Thursday, April 09, 2009

A man's got to know his limitations...

Reloading your own ammunition, while fun and practical and possibly the single geekiest gun-related activity there is, is not something to be done casually.

Especially on a single-stage press, reloading well and safely demands almost as much focus as shooting itself. You'll hear folks say that the most relaxing thing about shooting is that when you're shooting, you're not doing anything else; your mind's completely focused on the front sight and the trigger and the target, not "Did I remember to pick up a gallon of milk?" or "Where are we going to get a sitter Friday night?" Reloading on a single-stage press is the same way; it demands total absorption. On a progressive press, you might get away with having the radio on in the background, but if you're interested in not turning your firearm into shrapnel, your head still needs to be in the game.

Thus, when I asked Les Jones if he'd gotten into reloading yet, his answer made me happy. A man's got to know his limitations.


TBeck said...

I have an RCBS Rockchucker kit that's been sitting in a box for years exactly due to this issue. Until I have a area other than the dining room table in which to work, reloading will remain a wistful dream.

og said...

It sounds silly but I have a little tuneless song I sing in my head when I load. "Throw. Weigh. Charge. Bullet. Seat.". If anything Interrupts the song I stop immediately and pull the bullet. I like to have the room to my self with the door closed. And I try to reload only on days with relative humidity betweeen 60 and 80%- though that may be totally unnecesary.

Yeah, reloading is not something you want to do with ADD.

Lorimor said...

I think it's time we come up with a better term for "progressive" presses, particularly while we are dealing with a particularly "progressive" WH admin.

I'll go with "Semi-Automatic Twirly Thing" until something better comes along.

Somehow I just don't care to go anywhere near the term "progressive" especially in my ammo crafting kingdom.

Flighterdoc said...

Oh, it's not that bad...and with a single-stage press you batch the different stages anyway: deprime and size 250 or whatever cases, then prime them, then powder using the powder throw, then seat bullets, then measure each one for OAL and weight (to be certain there is powder in there).

And for rifle accuracy (at least in bolt actions) hand loaded is better than match ammo.

I don't shoot enough shotgun for reloading them to be interesting to me...

Anonymous said...

Some forty years back, an article about pro football in TV Guide changed my reloading habits. It's a time thing.

In three hours of football program, there are eight minutes of action. Between each play which averages some six to eight seconds, you have a half-minute of nothing. And time outs and halftime, etc.

I set up at my dining table with my O-press and scales, and watch a play--and then do one step of reloading during the break. Watch the next play, repeat that step.

Since each step of the reloading process is separate, little long-term concentration is needed. I weigh rifle charges to one granule. If I'm charging via powder measure, that's for halftime or end of game.

God created Monday Night Football just for me. The only fly in the ointment was Howard Cosell. The solution was to watch the game on TV, and listen to Hank Stramm on the radio.

I found, however, that loading for pistol with a Dillon 350, absolute concentration is a must. Different sequential steps is a different deal. Powderless .45ACP in IPSC practice is a real bummer. So, that's not a TV-time thing.

True, folks gotta know their limitations. Howsomever, walking while chewing gum isn't all that difficult...


The Raving Prophet said...

One does have to concentrate. I tend to favor a turret press- a bit quicker than a single stage (and no die readjustments with replaceable rotors), but no worries that I won't pay attention to each and every round I make.

Noah D said...

Yep, I know exactly what Mr. Jones is talking about. I figure that by not reloading not only am I saving myself the cost of the equipment and supplies, I'm saving myself the cost of a new firearm and medical bills.

Maybe when all the kids are in middle school or higher.

Caleb said...

That's about why I don't reload, except without the "kids" equation. It's more (for me) because I'm a total spazoid and can't really focus on something for longer than oooohhh look a kitty!

Jay G said...

That picture is EXACTLY why I haven't started reloading.

Les's reasoning is my own. With two small kids underfoot, the likelihood of me getting distracted while at a crucial step is pretty high. And all it takes is one exploded Model 19 to throw all that savings right out the window...

TJP said...

Yup, Bob's right. I don't recommend people with small children reload for two reasons:

* Distractions

* Lead exposure; handling spent cases, then handling children...bad news

However, I find a single-stage press to be good for training safe hand loaders. I watch these demonstrational videos on YouTube, where the guy pulls the lever 26 times--yet doesn't check a single charge, primer or case mouth--and I shake my had. Bad, bad loading practice.

TJP said...

Oops, didn't finish proofreading before I hit the button.

"shake head"

And the guys doing the demonstrations have progressives.

Anyway, there is a way to do it right, and Tam, I really don't think you'll ever produce a round that'll do in a revolver like the picture. I've done loads at the fringes of the data, and I was well aware of the possibility of malfunctions before they happened.

