Making Reloads On A Press

Reloading Ammunition
 By Mike Coviello (Tanner)

WHY DIDN'T MY PRIMER GO OFF? - The most common reason for a primer not to fire is that is was not installed to the correct seat depth. It should be flush or slightly recessed with the bottom of the case.

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Small Pistol Primer Failure


This is a pictorial analysis of a reloaded round of 9mm Luger round that misfired at the shooting range. The misfired round was photographed, weighed, disassembled and examined in an effort to determine the cause of the misfire.


9mm Luger round of ammunition
This round failed to fire.

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Failure Analysis

9mm Luger round of ammunition Won't Stand Up Straight
The primer protruded slightly from the bottom of the case which caused it to wobble when placed on a flat surface. The round could not stand straight up.
Case rims showing protruding primer. Sticking Out The Bottom Of The Case
Close up view shows the primer sticking out of the bottom of the misfired round. It should be flush with the bottom of the case or slightly recessed a few thousands of an inch.
Primer with indent that failed to fire. Light Strike/Small Indentation
Close inspection shows what appears to be a "light strike" by the firing pin. The impact point (indent) is relatively small as compared to other fired primers (shown below).
Comparision of small pistol primers. One fired the other didn't. Dud (On Left), Good One (On Right)
The one on the right appears to have a solid strike as indicated by the heavy rectangular markings and the depth of the indent. The one on the left is the "Dud" that failed to fire. Observation - 50 fired 9mm Luger primers were inspected. 45 of them had a circular indent surrounded by rectangular markings. 5 did not. All 50 were flush/recessed with the bottom of the case. The 5 without the rectangular markings were all factory Winchester rounds (with brass color instead of silver color).

Impact bullet puller with a 9 mm Luger round installed in it. Disassembling the Misfired Round
Using a bullet puller to break down the failed round into its component parts comprising of the bullet, powder, case and primer.
Broken apart 9mm Luger round of ammunition. Broken Round; Component Weights
Bullet and case (case still in the bullet puller collet) as removed from the defective round.
Bullet weight = 124.2 grains
Case and primer weight = 61.2 grains
Primer weight = 3.4 grains
Powder weight = 4.0 grains (recovered)
Case weight after cleaning primer pocket = 57.8 grains
Smokeless powder from a 9mm Luger round of ammunition. Smokeless Powder
4 grains (weight) of powder was recovered from the round. Approximately .6 grains of powder was lost during the recovery effort. (I typically reload 9 mm Lugers with 4.6 grains of Titegroup smokeless powder).

This is what the insides of a 9mm Luger case looks like.
Inside the 9mm Luger Case
View looking inside the case. The flash hole is plainly visible.
Side View of 9mm Luger Case. Side View of 9mm Luger Case
Side view of the 9mm Luger case shows no obvious marks or defects.
9mm Luger primer and case. Removing the Misfired Primer
A Lee Classic Turret Press was used to remove it from the case. It came out easily with little force needed on the press lever arm.
Unfired small pistol primer. Removed "Dud" (Top View)
Close up view. This view shows the "up side" which goes inside the case. When you zoom into the picture you can get a good look at the anvil (the gold colored, three pronged thing on the inside).
Small pistol primer that turned out to be a dud and didn't fire. Removed "Dud" (Bottom View)
Close up view of the bottom end. This is the end that gets hit by the firing pin. The indent is slightly off center and is shallow.
Inside view of a 9mm Luger case. Inside the 9mm Luger Case
Close up view looking inside the case. You can see the flash hole.
9mm Luger Case Primer Pocket.
Case Primer Pocket (Dirty)
Close up view of the pocket shows some debris which may have contributed to the failure of the primer to seat to full depth. (Zoom in on this picture for a close look at the crud and debris inside the pocket).
9mm Luger case primer pocket with no primer installed. Case Primer Pocket (Cleaned)
View of the case pocket after it has been cleaned with a primer pocket cleaner. The removed debris is shown adjacent to the case.
9mm Luger case that I cut in half to see the case wall and bottom of the case. 9mm Luger Case Cut in Half
The case was cut to get a better view of the bottom of the case.
Lower inside half of a 9mm Luger case. 9mm Luger Case Cut in Half
Another view of the bottom of the case. You also get a better look at the flash hole that spits out the fire that ignites the gun powder.
Small pistol primer relative to the primer pocket. Relative Positions
Primer is press fit into bottom of case. Shown here for information only.


Probable Cause: Improper Seating Depth of the Primer



  1. The primer had a light strike.

  2. The primer protruded from the bottom of the case.

  3. Substantial amount of debris in the case primer pocket.



  1. Improperly adjusted die.

  2. Insufficient force to fully seat the primer.

  3. Debris inside the pocket obstructing full seating. As shown in the above pictures, examination of the pocket may have provided an obstruction preventing it to fully seat. I should have verified this by trying to install another one into the case to see if that too protruded. Instead I just cleaned out the pocket. Lessons learned.

