RELOADERS CORNER: Cartridge Cases: The Outside, Part 1

Lubrication is absolute essential in the reloading process, Here are a few ideas on which and how. READ MORE

lubing cases

Glen Zediker

What’s the most important thing in case resizing? Case lube! Overlook it or under-do it once and you’ll know why! A stuck-case remover is one of my very least favorite tools…

I have long used and recommended petroleum-based case lubes. More: I prefer those that are applied by hand, literally with the fingers, because I think it’s a better assurance that the right amount, to all the right places, will get laid down. I will quickly concede, though, that they are messy and slower than other methods.

imperial case lube
This is my favorite case lube. I took advice from Sgt. Norris after complaining how hard it was to get a good sizing pass on a Lake City .308. Sure enough. This made it easy. Been using it ever since. It’s not really wax. Use it like shoe polish: rub a little on your fingers and then rub it onto the case with a “gimme money” motion.

Spray-on-type lubes are very often used and recommended, especially by high-volume loaders because a good many cases can be treated and then even stored before use, so say the claims. I strongly suggest taking steps to prevent the lube from finding its way inside the case. A thin piece of cardboard placed atop the standing cases works well for this. There’s worry otherwise that the lube might affect the propellant. That does depend on the formulation, but I prefer the “no-chance” approach. I’m a “slow-down” sort of loader. That doesn’t mean I don’t want to save time or be as efficient as I can be, but I’ve just not found the speed advantage to spray-ons to overcome their performance. Sprays are not quite as “slick” as rub-ons.

Lanolin-based and wax-based alternatives also have their following. As do water-based lubes. The wax lubes indeed work and also clean up (off) easily, as does lanolin. I’ve not been a follower, though, because I find many to be more difficult to apply evenly and, one more time, just not quite as slick at petro-based products. Some of the wax-based lubes also make claim to “apply-now, use later.” I’m not sure what the appeal of that is, but there it is for those it appeals to. There are also a number of “proprietary” formulations out there now. I have not tried them all.

hornady case lube
Hornady pretty well has it covered: one for every opinion! Try them all! But I will wager you’ll like petro best… That’s the one in the bottle. Hornady claims their spray lube doesn’t contaminate powder, and that makes it applying it more straightforward.

A tip I picked up umpteen years ago by the man who got me started loading was to get an ink stamp pad (office-supply store variety) to apply roll-on type lubes. Indeed, that works way better than the industry pads I’ve tried.

Back to petroleum lubes: aside from providing smoother feel in sizing, which I have to believe also indicates “better” lubrication qualities, these don’t build up as much within tooling. I take apart my sizing die every now and again and swab it out, like I would a rifle chamber.

For best results, no matter which lube type you’re using, an even (thin) coating gives best results. With a good petro lube, it doesn’t take much. If you see any denting (usually in the case shoulder area), that resulted from hydraulic pressure and is a sign there was too much lube (too thick a coat). No worries, though: shoot the case and they’ll iron back out. Just use less lube next time!

Lubing the case neck inside is debated, but I favor it. However! Only very sparingly! That is why I really like the finger-applied lubes: just a little “wipe” across the case mouth eliminates the “gaunch” noice from the expander. I don’t use the graphite-applicators (the bin-and-brush types) because I haven’t noticed a whopping lot of difference in neck sizing with or without it.

forster lube
For best sizing results, I prefer the “rub-on” lubes. This one is from Forster. Never any worries about too much, too little, or complete coverage.

And, by the way, lube a case each pass through the die. This is important when setting up a sizing die where you might make a few passes with the same case. Don’t risk it! Stuck cases are total mood killer.

Clean the lube off the cases! There will be some now who will just roll their eyes, but I use denatured alcohol and a bath towel pour some on the towel, but the cases on the towel, fold the towel over the cases, and roll them around. Fast and simple! That works for petro-based. Others need more attention: just rub it away, or use detergent.

