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The cap-and-ball or the flintlock enthusiast is a handloader in the nature of things. Being an enthusisast, he enjoys the loading process almost as much as the shooting. We could compare him to the trout fisherman who finds the darkest winter months brightened with glow to the east, that promise, invisible to some of us, that spring is mustering her forces for the grand march. He is busy with fly-tying, rod-winding and reel-tuning, or he is, if he likes to do things for himself.
No less hopelessly hobby-gripped is the pistol shooter who handloads. The gleaming empty centertfire cases flung through the ejector port of his semi-auto or punched from the cylinder of his sixgun are "golden numbers"in thier promise of enjoyment ahead. At times, some of us have shot mainly for empties to reload.
It's fun, and it's healthful relaxation, this careful unhurried handling of the components-cases, bullets, powders and primers. Bigtime match shooters and those on their way to such skill have complained about the labour involved, even when they used quqntity production tools. To me, some of those wails lacked the ring of sincerity. I pitied the winners equally for the toil of keeping their long rows of medals bright and shiny! One evening I put up several hundred 45ACP with a slow old tong or nutcracker tool. Plain honesty now recreates this chore as having ninety percent pleasure.
Handloading is economical: the tools pay for themselves in a few hundred rounds, unless our eyes are bigger than our stomachs and we buy a more elaborate outfit than our shooting will justify. Unless the tools are downright poor-and few are-their design and weight and power mean very much less in quality production than the skill and the care we use when operating them, We can develop the skill, and without the care we have no right to use them at all.
Any gun accident affects not only the shooter who is guilty of it, and perhaps innocent bystanders, too, but also our whole circle. Accidents get publicity, and almost everyone reads the news. Accidents give us shooters a bad name.
Digitizing your reloading Room
Reloading is an old-school art that is often passed down through generations. It’s most common to start reloading because you have a family member who teaches you. Most people are surprised when they start reloading to see just how old some of the methodology and equipment really is. There are few, if any, digital tools in basic reloading setups. Most reloading setups contain a sliding scale, a pair of calipers, and a powder thrower. These relatively simple tools allow an experienced reloader to create ammunition to very precise specifications.
There is nothing wrong with using the old school tools and techniques of reloading and many old timers may refuse to change what’s worked for them for decades. However, the old way isn’t always the best way just because it still works. New technology and equipment has allowed reloaders to bring their precision to an entirely new level.
The benefits to digital and electronic material are self evident. Using digital and electronic equipment in reloading allows you to reload both faster and more precisely. Faster is better, because it allows you to load more rounds in less time. This can be very important when loading range ammo. When you’re able to load more precisely, however, you will see the benefits downrange. This is important if you handload your ammunition for match or hunting purposes.
Many serious shooters can improve their reloading experience with a few simple pieces of equipment from RCBS.
RCBS has changed that with their Electronic Digital Calipers. These calipers are quick and easy to use, instantly displaying your measurements in both either the imperial or metric systems out to three decimal places. These calipers allow you to measure internal, external, depth and step measurements. They also include a sturdy carrying case for storage.
RCBS Electronic Digital Micrometer
RCBS Chargemaster Combo 120 Vac
Once again, just because this method works does not mean it is the best option. RCBS’s Chargemaster Combo 120 Vac has everything you ever wanted for accurately charging your cases. The Chargemaster will work with any powder and can accurately dispense loads quickly. The hopper will hold up to one pound of the powder and it will dispense 60 grains of extruded powder in 30 seconds. The Chargemaster can accurately dispense loads from 2 grains to 300 grains to an accuracy of 0.1 grain. And it includes the Chargemaster 1500 electronic scale.
RCBS Rangemaster 2000 Electronic Scale
Electronic scales vary greatly in quality and often times you get what you pay for. However, the Rangemaster 2000 from RCBS is a great choice even on a tighter budget. The scale electronically measures your components to an accuracy of 0.1 grains quickly and accurately. Included with it are two calibration weights so that you can calibrate your scale as often as necessary to achieve peace of mind. The scale is capable of working both from A/C or with a nine volt battery. Additionally, for the left handed reloaders out there, RCBS has included an ambidextrous scale pan.
RCBS AmmoMaster Chronograph
The ability to have the readout right in front of you is very nice. The AmmoMaster will also do some simple math functions such as calculating string averages so that you can record your data quickly and accurately on the range. The unit itself is quite sturdy, and it uses plastic side supports for its diffuser instead of metal ones. RCBS also sells the side supports separately online, because while none of us will admit it, we all know that accidents happen with chronographs.
