When it comes to ‘bench-mounted’ cartridge case trimmers, it is almost impossible to find one that is as versatile and easy to use as the Forster Original Case Trimmer. When purchased as part of a basic kit, including three collets and six pilots, this quality trimmer will cover most calibers in the .171” to .459” range. If you reload metallic cartridges, you are going to have to trim cases. It just makes sense to me to start with the most flexible and highest quality outfit you can. As the saying goes: “A poor man can only afford to buy quality.” Given that the Forster Kit costs, in some case, less than the competition, you’re not even having to pay the usual entry fee for that quality; let alone for the upgrades that would be needed to have many competitors come close in terms of overall usefulness.
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There are several components to a cartridge: primer, powder, bullet, and case. Three of these four components are expended each time the cartridge is fired. The primer is dented by the weapon's firing pin and the tiny amount of explosive it contains is used to create a spark which ignites the powder. The ignited powder turns to a gas which creates sufficient pressure to expel the bullet from the case, sending it through the barrel and out to the target. Thus, the only usable portion that remains is the case itself.
A tremendous amount of stress is placed on the metal of the case when the cartridge is fired. As a result of this stress, each time a complete cartridge is fired, the metal ('brass') stretches in both diameter and length. Every cartridge case has both a standard minimum and a standard maximum length. The minimum length is typically referred to as the "Case Trim (To) Length," while the other is simply called the "Maximum (Max) Case Length." For instance, the venerable .30-06 Springfield has a case trim length of 2.484" and a max case length of 2.494" - i.e., a difference between standard minimum/maximum of 1/100 of an inch. How long it takes a cartridge case to 'grow' this distance is dependent upon a number of factors; e.g., loads used, brass manufacturer (not all cases are created equal), etc. While some reloaders prefer to always 'trim to,' some insist on always 'maxing out,' and most will trim when necessary; inevitably, there will come a point where the case will need trimming.
Most case trimmers are, essentially, a mini lathe which is designed to remove metal uniformly from the case mouth until the trim to length is attained. However, while sharing the same basic function and, in many respects, very similar features, not all case trimmers are created alike. Noted as producing some of the best available to the market, Forster Precision Products offers several case trimmers. As described by Forster in their product catalog, the Original Case Trimmer has the following features:
…staggered tooth, high alloy steel cutter shaft…staggered design prevents the cutter from dropping into dings or low spots on your case mouth. The exclusive staggered tooth design trues up and cuts perfectly square case mouths… “Brown & Sharpe” style collets allow you to trim your cases to extremely consistent lengths. Forster’s collets close on the rim of the case without pulling the case back. This feature ensures that your cases are trimmed to identical lengths even there are variations in your case rim diameters… fine adjustment screw allows for fine tuning of case lengths to .001” or less… If the cutter shaft does become dull after years of use or several thousand cases, the shaft can be resharpened at the Forster for a nominal fee… the right choice for most calibers with bullet diameters from .171" to .459"… Collets #1 through #4 fit this Original, Case Trimmer and hold the rims of most rifle and pistol calibers within that range. Our Original, Case Trimmer allows you to take your handloads to a new level. It allows you to expand your system by adding many "accurizing" case trimmer accessories…
The “Brown & Sharpe” style collets is a reference to the type of collet or, more specifically, the taper of the collets. Collet-style case trimmers use a tapered collet to hold the case at the ‘head’ or base. A pilot is placed in the cutter shaft, between the teeth, and centers the case with the cutter shaft when inserted into the case mouth. (The pilot is held in place with an hex screw of the same size as those used for the length adjustments.) The collet on The Forster Original Case Trimmer is tightened on the case head by turning the collet screw handle. It allows for consistent lengths… IF… you are consistent in how you place cartridges inside the collet itself. What do I mean?
