Better Than Brass? New Nickel-Alloy Ammo

When it comes to shooting and reloading, nothing beats brass, right? Steel and aluminum cases can’t be reloaded, and have other downsides like leaving dirtier chambers and giving lower velocities. Even polymer cases have their own problems and aren’t safe to reload. But Shell Shock Technologies claims to have made a reloadable case that is better than brass, but without the problems associated with other materials. Boasting better velocities, twice the strength, and half the weight, NAS3 Two-Piece Shells might actually give brass cases a run for their money.

First, a little backstory. Shell Shock Technologies is a pretty new company that started developing their new shell casings in 2015. The 9mm has been around for over 115 years with very little change other than modern powders and bullet design. SST decided to change it up a bit and look at how they could improve the case design to improve overall performance. What they created is a cartridge case that fits the modern era of manufacturing: tighter tolerances, more reloads, less weight. Using a unique, two-piece construction, these cases can offer many different advantages in performance, without hardly any trade-offs (we’ll discuss those below).The NAS3 cases bring the rest of the cartridge into the modern era and give shooters that last little bit of modification for their handgun rounds.
Courtesy of Shell Shock Technologies

The Pros of NAS3 Ammo

First, let’s take a look at the reported advantages of this new ammo. First, the NAS3 case is stronger and lighter than the traditional brass case. The nickel alloy is substantially lighter than the brass case, weighing about half the weight of brass. Each case weighs in a just under 3 grains of weight, whereas brass typically clocks in at 5.8 grains. The weight doesn’t mean a trade-off in strength, however. The main body of the case is alloyed with stainless steel, which has a higher tensile strength than brass. The alloy also has a tendency to snap back to its original shape, meaning that it expands during the firing, but doesn’t “flow” forward. Handloaders will know that the expansion and flow of the case translates to case trimming, something that the NAS3 cases do not need. NAS3 cases can be reloaded 30-40 times before the cases need to be thrown out; compare that to the two to ten reloads you usually get out of brass casings.

NAS3 color anodized cases

The NAS3 Cases can be color anodized for instant identification. Courtesy of Shooting Sports USA.

Second, the two-piece alloy construction offers some very unique properties to the cases. The case head can be anodized a different color. Though this is purely cosmetic, imagine being able to visually distinguish between your sub-sonic, regular, and +P loads instantly. Or, if you’re a competition shooter, being able to pick out your cases from everyone else’s. Or, if you just like to have cool blue or red cases to show off a little flare the next time you’re out at the range. The ferrous alloy also allows you to pick up the cases with a magnet, making it even easier to scoop up your fired cases and reload them when you get home. The nickel alloy also gives a substantial resistance to corrosion. Sitting in salt water (or sweat) will not eat through the case. The case head eventually will start to corrode, but unless you keep your loaded rounds or prepped cases in a bucket of sea water, you probably won’t experience any corrosion over time.

The NAS3 cases also offer more internal volume, higher velocities, and more consistent ignition. The unique machining process for these cases allows for a slightly larger internal volume. The body of the case is machined separately from the case head, so the corners of the case can be “squared” rather than rounded, giving more space for powder and gas expansion. This also leads to higher velocities, such as +P loads that don’t have as high chamber pressures. The unique tensile properties mean you can blast away with +P loads (as long as your firearm is rated for them) but put less stress on the chamber. Additionally, the primer pockets and flash holes are a little larger and more uniform. The flash holes and primer pockets have to be made larger to accept the unique crimp of the two case pieces, and as a byproduct this makes ignition far more consistent and precise.

Finally, you get all this at half the price of regular brass cases. SST sells their cases for $60 for 500, $100 for 1000, or $850 for 10,000 cases, that’s $0.12 to $0.08 a case. Compare that to the $0.21 a case for Winchester 9mm brass or $0.19 for Hornady brass. So, there’s got to be a downside, right? Well, let’s take a look.

The Cons of NAS3 Ammo

NAS3 case separation

The case head separation from bullet pulling. Courtesy of Shooting Sports USA.

