Tag Archives: Reloaders Corner

RELOADERS CORNER: Picking Propellants

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There are a whopping lot of propellants on the market. How do you choose one? Well, usually it’s more than one… READ WHY

PROPELLANT

Glen Zediker

All we ever really want is a propellant that provides high consistent velocity, small groups at distance, safe pressures over a wide range of temperatures, and burns cleanly, and, of course, it should meter perfectly. Dang. I know, right?

Ultimately, propellant choice often ends up as a compromise and it may well be that the smallest compromises identify the better propellants. Getting the most good from your choice, in other words, with the fewest liabilities.

There are two tiers of basics defining centerfire rifle propellant formulas. The granule form can be either spherical (round granules) or extruded (cylindrical granules). Next, the composition can be either single- or double-base. All propellants have nitrocellulose as the base; double-base stirs in some nitroglycerol to increase energy.

There’s been a good deal of effort expended and applied over the past several years to reduce the temperature sensitivity of propellant. Coatings come first to mind, and I use nothing but these “treated” propellants.

This attribute is very (very) important! It’s more important the more rounds you fire throughout a year. A competitive shooter’s score hinges on consistent ammunition performance. Test in Mississippi and then go to Ohio and expect there to be some change in zero, but a change in accuracy or a sudden excess of pressure and that’s a long trip back home. It’s common enough for temperatures to (relatively speaking) plummet on at least one day at the National Matches, so my 95-degree load has to function when it’s 50.

extruded propellant

Some are decidedly better than others in this. There are several propellants I’ve tried and will not use because I didn’t get reliable results when conditions changed. Some gave outstanding groups on target, on that day, at that hour, but went goofy the next month when it was +20 degrees. Heat and cold can influence pressure in a sensitive propellant.

Single-base extruded (“stick”) propellants are my first choice. A good example of one of those is Hodgdon 4895. These tend to be flexible in maintaining performance over a wider range of velocities, related to a wider range of charge weights. For instance, I’ll vary the charge weight of the same propellant for ammo for different yard lines. I’m reducing recoil or increasing velocity, depending on what matters more. Zero and velocity are different, but accuracy doesn’t change.

H4895
There are a few single-base extruded propellants that show impressive flexibility in load levels as well as in different round structures. This is one of the most flexible I’ve used, and I use a lot of it!

Spherical or “ball” propellants (these are double-base) are a good choice for high-volume production, and also tend to be a great choice for highest velocities at safe pressures. These meter with liquid precision. They, however, tend to be less flexible. That means they tend to work best at a set and fairly finite charge and don’t do as well at much less or more than that, and especially at much less than that. More in a minute.

spherical propellant
Spherical propellants tend to be volume sensitive. My experience has been they’ll perform best when the fill level is a good 90-percent. That means there’s a little smaller gap between one that’s good with, say, 50gr bullets and one that works well with 60s. It’s likely to be two propellant choices, not just one. Generally, spherical propellants do their best when loaded near-to-max.

Double-base extruded propellants (sometimes called “high-energy”) do, yes, produce higher velocities at equal pressures compared to single-base but also tend to be less flexible and exhibit performance changes along with temperature changes. Vihta-Vuori and Alliant are the best known for their formulations in these. Double-base usually burns at a hotter temperature (not faster or slower, just hotter) and can increase throat erosion rate. Some double-base spherical propellants claim to burn cooler. I’m not certain that this is a huge selling point, either way, for a serious shooter, but, there it is.

VV540
Double-base extruded propellants are mighty fuels, but, they tend GENERALLY to be more temperature sensitive and also burn hotter. Now. That’s not always true (I think NONE one of this is always true). With Viht. you can have a choice of double- or single-base in the same essential burning rate; N140 is single-base, N540 is double.

All propellants are ranked by burning rate. That’s easy. That’s just how quickly the powder will consume itself. All reloading data manuals I’ve seen list propellant data in order from faster to slower. For instance, if you’re looking at .223 Remington data and start off with tables for 40-grain bullets, you’ll see faster propellants to start the list than you will moving over to the suggestions for 75-grain bullets.

It’s tough to find a perfect propellant for a wide range of same-caliber bullet weights. Faster-burning propellants tend to do better with lighter bullets and slower-burning tends to get more from heavier bullets. That’s all about pressure and volume compatibility. Again, I have found that a single-base extruded propellant will work overall better over, say, a 20-plus-grain bullet weight range than a single choice in a spherical propellant.

scale pan with powder
Extruded propellants vary greatly in granule size, and, usually, the smaller the better. More precise metering. This is VV540, strong stuff, meters well. There are a few now that are very (very) small-grained (like Hodgdon Benchmark).

The idea, or at least as I’ll present my take on it, is that we want a fairly full case but not completely full. I don’t like running compressed loads (crunching a bullet down cannot be a good thing), and excessive air space is linked to inconsistent combustion. We ran tests upmteen years ago with M1As and found that out. Many details omitted, but here was the end: Settling the propellant back in the case prior to each shot absolutely reduced shot-to-shot velocity differences (the load was with a 4895, necessary for port pressure limits, and didn’t fully fill the case).

Generally, and that’s a word I’ll use a lot in this (and that’s because I know enough exceptions), spherical propellants have always performed best for me and those I share notes with when they’re running close to a max-level charge. More specifically, not much luck with reduced-level charges.

Too little spherical propellant, and I’m talking about a “light” load, can create quirky pressure issues. Workable loads are fenced into in a narrower range. This all has to do with the fill volume of propellant in the capped cartridge case, and, as suggested, that’s usually better more than less. That further means, also as suggested, there is less likely to be one spherical propellant choice that’s going to cover a wide range of bullet weights. That’s also a good reason there are so many available.

With some spherical propellants, going from a good performing load at, say 25 grains, and dropping to 23 can be too much reduction. One sign that the fill volume is insufficient is seeing a “fireball” at the muzzle. Unsettling to say the least.

Spherical propellants also seem to do their best with a “hot” primer. Imagine how many more individual coated pieces of propellant there are in a 25-grain load of spherical compared to a 25-grain charge of extruded, and it makes sense.

However! I sho don’t let that stop me from using them! I load a whopping lot of spherical for our daily range days. We’re not running a light load and we’re not running heavy bullet. We are, for what it’s worth, running H335.

So, still, how do you choose a propellant? Where do you start? I really wish I had a better answer than to only tell you what I use, or what I won’t use. There are a lot of good industry sources and one I’ve had experience with, including a recent phone session helping me sort out Benchmark, is Hodgdon. You can call and talk with someone, not just input data. Recommended.

When it’s time, though, to “get serious” and pack up for a tournament, I’m going to be packing a box full of rounds made with a single-base extruded propellant that meters well. As mentioned before in these pages, I have no choice in that, really. I’ll only run the same bullet jackets and same propellant through the same barrel on the same day. I need a propellant that works for anything between 70- and 90-grain bullets.

