You can never be too safe when hand-loading your own ammunition. This helpful Brownells video outlines the Seven Fundamental Reloading Safety Tips. This is important information for novice hand-loaders and a good refresher for those with reloading experience!
Summary of the Seven Safety Tips:
1. Store your reloading supplies in a safe and dry location, away from children and away from any possible source of ignition. This includes keeping your powder and primers separate.
2. Get and use respected reloading manuals, especially for new cartridges. Start low and work up slowly while watching for warning signs of pressure and/or case fatigue.
3. Locate your reloading activity where you will not be distracted. If you get interrupted, stop. (Distractions will eventually lead to mistakes.)
4. Do NOT mix powders. Keep your powders clearly marked and dated. You can use masking tape to write the date on the container.
5. If you load the same cartridge type for different firearms, make sure your ammo headspaces properly in each gun.
6. Check cases frequently. Look for split necks, case head separation or other signs of fatigue and excessive pressure.
7. If reloading military brass, be aware that case capacity is usually reduced, and initial loads should be at least 10-15% lower than published data.
Here are some other tips that will help your avoid making costly mistakes (such as using the wrong powder, or undercharging a case):
Powder Type — Always double-check the label on your powder containers. After placing powder in the powder measure, put a piece of tape on the measure with the powder type written on it. Some guys write the powder type on a card and place that right in the hopper.
Scale Drift — Electronic balances can drift. If you are using a digital powder scale, calibrate the scale with a test weight every 50 rounds or so.
Case Fill — If you throw more than one charge at a time, look INSIDE every case before seating a bullet. Squib charges can be dangerous if you don’t notice them before firing the next round.
Progressive Presses — When using a progressive press, consider using an RCBS Lock-Out Die. This will detect a low charge and stop the machine. These dies will work with RCBS, Hornady, and Dillon progressives.
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We can predict, with some certainty, how long a light bulb will last (in use), or a shingle roof, or even a nuclear reactor. But how about barrels? Is there a way to reliably estimate barrel life based on known characteristics? This article explains one effort to quantify barrel life…
How long will a barrel last before the accuracy “goes south”? There are so many variables involved (powder type, bore diameter, bullet coatings etc.) that it’s hard to predict. You might say “Well, my buddy has a .243 and he got 1500 rounds before the throat was shot out” — those kind of comparisons can be useful, but they’re not very scientific, and they won’t help much if you’ve got a gun in a new chambering (such as the 6.5×47) for which long-term test results are lacking.
Is there a more reliable way to predict barrel life — one that will work for a broad range of calibers? Well, Forum member MikeCr has developed an Excel spreadsheet that accounts for a number of variables, and gives a pretty good estimate of useful barrel life, whether you’re shooting a .223 Rem or a 338 Lapua Magnum. Mike’s program predicts barrel life using five variables: 1) Bullet Diameter; 2) Powder Charge weight; 3) Powder Heat Potential (KJ/kg); 4) Pressure (in psi); and 5) Bullet Coating (yes/no). Mike provides a table with Heat Potential ratings for most popular powder types. The user needs to know the pressure of his load. This can be estimated with QuickLOAD.
You can download the lastest version of Mike’s spreadsheet below. You’ll need Excel or an Excel viewer to open the file.
Shown below is Mike’s Spreadsheet, with variables for a 6BR shooting 105gr “naked” bullets with 30.3 grains of Hodgdon Varget powder. The formula predicts 2401 rounds of barrel life. That corresponds pretty well to what we’d expect for a 6BR — about 2500 rounds.
Mike observes: “There has been a lot of discussion lately related to cartridge design and resulting barrel life. This is a really important factor to consider amongst a myriad of choices. Barrel life is controversial, and subjective. There are no clear-cut standards for comparison. But a few years ago, I put together a spreadsheet based on Bart Bobbit’s rule of thumb. It worked pretty good, only occasionally failing some tests when validated against posted barrel lives.
According to Ken Howell, I had to account for pressure. And Henry Child’s powder temperature testing provided another piece needed. So, I’ve tweaked it here and there to pass more tests. From 223 Rem to 300 UltraMagnum. Another element added, but turned off, is shot interval. I would need way more tests to lock in on this. But everyone knows, the faster you shoot, the worse the barrel life.
Anyway, another factor hard to define is ‘accurate’ barrel life. This cannot be quantified without standards. Barrels are replaced when expectations are no longer met. I feel that a [barrel] passes peak potential in a finite period due to throat erosion. But that don’t mean it’s toast, if it still shoots well enough. It’s just as likely that many of us never see that peak potential anyway. It’s a slippery thing. Point-blank BR competitors will toss a barrel when it leaves the 1s. I could get another 4000 rounds from it, and be content with its performance, I’m sure.”
