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Prime Reloading Co.'s Berdan decapper.

* In an age when dwindling material resources are reflected by rising prices, it seems almost criminal to throw away reloadable brass. Yet Berdan- primed cases can be such devils to decap, especially the military variety with crimped-in primers. Even Boxer-primed brass can present a major problem if the primers are crimped, or if the flash holes are undersized or marginally off-center.

For those unsure of the difference between the Berdan and Boxer primer systems, both are constructed on broadly similar lines. Each type contains a wafer of priming compound trapped between the cup of the primer and an anvil, and which is detonated by the blow of the firing pin. The Berdan system, which was widely adopted in Europe and invented by Col. Hiram Berdan of the U.S. Army Ordnance Dept. in the mid-1880s, requires a case to have two or more flash holes straddling a central anvil, which is itself an integral part of the case. The Boxer system, invented by Col. Edward Boxer, Royal Artillery, at the Woolwich Arsenal, London in the 1860s, has been adopted almost to the exclusion of the Berdan system in America. It has the anvil as part of the primer itself and therefore allows the use of a single central flash hole.

There have been several solutions to the Berdan decapping problem. There is one device marketed which claws out the old primer, but this can neither be described as fast nor convenient, and it also tends to damage the anvil.

A method used by many has been to make a metal rod which very closely fits the neck of the case, and then to partially fill the case with water. The rod is then inserted in the neck and struck. As water is, to all intents and purposes, incompressible, and a force applied to a liquid acts in all directions--even through the flash holes--the primer is expelled, being the point of least resistance. Hydraulic decappers of this type of work quite well, but in my experience they're messy.

Now a new hydraulic Berdan decapping system, sans mess, is being offered by Prime Reloading Co., 30 Chiswick End, Dept. G&A, Meldreth, Royston, Hertfordshire, SG8 61Z, England. This company, formed in 1980 by H.J. Kohne, has stated its aim of producing high-quality handloading equipment for the discerning shooter. Their new Hydro-punch is such a product.

The Hydro-punch is a further refinement of the hydraulic method. In very simple terms, a few drops of water are introduced into a chamber at the end of a piston; when the piston is struck, hydraulic pressure is progressively amplified via restrictions incorporating a number of seals and a check valve. The only route of escape for the water is via a fine nozzle. The jet of water exiting the muzzle is channeled through the flash holes of a fired case, and the pressure is sufficient to blast a crimpedin military primer from its pocket. However, each jet of water uses only two or three drops of water!!

In actual use, the operating procedure is as follows: the water reservoir (which comprises the main cylindrical brass body of the unit and forms the "handgrip") is filled with water via the removable, knurled screw-fit lid. The correct size of stainless steel nozzle is screwed into the lower end of the reservoir (below the bottom end of the piston) and the upper end of the piston is thumb-pumped once or twice to "prime" the mechanism.

The phrase "correct size of nozzle" is most important. In order to direct the jet of water into the twin flash holes of a Berdan case, the business end of the nozzle is recessed, and the concavity so formed is just wide enough to allow water to enter both flash holes silmutaneously without allowing any to escape and flood out and up the sides of the case. The upper part of the nozzle assembly is dimensioned to comfortably fit the neck of the case in use, guiding the nozzle into the correct position. Since no sideways pressure is exerted on the walls of the case, there is no danger of lateral bulging.

The effectiveness of the Hydro-punch is quite astounding. The first 9mm cases available for testing were a batch of crimped-primer brass of military, but otherwise unspecified, parentage. The flash holes (or hole, since several cases only had one off-center hole) were probably the smallest I have ever seen. With some skepticism I prepared the Hydro-punch and set to. A small percentage of cases required two blows to the piston, but none resisted depriming. Normal, non-crimped primer cases, Boxer or Berdan, are a breeze with the Hydro-punch, with less than five percent requiring a second blow. Incidentally, Prime Reloading stresses that only non-metal objects should be used to strike the piston, such as a rawhide-faced mallet.

Before decapping, the head of each case is perched within a brass collar on top of a hollow column, the purpose of which is to allow room for the ejected cap to drop out of its pocket. Interchangeable brass seating collars are provided for different sizes of case. Since only a few drops of water are expelled along with each primer, this really is a no-splash operation. Cases require drying, but a simple "porcupine" with rows of two-inch nails spaced out in a grid on a piece of waste wood allows the damp empties to be air-dried in a warm room. Once the empties have been decapped, a quick twist with Prime Reloading's crimp remover leaves the case ready for normal Berdan repriming. The second decapping is even easier due to the lack of a crimp.

Why bother with Berdan brass and the Hydro-punch at all when once-fired Boxer brass is widely available? Well, if you want to know here goes! Ex-military Berdan brass is good quality. Here in the UK it is freely scroungeable from military ranges. It doesn't take many zero-cost empties to make up for the Hydro-punch's purchase price of [pounds sterling] 33 ($52) (including surface postage--add $16 extra for air mail). Extra nozzles are [pounds sterling] 4.50 ($6.50). Much of the once-fired Boxer 9mm brass on the market has crimped-in primers. Apart from the bent/broken decapping pins problem, the decapping pin will occasionally break clean through the almost immovable primer, thereby rendering the case virtually impossible to decap. Since the jet of water from the Hydro-punch acts over the whole internal surface of the primer as opposed to the tiny area of the end of the decapping pin, the problem of primers being punctured does not occur.

The Hydro-punch is by far the fastest method of decapping crimped Berdan brass, and it is even quicker with Boxer cases since far fewer need a second blow to the piston.

With 9mm Parabellum cases of western European manufacture which take standand 4.5mm primers (i.e. not GECO cases with 5mm primers), Primer Reloading has another (permanent) answer to the Berdan problem--convent to Boxer! Impossible? Not at all. The "2-in-1" die ([pounds sterling] 11.50--$17) has a hardened steel pin which punches clean through the base of the powder chamber, removing the Berdan anvil (and old primer), creating a central, boxer-type flash hole. A metal nipple used in place of the standard shell holder is pushed into the primer pocket swaging it to fit the new Box primer (in fact, tightening it .002 inch). Sounds drastic? It is, but it works. If the resulting three-part flash hole is too large, discard the case or relegate it to 9mm carbine use. Brass with smaller flash holes are suitable for light/medium pistol loads. All future reloads use Boxer primers. Bye-bye Colonel Berdan, sorry!

Editor's Note: While this article primarily relates to European use of the Berdan decappers, American shooters will also find Prime Reloading's products handy for decapping uncommon, out-of-print British and Continental rounds which are now becoming scarce.
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Title Annotation:evaluation
Author:Utting, Nigel
Publication:Guns & Ammo
Date:Oct 1, 1984
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