Brass vs Nickel Plated Brass Cases for Ammo & Reloading

Not sure to go with standard brass or the shinier nickel plated cases?  We’ll go over the pros and cons of each with regards to ammo and reloading.

Brass vs Nickel, Predator Masters
Brass vs Nickel, Predator Masters

Why Brass?

Brass is an alloy made from a mixture of copper and zinc.  It’s the primary case material for most cartridges for a couple of reasons:

  • Cheap
  • Soft enough to expand and fill a chamber
  • Not soft enough to split
  • Does not scratch gun parts
  • Does not spark with other metals
  • Reloadable many times

Cons of Brass Cases

We went over the numerous advantages of brass cases, but the one large con of brass cases is that they tarnish, especially when repeatedly handled, stored in adverse conditions, or kept in leather holsters.

Tarnished Brass Cases
Tarnished Brass Cases

What is Nickel Plated Brass?

Brass vs Nickel Plated Brass Casings
Brass vs Nickel Plated Brass Casings

Nickel plated brass is just that…it is regular brass that covered by a thin layer of nickel through electroplating.

Fun random fact, as of the end of 2013, it costs 9 cents to produce a US nickel coin which is 25% nickel and 75% copper.

Advantages of Nickel Plated Brass Cases

There’s a reason that many high end defensive ammo such as the Federal Hydra Shok 9mm above have gone towards nickel plated brass:

  • More corrosion resistant
  • Lower coefficient of friction which allows slicker feeding in semi-autos (easier sliding rounds on top of each other in the magazine)
  • Easier loading/unloading in revolvers
  • Looks pretty/different which allows easier identification of brass at the range or designation of a special load

Disadvantages of Nickel Plated Brass Cases

Split Nickel Plated Brass Case, Smith & Wesson Forum
Split Nickel Plated Brass Case, Smith & Wesson Forum
  • More expensive than regular brass
  • More brittle so may neck split/crack after fewer reloads
  • Different metal properties may require modification of reloading dies (check length and crimp)
  • Plating may flake and get into dies where it can scratch die and future rounds

Verdict

The advantages of nickel plated brass are numerous and we believe you can use all the things you can get in choosing defensive ammo.  Nickel plated brass should be more corrosion resistant, offer slicker feeding, and designate your defensive rounds easier.  And remember to always periodically test out your defensive rounds!

The disadvantages of nickel are all centered around reloading.  We have some nickel cases in our reloads and haven’t found the necks more brittle.  But then again, we don’t reload more then 3-5 times before we lose the brass for good at competitions.

We find that regular yellow brass works fine for plinking and competing, but if you are reloading, just be sure to double-check the entire nickel case each time, clean out your dies, and check your length/crimps.  Or, just get a new set of dies for nickel cases only.

 

9 Leave a Reply

  • Clifford Bloom

    I've reloaded for years. You are better off reloading with the best components. New brass and best powder. Eric has become a "must read" in my email.

    4 days ago
  • Between

    Your work is great sir,l hope for a lucrative exchange of knowledge.

    1 month ago
  • Between

    Muchemwa Between

    1 month ago
  • brian Fortin

    You forgot a big difference in reloading. If you wet tumble, and you mix brass and nickel, you can end up with discolored brass. This is especially so with missing a few aluminum or steel casings, which are liable to ruin the appearance of both the nickel and brass casings. Bottom line, use a magnet to find the steel casings, you can't afford to miss a single one, and clean your nickel and brass separately.

