Thursday, July 31, 2008

Gerber Paraframe folding knife


About knives, I’ve always been a traditionalist. Mostly.

For hunting, I carry my Dad’s old Case Sodbuster pocket knife and a disposable razor knife. For day to day use, I carry the same Case Sodbuster. In fact, that elderly single blade folder has served me as long as it did my father, and I’ve never really needed more.

This is not to say I don’t own other knives. There are a few Gerber's around, including an old Mark I combat knife with some interesting history. These are now called the Mark II and have serrated blades. There’s a boot knife that was a present and I’ve never had reason to carry. There’s even a rather large Shrade folding knife that has survived three worn out carry cases so far. In addition to those, a handful of ‘belt tools’ have graced my person over the years, each having its own blade or two amongst the myriad other gidgets and gadgets on them.

I once crawled down a well pit, waste deep in water, and made the entire repair with nothing more than a Gerber multi tool in my hand and a flashlight in my teeth. Both had been on my belt, as regular friends.

Today, I became a little more modern, and bought myself a new folding knife for everyday carry. The Sodbuster will be retired to the gun safe, Just in case the new kid on the block isn’t up to the job.

I’ve been looking at the Gerber Paraframe for some time now, impressed by the lightness and apparent strength. While the old Case Sodbuster is tough as nails, I like the idea of something lighter, thinner, and with a clip that will keep it in place. If it means I’ll be more likely to have it on me, then all to the better.

The Paraframe has a single clip point blade, available with either a fine edge, or half the edge serrated. This time I chose the serrated version, as it seems to suit me better. Too often I find myself sawing through something tough with my pocket knife. I get there eventually with the Sodbuster, but I’m not adverse to a tool that will make life easier.

On the flip side of that serrated/fine edge choice is the chore of sharpening a serrated blade. It takes a small round stone to do that, and a few extra minutes. I have the stone, and am willing to invest the time.

It’s a lock blade, which the old Sodbuster is not. If you’ve ever been using a folding knife and had it try to close on your fingers, you’ll understand the attraction of a lock. In this case, it’s a ‘liner lock’ that must be pushed sideways to unlock the blade for folding. It’s fairly positive and takes a good amount of thumb pressure to release.

Speaking of thumb pressure, the Paraframe is designed for one handed opening as well as closing, and has a pair of small knobs on the back of the blade. Pushing one with the thumb of the hand holding the knife will open the blade to its locked position. It takes some practice, but in a few minutes I had the operation down pat.

Reading opinions online regarding the Paraframe, the only complaint I can find is the screws that hold it together back out over time. The fix is easy, and is even recommended as regular service by the company. Simply use a T6 torx driver to remove one screw at a time, give it a tiny dab of loctite, and reinstall. I expect that once I do so with red 271 loctite, it will never even think of coming apart. In fact, it would probably take a torch to remove the screws in the future.

Gerber has an interesting history as a company. It was started by an ad man who saw a niche he could fill. In the 1930’s he hired a craftsman to make some knives as gifts, and they went over so well he abandoned the advertising business and built a knife making company. The history shows, as Gerber has run some fascinating ads over the years.

Monday, July 28, 2008

CCI .22 CB Long ammunition...... (Shhhhhh)


In this video you can see and hear the difference between firing a standard bulk pack high velocity .22 Long Rifle round, and a CCI .22 CB Long cartridge.

In a future post I'll compare various forms and brands of .22 rim fire ammunition for both velocity and accuracy in testing. For now, a few comments on a recent range session with the CB longs.

I recently repaired a .22 rifle, and found myself at the range doing function testing. I was also mounting a scope a scope on the .22 in preparation to eradicating a few thousand bunny wabbits that are eating our garden.

The problem with the rifle involved a round jammed in the action. A .22 CB short round which lodged while chasing down a huge Australian fanged killer rabbit that was eating our broccoli. The rifle is rated for short, long, and
long rifle but it seems the CB shorts are just too..... well....... short.

For this session I picked up a box of CCI CB Long cartridges. Brigid mentioned these in a post, and it started me thinking. These rounds have the same ballistics as the CB Short, but arrive in a longer case to improve functioning. The price is the same as CB shorts, being slightly more than one arm and half a leg. ($8.95 a box around here).

