Category Archives: Reloading Corner

RELOADERS CORNER: The Value of Accuracy

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Can you take a focus on accuracy too far, or never far enough? Here are some thoughts on why better accuracy (really) matters…

Glen Zediker

dial indicator

Anyone who has ever read one of my books knows the extent of tickiness that can be involved in handloading. Competitive shooters also tend to get pretty wrapped up and sometimes entrenched hopelessly in technical rifle details. All these things we do are done in the hope of better accuracy: smaller shot groups.

Why bother with tickiness? Well, the answer (always) depends on the level of tickiness afoot and on the level of reward we get from it. No other answer makes any sense.

Accuracy always matters. If you do something different or new in the handloading process and see better shot groups, that no doubt was worth it. Ultimately, it was worth it. It might have been upgrading tools, experimenting with components, one or more case prep steps you hadn’t tried before. It’s still always a payback over the expense, time, and effort. But. It’s another level, attaining another level. It’s stepped up. I’ve compared all this to other endeavors where attaining that new level forever eclipses the old. But then there’s also the time and the effort. When I load ammunition, I consider its purpose. I do not turn case necks for ammo that’s going through my old SP1 on a Sunday afternoon of tin can hunting with my sons. For that, I’m interested in volume and function: the best way to load a lot of .223 Rem. with bulk-packed bullets and ball gunpowder, and with the fewest number of steps. We need a lot of ammo because we have eradicated entire species of discarded objects.

But, let’s for the rest of this assume that the sole purpose is the smallest group sizes we can get, day in and day out. That’s easier to talk about and make sense of, because, no doubt, there are factors that influence it, and I do know what they are.

I’ve always judged accuracy by group size. No shock. Most people do it thataway. I’m also way on more concerned with the worst group my combination shows me than I am the best group. Not everyone views that the same. When it gets down to it, though, I want to know what the worst shot I can anticipate might be because that information is very valuable in adjusting for the next shot. Now I’m talking about shooting for score in a tournament.

I picture a circle that outlines the group size I warrant for my rifle/ammo combination. For my own purpose of clarity, I call it “the accuracy cone.” This circle gets bigger the farther I’m shooting. Shots outside that circle need correction, shots inside that probably don’t. Yes, no, I don’t always launch a perfect shot. So honesty matters, objective evaluation of the shot break.

Group ilustration
You are always shooting a group! You might be aiming at one point but you’re shooting a group. The aiming point is really the center of the group. That’s a “zero,” by the way, or that’s how to zero, but this is straying beyond the levee here. This drawing is a representation of the importance of smaller group sizes. One of the biggest helps that great accuracy provides is that it’s clear when there’s need for sight correction, and when there isn’t. The smaller circle the ammo covers on a target face, the more defining sight corrections can be. If that’s not clear: A perfect shot break on a correct sight setting at 600 yards from a 1 MOA combination means that a shot 3 inches left, right, up, or down away from target center is still a “perfect” shot, even though the perforation point was imperfect. With a 1/4 MOA combination, we’re defining “perfect” with more certainty, because “imperfect” is anything outside 1 inch of target center. Follow? This isn’t just theory.

Mathematically-oriented people may tell you (and I understand this) that testing with 3-round groups provides accurate feedback of a round’s performance. It has to do with probabilities and such. However! I believe too much in luck, or as Buddy Dave calls it, “The Bullet Fairy.” Math-folk will further tell you that the more rounds fired the bigger the shot groupings will become. I’ve seen many instances where that wasn’t true, where the first two or three rounds defined the outer edge of what ultimately became a 10-shot group. I can’t argue with math, but I can argue with myself to the point that I want to see more rounds, and more groups, before I cook up a big batch of a component combination and call it good, or call it “match ammo.”

If you are a competitive shooter, better accuracy helps you get all the points you hold for. We can’t, any of us, ask for more than that. If you are a varmint hunter, it means a close miss may become a hit. The smaller the target the more it matters, or the smaller the goal area on a target is. Aim small, miss small. So let’s miss smaller… Examples can continue, and they might involve a trophy elk in New Mexico, or something even more important to stop in its tracks. It’s doesn’t really matter if the target is 10 feet away, or 10 yards, or 1000 yards, a more accurate firearm is a more effective tool. You can’t miss! Or you sure don’t want to.

accuracy cone
This equals that. Accuracy, on-target group size, is a “cone” that gets wider, expands across distance. A 1/2-inch 100 yard gun is not a 5-inch 1000 yard gun. It shoots bigger than that. However! A solid load-test group like this one David Tubb fired at 288 yards held up on down the pike at 1000. Tip: velocity consistency is a key to keeping a group together at extended distances.

LAST WORD
The value of accuracy is undeniable, but the value of time and effort and expense does indeed have a limit. No, I don’t do “everything” possible to my ammo to make it perfect. I have found a few things that really help, things that are reasonably (by my standards) good paybacks. Another tip: Get a good barrel! Honestly: that gets the most from whatever you do, or don’t do, to help the cause.

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

ATF Goes Through Major NFA Branch Reorganization

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BATFE organizational changes might mean greater processing efficiency and shorter wait time. Here’s the scoop…

Source: Recoilweb.com

If you own or have been thinking about owning an NFA item like a short-barreled rifle (SBR) or silencer, no doubt you know that processing times have been going up. The reason is ATF Rule 41F, which became active in July of 2016. The increase of required paperwork under the new rules combined with the front-loading of many submissions by those attempting to make it before the deadline have led to a larger workload for the NFA Branch. It hasn’t helped the silencer industry either.

SBR

But on April 3, 2017, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (BATFE) made some major changes that amounted to a complete reorganization of the National Firearms Act (NFA) Branch.

