Reloading Course info
A brief look at reloading your own ammunition.
The FCA has as one of its numerous onerous requirements that when applying for licenses and accreditation that proof of membership and activity within your club or association environment must be provided.
The positive spin-off is that members will have to shoot more rounds and attend regular practices and club events. This ought to make more competent shooters out of people.
While hopefully no-one has a problem in principal with shooting more, there is naturally the considerable cost of factory loaded ammunition to be considered.
This is one of the major reasons why shooters from all disciplines resort to “rolling their own”
Reloading is a very simple process, and if all the basic common sense rules are followed, it is a very safe process as well. It is also a fun and rewarding hobby.
A word of warning though, reloading can become as addictive as it is rewarding.
Contrary to some perception, reloaders are not a special breed with secret handshakes, surprised looks, singed eyebrows, uncontrolled twitches and alchemy degrees – those are black powder shooters.
They sometimes mutter to themselves a lot though.
Our courses will contain the basics of reloading, which are always worth re-visiting, and go on to look at the more technical and advanced reloading techniques.
Consistency is the pivotal issue in turning out quality reloads.
Let’s look at rifle ammunition and the reloading process, step by step.
First, what is the very basic/minimum equipment required?
|Basic reloading||Advanced reloading|
|A reloading press||Primer pocket tool and flashole deburr tool|
|A set of dies and shell holder for the caliber/s you intend loading for||Micrometer and or vernier|
|A good reloading type scale (balance beam or electronic)||Case neck turning tool|
|A plastic powder funnel||Run-out gauge|
|Some case sizing lubricant and a pad||Powder trickler|
|Some ear buds||Magnifying glass|
|A priming tool if the press does not have this facility||Competition die set|
|A reloading book with the relative local Rheinmetall powder loads listed.||Powder measure|
|A packet of suitable primers||Annealing equipment|
|A loading block or tray||Case trimming tool|
|A can of suitable powder|
|A box of suitable shape and weight bullets|
|A pile of fired or new brass cartridge cases|
|A hardcover exercise book – the “Log Book”|
|A pair of safety glasses|
Optional for starters is;
A powder measure
A powder trickler
Lee case trimmer – caliber specific or similar
Lee inside/outside neck and primer pocket de-burring tool or similar
This will allow a reloader to turn out ammo every bit as good as the factory cartridges, if not better because the load can be tailored to suit the particular rifle.
Some reloaders get to the stage where “good enuff” just isn’t, and start trying all sorts of tricks to squeeze that group into one ragged hole, and this is where this exercise will lead us to.
We need to distance ourselves from “Kruitgooi” ( repetitive handgun round reloading) and aspire to precision reloading.
Let’s have a look at each step and component in detail.
There are 3 types of cartridge case and only 2 are suitable for precision work.
These cases generally have no history and should be used for practice only.
Preferably from your rifle, these cases can be worked with (subject to certain provisos).
These are ultimately the best starting point for any precision loads.
The cartridge case is one of the most critical elements in accurate ammunition.
Manufacturing tolerances create deviances from one case to the next and these have to be identified and eliminated.
New Cases – sort by weight and batch them
Once fired – clean, deprime, weigh and batch them
A good practice is to ensure you have cleaned and checked all the cases you are going to work with so they are free of carbon or sooty deposits and other dirt which could damage or mar either your highly polished internal die surfaces, or the case itself.
If a case tumbler is not used then a wipe with a soft cloth and some form of alcohol spirit will work fine. If the case is really dirty then scuff it gently with some very fine steel wool. Never use “Brasso” or any other product containing ammonia.
Each case must be visually inspected for cracks or unusual deformities. Sometimes, this will require a good magnifying glass. If in doubt, put it aside or use it for a reference case as will be discussed further into the text in the “seating” section.
The following will be discussed;
Full case prep procedure/size/flash hole/primer pocket square/neck turning/Batching etc
Set the dies and shell holder in the press as per the manufacturer’s instructions.
Adjust the sizing die so that it just “bumps” the shoulder a fraction.
Lubricate the outside of the case on the lube pad, just enough that the case feels slightly slippery between fingers and then use an ear bud with a small amount of lube to rub the inside of the case mouth. This will let the case mouth resizing pin do its work without galling or overstressing the brass.
