Category Archives: Reloading

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Hardness Testing Lead – A series of TIPS from my recent Cast Lead Bullet Workshop

Category : Reloading

I am getting a lot of inquiries from my Casting Class students regarding hardness testing. That raises the first, and most important question:

WHY is lead hardness important?

Simply, the faster a bullet gues through the barrel, the harder the alloy needs to be. That’s because of a concept known as OBTURATION. Obturation is the effect of the gas pressure in the case/cartridge during the burning of the powder. The gas pressure builds until it spikes just right, and then the bullet leaves the case mouth. That’s all very quick (POP!), but during that time, the back end of the cast lead bullet needs to mushroom or blossom from the gas pressure, sealing the back end of the bullet into the lands and the grooves. That prevents the hot plasma gases from leaking past the bullet, the primary cause of lead fouling. That is to say, lead skid marks. If the next bullet down the barrel also causes more lead fouling, each successive bullet will get nudged a bit (in the direction of the skid mark), and start really throwing the bullets off course. So, in order for this obturation to happen effectively in the very limited amount of time, the bullet has to be cast in an alloy hardness that facilitates that obturation. The slower the bullet, and consequently the gas pressure, the softer the alloy needs to be. The faster the bullet goes, and consequently the higher the pressure, the harder the alloy needs to be to achieve the same resulting obturation. The best way to attack the problem is from known experience with cast lead bullets. The following charts highlight some hardness points relative to muzzle velocities for guns, both pistol and rifle

Glen Fryxell, all rights reserved





Downloadable chart of Lead hardness by use, Orville Deutchman 2019


Page 30 of Glen Fryxell’s Book ( Referenced Below) has an amazing discussion of lead alloy hardness, ingredients (typically Lead, Tin, and Antimony), and their uses. He also discusses the concept of OBTURATION is some detail. Especially starting on Pg 32. I will leave it to the reader to spend some time with Glen’s book.


Lead Hardness Testing

While there are several lead hardness testers on the market, some of them provide obscure hardness references. Only one that I know of provides a clear “BHN” Scale hardness result. Just exactly what is a “BHN” Scale Hardness result? BHN stands for Brinell Hardness Test. It was first suggested in 1900, and is one of the ways to measure hardness of a material (wood, brass, lead, aluminum, steel, etc.)

The WIKI for the Brinell hardness testing, the real subject of this article is here:

In a laboratory setting, a hardness test is commonly done using a calibrated machine/device which presses down on the test sample with a given force, and the amount that the point of the device presses/penetrates into the test sample is shown on a scale. When measuring hard metals, such as steel, a sharp point is used, and the hardness result is given on the “C” scale. Rockwell is one of the leading companies making these high end hardness testers.

Calibrated Rockwell Hardness Tester

These laboratory testers can cost as little as $1600, with the full digital ones selling for almost $6700. The laboratory units come with a full set of contact points suitable for a full range of metals to be tested. The two common hardness ranges tested on these scales are the C scale and the B scale. The B scale refers to softer alloys, and for those a 1/16″ hardened ball is used to penetrate the softer metal. That includes the lead alloys. Here’s the WIKI reference for the Rockwell Hardness Test, and the reference hardness scales that they produce:

But, at $1600 for the least expensive ones, it’s a bit of overkill for the home caster of cast lead bullets. And, the “B” scale for Rockwell testers, while similar to Brinell Hardness, isn’t an exact same hardness number. We really want to spend our time using the BRINELL Hardness test, with a Resulting BHN number. A more cost effective scale would always make more sense for someone casting lead bullets, and needing some alloy hardness guidance so that the bullets obturate properly upon firing the cartridge.

Hardness testers for Bullet casters

I have one really good recommendation for a hardness tester that provides the most versatile testing of lead alloys. It can be used with cast bullets, ingots, slabs, etc. It gives a BHN hardness result, which can be directly referred to.

*My number one recommendation for hardness tester for bullet casters:

Awaiting permission from that manufacturer for using images and information for the tester that I like the most, and recommend.

There are other contenders for hardness testers appropriate for bullet casters. They include the Saeco Tester, the Lee Hardness Tester, and the Cabine Tree Tester.

Saeco Tester

The Saeco Tester has a limitation in that you can only check small samples, typically an actual cast lead bullet. And, the use of that tester requires visually aligning two lines, and determining from that what the hardness is. The Saeco scale of hardness does not directly correlate with the Brinell hardness numbers (BN). The Saeco tester costs just under $200.


Lee Hardness tester

The Lee tester uses an indenter system, and then a magnifying glass with a small chart of hash marks. You are supposed to visually determine the diameter of the indent in the lead using the magnifier and chart. It’s awkward to use, and gives non-consistent numbers. It is about $90.



Cabine Tree tester

The Cabine Tree tester uses a spring loaded indenter, and a rotating handle to activate the indenter. A dial indicator measures the amount the indenter pushes into the soft alloy. That depth can be converted into a hardness number from a chart they supply with the device. The Cabine Tree Tester costs about $125.


You may have secured your raw lead alloy from a number of places, plumbing fixtures, roofing flashing, range lead, wheel weights, linotype, etc. The starting hardness of the alloy typically needs to get adjusted. Lead alloys are commonly comprised of Lead (Pb), Tin (Sn), and Antimony (Sb). The presence of tin in the alloy is usually to assist with the flowing of the alloy, especially in tight places in your casting mold. It does little to harden the alloy.

Antimony is the most common element for hardening the lead alloys. As found, it is a crystalline “mettalloid”.

Crystalline Antimony

It is NOT suggested that anyone attempt to crush up elemental antimony, and try to get it to dissolve in your alloy. Any of the hard crystal that doesn’t get dissolved would be an abrasive, to be avoided in your barrel. Rather, the best way to get antimony into your alloy is to use other lead alloys, which are high in antimony (already dissolved.) Such additives include clip on wheel weights, linotype, and monotype.

Clip on wheel weights contain about 3-4% antimony, and are (as air cooled) about 10-11 BHN.  Linotype is about 12% antimony, and in the range of 22 on the BHN scale. Monotype is a little higher, with the antimony being about 19% and hardness in the range of 28 BHN.

If you have very soft lead to start with, you need to add one of those hardening alloys. If you have lead too hard for your current use, then add some pure lead (about 5 BHN) to get it right. You can approximate the amount of hardener or pure lead needed to get to a proper range. Or, there are a number of on-line calculators available to assist with getting it more exact.
Here’s an on-line spreadsheet calculator, free to download and use:
Free Spreadsheet Calculator

Here’s a link for some software that is economical to purchase, and does an amazing job of guiding your adjustments:

Cast Bullet Alloy Calculator Ver. 1.1.4 Download (approx $20)

From RotoMetals, a supplier of alloy bars, is this tip for hardening lead alloy:
For every 1% additional tin, Brinell hardness increases 0.3.
For every 1% additional antimony, Brinell hardness increases 0.9.
For a simple equation,
Brinell = 8.60 (Antimonial Lead) + ( 0.29 * Tin ) + ( 0.92 * Antimony )

Some additional reference details:
Description, Composition, Uses, Hardness, Est. Hardness
Pure Lead, (100% Lead), Minies, Round, Brinell 5, 8.6
Pure Tin, (100% Tin), Alloy, Brinell 7, –
Pure Antimony, (100% Antimony), Alloy, Brinell 50, –
Antimonial Lead, (5% Antimony, 95% Lead), Alloy, Brinell ???, 13.2
Super Hard Alloy, (30% Antimony, 70% Lead), Alloy, Brinell ???, 36.2
40 to 1 Alloy, (2.5% Tin, 97.5% Lead), Blackpowder, Brinell 8, 9.3
30 to 1 Alloy, (3% Tin, 97% Lead), Blackpowder Brinell 9, 9.5
25 to 1 Alloy, (4% Tin, 96% Lead), Blackpowder Brinell 9, 9.8
20 to 1 Alloy, (5% Tin, 95% Lead), Blackpowder Brinell 10, 10.1
Chilled Shot, (2% Antimony, 98% Lead), Shotgun, Brinell ???, 10.4
Magnum Shot, (5% Antimony, 95% Lead), Shotgun, Brinell ???, 13.2
Wheel Weight – Stick On, (0.5% Tin, 99.5% Lead), Minies, Round, Brinell 6, 8.7
Wheel Weight – Clip On, (0.5% Tin, 2% Antimony, 97.5% Lead), Pistol, Rifle, Brinell 12, 10.6
Lyman’s No. 2, (5% Tin, 5% Antimony, 90% Lead), Pistol, Rifle, Brinell 15, 14.7
Hardball Alloy, (2% Tin, 6% Antimony, 92% Lead), Pistol, Rifle, Brinell 16, 14.7
Linotype Alloy, (4% Tin, 12% Antimony, 84% Lead), Alloy, Brinell 19, 20.8
Monotype Alloy, (9% Tin, 19% Antimony, 72% Lead), Alloy Brinell 26, 28.7

Knowing what your lead alloy is to start with, knowing what it needs to be for success with cast lead bullets, and knowing what to add and how much of that to add is the key to success. Obturation is what makes it happen correctly.

Reference READING:    From Ingot to Target: A Cast Bullet Guide for Handgunners by Glen E. Fryxell and Robert L. Applegate with a Forward by John Taffin

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Building a CUSTOM reloading bench

Category : Reloading

My Current Reloading Bench

I have been asked, quite a few times now, about how I built my reloading bench. In the past, I have only covered the subject in general terms (2X4 frame, 5/8 MDF top, contact cemented laminate, etc). This time, I will share with you some of the details for building your own custom reloading bench.

My first reloading bench, back in the early 1970’s was my circular pine kitchen table. I had a plank C clamped to the table, with a RCBS JR press bolted to the plank. Since then, I have created a variety of benches of all designs, including a simple one that I occasionally take on the road with me for distant reloading classes, a Black & Decker Workmate ™ folding bench. Some of the bench designs have worked well, and some were complete failures. The worst reloading benches were primarily designed as general work benches. 2X4 frame, covered with bolted down planks. Even when painted, the planks always dried out, creating horrible gaps, for things to fall through. They were often wobbly. While OK for general household repair type projects, that type of bench wasn’t well suited for reloading of precision ammunition.

Over the years, and after lots of trials and errors, I have come up with a winning design for a reloading bench that can also serve to handle your household projects. This design is more based on the needs of reloading.

Location, location, location

Those of us who are fortunate enough to have a space better than my original kitchen table space, should plan on a custom bench for making the most of available space for your reloading needs. Some of us have an air conditioned space (very much appreciated here in how and humid Florida). Some of us, however, have only a corner of a garage, or a piece of the cellar (in those parts of the country fortunate to have cellars.) My current reloading location was a converted “home office”, complete with carpeting, desks, a futon, etc. Most of that had to go, and the most important thing to remove was the STATIC creating carpet. Ugh, what a job it was to remove the old dusty carpet. However, by installing laminate type hard wood flooring, it gave me a floor surface that was not as susceptible to creating static sparks as the old carpet was. And, easier to clean up powder, and primer spills.

My design begins with a 2 X 4 lumber frame

Frame roughed in

Fastened to wall, plus added support

Added additional 16″ on center supports to handle everything that would later get mounted on the bench

Plan Way Ahead for your Bench

Here are some bench tips, depending on your carpentry abilities.

  • Remember, create the largest surface area that you can. There always seems to be a shortage of space when reloading
  • Create a strong surface, and one that is smooth, and easy to work on
  • Create a bench that is a good working height for you
  • Anchor the bench to a wall using some anchoring method.
  • Make use of vertical space over the back of your bench, but anchor any wall shelves solidly to wall studs.
  • Lighting is important, especially for those of us getting older. I really like the new 4 foot LED light fixtures. Lots of light! Place those over the center of your bench, as many as are needed in a row to fill the entire work area with good light.
  • My current bench is 11 feet long, 39 inches front to back, and 38 inches tall from the floor. I have also had some L shaped benches that worked well for me in previous locations. .

    Hammer Ready? You’ll Need Some Basic Tools and Supplies

So, having given you some of the basics, here’s how I made mine:

  • 2X4 construction for building the foundation/platform for the bench.
  • I used a concept similar to building a wall in a home to make the outside frame, and then filled in structural supports every 16 inches
  • I used doubled 2X4’s for the legs, in my case, six in all. Placed the legs inside the frame, and fastened the legs to the frame with long (4″) drywall screws. No need to worry about leg wobble. The anchoring of the bench to the wall will fix that.
  • The bench should have a 2″ overhang. That’s important, since most reloading equipment is designed to bolt to that overhang. Please note that when I do my bullet swaging, the leverage on that swaging press was too severe for the basic strength of the 2″ MDF overhang. For the purpose of swaging, I designed and welded together a couple of support platforms. I mounted the RCBS Rockchuckers (that’s my swaging press) to the weldment, and in turn bolted that to additional supports under the frame of the bench. In hind sight, I am somewhat sure that the Inline Fabrication base plates would take the leverage forces required for the swaging. Unless you are doing some sort of heavy duty stuff on the edge of your bench, this super reinforced system isn’t needed.
  • I used 2 layers of 5/8″ MDF (medium density fiberboard) for the top. I did not glue these together. Instead, I fastened the top panels to the frame using 3″ drywall screws, so that I could, if I had to, take the whole thing apart. If your bench is larger than 8 feet long, overlap the joints of the MDF. That might cause some additional scrap, but provides for a much stronger top.
  • From previous bench building experience, I found that painting or use of a similar coating on the bench top didn’t work well. I opted for a Formica™ type laminate top
  • I ordered, from Home Depot, a custom sized sheet of laminate, 5′ X 12′. The design that I like is: Formica™ “DOTS”. It’s dark black, and has small embossed dots on the surface. Easy to keep clean. The sheet is about $105, and had to be ordered. It comes rolled up. Shipping damage can be an issue. But, that size, in that color and pattern was not a stock item. Depending on the size of your bench, you might be able to get away with a smaller 4X8 foot sheet, which they commonly have sheets in stock. There are all sorts of colors and patterns available.
  • Installing laminate is easy, but requires some tools
    • Carbide tipped laminate cutter knife is handy to use for cutting the edge strips. This one is what I use:
    • Lots of 3/8″ wooden dowels allow you to hover the prepared laminate over the work surface
    • Can of “Contact Cement”. These days, this comes in two formulations, the original strongly chemical smell version, and the newer type which is water based. I have always preferred the original version.
    • Brush and small roller for spreading out the contact cement – BOTH pieces (the bench top and the underside of the laminate) need to be coated with the contact cement. So, using a short nap roller makes the job of spreading the contact cement faster.
    • Having a wood working ROUTER with 90 degree and a 45 degree laminate trimming bits eases the job of trimming the edges of the laminate. But, most work could be done with a file
      This bit trims to the exact edge of the laminate:
      And, this one is for final trimmer of joined edges, last part of the project:
      DIABLO 19/32 in. Two Flute Bevel Trim Bit
    • Fine-medium toothed file for final trimming.
    • Rubber mallet for tamping down the joined laminate
  • Cut strips for the exposed edges of the bench first, obviously planning ahead so that you don’t ruin the laminate sheet. Think wayyyy ahead on the planning and layout of the job. I like to use a straightedge clamped to the laminate with the carbide tipped knife
  • To use the contact cement, coat the two surfaces to be joined, and allow them to dry to finger touch. You do not want to try joining pieces together with contact cement while the cement is still oozy.
  • Install the edges of your bench top first. using your fingers to carefully align the edges so that all of the edge gets covered with laminate. Don’t try to curt these pieces exactly. Allow for overhang on all edge surfaces,. and then trim with the straight type bit or file, to the final exact fit. Do the edges left side first, front, and then right edge, trimming as you go around the edges of the bench.
  • Once you have the edges done first, then prepare for the top installation. This is the difficult part of the job. It is a large area, and you only get one shot at the contact cement.
  • As with the edges, coat the surfaces to be joined with the contact cement. You’ll need a large area for resting the laminate on while coating the bench top, and allowing both to dry.
  • Place 3/8″ wooden dowels (at least as long as the bench is deep), parallel to each other, no more than about 6″ apart. These will allow the top sheet laminate to float above the bench surface to allow you to align the large sheet  prior to installing it.
  • Once you have the large laminate sheet placed on the dowels, and aligned, carefully pull one dowel out at an end, and press the laminate down to make contact with the bench top. Once you have that first contact made, the risk of the laminate sheet moving is reduced, and you can proceed with removing the dowels one at a time, going along in a row, from one end to the other, until you have the entire sheet stuck to the bench top.
  • With the rubber mallet, tamp down the laminate to make solid contact between the two pieces.
  • Trim the top to the edges with the straight trimmer first, and then go around with the bevel trimmer or a file to break what would otherwise be very sharp edges. Set the bevel trimmer ONLY to the thickness of the laminate, which is quite thin.
  • Use your file to do any tweaking of the final trim
  • The last job is to fasten the bench assembly to the wall. This is the part of the assembly that makes the whole bench really solid. Find the studs, and either fasten with long drywall screws directly to the studs (avoiding electrical wires, etc), or use 90 degree angle brackets (small 2″ brackets are fine).
  • Drill holes through the top, as needed, to install equipment such as reloading press, etc.
  • I really like the design and functionality of the Inline Fabrication bench plates: . It allows me to swap out a reloading press for a lubricizer (cast bullets sizing lube machine), etc….  Makes much better use of the bench top without having a ton of holes in my nice bench, and too many things bolted to it.
  • For additional storage area, I went with the Rubbermaid wall bracket system. This uses vertical rails, with double sets of slots for shelf adjustments. These get screwed directly into wall studs for max strength. The brackets come in the double slot type, in lengths to serve the depth of your shelves, 10″, 12″, 16″, etc. I use wire shelves and composite board type shelves to suit my needs. I’m able to support many heavy boxes of lead and plated/FMJ bullets without worrying about them crashing in the middle of the night.
  • Additionally, I used two “cubby” type wall units to allow for storage of my many casting molds. Got those at Home Depot. Had to turn it 90 degrees to get it useful in the space, and that required adding in support dowels (left over from the laminate project).
  • Here are some images of my setup.

Showing cubby storage. See also the re-purposed cabinet

Strong wall rails attach strong brackets for heavy loads

Making full use of available space

Planning for electrical

A reloading bench needs some power outlets for plug in devices, and also for overhead lighting. I’m not an electrician, nor do I play one on TV. However, I know a thing or two about where electricity is needed for your reloading bench. You’ll need some electrical connection points on top of the bench, and you’ll also need some place to wire in the overhead LED (or fluorescent) light fixtures. Hopefully, the wall that your bench gets attached to will have some wall outlet(s) nearby. Close enough to plug one of those power strips into. If not, you may have to consult with an electrician to get an outlet to the top of your bench. Normal outlet height is only 12-16 inches (varies by local code.) Of course, your bench top might be a whopping 36″ to 38″ off the floor. Mine is 38″ tall, which is a comfortable height for me. So, wiring the taller wall outlet might require the services of an experienced electrician. And, usually also some codes require that any non-standard outlet be GFCI protected (ground fault).

I also wanted to have the over head lights for my reloading bench to be switched from the rear of the bench. So, my install has two side by side outlets, one with a duplex outlet, and the other with a switch and an outlet. Up in the ceiling is an outlet box, wired through that switch, and allows me to merely plug in the four foot lighting fixtures. The lighting fixtures have a pull chain arrangement, but I cut the chain, and just leave them always on, and use the switch to energize them. I have expanded the outlet ability for my bench by plugging in a couple of outlet strips, each with it’s own circuit breaker, and that gives me enough places to plug in everything that commonly gets used on the bench top. That includes LED lights for my Dillon 550b reloading press, three digital electronic scales, etc, etc, etc. None of those units use much electricity each, so a 15 amp circuit is plenty.

Send me your own images of your reloading setup, and I’ll create a Gallery so that others can also benefit from your creativeness!

Email your reloading bench images to:

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A series of TIPS from my recent Cast Lead Bullet Workshop – Rendering Pot

Category : Reloading

The recent workshop, my first in ten years, since moving to Florida, was a huge success. I covered the subject of casting lead bullets, with the able assistance of several of my casting friends as assistant instructors, from beginning to end. From gathering up raw lead materials, to lubricizing the castings.

The subjects were covered in great detail, with each student taking home a book, which I self published, as a reminder of the hundreds of small details that all lead to success with casting lead bullets. I thought that I would feature some of the highlights from the workshop, as the subject of a few postings in this information area of my web site. I hope these articles will serve as a great reference for those of you inter4ested in, or already casting lead bullets.

The first of these articles actually was used during the first portion of the workshop, just after the safety meeting. We covered use o0f a rendering pot for cleaning up gathered lead. And, the pot we used was made from a non-usable 20 pound propane tank. Here are the instructions for making your own:

Old 20 pound propane tanks often become available for a couple of reasons:

  1. They won’t pass current pressure or safety requirements
  2. They have the old style filling valves, which propane dealers will not fill

Propane as a gas does not have a smell, naturally. The manufacturers of this gaseous fuel make it detectable by adding an onion smell to the gas. Even when completely empty, the insides of the tank may still smell of onions. And, that smell might linger until heat is applied to the tank in use. As long as the propane is gone, there is no chance of explosion from only the onion smell.

  • Open the valve, and make sure the tank has no remaining propane.
  • The first step in the conversion is to use a hefty wrench and remove the brass valve from the top of the tank.
  • Turn the tank, with the valve now removed, upside down, and allow the tank to sit like that for several hours. Even though the tank may smell of onions, there won’t be any remaining flammable gas inside.
  • Locate the horizontal welded seam around the middle of the tank. Draw a line all the way around the tank, approximately 2” above that horizontal seam.
  • Draw another line, approximately 3” above that first line. < The 3” ring is important
  • Drill a series of holes around the tank, in the middle of that marked section. Pre-drill the holes about ¼”, and then go back, and make them bigger, say ½” in diameter.
  • Using a cutting tool of some sort, cut the top line of the marked section first. That allows you to use the bottom of the tank, the portion that you will use for the pot, for stability. You can use an angle grinder, a hack saw, or perhaps even a scroll saw with a metal cutting blade. A clearance hole might be required if you use a saw blade.
  • Once you have the very top of the tank removed, then cut the remainder of the ring off the bottom of the tank using the same technique you used for the top of the tank.
  • The base that comes with the propane tank won’t be stable enough when filled with lead, so the next step is to tack weld the ring squarely to the bottom of the tank. Grind/file all sharp and rough edges so that you don’t get cut while using the rendering pot.

The new ring base will provide enough sturdy support to handle a full load of molten lead, approx. 100 pounds.

Place the pot assembly on your propane burner stand

Fill the bottom portion (not more than 1/3 full to begin with) with lead to be rendered, and ignite the flame.

Your rendering pot is ready to start rendering into clean lead ingots. Note: The holes in the ring allow the burner flames a place to vent to. After the first five minutes of heat, the onion smell will be completely gone.  

I would like to thank an old friend from, who’s screen name is Patriot. He came up with this design, and provided me with the images.

At the workshop, we raffled off 4 of the empty tanks, which already had the valves removed. I got them, for free, from my local propane supply company who had a pile of them, destined for the scrapper. He was happy to donate them for the cause. You might check around and see if you can also come up wuith this raw material for the rendering pot. It will sure make your rendering process easier.

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2021 Lead Bullet Casting Class and Workshop Saturday, February 27th, 2021

Category : Reloading

2020’s Cast Lead Bullet Workshop was a huge success. So, we plan on doing it all over again in 2021.

Since the casting of molten lead at 750+ degrees F is not something that anyone would want to do during the hot Summer months, I have scheduled the class for Saturday, February 27th, 2021, hoping that it is a cool and clear weather day. Below, you will find a link for signing up for the Casting Workshop. Pre-registration is required. No prior reloading experience is necessary. By clicking on the link, you will go to a subsequent page where the location for the class is listed, fee, times, etc. The class fee is $50 per participant. Materials for the day are included. Bring your own lunch and beverage though.

Class will begin promptly at 09:00 and end at approximately 5:00 PM

The class will include training and instruction on the following subjects:

  • Safety discussions. Handling hot lead can be dangerous if not prepared. We will have a safety meeting prior to the start of the class, and will focus on safety factors during the entire event. We will provide safety equipment as suitable for your safety. However, we will also require that you sign a “Hold Harmless” agreement for participation. This is the same sort of agreement that everyone signs when doing any activities that have any risk. I have done many of these classes over the years, and no one has ever been injured.
  • Gathering lead alloys. Where, how, and what types
  • Sorting the raw materials – especially important for the lead wheel weights that you can collect
  • “Smelting” of the raw alloys to remove the impurities (sand, grit, and other impurities that could damage your lands and grooves), and producing “ingots” for your casting pot
  • Alloying of lead to provide a proper alloy for your casting needs
  • Success with Cast Lead Bullets requires three factors, we will cover all of these during the class
    • Hardness of the alloy, with regard to the muzzle velocity
    • Sizing of the alloy, relative to the bore diameter
    • Lubrication of the bullets, to prevent lead fouling
  • Methods for testing hardness of alloys
  • Selection and preparation of a mold.
    • Where to get molds, and what is a good mold vs a not so good mold
  • Types of molds, solid molds vs hollow point Cramer types. Aluminum, brass, iron molds
  • Preparing and adjusting molds
  • Tools and accessories for casting lead bullets, including casting pots, PIDs, dippers, use of a mold tapper
  • Methods for producing good castings (you will cast some lead bullets, which you can take home and use, limited selection. This is a hands on class)
  • Lubricizing cast bullets ( discussion and use of machines for finishing the castings, making them ready for use)
  • Making and buying bullet lube
  • Use of Gas Checks, what they are, how to use them, and why to use them
  • Assembling cast lead bullets into Pistol and Rifle cartridges
  • Load data for cast lead bullets is different than for jacketed or plated or coated bullets. Complete discussion of where to get safe load data for cast lead bullets
  • Storage of finished bullets
  • Cautions regarding sale of cast lead bullets – Typically, a Class 6 license is required to sell (for profit) cast lead bullets, or any bullets.

I started these classes/workshops many years ago in New England. They continue to this day. Many hundreds of students have learned to safely cast lead bullets. Here’s a link back to, which was a group I continue to be a member of:
NorthEast Shooters Web Forum with details regarding early casting classes/workshops   << btw, my screen name on that forum is DukeInFlorida






We will provide all materials for the day, including lead alloy suitable for casting pistol bullets. If you choose to bring some of your own safety equipment (heat resistant gloves, safety glasses, masks, etc) it’s OK. We will have enough on hand to facilitate a large class. I’ll also have experienced bullet casters on hand to assist me with the class so that all steps along the way are guided and safe.

There will be lots of handouts. One lucky participant will win the door prize, a printed copy of Glen Fryxell’s 182 page book, “From Ingot to Target, A Cast Bullet Guide for Handgunners” Considered to be one of the bibles of bullet casting knowledge, this book will be a great reference for your casting after the class.

There will be lots of other handouts, and some free raffle items.