    2 years ago
    • NoMore

      I think most discoloration comes from chemicals that are commonly used when wet-tumbling cases like Lemi-Shine, which is a "detergent booster". Most of those products contain some ammonia which some claim will "draw out" the zinc from brass cases and cause a pinkish tint/discoloration but I've seen it happen more with steel cases than brass cases. I tend to think the leftover powder residues, which are all metals or metallic oxides combined with the various metals in the cases and possibly the "stainless steel" tumbling media often used which tends to be very "ferrous" so-called "stainless steel" and is highly magnetic while "pure" stainless steel is non-ferrous and not magnetic at all combine to create various chemical reactions. The detergents/boosters contribute to that situation and a small "pinch" of a product like Lemi-Shine is a great plenty for fairly "clean" brass. When I'm doing what I call "chocolate brass" that is heavily oxidized range-pickup stuff a lot of brass scroungers/reloaders wouldn't even think of picking up and a dry tumbler won't touch, I up the "dose" of Lemi-Shine slightly. But in general I've found that when it comes to all four primary "components" of a wet-tumbling mixture - the pins, detergent, detergent booster and water - less is more. Too many pins and too much detergent tend to create an environment in the tumbler that "cushions" the cases and slows down cleaning dramatically. Too much booster creates issues with the red/pink discoloration and I believe in the rubber drums of my tumbler (an old Lortone rock tumbler) that stuff can accumulate in the porous rubber over time. Too much water also "cushions" the brass/pin "agitation" action and in fact its my opinion that MOST of the cleaning/polishing is accomplished not by the stainless pins rubbing and striking the cases but the cases rubbing and striking each other. I've definitely noticed that some "economy priced" brass seems more prone to discoloration than "premium" stuff and I take that stuff, the few steel cases I reload just because most people say it can't be done and as an ongoing experiment into how durable steel cases are compared to brass and "worn through" nickel=plated cases and the few "chocolate" cases I dry tumbled many times before I started wet tumbling which seems to have "locked in" the oxidized "coating" and load and keep them separate from my "good" brass to use as "disposable" cases. I often shoot in places where brass recovery is difficult or impossible and I use those "junk" cases to soften the blow of losing brass, which is a major pet peeve of mine. The odd thing is that I've actually found in many situations those "pink" cases are easier to spot and find than brass cases. Especially in dry grass/weeds or on a clean gravel/crushed rock range where the "sparkle" of the rock on the ground tends to "hide" shiny brass cases. There's really nothing at all about nickel or nickel=plating that should cause it to discolor other metals and nickel is very commonly used in steel/iron alloys to provide increased hardness and wear-resistance and increased resistance to corrosion. Of course there are various methods and materials used for electroplating with nickel and its possible that some manufacturers "cut corner" and even use nickel-plated cases for their expensive, premium factory ammo (Winchester Supreme hunting ammunition for high-powered rifles was the first nickel=plated brass I ever came in contact with 20+ years ago) and in particular their "defensive" ammo because strong sentiment exists in the "shooting community" against both reloaded ammunition for "defense" AND against nickel-plated cases for reloading. So offering defensive ammunition in nickel-plated cases can be very beneficial to companies like Federal that haven't come out with NEW defensive ammunition/projectiles for DECADES. Hornady XTP bullets and defensive ammo have taken a huge amount of market share away from Federal Hydra-Shok products over the last few decades for both actual defensive use AND for competition in the case of XTP bullets which seem to be far and away the most accurate and consistent JHP bullets out there. A LOT of competition handgun shooters shell out big bucks to buy their own XTPs for competition, XTPs are also used as "slugs" in shotgun slug sabot ammo and muzzleloader sabot "bullets" and XTP "MAG" bullets are specially-designed for the "monster magnum" handguns and rifle cartridges with muzzle energies in excess of `1500 fps. Hornady also sells XTPs to several other ammunition manufacturers that formerly used Federal Hydra-Shok bullets in their "own" ammunition. Of course Hornady is a very reloading/handloading-based ammunition/component manufacturer while Federal's history is based in factory ammunition and Hornady doesn't bother producing much in the way of "range ammo" for or handgun brass. I really think most of the anti-nickel sentiment is the result of "underground marketing" by companies like Federal that depend heavily on selling premium factory defensive ammunition and don't want or need anybody reloading their "premium" nickel-plated cases because it cuts directly into their bottom line. Especially if someone does so with Hornady or other "Brand X" bullets in their "premium" brass. Lots of people wet-tumble their cases with FIRED NICKEL-PLATED PRIMERS in the primer pockets and don't see the discoloration