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Reloading: To the Extreme

Reloading: To the Extreme

There’s regular handloading and then there’s the search for the Holy Grail. This month, we take a look at some of the extreme methods, machines and materials used in the search for ammo perfection. Some of the tips cost almost nothing other than time, whilst some of the trick kit will require a re-mortgage.


However, we’ll start with your factory. Allocating a generous, permanent work area for reloading is not an option for many of us. If you’re limited to a Workmate, or a temporary bench under the stairs or a Lee Precision Bank, then kit control is something of a priority. Swapping from one press to another can be made easier with the nifty Bench Plate Kit from Lee. If you’re unfamiliar with it, make sure that you get the right (more expensive) one to start with, as you’ll need a secondary device, the Base Plate for each subsequent press. Older Bench Plate kits (pre 2017) came with a couple of ¾” ply mounting blocks, but you now have to supply your own (18mm marine ply will do fine). The fixing pitch of the bolts is not compatible with many other makes of press, so measure before you buy or be prepared to do some engineering. On their website, Lee helpfully offer a pdf of the pitch dimensions of some other brands of press. Most tool makers offer powder measure stands. Together with presses, these can also be fitted to your baby bench using commercially available quick release devices, such a ‘G’ clamps or welder’s/woodworking toggle clamps.

Tips ‘n’ tools

OK, Let’s now reprise some of the tips and tools. The most obvious ones involve basic quality control. Only use cartridge cases in batches that have the same life history and share the same headstamp. If they’re once fired or new, make sure that the primer pockets and flash holes are consistent. De-burr the throats of the flash holes inside the cases. Ultimate cleaning should involve both tumbling and ultrasonic processes.

If the brass is being used in just one rifle, then fire forming will become part of the preparation process. Thereafter, attention turns to the case neck. Measurement is simple with tools like the Redding Case Neck Gauge. Creating consistent neck wall thickness involves turning, hardly the most popular or straightforward process. Whilst there are differing views of the best process, I prefer to resize and expand the neck. I then outside turn to my desired diameter on a mandrel that is near to 0.001” (one thou) smaller than the expanded neck dimension. Lose as little material as possible, in order to achieve uniformity. Trim to length, de-burr and clean. Take too much material and not only will you have subsequent sizing issues but problems with neck tension and even worse, loss of structural integrity - splits to you and me.


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Now we must sort them into batches according to capacity. There are two methods. Either place them on a scale and fill with distilled water until the meniscus is on the rim, noting the before and after weights. If you feel the need, the difference in grains can be converted to capacity in CCs. Remember that 1-grain equals 0.0648 grams and that 1 gram of distilled water can be taken as 1 cc. Alternatively, making the reasonable assumption that they all have the same external dimensions, sort according to their weight as this must therefore reflect variation in the internal capacity. Note that this method will only be reliable on lots that are from the same maker and have the same production batch number.

Enough? No, the seeker after perfection will add an annealing process before use - each use! Forget cold water baths and blow lamps, electronic induction annealing is the only practical means of producing reliable and consistent results. The objective? To restore the case to as near original factory condition as possible.


Next stop is the production tooling. Whilst seekers after perfection will often equip themselves with competition dies, such as those offered by Redding, my experience is that there is almost no such thing as a bad die from any of the makers. The weakest link when using standard ⅞” x 14 TPI dies is the crappy thread. It is so coarse that it really is best suited to kids’ wooden toys. The good axial alignment between the shell holder post and the top thread of all presses is usually compromised by ‘cant’ between the die body and the press, induced by the use of a slim lock ring. It’s been some decades since Richard Lee spotted this awful anomaly, re-engineering his lock rings to incorporate an annulus fitted with a rubber O-ring. Whilst tension stops the die from rotating, the flexibility of the ring allows it to self-align. Other makers have since followed suit. Alternatively, you can go to any engineering supplier and buy suitable rings to place under your plain lock rings.

Drag queens

Our list of tooling aids intended for production perfection include bullet pointing tools. What the heck? Users of VLD (very low drag) bullet designs that feature a tiny opening in the meplat (nose) will know that variations in this mini hollow point will impact upon the B.C. (Ballistic Coefficient). Regularising this portion of the tip involves the use of kit such as the Whidden Bullet Pointing Die System. I quote from 6mmBR. com, “When you cut the meplat diameter by one-half (say 0.060” to 0.030”), you reduce the frontal surface area to one-quarter of its original value! This is why meplat consistency is so important.”

What about weighing perfection? Most mechanical balance beam scales struggle to offer resolution of better than 0.05 (half a tenth) of a grain. Most ‘reloading’ electronic scales, when used with care, will get you to 0.02 of a grain, the best delivering 0.01 grains. Greater accuracy gets you into the realms of rocketing cost and diminishing returns. The most popular laboratory grade scale used by the super ammo anoraks is capable of 0.0015 grain resolution. That’s the £1500 Sartorius Entris Analytical Balance, Model ENTRIS64-1SUS. This thing is almost good enough to detect earth tremors!


You’ve finally assembled your perfect rounds of ammo, but the work has not finished. Are the cartridges exactly the same length? Do the bullets all point in the right direction? Alignment is critical for accuracy. Tools such as the Hornady Lock-N-Load® Bullet Comparator, Redding Instant Indicator or Sinclair Concentricity Gauge will reveal any defects. And now it’s down to you; all you have to do is aim the gun. Simple really.


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