The KABOOM!s that I've seen were the result of hand loaders who unquestionably trusted their equipment, and then kept shooting loads with unusual report or recoil because, "hey, I put all this effort into loading them."

Mikee said...

I bought some reloaded 38SPL at a gun show once, back when the difference of a dollar between a box of 50 from the store and the reloads meant about 25% savings. Out of 50 rounds, one went pop and the bullet dropped about 10 feet down the range, among the spent brass. That was enough for me to avoid OPRs since then (the dreaded Other People's Reloads).

I have, however, been saving my 38SPL and 357 brass for a few years, and when I get the money I will get a single stage for these rounds only. 9mm is still cheap enough to buy my practice ammo; I don't shoot anything bigger... (waits for catcalls to die down).

I think with mild loads and wadcutters, these few (well, about 1000) cases will last quite a while for me.

Off thread, can I use the word verification terms that appear here for D&D or SciFi character names with your blessing? They are better even than the ones that appear at or

DirtCrashr said...

I like Og's song but mine is a lot less musical and goes, "Mil-crimp De-hornify, Primer-pocket Ass-ream, Flash-hole Squizzle Uniforming, Set-the-Decapping Die, Resize, Trim-to-Length, De-Burr, Wipe-clean, Re-Prime..."
I don't even get to, "Set-up the Dispenser, Swap the Die, and Seat a Bullet" before bed-time.

Noah D said...

Am I the only person who got real uncomfortable while DirtCrashr was singing, just now?

Mikee, that's a really good idea. Consider it stolen.

bullbore said...

I have pretty much shot reloads for the past 20 years. I learned to reload on a signle stage lyman press and have upgraded to a RCBS rockchucker. I load for almost all of my guns with the exception of the SKS. I have had one squib load. It was a 12ga shell. The pellets came out of the barrel at slow motion speed and the was got stuck in the barrel.

As long as you are careful reloading can be as enjoyable as shooting.

wv: elydr -- where the rich 22 ammo lives.


DJ said...

I've been reloading for about 40 years. My .380 ACP and .45 ACP pistols are the first centerfire boom makers that I haven't reloaded for, but that may change.

I work in batches. Clean, size, trim, prime, charge, seat, and check. I visually inspect after each stage. The biggest danger is a double-charge, but visually examining a rack of charged brass before seating bullets is quite easy and a double-charge or a missing charge will stand out like it's labeled.

In many tens of thousands of rounds, all loaded with a single stage press, I've not had a single failure; no squibs, no failures, no hangfires, just one shooty goodness after another.

og said...

I do all kinds of non-critical stuff before the"final" load, like clean, decap, clean again, perfect primer pocket, clean, lube, resize, trim, polish, before I get to the "prime, load" part. Come to think of it, I have sent the ogwife and the oglet to the movies on more than one occasion while I loaded 30-06.

Ed Foster said...

What Og and DirtCrasher said. You do get in the rythym. But most of my stuff is full power rifle, so I don't usually have to worry about double charges.

My thing is the drag of washing off the lube when I full length resize. Soak in a basin of hot water with dish washing liquid, shake out the water (carpal tunnel practice after the first few hundred 30-06's,.303 Savages, or 7mm Mausers), then an hour in the warming tray at the bottom of the oven before I can start to load. Usually I leave them there for the next day.

Casting only happens once or twice a year, but takes up a day. This year I need .45 acp 225 grainers in large numbers along with the .30 cal projos, so probably two days.

When I feel like it. Plus or minus a week or two. Sometimes on the Coleman stove in the back yard and a breeze blowing the lead fumes away from me, sometimes with the electric pot and a fan doing the same worthy job.

But yeah, no music or visitors. Way too ADD for the distraction.

Kit said...

The Commander is a very good reloader (which is good since he makes a living at it) because he really can absorb himself in mindless repetitive tasks for hours on end. Me? I get distracted about about 24 seconds. This is why he taught me how to do it so I'd have the basic knowledge, but then strongly encouraged me to never, ever actually do it. :p I'm okay with that. Like you say, limitations baby!

MauserMedic said...

Jeez, a minority of one. On the benches downstairs, 1 each: Dillon Square Deal B, Dillon 550, Dillon 450; 2 Lee Loadmasters; 1 antique RCBS Rockchucker for small batch specialty loads.

I've had one kaboom, in 30-06; loaded on my first RCBS single stage press, in the early '90s. Pain, and the thought you've just lost an eye, are excellent motivators in paying attention in all reloads after the even.

It's not the stages, it's the attention to detail.

MauserMedic said...

"event" much for attention to detail.

TJP said...


