Mistakes Happen – How to avoid them, and what to do when they happen
Category : Reloading
There are some basic safety rules for reloading. And, all of them are RULES for a reason. It’s worth going over them for the sake of this discussion.
It’s also worth going over the basic GUN HANDLING rules first:
ALWAYS keep the gun pointed in a safe direction.
ALWAYS keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot.
Know your target and what is beyond.
ALWAYS keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot.
ALWAYS keep the gun unloaded until ready to use.
Know how to use the gun safely.
Be sure the gun is safe to operate.
Use only the correct ammunition for your gun.
Wear eye and ear protection as appropriate.
Never use alcohol or over-the-counter, prescription or other drugs before or while shooting.
Store guns so they are not accessible to unauthorized persons.
Be aware that certain types of guns and many shooting activities require additional safety precautions.
RELOADING RULES are equally important:
The PRIMARY cause of accidents during reloading is CARELESSNESS and LACK OF KNOWLEDGE.
ALWAYS wear appropriate eye protection while reloading.
ALWAYS get reloading load data from a reliable and tested source, and FOLLOW IT exactly.
ALWAYS avoid distractions while reloading.
ALWAYS double check your components to assure that they are correct before beginning.
ALWAYS use only fresh powder, primers, brass, and bullets for your reloading.
NEVER have more than one powder, primer, bullets, or other reloading components on the reloading bench at a time.
NEVER substitute black powder for smokeless powder, or vice versa.
ALWAYS establish a system of checks and inspections.
NEVER reload when under any influence of alcohol or drugs, or when fatigued.
ALWAYS use proper hygiene when reloading.
ALWAYS avoid any and all distractions while reloading.
So, even though you have been totally focused on the tasks, mistakes do happen. They include such mistakes as primers upside down. Wrong powder. Wrong amount of correct powder. The list of possible mistakes is lengthy. And, every one of them is based on the concept that you were paying enough attention to catch the mistake. It’s CRITICAL that you are paying that kind of attention while reloading. I suggest that you operate in the proverbial “CONE OF SILENCE” and with no outside distractions. It’s too easy to lose track of where you are in the process if you are endlessly answering phone calls, or being distracted by the radio or TV, or someone in your home.
Here’s how to avoid the most common mistakes, and what to do when you find one.
1) Inside out primer – Whether you are installing primers one at a time on a single station press, or as part of a more automated progressive assembly, occasionally you will get a primer installed backwards. Actually, you might even get an occasional one installed sideways. OOps. On a single station press, this mistake is always a matter of NOT PAYING attention. Just be totally focused when you are doing one of the dangerous assembly operations. If it happens during assembly on a progressive press, it’s usually that the primer was upside down when you picked it up to insert into the primer system. Again, pay closer attention. However, it could also happen when the primer system messes up. Primers go bang when two things happen at the same time: Pressure and speed of pressure. So, as long as you are not racing to assemble your ammo (fast ammo is seldom good ammo), the primer won’t likely go boom (or even bang).
The fix is typically to push out the bad primer BEFORE any powder goes into the case, and certainly before any bullet gets installed. A Universal Decapping Tool, such as the one from Lee or RCBS. It costs less than $15, and sort of looks like a full length resizing die. Except it’s sole purpose in life is to push out primers. It does not touch any part of the outside of any brass case. The same tool works for both pistol and rifle brass. In use, the trick is to go very slow. The primers will usually easily fall out. In a progressive type assembly, you may not notice the upside down primer until doing final inspection. To even get access to the primer to remove it will require first removing the bullet and powder. NOTE: NEVER ever reuse a primer which was installed and removed.
2) Removing a bullet – There are two common ways of dealing with removal of a bullet. The first, and probably the cheapest tool and most versatile method is to use a “Inertia Bullet Puller.” This hammer looking tool uses a collet to hold onto the assembled case. The puller is then struck against a solid object, and plain old inertia pulls the bullet from the assembly. Frankford Arsenal, Lyman, Dillon, RCBS, Lee and other companies all make inertia bullet pullers, and they are all pretty much a similar design. They commonly come with an assortment of the collets to suit varying sizes of cases. The collets are three segments held together with an elastic o-ring. Make sure the curvy side of the collet is towards the plastic nut that holds the cartridge in place while knocking it apart. That will save the small shelf that fits into the case undercut (extraction groove). A few whacks on the end of a 2X4, and the bullet will fall, along with the powder, into the reservoir of the puller.
