Handloading Fundamentals

Handloading Fundamentals

This is a discussion on Handloading Fundamentals within the Reloading forums, part of the Sniping Related category; Hello all. At the risk of boring the old hands, I'd like to discuss the fundamentals of reloading. There are some very skilled handloaders here ...

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  1. #1
    Senior Member madgunsmith's Avatar
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    Handloading Fundamentals

    Hello all.

    At the risk of boring the old hands, I'd like to discuss the fundamentals of reloading. There are some very skilled handloaders here on this site and I am definitely not one of them. But I have learned a few simple techniques that anyone can use. These techniques can produce quality ammo with a minimum of expense.

    So without further ado, let's discuss my cat's guide to handloading.

    First of all in order to load ammo, we will need a press. Now too many folks buy monster cast iron presses. This in itself is not a bad thing, but you simply do not need a heavy duty press to size a .30-06 size case.

    Let's keep it simple and inexpensive. There are many inexpensive presses available at Lee Precision. And RCBS makes an inexpensive bench mounted tool that retails for about $79. This RCBS press is called The Partner.

    But my favourite cheap press is the Lee Hand Press. I've used two of these presses over the past quarter century and these simple, inexpensive hand presses work very well. You can full length size brass with this press and believe me you will never regret buying one.

    You can get the Lee Hand Press from Cabela's. ( Phone no. 1-800-237-4444) The price for a Lee Hand Press Kit is $24.99, and included with the kit is the Lee Ram Prime tool, a funnel and some case lube.

    Now, I must go and feed Fluffy her dinner. Just stay tuned and please do not reply in this thread just yet. Shortly I will continue with subsequent episodes. Just don't get a cat. Doing so is

    Mad.

  2. #2
    Senior Member madgunsmith's Avatar
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    Let's assume you have your reloading press. Next you will need a set of reloading dies.

    With bottle necked rifle rounds, there are normally two dies to a die set. The die set consists of the sizing die and the bullet seating die. The sizing die is used to reform the fired case back to its original dimensions. ( Well not exactly its original dimensions, but close)

    When the case is sized, the case neck is sized by a resizing ball that is part of the decapping assembly. The resizing die has a decapping stem that is used to remove the old primer. And at the same time the resizing ball sizes the inside of the case neck. Ideally, the case neck will be sized to one thousanth of an inch less than that of the bullet diameter. ( eg. In a .308 Winchester case, the neck will typically be sized to .307") The reason why the case neck in sized to slightly less than bullet diameter is to ensure a tight friction fit when the bullet is seated.

    The bullet seating die is used to push a bullet back into the case. Of course before the bullet is seated, you will have to add powder and a new primer. But not to worry, I'll get to that.

    When you start reloading, you can choose between neck sizing dies and full length sizing dies. In my view neck sizing dies remind me of communism. Both neck sizing and communism are great ideas in theory, but both ideas are a snare and a delusion. Neck sizing dies simply size the neck of the case. The idea is that the case will be a perfect fit in your chamber and thus promoting better accuracy. This is more or less true and you will be happy until the day when a case gets stuck in your rifle.

    Instead of neck sizing, I say full length size that case. You can adjust your sizing die to full length size your case in such a way that it will fit snugly inside your chamber.

    So with that out of the way, let's get down to specifics. Suppose you want to load for your .308. You contact Cabelas and you order an RCBS die set in .308 caliber, part no. IG-210894. The price is $25.99. You will also need a matching shell holder. The shell holder simply allows you to seat the case into your press. When you buy shell holders, you should always use the same brand of shellholder and sizing die. The correct shell holder for the .308 Winchester is the #3 RCBS shell holder. This is part no IG-210536 from Cabelas. The Price is $5.49.

    We now have a dies set, shell holder and loading press. In the next installment, I will explain how the die set is adjusted and used.

    In the meantime, I hear a scratching and clawing coming from the kitchen. I think the cat and the wife are getting into it. It's driving me

    Mad.

  3. #3
    Senior Member madgunsmith's Avatar
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    Before we adjust your new .308 dies, I want you to hold up a .308 case. Do you notice the shoulder? Notice how the case is rimless. In a .308 chamber, the shoulder of the cartridge is what supports the round in the chamber. Sinch the cartridge shoulder is what stops the case from moving any further forward, we say that the .308 headspaces on its shoulder. All rimless cases headspace on the shoulder.

    When you full length size a .308 case, you are setting back the shoulder. Normally when a resizing die is properly adjusted, you will be setting back the shoulder by about .003" to .005". If your die is incorrectly adjusted you risk setting back your shoulder too far. If this happens you can create an excess headspace condition with your ammunition. This can cause your case to burst. And at the very least your cases will wear out before their time.