I do not recommend using a tumbler-type cleaner on loaded ammo!

Sho, there is a (slight) chance that a bullet tip might detonate a primer, but that’s not why. Why is because the propellant gets pulverized, and that, no doubt, will change its burn characteristic.

case cleanup
This is what I use to clean loaded rounds, along with the towel it’s sitting on. Lay out the towel, put down the rounds, pour some alcohol, fold the towel over the cases, and roll them around. Then hang the towel to dry for another use. Zero residue.

The reason to clean off the lube is because it lubricates, and that’s a bad thing on a live round. The case is supposed to stick tightly to the chamber when it expands under pressure. Any slip increases bolt thrust. I once saw a fellow douse a loaded 30-round magazineright down the middle with WD-40, to “make sure the bullets fed…” NO NO NO. Oil on a cartridge doubles bolt thrust!

Case lube is not a case cleaner!

Make sure the cases are clean prior to sizing. They don’t have to gleam, just be free from dirt and gritty dust. If you’re seeing a applicator pad, for instance, getting a dirty spot on it, well there’s your clue.

We’ll talk about that next time.

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This article is adapted from Glen’s books, Handloading For Competition and Top-Grade Ammo, available at Midsouth HERE. For more information about other books by Glen, visit

25 thoughts on “RELOADERS CORNER: Cartridge Cases: The Outside, Part 1”

  1. Brass Juice is the best I’ve found. Vet owned and operated. Plus they sell Brass Wash which doesn’t require SS pins.

  2. I use lee lube mixed with alcohol in a spray bottle…dries quickly and leaves a white “dust” looking appearance on the cases…I use Birchwood Casey case cleaner mixed with water for tumbling…cases come out super clean with only maybe a half hour of tumbling in a RCBS sidewinder case tumbler…I have been reloading since the early 80’s …this is the quickest and best method that I have ever tried

  3. an easy way to lube cases is to put them into a zip lock bag with a spray or two of lube then after resizing put them into a liquid cleaning machine (I use simple green) dry and tumble for a short time clean, shinny and easy

  4. Your articles are very interesting and informative. I have learned a lot of good information and important factors in my reloading practices.
    Thank you
    Jim logan

  5. I feel that One-Shot spray is the worst lube ever invented. It’s used by a lot of high volume and new reloaders because it’s fast and easy but at least 90% of all reloaders who I’ve heard and read about that experience a stuck case were using One-Shot. I use a lot of Hornady products but never that one.

    Good series. I’m a relatively experienced handloader but I still manage to learn a lot from you.

  6. I’ve had some good experience with the Hornady Unique Case lube. Just put a dab or 2 inside a gallon size Zip Lock style bag and add your brass. Begin tumbling by hand until all the cases are evenly lubricated. I’ve had good experiences using it on 9mm rounds not just during the deprime/resize but also the crimp dye and belling as well. Without lube I will sometimes see some brass shavings around my loader and in the ammo. Lube eliminates that. If one wants to remove the lube, simply add a small amount of loaded ammo into a towel and roll back/forth. This won’t remove all of it but will remove quite a bit. Pistol are easier to tumble in a towel then rifle and better for safety.

    1. Live it up and buy a carbide sizing die for your 9mm Luger reloading. Then you can (and should) pitch the lube along with the hassle.

  7. Confused? Glen says ” REDDING”s IMPERIAL CASE LUBE ” is his favorite. Then he proceeds to use a liquid oil in the rest of the article. Someone pulling my leg?

  8. I have used RCBS case lube and their pads for decades. The only drawback is the pad does get dirty. I simply turn it over until both sides as cruded up and then clean them.