In an attempt to better provide oversight, cut down wait times, and increase efficiency, two distinct new branches have been formed: The Industry Processing Branch (NFA IPB) and the Government Support Branch (NFA GSB).

The NFA IPB is responsible for industry forms processing and working towards refining current operations.

The duties of the NFA GSB include processing SOT applications, government transfers, exemptions, and expediting LEO/Gov requests.

Furthermore, a new NFA Division Staff Program Office has been formed to manage publications, FOIA requests, respond to data calls, and oversee the vetting of statistical data.

suppressor

These new changes just might mean greatly reduced wait times — keep your fingers crossed!

RELOADERS CORNER: Common Problems

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As careful as we want to be, loading-bench mistakes are just about certain at some point. Here are 3 thoughts to help you avoid them, and also some ways to put a mistake behind you.

Glen Zediker

Standard Bullet Puller
Forster Standard Bullet Puller

This isn’t going to be a “troubleshooting” guide of epic proportions because following along with the suggested ops and processes, using the suggested tooling, there’s not a lot that can go worng. But sometimes even when everything is right, things can go awry. We all make mistakes. There may be a few confounding eventualities that will arise.

No case lube
You might forget or overlook putting lube on a case. Well. Lube each case, each time. Lube a case over each time it’s run through. Don’t think it hangs on. A stuck case remover is tool you don’t want to meet, and here’s to hoping you never see one. However, go ahead and buy one because it’s less embarrassing than borrowing one. Ha.

stuck case remover
Here’s to hoping you never see one of these… It’s a stuck case remover, and this is from Hornady. Folks, there’s a drill bit involved… Lube your cases!

“Ooopsie” on the propellant charge
Don’t do that. Check two or three times before calling a meter “set.” This was gone over thoroughly in another article. And read the load two or three times, and check your scale setting at least that many times as well. A mistake like that can be disastrous. Too little propellant can likewise create huge problems. Pay special attention to propellant supply level when using a meter, and even more attention when using a progressive press. Fortunately, loading most of the propellants wisely suitable for .223, .308, or most other popular rifle cartridges, it’s easy to notice a short charge. The propellant is, or should be, easily visible within the case neck. It’s a real issue with pistol loading: some of those propellants don’t reach halfway up the inside case walls.

bullet puller
There are different forms bullet-pullers take, and I prefer the slower but somewhat more “gentle” and likewise more secure collet-types. This is a Forster “Universal.” Bullet pullers grip the bullet in the jaws of a collet, which is tightened using a handle or nut, and then withdraw the case, dislodge the bullet. Simple. I do not like the “kinetic” pullers, which are essentially hammers that rely on intertia to dislodge a bullet after beating it a few times. They’re effective but daggone obnoxious in operation.

Triple-checking settings and notes
Same advice goes for indexing to any recorded setting. Powder meters, bullet seaters, anything. Just give it two sober checks before proceeding to shuck away. I’ve put the wrong setting on a bullet seater a few times… I learn all this the hard way, I freely admit, and here’s to hoping you can learn from me.

The wrong load
So what do you do if you realize there’s been a mistake made in a batch of ammunition? Of course, it depends on the mistake and what it might mean. If it’s not over-pressure, it’s probably best to just go ahead and shoot it up and reuse the cases. If it’s a bullet seated too deeply, same advice.

As long as safety is not a question, just shoot it. But there are times that’s not wisely possible.

Breaking down a loaded round requires removing the bullet. Of course, there are tools. Bullet pullers are tedious, as you might imagine. They also purport to allow for the reuse of bullets, but I sho don’t take that seriously. Removing a bullet, having already been seated, and then reseating it, there’s bound to be some compromise somewhere, or more, in the bullet integrity, accuracy at the least. The grip of the puller isn’t going to be benignly harmless either.

Before you pull a bullet, set it a little deeper. Makes this op on easier. Adjust the seating die down another five or ten thousandths. That breaks the “seal.”

Pay attention to what you are doing! For every moment you spend doing it. And write down what you did…

Check out choices at Midsouth HERE and HERE (bullet pullers and stuck case removers, and don’t forget to check HERE to avoid the last one)

ONE LAST…

sooty case neck
Soot means there wasn’t complete sealing there in firing. Don’t worry about the little ding you see here either. Just shoot it again.

Sooty cases. You might see sooty case necks and shoulders. That’s common, and that’s not really a problem. The reason is pressure, lack of it, that has then meant the case areas did not fully (fully) expand. Sometimes this is unavoidable. Just clean it off and use the case again. A little more: because it is necessary to create gaps between cartridge case and chamber wall, some leakage is just about a given. Excessive leakage, again, usually just means the load is a little on the lighter side. The combination of case and chamber also might mean it’s uavoidable. Thinner case neck walls (which means a little smaller net case neck outside diameter) in a more generous chamber might mean there won’t be idealized conformation to the chamber neck area. I see this often on case necks that have been full-circumference outside turned.

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

AR15 Gas System Enhancements, Part 2

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Reducing the influence of excessive AR15 gas system pressure is most directly done reducing the pressure itself. Here’s how!

Glen Zediker

This is the second of two articles on ways to tame down an “over-functioning” AR15 gas system. Aside from running more reliably, reducing the evil influence of an overly-rapidly unlocking system improves cartridge case condition, which means longer case life. The first article talked about ways to increase the time the bolt stays locked, or delay its unlocking, however you want to see it.

Going more directly to the “source,” there are also ways to reduce the actual amount of gas that gets to the bolt carrier key and that’s up now for this one.

Adjustable gas block
Here’s an adjustable gas manifold. It’s a way to restrict the flow of gases through the system. Don’t get too greedy! Make sure to err on the side of function. These are probably the single most effective means to tame over-function. Check this one out HERE.

