Test Firing the Easy Way

SiersBy John Siers a.k.a. “Gunsmith Jack”

There will always be gunsmith jobs that require you to test fire the gun after the work is complete, and if you don’t have a suitable bullet trap or firing range near your shop, that can be a hassle. There’s also the question of ammo, especially if the gun shoots an uncommon caliber you don’t happen to have handy. You can always ask the customer to supply some ammo, but otherwise you end up buying some and adding that to the bill.

My solution may not be suitable for all situations, but it saves a lot of time and work for those cases where it is appropriate. This was a natural for me, because I am a reloader as well as a gunsmith; but you don’t have to be completely into reloading to do it.

A customer recently brought me a bolt-action rifle in .25-06 caliber (not an ammo caliber I normally have on hand). The problem with the gun was frequent misfires, due to light hits by the firing pin. Along with the gun, I asked him to bring me several empty brass cases that had been fired from it.

The problem turned out to be simple to fix – just a bunch of crud inside the bolt that was impeding the firing pin; but I had to test fire to make sure it was fixed. This was an ideal case for “test fire without actually firing.” This involved depriming the spent cases he gave me, seating new primers in them, and using them without powder or bullet as my “test fire” rounds. You can fire these in your shop without hearing protection; but eye protection is still in order. Also, you still need to be careful about where you point the gun – that little primer blast can still cause injury or damage fragile items, and you certainly don’t want to do this with anything flammable anywhere nearby.

Okay, for those of you who are not reloaders, here’s the “how to” part of it. First, you need to deprime the fired brass cases. Reloaders usually do this as part of the case resizing process, but that requires you to have a sizing die for the caliber you are reloading. Fortunately, there are some ‘universal” depriming tools out there. The one I use is the Harvey Deprimer, shown in the first picture below. All you need to do is insert the case over the depriming pin (you may have to fish it around to get the pin into the flash hole in the bottom of the case. Then you just swing the case into the slot in the tool (see the second picture below), squeeze the handle, and the primer pops right out.

The Harvey Primer

The Harvey Deprimer

Using the Harvey Deprimer is simple--just squeeze.

Using the Harvey Deprimer is simple–just squeeze.

Now you need to reprime the case, and that means you will need primers. Note that primers come in two types (rifle and pistol) and two sizes (large and small). Rifle primers look just like pistol primers, but they are not interchangeable, so you will want to have the right type for the type of gun you are testing. Some rounds may use “magnum” primers (because of the volume of powder normally used); but you don’t need to worry about that – standard primers will work just fine in this case.

testfire3Most reloaders install primers “on the press” i.e. using a priming attachment that is part of their reloading press. I use a priming attachment on my old RCBS press, as shown in the picture at right. This requires a shell holder that fits the case being primed. Shell holders are sold individually, but if you expect to be doing this frequently you can pick up a set of Lee “universal” shell holders at a reasonable price and be ready for just about any caliber.

If you are not a reloader, you probably won’t want to go out and buy a press just for this purpose, but don’t worry. There’s a large variety of hand priming tools out there, like the Hornady model shown below. These tools vary in price, and frequent reloaders will probably opt for the more expensive ones; but the lower-priced models will work just as well for the gunsmith who only does a few rounds for the occasional test-fire. Most of these hand-priming tools will still require a shell holder of the appropriate size.


testfire5So that’s it, and here’s the end result – a group of primed cases ready for test firing. In the case of my .25-06 customer, the test was a success – every round fired, and each showed a good solid hit from the firing pin. I should mention that in this case, the customer brought me the spent cases; but if he hadn’t, I probably have them around the shop anyway. I make a habit of picking up odd calibers of brass out on the range and putting them in a special box back in the shop. Hey, you never know when somebody is going to walk through the door with a .300 WSM that needs fixing (and testing afterwards).

Obviously, this method is not going to be appropriate for some test fire situations. It won’t help you if you need to know whether a semiauto firearm is cycling properly, nor is it a substitute for actual firing if you’ve done headspace or chamber work. But if all you have done is trigger work, bolt work, or something like that and all you need to know is whether the gun will fire, this is a simple and cheap way to do it.

The final product ready for testing.

The final product ready for testing.

If you want to try this, everything you need should be available from Midway USA, Sinclair, or any of the regular suppliers of reloading gear. The only thing that isn’t so easily found is the Harvey Deprimer – but I really like that tool and it has the advantage of being “universal” (works with any caliber). In any case, it’s available direct from the manufacturer at http://harveydeprimer.com/ and I believe it can be found on Amazon as well.

8 Responses to Test Firing the Easy Way

  1. Great idea. Reloading is something I am looking very much forward to. Thanks for the info and for the good article John. Hope all is well with you Sir. Cheers

  2. Leslie and Jimmy have ideas that will work just as well as my method, and neither of them require as much equipment as mine. Jimmy’s idea only requires a pocket knife and I’ve got one of those bullet pullers Leslie recommends — they work very well.

    On the other hand, those methods require using up a perfectly good round of ammo for each test shot, where mine only requires adding a primer (current cost: less than 4 cents per round) to an already fired case. In the case I cited above, the customer gave me five spent cases — but I reprimed each of them twice so I could test-fire the gun at least ten times. The misfires weren’t happening on every firing, and I wanted to make sure I had really fixed the problem.

    Now I think about it, though, I might still use Jimmy’s method if I ever have to test-fire a shotgun. Depriming and repriming shotgun shells requires different equipment — probably have to actually use a shotgun reloading press to do it. That would make it quite a bit more expensive to get set up.

  3. You can also de prime with a punch. Take a scrap block of wood, use a spade drill bit to give a small depression that will let the case rim fit inside. Then using a drill bit slightly larger than a primer and continue the hole the point of the spade bit left entirely through the board.

    Set your case over this hole. Use a punch and tap the old primer out. If you use a scrap piece of 2×4 on its side you only need to drill down an inch or so on the center hole which leave sufficient room to deprive a couple cases and contain the old primer in the hole for easier disposal, cleanup.

  4. Dear John: Your method is the same technique I use for decades with satisfactory results; and has another advantage, as the fired primer exerts a big pressure in its pocket that mean a little protruding of such primer from case base, as it do not has the powder force to press back… This protruding brings an idea of headspace of rifle or handgun. The same do not work in shotguns as thin base bends to inside. Thank you a lot!!

  5. I reload a lot of pistol rounds on a progressive press. I deprime off the press using a Harvey since I don’t want all of that nasty crud around my dies. It’s a great tool and well worth the price.

  6. Very interesting material I’ve already picked up with my new GCA membership. Thanks John, and all the others here. Have a great day.