Category Archives: Reloading

Everything from case prep, to components, the reloading category will be home to articles about reloading and reloading items.

RELOADERS CORNER: Cartridge Cases, the Outside, Part 2: Case Cleaning

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Clean means “not dirty.” More details coming next. READ IT ALL

clean cases

Glen Zediker

Clean brass loads easier, keeps dies cleaner (and may help them last longer), and might even help your barrel last longer. Brass collected up off the ground almost always has some manner of grit clinging to it and, depending on range locale, that will cause more or less concern. If it’s sand, for instance, this debris can do serious damage to a die (and barrel). Plus, I’ve never had a semi-automatic that didn’t soot up the case neck and shoulder. And, since we’re needing to lubricate the whole case prior to sizing, there’s no place for gunk. As said last time, case lube should not be a case cleaner!

There is also always going to be firing residue, if not on the case, it will be inside the case, and in there will also be primer residue, which is very abrasive.

Brass doesn’t have to be polished to be cleaned, which is to say that it doesn’t have to be shiny to be clean. Get down to the bare metal and that’s “clean.”

The question is How?

Not counting all the methods and means I’ve heard tell of, which number well over a dozen, the two common are either dry media or liquid media. Dry media is most commonly corncob or walnut, and run through a rotary- or (more popularly) vibratory-style appliance. There’s another I’ve been impressed with and that is the use of steel media, and more in a bit.

corncob media
Good old corn cob works just fine, but make sure you get all the residues off the cases.

Liquid means can revolve around detergent-type solutions and agitation, or the “sonic” cleaners.

General: Advantages to dry media are, well, that it’s dry! Not (as) much mess. Disadvantages exist, however. The main one is getting all the residual dust and particulate out of the cases. I caution against using any additional abrasive additives to the dry media because what doesn’t get cleaned away will, not can, accompany a bullet down a barrel. Advantages to wet media are that it can do a thorough job of cleaning, no doubt. It also doesn’t leave any residue. But! It’s wet! And that means the cases need dried thoroughly prior to reuse. There are specialty appliances that can do it, but a cookie sheet in an oven set on “low” does the trick too.

hornady case cleaner
Hornady Sonic Case Cleaner

Back to the steel: That’s why I like this method. Dry, no residue. It in no way hurts the cases, and works pretty quickly.

steel case cleaner
A newer dry media is steel. It works well and leaves nothing behind. This magnet is how you separate media from cases. This one is from Frankford Arsenal

No media lasts forever. Corncob, especially, should be routinely discarded and the appliance cleaned out to avoid any resident grit mingling with the media particles. Much as in the same way gold panning works, heavier junk can settle to the bottom of the bowl. Tumbling media, by the way, doesn’t really wear out: it just gets crudded up.

Take steps post-cleaning to ensure that residues are gone, and also that primer pockets are free of particles. Some use compressed air to blow out the case inside, and others go as far as to rinse and dry.

Speaking of primer pockets! I very strongly suggest decapping prior to cleaning. That way the pocket will, indeed, be cleaned. This doesn’t take much time and requires only an inexpensive station as shown nearby.

decaping die
I strongly recommend decapping primers prior to cleaning. A setup like this doesn’t cost much, and the operation is pretty painless.

Additional steps? There are some long-used steps taken especially by precision shooters, such as brushing the inside of case necks, and also using a polishing cloth to thoroughly clean the case neck, case shoulder area, and separate attention paid to the pimer pocket. But. These steps originated with Benchrest competitors and the reason is because I never met one yet who uses the short of cleaning apparatus “we” use. Never a tumbler! Their cases never hit the ground either. Nothing more than a thorough run through the volume-cleaning media of your choice should be needed, and the primer pocket cleaner should likewise be unnecessary if you take the advice of cleaning deprimed cases.

Honestly, it’s better, and I say best, if the case cleaning media leaves no residues. That’s where dry steel media and the liquid cleaners come in.

Back to the basics: Clean is clean. “Nothing but brass” is “clean.” Polished and gleaming cases are not necessarily better, and matter not a whit to performance.

One last: my favorite case cleaning “story” ever. Middleton Tompkins, many-time Highpower Rifle national champion, showed me his case cleaning method on a visit. Mid (and his wife, dominant Long Range Rifle winner, Nancy) go well beyond “high volume” in their needs for clean cases. To that end, Mid purchased a small commercial cement mixer into which he dumped pounds of BBs and a solution of Joy dishwashing soap and water (later rinsed and drained and dried). Now, that’s a high-volume case cleaner!

Check out Midsouth products HERE

And decapping DIES!

This article is adapted from Glen’s books, Handloading For Competition and Top-Grade Ammo, available at Midsouth HERE. For more information about other books by Glen, visit ZedikerPublishing.com

 

NEW: Western Powders Handloading Guide

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Western Powders has released its new Handloading Guide, Edition 7.0. Plus a Hazmat Special from Midsouth Shooters This Weekend Only! READ MORE

western powders loading guide

This $2.99 print resource contains the latest load data for Western’s propellants.