The Forster Original Case Trimmer Kit comes with Collets 1, 2, & 3, along with Pilots 22, 24, 25, 27, 28, & 30. Each collet has a series of three ‘steps’ (dimensions) allowing it to hold a variety of cartridges. For instance, the dimensions for Collet # 1 are: 0.379, 0.473, 0.532. What this means is that Collet # 1 is suitable for the following calibers: .17 Rem., 204 Ruger, 222 Rem., 222 Rem. Mag., 22 Varm., 223 Rem., 225 Win., 5.6x50R, 22 250, 220 Swift, 221 Fireball, 22 PPC, 22 B.R. Rem., 243 Win., 6mm, 6mm mag & Belted Exp., 244 Rem., 6mm B.R. Rem., 257, 250 Sav. & Ackley, 250-3000, 25 Souper, 25-06… Well, the list gets quite extensive; and, that’s just for one of the three collets which come with the kit. Though the pilot numbers are marginally more self-explanatory in terms of caliber, they too run into a rather lengthy list. Suffice to say that .171” to .459” – what’s covered by the three collets and mostly covered by the included pilots – allows you to work with most calibers. (The slightly larger and similar in appearing Forster ‘Classic’ case trimmer is, primarily, for big bore calibers, including black powder cartridges, as well as some English single/double rifles, several foreign, and a number of ‘vintage’ calibers. Of course, the even larger ‘.50 BMG’ case trimmer is for a single caliber. I’ll let you guess which one that is…)
Therefore, the first thing you need to pay attention to when placing the cartridge in the Forster collet is to get it into the appropriate step. The wrong step can mean a cut too short or too long, as well as a rough cut given that the case will be ‘loose.’ The second thing is to make sure the case remains flush with the base of that particular step when tightening the collet. This potential for inconsistency based on operator error is probably the biggest criticism leveled against collet-style trimmers in general. Okay. The potential is certainly there; I’ve even committed it myself. Then again, as I have repeatedly stated in my reviews of reloading equipment, if speed is your goal and/or attention to detail is not your forte’, then good luck to ya. (Yes, the Wilson style trimmer may be more inherently accurate, but it does not have anywhere near the versatility as regards the number of different cartridges. Likewise, Hornady’s Cam-Lock system, which utilizes shellholders rather than collets, just doesn’t do it for me. Well, there are other variations, but back to the review.)
The solution is to develop a consistency in your technique. For instance, with .223 cases, I slip the case mouth over the collet, then push the cutter shaft, pilot, and case forward, into the collet; then tighten down when I’m flush. If I’ve set everything beforehand (and you should), then you simply turn the crank. Using this method, I am able, with .223, to achieve a variance in trimmed length of less than .001” – and some of that variance may be (and undoubtedly is) due to bad form on my part. By the way, that variance is always on the “plus” or “long” side of the “trim to” length for me. For instance, .223 Remington “trim to” length is, officially, 1.75”; with my results varying from 1.75” – 1.751”. I’d rather have it slightly long than too short and most come in under that .001” maximum difference. Bearing in mind that the, official, maximum case length is 1.76”, a full hundredth of an inch is a lot of room to play when you can consistently achieve sub-one thousandth of an inch results. In other words, attention and consistency to technique will allow the Forster to yield very consistent results.
The two, hex adjustment screws are for both gross, or coarse, and fine adjustments. One is located perpendicular to the shaft and tightens down on the shaft through the stop collar; allowing for a coarse, approximate length adjustment with the cutters set against the case neck. The second screw feeds through the stop collar, parallel to the shaft and contacts the bearing housing, allowing for a fine, precision length setting. Once you have the coarse setting, you trim a tiny bit, turning the fine adjustment screw until you reach your desired trim-to length. Each full turn of this fine adjustment screw equals .032” in case length; thus, it often doesn’t take much. (Each kit contains the necessary hex key.)