An adjustable gas manifold or “gas block” is an effective means to restrict the amount of gas that gets into the system. This device attaches at the port location, replacing the existing manifold (or front sight base if it’s a standard-configuration build) and will have some manner of valving function whereby propellant gases allowed to pass through the gas port in the barrel, through the manifold, and into and through the gas tube are restricted. Some incorporate a valve that regulates the passage dimension. Others provide a vent, more or less, to expel excess gas. I prefer the “valve-type” over the “bleed-off-style” devices.

Installation is straightforward, and these are available from a wide array of sources, so it shouldn’t be hard to find one that will fit even a custom-profile barrel. Standard for this area is 0.750-inches diameter. What matters is that the inside diameter of the manifold matches the outside diameter of the barrel at the connecting position.

There are different approaches to using this device but it’s really pretty simple. Figure out the minimum gas flow necessary to function the action and then open the flow-control screw adjustment a half turn more to give a little safety margin. Don’t get greedy. I shut one down all the way (minimum flow) and then open it up until the rifle functions.

The only foible on an adjustable manifold is that it has to fit in with the architecture of the setup you have. A retro-fit requires removing any muzzle device that might be installed and, of course, removing and later reinstalling the gas tube (make sure you check that it isn’t binding).

I have used other products that provide alternate means to do the same thing, like a gas tube with a valved adjustment mechanism. Sometimes something like that is best for anyone wanting to run a more standard gas manifold system. They work just fine, and dandy.

adjustable gas tube
There are other means for softening the system, and this adjustable gas tube is an example. Others include the “pig-tail” gas tubes that spiral around the barrel to increase tube length/volume. They all work…

Other gas tube modifications that work have been those formed in a spiral that wraps around the barrel, and I’ve seen tubes with expansion chambers (area of larger volume) along the span of the tube. What’s happening with these isn’t reducing the amount of gas, it’s just giving it more distance or room to weaken its presence.

The best solution I’ve yet encountered is fairly new and is an adjustable bolt carrier key. This requires no modification or labor about the barrel, and also works with virtually any AR15. Remove the old carrier key and replace it with the adjustable key.

adjustable carrier key
Here’s fairly new: an adjustable bolt carrier key from Sun Devil. David Beatty hit a long ball with this device, the ADIGS. I like it because it can be added to virtually any AR15 out there, even one that needs to maintain outwardly stock appearance. Works great. See more HERE.

A good while back I talked about gas port pressure and propellant burning rates and cautioned against using a propellant on the slower-burning side of “suitable propellant chart” center. To reiterate, I don’t think any propellant slower than Hodgdon 4895 should be used, but I know full well I can safely extend that range one more step to say something like Varget or RE15 is the limit. Slower propellants create more gas port pressure because they peak farther down the barrel, nearer the gas port location. Related: I recommend to anyone who’s going to do a longer custom barrel to request that the builder relocate the gas port another inch forward. There’s more gas contained in a longer barrel for a longer time: more pressure hits the carrier key as a result.

long gas tube
It’s common for an NRA High Power Rifle to get its gas port relocated forward another inch, or even two. The reason is because the 24-inch+ barrels we run “trap” more gas inside, which increases the pressure available at the gas port. The port farther forward gives more time and room (all the gas goes out when the bullet exits the muzzle).

No doubt, if you load up an AR15 with a heavy carrier and related parts then combine that with a gas restriction device, the range of propellants can move one or more steps slower-burning. In any of my full-blown across-the-course race guns, I can construct and successfully deploy loads that would wreck a rack-grade AR15. Don’t mess with that. Enjoy smoother and “softer” function and the assurance that you can run closer to a maximum load without fear of the odd and inevitable “pressure spike” causing problems. That’s why to do it.

The preceding was adapted from Glen’s newest book, Top-Grade Ammo, available here at Midsouth, click HERE to order. For more information on this book, and others, plus articles and information for download, visit ZedikerPublishing.com

Reloaders Corner: AR15 Gas System Enhancements, Part 1

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AR15s can have problems “over-functioning.” There are two essential ways to make your AR15 behave better! Here’s the first…

Glen Zediker

Right. I know this column is about handloading and reloading, so why am I spending space talking about gas system function? Well, it’s ammunition-related, or, at the least it is influenced by ammunition, and therefore also influences ammunition choices.

First, an AR15 gas system “over-functions” when it fills up too quickly and with too much burned propellant gas. The AR15 uses a “direct impingement” gas system, sometimes called an impulse system, and that means there’s a port hole in the barrel that lets gas out and through a gas tube, and this gas goes directly into the bolt carrier key and sends the whole works backwards. There’s no piston (although piston systems exist that can be fitted to these firearms) or other regulating device beyond gas port hole location and size.

AR15 bolt carriers
An M-16-profile carrier (back photo) weighs about 1 ounce more. Big big difference in slowing down initial movement. Get the right firing pin! If it’s a full-diameter carrier it will have a shrouded firing pin recess and takes a “large-collar” pin for correct operation.

The effect or upshot of over-function is overly quick bolt unlocking. The symptoms include extraction problems, damaged case rims (related), overly-blown cartridge case shoulders, excessive case head expansion, and, generally, accelerated wear on the action hisseff. As with many things, the severity of the excess function likewise increases excess in its manifestations.

What happens is that the case is swelled up under pressure inside the chamber, as it should be, but then it’s still swelled up when the bolt opens and the extractor takes a yank on the case rim to get it out of the chamber.

With respect to handloading ammunition, keeping the bolt in battery a tick longer makes a world of difference in spent case condition. The case has a tick more time to return to closer to normal dimensions and shrink away from the chamber walls. And time is, again, what this is really about. The case will be less stressed and dimensionally nearer original specs, and that means there’s “less” sizing done for next use, in effect. Case life improves and also does longer-term quality for reuse.

