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RELOADERS CORNER: Factory Tricks

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A few factory “tricks” can be applied to handloads, if you feel a need. READ MORE

ammo storage
Handling precautions during round assembly and then good storage afterward extends the shelf life of reloads.

Glen Zediker

Last time we took a look at some of the differences between factory-loaded ammo and our own recipe handloads. That material wasn’t a total indictment on factory ammo as might have been expected coming from me and directed toward mine, and that’s because there are some times ready-made has its place.

One of the main-most good things that can be said about factory ammo is that it has a shelf life that, given decent storage conditions, will likely exceed that of handloads. Or not. “Not” depends on what steps or processes were applied to the handload.

Sealants
The main culprit in decreasing stored life of a loaded round results from corrosion. Some call it “sticktion,” and I’ve had it happen a few times. What it is, is the case neck and bullet corrode — stick — together. That will elevate pressure. I had a rash of blown primers from the batch I used.

There are a few ideas on how to reduce or eliminate stiction, and the first starts with eliminating the catalyst for the corrosion. Don’t touch the bullets with your bare fingers! Don’t touch the cases either. I know a few commercial loaders who produce precision ammunition and they’re all about surgical-style gloves.

I have run some tests using bullet sealant (applied as a liquid then UV-cured) and such a product will, indeed, virtually eliminate any worries over corrosion. Most factory, and virtually all mil-spec, ammo uses some formulation of sealant (bullets and primers). The reason I tried it, though, was because of the promise of greater accuracy. Glued bullets tend to produce from a little to a lot smaller velocity spreads. My jury is still out on the value of this additional step, and when there’s a verdict I’ll let you all know how it played out.

reloading sealant
Here’s a simple and easy sealant that works well. One bottle will last about 1000 rounds. Check it out at Midsouth HERE.

There are a few different bullet and primer sealers available. For the most part, these are fairly easy to apply and none are what I’d call expensive.

Giving loaded rounds a good cleaning, and then storing them at the least in air-resistant boxes, keeps the shine on and the corrosion away for a good long while.

Some run their loaded rounds in a routine-type case cleaner, like a vibratory tumbler. That’s all good, but I suggest not using anything but “pure” media to ensure that no residues are left behind.

I use denatured alcohol and a bath towel: place the rounds on half the towel, pour on the alcohol, fold over the towel and roll the rounds around. Let them dry and box them up.

Handling precautions during round assembly and then good storage afterward extends the shelf life of reloads.

More about another factory trick — crimping — next time.

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: Press Tricks, Linkage

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Reloading press designs vary, and some offer advantages, if they’re needed. Read more about which, what, and why HERE

rcbs summit
RCBS Summit

Glen Zediker

This is the last (for now) look at reloading press designs and features, and it’s all about power — leverage and linkage.

The more leverage a press can generate the less input effort from us is required in performing an operation, especially a more challenging operation like reforming cartridge cases, but that’s got another side to it. A longer stroke, and a heavier mass to move, also means more exertion on each stroke, and more time spent case to case.

Since we don’t always know the ultimately most demanding operation we’ll call on a press to perform, my advice is to err on the “stronger” side, and also on the “longer” side. I prefer a press with a shorter handle stroke (and a shorter ram stroke) because it’s less tedious to operate — but that’s true only when the press ops are not taxing. Yes, I’ll explain more: when the duties are sizing small to medium sized commercial brass cases (like .223 Rem. up to .308 Win.), seating bullets, decapping, seating primers then excess press isn’t needed. But when it’s more taxing, like in the case reforming already mentioned, and also sizing once-fired military cases, or loading for a honker like .338 Lapua, a longer ram stroke and more leverage is most welcome.

reloading press design
Forster offers a shorter handle option for its CoAx because there are many who want to increase feel on some ops. The shorter handle reduces leverage.

I’ve been doing all this long enough to have collected more than one press, at more than one “size,” and I’ve used them all over a good many years. The one I use the most is on the smaller, shorter end of the press spectrum, and that is only because the most of the loading I do now is decidedly not taxing. But give me a Kroger sack full of Lake City 7.62 and my Forster CoAx or Harrell’s Sportsman is getting mounted up on the bench.

Speaking of effort, case lube is decidedly important in smoothing out taxing sizing ops. I prefer a petroleum-based lube, but that’s not meant to start an argument!

There are a few different takes on the best way to design linkage (the levering mechanism that powers the ram), including those that operate more or less upside down. I’ve not used them all but have, generally, found that handle length has the biggest influence on leverage.

reloading press design
A press that’s set up to “cam-over” really means it’s set up to flex. Any press with enough leverage can warp over on itself. This is a Harrells Sportsman: huge leverage.