Slide the case into the shell holder and gently raise the ram. The case should slide smoothly and easily into the die, albeit with some leverage effort. If the movement is sticky, stop, remove the case and check for problems, but usually this is a sign that a touch more lube is needed.
NOTE: Too much lube can lead to dents in the case.
During this stage the case will be externally re-sized and the primer will be popped out.
When the ram is lowered the case mouth resizing pin will be drawn back out of the case mouth and will resize the neck to a consistent internal diameter.
Wipe the lube off the case (including inside the neck) with a soft cloth and using a primer pocket cleaner, scrape out the carbon deposit left by the previous primer.
Complete the rest of the cases.
We discuss die set up/neck pin / FL resize/Shoulder bump/ neck only /squaring
Re-sizing primed cases procedure
Regular case length trimming operation.
With repeated firing, and resizing, the brass tends to flow forward and will eventually be too long for your rifle chamber. This can lead to pressure problems.
The simplest tool is the Lee case trimmer and when used according to the instructions will cut all your cases to a uniform length with minimal fuss. Use the universal case de-burring tool to carefully de-burr both the inside and outside of the case mouth.
This process generally needs only be done after repeated firing, and not each time you reload.
Straight wall pistol/revolver case normally suffers the reverse effect and shortens with repeated reloading. It often leads to a bulge towards the web of the case.
Re-priming the case
It is good practice to wear safety glasses from now on in the process.
Using either the press re-priming facility or a separate priming tool, re-prime the cases.
The object is to seat the primers consistently to the bottom of the primer pocket and just by running a finger over the primer the reloader will quickly develop a consistency “feel” as to whether the primer is seated correctly or not.
Put the cases mouth up into the loading tray or block after this process ready for the next stage.
De-carbon/primer hole/flash hole uniform and deburr
Using the loading manual select the correct starting weight powder charge which corresponds with the bullet weight you are using and write it down on a piece of paper or masking tape and put it next to the scale for reference.
Set the scale up and zero it. Now dial in the chosen powder charge.
If you are using a powder measure, adjust the measure until it throws a fraction under the desired weight into the scale pan.
Using a powder trickler, trickle some powder into the scale pan until the exact weight is measured. Put the powder funnel over the case and pour the powder in.
Repeat this until the required number of test/batch cases are charged, and do a visual inspection under good light to ensure the cases look like they are all uniformly full.
Adjust the seater die body into the press as per manufacturer’s instructions.
Back off the inner bullet seating die assembly.
Take a re-sized and unprimed (one of the rejects) case and insert it into the shell holder, and put a bullet on top and gently raise the ram. If the bullet feels like it is going too far, stop and check and if necessary back off the inner bullet seater die some more.
A choice can be made here. If the reloader wants to load the case to the crimp groove of the bullet, should it have one, then continue to adjust the seater until this is achieved and lock the die. Discuss this
Then check that the round fits into the magazine of the rifle and naturally chambers correctly. Since this is an unprimed round it is perfectly safe.
Now mark this dummy round and store it for future reference.
If there is no crimp groove, repeat the above exercise but continually check whether the bullet will fit in the magazine and whether the bolt can be easily and comfortably closed on the round.
When checking the round, do not force it into the chamber. “Feel” whether the bolt is being hampered and seat the bullet accordingly.
If the bullet is being forced into the rifling this will normally show as slight marks on the ogive and the bullet should be seated deep enough to avoid this. Refer to your reloading manual if in doubt.
Once the correct depth is obtained, again mark the dummy round and store for reference.
Seat the batch of bullets and keep batches separate for testing.
A good rule of thumb is to set the bullet into the case allowing a minimum of 1 (one) mm space between the start of the rifling and the ogive of the bullet which would touch the rifling.
Discuss bullet seating check methods. (Smoking, seating tool, )
This is the stage where your personal reloading log book comes in.
Every development load or batch must be recorded.
The details should include;
Caliber, date, cartridge case type, primer, bullet type and weight, powder type and batch #, OAL-overall length of loaded round (or reference to the dummy round you have stored away)
Leave a couple of lines for a comment and rule off ready for the next load.
This way a complete record is kept of all the rounds and load variations you have put together.
This book goes to the range with you and each group shot is recorded so the good loads can be identified. If you do not have a chronograph, try and get access to one through a fellow club member and record velocities.