You’ll find load data for over 100 rifle cartridges. The cartridge listings are up to date — including the popular new mid-sized competition cartridges, such as the 6.5 Creedmoor, 6.5×47 Lapua, and also .224 Valkyrie, along with many popular wildcat varmint cartridges, such as the 20 Vartarg, 20 Tactical, and 20 BR.

This resource also features helpful articles on handloading methods and rifle maintenance and cleaning.

Click HERE to take a look!

Midsouth Shooters is also offering a FREE HAZMAT promotion this weekend only! Get $140 of any Western Powder, like Accurate, Norma, or Ramshot (including Blackhorn 209) and you get FREE HAZMAT!

Check it out HERE!

RELOADERS CORNER: Cartridge Cases: The Outside, Part 1

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Lubrication is absolute essential in the reloading process, Here are a few ideas on which and how. READ MORE

lubing cases

Glen Zediker

What’s the most important thing in case resizing? Case lube! Overlook it or under-do it once and you’ll know why! A stuck-case remover is one of my very least favorite tools…

I have long used and recommended petroleum-based case lubes. More: I prefer those that are applied by hand, literally with the fingers, because I think it’s a better assurance that the right amount, to all the right places, will get laid down. I will quickly concede, though, that they are messy and slower than other methods.

imperial case lube
This is my favorite case lube. I took advice from Sgt. Norris after complaining how hard it was to get a good sizing pass on a Lake City .308. Sure enough. This made it easy. Been using it ever since. It’s not really wax. Use it like shoe polish: rub a little on your fingers and then rub it onto the case with a “gimme money” motion.

Spray-on-type lubes are very often used and recommended, especially by high-volume loaders because a good many cases can be treated and then even stored before use, so say the claims. I strongly suggest taking steps to prevent the lube from finding its way inside the case. A thin piece of cardboard placed atop the standing cases works well for this. There’s worry otherwise that the lube might affect the propellant. That does depend on the formulation, but I prefer the “no-chance” approach. I’m a “slow-down” sort of loader. That doesn’t mean I don’t want to save time or be as efficient as I can be, but I’ve just not found the speed advantage to spray-ons to overcome their performance. Sprays are not quite as “slick” as rub-ons.

Lanolin-based and wax-based alternatives also have their following. As do water-based lubes. The wax lubes indeed work and also clean up (off) easily, as does lanolin. I’ve not been a follower, though, because I find many to be more difficult to apply evenly and, one more time, just not quite as slick at petro-based products. Some of the wax-based lubes also make claim to “apply-now, use later.” I’m not sure what the appeal of that is, but there it is for those it appeals to. There are also a number of “proprietary” formulations out there now. I have not tried them all.

hornady case lube
Hornady pretty well has it covered: one for every opinion! Try them all! But I will wager you’ll like petro best… That’s the one in the bottle. Hornady claims their spray lube doesn’t contaminate powder, and that makes it applying it more straightforward.

A tip I picked up umpteen years ago by the man who got me started loading was to get an ink stamp pad (office-supply store variety) to apply roll-on type lubes. Indeed, that works way better than the industry pads I’ve tried.

Back to petroleum lubes: aside from providing smoother feel in sizing, which I have to believe also indicates “better” lubrication qualities, these don’t build up as much within tooling. I take apart my sizing die every now and again and swab it out, like I would a rifle chamber.

For best results, no matter which lube type you’re using, an even (thin) coating gives best results. With a good petro lube, it doesn’t take much. If you see any denting (usually in the case shoulder area), that resulted from hydraulic pressure and is a sign there was too much lube (too thick a coat). No worries, though: shoot the case and they’ll iron back out. Just use less lube next time!

Lubing the case neck inside is debated, but I favor it. However! Only very sparingly! That is why I really like the finger-applied lubes: just a little “wipe” across the case mouth eliminates the “gaunch” noice from the expander. I don’t use the graphite-applicators (the bin-and-brush types) because I haven’t noticed a whopping lot of difference in neck sizing with or without it.

forster lube
For best sizing results, I prefer the “rub-on” lubes. This one is from Forster. Never any worries about too much, too little, or complete coverage.

And, by the way, lube a case each pass through the die. This is important when setting up a sizing die where you might make a few passes with the same case. Don’t risk it! Stuck cases are total mood killer.

Clean the lube off the cases! There will be some now who will just roll their eyes, but I use denatured alcohol and a bath towel pour some on the towel, but the cases on the towel, fold the towel over the cases, and roll them around. Fast and simple! That works for petro-based. Others need more attention: just rub it away, or use detergent.

I do not recommend using a tumbler-type cleaner on loaded ammo!

Sho, there is a (slight) chance that a bullet tip might detonate a primer, but that’s not why. Why is because the propellant gets pulverized, and that, no doubt, will change its burn characteristic.

case cleanup
This is what I use to clean loaded rounds, along with the towel it’s sitting on. Lay out the towel, put down the rounds, pour some alcohol, fold the towel over the cases, and roll them around. Then hang the towel to dry for another use. Zero residue.