issues you're claiming even a single nickel=plated cartridge case can cause which will "contaminate" an entire "lot" of brass cases, after all. Especially those of us that scrounge/salvage really nasty range "chocolate" cases and go straight to the tumbler with them because we're not about to run that nasty, dirty, gritty and oxidized crap through our dies as-as to decap it when resizing after wet-tumbling cases is pretty much a necessity. Wet tumbling cases tends to "stress relieve" them, the case metal "relaxes" and expands and sizing tarnished/oxidized cases and removing that "outer layer" of material would leave previously sized cases "undersized" anyway so although I may wet-tumble my cases AGAIN after decapping/sizing if I want them shiny clean inside and out before final loading, I never decap/size "chocolate" cases prior to tumbling them and subject my dies to that crap I'm tumbling specifically to prevent from coming in contact with my dies and chambers. As for ALUMINUM cases, those tend to be non-reloadable cases regardless and have oddball primers that aren't available commercially.so there's no point in picking them up. Steel cases should be checked to make sure they're boxer-primed if you want to avoid broken/bent/displaced decapping pins and its BRASS cases that are far and away the most susceptible to ammonia-product discoloration in a wet tumbler. The only way STEEL cases should "rust" and discolor/stain the water and other cases is if you're not using a drop or two of dish detergent and are letting the cases and water "stand" for long periods after the tumbling is finished or if you're not flushing the tumbled cases thoroughly with fresh water after tumbling and are trying to "speed dry" the cases in an oven or "case dryer" instead of the open air with a small space heater with a fan or warm breeze blowing over them after "shaking off" as much water as you can and then cloth drying them in a towel or rag to get as much moisture off the external surfaces as possible. I also "open-air" dry mine on an old enamel refrigerator "drain pan" or in/on a plastic pan/strainer of some kind. The cookie sheet or cake pan in an oven method and just dumping the soaking wet cases directly onto/into it right out of the tumbler leaves the cases sitting in "puddles" of water that runs right off of them where all the oxidation, rust and corrosion that was cleaned off them is present in that tumbling water and they'll rust like crazy. Ovens and "cast dryers" (which are generally grossly overpriced food dehydrators) use "dry heat" but they're also "sealed" and there is no internal airflow over and into the cases and the water may "dry" off the cases but its still present in the stove itself. Particularly at the low temperatures most people "dry" their cases at. And since there is no airflow humidity levels in and around the container/cases tend to stay high unless the temperature is taken well above the boiling point of water and very quickly, taking that hot metal out of a "dry" stove and into a more humid environment for cooling causes condensation to form and when any "standing water" is evaporated away in the stove/dryer the DISSOLVED SOLIDS remain behind and are there to begin the corrosion process again immediately as soon as a little moisture is present which it will be in short order. The few times I've tried "drying" cases in a stove on a steel cooking pan/sheet of any kind I've ended up with stained, oxidized cases whereever they rested in water on the surface of the pan or on other cases. And that's a bigger problem with NATURAL GAS or PROPANE STOVES since those fuels contain MOISTURE as do the burners, lines etc from condensation as they cool. Overall, about 99% of the "DIY advice" I've seen online about how to tumble and dry cases of any kind has ended up being b.s., the variously "specialty" products and machines "specially made" for wet tumbling and drying cases are overpriced plastic junk and unless you start with very clean and "shiny" cases, have soft water and really aren't cleaning anything out' of/off of the cases except for a little water-soluble soot and powder residue that's pretty much ash, the processes and equipment the "experts" use and the conventional wisdom about what cases can and can't be "processed" properly and mixed and matched are often worthless. If more people were tumbling to really save money shooting rather than end up with "pretty" components/ammunition everybody would be wet-tumbling and the market for cleaned "once-fired" brass would implode because people would be doing what I did. Buying/building "cheap" heavy-duty tumbling equipment like I did, experimenting with different "mixtures" using the nastiest "chocolate" range-find brass they could come up with and realizing in short order that there really isn't any such thing as brass that's "too far gone" unless you've dry-tumbled and "polished" the corrosion/oxidation right into the surface of the brass itself. The only cases I haven't been able to make look like new or BETTER within an hour or so MAX with my old Lortone rock tumbler and little stainless pins and tap water and a drop or two of Dawn and a light sprinkle of Lemi-Shine are some cases I dry-tumbled for DAYS years before I started wet-tumbling and reloaded repeatedly.. I'm GRADUALLY wearing through the "patina" on those but it'll be a race to see if they get shiny first or if the cases split first.

