Tag Archives: reloading basics

RELOADERS CORNER: Press Principals

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This mechanism is at the heart of a rifle reloading setup, and options abound. Here’s what really matters, and how to know what you need (and what you don’t). READ MORE

coax press

Glen Zediker

A press is usually the first thing mentioned to a new handloader when the question is “What do I need to get?” Can’t, pretty much, load without one. The press houses the sizing and seating dies, and other tooling, and can also serve as a primer seater.

Shopping for presses shows a big range of prices, and sizes (usually related), and also some type or style options. The press type I’m going to be discussing here in this bit is called a “single-stage,” and it gets that name because there’s one receptacle for any thread-in appliance, such as a sizing die. It can then perform one single operation.

The standard receptacle has 7/8-14 threads.

reloaders corner presses
This represents a “big” press. Forster Co-Ax. It’s a honking piece of metal with unique and worthwhile features. Powerful leverage. I’ve got a couple of these (one for decades) and the reason I chose to use it to illustrate this article is because it’s that good. Not cheap. Not chintzy. If you get one you will never (ever)need another press, or likely want another press. See it HERE.

The main option is the size of the press, which means the press body size, ram extension distance, and handle stroke arc and length.

When is a “big” press best? When operations require big leverage. Or for really big cartridges. Or when using a press to perform an operation that’s more power hungry than case resizing or bullet seating. Given a choice of “small,” “medium,” or “large,” as many times, I’d suggest going at least “medium.” Unless, that is, you have compelling reasons to get another. Don’t underpower yourself. On the other hand, you decidedly do not (usually) need a tower of power, and might even find it’s kind of in the way.

reloaders corner presses
Here’s my “personal” press: Harrell’s Precision Compact. These are precision machined, well designed. This one, though, maxes out at a .308 Win. case length. It’s not for case forming, but routine small-case sizing ops and seating are efficient and easy. See it HERE

I like the operational efficiency of a smaller press, one that doesn’t have a big stroke arc. In sitting and doing a large number of press ops I really notice the additional effort of cycling a bigger press. However! There’s also sometimes no substitute for torque. Sizing unwieldy military cases, for instance, on a honking press takes a less effort from the self.

As I’ve mentioned in these pages before, I also like being able to move my tooling around on my workbench bench, or even into another environment. Smaller presses are easier to tote and easier to mount.

reloading presses
Here’s my recommendation for most everyone loading most any routine rifle cartridge: Hornady Lock-N-Load Classic Single Stage Press. Alloy body, plenty of window and leverage, and a most fair price. See it HERE. If you want a similar cast iron press, you cannot do better than a Redding Boss. About the same cost. See it HERE.

redding boss

It really depends on what you are loading for. A smaller, shorter case, like a .223 Rem. or 6.5 Creedmoor, or a bigger round like .30-06 or .338 Lapua? As with many things, most things maybe, going bigger to start is a better investment. By “bigger” I mean a press with a window opening big enough (or that’s what I call the open area available between the shellholder and press top) and stroke long enough to handle the longest cartridge you might tool it up for.

Does weight matter? Not really. A heavier press doesn’t necessarily mean it’s more rigid or effective (or not for that reason). Modern alloys are every bit as good as cast iron, and there was a time when I was uncertain of that. Speaking more of materials, cast iron has been, and honestly still is, the “quality” material used in press construction. Cast iron is rigid. This material is, well, cast into the essential shape of a press, and then final finished (faced, drilled, tapped, and so on). The only part of a cast iron press that’s cast iron is the body of the press. Aluminum, other alloys, or steel are used to make the linkage and handle, and other pieces parts. Cast iron can’t really bend which means it can’t warp. Cast iron just breaks when it hits its limit of integrity. It can flex (just a little) but returns perfectly. Alloys or metal combinations used in the manufacture of presses nowadays are pretty much the same in performance and behavior under pressure as cast iron. The essential compositions vary from maker to maker. I have cast alloy body presses and others that are machined from aluminum stock. These are all lighter but just as rigid as cast iron. Press architecture has a whopping lot to do with how rigid it is (and its leverage has a lot to do with linkage engineering).