Cam Over
Speaking of linkage… Some reloading presses are designed with eccentric linkage such that it’s possible to “cam” the ram. The concept involves circular motion and linear motion, meaning that when the ram traveling in a linear path reaches full extension, the linkage which is traveling in a circular path, can move through the 0-degree mark and go to a negative degree — like a crankshaft in an engine. To get a picture of this: As the handle is moved downward to elevate the ram, the ram reaches its maximum height just short of the very limit of its travel upward, and, at the last little bit, lowers. So when the handle is all the way through its arc, the press ram is sitting a little lower. This action, called “cam over,” has essentially increased “ummph” in the linkage, and it’s done that by making contact (plus) with the die.

I’m not a fan.

Now, any substantial press, whether it has eccentric linkage or not, can produce the effect of camming-over. A Forster Co-Ax, for instance, can just about crush a chrome car bumper and doesn’t have eccentric linkage. To set up that press, any press, to cam-over, turn the die a little (1/8 turn or so) downward beyond what provides full and flush contact with the shellholder when the ram is at its full height. Then, when the press handle is fully down, the additional pressure in the last bit of the handle stroke goes toward flexing the press. Simple as that, and that is what camming-over does: flex the press. And, again, that’s true whether it has eccentric linkage or not.

Don’t do it. Just don’t.

There’s no need to cam-over a press for a case-sizing operation. It creates unnecessary stress. Dies can get deformed and bent, carbide dies can break, and the press hisself can suffer, and even break. Some defend this practice by saying presses are designed to “take it,” but eventually there’s a penalty for taking any machine to its limits, continually.

The real deal is that it’s just not necessary! Using a cartridge case headspace gage to determine sizing die positioning to get the correct amount of case shoulder setback, it’s clear that sure should occur at a point short of full contact between the die bottom and the shellholder surfaces. But, and this is important, if it’s not then trying to push a case farther up into the die by crushing the shellholder against the die isn’t going to do much. Done is done. The flexing might, maybe (maybe), increase setback 0.001.

If your sizing die doesn’t adequately set back a case shoulder, then that die has to be modified by having material ground off its bottom.

Camming-over a press is a “feel-good” measure for some folks: there’s this satisfying “ka-thunk” at the limit of press handle stroke, and that lets a loader know that they gave it all it could get. I’ve also had some claim that the stress and flex brings “everything into perfect alignment.” No it doesn’t. Alignment in a press was determined by the maker, not pressure. If your press hain’t straight, bending it more won’t help.

Cam-over has its application in some bullet making operations, but those are not on-topic here.

reloading press design
Here’s eccentric linkage at work. On left is the maximum height attained by the ram; on right is the ram position at the full-limit stop on the press handle. It’s 0.020 inches on this press, a Harrells Turret.

More, And Some Is Good!
To find out if you have a “cammer” run the press ram fully up (press handle fully down) and thread a die in until it touches the shellholder. Try to move the handle back down. If it won’t budge, it’s got eccentric linkage. It won’t move because the ram is trying raise again. Back out the die until the handle moves and pulls the ram away. It’s at this point where “flush” contact with a die bottom will be. As long as the shellholder is not being contacted, presses with this sort of linkage have a smooth feel to them and do a little more positive job of sizing. In effect, the case gets sized twice (the ram elevates again just as the press handle is lowered). Linkage, either way, has zero effect on setting up a die because you measure what you get anyhow, and adjust the die accordingly, after you see what it is that you got.

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: Press Tricks

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There are a few tricks and treats, and traps, in reloading press designs and associated pieces-parts. Shellholder first. KEEP READING

shellholder tricks
I honestly have had my best luck with Lee brand. Lee is inexpensive but I’ve yet to have a bad one, or one that wouldn’t work on different press brands (and I’m not alone in this opinion; a famous Benchrest competitor gave me the “Lee tip”). SEE IT HERE

Glen Zediker

Last couple of editions started a “press primer,” and this one should finish it off, at least for now.

Shell Holder Options
A correctly dimensioned and well machined shell holder is absolutely necessary.

Small differences in individual shellholders, and certainly in different brands of shellholders, mean that a shellholder change makes it necessary to check case sizing and bullet seating results again. Adjustment will likely be required. If a shellholder is a little bit thicker or thinner such as will influence the cartridge case “height,” then that’s transferred to the end result as measured in, for instances, cartridge case headspace and bullet seating depth.

That is exploited by some who produce shellholders with varying heights. These come in a set and have incremental differences that allow you to move a case up or down by swapping the shellholder. If you load for different rifles using the same die, and if these rifles all have a different ideal cartridge case headspace, for instance, then there can be less compromise without having to use a different sizing die.

shellholder tricks
Redding offers shellholders with varying heights to allow for small effective changes in sizing. Handy, for instance, for someone who loads for more than one rifle and wants to use the same die. There are 5 holders, each with 0.002-in. height difference. SEE IT HERE

Not all shell holders are interchangeable! They’re supposed to be, generally, but I’ve purchased different brands for use in differently branded presses, and they won’t fit.