The reason to clean off the lube is because it lubricates, and that’s a bad thing on a live round. The case is supposed to stick tightly to the chamber when it expands under pressure. Any slip increases bolt thrust. I once saw a fellow douse a loaded 30-round magazineright down the middle with WD-40, to “make sure the bullets fed…” NO NO NO. Oil on a cartridge doubles bolt thrust!

Case lube is not a case cleaner!

Make sure the cases are clean prior to sizing. They don’t have to gleam, just be free from dirt and gritty dust. If you’re seeing a applicator pad, for instance, getting a dirty spot on it, well there’s your clue.

We’ll talk about that next time.

 Check out the selection from Midsouth HERE

This article is adapted from Glen’s books, Handloading For Competition and Top-Grade Ammo, available at Midsouth HERE. For more information about other books by Glen, visit ZedikerPublishing.com

RELOADERS CORNER: Primer Tech

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It may be the single-most influential reloading component, so learn all about it: the primer! READ MORE

rifle primer

Glen Zediker

This is one component in the collection that might not get all the attention it warrants. That’s because it is the one thing, above all other components, that you don’t want to just swap and switch around.

We’ve all heard cautions about testing new lots of every component, especially propellant, but primers not only change lot to lot, they vary greatly in their influence on any one load, brand to brand. The difference in one brand to the next can equal a good deal more or less pressure, for instance. While there are “general” tendencies respecting the “power” of various-brand primers, always (always) reduce the load (propellant quantity) when switching primers.

This has become more of an issue over the past few years as we’ve faced component shortages. I can tell you without a doubt that going from a WW to a CCI, or from a Remington to a Federal, can have a major influence on a load. I establish that from chronograph readings. No doubt, it’s best to have a good supply of one primer brand and lot that produces good results, and when that’s not possible, it’s a hard sell to convince someone to stop loading ammo and get back to testing. But. It is important. I can tell you that from (bad) experience. How I, and we all, learn most things…

When I switch primers, whether as a test or a necessity, I reduce my load ONE FULL GRAIN. There can be that much effect.

The Thing Itself
A primer is made up of a brass cup filled with explosive compound (lead styphate). Lead styphate detonates on impact. Primers don’t burn – they explode! In the manufacturing process, this compound starts as a liquid. After it’s laid into the cup, and while it’s still wet, a triangular piece or metal (the “anvil”) is set in. When the cup surface is struck by the firing pin, the center collapses, squeezing the explosive compound between the interior of the cup and the anvil. That ignites the compound and sends a flame through the case flash hole, which in turn lights up the propellant.

Primers are dangerous!

Don’t underestimate that. I’ve had one experience that fortunately only created a huge start, but I know others who have had bigger more startling mishaps. These (almost always) come from primer reservoirs, like fill-tubes. Pay close attention when charging up a tube and make sure all the primers are facing the right way, and that you’re not trying to put in “one more” when it’s full! That’s when “it” usually happens. What will happen, by the way, is akin to a small grenade. Static electricity has also been blamed, so keep that in mind.

primer tray
Take care in filling primer tubes! Make double-sure all are facing correctly, and a good primer tray helps. This photo shows the correct orientation for using primers one at a time. To fill a primer tube, make sure the “shiny side” is facing up! Flip the tray over.

Sizes and Types
Primers come in two sizes and four types. “Large” and “small”: for example, .223 Rem. takes small, .308 Win. takes large. Then there are pistol and rifle in each size.

Rifle primers and pistol primers are not the same, even though they share common diameters! Rifle primers should have a tougher cup, and, usually, a hotter flash. Never swap rifle for pistol. Now, some practical-style competitive pistol shooters using their very high-pressure loads (like .38 Super Comp) sometimes substitute rifle primers because they’ll “handle” more pressure, but they’ve also tricked up striker power. That’s a specialized need.

Further, some primer brands are available with a “magnum” option. Some aren’t. My experience has been that depends on the “level” of their standard primer. A magnum primer, as you might guess, has a more intense, stouter flash that travels more “deeply” to ignite the larger and more dense powder column. It reaches further, faster.

large rifle primers

large rifle magnum primers

There’s no real reason not to experiment with “hotter” and “colder” primers, whether the case is stamped “mag” or not. Keep in mind that the experiment is all about the initial flash effect. And keep in mind that this (without a doubt) demands a reduction in the propellant charge at the start.

Over a many years I’ve seen some tendencies respecting flash effect. Using routine cartridges, like .308 Win., single-base extruded propellants tend to shoot well with a cooler spark to start, and the double-base, especially spherical-types, seem to respond best to a hotter flash. Many seem to think that the coating (necessary to form the spherical) and the inherent greater density (less air space between granules) in a spherical demands a little faster start.

Flash consistency is very important, shot to shot. The consistency of every component is important: bullet weights, diameters, case wall thicknesses, and all the way down the list. We’re hoping to get more consistent behavior from a “match” or “benchrest” primer, and we’re paying more for it. I can tell you that some brands that aren’t touted as “match” are already consistent. That all comes from experience: try different primers, just respect the need to initially reduce the load each test. I can also tell you that my notes tell me that the primer has a whopping lot to do with how high or low my velocity deviations plot out.