In short, the comment section should be a brief report on the batch that will enable you to duplicate it should you want to, or not follow the same route for whatever reason.
This book will help with load development and forms a good trail of rounds that are specific to each weapon that is loaded for.
Make a note of group sizes and reference to any flyers. When studying targets and log book details, the shooter can also analyze his shooting.
Open a lever arch file and put the targets into this file for future reference. A sample target for this is attached.
1) Write everything down
2) Only use one batch or type of powder at a time
3) Avoid distractions while loading
4) If in doubt, check, and check again.
5) Get a mentor if possible
6) Don’t “take a chance” start at the listed minimum load.
7) DO NOT exceed recommended loads
8) Develop a feel for consistency during all operations
9) When changing from one batch of powder to the next, start from the lowest recommended load again.
10) If there are any anomalies, eg perceived pressure problems, hard chambering or difficult extraction, excess noise/recoil/velocity etc. Stop shooting immediately, investigate and double check.
RULES OF THE ROAD (OR, THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND WHEN DEVELOPING LOADS)
Rule 1 – Don’t do anything stupid.
Rule 2 – For a given load a 3 percent rise in velocity requires a 6 percent rise in chamber pressure.
Rule 3 – For a 3 percent change in case capacity chamber pressure changes by 6 percent. Remember that case capacity varies drastically between brands of cases and that bullet seating depth also changes case capacity.
Rule 4 – Changing ANY component can drastically effect chamber pressure.
Rule 5 – You DO NOT need to wring the last possible foot/second of velocity out of your ammunition–it won’t do anything for you. An accurate/moderate velocity load is better than an inaccurate/fast load.
Rule 6 – Temperature affects chamber pressure. While the effect differs with each powder, over the range of about 0º F to 125º F most modern commercial powders are fairly stable showing pressure variation of up to ± 3000 psi from loads developed at 70º F. Out side of this range the effect is still there but not as linear.) While most current ball powders handle temperatures changes well some types have exhibited a very non-linear response especially at temperature extremes outside of the above range and can result in catastrophic changes in pressures at temperatures much higher than the original temperature. Loads with any powders should be carefully worked up if their use in extreme temperatures is expected especially if at near maximum
Rule 7 – Refer rule # 1, Don’t do anything stupid.
RELOADING SAFETY TIPS
Exercise care and common sense at all times while reloading. Another way to put it would be: THINK! Think of what you’re doing, and think of the possible consequences of your actions at each step of the process.
Pay attention to the business at hand while at the loading bench. Don’t try to load while watching a TV rugby game. Don’t invite a bunch of your buddies over and attempt to carry your end of a general bull session while stuffing ammo. Reloading is a fairly technical activity and mistakes can be serious. Don’t permit distractions in the same room with your loading tools.
Never reload in haste. Loading in a hurry can mean an unnoticed wrong setting on a powder scale or even the wrong powder in the measure. At best, haste defeats a major purpose of reloading, which is superior ammunition for your guns. At worst, haste can result in disaster.
Use equipment as the manufacturer intended and do not take shortcuts. Self-explanatory; jury-rigging is usually bad news.
Store powder in a cool dry place. Along with this, one should do the following: Store powder in small quantities in approved containers, away from such combustibles as solvents, inflammable gases, and of course, open flame. Furthermore, keep gunpowder away from children and vice versa.
Never use a powder unless you’re positive of its identity. Repeat: never! Don’t guess, and don’t try to identify gunpowder by its physical appearance. Not even an expert can do it. The one and only acceptable identification of a powder is the label on its can, provided it is still in the factory container in which it was originally packaged.
Never smoke while handling powder. Surely this is too obvious to need comment
Never Ever consume alcohol when reloading.
Surely this is far too obvious to need any comment.
Never mix gun powders. Not in a cartridge case and not in a
canister. If the latter happens as a result of violations of other safety rules, destroy the resultant mixture. Do not attempt to extrapolate a new burning rate for the mix and use it; relative quickness is not all that simple.
Never store small-arms primer in any kind of container except the factory packaging. Period. End of paragraph.
Observe all maximum load warnings in reloading manuals. Approach maximum loads only from 10 percent below.
Inspect all cases – rifle, pistol, or shotgun – for condition before loading, and discard any that are less than perfect. Trying to squeeze just one more shot out of weakened brass has spelled catastrophe for more than one reloader. It isn’t worth it.
