The Home Armory: Loading the .223

The Home Armory: Loading the .223

This is a discussion on The Home Armory: Loading the .223 within the Reloading forums, part of the Sniping Related category; All right folks, after much scratching and biting, we are ready to discuss the reloading of military 5.56mm brass. I've taken some pictures and with ...

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Thread: The Home Armory: Loading the .223

  1. #1
    Senior Member madgunsmith's Avatar
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    The Home Armory: Loading the .223

    All right folks, after much scratching and biting, we are ready to discuss the reloading of military 5.56mm brass. I've taken some pictures and with Jeff Dorr's help, we'll get them up here for you to see.

    For the sake of continuity, please let me ramble on for a spell. Please confine your answers to end of the thread. I welcome your input, but I get distracted easily; so please let me finish this.

    But before I discuss our techniques and ideas, let's just discuss philosophy for a moment. The .223 is the current military standard and as such it will be encountered far and wide in this country. It is also the main round that would be used in the event that the unthinkable should ever become thinkable.

    And that's why I say let's consider what we are trying to do with our handloads. I'm looking for an anti-personnel load that will function with absolute reliability. Our load must work with common weapons such as the AR-15, M-16, Ruger Mini 14, HK-93, Galil etc. The round must also work in bolt action weapons such as the Remington 700.

    These various criteria mean that we have to consider our powder choices with great care. The use of military brass also entails a number of variables. And then again, we have to decide upon what bullet to use.
    In considering our various choices, we cannot lose sight in what we're trying to do. We are looking for an anti-personnel load that will stop a determined opponent. And our load will do no good if it should jam or damage our firearms. Our load has to work safely in both .223 and 5.56mm chambers.

    With the preamble out of the way, let's discuss a few of the ballistic parameters. The .223 is an assault rifle round. It is by definition an intermediate round. It is more powerful than a pistol round and less powerful than a full sized rifle. Recognizing that the .223 is an intermediate round, I'm not hung up on velocity. I don't care to extract every last foot per second out of my load. I'm just looking for ballistic uniformity and reliability. And as long as the round is reasonably accurate and will feed and extract every time, I don't care what the velocity is.

    Another reason why I don't care about velocity, is that I will use soft point bullets. These rounds will expand and do great damage at slower velocities. My loads do not need great velocity in order to achieve fragmentation. At any speed over 1500 fps, a good 55 grain soft point bullet will arrive on target in ill humor. I'm also not hung up on super-accuracy either. As long as it is at least as accurate as issue ball ammo, then I will be happy.

    That's the end of Page 1. Stay tuned.

    Mad.

  2. #2
    Senior Member madgunsmith's Avatar
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    Military 5.56mm brass:

    Military 5.56mm brass is thicker and heavier than commercial brass. And for this reason, you need less powder in order to achieve a given pressure when using military brass. A good rule is reduce your powder charge by about 1.0 grain when switching from commercial brass to military brass.

    Military brass also features crimped-in primers. Crimped primers are used so that primers cannot back out of the case and thereby jam the gun. This is especially important in full automatic firearms. Now the primer crimp must be removed in order to reload the military 5.56 mm case. There are many methods available, but probably the best method is the Dillon primer swaging tool. I will discuss the use of the Dillon swaging tool in the near future. But before I do, let me point something out. Our new primers will not be crimped in. And for that reason let's not load hot ammo. It would not be a good thing to have a primer back out of the case and cause a potentially life-threatening jam.

    Another thing to realize is that certain full auto arms such as the M-249 feature sloppy headspace. As a result, some of your brass will be stretched. This means that you may need to trim your cases. You will also need to properly adjust your sizing die and you will need a quick and easy way to measure the length of your cases.

    To trim your brass easily an RCBS trim die will be invaluable. And the Dillon headspace gage will also allow you to tell at a glance whether your rounds will safely chamber in any standard chamber. Every sized case and every loaded round will be checked with this gage. There is no room for error and every round will fit without compromise. The Dillon headspace gage will also let you know at a glance if your cases are too long. And it goes without saying that not one round will be too long.

    With that out of the way, let's discuss powder selection:

    End of Page 2.

  3. #3
    Senior Member madgunsmith's Avatar
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    Let's talk about powder:

    When thinking about a powder charge, you have two choices--ball powder or stick powder.

    When loading the .223 with stick powder, you should think about IMR-3031, IMR-4895 or Benchmark.