    Now don't let this discourage you. You can adjust your resizing die safely if you do the following:

    Snap the shell holder into the press and raise the ram to the top of its stroke. Screw the die into the top of the press until the mouth of the die presses up against the shell holder. After the die touches the shell holder, screw the die into the press another half a turn. The lock the set screw on your resizing die. With the Lee Hand Press, at the top of the stroke, you will find a gap of about one quarter inch between the press handle and the press frame. At this point your resizing die will be safely set.

    To adjust your die in order to set back your cartridge shoulders by .001" or .002", you will need a special tool such as the Stoney Point headspace tool or the RCBS Precision Mic. Both these tools allow you to measure your cartridge case. And that way you can adjust the amount of resizing very precisely. But these are advanced techniques and you can save this for later.

    As long as you follow my directions, you will be just fine.

    Now that your die is adjusted properly, let's get ready to resize some brass....


    Mad.

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  5. #4
    Senior Member madgunsmith's Avatar
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    Your resizing die is now adjusted and you have a pile of once fired .308 cases.

    The first thing you should do is wipe your cases clean with a paper towel. You should never resize dirty cases as you run the risk of scratching the interior of your sizing die.

    Now many folks use a tumbler in order to clean their cases. I have never used a tumbler and back when I started no-one else ever used one. You really don't need to use a tumbler, but just give the cases a good rubdown with a paper towel and you will be just fine.

    After your cases are relatively clean, take a Q-tip and moisten it slightly using some Lee sizing lubricant. The Lee sizing lubricant is made of a special industrial wax and this wax will not contaminate powder or primers.

    Take the moistened Q-tip and lightly lubricate the interior of each case neck. (This will help the resizing ball resize the inside of the case neck) Once the case necks are lubricated, you will need to lubricate the outside of the cases.

    I prefer to use spray lube. But when you do so, use a light spritz. Don't go crazy because spray lubes can contaminate primers and powder. Place your cases on a paper towel and give them a light spritz. Wait a few minutes and take a piece of tissue or paper towel and using a circular motion give the case shoulder and neck a brisk rub. You do not want excessive lubricant near the shoulder as this will cause oil dents.

    And while I am on the subject of lubricating cases, make absolutely sure that all your cases are lubricated before you attempt to size them. An unsized case will get stuck inside your sizing die. And that would be less fun that having to kiss Hillary Clinton.

    Snap the cases into the shellholder and raise the ram firmly as far as it will go. The press will force the case into the die. The die will reform the case and at the same time the fired primer will be decapped. In the twinking of an eye, your cases will soon all be resized and decapped.

    After your cases are resized use another clean paper towel to wipe them down thorougly. The spray lubricant will come right off and at the same time your brass will become nice and shiny.

    You are now ready for the next step. By the way, the Lee resizing lube is included in the Lee Hand Press Kit. And spray lubricant is available from Cabelas as part no. IG-214936, price $5.99.

    We are now really cookin'. Get ready for the next installment. Call your friends, call your enemies. We're really having fun now.

    Mad.

  6. #5
    Senior Member madgunsmith's Avatar
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    Your cases are now sized and before doing anything else wash your hands. You want to wash away all the spray lube. You do not want to risk contaminating the primer pockets with any residual oil.

    With clean dry hands, pick up your Lee primer pocket cleaner. This handy gadget cost only $1.98. But don't let the cheap price fool you. This tool is just about the best tool of its type made. I will never be without a Lee primer pocket cleaner.

    Anyhow, take the Lee primer pocket cleaner and with a gentle circular motion use the tool to scrape the inside of the primer pocket. Tap the case onto a clean paper towel and you will see some ash fall from the case. Take a look at the primer pocket and you will see a nice clean primer pocket that is ready for a fresh primer.

    But before you prime your brass, you need to check the length of your cases. You see, cases tend to grow with use. Before we proceed, the Lee primer pocket tool is part no. 90101 from Lee Precision 4275 Highway U, Hartford, Wisconsin, 53027.

    Mad.

  7. #6
    Senior Member madgunsmith's Avatar
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    The primer pockets are nice and clean. But before doing anything else, you should measure your cases using a set of dial calipers.

    According to the Speer Manual, .308 cases should be trimmed to 2.005". So you measure your cases using the dial calipers. Now don't worry about your dial calipers. You do not need to buy expensive ones. We are not machining watch parts. A simple set of calipers will help you ensure that your cases are not too long. If cases are too long they can pinch inside your chamber and cause excessive pressures.

