Interview (in 3 parts) with a high precision reloader – Part Two of Three

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Interview (in 3 parts) with a high precision reloader – Part Two of Three

Category : Reloading


Ernie Interview
(part 2 of 3)

Insights from a precision rifle reloader

O: I understand you’ve had some serious, previous hobbies, including I think it was RC power boating?  Can you tell me a little bit about those hobbies and how deep into your hobbies you tend to get?

E: Um, yeah, when I was a lot younger, we used to fly a control line model airplane. That’s when you fly the plane around in a circle and you hold onto a handle, connected to the plane with cables.

O:  Airplanes attached by cable, rather than by radio, remote control

E: Right.  I flew that off and on throughout the years and then I got into flying radio control.  Back around ’71 I wanna say it was that I started getting into radio control airplanes.  And I flew that for a number of years.  And then a friend of mine, several years later, got me into running radio control cars.  So I ran those for many years, and then I got into the hobby shop business.  I opened up a hobby shop, but it got so large that I could not do everything myself.  So when I sold an RC plane, I had my father-in-law, teach the customer how to use them. Also, I had a friend, Wes, who was really into RC boats, who would teach customers how to run the boats.

Another friend, Bob Murphy, who imported OPS engines from Italy, sent me a boat one time.  He wanted me to run it in the Nationals.  So I went out there, and I took my kids with me.  I had tried to get the kids into radio control airplanes, but they thought that idea was too boring.  The boat was a different beast, and I said “Man, I could get into this!”  So I got back into the boats.  Ran one season, one year with that boat (and with my kids), and at the end of the season we needed a new boat.  My youngest son said, “Dad, why don’t we just build our own boat?” To which I replied, “OK, why do you want to do that?” and he said, “Well, maybe somebody would want our boat.”

I knew a lot about the aerodynamics on airplanes, and I knew about the cars. But I needed to do some experimenting with the boats. The current boat design was a hydroplane, which somewhat fly over the surface of the water.  So, I went ahead (and I didn’t do it for any other reason than my youngest son said let’s do it) with the project. I wanted to teach him how to draw up a set of plans, and then take off from those plans a set of templates, and then build the model. We would go out there and see if it runs.  And lo and behold, it ran…very fast.  And so that first year, we had our boats out there running.  And people were just sitting back watching us (apparently paying close attention.) We were taking trophies and we’re doing, you know, pretty well with the custom boats.  And next thing you know, one of the guys in the club says, “How much are they?”  You know I didn’t think about selling any of the boats, but I started building custom boats for local sale. It grew and grew and grew. It got to where, I guess the one reason why I didn’t go shooting in competitions and all that, was because the boat building hobby became a full time job.  And it just took the fun away from running the boats with my son.  So finally, I told everybody, “I’m not building any more boats, I’m just building my own boat.” So I built a boat for myself, just to get back to having fun again.  The thing is, that when you’re building a boat, and you’re putting them together and everything else, especially because I had earned so much respect among the comminuty, people would call and ask questions, and I couldn’t get anything done because as soon as I’d hang up the phone, the phone would ring again.  That was why I kind of backed out on building custom boats completely.  The boats were, like I said, very popular, and very quick…

O: Do I remember correctly that you were also doing custom machining on the engines?

E: Oh yeah, yeah I did my own engine work, yeah.  Cuz there’s no way you can go out there with a stock motor and try to compete, so you had to do your own engine work, I mean, well I did.  I did all the work on my sons’ boats and mine, and we went out there and ran ‘em.  Had a good time.

O: It was all precision stuff, which is, I think the part of it that maybe was of the most interest to you, that it was all fine detail precision stuff. It’s what you especially like to do.t’s what you especially like to do.

E: Very fine, yeah.  Everything, when you start working on these motors, is to get max out of ‘em.  Back then, when I first got into all of that, we were running Nitro methane, which was like the little airplanes; like you see in the hobby shops today, with the Nitro and you fill them up and you fly them.  Back on I’d say around ’94 with the Nitro boats, we held the world’s speed record in F-class at one time.  And at that time, it was 96 or 98 mph. After that became a big thing, what started coming into play was the radio control boats with weedeater motors.  The Nitros kind of started falling by the wayside because of the expense of the fuel. But, that was about when I had stopped making the custom boats for local sale.

