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    He has mind of child LittleLebowski's Avatar
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    USAMU reloading article series

    ***This was posted on Facebook over a period of time and I lucked into a collated document containing the text. This post will change over time as I have time to edit.***

    Getting Started in*Handloading, Part 1

    (HL) Here at the USAMU*Handloading*Shop, we receive inquiries from shooters at many skill levels. One of the most frequent questions we are asked is, “What equipment do you recommend I buy, to start*handloading?”

    Often, the correspondent will be focused on producing ammo in quantity, and a big concern is whether to*begin*with a single-stage vs. a progressive press. However, there is one critical item that often gets overlooked as folks talk about the especially interesting topics such as reloading die brands and types, scale types and brands, etc. And, what might that item be?

    “When all else fails, read the WHAT??” Yes, we recommend those new to handloading*actually*begin*with reading the early chapters of 1 or, preferably, 2 quality*handloading*manuals. They contain copious information on basic*handloading*safety, how to choose and use components, and how to recognize and avoid potentially dangerous conditions. Of course, they also do a fine job of teaching new loaders the correct methods of adjusting dies, determining safe loads, improving accuracy, etc.

    “So, which manuals do you recommend?” As a government entity, we aren’t able to make specific brand-name recommendations as such. However, recent manuals from the major bullet and powder manufacturers, especially those who emphasize accuracy and match-type bullets, are generally a wise choice.

    Handloaders will, over time, come to prefer one or two maker’s manuals over others for various reasons. Asking a friend who’s already an experienced loader which manuals they recommend is a good start. Borrowing 1 or several to read before purchasing, is another. This is a good way to both save money and get a feel for the variety of component types and data that are available. Comparing differences in data from different manuals in the same caliber, with the same powder and bullet weight can be an eye-opener. It is also a wise step in researching any loading project before one begins – and the reasons for the differences are fully explained in the manuals!


    Beginning Handloading, Part 2

    (HL) Welcome to another edition of the USAMU Handloading Shop’s weekly “Handloading Hump Day!” We receive frequent requests for gear recommendations from new handloaders. Thus, we are running a short series on basic equipment for the beginner, to help them safely get high-quality results with good (not necessarily expensive) equipment.

    For those who missed Part 1, our first recommendation is one that, surprisingly, many handloaders skip – even long-time shooters. We recommend carefully reading the safety and technique information contained in 1 or 2 quality handloading manuals, as we outlined on 17 June 2015. Doing so helps beginners recognize and avoid many potential pitfalls and shortens the learning curve tremendously.

    Our second recommendation is to buy proven, high-quality equipment. It should have a reputation for great durability, good ergonomics and reasonable-to-excellent precision. In addition, ask fellow shooters which companies have a good reputation for support after the sale. Several of the better handloading companies set the bar very high.

    With the better ones, it’s common to call to order small replacement parts and receive them at no charge in the mail immediately thereafter. Other companies don’t enjoy such a sterling reputation. Often, these focus on cheap equipment made with low-quality materials, aimed at those to whom cost is THE prime consideration.

    Good quality equipment not only leads to less frustration, faster production, better results and less misery – it is also an excellent investment. Certain companies’ products sell virtually instantly on the “used” market and retain high re-sale value. Other gear from less well-regarded companies is much more difficult to sell. Moreover, it brings far less of its original purchase price, if it can be sold at all.

    Ask veteran handloaders – preferably those who are still very active in the shooting sports -- which equipment they prefer, and why. After getting specific recommendations, search for reviews of that equipment, as well as possible alternates and newer designs. Learn the steps of operating the various options, and evaluate them for efficiency, effort and precision. A little research can pay big dividends, here!

    A prime example of this would be case trimmers. Trimming rifle brass is one of the universally least-enjoyed handloading chores, so it really matters which trimmer one buys.

    A fellow who loads maybe 100-200 rounds a year will likely be satisfied with his 40-year-old case trimmer. And, why not? Although of obsolete design, its’ dull blades and very inefficient case holder work well enough for his needs. He never experiences the blisters, hand cramps and general pain that a competitive shooter attempting volume loading on such equipment will.

    As he’s had his gear for many years, he may have felt no need to improve, upgrade or even learn about better models over time. This occurs despite massive improvements in certain areas (especially case trimmers and case sizing lubricants). Therefore, while his advice may be perfectly valid, it may not be the most comprehensive or up-to-date.

    Competitive shooters who’ve been in the game and compete successfully (or at least competently!) are often a great source of extensive, first-hand knowledge. Their recommendations include both what to buy, and almost more importantly, what to AVOID.

    In general, it’s better to buy good equipment once and cry once, than to buy inferior gear and then spend that money again, plus more, on better gear shortly thereafter.



    Beginning Handloading, Part 3


    (HL) Happy Handloading Hump-Day! As promised, this week we’ll address a question frequently asked by prospective handloaders. To wit: “Should I buy a single-stage press, or a progressive?” The best answer is almost Solomon-esque in both its’ wisdom and simplicity: “Get BOTH!” However, there is definitely more to the issue than that… read on!