The “nominal fee” Forster cites for resharpening the teeth is listed as $8, prepaid in their Catalog #77; which, I believe, is still their current catalog. I can’t tell you how many case trims I’ve done with my first ‘Original’ – I’ve had it for over two decades. Just bear in mind that it has seen a considerable amount of ‘nonuse’ during that period; well, let’s say not as much use since I stopped shooting competition. Given that Forster offers a replacement cutter and shaft for $20, I figure to stock up on a couple against the time when I finally do need to resharpen them. Why? First, the fee may not stay ‘nominal.’ Second, $8 plus shipping comes to how much vs. a $20 replacement? Third, I wouldn’t want to be without a cutting shaft; i.e., you have a reserve if you do decide to send it back for resharpening. Finally, as with the shortages this year, with the pressures this put on the production of virtually all things ammunition related, there’s no predicting availability of replacements or the turn-around time for resharpening.
One design feature that is not specifically mentioned by Forster is the trimmer base. I guess that the difference is so readily apparent it need not be discussed. Oh well… Many of the case trimmers on the market, such as from RCBS, Hornady, Lyman, and Redding, rely on large and/or heavy cast iron bases which can be secured to your loading bench. This reliance on mass is not the best idea in my view. First, in many cases, the cutting shaft and case holder (collet, chuck, cam-lock, whatever) passes through an extension of the base. Thus, if tolerances aren’t what they should be, some wobble will be present or inevitably develop. Second, mass generally translates to larger size, something which is often antithetical to limited space or inconvenient in terms of ergonomics. Finally, such design typically precludes modularity; i.e., the ability to replace or substitute parts conveniently.
Forster uses a lightweight, aluminum “I-Beam” style base. The shape of the base creates a solid rigidity which resists the torque of the ‘lathe.’ Further, it provides a solid platform; further enhanced by the 4 screws used to attach it to your bench. (Since, by dint of circumstance, my reloading space has always been limited, I’ve attached mine to a piece of 1” x 6” board that I can then C-clamp to a convenient surface.) In addition, this design allows you to swap bases and replace the collet housing and bearing (shaft housing). In fact, while there is ½” of adjustment (1/4” for each housing) ‘built into’ the Original’s stock, 5 3/8” base, you will need to acquire the shorter, 4 5/8” base for 9mm or shorter cases. For longer cases such as the .375 Magnum or for outside neck turning, you’ll have to get the longer, 6 ½” base. Both of these bases currently MSRP for $20. I’ve never had a personal need for anything but the stock base. I don’t do ‘long’ cartridges, haven’t – yet – felt the need to engage in neck turning (though I may be quickly getting there in terms of increasing my accuracy with .308; the potential incremental increase combined with the marginal increase in distance I’d like meaning I’m more likely to pop for Forster’s $79 Hand Outside Neck Turner), and have only one, short pistol cartridge (9mm), relying on a simple Lee Case Trimmer for the little I do with that.
Finally, insofar as the ability to further expand your system by adding accessories… Forster does offer a power adapter that allows you to use a power drill/screwdriver to turn your Original into a power trimmer. Then there is the neck reamer, outside neck reamer, universal hollow pointer (fine tunes bullet weight), and the primer pocket center. If you don’t have a bench with a ‘set of drawers’ for small parts such as the pilots and collets, I might also recommend the company’s yellow, $13, plastic Case Trimmer Accessory Case for the Original. It will hold collets, pilots, an outside neck turner with pilots, neck reamer, a primer pocket chamfering tool with a center and primer pocket cleaners. Frankly, lacking a good set of drawers to organize things or if you store most of your stuff in a toolbox/whatever, the $13 is well worth the organization it provides for just the collets and pilots that come in the kit.
Using the Forster Original Case Trimmer couldn’t be simpler. Unscrew the collet handle, insert the appropriate collet, screw the handle back in loosely, insert the proper pilot, tighten the pilot set screw, slip a case over the pilot, slide the cutter/case toward/into the collet, tighten the collet handle, then set the adjustment screws as described above. That’s it. Once you have the case length setting you desire (using a good set of calipers), you simply turn the crank handle. Hardly any force is required. Assuming you’ve set them correctly, the set screws prevent you from cutting too much. In fact, it is very noticeable when you’ve reached the ‘trim to’ length. Not only do the cutters turn much almost freely given they no longer have the resistance of metal being cut, on both of mine, there is, depending on the case size and manufacture, often an annoying squeak from the cutter blades lightly contacting the case mouth without cutting.