  9. I remember back in the day before all this modern stuff came to be, my Dad used to lube his cases with common motor oil applied to a slice off of one of his worn out felt fedoras. He was a product of the last depression and tried to use what was at hand. Although I do remember that it was unused motor oil, can’t say if it was detergent or non detergent. The ammo must have worked, because he killed more deer than the average gun writer of today. These days, fedoras are for the most part obsolete, therefore the RCBS pad or an ink pad works okay. I am leery of the spray on lube like the ONE SHOT as mention above because of the possible powder contamination. I like the examples and techniques given above by all.

  10. The powder gets pulverized when tumbling live ammo? Really? What about all manufacturers that tumble their loaded ammo before they box it? What about the testing that has been done where loaded ammo was left in a vibratory tumbler for days with no degradation of the powder kernels when viewed under a microscope and no changes in muzzle velocity when compared to ammo from the same batch and not tumbled?

  11. I’ve used Hornady One Shot for 20+ years without a single stuck case! Size,run in the tumbler for 30 min. to clean off excess lube,and load. Also,I’ve never experienced a “dud”.

  12. I agree that Imperial Case Lube is the best case lube ever. As you said, it is not fast but if you are in such a hurry then you really should not be reloading in the first place. If you want supreme accuracy you won’t get it by speeding during your reloading session. I don’t reload for the money savings, which is nice, but absolutely secondary to maximum accuracy.
    Although I primarily reload on progressive presses I prefer to hand prime and weigh every powder charge. A benefit of that is that I first resize the cases then put them in one of my vibratory tumblers to insure that I get all the lube off the outside of the case and the inside of the case neck too. This gets my cases nice and clean as well.
    I have tried the spray on lubes, the water based lubes that claim that they can be used dry but I still get stuck cases with them, lubes you roll on and a couple of others as well and none do as well as Imperial Case Lube except Hornady’s Unique Case Lube. I have only gotten one case stuck using Unique case lube. That was a 30 Carbine case that must have been fired in a badly oversize chamber, but have never had a stuck case using Imperial Case Lube. Ever.

    1. Like the author I like doing my rifle cases one at a time, rolling the lube on with my fingers. I’ve tried the spray lubes and a lube pad with all sorts of concoctions, but never get it applied evenly, and when you’re doing a big batch of brass it’s hard not to get some in the case. Some of the stuff I’ve mixed up for a lube pad is slick as hell, but gets really messy after a while and hard to clean off the cases.

      I’ve used the One Shot spray, and Dillon makes a good lube in a pump spray bottle that gives you a little more control.

      After trying everything, I agree that Imperial is just about perfect, but then I got a tub of Hornady Unique Case lube and never went back. For some reason I just prefer it over everything else, and a small tub lasts forever. If you’re in a hurry, you won’t like either Imperial or Hornady Unique, but I don’t reload to save time, and either of them will do the best job with your cases.

  13. I also have had issues w/hornady spray lube as of late. There was a time when I had made several k’s of necked cases. Never got one stuck but did come close. I commonly use Hornady spray for all the straight cases–it works really good for them and Imperial for wildcat cases. Remember to clean off the lube after loading, the old rcbs stuff was prone to gunking/hardening up on the brass to the point that shooting and extracting a round was problematic. Works for me. Hope this helps.

  14. Fuggggitttaboudt any denatured alcohol. What you want to use to clean lube off of brass is plain old rubbing alcohol.

  15. Imperial Sizing Die Wax is great stuff! I’ve used it since the late 70s. Their dry Case Neck lube is also great. However I use it only on the inside if the neck, which makes the bullet release when firing more consistent.
    To make myself better understood, I never full length resize my brass for my tight-necked 22-250 chamber. I size the neck on my brass using a “bump-neck die”. & only work the neck of my brass a total of no more than 2-3 thousandths of an inch.
    I’m presently reloading my 15th reload for my Lapua brass & fully expect to get more than 50 reloads from it. I only shoot from a bench now. the professionals who use tight necked brass report getting as much a 100 reloads from their brass.
    I’d never consider doing this on a “Field gun.” My legs ain’t up to doing any more sitting at a bench anymore.

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