Gary's Gun Notes #90
I have been stalling to see what the Supreme Court has to say about the 2nd Amendment and now that they have decided in our favor, stressing that all Americans have the right to own firearms, then I can't go into my planned rant and whine about our rights being taken away from us. So that means I will have to stick with the topic I have been wanting to cover for a few months now, that of reloading. The ammo shortage has eased up a bit on the standard defense type ammo, such as 223, 308, 45 auto and 9mm. Anything else is going to take a while to catch up and it won't be much cheaper than it is today.
When the ammo crunch started well over 18 months ago the manufacturers switched their assembly lines to producing what most people wanted, the 4 calibers mentioned above. They had one or two small lines still making the normal hunting cartridges, but for the most part it was 223, 308, 45 and 9mm. Now it seems they may have over estimated the buying power of the average American as these 4 calibers are mostly available again (the 223 and 308 the most, but the 45 and 9mm catching up). The problem is just like the AR-15 situation. Every manufacturer that has casting or CNC capabilities started making AR-15s or at least uppers and lowers, if not the entire gun. Now Americans have reached a saturation point. They have the AR-15s they feel they need and pretty much have enough 223 and 308 to hold them thru the next ice age, so they aren't buying anymore. And the manufacturers and distributors shelves are full, so the prices are going down. But as soon as they sell off the excess they have on the shelves, expect the prices to go back up again. That is just business.
The other calibers prices are still up there and I don't see a price drop anytime soon. So this means if you enjoy shooting and unless you have deep pockets, reloading is for you. I know a lot of guys think that reloading is for geeks and those that sit in their basements mixing a gunpowder martini meant to blow up a small part of the U.S. But that simply isn't true. Most reloaders are just like you and me, except for one or two that I can think of. I won't mention names less you figure out that I am referring to Waterboy. But even Waterboy isn't a warped individual, well, actually he is but that's besides the point. Anyone that can chew gum and walk down stairs at the same time can reload. It truly is a simple process. With a minimum expenditure you can get into reloading and save well over half your cost of ammo, sometimes as much as 2/3 of your cost of factory ammo.
If you have been thinking of getting into reloading, talk to a friend that reloads, stop by his house and watch him. Get the feel for what he is doing. It truly is a simple procedure. Just go by the reloading manuals, load the loads they recommend and you will be fine. Most reloading suppliers have full reloading kits that you can buy that will furnish 80% of the items you will need to get started reloading. The main pieces of equipment you will need are a press, a powder scale, a powder measure, the dies for the calibers you plan to reload and plenty of loading manuals. Normally when I am showing someone how to get started in reloading, I tell them to go to the local gun shows and watch the little tables for used reloading equipment, especially loading manuals. Buy as many manuals as you can fine, no matter how old they are. A while back I picked up some powder in an estate sale that hadn't been made in over 50 years, closer to 70 years. None of my manuals had the powder listed. I called John Taffin and he had the original loading data in some of his older manuals. I sent him the powder (which was still good in unopened cans) and he loaded up some loads duplicating Keith's original loads. You can see this article in the July/August American Handgunner magazine. But the gist of this is, pick up as many different loading manuals as you can. Many are free from the powder manufacturers for the asking.
Most reloading presses are made of a good heavy duty cast steel and don't wear out. I have an RCBS Rockchucker set up in one of my machine shops just to show people how to reload and it gets used a lot. It was bought new in '70 or '71 and is still going strong. I will stick out my neck here and recommend some presses, measures and such because they have worked for me for many many years. There are several other presses and such that will probably do just as well, but I will touch on the top two or three that I know will last you a lifetime. The main thing is if at all possible, don't go cheap. You will regret it in the end. Good equipment will last you decades, if not a lifetime and to load good ammo you need good equipment. Now by saying don't go cheap, I don't mean don't look for a bargain, by all means look for a bargain. There are plenty of them online. Just make sure they say they are in "as new" or "very good" shape. Shipping a 20 pound press back to the seller can be expensive, if he will even take it back.
RCBS, LYMAN, Redding, Hornady and Dillon are probably the most popular presses on the market today. If you are a beginner, forget the Dillon progressive presses, and any other progressive press, at least for now. There are too many operations going on at one time and too easy to mess up and load 500 rounds with no powder or no primers or some other such thing. Go with a single stage press or at most a turret press. This way you can concentrate on doing one thing at a time. If you plan on loading standard rifle and pistol calibers, presses from any of these other companies will work fine. If you only load for a couple of calibers, mostly revolver or semi auto pistol cartridges, the inexpensive beginner presses will do fine. But most of these are made of a very lightweight aluminum and if you shoot a lot and plan to load for several different calibers, you will find yourself wearing out or breaking some of the more fragile parts on the press. And then the thought of having to wait a couple of weeks to get a new part in will discourage any beginning reloader. If you plan to load magnum rifle cartridges, then you need a press with lots of torque to resize those magnum cases as many of them will have a .004 to .006 bulge at the base that needs to be sized out. In these cases, the RCBS Rockchucker press is king. It is big, heavy, and loaded with the torque needed. Hornady, Lyman, Redding and Lee make some smaller framed presses, but I see guys everyday that complain about their presses not being tall enough for magnum cartridges or just don't have the torque needed. If you decide to go with a single stage press, my choice is the RCBS Rockchucker.