So, please join me on Saturday, February 27th, 2021, starting at 09:00 at a location in Deland (click the link for location details) for my much awaited 2021 Lead Bullet Casting Class and Workshop. Click the following link to sign up for the class.
UPDATE: Registration for this class will open in the Fall of 2020.

This registration will begin in the Fall of 2020

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Smokeless Powders, their use, and how to use them to your advantage when reloading

Category : Reloading

Smokeless Powders, their use and how to use them to your advantage when reloading

Black powder ruled the propellant world for centuries. A combination of sulphur, saltpeter (potassium nitrate), and charcoal. It was first developed by the Chinese in the 11th century AD. It was around, and in use for a long time, including through the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and right up until the designs of the auto loading rifle. That was just as the 1st World War was happening. Old fashioned black powder has no use for modern center fire cartridge reloading. While the old rifle cartridge 45-70 Government was a 45 caliber (.458″ diameter bullet) case using 75 grains of black powder, it is commonly now reloaded using smokeless powders. Keep the black powder usage only for traditional soft lead ball type muzzle loaders, where you stuff a patch and a ball down the muzzle of a rifle or musket.

Cordite. While it kind of looks like spaghetti it is a slow burning smokeless propellant

Cordite was the first among a family of smokeless propellants developed and produced in the United Kingdom since 1889 to replace gunpowder (black powder) as a military propellant.



Current day manufacturing of smokeless powders falls into three types, as a function of their method of manufacturing. In each case, the chemicals which make up each formulation affect it’s burn rate. The adjustments to that burn rate are further enhanced by adjustments in the length, diameter, flatness, etc, of it’s physical size. Smokeless powders, in the open air, and not subject to any containment, burn slowly like crumpled paper or dry leaves. (Unlike the old black powder which burns very quickly, usually with a white flash. The old time photographers would use a tray full of very fine and custom modified black powder to illuminate their photographic subjects)

The three types of currently manufactured smokeless powders are:

  • Extruded or Stick Powder – This type of powder is made by mixing the base chemicals, and then extruding them through a round die, and cutting the pieces to a given length. These powders are almost nearly rifle powders. The smaller diameters and shorter lengths increase their burning rate.

    Extruded or Stick powders look like mechanical pencil leads. Pencil leads are made from graphite. Extruded smokeless powders are made from several base chemicals designed to burn at specific burn rates. Diamater, length, and chemical composition affect the burn rate of extruded stick powders.






  • Ball Powder – Depending on the formulation, ball powders can be used wither for rifle cartridges or for pistol cartridges. This powder is commonly made by spraying the base chemical formulations in a vacuum chamber, allowing the resultant shape to form into a round ball. These powders vary in burn rate by adjusting their diameter and chemical composition. The ball powders can also be adjusted for burn rate by sending the round balls through a set of polished rollers, making them flat and shiny.

    Ball powder in it’s simplest form. Ball powders commonly are formulated to burn at somewhat lower temperatures than other powder types, around 3200 degrees, F. While 3200 degrees F is still “plasma hot gas” temperature, it’s still easier on a barrel than it’s hotter alternatives





Modified or flattened ball powder from a rifle cartridge. These powders vary the burn rate by the diameter, flatness, and chemical composition. Modified ball powders are the best choice for new reloaders as the powder packs well in the powder dispenser, and flows like slippery shingles from a roof. It’s very easy to hold tighter than +/- .1 grain powder weights (that’s the resolution of analog and digital scales), making for veryu accurate groups.

A “modified ball powder” is the type made by flattening round ball powders to increase their burn rate.







  • The third type of powder is called, “Flake Powder”. It starts off in it’s manufacturing phase in sheets like paper, which is then punched out with cookie cutter type cutters to produce their flat round shapes. They are different in appearance (from flattened ball powder) due to their dull surface appearance.

    An example of flake powder. Notice it’s flat but dull appearance. They don;t slide as easilyb through a powder measure as the modified ball powders. Flake powders are nearly always pistol reloading powders.







  • Specialty types – Odd Shapes – Commonly available powders such as Unique have a sand crystal granular shape. While formulated to produce a granular size and burn rate suitable for a number of rifle and pistol cartridges, they are not as easy to accurately dispense as the modified ball powders. A light fluffy powder, which can be used for nearly any cartridge (fill the case right up to the base of the seated bullet, and it’s never over pressure) is a powder made by Hodgdon called, “Trail Boss”. It looks like light gray donuts. There are several other examples of odd shaped powders. While they each have a following and broad usage, they don;t meter as well as other powder types, when dispensed through a powder measure.

    A number of years ago, Alliant had to reformulate Unique Powder. The old style is on the right, the lew style on the left. It is a granular powder

    Unique Powder from Alliant Powders

    Trail Boss Powder from Hodgdon. “Don’t crush the donuts”

    Trail Boss powder is great for large chamberings like these 500 Special and 500 S&W Magnum cartridge cases. Even with a heavy bullet in place, the felt recoil is about what a 357 magnum would produce. See my article about loading for the 500 S&W Magnum for more details

















Choosing the correct powder has everything to do with following the guidelines in any current Reloading Data Guide for any given Cartridge/Bullet combination. Hornady, Speer, and many of the bullet manufacturers publish an updated version of their tested load data for a variety of powders for any given bullet weight in a cartridge size. I encourage you to have more than one reference source for this data. Not every bullet manufacturer tests every possible powder. Many of the powder manufacturers have tested load data also available on their web sites, including the leading manufacturers such as Hodgdon, Alliant, etc. If you find yourself not being able to find a tested load for any given powder/bullet/cartridge cvombo, call the powder manufacturer. They have a vested interest in keeping you safe. They will provide expert advice, based on solid scientific testing, and give you either safe starting and max loads for a given powder, or alternative powders to use if they feel that the powder you’d like to use isn;t safe or hasn’t been tested.

Some considerations for choosing what’s best for your cartridge
  • When a properly tested powder is selected for use from a reloading data guide chart, the powders are designed to burn completely inside the brass case, turning all of the powder into gas, before the bullet leaves the case mouth (neck).
  • The type of powder.
  • Stick powders stay jumbled in the powder sispenser. Sometimes the sticks stick out above the rotating or sliding dispensing feature of the powder dispenser and can get “chopped off” during dispensing. This chopping effect is safe. However, due to the shape of the stick powders, they don;t dispense as accurately as the modified ball powders when loading rifle cartridges. Please note that the large capacity rifle cartridges virtually always use only extruded or stick powders, due to the large volumes of powder in those cases and the needed burn rate.
  • Ball powders pack tightly in the powder dispenser and flow smoothly from the powder dispenser into the cartridge cases, making them a great choice for new reloaders, and reloaders seeking the best repeatable powder weight. Modified ball powders can be adjusted to provide average dispenses in the +/- .01 grain range (1/10th the ability of the scale for any one dispensing).
  • Flake powders, when used in their appropriate chambering/bullet combinations are about the same level of difficulty to dispense as the stick or extruded powders.
  • I try to use a modified ball powder for my pistol cartridges, and also that same powder type for rifle cartridges, when tested as safe. For example, I love using TiteGroup powder from Hodgdon in my 380 autos, 9mm Lugers, .40 S&Ws,  and 45 ACPs. It’s a very clean burning powder, in the shape of flat, dense, and shiny round shapes that pack tightly  and flow like slippery shingles into the cases. I also love using Hodgdon’s BLC(2) modified ball powder for most 223 Remingtons, 308 Win, and a host of other chamberings including: 303 Brit, 7.62 X 54R Mosin Nagant, and others where described in the load data guide book.
  • Some powders have to be used for some applications. For example, when loading 300 Blackout cartridges, Alliant’s Lil’Gun powder is amazing. Good for a wide variety of bullet weights in that cartridge, it produces an amazing level or accuracy in that small cartridge case. Lil’Gun was originally developed as a powder for use in reloading 410 shotgun shells (hence the reference to little guns). It’s a flake powder. For some of the big magnum cartridges, where it’s common to need 70-80 grains of powder in the cartridge, the stick powders are the only option. For the massive Lapua 338 Magnum with a 300 grain bullet, Reloder 33, made by Alliant, was developed by them specifically for that massive cartridge. It’s a stick/extruded powder.
  • Try using a powder which is readily available, and uses the least amount for a given cartridge bullet combo.
  • Choose powders which are usable across several cartridge platforms. A lot of powder cost is in the packaging. So buying a 5 or 8 pounder is much cheaper than buying 5 one pounders of a given powder. To justify a 5 or 8 pounder, you need to have sufficient usage. One powder for 3, 4, or five or more cartridges makes a lot of economic sense.
  • Avoid the pricey “designer powders”. Many of the manufacturers, in an effort to keep the crowd excited at every years, “Shot Show”, sometimes announce new formulations designed to do this or that. One formulation from a few years go were the line of CFE powders. It was designed to reduce the amount of copper fouling from the bullets in your lands and grooves. A bit pricier per pound, and not always as easy to get at a retailer, I think it makes more sense to use a standard and more available powder, and just clean your gun like you are supposed to.
  • High quality powders like the Vihtavuori  (made in Italy), are made to very exacting standards. However, they are commonly hard to find, especially in the larger container sizes, and priced about $10 more per pound than USA made powders. Some match pistol shooters wouldn’t consider any thing other than Vihtavuori  for their pistol cartridges, and don’t care that it costs more. But, a frugal reloader, who just needs cheap plinking powder can save money by choosing lesser expensive powders.
  • I suggest that when you make powder selections for your cartridge and bullet combinations, you bring a written note with you to your local retailer. Write down your top four choices using some of the criteria I have suggested. The manufacturers numbers start looking confusing when you are staring at all those containers. IMR 4350 is not the same as H 4350. So, with written list in hand, even if your first or second choices are not available, you can still make a purchase.
  • I really like supporting the small local reloading supply retailers. They are usually knowledgeable people who can help make suggestions for powder. Big Box store clerks do not need to be proficient reloaders to work there, and are never a good source for powder selection information.
  • Remember, sometimes even two reloading data books, each with the same bullet weight for a given powder, can have different test results for starting and max loads. When in conflict over powder loads, even from a reloable tested source, call the powder manufacturer and have them give you their latest tested data information.
  • Never, no not ever, use any load data that someone might post in some forum or user group for powder amounts. It’s one thing to make general statements like TiteGroup burns cleaner than Win 231 (which it does!). It’s quite easy, however, for some well intentioned person to give improper powder weights off the top of his otherwise well meaning head, which can quickly get you into trouble, pressure wise. So, please, only use published and properly tested load data from a reliable source such as the bullet or powder manufacturer directly.
  • Also, do not use OLD load data books for your current loading data. While the classic powders (IMR 4064 is an excellent example) are still made on the same machinery that made tyhen 50 years ago; the old IMR 4064 was made by vase chemicals and final formulation by E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company. No longer in existence as a base chemical or powder manufacturing company. They still exist as a holding company in Delaware. When  Hodgdon took over the manufacturing of those powders previously made by DuPont, they had to reformulate  them to provide a good approximation of performance. However, old IMR 4064 load data is no longer valid. Also, the method of testing has changed from the old dedicated barrel copper disk way of measuring approximate pressures (referred to in many of the old books as CUP, copper units of pressure). The new method is to epoxy a pressure transducer to the outside of a chamber, and measure the pressure much more accurately directly through wires to software on a laptop in the testing department. The results are measured in PSI (Pounds per square inch). That is more in line with the pressure limits for each cartridge as recognized by SAAMI (Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers’ Institute). Additionally, I challenge you to find powder listings for recebnt cartridges such as 357 Sig, 500 S&W Magnum, and 300 Blackout in any 1970’s reloading data book. Spend the $35 to $40 or so for updated copies of the reloading data books published by the companies that publish them. Lymans data guide (currently their 50th edition) is especially good for cast lead bullet load data, primarily because they manufacture casting molds for the bullets.
  • My reloading class covers the selection and use of smokeless reloading powders in great detail. I’d advise taking my class, RL01, if you are seeking to get into reloading, and are confused by the deep subject of smokeless powders and their selection and use. It’s the area of reloading that most new reloaders stumble over. My class makes the subject clear and easy to understand. If you have questions about classes, or about powders, also feel free to call me at 386-753-8898.
  • Here are the numbers for the powder manufacturers:
    Hodgdon – 7:00am to 5:30pm Central Monday-Thursday : 913-362-9455
    Alliant – 7 a.m. – 7 p.m. CT Monday through Friday (866) 286-7436
    Vihtavuori – They want you to install their new app. I can’t find a number for them
    Winchester Powders – Same as for Hodgdon
    IMR POwders – Same as for Hodgdon
  • Note: Companies such as DuPont, Hercules and other old powder companies are out of business. Do not attempt to use old powders you might find at yard sales and flea markets.

Click for details on my reloading classes

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

Category : Reloading


Interview with Ernie (part 3 of 3)

Insights from a precision rifle reloader

O: Whose toolsets do you like to use for pistol reloading?

E: Well one thing I’ve found… I was using RCBS and Lymans when I first got into it. And after I was shooting a little bit and everything and kind of when I got into the rifle, I found that the Dillon’s tools were pretty close on the concentricity for being production tools.  It was pretty close, so I’ve kind of gone back to Dillon’s dies for the pistols.  I still have some Lymans and others, but yeah, I drifted over to Dillon’s.  I do have a lot of Dillon’s dies that I’ve replaced some of my other sets with.

O: Do you use cast lead bullets or jacketed bullets or both? For pistol or rifle?

E: I shoot both in pistols.  In my rifles, it’s all jacketed.  I don’t shoot any cast bullets in rifles. When I was shooting a lot of handguns, initially, I was buying a lot of commercial cast lead bullets. One day, I told the guy that was making all my cast bullets for me, that I wanted to buy, I think it was like 4,000 .40’s. He told me, “I don’t make em.”  And I said “What do you mean, you don’t make them?” And, he said “well my molds went bad, and I never did get back into it.  I don’t make .40s”  So, I suggested “Well, how about if I buy you a mold and you make them for me, and I’ll still buy them from you. But I’ll buy you the mold.”  He replied, “Nah, I’m not interested, I’ve got too much to do.”  And at that point, he didn’t realize it, but he lost my business. That’s when I bought my own molds and bought everything else to cast and size my own bullets.  I started playing with different alloys, different casting techniques, depending on what bullet I was shooting.  How hard I wanted to make it.  So yeah, on my handguns, I do shoot jacketed and lead, but most of my time I’m shooting lead bullets.  Now for my self-defense, you know I carry commercial factory self defense jacketed hollow point stuff.

O: What level of reloading or precision do you seek, I’ll ask you as two questions, with regard to pistol reloading and then maybe describe how you do your load development for rifles. Do you do load development for pistols also?

E: When I was shooting pistols, when I first got into it, yeah I did load development for the guns.  Cuz I found at that early age, doing that different loads on the gun made it group different.  So yeah I played with loads on the handguns for that.  So when I got into long guns, I basically knew what’s good for the handguns should be good for the rifle.  So I’ve been loading rifles ever since I got into rifles.  Never did buy a whole bunch of ammo, like I said, the only thing I bought factory ammo for was the AKs and the Mosins and stuff like that (that I rarely shoot.) But, other than that, I loaded them all from the beginning.  It’s just for the last, I’d say 5 years, that I had my own range built, that I started doing a lot more shooting. And, I said, “Ok, can I make this better?“ And I just kept at it, working towards my new goal of shooting five rounds into a single hole at 100 yds.  You know, it took me a while.  To me, I look at reloading as a hobby, even my shooting is a hobby.  I enjoy shooting.  I’ve had many people ask me “do you hunt?”  I said “no I don’t, but I got a lot of hunting guns, but I don’t hunt.”  I just like the way the gun shot.  I don’t hunt.  I could, but that’s just not my deal.  I enjoy shooting.

O: When you’re doing your load development for rifles, do you do that in like a ladder type development where you do big increments to begin with and then tighten that up and then tighten that up?

E: I’ve done it two ways.  I do shoot a ladder to where you start with like two tenths of a grain apart from one another.  And then you work your way to tighter powder amounts.  And then you chronograph everything and then you come back and you lay it out and look at how much each shot was, how many ft/sec, and I actually drew a graph. I know you can do this stuff with calculations on the Internet. I’m not too computer savvy. So I do it the old way, I sit down there and draw up a graph and my data  I just put the blank form on a copy machine and print out copies.  And I take my chronograph and I’ll sit down there and I’ll see how many ft/sec shot number one add that data in, and continue from there.  I also bought the Bullseye Camera System.  The reason I went with that one is because when you’re shooting and you’re putting them pretty much in a 1” group, 12, 15 rounds in a 1” group, it still gives you an idea where that bullet went, because the Bullseye Camera System tracks that.  So with the chronograph, I’ll come back and I can look at my shots to see which bullets had a tighter group. And then I can look at my ft/sec and I put that on my graph.  What I’m looking for is the low and find out where my lows at, the flat spots in my graph.  And then I’ll take my lows and I go on the outside of em.  A lot of people just say to stay in the middle, but what I do is I go a little on the outside and I’ll work my way in.  And I’ll make 5 rounds of each one, and I’ll go up two tenths- 5 rounds, two tenths- 5 rounds, and I’ll keep on going up until I get to the outside of my low.  And then I’ll go shoot and I’ll see which one is giving me the better group with that.  And then I work off of that, eventually reducing the loads to .1 (one tenth of a grain) increments.  Once I have the harmonics right for the barrel, then I start working off of how forward off the lands do I seat my bullet including the ogive. Different things like that, start playing with using different primers. Just little things like that that change it up just to see, is it going to give me a better group or not?

Then one of the things I’ve discovered is I’ve got three Savage Model 10’s, all chambered in .308 Win.   Now, pretty much you’d say, ok, they’re all supposed to be the same rifle. But, what I found, and I knew there was going to be a slight difference in the barrels, and that I was going have to play with the loads a bit. But, even using the same bullet, 175 grain Sierra Match King’s, and using IMR 4320 powder, I was getting dramatically different results. In one rifle, it will make one ragged hole (at 100 yards).  I take that powder  load cartridge load and I put it in another Model 10, and it opens up.  It’s still maybe a one inch group (still a respectable group for just plinking).  The guns are not 100% broken in, but then I started playing with loads.  The other Model 10 prefers a 168 grain bullet.  Same powder load.  Everything else is the same, just different bullet. That Model 10 just doesn’t like the 175 grain bullet. So, custom loads for each gun. I keep them separate.

O: You mentioned a specific IMR powder that you use, do you ever try different powders to try to get a tighter group?

E: Yes.  I’ve got a number of different powders, couldn’t even tell you how many different ones I have.  And what I used to do at the beginning, I’d play with my different powders and I’d play with which one gave me the better group.  That’s how I actually started off.  And I’d go out there sometimes with 200 cartridges with five of each powder load. I’d go out there with so many sometimes that I couldn’t get them all shot the same day.  But yeah that’s how I used to do it.  Yeah playing with the different powders.  I hear people talking about one powder that they cannot get to group at all.  In my AR-15, I haven’t tried it in anything else, but the IMR 8028.  Now I can’t get that stuff to group.  I’ve heard people “now that stuff works good”…yeah right, not for me.

O: I was going to ask you if there was a rifle that’s been a particular problem for you trying to find developed load for

E: Well, there is one…I had a bullet that I used to buy for my AR-15’s. It was a 55 grain full metal jacket (HPBT.) I used to buy those from this guy at a gun show.  I don’t know which specific bullet it was. He stopped doing the gun shows. And, I cannot duplicate those rounds with any other bullet I’ve tried. I can’t find those same bullets (whatever they were) today. One of my AR-15s is shooting less than a ½” group – it’s a 20” barrel, 1:8 twist, and I’m shooting the Sierra Match King 77 grain and that’s nailing little less than a ½” group at 100 yards.

O: In your opinion, how important is distance of the lands in your reloads – or is the harmonics of the barrel and matching the velocity leaving the muzzle more important – or do the two factors both play into accuracy?

E: They both play into it. The harmonics in the barrel is the most important– I actually had some guns that you didn’t shoot accurately at all. Like, I’ve got one .223 that I put together, and it’s shooting some real nice groups. I put a muzzle brake on it. And it wasn’t for recoil. I built it off a Remington 700 receiver and put a 16” barrel on it and I wanted a short barrel bolt action rifle with a 1/9” twist. But I put the muzzle brake on the front because of the harmonics and to tone it down. After I had it on there and had the gun all together, I went out there and shot it, and broke it in, and worked up a load, I said, ‘Let me take it off and see how much effect it had.” And I’ll tell you what: the group went to hell..

After I get the load development right for the harmonics, I adjust the distance off the lands as a way of fine tuning the harmonics. The timing of when the bullet leaves the muzzle.

When I do a lot of loading, another thing that I do that I use two electronic scales. RCBS 1500 I use to make my powder dump real close. I just drop it in and boom. That scale measures into tenths. And my second scale that I pour it into measures into the hundredths. So I sit down on that scale and make damn sure every powder drop is exactly what I need.

O: What do you do about record-keeping? Are you an Excel spreadsheet type of guy or do you prefer the three-ring binder type system or how do you keep track?

E: [laughing] Well, that’s what I’m into. A 3-ring binder and writing it down. The reason why is because I’m not too into computers and sitting down with the Excel sheet and doing all of that. I’ve tried some Excel templates that others have made and I just couldn’t get it to work.

O: If you’d like, next time I’m over that way I can walk you through how to do that.

E: Okay.

O: I know you’re in the middle of getting ready to sell your house (the one you built AFTER Katrina) so you can move to the farm, and all this other stuff. But, if that’s of interest I’d be happy to show you how to do that. I have a nice worksheet that I use for keeping track of my loads.

Do you keep track of how many times each piece of brass or each lot of brass gets reloaded?

E: Mm-hmm, yeah. I have these quart cans – paint cans – I’m in the automotive business, and at one time we switched over to water-borne (??) paint. Well you can’t put that in a regular paint can, you’ll have to use polyurethane because it’ll rust. So the containers that they had were plastic quarts. They came out with that so, you know, we went through a whole bunch of them. So what I do is – since it’s plastic and I can see through it, and I’ll make a little label and I put what gun it was in, and how many times it had been fired. I also mark what type of brass, (Lapua or Starline brass or Hornady brass, etc.)
So yes I do count my brass and I do have them marked what type of brass was in there.

O: Do you keep track of how many rounds get shot down a barrel?

E: Pretty much, yeah. I have an estimate, but I don’t write them down, like “Today I shot 10 rounds out of this gun.” I don’t do that. I just know approx.. how many times I’ve reloaded my brass, how much I have, and how many times I have gone through it.

O: Right.

E: So it just gives me a round-about… because like I said I’m not into shooting competition where I’m shooting this thing a lot. It’s like my 6.5 Creedmoor you know, I’m making loads. I did buy a box of 6.5 Creedmoor Federal Gold Medal Match just to see what kind of feet-per-second it would shoot because I never did shoot 6.5 when I got it, and I did not know what the feet per second was going to be like. And I only shot five of them. I still have the rest of them. Just to get an idea of, “Okay. This is what they use. Let me set my goal.” And that’s when I started doing loads for the 6.5 and going from there. I’ve shot the Sierra Match King 140 grain 6.5mm bullets and I’ve shot the Hornady ELD Match and their regular Match-grade bullets, all 140-grain bullets. And I guess you could say 1st place was the Sierra MatchKings and then the ELD Match. I say those would be pretty good for 2nd. The other match grade bullets, I mean, so far I put the Sierra Match Kings in one hole. I put the Hornady ELD Match in one hole. And with the Match grade getting a ½” group, so I mean they’re all respectable.

O: Yeah. Do you ever build any of your rifles from scratch?

E: The only ones I’ve done that from scratch are the ARs. A couple of the ARs I’ve built from scratch.

O: Do you do any secondary machining on them? You were talking earlier about making nitro and weedwhacker engines by doing specialty machining. Do you do any of your own gunsmithing?

E: On my handguns, I did. I was doing trigger jobs on my handguns. I’ll work on triggers on some of the rifles. If I’m satisfied with the trigger from the factory and I just want to smooth it out a little, I’ll do that. If I don’t like the trigger at all, I’ll look for an aftermarket trigger and put it in. It’s like when I built that little Remington 700 – when I bought on the lower end and everything, it came with a Remington 700 trigger, you know? I didn’t even shoot the gun with that. I yanked that right out and changed the trigger out.

O: When you first began reloading, what sources of information did you have to begin reloading with and do you feel in hindsight that those sources were adequate? What did you use for your basis of knowledge?

E: My basis of knowledge for reloading was the first book I bought, which was the Speer Reloading Manual. That’s the first book I had when I bought my reloading set and that’s what I went with. The information in the front of the Speer book was considered (by me) to be a loading bible. Since then I’ve got several reloading books, and I also go on the internet (for example, and have my reloading guides bookmarked. I use these for the rifles and the handguns.

O: Is there anything – and you’ve been reloading for a while – is there anything that still baffles you or that you’d like to learn a little more specifically about anything?

E: Well I made a new goal – because I’d see these people shooting these really tight one-hole groups. I was already shooting ragged one-hole groups, but I wanted to get it as tight as it could be by putting a one-hole group in the target paper. I’ve managed to accomplish that with my 6.5 Creedmoor. That’s a Tikka 2.3 Tactical A-1 or something like that. That’s a very fine gun. And that’s the first gun that brought me to where I reached my new goal. So what I’m trying to do now is to do that with the rest of the rifles that I own. I’ve got a lot of .308s. I used to shoot a lot of .308 Win, and like I said when I went into the Tikka, the 6.5, it was walking on new grass I guess you could say. I had no idea where I was at, what I was looking at. I had my loading books but it didn’t tell me what I wanted to see and that’s when I went and bought some factory boxed ammo for 6.5 Creedmoor, and like I said I only shot five of them and chronographed them with my lab radar and said, “Okay now I see where they are, velocity wise, where I gotta be,”

O: As you already know, it’s one of the reasons to stay current with the reloading books every four years or so the companies like Hornady and Speer and the others come out with the new and updated books. With those new cartridges that have become popular in the meantime and that’s one of the reasons to stay current with the reloading data.

E: Oh I do, yeah. Matter of fact, recently got the new Hornady book. I’ve got the Speer – I got the Nosler book, the Speer, and the new Hornady.

O: I also like the Lyman Book, it’s in its 50th edition. Because it’s got a lot of cast lead bullet data and load data for cast lead bullets like for your pistols. Cast bullet data is different than jacketed data. They have two books, one that is more about HOW to cast lead bullets, and the other (50th Edition) is load data for both cast and jacketed bullets.

E: Right, right. Now I’ve got both Lyman books. Like I said I had the Speers and after I got into lead casting that’s when I went ahead and bought the Lyman books.

O: Do you carry a pistol for self defense in your day-to-day comings and goings?

E: Yeah.

O: What’s your common/favorite carry pistol?