With time comes experience, and I know I sure tend to fall back on recollections of good experiences. I admittedly am not an eager tester of new (to me) propellants. I have some I fall back on, and those tend to be the first I try with a new combination. There are always going to be new propellants. That’s not a static industry. I may seem very much stuck in the past, but I no longer try every new propellant out there. I like to have some background with a propellant, meaning I’ve seen its results in different rifles and component combinations. Mostly, I ask one of those folks who tries every new propellant…

There is a lot of information on the internet. You’re on the internet now. However! There’s also not much if anything in the way of warranty. If you see the same propellant mentioned for the same application a lot of times, take that as a sign it might work well for you. Do not, however, short cut the very important step of working up toward a final charge. Take any loads you see and drop them a good half-grain, and make sure the other components you’re using are a close match for those in the published data.

One last: Speaking of temperature sensitivity: Watch out out there folks. It is easily possible for a round to detonate in a rifle chamber if it’s left long enough. Yes, it has to be really hot, but don’t take a risk. A rash of rapid-fire can create enough heat. Make sure you unload your rifle! Here’s an article you might find interesting.

CHECK OUT CHOICES AT MIDSOUTH
Hodgdon
Shooters World
Vihtavuori
Alliant

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.

 

RELOADERS CORNER: Case Trimmers

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An ideal case trimmer provides precision, speed, and affordability. Here are some ideas on avoiding compromise. READ MORE

Hornady Cam-Lok
Hornady Cam-Lock. Good trimmer at a fair price. See it HERE

Glen Zediker

At some point, or points, cases need to be trimmed to a shorter length. Brass flows. Therefore, a case trimmer is pretty much a given in the tool assortment for any handloader.

There are needs and wants, realities and ideals. That’s true with many things, and applies often to reloading equipment. Ideally, a case trimmer will go beyond just trimming the case to a shorter length. They all do that well enough. I think it’s important that a case has a square mouth — dead flat across the top. This is an asset to getting a bullet started well into the case neck during the seating operation.

A Good Trimmer
There are a variety of trimmers available from most of the popular industry tooling suppliers. And most follow a pretty similar form and formula: a little hand-cranked lathe. In these, the back end of the case is chucked into a collet-type fitting. A caliber-size pilot that’s centered in and surrounded by a cutting head goes into the case neck and supports the front of the case.

Not nearly perfect! There are a few reasons and sources for reduced precision. The tool alignment may be true at each “end” of the trimmer, but the case we’re working with probably isn’t true. Mostly, since there has to be a gap for the pilot to freely rotate, and since case neck walls aren’t all consistent in thickness, the fit isn’t close enough to prevent out-of-round rotation. Along with the inevitable case body warp there’s bound to be a tad amount of wiggle. Since the case is supported only at its head area, not by its body, there’s flex afoot.

None of that means the case neck won’t get trimmed to a shorter length, which is the general idea. It does, however, mean that it’s not liable to be perfectly squared up.

LE Wilson
LE Wilson. See it HERE at Midsouth.

A Better Trimmer
I rarely just overtly recommend one tool over all the others, but after a good many years working with case trimmers, I can and will tell you that the LE Wilson design is the best I’ve yet tried. I guess, yes, that is just opinion, but it’s really not.

The difference in this trimmer design is that the case is supported within a sleeve by its body. There’s no polarized suspension front and back. Mostly, there’s no pilot. The cutter on an LE Wilson faces off the front of the case squarely. The sleeve holding the case sit atop a pair of rails and the whole arrangement excludes case condition from the process.

le wilson sleeve
Tap it in… Then tap it out…

le wilson sleeve

So why doesn’t everyone use one? Honestly, I’m not entirely sure. It is a different arrangement, and it’s not cheap, especially not if you accessorize the fool out of it with a stand, a clamping device, and a micrometer. It’s not more than the other higher-end manual trimmers though.

It’s also fast! There’s no clamp-twisting to get the next case in place, and back out again. The sleeves are slightly tapered inside so the case is tapped in and then tapped out. With a little experience it’s amazingly quick to get through your block full of brass.

Flexibility
Virtually all case trimmers can provide additional utility, do different jobs. The cutter can be replaced with a reamer, and some can get reworked into outside case neck turners.

My choice is usually a stand-alone station, and that’s mostly because it’s pretty tedious refitting the appliances. I am, or at least have become, lazy.

forster case trimmer
Forster. This is a good choice especially for those who want to make a multi-purpose tool out of their base unit. There’s a big collection of add-ons that let work over primer pockets, turn case necks, ream case necks, and even hollow-point bullets. Its precision is better than most.
forster accessories
A a few of the things that can go on a Forster. Very versatile tool!

As with all said about alignment for case length trimming, that is also all the same for using a trimmer for other chores. And, yes, I still think the LE Wilson works best as a reamer, for instance, and that is because all the alignment precision is built into the tool itself; the case doesn’t play a role.

About options, by all means fit up a “combo-head” if it’s available that will finish the trim with a nice inside/outside chamfer/deburr. Big time saver. These can be a trick to get set just right, but it sure saves time.

Power
It sure is nice to get a break from the crank! There are, though, as I see it, two kinds of power case trimmers. Those that replace the hand crank with an electric motor and those that are designed from the start to be powered.

Some trimmers offer a means to add your own power source, like an electric screwdriver or drill.

Gracey Match Prep
Gracey Match Prep. Pretty much a big motor! It’s intimidating on first use, but just push the case in and it gets trimmed (and chamfered). It’s way quick in use and produces precise results.

My favorite proprietary power trimmer is a Gracey “Match Prep.” Designed by the late Doyle Gracey as a fast and easy way to trim huge quantities of Lake City brass for NRA High Power Rilfe shooters, it’s a serious machine. It works like a gigantic electric pencil sharpener, at least in spirit. Pick up a case and push it forward into a collar and it’s trimmed and squarely faced. No clamps or sleeves. The case shoulder stops against the inside of the collar, so it’s imperative that all cases are resized prior to use. As said last time, though, that’s really the only time you’ll get consistent results with any trimmer.

gracey holder
A key to a Gracey’s speed is that the cases stop on the case shoulder: just push it it!

I don’t know how many cases I can trim in an hour because I’ve never spent an hour using a Gracey. I can easily do 100 in under 5 minutes.

Another very good power trimmer is the Giraud. Its essential means for and in operation are about the same as Gracey but it is a nicer package with more features. Gracey is pretty daggone simple. That’s not all bad. I’d say Giraud is the best, and its price does reflect that.

One Last
Again, it’s important to evaluate the overall condition of a batch of cases, related to how many uses they’ve had. Having grown a little longer isn’t likely to be the only thing that’s changed in a case that exceeds whatever limit you set for it.

