Tag Archives: handloading tools

RELOADERS CORNER: Learning To Load Again, Three

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As with many technical ventures, ultimately attaining best success is all in the details. Here are a few never to overlook in the process of learning to reload rifle ammunition. READ MORE

learning to reload

Glen Zediker

First, I thank you all for responding as well as you have to this little series. I appreciate the kind comments. I know that there are many eager for me to get back to the fine points, the advanced measures, but I also hope reflecting on what I taught my son likewise has caused some pause for reflection in your own processes.

Although it may be back with other installments as things progress, I’ll finish this little series for now by going over a few process particulars that, in part, my son had more difficulty getting the hang of and, also, those that I think are absolutely mandatory to teach and coach to a new handloader, especially in creating ammo for a semi-automatic centerfire.

Case Lube
Learning how much is too much and how little is too little is an easier step if you’re using a high-quality, high-performance case lube. I know from past experience addressing this topic in Reloaders Corner that we have differing opinions amongst the readership as to the best formulation for this essential step. For me it’s always been one of the “rub-on” lubes, like Redding’s Imperial Sizing Die Wax or Forster Case Sizing Lube. I like the control, speed, and ease of die operation those products give me. However! I will freely and quickly also tell you that a lube applied using a roll-over type pad or spray delivery takes a lot of the “feel” out of this process, and that’s not always a bad thing.

learning to reload
There’s different products and ways and means to apply case lube. No matter what or which you choose, it takes some trial and error to learn how much to apply.

The rub-ons are so slick feeling that it’s tempting to use too little. I treat each case with a fresh dab. Charlie figured out that really wasn’t necessary, that he could go two or three without having to reup and reapply the lube to his fingers. These lubes continue to indicate, based on feel, that there’s an adequate coating, until he dang near almost stuck a case. He was correct, at least one more use per reload was possible, but there’s a measure of consistency in starting the same with each case prior to sizing. I pointed out that there was no harm done in a more ample coating because it was coming back off anyway. And then, of course, he asked about the pressure-induced dimples he was getting from using too much of it! Right: one extreme to the other. There’s a feel to this process, but it’s a balance pretty easily managed — as long as you’re not trying to see how little case lube you can get away with.

Sizing Die Set
The first on the list of “always” was learning to set the sizing die to accept those lubed cases. I mentioned this briefly before, but I am absolutely adamant about using a cartridge case headspace gage to adust the amount of sizing each case gets. I’m talking about case shoulder set back. I did a piece some time ago here about the challenge of loading the “same” ammo for use in different rifles, which are near about certain to have at least slight variations in chamber headspace. Compromise has to favor the gun that needs the most shoulder set back, and we hope there’s not a huge difference across the rack of rifles we’re using this ammo in.

learning to reload
This tool is a great investment and strongly recommended: Hornady LNL headspace gage. It’s how to set a sizing die for maximum utility and minimum case stress.

I promise it was not due to any sort of parental retaliation for misdeeds in the past, but I let Charlie start off with a brand new disassembled sizing die.

Setting set back is a tedious process that requires numerous checks. We use a Hornady LNL gage. We measured a few different spent cases from a few different rifles and, fortunately, didn’t have much variation (about 0.002). We took cases from the shortest chamber and set them back 0.004, which is what I usually recommend, and accepting that meant some were getting pushed a little more than ideal, but all were still well (well) away from the maximum the sizing die would give. That’s where the die is sitting now. I don’t recommend cutting it too close for reuse in something like an AR15. I won’t launch into a detailed look into either of those single topic-points, but following the die setup instructions that come with most sizing dies will result in what I say is excessive set back. So even a compromise still meant we were getting the least amount of brass working in sizing, and (mostly) ensuring safe and reliable function. We started with once-fired cases all from the same ammo lot, by the way.

Priming Ain’t Easy
Once again, this topic has been addressed here by me a few different times and ways in these pages, but teaching someone how to correctly, and safely, set and seat primers is best done with a “hand tool.” It doesn’t have to be a zoot-capri benchrest specialty item, but, well, to make a long story short: using the bench-mounted tools I had on hand (and trying three different ones) Charlie was retrieving and retaining essentially none of the finesse I was trying my best to explain — “Feel the primer come to a stop on the bottom of the pocket and then compress the anvil…” And it’s even harder using a press-mounted device. With anything (that I’ve used) besides a hand tool there’s too much leverage over too short a stroke to feel the progress and end of a well seated primer.

learning to reload

learning to reload
Learning to seat primers correctly is key, and something like this will teach you all you need to know about that process. This Lee-brand hand tool is not expensive but it honestly seats primers as well as anything I’ve yet used. There’s an overage of leverage in other style tools and that precludes developing the feel necessary to ensure consistent success.

