It’s hard to believe that it has officially been one year since the ammunition and hand sanitizer industries felt the pressure of a world flipped upside down. Several factors have driven the shooting and reloading world into an extremely slim inventory crisis and we thought you’d like to hear from several of our friends in the industry and the challenges that they have faced.
Jason Hornady of Hornady Manufacturing Company
Jason Vanderbrink of Vista Outdoors (Federal Cartridge) 1
Jason Vanderbrink of Vista Outdoors (Federal Cartridge) 2 – an update
You’re stuck with a lot of loser loads. Now what? READ MORE
Last time I threw out a circumstance where, during the will and want to deliver high-volume output a mistake was made and the result is that you’re left with honking pot full of substandard ammo. We talked about what might have gone wrong, but probably the worst is there’s something that’s created a load too hot. Too much pressure. There are other dimensional issues as well that might prevent graceful reuse. But, for the most part, unless the load produced is well over pressure, I’d be looking to send them downrange. Cut my losses, get the cases back, start over.
Directional miscues are pretty clearly decided on how to overome. Bullets out too far? Seat them deeper. It’s not going to be so little that there won’t be some influence, but not enough to escalate pressures.
I can’t say “how much” overpressure is safe to shoot, but can tell you that it’s likely to be a good deal more than you might think. Now, this doesn’t have to do accuracy or manners, just safety. That’s also not a recommendation from me to willingly ignore your own instincts. There’s varying of degrees or levels of abuse to be enured.
Digging all the way out from under this problem is also liable to require the use of specialty tooling, something like, dare I say, a bullet puller. One of these will salvage both propellant and bullet, and give the opportunity to crank right back up and a have another go at it. I have shot a plenty of pulled bullets and into very small shot groups. It was once popular among mil-spec-type target shooters to break down M193, replace the 55 gr. with a commercial 52, 53, or 55 match bullet and head to the firing line. Groups would be about 60-percent smaller. Right, just pull them and replace them. No extra sizing, no nothing.
Forster is my first choice for a bullet puller because it’s simple an fast, and because it allows the reuse of a bullet. It’s tedious, but way on better than the headache created by a kinetic type puller.
Back to the start: preparation prevents problems, as long as paying attention is involved! Taking time to make notes and run a checklist helps keep race cars on the track and airplanes in the air, and handloading ammunition safe. Take the time.
The preceding is a adapted from information contained in Glen’s Top-Grade Ammo. Available at Midsouth Shooters Supply. Visit ZedikerPublishing.com for more information on the book itself, and also free article downloads. Also, check out our new lineup of eBOOKS!
In doing higher-volume loading, one fear is “what if” and that refers to having made a mistake… READ MORE
So you’ve put, say, 500 rounds together and there’s a flaw, and this may (usually always) be constant and consistant throughout. Or, maybe something changed during, someting shifted, at some point from then at the start to now at the end.
This can happen, and you’re fortunate indeed if you have no stories to share.
Before getting far into what it was and what was the influence or effect we’re now facing, this next will suggest a few things to check beforehand to head it off.
I don’t know that I’ve ever read much on handloading that didn’t come with at least a few ideas on checks, checkpoints. One of the first I propellant dispensing. Using a meter for these loads, throwing charges, there’s a question about how often to stop and run a check on your volume progress against the consistency of each charge thrown into each case.
Advice I’ve seen varies and ranges from the way too often to the every now and again. Folks, honestly, I never check or double check once I’m underway. I am also using expensive meters with Culver inserts. These I have proven to meter more accurately than my scale can determine. The level of effort and attention that went into my being able to make that statement is another article, and, along the way, will be. But, if you’re not using a Culver, it is a wise investment in a minute to throw a charge or two, weigh each, and satisfying the self that all’s well. If you see a problem, if your meter won’t hold a setting, that is a huge red-flag that needs fixed.
I always start a session checking propellant dispensing weight. I do this more to satisfy that tiny tickle of paranoid uncertaintly than I do for any tangible reason, but we do a lot of things to fix those tickles (like look both ways before crossing a one-way street). Well. I do. I click-dial my meter to where my notes say it should be (and do the same to the other Culver-equipped meters that might be involved in this session), then throw charges with each and see the right weight from each (I usually through 4-5 at a time, weigh the pan, and divide by however many throws are in the pan). Sometimes I think I do this more to just satisfy myself respecting how good this system is.