    When loading the .223 with ball powder think H-335 or Winchester-748. Please note that the military currently loads its ammo with H-335.

    If you are loading with a progressive machine, you should probably use a ball powder. And with ball powders, you should use magnum primers.

    I chose to use Benchmark. I chose Benchmark because it has smaller kernals than IMR-3031. And Benchmark and IMR-3031 have similar burn rates. I should point out that Bob Hutton designed the .223 using IMR-3031. Very early .223 loads were loaded by Remington using IMR-4475 which is very, very similar to IMR-3031.

    I am a traditionalist and that's why I went with Benchmark. And 23.7 grains of Benchmark gave me an extremely uniform ejection pattern. From this I can tell that the load is not only safe but easy on the gun. I don't want to break any parts.

    Ammo loaded with H-335 should be faster than ammo loaded with Benchmark. I would expect that H-335 would give an additional 100 fps of muzzle velocity. But H-335 has a slower burn rate than IMR-3031. I feel that H-335 will place greater stress on an AR-15 or an M-16. I don't want to dig up the old Vietnam ball powder controversy again. But I feel that parts will last longer with a steady diet of Benchmark.

    And as I pointed out before, I wanted a mild load that would work in a wide variety of firearms. 23.7 grains of Benchmark is safe in anything. And if I could not find Benchmark, I would have used IMR-3031, IMR-4895 or H-4895,


    Mad.

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  5. #4
    Senior Member madgunsmith's Avatar
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    Bullets:

    I chose Hornady 55 grain soft points. These slugs were available at a local store and I bought ten boxes. These bullets come with cannelures and without.

    All ammo that will be fired in a semi or full auto arm must be crimped. For this you need to use the Lee Factory Crimp Die. This die is so effective that you can even securely crimp a non-cannelured bullet.

    So the bullets I bought did not have cannelures.

    In an AR-15, it is possible to have a bullet jam against the barrel extension. This usually happens as a result of a bad magazine spring or a faulty magazine. For your own peace of mind test every one of your magazines. If you want total reliabilty use original GI 20 round magazines and replace the springs with Wolff magazine springs.

    If you do have a jam in an AR-15, you do not want the bullet to get mashed back into the case. This can cause pressures to jump and you run the risk of blowing up your rifle. So whatever you do, use the Lee Factory Crimp tool. But do so after checking your magazines.

    I'm getting tired. It's now bedtime for Bonzo. I'll get back to you guys tomorrow.


    Mad.

  6. #5
    Senior Member madgunsmith's Avatar
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    I just woke up. What a night. The stupid cat was sleeping on my head.

    Anyhow, let's talk about primers.

    If you are going to load ball powder, you should load your cases with magnum primers. If you live in Alaska and you intend to use your ammo in the dead of winter, you might want to use magnum primers even when using stick powder.

    But understand that magnum primers produce a hotter spark and this results in more pressure. So if you use magnum primers with stick powder, you should reduce your load.

    For semi automatic and full automatic weapons, you should use the hardest primers you can find. CCI brand primers are the hardest primers commercially available. If you can find CCI small rifle primers, use these for your .223 loads.

    CCI even makes a military type primer and if you can find these, buy as many as you can afford. These are the best primers around for use in semi and full auto weapons.

    Now, I could not find CCI primers at my local store. There were cartons and cartons of Winchester so I bought them all. I would recommend that you buy as many primers as you can lay your hands on. Any brand of primer will work; however for our purposes, CCI primers are to be preferred.

    When priming cases, I suggest that you use a hand operated tool such as the RCBS tool. With this tool, you never need to touch a primer and this is how it should be. If you touch the primers, you always run the risk of contaminating the primer if you have oily fingers. And a good hand operated tool gives you excellent "feel". With a little practise you can feel when the primer has properly seated home.


    Mad.

    Next we will get started with the specifics of case preparation.

  7. #6
    Senior Member madgunsmith's Avatar
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    Preparing the brass.

    Suppose you have a thousand or so fired military cases. How do you go about preparing them for loading?

    The first step involves cleaning your cases. Fired military cases may be grimy and they may be imbedded with grit that can damage your sizing die. If you have a case tumbler, you should tumble your brass cases.

    Now if you do not have a tumbler, take a 100 cases and drop them in a bucket of detergent-laced water. Swish the cases about and then rinse them. Shake the water out of the cases and leave them to dry on some wadded up newspapers. Leave the cases sitting upside down to dry.

