Tag Archives: Glen Zediker



We usually want the most velocity we can SAFELY get, and here’s all about how to stay safe. Keep reading!

Glen Zediker

I’ve been on the topic of load development — “working up” a load — for the past couple of editions, and, based on the excellent feedback from you all, here’s more. As always, there’s only so much I can write before I have to cut myself off.

I’ve said that velocity is the initial leading indicator of pressure. Velocity, in itself, however, is not a definitive indicator of pressure. I’d like to clarify… The first point is that I am a big believer in establishing a goal for load development, and, for me (and likely most others) that is a velocity. Accuracy is a given! I will never consider a combination that’s not shooting little knots downrange, but accuracy and velocity are not mutually exclusive. I also would never consider a combination that produced very small groups at an unacceptably low velocity, and that’s because I’m shooting (always) beyond 200 yards. The super-accurate low-velocity load gets its bullet shifted that much more in a variable wind, so it’s way on less likely to maintain those small groups.

I want to hit the velocity ballpark I have in mind and that’s why chronograph readings as I’m incrementally increasing the propellant charge are my leading indicator to how close I’m getting. I am also, always, looking for pressure signs on the spent cases — each and every one ejected.

So about those pressure signs…

Primer condition gets first attention.

primer pressure signs
Middle is what I want to see: pretty much a new primer with a nice round dimple in the center. Right, well. Massive pressure! But notice that the primer still shows a radius on the edges and is only a little rougher in appearance, well, aside from the crack…

A primer should have a smoothly dimpled firing pin indention, a shiny appearance, and a visible radius on its edge. If any of those are missing or compromised to varying degrees, there’s your sign… A dull and flattened primer has been abused, as well as one with a pitted or cratered appearance. Clearly, a crack or leak (indicated by black fouling) is way over the limit. After experience, backed up by gauged measurements, you’re liable to find that judging what’s “normal” and “safe” from one rifle can be different from another. I have had individual guns that flattened primers at any point near a safe-maximum charge. And, I’ve had them that just lied. Unfortunately, small-rifle primers don’t show always show pressure signs as reliably as large-rifle primers (structural differences). I’ve had experiences where the primers are all nice and shiny like and then blow out with the next increment. Shame on me for taking it there, and, speaking of: don’t get greedy! That’s one reason a velocity goal is important. Despite what your kindergarten teacher told you, you’re not that special… If you’re reading another 50+ feet per second more than what consensus says you should, better bet you’re over-pressure. “We” went through a lot of that when coated bullets got popular: those changed all the rules for “maximums.”

flattened primer
Here’s flat. My experience has been that large-rifle primers tend to display this indication more so than small. What’s happened is that the primer has flowed quite forcibly to fit the confines of its pocket and the bolt face. It’s also normal for some rifles, but that just means you have to know: pay attention and back off if you see a flattened primer.

The best pressure indicators show at the loading bench.

primer seating
My best “gage” for pressure is seating a primer in a fired and resized case. It’s a feel, gained through comparative experience, but too easy means there was too much pressure.

The reason I suggest (strongly) doing load work-up with new cases is because you then have a baseline. Measure the case head diameter (on the case, not the rim or groove) on the new case and compare it to the fired case. Up to 0.0005 (that’s ten-thousandths) is really high but some say acceptable (not me), and 0.0002-0.0003 is what I’d prefer. Plus, since a new case is at its smallest, meaning it will have a little less capacity than a fired case, you’re getting some assurance that the pressure will likely be a little lower from the same load in subsequent reuses of that case.

All dimensions are at their minimum in a new case. Primer pocket expansion is related to case head expansion. I get (what’s proven to be) a very accurate indication of pressure based on the resistance to seating a primer in that resized case. You have to use a priming tool that gives adequate feedback (meaning low leverage) but if the primer just slips right back in, that load was over-pressure. In a more extreme circumstance, the primer won’t stay seated. Yes. I have seen that. Shame on me, again.

Finally, a new case easily points out the difference between a “pressure ring” and a “sizing line” that can show just above the case head along the case body. A bright ring there indicates excessive stretching (a sizing line comes from the die reducing that area, and is perfectly normal). That “pressure ring” sign is also likely an “improper headspace” sign, but that’s another article.

pressure ring
Here’s a “pressure ring.” This poor old fellah used to be a brand-new Lake City Match case. I suspect there was some issue with this rifle’s headspace, but if you see this bright stretch mark, red flag it! It means the case is going to crack right there next use (called an “insipient head separation”).

Pierced Primers
This is a common malady on AR-platform guns, and especially on the big-chassis versions (SR-25, AR-10, and similar). Pressure both isn’t and is the culprit and the solution. Lemmeesplain: What causes the pierce is a firing pin hole that is too large. It is not the fit of the firing pin tip to the hole! An engineer can explain it, but it has to do with surface area covered by the firing pin hole, and then along with it the surface area of the primer. Simply: the firing pin hole turns into a cookie cutter. A primer pierce creates all manner of ills, including wrecked firing pins, gas flow through the charging handle area (where your face is), and abrasive debris scattered throughout the lower interior, including the trigger parts.

firing pin hole size
Blueprints call for a 0.058-inch diameter firing pin hole on an AR15 bolt. If the hole is too large then primer structural failures (pierces) will, not can, rear up. Too big is anything more than 0.062 inches, and I’ve seen plenty bigger than that. I use machinist’s drill bits to quick-check bolts: 1/16 (0.0625) and #53 (0.0595). If the first fits the hole, find another bolt. If the #53 won’t go, use that bolt with confidence.
pierced primer
Notice that this primer doesn’t really show excessive pressure signs. Just has a hole in it…

Excessive pressure gets blamed for a pierce but what’s really going on there is that it’s not certain that amount of pressure would be judged as “excessive.” It’s just gotten high enough to bring on this result. So, yes, lightening the load will stop the piercing, but, in my experience and that of many others, the pierces can start happening before reaching what most might agree on is a max load. I say that because “we” are all shooting about the same bullet/primer/case/propellant combinations in NRA High Power Rifle (with respect to Service Rifle division AR15s, for instance). Seeing pierced primers before hitting the proximity of competitive velocities points to “something else,” and that is the firing pin hole.

In a truly over-pressure load, the primer can crack or blow slap out, but it won’t pierce.

The information in this article is from Glen’s newest book, Top-Grade Ammo, available HERE at Midsouth. Also check HERE for more information about this and other publications from Zediker Publishing.

RELOADERS CORNER: 3 Helps For Easy Load Work-Ups


Read this before you start the process of working up a load for your new rifle! It could save you huge amounts of time and money… Find out more!

Glen Zediker

Spring is around the corner. Well, if you walk way out into the street and squint really hard you can at least think you see it… Well it’s coming soon enough, at least, now’s a good time to get ready.