And, speaking of, the “trim-to” length is usually 0.010 inches shorter than the maximum SAAMI-stated overall case dimension.

Next time we’ll look at tools used to treat the trimmed case necks and finish this task in fine style.

Check out some more options at Midsouth HERE

Gracey
Giraud

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.

RELOADERS CORNER: Case Trimming

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We all have to trim bottleneck cases sometime. Question is when and how much, and then “how,” and here’s a place to start. KEEP READING

case trimmer

Glen Zediker

After going through that last series on keeping up with changes in cases resulting from their use and reuse, “flow” was a culprit behind the majority of detrimental changes. That is: Brass flows during firing. It moves from where it was to somewhere else. Since there’s a finite amount of material in a case, one place is getting thinner and another is getting thicker. The sources of the material, where the flow starts and where it stops, are primarily case necks and case heads.

To completely finish up on all this, the most obvious indication that there’s flow is measuring case lengths from base to mouth.

case trimming
The primary reason to trim is to keep overly-long cases from overrunning their space in the chamber. If the case mouth encounters the end of its allotted space, it can pinch in on the bullet, elevating pressure. Now, there’s usually a good deal of leeway before safety can be a question, but don’t push it…
measure case length
A caliper is the only tool needed to measure case length. It’s not really necessary to measure each and every case each and every time. It’s a whopping lot faster to set the trimmer so it just touches the shortest case you have (revealed through the process itself in setting up the trimmer) and trim all the cases using that setting locked in place.

First, and very (very) important: The ONLY time to check case length, or to trim cases, is after they have been sized! A fired, unsized case will be shorter than it was going in. The reason is because of the expansion in the case that resulted from firing. When the expanded areas are squeezed back to spec by a sizing die the case gets longer as it gets smaller in diameter, same as rolling a ball of modeling clay out on a table. After sizing is also the only time we can we know that the case shoulder area is consistent in dimension.

You’ll see two length figures published for your cartridge of choice: maximum length and trim-to length. Published trim-to length is usually 0.010-inches under what’s listed as maximum.

I got a gage umpteen years ago that could indicate the maximum case length a chamber could accommodate — technically, a “chamber length gage.” Man. I checked the chambers in my main rifles and found that they were all well more generous than the SAAMI-maximum. That didn’t really mean a lot, in fact, to how I proceeded. And it also didn’t mean I can advise ignoring the potential for danger in exceeding SAAMI-maximum. It just pointed out that there are differences in chambers, gun to gun, and at least showed me that not exceeding max stated length should easily keep you safe.

chamber length gage

If a case got too long, exceeded the amount of room given to it in the chamber, that would be a safety problem! The bolt may not close fully. And, if it did, the extra length would create a pinching-in constriction, and that would spike pressure.

We can easily imagine that there’s an influence from relatively longer or shorter case necks in their influence in consistently encasing the bullet. And I’m sure we’d be right. Trimming cases all the same should mean that all the case neck cylinders are the same height. Someone looking to maximize accuracy is liable to get worked up about that enough to trim each firing. I trimmed my tournament cases each use. And, no, none were remotely approaching maximum length. It’s reasonable to further suppose that more or less retention will influence velocity consistency.

Another performance asset may or may not happen, depending on the trimming tool chosen. But. A good trimmer will square the case mouth. I’ve seen a many new cases with a “half-moon” cut after trimming. A square case mouth helps a bullet start and finish straight when it’s seated.

case trimmer
Not all case trimmers are equal. We’ll talk more about some I like next time, and I’ll tell you why.

My routine for this sort of “accuracy-oriented” case trimming is simple — tedious, but simple. I don’t measure each case. I just run them all through a trimmer set to “some” length. Some are trimmed more or less, some just show a bright scuff on one little bit of the case mouth, but they are then all the same length. If I can’t prove it in group sizes, it sho does set my mind at ease that all the cases are holding all the bullets more nearly the same.

For those rifles that aren’t tournament guns, the only concern is that none, indeed, become too long. Those I will check at that “4-firings-in” point. Some may have reached SAAMI-maximum, most won’t have, but all will be longer than when started. I start them at a figure close to suggested “trim-to.” Stop and think about it, and if there’s been overall a 0.010-inch length increase, that’s significant.

As with all things associated with use and reuse in semi-autos compared to bolt-actions, cases are going to grow more and faster in a gas-gun.

Another instance where it’s important to keep up with case lengths, and that, again, really has to do with making them all the same, is for those who crimp (with a conventional cannelure method).

Now, there’s zero harm in using a longer “trim-to” length, and that may be more popular than my method. These lengths are stated in reloading manuals. Keeping up with it over years, I’ve seen no difference in the rate of lengthening trimming longer or shorter; I trim “shorter” solely as a matter of consistency over the (short) life of my semi-auto cases.

Next time more about the tools.

Get started shopping HERE

The preceding is a specially-adapted excerpt from Glen Zediker’s book Top-Grade Ammo.

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

Glen’s newest book, America’s Gun: The Practical AR15. Check it out HERE

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RELOADERS CORNER: Four Firings In: Final

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Yikes. Gremlins. Case neck “donuts” are a common development in an aging cartridge case, and it’s often unknown. Read this and know! MORE

case neck donut
Here one is! Or was.

Glen Zediker

Even if the case neck passes the “drop test,” there might be something amiss within that cylinder, and it might not show up until after case sizing, and that is the “dreaded donut.”

What exactly is a case neck donut? It’s a tiny elevated ring of brass on the interior circumference of the case neck, right at the juncture of the case neck, case shoulder. It is pretty much a little o-ring, in effect.

This “tight spot” reduces the case neck inside diameter at that point, which will, not may, have an influence on the amount of constriction surrounding a seated bullet. And since it won’t be perfectly consistent from case to case, accuracy will, not may, suffer.

And, without a doubt, there’s going to be cartridge pressure changes, which can create velocity changes. A donut is not likely to create anything like a pressure spike similar to what an excessively thickened (overall) case neck can, but it can’t be a Good Thing no matter what.

Now. I can’t say this is always a symptom of aging cases (based on the “four firings in” idea I’ve been running with). I’ve seen donuts in new cases. However, in my experience with the brass I normally use, and, therefore, that which I have the most notes on, the formation of a donut seems to coincide at the same time I measure what I think is excessive case neck wall thickening. Again, though, I spent an afternoon at the loading bench with David Tubb trying to solve donut issues he was having after one firing on commonly known “good” brass. We solved them, and more in a bit.

Culprits
There is a difference in the case wall tubing thickness at the case neck, case shoulder juncture. The neck walls are a consistent thickness — it’s a parallel cylinder (or they start off that way). At the shoulder wall thickness increases steadily in a taper as it goes down the case shoulder to then intersect with the case body walls.