So. If we can delay bolt unlocking we’re seriously on to something. The simplest way to slow something down is make it heavier. Heavier things don’t accelerate as fast, they have a greater “moment of inertia,” less resistant to initial movement. Increasing bolt carrier mass is very effective. Keep in mind that what unlocks the bolt isn’t bolt movement, it’s bolt carrier movement. The bolt movement is a natural oucome to rearward travel of the carrier. Minor point but, well, there it is. I run “M-16 style” bolt carriers in all my AR15s. That’s a carrier with a full round section at the end rather than the notched out profile of the standard semi-auto carrier. And, no, an M-16 carrier won’t make a gun full-auto, and, as a matter of fact, carriers with the full-round profile are routinely encountered as “match” bolt carriers. Heavier is better!

Anything contacting the bolt carrier can increase in weight also and be effective. That effectively increases the load against the bolt carrier, and that requires more time to overcome and create movement. The buffer, for instance. I always run heavy buffers in my short guns, and also my hot-rod rifles for Across The Course use. The carbine-length stocks use a shorter spring and also a shorter buffer, and that means a lighter buffer.

AR15 buffers
Here’s an array of buffer components designed to slow the initial back-travel in the carrier. Anything helps, and more than one add-in makes an amazing difference in AR15 manners.

More about the spring’s role in all this next time, along with other more major modifications that will downright tame an AR15. And I’ll also run down a step-by-step on ensuring reliable function in a slowed-down AR15.

The preceding was adapted from Glen’s newest book, Top-Grade Ammo, available here at Midsouth. For more information on this book, and others, plus articles and information for download, visit ZedikerPublishing.com

Reloaders Corner: Coated Bullets

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Bullet coatings promise better performance, but are they the right choice for you? Find out.


Glen Zediker


There are a few bullet coatings available, and Moly (MoS2: molybdenum-disulfide) is the best known, and also the most notorious. More in a bit.

moly coated bulets
Molybdenum Disulfide is the most popular bullet coating. It has exceedingly positive effects on performance, but there are may be some serious consequences for the uninformed user. Without correct (and frequent) cleaning, it can cause long-term damage to a barrel. Use it as outlined in this article and the extra speed and improved accuracy can pay back big to a serious shooter.

First, here’s how and why bullet coating works: Fire a coated bullet and a bare bullet using the same propellant charge. The coated bullet will go slower. However. The pressure will be lower. The reason is easy to figure: the increased lubrication reduces friction, resistance to movement, especially upon entry into the bore. It gets kind of a head start. The deal is that the pressure drops relatively more than the bullet speed, so, the bullet speed can be increased by adding more propellant and still have the same level of pressure. Win. Win. And, since there’s what amounts to a barrier between the bullet jacket and the barrel steel, the promise of more accurate rounds between cleanings is all true too. The bullet jacket isn’t leaving much of itself behind on the bore.

Among competitive shooters there was a huge shift toward coated bullets a few years back, but they’ve since fallen from favor for many. It wasn’t because they don’t perform well, because they do, but there are ancillary, and important, liabilities. Mostly: moly-coated bullets can corrode barrel steel, including stainless. Molybdenum disulfide outgases (outgas is the release of an occluded gas vapor that was part of the compound; a state change, pretty much) at temperatures lower than firing temperatures, and that creates a residue that, when mixed with water (moisture from condensation included, like what happens after firing), is pretty much sulfuric acid. Yikes. Right. If a moly-coated barrel is cleaned (correctly) each use, no problems. But one of the big draws is the potential to get literally hundreds of rounds, on zero, before the barrel needed cleaning. After a conventional cleaning (solvent and brush) it also takes time, which is rounds through the barrel, before zero will return.

I am a fan of coated bullets, and they’ve convincingly demonstrated their superiority to me after many thousands of rounds reaping rewards from the ballistic advantages. The improvement can be significant, and some bullets in particular escalate in performance more than others. Shorter bearing surface designs, by my notes, get that much more additional speed with no pressure trade-offs. Coating seems to have a disproportionately positive effect on thinner-skinned bullets, for reasons that likewise are clear. The effect here is smaller group sizes. Anything with a “J4” jacket responds well to coating (common in custom bullets).

My solution to the worries about moly was, as suggested, simply to clean the barrel each time back from the range and, also, to change my cleaning method to better accommodate the residue composition. More in a bit.

I don’t use moly any more, though. I’ve switched to Boron Nitride (BN) because it has all the advantages with none of the drawbacks, so far. BN is virtually the same in its effects as moly, based on my notes (same level of velocity drop and subsequent future increase). It’s easy to apply using a vibratory-style case cleaner.

BN coated bullet
This is a Boron-Nitride-coated bullet (right) compared to a bare bullet. BN is clear, slick, and doesn’t cause the chemical reactions other coatings are notorious for. It’s what I use.

I do not recommend any sort of lubrication inside a barrel, not for a promise of increased bullet performance. PFTE, for instance, has been touted as a great “break-in” agent for a barrel. Some use it after each cleaning to prep a barrel. Well. When it outgases, and it does outgas, it releases fluorine, a very powerful eater of all things metal.

Cleaning: Don’t use copper solvent with moly! The ingredients don’t mix well. Use only petroleum-based solvent. I switched to Kroil pentrating oil in conjuction with something like USP Bore Paste, JB Bore Compound, or similar (abrasive paste-type formulations). No room here now to convince anyone that abrasives are a safe and wise choice, but used correctly they are both. “Correctly” means a rod guide, stainless-steel rod, and keeping the rod shaft clean each pass. With that combination the bore is being protected against corrosion and the residues get gone, and, of huge importance, zero returns right away.

moly coated barrel cleaning
Bullet coating leaves an entirely different residue that conventional cleaners might not be effective on, and there’s also some chemistry involved that can inadvertently create big problems. I’ve had best results, all around, with a combination of micro-penetrating oil and abrasive paste. Keep the rod clean and feed it through a rod guide using abrasives and there’ll be no damage done.

