Lessons from a Reloading Class
February 21, 2019
Byford’s gunshop handles my firearm transfers, so I offered to teach a basic reloading class for customers who were interested in taking up handloading as a hobby. Seven students signed up for the four-session class. Some of their questions were interesting, so I’d like to relate them to readers of Shooting Times.
The students ranged in age from 29 to 55. Three had some experience reloading, but the others were true babes in the woods. Speer graciously sent me copies of its new 15th edition handloading manual to use as the class text, and Lee Precision and RCBS provided samples of their products that I used to demonstrate the basic procedural steps required to reload. However, we didn’t attempt to load any ammunition until I’d covered the general vernacular of cartridges and the various reloading components. We spent most of the second session discussing the tenets of Chapter 5: “Handloading Safety: Basic Safety Practices and Procedures.”
I encouraged students to ask any question they thought of, and here are some interesting ones.
David asked about properly adjusting the seater die for his .40 S&W handloads. I replied, “For most cartridges, it’s necessary to trim each case to the same length—within spec—to apply the desired crimp uniformly. However, I’ve never trimmed a 9mm or .40 S&W or .45 ACP before seating the bullet and taper crimping the case mouth. Remember, you have to slightly flare the case mouth to allow the bullet to enter the case without cocking it and damaging it or the case.
“I insert an empty, sized and flared case in the shellholder; raise the ram; screw the seater die down until it stops; and then back the die body up a half-turn or so. I temporarily screw the lock ring down to secure this position. Then I incrementally raise and lower the ram while screwing the seating stem down a bit to seat the bullet to the desired overall length. Then I lower the ram and back the seating screw up several turns.
“Next, while holding the seater die body in place, loosen the lock ring and back it off a full turn. Then screw the die down an eighth- or a quarter-turn and fully raise the ram to insert the cartridge into the die. You should feel increasing resistance to fully raising the ram as you repeat this last step until the flared mouth is ironed back parallel to the bullet or slightly tapered into the bullet shank.
“The 9mm, .40 S&W, and .45 ACP headspace on the case mouths when chambered. That’s why the flare has to be removed, but the case mouth shouldn’t be taper crimped too much because the round may slip too far into the chamber. You could easily have a misfire because the firing pin could not strike the primer hard enough to ignite it.”
Adam and his stepdad, Jerry, started reloading .223 Remington/5.56 NATO soon after the second class. They took a few of their handloads from an MTM cartridge box and asked, “Why is it sometimes harder to seat the primer?”
After looking at the rounds, I said, “Some of these are military cases that were originally loaded with crimped-in primers. Remember I told you they were easy to knock out, but it would be impossible to reprime them correctly until you removed the excess metal surrounding the primer pocket.”
Jerry said, “I reamed the pockets with a hand tool as best I could, but apparently it’s a hit-or-miss process. I see in the Speer manual that RCBS offers a powered case-preparation tool that will likely do a more consistent job.”
“You’re right.” I replied. “Lyman and Hornady offer similar units. If you’re prepping a box or two of handloads, hand tools will do an adequate job, but if you’re prepping hundreds of 5.56 brass, you’ll need to upgrade your reloading equipment.”
Gary was the most experienced of the students, and he already handloads .25-06, .308 Winchester, and .45 ACP ammo. He had two questions: one about properly crimping rifle bullets and one about his surprise discovery of how Large Pistol primers don’t fit the primer pockets of .45 ACP CCI Blazer brass he’d recently fired and then tried to reload.
“The same thing applies to rifle cases,” I answered. “If you’re going to crimp the bullet, they have to be trimmed to a uniform length within spec. However, since you’re firing the .25-06 in your Ruger No. 1 single-shot rifle, your handloads don’t need to be crimped. Just trim them if they exceed maximum specified length. However, if you’re reloading a cartridge that’s for a semiautomatic rifle, you should crimp the bullets in place to make sure they won’t move when the round cycles from the magazine into the chamber. Always crimp into the bullet cannelure but just enough to slightly taper the case mouth.”
As for his question about the CCI Blazer cases, I said, “An industry source told me that if the .45 ACP had been developed within the last two decades, it would have Small Pistol primers instead of Large Pistol primers. Today’s Small Pistol primers are more than energetic enough to consistently ignite the relatively small charge of fast burn-rate propellants used to load the .45 ACP.”
Brandon asked, “Why do some hand-loaders experiment with wildcat cartridges?” To that I responded, “The same reason some folks decide they want to climb to the top of a tall mountain. It’s the challenge and belief that their experiments can contribute to improving performance.” Then I pointed out how several popular commercial cartridges were first developed by handloaders as wildcat rounds.
I’ve agreed to teach another reloading class, and Byford’s has several more students lined up for it. It’s rewarding to share my reloading knowledge—and it’s fun, too!