3) Powder mistakes – Powder mistakes are commonly the result of not paying attention, not properly doing your homework prior to your reloading session, and/or having more than one container of powder on the bench at a time. It’s also possible to install the wrong amount of the correct powder, creating an especially dangerous situation which could damage your gun, or your body parts. I always tell students in my class that the installation of powder is the one portion of reloading that is THE MOST TIME CONSUMING. That is to say, the most time consuming when done properly. So, my tips for avoiding these mistakes in the first place:
* Double/Triple check your load data for correct powder designation for your bullet/cartridge combination.
* Double/Triple check your load data for the proper amount of that powder for your bullet/cartridge combination.
* I use a powder dispenser for dispensing powder. I use an address type label (preference for neon colors), and write the powder load information on the label, and stick that onto the powder measure reservoir. The top edge of the label goes at mid-point of the reservoir, so I can use that as a guide for when to refill the powder level. I use that label (double/triple check to make sure the information is correct) as the absolute source of information for adjusting the powder, and to reconfirm that I am using the right powder. Going back and forth endlessly to the book presents a potential problem, in that it’s too easy to accidentally go to the wrong line in your book and start adjusting to the wrong amount of powder. By going to the label on the dispenser, which you have confirmed is 100% correct, you avoid any potential problems with powder name or amount.
* Check the actual amount of powder dispensed very carefully, and very often. Whether a single station press batch type assembly, or a progressive press type assembly, start off with small testing increments. That is, check every fifth (5th) cartridge. If you find a discrepancy from load data amount to actual amount, it’s much easier to deal with 4-5 cases than to have to pull and dump 100’s of cases. After you have confirmed that your system/process is in control, you can start checking every tenth case, and after a while every 2oth case, etc. However, always do the quality control checks. BTW, it’s often IMPOSSIBLE to determine how much powder is in a case after a bullet is in place, by weighing the assembly. This is especially true for pistol cartridges where the actual amount of powder is very small with regard to the cartridge weight. Just the variation is brass case weight can often be more than the weight of the powder that is supposed to be installed.
If you aren’t sure if the amount of powder is correct, never take the chance. Pull the bullets, dump the powder, and re-do the batch. That’s where keeping track of the last correctly measured cartridge becomes important. If doing them assemblies in a single station batch type assembly, the quality control check is to visually look inside every case (use a case tray, and look up and down the rows and columns) to make sure that you don’t have a squib (either no powder or not enough powder to push the bullet fully out of the barrel), or a double charge. If doing the assembly in a progressive type press, look inside every case (use of LED lighting helps immensely) to make sure there is visually the right amount of powder before placing and seating a bullet. Several companies make a “powder cop” tool which feels for a given level of powder in a case. Don’t be lulled into laziness with this tool. It;s not precise enough to tell you exactly how much powder is in there, just that it either has powder or doesn’t. Good powder installation practices and systems will better assure that you have done that process correctly.
I collect all pulled powder, and sprinkle it onto my lawn and shrubs. It’s a super high quality, slow dissolving, fertilizer. I’d rather use that powder for a useful purpose rather than worry about what I am re-installing into my cases. My neighbors tell me that my flowering shrubs look great. And, I am content that I only usually affect a few cartridges with my mistakes, which are easily corrected, and which keep me (and my guns) safe .
4) Overall errors – Only reloaders look at their cases as much as we do. Non reloaders MIGHT look at a case when they open a new box of factory ammo to confirm that the head stamp says what it should. But, good reloaders study our brass, and assembled cases endlessly, looking for all the indicators of perfection. And, finding the errors of our ways when they occur. Generally speaking, we handle the cartridges we make at least 5 or 6 times before actually firing them. It gives us lots of opportunity to discover any problems before they affect our gun, score, or day. Split brass, high primers, upside down primers, improperly installed bullets, dings, dents, etc…. They can show up at any time during the handling or reloaded cartridges. And, I suggest that you be as fussy as you can be with regard to these otherwise “minor” issues. A split case will likely fire OK, at least enough to allow the bullet to leave your barrel. But, why risk it? The reloading process is inexpensive, and redoing a mistake is easy and quick. Take the errors apart. Reuse components when you can, and replace components when you need to (do NOT reuse a primer that has been removed).
The closer you are paying undivided attention during reloading, the fewer mistakes you will make, the better your ammo will be over all, and the happier you will be during your shooting opportunities.