I never have been big on the personal value of published load data. The data I’m referring to is that from propellant and other component manufacturers, and also from articles done by independents. I think all such information, at most, provides a place to start, and it also gives some ideas on tendencies and cautions, and provides means for comparisons. But. I don’t think it can be taken straight to the loading bench with any guarantee of success, or of attaining “advertised” performance. And I say that not because I don’t think these folks don’t know what they’re doing. They do! It’s because, after way more than enough experience in proving myself right, I can tell you absolutely that their rifle is not your rifle! Neither, necessarily, are their propellant, primer, case, or bullet. Always take careful note of the barrel and components used for any published test data, and compare them to yours. In later comparisons of my notes with published data, sometimes I’m higher, often times I’m lower, and enough times I’m way lower… That’s the main concern there.

It’s not at all difficult to learn to develop your own loads, to essentially write your own loading manual.

To do this efficiently, you need to learn to load at the range. Right, right there near to where you’re testing. An unremarkable investment in a few tools and a little creativity can provide a way to take your show on the road.

Lee press mounted outdoors
You don’t have to invest a fortune to take your show on the road. A C-clamp and one of these little Lee Reloader presses is all you need! And a good powder meter. One with a clamp is handiest, or just mount it to a piece of wood and clamp that down (even a pickup tailgate works just fine). One clamp is adequate on the press since bullet seating is all in the “down” direction and not much force is needed.

The reason to do this is because it provides a way to precisely chart results. It’s a more reliable and accurate way to proceed. Otherwise, the option is to load varying charges at home and then see what happens at the range. That’s okay, but not nearly as good as on-the-spot experiements. Plus, you won’t have left over partial boxes of poor-performing rounds. It’s more economical and way on more efficient.

The preparation part, and this is what you might spend the remaining cold month or two working on, is, first, to get the tooling ready and, second, and most important, to start making notes on your powder meter.

Important: To be able to work up at the range, it’s mandatory that you’re using a meter that has incremental adjustment. Either a “click”-type “Culver”-style insert or, at minimum, a micrometer-style metering arm. You’ll be relying on the meter, not scales, to progress upward in propellant charges, and you absolutely have to know what the values are for each increment using the different propellants you plan to test. That is where you’ll be spending time prior to doing your homework. It’s well worth it! It can be a nightmare trying to get scales to read accurately outdoors, including the digital type.

Harrells meter mounted outdoors
I map out the incremental values of each click on my Harrell’s meter adjustment drum with the propellant I’ll be testing, and it’s really easy to step up each trial with confidence. I carry the whole kit in a large tool box.
Harrells meter close up
This is a Culver insert. It’s a huge help in following this process. It’s precise and repeatable.

Equipment List and Set-Up
When I need to do load work, I size, prep, and prime new cases and put them in a cartridge carrier (usually a 100-round box). I then pack up my little press, seating die, my meter, some cleaning gear, C-clamps, and my propellants. The press and meter and cleaning gear go in a tool box. I usually carry the propellants in a picnic-type cooler. And, very importantly, my chronograph. A notebook, some masking tape, and a sack lunch… I might be there a while.

Always (always) use new cases for load work-up.

When I get to the range, I’ll clamp-mount my press and meter to a bench, get out all the rest, and set up the chronograph. Take a target downrange and tack it up. I test at 300 yards, unless the load is intended for shorter-range use. I initially test longer-range loads at 300. Maybe I’m lazy, but longer-range testing is a tad amount more tedious. I’ll come back for that after I have a contender or two.

Working Up The Load:
The reason it’s a “work-up” is clear enough: we’re almost always looking to get the highest velocity we can, safely. High velocity, or higher velocity, is usually all-good. Shorter flight time means less bullet drift and drop, and a harder hit.

So working up means increasing propellant charge until we’re happy: happy with the speed and also that the cases will still hold water. (And more about that next time…)

blown primer
Keep track of the cases in the order they were fired. This helps later on when the effects can be measured. This little outing here, though, didn’t require a gage to cipher: a tad amount hot on that last little go around (last case bottom row on the right). Thing is, I didn’t load a whole boxfull of those chamber bombs to take with me, and that’s the beauty of loading right at the range.

Very important: it is vitally necessary to have established a goal, a stopping point, prior to testing. That is one of the functions of published data. That goal is bound to be velocity, not charge weight. And that, right there, is why you’re working up at the range: you want to get “advertised” velocity and need to find the charge weight that produces it.

I work up 0.20 grains at a time. Sometimes it’s more if I’m reading an unuseably low velocity on the initial trial. Since my meter has a “Culver”-style insert, which I trust completely, I reference its number of clicks in my notes rather than the grain-weights (a Culver works like a sight knob, and reads in the number of clicks, not the weight itself). I check the weights when I get back, and I do that by clicking to the settings I found delivered, and then weighing the resultant charges. Otherwise, just throw a charge into a case and cap it with masking tape (clearly labeled).

It’s not necessary to fire many rounds per increment. “Mathematically” 3-5 rounds is a stable enough base to reckon the performance of one step. Of course, I’ll be shooting more successive proofs-per-trial once I get it close. Some folks, and especially competitive shooters, wear out a barrel testing loads. That’s not necessary.

Here are 3 things I’ve found over the years to better ensure reliable results. Learned, of course, the hard way.

1. Limit testing to no more than one variable. I test one propellant at a time, per trip. If you want to test more than one on one day, bring the bore cleaning kit and use it between propellant changes. Results are corrupt if you’re “mixing” residues. Same goes for bullets. Otherwise, though, don’t clean the barrel during the test. I fire my most important rounds after 60+ rounds have gone through it, so I want a realistic evaluation of accuracy and velocity.

2. Replace the cases back into the container in the order they were fired. This allows for accurate post-test measurements. Use masking tape and staggered rows to label and identify the steps. I use 100-round ammo boxes because they leave enough space for the tape strips.

3. Go up 0.20 grains but come off 0.50 grains! If a load EVER shows a pressure sign, even just one round, come off 0.50 grains, not 0.10 or 0.20. Believe me on this one…

Check out chronographs HERE
Take a look at suitable meters HERE

The information in this article is from Glen’s newest book, Top-Grade Ammo, available HERE at Midsouth. Also check HERE for more information about this and other publications from Zediker Publishing.

RELOADERS CORNER: Neck-Only Case Sizing


Neck-only resizing is an option for the bolt-action owner. Here are some ideas on why it works, and when it works best… Keep reading!

winchester bolt action
Neck-only sizing is for bolt-actions ONLY.

Glen Zediker

Cartridge case re-sizing is one of those topics that draws lines and forms camps. I am a big believer in full-length sizing, for any action type or use, and just saying that immediately draws argument.

Before getting into the “whens” and “whys” respecting full-length or neck-only sizing, here’s one that I think is an absolute: cases for reuse in a (any) semi-automatic should be full-length sized; neck-only sizing is only for bolt-actions. Having established that, all this next really only relates to what’s possible with a bolt-gun.