    Many are the beginning handloaders who have asked a friend about their “setting up” a progressive press for them. The idea is that the newbie could then just feed in components and crank out buckets of practice ammo without needing to really learn much about handloading.

    Tempting though this might be, that’s simply not how it works. Such an approach might be ok if there were never a malfunction with either press or operator, but that’s unrealistic. Our hypothetical newbie would then lack the knowledge to problem-solve most situations. Worse yet, several different handloading operations would be occurring at different stations on the progressive press at the same time. It takes an experienced operator to keep track of, and truly understand the significance of, all those potential mini-problems. Loading without this experience is a recipe for potential disaster – such as a double powder charge (especially with pistol cartridges) dropped while the loader was attending to some other function, etc. Progressives are an animal unto themselves, and while they offer many benefits, they do take some getting used to – even by experienced handloaders!

    ILLUSTRATIVE HORROR STORY: Here, enter a 40-year veteran handloader who decided to jump onto the progressive bandwagon late in his career, having used only single-stage presses all his life. A High Master NRA Highpower Rifle competitor, he had no background in competitive pistol shooting, where historically most progressive presses are found. Experienced Action Pistol shooters have typically encountered multiple episodes in which shooters “skipped” a powder charge for some reason, leading to a squib round and a bullet possibly lodged in the bore. Thus, at matches, it’s reflexive for them to yell “STOP!” in unison if they see a shooter get a “click” vs. “bang,” and rack the slide to keep firing. This writer has personally seen several pistols saved in just such scenarios over the years.

    Our High Master set up a popular progressive press and began turning out .223 100-yd. practice ammo with abandon. He was using a moly-coated 52 gr. match bullet and an economical, fast-burning surplus powder that gave great accuracy. Once on the range, he began practicing strings of rapid-fire. All was well, until he heard “Click!” rather than “Boom”…

    Lacking the above experience or onlookers to halt him, he reflexively operated the charging handle on his expensive, custom NM AR15 Service Rifle, and the next trigger squeeze reportedly registered on seismographs over at least a 3-state radius. He sat, uninjured but bewildered, until the hail of expensive bits and pieces quit raining down around him. When the smoke cleared, he immediately cursed the horrid, evil, demonically-possessed progressive press for this, his first-ever reloading mishap.

    His $1400 NM upper was ruined, but thankfully, his $800 pre-ban lower (yes, it was back then…) and he had escaped injury. A forensic reconstruction revealed what likely happened:
    1. He’d skipped a powder charge in 1 case.

    1. Moly-coated bullets result in lower neck tension unless steps are taken to increase it vs. standard jacketed bullets.

    1. Upon firing the squib, the bullet was projected into the rifling throat, which likely wouldn’t have happened without the light neck tension.

    1. Upon firing the squib, the bullet was projected into the rifling throat, which likely wouldn’t have happened without the light neck tension.

    1. The cartridge chambered fully, the trigger was squeezed and… well, you know the rest.


    This tale is told not to discourage the use of progressive presses, but to emphasize the need to EASILY and IMMEDIATELY KNOW what is happening with the press at each station, every time the handle is cranked. Not to do so is, as they say, “bad ju-ju.” It illustrates why we at the USAMU Handloading Shop agree in recommending that new handloaders should begin with a single-stage press. Once one thoroughly learns the steps in each phase of handloading by repeated experience, then one will be qualified to move on to a progressive press. Quite beyond that, the single-stage press will REMAIN virtually indispensable for one’s entire handloading career, even after having purchased a progressive press (or two). There are endless small projects that are best handled on a single-stage press, and a poll of USAMU’s Handloading staff reveals that not one would willingly be without his single-stage press, despite owning at least 1 progressive.


    Beginning Handloading, Part 4:
    Progressive Press Features and Advantages


    (HL) Welcome back to the USAMU’s “Handloading Hump-Day!” Our staff would like to thank you all for your many kind thoughts and comments! We’re glad to be of service.

    Last week, we addressed single-stage vs. progressive presses for the beginning handloader, and made the experience-based case that beginners would be better served by starting on a single-stage press.

    [CAVEAT: while many progressive presses are seen in photos of our Handloading Shop, remember that ALL of our powder charges are weighed by hand. We do not use powder measures on our presses. Progressives at our shop are used for preparation of brass, priming, seating, etc., but not for fully-progressive loading. ]

    For those interested in progressives, we’ll examine different key features among the types and relate them to handloading processes. The first, and simplest, type is the manually-advanced progressive. The shellplate holds the several cartridges being processed with each stroke of the handle. On these, the loader must manually advance the shellplate after each handle stroke. While this obviously slows production vs. a press which cycles the shellplate automatically, this feature does have some advantages. (The disadvantages follow shortly.) No case is advanced to the next station until the operator deliberately does so – which is especially helpful for the new handloader. Problems that arise during loading can be diagnosed and fixed without fears of some “extra” process happening with cartridges at the other stations. NOTE: One way to positively prevent this phenomenon is to remove the cases from each press station when a problem emerges, before beginning diagnosis. Often, however, experienced loaders omit this step as a time-saving measure, being confident in their understanding of the loading process, machine and remedy.

