When I was contacted about reviewing new pistol sizing and recapping dies I thought, “wow….dies. Big deal”. What are these S3 Reload dies anyways?
Shell Shock Technologies (SST) of Westport, Connecticut has created the S3 RELOAD set; dies not just for “regular” brass, but designed to accommodate the NAS3 casings (their nickel alloy casings for small caliber pistols).
A week later I picked them up (along with a huge bag of the NAS3) and started reloading.
Looking at the dies one would think that the reloading process would be significantly different. On the contrary, I actually found the process a little easier with these dies. The sizing die contains a polyurethane spring that assists in removing the case from the die. The spring-action is counter-intuitive to my typical method of reloading, but I got used it after about a dozen rounds. That small spring effect also gives the bullet a little push, improving the ease of the resizing.
I also think it is important to talk about the NAS3 casings as well. Unlike normal brass, each casing is actually two pieces fused together. Engineered to be 50% lighter and 2x stronger than brass, it ejects cool to the touch and can be picked up with a magnet. This makes picking up your brass much easier at the range, which is especially good since you will want to recover these casings for repeated reloading with the S3 Reload.
While the expander die does look a little alien, I actually like the design more than traditional expanding dies. Since I was given a big bag of brass I figured the few I butchered getting the process down was the price SST was willing to pay. However, to my delight, I did not over-expand a single case!
Some foreign manufactured brass casings have unusual internal dimensions, and those should be avoided with these dies. SST dies WILL work on traditional brass cases, but SST cases CANNOT be used with regular dies. As a test, I loaded 20 brass cases I had on this set with ease (all of which also fired just fine).
During my review, I had some questions about the S3 Reloads and “best practices” for using them, and I reached out to SST and spoke with “Volo” (pretty sure he is one of their engineers but forgot to ask). During the call, he told me has loaded shells up to 30 times (all at normal pressures, no +p’s, or any other “hot loads”). Though the cases are rated for them, hotter loads will wear them out more quickly. He also mentioned that case wear is shown in the stamp in the case head soonest. So make sure you are checking that as part of your inspection process.
Biggest problem? Not using enough lube. I think we have all ran into that one time or another. :). After I dialed in the appropriate amount, everything operated smoothly.
I was also told they are soon releasing other calibers, some even in the high powered rifle arena (.308 Win) which is definitely of interest to this author. It will be interesting to see the life cycle of those cases and if they are able to withstand twenty (or more) reloads.
I initially loaded 50 rounds and fed them through my Sig P226 without issue. Then I invited a buddy out to shoot with me. We ran through a large Tupperware container of 9mm and didn’t have any problems.
The combination of the S3 Reload dies and NAS3 brass seems like a really decent combination, and the ability to also load regular brass is great. I like the quality of Shell Shock’s products, and I was very impressed with their staff willing to stop their work day and spend 30 minutes to talk to me. I will continue using the dies and SST cases (until I wear them out) and recommend you give them a try if you reload.
You can find out more information at https://s3reload.com/
[su_dropcap style=”flat”]W[/su_dropcap]e live in an age where all types of novel ammo and reloading components are coming to the market. That is good news for shooters, as many of these products are legitimate improvements over previous offerings. One company, Shell Shock Technologies, has recently released 9mm cases using manufacturing methods not previously used, at least to my knowledge.
What sets Shell Shock apart is that the company produces a two-piece case made from nickel steel. The exact process is proprietary, therefore the methods used are not revealed. However, I recently received some cases for evaluation, along with a sizing and decapping die and a belling die so I could load and shoot them. The bullet seating is done with a normal die, which isn’t included. The sizing and belling dies can also be used for standard brass cases, which is a plus because these new cases are superior to brass but will never replace them.
According to company literature, the cases are 50 percent lighter and two times stronger than brass, with a uniform wall thickness and proprietary assembly technique that leads to reliable and consistent velocity. The bottom of the case is an aluminum alloy, while a steel part is the top, which makes the case magnetic and makes it easier to pick up at a range. I placed a number of them on the scale one at a time, and they all weighed 35 grains, with no variation. Some brass cases I weighed came in at 63 to 64 grains, so the advantage of lightweight cases would be evident if you had to carry a large amount of ammo. I also measured several of the Shell Shock cases for length and they all came in at .7505 inch with no variation. Obviously, no variation in weight and length among these cases would contribute to accuracy and consistency.
I also received 200 rounds of 9mm loads with copper 124-grain HP bullets. These are produced by L-Tech Enterprises using the Shell Shock cases, and they sent some info showing penetration and weight retention results. They are consistent in size and weight as well, so if you are not a reloader, this ammo might be for you.
FOR THE FIRST LOAD, I used ﬁve grains of Winchester 231 and a 115-grain FMJ bullet. This load is very mild and the cases were covered with soot, which is normal with light loads. Low-pressure loads don’t completely seal the chamber, which allows some powder to come back into the action. While messy, it is seldom an issue in regards to performance. The soot cleans off easily for those who like good-looking cases. Most nickel cases have that advantage, though brass needs extra cleaning if that is important to you.