Watch for signs of high pressure while working up a hand load. This means extraction difficulty (however slight), flattened primers, cratered primers, ironed-out head stamps, polished head stamps, ejector marks, case-head expansion, and excessive recoil and muzzle blast. And anything else whatever, that strikes you as abnormal about the load.
Develop a routine in reloading to guard against mistakes, just in case your attention does occasionally wander. You’ll form habits at the loading bench anyway; it’s just as easy to establish well-thought-out habits for safety as slipshod ones that may permit it. This rule really applies as much to shooting your hand loads as to making them up. For example, a personal rule of never having more than one ammunition box open on the shooting bench at one time may prevent your trying to fire the wrong cartridge in a rifle.
Safety in hand loading goes, of course, further than just common sense, even though most of us are sensible enough to figure out what we should and should not be doing. Still, sometimes it’s helpful to tune into the suggestions of those who serve as watchdogs of hand loading, the Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufactures’ Institute, or SAAMI. They have compiled the following list of do’s and don’ts for the hand loader. Some of their rules more or less repeat some those given above, but information of this sort can certainly bear repeating. After all, we’re talking about avoiding some potentially serious accidents.
SAAMI DO’S AND DON’TS FOR HANDLOADERS
|Don’t use word-of-mouth loading data without checking a recognized current hand loading guide.|
|Examine fired cases for signs of excessive pressure, such as primer gas leaks, excessive primer flattening, loose primers, expanded heads or bodies, and side-wall stretching.|
|Keep all components and loaded rounds positively identified.|
|Do not chamber a round that resists easy closing of the bolt or action. The cartridge is too long or large in diameter and high pressure may develop.|
|Components suitable for lead-shot loads are not adaptable to steel-shot loads.|
|Keep all components out of the reach of children.|
|Do not load with charges that measure out to more than 10 percent below minimum recommendations.|
|Do not fire form factory cartridges in lengthened chambers. The excessive headspace is likely to be dangerous.|
|Do not use too much heat to dry cases to avoid softening the brass.|
|Follow only loading recommendations of a recognized current hand loading guide. Better still, check two guides. Components and propellants change and old recommendations may be dangerous.|
|Have the headspace of your firearm checked by a competent licensed gunsmith at regular intervals, preferably by a factory-authorized repair station.|
|Investigate and determine the cause of any unusual or abnormal condition or appearance before continuing any operation.|
|Keep your work area and hand loading bench scrupulously clean at all times. Immediately clean up any spillage of powder, primers, etc.|
|Do not forget that a maximum load in your rifle may be dangerous in another one of your rifles or in a friend’s rifle even if it is the same make, model, calibre, etc.|
|The interchange of steel shot for lead results in dangerously high pressures that may damage shotguns. Ball bearings or steel air rifle shot are not suitable for shot shell loads. They are much harder than steel shot.|
|Keep accurate, detailed records of all loads.|
|Cartridge cases should be clean and dry before reloading and before firing. Oily cases greatly increase thrust against the bolt face.|
|Be extremely careful to identify properly wildcat cases since the head stamp does not identify the new cartridge, which may have a larger diameter bullet than the original cartridge.|
|Do not use brass cases that have been in or near a fire.|
Bullets. Be sure that they are the recommended diameter and weight. Keep bullet calibres and weights in separate and accurately marked containers.
Do not mix or interchange bullets from various manufacturers in the same reloading formula.
Don’t substitute calibres; use only that which your gun is chambered for exactly, e.g., a .300 Winchester Magnum is not a .300 Savage.
Primers. Inspect for presence of anvils before seating. Store only in original manufacturers’ package. Keep a minimum amount on your loading bench. Remove unused primers from your loading tool after each session and return to the original package for storage.
Keep out of reach of children.
Store in a cool dry place.
Do not store primers in bulk. Mass detonation may occur. Use only the brand of primers specified in the loading recommendations.
Cases. Do not mix brands – case volume may be different affecting loading density and pressure. Inspect for cracks, splits, stretch marks, separations, etc. after firing and before reloading. Do not load damaged or defective cases. Do not ream or enlarge primer flash holes.
Examine fired shot shells for head damage, tube splits, pinholes, and location of base wad before reloading. Discard defective cases. Discard cases that show leakage around the primer or battery cup.
