Tag Archives: reloading tools

RELOADERS CORNER: Learning to Load Again, pt. two

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In handloading, there’s always another gage or means to measure. But which really matter, and when and why? READ MORE

reloading measuring tools
All you really need. And a few gages to index it off of. Read on!

Glen Zediker

Last time I started on a recollection of a recent event, which was a project (that is ongoing) teaching my son Charlie how to reload ammunition for his AR15.

As said then, learning to set up tooling is intertwined with learning to measure pertinent dimensions, and that experience involves learning to use measuring tools, and choosing which ones to use. That led to a look at the most essential and indispensable measuring tool of all: the caliper.

There’s more tools to be had, and to be used, to be sure.

As he was looking through my boxed and binned collection of tools I had fetched out for the project, he had a lot of “what’s that’s” and “when do we need this’s” and I kept telling him what it was, what it did, and that we didn’t really need it for what we were doing.

Most of that other stuff was measuring tools, very specialized measuring tools, gages. A commonly recommended tool for a handloader’s kit is a micrometer. These use a threaded barrel that’s turned in to a stop to measure the thickness or length of something (any lateral measurement). A “mic” is a more precise tool than a caliper, usually reading down another step, into the 0.0001 inches range.

reloading measuring tools
If you get a micrometer, digital is a lot easier to use, but I really don’t think you NEED a micrometer!

A mic is useful for measuring bullet diameters, for instance, or sizing die expander buttons. A specialized mic, called an inside or tubing micrometer, is the most precise way to measure case wall thicknesses. These have a ball end to more accurately mate with the curved shape of a case neck.

As with calipers, mics can be either manual or digital. Digital is a whopping lot easier to read, mostly faster to read, because there’s another layer of graduations to count toward an answer, in effect, on the barrel of a manual mic. No shock, a good mic usually costs more than an equally good caliper.

I can’t count too high recollecting the times I’ve used my mic in handloading. I use it more building rifles, measuring trigger pin diameters and the like.

reloading measuring tools
Something like this Forster tool can perform valuable quality checks. Here it’s being used to measure case neck wall thickness.

For me, the more useful means to check and note neck wall thicknesses (probably the most commonly applied use of a micrometer by in-depth handloaders) is a specialty gage that works off a dial indicator. These have a ball-end like an inside mic. Then the quality of the dial indicator matters a whopping lot. Good ones are expensive, but, in my experience, worth it. Take extreme careful care of your dial indicator!

reloading measuring tools
Something like this neck wall thickness gage from Hornady is not as perfectly precise as a tubing mic, but sho is faster to use. It all depends on how ticky anyone wants to get.

That measuring device, the dial indicator, is the heart of a few other measurement fixtures I’ve used, like a concentricity fixture to check the runout of cases or loaded rounds. One of these “spinners” is a good investment for someone who wants to get a little farther along toward perfecting ammunition, or at least being able to segregate it. The expense isn’t great, and the collected and applied results can be most beneficial. Most of these also provide a means to configure the appliance to check and record neck wall or case wall thicknesses. The accuracy is, as suggested, dependent on the quality of the dial indicator. Since most indicators have a “standard” 1/4-in. diameter shank, it’s usually possible to ramp up a fixture to incorporate a higher-precision dial if wanted.

reloading measuring tools
A good dial indicator makes the most of any tool based on one.

I have owned and used a good number of seriously specialized measurement tools. I unfortunately can’t say they ever really helped, or at least they didn’t help me for the targets I was facing. Long range and Benchrest shooters tend to be behind the development and production of tools such as bullet bearing surface comparators. As anticipated, this contraption actually measures and compares bearing surface area bullet to bullet. As with a more common caliper-mounted comparator, the idea is to measure through a box of bullets and segregate them into batches. The idea is that the bullets that are more nearly the same will perform more nearly the same on target. Whether those efforts are going to manifest in a smaller group is a combination of ammunition component quality to start, rifle component quality, and, no doubt, shooter skill.

reloading measuring tools
Here’s a bullet bearing surface comparator, the most specialized such device I have. Such measuring tools come about from attempting to attain near perfection. Most of us, shooting most guns at most targets, won’t see any difference.

I’ve known folks to check bullets using an electromagnetic appliance to gauge concentricity and, some think, much more respecting the internal structure and balance of each bullet measured. If you’ve never seen or heard of one, check out a Vern Juenke Bullet Inspector. Some say voodoo, some say magic. I can’t say I saw any difference.

reloading measuring tools
Here’s a Juenke. There’s still no verdict on exactly what it is that it does, but some swear by it!

So, meandering back to the point of this: all these different measuring tools and appliances do have specific points and places in handloading. These points and places can and have been, and no doubt will again be topics for specific articles.

Beyond that good caliper, though, there’s a very short list of measuring tools I will recommend as “must haves.” Top of that list is a cartridge headspace gage (which is used with that caliper). That’s beyond wise. Beyond that, a good concentricity fixture with a decent dial indicator might actually give some feedback that will improve a group for the most of us. Another is a bullet comparator, useful for those who want to do seating depth experiments, along with a gage to determine the distance to the lands in the barrel.

However, it is possible to load x-ring ammo without ever operating a micrometer. Promise!

Check out Forster spinner HERE 

Check out neck wall thickness gage  HERE 

Check out micrometers HERE 

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

 

 

RELOADERS CORNER: Learning To Load Again, pt. 1

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

Glen Zediker

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

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

calipers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Get steel! Something that reads to 0.001 inches.

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

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

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

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

Check out Midsouth tools HERE

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