rate of about 150-400+ rounds per hour. Examples include Dillon 650XL, Hornady LNL-AP, Lee Load Master, RCBS Pro 2000, etc…
Now that you have basics to compare, you can see that what volume you shoot will have an impact on what type of reloading press you might be interested in. If you shoot 100 rounds a year, are you willing to spend $500 on a press. Even saving $0.80 per reload, this scenario would equate to over 6 years before seeing any actual savings… Yet a Lee Loader kit would have an ROI in just over 9 months. Shoot 10,000 rounds? Saving $0.11 a round adds up fast every year!
How much is your free time worth?
You have an idea of reload rates from the basic numbers given above, and even those are flexible depending on what additional options you decide on. Case feeders, electronic scales, case preparation tools, tumblers, even bullet feeders and motorized press drive units. All can contribute to changing your reloading rates. However, the next question is how much is your free time worth? Do you as a re-loader want to spend 1/2/4/8/more hours a week/month/year reloading? Is reloading a chore or a form of meditation? If time equals money, or a lack of time is the issue, one can decide that a higher production volume is worth the extra financial expenditure in the beginning. If you reload for multiple calibres, do you want multiple pre-setup presses, or just the components to interchange on a single press? These are questions you need to answer long before you even decide on the type of press you would like… However, if your time is plentiful and considered free, the author can guarantee that the majority of re-loaders want you over to help them reload…
The true appreciation of reloading has several levels. One of those appreciations comes with shooting a less costly ammunition with expected results. Another is the fact that via reloading, an individual can “tune” a reload to function superbly in their firearm, by recoil, accuracy, and general performance. Tuning is not fast and can involved myriads of combinations and can be regulated down to the finest detail including brass weights and concentrically of bullets. The difference of a 100mm (4.0″) group at 100m (110 yds), versus a 12mm (0.5″) is moot to some and extremely satisfying to others. One of the final and most overlooked appreciations of reloading is the fact that you are shooting something that YOU made. Self-satisfaction of a job well done is evident when the bullet hits the target that was aimed at.
There is one small detail worth mentioning however. As most re-loaders will inform those who ask about saving money; Yes, reloading allows an individual to save money when doing a factory to reloaded round cost comparison, but reloading usually makes it likely that you will shoot MORE ammunition! “I used to shoot 1000 rounds of 9mm ammo annually prior to reloading and I saved $0.10 a round by reloading, but now I shoot 2000 rounds a year… I spend more now…”
TPF is proud to be able to present this basic reloading checklist for prospective re-loaders. However, TPF does not endorse any one reloading company, as we would hope that readers can make their own informed decisions with some research and knowing what they require. Should you decide to take the reloading plunge, Congratulations!