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RELOADERS CORNER: Fire-forming

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New cases? Decisions you make before that first firing have a lot to do with future success. Read why (and how) HERE

Glen Zediker

case segregate
I segregate my new cases before firing because I need to know which are for which. Do not first-fire cases using a lighter (less pressure) load unless you intend to continue to use that load in those cases for subsequent firings! I’ll use “old” 300- and 600-yard cases for offhand practice, but never the other way around!

The past few articles I’ve been begging indulgence from all the bolt-gunners out there by focusing on a few semi-auto-based topics, and so this time I’ll get to something of more interest to them (and it’s also of interest to “all of us”). In practical terms, which is living with reloads, it is at least of as much interest, or at least importance, to someone running an AR15 (if they’re looking to get maximum on-target performance from it). Subsequent case life has a lot to do with how you go about firing that first time.

So: definition: “Fire-forming” is a term usually associated with describing changing a cartridge from its original or “parent” state into another state, which is a non-standard cartridge, when it’s first-fired in the non-standard chamber. Like making an Ackley-Improved version of a standard cartridge, or converting a .250 Savage into a 6XC. In other words, the firing itself expands and reforms the case to the shape of the new chamber, and the case that emerges is then the new cartridge.

But! All cases are fire-formed to the chamber they’re first-fired in.

Details: Brass alloy is both plastic and elastic. That’s the “technical” reason changes in a fired case can and does occur in the first place. Plastic means that brass can expand and flow to fit the chamber, and retain its new shape. Elastic means that it doesn’t fully and completely mold itself to become a new mirror of the chamber. It “snaps back,” retracts from its maximum expanded form. If it didn’t it wouldn’t want to come back out of the chamber. That “snap-back” amount is predictably 0.001 inches.

case mushroom
Here’s a good example of the plastic property of brass alloy. This is a .250 Savage case that’s been run through a 6XC sizing die. Next step is to load it up and fire it in the 6XC chamber. It comes back out looking just fine! By the way, the little dings and creases we see in spent cases sometimes are really nothing to worry about: they’ll iron out after firing again.

On any rifle with a “standard”-dimension chamber, a new brass cartridge case will be smaller than the chamber. Has to be. It wouldn’t fit if it weren’t. A “standard” chamber, here, means there may and likely will be small variations from chamber to chamber (reamers vary uniquely, as might the operator’s preferences and judgment regarding how “tight” the headspace will be), but nothing intentionally has been done differently to alter the chamber beyond SAAMI-spec dimensional tolerances. Anyone who has loaded for the same cartridge for more than one rifle, and who has recorded pre- and post-fired case dimensions, knows that it’s common for there to be at least a thousandth or two, or more, variance. That’s all fine, as long as it’s within spec. Some custom-done barrels might have a chamber that’s intentionally different than SAAMI blueprints, and that’s a whole different topic.

Back to it: Since the brand-new cartridge case is smaller than the chamber it’s going into, it’s going to expand, grow. That’s clear.

ppc tallboy
Here’s a .22 PPC (left) next to a wildcat version, the “Tallboy.” There’s a whopping lot of permanent stretch to make this round (which is the precursor to 6.5 Grendel by the way). It is really important that this initial firing be done with a stout propellant charge. They would, not may, fail if the first firing didn’t fully expand the shorter PPC case.

So, there are two “forms” fire-forming can take. As said, no matter what else, all cases are formed to the chamber on their first firing. However, for some there can be some benefit from approaching that initial firing following a method or means to establish the set-in behavior of that case on subsequent firings and reloadings.

Here’s why some planning and procedure matters: Brass alloy has a “memory.” This is, more technically, called a “shape-memory effect,” and is shared by some other alloys also. It expands (and contracts) in a consistent pattern each use.

The first firing establishes that pattern. On subsequent firings, less is okay, but more is not. Lemmeesplain: I strongly recommend first-firing with a stout load, or at the least the stoutest load you plan on running through that case in future uses. When I segregate my new cases, I’m sorting them based on their function for me. My best go to the “600-yard” pile, then to 300 and then to short-line. Those are three different loads. I need to know which cases are for which before I make the initial loading. Fire-forming with a lighter load and then using a nearer-to-max load in that same case will, not can, result in premature failures in that case. It doesn’t seem to matter much going the other direction. I would never charge up my 600-yard load in a case formed using my 200-yard load; there are significant pressure differences in those two.

If it’s necessary to reform through firing, making a new cartridge case, there are a few different methods I’ve seen used, but, what really matters is that the case fully forms to the new chamber. The usual influential changes occur in the case neck and shoulder, and also stretching fore and aft. The bigger the change the more important it is to fire initially with a full-power load. For maximum effect, it’s better to fire-form with something closer to a “max” load than something lighter. Brass gets harder each use, less pliable. Starting life as a new cartridge after that first firing, case life is longer, and better, if the case was fully formed.

dead length seating
For maximum subsequent case life, it’s important that, one, a case fully forms to the chamber. But! Two, also that needless stretching is avoided. To that end, first-firing with the bullet seated to touch the lands minimizes stretch. Reduce the load since this will, not may, raise pressure.

To aid that, a “trick” that helps a lot is to seat the bullet into the lands, firmly. The reason is because that already has the base of the case firmly seated against the bolt face. That prevents the primer strike from moving the case forward, resulting then in additional body stretching (beyond what already might be necessary). If it’s not the routine means used for bullet seating, this tactic requires a reduction in the load. When a bullet is moved from “just off” to “just on” the lands, pressure spikes at least equal to the value of 0.2-0.3 grains of propellant.

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

RELOADERS CORNER: Life in the Fast Lane

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Here are a few tips for getting the most, the easiest, from high-velocity semi-auto .224s. READ IT ALL

22 nosler

Glen Zediker

Here’s the conclusion of my “trilogy” on the movement of .224-caliber rounds into the left lane of rifle cartridge choices. The focus last time was on the 22 Nosler and .224 Valkyrie, and here are some ideas on making the most from either, or another similar.

First: Getting high (higher) velocity is really not rocket surgery: make the bullet smaller and the case bigger. Rounds like .243 Win. showed that clearly. However!

Speed, greed, need, (and heed)
Higher and higher velocities bring about a “debate.”