After mounting the scope and dialing it in with bulk pack .22 LR rounds, I turned to the CB's for final tuning. These are the rounds that will be busting bunnies in the garden, and their low power requires excellent shot placement. In exchange for reduced power, there is a dramatic reduction in noise as the video demonstrates. Rated at 710 FPS with a 29 grain conical bullet, they have slightly more power than a decent adult air rifle.

How do they stack up in accuracy? Well enough to makes wabbits wobble in wonder as they wander away in
wost hope. (Oh... ain't I a stinker?)

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Self defense with a firearm, my first time.

The first time I used a firearm for defense, I was fourteen, and sitting on a tractor.

The story goes like so………………

I spent a lot of my youth growing up on a small farm. Call it an estate if you will, since in that part of the world any large piece of land was ‘an estate’. My father ran the place, and to my way of seeing things it was a farm. We had a barn, tractors, horses, and we grew some crops. We also had a pond full of snapping turtles, fields full of woodchucks, woods full of squirrels and deer, and a stream full of trout.

You can guess what my hobbies were.

I started carrying a .22 on the farm at an early age, just about as soon as I could prove myself safe with it. It wasn’t considered any more dangerous than the tractor I was driving or the hay bailer throwing gut wrenching bails of hay at my head. The rifle was just another tool on the farm, useful for holding down the woodchuck population and thinning the squirrels that ate the corn.

Our farm was called an estate because it was owned by a wealthy woman who had lived there for over sixty years. Her home was quite literally a small mansion, and the property was surrounded by a mix of middle class and well to do people, leaning heavily towards the higher end of that scale. Along with the wealthy families came the privileged brats and that made our farm a target.

Kids snuck in to grow pot, far away from where mommy would steal it for herself.
We always found their plots and disked them under if small, or called our buddy Detective H if they were bigger. He was on the local police force, and a friend.

Wealthy adult neighbors, thinking they owned the world, brazenly stalked our farm during deer season, tearing down the ‘no trespassing’ signs as they blundered drunkenly past. This didn’t happen too often, as the nice detective was the only one allowed to hunt the property besides us, and he didn’t care for their company. (There is a heckuva story there, which I will tell one day).

Later, as they got popular, dirt bikes and ATV’s became a serious issue. The riders would drop fences, run the horses, and tear up fields. That got old very, very fast.
Dad was inventive in finding ways to dissuade them. Trees across the field entrance, bands of broken glass where they parked, and more. When a woman tried to run him over, it got serious.

Carrying my .22 took on a new meaning.

One day, as I was on the tractor in an upper field, I saw a dirt bike with two men on it riding across a lower field. I also saw Dad in his truck, heading their way. Back then I had young eyes, and even at the 1000 or so yards it was I could see him waving me down the back way through the woods in front of the bikers.

I put the international in high gear to the woods, then shut her off as I coasted the tractor path through the woods and out to the field below. I had done this hundreds of times, as the woodchucks knew the sound of my tractor, and only by coasting could I sneak up on them. I understood how far I could coast, and I knew how quiet it would be.

As I rolled to a stop, I uncased my scoped .22 bolt action rifle and placed the butt on my leg with the muzzle straight up. This silhouetted the rifle, exactly what I intended.

I did that because I didn’t want to shoot the two men who were now off their motorcycle and walking up on either side of my Dad.

They were about 150 yards from me, and had no idea I was there. Dad saw me, as he was facing my way. They had their backs to me, and never heard me roll up behind them.

Even at that range I had no problem seeing they were not nice people. Dad was there to tell them to leave, and they didn’t like that. He was old, they were young. He was alone, and there were two of them….. Or so they thought.

I saw Dad point between those dudes, in my direction. They turned and looked. What they saw, with the sun behind me, was a guy sitting on a tractor with a scoped rifle…. and they had no place to hide, no place to run.

I hadn’t a doubt I could hit them both, even knowing the .22 would not have dropped them. I had been shooting long enough, and done enough work on that rifle, that I was regularly shooting woodchucks in the head at 100 yards. A man at 150 was no challenge at all, even moving.

They didn’t know any of this. All they knew was a situation they thought they owned had just gone very, very bad for them.

I saw Dad reach in his truck and get his camera. He took a picture of each of those guys as they stood there, then they got on their little bike and rode slowly to the edge of the property with Dad right behind them, and me on the tractor, staying the same 150 yards away.

The pictures went to Detective H, and we never saw either guy again.