One last: there are small variations in primer dimensions (heights, diameters) among various brands. These variations are not influential to performance. But! Small diameter variations can influence feeding through priming tools. This can be a hitch especially in some progressive loading machines. Manufacturers usually offer insight (aka: “warnings”) as to which are or aren’t compatible, so find out.

Check out Midsouth products HERE
Primer trays HERE

This article is adapted from Glen’s books, Handloading For Competition and Top-Grade Ammo, available at Midsouth HERE. For more information about other books by Glen, visit ZedikerPublishing.com

Hodgdon Adds 224 Valkyrie to Load Data Site!

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Hodgdon Logo

One of the hottest calibers of 2018, the 224 Valkyrie keeps the hype comings and suppliers are working hard to keep up with customer requests. It continues to impress shooters across the nation, but as it’s popularity gains, more and more people are hungry for better standardized data to build their own ammunition.

Hodgdon Powders, one of the most trusted names in reloading powder, and reloading data, has stepped up to the plate with their amazing reloading web tool, and offered a full menu of reloading data for the 224 Valkyrie. Use this guide to hone your reloads!

Hodgdon Valkyrie Reloading Data

Much to the excitement of our Do-It-Yourself customers, the reloading data comes at a time when there are more component options available than ever. You can find everything you need to load your own 224 Valkyrie right here at Midsouth shooters Supply!

Will this wicked new caliber continue to live up to the hype? Have you started reloading for it yet? Tell us your thoughts in the comments!

RELOADERS CORNER: 4 (More) Semi-Auto Details

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Beyond precision and accuracy, the base goal for any handload is safety: follow these recommendations to ensure yours! KEEP READING

Glen Zediker

Since I sincerely think it’s important to know what you’re up against, in one way of looking at it, when you load for a semi-automatic rifle, there’s more this time. I don’t mean to say “up against” like it’s some sort of adversarial relationship, a fight, but not respecting some of these points can create problems.

The gas port pressure issue was addressed last time, and it’s one of the most influential. Not only does too much port pressure create excessive action cycling, it also shortens case life. The cases take a bigger beating, more expansion mostly, when the bolt tries to unlock too quickly. Clearly, I’m back to using the AR15 as the central example, but virtually all semis succumb to the same set of behaviors (yes, including the gas-piston guns).

nosler brass
My current choice in a go-to for my “better” AR15 brass is Nosler. It’s not exactly thin but it is tough, and, by my experience, holds up to my standard. It’s also ready to load (well prepped).

One: tough brass
Therefore, next on the list is choosing a tough case! Tough, here, means “hard.” Brass is an alloy and the makeup varies from maker to maker.

The reason that a harder composition helps is because it’s more resistant to expansion, not as elastic. That might sound, on the front end, like a bad thing because harder brass is also more brittle so could tend to succumb easier to the ills of excessive expansion. Softer brass will conform more agreeably. True. It might seem like an equitable trade off, but I assure you that it is hardness ultimately that matters most. I notice the softness mostly in primer pocket expansion, or I should say that harder cases don’t open up as quickly.

Thicker cases, by the way, are not necessarily harder. Again, that’s in the alloy composition itself. Some high-dollar cases, Lapua for instance, are relatively soft despite being thick-walled.

The overall best choice for reuse in a semi-auto is probably good old Lake City. It’s exactly what it should be, and that’s been pretty well proven for decades. LC is easily available but, except in rare circumstances, will be once-fired. Most cases left over from commercially-available NATO-spec loadings are likewise fine. Lake City, as a bonus, also tends to be relatively thinner-walled (higher capacity) than many of the commercial brands, and its quality (wall thickness) is pretty dang good.

Check out what Midsouth has HERE

 

Two: adequate case shoulder set-back
Next, and this is a huge source of debate and disagreement amongst my readers, but, since now I’m strictly speaking of semi-auto needs I doubt there will be much dissent: full-length resize all cases! It’s a matter of degrees, and getting handle on port pressure (plus) taming down an excessively functioning gas system, reduces this difference: but most cases from most semi-autos will emerge with a pretty well-blown case shoulder. Make double-sure you’re sizing the cases down to at least 0.003 clearance. There are gages that help, and HERE is a link to one.

If you don’t there are safety and function problems ahead.

Three: adequate case neck “tension”
Likewise, make double-sure the case neck is being reduced an adequate amount to retain the bullet. There should be a minimum net difference of 0.003 inches between sized outside case neck diameter and loaded round outside case neck diameter. Reason: don’t take a chance of inadvertent bullet movement during the recoil and feeding cycles. That movement can be back or forward! It’s easily possible for a bullet to jump ahead when the inertia from the bolt carrier assembly chambers the next round.

sized case neck
Same as said about headspace: a bolt-action can “get away” with a lot, but a semi-auto round has to be constructed with an eye on cycling stresses. A firmly-held bullet resists stubs and intertia-induced movement. I recommend a minimum of 0.003 “grip.”

