When you need ammo fast — lots of ammo, it’s hard to beat a progressive reloading press for output. We use progressive presses to load handgun ammo and .223 Rem cartridges for varmint safaris. With good dies, and proper press set-up, today’s progressive presses can produce surprisingly uniform and accurate ammo. No, you won’t see Benchrest Hall-of-Famers loading PPC cartridges on progressives. However, if you need 1000 rounds for your next prairie dog adventure, you should consider getting a progressive. Below you can see a Hornady Lock-N-Load AP configured to load .308 Winchester in bulk.
Proper Brass Prep
Just like a good paint job requires good prep work, great rifle ammo requires good brass prep. In order to make sure your rifle loading goes smoothly, make sure to perform the following brass prep steps:
Clean the brass (tumble, ultrasonic, etc.)
Inspect brass for cracks, deep dents, etc.
For military brass: de-prime, ream/swage primer pockets, size with small-base sizer die (small base usually optional).
Measure brass length — if too long, size and then trim.
Final inspection before loading.
Cleaning primer pockets may be something you’ll consider (I don’t clean primer pockets except for rare cases or match ammo).
Smooth and Steady Pace
Since you’re loading rifle ammunition on a progressive, you’re already saving a load of time, so there’s no need to rush things! Attention to detail is super-important for safety and for good results. Always keep an eye on powder level (goes down FAST) and what’s happening at each station.
The Right Press and Press Setup
Look for a heavy-duty, well-built press that will stand up to rifle loading. You’ll also want to make sure your powder measure will have the proper capacity (~25 grains for .223, ~50 grains for 308). If you are bulk reloading, ensure you have enough stations for sizing, charging, powder check, bullet feed, bullet seating, and (optional) bullet crimp.
More Ultimate Reloader Resources for Users of Progressive Presses:
Shooters who reload at the range, during the course of benchrest matches, or during load development sessions, can benefit from having a portable scale to weigh charges. Even if you throw charges, using click values, a scale allows you to double-check the accuracy of your throws. In addition, having a scale handy lets you weigh and sort components during load development.
Many reloaders prefer “old-fashioned” balance beam scales for range use. They are relatively inexpensive and simple to use. With a beam scale, unlike electronic scales, you don’t have to worry about weak batteries or finding AC power. The problem when using any scale at an outdoor range is wind. Wind can cause powder to blow out of the pan and even a light breeze can actually cause a beam scale to perform erratically.
Beat the Breezes with a Wind Box for your Scale
Forum member Boyd Allen has come up with a smart solution for reloaders who use scales outdoors — a windproof scale enclosure, aka “Wind Box”. This is something that can easily be built at home with common tools. Boyd explains: “Many guys have good set-ups for loading at the range, with clamping mounts for powder measure and press. But they lack a good enclosure for a scale. This is vitally important with beam scales because they have a lot of surface area to catch the wind. With much wind at all, the beam can oscillate to the point that is not really very usable. While a low-profile electronic scale may be less wind-sensitive, breezes DO affect weight read-outs on digital scales. And of course you always have the issue of blowing powder particles.”
Boyd Allen has used his Wind Box successfully for many seasons. He explains: “Some time ago, I got this idea, and was fortunate enough to have a friend, Ed Hellam, who liked the idea well enough to build us both one. He did a fine job, but since this was the prototype there was at least one lesson to learn. The original viewing pane was Plexiglass, and I discovered that it would hold enough static charge to throw the scale off 0.1 grains, so another friend, Bob Smith, modified my Wind Box, replacing the Plexiglass with a tempered glass faceplate. Thank you Ed and Bob….
The essence of the idea is to have a scale set up in a box with a clear cover that can be opened and closed. On one side the trickler handle/control emerges through a ‘just big enough’ hole. You raise the cover, add a sub-target-weight thrown charge to the pan, and then close the cover. With the cover secure, the set-up is protected from the wind, and you can now trickle up to your desired charge. It works very well. The scale in the photo is an old Ohaus that I picked up. It is actually more sensitive than my RCBS 10-10 and works fine. You can adapt this Wind Box design to any beam scale, or portable electronic scale. Simply adjust the dimensions to fit your particular scale and trickler.”
