Sunday, December 15, 2013

Reloading basic: The work area

Some mighty fine handloads have been built on coffee tables in front of the television.  Match winning ammunition has been loaded on the tailgate of a pickup, or right on the bench next to the rifle.  Many a youngster reloaded the same 25 cases every week by hand, on their front porch under their father’s watchful eye.  All these are quite possible, and have been done time and time again; Possible, but not optimal.

Setting up an area for reloading should be a thoughtful exercise, like most of the handloading process.  A little skull sweat invested at the beginning will pay off handsomely down the road.  Keeping these factors in mind are important:
     *  Privacy:  Not a monk-like solitude, but a quiet place where the handloader won’t be constantly interrupted.  That’s important. Consider that it may be an issue more of time-of-day than location, if there are small children in the house.  It will pay to wait till the youngens are in bed, and a person can carry a thought for more than 30 seconds.

·      *  Security:  The gear for reloading can be expensive, and the supplies should be kept from stray hands.  Imagine a toddler deciding to be like daddy, and pour powders back and forth from one can to another… or spill a few hundred primers for Mr. Vacuum to clean up.

·      *  Cleanliness and clutter:  If at all possible, the reloading bench or area should be clean, neat, and orderly.   We are discussing building ammunition… an exacting process with no room for mistakes. 

·      *  Storage:  Powders and primers are susceptible to degradation with temperature fluctuations, and should be stored in a cool and dry place. The exact same can be said for primers.  It’s not unusual for old refrigerators to be pressed into service as storage cabinets, left unplugged and dormant, and used for their insulation and the ability to control humidity inside.  As a rule of thumb, powder and primers should be kept in an environment that would be totally comfortable for the handloader to work.

A bench mounted press can be clamped to a coffee table perhaps, or on an old dresser, but having it solidly mounted to a heavy bench is the only really good answer.   The bench can be something scrounged, perhaps an old wooden dining room table, but it should be sturdy.  Ideally, it will be of a height to allow the handloader to sit comfortably, whether it is on a chair or a stool.  If the operator prefers standing, then the bench will need to be high enough to place the press handle at a comfortable height.

The typical kitchen counter is about the right height to stand at and work, and the average dining room table is a suitable height for seated work.
Ideally, the handloader should have some real estate to work with.  An area at least two feet by four feet if possible, and more is better. By the time one gets a moderately sized press mounted to the bench, and a powder measure stand mounted within easy reach, the remaining room for scale, load block, powder dribbler, load manual, and cartridge container gets tight.  Many handloaders end up with a second, or even a third, press mounted to the bench.  Give some thought to the future when building the space.

Something important to consider as one sets up the reloading bench… people have their limits when it comes to attention and concentration.  Most folks do not function at 100% when faced with confusion and clutter, and reloading demands nothing less than 100% attention to detail.

The way to deal with these limits, making reloading safer, more accurate, and more efficient is to eliminate the distractions.  Careful construction and placement of the reloading bench can be key to that.

Keeping the points listed above in mind, placing the bench in a quiet, secure, and comfortable space makes good sense.  Having placed it correctly, and mounted the equipment in a fashion that makes it easy to reach and use, the bench itself should have some attention.

The surface of the bench should be a solid color, preferably some shade of white.  High gloss white trim paint will make the bench easy to clean, and everything shows clearly against the white background.  In addition, the bench should have a back and sides that discourage anything rolling off, as cases and bullets will surely attempt to do.  The front edge might have a groove cut in about half an inch from the edge to catch small items, but working comfort argues against a raised front edge.

Since we are discussing a dedicated reloading bench, look to the space underneath and consider boxing it in with a door capable of being locked. That makes a handy and secure place to store reloading gear and supplies that will surely accumulate over time.  In reloading, secure storage is golden, so never pass up a chance to build some into an overlooked space.

A stable and secure bench set up, with a press and measure mounted to it, and storage looked after to satisfaction, now we turn our thoughts to lighting.
There are two types of lighting required in a handloading situation.  General work lighting and spot lighting on specific operations like the press itself.
The entire work area needs to be very well lit, with as little eye strain as possible, and a limited number of shadows. Florescent lighting is acceptable, if of modern design that won’t cause excessive eye fatigue.  Such a fixture mounted just above head height directly over the bench will suit for most work, especially if the bench is painted white to reflect the light onto work details.
Even with a good primary light, there should be at least one other light source, preferably several.  The goal is to light the area for fine detail work, and dispel as much shadow as possible.  Most humans are more comfortable with incandescent lighting (old fashioned bulbs), and at least one light should be of this type.  The difference in eye strain and comfort is amazing.

This general lighting will serve for most work, but running the press deserves lighting of its own.  It need not be anything fancy, and a simple cheap clamp-on light will serve as long as its output is directed into the press, revealing in good detail exactly what’s going on as we do our work.  The handloader needs enough light to verify there’s a charge in the case, and the bullet is properly started into the neck. These are not things which can be assured by touch, and are details the operator must pay attention to and see.

When it comes to storage for the handloader, three things seem to be paramount; Capacity, security, and environment. There needs to be sufficient storage room for not only currently owned gear, but for likely future purchases as well.  Most handloaders begin pretty simply, but most also progress fairly quickly… expanding their repertoire as well as their gear. Supplies, too, tend to multiply.  While a person new to the field might intend to stay with one caliber for a while, even within that limitation there are a great many bullets and powders to be tried. Leaving room for future expansion only makes sense.

Security can be an issue, in reloading the same as many other things.  Equipment is not inexpensive, and more to the point when we want it… we WANT it… and don’t enjoy fining it’s wandered off in someone else’s hands.  The supplies (powder, primers, etc.) are not really dangerous in any way, but having them safe and sound is important.  That means under lock and key if there are young or inquisitive minds in the area.

As for environment, already mentioned are the storage issues with powder and primer.  They should be kept cool and dry, normally within the same ranges most people feel comfortable in.  This means a garage or outbuilding without climate control can be problematic.  High temperatures or high humidity are the enemy of quality when it comes to ammunition and reloading supplies.  Take that into account when choosing the storage areas.

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