Four: tough primer!
Choose a tough primer! There’s a floating firing pin on an AR15 (M1A also) that is supposed to be held in check but that system doesn’t always work! If you load and extract a round and see a little dimple in the primer, that’s from the firing pin tapping off of it (again, created by inertia of bolt closing). A combination of a high primer and a sensitive primer cup assembly can create a “slam-fire,” which you do not want.

primer indentation
This always scares me. A tough-skinned primer is a very wise choice loading for anything with a floating firing pin, like an AR15 or AR10.
No! Check each and every primer to make sure it’s seated to below flush with the case head!

Brands? CCI has some mil-spec primers that work well, and I’ve had great success with Remington 7-1/2. Some of the well-respected “match” primers are a little thin. The CCI and Remington also hold up well to the (sometimes) greater firing forces working on the primer (again, from the quick unlocking).

And, finally, make double-sure that each and every primer is seated to below flush with the case head! That’s true for any firearm (because it also means that the primer is fully seated) but imperative for safety in a semi-auto. This is especially an issue for those who use a progressive-type loading press. There’s nothing wrong with the press but it may not give the sensitivity in feedback to know that the primer is fully seated without checking.

Here’s what I use from Midsouth

This article is adapted from Glen’s books, Handloading For Competition and Top-Grade Ammo, available at Midsouth HERE. For more information about other books by Glen, visit ZedikerPublishing.com

New Sierra GameChanger Bullets Coming to Midsouth Shooters!

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Sierra Gamechanger Bullets Now At Midsouth Shooters!

When a new projectile enters the reloading market, it’s a pretty big deal. It’s always exciting to see innovation coupled with precision, and performance. The GameChanger Bullets, a new offering in the tipped GameKing bullet line, are touted as the “…perfect blend of exceptional Ballistic Coefficients (BC), Accuracy, and Deadly Terminal Performance on tough wild game.” The bullets feature a synthetic tip for smoother chambering, improved flight and better expansion on target (game) impact. The open pocket design below the poly-tip further expands the lead core, while the precisely engineered jacket wall concentricity makes for an incredibly accurate bullet.

  • Tuned ogive for industry-leading BC.
  • Boat tail design creates stable flight and accuracy.
  • Open pocket (Hollow Point) expands lead core instantly on impact.
  • Precisely Engineered Jacket wall concentricity ensures accuracy.
  • Wall thickness controls expansion and retains weight

For individual bullet info on the Sierra GameChangers, check out this article at Midsouth Shooters!

Sierra Gamechanger Load Data

All Available GameChanger Load Data:
When it comes to the release of new projectiles, reloading data can be difficult to find. We’ve obtained some load data from the ballisticians at Sierra for select calibers. For more calibers not listed, please contact Sierra for assistance! The load data provided is to be used to their exact specifications.

RELOADERS CORNER: Gas Port Pressure

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It’s not always possible to separate guns from loads, and there are some important things to know to get the most from your semi-auto. Here’s one! KEEP READING

casing in air

Glen Zediker

I have spent the last couple of segments taking a big step back recollecting my own (early) experiences and education as a handloader. Hope you’re happily indulging me, and hope even more that there’s been some good ideas that have come from it.

I started reloading as a matter of economy, and because I wanted to shoot more. Said then and said again now: if the impetus for reloading is saving money, you really don’t save money! You just get to shoot more for the same cost. Hope that makes sense, and likely you already understand that. Clearly, there are other reasons or focuses that attract folks to handloading, and personalizing ammo performance, improving accuracy, are leading reasons.

I’ve been at least a tad amount (to a lot) biased all along in my department topics toward loading for semi-automatic rifles. That’s been done for a few reasons, and the primary one is that, no question at all, there are specific and important details, a lot of dos and don’ts, in recycling ammo for a self-loader.

This is the reason I’ve been careful to specifically point out the “semi-auto” aspect of any tooling or preparation step. I’d like some feedback from you all with respect to your motivations and applications in handloading. Why do you do it?

Another reason is that, and I know this from much input, as happened with me 45 years ago, my interest in learning to reload came with ownership of a semi-auto that I absolutely loved to shoot! Here of late, my plumber, for a good instance, proudly announced to me outside the local hardware store that he had just purchased his first AR15 and showed me the paper bag full of .223 Rem. cartridges he had just purchased there. A scant few weeks later: “Could you help me get together some tools and show me how to reload?” I did.

Back to the focus, finally (I know) of this topic: what are those differences comparing semi-autos to anything else?

There are a few points, but one of the first, and one of the most important, is component selection. Case, primer, propellant. Propellant first.

AR15 gas port
As .224-caliber bullets get heavier, there’s a tendency toward many using slower-burning propellants. Often, the slower-burning fuels produce lower chamber pressures, which means more velocity potential (that’s true with just about any rifle cartridge). But! Gas port pressure will increase with slower and slower burning propellants. Can’t have it all, and make sure “function” is first on the list. That’s safe and sane function, by the way, not “over-function!”

