Tag Archives: reloading safety

RELOADERS CORNER: Seating Depth Issues

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Don’t take anything for granted! Safety and suitability are both at risk if you don’t take time to analyze and act on this important topic. READ MORE

land illustration

Glen Zediker

As said often, it’s sometimes recent experience that leads to my Reloaders Corner topics. Whether it’s a question I’ve been asked, usually, or, in this case, a malfunction I’ve had, those things are fresh in my mind. I hope to believe, and have to believe, that any such topics aren’t only a question for them, or for me.

That brings us to bullet seating depths, which really means overall cartridge length, using some particular bullet.

Usually, when we’re loading for a rifle with a box magazine, either bolt-action or semi-auto, the cartridge overall length — that’s measured from the base of the case to the tip of the bullet — defines and determines the maximum length. Usually.

What ultimately determines the cartridge overall length maximum, though, is really the first point of contact that the bullet makes (will make) with the rifling or lands ahead of the chamber throat. That space, and therefore overall round length, has a whopping lot to do with the chamber reamer specs, and also the reamer operator’s judgment in some cases, but we need to know.

It also can have a whopping lot to do with the bullet! And that’s what the most of this next is all about.

So here’s the lesson to learn, and, for me, to relearn: Do not assume that if the round fits into the magazine it will be fine. I will, at the least, freely admit to my mistakes because, one, I dang sho should know better, and, two, if I know better and still don’t do better confession is my punishment. Well, not really, but it’s always a wake-up call.

Different bullets have different profiles, different ogive architectures. The ogive is the “curve” beyond the last point up the bullet that’s caliber diameter (meaning full diameter) ending at the bullet tip. My slang but descriptive term for this is “nosecone.” Tracing up this curve, some point will be equal to land diameter. So where this point is on the seated bullet and where this point is ahead of it in the chamber matters a lot.

Unless it’s done as a deliberate tactic, there needs to be some space, some distance between the land diameter point on the bullet nosecone and the lands. The amount of that distance is referred to as “jump,” because that’s descriptive. It’s the gap the bullet has to cross through to engage into the rifling. Usually the closer the better, and that “tactic” used often by precision shooters (mostly long-range and Benchrest competitors) is to purposely seat the bullet so it’s touching the lands. That’s done in the belief that if there’s no jump, then there’s no ill effects from jump. It’s very often right, and I’ve proven that to myself many a time. It’s not always right, but then if it was this all would be too easy.

The reason there needs to be some space is because when a bullet goes from just off to just on the lands, pressure jumps. It’s a “spike,” not a surge, but it’s enough to put a load that’s nearing the edge over the edge. In something like a .223 Rem. it’s about a half-grain-worth of propellant.

hornady 52
Here’s one I messed up with. The ogive or nosecone profile on this bullet is much “higher” than normal for a match bullet of this weight and it encountered the lands at a much shorter overall length than any others I had used. I learned the hard way, even though I already knew better.

So. Here’s the lesson I learned again, but this one wasn’t my fault! Honest! Several years ago, however, here’s one that was my fault: new (to me) match bullet, a short 52-gr. I wanted to try for reduced-course NRA High Power Rifle events. Rifle had a Wylde .223 Rem. chamber. A Wylde has a throat length between a 5.56 NATO and a SAAMI-spec. .223 Rem. That means the throat is fairly much more generous than commercial .223 Rem. specs. The maximum cartridge overall length in an AR15 box magazine is 2.260 inches, and I go 2.255 for a margin. I checked some industry manual data for this bullet and did notice that the overall cartridge length listed in the data spec table was a good deal shorter than that. I quickly did some “math” but without numbers (so it wasn’t really math) and decided that since I had a longer chamber I’d ignore that and just seat the bullets to 2.255. Blew primers right and left.

Back home and gage in hand and, dang, they weren’t kidding! I was about 0.020 into the lands at that cartridge length. That’s a honking lot. That’s also ultimately dangerous because of the free-floating firing pin tapping off the primer when a round is loaded into an AR15. A bullet that’s getting jammed into the lands is greatly more resistant to chambering freely and fully.

I humbly learned my lesson.

Get a gage and use it! The best out there is the Hornady LNL Overall Length gage. This tool lets you very easily find the overall round length that touches the lands with your bullet in your barrel. Very valuable, that.

lnl oal gages
A Hornady LNL OAL Gage will show right quick like and in a hurry with the seating depth that touches the lands is with your bullet in your gun. Valuable!

