October 09, 2015
By Brad Miller, Ph.D.
Loading your own ammunition is rewarding at many levels. It can even be therapeutic. But it takes time and effort, and innovations that make the task easier, faster, safer or more precise are always welcome. The introduction of carbide sizing dies decades ago sped up the sizing of straight-walled pistol cases. A huge leap forward was the introduction of progressive loading machines for the average consumer. They allowed us to produce a loaded round with every crank of the handle instead of having to change dies for every step, saving untold hours at the loading bench.
The innovations continue, and here is a quick review of some of the new releases of 2015 that will help make your reloading easier.
Lyman Turbo Sonic 1200
Lyman has added a new model to its line of ultrasonic cleaners. The Turbo Sonic 1200 is a moderate-sized brass cleaner that holds up to 350 9mm cases or up to 150 .223 cases or 75 .30-06 cases. Those are sort of an 'average day at the range' round count for many shooters. The Turbo Sonic 1200 fits in-between their smaller Turbo Sonic 700, and the larger Turbo Sonic 2500 and 6000. These three ultrasonic cleaners are rated for 100, 900 and 1300 9mm cases, respectively.
This ultrasonic cleaner is easy to use with a large time display and two buttons: On/Off and Time. Each touch of the Time button scrolls through pre-programmed cleaning cycles of 90, 180, 280, 380 and 480 seconds.
Sonicators produce high-frequency sound waves to agitate particles in solution for the cleaning action. The Turbo Sonic 1200 can clean cases in just a few minutes, including the crud inside the case and primer pockets when the brass is deprimed. This method is much faster than a rotating or vibratory cleaner with dry media, which can take hours, to clean cases. Rotating or vibratory cleaners using corn cob and walnut media are seldom effective in removing crud from the inside of the case even though they might highly polish the outside. My routine is to use corn cob media along with a polishing compound such as Dillon Rapid Polish or Flitz Media Additive. They are excellent at cleaning and polishing the outside of the case, but the insides usually remain black.
I tested how quickly the sonicator would clean cases, including their insides and primer pockets with some .38 Super Comp brass. I made a cleaning bath with Lyman's Turbo Sonic case cleaning solution according to Lyman's directions. After just three minutes, the outside of the cases were clean and the majority of crud was removed from inside the cases and primer pockets. After six minutes the cases were almost completely clean. That's fast, especially when I compare that to my usual routine of tumbling brass for several hours in corn cob media.
One difference between a sonicator and dry media is that wet cases must be dried off before you can use them. When using dry media for cleaning, the cases are ready to load when they are as clean as you want them. Failure to remove all the water from wet cases before you load them can result in duds or squibs. You can air dry the cases or speed up drying by using compressed air or a hair dryer or oven at its lowest setting. You don't want to use a drying method that will overheat the brass, because this will weaken it.
The Turbo Sonic 1200 can also be used to clean metal parts, and Lyman makes a Steel Cleaning Solution for this purpose. It can be used on steel and stainless steel, but should never be used on non-anodized (bare) aluminum or other non-ferrous metals.
The tank of the Turbo Sonic 1200 measures 6.5 inches x 5.4inches x 2.6 inches, so it can accommodate many gun parts, but not large parts. For example, it can fit a 6-inch 1911 barrel in the tray, but not a 1911 slide or frame.
I tried the metal cleaning solution on a dirty Kart .38 Super 1911 barrel. Cleaning for three minutes had little effect on the carbon buildup on the barrel's feed ramp. I ran it for another 16 minutes, and most of the carbon was removed, but not all of it. I still had to use a bronze brush to clean carbon off the feed ramp, but the crud that was inside the bore wiped out with one stroke of a patch. I was impressed by that, since it usually requires some scrubbing to clean the bore.
Lyman's Turbo Sonic 1200 Ultrasonic Case Cleaner, in combination with Lyman's Case Cleaning Solution, quickly and effectively cleaned my dirty pistol brass, even removing heavy buildup inside the case and primer pockets. You can also use it to clean your gun parts. Its compact size does not take up much space, and should be a welcome addition to many shooters' case prep equipment. The Turbo Sonic 1200 has a retail price of $119.95. See Lyman's website for more information, including instructional videos.
Lyman Pro-Touch 1500 Electronic Reloading Scale
Lyman has a new electronic scale, the Pro-Touch 1500. It has a touchscreen with a large, easy-to-read digital display, a 1500-grain capacity, accuracy to to 0.1 grains and can weigh in grains or grams. It has a dual handle powder pan for easy right or left hand use, and includes its own calibration weight. It runs on AC power or three AAA batteries (not included).
I put it to the test. The first test was how sensitive the scale was to the position of the tray. As some of you might know, some electronic scales can give wacky results if the tray is not placed in exactly the same spot every time. The Pro-Touch 1500 is certainly a sensitive device, so this is something to know when you use it. I placed the tray in the center of the scale, then moved it a few millimeters in this and that direction. Most of the time, it gave the same reading, but sometimes it would read 0.1 grains more or less. But it did not vary more than that in this test. That's not bad, and as with any sensitive electronic scale, you have to be aware, and consistent, with where you place the pan for the most consistent and reliable measurement.