E: Well it’s not my favorite pistol, but the only reason I do use it is because it’s small and very well concealed. In my line of business I’m with customers and I don’t wear jackets and I keep my shirt tucked in my pants. I’ve been carrying a Ruger LCP .380 because I have a wallet holster for it, and if someone’s looking at me from the back, it looks like a wallet. I do carry that on me all the time. WhenI’m taking a trip or whatever, let’s say going to my son’s house which is about 80 miles from me. I’ll have my .380 in my pocket at all times, and then I got two or three other handguns with me.

O: Right

E: But yeah wherever I go, I got my .380 with me all the time.

O: Do you reload for self defense, and why or why not?

E: No, I don’t. I don’t reload self-defense loads. Hornady’s (Critical Self Defense) is what I carry in that gun. The reason why – I see these attorneys talking on TV and YouTube saying that they have to worry about the ammo. So now what I do is I’m using that factory ammo, and that way that question (about reloads) can’t come up.

O: Are there some tips that you would pass along to a beginning reloader?

E: Well first of all, you are going to have to decide what you want to get into: long guns or hand guns. Loading rifles is nothing like handguns. It’s a totally different animal. As a matter of fact, I have one of the guys who worked for me, who was interested in reloading. He finally bought himself a loader, the Dillon 550C which is the latest 550 model and he was loading for his 9mm and stuff and he said, ‘I like to load .223s’ and I said, “Okay, but you’re talking a different animal here. If you want to load for it, that’s not a problem. I’ll walk you through it and help you get set up. But just remember you’re going to buy more equipment because what you have right now for loading handguns isn’t enough because now you’re getting into case trimming and sizing and doing this other stuff.” So he went ahead with it and after he loaded it and played with it and he came back and said, ‘You’re right. That is a totally different animal.” So if someone wants to get into loading, that’s pretty easy. I want to say, I would tell them, “Hey get your feet wet with handguns first because it’s more forgiving.” When you get into rifles, you’re playing with different pressures, different head spacing, which if you do something wrong you could blow your gun up. You could blow a handgun up also, and most of the time I see that is just from double loads. But with a rifle it’s not so much the powder load all the time. There’s a lot more involved.

O: Have you ever given any thought or notion – I know you told me about you not wanting to get into the speed RC boat business, but have you given thought to making ammunition commercially?

E: No. Never did. Because then again it comes down to taking my hobby and making it a job. I’ve already got a job, I don’t need another one, you know?

O: Yeah.

E: That’s like when I started fishing and teaching my boys when they were really young. 6 and 10. I bought a bass boat and was equipped to go out and fish in tournaments. I had people out there that said, “Why don’t you come out and fish tournaments full time with us?” I said, “Nah you don’t understand, I’ve come out here to get away. I don’t want to be under pressure or do nothing. If we came out to fish and we go some, we did great. If we didn’t catch anything, we still did great.” The idea of my two boys enjoying ourselves and we had a good day, and that’s how it’s always been. But like I say, my bass boat was set up for fishing tournaments and we didn’t do it. When a hobby turns into a job, you kind of lose interest in it I would say. If I got into commercial loading, it would be the same way. I’d have people calling me up saying, “Hey I need this, I need that” and I’m not interested.

O: Is there a pistol powder that you especially have a liking for?

E: The one I used a lot was the Winchester 231. Yeah, I use that a lot. I used also, believe it or not, .. when I first started loading, my buddy John put me onto Unique.  They came out with new load data for Unique (with the bullet I was loading) and I bought that, and I still use that. I’ve got maybe 8 pounds of that left, but I do a lot of my loading for regular pistol with 231 Winchester.

O: How about for rifles: is there a powder or style of powder or a manufacturer that you tend to gravitate towards for your rifle reloading?

E: When I find going through all my stuff, each one of my guns virtually have their own powder. I use a bunch of Benchmark, it’s a good powder. On some of my guns, I use Reloader 17, and man, that one works great with the 6.5 Creedmoor. I’ve tried the Hodgdon’s H4350. I shot that a couple of times and I found my Varget did a better job.

O: Do you have any opinions about some of the new designer “powder of the month” types like the copper fowling eliminator, the CFE powders, any opinions about those types of powders?

E: The only one I’ve used was the IMR 8208 XBR. And I’ve only tried that in the AR-15. And I just can’t get it to group. Like I said I haven’t spent a lot of time running different ladders, different powder loads, and different bullet seating to really say, “Yeah, this is good or not good.” Don’t get me wrong, when I’m saying that I can’t get it to group, it may be an 1.25” or 1.5” groups. Great for plinking rounds. But, that’s not what I strive for. I strive to get that gun to shoot the tightest group (goal is one tight hole, five shots) I can make it shoot.

O: You mentioned earlier 1903 A4. Do you have many of those vintage service rifles?

E: Yeah. I don’t have every one that they’ve used in World War II. I don’t have any machine guns of course. But I’ve got a German Mauser 98K and I have five M1 Garands. I have the one 1903 A4. I have got a couple of English guns (Lee Enfield – 303 Brit). I’ve got four Mosin-Nagants (91-30’s). I have the M4A4 and I think the M38 which are short guns. I have one with the bayonet, the flip-out kind. And I’ve heard – I didn’t do a lot of research on these guns – I’m more of a collector. I’ve heard that they used two stocks, two different types of wood for their stock. So, I got one rifle with each of those two types of wood.

O: You mentioned the M1 Garand, which has an operating rod, as part of it’s gas cycle system. And, it’s similar in concept (operating rod) also with the M1A (the M14 is the full automatic version.) Any comments about picking powders so that you don’t cycle the gun too fast and bend the operating rod?

E: Yeah. I heard is that the operating rod on the M1A is a little bit straighter than the one for the M1 Garands, and less easy to bend than the rod on the M1 Garands. I know the M1 Garands work better with IMR 4895 and IMR 4064. I tried those powders, but had better luck with but Reloader 15.  It’s in their loading book in the Service Rifle section. So I decided to try it, because I had some Reloader 15. I went one grain under their hot load (max load) on that and it dropped me down to about a 1” group at 100 yards. These are not CMP barrels, not match-grade barrels. It’s off the rack rifles you can just buy, you know? I did buy one of the M1 Garands from CMP. One of their refurbished rifles, that were completely re-done, and it’s supposed to have a match barrel in it, etc. But, I’ve never shot that gun so I don’t know exactly how it shoots. But the Reloader 15 loads that I did shoot out of another M1, improved the hell out of my group. When you look at it and chronograph it, I’ve been happy.

O: How about some of the imported powders like the Vitavouri. Have you tried any of those ever?

E: No, I haven’t. There’s a guy that I look at on YouTube that tries a lot of that powder and that’s Johnny’s Reloading Patch. And he uses a lot of these crazy different powders and I’ve watched what he’s done. And I’ve seen when some of these powders work well but I’ve seen when he’s gone back to the more standard powders.

O: When you buy supplies, do you buy them locally from local suppliers or do you like to do the mail order?

E: It depends on what I’m buying. It depends on the quantity. If I want to buy a powder we have Sportsman’s Warehouse on the other side of town.

O: Yup.

E: If I’m going to buy a pound of powder or something like that, I go there. I have a friend of mine that has a little shop and he sells reloading stuff. Matter of fact he’s the Dillon representative. If he doesn’t have it, I’ll see if they have it at Sportsman’s Warehouse. When I’m going to buy a couple of 8-pound containers of powder, then I’ll buy that online. Because the quantity breakdown makes it worth it doing that. Midway now has tax, too, so I kind of stay away from them. They’d be my last choice for buying powder.

O: Do you have any good tips for how to mark your powder and primers so that you’re rotating your inventory? What’s the way that you like to do it?

E: When I’m buying and when I have my load made up for a gun, what I try to do is to buy my powder in lots. I’ll try to buy two, three 8-pounders where it’s all the same lot. That was when I’m doing that it’s the same thing. Primers: I’ve got a lot of primers and I – believe it or not – the primer I use a lot which I’ve found to be very accurate as far as their loads and I’ve talked to people that shoot competition and some of them use it and it’s a shame we can’t get them anymore, is the Wolf primers. I’ve been using that and a lot of these guys that were shooting pistol were saying, “It’s better than some of the match-grade primers.” I do have some of the match-grade Federal primers and I don’t see a difference because I’ve compared them to each other and I don’t see that much of a difference to go with that. Just be careful to use up the older stuff first.

O: Besides Wolf because we can’t get them any more, which US suppliers do you like as an alternative?

E: I was buying Winchester primers and I would say it’s between Winchester and CCI.

O: Do you have any recommendations for storing powder and primers?

E: I’ve got them in a climate-controlled area where it’s air conditioned and it’s dry. Primers, once I put them down, I don’t move them around. I don’t shake them around. Once I set them down, they stay set down. I don’t move them around.

O: Actually, the way everybody makes boxer style primers these days is that they form the outer cup. They put their layer of chemical inside. They put a thin metal layer, actually a layer of anodized aluminum foil. And then they put the anvil in on top of that. So it’s actually the foil that keeps the humidity out of the primers and keeps the primer chemical from decomposing. And, everything tight inside the primers. It’s that foil that does that job. No need to worry about moving primers around. It’s the reason they can get away with just storing the primers in cardboard sleeves.

E: Okay, I didn’t know. I thought it was paper.

O: How about, and this is one of the final questions,  believe it or not, how about recommendations for storing loaded ammo?

E: My loaded ammo I keep in ammo cans. I’ll keep that ammo can in a climate controlled area, air conditioned in the house and leave it open, and when I put that ammo in there, I put it in there and seal it up, open it up when I need it. That’s why a lot of times when you go to open one up and sometimes they are hard to open, you know? You gotta really jerk on them hard because it forms a suction.

O: The gasket seals them up really well.

E: So I keep them in that. That’s also kept in a place where it’s pretty dry. And, each can is marked with the load data for that cartridge and the date I made it.

O: How about your precision rifle where you develop a load for each rifle. Do you keep those in little plastic ammo boxes?

E: I keep those in plastic ammo boxes, but I don’t have – you know like my test loads are in there, but when I make up a load of one that I’m sure of and everything – I don’t load up a whole bunch of them. If I’m going shooting I say, “Okay I’m going and maybe going to shoot 25-50 rounds.” If it’s 25 rounds I’m going to shoot, I’m going to make 30 rounds of them. But I make those as I go. It takes me so damn long to get what I’m reloading for in my rifle loads and the precision I’m striving for.

O: It’s the most tedious of all the reloading. As you said earlier, somebody that starts loading off from pistols and wants to start loading for rifles, they have to know what they’re in for.

E: Oh yeah, what I’d recommend is that if someone is into pistols and they want to get into loading rifles: it’s cheap and not too expensive to load .223 and whether you choose a bolt—action rifle or semi-auto, it’s cheap to load and you can make those as accurate as hell, you know?

O: Yup.
E: When you start getting into the .308s and the 6.5s and 7mm magnums and start getting into that big stuff, it’s a little bit more expensive to load.

O: Are there any things that you thought we would cover that we didn’t cover that you’d like to make some comments about?

E: No, it’s just that it’s like any other hobby when you look at it. You can make the hobby as big as you want or you can make it as small as you want. That’s one of the options. It’s not like “Oh, it’s going to cost you 10 grand to get into reloading for rifles.” No, it ain’t going to cost you that. It depends on you and how much you want to put into it and also depends on, well basically the more money you put into it – sometimes it makes the job of reloading a little easier or it’ll bring you to more of a consistent load. I mean it just depends on what you’re after but you’ve got everything at your fingertips and do it any kind of way you want. And that’s the beauty part of it and it’s just like the radio controlled boats and airplanes – how far do you want to take it is what it’ll bring you. Same thing with this hobby here, you know? You look at the Wilsons die sets I bought, they’re $210. You can buy a set of Hornady dies or Lee dies for $35. So I mean there’s a difference there between the quality of the two dies as an example. But you can carry it as deep as you want or as shallow as you want. Whatever you set your goal to you can do it, but the higher you set your goal, the more expensive it’s going to be on the equipment

O: Well Ernie, I really appreciate you finding this time. I know how busy you are between your business and your new farm and everything else that’s going on. So, I really appreciate the time that you’ve set aside for this interview.

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

Category : Reloading


Ernie Interview (Part 1 of 3)

Insights from a precision rifle reloader


My reloading classes include basic knowledge training for pistol and rifle cartridge reloading in the same day. One of the highlights of the class (RL01) is the portion dedicated to advanced rifle cartridge reloading. The Load Development section, as I refer to it. I have had students come from great distances (recent students from Shreveport, LA, – a 14 hour drive each way, and from Puerto Rico – A plane flight and hotel distance away) to get that portion of the class. Those students were all seeking the advanced knowledge which requires a more highly skilled and precision process for the reloading. Typically, that type of student is not happy with a 2” group at 100 yards. I’m able to teach them that advanced process for even achieving ¼” groups at 300 yards, by using the right tools, the right powders, and a unique system of accurately dispensing the powder, and processing the brass, and seating the bullets.

Over the years, I have had the fortune to meet some amazing people. Actually, most gun people that I know are all amazing people. But, among those are some reloaders who, on their own, have learned those skills required to achieve an extremely high level of rifle shooting precision. They tend to be very fussy people in virtually everything that they do. Every hobby. Every career job. Good enough is never good enough. If their name is on it, it has to be as perfect as they can make it. Such a person is a friend who is in the New Orleans area.

His name is Ernie. From the first time I met him, I was impressed with his dedication to excellence in everything he does. He has a highly successful automotive body business. He’s built several homes, virtually by himself, including rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina wiped everything in his life out. I’d love to have 1/10th of Ernie’s energy. He’s more amazing than the Energizer Bunny. With precision skill sets as a machinist, and home building contractor. And, recently with building a new farm, and managing a business at the same time he’s populating his farm with animals he’s never worked with previously.

He does most of the things outside of his main business, as he says, “Just for the FUN.” But, it’s all done with high precision. I did a recent interview with Ernie. I wanted to share his passion for reloading, and precision rifle shooting. I’m hoping that the reader gets a sense for what makes my friend, Ernie, so exacting in everything that he does. So that, as an example, we can all strive for a higher level of precision in our ammunition reloading. He’s not all that unique. The reloaders who take my classes sometimes also seem to be seeking the knowledge to also fulfil their own passion for preciseness. So, whether you are a person like Ernie. Or, just happy with saving some money making plinking ammunition, here’s my friend, Ernie.

Part One of Three

O: So, Ernie, tell us a little bit about who you are, you know, and what you do. I’m obviously most interested in knowing about your reloading, and how you got to the level of proficiency with reloading.

E: I actually got into reloading when I first got into guns. It wasn’t like some people who say, “Hey, now I gotta get into reloading because the cost is too expensive for ammo.”  I didn’t do that.  When I really started getting into guns, that’s when I started getting into reloading, right off the bat.  I bought a Dillon 550B, I was mainly into handguns. I was not into long guns at the time.  Did a lot of shooting with handguns.  Spent a lot of time loading, making loads that worked better in the gun, just like you do with rifles, I did the same thing with handguns.

O: How long ago was that that you started reloading?

E: Guesstimation…that would have to be 30-35 years ago, when I started getting into that.  I always had an interest in guns, since I was a little kid.  Started off with BB guns, went up to .22s, but never stuck with it real long.  When my father passed away. He had a couple of guns that were his daddy’s.  And then he had a new one that he used to carry with him.  And that’s kind of when I started getting into shooting.  He had a Smith & Wesson .38 special snub nose and I got to shoot that gun every once and a while, but never really got into it serious.

I bought a Ruger competition .22 handgun. With the slab sides, stainless steel, and I was shooting that. Actually, I had another Ruger that I also bought. So, I had two Ruger pistols, and I showed them to a friend of mine, John, who’s been shooting a lot longer than I was. He was into reloading a lot, so he basically got me started in hand gun loading.  So, I showed him the guns (Ruger 22’s), and one day he said, “Why do you keep buying those .22 guns?” And, I said, “Well, these are good little guns, and fun to shoot.” To which, he replied, “Well, yeah they are, but let me bring some of my guns for you to try.” And, that’s when he introduced me to .45 ACP, .44 Magnums, and stuff like that.  I shot his 1911 and that’s when I fell in love with 1911 handguns and today I’ve got like 13 or 14 of them.

So anyway, he got me interested in those, the larger caliber guns, and that was it.  I just went on with it.  I got into really concentrating on making ammo for my larger guns, to make ‘em accurate. What I found was, different loads, even on the hand guns, were giving me different sized groups. So I started playing with that a little bit. And, I got the handgun loads down to where they were very accurate.

So, there came a time when we were getting ready to sell our house, I kind of packed everything up, and while they were building the new house, I had all my guns packed away. T new house was finished, but I somehow never unpacked all the reloading stuff. I had been making custom R/C boats, in addition to running my auto body repair business. Hurricane Katrina hit me and I had to rebuild my house, my business, and some other stuff. That took me a while. I was exhausted from it all. One day I said, “I just gotta get away from it.”  I gotta go out and do some shooting.  Needless to say, when I went out there to do some shooting, you know, time had passed, and my eyes were getting old. And, that’s when I got into rifles, cuz I figured, well… I can put enough glass (scope) on top of this rifle to make it so that I can see the targets.  So that’s what I did.  And, then I got into reloading the rifles. My friend John had told me that it’s (reloading for rifles) a different kind of animal.  So I got into that and I was reloading for my rifles and doing the same thing, tuning my ammo for my guns. I’d go out to the range and shoot, and was doing very well with it.  With handguns and rifles. I’ve been asked to go be on the shooting team with some of the guys out there that shoot regularly at the range.  But, I declined. I said, “This isn’t, it’s not what I’m after.”  I’m just out here to enjoy myself, I don’t, you know, want to compete. I just enjoy myself.  Have a good day.  If I have a good day, great.  If I have a bad day, it’s a bad day, but I was still havin’ fun..  I wanted do it for my own enjoyment.

A couple of years later, actually about six years ago, I bought a piece of property and made my own shooting range.  That’s when I really started getting into a lot of rifle shooting. Because I was out there by myself,  and really started to get into even more precision loading.  I taught myself all of that, and that is where I’m at today.

(Continued in Part 2)

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Saving your Load Data

Category : Reloading

The smart reloader takes care to document the work they did while developing a working load for every gun. There are a number of reasons for this documentation.

Reinventing the wheel never makes any sense. So, documenting your load allows you to highlight great loads. It also allows you to express disappointment in loads that were less than satisfactory. Some of the things to consider are

  • Recoil
  • Effectiveness for the load purpose (hunting loads, etc)
  • What happens with a specific bullet (each style or weight of bullet for a specific chambering deserves documenting that load data info.
  • What happens with a specific powder (How cleanly does the powder burn, etc)
  • What happens with a specific loading technique (bullet seating depth, etc)

So, there are lots of bits of information that are important for you to document, so that you can refer to it in the future. Depending on whether you are a person who is computer literate or not, it’s still important to write it all down. In the old days I used to just write load data info on single sheets of paper, and tuck those into the sections in my load data books for that chambering. I had one student who asked for a copy of one of those pages (he had an old Springfield 1903 , 30-06 chambering). He later called me happily explaining that after reading through my notes, he selected one of the loads from those sheets, and it seemed (by chance) to be a tack driving load for his own rifle. I’d never suggest that anyone use my developed loads for their own use, but in that instance, 20+ nyear old load data made his own load development take a much faster track.

I later started a better way to save the load data, and spent many hours transcribing all those individual sheets into a three ring binder, with each chambering I loaded for having it’s own tab.

Later on, my computer kills developed, and I started using Excel spreadsheet program for entering all my reload data. It’s a much easier way to keep track of it all. You can add notes, and easily enter a new line for every time you load that cartridge, even if it’s the same cartridge and bullet and powder combination, over and over again.

I’m attaching a copy of a blank Excel spreadsheet file for you to use. If you don’t have Microsoft Office, there are FREE programs that will read and write in Excel format.

Blank Reload Data File: Blank Reload History By Caliber

You can add new tabs by right-clicking on ny of the existing tabs, and selecting to copy the tab (including contents) and then renaming the tab, and adding the new header description. That is, you can add a 223 Remington tab by copying the .40 S&W tab, placing it after the last pistol tab, and renaming it to 223 Rem, and changing the new header wording from .40 S&W to 223 Remington. You can even have a separate spreadsheet for rifle vs pistol reloading.

If you are going to do this with a three ring binder or spiral binder, the important items to include for each columns of data are:  Date/Bullet/Powder/Powder Amt/Primer/Notes

It doesn’t matter which technique you utilize for documenting your reloads. It’s merely important to document those reloads. If you ever have any questions about this documentation , either as Excel or written in a binder,  feel free to email me:

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HEAD SPACE – What the heck is it, and what does it mean?

Category : Reloading

In reloading, most of the time, you won’t really have to deal with “head spacing”. But, what is it? And, how does it affect me?

Here’s head spacing in a nut shell:
In order for a cartridge to properly fit in the chamber, it has to be sized to a specific dimension. Some of those dimensions can be fixed, such as the thickness of the extraction rim. In other instances, that dimension is formed and reset to a “relative position” which can often be difficult to measure easily. However, if the cartridge is made too small, or set such that one of those important dimensions is undersized, other issues can arise. So, let’s first cover the head space criteria for each of the four types of cartridges. In all instances, the head space is measured from the FACE of the closed bolt. That is, the cartridge gets installed in the chamber, and the bolt or slide (semi auto) is closed on the end of the cartridge. Let’s go over the cartridge terms again:

  • Brass case – The container which becomes the assembly once the primer, powder, and bullet are installed. Of the four components, it’s the only reusable component. The case has the following parts. Case mouth – The open end where the bullet gets installed. Case Head – the end of the case where the extraction rim is. Image result for parts of a brass cartridge
    Primer Pocket – the location in the center of the brass case where the primer is located. Center fire cartridges are called that because the primer is located in the Center of the head end. Some cases are straight walled or slightly tapered. Most rifle cases have a Shoulder. Shoulder – This tapered feature of a rifle case serves a purpose of acting as a gas seal (think piston ring in your car engine), but also is important because it is the feature that in that type of crass case is the basis for the head space. Neck – The portion of the brass case that holds onto the bullet. Flash Hole – The small hole through the case head that allows the flame from the primer to get to the inside of the case, where the powder is.
  • Bullet – The projectile that travels down the barrel to the target. Some people mistakenly refer to the cartridge assembly as a bullet. The bullet is only the projectile component.
  • Primer – This is the small brass incendiary component that is replaced in the case head of the brass case, and when struck by the firing pin or striker, begins the powder burning.
  • Powder – the extruded, flake, or ball style combustible that is installed inside the brass case. When burned, it creates a high pressure, which sends the bullet on its way down the barrel.

Together, these four components assemble into a cartridge assembly. Again, that cartridge assembly must be able to fit inside the chamber of the gun, so that it is easily installed, and after firing, can be easily removed for replacement. BTW, brass cases are typically made from a brass alloy referred to as 70/30 Cartridge Brass. That alloy is 70% Copper and 30 % Zinc. The exact composition is a bit different than that (trace amounts of other elements are added for manufacturing purposes). The alloy has been developed because it handles the pressures of firing just fine. It expands and stretches slightly during firing, and then relaxes slightly so that it can be removed easily from the chamber. It both forms and machines well.

There has to be a bit of extra space in order for the cartridge to install easily. However, excessive space can create issues, as described earlier. So, let’s look at the four types of cartridges, and discuss that fit and head spacing detail for each:

  1. Rimmed Cartridge – This is the basic revolver straight walled type cartridge assembly. It’s most noticeable feature is that the extraction Rim is a larger diameter than the

    diameter of the sides of the case. These cartridges head space on the thickness of the rim. As long as the overall length of the cartridge, including the installed projectile, will fit and clear the rotation of the cylinder, the head spacing for this type of cartridge is fixed in the manufacturing of the brass case.

  2. Rimless Cartridge – This is the semi auto style pistol cartridge case. It’s noticeable feature is that the rim diameter is the same as the body diameter of the brass case. This type of case would just fall through a revolver cylinder since it has no feature to keep it from doing so. Some revolvers chambered for this type of cartridge use what is called a “moon clip” to snap the cartridges onto. It’s the only legitimate use of the term “clip” in hand guns. The stacking part of the gun that holds multiple rimless cartridges is correctly called a “magazine”. Since these cases need a locating feature, that feature is the end of the case mouth. If you look inside the chamber of a semi

    auto pistol, there is a small “lip” located at the front of the chamber. The case mouth of the brass case locates against that lip. That is the head spacing for a rimless cartridge.

  3. Shouldered or Bottle Necked Rifle Cartridge – Like the rimless semi auto cases, the rims of these cartridges are the same diameter as the body diameter. However, the neck diameter gets reduced to create a pneumatic high pressure feature that sends the bullet faster than it would otherwise. The reduction from full diameter to neck diameter creates a shoulder that can act to seal gasses that would otherwise flow backwards into the chamber. Those burning gasses are of a very high (virtually plasma) temperature, and would erode the metal of the chamber if allowed to flow backwards freely. So, that tapered shoulder acts in two regards. First, and most importantly, as a gas seal. Secondarily, it acts as the locator or head space in the chamber. The head space on shouldered rimless rifle cartridges is from the closed bolt face to the beginning of the taper on the shoulder. 4) Belted “Magnum” style shouldered rifle cartridges – Because of the extreme pressures of this style of cartridge assembly, the manufacturers build in a “belt” to provide additional pressure support at the back of the brass case. In this style of brass case, the thickness of the belt serves as the head spacing detail. However, this style of cartridge creates a special situation for reloaders since the shoulder must also act as a gas seal, as in the instance of the aforementioned shouldered rimless rifle cartridge.

    So, we have discussed the basics of head space, and how it’s measured or used in your chamber. But, what are the possible problems if the head spacing of your chamber is wrong? For reloaders, there are two parts to this equation.

    First, the chamber must be properly made, and adjusted in the gun to accept a properly made cartridge assembly. Older guns, especially older service rifles, can have had a tough life of hard use, and little cleaning. Those older and worn out rifles not only suffer from poor barrel quality (lands and grooves worn). They can also have excessive head space in the chamber. A cartridge, especially one loaded to very high pressures, can get easily installed in the chamber. But, when fired, the brass case SLAMS backwards against the bolt, often violently, and can cause incremental damage to the rifle. Excessive head space will certainly at least severely reduce the life of the reloadable brass.

    New guns are typically OK with regard to head space settings in the chamber. Custom guns should be made by competent gun smiths to assure that the head spacing is set correctly.

    Secondly, the reloading must be correct to accommodate the properly head spaced chamber. I would refer you to the articles on the subject of reloading for the shouldered and belted types of rifle cartridges. Those cartridge types require special consideration for setting reloading tools. The rimmed and rimless pistol cartridge tools have reloading considerations built into the reloading tools. Trimming for those two types is often not needed. However, the shouldered rifle cartridges, after full length sizing, and adjusting head spacing and shoulder location, will almost always require some trimming to get the assembled cartridge correct. Reloading brass (with regard to head spacing) to an UNDERSIZED condition is just as bad as having a chamber that is oversized (with regard to head spacing).