What matters much is the sturdiness of the bench and how well the press is mounted to it. What might feel like press flex is liable to be in the bench, not the press, or in the press handle itself.

Alignment — straightness — matters in a press. This is the concentric relationship between the threaded tool receptacle and the press ram. They, ideally, will be dead on, zero. Then of course the die has to be “straight,” with its threads correctly cut and insides reamed on center. And then the shellholder arrangement has to likewise be dead centered with everything else. There is a lot of play in a 14 pitch thread. All this means is that a “straight” press doesn’t automatically mean you’ll not see issues with tooling concentricity. More in another article shortly, but at the least the press (body and ram) should not contribute to create concentricity miscues. I know of no manufacturer that doesn’t claim correct alignment in its product, but I also don’t know if it’s something they’ll warrant.

reloaders corner presses
I use a tiny Lee-brand press to run a Lee-brand decapping die. Keeps grunge away from the “expensive” press. Wise. This whole setup costs about $50.

Presses do require, or at least should get, maintenance. Keep it clean! There’s a lot of abrasive potential from incendiary residues, and that will, not may, wear the mechanisms. I have often and for many years recommended a separate decapping or depriming station.

CHECK OUT DECAPPING TOOLS 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, 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: Blissful Moderation

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Glen Zediker recollects and reflects on the first advice he ever got on choosing a load: all things in moderation, pressure and velocity included! READ IT ALL

range load
When you just want to load up and go have a go at the range, there’s no need for speed. But! There is a need for enough pressure-power for reliable, clean function. I suggest trying something in the “medium” range for daily use. Your rifle, your barrel, your cases, and your senses will all thank you for reducing the shock by taking “two steps to the left” to find a load. Promise: you will not notice anything at all negative from any lack of “power.”

Glen Zediker

I spend a great amount of space in this department warning, and I hope educating, on the signs, signals, dangers of excessive cartridge pressure. That’s all been and being done because, for the majority, maximizing velocity is an ammo-goal. Hunters, varmint and game, competitive longer-range shooters, usually want the most they can get from bullet flight performance, and also impact strength.

For me, there’s zero doubt that more speed is a better score on a full-length NRA High Power Rifle course. (Side note: it is a fallacy that lighter loads are more accurate. They’re not, or not because they’re lighter. Some of the best perforations I’ve seen are with maxed loads.)

But! I shoot a toned-down load for reduced-distance courses (as well as for the 200-yard events on full-length), and my general-purpose clods-and-cans load is a lower-stress recipe.

I mentioned last time that I had recently fired a good deal of current NATO-spec ammo and was, I guess “impressed” is the right word, with its power level. The stuff I make up for afternoon fun-runs is a good deal less stressed.

I’m not at all recommending a “light” load. Just let’s call it a solid “medium.” Looking over my notes for the past umpteen years, going through my last most current load-data notebook, I saw what was to me an interesting happenstance. I tended to be pretty much right at one-and-one-half grain less than maximum (and about two grains with .308-class rounds).

dirty case
Signs of a load that’s too “light” include, clearly, one that won’t cycle the action reliably on a semi-auto. Another couple, for any action type, include an unusually dirty chamber and sooted-up cartridge case necks and shoulders. A little lighter still and you might see a primer that’s backed out a tad. Those all result from the case not expanding fully to seal the chamber forward and stretch to comply closer to chamber dimensions end to end. A little reduction won’t normally show any of this, and, tip: go a tad toward the faster end of suitable burning rate for general use.

Thats not a light load! It’s “three halves,” three one-half grain drops. That half-grain, and some might recollect my mentioning this a few times in the past, is my always-recommended “come-off” step for any pressure sign (not a tenth or two, but a “full” half grain). Any other over-pressure indicator from that point then signals need to come off another “full” half-grain. So I pretty much come off those two halves from the get go, add another, and, guess what? Never nary a pressure concern.

