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- Last updated: 24/02/2021
When it comes to working up an accurate and consistent reload, it’s good to have a selection of specialist tools that eradicate any variations. No pain, no gain, both in time and your wallet but these tools can achieve some excellent results.
I love the Sinclair bullet comparator, it allows you to quickly and accurately sort bullets by base-to-ogive length. It has a nice solid, black granite base so that it can be used free-standing on a loading bench. It features a dial indicator attached to a secure rod and a lever control, which allows easy insertion and removal of bullets into the comparators. These individual comparators are calibre specific and can be ordered as single calibre units or as hexagonal ones, that have differing calibres around their facets. The first model has holes bored and throated for .224, 6mm, .257, 6.5mm (.264), 7mm, and .308 calibres. The second model is for .172, .204, .224, .270, .308, and .338 calibres.
To use, simply insert the bullet you want to measure into the calibre specific hole and any length differences in ogive to length relationship is indicated as a differing value on the dial indicator. It is very simple and accurate to use plus ensures the same length bullets, which will improve accuracy. You can use a calliper to measure the same measurement if you wish and Hornady offer a hand-held comparator.
This headspace gauge set allows a reloader to measure changes to the headspace of cartridges with a digital calliper. There are differing bushing sizes for each calibre that insert into the Hornady Lock-N-Load Comparator Body, this, in turn, attaches to your calliper blades. It is then possible to measure the differences between a fired and re-sized case, which allows you to accurately adjust your sizing dies for a correct fit into the rifle’s chamber. If you set your resizing dies too tight then it can result in excessive headspace, causing the brass case to stretch when fired.
The Lock-N-Load headspace gauge measures cases from the case head to the datum line on the case shoulder. There are five bushing sizes that allow you to measure the headspace on most bottleneck cartridges, from .17 Remington through to the belted magnums. These bushings are available separately.
Callipers are the mainstay of all reloaders and you cannot survive without them. Either old-style dial readouts or digital, the accurate measurements these tools make are essential if you are to achieve safe loads and the best accuracy from a custom rifle. It is foolhardy to buy a cheap set, this is one tool that is essential and should not be skimped on. I use a Mitutoyo digital calliper, which is expensive, but 100% accurate. They have smooth opening jaws and thumb wheel action with an easy to see LCD readout. They are accurate to .001” (0.02mm).
A precise set of neck thickness gauges are essential for accurate reloads and especially so on a custom project with a rifle shooting a wildcat or tight neck cartridge. Knowing the exact neck thickness of the case is essential to allow a safe clearance between it and the rifle’s chamber. Too tight and pressures can rise alarmingly, but too loose and the case has to expand more to seal the chamber end, causing the bullet to start its progress down the barrel off centre. It also checks for irregularities in the wall thickness from one side to the other and again, this can cause a bullet to cant and enter the rifling on a skew. The Mitutoyo IP65 digital callipers allow a calibre specific spigot to be attached and then a precise readout made to check your individual cases.
One tool that you should definitely have - which is cheap and easy to use - is the expander die that uses a floating mandrel inside the die that cannot pull out and allows it to centre in the case neck. The expander mandrel is sized 0.001” under the bullet diameter. Mandrels of different sizes are used for differing calibres and your gunsmith can modify the mandrels to suits a special project or wildcat round. The mandrel - when entered into the case neck with a good lube - is excellent at ironing out any imperfections to the neck as well as uniforming the neck interior for consistent neck tension. Also, by using a series of different sizes, a mandrel can be used to neck up cases to accept larger calibre bullets for wildcat rounds. I use LE Wilson, Sinclair and 21St Century products.
If your rifle’s chamber uses a tight neck, then it can be beneficial to neck turn. This not only removes excess brass from the case neck to allow a proper fit to release the bullet as the cartridge is fired, but it also removes irregularities in the neck thickness from manufacture or case manipulation. If the neck has more brass on one side than the other, the neck tension, i.e., the amount the case gripping the bullet, will be uneven and therefore the bullet will not enter the rifling correctly. If the neck is stretched or thickened with ridges, bulges or doughnuts inside, these should be removed.
I use two varieties, Sinclair and K&M. The Sinclair NT 1000 is a larger neck turner which has a big stainless-steel handle that makes it far easier and more comfortable to use. You add a turning mandrel made of high-grade stainless steel, this is 0.002” below the bullet diameter so the case has a perfect fit but allows, along with the lube, a smooth rotation and avoids deforming the inside of the case neck. Carbide mandrels are available at extra cost and offer superbly smooth, non-galling case operation.
To reduce the brass around the neck when the case sits on the mandrel, a high-speed steel tool cutter for smooth brass removal and long life is sited at 90° to the case neck. It is infinity adjustable to remove the tiniest amount from the neck. You simply move the case slowly down the mandrel’s shaft as the cutter removes the brass. Where to stop is always a contentious issue but I like to cut down to the neck/shoulder junction for a uniform total neck length.
Next are the K&M neck turners, I have used a lot of these for my wildcat loads, and although they are adjustable, I tend to buy one, and once it is set to the correct neck turning depth, I leave it and buy another one for a different cartridge. They have a separate neck turning pilot that is calibre specific and is easily changed to fit inside your new case neck after it has been expanded to that calibre. This way, any unwanted excess brass around the neck from swaging down in calibre can be removed. This is achieved by a cutter at 90° to the piloted shaft and it is adjustable to cut as fine as 0.0001” at a time.
This gauge is used to determine the exact length of the rifle’s chamber when measuring from the bolt face to the end of the chamber neck. This instantly tells you your rifle’s chamber length, not what is stated on the reamer print or manufacturer’s specification, as believe me it can differ.
The gauge is calibre specific and made from 12L14 soft steel. They are placed into a shortened, once fired case and then inserted into the rifle’s chamber and the bolt is closed. The gauge then slides down into the case as it touches the true chamber’s end. Now, take the gauge out and measure it to find out the real chamber length so you can work off this for accurate overall length trimming. A case that is too short will never shoot at its maximum accuracy potential and one that is too long will cause pressure issues.
Norman Clark - www.normanclarkgunsmith.com
Brownells - www.brownells.co.uk
1967Spud - www.1967spud.com
Hannams Reloading - www.hannamsreloading.com
Edgar Brothers - shootingsports.edgarbrothers.com