Shellholder Tricks
Speaking of fit, check over a new shellholder for burrs and make sure it fits fully and freely into its slot in the press ram. And, speaking of its slot in the press ram, I have long been a believer in getting rid of the “spring clip” virually all presses use to secure the shellholder in place. The spring clip sits the shellholder askew atop the ram.

This clip can be removed. I use an o-ring as can be found at a real hardware store to fit into the outside slot formerly occupied by the clip. The elastic o-ring keeps the shellholder from coming slap out, but also takes a little (to a lot) of getting used to because the shellholder is free to spin and shift. It no longer snaps satisfyingly and firmly into place.

shellholder tricks
I’ve shown this before but it (really) works well to improve alignment odds. Canning the shellholder retaining clip so the part can sit flush and move a little helps it all self-center. This is a 7/8 o.d. x 11/16 i.d. x 3/32 thick o-ring that suits most press rams.

This arrangement lets the shellholder fit flat-flush against the ram and, very important, allows some “wiggle room” to let the shellholder float so the cartridge case can seek its own center as it enters the die.

I am absolutely convinced that a floating shellholder is a big help toward attaining concentricity in a round.

All mating parts surfaces have to have a tolerance. Lower (closer gaps) is better, but it can’t get too low or the dang parts won’t fit together. The way I see it, the more room for movement the bigger trick it is to get everything in alignment, if we want to lock it all in-line. Shellholders are fairly loose all around: the shellholder has to fit into the press ram slot and then the case has to fit into the shellholder and these fits are fairly free. Attempts to lock a shellholder in place, frankly, are contrary to best alignment, with maybe one exception.

On the other end of this, and this qualifies as a press “trick,” Forster has its own take on shellholder design. The Co-Ax shellholder uses what amounts to clamping jaws that are engineered to take up the slack in each individual case and lock it in dead alignment with the press ram. I’ve used Forster long enough and made enough gage checks, and shot enough high-x cleans with the resulting rounds produced on this machine, to tell you that it it, indeed, works. Years ago I tried an aftermarket add-on version of this concept produced by Quietics, makers of the original “inertia” bullet puller. It’s still available. Like the Forster, the same setting will work with a variety of cartridge sizes and that was the main draw to this “universal” shellholder.

shellholder tricks

shellholder tricks
Forster uses a proprietary system that gets a case centered with the ram and keeps it securely centered during a die op. Their Co-Ax design is pretty much a clamping shellholder. SEE IT HERE

Keep the shellholder and its slot clean. As often said, running a separate decapping station keeps the majority of gritty gunk off the main press parts.

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.

 

REL0ADERS CORNER: Reloading Presses: Options

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A very “busy” reloader might consider a turret press to save on time. Read all about why HERE

turret press

Glen Zediker

Last time I wrote about the most basic and essential of all reloading tools: the single-stage press. They come in a few shapes and all sizes. Which you choose, as said, has much to do with how much leverage you need to perform the toughest operations you face on the loading bench.

Beyond size, however, there are other options in a press, and some might suit your needs best. The first that comes to mind is a turret. I’m a fan of turret presses, and for reasons that will be pointed out throughout this article.

turret press
This is a honker of a press and it’s well worth the cost. Lyman Brass-Smith. 8 station ops. And it’s actually on sale now at Midsouth so I have to back up on telling you turrets always cost more! CHECK IT OUT HERE

First, a turret is, pretty much, a single stage press that has more than one receptacle for threaded dies. Instead of threading in and out each separate die for each separate operation, just leave them in the tool head. The head on a turret press can be moved to center each die receptacle over the press ram.

turret press
Redding T-7 has been a long-time “standard” for a big turret, and that’s because it’s stout! Very heavy, very sturdy, and 7 stations. Cast iron. SEE IT HERE

turret press redding

Some turret presses are on the very heavy duty end of the press spectrum. Others not so much. A “big” Lyman, Redding, or RCBS turret press can hold enough dies to load different cartridges without changing heads, or dies. Lyman offers 8 holes, Redding 7, and RCBS has 6. If you’re using only a sizing and seating die, as might most for loading rifle rounds, you can handle more than two different cartridges without ever threading in or out a die. That, to me, is a valuable thing. The dies stay adjusted and, no doubt, either of those presses has more than plenty leverage to handle any and all sizing, reforming, and any other press ops.

Lock-N-Load AP Auto Progressive Press

Take a tour of all available reloading presses at Midsouth Shooters HERE.