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When we first saw this product in 2010 at Cabela’s we thought: “Great idea… it’s amazing nobody else has offered a covered loading tray before”. Being able to cover your loading tray makes sense. With the cover in place, you can’t inadvertently drop something into the tray, or knock over cases filled with powder. Plus the covered cased eliminates the risk of contaminating cases with overspray from lubes or solvents. You can also keep loaded rounds protected from the elements before they’re packed into ammo carriers.
Now Midsouth Shooters Supply offers covered loading trays for just $8.62 (that’s a lot less than Cabela’s price). You can purchase the 50-round loading tray from Cabelas.com for $14.99 (item IK-215760) with a green base, or get the same thing with a red base from Midsouth for $8.62 (item 038-502032). Order Midsouth’s 30-45 cal model (item 038-502032) for 6BR and .308-sized rims. For loading .223 rounds, get the 9mm-223 model (Midsouth item 038-502033).
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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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Following the success of CFE 223, Hodgdon Powder Company has released a new addition to the CFE (“Copper Fouling Eraser”) line of propellants. Hodgdon’s new CFE™ Pistol, a general purpose handgun powder, is designed to deliver less copper fouling. CFE Pistol is a spherical (ball) powder that meters very well. Hodgdon hopes to have CFE Pistol available in January 2014.
When CFE 223 rifle powder was first introduced, people were skeptical about claims that CFE reduced copper fouling in barrels. In fact, field reports from our Forum members indicate that CFE 223 does deliver on the promise of reduced copper fouling. Our readers also found CFE 223 to be very accurate in a variety of cartridge types. Hopefully CFE PISTOL will perform as well in handguns.
The secret to CFE products’ reduced copper fouling is a proprietary “Copper Fouling Eraser” chemistry developed for U.S. rapid-fire military systems. Better living (and less cleaning) through chemistry, as they say. Hodgdon states: “Whatever your game is… you will benefit significantly with longer periods of top accuracy with less barrel cleaning time and minimal muzzle flash.”
Load data for CFE Pistol should be available on Hodgdon’s Reloading Data Center starting in December 2013. Hodgdon plans to provide over 100 available loads for 15 pistol cartridges, and 37 bullet weights. Load data will be offered for 9mm Luger, 38 Super, 40 S&W, .45 ACP and many other cartridge types. To find out more, visit Hodgdon.com, see Hodgdon’s upcoming 2014 Annual Manual, or call Hodgdon at 913-362-9455.
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What is the most-used piece of equipment on this editor’s reloading bench? No it’s not my Rock-Chucker press, or even my calipers. The one item in near-constant use is a small, folding magnifying glass. Mine folds into a square case and offers 4X viewing with an 8X bifocal insert. With this handy tool I can inspect case mouths for burrs, check primer pockets, inspect meplats, and look for flaws on bullet jackets. I also use the magnifier to see rifling marks on bullets seated into the rifling, or check my bolt for galling. The number of uses is nearly endless. I keep one magnifier at my reloading bench and another in my range kit.
Folding magnifiers are so handy yet inexpensive that you should own a couple spares (including one in the range box). I bought my magnifier in a book-store, but you can also find them on the web at FoldingMagnifier.com and WidgetSupply.com starting at just $1.95. To see the finest details, Widget Supply offers a powerful 17X/50X slide-out magnifier with a built-in, battery-powered LED light. With that gadget, you can easily see any minute flaws in your barrel crowns. That’s important because crown damage can cause hard-to-diagnose accuracy issues. We’ve known guys who spend weeks tinkering with loads, when the real problem was a worn-out or damaged crown.
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Poor bullet run-out can cause poor and inconsistent accuracy, and variations in bullet velocities. The truer the loaded round, the more consistent your results will be on paper and across the chronograph.
We all know that low run-out is the goal. But how can you tell if your run-out is high or low? Run-out is generally measured in thousandths of an inch with a concentricity gauge. There are many concentricity gauges to choose from that work well. Some work on loaded rounds only, some have a bullet straightening feature, and a few work on both loaded rounds and empty cases for checking case neck concentricity. The tool of choice for the Sinclair Reloading Tech Staff is the Sinclair Concentricity Gauge (Part # 09-175).