We’re not nearly shooting Benchrest, but for the sake of consistent ammo performance and safety all primers should be seated well, which is to say well-seated. And, especially for a semi-auto, they all must be seated to below flush with the case head.

I handed him said hand tool and after a scant half dozen experiences, he had it down pat. A serious light went on and smile appeared: Oh! Moving then to bench-mounted tool he had learned what he needed to know, or had felt what he needed to feel, and instinctively slowed down and lightened up and got the same good results. The lesson here is that if you’ve never used a low-leverage hand-operated priming tool, try one. You might not want to stay with it, especially when faced with the small mountain of brass such as we collect for processing, but it will teach a thing or three.

One not so minor point we all have to learn, and definitely don’t want this one to be learned the hard way, is taking care when using primer feeds (trays and tubes).

Suitable Seating
The last thing on my list of “things that stood out” in this process of teaching Charlie to reload was setting up the bullet seater.

learning to reload

learning to reload
Another valuable gage is one that gives a way to know at which cartridge overall length the bullet touches the lands or rifling. Do not assume that because it fits into the magazine box that it’s good to go!

With an AR15, or any rifle with a detachable box magazine, the clear overall cartridge length limit is defined by what will fit into the box. There’s more to it than that. Different bullets have differnent profiles and ogive dimensions. This influences how far from the lands or rifling the first point of bullet major diameter (that which coincides with land diameter) will be when the round is chambered. I recently wrote about having some “sticking bullets” in a rifle. This was a factory load but the bullet profile, overall cartridge length combination exceeded clearance — the bullets were jammed into the lands. Not what you want, unless of course you know what’s what you want (and that’s another topic entirely).

A fair number of .224-caliber bullets may touch the lands if seated to an overall cartridge length that fits the magazine box, if that’s the only criteria used to determine round length. These have to be seated more deeply, resulting, of course, in a shorter overall round length.

Never (ever) assume! Mil-spec, and most other, .223 Rem. rounds, for instance, will have the ballpark 2.250 inch length (in my notes the max is 2.260) that closely but adequately clears the box walls, but some I’ve used have to be down a good 0.025 under that to avoid sticking the bullet into the lands. I’ve seen this be most prevalent in lighter weight varmint-style bullets. Check it to make sure. And, as long as there is a gap between the bullet and the lands, all is fine.

The tool to use is a Hornady LNL OAL Gage. Once again, the only measuring tool needed for use with either of the gages mentioned is a decent caliper.

Check out hand priming tools at Midsouth HERE

OAL and Headspace gages HERE

The preceding is a adapted from information contained in from Glen’s books Top-Grade Ammo and Handloading For Competition. Available HERE at Midsouth Shooters Supply. Visit ZedikerPublishing.com for more information on the book itself, and also free article downloads.

RELOADERS CORNER: Learning To Load Again, pt. 1

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Whether you’ve been loading for 50 years or 5 minutes, it’s a good idea to revist the basics from time to time. READ MORE

Glen Zediker

[I know that my readership for this column has a pretty broad range of experience, and, therefore, a broad topic-interest range, plus expectations on what I hope to communicate or relay. I’ve been asked both to go into more details about specialized processes and procedures and also to stick more with broader topics, and keep it simple. Can’t win on all topics each edition with everyone, so I do my best to mix it up. This one is leaning heavily toward simple, but, as always, I hope there’s something to absorb, or at least think about.]

A few issues back I wrote about how I had been teaching my son how to reload. After doing all this for so long (I started when I was 15) and likewise going fairly far “into it” over many years, the basics are pretty much ingrained in me. That doesn’t mean, in no way, that I don’t have to check myself or remind myself (which usually comes after the checks) to follow the procedures and the rules to the letter.

calipers

Short digression into the backstory on this project: Charlie wanted to reload for the very same reasons I got my start in this process. For his 18th birthday, he became the proud owner of a retro-replica “M16A1.” This was his choice, of all the choices he could have made, because it’s an “original.” Of course, his is a semi-auto with only two selector stops, but otherwise is straight from the late 1960s. He found out right quick like and in a hurry that it was a hungry gun, and, as an equally hungry shooter, the need for feed exceeded the factory ammo budget in short order.