I’ll assume, pretty safely, that the semi-auto we’re loading up for is an AR15, or some take on that platform. If so, it will have a “direct impingement” gas system. That’s a pretty simple arrangement whereby the gas pressure needed to operate the system, which cycles the action, is bled off from the barrel bore via a port. From there it goes through a manifold and then into a tube, and then back into the bolt carrier via the bolt carrier key. Gas piston operation is more complex, but what’s said here applies there also respecting propellant selection.

So, it’s kind of a wave. The idea is to get the wave to peak at a point where there’s not excessive gas entering the system, but there is sufficient gas entering the system. Mil-spec. 20-inch AR15 calls for 12,500 psi, for what that’s worth. And “piston” guns are nowhere near immune from concerns about port pressure.

The burning rate of the propellant influences the level of gas pressure at the gas port, and this, easy to understand, is referred to as “port pressure.” The original AR15 rifle gas system component specs (20-inch barrel, port located at 12 inches down the barrel) were created to function just fine and dandy with 12,000 PSI port pressure. Much less than that and there might not be enough soon enough to reliably cycle the works. Much more than that and the operating cycle is accelerated.

Port pressure and chamber pressure are totally separate concerns and only related indirectly.

Rule: slower-burning propellants produce more port pressure than faster-burning propellants. As always, “faster” and “slower” are relative rankings within a variety of suitable choices. The answer to why slower-burning propellants produce higher pressure at the gas port comes with understanding a “pressure-time curve.” A PT curve is a way to chart consumption of propellant, which is producing gas, along with the bullet’s progress down the bore. It’s what pressure, at which point. I think of it as a wave that’s building, cresting, and then dissipating. Slower propellants peak farther down the bore, nearer the gas port. Heavier bullets, regardless of propellant used, also produce higher port pressures because they’re moving slower, allowing for a greater build-up about the time the port is passed.

RE15
I put the (very safe) cut-off at H4895 burning rate. I’ll go as slow as RE15, and have with safe success, but its influential differences are noticeable. I can tell you that a 4895 is well within the optimum range to deliver intended port pressure (“a” 4895, mil-contract variety, was actually the early original 5.56 propellant).

To really get a handle on all this you have to picture what’s happening as a bullet goes through the barrel in a semi-auto, and keep (always) in mind just how quickly it’s all happening. Milliseconds, less than a few of them, define “too much” or “not enough.” As the bullet passes the gas port, there’s still pressure building behind it, and there’s more pressure building still with a slower propellant. After the bullet exits the muzzle, the pressure doesn’t just instantly go away. There’s pressure latent in the system (all contained in the gas tube and bolt carrier) that’s operating the action.

The symptoms of excessive port pressure come from the consequence of a harder hit delivered too soon, and what amounts to too much daggone gas getting into and through the “back,” the bolt carrier: the action starts to operate too quickly. The case is still a little bit expanded (under pressure) when the bolt starts to unlock and the extractor tugs on the case rim, plus, the increased rush of gas simply cycles the action too quickly. That creates extraction problems and essentially beats up cases. They’ll often show bent rims, excessively blown case shoulders, stretching, and so on.

Getting gas port pressure under control makes for improved function, better spent case condition, and less wear and stress on the gun hisseff.

There’s a huge amount more to talk about on this whole topic, and a good number of ways to get everything working as it should. But. For this, the most a handloader can do, and it’s honestly just about the most influential help, is to stay on the faster side of suitable propellants. Without any doubt at all, there will be rampant disagreement with my advice: no slower than Hodgdon 4895. Most all published data lists propellants from faster to slower, so find H4895 and don’t go below it. That’s conservative, and there are a lot of very high scores shot in NRA High Power Rifle with VARGET and RE-15, but those are edgy, in my experience, and define the very upper (slowness) limit.

m14 gas system
This doesn’t only apply to AR15s. The M1A is VERY sensitive to port pressure, which is also propellant burn rate. It’s a gas-piston gun. Same cut-off on burning rate is advised for these: H4895. I sho learned this the hard way by dang near wrecking my first M1A: bolt stuck back after firing a dose of H4350. That was before I met Sgt. Jim Norris and got the lecture I’me giving you. Thanks Sarge!

That alone doesn’t mean all AR15 architectures will be tamed (carbine-length systems are particularly over-zealous), but it does mean that port pressure will stay lower, an important step.

A caution always about factory ammo: some is loaded for use in bolt-actions (especially hunting ammo(, and might bea very bad choice for your .308 Win. semi-auto. AR15s are actually fairly more flexible in showing clear symptoms, some no doubt due to the buffered operating system and overall mild nature of the .223 Rem. cartridge.

