Salt Bath Annealing...Pros and Cons

Discussion in 'Reloading Forum (All Calibers)' started by Texas10, Jul 21, 2018.

  1. Texas10

    Texas10 Gold $$ Contributor

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    I've been annealing my brass via the salt bath method for about a year now, so I thought I'd post some results for those contemplating starting to anneal their brass but have not decided what equipment to buy.

    I purchased my kit from a supplier in Canada. http://ballisticrecreations.ca/salt_home/salt-bath-annealing-kit-rev/

    I added a low cost multi-meter to monitor the temps (about 1000 F) and found a Lee lead pot melter on sale. I think my total investment was around $150.00 including extra salt media.

    PRO.

    1 First and foremost, it's CHEAP and effective. The only expendables are salt and water (no, you don't mix the two in the pot), and start up costs are reasonable.

    2 You absolutely KNOW the temp of the media you are using to anneal your brass, so over heating and ruining the brass is simply not possible. I have left brass in the bath for 5 minutes trying to soften the case head. It got a little discolored, but apparently did not soften. Hardness was pretty consistent with virgin brass according to my test method (not scientific and quantifiable, but nonetheless workable). Therefore the consistency of the anneal is quite good using this method.

    3 It's quick. Really quick. I typically use 4 to 5 seconds of soak time and because the baffle plate has two holes, I can place one in the bath and while its cooking, take another case out and place it in the second hole. By counting continuously I place the second case at count 4 and remove the first case and drop it in the nearby water bucket at count 5. Then grab another case and place it at count 4 again and repeat. So every 5 seconds I am cycling a case in and out. That's 12 per minute.

    4 Knocking the primer out before annealing is essential. Seriously essential! I had some FTF cases that I pulled down and forgot to segregate from the rest. Fortunately the primer blew after I pulled it out of the bath. I was using a steel pan to capture the annealed brass at that time and the force of the primer explosion flattened the case wall of an adjacent case. It also stopped my heart for a few seconds...LOL. So now I drop them in a bucket of water, both to wash off salt residue, but also just in case I get stupid again. But no further prior action is required such as sizing.

    5 Warnings about 1000 degree salt and water not mixing are a bit overblown using this particular method. I've had cases that I SS pin tumbled and rinsed, but that even after blowing out with compressed air and drying in a hot box, still had some water inside. When it hit the hot salt, it sizzled a bit and that was it. Nothing more. I wouldn't pull a case out of a bucket of water and go directly into the sale bath just to test this scenario, but reasonable care keeps things pretty safe.

    6 Consistency. This is where paying attention to soak time and media temperature becomes a little more important. As it turns out, shiny, polished brass does not turn bluish as readily as dull brass. So if a visible anneal is preferred as a consistency measure, go with unpolished brass and notice how far down the case the tint travels. My pot cools as I am processing brass, particularly large brass. So I will either stop and wait for it to come back up to temp, or simply add a second or two the the soak time and judge the anneal time by the color after it hits the water. I typically SS tumble afterwards to clean out all salt as well as powder and primer residue. But this removes the nice anneal coloration.


    CONS:

    1 Although the Lee melter pot is reasonably priced, it clearly was not designed for use around corrosive salt as it's largely made of aluminum. When I replace mine, I'll use hi temp paint to coat the outside surfaces that get exposed to the salt. The other thing that failed early was the temp controller. When new, it held temps at 1000 F pretty consistently. But after a few uses, it began to wander a lot. So now I baby it, frequently unplugging it as temps go above 1100, or cycling the temp knob to get it to turn on again when temps go below 900. There's probably a much more expensive and better melting pot out there, but I continue to nurse mine along and it's doing the job so I'll keep using it for now.

    2 You don't want to leave the salt in the pot in storage. It will draw moisture from the air and become wet. That will cause it to smoke considerably while heating up, and transport salt into the air of the environment you're using it. So have an air evacuation plan in place such as using it outside or in the garage with a fan blowing across the pot. Unless you don't mind rusting every tool you own along with your delicate measuring instruments. I put the cooled puck back in the jar the media came from (Ballistic Recreations) and that seems to work fine.

    3 For those who prefer dirty, powder residue incrusted necks, this method will affect your neck tension. Some adjustments to the process will have to be made. Although by itself, the salt will not clean residue off the inside of the necks, it will have some affect, especially if you use a water rinse, so plan ahead. A separate neck lube step may be necessary prior to bullet seating.

