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32-20 reloading problem Need advice

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Just some things I have heard & or seen............. 


Years back when the Contender crowd complained that 32-20 Win brass was failing after a couple firings R-P made theirs a little thicker.  

This helped the TC shooters as they were using .308 FMJ bullets & dies came in  boxes that said " 32-20 For TC Contender" & were setup for that combination.

I believe the dies were marked "TC" also.  This was not helping anyone trying to reload for old guns.  (or even new non-TC guns)


Today when wanting to shoot a larger dia. bullet do to wanting to mach bore size +.001 it is a ?? as to how to get it right sometimes.

The size of the finished cartridge is determined / restricted by the die & the thickness of the brass & bullet size.

Just for fun pull a bullet & see what size it is.  


Sizes are approx (from memory)

Example cast bullet .314 (trying to get to work in old Colt)

Pull loaded round, bullet is only .311 loaded in R-P brass

Winchester brass is thinnest  allowing the net dia of the bullet to increase.

Starline was in the middle for thickness.


This brass thickness difference would cause crimps to differ a;so, (providing R-P was trimmed to Winchester length so cases are equal length).


By the way the Wilson gage is a "case gage" not a "cartridge gage"  they say so in the instructions that it is not for loaded rounds.

Example, new factory Winchester ammunition falls into the gage as the shoulder is set way back so as to chamber in "any" firearm in that caliber.

No  spec for 32-20  (& 38-40 Win) etc so nobody makes a cartridge gage that I am aware of.  (hence the practice of using a tight revolver cylinder to gage rounds.

There is a company making one for 44-40 that seems to work for my applications at least, but when I spoke with them they were not planning any in 32-20 or 38-40.


Oh what fun.  Hope this helps or at least was interesting.




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42 minutes ago, Garrison Joe, SASS #60708 said:

Then that would say that folks loading .32-20 for 73's ought to be holding the longest OAL they can, to prevent any amount of "cartridge return".   So, load to a 1.550" or longer OAL, right?  <_<


Right :)


I just measured 6 different '73 lifters.  One old Winchester and 5 Ubertis.  All run edge to edge  1.59+ to 1.60.  The Winchester is off a 1880's ' 73 in 32-20.  It was 1.57".


The ramp cut on a '73 is a new thing invented to allow "short" 38 special ammo in a '73 instead of  the traditional cartridges that all ran 1.59"+/-  OAL.   If you have been around long enough you know we use to long load 38 Special to make the 1.59 so it would run through the early 73/92 conversions.   The angle cut allows 44 Special, 44 Schofield and 45 Cowboy (with and insert) and the 38 Special loaded short.   So lets not get confused where the ramp cut on the elevator actually came from.  It wasn't Winchester's idea.


Photos below are the lifter in that 1880's '73 and no ramp cut.  Just the elevator feed side rounded some to make the rim of the case feed into the elevator easier.  And a couple of photos showing a Uberti 32-20 lifter with the ramp cut.   Another photo comparing a Uberti mag tube and a original Winchester mag tube.  The Uberti OD is .64".  The WInchester is .52".   It is a big difference.    


FWIW the 110 gr bullet that was suggested previous with the driving band in short Starline brass loads to a OAL of 1.603" if crimped on the crimp groove.  My Uberti 32-20 elevator is 1.595.  Imagine how that works running a fast 10 rounds in a '73?!   It don't.


The 115gr traditional Winchester bullet I use with Starline brass measures 1.56"+.


Original 32-20 Winchester elevator

IMG_2912 (3).JPG



ramp on a Uberti 32-20 (or 38) elevator

IMG_2917 (2).JPG


Uberti on top.  Original Winchester 32-20 below



What I have learned from my adventures with a 32-20 and a Uberti is  simple really.  Just do everything Winchester did with their '73.....including the original ammo of the day.   Move on up to the '92 and things changed some :)   But the gun basics stayed the same.  What really changed with the '92 besides going smokeless was the ammo got faster with more pressure.   But a '92 is only about half the fun of a '73 :)


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I kinda feel your pain. I bought an original '73 in 32-20 back in 1966. $65.00 ( just thought I"d throw that in :D) I started reloading in '69. Never reloaded for the '73, just 38/357. I didn't shoot it that much, until about 2000. I'd bought about 8-9 boxes of ammo for it over the years. All different headstamps, whatever I could find, Win, Rem, UMC and others, saved the empties. Finally decided to reload 32-20, ordered a bag of Starline, grabbed a handful of the other brass and Starline and reloaded a batch and went to the range with some of my other guns. 32-20 up,,,,, maybe a full mag , some had turtleing , just about every mag had a turtle. Gave up,,, went home. Measured a handful, checking OAL ,,,, all good. I'm stumped. Hummm, measure case lengths huh?? Each headstamp was a different length. XXX ! When I set my dies up, I must have set the seating/crimping die to one of the longer ones. Sooo, Starline was the shortest , so trim everything to them. I've got a handcrank case trimmer,,,,, that's a lot of brass,,,, e-bay to the rescue. Used motorized Lyman case trimmer about $50.00 including shipping ,,, a little cleaning and mounting. I was in business. Spent the whole weekend trimming cases, not a problem since. I readjusted my seating/crimping die. Oh , I use .313dia. ,,, 113 - 115gr. bullets. B/P or smokeless. And yes ,,,,, I seat and crimp with one die,,,,,,,,,,,,,, "everything".