This article is adapted from Glen’s books, Handloading For Competition and Top-Grade Ammo, available at Midsouth HERE. For more information about other books by Glen, visit ZedikerPublishing.com

 

PRODUCT NEWS: Shooters World SW4350 Propellant

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A newly-formulated old-favorite propellant gets put to the test by Olympian Ken Johnson. READ THE RESULTS

Ken Johnson

I’ve been having dreams about 4350. But not the kind of dreams you’d think a ballistician would have. The book, “The Art of Memory” therein provides clues as to why my brain thought it would be smart to sprinkle this stuff on my ice cream. WAIT! Before you wave your magic finger and go back to Facebook…

Well, sure enough, it’s a useful propellant. Moderately slow. Too slow for .308, but in terms of propellants better suited for higher chamber-to-bore ratios, it’s a wise choice to have on hand. And it seems to be the favorite punch to serve to the Prom Queen (Miss Jezebel Creedmoor) at the Prairie Revival School dance. More soon…

I shot 4350 in .243 Winchester with a 107 Sierra Match King, back when I won the very last 300-Meter 3-Position Rifle event at the Pan American Games, Argentina 1995. I have fond memories of Argentina. And, the accuracy of that 4350 powder.

Our manufacturer has been making 4350-speed propellant for approximately 70 years. They know the burn speed, and they know how to make it right. Recently, they upgraded the chemical stabilizer from 1940s technology to that of the European Chemical Hazards Agency compliant goop. Current vernacular describes this propellant as “REACH Compliant.” It’s good to know that you won’t be poisoned by this powder now, if you sprinkle it on your ice cream… That was a joke. Don’t do that.

Now, for those who’ve followed the history and application of THIS propellant in a parallel universe, you’ll know it to be slightly slower in burn rate than other 4350 offerings. In our analysis, we found that to be largely true.

So…about that dance with Miss Creedmoor… I decided to run a test of our SW4350 data against H4350 data to determine relative accuracy performance. It was a relatively warm July day in the Panhandle of North Florida, a few miles inland from the Forgotten Coast.

The thermometer read 94.5 degrees. The humidity would be classified as “swamp.” Mirage was switching left-to-right, and right-to-left again. Heavy at times, like shooting through a swimming pool, but as easy to read as Dick and Jane. Hornady virgin, unmolested brass. I did absolutely nothing to the brass, other than seat a primer, dump some powder, and cram in a bullet. All charges were weighed to 0.10-grains. Federal 210M primers. Nosler Accubond 130s. Fired at 250 yards. Standard SAAMI 6.5 Creedmoor chamber. I did all the gun plumbing. 1-7 twist 5-R Rock Creek 24-inch barrel. Predator action, torqued to 65 inch-pounds.

Now I’ll grant you, I didn’t shoot hundreds of rounds of each sample. But, I did double-blind the test. So, I didn’t know which ammunition I was shooting. All I knew was “1” went on top, and “2” went on the bottom. And, my apprentice had a good time playing with my head. She tends to do that, especially when “doing the dishes” is on the line! That bride of mine, she keeps life interesting.

Below, the various groups shot alternating between the two samples. According to my results, SW4350 had less vertical dispersion than the H-version.

SW4350 vs. H4350

I can tell you that the mirage was running that day. And I never noticed it boil at all. So, I cannot find cause for the vertical shots. But you be the judge, and let me know your thoughts!

ken johnson

As an added bonus to celebrate the release of the new SW4350, Shooters World Powder is covering your HAZMAT! When you buy 4 pounds of Shooters World Powder, you get FREE HAZMAT on your entire order. This is your chance to try one of the most popular powder types out there, at a better price, with some exciting results!

Click Here to shop all Shooters World Powders!

About the author: Ken Johnson works with Shooters World in the capacity of Ballistics Managing Partner, Laboratory Manager, and Ballistician. In addition, Ken has had a long and distinguished career as a championship shooter both with the USAMU and USA Olympic Team, having won numerous gold, silver, and bronze medals in the Pan American Games, World Championship, and other international events, as well as national championships at Camp Perry. 

RELOADERS CORNER: Blissful Moderation

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Glen Zediker recollects and reflects on the first advice he ever got on choosing a load: all things in moderation, pressure and velocity included! READ IT ALL

range load
When you just want to load up and go have a go at the range, there’s no need for speed. But! There is a need for enough pressure-power for reliable, clean function. I suggest trying something in the “medium” range for daily use. Your rifle, your barrel, your cases, and your senses will all thank you for reducing the shock by taking “two steps to the left” to find a load. Promise: you will not notice anything at all negative from any lack of “power.”

Glen Zediker

I spend a great amount of space in this department warning, and I hope educating, on the signs, signals, dangers of excessive cartridge pressure. That’s all been and being done because, for the majority, maximizing velocity is an ammo-goal. Hunters, varmint and game, competitive longer-range shooters, usually want the most they can get from bullet flight performance, and also impact strength.

For me, there’s zero doubt that more speed is a better score on a full-length NRA High Power Rifle course. (Side note: it is a fallacy that lighter loads are more accurate. They’re not, or not because they’re lighter. Some of the best perforations I’ve seen are with maxed loads.)

But! I shoot a toned-down load for reduced-distance courses (as well as for the 200-yard events on full-length), and my general-purpose clods-and-cans load is a lower-stress recipe.

I mentioned last time that I had recently fired a good deal of current NATO-spec ammo and was, I guess “impressed” is the right word, with its power level. The stuff I make up for afternoon fun-runs is a good deal less stressed.