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Reduced loads – Maybe you shouldn’t!

Category : Reloading

I have been blessed to have a pretty good assortment of knowledgeable, experienced, and helpful gun people in my life. Virtually all of them are more than happy to share their knowledge and experiences with anyone who will listen.  And, Lord knows, many of them love to talk. The common phrase among my friends is that there is no such thing as a five minute conversation. I am among those guilty of being verbose (overly descriptive when discussing everything).

My gun smith buddy, Gus Norcross, one of the regular contributors for Firearms News magazine (he writes most of their gun smithing articles), is one such person who loves to share his knowledge. He recently shared with me an old book, “Handbook for Shooters and Reloaders”. Written by Parker O. Ackerly, and copyright 1962. It is a cherished First Edition, for which I am grateful.

In it, P.O. Ackerly discusses the subject of reduced loads. In definition, reduced loads means reducing powder amounts to less than starting loads. Disturbingly, the purpose of placing that discussion near the very front of the book is that under some situations, reduced loads can cause the gun being fired to detonate, blow up, or become severely damaged, often with the additional risk of damage to the shooter.

So, this article is a discussion of the dangers of reduced loads, and how to avoid those risks.

One of the wonderful things about reloading your own ammunition is that you can customize it for your specific needs. Whether that’s competition target shooting, big or small (or even dangerous) game hunting, or just general plinking. You can select bullet combinations not generally available from a factory. You can create rifle loads that are amazingly tuned to the harmonics of your barrel, making long distance shots accurate and easy. You can tune the timing of the cycling of the cartridge firing to the gun, making faster shots in a competition, and raising your score. And, you can adjust the felt recoil in any pistol or rifle so that the shooting is more comfortable, and the subsequent shots are more on target (especially important in a life saving self defense situation.) However, it’s that last purpose for customization (reduced recoil) that is of concern here.

It’s well known by reloaders that the industry watchdog, The Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers’ Institute (SAAMI), has established maximum pressures for each of the “recognized and accepted” cartridges. That translates to a maximum amount of any appropriate smokeless powder which yields that maximum pressure. You are always urged to NEVER exceed that maximum. To do so, even with a new firearm, risks damage to the firearm, and at the very least causes excessive wear on the gun. Using a CURRENT edition of a published, and therefore tested load data book is the best way to stay current with the SAAMI pressure specs for any cartridge. The method of testing for pressures has changed over the years. While this article won’t go into depth or detail on the nature of that pressure testing, suffice it to say that using a current edition of any published book or guide will provide you with safe reloading data, starting loads and maximum loads.

It’s at the lower end of the pressure spectrum where the the troubles can begin. The starting load, or more specifically, loads reduced LOWER than the starting load.

When seeking a most accurate load for your rifle, it’s advised to do a load development ladder, starting with….. the starting load. That’s why it’s called that. You keep increasing, in small increments, the amount of powder until you achieve the smallest group size, or start seeing signs of excessive pressures, whereupon you stop (even if you haven’t reached the maximum pressure load per the book). That’s all normal and proper.

The troubles begin when some reloaders attempt to reduce velocity and perhaps strive for reduced recoil by reducing the powder charge BELOW the starting load.

It’s common practice, when loading a bullet of slightly different weight than what was tested in the load data book, to start at a starting load that is 10% lower than the published starting load.

My better recommendation is to call the Powder manufacturer and ask for proper starting load data. They have a vested interest in keeping you safe, and usually have additional tested load data that was developed after the current edition of the reload data book went to press. Additionally, they can properly interpolate load data, and provide you with safe pressure data for any given powder, bullet, cartridge combination. So, if you are in a situation where you need some guidance, instead of making what you think might be an educated guess, contact the manufacturer. I’ll post the contact information for the powder and bullet manufacturers below.

While it’s counter intuitive, a heavier bullet uses LESS powder to achieve velocity than what is needed for a lighter bullet. That has to do with some of the laws of physics, especially those relating to pressures in a closed container. Scientifically, known as “Boyles Law”, it has several aspects that relate to other physics principles. The issue with heavier bullets is that another physics principle plays a role: “A body in motion tends to stay in motion. Conversely, a body at rest tends to stay at rest.” That’s one of Newton’s Laws. So, a heavier bullet needs TIME to get moving. And, if you try to get it moving earlier than it is otherwise inclined to get moving, the result would be higher pressures in the case. So, to keep the pressures in the safe zone, for heavier bullets, the powder load is reduced, as compared to a load for a lighter bullet. Check your load data book, and you will see that this is true for every heavier bullet weight, using the same powder.

Reducing the powder load too far below the Starting Load does some unusual things. From industry testing we know the following:

  • Severely reduced loads cause the distribution of the powder in the case to cause irregular burning, creating irregular pressure waves.
  • Normally, the friction contact between the bullet and the inside of the case neck is sufficient to hold onto the bullet until all of the powder is converted into gas pressure, sending the bullet safely on its way down the barrel.
  • However, irregular pressure waves can cause the bullet to become dislodged from the case, and becomes a barrel obstruction. As the pressures continue to rise from the burning of the powder, the pressures can become dangerous.
  • There are several factors which contribute to this phenomenon:

* Use of slow burning powder contributes to the irregular burning and pressure waves
* Low powder volume relative to case volume causes powder to become compacted during the initial ignition from the primer, and can cause very unusual burning and pressures.
* Standard primers might not provide enough ignition flame to properly ignite some slow burning powders.


The rifle on the left was damaged due to a much reduced load, poor primer ignition, and shooting on a cold day, which worsened the powder issue.

Click here for the FULL STORY



If you cannot find specific load data for your powder and bullet combination, call the manufacturer for guidance. DO NOT reduce any powder loads lower than 10% below Starting Load for any reason. Use fresh powder. If possible, and if recommended in the load data book, use faster burning powder when dealing with light loads (meaning Starting Loads). Use fresh primers. Pay attention to primer recommendations in the load data book, especially when they relate to some slower burning powders. Remember, the term “magnum primer” doesn’t relate to the use of that primer with a magnum cartridge. Magnum primers provide more ignition chemical, and are called for with difficult to ignite and really slow burning powders. (For example, H110 for pistol cartridges typically calls for use of a magnum primer.) Here’s a link to a chart, showing burn rates of common powders:  POWDER BURN RATE CHART

Be careful when selecting powders. Use a published reloading data guide or book. You want information that has been scientifically developed and tested as safe. Be careful when dispensing powder. Scales, whether digital or analog (balance beam scale), have an accuracy of +/- .1 grain. When dispensing powder, do not take shortcuts. Measure at least ten amounts of powder from your powder dispenser before making any decisions about how repeatable those dispensings are. Carefully check to avoid double charges and to avoid squibs.

If you are looking for reduced recoil, choose a different powder. Do not try to achieve lower recoil by dramatically reducing the powder load. As described above, serious pressure waves and spikes can and do occur. Also, do not use a dramatically reduced amount of powder trying to save powder, or for “test loads”. Powder is cheap, compared to your gun and fingers. Use the recommended amount of powder and get safe pressures.

There is one powder, Hodgdon’s “Trail Boss” powder, that is especially loved and revered by shooters for it’s low recoil. It can be used in all cartridges, as long as it’s usage instructions are followed carefully.

Here’s a link for Hodgdon’s usage of Trail Boss:  Trail Boss Usage 

Trail Boss powder comes in 9 oz and 2 pound containers. I use a lot of it. Especially in heavy recoil guns, including my 44 Magnum and 500 S&W Magnum revolvers. I have also loaded it in 22-250 rifle cartridges for a friends wife who had shoulder surgery. 22-250 recoi, using factory loads, is typically pretty light. But, they wanted even lighter recoil. Turned out that I achieved that lighter recoil, and provided a tighter group than they were getting with the factory loads. Win-Win.

Here’s the list of industry contacts for load data. Use the list. Call the technical people for safe load data. They will give you a starting load, and a max load. Please don’t stray from that information.

Safe reloading!

Contact the author

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Choosing Bullets – Casting your own can save a LOT! The projectiles are always the most expensive component in reloading.

Category : Reloading

Components used in reloading:

  • Brass cases – Cost = ZERO, presuming that you acquired them for free, and are reusing the cases
  • Primers – Cost = $.03 each, presuming that you are shopping carefully, to keep cost low
  • Powder – Cost = $.02 – $.04 each, presuming that, again, you are shopping carefully, to keep cost low
  • BULLETS – Cost = $.08 – $.20 each (or more!), even when you are shopping carefully, to keep cost low.

So, even if you are buying primers, and powder in bulk, and avoiding as much impact of the HazMat fee on those components. . . And presuming that you are taking great care of your brass, especially the hard to get/find rifle brass. . . And, even though you are careful about purchasing larger boxes of bullets when they are on sale. . . You will still be experiencing the reality that the most expensive component in reloading is the projectile, the bullet. It’s the part that does it job in a matter of an instant, and if you have done everything correct, it leaves your muzzle, and hopefully lands where you hope it will.

Bench Rest Shooters and “F-Class” shooters rarely care much about cost. They are always looking for the best performance of the bullets, and spare no expense in making them fly the best they can. It’s not uncommon for those shooters to have a few DOLLARS invested in every time they pull the trigger of their very expensive rifles. And, that’s fine for the game that they play.

But, how about for the rest of us who are looking to really just reduce the cost of shooting, so that we can shoot more? Well, there are a few options. Especially for pistol shooters.


  1. Buy plated bullets instead of jacketed bullets. Great cost reduction for pistol training, vs very expensive carry ammo type jacketed hollow points.
  2. Buy powder coated or epoxy coated bullets instead of jacketed bullets. Slightly less expensive than the copper plated bullets. The epoxy coated bullets are much better than the powder coated bullets. The Hi-Tek coating is the best among them.
  3. Buy commercially cast bullets instead of jacketed, or plated, or coated bullets. The commercial cast are the least expensive of all of the purchased options.
  4.  Buy a bullet casting mold, and cast your own cast bullets. This option is far and away the least expensive option for acquiring projectiles to support your reloading and shooting hobbies.

I’ll delve deeper into these areas in a bit, but first a brief discussion for the rifle shooters


  1. Copper plated rifle bullets are generally NOT available. There is a suggested speed limit on copper plated bullets (1200 feet per second) that gets exceeded by nearly every every rifle load, even starting loads, for most rifle bullet weights and powder loads. So, this is not really an option.
  2. Powder Coated and Epoxy Coated bullets, when properly created, can be fired at rifle speeds successfully. However, the epoxy coated bullets seem to the the best solution for rifle shooting.
  3. Cast bullets can be purchased or cast at home for successful rifle shooting. Three things are generally required for success with cast lead bullets: Hardness of the alloy for the muzzle velocity (the faster the velocity, the harder the alloy needed), sizing of the bullet diameter to match the bullet to the bore of the gun (undersized leads to leading of the lands and the grooves due to “jetting”, and oversized leads to leading due to excess friction. Application of a “gas check” will alleviate some or most of the errors in any of those three. Rifle shooters successfully send cast lead bullets down range at speeds over 2500 feet per second with great accuracy. Commercial cast rifle bullets are limited in that the commercial casters strive to serve the broadest possible range of needs. Those casting their own rifle bullets stand the best chance of successful accurate shooting.

So, since this article is on the subject of casting bullets for pistol and rifle shooting, it should be presumed that the decision has been made to cast your own. I will therefore proceed to highlight some of the areas of interest in that pursuit.


Equipment needed for bullet casting:
  • Mold – typically an iron, brass, or aluminum block, with single or multiple cavities, and facility for attaching a set of handles. These molds get very hot, and use of handles is advised! There are commercial manufacturers of molds, including Lee Precision and Lyman Precision Products. Lee has the reputation of being the low price, and lesser quality of those two. Lee molds are available in two cavity and four cavity configurations, and with tumble lube micro grooves (for use with their Alox lube product) or regular lube grooves (for use with a beeswax based lube). Lyman molds are generally single, 2 or four cavity configurations, in iron, a very durable mold material. Lee handles do NOT fit Lyman molds, so plan accordingly.
    Other places to acquire high quality molds are “group buys” hosted at places such as MP-Molds and NOE Molds are two of the group buy vendors, and both make molds that use more standard Lee style handles. Also, there are custom mold makers out there who can create a single (one up) mold to your specification, and also modify or tweak an existing mold to be more to your liking.

  • Eye protection – Lead melts at temperatures higher than 500 degrees F. Any splashes can and will cause burns. Damage to your eyes is irreversible, so always wear eye protection while casting.
  • Gloves – Leather or other heat resistant gloves are strongly suggested when handling hot molds, and even hotter molten lead. In fact, be sure to wear clothing that will protect the other surfaces of your body while casting.
  • Casting Pot – Two types are available. Bottom pour, where a small spout on the bottom allows molten lead to flow out into the mold. These are the easiest to use. The other type of pot is referred to as a “dipper pot”. These have no lower spout, and reply on the caster using a dipper to scoop up lead from the top of the pot, and hand pouring it into the mold. Both types come in to sizes, generally speaking. A 10 pound pot is less expensive, and is good as a starter. However, the 20 pound pot will service your needs better, and provide for more cast bullets between refilling with alloy. Among my largest bullets are some 500 S&W Magnum bullets that weigh in at 700 grains each. There are 7,000 grains to the pound, so ten bullets is a pound of alloy. My twenty pound bottom pour (RCBS Pro-Melt) pot provides 200 bullets before it’s empty. Or, when casting 38 special bullets, it’s 160 grains per bullet. That’s a whopping 875 bullets between refilling.  Some of the manufacturers are now adding digital programmable controllers to their casting pots.
  • Alloy – You’ll need a range of alloy types for your general casting needs, presuming that you are casting a variety of pistol and rifle bullets over time. Generally speaking, these fall into three categories. . .

      • Soft Alloys: Pure Lead or “range lead”. Pure lead includes dead soft lead alloys with virtually none of the two common alloying metals included, tin and antimony. Plumbers lead and roof flashing are examples of pure lead. Pure lead is usually only usable directly for muzzle loading castings where it is specifically called for. It can also be used to “soften” harder alloys when needed. Range lead is fired bullets gleaned from shooting ranges. They are generally a mix of jacketed bullets and cast bullets. They equate to a soft alloy, often closer to pure lead than anything else.
      • Medium Alloys:  Often, these alloys need to be either purchased or created. They are referred to as being in the range of “Lyman #2 Alloy”. This alloy is great for pistol bullets.
      • Harder Alloys: Wheel weights and Linotype alloy are much harder than the previous two types. They have additional tin and antimony added to provide stiffness and hardness for their original intended use. A few years ago, the Federal Government eliminated the use of lead alloy wheel eights in cars and trucks in the US. Most modern wheel weights are steel and zinc. So, finding tire shops willing to supply you with lead alloy wheel weights is getting more and more difficult. You should expect to be willing to PAY for raw wheel weights, a price under fifty cents a pound is reasonable. Scrap Metal Dealers can also be a good source for wheel weights. However, you’ll get a mix of lead alloy, steel and zinc, which much be sorted before use. Linotype, or printers lead, is an excellent source for hard alloy. But, because the digital printing age has completely replaced this 50+ year old technology, this alloy is also becoming harder and harder to find. Wheel weights and Linotype are wonderful alloys for rifle bullets.

    A great source of information on lead alloys, their use and purpose, along with tons of great casting information and details can be found in a free reference book, available for downloading, ” From Ingot to Target: A Cast Bullet Guide for Handgunners”   That’s a web based version of Glenn’s book. A PDF file version is also available HERE. It’s very much the BIBLE or standard reference I refer all my reloading students to. Here is a link for some additional safety thoughts from Glenn.

    Pure Lead, Range Lead, Wheel Weights, and Linotype must commonly be transformed from their original shape and condition, into “INGOTS” prior to use in your casting pot. The raw materials are commonly contaminated with sand, dirt and other grit, as well as oils which won’t work well when traveling through your gun bore. Normally, unless you are buying ingots which have already gone through the cleaning process, you’ll need to melt down the raw materials, and clean them of the impurities. Sort wheel weights with a set of wire cutters. The cutter set will easily cut into lead wheel weights. While any zinc and steel wheel weights will solidly resist the cutters blades. DO NOT just throw all your wheel weights into a melting pot, hoping that the zinc and steel will float to the top. The bottom layer of zinc weights will melt (zinc melts at about 783 degrees F), and will forever contaminate the batch of alloy and your melting pot. Any future alloy, thereby contaminated with ZINC will look and act much like oatmeal, rendering it completely useless for the casting process. Typically, you will run those cleaning and ingot making sessions in a way as to keep the various alloys separate for later use. Alternatively, you can “alloy” the lead to become what you will need later in the casting pot. The addition of softer lead will reduce the hardness of hard alloys. And, the addition of linotype or wheel eights will make soft alloys harder. I like to mark my ingots, when they cool, with some designation so that I can later quickly identify them as to their composition. A Sharpie serves well for that purpose. If you don’t have good access to raw materials for making ingots, stay with purchasing alloy from a reliable source. Both ROTO METALS and “The Captain” at CastBoolits are reasonably priced sources for alloy ingots.

    A word about lead safety

    Lead ingestion can be very dangerous. Fortunately, careful handling, and good sanitary methods can prevent virtually 100% of lead dangers. Do not eat or drink while handling lead alloys. Don’t expose any cuts to lead. No wiping your eyes while casting. Lead doesn’t vaporize until it reaches over 3,164 F. Normal casting temperatures are well below that, typically in the 650 F to 850 F range. Therefore it’s unlikely that any exposure to lead “vapors” while casting will exist. Any smoke arising from your casting pot is more likely to be from bullet lube, or other flammables. Good ventilation will exhaust those fumes, which you are better off not breathing also. But, it’s no worse than any ordinary campfire smoke. Bottom line: Do your castuing with good ventilation, avoid direct lead contact with any cuts or your eyes, and wash your hands carefully after every casting session, and before handling any foods or drinks.

  • Sizing and Lubricating Equipment: After casting your bullets, they will need to be properly sized for your gun, and proper lubrication installed. Lyman and RCBS make “lubricizers” expressly for that purpose. With interchangeable nose punches, and sizing die inserts, and a chamber for the lube, with each stroke of the handle, the bullets are sized and lube is installed in the lube groove of the bullets. Production rates are fast.



A note about powder coating and epoxy coating bullets at home: I would refer you to the many on-line references for how to process both powder coated bullets and epoxy coated bullets. As previously mentioned, the epoxy coated (from all field reports I have gleaned) is the better option, and of those which are available, the Hi-Tek Coating System is the best. Both powder coating (spray fine plastic powder onto cast bullets) and epoxy coating (dip cast bullets into the coating liquid) require baking, typically done in a dedicated toaster oven with specially made racks. These bullets are typically not sized or lubed after the fact, creating issues with some of the concepts indicated in Fryxells book.


Casting lead bullets is a hobby unto itself. I find it as relaxing as the reloading hobby that I already have to support my shooting needs. Once an initial investment in equipment is made, the casting experience will last you more than a lifetime. It’s easy and fun to do. And, most importantly, it removes most or all of the cost for the projectile, which otherwise is THE MOST EXPENSIVE component in reloading.

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Cleaning brass, the good, the bad, and the ugly – my tips for great reloadable brass

Category : Reloading

One of the most common questions I get during my reloading classes relates to the need for cleaning brass prior to the reloading.

“Do I really need to clean the brass?”

The answer is always YES! And, here’s why. When you fire cartridges at the range, and the brass hits the ground (or even if you have one of those nifty brass catcher things attached to your semi auto rifle), it has the strong potential to pick up small granules of sand and grit. That sand and grit is much harder than the tool steel that your reloading dies are made from. If you don’t clean those abrasives from your brass, the grit will no doubt SCRATCH the dies. And, the dies, once scratched, will forever TRANSFER those scratches to every piece of brass that the die comes in contact with. In other words, any brief moment of laziness will result in ruined dies. So, the purpose in cleaning the brass is to really remove the potential for die damage.

The second question then arises, “How clean do I have to make the brass?” The fast answer is, “Just clean enough so that the grit is gone from the brass.”. Don’t confuse clean with POLISHED. It’s possible to have clean brass that is somewhat dull visually. However, it’s also possible to make your brass as clean AND POLISHED as you might like. So, that’s the purpose of this discussion.

Three ways to clean brass

1) The Vibratory Tumbler

The common and easiest way to clean brass is with the use of dry media, and a vibratory tumbler type brass system.
Let’s first talk about the vibratory tumbler. These tumblers are plastic bowls, supported on springs, and have an activation system that consists of a spinning motor, which has an offset weight attached to it’s arbor. That offset weight is what causes the orbital vibration.
The orbiting vibration can cause a short life issue for the motor in the cheap tumblers. In the cheap versions, the arbor (axle) of the motor spins in a bronze bushing. With extended use, this bronze bushing starts to wear into an egg shape. When that happens, the spinning laminate part of the insides of the motor (rotor) will come in contact with the inner coils of the motor (stator), and the motor will just sit there and hum. The motors are never easily replaceable, and buying another tumbler is a pain. My suggestion is to buy a GOOD tumbler in the first place. The good tumblers, Dillon, for example, use roller or ball bearings for their motors, instead of the cheap bushings. They will virtually never wear out.
There are two basic types of dry media for these tumblers. Which one you choose might depend on whether you have a “nut allergy”. My preferred media is crushed walnut shells.The granules are harder than the alternative, crushed corn cobs. The two types come in fine and medium granules. Choose the medium size.

Here’s my method for perfect cleaning and polishing of brass, in record time.

1st: Prepare the dry media for polishing.

The media, by itself, will do a so-so job of cleaning and polishing the brass. However, treating the media with a couple of simple additives will make the job go faster, and will provide a better result. With the dry media in the vibratory bowl, but NO BRASS, add a couple of capfuls of NuFinish car polish. This is a non-abrasive, non alkaline synthetis polish that will coat your cleaned and polished brass with a coating that ill keep it shiny for  long time. Also add a couple of “splashes” of Mineral Spirits (paint thinner). The mineral spirits will help dissolve the soot and other hard to remove residue from the brass. It will also make the media slightly damp, helping to keep the dust down. You certainly don’t want to breathe any of the dust. Turn on the tumbler with NO BRASS, and allow the two additives to mix well with the media. About 20 minutes to 1/2 hour is enough. The media should not be clumpy. There should be an aroma of mineral spirits, and the media should not look wet. Don’t add too much of the additives, and it should be fine.

2nd: Load the brass

Tumble only one brass size at a time. 9mm Lugers will nest inside .40 S&W, etc.. So, to make sure the brass gets properly cleaned, do one size at a time. Empty out the treated media from the bowl. Fill the bowl 1/2 full of brass. It doesn’t matter how big/small the bowl is. Filling it half full of brass insures that there’s enough brass to be effective. Remember that it’s not the weight of the media pressing against the brass that does the job. It’s the weight of the brass, pressing the media into the rest of the brass , that makes the job of cleaning and polishing go faster, and come out looking better. If you don’t have enough dirty brass to fill the bowl 1/2 way, use some already clean brass, and use that to achieve the 1/2 volume. Once you have the bowl loaded with brass to be cleaned, re-add the treated media in on top. Remember that the brass is hollow, and some manual shaking of the bowl will allow all the media to fit. Don’t over fill with media, however. You need to leave some room for the vortex action of the bowl, with the brass and media, to happen easily.

3rd: Tumble and enjoy the results

How long to run the tumbler will depend on your desired results. If you want clean and somewhat polished brass, an hour or so will suffice. However, if you want bright and shiny/polished brass, a couple to three hours is all it takes. By comparison, if you don’t add the two additives, and if you don’t load the bowl right, 8-10 hours of vibrating will only yield so-so results. I personally take great pride in what my loaded ammo looks like at the range. So, about three hours is what I do. Remember, the primary purpose is to only knock off the abrasive grit so that you don’t scratch the die sets. Beyond that, the look of the brass is up to you.

4th: Separate the brass from the media

In the beginning, I used to use an old spaghetti colander, with drilled out holes (you can get  plastic one at the Dollar store for a buck) to separate the media from the cleaned brass. Today, I use a Dillon media separator to do that job. I found it to be the strongest and fastest way (I tested all of the other offerings on the market, and the Dillon was the best, by far. And, well worth the money) . Dillon makes two sizes, each one suited for their two sizes of vibratory tumbler/polishers. Honestly, the small separator will handle the job of either size tumbler easily, just use smaller batches. The media treatment, if done properly, should result in clean and dry brass. If you see media dust stuck to the brass, you overloaded the media with NuFinish and mineral spirits.

5th: How long will the media last?

Two factors affect the life expectancy of the media. The corn cob media breaks down into dust faster than the crushed walnut shell. So, unless you have a nut allergy, the walnut shell option is the best. Also, as the media does its job, the media will start to get contaminated with grit, and the residues from the brass. It will start to get black in color. Some on-line comments suggest that use of a “dryer sheet” will help clean the media. If you contemplate how little surface area a dryer sheet has, you will quickly understand why the dryer sheet suggestion is pure Horse Puckies. Don’t waste your time or effort. I keep adding NuFinish and mineral spirits until I’m happy with tossing out the media. It lasts a long, long, long time. However, I always keep an older batch of contaminated media on hand for what I call “Rainy Day  Range Brass.” When I bring home brass that is all caked with mud, etc, I have a quick solution. First, I rinse off as much of the mud as I can, outside with a garden hose. Then, I add some NuFinish and mineral spirits to the old media, and run that nasty brass for 1/2 hour or so. That will get rid of 90+ % of the nasty muddy grit. I then swap out the old media for new, clean (treated) media, and tumble as normal. When the “clean” media is ready for retirement, it then becomes the older batch, and I put the oldest media in a sealed plastic bag, out for the trash. Most trash collection companies send everything, after sorting out glass, plastic, etc, through an incineration system. The environment is safe.

2) Ultrasonic Cleaner

Ultrasonic jewelry type cleaner machines can be used for cleaning cartridge brass. However, there are some downsides to this choice of cleaning.
First the cleaning volume on these cleaners is very small. That’s fine if you only have a few dozen pieces to clean. However, if you are working on cleaning a few thousand 9mm cases, the ultrasonic cleaner capacity is much too small for effectiveness. Secondly, many of the ultrasonic cleaners suggest the use of a cleaning liquid. Many of those cleaning agents contain alkaline agents, which will attack and weaken the zinc (sacrificial metal) component of the brass. Using plain water (most suggest the use of distilled water, an extra expense) might work, but it will take longer. Thirdly, while the surfaces (inside and out) will be factory like new clean, this is a wet process, and the brass has to get dried quickly. There won’t be any protection on the brass, and it will likely start to tarnish quickly. If you insist on using an ultrasonic cleaner, I suggest distilled water, and a quick run through the vibratory tumbler, with the treated media. That will protect the brass. It might be just as simple to avoid the cost of the ultrasonic cleaner, and just use the vibratory media cleaning system.