The ultimate value in a turret, in my mind, is getting one that allows for straightforward tool head swaps. That way you can leave all the (adjusted) dies in the tool head and when it’s time to change cartridges, remove the head and replace it with another that also houses the necessary adjusted dies. My choice in turrets, therefore, runs on the smaller-bodied side of available options. I prefer to keep all the dies for one cartridge in one head. To that end, a 3 or 4 hole turret fits my bill. The most popular and easily available is from Lee, and I’ve used one of those for years for case forming ops. I put all the needed dies for a cartridge conversion — forming dies, trimming die — in the turret head and shuck away, moving from station to station as needed.

I have known folks who used a turret press pretty much as a “manual-automatic” progressive, and auto-indexing can be incorporated into a Lee. Crank the handle, move the turret head one hole, crank again, move the head again, and so on. That’s not my way to run one. A true progressive press is way on better if you’re looking to speed up the overall loading process. Again, turrets help us move faster because we don’t have to stop and re-up the tooling for each case operation.

turret press
The Lee Classic 4-Hole Turret has been around a while and I’ve used one for a while too. I like it fine. Heads are inexpensive and really fast to change out. I am not a fan of its auto-index, but that is easily “switched off.” SEE IT HERE

I have found that running a 4-hole turret for my personal needs in loading my NRA High Power Rifle Service Rifle ammo (for an AR15) was the without-a-doubt best way to get me through the tooling tickiness I had developed in manufacturing those rounds, which was almost always done the night before. For that rifle and that venue, I used two different bullets and two different case neck dimensions (lighter constriction for the 600 yard load) so I ran a sizing die, which was set the same for all rounds; then an inside neck sizing mandrel to alter the case neck tension; then one seating die set for 77gr. magazine-length rounds and another set for 80gr bullets. That setup occupied the 4 holes I had available in my turret head. I saved a lot of time with this setup. The dies stayed put and therefore never a worry about consistency use to use. I did index-reference all the dies using a paint marker so I could see if anything had inadvertently rotated.

turret press harrells
This is my most-used press: Harrells 4-Hole Turret. This is a small-shop precision made machine and hain’t nearly cheap. It clamps just about anywhere and can be either a 2, 3, or 4 hole depending the head plate. SEE ONE HERE

Other ideas on making full use of a turret include incorporating one of the threaded-type priming tools (such as Lee Ram Prime) or even a powder meter station (using a meter with 7/8-14 threads). Clearly, turrets are great for pistol shooters who need sizing, expanding, seating, and often a separate crimping station.

I honestly am really tempted to wholesale recommend a turret press to anyone who’s got to deal with any or certainly many of the benefit potentials mentioned. Loading for more than one cartridge, needing more than a couple of dies, and so on. Only trick is that a turret press is going to cost more money. Making a play on the old hot-rodder adage: Speed costs money, so how fast do you want to spend? Time also can cost money, and how much do you want to save? If time is more valuable to you, by all means get a turret.

turret press

And, last, even though it’s always important to keep any press cleaned and lubed, it’s even more so with a turret.

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: Press Principals

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

coax press

Glen Zediker

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

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

The standard receptacle has 7/8-14 threads.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

redding boss

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHECK OUT DECAPPING TOOLS HERE

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

RELOADERS CORNER: Learning To Load Again, 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.

RELOADERS CORNER: Barrel Throat Erosion

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How long does a barrel last? About 5 seconds. KEEP READING

throat erosion
Well, it’s hotter than this, but it’s flame cutting over time and distance, and hotter for longer is the issue.

Glen Zediker

As is by now common enough in this column I write, ideas for topics very often come from questions that are emailed to me. As always, I figure that if someone has a question they want answered, then others might also like to know the answer. This question was about barrel life and, specifically, this fellow had been reading some materials on the interweb posted by some misinformed folks on the topic of bullet bearing area and its influence on barrel life: “Is it true that using 110 gr. vs. a 150 gr. .308 bullet will extend barrel life because of its reduced bore contact?”

NO. Not because of that.

However! The answer is also YES, but here’s why…

Wear in a barrel is virtually all due to throat erosion. The throat is the area in a barrel that extends from the case neck area in the chamber to maybe 4 inches farther forward. Erosion is the result of flame-cutting, which is hot gas from propellant consumption eating into the surface of the barrel steel. Same as a torch. There is very little wear caused from passage of the bullet through the bore, from the “sides” of the bullet, from friction or abrasion. The eroding flame cutting is at or near the base of the bullet.

When the propellant is consumed and creates the flame, the burn is most intense closer to the cartridge case neck. There are a few influences respecting more or less effect from this flame cutting. Primarily, it’s bullet weight. Time is now the main factor in the effect of the flame cutting. Slower acceleration means a longer time for the more intense flame to do its damage.