This tool is a mainstay on my bench, and it is used about as much as I use my reloading press! The tool uses two sets of bearings that are set on lateral, length-adjustable anodized aluminum blocks to accommodate cartridges from .221 Fireball-sized cases up to .50 BMG. The indicator is set on a height adjustable swiveling base on a stand that can be used for checking bullet or case neck run-out. The adjustable blocks ride aligned in a precision-milled slot. The entire set up is on an anodized base plate that gives excellent support during the process that is crucial to operation and accuracy. Basically the operation consists of placing a loaded round (for checking bullet run-out) or an empty case (for case run-out) on the bearings with the indicator end touching the chosen point to be measured. The case is easily spun with one finger as the indicator measures the amount of run-out. Once this process has been done a few times it is a fast and accurate means of measurement. In terms of indicator type being used, whether dial or digital, I actually prefer a standard dial indicator over the digital type. My reason for this choice is that you can see the needle jump when run-out is present. I believe this to be easier and faster than looking at digital numbers while measuring. In the video below, Sinclair’s Bill Gravatt shows how to use the Sinclair Concentricity Gauge correctly.
Sizing Steps to Minimize Run-Out
One of the most common steps in the reloading process that contributes to bullet run-out occurs is the sizing operation. If improper techniques are used or there are issues with the sizing die set up, a once perfectly concentric case can become out of whack. By using the proper dies for your application, properly setting up the die/shell holder or floating the de-capping/expander assembly, you can eliminate problems before they happen.
Many of us on the technical staff choose the Redding Type-S series of dies. These are full-Length or neck sizing dies that utilize a removable/changeable neck bushing (sold separately) to size the neck according to your application. These dies are machined with true precision and quality in mind. The Type-S dies come with a standard de-capping assembly with a caliber-specific expander ball in place. In addition to this an undersized retainer to hold the de-capping pin is included with the die. In my experience with these dies I use the standard expander ball with new, unfired brass on the initial re-size. I will then use the undersized retainer in place of the expander ball with brass that has been fired. I have found this step crucial in my reloading regiment to minimize bullet run out. The use of the expander ball can cause a few thousandths of run-out when the case is being pulled back out of the sizing die. With the undersized retainer in place the only thing that touches the neck of the case in sizing is the bushing. If you prefer to use an expander ball, Redding offers caliber specific carbide floating expander balls that fit on the de-capping rod. This free floating expander ball will self center on the case neck, and reduce the amount of run-out that can be caused by a standard expander ball.
When setting up a Type-S sizing die, set the neck bushing into the die with the numbers facing down toward the body of the die. Tighten the de-capping assembly until it contacts the bushing and then back it off ¼ of a turn. This allows the bushing to free float in the die. You should be able to hear the bushing rattle if you shake the die. Having the bushing free floating self centers the neck, and again minimizes any run-out that can occur.
If you prefer other brands of sizing dies there are a few tricks that people use to minimize run-out as well. Many reloaders claim that the use of an O-ring at the base of the de-capping assembly lock nut will float the assembly and help self center during sizing. Another trick that has been used is to remove the retaining pin on the shell holder slot on the press ram, and use an O-ring in its place to hold the shell holder in place. This allows the shell holder to self center during sizing as well.
Seating Steps to Minimize Run-Out
Run-out issues can arise during the bullet seating process. To reduce run-out during seating, use a high-quality die with a sliding sleeve. The sliding sleeve perfectly aligns the case with the bullet to be seated. Good examples of these dies are the Redding Competition Micrometer bullet seating dies, Forster Ultra Seaters, or RCBS Competition Seating dies. All of these dies utilize a micrometer top to precisely set seating depth. They are all very high quality dies that have tight tolerances to maximize bullet straightness during seating.
We receive many questions about seating long pointed bullets such as the Berger VLD or Hornady A-Max. One problem that the reloader faces with longer bullets is that they are so long that the standard seating stem is not machined deep enough to contact these bullets properly. The point of the bullet “bottoms out” in the stem and the result is off-center seating and/or rings and dents on the bullet nose. If you plan on using such bullets, you should purchase a “VLD” style seating stem, which is cut to accommodate the longer bullets. The use of this stem results in truer seating of the bullet without leaving a ring or marring the tip of the bullet.
Besides using a traditional press and threaded seating die, another great way to get a true bullet seat is by using an arbor press and Wilson chamber-type seating die. These dies are cut to very tight tolerances and have proven themselves as the main choice for bench rest enthusiasts. The design of the die positively aligns the case with the bullet as they are both captured by the die before the bullet is pushed straight into the case by the stem. These seating dies are available with the standard seating cap and stem or an additional micrometer top can be added for precise adjustment. Wilson also offers a stainless seating die with an integral micrometer seating head.