There is diverse speculation about exactly what causes or creates the donut. My own experience suggests that there can be more than one factor or influence. But at the root of it is simply this difference in wall thicknesses. The difference has an influence in this area with respect to brass flow. Seems certain that there’s material movement forward from the case shoulder.

If that’s it, then the chamber dimensions (neck diameter and headspace) and cartridge case headspace play their parts. Same old: with respect to case headspace, it’s another reason to set back a shoulder the minimum amount needed for faultless function. Also old news: that’s going to be more for a repeater than a single-shot, and well more for a semi-auto.

I’ve seen it said that the expander ball or sizing button coming back up through a sized case neck “drags” the metal up with it, but also I know without a doubt that sizing without an expander means there’s a more pronounced donut. Checks I’m made sizing with and without an expander (using a neck-bushing-style die), show that an expander or, my preference, an expanding mandrel, reduces the donut influence. That, by the way, is from selecting bushings that produce the same case neck outside diameter with and without the inside neck sizing. I think the expander is just pushing it to the outside… But that’s good!

case neck donut neck turning
This helps! Turning a tiny bit off the start of the shoulder gives some relief in this area and holds off the donut for at least a while.
neck turning cutter angle
The neck turner, however, has to be configured to allow for this. Note the bevel on this cutter.

Fixing It
This one is pretty easy, after a little math at least. The most direct means is using a correctly sized reamer on a likewise correctly sized case neck, and that’s where the math comes in. The reamer should be the diameter of your sized neck inside diameter; that will pare away the donut without changing the case neck wall thickness. The idea is to get the donut without universally thinning the case neck walls, and the reason there is maintaining consistency. That, after all, is why we’re doing any sort of fixing on cases in the first place: get the same performance the maximum number of firings.

Another way, which is primarily preventative, is with an outside case neck turner, if its cutter has an angle or bevel (see photo for example). Turn down onto the case shoulder about 1/16 of an inch. Do this on new cases since that’s the only good time to turn case necks. This area is then “relieved” enough that the donut won’t form, or not for a while. In firing, this thinned area essentially relieves itself. I got this tip from Fred Sinclair eons ago and it’s the only thing I know of that heads off the donut. If you are worried about weakening a case in this area, don’t do it, but I can tell you that’s a moot worry. It’s very common practice among competitive Benchrest and NRA High Power Rifle long-range shooters. That’s how we came to a quick and permanent (well, for the short life of those cases) solution to David Tubb’s donut problems with a 6mm-.284.

neck reamer
This is a “special” reamer, meaning ordered to a custom and specific size. Choose carefully, and it’s an easy fix.

Short aside note that’s being revisited from other articles I’ve done here, but the VERY BEST way to never worry about donuts is to never seat a bullet into this area! That is the reason the better (in my mind) cartridge designs feature long necks.

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

Glen’s newest book, America’s Gun: The Practical AR15. Check it out HERE

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RELOADERS CORNER: 4 Firings In, Part Two

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Cartridge cases always fail on the “next firing.” Question is which one that might be. Need to know! KEEP READING

beat case
I apologize for the image quality, but these were taken a while ago. Fortunately, for me, I didn’t have anything on hand that shows even close to the beating this one took. Cracked neck, head crack. Rare to see one case with both of the most common failures. It was attacked by an M14.

Glen Zediker

I’d always rather say it all at once, but the realities of tolerance, and space, sometimes mean I have to split a bigger topic into smaller installments. The “tolerance” part is how many pages you all are willing to scroll through!

This multi-part topic is when, and then how, to check after the progress of changes commencing with the firing on a new case. It’s the “progress of degeneration,” in a way of looking at it because the concern is getting a handle on when enough change in the brass has come about to require attention. Or abandonment. As said then, for me that’s 4 firings. That, as said last time, is when I might see changes that need attention. Also as said, that figure didn’t come out of a hat, but from my own notes in running my competition NRA High Power Rifle loads.

The areas most affected are the case neck and case head area. Case neck walls get thicker, and that was the focus last time. Well, the case head area body walls get thinner. Primer pockets get shallower and larger diameter.

As started on: Brass flows during firing. It expands, then contracts, and when we resize the case, it contracts, then expands (a little). This expansion and contraction makes the alloy harder over the entire case, but with more effect in areas of more expansion, and flow. Replace “hard” with its effect, “brittle,” and that’s a clearer picture. This increasing hardness influences its reaction to being sized or otherwise stretched. As with many metals, bend it back and forth enough times and it will break. It will also fail if it loses enough resilience, or thickness, to withstand the pressures of firing.

Case Head
When a case is under pressure during firing, the brass, like water, flows where it can, where it’s more free to move. Of course, the chamber steel limits the amount it can expand. The case shoulder blows fully forward and the case base is slammed back against the bolt face. There is, therefore and in effect, a tug on both ends — it gets stretched. The shoulder area is relatively free to expand to conform to the chamber, but the other end, the case head area, is not. Since that’s the area of the case with the thickest walls, it doesn’t expand “out” much at all. What it does is stretch.

The “case head area,” as I refer to it here, is the portion of the case above the web, which is just above the taper that leads in to the extractor groove. The “area” extends approximately an eighth-inch up the case body.

case pressure ring
Here’s a “pressure ring.” You’ll see this after firing, if you see it. And, if you see it, that case is done. The bright ring indicates excessive stretching, which indicates excessive thinning.
head separation pic
Closer view of another sectioned case. This one here was fixin to pop. 

That portion of the case does not fully expand and grip the chamber, but the area immediately ahead of it does. So the case body expands and grips the chamber, and that last little bit back to the base can and does move. It stretches. If you see a ring circling the case, noticeable because it’s lighter color than the case body, and it’s in this area, I’d say that case is done. The ring will be evident after firing, not after; don’t confuse a shiny ring around the case in this area with what can be normal from sizing, especially if it’s been a hotter load. That is pretty much a scuff from the sizing die squeezing down this expanded area.

And that’s right where a “head separation” occurs. It can crack and also blow slap in two, and that’s the “separation” part of case head separation.

This is a spot to keep close watch on as cases age. It is also the area that is more “protected” by sizing with less case shoulder set-back. That is, pretty much, where the freedom for the stretching movement in this area comes from (the case shoulder creates a gap). However! As said many a time, semi-autos need some shoulder set back for function, and it’s the reason to use an accurate gage to determine the amount of set-back needed.

case head separation
Ultra-high-precision gage, made by me. Not really. It’s a selectively bent paper clip, and running this down inside the case and and then back up the case wall can signal a dip-in in the head area, which signals thinned walls. Feel it? Case is done.

Some folks unbend a paper clip and run it down inside a case and drag it up against the inside case wall as a sort of antenna to see if they detect a dip-in near the head area, which would indicate that the wall in this area has been stretched thinner. If there’s enough to feel it, that case is done.

Since I’m working off this “4 Firings In” checklist, if you’re seeing a sign that a head separation might be nigh in that few uses, chances are the shoulder set-back is excessive, and also too may be the load pressure level.