Next I essentially check die “tightness” by confirming that the sized case dimentions are what they should me. And then also do the same for bullet seating depth.
A few tricks here come from a treat like a good turret-head press. After getting the dies adjusted to what you want for a load (this load), snugging them down and adding index marks means that, one, no there should be no movement between uses, and, also, it will be easily seen becaues of the marks. Index marks are no more complex than a paint-marker-line from die body, to lock ring, to press top. I index the sizing and seating adjustments at the top of the die also.
The fewer times anything is loosened, moved, tightened the radically greater chance it has to stay perfectly in place.
Next I triple check the bullet seating depth. By the way, I’ve also become convinced that the more initial checks made reduce any chance for an erroneous check. I look once, then again, and then again, and by then I sho should have seen all there is to see. I might overlook something, though, if I look only once, and I have done that before setting seating depths.
The best trick I can tell you to keep tools lined up where they should be, when they have to be moved, is to handle a threaded die ONLY BY ITS LOCKING RING! Never, ever hold on the die body to thread the piece in and out the press top. Handled only by the ring, there’s no chance of movement (well, assuming that the ring was snugged in place as it should have been).
Next time we’ll look at a few things that might have gone wrong, and see about getting them fixed, or worked around.
The preceding is a adapted from information contained in Glen’s Top-Grade Ammo. Available at Midsouth Shooters Supply. Visit ZedikerPublishing.com for more information on the book itself, and also free article downloads. Also, check out our new new lineup of eBOOKS!
If you are hoarding or only keeping what you need on hand don’t let your investment rust away. READ MORE
Storing ammunition is at least as important as properly storing your firearms. After all, the firearm is no better than a stick or a club without ammunition. While many of us like to have an adequate supply of ammunition for a SHTF situation this isn’t my primary motivation. I am more concerned with an adequate supply of ammunition for training and recreation than for possible use in a societal break down. I have had to curtail my personal training and firearms classes during shortages because I simply could not obtain enough ammunition. There was considerable price gouging at times and I no longer patronize those outlets. Finding twenty nine boxes of ammunition when you really need fifty is discouraging. (Fifty students, fifty rounds each, every class for months is a lot ammunition.) Conversely I walked into Academy Sports a few months ago and saw several pallets of Winchester 9mm ball for $6.99 per fifty cartridges. I estimated 20,000 rounds on the floor. The shortage, it appeared, was over. Now it is back. These things run in cycles — even if the current shortage is short lived, we may see another shortage, particularly around election time.
What are your needs? I don’t hoard things for their own sake. I like to have a few months supply of the ammunition I really need on hand. When I taught handgun marksmanship and tactical movement students seemed never to bring enough ammunition and others brought gun and ammunition combinations that were not proofed and they malfunctioned. I have learned quite a bit about ammunition storage. As an example I have handloaded my handgun ammunition for more than forty years and cannot recall a misfire cartridge due to storage issues. Ammunition isn’t quite in the category with silver and gold but may be more precious and useful if you need it. It is expensive enough that you should respect the investment and take steps to store it properly. This is more important the greater the amount of ammunition you store. Some like to burn up their ammunition on the weekend and call on Monday and replace it. That’s fine, a minimal inventory works for some of us. I am not comfortable with that program. Buying in bulk and keeping ahead on the ammunition supply is important.
I don’t know if we will face a societal upheaval and you will need that ammunition. I certainly hope not. But if you are in a bad situation the ammunition you have expended in training is the single greatest predictor of survival. My goal for ammunition storage is have a good supply for practice, hunting, and personal defense use as well as training family members. This demands the ammunition be stored properly. I store ammunition in the original box. Sometimes I simply put it on the shelf in the shipping box it arrived in. (Online is so easy!) Unless I am certain I am going to the range the next day or so I never open the boxes and pour the contents into a metal can. Sure, having those 500 9mms in an ammo can is cool enough but they are far more subject to damage from handling and the elements. Also, in the event that you trade one firearm and caliber for another, it isn’t usually possible to trade ammunition as well unless it is in the original box. For most of us, purchasing large quantities of ammunition — a case of five hundred to one thousand cartridges — and storing it properly is important.