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Thanks Isom.  I did learn early on that I was going to have to either trim 32-20 brass or separate headstamps because of the extreme differences in case length.  I have a power trimmer but didn’t want to get into trimming brass that I use in such quantity.  So, I just use the separation method.  


I shot a hundred rounds rounds each of R-P brass and a hundred rounds of Starline yesterday.  The R-P brass was fired brass of mixed vintage and the Starline was new, unprimed brass.  The loading was done on a Dillon 550 with a 115 gr bullet sized to .313” over 3.0 grains of Titegroup and a less rite crimp with the Lee FCD.


 Two rounds of the R-P brass that had the bullets back into the case and none with the Starline.  Examination of the two cases that caused the problem revealed a split case mouth in both instances.  I examined the remaining R-P cases under a magnifier and found another 20 or so cases with small cracks in the case mouths (ranging from 1/32” to 1/8”).  The splits on the two failed cases were in the 1/8” range.   The new Starline brass had no case mouth splits.


For information, I measured the brass thickness on both brands and found that both measured .006”.


I now think that my problems were from sloppy loading technique in not inspecting all of my fired brass.  Next project is to go through 4000 fired R-P cases and dump any with case mouth splits, no matter how small.  I also reduced the amount of crimp that I will be using.  It would probably help but I’m NOT going to trim 4,000 cases to length!


Thanks to all who posted positive comments.  Even those of you who so succinctly points out my intellectual deficiencies.



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39 minutes ago, Cypress Sam, SASS #10915 said:

I have a power trimmer but didn’t want to get into trimming brass that I use in such quantity.  So, I just use the separation method.  


Examination of the two cases that caused the problem revealed a split case mouth in both instances.  I examined the remaining R-P cases under a magnifier and found another 20 or so cases with small cracks in the case mouths (ranging from 1/32” to 1/8”).  The splits on the two failed cases were in the 1/8” range.   The new Starline brass had no case mouth splits.


I also reduced the amount of crimp that I will be using.  It would probably help but I’m NOT going to trim 4,000 cases to length!


Trimming?  Separation?   When you separate your brass do you also change  the depth on your both your seating and crimp die to match brass OAL?   Different length brass would require it to load reliable ammo.


If brass is the same thickness I would have to wonder about the difference in annealing processes.  Harder brass cracks easier.  Work hardened brass  cracks very easily.  Crimping and shooting both work hardens the brass to eventual failure.


Reducing crimp?  Reducing the crimp will work your brass less and stave off brass failure/cracks.   What I found is that 32-20 brass wears out pretty quickly compared to other caliber cowboy brass.  But all WCF brass gets worked pretty hard with the tapered case shape.  I suspect the higher pressure of the 32-20 by comparison to the others makes it even worse.   I have a lot of 32-20 brass.  But I shoot it in 500 round lots.  When that lot of 500 starts cracking or as common splitting at the neck base I put it aside for practice and it is now a batch to sort through and see what is cracked.  


I suspect my attempts at humor wasn't appreciated prior.  My apologies.  Just my opinions on what it takes to get a Uberti 32-20 to be reliable.  Hope some of the info helped.

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Levi, since you’re into horse analogies:  This ain’t my first rodeo.  Yes, I change the seating and crimp settings on dies when loading different lengths of brass.  Using a Lee FCD makes the crimp setting a little more forgiving, but not enough for the routine .040 to .050” differences found with 32-20 brass.


The reference made by several of the responders abour reducing the crimp makes good sense from the metallurgical perspective that I had not thought of.  Lead alloys have a yield point (the stress at which metal deforms and not return to it’s original shape) of around 1,500 psi.  Brass has a yield point of around 20,000 psi depending on alloy.  That and the fact that that the case mouth expands and contracts as a ring or circle and the lead bullet expands and contracts as a solid (the same reason heating a stuck screw will often release it when it is expanded through heating) makes it so that a heavier crimp can loosen the bullet.  When a bullet is crimped in the case, both the lead and the brass case contract.  The brass springs back more than the lead leaving the bullet loose in the case.  Try resizing a loaded round sometime and see how it loosens the bullet.  


Heavier crimps also also stress the brass more as you said, so less crimp beyond what is needed is a double win.