Let’s skip the appetizer and get right to the meat and potatoes of a manufacturer’s claims
for a new cartridge case technology to replace the 150-year reign of brass. Here’s what Shell Shock Technologies (SST)
says about their two-piece, nickel-aluminum-stainless steel 9mm Luger NAS3 cases:
Taking the last two claims first, OK, it would be pretty handy to effortlessly pick up our brass
with a magnet after shooting a match stage. Coloring our cases means we can instantly separate our brass from that of other
competitors. Plus there’s that unquantifiable “cool factor” of nonchalantly bringing something interesting,
useful and attention-getting to a match. Many pistol competitors are also handloaders, so the other claims—did I mention
“40 reloadings” and “no trimming?”—are of eyebrow raising interest to us.
The NAS3 case is a nickel-stainless steel alloy cylinder crimped to a nickel plated
aluminum case head. Stainless steel does indeed have a higher tensile strength than brass and so the case material doesn’t
“flow” forward on firing and eventually need trimming, like a brass case, and it can withstand much higher chamber
pressures than brass. For the handloader, however, we must redefine “stronger.” The crimped joint between
the NAS3 two-piece case head and body is a weak point for handloading. Though I just called the case body a “cylinder,”
perhaps “funnel” would be a more descriptive word. The base of the stainless steel cylinder has a hollow tube
extension that forms the primer’s flash hole channel; the end protruding into the case head is flared and crimped to
bond the two pieces together.
My informal method comparing corrosion resistance to that of brass was to leave a couple cases
in a saltwater solution for two weeks, expose them to the outside air for another two weeks, then compare them to similarly
treated brass. The NAS3 nickel-stainless steel case body survived just fine, but its nickel plated aluminum
case head corroded as much or more so than brass. A claim refutation, it appears, but let’s have a reality check: the
test result satisfies curiosity but means nothing in the real world unless you store your cases in a saltwater solution.
This derives from beveling the flash hole from inside the case, a well-recognized accurizing
trick used in precision shooting like NRA Long-Range and High Power competition. SST also enlarges the flash hole, not for
shot-to-shot consistency, but helpful for reliable ignition when reloading with lead-free primers for indoor shooting. The
enlarged flash hole is possibly desirable from a manufacturing standpoint, an aid perhaps in crimping the body-to-case-head
The last two claims regarding case stretching and 40 reloads are simple to check; though tedious
and time consuming, they’re worth the effort. For the sake of alacrity in presenting you the SST case here and now,
allow me some time (and pleasant weather) to attend the range with calipers and loading press to see whether we can get those
40 reloadings from a single case. Stay tuned for a report with reloading and chronograph results in the not-too-distant future.
For now, let’s summarize the pros and cons of SST’s cases for the handloader.
No case stretching—hence no trimming is necessary.
Resizing cases requires lubrication. Adding this step back into the handloading process negates one of the joys of clean, rapid reloading on the progressive press with carbide dies.
WARNING: All technical data in this publication,
especially for handloading, reflect the limited experience of individuals using specific tools, products, equipment and components
under specific conditions and circumstances not necessarily reported in the article and over which the National Rifle Association
(NRA) has no control. The data has not otherwise been tested or verified by the NRA. The NRA, its agents, officers and employees
accept no responsibility for the results obtained by persons using such data and disclaim all liability for any consequential
injuries or damages.
The use of coatings instead of waxy lubes means that the bullet no longer needs a lube groove. Many manufacturers
have changed or added molds to their lineup that offer bullet designs with no lube groove.
Figure 6. Traditional wax lubed and identical coated bullets used for accuracy comparison
It's never too late to get started.
GETTING SET UP TO RELOAD.
Its hard to prepare accurate reloads without the right equipment and the right surroundings. I will try to focus on your loading location, whether it is at home or in the field. Most reloading activities take place in the home at a workbench, in the garage, basement: attic or even at the kitchen table. I will discuss reloading in the field later. So for now, I will focus on reloading at home.
I have spoken to hand-loaders who load in very tight surroundings, where space is limited. I knew of one individual who had about 500 square foot bunker dedicated to reloading and firearm maintenance, along with a shooting range. Regardless of your own situation, lets talk about some basics for a reloading area and some nice to have features.
The number one priority on your list should be to choose a location for your reloading, where you can work undisturbed. Reloading, especially precision reloading: requires your complete and undivided attention to the task at hand. Its fine to sit in front of the TV and do some case preparation chores, but when you are actually loading (handling powder or primers) try to give it your undivided attention. This is why a corner of your basement or garage is a pretty good location.