Primer Pocket
Another case-head-area and pressure-related check is the primer pocket. As said, the primer pocket will get larger in diameter and shallower in depth each firing. As with many such things, the questions are “when” and “how much,” and the main thing, “how much?”

If the pocket gets excessively shallow, and that’s judged by a primer that seats fully but isn’t at least a tick below flush with the case base, there could be function issues. There’s a risk of a “slam-fire” with a semi-auto that uses a floating firing pin, and, if there is actual protrusion, that has the same effect as insufficient headspace.

primer pocket uniformer
A primer pocket uniformer can reset the depth of a shallowed primer pocket to what it should be, but the real test for me is how easily the next primer seats into it. If it’s significantly less resistance, I’ll say that case is done.

Shallower can be refurbished. That’s a primary function of a primer pocket uniformer. Larger diameter, though, can’t be fixed. I’ve mentioned in another article or two that, any more at least, my main gauge of load pressure has become how much primer pocket expansion there’s been. I judge that without using the first gage, well, unless my primer seater is a gage. If a primer seats noticeably easier, that’s the clear clue that the pocket is too big. Another is seeing a dark ring around a fired primer, indicating a little gas leakage.

Measuring primer pockets is a waste of time, say my notes at least. First, it’s not easy to accurately (truly accurately) measure a pocket, especially its diameter, but, that’s not really what matters. It’s how much grip there is to maintain the primer in place during firing.

I pay close attention to resistance in primer seating and won’t reuse a case that’s too easy.

Good deal on what I think is good brass, especially if you’re an AR15 loader — HERE

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

Glen’s newest book, America’s Gun: The Practical AR15. Check it out HERE

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RELOADERS CORNER: 4 Firings In

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Along with all the other operations we do to them, cartridge cases also need maintenance. A good question is “when”? That’s next… KEEP READING

old case

Glen Zediker

I tend to write much of what I do for those who reload for production. Those are folks expecting good utility in exchange for the expense and effort: a reliably-performing round of ammunition, over and over again. They’re loading and reloading because they like to shoot. It’s a big bonus to most, and I include myself in this group most of the time, if that good performance comes with a minimum of effort. Clean, size, prime, fill, seat, shoot. Five steps to get to the one thing that matters most: shoot! I am also in another group some of the time, not as often now as I once was, and those folks may add a few more steps before getting to the “shoot” part (case prep mostly).

It would be wonderful if that simple cycle endured without end. But it won’t.

Overall case condition after X-many firings varies A LOT because of a lot of factors, variables. What matters is getting a handle on it. I look over each case each time I load it, but I don’t break out the measuring tools. That’s not neglect. There is never (ever) any excuse for neglect. That’s not what this is about. It’s about working out a responsible, reasonable, and realistic schedule for when to take a close look at the progress in condition that new batch of cartridges cases has followed after some time.

In my experience, which is what’s in my notes, I say that’s 4 firings.

I went through the per-use checks enough times to know the schedule one brand and lot of brass, used with the same loads in the same barrel, follows with respect to changes. And by that I mean when changes require attention. I’m also starting with prepped cases, including trimming, before their first firing.

Let me make clear that I’m not suggesting that 4 firings is maximum case life! What I am suggesting is that this is the point where it’s likely to see measurable influences from use and reuse, and, as such, that it can be measured. That’s what we’re after now: take a check to see what’s happening, and that also is a big help toward getting clues about where and when these changes might get noticeably influential.

So, to be clear: the case has been fired four times, reused three times. Next loading, if there will be one, will be for the fifth use.

chamber reamer
We, or more correctly, our cases, are at the mercy of this thing: a chamber reamer. It sets the amount of space the case can expand into.

Changes
Continuing to use and reuse cases, we’re not really using the same cases each time. The cases change, and much of the change comes from material flow, which is brass.

Here’s how it goes, which is to say here’s how it flows: Case neck walls get thicker. The case head area body walls get thinner, over a short span of the body. Primer pockets get shallower and larger diameter. Overall, the alloy hardens over the whole case.

As gone on about a few times in this spot, there’s going to be more change in cases run through a semi-auto than those used in a bolt-action. That’s because of the necessarily additional (comparatively speaking) sizing and also the additional stress resulting from the firing cycle. There’s more flow because the cases are free to expand more.

drop bullet
A simple, and important, test to check if case necks walls have thickened excessively is to take a fired case and drop a bullet in it. If it won’t drop without resistance, stop! That’s way too much.

The Neck
All case necks expand to whatever the chamber allows. There’s no relationship between that and sized dimension because, clearly, there has to be a small enough neck inside diameter to retain the bullet. It is, though, one of the reasons case necks tend to give up quickest (plus it’s the thinnest-walled area on a case).

The case neck is my primary concern, and the first thing I check. If the walls get too thick it’s possible to cut the space too close between the case neck and the case neck area in the rifle chamber. There might be interference upon bullet release, and that creates excessive pressure, or sure can. All that depends on what the chamber allows for expansion room.

The most simple check is to see if a bullet will freely drop into a fired case neck. If it won’t, stop! Do not reuse that case as-is. A case that won’t pass this no-tool test has excessively thickened.

Somewhere in your notes should be a figure indicating loaded outside case neck diameter, on new brass. This dimension is exclusive of the sized neck diameter, because when the bullet is seated the neck is going to expand to accommodate the bullet. Another check of loaded outside neck diameter will show if there’s been thickening. If an inside neck sizing appliance is used (a sizing button), then that will tell you also, comparing it to what you also recorded for the new case after sizing it. (And it’s a good reason to always run new brass through your sizing die, even if it’s “ready to go” out of the box.)

I hope it’s clear enough why it’s important to “write everything down.” References, standards are big helps.

Direct checks of the neck walls themselves using a suitable tool will show thickening. However! Case necks don’t necessarily thicken the same over the entire height of the case neck cylinder. Remember, the brass is flowing so moves in a direction, and that part of the case has a wave going forward, toward the muzzle. There can and likely will be a tapering from thicker to thinner. Measure at more than one point.

Safety is one thing, and the most important thing, and then the other thing is accuracy. Case neck “tension” needs to be consistent from loading to loading to get reliable accuracy.

Fixing it? An inside case neck reamer is the easiest and most direct means. However! Make double-dang sure you know the numbers and therefore how and at what point to use it! Many are intended for use on fired (not yet resized) necks. Others are a specific dimension that you may or may not be able to specify. Thinning the case neck walls using an outside case neck turner is another direct remedy. A little tedious.

forster reamer
The best way I know to remove material to refurbish overly-thickened case neck walls is an inside case neck reamer. This is a Forster, designed to work with their case trimming base. Trick is knowing the case condition it was designed to be used with. This one is dimensioned for use on fired, unsized case necks (it’s 0.003 under bullet diameter). Run it on a sized neck and way too much brass comes off. Various sizes are available.

