Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Handloading Gear Basics

Until you have some degree of self-sufficiency with your ammunition supply, you face owning a lot of useless tools once the ammunition locker runs dry. If you own some basic loading tools, a supply of primers, propellant (smokeless gunpowder), and bullets; you can reload your empty brass cartridge cases many, many times.

The classic tool since the 60s when Richard Lee of Lee Engineering introduced it has been the Lee Loader. Back then, a Lee Loader sold for $8 and enabled a shooter to deprime and size fired cases, install a new primer, and using a dip-measure with Lee's chart showing which powders the dip would function with, you added your powder charge and then seated the bullet. A bit time intensive, but for $8 it was a great deal. If you added a loading scale and a handloading manual, the world was your oyster~! All sorts of load potentials were yours. The Lee Loader still is made and sells for about $25-$30.

A Lee Loader and some components remains a great inexpensive way to reload your empty brass, but it's not a very suitable solution if you have lots of cartridges to process.

Lee also sells the handpress. This is a lightweight aluminum press that is compact and held in the hands. Any regular 7/8x14 threaded loading dies can be used with the handpress. Add a Lee Dipper set and you have a decent backpack portable loading solution. Another backpack solution is the Lyman 310 Tool. This is the classic Nutcracker loading tool, originally made by Ideal. The dies are smaller size than modern rifle and handgun die sets, but they are very capable tool and are much faster than a Lee Loader. Just be sure you buy a lot of spare decap pins. I always wind up breaking one it seems.

Loading tools can be portable, but most require a bench and a strong press. LE Wilson is one of many benchrest loading tool makers. Wilson dies are used with an arbor press and work with superb precision. They are a whole nother realm of loading tool and unless you use a 6mm PPC as your survival rifle, you likely are more interested in 7/8x14 threaded dies, and loading presses.

For fast processing of large quantities of ammunition a progressive loading machine is the answer. Dillon is the machine of choice, but RCBS, Hornady, and Lee all make progressive presses. Dillon offers 550b, 650, and 1050 models and they vary by level of automation. I like the 550b and use my machine to load match quality .308win and .223rem, as well as handgun ammunition. I tend to be methodical when I load and take time to adjust the primer seat function and powder measure. The Dillon measure will throw with great accuracy once you get your rhythm going. I tend to average 200+ loads per hour. Many guys claim to do over 300/hr.

A single stage loading press will require loading in phases. Phase one is lubing brass and depriming/resizing. Deprime all your brass in phase one. Be sure to use a good case lube because a stuck case is a real problem, slows you down, and ruins brass or maybe your die. With brass deprimed and sized, a bottlenecked case is next primed. If loading a straight-walled case, next phase is to expand neck for bullet seating (3 die set for straight-wall cases). Seating the primer is next phase. Lee and other firms make a hand press for primer seating. Seating primers by feel is very helpful. Once case is primed, next phase is to measure the powder charge on scale or measure and using a powder funnel, charge the case. Finally with case primed and charged the last stage is to seat the bullet. Might add another step if you want to crimp the bullet. Crimping is not often necessary unless loading magnum, high recoiling loads.

Lots of fine manufacturers of loading gear. RCBS makes good gear and has about the best warranty in the industry. Redding and Forster are the primary manufacturers for match quality gear. The Redding Ultra-Mag press is the finest heavy-duty single stage. Forster's Co-Ax press is highly esteemed. RCBS's rockchucker is a fine press and their Rockchucker supreme kit is a fine solution for the beginning handloader. Redding offers kits also, as does Lee on the low price-end of things. Hornady, Lyman, Pacific are other fine companies, yet if you buy RCBS, Redding, or Forster you likely have greater resale value in your gear; always a good thing.

Most quality loading scales have always been made by Ohaus. The RCBS 505 is a great entry level scale. Their 10-10 scale is the finest. Redding powder measures are top of the commercial tier. There are benchrest quality scales that sell for $300 or so, but a Redding with micrometer adjustment will serve until you need a perfect repetitive measure on every handle cycle.

Perfection in powder charge is not really worth the effort. As long as you are within .2 grains of your charge you won't see much variation in accuracy. Where perfection does count is in calibration. Without a Scale Checkweight set, you are guessing. Set your scale to -0- on its pointer with a checkweight set and you'll know your loads weigh what they should. This is extremely vital if you load maximum or magnum rifle loads.

There are plenty of techniques for loading better ammunition than the factories produce, even in their match tournament lines. Not hard to do if you have an aptitude for detail. More on precision loading techniques in another article.

We'll also discuss component selection and bullet casting soon also. Also intend to get into home gunsmithing and how to make your weapons perform their best.

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