Finally another trick used by many in the seating process is to turn the case while the bullet is being seated. Some people claim this will keep things straight. What they do is raise the ram in increments while seating and rotate the case in the shellholder in increments of 90 degrees from the original starting while the bullet is being seated. Personally I have tried this and have seen no significant difference at all. However you may be the judge of this one. It makes sense, and maybe I should try this a little more before I rule it out.
After the Rounds Are Loaded — Batch Sorting by Concentricity Levels
No matter how meticulous you are, and no matter how good your components and tools are, run-out will still show up. Reloaders can drive themselves crazy trying to make each and every loaded round a true “0” in run-out. You will still see some minimal amount no matter what you do. Set yourself a standard of maximum allowable run-out for your loads. For instance for my Long Range 600- and 1000-yard F-Class loads I like to see .002” or less. I average .0015” and see a few in the range up to .004”. I spin each loaded round on my Sinclair Concentricity Gauge and sort them by run-out. Those that run over .002” I use for sighters or practice. Though achieving zero run-out (on every round) isn’t possible, minimizing run-out can definitely help your performance. Not only will your loads shoot better but you will have one less thing to worry about when you are lining up the sights on the target.
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When you look at a loading manual with load data, you will usually see pressure ratings for stated load. Sometimes these are listed in PSI numbers, which most people correctly understand to be Pounds per Square Inch of pressure. However, powder-makers also commonly list pressure in CUP numbers. CUP stands for Copper Unit of Pressure. You may be asking — “What exactly is a CUP, and what is the origin of that unit of measurement?” You may also be wondering — “What’s the difference between CUP pressures and PSI pressures?” On Hodgdon’s Facebook Page, you’ll find answers to these questions.
Q: What is CUP?
A: Copper Unit of Pressure (CUP) is a measurement used in the ammunition industry to determine the chamber pressure created by a cartridge load. Originally, a precisely formed copper slug was placed in a fixture over the chamber. When the cartridge was fired, the amount of crushing measured on the slug allowed engineers to determine the pressure.
These days, modern electronic transducers provide faster, more accurate measurements of chamber pressures in pounds per square inch (PSI). CUP and PSI are measured to different scales and are NOT interchangeable.
Hodgdon Reloading Data Center Sample
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One of our Forum members complained that he wasn’t able to set his primers flush to the rim. He tried a variety of primer tools, yet no matter what he used, the primers still didn’t seat deep enough. He measured his primers, and they were the right thickness, but it seemed like his primer pockets just weren’t deep enough. He was mystified as to the cause of the problem.
Well, our friend Boyd Allen diagnosed the problem. It was the decapping rod. If the rod is adjusted too low (screwed in too far), the base of the full-diameter rod shaft (just above the pin) will contact the inside of the case. That shaft is steel whereas your case is brass, a softer, weaker metal. So, when you run the case up into the die, the shaft can actually stretch the base of the primer pocket outward. Most presses have enough leverage to do this. If you bell the base of the primer pocket outwards, you’ve essentially ruined your case, and there is no way a primer can seat correctly.
The fix is simple. Just make sure to adjust the decapping rod so that the base of the rod shaft does NOT bottom out on the inside of the case. The pin only needs to extend through the flash hole far enough to knock the primer out. The photo shows a Lyman Universal decapping die. But the same thing can happen with any die that has a decapping rod, such as bushing neck-sizing dies, and full-length sizing dies.
Whenever you use a die with a decapping pin for the first time, OR when you move the die to a different press, make sure to check the decapping rod length. And it’s a good idea, with full-length sizing dies, to always re-check the height setting when changing presses.
Lee Universal Decapping Die on SALE for $9.89
Speaking of decapping tools, Midsouth Shooters Supply sells the Lee Universal Decapping Die for just $9.34 (item 006-90292), a very good deal. There are many situations when you may want to remove primers from fired brass as a separate operation (prior to case sizing). For example, if your rifle brass is dirty, you may want to de-cap before sizing. Or, if you load on a progressive press, things will run much more smoothly if you decap you brass first, in a separate operation. The Lee Universal Decapping Die will work with cartridges from 17 Fireball all the way up to 45-70. However, NOTE that the decapping pin supplied with this Lee die is TOO LARGE for LAPUA 6.5×47, 6BR, 220 Russian, and Norma 6 PPC flash holes. Because the pin diameter is too large for these brass types, you must either turn down the pin, or decap with a different tool for cases with .059″ flash-holes. Otherwise, the Lee Decapping Die works well and it’s a bargain.