Reamer or turner, though, this job hasn’t finished until the refurbished case has been run through your usual sizing die, and checked again for diameter.

Well, so much for this here and now. Out of room! More next time…

See REAMERS HERE

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

Glen’s newest book, America’s Gun: The Practical AR15. Check it out HERE

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RELOADERS CORNER: Choosing Your Brass

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It’s not all the same! Depending on needs and application, there are three decisions that can have an impact on your satisfaction. READ MORE

norma brass

Glen Zediker

Last time I offered a few ideas on loading the same cartridge for use in different rifles. Essential message in that was, in one word, “compromise.” There’s some give and take when we’re trying to please more than one at time, as such is life…

Choosing cartridge cases is a little, to a lot, the same. Different rifles, different action types, different uses, different budgets, all suggest input that helps determine what works best, all around.

There are three things to consider, maybe four.

One is the action type. Semi-autos need “tougher” brass. That, overall, means “harder,” not necessarily thicker. Due to the resizing requirements for good function, which means a little “more” in all areas, there’s likewise more expansion in each subsequent firing. Brass made of harder alloy is less, not more, susceptible to failures — by my experience. Considering the elastic and plastic properties of brass, harder exhibits a little less effect from each.

I prefer harder composition brass for a bolt-gun too. Most NRA High Power shooters do. Reason? It runs better! There’s less “stickiness” in running the bolt for rapid-fire events.

Two: case capacity. They are not nearly all the same! My experience has shown me that more capacity is better, and that’s especially if we’re wanting to edge toward max-pressure loads. Even though the pressure generated inside the case using more (larger case volume) or less (smaller volume) may get to the same level, there is usually more net velocity (at the same pressure) when there’s more room in the case. If it didn’t matter then other things done to expand case capacity (like shoulder angle changes) wouldn’t matter either.

cartridge case capacities
Case capacities vary, and, as you can see, a good deal. These .223 Rem. are each filled with an equal amount of spherical propellant.

Three: Precision standards. What do you expect, what are you willing to do to get it? After enough experience with enough different brands, that is a legit question. Some brass is “better” out of the box. Cost usually reflects on initial quality. Paying a premium for premium quality, which is three things: consistency, consistency, and consistency. That consistency will primarily, or at least measurably, be in wall thicknesses. The choice there is to buy it or make it. That choice is a balance between effort, value of time, and proven results.

lapua brass
Consider first-use or re-use? Good stuff! And you’ll pay for it! Lapua cuts case prep down to sizing: the case heads are milled, the primer pockets and flash hole are reamed. It’s also a little thick and a little soft. Single-shot-style use in a bolt-action, can’t really beat it, but my AR15 Service Rifle beats it to death.

After using enough different brands with varying levels of costs and claims, I think the most honest thing I can tell you is that you’ll likely end up with the overall “best” brass case you can have shopping in the middle, plus a little, and then getting to work on it. A good commercial “name” brand can be made at least effectively close to the dimensional equivalent of a premium brand, like Norma, but it’s not without effort.

Before spending any time weighing or otherwise sorting cases, do all the prep work you plan beforehand. If any prep involves material removal, even trimming, that influences weight accuracy and, therefore, the viability of segregation by same.

Recommendations?
Yes. And no.

About the time you decide there’s some certain way some certain thing is, they up and change it. I avoid making too many lumped-together, generalized statements about particular brands because of that. However! I can tell you that some of the “better” brands of brass also tend not to hold up as well, or won’t if there’s much working load to load (expansion, sizing). I’m thinking here of the better-known European brands, like Norma and Laupua. Those are near about dimensionally flawless out of the box, but they tend to be a little on the thick and soft side. I use Norma in my .22 PPC because the cost is worth it. If I drive from Mississippi to New Mexico to shoot a match, that’s the least of my expense.

nosler brass
This isn’t cheap either, but I have had good results with it. Nosler is, or can be, ready to go out of the box, including case mouth chamfer. It’s held up well for me in semi-autos.

This is also the reason that every serious competitive shooter I know says to buy up as much of one lot as you can, if you know it’s good stuff. That’s for all components.

Sometimes brass chooses you!

As said last time on the “Multiple Gun” loads, if you’re mixing brass things like case volume do factor. As also suggested then, the best solution is to pick a load that’s in around the 80- to 90-percent range of max. I mix brass all the time. I shoot quite a lot of factory ammo and, yes, I save each case we can retrieve. I clean them all, size them all, and fill them with a “compromise” load I worked up for can blasting. The need for those excursions is not quarter-minute precision.

If you’re looking to save as much as you reasonably can and still get “good” cases there’s honestly nothing wrong with Lake City. The more recent production 5.56 measures pretty well, and it’s tough, and relatively high-capacity. I sho can’t vouch for any other headstamp on mil-spec ammo beyond “LC.” However! I suggest purchasing it prepped. Avoid “range dump.” A big issue with once-fired is which chamber it was first-fired in. Avoid .308 Win. (7.62 NATO)! You DO NOT want to deal with M60 or Minigun leftovers.

lc nm brass
This is LC Match 7.62. No primer crimp! For reuse in a semi-auto, it has the right stuff, which means made of the right stuff: it’s hard, tough.

Start HERE on Midsouth. Great deals! Great brass!

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

Glen’s newest book, America’s Gun: The Practical AR15. Check it out HERE

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RELOADERS CORNER: Multi-Rifle Loading

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If you shoot the “same” load for different rifles, here’s a few ideas on getting the most out of it for all of them. READ MORE

multigunj reloading

Glen Zediker

I have a few rifles…

Every time I do a new book I have more. This last time around, in writing America’s Gun: The Practical AR15, I built 10 AR15s, and half of those have the “same” chambering (5.56 NATO). My choices that I can case and then uncase any afternoon for some range time might all have the “same” chamber but they’re each and all, in some measured amount, different.

That’s literally in measured amounts, and more in a minute.

If you (like me) really don’t want to load separately, store separately, and use separately, then the only real choice is to employ a “lowest common denominator” tactic. With only one exception, I don’t load uniquely for any of these guns. I pretty much just want a sack-full of ammo at the ready. The one I load uniquely for has a tuned gas system (it’s a practical competition “race gun”).

old and new AR15
Both straight up NATO chambers, but the little one won’t run what the big one will. It’s a gas system architecture difference, and a little more challenge to find a “universal” load. Rifle-length gas systems like on my retro “602” M16 (left) are, by the way, more tolerant of load variations than tricked out short guns like the brand-new USASOC URG-I (right).

Variables
Assuming all the rifles have the “same” chamber, meaning only that the barrel stamp is the same, there still exist differences. There are differences reamer to reamer, and, depending on the operator, there might (will) be differences in headspace, and leade. They’re likely to be tiny, but tiny can matter. Some manifestations of pressure have some to do with the barrel bore (land diameter for instance).