weed whacker engine

My friend, Wes, called me up. He asked me to build him a boat with a weedeater motor, and I said ok.  I told Wes that I wasn’t set up for that. “I don’t have any weedeater motors, or any mounts, or anything.” He said, “I’ll send you a boat, the motor, the mounts, whatever you need.”  I said OK, so I sat down and I designed a better boat, outrigger style (hydroplane), for the weedeater motor.  I put it together, test ran it, got it all finished and mailed it back to him and next thing I know, he calls again, he says, “Uh, I need another boat.”  And I said, “What’d you do?  Wreck it?”  And he said No, I sold it.”  And I said, “Wes, I’m not going into the business of making these boats anymore.  And he said, “Man, come on, this guy wants to buy one of your boats.”  I said, “Well, I only made two, Wes, one for you and one for me to play around with.”  And he said, “Well how much you want for yours?” So I told him what I want for it and the guy didn’t even hesitate at the outrageous price.  I had a custom paint job on that boat, really looked like a show paint job.  After the customer got the boat, he reported that he wasn’t going to race that boat.  He want to get it hit or damaged from racing.  So as far as I know, as of today, the boat, he’s never raced it.  He just runs it.  I just built myself another boat.

Wes called me up, and he says “Look, I need another boat.” He had an Internet business on the side, selling RC boats. I put my foot down, and I said, “Wes, I’m not getting into this.  I’m not getting into the phone calls again.”  I said, however, if you want me to build boats, and you want to sell them, and nobody knows who I am, I’m OK with it.  I said, “If anybody has a question, they ask you, you email me or you call me, but once I know that I hang up the phone with you, the phone’s not gonna ring again and I can get my stuff done.”  He agreed to that.  So that’s how it all that started up again with the gas (weedwhacker engine) boats and um, man, that was going big time.  I was shipping boats out to Vietnam, China, Japan, Australia.  I was shipping boats all over the world.  I was working on boats in the morning, at lunch time.  I’d come home for lunch and I’d be working on boats, and I’d be working boats at night. I built a lot of high end RC boats.  At the time a standard weedeater motor would turn out maybe 6,000 rpms, something like that. I’ve taken the motors and I’ve actually brought them up where they were singing at 22,000 rpms.  Everything was going great. The next thing you know, here comes Katrina.  That hurricane totally wiped me out with the boat business.  I just had so much stuff I had to do, rebuilding my home and other business, I just couldn’t work on the boats any more and that’s when I closed the company up (final!) with the boats.  So that was that.  I still have some boats.  I haven’t even had a chance to run any of the boats, because after Katrina, we lost the local pond and a couple places we used to run at.  So that’s when I seriously got into rifle shooting and doing the precision reloading. It’s been about 5 years now.

O: Do you reload for all of the guns that you own?

E: Mostly.  The only ones I don’t have that I don’t load for are like the 7.62x54Rs, you know, the Mosins and similar guns like that that I have.  I don’t load for those.  I do load some for my AKs.  I’ve got a number of AKs.  I actually only just shoot one.  I have been enjoying having my grandson, who just turned 13, shoot some of my guns, and he especially likes shooting the AK.

O: The 7.62x54R, I have a 91-30, and load that cartridge all the time.  Is there a reason why you don’t load that one?

E: I just don’t shoot it that much to worry about it.  I bought several boxes of factory ammo, so I don’t need to. I recently got into collecting the WWII guns.  Like my Mouser K92 K98, I don’t load for that.  I could, but I just bought the factory ammo cuz those are guns that I don’t shoot that much.  Now the ones that I do shoot like my M1 Garands and my 1903A4, I load for all of those.  I never bought any factory ammo for those.

O: Is there a gun that you own that has rare ammunition where reloading has become especially important?

E: No, I wouldn’t say so, no.  I didn’t get into reloading for that reason.  The ones I shoot a lot are the ones that I reload for.

O: Do you usually use brass until it fails or do you dispose of it after a certain number of reloads?

E: Well my brass, I review it carefully.  I look for different signs on the brass.  When I reload, I’m reloading for precision. I want to say 90% of my time is working with the brass.  I find it’s one of the most important things…the brass.  Matching the brass (head stamps) is matching the volume.  I have head space gages, so I spend time sizing for my head space. I have go/no-go gauges for the chamber.  I spend a lot of time on my brass, so I’m looking at it real close.  If I feel a ridge on the inside of the brass, (incipient case head separation), that’s when I get rid of it.  I anneal my brass, after I size my brass, and I’m getting ready to reload, I anneal em.  Like I said, I spend a lot of time on that brass.  And so when I see something going stupid, then I get rid of it.  I just keep on shooting it until I see something.