3) Stainless Steel Pin Tumbling

Stainless steel pins and a rotary tumbling system can be used for cleaning brass. It has advantages over the ultrasonic systems, but also has the same shortcomings of any WET system, accelerated brass oxidation after cleaning. I do clean some of my brass using a stainless steel pin tumbling system. However, because it’s a wet system, I use it in conjunction with my media vibratory system. Here are my suggestions for this cleaning system.

First, there are a few choices for the rotary pin tumblers. Harbor Freight sells a small tumbler primary used for hobby rock tumbling. In small batches, this inexpensive device can be a good savings over a larger machine. They come in single and dual drum sizes.

If you are wanting a larger capacity, then there are a couple of companies offering good quality machines. Thumbler’s Tumbler is one, although somewhat over priced by my standards. The BEST CHOICE choice, by far,  is the Extreme Tumbler’s Rebel 17 model. The Rebel 17 has a great price, and uses ball bearings in the shaft supports (pillow blocks) instead of bronze bushings that you would get in the Thumbler’s. It’s quiet, and trouble free. After millions of brass cases cleaned, only the drive belt and rubber roller have had to get replaced ( less than $20, total). The unit will come with stainless steel pins, enough to handle a full load (about 15 pounds) of brass. The pins are 400 series stainless steel. While resistant to rust, they can be picked up with a magnet (a good feature when the pins tend to scatter everywhere after cleaning is done.) Other than losing some pins through use, you won’t likely need to buy any additional pins. They will last forever.

Loading the tumbler is important for efficient cleaning. I load the tumbler about 2/3 to 3/4 full of brass. I add in a small amount (about 1 teaspoon) of citric acid (Lemishine or equivalent. I have a lemon tree in my back yard, and if I’m out of Lemishine, I add the juice of 1/2 lemon). And, also I add a couple of drops of Dawn brand dish detergent. For some reason, the Dawn brand works best, and you really only need a couple of drops. Then, add plain tap water, but do not fill to the top. You want the brass to TUMBLE and not float around in the drum.  That requires that you leave some room for the brass to move freely. Even the toughest dirty brass will come out factory clean after about an hour in the stainless steel pin tumbling system. Rinse completely with clean tap water (I use my Dillon media separator and the sink sprayer) to remove all trace of soap and citric acid. The next step is very important to success.

DRY the brass thoroughly. I had tried everything, including setting the brass out in the driveway under the hot summer sun. That wasn’t effective at all. And, worse when it’s winter time. The best solution for dry brass was the use of an inexpensive food dehydrator. Place the brass in single layers on the trays, and set the heat control for the highest setting. In about an hour, the brass will be “bone dry”. Needless to say, do not use this dehydrator, after drying brass, for any food processing. Once dry, the brass then goes through my media tumbler system, to get the coating of Nu Finish on the brass. Because of the extra steps involved, I only clean the fussiest of brass this way. It has enough volume capacity to make it efficient for shooting volumes.

So, cleaning your reloading brass is a matter of volumes, budget, and efficiency. The best choice, normally, is the media type vibratory tumbling. The purpose is to remove the grit that can damage the reloading dies.

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Mistakes Happen – How to avoid them, and what to do when they happen

Category : Reloading

Mistakes happen!

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.


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The BEST pistol bullet weights, your tax dollars at work

Category : Reloading

Law enforcement and military personnel have obvious needs for pistol cartridge performance. One of the driving factors has been, and continues to be, the “FBI Penetration Test.” The official name of this set of criteria is the: “FBI Ballistic Protocol.”

Here’s a PDF file from Hornady with complete details regarding the FBI Ballistic Protocol and Hornady’s research and offerings (bullets and cartridges) on the subject:  hornady-le-military-application guide

Your Tax Money & Research

As Law Enforcement agencies moved from revolvers to 9mm semi-auto pistols, the bullet weight that they first adopted was a 115 grain 9mm bullet. That was based on the WW2 research where the Germans used a 115 grain bullet in their Lugers. However, the various departments quickly discovered that the scenario had changed. Car doors, auto glass, and other barriers created new challenges. The 115 grain bullet, even when loaded at +P+ powder loads, just wasn’t beefy enough. Law enforcement keeps  very detail records of every shooting. And, as a consequence of the review of all of that information, a switch was made to 124 grain Hollow Points.
Well, if 124 grains was better than 115 grains, maybe an even heavier bullet would make sense. Turned out that the 147 grain bullets in 9mm were too heavy for reliable use against bad guys. So, the 124 grain bullets, after much tax payer money spent on studying the subject, was the go to bullet weight.

However, even the Speer Gold Dot and Federal HydraShok bullets (best designs at the time) would not pass the FBI Ballistic Protocol. So, some law enforcement agencies started drifting towards the newly- (at that time) developed .40 S&W cartridge. The pursuit of the perfect bullet weight for that cartridge soon yielded the 165 grain bullet as being the best performer. There’s a note in the Speer Reloading Data Book #14, .40 S&W, 165 grain bullets page,  to the effect: “Loads marked with approximate law enforcement loads.” That comment/note was very telling to me when I first bumped into it. It told me that tax payer dollars was spent studying the subject, and the 165 grain bullet was chosen as the most effective load for law enforcement [and presumably military use].

Likewise, for those agencies favoring the 45 ACP, the 200 grain bullets are deemed the best performing.

The basic construction of pistol bullets hadn’t really changed a whole lot over the past couple of decades. The FBI Ballistic Protocol was always looming large. Especially as the bad guys get more and more daring in their escapades. The bullet manufacturers sought new bullet designs, knowing that success with passing the FBI penetration tests would yield them a lot of new business. So, new bullet designs such as the Hornady Critical Defense bullets easily pass the criteria. In 124 grain bullet weight for the 9mm. Every test of that bullet yielded a 12″ to 18″ penetration, more than sufficient to make the FBI happy. A redesigned Federal HydraShok bullet also makes the grade.

Part of the ever ongoing debate about what chambering (9mm vs .40 S&W, vs 45 ACP, and even vs 10mm which is again in the discussion) is best is the results of this ballistics test protocol. The bullet designs have gotten so good in recent years that even the “lowly” 9mm passes with flying colors.


The state of the art bullets that will pass the FBI Ballistic Protocol are quite expensive for every day plinking. However, it’s important to practice with the same bullet weights that you will be carrying for self defense. You want point of aim to be the same, as well as felt recoil, etc. So, my urging is to reload your practice/plinking cartridges with the same bullet weights as you intend to carry. And, why not make use of the well-spent (my opinion) tax dollars that defined the current state of the art for cartridges for the law enforcement and military agencies to use in their every day activities.

ULTIMATE bullet weights for semi auto pistols:

9mm = 124 grain bullets
.40 S&W = 165 grain bullets
45 ACP = 200 grain bullets

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Neck Sizing Only Dies – How to use them and When

Category : Reloading

Rifle Cartridge Neck Sizing

By design, when a bottle neck case is fired, it briefly expands to fill the entire chamber, then contracts slightly when the pressure generated by the burning powder dissipates, allowing the case to be extracted from the rifle.   This is mostly due to the type of brass used for making rifle cases. The brass alloy is referred to as “70-30 Cartridge Brass”. It’s basically 70% copper and 30% zinc. It has the ability to work as described.

If you wanted, you could take that freshly fired case and re-insert it into the bolt action rifle’s chamber.   Not only would it fit, but it would be an exact fit to your rifle because it was fire formed in the shape of the chamber.   If you wanted to reload this case to be fired again in the same rifle, all you really would have to do is clean it up, and reduce the diameter of the case neck enough for it to hold a bullet again – leaving the case shoulder and body in the as-fired condition.   This process is called neck sizing only.

When Neck Sizing Is Appropriate
Cartridges for a bolt action or single-shot rifles can be neck sized.   Since the case has been fire-formed to a specific chamber, a neck sized cartridge can only be used in the rifle that last fired it.   If your ammo is to be used in more than one rifle, you really have to full-length size it instead.   Cartridges for semi-auto, and lever or slide-action rifles should not be neck sized because the cartridge-to-chamber fit is too tight for reliable feeding from the magazine, up the feed ramp, and into the chamber.   Cartridges for these types of rifles (semi auto and full auto) should be full-length sized only.

Neck Sizing Dies
Neck sizing is best accomplished with a neck sizing die.  This die is similar to a standard full-length sizing die except that the only part of the die that contacts the brass is the portion that resizes the neck.   The part of the die that would normally size the body and shoulder of the case is oversized so that it will not form those parts of the case.

Like a full-length die, the neck sizing die has a combination expander ball/decapping pin.   The expander ball in a neck sizing die performs the same function as the one in a full-length sizing die: The body of the die intentionally undersizes the neck, while expander ball enlarges it from the inside as it’s pulled out of the case.  This allows the die to provide a consistent inside neck diameter regardless of the thickness of the brass.   Unfortunately, repeatedly undersizing and expanding the neck can make it brittle due to work hardening.   Fortunately, there’s another kind of neck sizing die called a bushing neck sizing die that can minimize work hardening.

A bushing neck sizing die (see Figure 1) features a separate replaceable bushing inside the die that controls the amount that the neck is sized.   Bushings are available in various diameters, allowing you to select one that will squeeze down the neck only enough to hold the bullet (ideally, 0.002″ smaller than the bullet diameter).   The downside of using a neck bushing die is that multiple bushings are required for different case thicknesses.   In other words, when you change headstamps, you will have to change the bushing if one of the manufacturer’s brass is thicker or thinner than the other.

Figure 1 – A bushing neck sizing die (like this one from Hornady) allows you to resize the neck without over working the brass

Partial Neck Resizing
There’s a practice mentioned in many reloading books (including the NRA Guide To Reloading) called “partial neck resizing”.   This is accomplished using a regular full-length sizing die that is backed off so that the case shoulder remains untouched during the sizing process.   The theory behind this is that a conventional full-length sizing die can be used to resize the neck, while leaving the shoulder and body of the case sized to match the chamber.  Don’t do it.  

If partial neck sizing was effective, the reloading equipment manufacturers wouldn’t have to make dedicated neck sizing dies.   The problem with partial neck sizing is that even though the die is backed off to miss the shoulder, the body of the die will still resize the body of the case.   This causes the shoulder to bulge upward, which actually makes the cartridge headspace length longer.   Since the cartridge starts out at the full length of the chamber, partial neck resizing makes the cartridge headspace length too long for the chamber.

I tried this once with a batch of 7mm Remington Magnum brass for a Thompson Center single-shot rifle, and not one of the resulting cartridges would chamber.   You may be able to get partial neck sized rounds to chamber in a bolt action rifle, but if the cartridges are too long, the bolt will be hard to close, and hard bolt closure will cause the lubricant to be forced away from the bolt lugs.   This can cause galling and premature wear on the rifle. Partial neck sizing is a bad idea.

There’s a practical limit for even properly neck-sized cases.   After 5 or so reloads, the cases will expand enough to make chambering difficult.   When this happens, you should full-length size the cases and start the process over again.

Advantages of neck sizing
There are several advantages to neck sizing including longer brass life (more reloads before you have to scrap the cases), fewer reloading steps, and less trimming of the brass.

If the failure mode for your full-length sized cases is either splitting, or thinning of the case above the web, you will see much longer brass life if you switch to neck-sizing (especially if you use a bushing die).   Cracks and splits occur when the brass case has been work hardened to the point where the metal becomes so brittle that it cracks during firing, resizing, or bullet seating.   Neck sizing works the brass less than full-length sizing, and a bushing neck sizer die works the case necks as little as possible.   This results in less work hardening, and more reloads without splits.

When you full-length size, the case’s shoulder is pushed back during the process.   When the full-length sized cartridge is fired, the shoulder “blows out” to the size of the chamber, causing the case to stretch.   The case does not stretch evenly along its full length. Instead, most of the stretching occurs in the case walls just ahead of the web (see Figure 2), which causes the case to become thinner in this area.   Too much thinning can result in a full or partial case head separation (the worst kind of failure).   This thinning will often appear on the outside of the case as a bright ring, bulge, or crack just ahead of the rim of the case.

When you neck size, very little case stretching occurs, so the case walls do not thin out.   Also, since there is less case stretch, you will not have to trim as frequently (or at all) when you neck size.   Another benefit of neck sizing (with a neck sizing die) is that you do not have to lube the cases prior to resizing them.   This eliminates two reloading steps: Lubing the cases, and removing the lube after sizing.

Figure 2 – A cutaway of a cartridge case showing thinning above the web (indicated by the white arrows) caused by case stretch.   This can be virtually eliminated by neck sizing the cases

Disadvantages of neck sizing
As stated earlier, you cannot use neck-sized ammo in any firearm other than the rifle that last fired the case.   If you have several rifles of the same caliber, you have to take care to keep the neck sized ammo clearly marked as to which rifle can fire it, and keep it separated from the cartridges of the same caliber that are full length or neck sized for a different rifle.

You may also find that your neck sized ammo produces larger groups than identically loaded full-length sized ammo.   If this is the case, it is likely caused by something being non-concentric.   Looking down the bore of your rifle from the breach, your rifle’s chamber (and the ammo you fire in it) consists of a series of lined-up circles.   There’s a large “circle” in the chamber where the body of the cartridge goes, another one for the shoulder, another for the neck of the cartridge, as well as smaller circles that make up the leade (the unrifled portion of the chamber with the same diameter as the bullet) and the rifling itself.   In a perfect chamber and barrel, all of these circles would be perfectly round, and would ‘line up’ so that a line through their centers would be perfectly straight and centered in the bore.   Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a “perfect” chamber and barrel.   Even a carefully machined chamber and barrel will have some (maybe barely measurable) non-concentricity, and some rifles are much worse than others.

Even if you were in possession of a one-in-a-million concentric barrel, you still have to worry about the ammo.  The same “circles” that are supposed to line up in the chamber exist on the ammo that you will be firing.   The rim must be concentric with the body, which has to be concentric with the shoulder which should be concentric with the neck.   In addition, any brass thickness variation within the case itself affects concentricity, as does the bullet seating angle.   Of all of these factors, the bullet seating angle probably contributes the most to non-concentricity – especially if you’re not using a competition seating die.

A full-length sized cartridge has a slightly looser fit in the chamber than a neck-sized cartridge.   This extra clearance exists everywhere except for the fit between the outside diameter of the bullet and the inside diameter of the neck.  By having clearance everywhere else on the cartridge, the bullet entering the neck can self-center, acting as a pilot to align the rest of the cartridge with the center of the bore.

With a neck-sized cartridge, very little clearance exists between the case and the chamber, which minimizes the ability of the bullet to center itself in the neck.   If enough non-concentricity exists, the bullet can be shoved hard against one side of the neck when the cartridge is chambered, resulting in reduced accuracy.

The bottom line is this: Using a neck sizing only die for bolt action rifles will increase the life of the brass. However, it can also result in reduced accuracy. If you have a sufficient inventory of brass, full length sizing can provide more accuracy. Use of a brass annealer can aid in achieving longer brass life while full length sizing.

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Does my rifle barrel really flex?

Category : Reloading

The path to greatness when it comes to precision rifle reloading is to tune the ammo to your barrel. It’s a well documented fact that when a bullet enters your barrel from the chamber, it sets the barrel into motion. It creates a force wave, in the form of a complex sine wave, which travels the length of your rifle barrel, and upon reaching the end, will bounce back until the wave energy is consumed by the steel molecules. This sine wave action isn’t centered around any single portion of the barrel, but is affected by the details of your barrel.

To get a true sine wave, a few things are necessary. First, the barrel must be installed properly to the receiver. Any error in that connection will cause the sine wave to be dull and clunky. It should, when done right, allow the barrel to ring like a bell. Secondly, the barrel must be free floating. Well, that is the ideal situation. Not every gun is made like that. However, be aware that anything touching the barrel along it’s length (especially the stock) will dampen the sine wave, in a negative way. Finally, an overlooked factor… The received must be fastened to the stock properly.

Custom stocks are often created with a set of pillars in place that the receiver attaches to. The structure pretty much eliminates the variations in wood and some plastics due to heat and humidity. Wood expands when wet, and shrinks when dry. Such cycling of a non-pillared stock can cause the screws that attach the receiver to the stock to loosen over time. Every knowledgeable precision shooter knows to check the torgue of those screws with a torque wrench that measures in inch pounds. Wheeler makes one that does the job well for under $40.

So, given that the conditions are correct tor propagating a clear sine wave, how do we use that to tune the ammo to the barrel? Well, first let me demonstrate what the wave form looks like. In class, I use an old M1 Carbine barrel, hanging from my fingers, and tap it with a 45 acp pistol barrel. The clear ringing (sine wave) can be heard. I then draw a two dimensional sine wave on a pad of paper to show that there are nodes along the pathway where the barrel isn’t moving up, down, or sideways. That’s the sweet spot. That’s what you want to adjust the travel of the bullet to, such that the bullet leaves the muzzle just when it is not being pushed upon by the barrel sine wave. I usually use a wooden dowel rod to suggest the flexing shape.

Recently, my son was visiting, and he captured my M1A service rifle in the act of firing, in slow motion. If you slow down that video to it’s slowest speed (click on the cog icon, and select .25 speed), you will clearly see the rifle’s barrel flexing. Had the abilities of the iPhone camera been even more sophisticated, you would see the bullet leave the barrel right in the middle of a flex (point of NULL). Here’s that video, change the play speed to .25 and full screen for best viewing. Watch the very end of the barrel:

If the barrel is flexing upward and to the left when the bullet leaves the muzzle, the bullet (and bullet group) will be pushed that way. Etc. I have seen countless examples of variations of +/- .1 grain of powder move the bullet group from one corner of the target to another. Yes, you can adjust your scope to wherever that group exists. But, suffice it to say that the most accurate groups will be when the barrel is in the NULL position, at the not-moving portion of the sine wave.

In my reloading class, I offer a technique to dispense and measure powder for rifle cartridges in hundredths of a grain vs tenths. And, I explain and show how to adjust the powder load so that you find that sweet spot in the bullets velocity for the best accuracy.

The concept that the fastest bullet flight is the most accurate is a fallacy. The fastest bullet flight may yield the flattest trajectory. But, a properly tuned bullet velocity (usually somewhere between starting load and mid range of velocity) is the place where you will yield the tightest group.

Click this link to sign up for one of my reloading classes:

Sign up today or contact for more info

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Which crimp do I use?

Category : Reloading

The first answer is that the TYPE of crimp is always built into the bullet seating/crimp die or the separate crimp die if it’s different from the seating die. So, for a 357 Magnum three die set (full length sizing die, bell mouthing die, seating/crimp die), the ability to roll crimp (which is the proper type of crimp for that cartridge) is built into that third die. Similarly, the third die in a 9mm Luger set is designed to taper crimp the bullets in place.

Any time you stretch the case mouth to install a bullet, you should crimp.

However, there are times when you do NOT want to crimp. Such is the case of necked or bottle necked rifle cartridges. When the necks of these cartridges are properly sized, there will be enough friction between the case neck and the seated bullet to hold onto the bullet long enough for all the powder to be burned inside the case, before the bullet leaves the case mouth. In those instances, the bullet seating/crimp die should be adjusted so that the crimp portion of the die does not touch the case mouth.

Here is a chart, which gives you all of the possible crimp situations, and suggests the proper type of crimp for that cartridge.

Crimping Chart

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Proper Full Length Sizing for bottleneck RIFLE cases

Category : Reloading

Full Length Sizing for Bottleneck Cases

This article describes the process of resizing bottleneck cartridge cases.   Setting up the sizing die for a bottleneck case requires a higher level of precision than for straight-walled cases, and the quality of your setup has a much bigger impact on safety, accuracy, and brass life.

Full Length Sizing
This article will describe the process known as “full length” resizing.   With full length resizing, the entire case is returned to its original ‘factory’ dimensions.   During full length sizing, the case body is squeezed back to its original dimension, the case shoulder is pushed back, and the neck is reduced in diameter so that it will hold a bullet.   Full length resizing allows the reloaded cartridge to be fired in any firearm of the appropriate caliber.   Another type of resizing called “neck sizing” can be also be used, but neck-sized cartridges can only be used in the rifle that last fired them, and is not appropriate for all firearm types.   I’ll cover “neck sizing only” in a later article.

A basic rifle die set is comprised of two dies:
1) Full Length Resizing Die
2) Bullet Seating Die

That’s all that’s needed for basic metal working for “bottleneck” type rifle cartridges. The proper setting up of the first die is the subject of this discussion. I’ll cover the bullet seating die at another time.

The bottleneck rifle sizing die differs from it’s PISTOL brother in a couple of ways. First, most modern pistol full length resizing dies have a carbide insert around the inner diameter of the die, the part that comes in contact with the brass. Years ago, the production of those tungston carbide inserts was very costly. So, common pistol full length resizing dies were plain tool steel, requiring the application of sizing lubricant to the brass to keep the brass from getting stuck inside the die from friction. The development of compressed powder forming (powdered metal) of parts made the carbide inserts economical. Which, as the manufacturers installed these inserts in the pistol dies, eliminated the need for applying lube, and also gave smoother and burnished brass cases, easy to reload. Additionally, pistol dies ONLY touch the outside of the brass (other than the decapping pin pushing out the old primers).

Rifle full length resizing dies have a LOT of friction contact with the brass (compared to the pistol), and require the application of sizing lube, regardless as to whether the dis has a carbide sizing ring. Commonly, because the friction mandates the use of sizing lube, the benefit from a carbide ring is eliminated. So, commonly, new rifle full length resizing dies do NOT HAVE the carbide ring. Don’t waste your time or money looking for a set that has that feature. The question arises……  “Can I buy a rifle resizing die that has a carbide ring?” Fast answer is YES. However, you’d be virtually wasting money on it. So, who buys rifle resizing dies that have carbide inserts? The answer to that one is the ammunition manufacturers. They still have to apply sizing lube to the brass cases. They ONLY buy those expensive carbide insert dies because they last longer. If you are making millions of cartridges per year, you might like a die that will last for a few million sizings. Otherwise, the non-carbide rifle sizing dies will last the “normal” reloader many lifetimes of normal use. Again, save your money, don’t buy carbide insert rifle reloading dies.

Rifle full length resizing dies also differ from pistol dies in that they also touch the INSIDE of one area of the brass. Specifically, that is the neck area of the case. The entire length of the outside of the brass case is formed into dimension by the action of the insides of the die, including the outside of the neck. However, the inside of the neck is also formed into dimension by the action of a sizing plug that is part of the decapping pin. The relative placement and location of that plug is important when the brass is resized. Generally, if the end of the decapping pin sticks out past the end of the sizing die approximately 3/8″, the plug will be in the proper place to size the neck. If you have the end of the decapping pin too short or too long, the neck will not get sized properly. Be sure to check that before sizing. Adjust as needed.

So, presuming that you have a good quality rifle full length resizing die, and brass which has been lubed so that it doesn’t get stuck in the die while forming, the setting up of the die is all important so that one feature of the brass gets properly formed. And, that feature is the SHOULDER.

Case Lubricants
Unlike straight walled cases, it is necessary to lubricate bottleneck cases even when using a carbide sizing die.   If you try to resize an unlubricated bottleneck case, you will find that it requires a significant amount of force to insert the case into the sizing die.   Although difficult, it’s not impossible to take advantage of the leverage inherent in the design of your reloading press to muscle a dry case up into the sizing die.   The trouble starts when you try to get it out.   Without lubricant, the case will be stuck so firmly in the die that the shellholder will rip the rim off the case when you try to extract it.   This quickly puts an end to your reloading session while you hunt down a stuck case extraction kit to get your sizing die back into service.   You must lube bottleneck cases prior to sizing.

The most effective case lubes are lanolin based.   For a small number of cases, a solid lanolin lube such as Imperial Sizing Die ‘Wax’ (on the right in Figure 1) is convenient.   Simply rub the tips of your fingers over the lube, and then handle each case to apply a thin film of lubricant onto it.   With a little practice, this can be accomplished while picking up the case and placing it into the shell holder.

For larger numbers of cases, a lanolin-based pump spray lube is more efficient (Figure 1 on the left).   To use a spray lube, spread an old dishtowel out on your bench and place a hundred or so cases on it in a single layer.   Spray the lube onto the cases, use your hands to roll the cases around to coat them, and then wait for the liquid carrier in the lube (isopropyl alcohol) to evaporate off.   The cases will be coated with a thin film of lanolin, and ready to go into the sizing die.   Put the now lanolin-soaked dishtowel in a ziplock bag for future use.   The more saturated it gets, the less lube you’ll have to spray.

Figure 1 – Lanolin-based case lubricant in a pump spray liquid (left) and solid form (right)


Lanolin-based pump spray lubes are available from Dillon and Frankford Arsenal.   You can also make your own using anhydrous lanolin (available from online suppliers) and 90% isopropyl alcohol (gas line anti-freeze) in a 1:10 ratio.

If you instead decide to use a non-evaporating liquid lube (such as with a lube pad), be careful not to leave any droplets of liquid on the case neck or shoulder because the liquid will create dents in the cases during sizing.

Before we get into setting up the sizing die, we need to discuss headspace and cartridge headspace length.   Headspace in a firearm is defined as the distance from the breech or bolt face to the part of the chamber that stops the forward movement of the cartridge when it is inserted into the chamber.   For rimless bottleneck rifle cartridges (like .223, 308, and .30-06), the part of the chamber that stops the forward movement of the cartridge is the angled portion that contacts the shoulder of the case.   The cartridge headspace length is the distance from the case head to the part of the case on which the cartridge headspaces.   For a rimless bottleneck rifle cartridge, this is a point on the shoulder of the case.

The difference between the chamber’s headspace and the cartridge headspace length determines the amount of extra fore-and-aft ‘room’ the cartridge has in the chamber.   If there is too little room (because the cartridge headspace length is too long for the chamber), the bolt will not close and the firearm will not go into battery.   Too much room (because the cartridge headspace length is too short for the chamber) can result in inconsistent ignition, poor accuracy, short brass life, or catastrophic case head separation.   In other words, if you get the cartridge headspace length wrong, the ammo will not shoot at all, will shoot badly, or will blow up.   Therefore, it’s quite important to get the cartridge headspace length right.

Measuring Headspace Length
There are two common tools available – The RCBS Precision Mic and the Hornady Headspace Comparator – that allow you to measure cartridge headspace length.   The Precision Mic from RCBS (Figure 2) is a self contained device that is sort of a specialized hollow micrometer.   To use the Precision Mic, you unscrew the top, drop in a case, and screw the top back on until it contacts the case shoulder.   There are graduations on the side of the device that allow you to read the headspace length of the case compared to the SAAMI “0” distance for that caliber.   The RCBS Precision Mic is caliber/cartridge specific.   If you want to measure the headspace length of the .308 and .30-06, you’ll need two different Precision Mics – one for each caliber.   RCBS makes Precision Mics for dozens of common calibers.   They cost $40 to $50 each.