I often run through that afternoon in my head, wondering if I should have done anything different. Dad never said a word about it, so I guess he was happy with what I had done.

It worked…… nothing more than having a weapon was needed. Those dudes were not smart, but they understood the danger they were in well enough. All thought of causing harm vaporized and they took the path of least pain and suffering.

Farm kid with a .22 (+1), Dangerous trespasser dudes (-1).

I guess that was a win.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Neck sizing Vs. Full length sizing rifle cases.

(Note: This is a mostly a repost, done since it seems proper at this point)

Hand loaders have so many choices, so many things to keep them up at night, I thought I’d add some fuel to the fire.

Let’s look at yet another factor in loading accurate rifle ammunition, the method chosen to size the case.

Usually one of two avenues is open to us; Full length sizing and neck sizing.

Full length sizing is just what it sounds like: The case is ‘resized’ along its entire length. The die can be adjusted to change the depth of this sizing, or how far down the neck and body the case is pushed into the die body.

Neck sizing involves just working on the case neck, leaving the body as fired. This alternative has several side roads of its own.

Why is one type of sizing preferable to the other? Here opinions abound, but lets look at a few of the major points.

Full length sizing assures the case will meet specification, and fit in almost any chamber of that caliber that also meets specification. This means ammunition feed and function should be reasonably trouble free. A shooter using his rifle for hunting, some competitions, and defensive uses must consider this factor of utmost importance. In addition, many semi-auto rifles do not function well with cases right at chamber size.

Neck sizing has the advantage of leaving the fired case expanded to match the chamber of the rifle it was fired in. This closer fit promotes accuracy, pure and simple. Neck sizing also works the case less, promoting brass life. As icing on the cake and unlike full length sized cases, neck sizing requires minimal lube. That means one less mess to clean up. Even with these advantages, cases fired with full power loads often must be full length sized every third or fourth loading to preserve function. Bolt action and single shot rifles are best suited to take advantage of neck sized cases.

There are several types of full length sizing. Most commonly encountered are standard sizing and small base sizing. Small base dies take the base of cartridge back down to minimum dimensions, and are usually reserved for ammunition used in semi auto rifles with tight chambers. These creatures can be found at national match ranges, with highly experienced shooters hovering over them like a momma bear with a cub.

Normal reloading die sets come with regular resizing dies. These will roughly size the entire case to nominal dimensions and squeeze the neck tight enough to grip a bullet again. Such dies require the cases to be lubricated along their entire length, another step in the loading process. This lube must be cleaned off before the ammunition can be used.

One downside to full length sizing of rifle cartridges is the life span of the case. The more brass is worked, the more brittle it becomes. This leads to cracks and case failures. Another consideration... Cases fired and then fully resized tend to 'grow' in length, requiring trimming more often.

On the upside, full length sized cases tend to function very smoothly and chamber easily, an important consideration.

Neck sizing boils down to two basic types as well: standard and collet sizing. Standard neck sizers squeeze the case neck into proper dimension, while leaving the case body as fired. They first smoosh the neck into a tight hole that makes it smaller, then drags it back over an inside neck sizer that opens it back up to final dimension.

Collet neck sizing inserts a final dimension form into the neck then uses a collet to squeeze the neck onto the mandrel. The brass is worked only once, and it’s not pushed around at all.

In order to better understand and picture the differences between full length and neck sizing, we'll look at a pair of cases done one in each method.

For our purposes I chose a LEE die set containing both types of die in 8x57mm.

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The collet neck sizing die, once disassembled, reveals the mandrel and neck collet along with the tapered sleeve that squeezes it around the case neck.

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A standard neck sizing die, and even a full length die, is quite easy to set up and use. It’s fairly intuitive and the results can be seen and felt as soon as the case is inserted and removed. The collet type die is more complicated, and the builders directions should be followed closely. A mistake here can snap the collet and destroy the die. Trust me on this..... I know this to be true.... sigh.

The standard sizing die is much simpler in design. The body of the die is very closely machined to final case dimension, and the de-capping stem contains an inside sizing button that expands the case neck to final dimension as the case is removed from the die.

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In full length sizing, the case must be lubed over it’s entire outside, and a bit of lube on it’s inside neck as well. I use a lube pad when doing just a few cases, and a spray lube when doing a larger batch.