    4 Working around any very hot, 1000 degree liquid is quite dangerous, and the salt pot at working temperature looks completely benign, nothing like the blowtorch method of annealing. There are no visible warning signs of extreme heat such as smoke or the roar of a torch flame to warn of a of a serious burn hazard. The only giveaway is the meter registering 1000 F. So I clamp my pot down to my table saw so I can't trip over the electrical cord and cause a spill, and I wrap the electrical cord around the table several time too. I also warn anyone coming into my work zone to stay clear. For a very visual example of just how hot the salt is, I dip a wooden paint stir stick into the hot salt. It IMMEDIATELY catches fire on contact with the salt. Quite impressive to the casual bystander.

    I'll wrap this up now. Hopefully this has been informative and helpful to anyone contemplating getting into annealing. Comments and questions are appreciated and expected. So fire away!

    Good Shooting.
     
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  2. jepp2

    jepp2 Gold $$ Contributor

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    An excellent summary, very well written!
     
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  3. SPJ

    SPJ Silver $$ Contributor

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    What great post thank you
    SS
    J
     
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  4. foxguy

    foxguy Gold $$ Contributor

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    Great write up, 3-questions.

    1. How often are you annealing your brass?
    2. How deep are you submerging the case Neck/Shoulder into the Salt Bath?
    3. How many times have you used the Salt Bath method (estimated) ?

    Thanks
     
  5. mikecr

    mikecr

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    Great write up, thank you. On neck tension, it does change with annealing, as this is a function of annealing. But it's not because of crustiness of residue, a side affect of exposure to high temps. The annealing reduces tension, the increased seating friction increases seating forces (not tension).
    So while seating forces increase after annealing, neck tension (bullet grip) is lower.

    The temperature control built into lead pots is of course cheapest imaginable. Those who use lead pots regularly for casting bullets & stuff upgrade that control. There are very inexpensive ways to do this. Example:
    Just purchase the controller, SSRelay & thermocouple shown in this video. Toughest part is the box & cutting holes in it. This will hold temperatures within a few degrees, even while continually quenching the bath.
     
    Last edited: Jul 21, 2018
  6. Texas10

    Texas10 Gold $$ Contributor

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    1. So far I've been going with every 3rd reload. But as I gain more experience with this process, I am beginning to rethink that interval. I am leaning towards every time since the process is really simple. As my average group size continues to shrink while incorporating additional refinements to my loading process, this seems to be an important step.

    2. The baffle plate included with the salt bath kit, along with the amount of salt in the vat sets the amount of case that is submerged. This is easy to adjust, and tends to remain fairly constant through out a 100 count batch. I submerge to about half way up the shoulder. Some effort is made to tap the case mouth on the baffle plate to remove excess hot salt before dropping in a water bucket. This helps retain salt bath media.

    3. I've probably annealed a couple of thousand cases by now. I tend to do several hundred at a time. I am not a competition shooter so I don't see the volume of brass you guys typically see during shooting season. So its not like I'm backing up my pickup to the loading hopper on the annealer and shoveling in the brass :rolleyes:

    Thanks for all your support, guys. This place is a comfortable home to be in.
     
  7. ED3

    ED3 Gold $$ Contributor

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    Thank you for that!

    I've used a brand new Lee pot exactly 3 times;
    first time was fine,
    second time temps began to wander,
    3rd time it developed a mind of it's own and would stop heating long enough for the beth to cool down to 450ºC, and then eventually decide to reheat up to, and beyond by desired temp of 500ºC.
    I was going to wire in a momentary foot switch (and still might as a quick, temporary fix), but your setup will be a great improvement.
     
  8. boltfluter

    boltfluter Gold $$ Contributor

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    Great write up!! Thanks for taking the time to share your experience with this type of annealing process. I like it. Sounds like it would be very concistant and easy to duplicate . :D:D

    Paul
     
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  9. mikecr

    mikecr

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    There is nothing more accurate. That's for sure.
     
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  10. MN50Shooter

    MN50Shooter

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    Very good write-up. I've been annealing my competition brass (50 BMG) for about 5 months now. I have found it far more consistent than my old method of torch and turning motor.

    I anneal after every firing, and it has sped up my annealing process greatly. Each 50 case is annealed 11 seconds at a temp of 570° C, and that seems to do quite well. Like the OP, I found that my brass that was pre-cleaned in SS Pins before annealing, doesn't show the drastic discoloration down the case, after annealing. I too, water quench my brass after the annealing is completed. Mainly, so I do not burn myself by grabbing a hot case.