I have fired ammunition more than one hundred years old with good results. During my police career I saw ammunition improperly stored in cruiser trunks and in the basement of the PD that became corroded and useless in a few months. Storage is everything for shelf life. Ammunition manufactured since World War One or so was designed to last for centuries. Winchester was given a military contract in 1916 based on one bad primer in 100,000 — and the standard is higher today. I would never purchase older ammunition save as a lark or to feed some non critical use antique. I don’t trust surplus ammunition — there are too many storage and quality issues. Not to mention corrosive primers. Purchasing good quality ammunition means it will last much longer. Quality case mouth seal and primer seal is important for both storage and critical use. My handloads do not have this seal but as I mentioned I have not had misfires, because I store ammo properly. The keys are cool, dry and dark. Cool not cold. A closet in the home is ideal. Stack the original boxes on shelves, on the floor, or in a large MTM plastic box. Heat itself isn’t that destructive in normal ranges but it may cause humidity and condensation. We have all had our glasses or cameras fog up when moving from an air conditioned home to a hot back yard. You don’t want your ammunition supply to be subjected to these highs and lows. Moisture will attack gun powder. In my experience far more failures to fire are related to powder contamination than primer failure. (Don’t store solvents and cleaning compounds with ammunition!) In some instances the cartridge case may even become corroded. This is dangerous as they may lose some of their integrity. Just remember that moisture and humidity are the enemy. Normal fluctuations in household temperatures are okay. I would avoid extremes such as basement storage or storage in the attic. This is especially important with lead bullet loads. Many of them — and some jacketed loads — feature a lubricant on the bullet, in grease grooves. This grease will melt out of the grooves into the powder if the ammunition becomes too hot.
Get in Order Getting the ammunition in the proper order is important. I fire mostly 9mm and .45 ACP handguns. I also use the .223 and .308 rifle. The 12 gauge shotgun is my to go gun. We all need a .22 — then there is the .357 Magnum and the .45 Auto Rim and .45 Colt — so organization is important. Two thousand .45 ACP cartridges are on hand tonight and one hundred .45 Auto Rim, and that’s plenty. I keep handgun ammunition separated by training and service loads. Shotgun shells are more difficult to store and I do not have nearly as many. They are in one corner of the designated closet. My home is one hundred fifteen years old the ammunition storage was once a food larder. Works for me.
Other points — I keep firearms in a safe. While a couple may be loaded for various reasons I do not normally store ammunition in the safe. Some like to have an ammunition supply in loaded magazines. That’s okay if they are stored properly. Take these magazines, fire them in practice, and rotate the supply. If loaded down from 30 to 26 or 20 to 18 rounds quality AR 15 magazines will run forever. Pistol magazines from MecGar are much the same. Glock magazines loaded to full capacity never give trouble. If you need a stack of magazines loaded at the ready for emergency your zip code is probably written in Cyrillic or located abound Bosnia. These tips, points and cautions will work well for most of us and keep the ammunition supply fresh and uncontaminated.
And here’s hoping that, if you try sometimes, you get what you need. Sorry Mick. READ MORE
Yet one mo time: the topic for Reloaders Corner comes from recent letters on a topic, and this time it’s brass. Specifically, some were asking me about this and that such and such brands of brass that I’d had no direct experience with. The reason for the question was because my long-standing and well-known in-print recommendations had, for these folks, just not been possible to find. They were, by the way, looking for “good” brass, which can mean different things, but mostly new cases that were going to be consistent and had nothing that wouldn’t recommend them, if that made sense. If it didn’t, it means that the cases weren’t unusually hard or soft, or expensive, or, generally, exhibiting low or quirky quality.
These were competitive shooters, NRA High Power Rifle, by they way.
Anyone who’s read much from me on this topic knows I’m partial to American-made cases, WW in particular, and also (now) Nosler. Nosler isn’t cheap. You would also know that I am not a fan of European brands. I have used and continue to use a good deal of Lapua because I have a good deal of it, but it tends to be virtually perfect in dimension but soft in composition. And, gas gun or not, I do not like soft brass.
For this next to be as helpful as I’d hope it might be, the circumstance is this: We are going to try a few before we commit. We’re first going to buy a box before we get a case.