Your next priority is a solid reloading bench. The general rule of thumb is to make it as thick and as sturdy as possible. It doesnt have to be a big work area, but you need to fasten it to the floor if possible or, at a minimum, secure it to the wall. By eliminating bench movement you have eliminated another variable in your reloading equation. Make your bench as comfortable as you can. If you are serious about your hobby you will end up spending countless hours loading and trying new things. If you can make your bench at least five feet wide you will have plenty of room. Make sure it is at a comfortable height for you. It should be at least 38 inches high which enables you to use it standing or sitting on a standard 24 inches stool.
Pre- built workbenches are available almost anywhere, including home centers, hardware stores just to name a few sources. Be careful of these ready-made benches, as some of them can be quite shaky and would not be suitable for reloading unless they are beefed up considerable.
When you have located your reloading bench in the right spot, surround yourself with as much pegboard and sturdy shelving as you can. Prior to bolting any equipment in place, you may want to clamp your big tools down for a short time until you can get the feel of where to put everything.
Reloading is a popular hobby among shooting enthusiasts and is a great skill for frequent shooters.
Of course, safety is always the most important thing to consider, and there are safety precautions reloaders should always follow. For example, always wear safety glasses while reloading and anytime you are handling primers (e.g. loading primer tubes). Powder spills will happen. And always keep the reloader, the area around your reloader and the floor under it free from spilled powder.
If you are completely new to reloading, there are a variety of books and online information to help you get started. This article discusses some reloading tips and tricks I've learned over the years through my own experience and that of others.
Powder generally comes in five basic forms:
From time to time, manufacturers will modify the formula for a given powder, so always use load information from current reloading manuals or the powder manufacturer's online data.
The powder's shape and density directly affects how it will pack and then flow from your powder measure's reservoir. With some powder shapes, you must maintain a consistent fill or pack in the powder measure's reservoir to ensure each charge the measure throws has the same weight. I refill my powder measure when it reaches the three-quarter mark anytime the powder I'm using has cut round flakes or cut sheet flakes.
You must always visually confirm that the powder level is consistent in each and every case as you load — this is the single most important reloading step. If you find a load for a particular application that uses a bulky powder that fills the case more than halfway, all the better. Experience will help you calibrate your eye and enable you to detect differences in powder charges.
Inconsistent powder charges can cause serious problems. For example, when you fire a round with no powder or too little powder in the case, you will typically have a bullet lodged in the barrel. If you hear a slight "pop" instead of a bang when firing a round, stop, properly clear the firearm and make sure the bullet exited the bore.
With pistols and rifles, be careful about automatically doing a "tap/rack" and trying to fire another round during a match or in training. If the bullet did not exit, firing another round will likely cause a bulge in the barrel at best and may destroy the firearm and cause injury if the barrel bursts. In the past several months I've seen shooters destroy three barrels (and one pistol) due to reloaded ammunition with no or too little powder in the case and the shooter automatically doing a "tap/rack."
The other side to that coin is the dreaded double charge. A double charge can literally destroy your firearm and may cause serious injury. If you believe you have double charged a case and it got by you, you must not shoot any suspect rounds in that batch of reloaded ammunition. If you do, you may end up with a blown case at best; at worst, you can end up with a destroyed pistol or severe injury.
You can certainly pull all the suspect rounds; however, another means to find the suspect cartridge is to weigh every round in that batch. Any round that is overweight by more than a grain should be segregated and the bullets pulled.
The picture below shows a 9mm case that experienced a catastrophic failure on firing. It is possible that this round was double charged and the pistol could not handle the pressure. No one was injured in this incident, but the pistol was destroyed — an expensive round of ammunition.
Weight the charge
Weight at least three charges to ensure you are throwing a consistent charge weight when you first set the powder measure. With most powder measures, the charge weight should not differ by more than 0.1 to 0.2 grains across the three measurements. If I get a spread of 0.2 grains or more, I continue to weigh charges until I get a consistent reading.
Certain powders (e.g., long grain extruded and stick rifle powders) may not meter as uniformly due to their grain size and the fact that you often cut grains as you throw the charge. Experience weighing a lot of powder charges will teach you how to consistently throw accurate charge weights.
I have found that using a device to gently vibrate the powder measure helps maintain consistency in charge weight. I use an aquarium aerator pump which vibrates gently and is not excessively noisy to perform this function (see image below).
Polishing the interior of the powder measure body can also aid in maintain powder charge consistency. The polished surface helps powder flow more easily into the powder bar. This is easy to do yourself and several instructional examples of the process are posted on the internet.
Aftermarket powder measure accessories can help you throw consistent charges. A number of manufacturers offer micrometer meter inserts or powder bar kits that can significantly ease the process of achieving consistent measures (see image below).