    If all cartridge cases are left in place, the loader must monitor what’s happening at each station. For example, raising the press ram twice may result in a double-charge of powder. With rifle cartridges, this usually results in a massive powder over-flow, alerting the loader to the problem. With pistol cases or small rifle charges in large cases, such an over-flow isn’t guaranteed. The manually advanced progressive keeps all operations under the loader’s control at all times. This seems intuitively easier for the beginning loader to understand and to operate with confidence. However, this same characteristic can be problematic if the loader isn’t paying 100% attention to what they are doing. Some handloaders apparently prefer to load progressively while daydreaming and paying little attention to the operation. Their plan is to feed components in, like feeding potato chips to a monkey, while good ammo drops out at the other end. Unfortunately, such an approach may well result in something other than “good” ammo dropping out the end – just as happens with the monkey! Forgetting to cycle the shellplate will also cause problems. As with all handloading, distractions MUST be kept to a minimum for safety purposes. Never watch TV, talk with friends, or have other distractions (such as a rambunctious pet or child) in the room when loading. Avoiding distractions will do much to ensure consistent, high-quality ammunition, free of defects.

    For example, when a case doesn’t line up correctly with the case mouth expander or powder drop tube, a difference in “feel” often alerts the loader to correct the problem, avoiding a ruined case. If one is interrupted or becomes distracted, be certain to examine all cases in the shellplate before resuming loading.

    Other advantages of the typical manually-advanced progressives are that they are usually simpler in design, and have fewer moving parts to get out of adjustment. This appeals to the mechanically dis-inclined! Caliber conversion kits are usually cheaper and take less time to install. This especially benefits the enthusiast who reloads for a wide variety of calibers.

    However, many popular manually-advanced progressives have fewer die stations than the higher-end auto-advancing machines. One item that is very useful when actually dispensing powder on a progressive press is a powder-level sensor. This warns if powder levels are too high or too low.
    This condition often results from powder “bridging” in the powder measure. That is, one charge doesn’t fully empty into its’ cartridge case, leaving some extra powder hanging up in the measure to join the normal charge on the next case. With some extruded powders, this can be quite obvious without a sensor. However, the sensor can detect small variations that would not be obvious to even an experienced, attentive operator. Looking at the machine’s potential for a powder sensor, in addition to one’s other customary dies, is a wise idea.

    Similarly, pistol shooters are best served to seat bullets and crimp cartridges in separate operations. This should be taken into account when selecting a progressive press. Whenever loading fully-progressively, choosing powders that dispense very easily, such as ball/spherical or very fine-grain extruded powders, can help keep charges quite uniform.

    The next type of press advances the shellplate automatically each time the handle is cycled. We will discuss this type press and its particular advantages and drawbacks next week.


    Beginning Handloading, Part 5:
    Progressive Presses: Self-advancing Shellplate type


    (HL) Happy USAMU “Handloading Hump-Day!” Last week, we addressed manually-operated progressive presses for the beginning handloader. This type press requires one to manually advance the shellplate after each handle stroke. An advantage for beginners is that nothing happens at any station until the loader wants it to. This helps avoid problems from clearing malfunctions without noticing the shellplate has advanced itself.

    [NOTE: Several very useful safety and technical tips re: progressive presses were offered in last week’s column. Any here who missed it are strongly encouraged to read it, as several are not intuitive to people who aren’t well-familiar with progressive presses.]

    The next, more luxurious type progressive advances the shellplate automatically whenever the handle is cycled. Typically, each stroke automatically sizes & primes a case, operates the powder measure (if used) and seats a bullet. Some also have case feeders that automatically put a new case in the shellplate with every cycle. Others require the loader to insert a case each cycle. With both types, the loader usually puts a bullet on each sized/primed/charged case.

    [CAVEAT: While our Handloading Shop has several progressive presses, ALL of our powder charges are thrown/weighed by hand. We do not use powder measures on our presses. Our progressives are used for brass preparation, priming, seating, etc., but not for fully-progressive loading.]

    The manually-advanced press can be a boon to beginners, but as one gains experience it can be a mixed blessing, depending on one’s style. If one pays close attention to every operation and loads without distractions, the manual press is very reliable and allows full scrutiny of each round as it’s loaded. However, if one easily drifts into daydreaming, or isn’t focused on paying careful attention at all times, the manual progressive can be a bit of a liability. The opportunity for forgetting a powder charge, leading to a squib load, is ever-present. The automatically-advancing progressive helps prevent this by ensuring a powder charge will be dropped each time the handle is operated. Experienced handloaders often appreciate this feature due to the savings of time and effort.

    Individual preferences between the two press styles are influenced by several factors. These include one’s comfort with more vs. less complicated mechanisms, how often one changes calibers (case feeders often must be converted, in addition to dies and shellplates), how many rounds one loads annually, relative ease of changing primer mechanisms from small to large, etc. Automatic progressives tend to be significantly more expensive than manual progressives from the same maker.