So after opening a container of new brass, how do you know “what you’ve got”? Have to find some way to measure it, then measure it, and start quantifying its quality or suitability. There are a few different checks myself and others make that provide numbers we can use to represent consistency. For the most part, and this will likely get the most support in agreement from others reading this now, case wall thickness consistency might well trump other checks that can be made. Of course (of course) there are tools that make this job — measuring wall thickness at 4 points around a case neck — easier and faster. Related but not exactly the same thing is running the new cases through a concentricity fixture (a “spinner”) that will show how much runout a case neck has. To make that truly reliably viable, though, all the cases much first be sized to round out the case neck cyclinder. That might not be such a chore, though, because in fact all those cases are going to need sized before they can be used. Otherwise, and this takes only a quick look to know, new case mouths are usually bent up and not nearly ready to accept a bullet.
There’s another way. Weigh them! Weigh them all. After a few tries and a few notes, you’ll get an idea of what represents the higher, lower weight range. Moving them into piles, a pattern, I guess we could call it, shows up. As with any segregation, the tolerance you’re setting determines on how many piles, but I suggest and try to keep it to three. Separation increments that are realistic and influential for case weight segregation varies on the physical size of the case and, of course, the tickiness of the operator. Again, though, if you weigh 100 cases and you have your numbers and your piles, you’ll start to see how both your criteria and your test pieces are relating. If your piles have cases that are under 1.0 grain difference each, meaning less than 3.0 grains total weight variance, that’s good! Really good. There are other surfaces (case rim for instance) where a little more or less material here and there contribute to the weight.
Weight is not (not nearly) an indicator of case wall thickness consistency. Well, or if it is, that’s sho not what the scale is directly showing you. It’s also not a direct indication of case volume, or of anything else for that matter! It is only showing a weight on each case. However! Over almost a half century messing with all this, I can tell you that — for some reason — it does without a doubt matter! It may only be some sort of clue to the “overall” quality of manufacture, I honestly don’t know.
I suggest it as an alternative to more “direct” means to gauge case quality just because everyone has a scale and initial weight readings are fairly fast and decidedly easy to take.
Now. Read just a little on this on the interweb and you’ll see weight segregation is most often discounted heavily as a viable criteria. As with much of what else you’ll read on the interweb it tends to be posted by folks who are long on opinion and short on resume. Right. They know it all but don’t actually go out and win anything.
One last, speaking of folks with impressive resumes, I know a good number of shooters on the U.S. Palma Team. These folks are all big into weight segregation. Since “real” Palma is fired with drawn ammo, the proven best way to find out which rounds in a box are going to shoot the closest together is simply to weigh all the loaded rounds and separate them by weight. That’s proven to do better than any other means for measure. It honestly does work for cases too.
The preceding is a adapted from information contained in Glen’s newest book America’s Gun: The Practical AR15. Available at Midsouth Shooters Supply. Visit ZedikerPublishing.com for more information on the book itself, and also free article downloads.
We hear this all the time, which we don’t mind. It’s difficult for us to convey info from a manufacturer, so when they come right out with a Q&A on subjects like limited inventory, we’re more than happy to relay the info back to you as quickly as possible.
Below, you’ll find some quick answers to some supply issues from Hodgdon Powders. They’re one of our favorite vendors. Straight forward folks with the customer in mind from start to finish.
Why can’t I find Hodgdon powders like H4350, Varget, Retumbo and H1000?
As you have seen, Hodgdon powders, especially rifle powders for long-range and precision shooting, can be difficult to find. Dealer shelves that were formerly filled with cans of powder now have empty spots. Here are answers to your questions straight from Hodgdon.
Q: Is Hodgdon still making powder?
A: Yes, we continue shipping powder as quickly as possible. In fact, we will ship more powder in 2020 than last year. The real problem behind empty dealer shelves is complicated, but is related to shifting supply and demand challenges. As supply decreased in 2019, demand only increased. No one wants to ship more powder than Hodgdon.
Q: What is causing the supply challenges?
A: Quite simply, our manufacturing facilities have not kept up with our orders. Additionally, military contracts began specifying Hodgdon powders in the last few years for military ammunition, impacting our supply. With expanded government regulation, shipping explosive and energetic materials has become more challenging, which also impacts available supply. Lastly, rapidly changing consumer preferences for different powder types has impacted both demand and supply. We worked with all Hodgdon providers to resolve open issues and expect powder supply to improve in 2020 as a result.
Q: Is Hodgdon still in business?
A: Yes, Hodgdon has been in business (and family owned) for over 70 years. We are here for the long haul and are doing everything we can to supply our powders to handloaders. Dealer shelves are empty because powder is purchased as soon as it arrives at the dealer’s stores but we will continue to ship more in 2020.