Slightly faster-burning propellants, in my experience, lend themselves better to the “medium” power level reduction in terms of maintaining accuracy. As always, “faster” and “slower” are values within a small range of propellant rates suitable for a particular cartridge and bullet. And, in following this plan, when needed bump it up to full speed with predicatable results.

For .223 Rem.-class cartridges, a half-grain is worth ballpark 40-50 feet per second, again depending on propellant.

The advantages of a “medium” load are predictable, but here’s my list: plain old easier on the gun, and on the barrel, and on the self. Again (and again) I’m not talking abut a “light” load, just one that’s maybe 95-percent, a solid 150-200 feet per second less than published maximum. Case stress will be reduced, and that’s associated with length trimming frequency and overall “life” before primer pocket enlargement and general stretch-thinning, cracking symptoms retire the brass.

Back to my “story,” which was the interesting happenstance (all this was all brought back to me by the initial outing with my new old AR15 I talked about last edition, and my 16-year-old son asking me if I could teach him how to reload because we ran out of ammo so quickly…): So. When I first learned to reload I was 15. This event coincided with my first AR15 rifle, which was purchased new at a Skaggs drugstore. Right. My mother did not eagerly agree to sponsor a reloading setup, but, being a wise-enough woman, did interpret the math the same way I did: I could shoot a lot more for a lot less if I was doing my own. So, I had a friend, Gary. Most fortunate man to know. Gary, and I see this more clearly each year that passes, knew more about guns and shooting than any 10 people I have since encountered.

We went to Bald Bob’s Sporting Goods in Rifle, Colorado. He chose an RCBS kit for me, a piece at a time. Bob sold RCBS only. Press, dies, scale, meter, case lube, doo-dads, and, of course some propellant and brass and bullets and primers. And a Sierra Bullets loading book. So, back home, and a short time later, there I sat before my new array of green pride-and-joys. After stern lectures about things I was never supposed to do, and at least an equal number of things I was always supposed to do, we got this show flowing downriver.

Gary had chosen IMR 4198 for me for a propellant. He said it was clean-burning and economical. Didn’t take much of it. I had some Speer 55-grain full-metal-jacket bullets, some Remington cases to go along with the empties I had saved in a paper bag, and some CCI primers. Now. We looked at the loading tables in the Sierra Manual, and he had me find my cartridge and bullet. (He already knew exactly where we were going, so this was for my benefit.) He pointed out the “maximum” load and the “starting” load, one on the far right and the other on the origin point of the table on the left. He then counted back two places from the far right: 20.5gr. He said, “There. That’s the one. It’s not going to give you any troubles, and it’s adequate for function.”

“That was easy,” I thought.

I have since learned that advice was too good not to share.

If you’re looking for a good load, and you know the propellant is wisely-chosen, going two steps down from the manual-listed maximum should, indeed, be a great place to start, or to stay if you are sans chronograph. Time after time, I have noticed over the many, many years I have now been doing all this, that the “two steps back from max” procedure is safe, sane, and satisfying.

reduced load list
Here’s a page (“the page”) from my now-ancient Sierra manual. Not all manuals agree (not nearly) on max loads, and not all are done in multiple increments, but the essential advice is reducing the max load by two steps, or about one-and-one-half grains of propellant in this case (reduction amounts vary, certainly, based on the cartridge). It’s wise advice from a wise man, and I’m talking about Buddy Gary. I just pass it along because it sho works for me!

I shot about a gozillion rounds of 20.5 grains of 4198 through that SP1. Since it was not a max load, I could also change the bullets without worry, going from one brand to the next at the same weight, of course. I could change cases and even primers. It was a tenth shy of one-and-one-half grains under maximum. I don’t recollect ever grouping that rifle on a paper target. I zeroed it based on preference and I also don’t recollect ever missing anything I aimed at by more than a little bit, and never twice.

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