    DO NOT TRY TO DRY YOUR CASES IN AN OVEN. YOU WILL DAMAGE THE HEAT-TREATMENT OF THE BRASS AND YOU RISK BRASS FAILURE AND THE DESTRUCTION OF YOUR FIREARM SHOULD YOU USE OVEN HEATED BRASS!!

    Whatever method you used, you will now have a bunch of dry, clean cases. Lubricate a single case with some Imperial Sizing Wax or Lee sizing wax.

    Screw your sizing die into your press. Raise the ram of your press and continue to screw the die in until it touches the shellholder. Back up the ram and then screw the die in another half a turn. Place your lubricated case into the shellholder and raise the ram so that the case is forced into the die. Size and deprime your first case.

    Remove the case from the press and clean it with a paper towel. Make sure that all the lubricant has been removed.

    Reach for your Dillon headspace guage and we will now measure the first sized case.

    Next: Using the Dillon headspace guage.

  8. #7
    Senior Member madgunsmith's Avatar
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    Using the Dillon Headspace Guage:

    The Dillon Headspace guage closely resembles a gun chamber. You simply drop the sized case or finished cartridge into the guage. The case should chamber easily into the guage.

    Now the 'chamber' end of the guage has two surfaces. The first surface is flat and the second surface has a stepped edge. When your cartridge is properly sized, the casehead will sit flush to the flat surface. And the casehead will also sit very slightly higher than the stepped edge. Take a brand new, unfired round and sit it inside your Dillon guage. Take a close look and remember how the new round sits inside your guage.

    Continue to adjust your resizing die until all of your resized brass will fit into the guage in the same way as did the factory round

    You should use the Dillon Headspace guage to test every sized case. If your case will easily and properly fit into the Dillon guage, then you can be sure that your ammunition will chamber in any .223 rifle. This is a very important step for your home armoury and waffenfabrik.

    Next: How to check the length of your cases using the Dillon Guage.

  9. #8
    Senior Member madgunsmith's Avatar
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    How to check the length of your resized cases.

    The Dillon headspace guage also allows you to check the length of your sized cases. Check the mouth of your Dillon guage and if any part of the cartridge case should protrude, then you should note that your cases need trimming.

    There are many ways of trimming your brass, but one very effective way is to use an RCBS trim die. A trim die looks a bit like a resizing die except that at the top of the die there is an extremely hard steel surface. You size your case in this die and if any brass protrudes, you simply use a file to file the brass flush with the die. The die is so hard that you cannot harm it with a file.

    Next step: Setting up the RCBS trim die:

  10. #9
    Senior Member madgunsmith's Avatar
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    Screw your RCBS trim die into your press. Raise the ram and screw in the trim die until it touches the shellholder. Place an unsized lubricated case into the shellholder. Raise the ram and size the case within the trim die.

    Check the sized case using the Dillon headspace guage. Make sure that the sized case looks the same as cases that are sized in the RCBS sizing die.

    Screw the trim die into the press, until the sized cases are the same as the sized cases produced by the sizing die. Once the trim die is properly adjusted, it is time to trim brass.

    Place a lubricated case into the shellholder and raise the ram so that the case is forced into the trim die. Hold the ram in place and file away at any brass that protudes through the top of the die. File the brass until it is flush with the top of the die.

    After your case is trimmed, use a chamfering tool to debur any sharp edges at the casemouth. When chamfering the brass, be gentle. Easy does it.

    At this point all of your brass should be properly sized and trimmed. After trimming, check every case in the Dillon die and make sure that every case will chamber properly. Make sure that every case is the right length. You now have brass cases that will safely and properly chamber in any 5.56mm or .223 caliber weapon. And at the same time check every case for splits or cracks.

    We are now ready to prime cases:

    Stick around, this is getting good.

  11. #10
    Senior Member madgunsmith's Avatar
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    Before installing new primers, you will need to clean the primer pockets and you will need to swage away the old military primer crimp.

    To clean the primer pocket simply scrape the primer pocket using an RCBS stainless primer pocket brush. Or you can use the Lee primer pocket scraping tool. But whatever you use, be gentle. And tap out the primer ash onto a paper towel.

    After cleaning primer pockets, make sure to properly dispose of the fired primers and primer ash. And make sure to carefully wash your hands. Primer residue contains lead and various nasty heavy metals. Never eat or drink until you have properly washed your hands.

    With the primer pockets cleaned, you are now ready to swage the primer pockets.


    Next: The Dillon Swaging tool

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