Backing up a bit: a “full-length” sizing die is one that returns the cartridge case body (and shoulder, if adjusted to do so) to near-to-new dimensions. A “neck-only” sizing die doesn’t touch the case body (and may or may not be able to touch the case shoulder). A full-length sizer also sizes the case neck, and, normally, the entire height of the case neck cylinder. A neck-only die can be adjusted to contact the height of the neck cylinder in various amounts.

hornady neck sizer
A neck-only sizing die doesn’t touch the case body, so there’s no reduction in case body diameter. This die can be adjusted to contact the case shoulder, and setting back the shoulder may still be necessary. Make sure you check cartridge case headspace!

The idea behind a neck-only die is to preserve fired case dimensions: make the case a closer mirror of rifle chamber dimensions. One advantage of neck-only sizing comes to those who expect, or need, to get a good many loadings from their cases, since this approach minimizes case stretching on subsequent firings.

However, the primary flag waved by neck-only fans says that it produces the best accuracy, and that full-length sizing is a compromise, favoring function over accuracy. I do and don’t agree, and the rest of this article I hope will clarify what I just said…

The reason I do and don’t agree is that I know folks who cannot get a good group unless they neck-only size, and I know other folks, and I’m one of them, who get very small groups following what many would say is “over-sizing” their cases.

forster neck sizing set
Here’s a nice set for neck-only sizing. The “bump” refers to the capacity to also contact the case shoulder to control its dimension, if wanted.

I believe that the main influence in realizing the virtues of neck-only sizing has a whopping lot to do with the rifle chamber. Specifically, factory-made, off-the-shelf bolt-actions tend to have relatively more generous chamber dimensions, as will many older surplus-sourced rifles. “More generous” is in reference to the tolerances established for the SAAMI blueprint for the cartridge. This is (wisely) done to help ensure that any and all factory ammo will chamber and fire, and also to help ensure general and all-around feeding reliability. Additionally, it’s common to find some (slightly) oval chambers in factory guns; that has a lot to do with the freshness of the tooling when that chamber was cut. It’s even more common to find them that are off-center.

Purpose-built bolt-action competition rifles, such as those constructed for use in NRA High Power Rifle competition, are custom-chambered* and, while few will use what we might call a “tight” chamber, it’s not likely to encounter one on the larger end of acceptable dimensions.
*”Custom,” here, doesn’t mean they are each unique, it just means that they are done by hand employing a precision-made reamer and therefore are what they ought to be, or we sure hope so. And they don’t tend to be overly generous in (any) dimensions.

neck sizing bushings
If you’re going to go, go all in: dies with interchangeable bushings let you control case neck diameter, adding another measure of control, and even less working and re-working of the brass.

So, in the circumstance where we have a chamber that’s a tad amount big and a cartridge case that’s been manufactured to (usually) the smaller end of SAAMI-set standards, that case will endure more expansion, in all directions, than if it had been in a tighter chamber. Sizing only the case neck to accept and retain another bullet, as said, reduces the subsequent expansion that will occur the next firing, but also, and this is likely if there is an accuracy improvement, the otherwise un-sized case might then be sitting more centered in the chamber. And one reason for that is, if the rifle is equipped with a plunger-style ejector (Remington 700 style) that will bear against one edge of the head of the chambered round, pushing the cartridge off-center, askew. (This ultimately creates another undesirable condition, a warp in the case, and we’ll talk about that another time.)

So, a little bigger case returning to a little bigger chamber likely has a little better chance of getting centered, and I truly believe that is why neck-only sizing can be a help to accuracy for a bolt-action. However! A dimensionally-correct case returning to a dimensionally-correct chamber will perform just as well on target. Full-length sizing a case for reuse in a rifle with what I call a “standard” chamber (which is really running a little closer to the minimums established by SAAMI) also makes for good groups. We prove that every High Power Rifle tournament.

Advice: If you notice your bolt-action doesn’t shoot too well with factory loads, neck-only sizing should pay off and is well worth a try. Do, however, make sure to gauge the cases as is often discussed in Reloaders Corner, and, specifically, cartridge case headspace. If the bolt isn’t closing easily, that’s liable to be the culprit right there: shoulder has gotten too tall.

If you’re running a factory bolt-action, by all means try neck-only sizing. If you want to compare results to full-length sizing, just make sure you’re doing that operation right.

david tubb
Now. Don’t go getting the idea that full-length sizing can’t shoot well. Here’s a 1000-yard prone group at the hands of David Tubb, originator of the 6XC cartridge. Tubb sets case shoulders back 0.002 inches, runs 0.004 case neck tension, and full-length resizes using what amounts to a “small-base” die (additional 0.0005-inch reduction at the case head). He’s also not shooting a factory chamber. (Photo note: the yellow pasters were sighters; red pasters indicate record shots).

Check HERE and HERE to get started…

The information in this article is from Glen’s newest book, Top-Grade Ammo, available HERE at Midsouth. Also check HERE for more information about this and other publications from Zediker Publishing.

RELOADERS CORNER: Cartridge Case Headspace


Knowing, and controlling, this dimension is a crucially important step in the case sizing operation, especially for semi-autos. Here’s what it is and why it matters. Read all about it!

Glen Zediker

Last time, and to start the new year off, I hit a few highlights on the first of what I think are some of the most important things to understand in reloading for bolt-action and semi-automatic rifles. A majority of those differences is in what’s allowable and possible in cartridge case sizing.

The reason I’m running these articles is to clearly define the differences in, essentially, what you can get away with (and can’t get away without) depending on the action type. Don’t confuse some of the tactics, tools, and techniques used for bolt-actions and (mis)apply them to semis. That can range from frustrating (function issues) to disastrous (blowed-up guns). I hope that these focused articles will clarify the basics before moving on to the finer points respecting each.

case headspace illustration
Here’s headspace: it’s a height based on a diameter. A .223 Rem. uses a 0.330-inch-diameter datum; the height to the diameter on the case shoulder that equals 0.330 inches is the headspace dimension, measured from the case base (this is measured from the bolt face to determine headspace in a rifle chamber). There are only 5 datums that apply to all standard bottleneck cartridges; the correct number for your cartridge will be referenced in the cartridge specifications. (Belted magnums and rimmed cartridges are different stories, for a different story.)

Following on that, here’s one: cartridge case headspace. A rifle chamber has a headspace; a cartridge case has a headspace. The second cannot exceed the first. Here’s how it goes:

The area in point is the case shoulder, the area between the bottom of the case neck cylinder and the case body. There are two dimensions associated with case headspace: the diameter of the “datum” line, and the height (measured from the case base) to that line. So, headspace is determined by the location of the datum line. There are only 5 datum diameters in use over the range of bottleneck rifle cartridges. Datum diameter will be indicated in the cartridge description in any good loading manual. (Belted magnums, which headspace off the belt, are the exception, and different stories, and so are rimmed cases.)