After messing with all this for decades, there are two things I know for sure about bullet velocity: more velocity shoots better; more velocity shoots worse. But! It’s not velocity itself. It’s a common belief, and totally plain wrong (and wrong-headed), that lower-velocity shoots better groups. It’s also wrong that higher velocity shoots better groups. Working with one cartridge and one bullet, for example, I’ve had plenty of times when the faster the bullet went the better it shot, and the slower the bullet went the better it shot. That’s all to do with the “combination” of the propellant and bullet and barrel and son on and on and on. Point is: it’s way on better to find a combination that shoots better and better the faster the bullet goes. That didn’t have a lot to do with the point of this, but it is important to keep in mind — velocity is not evil.

I know I don’t have to go into benefits of higher velocity. Hard to argue with those. What I do want to go into is a look at how much more and at what cost. Virtually every downrange improvement has some sort of cost. The cost of higher velocity is barrel life, mostly.

As said, higher velocity comes from more propellant. More propellant produces more flame and more gas. There’s a term, “overbore,” that gets around in discussions of, usually, large cartridges, like magnums. It actually is a mathematical device that compares the barrel bore area to the cartridge case volume. It is “V” (case volume) over (divided by) “A” (barrel bore area) and the answer, “O,” is therefore a ratio. The bigger O gets the more overbore the combination is. Applying that, something like .243 Win. is overbore. That’s also why a barrel chambered in that round lasts no more than 1200 rounds at true peak accuracy. That round is not considered overly powerful by anyone I know, yet, has the same sort of (bad) effect on barrels as does something like a .300 Win. Mag.

As said last article: clearly, barrel life in Nos. or Valkyrie is going to substantially shorter compared to .223 Rem.

Suggested Mods
Higher and higher velocities also come from varying propellant choice. Specifically, slower-burning propellants literally fit better into higher-capacity cases. Recollecting back on something I’ve mentioned umpteen times in these pages: propellant burning rate has a whopping lot to do with semi-auto manners. Slower-burning propellants elevate gas port pressure, which brings on the “over-function” symptoms, none of which are good. There’s a comparison of 22 Nosler with .22-250. They’re similar in structure. General consensus is that a favored propellant in the .22-250 is H-380 (if you don’t like that one, and I don’t, it’s going to be another in that burning-rate range). So. Point: 22 Nos. and Valkyrie do not get the most they can get from a “safe” .223 Rem. propellant (I break that off at nothing slower than H-4895). For good instance, I run Varget in my Nos. and that’s the same propellant I run in my PPC. It’s a little too slow, my opinion, for a stock gas system in an AR15.

Most running a 22 Nosler or .224 Valkyrie are looking to exploit speed, so will, therefore, be shopping or specifying 24-inch barrels (that’s a “standard” available length). That, combined with a standard 12-inch “rifle” gas port location, will, not can, escalate pressure within the gas system. That combination also puts a .223 Rem. over-pressure. (Reason is that the post-port length add increases “dwell-time,” which is the duration that the gas system is containing maximum pressure.) The best solution to excessive port pressure is to move the gas port! “We” (competitive High Power Rifle shooters) have been doing that for better than 20 years.

Yardstick: Plus-1-inch for .223 Rem. and plus-2-inches for Nos or Valkyrie. That makes a huge difference! Of course, this mod is only possible if you’re going with a custom barreling op done by a competent and savvy builder.

long gas tube
More gas and a longer barrel team up to over-charge the gas system. The best initial solution is to get your barreler to move the gas port forward (which means custom parts). No step for a stepper! Custom tube shown with standard rifle-length (top).

Without that, there are two options that, I say, should be used in tandem: a valved gas block and increase buffer/spring mass and resistance. The adjustable block reduces the amount gas that gets into and is contained within the system and the other offsets the effects of the harder hit the bolt carrier group will be subject to.

odin adjustable gas block
An adjustable gas block will, indeed, work to reduce excess gas pressure. There’s going to be erosion in the mechanism, though, so over time it’s going to change in its function. My personal favorite is the Odin Works, and one reason is that it’s rebuildable.

odin adjustable gas block

I am a bigger fan of the “architectural” solution rather than the adjustable gas block. They won’t last forever…

Another important spec I want to hit on: barrel twist rate. As said last time, the .224 Valkyrie was, so they say, designed to handle the biggest of the high-bc .224 bullets and, specifically, the Sierra 90 MatchKing (and similar). That’s why, as also said last time, commonly offered twist rate with that chambering is 1-7. Folks, 1-7 isn’t enough, in my experience, for 90+ .224 bullets. I (“we”) use 1-6.5 twist for 90s and the others in 20-inch barreled Service Rifles (.223 Rem.). That’s quick. Those shoot 77gr “magazine” bullets really well also. With Sierra now offering a 95gr .224, go with a 6.5. The extra velocity from Valkyrie and 22 Nos does indeed boost rotation, but I strongly suggest not relying on that promise for stability. It’s edgy.

sierra 95 SMK
Dang. An SMK 95gr .224… 27-caliber ogive! Best get some spin on this bad boy. I recommend a 1-6.5. Experience has been that 1-7 is borderline adequate for any bullet in this length range, and I’m not a fan of borderline, or “adequate.”

1-6, by the way, tends to blow up bullets.

valkyrie nos chart

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

LINKS

SMK 95

Adjustable Gas Block

Some (not all) sources for fast-twist barrels
(I’ve used these in happiness)
Pac-Nor
Krieger

Check out components at Midsouth HERE for Valkyrie and HERE for 22 Nosler.

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

RELOADERS CORNER: Beating The Fool Out of .223

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Hot topic! Zediker takes a look at 22 Nosler and .224 Valkyrie, two rounds that set out to maximize “sub-caliber” performance. READ ON

224 valkyrie and magazine
.224 Valkyrie seems poised to gain the most popularity, and for two good reasons: it’s more “available,” and it’s really, really good! Either of these new rounds needs a 6.8 SPC magazine due to the greater case body diameter.