Accuracy. For this I used check weights, that is, a series of weights of 'known' weights that are handy to have whether you have an electronic or beam scale. I used 1, 5, 10 and 20 grain weights. The scale was right on with all weights, with the exception of when I combined the 5 and 10 grain weights for 15 grains. It thought they weighed 15.1 grains. Hey, maybe it's right. But it was right with all other combinations, so I felt that it did fine on this test.
Consistency. For this, I weighed the same thing at least 10 times. (By the way, the manual suggest that you rezero the scale after every 10 weighs to make sure the scale maintains its zero.) I did this with a variety of items, from just weighing the pan itself, to weighing the check weights or a bullet. It did well. Several times it read the exact same weight 10 times in a row. The other times, one of the measurements was off 0.1 grains, while the other nine were the same. That's pretty good, and the errant weighs could be attributed to where the pan was placed.
For another test, I placed the pan on the scale and zeroed it, placed a bullet in the pan, then removed the bullet to see if it retuned to zero every time for 10 times. It did.
Now for the crazy part. The instructions state to select a place for the scale that is level and stable. It should be located away from the loading bench since most are not heavy enough to prevent vibrations from being transferred to the scale. It should also be positioned away from sources of draft, air currents or temperature change. It also says to plug the adaptor into a wall outlet.
I tried setting up the scale on three different surfaces. On two different tables, the scale acted crazy. For reasons unknown, the touch screen was super-sensitive, and it would turn off and on without me touching it. I could wave my hand over the display screen and it would turn on and off and rezero and calibrate and do God knows what. It would also do this spontaneously when I was several feet away. And when it was on, the scale would go wild, reading positive and negative weights. The damn thing acted possessed. Forget trying to weight something; the weight changed spontaneously and would go up or down when I moved closer or farther away. Naturally, I thought it was defective. However, these tables have a slight tilt and are not mounted to a wall. The power source for one was a protected power strip, and for the other it was an extension cord that eventually lead to a wall outlet.
Surface number three was a kitchen counter that is fixed to the wall and floor. The power cord was plugged directly into a wall outlet. The scale worked just fine there. It was stable. It was reliable. It was delightful! I tried to figure out what was causing the bizarre behavior while on the tables, but could not. I tilted the scale and changed the lighting. These had little effect, however, if I waved an intense fluorescent light bulb over the control panel, it would turn off and on with each pass. But why did it not do this with a very bright TLR-1 weapons light? Strange.
Even on the counter, the control panel was very sensitive, and sometimes I did not have to make physical contact with the touch screen to get it to change from grams to grains or to rezero. I could sometimes do this with my finger a millimeter or two away, so this is something to be aware of.
I moved the scale back and forth between these surfaces just to make sure it wasn't the location of the moon that was causing the odd behavior. Nope. It was something about the tables, location in the building (draft, vibration) or directness of power source. In any case, if you buy one of these (or some other electronic scale) and it acts crazy, move it to another, very stable location and plug it directly into a wall outlet. This might change its behavior. The scale worked as it should on my counter. The Lyman Pro-Touch 1500 retails for $99.95.
Hornady Lock-N-Load 1911 Auto Primer Tube Filler
Looking for a 1911 pistol? Here's one for you, and it's affordable, with a MSRP of only $72.08. Really. Only this one doesn't go bang and hit you with recoil. Instead, it just goes bzzz. And it's not powered by gunpowder, but by two AAA batteries (not included).
Okay, so you won't be taking this 1911 to the range, but for 1911 lovers who can't get enough, here's one you can wrap your hand around while you're reloading. It's Hornady's 1911 Automatic Primer Tube Filler. This handy, battery-powered plastic pistol speeds up filling your primer tubes.
It comes with two trays (one each for small and large primers, not for shotgun primers), and four tubes (two for small primers, two for large primers) that each hold 100 primers. The tray will accommodate all the different primer package sizes, even large Federal containers.
The tray bottom is serrated, so if your primers are not all oriented with the anvil up, just gently shake it to flip the errant ones over.
A safety shield protects you and serves as the "safety" since it must be rotated down in order for the vibrator to work. Then, pulling the trigger activates the vibrator.
Here's the routine: Dump the primers in the tray, get them all oriented anvil up, slide the cover on (which prevents them from spilling out), attach the tray to the pistol, um, I mean, automatic primer tube filler device, lower the safety shield, insert a primer tube, and shoot! Oh, sorry, I mean, pull the trigger to activate the vibrator.
It's faster than doing it the old fashioned way by filling the primer tube one-by-one. Not only is it a time saver, it's kinda cool. Now they'll have to make them in Glock, Beretta, M&P, etc. designs to keep everyone happy.
Hornady Automatic Bullet Feeder Die and Bullet Tubes
The Hornady Lock-N-Load Automatic Bullet Feeder Die does just that. It places a bullet on your case during the reloading process when using a progressive loading machine so you don't have to do it manually. This can speed up your productivity, especially when combined with a automatic case feeder. It is compatible with the Hornady Lock-N-Load AP press and other progressive reloading presses with 7/8"-14 die threads.
