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Nickel vs Brass Shell Casings

The two most popular materials for ammunition cartridges are brass and nickel.
For many years, both brass and nickel ammunition have been popular among both amateur and professional shooters and hunters. Some shooters prefer brass and others prefer nickel. Here we review the pros and cons of these two casings.

Brass casings have been around for more than 200 years and are very popular because of their reliability and durability. Brass offers the ideal flexibility and balance of strength, which allows it to expand under pressure in the chamber without losing its power, accuracy, or integrity. Today brass cartridges have earned their reputation as one of the top casing materials in the firearm industry.

However, it is important to understand that like other cartridges, brass casings also have their pros and cons.

Pros of Brass Casings

1. Reusable: The one key reason why brass is preferred is because it can be reused many times.

2. Reliable: Even though brass is flexible it is very reliable. This means it is less likely to get stuck or impinged in the firearm as compared to aluminum or steel cased cartridges. With the newer generation of brass, deformation is quite rare.

3. Malleable: Brass is an exceptionally soft material which when fired, rapidly expands, and then quickly shrinks. When the cartridge is fired, the neck expands and seals the chamber preventing the noxious gasses from flowing backward.

4. Unlikely to damage your firearm: Brass cartridges rarely scratch gun parts and this preserves the aesthetic features of your firearm. In addition, brass will not induce a spark when rubbed with other metals.

Cons of Brass Casings

The one disadvantage of brass is that after repeated handling and/or storage in leather holsters, they do tarnish. Due to the ease of reuse and reloading, brass casings must be inspected carefully during reloading for any signs of material failure.

Nickel Casings for Ammunition

Nickel casings are actually regular brass that have been coated with a thin layer of nickel using electroplating. Nickel is a soft and flexible metal that is malleable so that it is easy to work with. Today many high-end ammunition manufacturers use nickel casings instead of just brass casings.

What are the advantages of using nickel brass casings?

Pros of Nickel

1. Nickel casings are very resistant to corrosion.

2. Because of the low coefficient of friction, these casings are easier to feed and slide in semi-automatics.

3. Nickel casings are much easier to load and unload in many firearms, especially revolvers.

4. Nickel casings also have a distinct external appearance which makes them easy to identify at a gun range or when loading.

Cons of Nickel Plated Brass Casing

The majority of disadvantages of nickel casings are present during the reloading process and they include the following:

1. Nickel casings are considerably more expensive than brass alone.

2. All nickel casings have to be thoroughly checked each time to ensure that there is no damage or scratches to the die. In addition, the dies have to be cleaned each time to ensure that no residual nickel plating has been left behind.Plus, if one does not use adequate gun lubricant, they are more likely to get stuck in the resizing die.

3. Nickel casings also tend to be more fragile or brittle. This often leads to the development of cracks even after firing just a few rounds. To avoid this problem, gun owners often do not attempt more than 3-5 reloads with each casing.

4. Nickel casings need more attention when reloading. One has to check the metal property and adjust the die for length and crimping each time.

5. During reloading the nickel plating may come off or flake and enter into the die.

6. Any nickel residue left in the barrel or chamber of the firearm is also hard to remove and may require thorough cleaning with a brush. Brass, on the other hand, can be relatively easily removed with a solvent.

Brass vs. Nickel Casing Summary

While nickel is more resistant to corrosion and easier to feed, the casings are slightly more expensive. Brass, on the other hand, has withstood the test of time and is durable, easy to reload and less expensive than nickel. Overall nickel casings have a shorter life span the normal brass casings.

No matter which casing you select, it is vital that you regularly test the rounds so that you know they are meeting your requirements and are safe.

For those who want accuracy from a handgun, the only way to know which casing will work for you is to test fire at a range. In many cases of failure to feed, it is not the casing that is the problem. It may be that the shooter needs more experience or the gun may need proper maintenance and cleaning.

There are some new technologies that use a two-piece case consisting of a solid nickel-plated aircraft aluminum head and an enhanced nickel alloy stainless cylinder. In 9mm, it is 50% lighter and costs significantly less than conventional brass cases. Something to consider for a balance of both cost and performance.

For reloading, select a supplier of brass and nickel cases with a consistent supply of range brass in the calibers you most often shoot. Also look for specialty sizes or uncommon sizes you will use to order in bulk and save on shipping. See the complete inventory at Capital Cartridge for all your cartridge cases.