      1 year ago
  • Sam

    Do you know of any particular brass that is just better made for reloading? Or worse to reload? I have found that Federal primer pockets are often tighter which makes them harder to reload without swaging.

    2 years ago
    • ehung

      I've found all manners of commercial 9mm to be fine for reloading, but I like PMC for 223 and do NOT like Wolf. .308 I like Winchester for a cheaper option through the AR-10 and for my precision rifle I like the good stuff...Lapua all the way.

      2 years ago
      • NoMore

        I'm not inclined to buy guns, ammunition or components from European manufacturers headquartered/manufacturing their products in countries where "gun rights" are severely restricted if they exist at all. Especially not when I have to pay a ridiculous premium for it because its "imported". and because it comes in a fancy plastic case. I see lots of comments from Lapua devotees that suggest even though they pay the "premium" for Lapua brass because of its "consistency" they apparently don't SIZE IT before reloading it the first time. All brand-new or use cases should be sized "out of the box" regardless of brand or price and the "concentricity" and "consistency" they brag about AFTER loading/firing it certainly isn't due to the brass. Brass fire-forms itself to the chamber during firing and even if its not sized before its loaded the first time like I should be, the seating/crimping die and operations dictate "concentricity" of the finished cartridge. Not how the brass came from the manufacturer. They also seem to brag about how consistent the case weights are when brand-new but they don't talk much about case life, how "resistant" the cases are to "stretching", etc. Since case LENGTH is the most important factor when it comes to "building" consistent ammunition and its absolutely crucial to consistent CRIMPING and NECK TENSION because of how much neck length there is to "grip" the bullet, focusing on the "consistency" of case WEIGHTS out of the box and not SIZING the cases, trimming them to the desired length and THEN weighing them proves NOTHING about the "consistency" of the cases. I just opened a bag of "cheap" brand-new Winchester .308 cases, at random weighed 12 or 15 on my digital scale and found total variation of around 2 grains. Far more than the "..5 grain" differences lots of Lapua "reiews" claim but then I MEASURED the cases and low and behold found about .005" total variation in case length. That's to be EXPECTED with mass-produced brass given that each "drawing" process that turns a brass "coin" into a brass case uses a series of dies and production "presses" that have a bunch of those dies per "line" and each die has to be manufactured/installed/adjusted individually and .005" difference in case length for brand-new cases cranked out by the thousands per hour is a lot tighter "tolerance" than what many guys are loading for their "plinking" loads using mixed range pickup/once-fired commercial brass they pick up or buy to "process" themselves. Especially PISTOL cases. And plenty of "remanufactured" ammo will have more case length variation than that because if you use something like a Lee "factory crimp die" and bullets with no cannelure OR you seat the bullets deeply enough to "hide" the cannelure in even the shortest cases/necks and sell that ammo as "plinking" or "range" ammo, most "shooters" today are none-the-wiser about how much variation there really is in that "quality" ammo. And most can't shoot well enough even off a bench and/or don't shoot guns and/or "optics" accurate and precise enough to show how "crappy" the stuff is. Just like most Lapua brass customers apparently aren't so concerned about "consistency" regardless of what they say in their reviews to SIZE and then TRIM and then WEIGH their "premium" brass BEFORE loading it the first time. And it goes without saying that as time goes on and new shooters get more into "precision shooting" and spend more money on guns, optics and other hardware AND reloading equipment/components, they