Use it in conjunction with its companion “bullet length comparator” insert for the very best precision. That tool measures a bullet at a point on its ogive that (usually) corresponds closely with land diameter. It won’t be perfectly the same, but it doesn’t have to be. What matters is that it gives a more accurate figure. Avoiding the bullet tip in a measurement eliminates that (guaranteed, by the way) inconsistency in accurate measurement because of bullet tip variations.

LNL comparator
A “comparator,” like this one from Hornady’s LNL line, is a much more accurate way to measure seating depth because the bullet tip doesn’t get involved. I like the curved one: easier and more accurate by my experience.

Now. To the recent experience: It was with a .300 Blackout (AAC) subsonic. I did not have the means to gauge this using my tools (then, but I do now). However, that wouldn’t have mattered in this case, and why is next.

Tested a factory load. Liked it. Noticed nothing unusual. Functioned perfectly, shot well. Brought it home and filled a magazine, loaded one in the chamber, and set it aside. Folks, just so you don’t think I’m irresponsible, that gun is what I keep at the ready for home-defense. So, my son, who had gone in to unload and then dry-fire the gun, came up and said, “Dad. The bolt won’t open.” Dang. It wouldn’t. I started thinking up all reasons that might be behind that. The bolt carrier would retract a little way, which was the limit of usual “play” in the bolt travel inside it, so I didn’t think anything was broken. To remove the round I pulled off the upper, took it to the shop, and pried back the bolt carrier from the underside. A couple of careful but firm enough strokes and it opened.

The bullet had really jammed into the lands! I mean really jammed. Extracting the round and looking at it, land impressions were clear, and measuring the extracted round showed it was 0.022 longer than the new, un-chambered round. Unseating the jammed round pulled the bullet that far out from the case neck.

I manually inserted another round of the same into the chamber and gave it a nudge-in with my finger, and, sure enough, there it sat not nearly fully into the chamber. Had to tap it back out.

jammed bullet
Here’s the “stuck” round, right, talked over in the article. Land impression is pretty clear, and pretty deep. Notice also that the bullet got pulled out a might upon finally opening the action. On left is the same round out of the same box that was pushed into the chamber; land marks also, just a lot lower!

So. Since it’s a factory load, I really couldn’t have had a clue that it wasn’t compatible with my chamber throat. But now I do. And, for a clue, do that same yourself. If the round won’t drop in and out of a chamber fully and easily, that might be a problem. I still don’t know what the actual measured amount of the excessive length might have been. To find that I’d have to get a box of those bullets and gauge them using the LNL tools. I’m not going to do that. I’ve chosen another load that’s no-issues.

I say “might be” because, again these rounds functioned well, but, also, well, that can’t be good…

I suppose I will now need to start handloading for that contraption. I have also written down 100 times: “I will always check the chamber throat, even if it’s not a long-range rifle…”

Find gages at Midsouth HERE and HERE

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

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: Pressure Signs

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

Glen Zediker

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

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

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

So about those pressure signs…

Primer condition gets first attention.

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

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

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

The best pressure indicators show at the loading bench.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RELOADERS CORNER: Priming, Part 2

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Last time the tooling and process of seating a primer got detailed, and now more details about The Thing Itself. Read all about it…

primer close up

Glen Zediker

A primer consists of a brass (usually) cup filled with impact-detonated explosive compound, lead styphate specifically. Right. Primers explode. The compound starts as liquid, not that that matters, and while it’s still wet, a triangular metal piece called an “anvil” is positioned in the opening. When it’s hit by the firing pin, the center of the cup collapses, squeezing the explosive compound between the interior of the cup and the anvil. That ignites the compound and shoots a flame through the flash hole. That ignites the propellant.

There are two primer sizes, and then type variations. The two sizes are “small” and “large.” For example, .223 Rem. uses small, .308 Win. uses large. Rifle primers and pistol primers are not the same, even though they have diameters in common. Rifle primers have a tougher cup, and, usually, provide a hotter flash. Do not substitute pistol primers for rifle primers! Some pistol shooters using very high-pressure loads substitute rifle primers, but also often need to increase striker impact power.

Variations: There are small variations in primer dimensions, heights and diameters, and also variations exist in new-case primer pocket dimensions, among various brands, and, of course, lot-to-lot variations can and do exist within any one brand. Usually, these variations are not influential to suitability. Usually. However! On occasion, small diameter variations can affect how well different primers will feed through various make priming apparatus. This can and has become a hitch in some progressive loading machines. Cup height variations can lead to seating depth (primer height) issues.

Remington 7-1/2 primers
I have my “go-to” primer, as do most, but I’ve found best results in certain circumstances with another brand. I will not vary primers, though, in my tournament ammo for any one day: as with propellants and bullets, each leaves a different residue in the bore, and that will, not can, influence zero making the switch. In other words, I won’t use CCI for short-line loads, and Remington for 600-yard ammo, not on the same day.