Chamber headspace is determined by the chamber reamer and also the one operating the reamer. There are SAAMI standards for all standard cartridges (which are coincidentally those having SAAMI specs). Ammo manufacturers set their cartridge case dimensions to work within those same specs, and almost always with (literally) some room for variations. That means that, usually (and, again, I’m talking about factory-chambered rifles) the cartridge case headspace will be a little shorter than the rifle chamber will accommodate.

When a round fires, as is by now well-known, the case expands in all directions under pressure, swelling and conforming to the chamber, then retracts immediately afterward when pressure dissipates. Since brass has a plastic property, dimensions are not going to return to exactly what they were prior to firing, and that’s what all the sizing tools and operations seek to rectify. So, among other changes, the case shoulder will have “blown forward,” after having snugged up into that area of the rifle chamber. That will have moved the datum line upward. As hit upon last article, semi-automatics are notorious for exhibiting a little more than they “should have” in expanding, and that’s because there’s a little (to a lot) of pressure latent in the case when the bolt starts to unlock and move rearward. This can effectively create additional space for case expansion within the chamber. The case shoulder measurement after firing in a semi-auto might actually exceed that of the actual chamber headspace, or, at the least, be a little taller than it would have been in a bolt-gun having the exact same chamber dimensions. The hotter the load, the more gas system pressure, the more this might show.

case headspace tools
Get a few de-primed once-fired cases and a gage and get to work. Here’s a Forster Datum Dial gage. Works well and works for all standard-architecture bottleneck cartridges, as does the Hornady LNL. Each or either gives a “real” headspace number (although it’s not perfectly congruent, without mathematical manipulation, to the figure from a headspace gage used for chambering; that doesn’t matter though: as long as the gage is zeroed it shows the difference, and that’s what matters). By the way, the old standard “drop-in” style case gages might keep ammo safe, but won’t provide this sort of detail in information. The numbers we need to get from our gage are these: new, unfired case shoulder height (where we started); fired, unslzed case shoulder height (where we went to); sized case shoulder height (where we need to get back to).

To be rechambered, this case has to have its case shoulder “set back,” which means that the sizing die has to contact the shoulder area enough to budge it, bump it, down to a tolerable height. Here next is how to find out what that “tolerable” height is.

The process of adjusting a sizing die to produce correct cartridge case headspace is plenty simple and easy, and requires a specialty tool (and you knew that was coming): a gage to determine datum line height.


First, and important: this has to be done on the first firing of a new case, either a factory-loaded round or your own creation. For more conclusive accuracy, measure 4-6 cases, and, very important: de-prime a case before taking a read (the primer might interfere).

Measure a new case. Write that down.
Measure your fired case. Write that down.

Again, in a semi-auto the chamber might not actually be as long as the fired case reading says it is. In a bolt-gun, the post-firing case headspace dimension is going to be a closely-accurate indicator of the chamber headspace (but always subtract 0.001 inches from any reading to account for the predictable “spring back” in brass).

headspace reading
New — 1.458 inches.
headspace reading
Fired — 1.464 inches
headspace setting
Die setting — 1.460 inches.

To set the die, take the fired case reading and reduce it. How much set back? I recommend 0.003-0.004 inches for something like an AR15 or M1A. That’s playing it safe, considering, again (and again) that there may likely have been additional expansion beyond chamber dimensions. I’d like to see folks set back their bolt-guns at least 0.001, but I’m not going to argue! I don’t like running sticky bolts.

Set up case sizing die
Thread the sizing die down to touch the shellholder when the press ram is at its highest point of travel (whether it “cams” or not). Then back the die up (off) one full turn. Lightly seat the die body lock ring against the press top, and repeat the following process: lube and size the case, check the headspace; adjust the die downward, check the headspace. Rinse and repeat. For a 7/8-14 thread, which is virtually all presses, a full turn equals 0.0714 inches. That little nod of knowledge helps keep from going too far too soon, and also shows just how fine the adjustments get right at the end. When you think you got it, size a few more cases and read them. When you know you got it, lock the die ring. Note: the expander/decapping assembly was removed from this die, for one, because t doesn’t factor in establishing headspace, and because I set it all up separately on a new die. Headspace is the first thing I set.)

A little extra space ahead of the case shoulder helps ensure safe and reliable functioning in a semi-auto, and also, importantly, reduces the chance that the case might bottom out on the shoulder area in the chamber before the bolt is fully locked down. Firing residue in a semi-auto chamber is also effectively reducing chamber headspace, and that’s another reason for the little extra shoulder set-back. Keep the chamber clean!

headspace reading
Don’t just set the die bottom flush against the shellholder and commence to shucking cases! Most die makers provide that as instruction, and some say drop it down another quarter turn or so beyond that. That’s excessive. Here’s the read I got from flush die-shellholder contact on a new Forster.

Why not just set the shoulder back, for either action type, to what the factory set for the new case? Doing that really wouldn’t affect load performance, but, in my belief, deliberately creating what amounts to excessive headspace is not wise. It’s just that much more expansion, that much more “working” that the brass has to endure, that much shorter serviceable brass life. However! That’s not nearly as bad as leaving the shoulder too high! That’s dangerous.

Bolt-Gun Only!
Do you have to do this with a bolt-gun? I say yes, but freely admit that, at the least, from zero to “just a tic” is safe enough. What you do need to do is know what you’re getting! For a bolt-action it is possible, and some think wise, to determine the necessary case shoulder set-back based on what is needed to close the bolt on the resized case: adjust the die down a tad at a time until the bolt closes. Depending on how stout the load is, it might be 2-4, or more, firings before the shoulder needs to be set back for a bolt-gun. But, rest assured, it eventually will. Just keep up with it. I think the bolt should close easily (and if you’re having issues with that in your handloads, there’s the first place to look for a cure). It’s really not possible to follow this plan with a semi-auto because the bolt will close with much greater force during actual firing. 

The information in this article is from Glen’s newest book, Top-Grade Ammo, available HERE at Midsouth. Also check HERE for more information about this and other publications from Zediker Publishing.


RELOADERS CORNER: Semi-Auto or Bolt-Action? Two Things To Remember


There are essential differences in loading for these action-types. It might not matter if you know all about the one, but it is critically important to know about the other. Find out which is which… Keep reading!

casing in air
Any rifle with a gas operation system has to, well, have gas to operate! When it gets excessive is when the problems start. That’s another article, but the effects of the operating system is the basis for both the cautions in this article.

By Glen Zediker

Over the time I’ve been producing Reloaders Corner here at Midsouth, my focus has been exclusively on reloading for rifles, and, within that, primarily for semi-automatics. The reasons for that are based on two things, one is an assumption and the other is plain old fact. First, semi-autos are popular and represent the interest of a great number of new reloaders out there, and that’s my assumption. It doesn’t take long to come to the conclusion that high-capacity magazines and long days at the range combine to get expensive in a hurry! But the biggest reason I focus most of my material toward the needs of the semi-automatic rifle is because there are decidedly important differences in some decisions the handloader makes when tooling up for one. That’s the fact. Not knowing or respecting these differences can be disastrous.