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When neck sizing, full lubing is not required. Only a tiny bit of lube on the inside and outside of the neck is sufficient. For this, I push the case mouth against the lube pad and give it a slight twist. That’s all the lube needed!

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I struggled finding a way to visually demonstrate the actual results of sizing. Holding the cases in hand, the end product is obvious. Trying to make it clear in photographs was a different matter completely.

I hit upon the idea of ‘smoking’ the cases. This involves an open flame from a match or a candle played across the object, leaving a very thin coat of black carbon behind.

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Smoking the fully lubed case proved to be an obnoxious task, as the oil simply did not wish to take on the carbon. The dry case application was a snap. This is an old time way of marking up a part for fitting, and leaves a contact map easily viewed, and measured if need be.

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Running each case properly into its particular die according to the manufacturers directions, we are left with two cases marked up to clearly show the difference between full length and neck sizing.

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The difference in the neck treatment is clear. The full length die forces the case neck into a hardened steel hole, while the collet die squeezes the neck against a mandrel with out over working the brass.

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The kind of sizing chosen by the hand loader is just that..... a choice. Most folks are quite happy to stick with full length sizing, or ‘mostly’ full length sizing accomplished by backing off the die a bit. Experienced loaders searching for maximum accuracy often rely on neck sizing as one step of their process.

People loading one caliber for several rifles must either full length size or dedicate one batch of cases to each rifle, if neck sizing for accuracy is the method used., Neck sized cases don’t usually work well unless used in the same rifle each time.

Consider it just another tool in the large tool box available to hand loaders.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Results of hand loading

Previously on this blog, find six articles on hand loading 8x57mm ammunition for a Mil-surp Mauser.

Some folks might think “Why Bother?” when reading how much work it is.

I can provide two reasons right off the bat…

1) It’s fun and interesting to do the hand loading, and expands the depth to which we can enjoy our interest in shooting. I can’t document this, it has to be experienced, and I know it’s not for everyone. These articles are aimed at those who wish to take a shot at it. Pun intended.

2) Hand loading precision ammunition can result in spectacular accuracy, even in a cheap old Military surplus rifle. That I CAN document, and will do so now.

In this case the range results are from using the ammunition built while putting together the previous articles. I compared it to plain jane military surplus 1950’s Yugoslavian 8x57mm ammunition. Many people shoot this right now as there was a large amount available recently.

I shot at 50 yards, the distance I can see these targets without my eyes blurring too much. I wanted to make it a test of the ammo, not my aging eyes.

The rifle, to be a fair test, is not the Mauser this ammunition was loaded for. It’s another Turkish model 38 acquired because the price was right and the rifle is in excellent condition.

Here she is off the bench at 50 yards with 50's Yugoslavian surplus. The group is just a bit over 1.5", which is not terrible for a 60 year old Mauser battle rifle with miserable sights shooting 50 year old mil-surp ammunition. I should mention.... the first shot was the ten-X, and my heart jumped. What a good omen!

A group like this is encouraging to me. The rifle wants to shoot; it's just up to me to give it what it needs.

Next up, a group shot immediately after the first, using the ammunition loaded while writing the articles found below:

This group is just over .75".
That’s as good as I can see at 50 yards using the rough old Turkish battle sights. Actually, it's better than I can see and I can't account for that.

At another place I posed this question “How far must a rifle move on the bench to deflect the bullet 1" at 100 yards?” The answer seems to be about .005" movement will change impact 1" at 100 yards. Using that figure, it would translate to only .007" movement of the rifle on the bench could have given me this .75" group. There are other factors in play, but that should indicate how much accurately built ammunition counts!

The only other shooter there while I ran this test was firing a very tricked out Rock River AR platform with hand loaded ammo and a high magnification scope. He was also shooting .75" groups, only at 100 yards.

$125 antique Mauser battle rifle = .75" at 50 yards.

$1250 custom AR target rifle = .75" at 100 yards.

I guess this whole business of loading ammunition with accuracy in mind really pays off.

(Coming up next: A comparison of sizing methods, Neck Vs. Full length)

Friday, July 18, 2008

Bullet seating, the final event

In the first five installments of this epic work, we look at all the steps of reloading reasonably accurate rifle ammo, right up this point:


Here we sit with a rack of nicely prepared and primed cases, all loaded with perfect powder charges. All that’s left is to seat the bullets and box them up. How hard could that be?