I measure spent cases for all the different rifles. They don’t measure nearly all the same! Of all the set-by-sizing dimensions, cartridge headspace has shown the most variation in my samples.

That, also, is a very important dimension to set. As gone on (and on and on) in RELOADERS CORNER, the idea is to get adequate case shoulder set-back to ensure function, and also to keep it to the minimum necessary to prolong case life. The minimum necessary runs from 0.003 for a semi-auto to 0.001 for a bolt-action.

To set this dimension for multiple rifles that use the same batch of ammo, the means is pretty easy to anticipate: find the gun with the shortest headspace, set the die to set back the case shoulder where it needs to be for that one, and live with it.

If you don’t want to give in thataway, but rather prefer (or at least don’t mind, two technically different outlooks) running multiple dies with multiple adjustments, and keeping the ammo segregated, then here’s more.

I’ve had really good experiences using a turret press. For most rifle needs, one with, say, four spots will allow the use of two sizing dies, maybe three (depending on what occupies the other locations). These dies can be uniquely adjusted for cartridge case headspace. Of course, it’s easily possible to just swap dies in and out but the turret keeps them put and saves a step.

redding t7
A turret press is a sano solution to maintaining differently adjusted dies. Redding and Lyman both make good ones. This is a Redding T7.

If you’re a bolt-gun shooter and have a couple or more rifles that run the same cartridge, and if you’re wanting to get the most from your efforts in loading for each, you might consider this next. Redding has long-made a set of five shellholders with varying heights. They allow a shellholder swap on the same die to alter case headspace, for example. There are also shims available that go under the die lock ring to provide for die body height variance. This sort of setup lets the handloader alter-adjust headspace without readjusting the die.

redding shellholders
Redding Competition Shellholder set. Five shellholders, each 0.002-inches different heights. This allows, for one, different case shoulder set-back using the same die as set.

Levels
Now. As far as lighting on a load that they’ll all shoot their absolute best with. Sorry to say, but “not likely.” There sometimes seems like there is more mystery than there is known in “why some shoot better” with one load. And when I say “load” I’m talking about the dose, the amount of propellant. What that ends up being mandates at least some effort in evaluating more than one rifle when working up to a point you’ll call it “good.”

NATO-spec ammo is hot and getting hotter! I’m talking about true NATO-spec, not just lower-cost ammo sold in a “plain box.” This isn’t about NATO ammo, but it was for me. The difference between pressure levels of NATO and, say, a commercial-made .223 Rem. “match” load are enough that two of the guns won’t even run with that. I set up these guns from the workbench respecting NATO pressures, and that, in most cases, meant firming up the “back end”: heavier buffers and springs.

My good old “do it all” load no longer exists in my current notes. Amazingly, to me at least, it’s up the velocity equivalent of about a grain and a half from what I used to bust up clods and cans with. It’s also a different propellant (now H335).

No question: pressure symptoms must also define the “lowest common denominator” when loading the same for multiple guns. Since I also have to consider reliable function in my own example, and as just suggested, I’m loading up a little nearer the edge. I carefully evaluate spent case condition from each rifle and anything that reads or appears remotely as an excessive pressure sign means I’ll knock a universal half grain off the group load.

The preceding is a specially-adapted excerpt from Glen’s newest book, America’s Gun: The Practical AR15. Check it out HERE

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

LINKS
TURRET PRESSES

COMPETITION SHELLHOLDER SET

RELOADERS CORNER: Improving Die Performance: 4 Simple Modifications

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Here are 4 low-to-no-cost setup tricks that will improve the concentricity of your loaded ammo. READ MORE

Glen Zediker

Cartridge cases and reloading dies all have centers. Trick is getting the centers to agree. When they do then that’s an asset to “concentricity,” and that’s attaining a major goal in the process of making better ammunition. A part that’s under pressure and moveable, such as a cartridge case being sized or a bullet being seated, moves toward a path of least resistance. If all associated tooling is “straight,” and the case itself is uniform, then the result is “straight.”

Accepting existence of tolerances and misalignments, taking steps to help two conflicting centers come close together comes from providing some free-play in the apparatus. I call it “floating,” and it serves to help, and here are a few ways.

To be clear: free-floating can help in two ways. One is to build-in float within the tool, and another is to create float and then use that to better center a tool. I’ll explain…

shellholder trick

1. Shellholder
Reloading presses with conventional shellholder arrangements use a spring clip to retain the shellholder in its slot. Remove it! It sits the shellholder off on an angle.

Get to a (real) hardware store and get an o-ring to secure the clip. The o-ring goes around the slot previously occupied by the clip. To install the shellholder just roll the ring down, slide in the holder, and the o-ring will pop back up to block  shellholder exit. Normally, the size needed is 7/8-inch outside diameter, 11/16 inside diameter, 3/32 thickness.

With the clip gone, the shellholder sits flat, as it should, and since the shellholder is free to move also allows some “wiggle room” so the cartridge case can center itself as it enters the die. This honestly makes a positive difference, especially in bullet seating, it seems.

NOTE: for these next “tricks,” choose a case that represents your “best,” one that’s got the most consistent neck wall thickness.

indexing dies on reloading press
Always put an index mark from die lock ring to die body to press top. That’s a simple way to verify return to “zero” when a die is installed back into your press. And ALWAYS install and remove the die holding ONLY the locking ring! Never the die body. Any bit of body rotation within the locking ring requires repeating the process of die adjustment.

2. Sizing die lock ring
Speaking of “wiggle room,” there’s just a little too much of that in a 7/8-14 thread. It’s pretty coarse. Taking up the play created by thread-to-thread gaps results in “straighter” die installation.

Always (always) secure a die body locking ring when there is a case inside the die, and with the ram in its fully upward position (press handle all the way down). This bit of pressure helps bring the die into better alignment. It also makes the die difficult to remove after snugging down the lock ring. Just get stout on it, and, after initial removal, subsequent re-fittings are easy. I use a “strap wrench” (plumbing supply and auto parts stores will have one). “Channel-Lock” pliers also work, but result in cosmetic, but not real, damage. Lock rings with wrench-flats are the bomb.

Before initial removal of the die after the snug-up step, draw an indexing mark from the die body to the die lock ring to the press top. That’s a simple way to return to “zero,” and also to know if anything got out of kilter. Use a paint marker.

3. Sizing button (expander) / decapping assembly
To get the sizing button in a sizing die holding on center, loosen the decapping stem lock nut and run a case fully up. Then slowly retract it until you feel the button enter and lodge into the case neck. Now. Put just a little pressure back in the “up” direction (down on the press handle) and then tighten the decapping stem lock ring.