I set out to be a sticker for clarity, but sometimes I overlook making more pointed references to these differences, when there are options associated with any one topic. I judge that based on the feedback I get from you all respecting tooling and component options. I want to start the New Year with this article, which I think contains some basic and important information to always (always) keep in mind. Hopefully it will also reduce questions, and I sure hope confusions. It also seemed to be, judging on feedback, the topic that created the most questions and comments.

Essential: When a round fires, the case expands, in all directions, as much as it can to fit the chamber. Since brass is elastic (can expand and contract) and plastic (can expand and retain that expansion) that last attribute, plasticity, results in a spent case that’s closer to rifle chamber dimensions than it was to its factory-new figures. Since many factory barrels have relatively generous chambers compared to most custom-done barrels, that’s either good or bad, depending on whether it’s a semi- or bolt-gun, and also depending (a lot) on what anyone buys into.

So, for reuse in a semi, that now overly-dimensioned case has to be brought back closer to nearer-to-new condition than it does for a bolt-gun. Has to be. Otherwise it might not chamber smoothly or fully.

full length sizing die
Due to the greater amount of case expasion, and also due to the need for smooth, easy feeding, any and every case used for a semi-auto should be full-length resized.

It’s important to understand that any semi-auto (at least any I’ve yet had experience with) has the cartridge case in a different condition right at the start of the extraction cycle. In a semi, the case is still holding pressure when the bolt starts to unlock. Bolt-gun, it’s all long gone by the time the knob gets lifted. That’s why a freshly spent case from a semi will raise a blister and one from a bolt-gun is cool to the touch. This pressure creates what amounts to greater case expansion in a semi-auto. Depending on the particular rifle and other factors that will get addressed in other articles, this varies from a little to a lot. The spent case measurements from one fired in a semi may not accurately reflect chamber dimensions, as they will with a bolt-gun.

The reason there’s still some pressure within the case when the bolt starts to unlock is because that’s how a gas-operation system functions. If all the pressure was gone the action wouldn’t even open.

neck only case sizing
A bolt-gun can be neck-only sized. I honestly don’t think this is a worthwhile practice, and I’ll talk more about that in another article, but as long as you’re willing to get a handle on case dimensions (so you know it’s still within specs to fit your chamber) it’s perfectly safe, and usually results in good group sizes.

Which brings us to the second essential difference in bolt- and semi-: Most semi-automatics, especially what is probably the most common (AR15 family) is very sensitive to gas port pressure. Gas port pressure is an actual measurement, but that’s not important to know, not really. What matters is understanding the effect of too much port pressure, and that is too much gas getting into the operating system, and getting in too quickly. That creates what most call an “over-function.” The action tries to operate, and the extraction cycle starts too early. There’s a lot of gas still binding the inflated case against the chamber walls. Many ills: excessive case expansion, excessive bolt carrier velocity, extraction failures (extractor either slips off or yanks the case rim, which can come off in a chunk).

.223 recommended components
Semi-autos are way on more sensitive about propellants, and, specifically, the propellant burning rate. Here is the set I use for my .223 Rem. competition loads (aside from a propellent that’s running in the range of the H4895, tough cases and thicker-skinned primers are part of the picture too).

From a reloading perspective, regulating gas port pressure is all in propellant selection. The burning rate range that’s suitable for semi-autos varies with the cartridge, but for both .308 Win. and .223 Rem. I cut it off at the Hodgdon Varget, Alliant RE-15 range: those are fine, but don’t go slower! Bolt guns don’t care about any of that.

Some will (certainly) disagree, but this is about the slowest-burning propellant I would suggest for .223 Rem. As a bonus, it’s also one of the highest-performing.

THE SHORT COURSE: Think “smaller” and “faster” when tooling up for sizing and choosing propellants for use (really, re-use) in a semi-auto. Smaller case sizing, faster-burning propellants.

This will all be hit on in upcoming articles in far greater detail but…

SEMI-AUTO: full-length case sizing, case shoulder set back at least 0.002 (from what a gage indicates as the fired case dimension), case neck “tension” at least 0.003 (difference between sized case neck outside dimension and loaded case neck outside dimension). Propellant selection: not too slow! Contrary to what logic might suggest, slower-burning propellants produce higher gas port pressures because they “peak” farther down the barrel.

BOLT-GUN: neck-only case sizing is (usually) okay (that means no case body sizing). Case shoulder set back: can be fine-tuned based on what’s necessary to easily close the bolt (ranges from none to “just a tad”). Propellant: doesn’t matter! As long, of course, as it’s suitable for use in that cartridge.

Check out some tools HERE at Midsouth

The information in this article is from Glen’s newest book, Top-Grade Ammo, available HERE at Midsouth. Also check HERE for more information about this and other publications from Zediker Publishing.



Don’t lose sight of the basics when making tool, dimensional, or load choices. Here are four unchanging “musts” to make your results the best they can be. READ ON!

moly coated bullets
Bandwagon! I jumped on this one as did a whopping lot of others. Moly coating got a huge amount of attention and, indeed drastically improves bullet performance. The furf died down, though, after we discovered it had its share of problems (some were and some weren’t willing to accommodate or work around them). I still use coated bullets but now it’s Boron Nitride.

Glen Zediker

I have been basing some of my topics for this department on correspondence, and here’s another. Someone wrote asking me for a compare/contrast on the two handloading-specific books I’ve written, and the essential question revolved around whether or not the older of the two had been “updated.” Concerns were over inclusion or exclusion of new tools and propellants, and other components, and reloading techniques: essentially whether the newer book was better just because it was newer. Hmm… I thought long and hard about all that.

My answer, strongly self-paraphrased, was that there were always going to be new tools and propellants and bullets and cartridges and primers, but “what matters” in learning how to make ammo gin (accurately and safely) hasn’t really changed. Those who know my work over the past twenty-something years know I’ve never been eager to step up on a soapbox and proclaim coronation of the latest-greatest propellant, bullet, or even cartridge king. Instead, I’ve done my best to help folks learn how to judge merits and values of new things, based on a thorough understanding of all the old things. But this isn’t about me and it’s not just shameless self-promotion. It’s an overview of what I really think matters: it’s an effort to put into perspective the potential merits of all the new things.

full length sizing die

case neck sizing
Choosing the appropriate case and neck sizing die, and then learning how to correctly adjust it, for the needs at hand, which really means for the rifle the ammo will be used in, is another essential element in good loading.

For me, the four most important things to achieve with a handload are, one, that the case has been sized correctly and appropriately for the rifle; two, that care has been taken to ensure that the round is concentric (more in a bit); three, exercising some discretion in bullet velocity (also more in a bit); and, four, taking steps from reloading to reloading to maintain consistent performance.

Then there is an almost never-ending slew of finer points within all these points. And one ton of tools.