Glen Zediker

Last time I nutshelled the history of the .223 Remington and suggested that round, and its 5.56mm NATO chambering in the “new” M16 was the start of the “sub-caliber uprising.” By that I mean in popularity ( Also as mentioned last time, there’s zero doubt that the motivation behind companies like Sierra developing better .224 caliber bullets came from military shooting team needs to use 5.56 in competition. We, pretty much, ended up with better bullets than the .223 Rem. could exploit.

Moving forward 55 years or so now two hot-rodded 22s seek to fully exploit the best of these bullets: 22 Nosler and .224 Valkyrie.

22 Nosler
What it is, is another way to stuff more into an AR15 upper and it’s impressive. 25-percent more case capacity compared to .223 Rem., which translates to solid +300 fps gains — close to a .22-.250. And anyone who doesn’t think .22-.250 is impressive is beyond me and mine. “Conversion” from a conventional .223 Rem. parts set takes a 6.8 SPC magazine and a new barrel with the new chambering, and you’re good to go. It’s a rebated rim so the case head stays at the .223-standard .378, and has same rim thickness, so no new bolt needed. It’s kind of a stretched and necked-down 6.8 SPC, and it’s the same overall case length as .223 Rem. The extra capacity comes from a .420 body diameter, supplemented also by its 30-degree shoulder. Unlike the other Nosler-brand cartridges which came off a .404 Jeffery, there’s no parent case for this one. Currently, brass has to come from Nosler. That’s a good thing. But it’s not cheap. Nosler makes great brass; it’s prepped and ready to load out of its box. It’s become my go-to brass for .223 Rem. when it matters.

nos vs 223
Way on back when I first started shooting an AR15 in Service Rifle competition I kicked back a question I had wayer on backer when I got my first AR15 broken in: Why didn’t they just make it .22-250? Well, in a way, they finally did! 22 Nosler is dang close to that legendary round in its performance. 22 Nos right, .223 Rem. left.

22 Nosler is an exciting thing, to me, because it’s a truly new cartridge that lets someone start off fresh with a SAAMI-standard-backed round that is significantly stouter than .223 Rem.

The variety of .224-caliber bullets make it flexible for all the uses a higher-speed round can be put to, including surely as a hunting cartridge, and, no doubt, as a paper puncher. As suggested, it’s pretty much a .22-.250. Even though I like the “shorter-fatter” direction in cartridges to optimize bullet seating architecture to optimize accuracy, 22 Nosler, for me, hasn’t shot one bit worse than .223 Rem., and dang sho leaves a more substantial contrail. Barrel life is going to be significantly shorter than .223 Rem. and it won’t be to the tune of the 25-percent increase in capacity relating to 25-percent shorter life; it’s more like 50-percent, at best. Trades. Maybe 3000 tops.

22 nosler, valkyrie, 223 compared
22 Nosler is faster than Valkyrie. By a fair amount, up to 100 feet per second, and easily a solid 50. I’m giving that from reputable manufacturer data. This chart is from Nolser. Speed matters, but it’s not everything for everyone. More about that next time.

.224 Valkyrie
About one year after the 22 Nosler, Federal countered with its proprietary creation. (These were each released at a SHOT Show.) At this brief moment in time, 2018, it’s the round that’s getting the biggest following amongst the higher-22-velocity seekers.

valkyrie versus nosler
Here’s what I (think) I think: If you’re wanting a simple switch and the most power the 22 Nosler is easy. The Valkyrie has better specs for the more serious target-precision-oriented, and a barrel in one will last at least a little bit longer. Valkyrie, left; 22 Nosler, right.

Valkyrie is based on the 6.8 SPC. It has a 1.600-inch case length, so is shorter than .223 Rem. or 22 Nosler. That’s good! It uses the same .422 bolt face as SPC, so that’s a needed part for a conversion. As with the Nos. it needs an SPC magazine.

Both the Nos. and the Valkyrie are well suited to handle the biggest of the .224 bullets, and, according to its maker, the Valkyrie was expressly intended to launch the 90-grain-range bullets. Given that, Valkyrie barrels tend to be 1-7 twist. That’s not “enough,” in my experience, and more about that soon enough.

So, which is better?

YES!

I like 22 Nosler. It gives the most speed. That’s pretty much the whole idea behind either one. There’s been some said about the ups and downs of the bolt face differences. The smaller .378 is a stronger bolt, but there’s more bolt thrust effect from the more powerful 22 Nosler, and that’s mostly on the case. I can’t see anything I’ve heard being a problem. I’ve not had issues. The Valkyrie case is shorter, and, as said, that is an advantage with longer bullets because the bullet doesn’t get seated as deeply into the case to end up at the same overall round length. That’s exactly in keeping with the “accuracy architecture” as was shown with the article on PPC.

22 nosler zediker
I bought into it enough that my “featured” rifle in my new book is a 22 Nosler, as is my “XL Carbine.” (As a matter of fact, half the project guns I built are NOT .223 Rem. Different cartridges can really re-purpose the utility of an AR-platform gun.)

Bottom-line, though, Valkyrie is an easier investment. Component prices (and availability options) are radically better. I think that for someone looking to explore the far end of the shooting range and ding some steel plates at 500 yards, the .224 Valkyrie would be my recommendation.

22 nolser components
Shopping seriously favors the Valkyrie! Nosler isn’t cheap. It’s also not cheap (outstanding quality). There, however, is a whopping price difference (right now) between the two respecting loaded ammo and cartridge cases.

But it’s not just nearly that simple! More about why, and more cartridges thrown in to add to the confusion, next time.

Check out components at Midsouth HERE for Valkyrie and HERE for 22 Nosler.

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

RELOADERS CORNER: Two-Two-Three

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AKA: “.222 Remington Special.” Here’s where and how one of the most popular rounds in use today came from, and the influence it’s had. READ ON

high power service rifle
This right here drove the development of what we now have in .224-caliber bullets: High Power Rifle competition, and there’s none better at it than USAMU Sgt. Grant Singley, many-time National Service Rifle Champion.

Glen Zediker

Last time up I talked some about the PPC cartridge, and about the influence it’s had on those developed since. This time I want to talk about another influential cartridge that hasn’t exactly done quite as much for the direct evolution of currently popular rounds. Well, except for having the influence to spur on the development of cartridges that can beat it…

It seems that nobody likes .223 Remington… It also seems that everybody likes the AR15. Well, that’s clear if only going by the numbers of those guns out there, and the other angle is that there are a whopping lot of chambering options available nowadays that all set out to beat .223 Rem.