  4. Other possible causes of the FTF (failure to fire) may be simply a dud primer from the manufacturer, mechanical problem with the gun causing light firing pin strike, primer contaminated with oil or other contaminants.


  1. Adjust primer seating die (if possible).

  2. Clean the pockets prior to installation (not likely to occur since this is too much work and not needed).

  3. Inspect seat depth of each reloaded round of ammunition by standing the round upright on a flat surface (looking for wobbles), visually inspecting and performing a finger swipe test to ensure each primer is flush or slightly recessed to the bottom of the case. (Finger swipe is best way).


How important is the .005 primer seating depth??
"You do have to use a fair amount of pressure. In 20 years of seating primers manually I've never had one go off, though it is possible. I wouldn't be too worried about measuring each one to make sure of the seating depth. I usually just run my finger over about every 5th one to make sure. You can feel if it is below the edge. If it isn't seated solidly against the bottom of the primer hole then the force of the firing pin will be taken up by the forward movement of the primer and it may not go off. The anvil must be seated firmly to the bottom of the hole."

"There is no magic to .005" but for safety and good ignition, it must be at least flush. High primers are a major cause of misfires; I have never seen a slamfire on one and don't want to.
"IIRC. the SAAMI spec. for seating depth is 0.002"-0.005" below flush and most handloaders do not measure it."

Pistol Reloading Basics
"Properly seated primers should be a few thousandths of an inch recessed into the primer pocket in order to ensure they can not detonate if the round is dropped, and to ensure proper feeding (automatics) or proper cylinder closure (revolvers)."

Preventing non-fires in reloaded handgun rounds
"That many FTF's is odd. Especially if the commercial ammo is OK. High primers (not fully seated) are the usual culprit. When you examine the cases, the back should be just below level with the flat face of the casehead (the part with the printing embossed into it). You can lay a small steel straight edge across it to check?"

"Seat it into an empty case using less than normal pressure. You can even feel the primer being a little less than flush. Fire the empty case with primer (use hearing protection--it's louder than you think). You'll likely experience a misfire. The force of the firing pin was cushioned by the primer moving forward to seat itself. It's likely that the second strike will fire the now seated primer."

"If it did not fire due to the fact that it was not totally seated, a second strike with the firing pin will usually set it off. That will surely tell you if that is the problem vs. some faulty primers."

"I like to check mine by using a razor blade. I holed it against the center bottom. You should see a gap of light If it is below flush."


Feedback & Comments


9mm Primer Failure

April 22, 2012
Excellent pictures, excellent article and excellent analysis. I am sure that you are correct that the primer being not fully seated was the cause of your misfire. And its darn good think it did misfire and not fire the round. Your Glock was in an "out of battery" position. This means the round was not fully chambered. If it had fired, this would a story about a Glock K-Boom. The pistol did its job by failing to fully dent the primer. Nine mm is notorious for widely variable sizes of brass. Something a little too big or a little too small and it could have K-boomed.

In my experience if I have a failure to fire, its because I did not put the black stuff in. Oh yeah gun powder! I check for high primers by feel, by placing them nose down in an ammo box and looking, or standing them on a flat surface.

The gentleman with the Remington misfire troubles me. If the gun was new, it should have fired, unless.... Was he in a cold environment? Like Alaska? He may want to detail strip the bolt and wash it out with gas. Remington has no control over the gun after it leaves the factory and they put preservatives like grease in places like the bolt. This can get too thick if its too cold or if they got carried away.


What Caused A Primer Misfire?

January 22, 2012
I had misfire the other day at the range. I used a hand seater to seat them, could to much pressure with the hand seat cause a primer misfire. THANKS

Response - Gilbert,

What kind of misfire did you have? Did your firing pin hit and make an indent on the primer and it just didn't go off?

I would doubt whether too much pressure with the hand seat would cause it to fail.

I have cranked on primers with lots of pressure with my bench press (more leverage than a hand priming tool) with no problems. Odds are you just had a bad one or it wasn't set down far enough. Did you try firing it again?


Follow-up Email


The firing pin did dent the primer but did not fire. I'm using CCI 250 Large Rifle Magnum Primer and i have years this the first misfire ever. This is a new rifle Rem. 700 5R in 300 win mag. Thank You Sir!!




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Mike Coviello is a former aerospace engineer, now Web Designer/SEO Consultant. Hobbies include shooting zombies & reloading ammunition.






Reloading Equipment
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Cleaning Brass Cases For Reloading
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Making Reloads On A Press
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