Now if you plan to load a lot or different cartridges, you might consider a turret press. A turret press is one that holds 2 or 3 sets of dies in a round turret that sits atop the press, instead of one die at a time. In this instance, the Redding T-7 turret is my recommendation. It has seven die openings, so you can set three sets of rifle dies in there (most rifle dies come 2 dies to a set) or two rifle die sets and one set of pistol dies. Most pistol die sets are a 3 die set. You get each die set up and leave it there. In the operation of a single stage press, you put one die in the press at a time. You start with the sizer/decapper die, size all your cases, decapping them at the same time (punching out the old primer). Most presses have a primer attachment that comes with them that I have found to be mostly junk. My humble advice is to take this right out of the box it comes in, walk to your back door, open it and throw the priming unit as far out in the weeds as you can. There are several priming units on the market, from the hand held primers to the table mounted priming units. I prefer the RCBS Auto Prime, which is the bench mounted unit. It will prime case at the rate of about 1 every 3 seconds and the primer tube that holds the extra primers holds 100 primers, so you can do a lot of priming in short order.
Another popular priming tool is either the Lee or the RCBS hand priming tool. This is a good unit for those that reload only a few rounds at a setting. The reason I say this is your hand squeezes the priming tool together and that is what seats the primer. But, after 30 or 40 cases have been primed, your hand gives out and you begin to have a softer squeeze and some of the primers don't get seated fully, which causes misfires. The advantage of the hand priming tool is that it gives you a hands on chance to inspect every case for neck cracks or other deformities. It also lets you feel when the primer just slides in easily, letting you know to check that case after the next shooting. As a case wears out, especially magnum rifle cases, the primer recess begins to widen and stretch and the primers aren't being held in as good as they are when the case is new. Anyway, this gives you a chance to check out every case one by one.
Now back to the loading sequences. After sizing the case, decapping it and then putting in a new primer, if it is a necked down rifle case, like 30-06 or 308, etc., you go to the powder measuring part of the process. There are two trains of thought on this. One is a manual beam scale. It has the measuring notches on the beam marked out in 5 grain increments, with another small scale to the right that measures in 1/10th of a grain. These are very good to have around but need to be checked and calibrated in necessary every time you load. They come with a 50 grain weight and 100 grain weight to calibrate (in most cases) so the calibrating is simple and quick. The second type scale is the digital scale. I keep a beam scale around just in case, but use a digital powder scale in most cases. If you decide to go with the digital scale, make sure and get one that measures at least 750 grains. Many only measure up to 500 grains and sometimes that is not quite enough. I use the RCBS digital 750 scale. It is simple and quick.
The third type powder scale is a measure and scale in one. It is an electric powder dispensing unit that you can type in the amount of powder you want and it dispenses that amount into the powder pan. The two problems I have with these are that it takes 30 to 50 seconds to meter out one measure of powder. I load 1000 to 1200 rounds every week and simply don't have the time for that turtle paced measure. The other problem I have with it is the recess inside the unit where powder is held often gets powder down in the cracks and crevices and requires almost total dismantling of the unit when you change powder. Again, that takes time that I don't have.
A powder measure is an invaluable tool for good reloading. Don't let your friends talk you into using those little plastic dippers. They never measure out the same amount twice, and are easy to get one mixed up with another. More trouble than they are worth. A fellow came into our shop recently asking for help with his reloads. He wasn't getting any decent groups and his guns shot very well with factory ammo. I went over each of his reloading tools and when he got to his powder measuring, a friend had made several dippers for him by soldering a wire to a 9mm case, or a 45 acp case and so on. He would fill the 9mm case with a certain powder and use that for measuring out the powder for his 41 magnum and so on. His buddy who claimed to be an "expert" at reloading had pointed him totally in the wrong direction. But get a good powder measure for good loads. And I recommend staying away from the measures that require the little interchangeable rotors that go inside the measure. Again this is another time consuming and energy wasting procedure. Go with one of the powder measures like the RCBS Uni Flow measure. No rotors and no taking the unit apart every time you use it.