The slower the bullet starts, and the slower it moves, the more flame cuts in a smaller area for a longer time.

Bullet bearing area, therefore, has an influence on erosion, but that’s because it relates to acceleration — greater area, more drag, slower to move.

The amount of propellant, and the propellant nature, do also influence rate of erosion. Some assume that since there’s more propellant behind a lighter bullet that would create more erosion, and that’s true, but that is also not as great a factor as bullet weight. Other things equal, clearly, more propellant is going to cut steel more than less propellant. A “lighter” load will have a decidedly good effect on barrel life.

throat erosion
It’s heavier bullets that have the most influence on shortening barrel life.

Heavier bullets, without a doubt, are a greater influence than any other single factor. “We” (NRA High Power Rifle shooters) always supposed that it was the number of rapid-fire strings we ran that ate up barrels the most, but that was until we started using heavier bullets and found out in short order that our barrels weren’t lasting as long. That was moving from a 70gr. to an 80gr. bullet.

The “nature” of propellant is a loose reference to the individual flame temperatures associated with different ones. There have been some claims of greater barrel life from various propellants, but, generally, a double-base will produce higher flame temperature.

Even barrel twist rate plays a role, and, again, it’s related to resistance to movement — slower start in acceleration. Same goes for coated bullets: they have less resistance and move farther sooner, reducing the flame effect just a little. And, folks, it’s always “just a little.” It adds up though.

There are bullet design factors that influence erosion. A steady diet of flat-base bullets will extend barrel life. There’s been a belief for years and years that boat-tail bullets increase the rate of erosion because of the way the angled area deflects-directs the flame. And that is true! However, it’s not a reason not to use boat-tails, just a statement. We use boat-tails because they fly better on down the pike, and, ultimately that’s a welcome trade for a few less rounds. An odd and uncommon, but available, design, the “rebated boat-tail” sort of splits the difference and will, indeed, shoot better longer (they also tend to shoot better after a barrel throat is near the end of its life).

The effects or influences of barrel throat erosion are numerous, but the one that hurts accuracy the most is the steel surface damage. It gets rough, and that abrades the bullet jacket. The throat area also gets longer, and that’s why it’s referred to as “pushing” the throat.

The roughness can’t much be done about. There are abrasive treatments out there and I’ve had good luck with them. Abrasive coated bullets run through after each few hundred rounds can help to smooth the roughness, but then these also contribute their share to accelerated wear. I guess then it’s not so much a long life issue, but a quality of life issue. I do use these on my competition rifles.

lnl gage
Use the Hornady LNL O.A.L. gage to record and then track barrel throat wear. This isn’t technically a “throat erosion gage,” which do exist, but I’ve found it an easy and reliable way to keep up with an advancing throat. As the seating depth gets longer, it’s indicating how far the throat is advancing. Get one HERE 

Keeping in mind that the throat lengthens as erosion continues, using something like the Hornady LNL tool shown often in these pages can let bullet seating depth that touches the lands serve as a pretty good gage to determine the progress of erosion. On my race guns, I’ll pull the barrel when it’s +0.150 greater than it was new. Some say that’s excessively soon, and a commonly given figure from others in my circle is +0.250. One reason I pull sooner is that I notice a fall-off in accuracy sooner than that since I’m bound by a box magazine length for my overall cartridge length for magazine-fed rounds with shorter bullets, and I’m already starting with a fairly long throat (“Wylde” chamber cut). And another is because gas port erosion is having some effect on the bullet also by that number of rounds. Which now leads into the “big” question.

So, then, how long does a barrel last? Get out a calculator and multiply how many rounds you get before pulling a barrel by how long each bullet is in the barrel and barrels don’t really last very long at all! At full burn, maybe 4-6 seconds, some less, or a little more.

Another misgiven “fact” I see running rampant is associated with comparing stainless steel to chromemoly steel barrels for longevity. Stainless steel barrels will, yes, shoot their best for more rounds, but, chromemoly will shoot better for an overall longer time. Lemmeesplain: the difference is in the nature of the flame cutting effect on these two steels. Stainless tends to form cracks, looking like a dried up lakebed, while chromemoly tends to just get rough, like sandpaper. The cracks provide a little smoother surface for the bullet to run on (until they turn into something tantamount to a cheese grater). The thing is that when stainless stops shooting well it stops just like that. So, stainless will go another 10 to 15 percent more x-ring rounds, but chromemoly is liable to stay in the 10-ring at least that much longer than stainless steel.

throat erosion
Stainless steel barrels keep their “gilt-edge” accuracy for about 15% more rounds, but hit the wall head-on and in a big way when they reach their limit. Chromemoly steel tends to open up groups sooner, but also maintains “decent” accuracy for a longer time, by my experience — the groups open more slowly.