NOTE: Mike says: “This spreadsheet may show a lower barrel life than you prefer. But it pretty well spotlights cartridges to stay away from if you plan much time at the range or in dog town.”
Editor’s Comment: Mike’s spreadsheet is a helpful tool, but it is NOT a definitive “take-it-to-the-bank” indicator of barrel life. Mike cautions that predicting barrel life involves so many different factors (including how hot the barrel is run), that the task is a bit like predicting tread life on car tires. Still, the spreadsheet is very helpful. It can certainly warn us that some chamberings (such as the 6-284) are likely to be barrel burners. That can help you make a smart decision when choosing a chambering for your next rifle.
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Most of us assume that if we weigh our powder carefully (down to the tenth of a grain or less) we can achieve a uniform powder fill from case to case in our handloads. Weighing does ensure that the weight of the propellant in each case is the same, but is the column of powder the same by volume each time? “Not necessarily” is the answer. An interesting experiment by our friend Boyd Allen demonstrates that the manner in which you place kernels in the case can make a significant difference in the height of the powder column within the brass case.
Using a Gempro 250 scale, Boyd measured exactly 30.6 grains of Vihtavuori N-133 powder. He then inserted this powder in the same cartridge case multiple times. (The case has a fired primer in place.) But here is the key — Boyd used various filling techniques. He did a slow fill, and a fast fill, and he also experimented with tapping and drop tubes. What Boyd discovered was that you can start with the exact same weight of powder (in fact the very same set of kernels), yet end up with vary different fill heights, depending on how you drop the kernels into the case. Look at the photos. Despite variations in lighting, the photos show the same 30.6 grains of powder, placed in the same cartridge, with four different methods.
Boyd Explains the Procedure Used for his Experiment.
EDITOR’s NOTE: So there is no misunderstanding, Boyd started with a weighed 30.6 grain charge. This identical charge was used for ALL four fills. After a fill the powder was dumped from the case into a pan which was then used for the next fill technique to be tried. So, the powder weight was constant. Indeed the exact same kernels (of constant weight and number) were used for each fill.
Boyd writes: “I used the same powder for all fills, 30.6 gr. on a GemPro 250 checked more than once. All fills employed the same RCBS green transparent plastic funnel. The fast drop with the funnel only overflowed when it was removed from the case neck, and 15 granules of powder fell on the white paper that the case was sitting on. The fast-funnel-only drop with tapping, was done with the funnel in place and the case and funnel in one hand, while tapping the case body with the index finger hard, many times (about 20 fast double taps). My idea here was to “max out” the potential of this tapping technique.
The slow drop with the funnel and 10″-long .22 cal. Harrell’s Precision drop tube, was done by holding the scale pan over the funnel and tapping the spout of the pan repeatedly on the inside of the funnel about 1/3 down from the top, with the scale pan tilted just enough so that the powder will just flow. Many taps were involved, again, to max out the technique.
Again, to be clear, after each case filling, the powder was poured from the case back into the scale pan carefully. You may notice the similarity between the fast drop with the drop tube, and the funnel only with tapping. Although I did not photograph it, fast tube drop and tapping (combined) improved on tapping alone, but only to about half as far down the neck as the slow with drop tube. Due to the endless possible permutations, I picked four and left it at that.
I believe that I can make the rough judgment that the scale pan funnel and drop tube technique, which involved a longer drop period, and probably less velocity at the top of the tube, left more room in the top of the case neck than the slow drop from the measure with the same drop tube. You have both pictures, so you can make the comparison.” — Boyd
Does Powder Column Height Variance Make a Difference?
Boyd’s experiment proves pretty conclusively that the method of dropping a given weight of powder can affect the height of the powder column in the case and the degree of powder compression (when a bullet is seated). He showed this to be true even when the exact same set of kernels (of constant weight) was used in repetitive loadings. This raises some interesting questions:
1. Will subsequent cartridge transport and handling cause the powder to settle so the variances in powder column height are diminished?
2. If significant inconsistencies in powder column height remain at time of firing, will the difference in fill level hurt accuracy, or result in a higher extreme spread in velocity?
3. Is there any advantage (beyond increased effective case capacity) for a tight (low level) fill vs. a loose (high level) fill?
We don’t know the answer to these follow up questions. This Editor guesses that, if we tested low-fill-height rounds vs. high-fill-height rounds (all with same true fill quantity by weight), we might see meaningful differences in average velocity. I would also guess that if you fired 10 rounds that exhibited quite a difference in powder column heights, you might see a higher ES/SD than if you shot 10 rounds loaded with a very consistent powder column height (either high or low). But further testing is needed to determine if these predictions are true.