Now, look in your manual and in the section of the caliber you are loading. Find the powder that is right for the caliber. In most manuals the recommended powder will be at the top of the list of powders. In my estimation the absolute best manual to own is the Lyman manual. Most manuals only show their bullets or their powder, etc. Tain't so with the Lyman manual. Lyman doesn't make bullets or powder so they will show most every bullet currently made for that particular caliber. In fact in most cases they will also show loads for lead bullets for rifles and handguns. They will also show the most accurate load (in most cases) and a load that duplicates the factory loading. The Lyman book is the one I reach for in most cases. Also look at the listings of the powders that you have and look for the most efficient load. In other words, if it takes 40 grains of X powder to go 1500 fps and it takes 32 grains of Y powder to do 1500 fps, obviously the Y powder is the most efficient load and the one to start with. Never try to come up with a load with a powder that is not shown. Quite often I will have someone call and and ask what would be a good load for this XX powder, as it is not shown in the loading manual. In many cases a buddy has told them to use that powder because it is in the same burning rate as the other powder he normally uses. Burning rate charts are a good reference, but until you have been loading for a couple of years, don't even look at the burning rate chart. This can get you in big trouble and maybe ruin a good firearm.
Anyway, find the appropriate load, fill the powder measure hopper with powder and meter some powder out into your powder scale pan. Weigh it and if too light, open up the hopper a bit more. Keep doing this until you have the right amount of powder being metered out. There is a lock ring on most powder hoppers. Lock it in at that setting and drop the powder in your cases. I put either 50 or 100 cases in a loading block and holding it under the powder hopper, work the handle up and down and powder the whole batch at one time. If you are using long strand powder that sometimes has problems metering out properly, tap the handle a couple of times at the top of the stroke and tap it again a couple of times on the bottom of the stroke, mainly to free any powder stuck in the feeder tube mouth. Once you meter out powder into each of the cases, look them over good under a good light top see if each one is at the same level of powder. If there are any that look to have less than the rest or more, take them, dump the powder out and re-do the powdering in them.
Once you have the powder in the rifle cases, put your bullet seater die in the press, screw it down about half way. Seat a bullet in the top of the case and lower the handle, pushing the case up into the bullet seater die. Do this slowly and keep lowering the seater die until you have the bullet seated to the cannelure on the bullet, Then when the bullet is seated to the proper spot lock the die in there. Now on a revolver round there is an added die. The middle die is a neck expander die, which slightly flares the case mouth to accept the bullet. When you are flaring up the mouths of the cases, just flare or bell them just enough to slightly seat the bullet in the mouth of the case. Over flaring can ruin a case by stretching to too much and losing the flexibility of the case mouth.
When seating a revolver bullet, remember you also have to crimp the case. Most people use the bullet seater die to seat the bullet and crimp the case at the same time. Most bullet seater dies will also crimp the case at the same time. Some depend upon a 4th die for this, one to seat the bullet and the second one to crimp it. Once you have tried this you will find the way that suits your shooting needs best. Once the bullet is seated to the proper spot take the round out and wipe off any excess lube with a clean rag and inspect the case for any bulges in the neck or shoulder. Always have your rifle or pistol handy when you are setting up your dies. When you get the first round loaded make sure it will drop in your gun and the bolt will close. If it is hard to close or won't close at all, stop right there and go over the sequence of loading to see where you messed up. A good bullet puller is a great tool to have around as we all make mistakes. The bullet puller saves the powder, bullet and in most cases the primer.
Dies. There are several companies that make excellent dies. Companies like RCBS, Lyman, Hornady, Dillon, Lee and a couple of others. Although I don't care for the Lee presses for heavy use I do think their dies are excellent. Good steel and well made and inexpensive. If you load rifle cartridges you are pretty much forced to use standard steel dies where you have to lube each case separately. Some handgun calibers, those with a necked down case like many of the GNR cartridges, like 356, 358, 410 and so on require standard steel dies and lubing each case. Straight wall cases like 44 mag, 357 mag, 41 mag and so on can be had as carbide dies, which I recommend highly. This eliminates the lubing and mess associated with it. The carbide dies are a bit more expensive in most cases but well worth it in the long run.
Next would be a case trimmer. If you will be loading straight wall cartridges, forget the trimmer. I don't remember ever trimming a straight wall case like 357, 41, 44 etc. Now if you will be loading for necked down rifle cases, especially magnum rifle cases, you will need a good trimmer. Several companies make very well made manual trimmers that will work fine. If you load hundreds of cases at a sitting, then possibly an electric trimming machine would be better. These can be expensive or really expensive. I would start with a manual trimmer at first and switch to an electric machine when your great uncles dies and leaves you a bundle.
As I mentioned earlier, there are a couple of companies that make reloading packages which include the press, a powder scale, a powder measure, a manual trimmer, and several small odds and ends that you will eventually need. Lyman, Hornady, Lee and RCBS all make starter kits. I highly recommend these kits as they save you some time and money in the long run. When looking online for bargains, make sure the press you are looking at is still made so if you need parts, they will be readily available. There were several good well made presses back in the 60's and 70's that are no longer around and parts are almost non-existent. One other feature you can take advantage of is my forum. There are thousands of years of experience on this forum and they will gladly help you out of any problem you encounter. There are loaders on here using every press on the market and will have helpful hints for you for the asking. And if all else fails, feel free to call me at 928-526-3313. If I can help you I will be glad to do so.
Try reloading. It is a money saving process that also lets you find the load your firearm likes best.
Til next time, get ready, hunting season is just ahead.