Do barrel coatings have an effect? Some. A little. I’ve yet to see one that made a significant difference, or at least commensurate with its extra expense. Chrome-lined barrels do, yes, tend to last longer (harder surface), but they also tend not to shoot as well, ever. Steel hardness factors, but most match barrels are made from pretty much the same stuff.

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: Standard Deviation

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Before getting into improving bullet velocity Standard Deviation, it’s first necessary to understand what it is, and what it isn’t. KEEP READING

chronograph screen

Glen Zediker

I got started on this topic last time, and kind of came in through the side door. Quick backstory: the topic was how to start on solving unsuitably high shot-to-shot velocity inconsistencies. This time we’ll start at the other end of this, and that is taking steps to improve already suitable velocity deviation figures.

Clearly, the first step in getting involved in velocity studies is getting the velocities to study. Of course, that means you need a chronograph. Midsouth Shooters has a selection and there’s a direct link in this article.

Virtually all chronographs are going to be accurate. A well-known manufacturer of shooting-industry electronics once told me that unless a chronograph displays a reading that’s just crazy unrealistic, you can rely on the number. The reason is that the current state of circuitry is pretty well understood and heavily shared. Pay attention, though, to setting up the device according to suggestions in the instructions that will accompany the new chronograph. The more recent Doppler-radar-based units are not technically chronographs, but they function as such. The advantages to those are many! More in another article soon. For now, for here, what matters is getting some numbers.

labradar
Latest and greatest, in my mind, advancement in data collection is doppler radar based units, like this from LabRadar. Easy to use, and not finicky about sunlight and setup.

Point of all that was this: You don’t have to spend up for the best to get a good chronograph. One of the price-point differences in chronographs is how much it will help work with the data it gathers. Most of us any more don’t have to do hands-on calculations. Me? All I want is a number. However, there are a good many that will record, calculate, and print.

magnetospeed
Barrel-mounted electro-magnetic chronographs like this one from MagnetoSpeed make it easy. I like being able to read speeds without all the setup, and not having to rely on a benchrest-type restriction. It stays on the rifle so can easily be used in the field. There are rail mounts available also.

Terms and Twists
Speaking of calculations, the most known and probably most used expressed calculation of collected velocity figures is Standard Deviation. SD suggests or reflects the anticipated consistency of bullet velocities (calculated from some number of recorded velocities). “Standard” reflects on a sort of an average of the rounds tested. I know saying “sort of” disturbs folks like my math-major son so here’s more: SD is the square root of the mean of the squares of the deviations.

Standard Deviation calculations did not originate from ballistic research. It’s from statistical analysis and can be applied to a huge number of topics, like population behavior. SD calculation forms a bell curve, familiar to anyone who ever had to take a dreaded Statistics class. The steeper and narrower the apex of the bell, the narrower the fluctuations were. But there’s always a bell to a bell curve and the greatest deviations from desired standard are reflected in this portion of the plot. Depending on the number of shots that went into the SD calculation, these deviations may be more or less notable than the SD figure suggests.

Calculating SD
If you have no electronic gadgetry to help: add up all the recorded velocities and divide them by the number of records to get a “mean.” Then subtract that mean value from each single velocity recorded to get a “deviation” from the mean. Then square each of those. Squaring them eliminates any negative numbers that might result from cancelling out and returning a “0.” Add the squares together and find the mean of the squares by dividing again by the number of numbers — minus 1 (divide by n -1; that eliminates a bias toward a misleadingly small result). Then find the square root of that and that’s the Standard Deviation figure, which is “a” Standard Deviation, by the way, not the Standard Deviation.

bell curve
This is a bell curve such as results from plotting an SD calculation, and is given here only an example of how the distribution, the “odds,” graph out.

Knowing a load’s SD allows us to estimate-anticipate how likely it is for “outliers” to show up as we’re shooting one round after another. Based on the distribution based on the curve, if we have an SD of 12, for instance, then a little better than 2 out of 3 shots will be at or closer to the mean than 12 feet per second (fps). The other shots will deviate farther: about 9 out of 10 will be 19 fps, or less, from the mean. 21 out of 22 will be 24 fps closer to the mean. Those numbers represent about 1.00, 1.65, and 2.00 standard deviations.

Now. All that may have ranged from really boring to somewhat helpful, to, at the least, I hope informative.

Mastery of SD calculation and understanding doesn’t necessarily mean smaller groups. It gives a way to, mostly and above all else, tell us, one, the potential of the ammo to deliver consistent elevation impacts, and, two, reflects on both how well we’re doing our job in assembling the ammo and the suitability of our component combination.

