Working with Primers

  • Are primers interchangeable?  Usually not.  The primer is carefully matched in the load data to the burn rate characteristics of the powder, case capacity and desired ignition rate of the primer.  Don’t substitute rifle primers for pistol primers.  Don’t substitute standard for magnum primers (or vice versa), as this could cause a dangerous over-pressure situation or weak ignition and squib load.  Note that select primers such as Winchester Large Pistol (WLP) indicate that they are suitable for standard and magnum loads.

  • What are match-grade and benchrest primers?  Are match-grade primers worth the extra money?  Match grade (a.k.a. benchrest) primers are made to tight tolerances, often coming from the same batch on the same machine.  When the ultimate in consistency is desired, match-grade may be warranted.

  • Removing live primers is dangerous and not recommended for beginning reloaders.  Advanced reloaders who have been trained to do this properly should wear extra protective clothing, clear the bench of any combustibles and go slow. Primer explosions release significant energy (witness that a primer alone is used to fire plastic bullets that can pierce ½” drywall…)

  • Are primers toxic?  Many are.  Recycling and disposal of fired primers should consider that many use lead and mercury compounds as well as other toxic chemicals.  There are non-toxic primers that should be considered for indoor range usage.

  • Priming options: Primer seating can be accomplished via hand priming, press priming or automated tools.  Hand priming gives a good feel for seating issues.  Faster options use priming strips or primer tubes.  If your setup uses tubes – keep them clean!  A dirty primer tube can cause ignition of the primers in the tube.  Keep the fireworks on the Fourth of July and out of your reloading room!

  • Primer storage - Store small volumes of primers in an ammo can and large volumes in a dedicated fireproof vault.  Store primers away from powder and other combustible materials.  Keep primers clean, dry and at room temperature.

  • Inspect fired cases for changes in the primer.  Look for solid and consistent indents from the firing pin.  Look for flattened primers or pierced primers as sign of excessive pressure.