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Do you own an RCBS electronic powder dispenser? If you do, take the time to watch this ChargeMaster Tuning video from 8541 Tactical. This nine-minute video demonstrates how to re-program your Chargemaster to “tune” the dispensing process. The video shows the exact programming procedures to follow, step-by-step. Some folks want a faster powder flow — others tune their machines for a more reliable drop (with fewer over-runs). One cheap and popular modification is to insert a 1″-long section of a McDonald’s straw in the ChargeMaster’s silver dispensing tube. This works surprisingly well to smooth kernel drop and prevent “clumping” that can cause an over-charge. The McDonald’s straw MOD is demonstrated in this video, starting at the 6:22 mark.
Large-Diameter Dispensing Tube Mod
Many folks have had success with the McDonald’s straw modification demonstrated in the above video. However, some folks would like to get even better flow performance (with virtually no clumping). Forum Member Frank B. has come up with a new option using a brass hose fitting with a large outside diameter. The hose fitting (with tape wrapped around the barbed nose section) is placed inside the RCBS dispensing tube (be sure to have some kind of wrap — you don’t want metal-on-metal). Here’s how the unit looks installed:
Frank tells us: “I have found a cure for the over-throw problem. It is a simple 1/4″ barbed hose nipple. I wrapped a couple layers of tape around the barbed end for a snug fit. With this in place, I have thrown 100+ charges of Varget without a single overthrow. The ID of the barbed end needs to be approximately 3/16″ to feed a steady flow. This works because of the larger ID at the drop.”
Frank adds: “You can see in the photo that the powder is not stacking up. You can watch it drop one grain at a time. Hope this will take the aggravation out of your case charging.” For best performance with this brass fitting MOD, we recommend de-burring and smoothing out the front edge of the brass fitting over which the kernels drop.
Brass fitting mod suggested by Boyd Allen. We welcome reader submissions.
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Grafs.com now has many popular IMR Powders in stock (see inventory below). And, the price is right on IMR 4895 and IMR 4350 — Just $24.99 per pound with current sale pricing. Act soon, as quantities are limited. Note, for IMR 4895 and IMR 4350, customers are limited to ten (10) pounds of each propellant per order (that’s ten, 1-lb containers of each).
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In our Shooters’ Forum, many questions are asked about QuickLOAD software — how to get best results, how to use the advanced features, how to adjust for temperature and so on. To help answer those questions, here’s a short feature we first ran during SHOT Show 2012. You can also CLICK HERE for a very detailed explanation of QuickLOAD in our main site.
At SHOT Show, we had the chance to meet with German software engineer Hartmut Broemel, creator of QuickLOAD software. This software program, while not a substitute for conventional load manuals, allows shooters to evaluate a wide range of powders and bullets, comparing potential loads on the basis of predicted pressures, velocities, load density and projectile in-barrel time.
We took the opportunity, in the video below, to explain some of the fine points of QuickLOAD for our members. QuickLOAD, sold by Neconos.com, helps reloaders understand how changing variables can affect pressures and velocities. It can predict the effect of changes in ambient temperature, bullet seating depth, and barrel length.
In the video below we explain how to adjust the program for true case capacity, bullet seating into the lands, and other important factors. If you are a new QuickLOAD user, or are contemplating buying the $152.95 program, you should watch the video. The program isn’t perfect, but it can accelerate the load development process, and it can save you money by narrowing down the list of appropriate powders for your cartridge.
No other product currently available to serious reloaders offers as much predictive power as QuickLOAD, and you’ll find your money well spent just for the vast collection of data on bullets and cartridges. With a couple mouse-clicks you can instantly get the specifications of hundreds of bullets and cartridges. Likewise, in a matter of seconds, you can compare load density for a half-dozen powders, or compare the projected velocities of one cartridge versus another.
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Midsouth Shooters Supply has received a substantial amount of popular reloading powders. This is good news for folks who have been short on powder. No, there’s still no Hodgdon Varget or H4350, but Midsouth does have many other great propellants in stock. Hodgdon powders in stock today include the popular H322, Benchmark, Retumbo, H50BMG, and US 869 (a spherical powder for big magnums). IMR propellants in stock include IMR 4227, IMR 4320, IMR 4831, IMR 4895, IMR 7828SSC, IMR 8208 XBR. Midsouth also hase Vihtavuori N135, N160, and N165 in stock now.
