Friday, July 18, 2008

Time to get a charge: Measuring and charging powder

In previous articles we looked at preparing some 8x57mm cases for reloading.

Once the cases were prepared, we seated new primers. Now, it’s time to move on and properly charge the powder in our custom precision ammunition.

Before we begin, a few words about the loading process from here on out.

Normally, I have parts from several rifles and various types of ammunition resting on my bench. Also might be found some stripper clips, an assortment of tools, and maybe a book or two. Then, an old soda bottle, half a ham sandwich, and perhaps a puppy can make an appearance. All this is normal, but not today, for today we ....... LOAD.

Safety is the first and foremost concern when reloading. Let me be as clear as I can about this. There is *no* room for error when reloading. Procedures must be established and followed to the letter. Distractions mean stopping the process.

How should the bench look different today? All that’s on it is just we need for the loading session. No less, and no more. No distractions.

There should be one kind of powder, one kind of bullet, one set of cases, one set of dies, , etc. The idea should be clear here...... keep it simple and clean. No distractions and no room for mistakes. If there is only *one* powder, then the wrong one can’t be mixed in by mistake. The same holds true for cases, bullets, dies, primers, you name it.

On my bench, by my procedure, the can of powder I’m using will be the only one here till I am done and the powder measure is emptied back into it. The same goes for bullets. There will be no other till I am done with this load set.

That said; let’s have a look at the tools to be used in handling the powder this session.

First up, and of primary importance to precision loading, I give you the scale.


Years ago I invested in a RCBS 10-10 balance beam scale. It’s proved to be money well spent. The accuracy and repeatability is second to none. It sets up and zero’s easily on a level surface out of the wind. The magnetic dampening makes measuring easier as well.

It’s only drawback noted is the time it takes to make measurements. While fast by old standards, it’s certainly glacial by new electronic ‘scale’ (pun intended).

Used to drop the bulk charge, we have a Hornady powder measure mounted on a bench stand.


Once again, this measure is older than some of my children. It comes with two micrometer type measure chambers that are easily changed. A small one for light charges and a large one for heavier. I have hand loaded cartridges from the .32acp all the way up to .458 Winchester Magnums using this measure. The only issues so far are fine accuracy with long grain powder, and binding with small flake powder.

I own another measure that works nicely with fine flake powder, but it’s not mounted on my bench today. The old Pacific antique measure resides on the shelf while the Hornady is in use.

When I load most pistol ammunition, and some lighter charge rifle ammo not expected to be supremely accurate, I use the charges as thrown by the measure. Every so often a charge is weighed in process, but it’s never thrown a curve yet.

For powder charges that are on the edge or in cases where accuracy is the goal, each individual charge is weighed. To do this in a reasonably rapid manner a powder trickler is used.


This device can drop powder a few granules at a time directly into the scale bowl.

If the measure is throwing charges just under the desired level then it takes only a few twists on the trickler tube to finish the load, accurate to the single granule.

While any powder funnel can be used to flow a charge into the case, I prefer an older MTM funnel with a ‘drop’ tube. The fall through the tube allows the powder charge to pack itself into the case somewhat. When the chosen charge is enough to fill the case, a bit of packing will make bullet seating easier.


So, all the toys displayed, let’s go through this powder charging process step by step.

First off, zero the scale as displayed above. Follow the directions, but a few tips are in order.

The scale needs to move freely and be repeatable. Once set, touching the scale pan should rock the scale beam and have it return to zero. Any binding is an issue that must be resolved. It’s a good idea to set the scale up in a space where it’s not likely to get bumped by accident. Once bumped, it must be re-zeroed. Level, clean, and safe is the way to go.

Now the scale is zeroed, dial it to the desired charge. In this case, it’s set at exactly 52 grains.


With the scale ready to go, it’s time to set the measure. The correct chamber in place, throw a few charges into the pan to get a ‘rhythm’ going. It’s important to work the measure lever in a repeatable fashion. Simply dump these charges right back into the powder reservoir or into the trickler. Once you have the feel for the mechanism, throw a charge into the pan and weigh it. It will surely be too much or too little. Dial the measure setting higher or lower, then drop another charge right on top of the last in the pan. Dump this back in the reservoir.

Why do this? It’s because the act of resetting the measure will cause the powder in the measure to settle into the chamber, making the next charge heavy. Understand this and drop it back into the reservoir. The same holds true if the bench is struck hard or the powder measure is operated too harshly for a throw.

Continue this till the measure is set up to drop charges just under the desired weight.



Next step..... Using the powder trickler, drop a few granules at a time till the exact desired charge is reached.


One thing to be remembered is this: There is no money lost when tossing a charge back into the measure and starting that load over. If it’s too heavy, or too light to top off easily, just toss it back and throw another one.

In the pan now lays a perfect powder charge. Good! Use the funnel and drop it into the case!


Oh Boy! It can’t be long now! Almost there! We ALMOST have.....

A loaded cartridge!

That waits till the next installment, where we’ll read about setting up a standard seating die and seating the bullet. We’ll also discuss over-all cartridge length and seating depth.


Weetabix said...

This series is outstanding. I'm going to tell some people about it if you don't mind.

The Earth Bound Misfit said...

I appreciate your taking the time to write this up.

Carteach0 said...

Please! Link it up and pass it around. That is why I write these articles.

When I started reloading as a kid, there was no internet and I had no one to show me how. I bought books, bought gear, and taught myself.

Now, there is a community of shooters on-line, and there is no excuse for going it alone if you don't want to. I am doing my part for the craft by writing these, so am quite happy to have them linked.