Last on this: Just in the same as how I do not recommend “mixing” bullets or propellants through the same barrel, same day, coatings are pretty much the same. Zero will, not can, change for the number of rounds it takes to “re-season” the barrel. If you use it, use it.

I’ve seen great gaps in the quality of coated bullet finishes. Factory-coated bullets are the way to go. It’s tough to get a good job at home, and the reason is the carnuba wax application is temperature sensitive, and also because commercial coaters use industrial-level tumblers to apply the powder. The wax is necessary to avoid a smudgy mess just from handling the bullets. If you want to do it yourself, make sure the bullets are cleaned before application. Likewise, moly can build up in a bullet seating die so clean it out every now and again.

BN Coating Kit
BN can be applied easily using a vibratory tumbler and the contents shown. Put the BN powder in the bottle with the bullets, run the bottle in a vibratory cleaner for a spell, and that’s that. Check HERE for more information on bullet coating.

The preceding was adapted from Glen’s newest book, Top-Grade Ammo, available here at Midsouth. For more information on this book, and others, plus articles and information for download, visit ZedikerPublishing.com

Reloaders Corner: Outside Case Neck Turning

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For the perfectionist! Here’s a look at an often misunderstood and widely feared case-preparation step. It’s really not all that bad! Keep reading to learn what and why.


Glen D. Zediker


Outside cartridge case neck turning is a bench-top machine-shop-style operation. It is the only way to substantively improve case neck wall consistency. This is done via material removal using an outside case neck turning appliance. The outside neck turner shaves down the “high spots” around the neck circumference. That makes the neck walls more uniform in thickness. It’s a cutter and a gap, and that gap determines the case neck wall thickness. It’s finite.

neck turner
An outside neck turning tool, most of them, use a mandrel that’s inserted into the case neck. A cutting blade is then lowered onto the neck outside, adjusted for the amount (depth) of cut, and then is run around and around, going down the case neck a little each turn, shaving this amount of material from the surface. Like a carpenter’s plane. The slower you go the less the case neck will look like an LP.

It’s pretty well agreed on and accepted that concentric relationships mean better accuracy. Getting the bullet sitting dead center in a rifle bore means that the case neck must be “straight.” A “straight” case neck results from consistent neck wall thickness. And that’s because inconsistent wall thickness creates an off-center case neck cylinder when the bullet is seated. Consistent neck walls result in a center that’s concentric (if the tooling supports it).

This is a tedious ticky operation. If you are going to turn case necks, get what you think you are from it. The only tools I’ve used thus far that do a precise job of this op are the “hand-held” turners. The lower degree of tolerance is, as with many things, the reason. A tight fit between the mandrel that goes inside the case neck and the case neck inside diameter makes for a more precise operation. The mandrel and the cutter gap will be consistent and precisely adjustable; therefore, so too will be the resultant wall thickness. The first step is to size the case neck with an expanding mandrel to fit the mandrel on the turner. The higher-speed tools, such as those that operate under power or via a crank-style base rely on some other means to locate and fix the center of the case neck. That’s not to say better is not better, because it always is. Again, it’s degrees.

Use new brass!

I have a Gracey power turner that works so fast there no real reasons not to use it for every case. It, yes, without a doubt can make a case neck better. The Forster neck turning attachment that fits the Forster trimmer base unit (same used for case trimming, and other ops) fits the same description, as does the Horndady LNL tool. These are fast enough and easy enough, and the investment will improve wall thickness uniformity. Point is, if you want to turn each case neck you choose to 0.0095 inches, you’ll need a hand tool. And a micrometer. And time. With a hand tool, the job itself is not terribly difficult or slow, but adding in the initial neck sizing op and then another sizing afterward with the usual die, it’s steps.

Hornady LNL Neck Turner
As with many things, there’s a speed/quality tradeoff choosing an outside case neck turner. For my money, and time, I choose to go with a hand-held tool to get the most from the time I spend. I don’t turn all the cases, only the ones I’ve segregated into my “600-yard pile.” A good crank-style turner is the way to go for someone who wants to just run them all through. They’re faster but not usually as precise. This is a Hornady LNL Neck Turner, and it’s a great choice.

There’s a good question to answer and it involves the tolerance you’re willing to accept: perfection has a price. If the cutter head is adjusted to remove metal from the entire surface of the case neck, that means the wall thickness will be universally reduced. And that means you’ll now need to examine and possibly change your sizing setup to regain adequate post-sizing dimensions to secure a bullet. Using a routine sizer, the neck cylinder outside will get reduced to the same diameter as a case with thicker neck walls, but the case neck inside diameter will be larger because the walls are thinner. Depending on the expander diameter used in the die, the net result might be a case neck that retains an overly-large i.d. It’s just math. But make sure you work the numbers though.

Forster neck turning tool
To get the most precision from outside neck turning the case neck inside diameter must closely match the mandrel or pilot diameter on the neck turning tool. Lubrication helps! I use engine assembly lube gotten from a good auto parts store. Lube the case neck inside. You might have to adjust the sizing dimension to get this fit; some systems allow sizing with the same mandrel to get a close match. Cases should be sized and trimmed prior to the neck turning process, and then sized again afterward. Here’s a Forster hand-held tool.