The die uses two internal collets to control the bullet's decent. The bullet is dropped onto the top of the case when the case is pushed into the die. Setup and adjustment are simple and clearly explained in the instructions. The dies are caliber specific and are available for .380/9mm, .38/.357, .40/10mm, .44 Special/Magnum and .45 ACP calibers.
Bullets are fed into the die either with an automatic bullet feeder such as the Hornady Lock-N-Load Pistol Bullet Feeder or with their new Lock-N-Load Bullet Tubes that you load manually. The bullet tubes measure 20 1/8 inches long and hold about 28-34 bullets depending on the bullet's length. They have a cutout window to show how many bullets are left. They come in a package of three. The .40 caliber tubes that I used held 34 165-grain Montana Gold JHP bullets, so three tubes would hold 102 bullets.
I tested the .40 caliber die with my Dillon XL650 progressive press. I started out with Montana Gold 165-grain jacketed hollow point bullets that measured .400 inches and adjusted the die according to the instructions until it reliably dropped a bullet. When I switched to Speer Gold Dot Hollow Point bullets, which are plated, and measured around .401 inches, the bullet did not always drop, so I screwed the die down a little farther until it did, and then it worked perfectly with the Speer bullets. Presumably the larger diameter bullets required the collet to spread a little wider.
Next, I tried some cast 180-grain coated Bayou Bullets, which measured around .4015 inches. They didn't want to drop. Not at all, even after considerable time trying every adjustment I could think of. They seemed to be a little too large. They would drop if I manually pushed on the bullet, but they would not drop even with the weight of 25 bullets on top of them. That extra .0005 inches was enough to stop the action.
I asked Hornady whether it was possible or advisable to hone the inside of the die or collets to enable them to properly function with these larger bullets. They advised me that the bullet feeding dies are not recommended for lead bullets, and that these bullets should be placed by hand. Altering the collets might not work with the lead bullets and would likely result in them no longer working with the jacketed bullets and plated bullets.
The automatic bullet feed die worked very well with jacketed and plated bullets, and the bullet tubes allow one to take advantage of this method without having to invest in an automated system. The dies retail for $29.92 and a package of three bullets tubes retails for $35.84. If you want to move up to a fully automated system, Hornady's automatic bullet feeder retails for $372.84.
Lee Classic Powder Measure
Lee's new Classic Powder Measure features a graduated powder chamber for easily adjusting measured amounts of gunpowder. The metering chamber assembly can be adjusted in stepped increments that correspond to .01cc of volume, which is roughly equal to .1 grains of gunpowder, depending on the powder. The metering chamber has a capacity from 0 to 8.5ccs.
The housing is made from machined cast iron. The drum is made from brass. An elastomer wiper prevents shearing and jerky operation.
The sweet thing about a graduated metering chamber is that you can record the settings for a given load and quickly readjust the metering chamber to that setting when you change from one load to another.
The powder hopper is removable and has an on/off valve making it easy to change powders. Just remember to close the valve (by rotating the hopper) before you remove it, or you'll have a mess to clean up! The drop tube shank is threaded to a standard 7/8-14 size to fit on all popular reloading presses or a powder measure stand, which Lee also sells (http://leeprecision.com/powder-measure-stand.html).
A very nice option is their quick-change drum set. This drum set includes four molded nylon drums with their own metering chamber. They have capacity for cases as small as the .25 ACP (two small drums) up to large belted magnum rifle rounds (two large drums). The large drums also include an adaptor insert to convert them to reduced capacity chambers for small charges like the small drums. Their metering chambers can also be adjusted in measured increments.
The nylon drums replace the brass drum and are handy if you have a load, or loads, that you use frequently and don't want to change settings on the brass drum every time you change loads. For example, if your favorite pistol load is 4.5 grains of Bullseye and your favorite rifle load is 37.2 grains of Varget, you can dedicate separate nylon drums for these loads and swap them out as needed.
I loaded some pistol ammunition with it using Alliant Unique (flake), Accurate No. 7 (ball) and VihtaVuori N110 (stick). The elastomer wiper significantly reduced shearing that I sometimes get with my old RCBS powder measure.
I compared the weight of 10 drops with the Lee and RCBS measures with each powder, and they were in the same range with a given powder. Any variation in weight was due to the characteristics of the powder - the size and shape of the granules.
It might just be me, but I preferred using the nylon drum. It operated very smoothly. The brass drum, with the large, protruding graduated metering chamber seemed a little unwieldily, though I can't say if it was mechanically, or just visually, awkward. Maybe I just need to get used to it.
A lot of Accurate No. 7 stuck to the cast iron parts and required being blown out with compressed air. The large amount might be because it was new and the interior had not yet been 'lubed' with gunpowder coatings or from an unusually large amount of static electricity. In any event, you'll want to keep canned air available to clean it out when you change powders. I have to do this with some powders in my RCBS and Dillon powder measures as well. On the other hand, none of the VihtaVuori N110 stuck to any parts.
This is a slick powder measure and the quick-change drums are a handy feature. It has a retail price of $95.