    One USAMU Handloader, who likes simple, bullet-proof machines and maximum efficiency when converting presses, owns 2 manually-advanced progressives. One is set up for large primers, and the other for small primers. He can change calibers in the twinkling of an eye. As he loads for many different calibers, this fits his style.

    Another Handloader here is just the opposite. He loads for a few calibers, but in larger quantities. He much prefers his self-advancing press with case-feeder for its speed. He makes large “lots” of ammo in a given caliber before switching, to improve overall efficiency. His caliber conversion kits are significantly more expensive than those for the manually-advanced progressive, but he uses fewer of them.

    Whichever type one chooses, it is VERY important to buy quality gear from a manufacturer with a long, well-established track record for quality, durability and good customer support. Avoid jumping on the “latest, greatest” model until it has a proven track record. For example, this writer knows a loader who got a brand-new, expensive, self-advancing model press some years back, shortly after its introduction. As is too often the case, the manufacturer released it before all the “bugs” were worked out. It would not fully seat primers to the correct depth. No amount of adjustment, extra force, or fiddling would do better than to seat primers flush with the case head. Any inattention could result in a slightly “high” primer, protruding above the case head. It created a risk for slam-fires, particularly in semi-autos without spring-retracted firing pins. In desperation, he had a machinist buddy study the problem and machine a new part to correct it. No dice. Its engineering didn’t permit full primer seating, even with extended parts. He now wishes he’d heeded his shooting buddies’ advice to stick with the “tried and true,” reliable performer they all used.

    Whichever press one selects, see if the maker has a kit or list of commonly-replaced parts. Having needed springs, pins, etc. on hand in the rare event that one breaks or “goes missing” can save the day when one is busy loading for a match!

    Next week, we’ll discuss peculiarities of progressive loading for rifle cartridges, with remedies for problems such as excessive cartridge-case headspace variation when sizing, ensuring best powder charge consistency, etc.


    Beginning Handloading, Part 6:
    Progressive Presses: Uniformity of Headspace, Powder Charges & Priming


    (HL) Welcome back to the USAMU’s weekly “Handloading Hump-Day!” Last week, we discussed the various types of progressive reloading presses, and covered their advantages and drawbacks for new vs. experienced users. This week, we’ll address some unusual quirks that can occur when loading progressively, particularly for rifle cartridges, plus solutions.

    [CAVEAT: While our Handloading Shop has several progressive presses, ALL of our powder charges are thrown/weighed by hand. We do not use powder measures on our presses. Our progressives are used for brass preparation, priming, seating, etc., but not for fully-progressive loading.]

    For those who like to keep their sized cartridge-case headspace very exact, one aspect of progressive rifle loading is rarely, if ever, mentioned. Setting the full-length (FL) sizing die carefully to the desired headspace length for your chamber is a bit more complex than on single-stage presses.
    Most folks set up and adjust the FL die individually, independent of the other dies on the toolhead. Once they have the headspace where they want it, they then move on to the other dies and consider the headspace setting resolved. Actually, our Shop has measured noticeable headspace differences in cartridge cases sized singly on progressives, vs. those sized when all the dies are working together (i.e., loading fully-progressively). Thus, at the beginning of each loading session, if very-uniform, tight headspace control is an issue to you, check the headspace of the first few cases processed.
    Often, the first 2-3 cases processed, before all stations are working on cartridge cases, will have different headspace than those prepared in the “usual” configuration (shellplate full, all stations active.) Sometimes the difference is minimal, or it can be several thousandths -- perhaps out of the meticulous loader’s “tolerance range.” Such cases, if safe, can be used for sighters, chronographing, practice, etc. Thus, one should minimize running the press without all stations active if the goal is maximum uniformity.

    In like fashion, the powder measure can dispense somewhat different charges when first set up vs. when the machine is fully operational. This occurs when using only the measure station while adjusting the charge, and can be most significant when loading match grade handgun ammunition.
    If one uses the same pistol case several times while adjusting the measure, the case is typically expanded on the first attempt only. Depending on one’ dies, much pressure may be required to remove the expander from the just-expanded case. The press vibrates/jolts differently when loading progressively, and the charge changes.This is especially prevalent when working with virgin brass, as it hasn’t been expanded at the web by firing. With previously-fired pistol brass, the pressure needed to free the case is often much less, affecting the movement of the press & measure during operation.
    This writer finds that, when loading his personal handgun ammunition progressively, setting the measure’s powder charge with a single case gets the powder charge close to the target weight. However, he considers it correct only after the setting has been verified several times while cases are being processed in all stations. Naturally, the amount of variation can differ significantly depending on the type powder used. It is wise to check several powder charges – this verifies that the average charge weight is the one desired. It also gives a picture of how much the powder charges vary, given your particular machine, powder measure, dies, cases and the powder chosen.

    SAFETY TIP: In an earlier column, this writer suggested that new handloaders should learn on single-stage presses until they have a firm, intuitive grasp of each operation. From there, they may begin progressive loading much better prepared to safely prevent and/or diagnose issues as they arise. Being acutely aware of what is happening at each station each time the handle is operated is an important skill. It comes much faster to experienced handloaders.