Do not mix shells with high and low base wads.
Do not mix brands of cases – volumes may be different.
Powder. Store in a cool, dry place in the original container in an approved storage cabinet. Keep container closed except when pouring.
Keep powder out of reach of children
Have only one type and speed on your bench at one time to avoid mixing types.
Keep a minimum amount of powder in the loading area.
Never mix powders.
Don’t use any powder when you are unsure of its identity. do not use any powder that appears discoloured or is giving off fumes.
Wads. Use only the specific type listed in the recommendations.
Do not mix or interchange types as pressure levels can be affected.
Don’t mix powders of the type designation made by different companies. IMR 4350 is not the same as Hodgdon’s H 4350.
Shot. Check weight of charge thrown by your measure or bar to be sure it conforms to the recommendations.
Avoid distractions while performing any of the loading operations.
Keep all matches and smoking materials out of the loading area.
Do not smoke in the loading area because of primer residue or powder that might ignite.
Decapping. Use proper decapping pin to avoid distorting or enlarging the flash hole. Examine flash holes for roundness, burrs and enlargement before repriming. Do not remove live primers by driving out of the case with a sharp hammer blow. Decap in press slowly.
Resizing. Lubricate sparingly to avoid oil dents in the shoulder area of the case. Some lubricant must be used to prevent scratches from dirt on the cases and in the dies. Ensure that all lubricant is removed from the case mouth, to prevent future ‘bonding’ between bullet and case.
Check overall case length and trim the mouth when case elongates beyond recommended length. Check neck wall thickness and ream or turn to original thickness to assure adequate clearance between case neck and chamber.
Priming. Inspect pockets and clean before inserting new primers
Seat primers slowly with a punch that conforms to the profile of the primer to flush or slightly below the case head. Do not prime cases with a hammer or mallet. It is dangerous practice. The object is to seat the legs of the primer anvil on the bottom of the primer pocket. Case should be held by the rim or on a vented punch because a primer may fire accidentally.
Discard cases in which the primer is loose in the pocket.
After each loading session wipe base of the tool with a slightly oily rag to pick up any primer mixture dust.
Do not use pistol primers for rifle cartridges or rifle primers in pistol or revolver cartridges. The thicker primer cup of rifle primers may cause misfires in pistols, while the thinner cup of pistol primers may pierce or blank at the higher pressure levels of rifle cartridges.
Do not use handgun or rifle primers in shot shells. The priming charge is inadequate for proper ignition of the powder. A transparent shield of Lucite or equivalent is recommended between the loading machine and the operator.
Use only a well-designed and constructed tool.
Again, seating of primers with a hammer and punch is dangerous.
Powder Charging. Inspect the inside of all cases for foreign objects before dropping a charge into the case.
If a powder measure is used, the first five charges thrown by the measure should be weighed on a reliable scale and checked against the recommendations. Periodic checks for weight should be made to be sure that uniform weights are being thrown.
Examine charged cases to be sure that no gross errors in charging have been made, i.e., double charges or empties. A simple powder height gauge is recommended.
Start with the minimum charge recommended and watch for pressure signs on the fired cases from your firearm before increasing.
Do not load more than one charge per case.
Bullet Seating. Seat bullets to the length recommendations only. Pressures are affected by cartridges that are either too long or too short.
If cartridges are to be used in either box or tubular magazines, a mouth crimp is recommended to prevent lengthening or shortening due to recoil.
Be sure bullets are tight in the neck, to be sure that the bullet will not pull out if a loaded round is extracted or in the event that the bullet jumps it’s crimp due to recoil.
Do not load by changing bullets in loaded rounds even if the weights are the same.
After loading shot shells, the crimps should be inspected for uniform depth. Excessive length variation may indicate a loading error that could be dangerous.
Do not seal the crimp with tape.
Reloading centerfire ammunition ranks far below children’s toys as a source of accidental injury. Overall, it’s a remarkably safe pastime, especially considering the volatile nature of some of the components being handled. The potential for accidents is inherent in the man and not in the hobby, equipment, or materials. By the same token, you are your own margin of safety – and mine, if I happen to be shooting on the next bench at the rifle range. And, since I happen to value both readers and my scalp very dearly, I trust you’ll heed these safety rules.