This really makes a difference, by my notes.

adjust sizing die expander
When it’s possible, and it almost always is, secure the pieces-parts when they’re doing their jobs. For instance, tightening the locking rings on a decapping stem when the expander is holding inside the case neck helps bring the stem into straight alignment, and the expander along with it.

4. Bullet seater
Follow the same die-body-lock trick, after a bullet has been seated, and also just in the same as described for centering the sizing button (just keep the pressure “up” rather than retracting the handle) while you lock the seating stem. Flushing the die body makes a difference. Centering the seating stem may or may not, depending on the style of seating die you have. The “sleeve”-type seaters (like the Redding Competition) are already in alignment so the seating stem itself can’t be influenced. As said, the body can get a help.

index sizing die
O-ring trick: the flexible ring allows for some “wiggle room” to help case and die centers match. Trick is reinstalling the die to hold the desired setting, and the index mark really helps.

One more: Lock-ring o-rings
Here’s another trick I can suggest, but don’t really use… That’s because it, indeed “works,” but I prefer these other means. The trick: install an o-ring under the die body locking ring (for sizers and seaters). This allows some movement, positioning flexibility, in helping a case center as it’s entering the die.

If you do this one, most definitely index-mark the die ring to the die body and then the ring to the press top, as suggested. Never touch the die body itself to thread in or out the die. Hold only the lock ring! (And that’s true regardless.) O-ring size is 7/8-inch inside diameter and a thickness of 1/8-inch.

NOTE: My topics over the past few editions have tended be a tad amount “nostalgic,” and there’s some reason. I just finished a new book, and this one took me way on back to the start of when I discovered reloading, which coincided with discovering my first AR15. It’s called “America’s Gun: The Practical AR15.” It will be available here soon, but not just yet. But go take a look! Information is on my web site HERE. I’m really proud of it. 

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

RELOADERS CORNER: What I do…

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There are a lot of ideas and options when it comes to loading the “most important” ammo. Here’s the 5-step process I ended up with… READ MORE

dial indicator

Glen Zediker

I spend a lot of time telling everyone else what they should do, and probably more time telling them what not to do, or what they could do… I thought it might be best to tell you all exactly what it is that I do to prepare a batch of ammo for a tournament.

That’s a quick way to show you what, clearly and obviously, matters to me. I admit: I don’t always do all the things that I talk about. A big part of my role here is to pass along information, answer questions before they’re asked, in a way of looking at it. There’s information, and then there’s action, and that’s not a contradiction, to me. For instance, I can tell you all about case neck turning, and metplat uniforming, and many other preparation steps. I have done them all, sometimes do them, but dang sho not always.

Believe me: I have tried everything and much, much more than I’ve ever talked about in these paragraphs.

Following is what I have found works to my satisfaction. Since I’m dealing with a fair amount of cartridges at any one time, there is, no doubt, a time and effort element that’s important to me. In other words, what’s coming next are the things I really think I must do to give my score the best boost I can reasonably give it.

Step One: Get my cases together and size them. I load in 100-round batches, so I start with five boxes, or whatever corresponds to 100 rounds. Without so much as a second glance, I run them all through my full-length sizing die: lube each and cycle it through. If nothing else, most new cases are not nearly ready to load. The case necks are usually banged up, not round, so at the least I’d need to size the inside and outside of the case neck, and I’ve found that, while other appliances will suffice for that, it’s just easiest to use my sizing die.

Step Two: I trim them all. This isn’t done as any matter of safety, just consistency. I set my trimmer to at the least touch each case mouth. This is very important! The next prep steps rely on having cases that are all the same length.

case trimming

Step Three: After chamfering inside and outside (I use a 17-degree on the inside and a standard tool for the outside) I run a flash hole uniformer through each. This is why it’s important to have them all the same height. That way the uniforming tool cuts to a consistent depth.

inside uniformer
After full-length sizing all my new cases (to mostly get the necks shaped up), I trim all the cases to ensure length consistency to start, because the next procedure, inside flash hole deburring, demands it. Shown is from Hornady. CHECK IT OUT HERE

Step Four: Primer pocket uniforming. I run each through this process. Now, I have had some lots of brass that make this normally simple process a chore, and that’s because the reamer is too snug a fit to the pocket. We all know that primer pockets are at their smallest on new cases. That is, by the way, one reason I’ve mentioned that the primer pocket “feel” is a leading indicator after the first firing as to the pressure level of the load. In keeping, there are times when I wait until recycling the first-fired cases before running the uniformer. It depends on how readily the cases will accept the reamer.

primer pocket reamer
Primer pocket uniforming is an important step in my own process, but sometimes I wait until the first-firing. Depending on the tool used, and how much power can be applied to assist, this job can be a chore on a tight pocket. Shown is a Lyman tool. CHECK OUT TOOLS HERE

Note: I consider my “best” ammunition to be that which I load on my once-fired cases. At the same time, I won’t hesitate to use new cases for a tournament (but not for a Regional or bigger event). Over a whopping lot of time keeping notes, my “second-firing” rounds tend to shoot a tad better, but it’s a miniscule amount. That’s why I don’t really sweat over the primer pockets on the first go-around.

Step Five: Roll them all! I run all the cases through a concentricity fixture, aka: spinner, to check runout. I segregate on the following criteria: “flatliners” no visible runout, less than 0.001, 0.001, up to 0.0015, more than that… Five piles. One reason I do 100-round batches is because I need, technically, 88 rounds for a tournament. Since I am using “name-brand” brass, I easily find my 44 prone-event cases that are going to be no more than 0.001 out of round. The remainder are proportioned better to worse for the 200 yard events. It’s not that I don’t think each round matters, because it does, and, honestly, the 200-yard Standing event is what wins a tournament, but that’s way on more on me than the ammo. A case with 0.015 runout is not going to cause a “9.” That case will produce groups way inside the X-ring.

Co-Ax Case and Cartridge Inspector
I segregate using a runout indicator, a tool shown before in these pages. Some argue, logically, that the best way to find cases with the most consistent wall thicknesses is to measure wall thickness, but, my experience has shown that, ultimately, concentricity is the result of wall thickness consistency. Sho is faster. Shown is a Forster Co-Ax Case & Cartridge Inspector

Now. I fully realize that segregating by runout, concentricity (“centeredness”), is not the same as actually measuring case neck wall thicknesses. However! “Flat-liners” are what ultimately result from consistent case neck walls. Since I have also sized the inside of the case neck, not just the outside, the spinner does give an accurate indication of case neck wall consistency.

case segregation
After sorting by runout, here’s what I get, or what I got once… These were graded (left to right) 0.0000 (no perceptible runout), up to 0.0010, 0.0010, 0.0015, and more than that. So, here, there were 37 cases that were at or near the level of neck-turned cases, and another 37 showing only 0.001, but way on easier.

Since it’s often the night before that I’m doing this, spinning is way on faster than measuring…

Then I prime, fill, seat. Get some sleep.

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