This holiday weekend, Grafs.com has been offering value-priced combos of powder and primers. AR guys and varmint hunters should like the combination of Hodgdon CFE223 powder and CCI 400 (small rifle) primers (item #July4combo01). This combo gives you six (6) pounds of CFE223 powder plus 5,000 CCI 400 primers for $265.99, plus a single $28.50 hazmat fee.
If you prefer Winchester powder, you can get 6 pounds of Winchester 748 powder plus 5000 CCI 400 primers for $269.99 (plus hazmat). Lastly, if you prefer to purchase by the jug, Grafs.com is offering a combo pack (item #July4combo03) with one 8-pound jug of IMR4064 plus 5,000 CCI 400 primers for $299.99 (plus hazmat). Take your pick — these are all pretty good deals.
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A while back, Sinclair International’s Reloading Press Blog featured a “round-table” discussion of reloading techniques. Sinclair’s team of tech staffers were asked: “What do you feel is the one-most crucial step in precision reloading?”
Here are their responses (along with comments from our Editors):
Phil Hoham: “I feel that when working up a load do not go too high or too low in your powder charge. Stay away from “suggested loads” you hear at the range, or on the internet. Always be sure to use a published reloading manual that presents not only minimums and maximums, but also pressure, velocity, and a proper range of powders used. Do not get distracted in the reloading process, and remain focused at all times during each step involved.”
AccurateShooter.com: Some loads presented on the Internet are OK as a starting point, but it is absolutely critical to understand that pressure maximums will vary considerably from one rifle to another (of the same chambering). For example, one 6mmBR rifle shooting 105gr bullets can max out with 30.0 grains of Varget powder, while another rifle, with the same chamber dimensions, but a different barrel, could tolerate (and perform better) with half a grain more powder. You need to adjust recommended loads to your particular rifle and barrel.
Pete Petros: “This could be a very broad topic, but if I were to pick one, it would be making sure to pay close attention, and weigh each and every powder charge to ensure that each load is exact and consistent. This is important not only for accuracy, but also for safety reasons.”
AccurateShooter.com: If you’re shooting beyond 200 yards, it is critical to weigh your loads with an accurate scale. Loads that are uniform (within a few kernels) will exhibit lower Extreme Spread and Standard Deviation. And remember, even if you stick with the same powder, when you get a new powder lot, you may have to adjust your load quite a bit. For example, .308 Palma shooters have learned they may need to adjust Varget loads by up to a full grain from one lot of Varget to the next.
Ron Dague: “I feel that the most important step(s) in reloading for accuracy are in the initial case prep. Uniforming the primer pocket to the same depth to ensure consistency in primer seating is a crucial step. Additionally de-burring the flash holes, each in the same way to clean up and chamfer the inside is important. It ensures that the ignition from the primer is uniform and flows out in the same consistent pattern. Doing so will create uniform powder ignition and tighten up your velocity Extreme Spread.”
AccurateShooter.com: With some brands of brass, primer pocket uniforming and flash-hole deburring is useful. However, with the best Lapua, Norma, and RWS brass it may be unnecessary, or worse, counter-productive. So long as your Lapua brass flash-holes are not obstructed or smaller than spec, it may be best to leave them alone. This is particularly true with the small flash holes in 220 Russian, 6BR, and 6.5×47 cases. MOST of the flash-hole reaming tools on the market have cutting bits that vary in size because of manufacturing tolerances. We’ve found tools with an advertised diameter of .0625″ (1/16″) that actually cut an 0.068″ hole. In addition, we are wary of flash-hole deburring tools that cut an aggressive inside chamfer on the flash-holes. The reason is that it is very difficult to control the amount of chamfer precisely, even with tools that have a depth stop.
Rod Green: “I feel that bullet seating is the most important step. If you had focused on making sure all prior steps (case prep, powder charge, etc.) of the process have been carefully taken to ensure uniformity, bullet seating is the last step, and can mean all the difference in the world in terms of consistency. Making sure that the bullet is seated to the same depth each time, and time is taken to ensure that true aligned seating can make the load.”
Bob Blaine: “I agree with Rod. I strongly feel that consistent bullet seating depth is the most important step in creating the most accurate hand loads. I have seen the results in both my bench and long range rifles. Taking the time to ensure exactness in the seating process is by far, the number one most important step in my book.”
AccurateShooter.com: Agreed. When loading match ammo, after bullet seating, we check every loaded round for base of case to ogive length. If it varies by more than 3 thousandths, that round is segregated or we attempt to re-seat the bullet. We measure base of case to bullet ogive with a comparator mounted on one jaw of our calipers. You may have to pre-sort your bullets to hold the case-base to ogive measurement (of loaded rounds) within .003″.