Q: Is the shortage of reloading powder being caused by Hodgdon shipping their powder to the ammunition manufacturing companies?
A: While Hodgdon does sell powder to ammunition manufacturing companies, more than 80% of our powder is sold to our core market – handloaders just like you. Hodgdon has always been committed to the individual handloader.
Q: When will I start to see more powder on dealer shelves?
A: While Hodgdon will continue to ship powder as rapidly as possible, we have a significant backlog in demand. Some powders will be in stock more quickly, but we believe it will take much of 2020 to improve availability for all powders.
Q: I have seen/heard many rumors and conjecture on powder shortages with Hodgdon Powder.
A: If you do not hear it directly from Hodgdon Powder Company, please be skeptical.
What questions do you have for Hodgdon Powders? Leave a few in the comments!
This year, we’re taking you inside SHOT Show like never before. Stay tuned for a look at new products from the shooting, tactical and reloading world.
Imagine you’re in the desert. You’re thrust into a sea of people (80,000 or so) and you’re tasked with finding the latest and greatest in our corner of the industry in a vast labyrinth of booths and vendors. Sounds like a grown-ups candy land of wonders, right? Well, yeah, kinda! It’s also overwhelming, and more than a little intimidating. Being my 6th year in attendance, I’m hoping I can bring you some content besides what’s new, what’s popular, and dive more into what interests you. I’ll also do my best to find some of the weirder stuff along the way. It is Vegas after all.
So, stay tuned for more updates, press releases, and more.
Let us know in the comments section just what you’d like to see from the show this year!
As with many technical ventures, ultimately attaining best success is all in the details. Here are a few never to overlook in the process of learning to reload rifle ammunition. READ MORE
First, I thank you all for responding as well as you have to this little series. I appreciate the kind comments. I know that there are many eager for me to get back to the fine points, the advanced measures, but I also hope reflecting on what I taught my son likewise has caused some pause for reflection in your own processes.
Although it may be back with other installments as things progress, I’ll finish this little series for now by going over a few process particulars that, in part, my son had more difficulty getting the hang of and, also, those that I think are absolutely mandatory to teach and coach to a new handloader, especially in creating ammo for a semi-automatic centerfire.
Learning how much is too much and how little is too little is an easier step if you’re using a high-quality, high-performance case lube. I know from past experience addressing this topic in Reloaders Corner that we have differing opinions amongst the readership as to the best formulation for this essential step. For me it’s always been one of the “rub-on” lubes, like Redding’s Imperial Sizing Die Wax or Forster Case Sizing Lube. I like the control, speed, and ease of die operation those products give me. However! I will freely and quickly also tell you that a lube applied using a roll-over type pad or spray delivery takes a lot of the “feel” out of this process, and that’s not always a bad thing.
The rub-ons are so slick feeling that it’s tempting to use too little. I treat each case with a fresh dab. Charlie figured out that really wasn’t necessary, that he could go two or three without having to reup and reapply the lube to his fingers. These lubes continue to indicate, based on feel, that there’s an adequate coating, until he dang near almost stuck a case. He was correct, at least one more use per reload was possible, but there’s a measure of consistency in starting the same with each case prior to sizing. I pointed out that there was no harm done in a more ample coating because it was coming back off anyway. And then, of course, he asked about the pressure-induced dimples he was getting from using too much of it! Right: one extreme to the other. There’s a feel to this process, but it’s a balance pretty easily managed — as long as you’re not trying to see how little case lube you can get away with.
Sizing Die Set
The first on the list of “always” was learning to set the sizing die to accept those lubed cases. I mentioned this briefly before, but I am absolutely adamant about using a cartridge case headspace gage to adust the amount of sizing each case gets. I’m talking about case shoulder set back. I did a piece some time ago here about the challenge of loading the “same” ammo for use in different rifles, which are near about certain to have at least slight variations in chamber headspace. Compromise has to favor the gun that needs the most shoulder set back, and we hope there’s not a huge difference across the rack of rifles we’re using this ammo in.
I promise it was not due to any sort of parental retaliation for misdeeds in the past, but I let Charlie start off with a brand new disassembled sizing die.