Next time we’ll look at a couple that beat it limp, but first, here’s where .223 Remington came from.

Understanding the development of .223 Rem. starts with understanding the development of the AR15 and, of course, along with that came a round to fit it.

All “this” (small-caliber mil-spec cartridge development) started a good while ago, and before the AR15 was a blueprint. Back in the early 1950s the Department of the Army SALVO project resulted from exploring a theory that a high-velocity sub-caliber (in mil-speak, anything under .30 is “sub-caliber”) round would be the quick ticket to the field hospital for enemy troops. A new bullet-maker, Sierra, produced the 68gr. .224s that were designed at Aberdeen Proving Ground in 1953 by Bill Davis (later known for development of the “VLD,” which led all the current batch of high-ballistic-coefficient bullets to where they are now), and were drawn up pretty much as a scaled-down .308 147gr. I can’t find much documented about any conclusions or results. Another batch was made for Colt’s in 1964 for testing in an experimental heavy-barreled M16, but the Army showed no interest then in exploring the longer-range capabilities of that platform.

salvo
SALVO

The SALVO is a little piece of history, and forebearer, related to the “sub-caliber” uprising. This idea gained familiarity (we’ll leave “popularity” alone) shortly thereafter when General Wyman made a direct push to develop and employ what came to be the AR15. He insisted on equipping our troops with a lighter, smaller-caliber battle implement. But this isn’t about the rifle, it’s about the ammo.
Assuming that the SALVO got shelved, which is a right-minded assumption considering what came next, the “new” rifle needed a new round.

At the very start there was the .222 Remington. This was uniquely developed (no parent case) in 1950 as a cartridge for Benchrest competition. It was the first commercial rimless .224 cartridge made in the U.S. So, when Armalite, and others, started its Small-Caliber/High-Velocity (SCHV) experiments, this is what they started with. It was clear early on that this round wouldn’t meet the Continental Army Command (CONARC) velocity and penetration requirements so Armalite went straight to Remington. Remington in turn and in response created the .222 Remington Special, which had a longer case body and shorter case neck than its .222 Remington: more capacity. Springfield Armory concurrently developed the .224E2 Winchester, an even longer-bodied .222 Remington, which later became the .222 Remington Magnum. Springfield dropped out and in 1963 the Remington .222 Special got its designation as 5.56x45mm and was officially adopted for use in the new M16 rifle (that round was in use prior in early guns). The next year it got all SAAMI’ed up and emerged as .223 Remington in commercial loadings. I skipped details, but that’s the gist of it. That means .223 Remington has been with us a while now.

222/223
.223 Remington (right) literally grew from .222 Remington, which seemed to be the most closely suitable cartridge then available to chamber the “new” rifle in. The .222 grew to give more capacity and satisfy the military requirements for ballistic performance. .222 Rem. is awesome-accurate by the way.

.223 Rem. follows the lines of other popular U.S. Military rounds and shares some of the same attributes, including its 23-degree case shoulder. The one thing it hasn’t shared with something like .30-06, for good example, is accolades! That, of course, is because of its limited capacity and likewise resultant power limitation. It did, however, launch a whole different class of small-caliber projectiles to prominence. Maybe an intended pun.

As a result of High Power Rifle competition, a major part of which is Service Rifle Division, efforts were necessarily made to improve the downrange performance of .223 Rem. Long and complex story, but after both CMP and NRA changed Rules viewpoints in 1990 to one more liberal on “allowable modifications” to the AR15, two bullets then finally made it both viable and attractive to serious competitive shooters. That was all that it was waiting on (the dang things already shot small groups).

jlk 80
The impetus for “bigger” .224 bullets came from High Power Rifle competition. See, a “Service Rifle” absolutely has to shoot its native chambering to be allowable. When USAMU made the “switch” to the M16, they did not want to lose. That motivation is where bullets like the Sierra 80gr. MatchKing came from, shown here alongside the first of its kind, the JLK 80 VLD (on right). Note the moly coating, by the way: back in the daaaaay!

Sierra had, in my mind, resurrected the SALVO with its introduction of the 69gr. MatchKing in 1984, but that only gave two-thirds of a score; it hits the wall past 300 yards. In 1990, coinciding with those Rules changes to make the rifle more fairly competitive with the match-conditioned M14s, that same Bill Davis drew up a blueprint for a bullet for Jimmy Knox and Carlene Lemmons: the JLK 80 VLD. Sierra right thereafter introduced its 80gr. MatchKing.

When United States Army Marksmanship Unit (USAMU) Col. Johnson mandated that the Team would, not should, use the M16 in competition commencing 1994, we quickly saw full and complete exploitation of those bullets and the resulting rapid demise of the M14 as the leading Service Rifle.

I honestly think that, had it not been for the military motivation to win, we’d not have seen the developments we have in .224-caliber bullets.

sierra 90
Funny, to me at least, that the diminutive .223 Rem. led to development of the biggest .224-caliber bullets. More about getting this one here downrange next time.

Well, enough history. Next time I’ll get right to today and go over and go on about two newer cartridges that radically further the “sub-caliber uprising.”

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

RELOADERS CORNER: Cartridge Evolution

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Here’s a short retrospect on what’s set the standards for most new cartridge designs, and why… KEEP READING

Glen Zediker

ppc

I’m not an engineer, but, like all of us, we rely on those folks to develop just about all the things we have and use. When we look at a new development, one that’s proven to work better than the “old” way, sometimes it’s easy enough to understand why. Cartridge development over the years is a good example.

What makes a good cartridge? Answers, of course, vary with the intended use, the performance needs. For the most part, power (which mostly is velocity), and “efficiency” (which is essentially getting the most from the least amount of propellant, likewise increasing barrel life), and accuracy (always) top the list. And, to me, “accuracy” is a combination of small group sizes and, even more, small group sizes all the time! Consistency.