Bet you thought I would say it’s way hard, then spend a thousand words telling why in detail. Actually, it’s mostly way easy. The hard part is deciding exactly how far in the case to seat the bullet. The bit where we press the bullet into the case? The die deals with that once it’s properly set up. Just load the press and push the handle down!

No, the next thousand or so words will be about setting up the die, mostly. Also, maybe a little about seating depth, and a little about cartridge boxes. Oh.... some about labels too.

Come to think of it, I’ll probably just be babbling along for a while.

Before we can set up the die, we must decide how deep to seat the bullet. This is one subject that can keep reloaders gathered late around the camp fire. Everyone has an opinion, and the weird thing about it is.... most are right. The reason is simple. Every rifle, every bullet, and every load has a sweet spot where the bullet needs to be seated for best accuracy. Arguing about where that spot resides is silly.

Finding the perfect load for a rifle usually means changing one detail at a time, making little adjustments and testing till the recipe is refined. Once all the other factors are worked out, precision shooters will often haul their reloading gear right to the range and test seating depths. Making changes a few thousandths of an inch at a time till the ‘sweet spot’ is found for that load and bullet.

Since we are not loading for precision rifles here, but military surplus weapons, I’ll approach the subject differently.

While a bench rest shooter might be concerned solely with how far his bullet seats compared to the barrel lands, Hi Power match shooters and Mil-Surp hobbyists have magazines to deal with. In addition to that, Military rifles often have long throats the bullet must jump before entering the rifling. Seating to touch the lands, if even possible, usually means the cartridge will not feed from the magazine.


We also have to consider another factor. Cartridge handling and durability are an issue.

Bullets seated too shallow can fall free if not treated carefully. On the other side of that coin, bullets seated too far out might engage the rifling on chambering, followed by pulling the bullet out of the case if the bolt is opened. An action full of powder is not a pretty sight!


In my humble opinion, rifle cartridges in the .30 caliber arena should have bullets seated at least one half the neck deep for reliable handling in a target shooting environment.

If defensive or hunting use was the goal deeper seating would be in order. Military loaded ammo usually has bullets seated full depth, at the least.

(The following directions and tips are for setting up a standard RCBS seating die. Specialty seating dies require following the makers directions.)

My methods are really pretty simple. First, mount the die in the press. At this point leave the die very loose. Loose enough that it won’t be doing anything to either the case or bullet when the ram is raised.


Now we insert a case into the shell holder on the press ram. (I like to use a spare case for this step, rather than a match prepared case.)

Raise the ram till the case is fully inside the seating die. If there is any hint the die is impacting the case, lower the ram and unscrew the die a bit. If the die does not touch the raised case, then screw the die down till it just does, then back it off ½ turn and set the lock ring.



The goal here is to have the die fully support the case as much as possible while seating the bullet. Skipping this step, or seating with the case only partially in the die, can contribute to the bullet being seated in a non-concentric manner. Non-concentric means wobbly and wobbly is baaaaddddd.

Now bullet meets case for the first time. With a charged case mounted in the shell holder, set your bullet of choice in the neck. It probably won’t stay there straight as the neck is sized smaller than the bullet diameter. It had better be, anyway, or you grabbed the wrong bullets!

The bullet will probably have to be guided with one hand as the press ram is raised and the assembly runs into the die gently. Take care not to pinch your fingers! The average press can snap your finger like a toy, and it really, really hurts. I know. I don’t want to tell how I know, but I really, really know.

As the bullet and case enter the die for the first time, make sure the seating stem is backed well off. We don’t want to fully seat the bullet here, just nudge it into the case. This will take repeated attempts, tweaking the seater stem a bit at a time. Go slow, and have a bullet handy to match up with the subject, using it to judge how deep in the neck our bullet is being seated.

If this is the first attempt with this rifle, I would be checking the fit against the rifles magazine. NOTE: Do not load the rifle in the house! There is no need to even have the bolt in the rifle! Just check for fit and then dump the magazine floor plate to release the round. Do not even take the risk of chambering the round.

Once the maximum length is found for the magazine, load development can begin in looking for maximum accuracy.

If this is an established load (and the load this article is based on..... is) then I use another method. I set my vernier caliper to the desired over all length and lay it on the bench. Each step of setting the seater, I try the loaded round against the caliper as a gauge.