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Folks have asked if there is a tool that can remove obstructions from a Lapua small, BR-sized flash hole without opening the hole size. The Lapua PPC/BR flash hole is spec’d at 1.5mm, which works out to 0.059055″. Most of the PPC/BR flash-hole uniforming tools on the market use a 1/16″ bit which is nominally 0.0625″, but these often run oversize — up to 0.066″.
If you want to just clear out any obstructions in the flash hole, without increasing the flash hole diameter, you can use an inexpensive “pin vise” with an appropriate drill bit. For $1.00, eHobbyTools.com sells a 1.5mm pin vise bit, item 79186, that matches the Lapua flash hole exactly. Other vendors offer a #53 pin vise bit that measures .0595″ or .060″ (depending or source). An 0.0595″ bit is close enough. You can find pin vises and bits at hobby stores.
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German Salazar has written a very thorough guide to measuring nearly all the critical dimensions of cartridge brass. In his Measuring the Case article, on his Rifleman’s Journal website, German reviews the tools and techniques required to measure everything from case overall length to case neck concentricity. Step-by-step, German shows how to measure: Case Length, Case Body length (below neck), Neck Diameter, Headspace, Base Diameter, Neck Thickness, and Case Neck Concentricity.
If you are an “advanced reloader” or want to be, you should read German’s article. Not only does German explain the most common measuring procedures, he highlights some alternative methods you might not have tried yet. The article also links to related discussions of more complex measurement tasts, such as determining case body wall thickness variation.
Even if you’re not a competitive shooter, measuring your brass can provide important safety benefits. As German explains in the conclusion of his article: “There are obviously a lot of measurements that can be taken on the cartridge case and in some cases, more than one way to take them. However, the first two that any new reloader must learn are case length and neck clearance, these two are safety concerns and if overlooked can results in serious damage to the rifle and injury to you.”
K&M Precision Shooting Products has two very handy products you may not know about yet. The first, a brilliantly simple device that lets you see your case necks as you expand them, can be used by anyone who necks-up brass (with a compatible expander die body). The second new product is a specialized “fat grip” holder that will make neck-turning easier for those of you out there who use K&M neck-turners.
K&M Expand Mandrel Window Riser
This is a simple threaded extension placed between your expander die body (K&M Expand Iron) and the top of your press. It carries the expander mandrel higher, above the press, and has a cut-out view port so you can see the mandrel as it passes through the neck. Smart, eh? This provides visual feedback during the process of expanding your brass. The patent-pending view riser costs $20.00. Will it expand necks faster, or reduce run-out? We doubt it, but we still would like to have one, if only to eyeball the mandrel to control the neck-entry rate more consistently from case to case.
Installation: Thread the Expand Mandrel Window Riser into the top of your loading press, then thread the K&M Expand-Iron (Expander Die Body) fully into the top of the window riser and adjust each so you can stroke out the press completely without driving the case mouth into the press adapter. This allows you to view the expanding operation which is typically blind under the press. The riser also eliminates the need for the stop screw in the expander mandrel. LINK: Expand Window Riser Instructions (PDF).
Ergo Holder for K&M Neck-Turning Tool
K&M’s rounded, oversized Ergo Holder lets you hold the K&M neck-turning body more securely (and with less hand cramping). Priced at $35.00, it is an expensive accessory, but we suspect many guys with K&M neck-turners will spring for an Ergo holder just because it gives you a more secure and comfortable grip on the small, square-edged K&M neck-turner.
Customer Feedback Inspired K&M’s Ergo Holder
The folks at K&M told us that their new Ergo Holder was produced in response to customer requests: “[Customers reported that] the neck turner can be hard to hold due to its compact size, especially in high-volume use. The Ergo Holder is machined from aluminum, providing a fatigue-proof grasp of the neck turner. Its mass works like a heat sink to help dissipate heat from the pilot during the turning process. The neck-turner body easily assembles into the Ergo Holder and is held in place with one set screw. The Ergo holder is also designed with the dial indicator in mind and actually makes its use more convenient”.
LINK: Ergo Holder Installation/Use Instructions (PDF).
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