Setting set back is a tedious process that requires numerous checks. We use a Hornady LNL gage. We measured a few different spent cases from a few different rifles and, fortunately, didn’t have much variation (about 0.002). We took cases from the shortest chamber and set them back 0.004, which is what I usually recommend, and accepting that meant some were getting pushed a little more than ideal, but all were still well (well) away from the maximum the sizing die would give. That’s where the die is sitting now. I don’t recommend cutting it too close for reuse in something like an AR15. I won’t launch into a detailed look into either of those single topic-points, but following the die setup instructions that come with most sizing dies will result in what I say is excessive set back. So even a compromise still meant we were getting the least amount of brass working in sizing, and (mostly) ensuring safe and reliable function. We started with once-fired cases all from the same ammo lot, by the way.
Priming Ain’t Easy
Once again, this topic has been addressed here by me a few different times and ways in these pages, but teaching someone how to correctly, and safely, set and seat primers is best done with a “hand tool.” It doesn’t have to be a zoot-capri benchrest specialty item, but, well, to make a long story short: using the bench-mounted tools I had on hand (and trying three different ones) Charlie was retrieving and retaining essentially none of the finesse I was trying my best to explain — “Feel the primer come to a stop on the bottom of the pocket and then compress the anvil…” And it’s even harder using a press-mounted device. With anything (that I’ve used) besides a hand tool there’s too much leverage over too short a stroke to feel the progress and end of a well seated primer.
We’re not nearly shooting Benchrest, but for the sake of consistent ammo performance and safety all primers should be seated well, which is to say well-seated. And, especially for a semi-auto, they all must be seated to below flush with the case head.
I handed him said hand tool and after a scant half dozen experiences, he had it down pat. A serious light went on and smile appeared: Oh! Moving then to bench-mounted tool he had learned what he needed to know, or had felt what he needed to feel, and instinctively slowed down and lightened up and got the same good results. The lesson here is that if you’ve never used a low-leverage hand-operated priming tool, try one. You might not want to stay with it, especially when faced with the small mountain of brass such as we collect for processing, but it will teach a thing or three.
One not so minor point we all have to learn, and definitely don’t want this one to be learned the hard way, is taking care when using primer feeds (trays and tubes).
The last thing on my list of “things that stood out” in this process of teaching Charlie to reload was setting up the bullet seater.
With an AR15, or any rifle with a detachable box magazine, the clear overall cartridge length limit is defined by what will fit into the box. There’s more to it than that. Different bullets have differnent profiles and ogive dimensions. This influences how far from the lands or rifling the first point of bullet major diameter (that which coincides with land diameter) will be when the round is chambered. I recently wrote about having some “sticking bullets” in a rifle. This was a factory load but the bullet profile, overall cartridge length combination exceeded clearance — the bullets were jammed into the lands. Not what you want, unless of course you know what’s what you want (and that’s another topic entirely).
A fair number of .224-caliber bullets may touch the lands if seated to an overall cartridge length that fits the magazine box, if that’s the only criteria used to determine round length. These have to be seated more deeply, resulting, of course, in a shorter overall round length.
Never (ever) assume! Mil-spec, and most other, .223 Rem. rounds, for instance, will have the ballpark 2.250 inch length (in my notes the max is 2.260) that closely but adequately clears the box walls, but some I’ve used have to be down a good 0.025 under that to avoid sticking the bullet into the lands. I’ve seen this be most prevalent in lighter weight varmint-style bullets. Check it to make sure. And, as long as there is a gap between the bullet and the lands, all is fine.
The tool to use is a Hornady LNL OAL Gage. Once again, the only measuring tool needed for use with either of the gages mentioned is a decent caliper.
The preceding is a adapted from information contained in from Glen’s books Top-Grade Ammo and Handloading For Competition. AvailableHERE at Midsouth Shooters Supply. Visit ZedikerPublishing.com for more information on the book itself, and also free article downloads.
Whether you’ve been loading for 50 years or 5 minutes, it’s a good idea to revist the basics from time to time. READ MORE
[I know that my readership for this column has a pretty broad range of experience, and, therefore, a broad topic-interest range, plus expectations on what I hope to communicate or relay. I’ve been asked both to go into more details about specialized processes and procedures and also to stick more with broader topics, and keep it simple. Can’t win on all topics each edition with everyone, so I do my best to mix it up. This one is leaning heavily toward simple, but, as always, I hope there’s something to absorb, or at least think about.]