I’m not at all recommending a “light” load. Just let’s call it a solid “medium.” Looking over my notes for the past umpteen years, going through my last most current load-data notebook, I saw what was to me an interesting happenstance. I tended to be pretty much right at one-and-one-half grain less than maximum (and about two grains with .308-class rounds).

dirty case
Signs of a load that’s too “light” include, clearly, one that won’t cycle the action reliably on a semi-auto. Another couple, for any action type, include an unusually dirty chamber and sooted-up cartridge case necks and shoulders. A little lighter still and you might see a primer that’s backed out a tad. Those all result from the case not expanding fully to seal the chamber forward and stretch to comply closer to chamber dimensions end to end. A little reduction won’t normally show any of this, and, tip: go a tad toward the faster end of suitable burning rate for general use.

Thats not a light load! It’s “three halves,” three one-half grain drops. That half-grain, and some might recollect my mentioning this a few times in the past, is my always-recommended “come-off” step for any pressure sign (not a tenth or two, but a “full” half grain). Any other over-pressure indicator from that point then signals need to come off another “full” half-grain. So I pretty much come off those two halves from the get go, add another, and, guess what? Never nary a pressure concern.

Slightly faster-burning propellants, in my experience, lend themselves better to the “medium” power level reduction in terms of maintaining accuracy. As always, “faster” and “slower” are values within a small range of propellant rates suitable for a particular cartridge and bullet. And, in following this plan, when needed bump it up to full speed with predicatable results.

For .223 Rem.-class cartridges, a half-grain is worth ballpark 40-50 feet per second, again depending on propellant.

The advantages of a “medium” load are predictable, but here’s my list: plain old easier on the gun, and on the barrel, and on the self. Again (and again) I’m not talking abut a “light” load, just one that’s maybe 95-percent, a solid 150-200 feet per second less than published maximum. Case stress will be reduced, and that’s associated with length trimming frequency and overall “life” before primer pocket enlargement and general stretch-thinning, cracking symptoms retire the brass.

Back to my “story,” which was the interesting happenstance (all this was all brought back to me by the initial outing with my new old AR15 I talked about last edition, and my 16-year-old son asking me if I could teach him how to reload because we ran out of ammo so quickly…): So. When I first learned to reload I was 15. This event coincided with my first AR15 rifle, which was purchased new at a Skaggs drugstore. Right. My mother did not eagerly agree to sponsor a reloading setup, but, being a wise-enough woman, did interpret the math the same way I did: I could shoot a lot more for a lot less if I was doing my own. So, I had a friend, Gary. Most fortunate man to know. Gary, and I see this more clearly each year that passes, knew more about guns and shooting than any 10 people I have since encountered.

We went to Bald Bob’s Sporting Goods in Rifle, Colorado. He chose an RCBS kit for me, a piece at a time. Bob sold RCBS only. Press, dies, scale, meter, case lube, doo-dads, and, of course some propellant and brass and bullets and primers. And a Sierra Bullets loading book. So, back home, and a short time later, there I sat before my new array of green pride-and-joys. After stern lectures about things I was never supposed to do, and at least an equal number of things I was always supposed to do, we got this show flowing downriver.

Gary had chosen IMR 4198 for me for a propellant. He said it was clean-burning and economical. Didn’t take much of it. I had some Speer 55-grain full-metal-jacket bullets, some Remington cases to go along with the empties I had saved in a paper bag, and some CCI primers. Now. We looked at the loading tables in the Sierra Manual, and he had me find my cartridge and bullet. (He already knew exactly where we were going, so this was for my benefit.) He pointed out the “maximum” load and the “starting” load, one on the far right and the other on the origin point of the table on the left. He then counted back two places from the far right: 20.5gr. He said, “There. That’s the one. It’s not going to give you any troubles, and it’s adequate for function.”

“That was easy,” I thought.

I have since learned that advice was too good not to share.

If you’re looking for a good load, and you know the propellant is wisely-chosen, going two steps down from the manual-listed maximum should, indeed, be a great place to start, or to stay if you are sans chronograph. Time after time, I have noticed over the many, many years I have now been doing all this, that the “two steps back from max” procedure is safe, sane, and satisfying.

reduced load list
Here’s a page (“the page”) from my now-ancient Sierra manual. Not all manuals agree (not nearly) on max loads, and not all are done in multiple increments, but the essential advice is reducing the max load by two steps, or about one-and-one-half grains of propellant in this case (reduction amounts vary, certainly, based on the cartridge). It’s wise advice from a wise man, and I’m talking about Buddy Gary. I just pass it along because it sho works for me!

I shot about a gozillion rounds of 20.5 grains of 4198 through that SP1. Since it was not a max load, I could also change the bullets without worry, going from one brand to the next at the same weight, of course. I could change cases and even primers. It was a tenth shy of one-and-one-half grains under maximum. I don’t recollect ever grouping that rifle on a paper target. I zeroed it based on preference and I also don’t recollect ever missing anything I aimed at by more than a little bit, and never twice.

This article is adapted from Glen’s books, Handloading For Competition and Top-Grade Ammo, available at Midsouth HERE. For more information about other books by Glen, visit ZedikerPublishing.com