    An example of this phenomenon may seem obscure, but it isn’t, necessarily – it just isn’t mentioned in print, as far as this writer knows. When progressively loading for .380 ACP, he noticed that cycling the press ram without a case in the expander/powder dump station bumped the shellplate into the expander, raising it slightly. This, of course, partially activates the powder measure on his particular machine.
    Doing this once = a small increase in the next powder charge. Doing it several times in a row, such as when adjusting dies or correcting malfunctions, can make the next charge up to several tenths of a grain heavier than usual.*In a .380 case, that is significant due to the very limited case volume.
    Depending on how heavily one loads, say, the 9x19mm (Parabellum) cartridge, this could also be an issue if the expander/measure die tip can touch the empty shellplate. Another variable is the type of pistol one is using. For example, a Colt 1903/1908 Hammerless Pocket Auto (Model M) in .32 ACP or .380 will happily gobble up ammunition that can badly bulge cases in the new breed of tiny plastic autos. Cases that emerge in excellent condition from the Colts can look like pregnant guppies after firing in certain other pistols. They don’t support the case/lock up the same as the Colts. The bulges witnessed appeared downright scary – very close to bursting the case. The loader actually discarded these cases after firing, due to safety concerns about the effects of such a bulge.While this example may or may not relate to your current handloading, it is good to be aware of such things so one can detect them if they occur in future.

    Priming of rifle cases is another issue on progressive presses. This column has discussed the lengths the USAMU Handloading Shop goes to, to ensure very uniform, safe seating of rifle primers when prepping brass progressively. Primer depth is set to the desired range and checked with a gauge every time a machine is set up to prime. Depths normally vary about 0.001” to 0.003” from case to case. Thus, it’s good to check several to ensure all cases will meet your criteria. Machines that have a positive priming ram stop, which limits depth to the same degree for each case, can and will need adjustment when changing to brass or primers from different makers. Adjustments may even be needed when switching individual production lots from the same maker. Machines without a priming ram stop depend on the operator to fully seat the primer to the bottom of the primer pocket.
    A lesser-known phenomenon when priming progressively – especially with rifle brass – is that primer depth can be significantly different when the shellplate is empty vs. when all stations are processing cases. Thus, settings derived when measuring primer seating depth with only 1 case in the machine should be verified after several cases have been primed with a full shellplate.

    Many, if not most, progressive handloaders would likely consider the differences discussed here to be trivial and insignificant for their loading and accuracy needs. And, they may very well be right! However, the USAMU is addressing an audience interested in extreme rifle accuracy, who want every cartridge as uniform and perfect as they can make it. Thus, we discuss these relatively little-known phenomena in hopes it is educational.
    Certainly, one should never, EVER load ammunition to such high pressures that a 0.2 or 0.3 gr. over-charge can lead to disaster. That is far too fine a line to walk, as infinite variables in components, firearms and weather conditions can affect pressure at any time. Never exceed published, maximum safe data from a reliable, recent handloading manual. Leaving an adequate margin for safety is not only good practice, it is also common sense!
    Next week, we’ll discuss some ways to help ensure that one dispenses the most uniform powder charges possible when loading rifle ammunition progressively. Please join us again!

    Until then, be safe, hold hard, and good shooting!


    Beginning Handloading, Part 7: 29 July, 2015
    Tips to Reduce Metered Powder Charge Variation


    (HL) Welcome once again to the USAMU’s weekly “Handloading Hump-Day!” Last week, we gave tips on correcting some progressive presses’ unusual quirks re: uniformity of sized case headspace, primer seating depth and powder charge settings. This week, we’ll delve deeper into methods of minimizing powder charge-to-charge variation.

    [CAVEAT: While our Handloading Shop has many progressive presses, ALL of our powder charges are thrown and weighed by hand. We do not use powder measures on our presses. Our progressives are used for brass preparation, priming, seating, etc., but not for fully-progressive loading.]

    As experienced handloaders know, several variables affect the uniformity of metered powder charges (i.e., those thrown directly from a powder measure.) A small variation is tolerable for all but the most demanding tasks. However, rifle competitors -- in particular, those competing at 600 yards and beyond – will be happiest when charges are as uniform as possible.

    Common factors affecting powder charge uniformity from a measure include, but are not limited to:*
    1. The type powder used – ball/spherical, extruded (including long-grain vs. short-grain versions), and flake versions.
    2. The type of measure used – quality of machining, presence/absence of reservoir baffles, cleanliness (and thus smoothness of operation) and sturdiness of mounting, among others.
    3. The operator: smoothness and above all, UNIFORMITY of operating the powder measure.

    In addition, some progressive presses may induce additional variables not encountered by the single-stage handloader. Of course, when one’s load parameters permit, using a powder that meters evenly can greatly improve charge uniformity. For example, when metering a fine-grain spherical powder for a loading tray of 50 rounds-- by actual count -- this writer only encountered 2 that were 0.1 gr. over or under the desired charge.
    (All 50 charges were check-weighed before funneling them into cases.) Not all ball/spherical powders are this uniform, but as a species, they often contrast nicely to extruded powders. However, many extruded powders offer outstanding performance, particularly at long range.
    A particular long-grain extruded powder meters only about 25 out of 50 charges “correct” to 0.1 gr. from the author’s measure, while a different short-grain extruded powder from the same measure will yield about 35/50 correct. Of course, an operator who has not yet developed a consistent technique may increase variation. Flake powders tend to be fast-burning and most often used in pistol, cast bullet or reduced loads. Thus, they are very frequently metered, not weighed.