Have you tried tossing the loaded rounds in your tumbler in order to scrub off the lube? That's what I do with my bottleneck cases.

Also: It's casting season again! Would those 225 grainers be the Lee 452-228-1R? :D

I suppose I'll list my main equipment, so people know where I'm coming from:

* RCBS RC-IV with case kicker
* RCBS Uniflow measure
* LEE Auto-prime II
* RCBS 5-0-5 Scale
* Pacific DL360 loader (12 ga.)
* MEC 600 Jr (20 ga.)

Anonymous said...

attention to detail!!! THat is why after 35 yrs of reloading i have never had a bad reload. PAY ATTENTION to what you are doing. If you are easy to distract by all means please dont reload. But dont get pissed when my match grade ammo is shooting the x ring out of the targets every shot when i shot benchrest comp.

Ed Foster said...

TJP: Lyman452374, the huge four bullet cast iron one. Takes forever to get up to heat, but when it does, they drop out smooth and shiny for a couple of hundred bullets.

When they start going frosty, I switch off to the 172 grain Loverin 30 caliber for my Schmidt-Rubins. Drop a hundred of those and I'm right back to 45acp. I cast the rifle and pistol bullets out of straight linotype. The deep, narrow rifling of the .45 really takes to a hard bullet.

On boilerplate siluettas at 150 yards they all go into 6 or 8 inches. Yes I'm resting the butt on the ground, and keeping the front sight about one third it's height above the rear. I make no claims to be the next Elmer Keith. Still, not so bad for an old Jarhead and a cobbed together 1911.

Ed Foster said...

TJP: what are you using for tumbling media? I tried tumbling lubed cases in ground corncob and it was less than spectacular. Kinda' gummy. Ground walnut shells are harder and have more surface area, so maybe...

tokarev762 said...

TBeck;n don't let that stop you. I've loaded thousands of rounds at the dinning room table. My ol(very) Rockchucker has always been mounted to a piece of 2x6 with holes for my Lee Perfect Podwer measure. I just use a C clamp to attach it. I use the shop out in the barn now though.(Yes, it helps if you're single.)

Tam said...

"My ol(very) Rockchucker has always been mounted to a piece of 2x6 with holes for my Lee Perfect Podwer measure."

Yup. I have a similar setup with my Lee Turret press. Two C-clamps and a sturdy horizontal surface is all I need to be in business.

Anonymous said...

Strange, I have a piece of 1 x 6 oak set up for both my Lee single stage and Lee Turret.

16 years of diligent observation making shiny little kabooms with no failures, yet.


tokarev762 said...

TBeck; Just bolt it to a piece of 2x6 with the bolts and nuts recessed. Then you can clamp it to any table without worry.My old Rockchucker has been that way for over 10 years and many thousand of rounds.

The only destraction I have around me while reloading is the radio.

Khornet said...

Gotta disagree, folks. Having used my Rockchucker for all my needs plus a Lee Load-All for shotguns for two decades, I got a progressive last year. It takes MORE, not less, concentration with a progressive. With four operations being done at once, it is very easy to double-charge a case. Also easy to under-charge, and get a squib in the bore. The old way, I handled each round individually through each stage. No case went under the powder measure spout more than once, because I'd have to go OUT OF MY WAY to do that; I'd have to make an effort to make it happen. The progressive is much more efficient and saves a lot of time, but it is much more scary and I worry, for the fist time in my reloading life, about double charges. I've loaded 18,000 plus rounds on my RL550B and I still find that I can't let my mind wander anything like I can on the single-stage.

tokarev762 said...


I need to wake up in the morning and DRINK MY COFFEE FIRST! before posting in the comments.

Maybe that way I'll avoid double posting. Hah!

TJP said...

Ed: I use corncob media treated with Lyman green goo. It seems to accumulate a fine brass dust that carries away case lube.

WV = "menchars"; ♂, etc.

alath said...

The only time I've had a potentially dangerous situation with reloads was when I tried to go too light on some .38 special target ammo. Once every 50 rounds or so, this recipe was just not quite strong enough to get the bullet out of the barrel. Luckily I recognized the problem before trying to send another round down the tube after it.

I've only ever reloaded on a Dillon 550b, so I guess I don't know any different, but I don't see the fear factor with progressive presses. I do take care to make sure that my loads fill more than half the case (thus making a double charge obvious). Other kinds of process errors seem obvious, too. I guess it is just what you are used to.

Warthog said...

As someone who is seriously considering reloading. I think you guys should write a beginner's primer on how it's done.

Because I know that none of you have anything better to do WEG

Firehand said...

I'll say two things:
While I usually have some music on, I do NOTHING else while handloading but the handloading.