Case capacity has the most to do with the first: more room for gunpowder means more power. Also, it’s pretty clear that pressures have been going up! There’s a big (big) difference in the pressure levels of some of the “new” cartridges compared to the older, longer-lived rounds. Sometimes it’s not because the older round can’t “take” the additional pressure, it’s because the guns might not. A round developed turn-of-the-century fits a rifle from the same era. Well, steel has improved, manufacturing has improved, and, some no doubt, is that the trend toward “shorter, fatter” cartridge cases also contributes.

So. About that…

In my mind, and certainly in my “world,” which is competitive shooting, one of the most influential cartridges has been, and still is, the PPC. That was developed in 1975 by Ferris Pendell and Dr. Lou Palmisano (hence “Pendell, Palmisano Cartridge”), and the idea was to design the “world’s most accurate cartridge.” They did. It has the record to prove it. However, that’s in Benchrest (capital “B” meaning formal competition). Bechrest is nearly always a 100-yard event. The idea behind the PPC wasn’t to set the range on fire with excessive velocity, although it’s well more rapid than others then popular in that game. The idea was to improve cartridge structure to improve shot-to-shot consistency, and another part of that plan was to extend the duration of load-to-load consistency by slowing down firing-induced changes to the case. It’s native caliber is 6mm (.243).

(By the way, the PPC is based on .220 Russian, which is still how many get their brass: fire form it from that. That round is associated with 7.62X39mm, which came earlier and was based on the WWII German 7.92x33mm Kurz, the Mittelpatrone.)

PPC and .223
PPC isn’t for everyone. It’s expensive and not nearly the fastest available today. However, it sho has had its influence on modern rounds. It’s expensive, by the way, because of the available brass: it’s from Lapua or Norma and has machined primer pockets, and other such points of perfection. Compared to .223 Rem. (right) which, in configuration, follows pretty well accepted architecture, similar to .30-06 and other originally-mil-based rounds, the PPC is shorter, larger-diameter, and longer-necked.

A few reasons, offered by its creators, why PPC shoots so well: One, it’s a short case, a scant 1.515 inches overall. That makes it more rigid and less susceptible to warp. It also means it fits into a short action, also more rigid (and with shorter bolt travel). The case neck is relatively long, which means the entire shank of the bullet is within the neck, never below it. That means no influence from varying cartridge wall thicknesses (the case neck walls can be made near-perfectly consistent), avoiding the case neck “donut” at the neck, shoulder juncture. Its body area diameter is 0.440-vicinity, which is (was) a good deal larger than the more common 0.378 commonly used in Benchrest. Case shoulder is 30-degrees.

About that: Well before the PPC there was P.O. Ackley. Well-known for his “Ackley Improved” rounds, which, pretty much, were standard rounds with a sharper shoulder angle. In sharpening (flattening) the shoulder angle (usually from 23-degrees to 30 or even 40), that also elevated the shoulder, and that increased case volume. More speed! Another benefit of the sharper shoulder was a notable reduction in the “flow” of the brass. That meant less change firing to firing. The sharper angle on the shoulder essentially “caps” the flow in that area.

ackley improved
Dang. These always look so radical, but it’s a proven formula: the Ackley Improved. My Dad used one of these in .270 decades ago (P.O hisseff built his rifle) for elk hunting. Shown is an AI 280 Rem. which nearly equals the power of 7mm Magnum.

Other attributes engineered into the PPC have and haven’t been incorporated into subsequent new cartridges. Notable is the smaller-than-standard flash hole. This requires a likewise smaller sizing die decapping pin. Also, PPC uses a small rifle primer, which is fitting based on its overall round size. Over years, there have been retro-engineered common rounds with small primer pockets and those have worked well. For a spell, over the time it was available, small-primer .308 Win. brass found great favor among competitive shooters. Remington made it. Interestingly (again from a perspective of one who isn’t an engineer) pressures were higher compared to standard loads based on routine large-primer brass. Velocities tended to be more consistent.

Another reason for PPC perfomance is one I don’t pretend to understand, and that is its “efficiency.” That’s all in the science of internal ballistics and I only can attest to its influence. I have been a PPC user (the 22 variant) for a good while. It’s what my main NRA High Power Match Rifle is chambered in (AR15 platform). From virtually the same amount of the same propellant, there’s a solid +100 fps gain over the .223 Rem. The structure of the PPC indeed “works.” From that, and from “those” (High Power shooters), rapidly evolved experimental takes on the essential PPC.

Moving on, rounds like 6BR and 6.5 Grendel are outgrowths of the PPC format (“upgrowths” actually: they’re bigger capacity). We’ve also seen the essential influence in the popular 6.5 Creedmoor and the 6XC, which currently dominate competitive across-the-course and long-range shooting (“standard” long range, not the 2-mile stuff, that would be .375 Cheytak…).

6.5 grendel
Cuzzin to PPC is 6.5 Grendel (left), which grew from earlier experiments by NRA High Power Rifle shooters in creating PPC “tall-boys.”

Looking at semi-auto developments, many of which have been coming at us fast and furious, it’s clear cartridge developers are exploiting these same ideas. There is a (short) limit on what will fit into an AR15 upper receiver, for instance, because, one, it’s a finite amount of space, of course, and, two, there’s a magazine box, and these are related. More power in this platform means a fat case.

Now. I am in no way suggesting anyone run out and tool up for PPC in the next rifle! It can be soundly beaten in the “real world” of our needs from a cartridge. There are similar rounds with more velocity, easier availability, lower cost, and on down the list of desirables. In the next couple of issues, I plan to talk more about some of the newest rounds, but wanted to offer just a little retrospect on where it all came from before getting into where it’s gone!

This article was adapted from content in Glen’s newest book: America’s Gun: The Practical AR15. Go check it out 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

Check out AckleyImproved.com

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 Happened To Moly-Coated Bullets?

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All the rage in 1998 and all but dead 2018: here’s a look at some reasons why. KEEP READING

moly coated bullets

Glen Zediker

In a way, I guess nothing really happened to molybdenum-disulfide-coated bullets (“moly-coated”). They’re still for sale, as are means to make up your own. What I mean is why didn’t they attain the sustained popularity they started with about 20 years ago, back when many forecasted they would virtually replace bare bullets? Here’s my take, from my experience, on “what happened.”

I don’t know any shooter who tried them and wasn’t excited about results. I sho was!