Bumping the seating stem a few thousandths at a time, continue matching to the gauge till it just fits. The last couple of thousandths should be carefully measured and rechecked after the seating stem is locked down. The act of locking the stem will usually change the depth by a thousandth or two, and must be accounted for.


The seating die is now set up! Go ahead and seat the rest of the bullets!

Whoo Hoo! The set of match ammunition is now finished!

NOW what do we do with it?

How about we box it up properly, and mark it properly?



Good quality cartridge boxes are worth investing in. They can last almost a lifetime and serve to protect the time we’ve invested in or precision ammunition. They also keep the ammo racked in a way that lets us label it properly.

One of the problems facing hand loaders is keeping track of the details. This isn’t factory ammo, and we can’t just go to the store and buy another box. Safety demands we track everything we do. Common sense tells us we can’t hope to duplicate a winning load without knowing what we did.

Logs books are a must, but labeling the ammunition is key as well. Some people like to number their loads, and then log the data. Others simply mark up the box with the load data and skip the log. My choice: Both, of course. I log the load as I shoot it in testing, and I mark up all the load information on the box, or a label inside the box. Sometimes I place a detailed log sheet inside the box, and often I write the load data on the test target and save that as well.

In labeling the ammo box, and just about everything else for that matter, here is a tool worth its weight in gold:


It's an electronic label maker. A family member gave me this several years ago at Christmas. My first act was to label her dog (as 'Dog', naturally). The second label went to her other dog (Dog #2). After that it got interesting.

These can be purchased for around $20 now, and have a multitude of uses. I label powder, bullets, ammo, spare parts, and just about anything else. It lives on the loading bench and gets used often.

Looking at the box shown above, we see it’s labeled in a way that will let me duplicate the load as long as I keep the cases in that box, and that box mated to the rifle.

Now, I know some smarty is going to notice a word on the box I haven’t used yet. Comparator. This is a device that allows the hand loader to set up every new load and bullet combination to the same distance-to-lands as the sweet spot requires. It looks like a big machined nut, but in each flat is a hole exactly at the marked caliber. It fits on the bullet right at bore diameter, where the bullet will strike the lands as it proceeds down the barrel. This is the spot on the bullet that must be referenced to recreate the distance-to-lands with any bullet desired.



With the comparator on the bullet, measure the length from the cartridge base to the far end of the comparator. Now we have a number that can duplicate in developing a new load for that rifle.

That little tidbit finished, it’s time to wrap this up.

In the six parts of this series I’ve tried to lay out some methods I use to work within my hobby. If they are helpful, then great, it’s all been worth it.

To new reloaders, I offer this advice: Buy some manuals and read them. Read them before you begin hand loading. Read several and compare them. If you can find an experienced reloader willing to teach, do that too. Take your time, be careful, and never push the limits. Don’t go on the hunt for the most power, the highest velocity, the tiniest bullet...... etc. It’s wasted time. Hunt instead for accuracy and reliability.... there the gold will be found.

Next up: A post with results! Taking the ammunition made during this series of articles and comparing it to military surplus 8x57mm. We'll see exactly what doing this work will achieve, besides having fun and the pride that goes with building your own precision ammunition.

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.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Priming the pump: Methods of case priming

In the previous three part ‘case prep’ articles we looked at preparing once fired rifle cases for hand loading.

Now, let’s look at the first step in the loading process; Priming the cases.

We’ll leave choosing the brand and type of primer for another time. In this piece we’ll concentrate on actually pressing the primers into the case.

There are many gidgets, gadgets, and required geegaws used in the priming process.

Simply making the initial decision of what tool to use can be exhausting
Here we’ll look at two basic types, each representative of a class.

Please note, this article deals only with single priming cases, not the whole process of progressive reloading and the complicated mechanisms used on those presses.


First up, and my personal favorite, is the LEE Auto Prime. Mine has been in constant use for many years, priming untold thousands of cases in that time. This type of tool is also made by RCBS and others, but the LEE is what’s on my reloading bench. Next week an RCBS version will probably join it, and my fickle heart will be lost once again.


The LEE Auto Prime requires the use of special shell holders, but the set is fairly comprehensive and not too expensive. Both the hand tool and the shell holder set can be bought new from Midway USA for under $25 together. The tool comes equipped with two interchangeable trays, one for large primers and one for small.

