Saturday, September 27, 2008

Reloading tools

I got the following article off the web. While it is informative, you'll see any comments of mine in italics.

This is a rundown of the tools you'll need to get started loading ammo.

1. Work Area
Make that a clean, uncluttered, well-lit, distraction-free work area. You can't afford to be distracted while loading ammo, as either an under- or overcharged cartridge can easily lead to disaster at the range or in the field.
Okay, when the author of this article says distraction-free work area, he means it. You can't safely reload when you have music blasting, a TV blaring, a wife that's on your ass for not taking her to the coast that day or kids running in and out. I generally lock my door even if I'm alone in the house.

2. Loading Manual(s).
You will need at least one reloading manual. Manuals are available from several different sources, including powder manufacturers, bullet makers, and the folks who make reloading equipment. The cartridge you are loading may not be covered in any given manual, and it's always nice to have a couple of different resources to cross-check the data, -- so it's often a good idea to have more than source of loading data at hand. Always use a manual, and start with 10%-15% smaller powder charges than are called for, and work up from there!
ALWAYS use a manual. ALWAYS. I know every bit of my loading data by heart and I still double check every time I load. Never ever use a load that somebody else has worked up. Just because it works fine in their guns doesn't mean it will in yours. I usually start at the minimum load and work up by a tenth of a grain until I get good velocity, accuracy and an efficent powder burn. If it's not at the maximum charge, who cares?

3. Press
The press is the workhorse. Together with the loading dies, shell holders, and sometimes a priming attachment, this is the tool used for the actual loading, among other things. Many varieties are available, but the simplest press will do quite well for most shooters. Progressive presses are popular with folks who do a lot of loading, as they allow one to load more rapidly.
My press is an RCBS Rockchucker. It loads one step at a time, so I'll deprime and resize 100 cases, change the dies, bell the mouths those 100 cases, change the die, prime the cases using a separate tool, charge them, seat the bullets and crimp them if I'm loading for a revolver. If I'm loading for an automatic, I'll change to a taper crimp die and finish them off.
I bought my Rockchucker used about 25 years ago and I have absolutely no idea how old it is, but the only thing I have ever done to it is to lube the ram with a couple drops of oil once a week. Not only is it easy to maintain but I can also mount it on my tailgate if I'm working up a load at the range.

4. Dies & Shell Holders
Generally speaking, you will need a set of dies for each caliber/cartridge you load. Some sizes will be useful for more than one cartridge (i.e. you can load .38 special and .357 Magnum with the same set of dies), but as a rule the die must be tailored to the individual cartridge. Dies are used for depriming, sizing, and bullet seating. Shell holders of appropriate size for the cartridge are also needed, to be used in conjunction with the dies, on the press.
Buy carbide dies for your straight walled cases. Lubing anything is a pain in the ass and if you can avoid it, it's worth a couple extra bucks.
Also, if you're loading for an automatic pistol spend a few more bucks and buy a taper crimp die and chuck that roll crimp die into your worst enemy's yard so he can run over it with his lawnmower. Most automatics headspace on the case mouth and a roll crimp will alter that slightly.

5. Case Lube
If you will be full-length resizing your cases (shells), you will need to lubricate them, unless using a carbide size die (only available for straight-walled cases such as most handgun cartridges). This is necessary to eliminate binding of the shell in the die, leaving a stuck shell which is an all too common occurrence that will put the brakes on any loading session and necessitate the removal of the case using a special tool designed for that purpose.

6. Priming Tool
You will need to prime your brass after resizing it. Various hand-held tools are offered for this purpose, and most makes of presses make an optional attachment that will allow you to use your press for priming. Most progressive presses automatically prime shells.
If you're loading with a manual press, buy a separate priming tool. How the primer seats is very important and the priming tools that are built into the presses just don't let you feel how they're seating.

7. Powder Measure
This is another tool that is offered by several different manufacturers. Its purpose is to accurately measure powder charges into your primed cases prior to seating the bullet. Alternately, low-cost measuring scoops and a powder funnel will do the job as long as you pay strict attention to detail... different powders bulk differently, and a given scoop of one type of powder will not necessarily contain the same weight as the same scoop full of another type. Powder burning rates vary widely, so use extreme caution, pay attention to detail, and always follow your manual.
I use an RCBS powder drop and while I have never had it slip, I still weigh every tenth charge. Make sure that you clean and wipe it out when you switch types of powders for different cartridges.

8. Scale
This is a very useful and necessary tool for the handloader. Available now in electronic models as well as the old reliable balance type, a precision scale that measures in grains and fractions of grains is a must for checking powder charges. It's also handy for checking bullet weights, loaded cartridge weights (if you suspect an under- or over-charged cartridge), etc.
Make sure you get a scale that is made for reloading - measures in grains - and is accurate down to 1/10 of a grain. That ain't much but when you're loading max powder charges, a tenth of a grain makes all the difference in the world.

9. Dial Caliper
A quality dial or digital caliper is used by the handloader for taking many varieties of measurements, including (but not limited to) case length, overall cartridge length, bullet diameter, case mouth diameter, etc. I can't imagine loading without a good dial caliper.
Don't scrimp on the tool. For sure don't buy a plastic one. And unless you are intimately familiar with reading a veneer caliper, buy a dial caliper.

I know it sounds like a lot, but it's really pretty manageable. There are many other tools that may become necessary or desirable with time, such as case trimmers, tumblers, reamers, etc, but you can load a lot of ammo without all those extra goodies.
Myself, I think a case tumbler is essential. Not only do your reloads look better with shiny brass, but it saves wear and tear on your dies when you're not forcing grit into them. And the most important thing about clean brass is that it makes inspecting your cases so much easier. You can see any little crack or split with clean cases.

One more thing. Keep your loading equipment clean. Very clean. And when you're done loading for the day, clean up all powder dust, spent primers and then wipe down your bench so it'll be ready to go next time.