Interesting that you are in the business of raising horses.  My dad was in the cattle business so I too was raised around horses and cattle.  Dad also raised horses and sold those that we didn’t need on the ranch.  My job was breaking the colts, which was much better than building fence or planting grass.  Matter of fact that ranch life in my early days inspired me to pursue a career in engineering.  Much less work!


Anyway, thanks for your perspective on this.  I have learned a lot from this thread.  Oh, and no offense taken.

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Hahahah :lol:   Not a day goes by here that I don't do some or forget something  that causes me more work than required.


Some times  it is the simple things that are easy to miss that make a big difference in the end result.  Nothing proves that more than loading and  shooting 32-20  in  a Uberti '73.  :blink:

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And here's a caution from the Lyman die set instructions about overly-hard crimping that seems relevant:



Caution: A reduction of case mouth diameter greater than .003" may cause bullet deformation and often results in a loose bullet.


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Been gone a while. Sam, I didn't have THAT much brass, I don't think I'd do that much trimming either. I only had about 400 or so to do. I'm glad you've got it straightened out. 


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  • 1 month later...

I know this thread has been inactive for a while but::

OK, using Starline Brass, .312 115gr bullet. My problem is that the SL brass is so short, when I set the OAL to 1.59" the crimp groove is above the brass. 
Setting bullet in crimp groove yields an OAL of 1.45" causing jams in the Cinnaberti rifle. The Lee FCD will not even touch the rim of the SL brass, but does on RP.. 
Using DiIlon 550. Am wondering if getting the .050 trimmed off the dies would help. Anyone know where I can get that done?  But still leaves the problem of the case not crimping in the groove.
Also wondering if going to single stage press for crimping using standard crimp die is the answer
Any help? 

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I trimmed my sizing die by about .050 by chucking the end of the decamping pin in a drill and grinding it on a 6” grinder while the drill was spinning the die.


With Starline brass, it didn’t solve the problem of the bullet being pushed back into the case though.  I just had to relegate my Starline brass to my pistols.


My Lee FCD crimps the 32-20 Starline brass, when I had it set for a really heavy crimp on RP brass.  I finally just got a new set of Lee 32-20 dies for about 30 bucks and set up another tool  head for loading the Starline.  With the Lee dies and Starline brass, I just use the roll crimp into the crimp groove for a 1.45” (note-this length was for 38 spl, not 32-20  I’ll measure later and edit a correction) overall length.  Works fine in my Uberti 73.

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Thanks Sam. I posted this and two minutes later I found myself ten miles from the epicenter of a 6.4 earthquake here in RIDGECREST CA.  It was wild ride. Will take weeks to pick things up as the aftershocks continue. My vibrating tumbler shook off its shelf in the loading shed and dumped itself and load of walnut dust behind the door preventing me from opening it.  Looked inside and there were literally thousands of bullets knocked off the shelves and onto the floor. (No they are not all the same caliber) Guess they will lie there until I get the house straightened out.. 

Reloading will have to wait for a while.  At least the power came back about 3pm.

The fun never ends..



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Sorry to hear about your earthquake experience,  I’m glad that you and family are safe.  We’ll pray that you don’t have any more aftershocks.


OLG - I don’t have the expander size right now but it’s the one out of the 30 carbine conversion.


I just went out to the shop and measured the expander at 0.302”.  It’s in the machine and was a little hard to measure.

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  • 2 months later...

Cypress Sam - Struggled a lot trying to get the shorter 32-20 brass loaded properly (tight enough bullet seat and crimp) on my Dillon 550 using Reading Dies so they would't 'turtle head' in the '73 (Cimarron 24") magazine.  The seat and crimp dies would bottom out on the conversion plate and not travel down far enough over the brass.  Ended up having the seating die and crimp dies (also a Lee Factory Crimp die - backup) milled 0.033", which was the average of the differences I measured (and I see that figure on another forum discussion too).  That and having a minimal 'bell' (almost none) from the powder die seemed to fix the problem.  Had switched from 0.312" to .0313" (115 gr Mstr cast) previously and will stick with the thicker bullet diameter.  Am also finding the 32-20 brass is not stretching as quickly as I expected, so sure haven't had to trim any.  Kept reading that the bullet tension was the key to prevent the bullet from being pushed back into the brass during mazazine travel - quickly learned that the '73 is very picky about cartridge length feeding - had the mazazinie tube insert changed too.  Now I can try some competion with it, along side the 44-40.  The 32-20 is the only cartridge I've had this kind of problem with. 

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Scattershot,  I only shortened the sizing die.  The searing/crimp die and the Lee Factory Crimp die seemed to work fine with the Starline brass.  After adjustment of course.


I also determined that my old sizing die was worn to the point that it wasn’t sizing the cases down small enough to give good neck tension.  I solved that by buying another set of dies.  I also went through my brass and tossed any that had even the smallest crack in the mouth.  


I don’t want to jinks myself, but I haven’t had any turtling problems with the latest batch of reloads.  They have all been the longer case length though.  Not the shorter Starline cases.

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