What I “know” about a load combination hasn’t come from one afternoon at the range. It’s often come from years. I have seen a whopping lot of bandwagons competitive shooters have jumped onto and off of. Newly hitched wagons are still rolling strong, departing continually. It is very important to have a set of components and processes and load structures to fall back on, which really then means a set that you can move forward from.

concentricity fixture
One of the “big four” goals I set for handloads is concentricity, run-out. Most of the tool and die upgrades I ever suggest making, as well as many case-preparation steps, seek to improve the straightness and centeredness of a loaded round. “Start in the center, finish in the center.”

I look at new things from a perspective of how and how well I can apply one of them to satisfy the same old needs. These needs are a filter, more or less, that helps determine if the new things are indeed improvements, or just new.

I am a competitive person. Our club CRO, Col. Floyd, once announced to the crowd at a local High Power Rifle tournament that I could smell gold-plated plastic through four feet of reinforced concrete… I admit to the truth in that. So, I am in no way suggesting that new things aren’t good, that we should all stay only with what we know. I’m always looking for ways to do better; but for me it’s not been so much trying something new, but rather taking another step using what’s been working pretty well for me thus far. That usually involves more focus on consistency.

I have a lot of stories about ultimate failures eventually resulting from initially wild successes, including lost championships, but the only value telling any of them would have is to make me sound way too old school. They are, again, never (ever) taken to mean that new things aren’t worth pursuit. Just shoot a lot of it under varied circumstances before packing it up along with the suitcase to attend a big event.

Back to setting down some tangible point to all this: most tool choices and case preparation steps I take have a goal of improving loaded round concentricity, which is to say centeredness or straightness. No doubt about it, a bullet looking dead center into a rifle bore is going to shoot better than one that’s cockeyed.

Cases with more consistent neck wall thicknesses, sizing die designs, and bullet seater designs can either enhance or detract from concentricity. Likewise, operations like outside case neck turning are done ultimately to improve concentricity. It matters!

The comment earlier about not getting too greedy for speed gets preached a lot by a good many, and the reason is avoiding anything that’s edgy. “Edgy,” to me, means something that’s going to take a turn for the worse on a day that’s 20-degrees warmer, or (in the case of the lost event mentioned earlier) 20-degrees colder.

pressure check carrtidge cases
Don’t get greedy on speed! An essential component in handloading success is consistency, predictability. Find a “tolerant” propellant, which means it demonstrates flexibility: shoots well at a little lower-than-maximum velocity, and shoots the same at different temperatures. No matter how small the groups were in testing, if pressure starts spiking due to some unaccounted for change those great test groups are likely to open up.

The best advice I can offer on this is, first and most obvious, use a little discretion working up a load to a ceiling higher than what equivalent-spec factory ammo can produce. It can take more than a few case and primer inspections to know if a “max” load is truly safe. Next is to get to work on finding a propellant/primer combination (mostly propellant) that’s showing good accuracy at less-than-max velocities. By that I mean I will not trust anything that seems to shoot well only when it’s running “hot.” Accuracy is, after all and always, what ultimately defines success.

(Since this piece is kind of a “year-end” thing, I plan to start the new year up fresh with a whopping lot more about specific new (and old) things that will help ensure you’re getting the most you can from your time spent at the loading bench.)

The information in this article is from Glen’s newest book, Top-Grade Ammo, available HERE at Midsouth. Also check HERE for more information about this and other publications from Zediker Publishing.



Correct primer ignition is a key to consistent velocities and good accuracy, and maybe even survival! Let’s make sure the primer pops proper. Read how…

Glen Zediker

Last two times we’ve looked at the tools and process of seating primers and also the thing itself. This time let’s take it another step and perfect the important step of priming a centerfire case.

primer pocket uniforming
Very important step, in my mind, in the reloading process: uniforming primer pockets.


As gone on about in the first article, it’s very important to seat each and every primer flush to the bottom of the cartridge case priming pocket. Tool choice has a whopping lot to do with how well attaining that goal can be reached, and that’s because it is a “feel” operation.

However! Probably the biggest asset to correct primer seating is a primer pocket that’s correctly dimensioned and correctly finished. And this, in effect, removes some of the importance or contribution of the “feel” needed and that’s because when the primer stops it will stop flat and flush. If the pocket is what it should be.

With the exception of a very few (and expensive) cases, the primer flash hole and the primer pocket itself are punched, not drilled and milled. That’s done, of course, in the interest of efficiency in producing the case. That manufacturing process, though, hain’t perfect.

Cross-section a case head and you’ll see that the inside bottom of the pocket is a little bowl-shaped; the corners aren’t square, which means the bottom of the pocket isn’t flat all across. Since the bottom of a primer cup is indeed flat, it’s way on better if these surfaces are a match.

primer pocket uniforming

A “primer pocket uniformer” fixes this to the same level it would be had it been machined: it will be at “blueprint” specs. A uniforming tool also sets pocket depth and will correct a shallow pocket. And again, the flat primer cup mated with an equally flat primer pocket bottom results in a truly well-seated primer.

In my estimation, I think this is an even more important procedure or preparation step for those using any automated or semi-automated priming process, such as encountered on a progressive-style press than it is for “precision” handloaders. In short: the less feel in the tool that’s available to guide you to know the primer has seated completely is offset a whopping lot by the assurance that flat-to-flat flush contact results pretty much just from running the press handle fully.

primer pocket uniforming tool
Primer pocket uniforming is done fastest and easiest with a tool that chucks into a drill. There are many available, and I recommend getting a “fixed” depth design. One thing: unlike virtually all other case-preparation steps, pocket uniforming is usually best one on once-fired, not new, brass. That’s because the pockets can be a little difficult for the tool to enter when the pockets are at their smallest, which they will be as new.

It’s another step, though, that adds time and tedium to the reloading process. Add power and it’s a lot easier, and, for the majority, has only to be done once. True, after enough firings a pocket will get shallower, and it will also be getting larger in diameter. Usually the increased diameter outruns the loss of depth in signaling the end of case life.

I use mine in place of a primer pocket cleaning tool. There is zero harm in running a uniformer each use for reloading. Uniformers are available as fixed- and adjustable-depth. I generally recommend getting a fixed tool, and then trusting it. Setting depth on an adjustable model is tedious, and critical. Too deep can weaken the case.

uniformed pocket
Here’s a little (important) something that you might notice after uniforming primer pockets. The case on the right shows very clear primer anvil impressions, and that’s because this primer was seated fully flush into a uniformed pocket; the case on the left was not uniformed and likewise the primer was not fully seated flush (couldn’t be).