Figure 2 – RCBS Precision Mic


The Hornady Headspace Comparator Set is used in conjunction with a dial or digital caliper.   To measure headspace length with the Hornady Comparator, you attach the bushing holder to one jaw of the dial caliper, then install the caliber-appropriate bushing into the holder.   The bushing has a hole with a diameter that is larger than the case neck, but smaller than the case body.   You place the neck of the case to be measured into the hole on the bushing, and close the caliper until it contacts the case head.   The resulting measurement will show you the distance from the case head to a point on the shoulder of the case.   (See Figure 3).

Figure 3 – Hornady Headspace Comparator installed on a dial caliper.


The Hornady kit costs about $40.   It comes with 5 bushings that allow you to measure the headspace length on 100’s of different cartridges.   Instead of measuring to SAAMI “0”, the Hornady gage gives you a relative measurement of the case headspace length.   As you’ll read below, a relative measurement is often enough.

Setting up the die
The goal in setting up the full length sizing die is to set the die so that it pushes the case shoulder back far enough so that the cartridge will reliably chamber, but no farther.   The height of the die in the press will determine the distance that the shoulder is pushed back.   For semi-auto, lever action, and slide (pump) action rifles, you’ll want the cartridge headspace length to be 0.003″ to 0.006″ shorter than the chamber.   You can make it a bit tighter for bolt action and single-shot rifles, with the cartridge headspace distance only 0.001″ to 0.003″ shorter than the available room in the chamber.

We’ve already discussed how to measure the headspace distance on the case, but how do you measure the available room in the chamber? It’s simple – measure the headspace length of a case that was fired from the rifle.   When a bottleneck cartridge is fired, it fire-forms (expands) to take up all of the available space in the chamber.   The sides and neck expand, the shoulder blows out and the case stretches to take up all of the available headspace.   Simply measure a fired case using the tools (either the Precision Mic or the Hornady Headspace Comparator) described above.   Before setting up the sizing die, measure and record the headspace distance of a case fired from your rifle.   Subtract the appropriate amount (0.003″ to 0.006″ for a semi-auto, lever or pump action, 0.001″ to 0.003″ for a bolt action of single shot) to determine the “target” measurement for your sized case headspace length.

To initially set up the die, follow the instructions that came with the die.   Typically, they’ll instruct you to install the shell holder, and then screw the die into the press so that the shell holder cams against the bottom of the die when the ram is raised all the way up.   Do not lock down the die when you do this.   Using a permanent marker, draw a witness mark on the die at about 6:00 (see figure 4).   This will act as a reference mark to allow you to arrive at your final settings more efficiently.

Figure 4 – Sizing Die with a temporary witness mark.


Take a clean, lubed, fired case from your rifle, place it in the shell holder, run it through the sizing die, and measure the headspace length.   It will almost certainly be shorter than your target measurement.

You’ll need to back out the die slightly to increase the headspace length of your sized cases to match your target distance.   This is where your witness mark comes in handy.   Standard reloading dies have 14 threads per inch; so one complete turn of the die will move it vertically 1/14th of in inch (about 0.071″).   Picture the circular die as the face of a clock, and your witness mark at 6:00 as the hour hand.   If you were to move the witness mark from 6:00 to 5:00, you would back out the die about 0.006″.   Studies have shown that most people can discern the time to within 15 minutes just by looking at the hour hand.   If you can do this, you’ll have the ability to adjust your die height (and case headspace length) in 0.0015″ increments using your witness mark.

Adjust the height of the die, run another clean, lubed, fired case into though the die, and measure it.   Continue to adjust the die until you reach your target case headspace length measurement.   Tighten the locking ring on the die (without moving the witness mark) and run one more case though it to verify that you have it set properly.   With the die locked in place, your cartridge headspace distance is set.   It shouldn’t move during use, but if it makes you feel better, you can re-measure every so often to ensure that you’re still on the money.

PLEASE NOTE: The above procedure assumes that you are using cases that were last fired out of the rifle for which you are loading.   If you are setting up the die using mixed brass or range pickups, first measure the headspace length of the fired unsized cases that you will use for setup to ensure that they start out longer than your target case headspace length.   If the cases were fired from a rifle with a chamber shorter than your rifle, backing out the die will not increase the case headspace length of an already too-short case.

In some rare cases when using a single-stage press, the headspace length of the sized case will still be too long even when the die is bottoming out hard on the shell holder.   While the part of the shell holder that attaches to the ram is standardized (so that it will fit in any standard press), the height of the shell holders is not standardized.   Some are taller than others.   This problem can be avoided by using a shell holder from the same company that manufactured your dies.   If you’re stuck with a mismatched set, you can reduce the height of your shell holder by placing a sheet of 400-grit silicon carbide wet/dry paper onto a flat surface (such as a piece of glass) and lapping the top of the shell holder in a figure-8 pattern.

It’s critically important to set the shoulder of the case to where it’s supposed to be. That shoulder acts as a gas seal, preventing plasma hot gases from leaking past the case, and eroding your chamber. The knuckles and joints of your reloading press have tolerances which allow the press to operate. Unfortunately, when you lube a brass rifle case, and introduce it into the full length resizing die, the friction is sufficient to stretch the joints of the press to their extreme limits, which will create a gap between the bottom of the sizing die, and the top of the shell holder. That gap will be the amount that the shoulder isn’t pushed back to it’s dimensional location. The fix is to make one further adjustment of the sizing die in the press.
Lower the ram/shell holder a bit, and adjust the sizing die a slight bit further in. Do this with no brass in the shell holder. This will create what I call an OVERCAM situation in the linkage of the press. The result will be a very tight pressure between the bottom of the die and the top of the shell holder. The previous gap will no longer be evident. And, the shoulder will be pushed into it’s proper location.
At the beginning of this discussion, I mentioned rifle dies not having carbide inserts. This over camming situation becomes all important with regard to carbide inserts. While the carbide inserts are hard, they are also brittle. If you were to do this over camming setup with a carbide inserts rifle die, you risk breaking the carbide insert. So, don’t try the over cam with a carbide insert type die.

The Expander Ball
When extracting the sized case from the die, you will feel resistance as the case initially frees itself from the die.   As you further raise the handle to lower the ram, you will feel almost no resistance for the next inch or two of ram travel, followed by a noticeable period of additional resistance just as the case is fully extracted from the die.   This final bit of resistance is caused by the expander ball being pulled through the case neck.   The expander ball is necessary to ensure that your case necks all have a consistent inside diameter regardless of the thickness of the case.

Cases from different manufacturers will vary slightly in case wall thickness.   To ensure that the neck of every case processed by your sizing die has the same inside diameter, the reloading manufacturers design the dies so that the portion of the sizing die that reduces the diameter of the case purposely makes the neck undersized.   When the case is extracted from the die, a part of the decapping mandrel called the expander ball is drawn though the neck to increase the diameter from the inside.   This ensures that the inside diameter of the necks of your resized cases will be the same regardless of the thickness of the case walls.

In many dies, the expander ball also acts as the nut that holds the decapping pin to the mandrel (see figure 5).   You should never resize cases with the expander ball removed.   Some reloaders that decap the cases prior to sizing will run them through the resizing die with the entire decapping mandrel removed.   This is a mistake.   The resulting cases will have necks with varying inside diameters, all of which will be too small.

Figure 5 – Sizing die disassembled to show the expander ball (indicated by the arrow).


In addition, you should replace the entire decapping mandrel/expander ball assembly if you ever have a malfunction that results in a bent decapping mandrel.   If you try to straighten it yourself, and do not do it perfectly, the last thing that will be dragged through the case neck prior to seating the bullet will be a bent mandrel.   This can only hurt your accuracy.

Why It Is Important To Set Up Your Dies This Way
If you were to leave the sizing die set up per the instructions that came with the die, you would likely push the shoulder back farther than necessary for your rifle.   The resulting round will load up OK, chamber, and fire (probably safely) in your rifle.   So why bother adjusting the sizing die to create a case that’s a better fit for your chamber? The reason is that properly sizing the case for your chamber results in better accuracy, less case stretch when the round is fired, and longer brass life.

You achieve better accuracy though more consistent ignition.   When the firing pin strikes the primer, the case moves forward to take up all of the available headspace.   Depending on your rifle, the primer might actually ignite instantly on impact with the firing pin (before the case moves), while the case is moving, or when the shoulder bottoms out on the chamber and the case stops.   The exact point of primer ignition might actually vary from shot-to-shot.   With a lot of extra room for movement, this would be like firing a series of cartridges with varying overall lengths and varying amounts of bullet ‘jump’ from the case to the lands of the rifling; which results in reduced accuracy and less precise groups.

When fired, the case will stretch to take up all of the extra room in the chamber.   More headspace means more stretching, and more stretching means more frequent trimming.   Stretching also causes thinning of the case walls above the web (all that brass you’re trimming off the case neck has to come from somewhere, right?).   The more the case walls thin, the higher the likelihood of a case head separation.   You will get fewer reloads out of your brass.

Rimmed and Belted Cases
The procedure described above for measuring the case head to shoulder distance and setting up the die accordingly minimizes the extra headspace for rimless bottleneck rifle cartridges.   This makes sense because non-belted rimless cartridges headspace on the shoulder.   But rimmed cartridges like the .30-30 or .303 British headspace on the rim; and belted magnum cartridges like the 7mm Remington or .300 Winchester Magnum headspace on the belt.   Is there any benefit realized by setting up the die as described?

The answer is, “Yes”.   Setting back the shoulder only enough so that the cartridge will reliably chamber will minimize case stretch, and require less working of the brass during resizing.   The less you work the brass, the less it will work hardens.   Work-hardened brass is brittle and will split sooner than if it as not work-hardened.   You will achieve longer brass life by following the procedures above when setting up the sizing die for rimmed and belted bottleneck cases.

Since belted and rimmed cases do not have to headspace on the shoulder, there’s nothing keeping the rifle manufacturers from making the shoulder area of the chamber overly generous.   This can result in an extreme amount of brass movement.

Figure 6 shows the case headspace length measurement of a factory 7mm Remington Magnum case (top) and the same case after firing (bottom).   The case head-to-shoulder measurement increased by 0.016″ during firing.   If this case were resized according to the instructions that accompany the sizing die, the repeated shoving back and blowing out of the shoulder would cause the case to fail after just a few reloads.   This is why belted magnums earned an undeserved reputation for short case life.   Setting the shoulder back only enough to allow the case to reliably chamber will more than double the useful life of the brass.

Figure 6 – There is a 0.016″ difference between the case headspace length of a factory 7mm Remington Magnum case (top) and the same case after it was fired (bottom)


Lever Guns and Rear Lug Bolt Action Rifles
Some lever-action rifles such as the Winchester 94 and Savage 99, and bolt action rifles like the Lee Enfield and Schmidt Rubin 1889 feature rear locking lugs on the bolt.   The longer distance between the chamber and the locking lugs results in a ‘springier” action than rifles with front locking lugs on the bolt.   The springier action sometimes allows the fired case to stretch beyond the chamber headspace dimension.   If you are loading for such a rifle, you might need to set the shoulder back a little more than the amounts recommended above.   Before sizing a large batch of cases, it is best to make up a dummy round (no powder or primer) and test it in the rifle to ensure that it chambers freely.   If not, you might need to set the shoulder back a bit farther.

Loading for Multiple Rifles
The procedure described above allows you to tailor the cartridge headspace length for a particular rifle.   If you will be making ammo for multiple rifles, you will either have to measure a fired cartridge from each rifle and set the case headspace length for the shortest chamber, or use an RCBS Precision Mic and set the case headspace length at or near the SAAMI minimum.   Either method will result in ammo that is safe to fire (very similar to factory ammo), but you might not always achieve the best accuracy or longest possible case life.


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Forming 300 Blackout brass

Category : Reloading

Forming .300 Blackout Brass

300 AAC Blackout, SAAMI short name 300 BLK, also known as 7.62×35mm is a rifle cartridge developed in the United States by Advanced Armament Corporation (AAC) for use in the M4 carbine. Its purpose is to achieve ballistics similar to the 7.62×39mm Soviet cartridge in an AR-15 while using standard AR-15 magazines at their normal capacity, and retaining the standard 5.56/223 Remington AR15 Bolt Carrier Group (BCG). 300 AAC BLACKOUT was approved by SAAMI on January 17, 2011. In theory, conversion from .223/5.56 to .300 Blackout requires only a barrel change. In places where a suppressor is legal, the 300 BLK can be loaded to subsonic velocities with heavier (190+gr) spitzer-style bullets, which are much more efficient than the pistol bullets normally used in these applications.

Forward by Keith Byrnes

I would like to start off by saying that I never had any plans to get involved with long guns, or forming brass, or swaging bullets at all. It all started out with my friendship with orville Deutchman. He is the person responsible for all of the rifle stuff that I do, including brass forming and bullet swaging addiction. I call him my “dealer”, a term of endearment meaning mentor. We started out using Orville’s set of .224 swaging tools, which converts used .22 LR brass cases into donor jackets for making 55 grain bullets for 223 Remington. So, hence, I bought an AR15 in 223 Remington. Then, Orville brings out a 300 Blackout AR, and mentions that we need to swage .30 cal 150 grain bullets from 5.7 X 28 FN donor cases. So, I end up building a 300 AAC Blackout. The cases for 300 AAC Blackout are hard to come by at the range. And, being on a budget, purchasing the quantities that we needed was cost prohibitive. So, Orville suggests we can make 300 AAC Blackout cases out of 223 Remington brass. Now for the rest of the Story.

Beginning Plans

After doing some research, we settled on 5.56 Lake City brass, primarily due to the conformity of the brass. It has the proper dimensions, especially regarding the wall thickness. When cut down, and reformed, the necks would be the perfect thickness, .0015”. Commercial brass varies in the thickness of the brass, and would give results from .012” to .0135, too thick”. The .0015” necks on the Lake City brass turned out to be very consistent, and eliminated any need to otherwise try to fix the brass.

We had to come up with a way to cut the brass down. And, it was important that the cut length was somewhat precise and consistent. We needed to leave a slightly longer length than was needed, about .002”, so that we could trim the brass to final length and deburr it. I had been swaging several sizes of pistol bullets, and had a set of pop through fixtures made for my Harbor Freight cut off saw. One of those fixtures was one which handled .223 Remington cases. We decided that Keith would handle the initial stages of the conversion from 5.56 Nato brass to 300 AAC Blackout.

The Steps

  1. Batch size is 3,000 pcs. Sort brass by head stamp, choosing only Lake City 5.56 Nato brass
  2. Brass is cleaned and polished. SS Pin tumbling for 2 hours, rinsed with fresh water, followed by drying in a Harbor Freight food dehydrator tray, on high for an hour. Polished in walnut shell, with NuFinish car polish and mineral spirits.
  3. A Dillon RL550b is set up with a case feeder, and brass is run through the Dillon, with only a Lee Universal Decapping Tool in station 1.
  4. The crimps in the primer pockets are then removed using a Dillon Super Swage 600.
  5. The cases are cut trimmed to 1.370”, using the pop through fixture in the Harbor Freight saw. We use a good quality saw blade :
    1. The P/N for the saw we are using from F&D is: 15397-J156
      The specs are: 15397-J156 Jewelers Slotting Saw
      Outside diameter:2″
      Thickness: .020″
      Hub diameter: 3/8″
      Teeth per inch: 24
      Teeth per blade: 152
    2. Or….
      Malco equivalent, JS202038000, same specs
    3. The blades cost under $10 each, and are much superior to the so-so quality blades from Harbor Freight. We have run over 10,000 cuts on one of the good blades, whereas the HF blades only last for 3-4,000 cuts. The burr from the cutting operation is almost non-existent with the quality blades.
  6. The cases go back into the case feeder for the Dillon 550, and get run through a Lee 300 AAC Blackout die set. The overall diameter dimensions are now right on the money. The neck is a little long, due to the planning in step 5.
  7. The cases are trimmed to final length using a Giraud Trimmer to the final 1.368” overall length. The Giraud trims and deburrs at the same time.
  8. The resultant cases are then run through a neck annealer, made by Annealeez. . The Annealeez machine was chosen because it was a lot less expensive than many of the other options.The proper amount of annealing is achieved by heating the neck to about 800° F for about 6 seconds, while ensuring that the body and case head do not exceed 425 ° F in the process – a process made extra difficult by the relative shortness of the 300 Blackout case. Annealing must be precise and consistent. The old “spin-the-case-on-a-welding-rod-in-a- BernzOmatic-flame-for-a-10-count” method won’t cut it.You can try skipping the annealing step, but if you have problems with inconsistent velocity, poor accuracy, and short case life, annealing may be the only fix. If the price of an automated annealer is too prohibitive, try to find another reloader to go in on it with you.
  9. The final product is again run through the crushed walnut shell vibratory system with the NuFinish polish and mineral spirits. That gives them a long lasting protection against humidity.

Keith and I are also producing our own 150 grain bullets for the 300 AAC Blackout cartridges. We’re using 5.7 X 28 FN cases as the donor jackets for these high quality, home made jacketed bullets. They will be the subject of another article. Stay tuned.

If you have any questions regarding the making of 300 Blackout brass from 5.56 NATO cases, feel free to Contact Orville at 386-753-8898.



Figure 5 – Prep steps from left-to-right: A 5.56 NATO parent case, trimmed , annealed, and sized/cleaned

Final thoughts

Many shooters buy a .300 Blackout upper to add versatility to their existing 5.56 AR-15. As stated earlier, one benefit is that you can use the same magazines with both calibers. Technically speaking, you can use the same bolt too, but it’s not a good idea to do so. There’s a saying about the AR-15: “New barrel, new bolt”. Because the bolt and barrel wear and break in together, you should always use a new bolt with any new AR-15 barrel, and not use a bolt with more than one barrel. If you’re going to get an “extra” 300 Blackout upper, get a new dedicated bolt or entire bolt/bolt carrier assembly to use with it.

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My rounds won’t chamber

Category : Reloading

My Rounds Won’t Chamber

I recently received the following question from a former reloading student:

I’ve been reloading .45 ACP with 200gr lead semi-wadcutter bullets.  I’ve worked up a very accurate load, but 4 or 5 rounds out of 100 will not chamber in my pistol.  At another shooter’s suggestion, I bought a Dillon Case Gage to check my reloads, and found (not surprisingly) that the rounds that won’t chamber also won’t fit in the gage.  All of the rounds were made using the same bulk bullets, from the same manufacturer, with the same setup.  I used mixed brass, but it was all from factory ammo that I originally fired in my pistol.

One of the guys at my club recommended that I buy a Lee Factory crimp die, but I’m not sure that my problem is related to the crimp.  What am I doing wrong? Will the Factory Crimp Die fix it?

This is a pretty common problem with handgun rounds, and it’s not limited to .45 ACP.  The root cause is inconsistency, and it can be caused by the components, improperly set dies, and/or sloppy technique.

I especially see this chambering issue with S&W M&P barrels, and also with aftermarket barrels for Glocks in 9mm. It’s the exact same issue.

One of the goals in reloading is to make every round the same.  Many reloaders assume that they can accomplish this goal as long as they follow the recipes in the manuals and set up their equipment properly.  This is not true 100% of the time – In fact it was only true 95%-96% of the time in the case of the person that asked the question above.  The following factors can contribute to the problem described above, especially when several are combined.

Case Wall Thickness and Bullet Diameter Variation
I measured a sampling of 100 mixed .45 ACP cases from seven different manufacturers and the results were surprising.  The wall thickness averaged about 0.010″, but I found cases as thin as 0.008″ and as thick as 0.013″ (US military cases were the thinnest, and Federal and AMERC were the thickest).  While the sizing die will temporarily shrink and uniform the outside diameter of the cases regardless of wall thickness, the expander die and the bullet itself will re-expand the case from the inside, causing the loaded rounds’ outside diameters to vary.  If I loaded these cases using perfectly identical bullets, and measured the outside diameter of the completed rounds, I would see a difference of 0.010″ from the smallest to the largest caused entirely by brass thickness variation.  This is huge.

Bullet diameter can also be a factor.  Cast lead bullets are generally sized 0.001″ larger than jacketed bullets of the same caliber.  I say “generally” because I’ve purchased bulk quantities of cast lead bullets from reputable manufacturers that were as much as 0.003″ larger than jacketed bullets.  Some inexpensive plated bullets can also exhibit excessive diameter variations.  The plating process is a difficult one to control, and bullets that are packaged right after the plating process can be inconsistent.  Some plated bullets are ‘double-struck’, which means that they go through an additional final sizing step after plating.  These tend to be more consistent.

Figure 1 – These unsorted .45 ACP cases vary in wall thickness by as much as 0.005″

If ‘oversized’ bullets are loaded into cases with normal or thin walls, the rounds will likely chamber without problems, but when oversized bullet is combined with a thick-walled case, these two factors combine to make a round that will not fit into a tight chamber (or a case gage).

Case Length
Believe it or not, the length of the case can ultimately affect a round’s ability to chamber.  Case length affects the amount that the case is belled (see below) and also the crimp.  When you set up your crimp die, the length of the case (and to a lesser extent the thickness) will affect the amount of crimp applied to the round.  Shorter (and thinner) cases will have less crimp, and longer/thicker cases will have more.  In my sample of .45 ACP cases, the case lengths of fired (unsized) cases ranged from 0.878″ to 0.895″, with Winchester cases grouped near the short end and Federal near the top.  If I were to set up the crimp die using Winchester cases, the Federal cases would end up with more crimp.  Depending on the die height setting and the internal profile of the crimp die, the longer/thicker cases could end up slightly bulged just below the crimp.  The bulge may be only a few thousandths of an inch (not easily noticeable upon inspection), but combined with other factors can result in a round that won’t chamber.

Insufficient Case Belling
Many reloaders intentionally set the expander die to flare the case mouth as little as possible.  The thinking is that this practice will work the brass less, and result in longer case life.  While this may or may not be true, insufficient case belling can result in some pretty bad ammo.  At the worst, insufficient belling can result in crushed cases and shaved (cast lead) bullets.  Even if the damage is not obvious, insufficiently belled cases require more force to seat the bullet, and can end up with bulges or bullets that seated off-center – either of which can result in ammo that will not gage/chamber.

Figure 2 – A properly belled case mouth can help top solve chambering problems

Even if you think the die is set to provide sufficient flare, if you do your initial setup using a long-ish case, the die will flare shorter cases less; possibly enough to cause the problem described above.

Bullet Seating Technique
The proper way to seat a flat-based pistol bullet is to lightly place it – centered and straight – on top of a properly flared case.  Many reloaders – especially those that reload on a progressive press – rush this process.  If you jam the bullet down into the case, or place it at too much of an angle, it might not seat straight.  You can end up with a completed round that has a pronounced bulge on one side of the case (see Figure 3).  This happens more frequently when the case is insufficiently flared to begin with.

Figure 3 – The bulge on one side of this round (indicated by the arrow) was likely caused by a combination of poor seating technique and insufficient case mouth flare

The problem is exacerbated by inexpensive dies with internal clearances generous enough to allow the bullet to enter the die crooked.  Some dies (such as the seating dies in Hornady pistol sets) minimize this effect by using a sliding alignment sleeve which pre-straightens the bullet before the die bottoms out and begins to seat.  (See Figure 4).

Will the Lee Factory Crimp Die fix the problem?
The Lee Factory Crimp die might solve the chambering problem, but in the process it could cause another.  The Lee Factory Crimp Die for pistol calibers does more than just crimp the round.  It features an internal carbide sizing ring similar to the one found inside sizing dies, but larger in diameter to accommodate a loaded round.  (NOTE: Never try to run a completed round through a regular sizing die with the decapping pin removed – it’s too small).

Figure 4 – The sliding alignment sleeve on this Hornady seating die helps to ensure that bullets are seated straight

When the nearly-completed round is forced into the die, the sizing ring squeezes any bulged or oversized rounds down to a dimension that will ensure that they chamber.  Sounds good, right? There’s a possible drawback though when using the Factory Crimp Die on rounds loaded with lead bullets.  If a round loaded with a cast lead bullet is oversized because the case is thicker than normal, and the Factory Crimp Die squeezes it down to a smaller diameter, it will do so by reducing the diameter of the bullet inside the case.  Lead is much softer than brass, so the case thickness will remain the same while the bullet diameter is decreased.  If the diameter of the driving bands on the bullet (see Figure 5) are made smaller than the bore diameter, hot gases from powder combustion will escape along the sides of the bullet, causing gas-cutting of the bullet which will result in severe barrel leading .

Figure 5 – The driving bands (indicated by the arrows) on a lead bullet must be the same diameter as the bore (or slightly larger) to prevent gas cutting and barrel leading

What can I do to prevent this problem?

Pre-Sort Your Brass – Measure the length and thickness of your cases, note which headstamps trend to the long and thick end of the spectrum, sort them out, and reserve them for use with jacketed bullets.

Use Good Bullets -Good bullets are consistent bullets.  If your bargain bullets vary in diameter, they might not be such a bargain after all.

Properly Flare the Cases – Reducing the flare does little to extend brass life.  Measure a sampling of cases to determine the range of case lengths, and use one of the shorter ones to set up your expander die.

Pay Extra Attention to The Seating Step – Either get a Hornady (or similar) seating die, or take a little extra time to ensure that the bullet is properly placed on top of the flared case.

Also, if you’re not using one already, it’s a good idea to get a case gage (such as a Dillon, Wilson, or Lyman) to check your finished rounds.  A case gage (see Figure 6) is a metal tube that is precisely machined to the dimensions of a very tight chamber.  Simply drop the finished round into the gage.  If it fits in the gage, it will likely chamber in your gun.  Use the gage for spot checks during your reloading session and to check your finished rounds when you are done.

Figure 6 – A case gage allows you to quickly check the external dimensions of your reloads

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Reloading for S&W 500 Magnum – Ouch or Ahhhhh

Category : Reloading

Reloading for S&W 500 Magnum


Since it’s introduction at the Shot Show in 2003, this Cor-bon/S&W chambering has pretty much followed a similar path to the way the 44 Magnum was handled in the 70’s, with the 1971, “Dirty Harry” movie. Back then, gun enthusiasts bought 44 Magnums, mostly S&W Model 29s, in big numbers. However, these gun owners soon realized that the heavy factory load recoil made shooting the gun very painful, as well as expensive. What was once, “The world’s most powerful handgun” was replaced at the 2003 Shot Show by this new, even bigger creation, the S&W 500 Magnum. It still holds the record as the current world’s most powerful revolver. S&W had to create a new size of their forged revolver frame, the “X Frame,” to handle the massive energy that this revolver creates. The .500” diameter bullet is the largest that the National Firearms Act (NFA) allows for guns. Anything bigger is considered a “destructive device,” and not likely to succeed in the retail market. While there are many who flocked to buy this new powerful entry in the revolver market, and then parted company with their all too powerful guns, there are quite a few enthusiasts who still love this cherished hand gun. Especially those who are reloaders. It’s by reloading that the 500 S&W Magnum can come into its own, and can be amazingly tamed.