Performance-wise, moly has a lot of benefits. A lot. The first and most: take two bullets, one coated and one bare, put the same load behind them, then shoot and chronograph. The coated bullet goes slower. How is that a help? The reason it goes slower is because moly drops chamber pressure (into and through the bore easier). And! That velocity loss (at least 50 fps, usually more) is not, proportionately, nearly as much as the accompanying drop in pressure (usually ballpark 4000+ psi). (These figures vary with the cartridge, but all show similar universal influence.) So. The moly-load can be increased beyond previous “maximum” velocity: the idea is to take the coated load up to normal chamber pressure. It works! It’s common to need at the least 1+ grain more propellant to level the coated load with the original bare-bullet load.

Other advantages: Most see improved velocity consistency, evidently resulting from the coating alone. The coated bullets seem to have no limit to the number of rounds that can be fired with no change in accuracy or impact location. Of course there is a limit, but I knew many going beyond 500 rounds between cleanings. And when I say “many,” I’m talking about serious competitive shooters. Another benefit is increased barrel life (less rapid throat erosion), and this is, I think, due to a faster-accelerating bullet getting into and through the throat more quickly (less intense flame). Moly bullets also release sooner from the case neck (additional “tension” is recommended).

I “switched.” (The motivation to write this came from a weekend shop-cleaning where I restacked a huge many boxes of coated bullets, and wondered if I’d ever shoot them…)

I got more bullet speed and zero loss of zero: big benefits to an NRA High Power Service Rifle shooter. 88 rounds per day, and 80gr bullets through a 20-inch barrel trying their best to get to 600 yards in close proximity of one another.

moly barrel cleaning
Here was my solution to cleaning up after moly: Kroil penetrating oil and abrasive-type bore paste. This combination got it gone, and zero didn’t leave in the process.

What is bad, then, about moly-coated bullets? Moly itself! It coats the bore with a layer of residue. This layer traps moisture and will, not can, corrode the steel underneath it.  More: molybdenum disulfide outgases (outgas is the release of an occluded gas vapor that was part of the compound; a state change, pretty much) at lower than firing temperatures. That creates a chemical that, when mixed with water (including post-firing condensation), becomes, pretty much, sulfuric acid. That meant that the whole “zillion rounds between cleanings” didn’t really work. I know many who “lost” barrels, expensive barrels.

If the barrel is cleaned (correctly) after each use, no problems. But then another advantage is lost because starting with a clean barrel it takes quite a few rounds to return to zero. The layer has to be recreated.

The residue is x-difficult to remove. It doesn’t respond to routine means for bore maintenance, mostly meaning brush-and-solvent. The only way I found to get it gone was using micro-penetrating oil in conjunction with an abrasive paste-type cleaner, such as USP Bore Paste or JB Bore Compound.

bn coated bullets
Boron Nitride (BN) is an alternative that functions, in my experience, the same but with fewer drawbacks. One is that it’s “clear,” not as messy. Bullet on the left is coated. Still, though, I think that shooting coated bullets is an “all or nothing” proposition. Good groups are not likely to come “mixing” bare and coated bullets through the same barrel.

I no longer use coated bullets. There are other coatings that have fewer disadvantages, like boron-nitride (doesn’t outgas), and some of the proprietary baked-on coatings a few major makers (like Barnes and Winchester) use don’t exhibit the post-firing issues “conventional” moly-coating creates (which usually was moly powder, followed by wax, which added to the tenacity of the residue).

However, another issue is that accuracy tends to suffer running bare bullets though a residue-coated bore (which results after only a few coated rounds, that are coated with anything). All that means, in short, is that running coated bullets is something that really has to be bought into. It’s a commitment, as I see it, and, as with many such things, pushing the limits on performance requires more attention to detail, more effort. It’s a matter of value.

lyman moly kit
Here’s an easy way to get bullets coated: Lyman’s Super Moly Kit. Just add a tumbler. The two bowls contain the media, moly, and bullets and then go into a vibratory-type tumbler. The 6 ounces worth of moly powder will coat thousands of bullets. It works well.

Weigh the pros and cons. I honestly cannot, and will not, tell anyone not to use them. Coating can provide a serious performance increase. I don’t use moly-coat anymore, but that’s because my shooting needs are not so “serious” as they once were. I, yes, have gotten a tad amount lazy. I want to go to the range and enjoy my rifles and not lose sleep over the possibility of creeping corrosion if I didn’t clean up. I also want to be able to shoot different loads, including factory ammo, and maintain accuracy.

Last words: IF you choose moly, take steps to protect the barrel bore against the potential for damage. At the least, run some petroleum-based oil through the bore after shooting if you can’t clean it soon.

Tell about your experiences with moly.

See what Midsouth offers HERE

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: Cartridge Cases, the Outside, Part 2: Case Cleaning

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Clean means “not dirty.” More details coming next. READ IT ALL

clean cases

Glen Zediker

Clean brass loads easier, keeps dies cleaner (and may help them last longer), and might even help your barrel last longer. Brass collected up off the ground almost always has some manner of grit clinging to it and, depending on range locale, that will cause more or less concern. If it’s sand, for instance, this debris can do serious damage to a die (and barrel). Plus, I’ve never had a semi-automatic that didn’t soot up the case neck and shoulder. And, since we’re needing to lubricate the whole case prior to sizing, there’s no place for gunk. As said last time, case lube should not be a case cleaner!

There is also always going to be firing residue, if not on the case, it will be inside the case, and in there will also be primer residue, which is very abrasive.

Brass doesn’t have to be polished to be cleaned, which is to say that it doesn’t have to be shiny to be clean. Get down to the bare metal and that’s “clean.”

The question is How?

Not counting all the methods and means I’ve heard tell of, which number well over a dozen, the two common are either dry media or liquid media. Dry media is most commonly corncob or walnut, and run through a rotary- or (more popularly) vibratory-style appliance. There’s another I’ve been impressed with and that is the use of steel media, and more in a bit.

corncob media
Good old corn cob works just fine, but make sure you get all the residues off the cases.

Liquid means can revolve around detergent-type solutions and agitation, or the “sonic” cleaners.