If you’re wanting to load once-fired mil-spec cases, or have to load once-fired mil-spec cases, then the original primer crimp must be removed. A primer crimp is small lip of brass that’s pinched into the primer edge during the primer seating process. It holds the primer in place against inertia-induced movement that might unseat it. Now, you never ever need to worry about crimping your own ammunition. All that matters to us is removing the excess brass residual from the original crimp. The most simple, and fastest, way is using a primer pocket swaging tool. These are either press-mounted or stand-alone stations. Just run it, run it out, and the pocket has been swaged to unimpeded roundness again. It is possible to use a uniformer to remove crimp, but it’s a tool for another job and, almost always, it’s best to use specific tools for specific jobs. It’s a difficult chore with a uniformer, and the uniformer also may not smooth the entryway adequately.

primer pocket swaging tools
If you need to remove the crimp from mil-spec cases, get a swager. It’s the best tool for the job. They’re easy to use, and, as with other such processes, has only to be done once for the life of that case. After swaging, by all means run a uniformer if wanted. Check out tools HERE

Overall, get a swager and keep it simple. They’re not expensive, they’re easy to use, and, as with other such processes, has only to be done once for the life of that case. After swaging, by all means run a uniformer if wanted.

Should primer pockets be cleaned? Why not… There is probably no influence on accuracy if the pocket is dirty or spotless, but, why not… Deprime prior to case cleaning to get that area treated. I preach heavily on the virtues of a stand-along decapping station to keep grit out of the sizing die. A primer pocket cleaner is fast and easy to use, but, as mentioned, I instead just run a uniforming tool in its place.

As said a few times in this series, the most important thing is to know that the primers (all of them) have seated to at least slightly below flush with the case base. Just seeing that does, in no way, mean each primer is seated to perfection. There are variances in (un-uniformed) primer pocket depths. At the least, one more time, uniformed pockets will or sure should take a big step toward providing more certainty.

A “high” primer, one that’s not seated fully to the bottom of its pocket, results in a “soft” strike from the firing pin, and that’s because some of the inertia/energy in the speeding pin is siphoned away because it first will fully seat the primer… However! There’s another, even more important reason all primers should be seated fully: When used with a rifle having a floating-style firing pin, which is an AR15, the normal and unavoidable inertia-induced firing pin movement upon bolt closing will result in the firing pin tip contacting the primer. It will bounce or tap off the primer. If the primer is sitting out farther, there’s a greater likelihood of setting off the cap. That’s called a “slam-fire” and its aftermath ranges from shaken nerves to shrapnel infestations about the facial area.

AR15 firing pin indentation
Yikes! Here’s a round chambered and then pulled from one of my AR15s. Floating firing pins can “tap” off a primer, it’s intertia-induced. A more sensitive primer, and it could have gone off. This is not “supposed” to happen via rifle design, but, well, here it is. Make double-dang sure all the primers are seated below flush with the case head! It’s a problem with any floating-pin equipped rifle: M1A, M1, AR10, AR15. Primer composition matters. In this case, its resistance to detonation, and it should influence decisions on primer brands.

See what’s available at Midsouth HERE

The information in this article is from Glen’s newest book, Top-Grade Ammo, available HERE at Midsouth. Also check HERE for more information about this and other publications from Zediker Publishing.

RELOADERS CORNER: The Priming Process


Priming is the final case preparation step, and it’s one of the most important. Read how to do it right.

Glen Zediker

There are pretty much three different style tools used to seat primers.

The first, and way on most common, is the priming “arm” attached to most every single-stage press. This works, but it’s the least best way to do it. There’s too much leverage at hand, and that makes it hard to feel the seating process to its best conclusion.

Take a close look at how a primer is constructed: there’s a cylindrical cup, inside the cup is the incendiary compound, and then there’s the anvil (that’s the little part that extends below the cup rim; it’s like a flat spring with three feet).

rifle primer close up
Take a close look at a primer. The anvil is the tripod-shaped thin metal piece protruding above the bottom of the primer cup. Getting the primer sitting fully flush on the bottom of the primer pocket in the case, without crunching it too much, requires some keen feel for the progress of primer seating, and that’s where the stand-alone tools come in to help. I strongly suggest using one.

Ideally, a primer will seat flush against the bottom of the primer pocket, with compression, equally of course, against the anvil. Also ideally, there should be some resistance in seating the primer (if there’s not then the pocket has expanded an amount to cause concern, and a rethink on the suitability of reusing this case, and its brothers and sisters).

If it has to be a choice, even though it doesn’t have to be, it’s better to have “too much” seating than not enough. The primer cannot (cannot) be left too “high.” That’s with reference to the plane of the case head. There are both safety and performance concerns if it is. First, if the primer is not seated snugly to the bottom of its pocket, then the firing pin will finish the job. No doubt, there will be variations in bullet velocities if this happens because it affects ignition timing.

Each and every loaded round you ever create needs to be checked for this. Every one. Get in the habit of running your finger across the case bottom and feeling a little dip-down where the primer is. Look also. Rounds loaded on a progressive machine are susceptible to high primers. The reason is no fault of the machine but rather because the feel or feedback is that much less sensitive than even when using a press-mounted priming arm. If there are a half-dozen other stations on a tool head in operation at once, then the one doing the priming is that much more obscured from feel. And also because we’re not usually able or willing to inspect each finished round as it emerges from the rotating shell plate. But do check afterwards as you’re filing the loaded rounds away into cartridge boxes. Much more to be said ahead on this topic next edition.

correctly seated primer
Check each and every (every last one always) primer you seat to make sure it’s below flush with the case head.

The better priming tools have less leverage. That is so we can feel the progress of that relatively very small span of depth between start and finish. There is also a balance between precision and speed in tool choices, as there so often is. Also, so often, my recommendation is one that hits the best balance.

The press-mounted primer arm styles exhibit variations from maker to maker, but they’re all about the same in function. What matters most in using a press seater is going slowly and double-checking each and every result. Again, it’s the lack of feel for the progression of the primer going into the pocket that’s the issue.

press priming arm
Here’s the most common means for seating primers: the attached arm assembly on most single-stage presses. It’s tough to really feel the primer seat correctly because there’s a honking lot of leverage at work.

The best way to seat primers, or I should say the means that gives the best results, are the “hand” tools. They are also a little (okay, a lot) tedious to use, and, for me at least, aren’t kind to my increasingly ailing joints after priming a large number of cases. Those types that have a reservoir/feeding apparatus are less tedious, but still literally a pain. The reason these type tools give the best results is that they have poor leverage. The first few times you seat with one, you’ll be amazed at just how much pressure you need to apply to fully seat a primer.

LEE hand priming tool
Here’s a “hand” tool. This one from LEE works plenty well, despite its low cost. There are others similar from most major makers. The whole point to these designs is absence of leverage. Check it out HERE at Midsouthl

The best choice, in my book, are the benchtop stand-alone priming stations. They are faster than hand tools, and can be had with more or less leverage engineered into them. I like the one shown nearby the best because its feeding is reliable and its feel is more than good enough to do a “perfect” primer seat. It’s the best balance I’ve found between speed and precision.

Forster Co-Ax priming tool
Here’s a Forster Co-Ax bench-mounted tool. It’s a favorite. It provides relatively low leverage for better feel for the progression of primer seating.

Forster Co-Ax priming tool

Get a good primer “flip” tray for use in filling the feeding magazine tubes associated with some systems. Make double-damn sure each primer is fed right side up (or down, depending on your perspective). A common cause of unintentional detonation is attempting to overfill a stuffed feeding tube magazine, so count and watch your progress.