There are also “magnum” primers. These have a hotter spark. They are engineered to deliver a stouter kick-off to larger, more dense columns of slower-burning propellant. They also work well with spherical-type propellants (less air space between the granules). There are also “match” primers. These ostensibly are more consistent quality. Not all manufacturers offer these options. If they do, unless you have a scheme or more carefully-considered reason, just go with what fits your application. There’s no need for match primers in blasting ammo. There are, no doubt (and no doubt significant) differences among varying brand primers with respect to “output.” As mentioned earlier on, there are also pretty well-known tendencies that are either more or less preferable among varying primer brands.

The primer is, in my experience, the greatest variable that can change the performance of a load combination, which is mostly to say “pressure.” Never (never ever) switch primer brands without backing off the propellant charge and proving to yourself how far to take it back up, or to even back it off more. Don’t deny this one.

I back off one full grain of propellant to try a different primer brand.

Finding the best-performing primer for any particular combination of cartridge, bullet, and propellant isn’t just always as easy as putting a “match” primer in there. I have my preference, and it’s what I try first, but, to be certain, sometimes best accuracy and consistency (related) come with another. Again, it’s a combination of propellant fill volume, burning rate, propellant type (single-base, double-base, extruded, or spherical), and column “packing” density that favors either a “hotter” or “cooler” flash.

Priming cup composition also factors mightily in my final choice, and that’s a big factor in some semi-autos. More next time.

primer tray
Here’s handy. A primer “flip” tray puts all the primers in the sams orientation and orients them for easy loading into a primer magazine feed tube for use in many automated systems. See what’s available at Midsouth HERE

SAFETY
Do be extra careful handling primers! No kidding. It’s the most explosive element in a cartridge, and it’s intended to be detonated from impact, so… Wearing safety glasses at the loading bench might seem nerdy, but it’s wise. Likewise, and this has happened way on more than once, but, fortunately, never yet to me, is a mass detonation of primers contained in a feeding device, such as a primer feeding magazine tube. Such circumstance is grave indeed. Progressive loading machines, as well as many bench-mounted appliances, use a tube magazine that contains the primers. This tube must be filled, like any magazine. Make sure you know when full is full, and don’t try to poke in one more. This is usually when “it” happens. Remember, primers are detonated via pressure. Said before, but important enough to say again now: Never (ever) attempt to more deeply seat a primer on a loaded round. And keep the priming cup (the tool part that holds the primer for seating) clear of all debris. I’ve heard tell of brass shavings, leftover tumbling media, and the like, getting between the primer and the tool cup, and forming its own little firing pin.

See what’s available at Midsouth HERE

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

RELOADERS CORNER: REALLY Understanding Case Neck Sizing

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Determining and setting the correct case neck diameter is a critical, crucial step in the handloading process: Here’s all you need to know!

sizing die bushing

Glen Zediker

Here’s another I get (too many) questions about, and when I say “too many” that’s not at all a complaint, just a concern… This next hopefully will eliminate any and all confusions about this important step, and decision, in the reloading process.

Basics: A cartridge case neck expands in firing to release the bullet. If the load delivers adequate pressure, it can expand to the full diameter allowed by that portion of the rifle chamber. That diameter depends on the reamer used. After expansion and contraction, the case neck will, no doubt, be a bigger diameter than what it was before being fired.

Back to it: To get a handle on this important dimension, the first step is tools. As always. A caliper that reads to 0.001 inches will suffice.

You need to find three outside diameter numbers: fired case neck diameter, sized case neck diameter, loaded case neck diameter. If you know the loaded case neck diameter then it’s likewise easy to find out the case wall thickness, or at least an average on it if the necks aren’t perfectly uniform (and they won’t likely be unless they’ve been full-on outside case neck turned).

Case neck sizing diagram
“All the math” works in either direction. Here’s how.

A fired case neck has to be sized back down to a dimension that will retain a bullet from unwanted movement (slippage) in the reloaded round. Case neck “tension” isn’t really an accurate term, in my mind, so I prefer to talk about “constriction.” The reason is that making a case neck diameter smaller and smaller does not, after a point, add any additional grip to the bullet. Once it’s gotten beyond maybe 0.005 inches, it’s just increasing the resistance to bullet seating not increasing the amount of tension or retention of the case neck against the bullet. The bullet is resizing the case neck, and probably getting its jacket damaged in the process. If more grip is needed, that’s where crimping comes in…and that’s (literally) another story.