I honestly pay zero attention to SD. I go on two other terms, two other numbers. One is “range,” which is the lowest and highest speeds recorded in a session. The one that really matters to me, though, is “extreme spread.” That, misleading on the front end, is defined as the difference between this shot and the next shot, and then that shot and the next shot, and so on. Why? Because that’s how I shoot tournament rounds! This one, then another, and then another. A low extreme spread means that the accuracy of my judgment of my wind call has some support.

Depending on the number of shots and more, SD can be misleading because it gets a little smaller with greater amounts of input. Extreme spread doesn’t. I have yet to calculate an SD that put its single figure greater than my extreme spread records.

Lemmeesplain: The shot-to-shot routine is to fire a round. It’s either centered or not. If it’s not centered, calculate the amount of correction to get the next one to center. Put that on the sight. Fire again. If I know that there’s no more than 10 fps between those rounds, that’s no enough to account for (technically it can’t be accounted for with a 1/4-MOA sight) then it’s all on me, and if it’s all on me I know that the input I got from the last shot, applied to the next shot, will be telling. Was I right or wrong? It can’t be the ammo, folks. Then I know better whether the correction is true and correct.

Some might be thinking “what’s the difference?” and it’s small, and so are scoring lines.

A load that calculates to a low SD is not automatically going to group small, just because it has a low SD. Champion Benchrest competitors have told me that their best groups don’t always come with a low-SD load. But that does not apply to shooting greater distance! A bullet’s time of flight and speed loss are both so relatively small at 100 yards that any reasonable variation in bullet velocities (even a 20 SD) isn’t going to open a group, not even the miniscule clusters it takes to be competitive in that sport. On downrange, though, it really starts to matter.

For an example from my notes: Sierra 190gr .308 MatchKing, in a .308 Win. Its 2600 fps muzzle velocity becomes 2450 at 100 yards and 1750 at 600 yards (I rounded these numbers).

If we’re working with a horrid 100 fps muzzle velocity change, that means one bullet could lauch at 2550 and the next might hit 2650, in the extreme. The first drifts about 28 inches (let’s make it a constant full-value 10-mph wind again to keep it simple) and the faster one slides 26 inches. That’s not a huge deal. However! Drop — that is THE factor, and here’s where inconsistent velocities really hurt. With that 190, drop amount differences over a 100 fps range are about 3 times as great as drift amounts. This bullet at 2600 muzzle velocity hits 5-6 inches higher or lower for each 50 fps muzzle velocity difference. That is going to cost on target. And it gets way (way) worse at 1000 yards. Velocity-caused errors compound on top of “normal” group dispersion (which would be group size given perfect velocity consistency).

This 100 fps example is completely extreme, but half of that, or even a quarter of that, still blows up a score, or creates a miss on an important target.

That all led to this: What is a tolerable SD?

I say 12. There has been much (a huge amount) of calculation that led to that answer. But that’s what I say is the SD that “doesn’t matter” to accuracy. It’s more than I’ll accept for a tournament load, but for those I’m looking for an extreme spread less than 10 fps (the range might be higher, but now we’re just talking terms). More later…

Check out chronographs HERE

This article is adapted from Glen’s book, Handloading For Competition, available at Midsouth HERE. For more information on that and other books by Glen, visit ZedikerPublishing.com

RELOADERS CORNER: Understanding Ballistic Coefficient

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Math and myth both get involved in bullet Ballistic Coefficient discussions. Keep reading to separate the two and learn exactly what BC is, and what it isn’t. MORE

bc

Glen Zediker

Years ago I explained in great detail to a fellow here all about ballistic coefficient and how it was calculated and how it could be used and how it can change and so on, and he stopped me: “So you mean it’ll hit furtherer on up the hill…” That’s it.

A “ballistic coefficient,” or “BC,” is a number assigned to a bullet that suggests its aerodynamic performance.

That’s a key word, “suggests.” The main suggestion is how well this bullet will fly compared to that bullet, and the one with the higher BC ought to fly better. Fly better means less drop and drift, and those, factually, are a product of the higher-number BC. My best all-inclusive definition what a higher BC does for us: less speed lost over distance. Regardless of the muzzle velocity or the distance, one bullet with a higher BC will lose relatively less velocity over the same distance.

bullet blueprint
Here’s a blueprint. All the information needed to calculate a BC is contained here. It doesn’t have to be a real bullet because a BC model is not a real bullet either. Design factors that influence BC are virtually every design factor: length, ogive, boat-tail, meplat, weight. These factors, in this instance, calculate to a G1 BC of 0.560. By the way, there’s about a 5 point BC increase for each added 1 grain of bullet weight.