    It seems to have improved my group sizes quite a bit. I shot two of my smallest groups ever a few weeks ago. I will continue this method for all calibers of rifle's that I shoot.

    I also found the Lee Pot, to be lacking in maintaining temperature after the first couple of uses. I will be looking for a way to upgrade the rheostat soon. I will use the reference video above, for some ideas.
     
    Last edited: Jul 23, 2018
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  11. Shinbone

    Shinbone

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    resurrecting an old thread . . .

    Any updates on how you guys stabilized the salt bath temp in your Lee pots?
     
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  12. K9TXS

    K9TXS

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    Very good write up.
    At the time you're putting your brass in the annealer and then removing some seconds later, are you wearing gloves? I've seen some videos were the person annealing was wearing welders gloves and another fellow had no gloves on at all. Both of them appear to leave the brass in the bath for approximately the same time period. Its seems like the welders gloves would be a little bulky to use.
     
  13. Rick300

    Rick300 Silver $$ Contributor

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    I leave my brass in for 6-7 seconds and don't wear gloves. The short cases like the 6BR you have to be careful not to touch the plate. Pearl Harbor Freight 9mil gloves work well if you want to wear them.
     
  14. slo squeezin

    slo squeezin

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    You can control how deep your case sets in the salt solution. Sticking up from the bottom of the fixture immersed in the salt solution is a sheet metal strip. The case to be annealed fits over this strip to keep the case perpendicular to the top of the fixture. If you drill out the primer pocket from a 9 mm case wide enough to allow the case to drop over the metal strip, you then cut the 9mm case to the length you need / want. Between the height of the cut 9mm case and the level of solution you use, you control to immersion depth of your annealing case.
    I have annealed 22k Hornet cases with the 9mm case "spacer" to keep them from getting too deep in the solution.
     
  15. DNotti

    DNotti Gold $$ Contributor

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    Question...can you control the depth of the cartridge by controlling the amount of solution you use. In other words, can you just put in less salt so that the solution level is lower in the pot?
     
  16. slo squeezin

    slo squeezin

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    Yes, you can. However, since much of the solution is covered by the fixture, its kind of a guess as to how deep you will be annealing. You do lose a bit of salt solution with every case, so if you are running a couple hundred cases, you should see a small drop in salt solution level. By filling to the top I found it easy to see if more was needed to get the depth of anneal I wanted. If you fill the salt solution to touch to top of the fixture and alter the depth of the case by using the modified 9mm case, you can pretty consistently and easily see if you are at the depth you want. Cutting the 9mm case ( spacer ) is a one time deal for each case type ( 6BR, 22k Hornet, 6 Grendel, etc. ) you will be annealing.
     
  17. Texas10

    Texas10 Gold $$ Contributor

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    I place the new case with my bare fingers but prefer to remove the hot case with a set of long nose pliers. The reason for this is that the hot case will have residual salt in liquid form on and inside the case, so I tap it against the baffle several times to remove some of the residual salt before dropping in the water bucket. This helps keep the salt media loss to a minimum.

    The salt bath level is adjusted by simply adding more when necessary, and is checked as I described above but I'll go over it again. As the media heats up to the point that all the salt is just becoming liquid, I install the baffle/case holder with thermocouple. Then by quickly placing and withdrawing a case, a crusty salt residue is apparent on the case. This reveals the amount of case that is submerged in the hot media. You can add or subtract at that point and before the media becomes fully heated to 1000+ degrees.

    If you wait until it's up to temperature before performing this test, the results are pretty hard to decipher as the case heats up so fast the salt does not crystalize upon withdrawal, and is less apparent.

    Thanks for your questions and interest.

    Good shooting!
     
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  18. DonnyJ

    DonnyJ Silver $$ Contributor

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    As a test, I annealed 12 cases. Cleaned, Sized, loaded and shot. No issues!

    Last night I annealed 250 .284 cases and when I removed the cases from the cooling pot, I noticed some cases had started to tarnish. Large dark irregular shaped spots on the case body.
    Has anyone else experienced this.

    Donny
     
  19. Texas10

    Texas10 Gold $$ Contributor

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    Was the pot filled with water?
     
  20. DonnyJ

    DonnyJ Silver $$ Contributor

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    Yes. It had water in it.
     

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