As the great poet Bret Michaels once said, “Every rose has its thorn.” So, what are the thorns for SST’s NAS3 cases? For starters, the start-up costs for reloaders. If you would want to take advantage of the superior performance and cheaper price-per-case, you’ll have to shell out $99.99 for the special die set. These dies can be used for normal brass, however, so it isn’t a total waste. These new dies have spring-loaded mechanism that pushes the cases off after resizing, rather than pull the case off using the extractor rim.

The NAS3 cases need this mechanism because of the two-piece construction. The case head and cylinder are not monolithic, and too much force will cause the two pieces to separate, making the case unusable. This is exceptionally pronounced when using a bullet puller. During the firing sequence, there is not any force that pulls the two pieces away from each other; but yanking a bullet out—especially with press-mounted pullers—will separate the two pieces.

Another disadvantage is the need for lubricating the cases for handloading. With carbide dies, brass cases typically don’t need lubrication during the resizing process, but the nickel-stainless alloy of the NAS3 cases do require case lube for the process.

As with any new technology, there may be problems with the cases that nobody has found yet. So, we’ll have to wait and see if some of these issues get fixed or improved. Also, SST has only made dies and cases for 9mm Para. Fans of .45 ACP, .380, or other handgun rounds will have to wait until the NAS3 system expands to new calibers.

If you’d like to learn more about Shell Shock Technologies’ NAS3 cartridges, Shooting Sports USA did a great review and you can find out more at ShellShockTechnologies.com.

Would you give these new cases a try? Let us know in the comments!

65 Comments On This Article

  1. I think they are definitely worth a try ! Another benefit i see is you would be able to use a magnet to pick up the empty casings .

  2. I’d be interested in trying out these new cases for testing. I recently went back to a .45 acp after 30 years, and reloading for accuracy is a must.

    • Really?? did you people even read the article? In the first paragraph it says Shell Shock Technologies is the maker and it repeated it several times in the article. Just goggle the name and their web site was the first one that came up and their products are listed there.

  3. Since I don”t reload 9mm, I only see the upside to their use. If the NAS3 cases are lower in price, maybe the rounds will be cheaper to buy and I can shoot more!

  4. I’ve been reloading since 1956, I’m happy with the brass cases. I don’t want to have to spent money and time to fix something that ain’t broke. Replacing all my die sets is not in my best interest, not to mention buying dies at 100 dollars a pop. The Colonel has spoken.

  5. LOOKS LIKE THE LOADED AMMO COULD BE LESS COST SINCE THE COST OF THE CASES ARE LESS. THAT WOULD BE GREAT NEWS.

    I WOULD TRY THEM FOR SURE.

    WHEN WILL YOU HAVE THEM IN THE STORE?

  6. I’m going to wait! $99.99 for dies for each caliber I load is too expensive and having to lubricate all rounds does not sound like an improvement to me. I have straight wall pistol and revolver cases that I have reloaded a lot more than 10 times over many years!

  7. I have been in this game for over 50 years and I believe in the KISS principle and if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it! Saying that, I believe that we should always be researching new was to make things easier, simpler, and better. One of them that has be around for a long time is carbide dies. what a God send. I was reloading before we had these and the lubing part was a pain in the a$$ for pistol shooters. I believe that these new “two piece” casings have week points built into the casings and will show up at the most inopportune time. With the advent of better brass casing makers, like Starline, the old monkey of only getting 10 to 20 reloads is out the window. I have personally got 50 to 80 reloads out of different calibers. The problem today lies in the idiots that what to make there loads 100 to 300 FPS higher than the maximum listed load for multiple reasons, I have heard them all, and they wonder why they have problems. I worked 30 + years in research, and I can tell you that just because it is new and different, does not mean it is better. I am going to set back and watch this with interest. Just remember the up cost associated with each caliber, if you are shooting multiple calibers, plus more labor. Is it worth it?? Time will tell, just like it did with Edsel.

  8. Comparing per case costs only to Winchester brass cases, neither the cheapest nor arguably the best on the market, is kind of a cheap shot. And $100.00 for 9MM dies is a bit steep for most reloaders who often have substantial current investments in brass components.

    • Pete;
      I believe that you are correct in your assessment. Plus you will have more labor associated with these new casings due to >>you will have to go back and start lubing each casing. More time and more lube/money.