The finished cut is bright and uniform. However, it is ‘rough’ in the sense of burrs and will need to be refined for proper bullet seating and crimping. At this point, you will need an additional tool such as the RCBS Deburring tool to chamfer and deburr the case mouth… see Chamfer and Deburr – Almost Sounds Like A Vaudeville Team.
As alluded to, I can’t speak to most of the accessories as I’ve never, personally, had a need for them. Probably the most lusted after is the ‘power trimmer’ adapter. If you’ve got large numbers of cases to trim in a single session, I guess there are advantages. I just don’t see the need to go through the hassle of removing the handle crank and using a power drill (the one I’ve got is sizeable and heavy anyway). When I know that I’m going to have time to load a batch of cases in the same caliber, it’s easier for me to set up the case trimmer, then whenever I get a few minutes to just slip in and trim a couple dozen here and there. Since I usually load in batches of 50 or 100 for the autoloaders and 20 to 40 for the bolt actions, I just can’t justify the power drill adaptation. I suppose if you’re loading big batches with a progressive press, there might be an argument to be made. Otherwise, what was it I said about reloading and speed?
Last year, I was in a small gun shop and stumbled on an Original Case Trimmer Kit. Knowing these things had to be much more expensive than they were when I bought my first one so long ago, I was taken aback by the price tag. It couldn’t be that inexpensive?! Given that I have a decent relationship with this shop and am almost viewed as a regular, I called over the guy I knew handled most of the reloading stuff. I pointed out the price tag and asked if that was correct. He hesitated and said… “Uh, no.” I shrugged my shoulders and started to turn away – I wasn’t really in the market for a trimmer anyway.
The guy stopped me and asked: “Do you want this one?” I told him I had just noticed the price and thought I’d ask. He stared at me for a moment, then pointedly said: “This is not the right price. I’m going to ask you again… Do you want this one? If not, I’m going to take it in the back and put the correct price on it.” Quickly trying to remember how much cash I had in my wallet (which wasn’t much), knowing there was little gas in the tank, bearing in mind that bills were coming due, and having other, decidedly pressing priorities for the money, I drew a deep breath and did the responsible thing…
I said, “Sure.”
Now, I won’t tell you exactly how much I paid for this kit, but I will say, given that the current MSRP for the entire Forster Original Case Trimmer Kit (Forster number CTK100) is $120, I got mine for notably less than wholesale. MidwayUSA currently has the kit listed for $75, with Cabela’s asking $79 for the same thing. Therefore, ‘street price’ is going to be somewhat less than MSRP, so it does pay to shop around a bit. (Alright, or get really, really lucky. Given the price I got this second one for, I did buy a lottery ticket that week. Guess I’d used up all my ration of luck on the kit.) Since street pricing for the basic trimmer, minus collets and pilots, runs $55-$60, with collets running around $10-$12 and pilots coming in at $4-$5, it just doesn’t make any sense to purchase the individual pieces rather than the kit. Even if you don’t need it all at the moment, you’ll be set up should your shooting expand beyond the calibers you currently have.
Very competitively priced with other manual case trimmers, the Forster Original Case Trimmer offers more versatility than any of the others. Even if all you purchase is the basic kit, you’ll have virtually all but the more specialized calibers covered. If you evolve into performing more specialized reloading tasks, the Forster allows you the option of ‘accessorizing;’ and we all know that accessories make the outfit. Twenty-something years ago, many considered the Forster Original Case Trimmer Kit to be the best bang for the buck and one of the higher quality models on the market. Today, I’ve yet to see any offering from competitors which supplants it in that niche. Given that the design has remained virtually unchanged in that time, with the optional extras now available, and the sheer number of cartridges that can be handled using this kit, I don’t see that changing anytime soon.
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