And if I didn't handload, I'd do a lot less shooting of everything but .22.

TJP said...


The best primer is to be found at the beginning of a loading manual. You can never have too many of those. I usually recommend Speer #13, because it's pretty conservative. Buy one--even a used one. For a minimal investment, it will help you decide if it's your bag.

If you think you might be loading lead bullets, I recommend the Lyman Caster's Handbook to inoculate your mind against "experts" who dispense uninformed advice about lead projectiles. It's dated, and it does focus on casting, but it contains some clear explanations that will help you troubleshoot problems. Lyman's 48th or 49th will give you current data with lead projectiles.

I speak only for myself, but I've tried to write PDF-format hand loading primers with helpful pictures, and I'm not a good teacher. I include too much detail about the things I know, and I have gaps in knowledge in other areas. It's hard for me to remember what it was like when I didn't know, but I do remember that more pictures would've been nice.

Try not to spend too much at the outset, unless your volume of shooting justifies it. Those starter kits are nice, but after digging around in local gunshops long after I went gung ho on equipment, I realized I could've made my own kit for much less money, without compromising quality. (Keep in mind that I'm a cheapskate.)

I'm getting long-winded again, but I wanted to add one more thing. You're going to read or hear a lot of arguments why hand loading is more expensive, or not worth the effort. Anyone who does his/her household budget is capable of making it cost effective. I figured that my equipment paid for itself once the equipment cost per round was less than transport or hazmat / shipping fees for commercial ammo. Even at a leisurely pace of 3000-4000 rounds per year, that only takes a few years--though it takes longer if you buy an expensive progressive press.

And I apologize in advance for being an asshole (I can't help it), but to all those people over the years who argued with me that there is no advantage to hand loading, I have five words for you: Out of Stock, Backorder OK. I think I'll go downstairs and load some 45 ACP now--because I can.

Tam said...

Lee's book is also great for beginners. It has everything but a little hand to hold yours.

TJP said...

Ooh, ooh! Yes, please forgive my oversight. Lee's 2nd is just packed with data. Any book with six pages of 45 Colt loads, and two and a half of 303 Brit--including ye olde tyme 215 grainer--is all right by me. And if you load lead in .308 or .30-06, there is nothing quite like this book, with its special section for those cartridges which gives pressure readings for every charge increase. (Some of us are concerned with pressure far below the maximum average, because our alloy choices are limited.)

What readers may find, though, is that Richard Lee's writing style is not dry and overly burdened with repetitious warnings. It's a good choice if one's eyes glaze over during long bouts of technical minutia, (such as if I was explaining something in person.)

The best part: $13 for 700 pages.

Chris M said...

I think KHornet said it very well.

I began handloading/reloading 31 years ago with an RCBS Junior Ammocrafter kit. Within six months, I'd traded that Junior press off and got one of the original three-hole Lee Turret presses although I didn't get a maple box with mine.

Using the Lee Turret as a quick-change single-stage, I loaded uncounted thousands of rounds. The need for concentration was minimal because everything was done in batches of fifty. Resize, expand, back in the block upside down. Prime with the Lee Auto Prime tool and back in the block open mouths up. Charge fifty cases under the measure. Look into the cases and weigh a few of the charges to check consistency. Rotate the turret to the seating die then seat and crimp all fifty. Never a problem.

Then, after roughly 15 years of doing things that way, I bought a Hornady Pro-Jector progressive. I quickly learned that absolute concentration was needed to feel all four concurrent operations simultaneously on each pull of the handle. I've had no Ka-booms but I've pulled a lot of bullets after noticing that I had some extra powder on the shell holder or a charge still in the scale's pan after checking the weights. Each time that happens, I pull every round I've loaded just to be sure that no mistakes slip past and get shot.

I also only fill four of the five die holes in the press. The hole following the powder measure is left empty so that I can visually confirm the powder charge on each and every case.

IMHO, you got it backwards, Tam. Single-stage press reloading is easy. Progressives are the ones that require total, absolute concentration.

OldTexan said...

I used to reload a lot of 12 ga. but I found out it is hard to drink and reload at the same time.

I had to give up one or the other so I don't reload anymore.

John B said...

I've been spoiled with Dillon 550b and Square Deal B presses. I have a silly-little-pair-of-pliers thingy for the big blackpowder boomers. If I had a moment's doubt in my concentration, 5 full coffee cans of 1911 chow would go out the back door. People come to me at the range with $20s to buy 30-50 reloads with hand cast wheel weight metal bullets. That $20 will also buy 15 soft lead hollow points, or 20 soft lead slugs.

Remorseless capitalist that's me!

If I had the money from all the "lent" Ammo, I'd be able to pay the next blog bash!