There are currently a vast array of bullets in .500 diameter, created for the 500 S&W Magnum. The range of bullet weights run from 275 grains all the way up to the monstrous “T-Rex” cast bullet, at 700 grains. The 700 grain bullet is actually the largest (longest) bullet that you can fit into the cylinder of the S&W 500 Magnum. Anything bigger/longer would protrude out the front of the cylinder, and prohibit cylinder rotation. My favorite jacketed bullet is Hornady’s 350 grain XTP (P/N 50100) bullet. If you are going to take this gun along for protection against grizzly bears, the XTP will certainly stop one of these beasts. In the cast bullet realm, there are a number of manufacturers offering commercial cast versions of everything, up to and including the 700 grain T-Rex/Grand Canyon. However, I much prefer to cast my own bullets, since cost is a significant issue in this chambering. I currently have molds to create several types and sizes of hollow points, including one with a five sided hollow point feature. I call those “sheriff” bullets. MP-Molds makes a wonderful assortment of the 500 S&W Magnum molds. I have all of their 500 S&W Magnum molds, including the MP-Molds Grand Canyon mold to create the 700 grain bullets. It’s gas checked, and features hollow point inserts to make a variety of hollow point shapes, and by result, many weights. It is the largest/longest bullet that will fit in the cylinders of the S&W revolvers for this chambering.


The load data books have gotten better in recent years, and the manufacturers of powder and bullets are doing more testing for the load data for the 500 Magnum. My “Go-To” factory load powder for the 500 Magnum is Hodgdon’s “Lil Gun” powder. Originally developed for 410 shotgun shells, this modified ball powder flows through powder measures well, and seems very well suited for the large magnum cartridges, including the 500 magnum. The use of Lil Gun allows you to experience the full force and power of the 500 magnum. Be sure to keep within the safe limits by bullet weight. Caution: DO NOT underload this or any other powder more than 10% from the starting load for the given bullet weight. While at first glimpse you might think that it’s even safer…..  In reality, it can be very dangerous. Heavier bullets require less of the same bullet than do lighter bullets. So, using a “half charge” of powder for a given bullet can cause your gun to experience a catastrophic failure. Research your load data very carefully. I like to use a combination of Hodgdon’s on-line load data, the Lyman load data book (currently, the 50th edition), and the Hornady and Speer load data books. I caution you to NOT use any discussion forum loads for this chambering. A simple mistake can cost you fingers, eyes, and gun parts. I don’t mean to scare you, but merely point out that this cartridge has little in the way of error margin.

My all time favorite powder for the 500 magnum is Hodgdon’s Trail Boss.
TrailBoss_1LB_1K-1024x1024This powder is light and fluffy. Looks like small grey doughnuts. It’s a powder than can be universally used in any chambering, aand can fill the brass, right up to the base of the seated bullet, and never be over pressure. Hodgdon cautions: Do not crush the doughnuts. The result is a light recoil, with virtually any bullet, right up to and including the T-Rex 700 grain bullet. My 80 year old shooting buddy in Maine giggles like a school girl when shooting my 6 1/2″ S&W 500 magnum with large nasty bullets loaded behind Trail Boss powder. Even with his old wrists and hands, he can brag about shooting this monster of a gun accurately, for many shots after shots.

Here is IMR’s PDF document for using their Trail Boss powder:
Trail Boss Powder Usage

For additional information regarding Trail Boss or any other powder for use in the S&W 500 Magnum, please call the powder manufacturer.


The 500 Magnum requires a ROLL style crimp. When loading either Trail Boss or Lil Gun powder, the heavy bullets can move within the case unless a firm roll crimp is applied. For that purpose, I strongly recommend the use of a Lee Factory Crimp Die (p/n 90931), or any similar die from Redding or RCBS. Crimping deeply into either the crimp ring on a cast bullet, or into the cannelure of a jacketed bullet will assure that under the worst recoil conditions, the bullet will stay exactly where you seated it. Before I started deeply rioll crimping, I had the unfortunate experience of having a T-Rex bullet come loose, move forward, and lock up the cylinder on my revolver. That’s a dangerous situation to recover from. Since deeply roll crimping with a factory crimp die, it’s never happened again.


500 Magnums are reloaded with Large Rifle primers. The pocket is designed for that diameter and depth of primer. Do NOT substitute pistol primers. Many load data books also specify Magnum Large Rifle Primers. In my own testing, I have found ignition of the cartridges, with either Lil Gun or TrailBoss to be reliable with standard Large Rifle Primers.


My S&W 500 magnum is one of my favorite revolvers to shoot. It always draws a crowd at the gun range, and many are eager to have a go at it. When allowing a new shooter to handle this gun, I only load one round in the cylinder. Even after coaching them through the stance, and the firm grip, and reminding them to allow the arm to rise up at the elbow, they often lose sight of the awesome power of the 500 Magnum, and suddenly lose grip on the gun. Reaching for a revolver that is escaping one’s hand has been cause for the trigger getting accidentally pulled a second time, often with disastrous results. So, one round in the chamber fixes that. I usually also allow them to shoot one of the TrailBoss loads, to their great delight.

Additional Reading

Here’s a link for a well written article, on the subject of the S&W 500 magnum,  from John Ross, a 500 S&W Magnum expert, and the author of a famous book, “Unintended Consequences“, which in novel format, chronicles the growth of the Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms Agency (ATF):

500 Magnum Article from John Ross

MP-Molds are available at:

My guidelines for using any of the large 500 S&W Magnum molds from MP-Molds:

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Are hand loads more accurate than factory ammo?

Category : Reloading

Are Handloads More Accurate Than Factory Ammo?

The question above is very simple, and it has a very simple answer. “Yes. Handloads are more accurate than factory ammo.”

To prove this assertion, I decided to pit some of my handloads against some factory ammo to see which shot better groups.

I went to my local gun shop and purchased two 20-round boxes of Federal XM193 “Tactical” 5.56 ammo (it was all they had at the time), and made 20 rounds of my own .223 ammo using a load that I’d worked up previously.

I then took my handloads and the factory ammo to the range to “fight it out”.

Using a Savage Model 12 rifle on a front sandbag rest, I fired four 5-shot groups from each lot of ammo at targets 100 yards away.   The results (group sizes) for the factory ammo are shown in Table 1.   The handloads are in Table 2.

The best groups from each lot of ammo are shown in Figures 1 and 2.

Table 1 – Group sizes (in MOA) for factory ammo

Figure 1 – Best group for Factory Ammo- 2.205 MOA (Not bad)

Table 2 – Group sizes (in MOA) for handloaded ammo

Figure 2 – Best Group for Handloads – .613 MOA (Much better)

As you can clearly see, the results weren’t even close.   The groups from the factory ammo averaged more than 4 times the size of the groups from the hand-loaded ammo.

Was This a “Fair” Test?
When I was doing the shooting for this article, one of my fellow club members was present, and he let me know (in no uncertain terms) that he thought my test was unfair.   “You made that ammo specifically for that rifle”, he remarked.

“There’s no way that factory stuff is going to outshoot your handloads” he said, “You’re using those pricy match bullets, while the factory ammo has military-style 55 grain bullets with a cannelure.   If you want a fair test, you should get some factory match ammo.”

This brief exchange highlighted three of the most important benefits of hand loading.

First, he was right about my handloads.   I did make them specifically for that rifle.   In fact, the load I used was developed through extensive testing with the very rifle I was shooting.   One of the most important benefits of hand loading is that you have the ability to try various loads in your guns and select the ones that perform the best.

He was also correct in his assertion that the match-grade 73 grain bullets in my handloads were not only better than the military-style 55gr bullets in the factory ammo, but they were better suited for the 1:7 twist rate in the barrel of my Savage rifle.   Even though match bullets are more expensive than the ‘bulk’ bullets likely used in the factory ammo, I was still able to make my handloads for a fraction of what I paid for the factory ammo.  Benefit Number Two is cost savings even when using superior components.

Finally, he was spot-on with his comment that this contest would have been much closer if I had compared factory match ammo to my handloads.   The fact is, I intended to do just that, but after visiting three shops, I was unable to find any match ammo, and had to settle for whatever I could get.   Benefit Number Three is availability.   It’s more economical to stock up on components, and simply make the ammo you need when you need it.

If the simple question was “Are reloads more accurate factory ammo?”, and the simple answer was “Yes”, then the tougher question is “Why?”

The real truth is that my developed handloads are ALWAYS better than even the best factory match grade ammo. The real reason is because the hand loads are TUNED to the harmonics of the rifle. That’s something that I will cover in another article. I’ll try to expand on that in another article.

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Cartridge Case Longevity

Category : Reloading

Cartridge Case Longevity

As an instructor, there is one experience in particular that I find truly frustrating:
When I have to reward a really good question with a very bad answer.

For example, when a participant in a reloading class asks, “How many times can a case be reloaded before it must be scrapped?”

The correct (but unhelpful) answer is, “It depends.”

A number of factors affect case longevity. The caliber, the pressure to which the rounds are loaded, the firearm used to fire the rounds, the dies used to reload the rounds (and the way the dies are set up), and even the case composition can all have an effect of the number of times a case can be successfully reloaded.

Generally speaking, lower pressures, tighter chambers, better quality components, and dies that are set up to work the case as little as possible all contribute to longer case life. However brass longevity isn’t the only thing you have to consider when you are reloading: Some cartridges run best at higher pressures, some firearms have loose chambers, and sometimes you must set up your dies to produce ammo that will run in a number of firearms rather than specifically tailoring it to one chamber.

In order to precisely determine how many times a particular cartridge can be reloaded, you’d almost have to test each caliber/cartridge individually.

So, let’s do it. Since we have to start somewhere, I figured I’d begin by testing a middle-of-the-road .38 Special load.

Figure 1 – Portable Reloading Bench Set Up at the Range

The Test
I brought a portable reloading setup to the range with me (see Figure 1). This setup is similar to the ones I use in the reloading classes. I loaded the cartridges, shot them, wiped the cases off with a rag, and repeated the process until the cases failed – in other words – until I couldn’t reload them anymore.

For this test, I tried to keep everything as “normal” as possible. What I mean by that is that I tried to use boringly pedestrian data, components, and equipment to load and shoot the rounds in this test. There’s nothing exotic here.

I employed a single stage Hornady L-N-L Classic press along with a Lee 3-die carbide pistol die set to load 142gr jacketed bullets over a medium (7.5 grain) charge of Blue Dot for a velocity of about 850 FPS. I flared each case a ‘normal’ amount before seating the bullets, and finished each round with a light roll crimp. I chose Blue Dot because I had about a quarter of a bottle left over from another project.

Figure 2 – Smith & Wesson Military and Police .38 Special Revolver (pre-Model 10)


I fired the rounds from a Smith & Wesson pre-Model 10, pencil-barrel, six-shot K-Frame revolver made in the 1950’s – when it comes to .38s, that’s about as ‘standard’ as you can get (see Figure 2).

I started with a dozen once-fired Remington (R-P headstamp) .38 Special cases – six were plain brass, and six were nickel plated brass. I used both brass and nickel-plated brass because I wanted to see if one lasted longer than the other. I loaded and shot all 12 cases until they failed.

The Results
The failure mode was the same for every case in the test: the case mouths split (see Figure 3). This makes sense. The .38 Special is a straight-walled, low pressure revolver round. The primer pockets won’t loosen up, there’s no case stretch, and the chambers are fairly tight. That leaves “cracks due to work hardening” as the most likely failure mode, which is exactly what happened to these cases. During loading, the case mouth is first flared, and then roll-crimped, and then forcibly flattened during firing. It is no surprise that the mouths split because the mouth ends up getting worked much more than any other part of the case.

Figure 3 – A split case mouth like the one above was the eventual failure mode for all 12 cases


The splits start out tiny – less than 1/16th of an inch long. You can barely see them, but they’re easy to feel if you run your fingernail around the case mouth (see figure 4 to see one of the tiny splits). The first couple of times I detected these tiny splits, I tried loading the case one more time. Although the rounds with the tiny splits fired and performed normally, the extracted cases showed significant (about 3/8″ long) cracks like the one in Figure 2. After seeing what happened when I loaded cases that were starting to split, I decided to “retire” the remaining cases at the first sign of splitting.

Figure 4 – Note the small split at the case mouth. This was the first indication of failure

The most remarkable thing I learned during this test was the striking difference in longevity between plain brass and nickel-plated brass cases. I had the feeling going in that nickel-plated cases split sooner than plain brass cases. I didn’t realize how much sooner. The plain brass cases lasted 3 times longer than the nickel plated brass. The first nickel-plated case failed on the 6th loading, and by the 15th loading, all six nickel plated cases were split – with an average of 10.5 reloads before failure. The first brass case failed on reload number 28, with one tenacious case hanging on until the 40th reload! The plain brass cases averaged 33 reloads before failure (see Table 1).

Table 1 – The results of the longevity test


When I take the amount of once-fired range brass I’ve scrounged through the years, and combine it with the fact that plain brass cases can be loaded about 30 times, I’m able to conclude that I have enough .38 Special cases to last several lifetimes. I’ve also decided that when I buy brass in the future for any caliber, I will opt for plain brass over nickel-plated cases when given the choice.

Since work hardening seems to be the cause of the case failures, it might be interesting sometime in the future to repeat this test using dies that are designed to go easier on the brass. Redding’s dual-ring carbide sizing dies work the brass less during sizing, while the new RCBS expander dies and the Lyman “M” expander dies are designed with a stepped expander button to reduce the amount of mouth flare needed for proper bullet seating. Both of these improvements should increase case longevity.

On the other hand, 30 reloads per case is a lot, so repeating this test with different dies to see if I can get a few more reloads per case is probably not going to be a high priority for me.

There’s a general rule in reloading…..  If you only have a few cases to your name, you do what you can do to keep them going. However, if you have access to a good supply of brass cases, don;t worry about the few that fail in use.

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What do I need to start reloading?

Category : Reloading

I want to reload.   What equipment do I need to get started?

This is – by far – the most frequently asked question by people that are thinking about getting into reloading.

Ask this on any web forum or discussion board and you will get widely varying, strongly held opinions of which tools and equipment are really needed to safely make good ammo.

Here are my recommendations – The first list is for pistol reloading; the second list contains the additional things you’ll need to make rifle ammo.

Tools and equipment you’ll need for reloading pistol calibers:

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How many times can I reload 45 ACP brass?

Category : Reloading

How many times can you reload a .45 ACP case?

The .45 ACP has a reputation for case longevity that borders on mythical. “You can load it until you lose it” is just one phrase commonly used to describe the durability of this caliber. To find out, I brought a portable reloading setup to the indoor range at a local sportmens’ club to load/shoot/repeat with a .45 ACP case until failure.

Figure 1 – The portable reloading used setup for this test
The Components and Pistol

I used brand new cases from Starline, Remington No. 2-1/2 (large pistol) primers , 230gr X-treme plated bullets loaded over 4.7 grains of Titegroup loaded to a cartridge overall length of 1.260″. For this test, I intentionally selected a load near the top of the charge weight range in order to “exercise” the brass as much as possible. The rounds were fired from a Government Sized (5″) S&W 1911.

The Test

In addition to testing how many times the case could be safely reloaded, I also wanted to see if and how much the case length shortened as it was fired/reloaded, to see if and how much the case mouth thickness changed as the case was fired and reloaded, and finally, what would be the ultimate failure mode for the case.

Does a .45 ACP case get shorter each time you load and shoot it?

Unlike a bottleneck rifle case which lengthens upon firing/resizing, it is commonly believed that a straight-walled case that headspaces on the case mouth will shorten as it’s fired. The case becomes shorter because the case mouth slams into the chamber when the cartridge headspaces, and the case head slams back against the breech face when it fires. Most reloaders believe that a combination of these two effects contribute to the reduction in case length.

After each firing, I resized the case and then measured its length. I can say, with 100% certainty that a .45 ACP case shortens as you use it (see the graph below). Before the first firing, the case length was 0.894″. After the 5th firing, the case length was 0.004″ shorter (at 0.890″), and by the end of the test had shortened to 0.883″ – 0.011″ shorter than at the start of the test.

Figure 2 – This graph shows the case length vs, the number of times the case was reloaded

By the 20th firing, the case had been reduced to its SAAMI minimum length of 0.888″. Since this was a case longevity test, I decided to continue loading and firing it. According to conventional wisdom, .45 ACP cases shorter than the minimum length will headspace on the extractor rather than one the case mouth, and while this is not optimal, the rounds will fire. While this very well may be the case, the round in my test never got short enough to headspace on the external extractor of my S&W 1911.

Does the case mouth really get thicker as you reload the case?

I have read that the case mouths of rimless straight-walled cases get thicker when they are fired and reloaded due to the case mouth banging into the chamber as the cartridge headspaces. This repeated peening is supposed to cause the case mouth to thicken. After every resizing, I used thickness micrometers to measure the case wall thickness at the same spot on the case mouth (see Figure 3). I found that the thickness of the case at the mouth did not change – even by a fraction of a thousandth – no matter how many times the case was reloaded. At the start of this test, the case wall thickness at the mouth was a hair over 0.010″, and it remained rock-steady at that thickness even after dozens of firings.

Figure 3 – Measuring the case wall thickness at the mouth

So, if the case wasn’t shortening at the mouth, was it possible that the case head was getting shorter? Not only is it possible, it is exactly what happened during this test. Figure 4 shows a many-times fired case on the left next to a brand new case on the right. Look carefully at the main case body length (in other words, the distance between the case mouth and the top of the extractor groove) on both cases. That distance is the same on both cases even though the case on the left is 0.011″ shorter than the new case on the right.

Figure 4 – A many-times fired case on the left compared to a new case on the right

This means that all of the reduction in case length occurred between the top of the extractor groove and the case head. A close look at Figure 4 backs that up. This makes sense: The case head is driven forcefully into the breech face every time the cartridge is fired. This force is many times greater than the puny amount – provided only by the hammer through the firing pin – that acts on the case mouth during headspacing.

The case head really takes a beating. Figure 5 shows the case head of a many-times fired case compared to a fresh case. This points us toward the ultimate failure mode for this caliber.

Figure 5 – These cases came out of the same bag an hour apart

So, how many times can you reload a .45 ACP?

I reloaded this case 54 times, which was a couple of dozen times too many. I noticed at reload number 30 that the primer felt high. Even after a couple of quick attempts to reseat it, the primer still remained proud of the case. After firing the round and resizing the case, I measured the primer pocket depth. After the 30th firing it was 0.108″ deep, as compared to 0.125″ for a brand new case. Not only was the case getting smaller at the case head, but the primer pocket was getting shallower. I would have scrapped the case at that point if this was not a longevity test.

I continued to reload the case to see if I could get it to split. I was careful to “ride the slide” when I single-loaded the pistol to avoid a possible slam fire. By the 54th reloading, the case showed no signs of splitting, but the primer pocket depth had reduced to only 0.100″, and the primer was too high to safely fire the round. This failure mode was a surprise – otherwise I would have been measuring the primer pocket depth on each reload rather than the case mouth thickness.

Final Thoughts

Like many good experiments, this one spawned additional questions. Such as:

  1. Can different brands of brass be reloaded more or less times?
  2. How much does the primer pocket depth shrink on each reload?
  3. Does small primer .45 ACP behave the same way as large primer 45 ACP?
  4. What effect would reducing the charge weight have on primer pocket depth changes?

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10 Reasons to Reload

Category : Reloading

  • Save lots of money
    Even if you shoot small quantities of common (inexpensive) calibers, reloading will save you half compared to buying factory ammo.   If you shoot more exotic calibers like .460 S&W Magnum, 10mm, or .38 Super, you can save up to 90% by reloading.
  • Make more accurate ammo
    Right from the start, you’ll be able to make ammunition that is more consistent than most factory ammo.   Once you find the right recipe, consistency will equal accuracy.
  • Shoot more, shoot better
    There’s an old story that goes something like this:
    Pianist Arthur Rubinstein was approached on a street in New York by someone who asked, “Pardon me sir, how do I get to Carnegie Hall?” To which Rubinstein replied, “Practice, practice, practice!”
    The way to become a better shot is to practice.   By reloading, you’ll be able to save money AND practice more.
  • Shoot ‘obsolete’ calibers
    I bought a Model 1889 Scmidt-Rubin rifle from a friend that never had the opportunity to shoot it because the 7.5 x 53 ammo for it was long obsolete.  After making a chamber cast, slugging the bore, and doing a bit of research, I was able to make some ammo and bring this fine rifle ‘back to life’.

    I Wouldn’t Be Able To Shoot This If I Didn’t Reload
  • Make special-purpose ammunition
    Two guys side-by-side at the range are shooting identical single shot .30-30 rifles at targets 200 yards away.   One is less affected by the crosswind, grouping tighter, and shooting flatter than the other.   The difference?   The more successful shooter was using handloads with higher ballistic coefficient spitzer-style bullets, while the other shooter was using factory ammo with blunt-nosed projectiles designed for tube magazine-fed lever guns (which was all he was able to find in factory .30-30).
  • Custom-tailor ammunition for your gun
    Some rifles have oddball twist rates that will stabilize only certain size bullets.   Some (usually older) handguns have oversized bores that will perform poorly with standard ammunition.   If you make your own, you select components that allow you to get the most out of non-standard firearms.
  • Make reduced recoil loads
    New shooters or shooters with a physical ailment (such as arthritis) will often do better with reduced recoil rounds.   Handloading gives you the ability to download many calibers to make them easier to shoot.   Another benefit is that often times you can find a good deal on a magnum rifle or revolver that the original buyer found to be too bone-jarring to shoot.   A hand loader can easily make a .458 Winchester Magnum shoot like a .45-70, or a S&W .500 feel like a .38 Special.

    You Can Make This Feel As Light As A .38 Special
  • Fear no caliber
    On a recent visit to my local gun shop, I saw two identical looking used S&W snub-nosed revolvers in the case.   One was priced at $450, the other was $150.   Why the difference?   The more expensive of the two was chambered in .38 Special, which is commonly available and reasonably priced.   The other was chambered for .38 S&W, which is much harder to find, and more expensive when you do find it.
  • Never worry about an ammo shortage again
    For a long period of time after the last administration change, many calibers were difficult to find.   Some were borderline impossible to get (.380 was unobtainable for almost 6 months).   This wasn’t a problem for reloaders, because components were still available.
  • Get the satisfaction of doing it yourself, and doing it well
    It’s a great feeling when you win a competition, have a successful hunting trip, or even just out-shoot your friends with ammo you made yourself.

Contact for a class or info today


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Rifle Cartridge Overall Length

Category : Reloading

An important part of fine-tuning a rifle load is finding the bullet seating depth that results in the best accuracy. Much like determining the optimum charge weight, finding the best seating depth is done through trial and error testing. Unlike the optimum charge weight – which is a powder charge weight that will shoot well out of a variety of different rifles – the correct bullet seating depth is very rifle-specific. More than anything else, the cartridge overall length is what will ‘personalize’ a particular load for a particular rifle.

Stating that a certain bullet seating depth will result in more accurate ammo implies that there is a range of seating depths (or cartridge overall lengths) available to the reloader for any given cartridge, much like there is a range of charge weights available for any given cartridge/powder combination. However, unlike the charge weight information, not all of the cartridge overall length (or COAL) information can be found in reloading manuals.

The cartridge overall length specified in the reloading manuals for a rifle cartridge is usually the minimum length for that bullet/powder charge combination. Staying at or above this minimum will not cause an over-pressure condition (in most cases – read the warnings below). Going shorter than the minimum length will seat the bullet deeper into the case, effectively decreasing the case volume and increasing the pressure. This practice is therefore not recommended.

Since the minimum length for your testing will be the minimum C.O.A.L. as specified in the manual, the question becomes, “What is the maximum length?” The maximum cartridge length will be determined by three factors:

Factor 1: The bullet must be seated far enough into the neck to provide sufficient hold.
Factor 2: The cartridge should fit into the rifle’s magazine (if it has one)
Factor 3: The bullet should be seated far enough into the case so that it does not contact the rifling lands in the barrel when the round is chambered.

Let’s take these one-at-a-time:

Factor 1: A good rule for most applications is that a bullet will be sufficiently held in the case if it is seated so that at least one caliber’s depth of the full diameter portion of the bullet is seated into the case neck. For example, if you were loading a .308″ diameter spitzer bullet, the minimum seating depth would be the length of the boat tail portion of the bullet, plus .308″.   Please note that there are exceptions to this rule – there are some cartridge/powder/primer/rifle combinations that will shoot best with the bullet seated shallower than a caliber diameter, but these are the exception, and you’ll know it when you see it.

Factor 2: If your rifle has an internal or external magazine, and you plan on using it to feed cartridges into your rifle, the cartridges must be short enough to fit into it. You do have the option to load longer than magazine length. In fact, many of the heavier ‘very-low-drag’ (VLD) bullets for rifles like the AR-15 are too long to be loaded to magazine length. However, cartridges loaded with these bullets (or any cartridges longer than magazine length) must be single-loaded.

Factor 3 is the tricky one. You can use simple measuring tools to ensure that the bullet is seated to at least one caliber depth, and that the cartridge will fit into the magazine. However, additional tests are required to measure the distance to the lands for a particular rifle and bullet.

Measuring Maximum C.O.A.L.
You need to measure the maximum cartridge overall length that will fit into your rifle chamber with the exact bullet you will be loading. Old-timers (and those that are more frugal) do this by loading a series of dummy cartridges to various lengths, ‘smoking’ the bullets with a candle flame (to coat them with soot), chambering the dummy cartridges in the rifle, then removing them and looking for marks from the rifling on the bullets. The maximum COAL will be the longest cartridge without marks on the bullet. This process is time-consuming, wasteful, and not as accurate as a method that will make it easy for you to perform the test multiple times. An easier way requires you to get three items: A cartridge overall length gauge (such as the one made by Hornady), a specially modified case for the caliber you will be loading, and a bullet comparator.

OAL Gauges

The overall length gauge is a hollow tube about 8″ long with a threaded end. Inside the tube is a thin pushrod longer than the tube that can be locked into place with a thumbscrew. The overall length gauge is used in conjunction with a specially modified case in your caliber. This modified case has a large threaded hole in place of the primer pocket which allows the case to be fitted onto the threaded end of the overall length gauge.

Modified Case

To use the gauge, affix the modified case onto the threaded end, slide the pushrod up into the case so that the end of the pushrod is near the middle of the case’s shoulder, and place the bullet you will be loading into the case neck. At this point, the test bullet will be ‘seated’ much deeper than normal. The case is sized so that the bullet is a slip-fit in the neck. Remove the bolt from your rifle and push the gauge/case/bullet into the chamber until it is fully seated. While holding the case firmly in the chamber, use the pushrod to shove the bullet into the barrel until it stops, then tighten the thumbscrew.

Inserting The OAL Gauge With Modified Case And Bullet Into The Chamber

If you cannot get easy straight line access to your chamber (such as with a lever gun), a curved version of the OAL gauge is available that can be inserted through the ejection port of the rifle. (This is shown in the bottom of Figure 1 above).