So why would you purchase these cases as opposed to more conventional pieces, when most 9mm cases last several ﬁrings and are easy to obtain? Performance-wise, there isn’t any big difference. But if you wanted to carry a large amount of ammo, the lightweight case really adds value, and if you combine this case with a lightweight bullet, then it would be a really desirable product. Liberty Ammunition makes a 50-grain nonlead HP bullet, and that paired up with the Shell Shock case should make some top-rate ammo. Carrying a small amount of this ammo wouldn’t make a difference, but carrying or transporting a large amount would show a sizable advantage. I have a 60-grain bullet to work with, and at high velocity it should make a nice self-defense load.
I sized some ﬁred cases with normal dies and don’t see any problems, and the effort is the same as with the special dies; belling is normal and priming feels a little odd. I tried some once-ﬁred cases using both sets of dies and the effort appears identical, though lubing makes them easier to size. I noticed that a couple had increased the size of the groove, but I’m not sure if that is a function of the dies or a case. If you closely look at the groove, it shows that the case is a two-piece case. The inside is slightly shallower than a conventional case, but not by much (an average of .05 inch). A look at the inside of the custom die shows that it appears to be the same as a conventional one with a tungsten core.
It appears that the construction of the case is very different than a conventional piece of brass, and it will be interesting to see how they go through a Dillon or other progressive press. I am going to load cases with the same load but using both sets of dies. I have some 60-grain HP and had to size the new cases to make them ﬁt tight enough. The 115-grain cast did not need to have the new cases sized.
For testing, I used a Beretta with a 5-inch barrel, a SIG with a 4-inch barrel and a Norinco, giving us different guns to provide more info on what to expect with the cases and loads. Some of the cases have now been ﬁred seven times; there is no indication of any problems, and I am using RCBS dies only, as I don’t see a need for the special ones. That would make these cases even more desirable if it isn’t necessary to use special dies. Obviously, you should test their dies to see which method works best for you.
I RECENTLY RECEIVED SOME new powders from Chris Hodgdon that resemble some older powders such as Red Dot. Since I received the powders from Hodgdon while trying out the new cases, I decided to try a couple loads with the Shell Shock cases, starting with the Red. In these tests, the cases held up after ﬁve or six ﬁrings using standard RCBS dies. I tried many loads using the three handguns I mentioned to get a good overview of the case, along with the new powder and a variety of bullets. I made some of the lighter bullets myself (such as the 60-grainer), as they are not generally available. The Acme bullet is a cast item with a red coating that tends to make them slick and aids in feeding.
These numbers were rounded off, and you can see that if you needed to carry a large quantity of ammo, the Shell Shock cases would cut down on the weight enough to make a difference. The 60-grain CMA fared best, but still jammed on occasion in the Norinco. Of course, that would render it unsuitable for defense work, but I will try and work with the ogive, though due to the short length that may be difficult.
The 147-grain Berry did well with the heavier load of Hodgdon’s HS-6 with no stovepipes. Like any situation and gun, it is recommended that you thoroughly check out the ammo that is intended to be carried. I took the 135-grain CMA and changed the ogive to a more rounded shape to ensure that it will feed in everything. In addition, they were .354 in diameter and the reshaping increased it to .358. Since there is a possibility that they may cause some problems, I reduced it to .356. Some .357-diameter bullets (a FMJ and a cast coated, both roundnose) were swaged down to .356. The purpose is for subsonic loads. A company called Liberty Ammunition makes some high-performance ammo using lighter than standard bullets. The 9mm bullet weighs 50 grains, so I measured a loaded round. The Shell Shock case weighs 35 grains, so a loaded round with a Liberty bullet would weigh 85 grains. Several companies are currently using Shell Shock cases, and I would like to see Liberty pick them up with their 50-grain bullets.
I was also curious as to the case capacity of Shell Shock casings compared to other commercial cases. I used Winchester 572 ﬁlled to the top on each case and the results surprised me. I thought that the Shell Shock case would have more capacity based on their weight. My “nonscientiﬁc” results showed Shell Shock and PMC held 13.1 grains, Federal and Winchester 13.2 grains and GFI 13.3 grains. As you can see, they are very similar. The next step is to use the same load in both types of cases.
ONE THING I HAVEN’T NOTICED is any mention of the cases being reloaded on a progressive machine. That would be a plus, if that is the case. Therefore, I had a friend run some through his Dillion 550. Other than the requirement that they be lubed, the process went off without a hitch. With a normal bullet everything went ﬁne. We ﬁred some of the rounds made on the Dillon and they fed ﬂawlessly, so there should be no issues but they have to be lubed regardless of which dies or machine is used to load them. That would be the only downside. That new powder W-572 seems to work well in the 9mm rounds; you just need to adjust the loads.
Based on my observations and tests, these cases are here to stay. They are durable and can compete with conventional brass cases in regards to price and reloading life. I can see other companies coming out with versions of them, and hopefully other calibers will be offered. In a few years they will have a good share of the market, though they won’t entirely replace the brass cases for several reasons. They have a few upsides such as durability and price, and since they are partly steel a magnet will pick them up. I have ﬁred hundreds of rounds and had one case that split. I can live with that. The only downside is the requirement that they have to be lubed. A quick spray-on may speed up the process with a progressive machine. I would recommend that you give this product a try, and if you do, I think you will become a customer. ASJ