    • I agree. I have a few thousand bucks tied up in the equipment I already have. What I really don’t get is why they can’t make the sizer die out of carbide, or, why a sizer die is necessary, in the first place. Didn’t the article say the fired cases return to unfired dimensions? Or, did i read that wrong…

  9. Will not try them. Too much cost to convert from brass. More trouble than it is worth. None of the “pros” are important enough to convert over.

  10. As a chemist, there is another property of nickel that you need to take under consideration. Nickel metal is toxic. The ability for reuse of the new casings will encourage the reloader to pick them up and not leave them in the weather.

  11. I dont want to be a broken record, “but I would like to try them out”……You can feel free to forward my number to research and Development.

  12. Yes I would like to try them. Also I think it’s great that you can pick up you casings with a magnet this my help the lazy people to pink up there casings

  13. The article is 100% about handgun cartridges….
    When will development of the 5.56×45 be done?
    When can we expect some 5.56×45 to hit the market?
    THAT is when I will get excited…until then…9mm will not cut it.
    40SW MIGHT raise ONE of my eyebrows…but the rest if fluff

  14. “Brass has rained”? Well, yeah, I suppose you could say it “rains” down upon the ground when a full-auto weapon is fired! 😉

  15. Not to be Mr. Negative, but…Midway sells once fired 9mm brass for $30.99, so 500 of these for $60 isn’t actually a bargain. I can buy an awful lot of once fired brass for the $99 die cost. New Winchester brass at Midway is only $70.54 for 500. I’m sure other retailers might beat Midway’s prices.
    Have they done any life testing of the dies? How long does the spring last before it has to be replaced? Can it be user repaired? Also, a spring powerful enough to push a case out of the die has to add substantial force when the case is going into the die.

  16. There are a couple of questions I have. For one, they are talking about brass cases being reloaded 3 to 10 times. I have cases I’ve been using for 25 years in mid-range .45ACP and .38 cal. loads and while I might occasionally get a split case the issue of longevity is a non-starter. Then they talk about aluminum and a nickel alloy, and about stainless steel. I don’t know from this article what nickel alloy they are referring to but I got the impression it was nickel and steel which is not quite the content of Stainless (which needs carbon and chromium). Neither aluminum or stainless steel are typically magnetic so I don’t know how this stuff is getting picked up by a magnet. And then there is the special dies which have some kind of mechanical gizmo to push the cases out of the sizing die. So what is the longevity of this $99 die? Saving a penny a case is 9.9K cases to break even. And what about case cleaning? Will the traditional tumbler with walnut or corn cob get them clean? Bottom line is you’ve got my email address if anybody wants to sell their brass cases at a few cents per, I’m here.

  17. “Every rose has it’s thorn.”

    If I would need a special set of dies to resize this new ‘wunder-brass’ , it would mean big retooling costs for .380, 9mm, .38/.357, .45Auto, .41 Mag, (and all the rifle I reload for, IF these cases become available in rifle) – looks like they’re now suitable only for handgun calibers at present. Useful life before the 2 piece case “breaks” is another important unknown.

    If the cases are incompatible with the pulling tension of my current sizing die operation, would they not also be incompatible with the pulling extraction force of extractors in my firearms? Another chance I’d not be willing to take, especially in critical situations.

    Looks to me to be another case of a solution in search of a problem. “Cheaper and lighter” only applies to those not currently reloading, or those who now lug around huge quantities of ammo.

    No thanks, I have too much invested in my current inventory to be compelled to try something of unknown longevity incompatible with my current gear. Previous attempts at 2 piece cartridge cases have proven to be dismal failures in the past.

  18. In the words of the immortal Star Trek engineer Montgomery Scott, “The more complicated they make the plumbing, the easier it is to stop up the drain.” No, I wouldn’t try them – for many reasons.

  19. I’d like to add one more to the list of those willing to try them. As for reloading, even if you have an investment in equipment, for $100 if you could add a case that could be reused even 25-30 times that might pay back the initial cost fairly quickly.

  20. I can think of another really big con. All of the ranges I go to have an unbreakable rule: Brass cases only.
    What good are these new cases if I can’t go anyplace to shoot them?

  21. I would be willing to try it… but as a new, untested approach to reloading, it may be wise to give a discount on die sets to early adopters. This will allow some feedback to generate that may encourage others to join in.

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