One example that I use consistently throws charges of flake pistol powder within .01 to .02 grains of accuracy — that's hundredths of a grain. My normal powder scale will not even measure to that degree of weight. I used a special gem scale to check its consistency.
Consistent stroke (OK, no giggling)
Another factor in consistent powder charges is cycling the powder measure or press using consistent force. Varying the amount of force you use as you cycle the powder measure or press can result in slightly more or less powder in the charge.
Additionally, on a progressive press, a heavy-handed operator who slams the lever hard against the stops can cause the powder to settle a bit more and/or bounce out of an already filled case, which will result in inconsistent charge weights. If you notice that powder has bounced out of a case, dump that charge and refill the case with a fresh powder charge.
If am interrupted during the reloading sequence, I always place the handle fully down before I deal with the interruption. When I am ready to begin the loading sequence once again, I raise the handle and then visually confirm the status of every station on the press (I use a progressive machine), ensure the powder fill is correct, that I have primed the case in the priming station, etc.
New brass can be harder to size, prime and seat bullets in than fired brass at times because the brass may be lacking lubrication. Sometimes the powder-thru expander can be hard to get back out of the case when dealing with new brass, particularly with short cases. This happens due to the brass being stripped clean and polished during the manufacturing process.
On progressive presses, the lurch when the case pops free from the die can upset powder drop consistency and bounce powder out of filled cases.
Brass residue buildup on the expander can also cause this problem. Periodically cleaning off the brass residue using a Scotch-Brite pad (or similar product) will restore smooth operation.
You can also tumble your new cases in used media for half an hour before reloading. The powder residue in the tumbling media will add just enough lubrication to the brass to ease the loading process. Another option is periodically swab a small (less than a drop) of lube on the expander.
Check your brass
When brass cases are reloaded a number of times, the brass will eventually develop splits upon firing. With pistol cartridges, these splits often (but not always) occur at the case mouth.
The picture below shows a piece of 45 ACP that split further down in the case body. The 300 AC Blackout case experienced a similar split. The 9mm case however, has a very unusual split pattern. This split may have resulted from using an ammonia-based cleaning solution to clean the brass.
Check your rounds
I check every round in a chamber checker. There are a variety of chamber checkers on the market, and they are well worth the money.
Prior to the advent of chamber checkers, it was common for pistol shooters to remove the barrel and check every round by hand. You can still do this; however, the chamber checker has made this step easier. A chamber checker's dimensions replicate the chamber of the barrel in your firearm. If your reloaded round does not easily go into and drop out of the chamber checker, then that round is suspect.
The picture below show several rounds that failed the chamber check.
Round 1 is clearly out of spec and may have been the result of a high-pressure load fired in a pistol with a chamber configuration that does not fully support the chambered cartridge case, Round 2 has the primer upside down (a condition that might have gone unnoticed without checking the rounds), and Round 3 is questionable and will likely not chamber.
The four rounds in the bottom row passed. As you can see, they sit flush or slightly below the chamber checker opening.
Reloading can be very satisfying and can save you money. I hope you've found these tips and tricks useful, and I welcome tips from readers
Reloading is a great way to enjoy the shooting sports.
All materials and videos are supplied, chronos are supplied for field tests.
These are one day clinics, cost is $40. non refundable per session.
Hard Primers/Soft Primers.
One of the most persistent myths in shooting is that there are hard primers and soft primers. This isn't true. The real issue is primer sensitivity or-more frequently-something within the firearm or loading process which causes the firearm to go click instead of BANG.
All four of the major ammunition manufactures make primers and they all do it the same way.
Thin brass or steel in huge rolls are bought from a supplier. From it, primer cups and anvils, respectively, are stamped by simple presses. Every manufacture does it this way. A soapy lubricant is used in the stamping operation, both cup and anvil are then washed, dried and proceed to become primers. Some primer cups receive a thin nickle plating. While there may be some small differences in specifications for the raw material from one maker to another, none of it is hardened.It could'nt be stamped correctly if it was.
It is commoon knowledge that brass-work hardens with bending, but the only place this could happen to a significant degree would be along the radius where it rounds out from bottom to sides. There is no need to worry much about hardness in that area since it isn't where the firing pin strikes. There have been instances where that area became so hard as to be brittle, and there could be tiny perforations when the primer was fired. Some makers include an annealing step to prevent this possibility. But since there is no "work" done to the bottom of the cup, it is much less affected and remain essentially as it came from the mill. Still everyone who reloads has probably experienced a misfire, and found that the firing pin impression on the primer was much smaller than normal. It is perfectly to conclude that the primer was hard, but the trouble can almost always be traced to other causes. Very often that primer will fire if it is hit again.