    In the author’s experience, many flake powders are difficult to meter precisely, even from top-quality measures. Hence, he once weighed 2,000 .45 ACP match powder charges to 0.1 gr. for use by a Champion-level USAMU Pistol Team member at 50 yards. The shooter reportedly remarked, “It feels like I’m cheating! I haven’t shot a “9” YET!” [I.e., in several hundred rounds of training.] Note that this was an extreme case, for an especially-gifted shooter’s use in 50-yard National-level competition/practice only. Most pistol shooters are well-served by properly-metered charges. Naturally, the labor required to weigh and correct this many charges is tedious and extensive! Whenever a ball/spherical pistol powder can give results equal to, or better than a flake powder, their use can significantly reduce charge variation.

    Next week, we’ll continue this discussion, with particular emphasis on improving uniformity of powder metering when loading progressively.
    Join us! We hope this information will be helpful!



    Beginning Handloading, Part 8: Aug. 5, 2015
    Reducing Powder Charge Variation (Cont'd):


    (HL) Welcome back to the USAMU’s weekly “Handloading Hump-Day!” Last week, we discussed factors affecting uniformity of metered powder charges. This week, we’ll continue by addressing specifics of optimum powder metering when loading progressively.

    Powder measures have come a long way in recent decades. Chances are, if one is using a well-made, well-proven design from a respected maker, the measure will be perfectly adequate. Avoid bargains on very old powder measures at estate sales, etc., as some once-popular measures are actually quite inferior to the quality products of today.

    Watch for buildup of powder residue that can cause binding in operation. When this occurs, the measure should be disassembled and cleaned to restore smooth operation. Installing a powder baffle (from your measure’s manufacturer) can help keep powder column pressure uniform.

    Operator-induced powder charge variation generally stems from not having a smooth, standard technique for each measure cycle. Bumping the handle (or not) at the top or bottom of the measure stroke, speed of metering, and dwell time at the top of the stroke (when powder is flowing into the chamber) are all factors that can affect uniformity.

    Checking charge weights on a scale is very useful in assessing one’s performance and charge uniformity. Small powder charge variations are unlikely to make a significant difference in all but the most demanding applications. However, it is not unheard-of to see a 0.7 gr. range of charge weights (or even more), especially when using some extruded powders.

    Progressive presses add another layer to the variables above. Sometimes, the inherent uniformity of press operation can actually improve a new loader’s powder charges! The measures usually supplied, however, are not typically designed for extreme rifle-accuracy use. Polishing the internal and moving parts to reduce burrs and promote smooth powder flow and operation may help.

    Some individual specimens from the same maker may well require more or less tuning than others, depending on the production run. Naturally, progressive press measures differ in design by maker, with some better than others. Moreover, throughout the years, some makers have refined their basic designs to improve operation, resulting in differences between “generations” of their measures.

    To begin, observe the measure in operation and pay particular attention to smoothness of operation. Uneven “jolting” may occur, for example, if the measure bar “sticks” occasionally before returning. Sometimes adding an additional return spring can improve operation. Judicious use of graphite or other dry lube in friction areas may also help.

    Finally, ensuring that the measure is set up properly for the particular cartridge in use is important. Inattention to this can especially cause problems if the measure is not fully cycled. If not carefully adjusted, measures may cycle only partially when loading for a short cartridge, vs. being fully cycled when moved to a toolhead used for a long (tall) cartridge. This should be checked as per the press instructions.

    A different approach altogether is to use a “powder-through” die. This allows mounting a top-quality, manual measure as is found in single-stage loading. If the factory measure is unsatisfactory, one might consider this method. In use, one holds the press handle down, keeping the toolhead raised, and cycles the measure separately by hand. This should give results very similar to those obtained during single-stage loading.
    Some makers offer kits to cycle the high-quality manual measure automatically when the ram is raised. The author has not used this method and cannot comment from experience on its accuracy. Readers with experience using this type setup are invited to share their results here.
    In summary, powder measures, whether used on progressive presses or separately, can be very individual in their behavior. Checking powder charges frequently during operation helps one learn what to expect from one’s measure, and whether tweaks might help. Some measures give near-flawless performance only when the reservoir is half-filled or less. Others from the same maker work very consistently, even when full. Learning ones' measures’ characteristics can make loading more efficient and precise.

    In fact, one might almost be tempted to say, “This is my powder measure. There are many like it, but this one is mine… I will learn its’ habits, its’ preferences, and its’ quirks. Without me, my measure is useless…”

    Good shooting, and be safe out there! Please join us next week for more accuracy-oriented handloading tips!