General: Advantages to dry media are, well, that it’s dry! Not (as) much mess. Disadvantages exist, however. The main one is getting all the residual dust and particulate out of the cases. I caution against using any additional abrasive additives to the dry media because what doesn’t get cleaned away will, not can, accompany a bullet down a barrel. Advantages to wet media are that it can do a thorough job of cleaning, no doubt. It also doesn’t leave any residue. But! It’s wet! And that means the cases need dried thoroughly prior to reuse. There are specialty appliances that can do it, but a cookie sheet in an oven set on “low” does the trick too.

hornady case cleaner
Hornady Sonic Case Cleaner

Back to the steel: That’s why I like this method. Dry, no residue. It in no way hurts the cases, and works pretty quickly.

steel case cleaner
A newer dry media is steel. It works well and leaves nothing behind. This magnet is how you separate media from cases. This one is from Frankford Arsenal

No media lasts forever. Corncob, especially, should be routinely discarded and the appliance cleaned out to avoid any resident grit mingling with the media particles. Much as in the same way gold panning works, heavier junk can settle to the bottom of the bowl. Tumbling media, by the way, doesn’t really wear out: it just gets crudded up.

Take steps post-cleaning to ensure that residues are gone, and also that primer pockets are free of particles. Some use compressed air to blow out the case inside, and others go as far as to rinse and dry.

Speaking of primer pockets! I very strongly suggest decapping prior to cleaning. That way the pocket will, indeed, be cleaned. This doesn’t take much time and requires only an inexpensive station as shown nearby.

decaping die
I strongly recommend decapping primers prior to cleaning. A setup like this doesn’t cost much, and the operation is pretty painless.

Additional steps? There are some long-used steps taken especially by precision shooters, such as brushing the inside of case necks, and also using a polishing cloth to thoroughly clean the case neck, case shoulder area, and separate attention paid to the pimer pocket. But. These steps originated with Benchrest competitors and the reason is because I never met one yet who uses the short of cleaning apparatus “we” use. Never a tumbler! Their cases never hit the ground either. Nothing more than a thorough run through the volume-cleaning media of your choice should be needed, and the primer pocket cleaner should likewise be unnecessary if you take the advice of cleaning deprimed cases.

Honestly, it’s better, and I say best, if the case cleaning media leaves no residues. That’s where dry steel media and the liquid cleaners come in.

Back to the basics: Clean is clean. “Nothing but brass” is “clean.” Polished and gleaming cases are not necessarily better, and matter not a whit to performance.

One last: my favorite case cleaning “story” ever. Middleton Tompkins, many-time Highpower Rifle national champion, showed me his case cleaning method on a visit. Mid (and his wife, dominant Long Range Rifle winner, Nancy) go well beyond “high volume” in their needs for clean cases. To that end, Mid purchased a small commercial cement mixer into which he dumped pounds of BBs and a solution of Joy dishwashing soap and water (later rinsed and drained and dried). Now, that’s a high-volume case cleaner!

Check out Midsouth products HERE

And decapping DIES!

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: Cartridge Cases: The Outside, Part 1

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Lubrication is absolute essential in the reloading process, Here are a few ideas on which and how. READ MORE

lubing cases

Glen Zediker

What’s the most important thing in case resizing? Case lube! Overlook it or under-do it once and you’ll know why! A stuck-case remover is one of my very least favorite tools…

I have long used and recommended petroleum-based case lubes. More: I prefer those that are applied by hand, literally with the fingers, because I think it’s a better assurance that the right amount, to all the right places, will get laid down. I will quickly concede, though, that they are messy and slower than other methods.

imperial case lube
This is my favorite case lube. I took advice from Sgt. Norris after complaining how hard it was to get a good sizing pass on a Lake City .308. Sure enough. This made it easy. Been using it ever since. It’s not really wax. Use it like shoe polish: rub a little on your fingers and then rub it onto the case with a “gimme money” motion.

Spray-on-type lubes are very often used and recommended, especially by high-volume loaders because a good many cases can be treated and then even stored before use, so say the claims. I strongly suggest taking steps to prevent the lube from finding its way inside the case. A thin piece of cardboard placed atop the standing cases works well for this. There’s worry otherwise that the lube might affect the propellant. That does depend on the formulation, but I prefer the “no-chance” approach. I’m a “slow-down” sort of loader. That doesn’t mean I don’t want to save time or be as efficient as I can be, but I’ve just not found the speed advantage to spray-ons to overcome their performance. Sprays are not quite as “slick” as rub-ons.

Lanolin-based and wax-based alternatives also have their following. As do water-based lubes. The wax lubes indeed work and also clean up (off) easily, as does lanolin. I’ve not been a follower, though, because I find many to be more difficult to apply evenly and, one more time, just not quite as slick at petro-based products. Some of the wax-based lubes also make claim to “apply-now, use later.” I’m not sure what the appeal of that is, but there it is for those it appeals to. There are also a number of “proprietary” formulations out there now. I have not tried them all.

hornady case lube
Hornady pretty well has it covered: one for every opinion! Try them all! But I will wager you’ll like petro best… That’s the one in the bottle. Hornady claims their spray lube doesn’t contaminate powder, and that makes it applying it more straightforward.

A tip I picked up umpteen years ago by the man who got me started loading was to get an ink stamp pad (office-supply store variety) to apply roll-on type lubes. Indeed, that works way better than the industry pads I’ve tried.

Back to petroleum lubes: aside from providing smoother feel in sizing, which I have to believe also indicates “better” lubrication qualities, these don’t build up as much within tooling. I take apart my sizing die every now and again and swab it out, like I would a rifle chamber.

For best results, no matter which lube type you’re using, an even (thin) coating gives best results. With a good petro lube, it doesn’t take much. If you see any denting (usually in the case shoulder area), that resulted from hydraulic pressure and is a sign there was too much lube (too thick a coat). No worries, though: shoot the case and they’ll iron back out. Just use less lube next time!

Lubing the case neck inside is debated, but I favor it. However! Only very sparingly! That is why I really like the finger-applied lubes: just a little “wipe” across the case mouth eliminates the “gaunch” noice from the expander. I don’t use the graphite-applicators (the bin-and-brush types) because I haven’t noticed a whopping lot of difference in neck sizing with or without it.

forster lube
For best sizing results, I prefer the “rub-on” lubes. This one is from Forster. Never any worries about too much, too little, or complete coverage.