I never aim to turn the full circumference surface area around a case neck. The reason is that means adjusting the tool to produce thinner than “blueprints.” The idea, for me, is to erase the inconsistencies that remain in my sorted brass: clean them up. For example, let’s say that, after measuring enough places on enough cases, I determine that a brass manufacturer intended this tubing to be 0.011 inches (that was the “blueprint”), that then defines the cutting depth limit I’ll set my turner to deliver.

If you do turn case necks, make sure to continue cutting a little ways down onto the case shoulder (if the cutter design allows this, it needs to have an angle incorporated for this purpose). This helps stay off the formation of a case neck donut. Works wonders.

partially turned case neck
Here’s how my cases look after neck turning. A little splotchy, but my goal is not a universal reduction of wall thickness, just “better is better.” So instead of a case being over 0.001 out of spec, now it’s about 0.0005 variation, but decidedly not perfect. Those with the smallest visible cut area were better from the start. I do this way mostly to preserve the sizing die dimensions and effect the same on all my brass. Thinner neck walls tend to crack easier, so it’s safe enough to say that, with a standard-type rifle chamber (not done with a “tight-necked” Benchrest-style reamer) case life will shorten. Notice the shoulder cut. Removing a little material from this area alleviates case neck donuts.

Check out neck turning tools at Midsouth. CLICK HERE.


The preceding was adapted from Glen’s newest book, Top-Grade Ammo, available here at Midsouth. For more information on this book, and others, plus articles and information for download, visit ZedikerPublishing.com

Reloaders Corner: AR15 Chamber Options

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It’s vital to understand “which” chamber is in your AR15. What you don’t know can create big problems. Here’s why.


Glen Zediker


I’ve talked over or at least touched upon this topic, here and there, in other articles. And this week I got four phone calls asking for advice on “which” AR15 chamber I’d recommend. I guess that sort of spurred creation of this article. My primary goal (always) is to answer questions, and ideally before they are asked. So…

NATO mark
A TRUE NATO load always has this mark on its base: the cross-in-a-circle stamp. Some commercial ammo that appears to be mil-spec may or may not be, but err on the safe side.

There are a few options today, and, no, it never was “simple.” There have always been two distinct chambers cut for .223 Remington and 5.56x45mm NATO. And that’s the difference right there! See, .223 Rem. is a commercial round, 5.56 is a mil-spec round. Yes. They are “the same,” but they’re not. The difference is in how these two are loaded with respect to pressures. NATO is a whopping lot hotter. To the tune of +15,000 PSI.

The differences in the chambers are, pretty much, that a NATO has a significantly longer throat or leade or freebore, whichever term is preferred. This is the area in a chamber that extends beyond the case neck cut.

Chamber-All gage
I use a Hornady LNL OAL gage to find out exactly the length of the chamber throat. Get one at Midsouth. This read shows “NATO” by the way. Sierra 80gr MatchKing at 2.550 inches to touch the lands. Wylde should read 2.475. SAAMI-minimum will (usually) be 2.395.

This area in a chamber accepts the initial gas expansion, so, in one way, it can be looked at like an expansion chamber. More room for expanding gases effectively reduces stress on the case. When this area is lengthened, there’s more room, less pressure build. When this area is shortened, there’s less room, more pressure build.

As said, .223 Rem. is short, NATO is long. Take a NATO-spec round and fire it in a .223 Rem. chamber and there’s too much pressure. The .223 Rem. will “fit” just fine; there’s no influential differences otherwise in chambering specifications between .223 Rem. and 5.56.

You’ve probably heard all that before. It’s very important to know. “Which” chamber affects making loaded ammo choices, and also in interpreting reloading data.

NATO pressure
Here’s “real” NATO fired in a commercial .223 Rem. chamber. Ouch. The imprints and general beating the case head shows are the result of the additional pressure in the NATO loading, and the .223 Rem. chamber’s inability to excuse that much extra pressure.

Short history as to the reasons these two chambers exist: .223 Rem. in civilian, commercial application was a varminting-type round, along the lines of .222 Rem. When SAAMI (Sporting Ammunition and Arms Manufacurers Institute) laid down the specifications for that round it did so based around the prevalent short .224 bullets of the day, which were often 52-grain flatbase designs. For best accuracy with the little bullets, the throat was kept short, decreasing the distance the bullet had to travel to engage the lands or rifling. Some, most, me included, call this chamber a “SAMMI-minimum.” The mil-spec ammo assembled for M16s used a 55-grain boat-tail loaded to a higher velocity, and the longer throat was specified to handle the extra gas.

What matters is knowing that you don’t have a .223 Rem. chamber. A NATO can handle anything.

Most AR15s I’ve handled in the past good long while have NATO chambers. It’s the only thing that makes any sense for someone, anyone, who wants to fire sto-bot ammo. Not all the mil-type commercial loads (like the “white box” varieties) are true NATO spec, but if the ammo is not marked “.223 Rem.” it might be a tad amount to a lot hotter than a short-throated gun should handle. True NATO ammo has a distinct marking on the case base.

There is now another what’s become “standard” chamber for AR15s, and that’s the Wylde. Named for AR15 accuracy pioneer Bill Wylde, this reamer specs fall between SAAMI-minimum and NATO. Bill started cutting these chambers for NRA High Power Rifle contestants who needed more room in the throat to accept the long 80-grain bullets but not so much room that the shorter 69-grain bullets were having to leap a gorge to engage the lands. A compromise. A Wylde is a good chamber, and a good choice.

Compare .223 chambers
Here’s the best way to see what’s going on with AR15 chambers. These are Sierra 80-grain MatchKing bullets loaded to an overall cartridge length that has the bullet touching the rifling. Left to right: SAMMI-minimum .223 Rem.; Wylde; NATO. Wahoo. Big, big differences. There’s a little more than 0.150 inches between the SAAMI-minimum and the NATO and that space in the throat handles the extra PSI of NATO-spec loadings. It is also, by the way, how to know (or one way to know) the actual “length” of a chamber throat.