Another good one is available from RCBS, the APS. Check it out HERE at Midsouth.

It’s okay to touch primers, by the way. Rumors abound that touching them with bare fingers will “contaminate” the compound and create misfires. Not true. All the primers I’ve ever used, and all those anyone else is likely to encounter, are treated to a sealant. Now, a drop of oil can penetrate the compound and render it intert, but not a fingerprint.

The priming process, step-by-step is almost too simple to diagram. Place a primer anvil-side-up in the device housing apparatus, position a case, push the primer in place. It’s learning feel of the whole thing that takes some effort. As mentioned, using a tool with poor leverage, you might be surprised how much effort it takes to fully seat a primer. On anything with an overage of leverage, there’s little to no sensation of primer movement into the pocket. It just stops.

Don’t attempt to seat a high primer more deeply on a finished round. The pressure needed to overcome the inertia to re-initiate movement may be enough to detonate it.

Don’t punch out a live primer! That can result in an impressive fright. To kill a primer, squirt or spray a little light oil into its open end. That renders the compound inert.

Keep the priming tool cup clean. That’s the little piece that the primer sits down into. Any little shard of brass can become a firing pin! It’s happened!

See what’s available here at Midsouth HERE

The information in this article is from Glen’s newest book, Top-Grade Ammo, available HERE at Midsouth. Also check HERE for more information about this and other publications from Zediker Publishing.

RELOADERS CORNER: 4 Steps To Improve Standard Die Performance


It’s easily possible to improve the alignment and concentricity of a die set, and the result is getting closer to perfection in your ammo. Here’s how…

Glen Zediker

Last time I wrote about some problems some dies can have. A couple of those things mentioned had a thing or two to do with preparation and setup, and I said then that “next time” I’d address a few ways to improve the results from the dies you already have. So here it is, sizing die first:

Many of the parts that make up a die, including the die body itself, have threaded couplings to allow for adjustment. Well, threads have gaps and that means there’s some amount of free movement afoot, or “afloat” more correctly. If there were no gaps between threaded surfaces then there would be no threading possible. To see it, loosen a locking or jam nut from a die part, the seating die or decapping stem for instance, and wiggle the part. It wiggles… Taking steps to, at the same time, take out that play and improve parts alignment pays off.

ONE: Let the shellholder float. One of the easiest mods to make to improve all die ops is to remove the apparatus that secures the shellholder into the press ram. It’s usually a wire spring clip. Pliers get it gone. Now the shellholder is free to slip in and out, mostly out, of its slot in the press ram, and an appropriately-sized O-ring banded around the slot area keeps it secure. Head to a real hardware store and find one easy enough. This mod has done two things: one is that the spring clip usually cocks the shellholder so it’s not sitting flat and flush with the ram top, which means neither is the case it’s holding, so now it is; and, two, there is now a self-centering action since the shellholder is free to move a tad. Always keep in mind that we’re dealing with small “tads” (0.001s of inches) and even though it might not be visibly noticeable, this floating setup will result in better alignment.

shellholder clip
Here’s an easy trick that will, not may, improve alignment in die ops. The ultimate result from all these steps is a more concentric round of ammunition, and most seem to think that’s worthwhile… It is.

TWO: Flatten the die lock ring. The next little help is to get the die body and press ram as closely aligned as we can. There’s a lot of gap resultant from the helix of 14-pitch threads. After adjusting the die body downward to produce the amount of case shoulder set-back you want, run a case fully into the die and, holding pressure (lightly, not forcibly) down against the press handle, secure the locking ring. This will ensure that the die is sitting “flat” atop the press. Then ONLY install and remove the die using the locking ring itself! Never the die body. By the way, and this actually is important: I don’t like lock rings that secure via a set screw; I prefer those that offer a clamping-style effect. The little set screw will lever against the angled threads on the die body and that, alone, can tilt the lock ring.

handling die by lockring
Once you get the dies secured as outlined here, handle them ONLY by their lock rings. That ensures all the careful prep stays intact. It also means no change of altering the die height, an asset toward maintaining correct case shoulder set back and also consistent bullet seating depths.

If you’re using a standard-form full-length sizing die, it will have an expander ball or sizing button (either term applies the same, just varies with who’s literature you’re reading). This part is mounted to the decapping stem and functions to open up the inside case neck after the case neck has been outside-sized by the die interior area. Depending on the difference in diameters between the newly-sized case neck inside diameter and the sizing button diameter, that’s more or less stress and friction the neck endures.

clamp-style lock rings
I use clamping-style die body lock rings, like these from Forster. Those with a set screw can tilt the lock ring when the screw tightens in against the angled threads.

I’ve talked more than a few times about the value of polishing the expander to reduce friction, but you still need then to make sure it’s sitting dead center within the die. So…

THREE: Align the expander ball. There’s a little bit of “feel” involved in this step, but it’s not hard to develop. The idea is to tighten the locking screw that secures the decapping stem against movement while the expander ball is captive in the sized case neck. After adjusting stem height (and, by the way, noticing the relatively huge amount of free movement the stem has) run a case up fully into the die and then retract it until you feel the expander engage within the case neck. Stop there. Now apply a little pressure against the press handle going the other direction (as if running the case back up) as you tighten the lock ring on the expander stem. That just set the expander in the center. If you have the tooling to determine this, select a case that represents your better examples of case neck wall thickness consistency for ultimate results.


expander ball adjustment
When it’s possible, and it usually is, secure locks for the pieces-parts when they’re doing their jobs. For instance, tightening the lock on a decapping stem when the expander is holding inside the case neck helps bring the stem into centered alignment, and the expander along with it.

Moving to the “other” die, the seater, the first step is the same as for the sizing die: flatten its seat atop the press, and that’s done pretty much in the same as for the sizing die. Instead of running a case into the die, though, I set an adequate number of flat washers atop the shellholder to bear some pressure against the die bottom. Then…

FOUR: Center the seater stem. Just like with the decapping stem, there’s thread play in the seating stem. Move the stem more toward an aligned center by simply securing its lock nut when there’s a bullet bearing up against the seating plug. As said, select a case with consistent neck walls to get best results. Now. The only foible with this is when you change seating depths by threading the stem up or down. It’s easy enough to repeat this op-step, but remember to do it. The BEST defense against alignment issues is purchase and use of a “competition”- or “benchrest”-style seating die. I’m talking about those having a spring-loaded sleeve that accepts the case fully before being run up to engage the seating plug. But, those still need to have their seating plug centered following the same sort of process used in these other “tricks”: snug the lock over a little pressure. That only has to be done once, though, for this die type.

The information in this article is from Glen’s newest book, Top-Grade Ammo, available HERE at Midsouth. Also check HERE for more information about this and other publications from Zediker Publishing.

Reloaders Corner: Case Trimming: finishing the job


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.