Advice on Working Up Handloads, Part III

A rundown of the tools you need and the tricks of the trade

lymans universal case trimmer with carbide cutter
Lyman's Universal Case Trimmer, with carbide cutter.Amazon

In Parts 1 and 2, we worked up a .270 handload for elk hunting. Now, here's some general wisdom I've gleaned (mostly the hard way) from making my own ammo, as well as some of the machinery I use.

I don’t know of any two handloaders who do it the same. There’s a basic procedure you have to follow, but aside from that everyone does it differently. Whatever approach you take, once you establish a procedure, stick to it. I load ammo for hunting, competition, and gun testing, and I do it all alike.

Double-check everything you do. You’ll be appalled at how many mistakes you catch. If someone gives you advice that sounds crazed, that’s probably because it is.

And so:

Dies

Full-length-size everything. I like Redding dies, although I have nothing against RCBS.

If you’re interested in serious accuracy, and you shoot a cartridge that is supposed to be seriously accurate, such as .223, .308, 6.5 Creedmoor, .30/06, or .300 Win Mag, what you want is Forster Full Length Benchrest Sizing Dies and Seating Dies. The sizing dies produce less wear on the case than anything else, and the seating dies have a sliding spring-loaded sleeve that supports the bullet and ensures that the finished round is concentric. Don’t try buying Forster dies in the summer months when rifle competition is in full swing. They will all have been bought up by frantic tyros who have just discovered that conventional dies do not pack the pork, accuracy-wise.

Case Lube

I gave up using a lube pad long ago. I use my fingertips. The reloading manuals say to use lube sparingly, which is nice unless you don’t use enough and your cases gall in the die. Use whatever amount it takes. I use case lube on the inside of the case necks, applied with a Q-tip, and then after sizing, I remove it with another Q-tip soaked in lighter fluid. I use RCBS case lube. It works fine.

You don’t want greasy cases when you’re done. Get a can of acetone and a glass container and soak the cases for a half hour. Do this in the garage with the doors open.

Primer Tool

You do your primer seating by hand, because “feel” is important in order to do it right. By far the best priming tool I’ve seen is the Sinclair, which is a device of great mechanical beauty, and is foolproof. It’s also slow. What do you care?

Do not dump 50 primers in your primer tray. When they spill on the floor, as they eventually will, your shrieks of rage and grief will frighten your neighbors, who probably think you’re crazy anyway because you’re a shooter. Dump ten at a time in the tray.

Powder Measures

I use an old RCBS Uniflow, which is balky and cranky, sort of like me. Most people, I suspect, now use an electronic powder scale/dispenser in place of a separate powder measure and scale. I do not. I do not want another digital electronic machine in the house. Therefore, I use the Uniflow in combination with a very simple Redding balance scale which is slow and fussy.

Bullet Puller

You need a bullet puller for those times when a handload doesn’t work out and you need to break down the cartridges. I use the intertia-type puller sold by Cabela’s. It costs very little, works great, and it’s fun to smack it on a concrete floor.

Reloading Press

I use a Forster (formerly Bonanza) Co-Ax press that Jim Carmichel gave me in the mid-1980s. It has all sorts of advantages over conventional presses, and I like the line in the directions that says: “There’s no law against oiling the joints occasionally.”

Don’t mount a press directly on your loading bench. The RCBS Base Plate 3 is aluminum, has all sorts of holes in it for bolts, and goes on the wood of your bench with your press on top of it. It provides a rigid base that keeps your press from working loose. I’ve had mine in place for 40 years and never had to so much as tighten a nut.

Loading Benches

There are all sorts. Mine is a Bald Eagle BE 1003, which is made of laminated birch and sold by Grizzly Industrial. It’s small, sturdy, easy to assemble, and very reasonably priced. If I were not an elderly pensioner, I’d get one of American Workbench’s magnificent creations. Probably, I’m not worthy of something that nice.

Caliper

You need a digital caliper. Mine is made by Mitutoyo. I started on a dial caliper and by the time I learned to read it, the digitals were here. This irritated me considerably.

Case Trimmer

I use a Lyman because it's simple. Eventually, you'll have to replace the steel cutter because it will get dull, and if you can find a Lyman carbide cutter, get that. Use a light hand with a trimmer. When you see brass start to peel off the case neck, stop and measure. For example, the max case length for a .308 is 2.015. I keep them trimmed so they are no longer than 2.010. This is not a lot of brass, and if you get case necks too short you'll find your chamber filled with powder fouling.

While you’re trimming cases, you’re advised to wear safety glasses because tiny brass chips come popping up, and if you get one in your eye it’s off to see the doctor. The best safety glasses for reloaders that I’ve seen are Brownell’s Magnifying Safety Glasses, stock number 368-000-001WB. When I got a brass chip in my eye years ago, I went to my optometrist who was a shooter, and reloaded, and after he removed it, he asked me if I was ready to start acting like I had a brain in my head and wear safety glasses. I was, and I do.

Primer Pocket Cleaner and Neck Chamfer

I use RCBS for both. RCBS stands for Rock Chuck Bullet Swage, and was founded by Fred Huntington, who was known as the Orotund Oracle of Oroville (CA). He was a nice guy; I wish he was still around.

I think that does it. Keep records. Don’t reload when you’re distracted. Don’t listen to bulls--t. Don’t pay attention to the bulls--t you see on the Internet, because there’s tons of it. Learn what the signs of excess pressure are and heed them. Remember that brass cases can take only so much. When they become worn, send them to the brass bucket. They are expendable. Eyes and fingers are not.