January 04, 2011
My reloading started with revolvers, and I thought I'd share some tips I've accumulated over the years that can make the job more satisfying and produce better ammo.
Sort The Brass
This can be a critical factor for target and hunting ammo. Different brands of cases have slightly different material specs and case neck thickness that affect bullet pull and crimping and can lead to ballistic variation you don't need. The smaller the case, the more important sorting becomes. Use the mixed brass for plinking.
Don't Resize More Than Needed
Carbide sizing dies can create a ring or slight bottleneck effect ahead of the rim that is largely a cosmetic problem but could eventually overwork the brass. Resizing for most revolvers needs only to make the case small enough for reliable chambering and a good bullet grip. Not all combinations of dies and cartridge cases will suffer this ringing, but the first time it happened to me, I didn't like the effect.
I'm not talking neck-sizing. We're going to size most of the case, but set the die so it's not as close to nearly touching the shellholder as normally prescribed. Typical instructions for carbide sizer dies have you turn the die into the press until it is about the thickness of a matchbook cover from touching the shellholder. I've found that leaving the die as far as 1/4 inch from the shellholder reduces the ringing effect without affecting reliable chambering. Your gauge for checking this is your revolver's cylinder; have it handy while setting your sizer die. For safety, remove the cylinder from the revolver before doing this step.
Give New Bullets For Old Cartridges Special Attention
We ran into this when working on the Speer Reloading Manual #13. We had jacketed bullets of new designs that were appropriate to the .44 Special and .45 Colt. Most .44 Spl. and .45 Colt factory lead bullets are larger in diameter than jacketed component bullets, and the unprimed cases' neck dimensions reflected this; modern jacketed bullets tended to nearly fall into the cases.
This is a place where neck-sizing is appropriate. We ran about a half-inch of the case into a carbide sizer, or at least enough to match the bearing surface of the bullet we planned to load, then flared them normally. Problem solved.
Don't Over Flare The Case Mouth
It's possible to adjust neck expander dies so the flaring surface can bell the mouth enough to split it. Even without the split, too much flare can weaken the mouth so it splits on firing. It also makes the case harder to insert in the seating die and can lead to deformed crimps.
When you set the neck expander, have a few of the bullets you plan to load at hand. Screw the expander unit down (that's "in") a little at a time and test with a bullet. The best flare is the minimum that will still hold a bullet hand-started into the case when you invert the case.
Match The Seater Plug Shape To The Bullet
Some seater plugs in older handgun die sets were contoured to match popular cast-lead bullet shapes: roundnose, semiwadcutter, and wadcutter. Modern jacketed bullets may be deformed if these older plugs are used. See if your die manufacturer has a newer plug design that better fits today's jacketed bullets.
Sometimes you have to be creative. I had trouble getting a .357 Magnum JHP to seat because the SWC plug I tried using was gripping the bullet jacket as the seating force increased. In addition to putting an ugly ring on the bullets' ogive, it actually pulled some bullets from the case when I lowered the press handle. No other .35-caliber handgun plugs I had avoided deforming the bullet tip. I pulled the spitzer seater plug from a .35 Whelen rifle die set, and it worked perfectly. Its long, tapered interior engaged the bullet over a wider area without its open end grabbing the ogive and marring the jacket.
Taper Crimp Flush-Seated .38 Special Wadcutters
For years I kept a stash of older cases that had been factory-loaded with wadcutters for my target loads. Typical of the era, they were nicely thin in the upper 70 percent of the case. A light roll crimp finished the wadcutter reloads without any problems. Later, I loaded wadcutters in newer cases and noticed that some bullets were below flush after crimping. The thicker case necks on the new lot of brass were pushing the bullets down as I rolled the crimp.
Trying different cases may help, but there is also a tooling option. Most die makers now offer taper-crimp dies for .38 Special. These finish the case mouth and add sufficient initial resistance for ballistic uniformity but won't cause the case walls to deep-seat the bullet.
Adapt Crimping Procedures
If a particular case-bullet combo shows a higher seating and crimping force, consider separating the seating and crimping operations. That means you are fighting one battle at a time. All that's required to do this is to seat the bullet with the die raised so the crimp shoulder doesn't make contact with the case. After seating all the bullets, retract the seater plug all the way up and then adjust the die body for normal crimping. If you are loading thin-walled cartridges, such as the .32-20, .38-40, or .44-40 Winchester, this separation is pretty much mandatory.
If you load on a progressive press, most current presses have an extra station or two that allow you to add a separate crimp die. You will need an extra seater/crimper, but the small cost is quickly recovered in the form of better ammo. Remember, cases of uniform length always crimp best regardless of the type of press you use.
Clean As You Inspect
As you inspect and box your ammo, wipe them with a relatively clean cloth. A safety reason trumps the cosmetic one: It's possible for the case walls to pick up oils in the loading process, and a lubricated case increases stress on a revolver's frame when it fires. Cleaning also removes bits of grit that can scratch up the cases, dies, and the chamber walls over time.