BC is calculated based on a standard bullet model. There are 7 of those. Two are normally used to determine BC for conventional rifle bullets, like what the most of us reading this use. Ballisticians and designers know which model to apply to different bullet types. The common model is a “G1” (another is G7, which is becoming the popular standard for boat-tail bullets; G1 is based on a flat-base). The flight of this G1 bullet has been calculated at varying velocities and distances. It’s “all math” because a G1 does not in fact exist. BCs are derived by comparison.

g1
The older standard for most rifle bullets was the G1. The newer, and better, standard is the G7. However! BC is never chiseled into stone regardless of the model. It’s a way to compare bullets, and a place to start figuring yours out.

g1 and g7

The standard bullet of any form-factor has a BC of 1.000. An actual bullet that’s compared to the model at points downrange will either be flying faster or slower than the model. If it’s moving faster, its BC will be greater than 1.000. If it’s going slower, it will be less than 1.000. It’s a percentage of the standard or model bullet’s performance.

Now. That is also all that it is!

BC is not an infallible factual statement about precisely what a bullet will be doing when it’s loaded and fired at that target than moment with that rifle. Not nearly, not hardly.

To me, BC gives us a place to start estimating drop (elevation) and also clues to how much it will get moved by a wind. It’s a way to compare bullets.

BC changes! Day to day, place to place, hour to hour.

Some bullet makers publish a BC for a bullet based on actual testing (chronographs) but now it’s pretty much “just math.” That’s fine. Which — math or measure — provides the best information? Some believe that a measured, tested BC is more realistic and, therefore, more valuable. But, if the point is to compare bullets, calculated BCs is more reliably accurate.

We (NRA High Power Rifle shooters) have gone to difficult and frustrating lengths to collect data to calculate “real” BCs (chronographing at 500+ yards hain’t always easy). Measured BCs are quite often lower, and they are quite often higher. Reasons follow.

The accuracy of drift and drop tables clearly revolves around what the actual, at that moment, BC performance is from the bullet you’re shooting (compared to what it’s “supposed” to be).

Anything that can influence bullet flight influences the actual, demonstrated BC performance.

BC uniformity is important. Bullets that show uniform BC performance produce less elevation dispersion. A source for variation is the meplat (bullet tip). Hollowpoint match bullets are notorious for inconsistency in this area. There’s a tool, a “meplat uniformer,” that fixes it. That’s pretty much the point to the plastic points on bullets like Hornady’s A-Max line.

Atmospherics, which add up as a list of factors, have a huge influence on BC performance. Air density is probably the most powerful influence. Any conditions that allow for easier passage of a bullet through the air don’t detract as much from its stated BC as do any conditions that serve to disrupt its headway. BCs are based on sea-level so can easily show as a higher number at a higher elevation. I can tell you that bullets fired at The Whittington Center in New Mexico have a noticeably better BC than those shot at Port Clinton, Ohio.

Range reality is that the demonstrated BC changes from morning to afternoon and day to day and place to place. The calculated BC is not changing, of course, but the mistake is assuming that a BC is a finite measure of bullet performance.

Bullet stability is even a factor. For a stated BC to be shown on a shot, the bullet has to be “asleep.” If it’s not stable, it’s encountering disruptions that will slow it down. The rotational speed of a bullet in a test can influence BC. We’ve seen differences comparing different twist-rate barrels, and the faster twists often show a little lower tested BC.

Factors that don’t matter in BC? Caliber. I’ve been argued at often over this next, but it is perfectly and absolutely true: BCs work the same regardless of caliber or bullet weight. Two bullets that each have a 0.550 BC, for instance, behave the same. That’s helpful, and at one time was more helpful than it is now. When we had to use paper tables to get drift and drop data and there was a new bullet that didn’t yet have those tables done, all you had to do was find data for another bullet with the same BC, go to the same muzzle velocity, and that data was 100-percent accurate. A .308 and .224 that both have the same BC share the same table. Remember, it’s not “real,” it’s a mathematical model.

So if you take a load to the target one day and you’re putting on more elevation than the BC-based calculation says you should, the BC isn’t wrong. The day is just different.

Finally, does it matter (really) if a bullet BC is based on a G1 or G7 model? Debates continue. But, not really, and I say that because BC is still only a suggestion. G7 is a more closely matched model to what we’re usually shooting when we think of a “high-BC” bullet, but all the same factors day to day also influence its accuracy. Given access to the data, I definitely, though, go with G7 calculations to have a place to start from. My experience has been that there is less difference in varying conditions, but, again, it’s still (plenty) enough change that you cannot dial it in and win anything…

The preceding is a specially-adapted excerpt from Glen’s book 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: Case Trimmers

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

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

Glen Zediker

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

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

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

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

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

LE Wilson
LE Wilson. See it HERE at Midsouth.

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

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

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

le wilson sleeve

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Check out some more options at Midsouth HERE

Gracey
Giraud

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