also become more knowledgeable or at least better equipped to measure and size and produce quality components and ammunition than they were early on with the "cheap stuff" that was PROBABLY mainly range pickup/once-fired commercial brass acquired in large "lots" that even if "matched" probably didn't come from anywhere near the same PRODUCTION "lots" back at the factory and may not have been "once-fired" at all in other cases. Sure lots of ranges require that shooters at their ranges purchase their ammo "in-house" but they also sell "remanufactured" ammo, many load their own "remanufactured" or "range" ammo in the "back room" and two Winchester cases can be "identical" and come from lots manufactured years or even decades apart. Buy BRAND-NEW Winchester, Remington etc. cases in small quantities (which often isn't available and particularly during "ammo shortages" since those companies make MUCH more money selling LOADED AMMUNITION than components which rarely move fast if at all during "ammo shortages" caused by noob shooters rushing to buy up anything that goes bang and cases like .308 Winchester can and will last 10 or 15 reloads if loaded correctly, safely and sanely and cases are neck-sized and annealed by GOOD and EXPERIENCED handloaders/reloaders who DON'T shoot hundreds of rounds per month) and run those brand-new cases through a sizing die using plenty of good case lube, trim them precisely to "trim length" and de-bur them EVENLY and CONSISTENTLY (trimmers like the Little Crow Gunworks World's Finest Trimmers that index on the shoulder and minimize "burrs" in/on the case mouth because they have no pilot "ball" are best for getting consistent trimming/deburring) and THEN weigh them and see if "premium" Lapua brass is REALLY that much more "consistent" than the "cheap" American-made stuff. Especially for semi-auto "military style" rifles and in particular AR-pattern rifles which are often "overgassed" and are hard on case rims/bodies during extraction/ejection, good once-fired military-surplus brass that says "Lake City" on it that hasn't been polished post-annealing with just re=hardens it properly while making it "pretty" is far and away the "best" brass you can get and it be at least sorted correctly into production years unlike commercial brass. And since its stamped for the production YEAR because those arsenals "tool up" to produce the amount of cases/ammunition they have a contract for and production ends when they've reached that level for a given case/cartridge and they go to the next one on the list, a production year is pretty much a production "lot". Commercial brass manufacturers and PARTICULARLY those like LAPUA who don't also produce massive quantities of factory ammunition and who don't produce a "full range" of cartridges/cases and don't produce OTHER COMPONENTS like PRIMERS and POWDERS depend entirely on advertising, marketing and positive "reviews" AND a lot of "case turnover" by "precision shooters" who discard their "junk brass" as soon as it shows signs of "impending failure" or simply because they're not competent/skilled enough to get "shot out" cases back into "shape" and/or are scared/too lazy to anneal cases, etc. I've never yet heard a Lapua brass "fanboy" brag about case life or how many reloads they get out of their "premium brass" or compare it to "cheap" brass on any EQUAL basis. If their brass is really the best and their shooting/reloading demands/produces the kind of consistency they claim on Lapua brass delivers they certainly should be able to shoot fewer rounds and fewer reloads per "lot" of brass and get superior results and go through less brass over time than the "cheap" stuff. But they just don't brag about spending LESS MONEY OVERALL buying "better" brass up front.

        1 year ago
        • David Lapchuk

          What did you say sorry I was hoping you’d stop talking long enough to know what your talking about. You love to hear yourself no doubt! Who puts down Lapua!! Lol

          1 year ago
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