And, by the way, lube a case each pass through the die. This is important when setting up a sizing die where you might make a few passes with the same case. Don’t risk it! Stuck cases are total mood killer.

Clean the lube off the cases! There will be some now who will just roll their eyes, but I use denatured alcohol and a bath towel pour some on the towel, but the cases on the towel, fold the towel over the cases, and roll them around. Fast and simple! That works for petro-based. Others need more attention: just rub it away, or use detergent.

I do not recommend using a tumbler-type cleaner on loaded ammo!

Sho, there is a (slight) chance that a bullet tip might detonate a primer, but that’s not why. Why is because the propellant gets pulverized, and that, no doubt, will change its burn characteristic.

case cleanup
This is what I use to clean loaded rounds, along with the towel it’s sitting on. Lay out the towel, put down the rounds, pour some alcohol, fold the towel over the cases, and roll them around. Then hang the towel to dry for another use. Zero residue.

The reason to clean off the lube is because it lubricates, and that’s a bad thing on a live round. The case is supposed to stick tightly to the chamber when it expands under pressure. Any slip increases bolt thrust. I once saw a fellow douse a loaded 30-round magazineright down the middle with WD-40, to “make sure the bullets fed…” NO NO NO. Oil on a cartridge doubles bolt thrust!

Case lube is not a case cleaner!

Make sure the cases are clean prior to sizing. They don’t have to gleam, just be free from dirt and gritty dust. If you’re seeing a applicator pad, for instance, getting a dirty spot on it, well there’s your clue.

We’ll talk about that next time.

 Check out the selection from Midsouth HERE

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: Primer Tech

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It may be the single-most influential reloading component, so learn all about it: the primer! READ MORE

rifle primer

Glen Zediker

This is one component in the collection that might not get all the attention it warrants. That’s because it is the one thing, above all other components, that you don’t want to just swap and switch around.

We’ve all heard cautions about testing new lots of every component, especially propellant, but primers not only change lot to lot, they vary greatly in their influence on any one load, brand to brand. The difference in one brand to the next can equal a good deal more or less pressure, for instance. While there are “general” tendencies respecting the “power” of various-brand primers, always (always) reduce the load (propellant quantity) when switching primers.

This has become more of an issue over the past few years as we’ve faced component shortages. I can tell you without a doubt that going from a WW to a CCI, or from a Remington to a Federal, can have a major influence on a load. I establish that from chronograph readings. No doubt, it’s best to have a good supply of one primer brand and lot that produces good results, and when that’s not possible, it’s a hard sell to convince someone to stop loading ammo and get back to testing. But. It is important. I can tell you that from (bad) experience. How I, and we all, learn most things…

When I switch primers, whether as a test or a necessity, I reduce my load ONE FULL GRAIN. There can be that much effect.

The Thing Itself
A primer is made up of a brass cup filled with explosive compound (lead styphate). Lead styphate detonates on impact. Primers don’t burn – they explode! In the manufacturing process, this compound starts as a liquid. After it’s laid into the cup, and while it’s still wet, a triangular piece or metal (the “anvil”) is set in. When the cup surface is struck by the firing pin, the center collapses, squeezing the explosive compound between the interior of the cup and the anvil. That ignites the compound and sends a flame through the case flash hole, which in turn lights up the propellant.

Primers are dangerous!

Don’t underestimate that. I’ve had one experience that fortunately only created a huge start, but I know others who have had bigger more startling mishaps. These (almost always) come from primer reservoirs, like fill-tubes. Pay close attention when charging up a tube and make sure all the primers are facing the right way, and that you’re not trying to put in “one more” when it’s full! That’s when “it” usually happens. What will happen, by the way, is akin to a small grenade. Static electricity has also been blamed, so keep that in mind.

primer tray
Take care in filling primer tubes! Make double-sure all are facing correctly, and a good primer tray helps. This photo shows the correct orientation for using primers one at a time. To fill a primer tube, make sure the “shiny side” is facing up! Flip the tray over.

Sizes and Types
Primers come in two sizes and four types. “Large” and “small”: for example, .223 Rem. takes small, .308 Win. takes large. Then there are pistol and rifle in each size.

Rifle primers and pistol primers are not the same, even though they share common diameters! Rifle primers should have a tougher cup, and, usually, a hotter flash. Never swap rifle for pistol. Now, some practical-style competitive pistol shooters using their very high-pressure loads (like .38 Super Comp) sometimes substitute rifle primers because they’ll “handle” more pressure, but they’ve also tricked up striker power. That’s a specialized need.

Further, some primer brands are available with a “magnum” option. Some aren’t. My experience has been that depends on the “level” of their standard primer. A magnum primer, as you might guess, has a more intense, stouter flash that travels more “deeply” to ignite the larger and more dense powder column. It reaches further, faster.

large rifle primers

large rifle magnum primers

There’s no real reason not to experiment with “hotter” and “colder” primers, whether the case is stamped “mag” or not. Keep in mind that the experiment is all about the initial flash effect. And keep in mind that this (without a doubt) demands a reduction in the propellant charge at the start.

Over a many years I’ve seen some tendencies respecting flash effect. Using routine cartridges, like .308 Win., single-base extruded propellants tend to shoot well with a cooler spark to start, and the double-base, especially spherical-types, seem to respond best to a hotter flash. Many seem to think that the coating (necessary to form the spherical) and the inherent greater density (less air space between granules) in a spherical demands a little faster start.

Flash consistency is very important, shot to shot. The consistency of every component is important: bullet weights, diameters, case wall thicknesses, and all the way down the list. We’re hoping to get more consistent behavior from a “match” or “benchrest” primer, and we’re paying more for it. I can tell you that some brands that aren’t touted as “match” are already consistent. That all comes from experience: try different primers, just respect the need to initially reduce the load each test. I can also tell you that my notes tell me that the primer has a whopping lot to do with how high or low my velocity deviations plot out.

One last: there are small variations in primer dimensions (heights, diameters) among various brands. These variations are not influential to performance. But! Small diameter variations can influence feeding through priming tools. This can be a hitch especially in some progressive loading machines. Manufacturers usually offer insight (aka: “warnings”) as to which are or aren’t compatible, so find out.

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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