A few issues back I wrote about how I had been teaching my son how to reload. After doing all this for so long (I started when I was 15) and likewise going fairly far “into it” over many years, the basics are pretty much ingrained in me. That doesn’t mean, in no way, that I don’t have to check myself or remind myself (which usually comes after the checks) to follow the procedures and the rules to the letter.
Short digression into the backstory on this project: Charlie wanted to reload for the very same reasons I got my start in this process. For his 18th birthday, he became the proud owner of a retro-replica “M16A1.” This was his choice, of all the choices he could have made, because it’s an “original.” Of course, his is a semi-auto with only two selector stops, but otherwise is straight from the late 1960s. He found out right quick like and in a hurry that it was a hungry gun, and, as an equally hungry shooter, the need for feed exceeded the factory ammo budget in short order.
Back to the project: So when I set out to teach Charlie how to produce his own ammunition, I sat back a while (a good long while, and longer than I imagined) and ran it all through my mind and realized that I knew so much about it that it was hard to know where to start. Now! That’s not some sort of brag, just the facts, and the same would be said for most of you reading this. I knew so much about it because there’s so much to know! Handloading is a multi-faceted task, made up of many (many) tasks, all and each important.
So where did I start? With a breakdown of the cartridge itself. Which components did what, when, and how. And, of course, the long list of “always, only, and never.” This article isn’t about a step by step on how to load, but in going over the separate points, point by point, some things stood out as more or less easy to communicate, and more or less easy for my son to grasp (related no doubt).
I know that my readership for this column has a pretty broad range of experience, and, therefore, a broad topic-interest range, plus expectations on what I hope to communicate or relay. I’ve been asked both to go into more details about specialized processes and procedures and also to stick more with broader topics, and keep it simple. Can’t win on all topics each edition with everyone, so I do my best to mix it up. This one is leaning heavily toward simple, but, as always, I hope there’s something to absorb, or at least think about.
Setting up the tooling to get started on our project, I had Charlie do it all himself. One of the very first points to pass heading up the learning curve was learning to measure.
Depending on someone’s background and specific experience, something like operating a measuring tool can range from old-hat to no-clue.
Honestly, the only measuring tool you really need to handload is a dial caliper. You’ll use this to measure cartridge case overall length, over cartridge length, case neck outside diameter, and also to check the results of a few difference gages, like a cartridge case headspace gage.
That, therefore, was the first tool he learned how to operate.
Here’s a question I had to answer, and it’s a good question to be answered especially for those unfamiliar with measuring tools. That question is how “hard” to push on the tool to take a read. How to know that the reading is correct.
It’s full and flush contact, but not force. It’s as if the part being measured was making the same contact as if it were sitting on the benchtop: full, flush contact but no pressure. In measuring some of the things we measure, like bullets, and considering the increments of the reads, pressure against the tool can influence the read if the material surface is actually compressed. That’s from flex. I usually very gently wiggle the part being measured to feel if the contact with the tool is flush, that there’s no skew involved. There is, no doubt, some feel involved in measuring. I know some say that there should be pressure to get an accurate reading, and I would agree if we’re measuring materials that are harder than bullet jackets and brass cases. But again, it is decidedly possible to flex and actually displace soft materials if there’s too much pressure applied to snug down caliper jaws or mic heads. Get a feel for flush, the point just when the movement stops firmly and fully.
More about the tool itself: My experience has been that there’s really no difference in the at-hand accuracy of more expensive measuring tools, especially a caliper.
Digital is great, but not at all necessary. Digital is not more accurate or precise, it’s just “easier.” As with a scale, it really depends on how much you plan on using it. If you’re going to measure everything, then digital is better because it’s faster to read — there’s no dial-mark interpretation involved. If you only want to check neck diameters and case lengths when you’re setting up your tools, then a dial-style is entirely adequate.
Get steel! Something that reads to 0.001 inches.
There are several industry-branded dial and digital calipers from Lyman, Hornady, RCBS, MEC, and more, available here at Midsouth. These range from $30-50 or so. They are all good, and they all are entirely adequate. If you want to spend up and get better, Mitutoyo and Starrett are the brands to know. Those easily double that cost.
These tools do wear. All will wear. Better tools wear less for a longer time. Conversations with folks who use calipers, along with other measuring tools, not only daily, but continuously during a day, has taught me to be confident in that statement.
Calipers can measure other things, but there are specialty tools that replace them for specific tasks. For instance, yes, it’s possible to measure case wall thickness with a caliper, but it’s not very precise.