Back to the project: So when I set out to teach Charlie how to produce his own ammunition, I sat back a while (a good long while, and longer than I imagined) and ran it all through my mind and realized that I knew so much about it that it was hard to know where to start. Now! That’s not some sort of brag, just the facts, and the same would be said for most of you reading this. I knew so much about it because there’s so much to know! Handloading is a multi-faceted task, made up of many (many) tasks, all and each important.

So where did I start? With a breakdown of the cartridge itself. Which components did what, when, and how. And, of course, the long list of “always, only, and never.” This article isn’t about a step by step on how to load, but in going over the separate points, point by point, some things stood out as more or less easy to communicate, and more or less easy for my son to grasp (related no doubt).
I know that my readership for this column has a pretty broad range of experience, and, therefore, a broad topic-interest range, plus expectations on what I hope to communicate or relay. I’ve been asked both to go into more details about specialized processes and procedures and also to stick more with broader topics, and keep it simple. Can’t win on all topics each edition with everyone, so I do my best to mix it up. This one is leaning heavily toward simple, but, as always, I hope there’s something to absorb, or at least think about.

Setting up the tooling to get started on our project, I had Charlie do it all himself. One of the very first points to pass heading up the learning curve was learning to measure.

Depending on someone’s background and specific experience, something like operating a measuring tool can range from old-hat to no-clue.

calipers
A caliper is an essential, absolute must-have tool for reloading. It doesn’t have to be the best to be entirely good enough. We need to measure to 0.001, so get one that does that. Make sure it’s steel so it will hold up.

Honestly, the only measuring tool you really need to handload is a dial caliper. You’ll use this to measure cartridge case overall length, over cartridge length, case neck outside diameter, and also to check the results of a few difference gages, like a cartridge case headspace gage.

That, therefore, was the first tool he learned how to operate.

Here’s a question I had to answer, and it’s a good question to be answered especially for those unfamiliar with measuring tools. That question is how “hard” to push on the tool to take a read. How to know that the reading is correct.

It’s full and flush contact, but not force. It’s as if the part being measured was making the same contact as if it were sitting on the benchtop: full, flush contact but no pressure. In measuring some of the things we measure, like bullets, and considering the increments of the reads, pressure against the tool can influence the read if the material surface is actually compressed. That’s from flex. I usually very gently wiggle the part being measured to feel if the contact with the tool is flush, that there’s no skew involved. There is, no doubt, some feel involved in measuring. I know some say that there should be pressure to get an accurate reading, and I would agree if we’re measuring materials that are harder than bullet jackets and brass cases. But again, it is decidedly possible to flex and actually displace soft materials if there’s too much pressure applied to snug down caliper jaws or mic heads. Get a feel for flush, the point just when the movement stops firmly and fully.

calipers
Measuring correctly and accurately involves feel, which comes from experience. Contact must be flush but not flexed!

Caliper Quality
More about the tool itself: My experience has been that there’s really no difference in the at-hand accuracy of more expensive measuring tools, especially a caliper.

calipers
Tips: Don’t store the caliper with the jaws fully closed. Keep it clean. Keep it cased. Make sure to zero the caliper (dial or digital) before every session.

Digital is great, but not at all necessary. Digital is not more accurate or precise, it’s just “easier.” As with a scale, it really depends on how much you plan on using it. If you’re going to measure everything, then digital is better because it’s faster to read — there’s no dial-mark interpretation involved. If you only want to check neck diameters and case lengths when you’re setting up your tools, then a dial-style is entirely adequate.

Get steel! Something that reads to 0.001 inches.

There are several industry-branded dial and digital calipers from Lyman, Hornady, RCBS, MEC, and more, available here at Midsouth. These range from $30-50 or so. They are all good, and they all are entirely adequate. If you want to spend up and get better, Mitutoyo and Starrett are the brands to know. Those easily double that cost.

These tools do wear. All will wear. Better tools wear less for a longer time. Conversations with folks who use calipers, along with other measuring tools, not only daily, but continuously during a day, has taught me to be confident in that statement.

Calipers can measure other things, but there are specialty tools that replace them for specific tasks. For instance, yes, it’s possible to measure case wall thickness with a caliper, but it’s not very precise.

calipers
Hopefully you’ll be able to use your caliper to measure groups like these. It’s really the only tool you need to get them.

Check out Midsouth tools HERE

The preceding is a specially-adapted excerpt from Glen’s book Top-Grade Ammo. Available HERE at Midsouth Shooters Supply. Visit ZedikerPublishing.com for more information on the book itself, and also free article downloads.