Remove the gauge from the chamber. If the bullet does not come out with it, poke the bullet out of the barrel with a cleaning rod, and re-insert it into the modified case. The pushrod will stop the bullet and your resulting COAL will be where the bullet hit the lands. There is a cutout on the OAL gauge to allow you to get a caliper blade against the case head. Measure the distance from the case head to the tip of your bullet. This is your maximum COAL.

Unfortunately, simply measuring from the case head to bullet tip is not quite accurate enough. The tip of a rifle bullet is the weakest and most easily deformed part of the bullet. Bullet tips are deformed slightly during manufacturing, shipping, and handling; and they are not consistent enough for accurate measurement. This is particularly true for soft point or polymer tipped bullets (pointy polymer tips especially – they’re deformed by the caliper itself when you try to measure them). This problem is solved by the third tool mentioned above: the bullet comparator. A bullet comparator consists of a spacer that is attached to the fixed blade on a dial caliper. The spacer uses caliber-specific inserts. The inserts feature a hole that is sized so that the caliper will measure at a point along the ogive (curved portion) of the bullet. This is much more consistent than measuring the tip.

Measuring The Maximum COAL With A Caliper Equipped With A Bullet Comparator

Using the OAL gauge, modified case, and bullet comparator, you should test several bullets from the same batch you will be loading to determine the COAL where the bullets hit the lands in your rifle.

NOTE: You will have to perform this separately for each rifle you will be loading for, and for each different bullet that you will use. There is one important exception regarding COAL testing: Weatherby rifles and cartridges. When loading Weatherby magnum cartridges, you should always use the exact COAL specified in the reloading manual. Weatherby magnums require a certain amount of jump (freebore) before the bullet hits the lands. Failure to provide this will result in dangerous pressures.

You now have a range of COALs that you can use for testing. The minimum length is the COAL specified in the reloading manual. The maximum COAL will be whichever of the three factors described above that produced the shortest cartridge. For semi-auto, lever, and pump-action rifles, the bullets should be loaded no closer than 0.010″ ‘off the lands’; in other words, make your maximum COAL 0.010″ shorter than the length you measured with the OAL gauge. Loading any closer to the lands on these rifles can cause feeding problems. For bolt action rifles (with the exception of Weatherbys), you can load right up to the lands. However, doing so will result in higher pressure, so if you are loading to the lands, you should reduce your loads to the minimum and work up from there, looking for pressure signs along the way.

Divide your COAL range up in 0.005″ increments, use the same bullet comparator that you used in the OAL test to set up your seating die, load a series of cartridges at each length, and shoot some groups. You should be able to determine the COAL that produces the best accuracy.

Final Thoughts
Fine-tuning the COAL is an important part of obtaining the best accuracy from your reloads. Many shooters feel that it has almost as much of an impact on group size as the powder charge. It is important to note that if you use a bullet comparator to measure your maximum COAL. You will need to use the same comparator to set up your seating die and measure the COAL of your reloads. The comparator’s measurements are relative – it measures to an arbitrary point on the bullet ogive. If you use a comparator for one measurement and not for another (or use different comparators for each measurement), you will introduce significant errors in length that could lead to unsafe pressures

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Reading Pressure Signs

Category : Reloading

Most reloaders know that cartridges should never be loaded with powder charges above the maximum or below the minimum charge weight specified in the reloading manual.   However, some reloaders do not understand that excessive pressure can result even when a load is safely within the recommended charge weight range.

How is this possible? There can be a number of contributing factors.   The data in the reloading manual was tested by the manufacturer to be safe using the powder, case, primer, bullet, and importantly – the firearm specified.   If you change any of these parameters, the pressure developed by the cartridge will change.   If you change more than one parameter, you run the risk of ‘stacking’ a number of slight increases in pressure that add up to an unsafe level.

Start low, work your way up, and watch for pressure signs.

The above mantra has been repeated – ad nauseum – by every reloading instructor and author since the first shooter reloaded the first cartridge, but it is still the most sound advice one can give to somebody working up a load.   This article will describe some of the most common of these pressure signs.

Establish a Baseline
In order to read pressure signs from your reloads; you first need to know how a ‘normal’ round behaves in your gun, and what a ‘normal’ spent case looks like after you shoot it.   To establish what is normal, you should fire some factory ammo through your firearm – preferably with a similar weight bullet and the same headstamps as your reloads.

While you’re shooting, take note of the operation of the firearm.   Try to gage the amount of recoil, and pay particular attention to extraction and ejection.   For bolt or lever action rifles, take note of the force required to lift the bolt/operate the lever after firing a round.   With semi-autos, get an idea of where your brass lands after ejection.   With revolvers and single shot firearms, get to know the force required to eject or remove the spent cases.   If you have a chronograph, record the velocity of the rounds.

Retrieve your spent cases and note the condition of the primer, the shape and characteristics of the firing pin impression left on the primer, take note of any marks or impressions on the case head, and inspect the condition of the rims on cases.

It is a good idea to clearly mark and retain at least one fired factory case from each manufacturer.   This will allow you to better compare the condition of the fired brass from your reloads with fired factory brass – without having to rely on your memory.

Now that you have your benchmark, you’re ready to look for pressure signs.   Keep in mind that there are no absolutes when it comes to pressure signs.   There are exceptions to every rule, and some calibers/firearms may exhibit no pressure signs until catastrophic case failure.   Often times, something that looks like a pressure sign can be caused by excessive headspace, or by a problem with the firearm.   If you suspect excessive pressure, stop firing until you determine what is wrong.

Keep in mind that there are no absolutes when it comes to pressure signs.   There are exceptions to every rule, and some calibers/firearms may exhibit no pressure signs until catastrophic case failure.

Excessive Recoil
Sometimes, the first noticeable indication of a pressure problem with your reloads is excessive recoil.   If the bullet weights are similar, and the recoil is noticeably greater with your reloads vs.   factory ammo, it is possible that you’re pushing the envelope.   Keep in mind however, that recoil is the least reliable indicator of over-pressure.

Recoil is subjective, and you may be paying closer attention when firing your reloads, causing them to seem stronger when they’re not.   Bullet weight contributes more to felt recoil than pressure, so if your reloads have heavier bullets than your benchmark rounds, heavier recoil should be expected.   Also, if your benchmark factory rounds were inexpensive ‘bulk-pack’ handgun ammo (which is often loaded notoriously light), a bit more recoil from your handloads is probably normal.

Hard Extraction
Unlike recoil, extraction and ejection problems are very reliable indicators of excessive pressure.   When a cartridge is fired, the case expands to seal the chamber.   Excessive pressure causes excessive expansion, which causes difficult extraction.   Harder-than-normal bolt lift on a bolt-action rifle or sticky lever operation on a lever gun are classic signs of over-pressure.

A change in the way that cases eject or failures-to-eject can indicate excessive pressure in semi-auto firearms.   The same signs can also indicate lower than normal pressure in a semi-auto, so you’ll need to look for additional pressure signs or use a chronograph and let the velocity tell you whether the pressure is too high or too low.   Harder than normal extraction from a clean revolver or single-shot firearm is also a good indicator of excessive pressure.

Flattened Primers
A flattened primer is the most widely known pressure sign.   Unfortunately, it is also one of the least reliable pressure indicators.   When new, the bottom edge of a primer cup is slightly rounded.   This creates a small bevel between the bottom of the primer and primer pocket.   When the round is fired, the primer slams into the breech face and flattens out.   The theory on flattened primers is that if the pressure is excessive, the primer will ‘flow’ into the bevel, with the round edges of the cup becoming squared off when the primer fills the open space.

The amount of flattening is going to vary according to the firearm and the brand of primer, so taken by itself, a flattened primer will tell you little about the pressure.   This is where you need your benchmark rounds.   Compare the condition of the fired primers on your reloads to those on the benchmark cases.   If the reloads are significantly flatter, it’s possible that the pressure is too high.

The photo below shows three different .357 Magnum rounds fired from the same revolver.   The round on the left was a low-velocity ‘powder puff” load.   The CCI primer shows almost no flattening whatsoever.   The round in the center is a full power load with a Federal primer.   Although the primer has flattened out some, this is perfectly normal for this particular revolver.   Although many ‘experts’ would say that this primer is ‘too flat’ and indicates high pressure, it is virtually identical to a fired case from a round of Federal factory ammo.

The case on the right shows a severely flattened primer that clearly indicates an over-pressure condition.   Also notice that the firing pin impression gets progressively shallower when the pressure goes up.   This is because the pressure is partially ‘popping out the dent’.

The Severely Flattened Primer On The Right Indicates That The Load Was Too Hot

Often, a flattened primer indicates excessive headspace rather than high pressure.   If a cartridge fits loosely in the chamber, the primer will flatten out when the case head slams back against the breech face during firing.   This can happen even with low pressure loads.   The primer brand can also have an effect on the amount of flattening.   Federal primers are soft, and will flatten more than other brands with everything else being the same.

Extruded Primers
An extruded or ‘cratered’ primer occurs when material from the primer cup is forced back into the firing pin hole in the breech face during firing.   Usually, this is caused by a loose fit between the firing pin and the opening.   If this is the case, your benchmark rounds will show some degree of cratering.   If no trace of extrusion exists on your factory rounds, but your reloads exhibit it, it can be indicative of excessive pressure.

An Extruded Primer Can Indicate Excessive Pressure

The primer in the photo above is from a neck-sized .308 reload with a maximum powder charge.   A normal round from this rifle shows no cratering at all, so the extruded primer is a good indicator of over-pressure.   Notice that because of the tight headspace of the neck-sized round, there is very little flattening of the primer.   The rifle’s bolt was hard to lift after firing this round – further indication that it’s time to back off.

Pierced Primers
If your firearm is in good condition, you should never see a pierced primer on a fired case.   This pressure sign in particular is unmistakable: If the primer is pierced where the firing pin hit it, the pressure was too high.   If you experience a pierced primer, stop firing the rounds immediately.   This problem is more than a minor inconvenience; it can cause serious damage to the firearm.   When a primer blows out, a high pressure jet of super-heated gas blasts out of the hole.   This can cause erosion of the firing pin, breech face, or any other part of the gun that gets in the way.   After piercing a primer, you should have your firearm inspected by a qualified gunsmith before firing it again with any kind of ammo.

This Pierced Primer Is A Sure Sign Of Over-Pressure.

Missing Primers
There are two possible causes for missing primers on your spent cases: Loose primer pockets or higher-than-normal pressure.   If your brass is from a high-pressure cartridge (like .38 Super or .223/5.56) and it has been reloaded several times, then chances are good that the primer pockets have loosened up, and it’s time to retire the cases.   If the brass is new or once-fired, a missing primer can be an indicator of over-pressure, and will often be accompanied by additional pressure signs.   The photo below shows a once-fired 9mm case that was loaded to an overall length that was too long for the bullet/chamber combination.   The bullet was pressed into the lands when it chambered, resulting in excessive pressure upon firing.   In addition to the missing primer, the case features another telltale sign of over-pressure that is described later in this article.

There Are Multiple Pressure Signs Exhibited On This 9mm Case, Including a Missing Primer

Sooty Ring Around the Primer
Although it is often listed as a pressure sign, this one is probably the least reliable.   An obvious sooty discharge emanating outward from around the perimeter of the primer is a sign of gas leakage.   More often than not, the leakage is caused by a stretched out primer pocket.   The easy way to tell is to decap the case with a universal decapping die.   If the primer pops out more easily than on a ‘normal’ case, you’ve found your problem.   A universal decapping die should be used instead of the sizing die because it will allow you to better feel the force required to pop out the primer.   If you don’t have a universal decapping die, you can use the sizing die for a larger caliber cartridge.

One more thing: I underlined the word ‘obvious’ above because when this condition exists, the leakage is as plain as day and will look much different than a normal spent case.   A little bit of crud left in the beveled recess between the primer and the case head is probably a better indicator of a filthy gun than it is gas leakage.

Case Head Extrusion
When a cartridge is fired, the breech face supports the case head.   With the exception of break-action and some single shot firearms, the breech face does not totally cover the case head – there’s a cut-out in the breech for the extractor.   Excessive pressure can cause brass from the case head to extrude into the extractor recess in the breech, leaving a raised bump on the case head in the shape of the extractor cutout.

These .308 Cases Show Severe Case Head Extrusion Marks From The Extractor Recess

If this extrusion does not show up on your factory ‘test’ rounds, but is present on your reloads, it is a very reliable indicator of over-pressure.   Keep in mind that all brass is not created equal, and some brass cases (especially Federal) are softer than others.   It is not uncommon to see a trace of the extractor recess impressed into the case head of factory Federal rounds, but a prominent extrusion that will catch your thumbnail is always a sign that there is something very wrong.

Bent Rims
Earlier in this article the various extraction/ejection problems associated with over-pressure in a semi-auto were described.   The reason for the ejection problems it that excessive pressure can cause the case to over-expand and grip the chamber walls much tighter than normal.   When this occurs, the force necessary to extract the spent cartridge from the chamber increases.

In addition to causing extraction problems, this increase in force can cause the extractor to bend the rim of the case.   A rough finish inside the chamber (or other problem with the firearm) can also cause bent rims; so you should retest with some factory ammo to rule this out.

The Bent Rims And Deep Ejector Marks On These Cases Are A Good Indicators Of Excessive Pressure

The photo above shows bent rims on some .308 cases caused by excessive pressure.   Also note that there is a slight extrusion mark on the case head from the ejector.   Neither of these conditions exists when factory ammo is used, so they are good indicators of excessive pressure.

Unusual Velocity
The chronograph is a very useful tool for diagnosing pressure problems.   In fact, a chrono can tell you that a pressure problem exists even if the rounds exhibit no visible signs.   Before firing your reloads, it’s a good idea to consult several reloading manuals to get a general idea of the velocity to expect.   Be sure to take into account the firearm used by the manual’s publisher for testing.   For example, if the reloading manual states that the .357 magnum cartridges were tested in a universal (closed breech) receiver and a 10” barrel, you should not expect to match the velocity with your 4” revolver.   If you do reach the stated velocity even though you have a shorter barrel and a pressure-relieving cylinder gap, you’re probably running too hot.

Use the chronograph to measure the velocity of your rounds as you work up a load.   An increase in the powder charge should increase the pressure; and an increase in pressure should cause an increase in velocity.   If it does not, it can indicate that some dimension inside the case or the firearm is stretching when the rounds are fired.   If you increase the powder charge and do not see an increase in velocity (or worse yet, see a drop in velocity), you should stop immediately and find out what is wrong.

Final Thoughts
As you’ve probably figured out by now, reading pressure signs is part art, and part science.   Many of the conditions described in this article can be caused by factors other than excessive pressure.   You’ve probably also noticed that excessive pressure often results in more than one of the signs being exhibited. Any time you suspect higher than normal pressure, it is prudent to back off and reassess.   The rule is, as always: Start low, work your way up, watch for pressure signs, and never exceed the charge weights listed in the manual.

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Loading the .357 Sig

Category : Reloading

The .357 Sig has a reputation for being difficult to reload because inexperienced reloaders have problems with it.   The two most common problems are poor headspacing (where the rounds either won’t chamber, or have inconsistent ignition) and bullet setback (where the bullet will be too easily pressed into the case when you chamber the round).   Both of these problems can be avoided by following proper reloading practices.

The .357 Sig is supposed to headspace on the case mouth or on the shoulder, depending on who you believe.   Some of the reloading manuals (Lyman 49th Edition for example) say that it headspaces on the mouth.   The C.I.P. (think of them as the European version of SAAMI) says that it headspaces on the shoulder.   My experience has been that it depends on the gun.   Some chambers are so long that it’s clear that the cartridge is going to headspace on the shoulder no matter what.

If your reloads won’t chamber in your gun, even though ‘everything’ measures within spec, then you might not have pushed the shoulder back far enough (this is uncommon).   If you’re getting erratic cartridge ignition and a lot of ‘light strikes’ with your reloads but not with factory ammo, then it is likely that you’re pushing the shoulder back too far (this is the more common problem).

The foolproof way to go is treat the .357 Sig like a rimless bottleneck rifle case, and size it so that it headspaces on the shoulder for your gun.   Here’s how to do it:

  • Take a fired case, and measure the distance from the case head to a point about midway on the shoulder.   I did this using a Hornady Bullet Comparator with a .416″ insert.
  • Set the sizing die depth so that the shoulder on the sized case is pushed back 0.003″ shorter than the fired case.
  • Do a small lot and fire them to make sure they feed and shoot OK.

Keep in mind that cartridges sized this way may not run right in other guns, but they’ll work in your gun.

Bullet Setback
Bullet setback is a problem because the .357 Sig’s short neck won’t provide enough hold on some bullets. Most of the problem is caused by people using the wrong bullets, or belling the case mouth too much.   The .357 Sig is a 9mm.   Part of the allure of this cartridge is that there’s a huge selection of bullets available.   The trouble is that a lot of them won’t work.   Look at the shape of most 9mm jacketed bullets.   They’re long and pointy (when compared to a .45 or 10mm bullet) and have less full-bore diameter bearing surface (as a percentage of overall bullet length).

When you load some of these bullets into the .357 Sig case and set the OAL to what is specified in the manual, you can end up loading a cartridge where the short neck and the short bullet bearing surface don’t entirely line up.   This makes a bad situation worse.   This usually happens when an inexperienced reloader uses the data in a manual for a bullet that is the same weight, but a different shape than the one in the manual (like using the data for a Speer Gold Dot 115gr JHP for a Rainier plated 115gr bullet).

There are two things you can do that will minimize the chances of bullet setback occurring.   One is to use bullets specifically designed for the .357 Sig (such as those made by Speer).   If you can find bullets with a cannelure, you can roll crimp the cartridge (because you’ll be headspacing on the shoulder).   Really light bullets (such as those intended for loading the .380) do not work very well in the .357 Sig.

The other thing you can do is to select a powder and charge weight that requires a compressed load.  The powder will keep the bullet from setting back.   There are a number of powders with compressed loads listed in the various load manuals for .357 Sig.   I’ve had good results with IMR 800X, but Blue Dot is my go-to powder for 357 Sig.

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How Much Can I Save by Reloading?

Category : Reloading

The short answer is, “a lot”.   Exactly how much you will save depends on the caliber(s) you will reload.   The table below shows the typical savings that you can realize on some common (and not-so-common) handgun calibers by buying good quality jacketed bullets (except where indicated) and other components in bulk, using your own brass, and loading them yourself.

Caliber Retail/50 Cost to Reload /50 Savings % Savings per 1K rounds
.380 $19 $5.73 70% $265.40
9mm $15 $7.32 51% $153.60
.38 Super $32 $7.06 78% $498.80
.38 Spl (Cast lead) $22 $5.07 77% $338.60
.357 Magnum $28 $9.43 66% $371.40
.40 S&W $21 $8.12 61% $257.60
10mm $35 $8.83 75% $523.40
44 Spl (Cast lead) $40 $6.40 84% $672.00
.44 Magnum $39 $14.10 64% $498.00
.45 ACP $23 $8.75 62% $285.00
.45 Colt (Cast lead) $40 $8.07 80% $638.60
.500 S&W Mag (Cast lead) $100 $33.45 67% $1331.00

The retail prices are for a box of 50 cartridges, and are from my local shop (in Middlesex County, Massachusetts) in September of 2012.   The costs for bullets and primers came from online bulk retailers on the same day (prices include typical shipping and hazmat fees).   I’m using $25 per pound for the cost for powder (this is a little high).   The resulting reloads quoted below will be duplicates of good factory ammo.   (I know it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison, because the retail prices are per box, and the component prices are for bulk quantities, but bear with me here, I’m trying to make a point).

Notice that you’ll save the least when reloading ‘commodity’ calibers such as 9mm, 40 S&W, and .45 ACP.   With these calibers, most of your cost savings will be due to the fact that you’ll be reusing your brass.   Even so, if you shoot a couple of boxes of 9mm per week, you’ll more than pay for a basic progressive setup in the first year.

The retail price for less common handgun calibers is much higher because the manufacturers make it in smaller lots, and the demand is lower.   This is where reloading really pays off.   For example, the retail price for .38 Super is more than double the cost of 9mm, however is costs only a cent or so per round more to reload .38 Super than it does to reload 9mm.

The savings is greater still when reloading rifle cartridges.   A couple of years ago, a friend bragged about the great deal he got on a barely used Weatherby rifle in .340 Weatherby Magnum which he planned to use for elk hunting.   The bragging stopped when he found out that the ammo he wanted to use was going to cost $6 per round, and had to be special-ordered.

You Can Save $4.50 Per Round If You Make This Ammo Yourself

Fortunately for him, his rifle came with a few boxes of once-fired brass.   After a $375 investment in equipment, he was able to buy components and reload ammo identical to factory for $1.50 per round.   His complete setup was ‘paid for’ before he fired his 84th round.

Casting Your Own Bullets Can Save You A Small Fortune

The savings becomes downright astronomical if you cast your own bullets.   For example, you can cast and reload very high quality gas-checked 500gr S&W .500 flat-points for about $0.20 each, which represents a savings of over $2500/1000 rounds when compared to factory ammo.

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Brass Sorting Tips

Category : Reloading

The only reusable part of a fired cartridge is the case.   This is fortunate for the reloader because the case is the single most expensive component.   Also fortunate is the fact that there is plenty of brass lying around for the taking at just about every range.

You Don’t Want To Leave This Behind, But Are They Reloadable?


As you probably know, not every case is reloadable.   Here are a few tips to help you out when you’re scrounging brass at the range.
Get rid of any steel or aluminum cases
You can’t reload steel or aluminum cases, so you’ll want to sort those out.   Nickel-plated brass cases are reloadable however.   You can distinguish nickel-plated brass cases from plated steel cases using a magnet – it will stick to steel but not to brass.   Aluminum cases are much lighter than nickel plated brass, and the nickel plated brass cases are shinier, with almost a mirror-like appearance.   Aluminum cases have a dull grey, matte finish.
Be careful of ‘brass’ that isn’t brass
The Sellier & Bellot 9mm Range Safe and Golden Bear .223 ammo shown below look like they are brass-cased, but the cases are made from brass-plated steel.   The look identical to brass, but can easily be separated out with a magnet.

These Look Like Brass But They’re Actually Steel

Beware of AMERC brass

Brass with the headstamp AMERC is made by American Ammunition Inc in Miami, FL.   It is the worst quality brass imaginable.   The flash holes are often off-center, the case diameter is out of spec, and it often splits on the first or second firing.   Not only do I not pick it up, when I find it I crush the case mouth with pliers to prevent some other reloader from experiencing the horror that is AMERC brass.
Some .45ACP ammo uses small pistol primers
Traditionally, all .45 ACP ammo used large pistol primers.   A while back, several ammo companies began marketing ‘non-toxic’ .45 ACP ammo that utilized small pistol primers.   Recently, at least one company began using small primers in their regular (toxic?) .45 ACP ammo.   These cases are perfectly reloadable, however you should separate them from the .45 ACP cases with large primers so you don’t accidentally try to seat a large primer in a small pocket (it won’t fit).

This .45 ACP Ammo Uses Small Primers Instead Of Large

Discard any cases with pressure signs
Learn to recognize the signs of over-pressure on fired cases, then discard any cases that exhibit them.   If a case has a flattened, missing, or extruded primers, or an obvious imprint of the bolt face or extractor groove recess, then chances are that they were fired with an over pressure charge, and might not be safe to reload.
Don’t bother with Berdan primed cases
Most American-made ammo uses Boxer primers.   Some foreign ammo uses Berdan primers.   Boxer-primed cases are reloadable, Berdan primed are not (using conventional methods).   You can tell the difference by looking down into the case.   If you see a single centered flash hole, the case is Boxer primed (and reloadable).   If you see two flash holes, the case is Berdan-primed and should be left behind (or you can take them for scrap – brass is going for over $1 per pound now). I show the difference between a Boxer and a Berdan primer in our class.

Learn to recognize many-times-fired cases
If you find a pile of brass at the range in one caliber, with various headstamps that are hard to read (from repeated collisions with a bolt face), and a mix of silver and gold colored primers, chances are good that it was loaded a number of times and left behind by the reloader that fired it.   You can pick it up and try to load it again, but before you do, ask yourself this question – “Why would a reloader leave this brass behind?”
The answer is, “Because it’s worn out.”   You should probably throw it away, or take it for scrap.
On the other hand, if you find a shiny pile of brass in one caliber, with matching headstamps and primers, and an empty ammo box in the trash from the same manufacturer, it’s a good bet that it is once-fired brass left behind by somebody that doesn’t reload.   If you don’t pick it up, someone else will.

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How to Make Better Rifle Ammo

Category : Reloading

The following recommendations will help you to make more accurate ammo for your rifles. The best part is, they will add little or no cost to your ammo.

1. Use high quality bullets.
Nothing you do in terms of case prep, charge weight measurement, bullet seating, or anything else will overcome inconsistent or poor quality bullets. Using a good bullet is the single most important thing you can do to ensure good accuracy. With that said, there are two manufacturers whose ‘bulk-pack’ bullets are head and shoulders above the rest. Take the class and find out who they are.

2. Sort cases by headstamp.
Proper case preparation ensures that the cases fit your rifle’s chamber, and that every case shares the same external dimensions. But what about the inside dimensions? Cases from different manufacturers may have different wall thicknesses, and feature slightly different case web profiles, resulting in larger or smaller internal case volume. If you mix headstamps and load cartridges with varying internal volumes, pressure and velocity will vary, as well as point of impact. The simplest way to minimize this is to sort your brass by headstamp prior to loading.

3. Find the best C.O.A.L. for your rifle.
Some rifles shoot better when the bullet in the chambered cartridge contacts the rifling lands; and some shoot better with a certain amount of ‘jump’. Experiment with the C.O.A.L. to find what works best in your rifle. As always, start with a low charge weight and work up gradually while watching for pressure signs.

4.Use a Co-Axial Press for better concentricity
Foster makes a Co-Axial single station reloading press which is perfectly suited for high precision rifle cartridle reloading. The tooling self centers itself to the centerline of the cartridge, and your cartridges will be more accurate.

5. Try a ‘competition’ seating die.
Generally speaking, Concentricity = Accuracy. So called ‘competition’ seating dies keep the bullet precisely aligned during the seating process, resulting in less runout than cartridges loaded using standard seating dies.

5. Try switching primer brands.
I tried a friend’s .223 loads and found them to be very accurate. When I tried to duplicate his recipe, I got inconsistent velocity and 2″ of vertical stringing at 100 yards. We were both using small rifle primers, but from different manufacturers. I switched to his brand, and group size shrunk to less than 1 MOA.

6. Load Development is the pathway to happiness.
Having the bullet leave the muzzle at the exact right moment for highest accuracy is the true pathway to shooting accuracy. I cover this subject in detail during my RL01 class. I have had students come from great distances to take the class to gain that information. If you are a long distance shooter and unhappy with the so-so results from factory ammo, come and take my class.


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