O: Who’s annealer are you using?  Or did you make your own?

E: No, I bought the Annealeez.

Annealeze Annealer

O: That’s the one that’s made in Florida?

E: I believe so, yeah.

O: Yeah, it’s relatively inexpensive

E: Yeah it’s $275 and the other ones I was looking at were almost $1,000.  Some of them were more than that.  I wasn’t sure if I really want to go down that road to annealing, so why should I spend a lotd of money, and I find out that’s not what I wanted to do?  So I bought the Annealeez, and that one works really well!  Once you get yourself set up and you get your time set up and heat set up, and everything is like you want to be, then you let it rip and it spits em out.  I found that’s one of the things that’s really helped with accuracy and brass life.

O: You mentioned that you got a Dillon 650 press, is that what you started off with or did you start off with a single station?

E: I started off with a 550B and then I turned around and later on I ran across a 2nd hand one, a friend of mine knew somebody that passed away and he got rid of his 550B and some of the tools and everything else, so I went ahead and picked that one up, so I had two 550Bs. So I set up for a large primer and one set up for small primer.  And then I got the 650, but set that one for handling only pistol.  I don’t load any long rifle cartridges, with the Dillon presses.  I do have a set of dies for one of my 550B in 223 Remington. What I discovered was that their powder drop is not accurate enough for the rifle stuff, with the powder I was using. It’s fine if you want to plink. But for the powders that I was using, it was not giving me a consistent drop.  So, now I do the powder drop off the press. I don’t crimp any rifle bullets in place.  Better accuracy if you don’t crimp. So, I resize off the press, add powder off the press, and just use the press for assembly on the 223 Rem.  For fast and easy loads, I’m pulling 1.25” to 1.5” groups at 100 yards.  That’s fine for my grandson.  He does a lot of the shooting with that.  When I shoot, I don’t use that ammo.

O:  What press do you use for your precision rifle reloading then?

E: I have two presses.  The first single stage press that I bought was the Hornady single stage.  And then I went to the coaxial.  I actually still use both presses.  I use the Hornady press for de-capping my cases when I’m prepping them up, but most of everything else that I do, when I’m loading, is on the coaxial press.

O: It’s made by a company called Forster.

E: Correct, yeah.  That’s Forster coaxial press.  In combination with the coaxial press, I got a set of dies from L.E. Wilson.  The complete set.  I bought their case die, because it’s adjustable to the chamber in the gun.  It’s a tighter gauge.  And, for my bolt action rifles, I can adjust for about .002” shoulder setback.  With the L.E. Wilson’s case gauge, you can measure that shoulder bump very accurately.  And, then I use their seating die, and when you do that, you have to use a different type of press (an arbor press works well) because the brass doesn’t come from underneath, it’s pushed down from the top.  I also have RCBS co-matched dies and it’s very good dies set also. The reason why I went with that one is when they machine it, they machine it as a set, and you’re buying it as a matched machined set. The way I feel about it is that they have the give and take of measurements when they’re machining and I feel that they’re tighter tolerance. So when you resize your brass, let’s say, and you drop it in that tight tolerance case gauge, you shouldn’t have any play whatsoever. And another reason why I went into those tools and presses was because of concentricity.  I pay a lot of attention to concentricity on the case before I load them, and then also after the bullets get seated.  I run the assembled cartridges with a concentricity gauge (rotary dial gage) to see if the bullets are running true.  A lot of my cartridges, when I run them through those dies on those presses, are producing a runout of .0005” ( five tenths) or less. Then, I index my brass, so when I run them through the concentricity gage, and I’m spinning them, I find the high point, I take a marker, and I mark my brass so when I’m putting them into my chamber, the marks are all sitting at the 12 o’clock position.

It all comes down to accuracy. You know, consistency equals accuracy. So the more you can be consistent with a load, the more it’s gonna duplicate itself, accuracy wise.  I’ve got some of my loads where my groups, out of a group of 5, had only 2ft/sec difference.  I’m using the Lab Radar chronograph. I keep striving for consistency or accuracy. I’m not out there trying to shoot competition, I’m not trying to impress everybody, cuz I’m out there shooting by myself!

(Continued in Part 3)

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