    Beginning Handloading, Part 9:*
    Cartridge Concentricity
    August 12, 2015



    (HL) “Handloading Hump-Day” strikes again! This week, we’ll address some measurements used in precision handloading, and the benefits of periodic QC checks. One handloading motto that addresses this principle is, “I don’t know what I “THINK,” I KNOW what I MEASURE.”

    Many accuracy-oriented handloaders work hard to minimize seated-bullet runout (a.k.a. Total Indicated Runout, {“TIR”} or concentricity). The straighter the cartridge, the better chance the bullet has of entering the rifling well-centered. When 50,000 PSI slams the bullet into the rifling, it deforms to fit. When it does, if its’ center of gravity is thrown “off” due to bullet distortion, an error is introduced, affecting accuracy.

    As measuring tools have become more precise, advanced and available, handloaders have learned to detect and eliminate even small deviations in TIR. However, with the assumed precision implied by modern dial indicators, one must avoid a certain temptation. I.e., there may be lots of space between individual 0.001” increments on one’s dial, but if it’s a 0.001” calibrated tool, that’s the finest measurement it can reliably produce. It may be tempting to assign a value of 0.0018”, say, or 0.0013” due to the needle’s position, but reality is that if it measures to 0.001”, that IS its maximum level of accuracy.

    Another maxim is useful here: just because one CAN measure something, doesn’t necessarily mean that it affects accuracy in a meaningful way. TIR errors might be readily detectable on target using a tight-neck chambered 6PPC steered by a master at 300 yards in flat-calm conditions. However, the same concentricity error may be much harder to reliably detect on target with even a well-built Highpower match bolt gun, and virtually impossible to see when shooting a Service Rifle.

    Many factors combine to affect accuracy and some, such as bedding, bullet quality or poor load development, may be much more powerful than the effect of TIR in any given instance. Thus, while it is certainly good to minimize TIR, this writer suggests taking a “systems-oriented” approach through careful selection and adjustment of reloading dies, brass, etc. Once done, if one reloads consistently, TIR need not occupy more time than a periodic check to ensure the system is still working, or that a new lot of brass hasn’t induced runout, etc.

    Active Highpower shooters fire thousands of rounds in a single season; thus, this is infinitely less labor-intensive than sorting all cartridges individually for runout. Time and energy are resources for the competitive handloader, just as powder, primers and bullets are – and they are not infinite. To produce the best result – i.e., the highest score – one must allocate them consciously and wisely.

    Measuring TIR across the handloading process can, however, be very educational, especially for beginning rifle handloaders. One learns many things. One might be that brass from Maker A gives three times the runout of ammo loaded using brass from Maker B. Another is that ammo loaded in new brass with excellent dies is very likely to have more runout than ammo loaded in the same brass after it’s been fired in a good chamber.
    Excess neck tension can lead to dramatic increases in TIR. This can occur even with dies that would seemingly render high runout impossible, such as Wilson-type straight-line seater dies. As one sees valid, numerical indicators of their precision, one gains confidence in the consistently high quality of their ammunition.

    One can even verify, as this writer has, that a carefully-adjusted set of good, standard hunting dies can produce less runout than an expensive “Match” set, depending on the exact dies used. Or, one can gauge the exact reduction in TIR due to use of individual match-grade dies (i.e., just the seater or just the size die) vs. their standard counterparts.

    Learning about TIR and how to minimize it not only helps one produce consistently high-quality ammunition. It can also verify the value of one’s investment in more expensive dies, or detect processes gone awry.

    This discussion is not intended to prompt beginning handloaders to spend all their free time minimizing runout. Rather, it is intended to put the importance of TIR into perspective, given one’s discipline and rifle, and to help newer shooters avoid wasting time better spent elsewhere.
    Highly-concentric ammunition is always good, but it is only one of many areas of endeavor. One must focus on the areas that will give the most improvement per time/energy invested. Very often, those are practice and dry-fire!

    Until next week, stay safe and enjoy the camaraderie of the shooting sports. It can be just as rewarding as the satisfaction earned by improving one’s scores!



    Beginning Handloading, Part 10:
    Minimizing Runout with Standard Dies
    Aug. 19, 2015



    (HL) Welcome back to the USAMU’s “Handloading Hump-Day!” Last week, we addressed factors affecting loaded-cartridge concentricity (AKA “TIR”, or Total Indicator Runout). That refers to the bulle,ts’ straightness in the case, which affects deviation as the bullet enters the barrel and is fired. This is best optimized by systematically reducing runout-inducing factors in one’s loading process and die adjustment. Checking and sorting the thousands of cartridges an active Highpower shooter uses per season is excessively time-consuming.

    Here, we’ll discuss minimizing TIR using standard, good-quality “hunting” dies, rather than highly-expensive match dies. We’ll do this with a single-stage press, rather than a progressive, as most newer handloaders will have a single-stage. First, a QUALITY-made tool for measuring TIR is essential for obtaining consistent, accurate results.