IMPORTANT
Always, always, account for the “spring-back.” That is in the nature of the alloy used to make cases. If brass is sized to a smaller diameter it will spring back plus 0.001 inches bigger than the tool used; if it’s expanded to a bigger diameter, it will spring back (contract) to 0.001 inches smaller than the tool used. This is always true! The exception is that as brass hardens with age, it can spring back a little more.

How much constriction should there be? For a semi-auto, 0.003 is adequate; I recommend 0.004. For a bolt-action, I use and recommend 0.002, and 0.001 usually is adequate unless the rifle is a hard-kicker. See, the main (main) influence of more resistance in bullet seating is to, as mentioned, set up enough gripping tension to prevent unwanted bullet movement. Unwanted movement can come from two main sources: contact and inertia. Contact is if and when the bullet tip meets any resistance in feeding, and gets pushed back. Intertia comes from the operation and cycling of the firearm. If there’s enough force generated via recoil, the bullets in rounds remaining in a magazine can move from flowing forces. However! That also works literally in the other way: in a semi-auto the inertial force transmitted through a round being chambered can set the bullet out: the case stops but the bullet keeps moving. I’ve seen (measured) that happen with AR15s and (even more) AR-10/SR-25s especially when loading the first round in. Put in a loaded magazine, trip the bolt stop, and, wham, all that mass moves forward and slams to a stop. Retract the bolt and out comes a case with no bullet… Or, more usually, out comes a case with the bullet seated out farther (longer overall length). Never, ever, set a constriction level on the lighter side for either of these guns.

Most seem to hold a belief that the lower the case neck constriction the better the accuracy. Can’t prove that by me or mine. If there’s too much constriction, as mentioned, the bullet jacket can be damaged and possibly the bullet slightly resized (depending on its material constitution) and those could cause accuracy hiccups. If it’s a semi-auto and constriction is inadequate, the likewise aforementioned bullet movement forward, which is very unlikely to be consistent, can create accuracy issues, no doubt. My own load tests have shown me that velocities get more consistent at 0.003-0.004 as compared to 0.001-0.002.

Benchrest competitors use virtually zero constriction, but as with each and every thing “they” do, it works only because it’s only possible via the extremely precise machining work done both in rifle chambering and case preparation. It is not, decidedly not, something anyone else can or should attempt even in an off-the-shelf single-shot. As always: I focus here, and in my books, on “the rest of us” when it comes to reloading tool setup and tactics. Folks who have normal rifles and use them in normal ways. And folks who don’t want to have problems.

So, find out what you have right now by determining the three influential diameters talked about at the start of this article. Most factory standard full-length sizing die sets will produce between 0.002 and 0.003 constriction. Getting more is easy: chuck up the expander/decapper stem in an electric drill (I use oiled emery cloth wrapped around a stone), and carefully reduce the expander body diameter by the needed amount, or contact the manufacturer to see about getting an undersized part. I’ve done that.

polish expander
It’s easy to increase case neck constriction if you’re running a conventional sizing die setup that incorporates an expander or sizing button. Just make the button diameter smaller; then it won’t open up the outside-sized case neck as much as it is withdrawn from the die and over the expander.

If you want less constriction than you’re currently getting, about the only way to do that one is hit up a local machinist and get the neck area in the die opened by the desired amount (considering always the 0.001 spring-back). Or get a bushing-style die…

Redding S Die
It’s not perfectly necessary to use an inside case neck expanding tool if you’re using a bushing-style die. I think it’s wise for a multitude of reasons I’ve gone on about in the past, and may should again, but if the math is carefully done, and the cases are all same lot, outside neck reduction will result in consistent inside case neck diameter sizing. Example: Case neck wall thickness is 0.012, outside sized case neck diameter is 0.246 (from using, remember, a 0.245 bushing), then the inside case neck diameter will be 0.222, and that will be a 0.002 amount of bullet constriction (0.224 caliber bullet).

The bushing-style design has removable bushings available in specific diameters. Pick the one you want to suit the brass you use. If you run an inside case neck expanding appliance along with a bushing die, usually a sizing-die-mounted “expander ball” or sizing button, make sure you’re getting at least 0.002 expansion from that device. Example: the (outside) sized case neck diameter should be sufficiently reduced to provide an inside sized case neck diameter at least 0.002 smaller than the diameter of the inside sizing appliance. That’s done as a matter of consistency and correctness that will account for small differences in case neck wall thicknesses. And when you change brass lots and certainly brands, measure again and do the math again! Thicker or thinner case neck walls make a big difference in the size bushing needed.

Check out a few ideas at Midsouth HERE

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