Here’s how it breaks down, according to me:
SAAMI-minimum or commercial .223 Rem. chamber is good for those who are wanting the best accuracy from light bullets. Can’t run mil-surplus ammo or NATO-spec commercial though.

NATO is for anyone who wants to shoot anything and everything out there safely.

NATO stamp
There’s a few ways I’ve seen “NATO” marked on barrels, and I’ve seen a good number of barrels that aren’t marked at all. That’s terribly irresponsible. Look for “5.56” since that seems to have become the more common way to denote “NATO.”

Wylde is more or less an “Improved NATO,” and my experience has been that it will safely handle true NATO loads, even if that’s not its intended design. I base that on spent case condition. It will shoot a little better than a NATO with lighter, shorter bullets. The Wylde is available more and more commonly now from different manufacturers and in “drop-in” accessory barrels.

winchester .223 ammo
If you have a “.223 Rem.” stamp on your barrel don’t feed it any ammo that is not clearly likewise marked “.223 Rem.” Should say the same on the case headstamp. If it doesn’t read “.223 Rem.” do not fire it in a barrel stamped “.223 Rem.” This ammo is safe for any AR15. If you don’t see a stamp on your barrel, find out…or just fire .223 Rem.

The preceding was adapted from Glen’s newest book, Top-Grade Ammo, available here at Midsouth. For more information on this book, and others, plus articles and information for download, visit ZedikerPublishing.com

Reloaders Corner: Case Trimming: finishing the job

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So you have a sack full of trimmed cases. Now what? Here’s what! A few tips on final preparation that may even promote better accuracy. Keep reading…


Glen Zediker


The most basic and necessary tool or tools we’ll need to get the freshly-trimmed case into shape to take on a new bullet is an “outside” and “inside” chamerfing appliance. These are most popularly housed in one hand-held tool: one end does the outside and the other does the inside. Of course (of course) there are options, and some are right dandy.

LE Wilson chamfer tool
Here’s a basic and common LE Wilson inside/outside chamfering too. One end does the outside, the other does the inside. Shown is a 45-degree tool.

After trimming the case mouths will be square, flat, and appear wider-walled than before. That’s normal.

There will usually be a little edge-ring of brass on the exterior surface of the case neck, and that’s the reason for the wider appearance. That’s easily remedied. It takes only a light skiff using the “outside” function of the tool.

trimming burr
That little ring of brass around the top outside edge of the case neck: just get it gone. Doesn’t require a cut, just a skiff with an outside deburring tool.

Don’t cut into the outside, just remove the ring. No bevel is necessary; that only thins the case mouth. If the ring is left standing, the case might not want to feed, and then there will be little shards of brass here and there.

Next, the inside. The inside edge of the case mouth needs to be broken and also beveled to more easily accept a bullet. Now we’ve got options in depth of the bevel and angle of the bevel.

The long-time “standard” is a 45-degree chamfer. That functions okay to allow most bullets to sit unsupported in the case neck prior to seating. I believe, and I’m not nearly alone, that a steeper angle is better. For anyone loading bullets that are of a longer, “spikier” form, I strongly recommend something closer to 30 degrees, or less. These are often called “VLD” cutters or chamfer tools, and that is because these tools followed the “low-drag” style bullets that, among other attributes, featured relatively longer, more steeply angled boat-tails. They also have relatively thinner jackets (“J4”). Essentially, a 45-degree pathway and the geometry on the bullet didn’t mate up.

Lyman VLD chamfer tool
Here’s a Lyman “VLD” chamfer tool. It’s got a 22-degree angle. I’ve used other brands that were 19 and 20, and I honestly don’t know that a couple degrees makes much difference. However! There’s a world of difference between this and a 45-degree tool.

The result of a greater angle mismatch is that the bullet gets a pretty hard start into the case neck, and it can also get a crooked start, and that’s because it’s not sitting “into” the neck very far. It’s in a precarious position and easily tilted. These long bullets create what amounts to more leverage in less-than-perfect case necks, which is going to be the most of our case necks unless we’re neck turning. (It’s also why I’m a big believer in a bullet-seating stem that engages farther down the bullet nosecone; this also helps reduce the angular deflection in seating.) I’ve seated and then pulled bullets from cases with 45- and 20-degree chamfers, for instance, and those from the shallower angle show noticeably less scuffing. (Plus, many of the custom-made low-drags feature a “pressure ring,” which is a tiny elevated ring right at the boat-tail/shank junction, usually about 0.0005 diameter, which helps obturation. That ring can get deformed by a 45-degree chamfer.)

It’s not the depth into the case neck cylinder that improves the transition into the case neck, so a “bigger” cut with a 45 won’t do a thing. A steeper cutter is going to make a deeper extension into the case neck simply because the angle is steeper.

Cutting the inside, do not go for a knife edge! For a yardstick, I suggest going about halfway on a 45-degree cut and 2/3 on a VLD-style chamfer tool. By that I mean that the appearance of the wall thickness at the case mouth is roughly half after chamfering that it was before.

Forster 3-way trimming head
There are also “all-in-one” cutter/chamfer/deburr heads for some case trimmers. These are one bugger to set up, but they work well and save a ton of time and extra steps, and since it’s incorporated into the length-trimming operation, the chamfer consistency will be spot-on. Trick is finding one that cuts a shallower angle on the inside… If not, it’s going to produce better results overall to do this operation separately.

It is important, at least in logical thought, to have the same chamfer depth on each case to ensure perfectly consistent engagement with the bullet shank. Honestly, I don’t know if that shows up on a target, but it’s easily attained using either an LE Wilson or Forster case trimming base, as well as some others, with the addition of a chamfering tool in the apparatus to replace the length trim cutter. It’s an extra step in retooling and adjustment, but then if the cases are all the same length and the stops are set, each case mouth will have an identical chamfer.