    Cabelas sells an inexpensive set of calipers for $19.99. These are available as part no. IG-213608

    To trim your cases, you need a case trimmer. An inexpensive case trimmer is the Lyman Acculine which sells for $34.99. ( Part No IG-210915 ) This trimmer is available from Cabelas for $34.99. This trimmer works like a miniature lathe and you simply turn the little handle and trim the case. Follow the enclosed directions and trim your cases to 2.005"

    Once the cases are trimmed, you need to deburr the case mouths. Use the Lee chamfer tool, part no 90109 from Lee Precision. This tool costs $2.98. The Lee chamfer tool works very well too. Stick the pointed end of the chamfer tool into the case mouth and lightly turn the chamfering tool. This will deburr the inside of the case mouth. Then use the hollow side of the chamfering tool to deburr the outside of the case mouth. Use a gentle turning motion.

    We are now getting ready to prime the cases. I am receiving incoming nagging, so please stand by. I will post some more tomorrow.


    Mad.

  8. #7
    Senior Member madgunsmith's Avatar
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    Now let's get ready to prime those cases. Before doing so, let's select a primer. Since we are loading .308 ammo, let's use Winchester Large Rifle primers. So go down to your local shootin' shop and buy a carton of 1000 Winchester primers. (After the recent election, you may want to buy several cartons)

    You should also have a priming tool. The Lee Hand Press Kit comes with a Lee Ram prime tool; however I suggest that you should invest in a RCBS hand priming tool, which is available for $24.99 from Cabelas as part no. 2UG-210617.

    The RCBS hand priming tool fits in your hand and it has a handle and a lever for you to squeeze. Once the tool is properly assembled, a firm squeeze will cause a small metal plunger to travel upward. As the plunger moves up towards the unprimed case, a primer is dropped into the path of the plunger. As you complete your priming squeeze, the metal plunger presses the primer into the primer pocket of the case.

    The advantage of this set up is that you can feel the primers seating home. You should feel a slight resistance. If the primer seats home without any resistance, you should retire your case. With time, the diameter of the primer pocket will grow. And if the primer pocket becomes over-sized, the case could become unsafe to use. You could wind up with unpleasant and dangerous gas leaks. And you could damage your rifle and yourself. So when you feel a little resistance as the primer seats home, you're feeling a good thing.

    The RCBS hand priming tool features an outboard primer magazine. This magazine constists of a round green plastic tray and cover. To load the magazine, simply dump the contents of a primer box onto the tray. Gently shake the tray until all the primers turn over. The primers should all be facing up. When the primers face up, they are anvil side up.

    The primer magazine and cover both snap in place into the side of the priming tool. Every time you want to prime a case, gently flip your wrist so that a primer can drop out of the magazine and into the tool. Install an unprimed case on the the shell holder and firmly squeeze the handle and lever together. Use firm and gentle pressure. NEVER, EVER USE ANY SUDDEN PRESSURE WHEN PRIMING. WHEN USING THE RCBS PRIMING TOOL, MAKE SURE THAT THE ROUND END OF THE PRIMER SEATING PLUNGER IS DOWN.

    The priming end of the primer seating plunger is flat. If you reverse the position of the plunger, it might be possible to detonate a primer. Of course, you would have to use a lot of force to do so. But if you assemble the RCBS priming tool according to the instructions, you will have no difficulty whatsoever.

    One major advantage of this tool is that you will never have to touch a primer. This tool is also fast and very easy to use.

    If you use firm, gentle pressure you will be able to prime all your cases so that the primer is seated slightly lower than flush to the casehead. You do not want any protruding primers! This can be very dangerous. After priming all of your cases, make sure that the primers are all slightly recessed into the casehead.

    While I talk about the RCBS handpriming tool, I think I should tell you about primer dust. As you prime cases, a minute amount of primer dust can be left upon your priming equipment. That's why I spray my primer tool with canned air every few hundred primers or so. Primer dust can build up and there have been a few reports of explosions in progressive tools.

    I have never heard of an explosion or accident taking place in a hand tool. But it does not hurt to keep your primer tool clean. So every so often, you might want to clean your hand priming tool with canned air. There's no need to become paranoid, but you should always treat primers with respect.

    When actually priming, I always turn my head away as the primer seats home. In case something were to go wrong, I don't want to damage my eyes. Now please do not worry. I have never had a primer go off. But I don't take chances at all and neither should you. As you prime each case, simply turn your head away.