    Generally, measuring equipment is NOT a good area in which to “skimp” or economize, as one uses these tools throughout one’s handloading career. They form the basis for consistent reproduction of accurate ammunition lots. For the budget-conscious, the fact that high-quality tools hold their value very well helps reduce the sting. Moreover, they’re generally very easy to sell when no longer needed. Thus, whatever little loss one might take on depreciation should be considered as “rent” on the tools for the years/decades they are used. This author actually sold a used micrometer for MORE than he originally paid 20 years ago, although inflation probably accounts for the “profit.” Still, quality tools retain value, while junk tools do not.
    This post will cite experiments the writer conducted and published over 20 years ago, but the techniques and measurements still remain valid. With truly advanced-design, high-quality and precisely-machined match dies, one gets more precision and less variation/TIR for their money. However, for those who are not sure they want to remain with the sport, or who wish to economize, it’s entirely possible to load very concentric ammunition using standard dies of the RCBS/Redding, etc. type.

    A lesser-known approach to this is to use a rubber O-ring under the Full Length (FL) sizing die lock ring. These are easily found at hardware stores. Place the O-ring on the die body between the lock ring and the top of the press, leaving the lock ring loose. Then, run a lubed case into the die, and begin adjusting the die to give the desired sizing/case headspace. (I.e., set the shoulder back to the desired dimension for one’s chamber.)
    Many tools exist for case headspace measurement. Among them, one which is quick and easy to use is the RCBS Precision Mic. It measures case headspace on a scale calibrated to one’s specific cartridge, such as .223 or .308, etc. Once this sizing adjustment is correct, run the sized case BACK into the die, to keep it centered and under tension. Then screw the lock ring down onto the O-ring to affix the die in place, and set the lock screw.
    IMPORTANT: Be sure to leave enough clearance between the top of the press and the lock-ring to let the die “float” slightly if you exert pressure on it with your hand. This allows the die to “self-center” in use. Once the lock-ring screw is tightened, the above steps need not be repeated. Whenever re-setting the size die, as when changing calibers, or if changing from military (hard) to commercial (softer) brass, just screw the die into the press until the O-ring contacts top of the press. Then, test-size cases and measure them with your headspace gauge, adjusting the die slightly up or down until the desired measurement is repeatedly obtained. This method can noticeably reduce TIR.

    NOTE: One maker of inexpensive loading gear incorporates an O-ring into their lock-rings, but this should not be confused with the method above. Their O-ring supplies friction to maintain the lock-ring in position on the die, rather than using a positive locking screw, and does not facilitate the method used here.

    To further decrease seated-bullet runout, avoid excessively working case necks during sizing. Expander balls are routinely cited as a culprit in inducing neck distortion, which causes crooked bullet seating. A common solution is to remove the expander ball. However, standard dies are must work with cases having just about any neck-thickness on the planet, Thus, they typically size the case neck down excessively, and then use the expander ball to bring them back up for the desired neck tension.

    A good range of case-neck expansion (from sized/empty to expanded after seating the bullet) is 0.003”-0.004”. For example, if the sized neck measures 0.300” before seating, it will measure 0.303”-0.304” after bullet seating. This is usually considered enough neck tension for normal use with excellent accuracy, including cycling in an AR-15, AR-10, or M1A WITHOUT CRIMPING unless some problematic condition (e.g., feed ramp issue) is present. Excessive neck tension can reduce accuracy, in and of itself.

    If one’s FL size die reduces case necks excessively for use without the expander ball, there are several remedies. One may take it to a machinist or send it to the mfg. to be honed out to the desired dimension. One may also modify the die to accept interchangeable neck-sizing bushings (available in 0.001” diameter increments.) Avoiding expander balls also eliminates the need to lube inside the case necks (although brushing them clean is still recommended.)

    Results of an experiment comparing TIR in 50 rds of .308 match ammo loaded using carefully-adjusted standard dies, vs. 50 using “Match” dies from the same maker that cost 3 times as much, both with O-rings, are given below:
    Standard dies, TIR:*
    0.000”- 0.001” = 52%;
    0.001”- 0.002” = 40%;
    0.002”-0.003”: 8%. None greater than 0.003”.
    Lesser-quality “Match” dies, TIR:*
    0.000”- 0.001” = 46%;
    0.001” – 0.002” = 30%;
    0.002” – 0.003” = 20%;
    0.003” – 0.004” = 4%.

    NOTE: Especially when using cases previously fired in a concentric chamber, as was done above, more advanced, industry-leader match dies can produce ammo with virtually NO TIR when care is taken throughout the loading process.

    NOTE: ALL MATCH DIES ARE NOT CREATED EQUAL. Ask experienced, well-accomplished handloader/Highpower competitors which brands they have had excellent results from. Then, pay attention to the manner/degree with which they evaluate their results, as not all are equally methodical about such things.

    COMING UP NEXT WEEK: Minimizing TIR by carefully adjusting standard seating dies.
    Last edited by LittleLebowski; 12-26-2016 at 04:29 PM.

  2. #2
    Thank you for posting this.

  3. #3
    He has mind of child LittleLebowski's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by 1slow View Post
    Thank you for posting this.
    More coming!

  4. #4
    Thanks LL!! Love the post eventhough I'm less than half way through it.


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  5. #5
    Site Supporter SeriousStudent's Avatar
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    This is very useful. Thanks for putting this together.

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