LE Wilson neck reamer
Here’s a trick and half for seating flat-base bullets. These are difficult to get started straight since there’s no boat-tail to ease transition into the case neck. I use an LE Wilson inside neck reamer set to engage a feature built into that tool. LE Wilson added a short tapered area that can be run into a sized case neck, about 1/16 inch, that machines something close to a “shelf” that provides a nest for the flat bullet base. There’s a noticeable improvement in runout on the flat-base bullets I have seated with and without this cut. [Note: This is the “standard” inside neck reamer intended to remove excessive thickness in the case neck cylinder on fired cases, not sized cases; the feature just described is an accessory benefit and, again, is engineered for use on sized case necks.]

The preceding is a specially-adapted excerpt from Glen Zediker’s newest book Top-Grade Ammo. Available right’chere at Midsouth Shooters Supply. Visit ZedikerPublishing.com for more information on the book itself, as well as others.

RELOADERS CORNER: Case Trimming

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Trimming bottleneck cartridges is a necessary chore, and here’s how to make it easier, and better…


rifle case trimmer
Case trimming is a needed step in the case-preparation process, and needs vary with the rifle type, and other factors. Don’t get obsessed with it, but don’t neglect it either. Not all case trimmers are equal. We’ll talk more about some I like next time, and I’ll tell you why.

At some point, now or later, bottleneck cartridges need to be trimmed. The reason is because brass flows in firing. After one or more firings and reloadings, a case will measure longer than it was when new. That extra length can only come off of the case mouth, and that’s why we trim cases. The case neck itself isn’t the main culprit in the growth, it’s just where we can address it. The most flow comes from lower down on the case.

The reason I said “now or later” is because the amount of lengthening varies from firearm to firearm and, generally, there’s usually a sooner need for trimming on a semi-auto than there will be on a bolt-action. There are two reasons for this: one is that the semi-auto will tend to expand a case more (and we’ve talked though a few reasons for that in previous articles). Another is that we’re having to full-length resize cases and set the case shoulders back a little more to ensure function. That works the brass more, no doubt. The brass is stretched more, it’s expanded and contracted more.

Important: The primary reason to trim cases is so they don’t get long enough to create a safety problem. That problem is when the case neck extends to a point where it contacts beyond its given space in the rifle chamber. That can pinch in against the bullet; excessive pressure results. The leeway will vary from chamber to chamber, and there’s no defined standard; there are plug-type gages available to measure a chamber if you want to know what you have.

case trimming
The primary reason to trim is to keep overly-long cases from overrunning their space in the chamber. If the case mouth encounters the end of its allotted space, it can pinch in on the bullet, elevating pressure. Now, there’s usually a good deal of leeway before safety can be a question, but don’t push it…

From a “performance” perspective, trimming cases should mean that all the case neck cylinders are the same height. If they’re not, then varying effective levels of bullet retention result (even if the sizing is all the same, more encasement can mean slower release).

Another is that a good trimmer will square case mouths. This is an asset to better starting alignment seating bullets and is especially and measurably noticeable using flat-base bullets.

Here’s what I do: When I get a new lot of brass, I set my trimmer so it just touches the case mouth. It takes a few tries to get this right, but the idea is that I want to see at least a skiff of a cut on each case, evidence that the trimmer contacted the case mouth. These cuts won’t all be even because not all the new case mouths will be square. Measure them all and you’ll likely see length discrepancies right off the bat. I want to eliminate those. Then I leave my trimmer set right there for future use. If we’re using the same trimmer for difference cartridges, keep a dummy case near to it and use that to reset the trimmer when there’s a tooling change. It might get expensive buying a trimmer for each cartridge you load for, but it’s sheer bliss never to have to retool a trimmer!

measuring case length
A caliper is the only tool needed to measure case length. It’s not really necessary to measure each and every case each and every time. It’s a whopping lot faster to set the trimmer so it just touches the shortest case you have (revealed through the process itself in setting up the trimmer) and trim all the cases using that setting locked in place. If it’s a fired case, make sure it’s been deprimed or the measurement won’t be accurate.

Now, there’s zero harm in using a longer “trim-to” length, and that’s way more popular than my method. These lengths are stated in reloading data manuals. Keeping up with it over years, I’ve seen no difference in the rate of lengthening trimming longer or shorter; I trim “shorter” solely as a matter of consistency over the (short) life of my semi-auto cases. Also, I trim all my cases, when I trim them. I don’t measure each case. I just trim them all. That’s overall faster and more certain.

Here’s a few things to always keep in mind about case trimming. One, and the most important in my process at least, is that the only time to trim a case accurately is after that case has been resized! That’s when there’s an accurate indication of case length. Measure a fired and un-sized case against one that’s fired and then sized, and the un-sized case very likely show a shorter length. That’s only because there’s been expansion in the case neck and body. As the expanded areas are brought back into spec by a sizing die it’s along the same lines as rolling a ball of modeling clay out on a table: it gets longer as it gets smaller in diameter.

trimmed case
A freshly trimmed case isn’t ready to go, yet, and we’ll fix all that next time too.

Also, only after sizing can we know that the case neck, case shoulder area is consistent in dimension. Measure enough of them and you’ll find some cases exhibit variance. We’re talking very small numbers here, but we’re always dealing with very small numbers, so let’s get them all the same. And that’s one of the virtues of trimming cases.

Next time more about the tools.


The preceding is a specially-adapted excerpt from Glen Zediker’s newest book Top-Grade Ammo. Visit ZedikerPublishing.com for more information, and BuyZedikerBooks.com to order.