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Sinclair International has produced an eight-part video series on metallic cartridge reloading, hosted by Sinclair’s former President Bill Gravatt. The entire series can be viewed (for free) via Sinclair’s “How-To Videos” archive. While this set of videos starts with the basics, it covers many more advanced aspects of reloading as well. Accordingly, both novice and experienced reloaders can benefit from watching the eight videos. We think everyone should watch Video No. 2, which outlines the hazards of reloading and provides guidelines for safe reloading practices.
We also strongly recommend Video No. 4 to readers who are getting started in reloading. This “How Things Work” segment covers the sequence of events inside the chamber (and barrel) when the cartridge is fired. The video includes helpful graphics that show what happens to the primer, powder, cartridge, and bullet when the round is fired. The video also illustrates “headspace” and explains how this can change after firing. We think this video answers many common questions and will help reloaders understand the forces at work on their brass during the firing process.
Watch Firing Sequence Video
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AccurateShooter Forum member Allan, aka “1066″, has improved the performance of his RCBS balance-beam scale with some simple hardware modifications. In addition, Allan has cleverly fitted an inexpensive video camera to one end of his scale. This camera outputs a signal to Allan’s laptop computer, giving Allan a magnified, “big-screen” view of the pointer tip of his scale. That lets Allan observe ultra-small movements of the beam. With the hardware upgrades and video display, Allan has crafted a system with usable sensitivity to a single grain of Varget powder.
Hardware “Mods” Enhance Scale Reliability and Sensitivity
To upgrade his scale, Allan first fabricated a new U-shaped pan suspension hanger on the end of the scale. This allowed the pan to center more reliably and consistently. Next Allan extended the pointer arm at the opposite end, and attached a very fine graduated vertical scale to provide a more precise visual read-out. This scale has marks corresponding to 0.1 grains (one-tenth of a grain).
To improve the function of the beam itself, Allan “cleaned-up” the knife edges on which the beam moves, and Allan also fabricated a simple “approach to weight” fixture (with foam cushion) that gives the beam a smoother transition as it nears max travel.
Inexpensive Video Camera Displays on Laptop Screen
Allan’s real genius was in fitting an inexpensive video camera to display a magnified image of the pointer at the end of the beam. Seeing the “big picture” really helps get the best precision from the scale. Allan acquired a cheap web-cam and attached it via a simple bracket to the RCBS scale. A USB cable delivers the video output to Allan’s laptop. Allan says the web-cam cost less than $20.00 on eBay and required no special software. It was a “plug and go” installation. With the video camera running, the onscreen image is “super-sized” so Allan can track the smallest movements of the pointer tip. You can see how the whole system works in the video below. To dispense powder, Allan uses a slick automated trickler, explained next.
TargetMaster Automatic trickler Uses “Electric-Eye” for Automatic Shut-off
The final element in Allan’s high-tech balance beam scale system is a Targetmaster automatic trickler. This unique UK-made trickler is very advanced. It has two components — a dispenser, and a remote sensor that “watches” the movement of the balance beam. Allan pushes a button to start the powder flowing. As the load in the pan approaches the correct weight, an electric eye senses the position of the balance beam. Once the beam “hits the mark” for a correct load, the remote sensor shuts off the trickler. It sounds complicated but it works perfectly.
TargetMaster Trickler Components and Operation
The TargetMaster automated Trickler is a pretty impressive piece of kit that can be adapted to a wide variety of balance beam scales. The components and functions of the TargetMaster automated trickler are shown in the video below, provided by the manufacturer in the UK. To learn more about this reloading accessory, visit TargetMasterUK.com.
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Here’s a great search service that can help you locate hard-to-find ammunition and reloading components — while saving money in the process. Ammoseek.com monitors more than a dozen online vendors — checking current pricing and available inventory, for pistol, rifle, and shotgun ammunition. Need .45 acp ammo for your 1911? Just select “.45 ACP” from the “Quick Seek” list on the right. Likewise you can find .223 Rem and .308 Win Rifle ammo with one click.
Find .22 LR Ammo Quickly (Cabela’s Has Some Today)
Looking for hard-to-find .22 LR rimfire ammunition. That’s easy — you don’t even have to enter any search words. Simply click on the highlighted links for AmmoSeek’s 22LR Page.
Use Ammoseek.com to Find Reloading Components Too
Ammoseek.com also lets you search for reloading components, including powder, primers, brass, and bullets. This is a huge time-saver. You can instantly check a dozen or more vendors to see if a particular type of powder is in stock. Likewise, you can quickly check for primer availability. If you have a big match coming up and are short on primers — this could solve the problem.
Story Tip by Boyd Allen. We welcome reader submissions.
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