One of the useful features of this tool is the ability to prime cases without actually touching a primer. Primers can be easily contaminated, and skin oil is sufficient to damage the exposed priming solution. Primers are dumped straight from the box into the tipping/feed tray. (RCBS has the same feature on their tool)

Since the primers must be oriented correctly to be installed, the tray has concentric ridges molded into it. Gently rocking the tray back and forth will tip the primers over till they are all facing fire-side up.


From this position they will be fed directly to the primer installation ram press.


A cartridge case is slipped into the shell holder, which will place the primer hole directly over the ram. Light hand pressure is all that’s usually required to seat most any primer. Too little pressure and the pocket is oversized. If too much pressure is required then something is interfering with the seating process. Once the correct pressure is determined, every slightest change in seating quality becomes obvious to an experienced hand.

To me, this represents the largest benefit to this type of primer seating tool.
The ‘feel’ of seating the primer can make problem cases obvious. Primers seated short, or too deep, stand out like a sore thumb.

Cases that have had their primer pockets massaged as shown in the ‘case prep’ articles usually seat every primer exactly the same, nicely.

There is a shield that installs over the primer tray, and it should be left in place while in use.


While using the LEE Auto Prime, or during *any* priming operation for that matter, eye protection should be worn. Accidents can and will happen, and primers can be touchy things. While I have never had a primer fire during seating, there are reports of it happening. Better to be safe than sorry. In fact, I make a point of aiming the priming tool away from my face as I seat a primer.

It should be noted that LEE specifically states Federal primers are not to be used in this tool, and reduced quantities of other primers are to be loaded at one time.

The next genre of priming tool examined is what I call the ‘press ram priming tools’. These mount in a reloading press and use the ram stroke to seat the primer.

The only advantages to these tools I can think of is they always use standard shell holders, and usually the tool comes as part of every press kit.

The press ram-prime tools I own, an RCBS and a LEE, both came ‘free’ with new presses I’ve bought over the years. I’ve never used the LEE version, but the RCBS tool gets used often with my 7.62x54mm loading. Why that case? Because I don’t have an Auto Prime shell holder in that size, but do have a standard shell holder.


Both the RCBS and the LEE come with interchangeable tool heads for small and large primers, but the RCBS is clearly better built of finer materials.


In using the RCBS press priming tool, one piece of reloading equipment must be cleaned, as it will matter now. The shell holder is used as part of this tool and the primer is fed through the center of it. It must be cleaned or the dirt accumulated over years of reloading will migrate to the primer pocket.


Following directions, the tool is set up so the primer ram just comes through the base and seats the primer. I recommend seating the first one very carefully till it’s just right, then dial the shell holder and base down on the ram (with the properly primed case installed) so every succeeding case is primed the same way.



It should be noted the average press has *massive* power compared to what’s needed to seat a primer. My own RCBS Ammomaster loses all feel as to how the primer is entering or seating in the pocket. In fact, just dropping my press handle the last six inches of the stroke usually seats the primer just fine. The handle alone is heavy enough to do the job.

In using a single feed priming tool like this RCBS, the primers must first be dumped into a flip tray and aligned properly. Then each primer is picked up and set into the ram prime. I prefer to have the ram raised all the way when I charge it, sticking up through the shell holder. Then I lower the ram just enough to slide in a case, and seat the primer with a finger or two’s worth of pressure.

An important note: Wash your hands before handling any primers!!


Great care must be taken, no matter what kind of tool is being used, to get primers properly seated. Never leave a primer seated above the surface of the case, and usually seated a bit below the surface is better.

Primers seated high are a common cause of slam fires and firing out of battery.

This mean gun go BOOM when you don’t intend it to. That’s bad; real bad.

If a primer is found to be too high, it can usually be put back into the tool and carefully adjusted. This problem is not often encountered when primers are seated by hand, but progressive presses have a bad habit of giving us high primers some times.


The one on the left is obviously too high, and must be corrected.

As each case is primed, I like to set the case mouth down in a loading tray.

Why? Just to be sure nothing falls in the case, and to discourage any moisture from finding it’s way to the exposed primer. While unlikely to be an issue on most loading benches, why take the chance?

Our next step will be charging the case with powder, followed by seating a bullet. Each step is worthy of it’s own article and will be covered in the future as we load these 8x57mm cases together.

Cheers friends, and keep your primers dry!