    If I haven't scared you too much, you should have primed all those cases by now. So later we will charge those freshly primed cases with gunpowder and seat bullets.

    Stay tuned.

    Mad.

  9. #8
    Senior Member madgunsmith's Avatar
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    With our cases now sized, trimmed and primed, we should next discuss the load.

    We are trying to produce an accurate load. The easiest way to do this is to cheat. That's right, I said cheat.

    Sierra bullets are well known for accuracy and the 168 grain Match King has provided superb accuracy for years. It is a known standard and there is no need for us to re-invent the wheel. Similarly IMR-4064 has been used for years by the US military for precision .308 ammo. If IMR-4064 was good enough for Carlos Hathcock, it is good enough for me. Like I said, why re-invent the wheel?

    So head off to your local gun emporium and buy a few boxes of Sierra 168 grain Match Kings. If you can't find them at your local store, you can buy them through the mail from Sinclair International. Do a google search for Sinclair International and you will find their website.

    While you are at your local gunshop, purchase a pound or two of IMR-4064. And you might also pick up a box of Federal Gold Medal Match .308 rounds. ( that is if you do not have any ) We are going to use a loaded Federal round in order to cheat just a little.

    Stay tuned....


    Mad.

  10. #9
    Senior Member madgunsmith's Avatar
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    You will now need to adjust your bullet seating die. So here's what to do:

    Screw the bullet seating die into your press and raise the ram to the top of its stroke. Snap the shellholder into place and lower the die until the mouth of the die kisses the shellholder. Back the die out very slightly until the mouth of the die just barely clears the shellholder.

    Tighten the lockscrew on your die. Next you loosen the lock nut on the bullet seating stem. Unscrew the seater stem until it almost is free from the die.

    Put a loaded Federal Gold Medal Match round into your shellholder and raise the ram so that the round moves up into the die. Very slowly and gently start to screw the bullet seating stem downward and into the die. When you feel the bullet seating stem contact the nose of the bullet, stop. Tighten the bullet seating stem lock nut. You have now adjusted your die to seat bullets the exact same length as the Federal loaded round.

    Playing with the overall length of rounds is part of the art and science of handloading. But for now, just start off loading your ammo to the exact same length as the Federal factory round.

    Federal loads their match ammo with Sierra bullets, so your loaded rounds will seat to the exact same depth as the factory cartridge.

    Your seater die is not set and now we should get ready to charge those cases. Stick around, this is going to be more fun...


    Mad.

  11. #10
    Senior Member madgunsmith's Avatar
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    We are now ready to charge those cases. Now what's the best scale to get? Do you need a digital scale, or will a balance beam suffice? The truth of the matter is that a simple balance beam will get you started. Cabela's has a Dillon Eliminator Balance Beam scale, part no. 2UG-215904. This scale costs $48.99

    You can also get a Hornady powder trickler for $8.99 from Cabelas. ( part no. 2UG-210605 ) You can also get a set of Lee Powder Dippers for about $10 bucks ( The Lee Powder Measure Kit, part no. 90100 from Lee Precision Inc.)

    So here's what to do: Say you have the Dillon balance beam scale. After reading the instructions, zero your scale and set up your powder trickler. The powder trickler is filled with IMR-4064. Get a clean, new paper cup and fill it with IMR-4064.

    Now suppose you are going to charge your cases with a starting load of 41.0 grains of IMR-4064 powder. Take the 2.80 cc powder dipper and scoop up some powder from the paper cup. Then you dump the powder on the scale pan and then trickle the charge up to weight.

    The 2.80cc powder dipper will hold about 38 grains of IMR-4064 powder and it is easy to rapidly trickle the charge up to 41.0 grains.

    You should have all of your primed cases waiting in a plastic loading tray. MTM makes loading trays and you can usually find them for $6 or so. The Lee Hand Press Kit came with a plastic funnel and you should immediately place the funnel over the neck of the first cartridge case in the first row. Once the funnel is in place, use the pan to dump the powder into the case.

    Replace the pan and leave the funnel in place over the charged case. Use the powder dipper to dip more powder and once again trickle the charge up to weight. Once you are ready to throw another charge, move the funnel and place it over the next cartridge to the right. Slowly and methodically charge all the cases. Make absolutely sure that you do not leave a case uncharged.

    After all the cases are all charged, inspect all the cases using a strong light. Make absolutely sure that all the cases are charged with powder. If you ever try to fire a primed, but uncharged cartridge you will create potentially deadly bore obstruction.

    We are now ready to seat bullets.

    Mad.

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