RELOADERS CORNER: more mistakes over more time, now what?

In doing higher-volume loading, one fear is “what if” and that refers to having made a mistake… READ MORE

Not much worse than a bunch of newly loaded rounds tainted by potentially problematic imperfections. I’ve had more of these with pistols than rifles. Not sure why…

Glen Zediker

So you’ve put, say, 500 rounds together and there’s a flaw, and this may (usually always) be constant and consistant throughout. Or, maybe something changed during, someting shifted, at some point from then at the start to now at the end.

This can happen, and you’re fortunate indeed if you have no stories to share.

Before getting far into what it was and what was the influence or effect we’re now facing, this next will suggest a few things to check beforehand to head it off.

I don’t know that I’ve ever read much on handloading that didn’t come with at least a few ideas on checks, checkpoints. One of the first I propellant dispensing. Using a meter for these loads, throwing charges, there’s a question about how often to stop and run a check on your volume progress against the consistency of each charge thrown into each case.

Advice I’ve seen varies and ranges from the way too often to the every now and again. Folks, honestly, I never check or double check once I’m underway. I am also using expensive meters with Culver inserts. These I have proven to meter more accurately than my scale can determine. The level of effort and attention that went into my being able to make that statement is another article, and, along the way, will be. But, if you’re not using a Culver, it is a wise investment in a minute to throw a charge or two, weigh each, and satisfying the self that all’s well. If you see a problem, if your meter won’t hold a setting, that is a huge red-flag that needs fixed.

A truly good meter takes worries about case to case weight consistency away. Get one!

I always start a session checking propellant dispensing weight. I do this more to satisfy that tiny tickle of paranoid uncertaintly than I do for any tangible reason, but we do a lot of things to fix those tickles (like look both ways before crossing a one-way street). Well. I do. I click-dial my meter to where my notes say it should be (and do the same to the other Culver-equipped meters that might be involved in this session), then throw charges with each and see the right weight from each (I usually through 4-5 at a time, weigh the pan, and divide by however many throws are in the pan). Sometimes I think I do this more to just satisfy myself respecting how good this system is.

Next I essentially check die “tightness” by confirming that the sized case dimentions are what they should me. And then also do the same for bullet seating depth.

A few tricks here come from a treat like a good turret-head press. After getting the dies adjusted to what you want for a load (this load), snugging them down and adding index marks means that, one, no there should be no movement between uses, and, also, it will be easily seen becaues of the marks. Index marks are no more complex than a paint-marker-line from die body, to lock ring, to press top. I index the sizing and seating adjustments at the top of the die also.

The fewer times anything is loosened, moved, tightened the radically greater chance it has to stay perfectly in place.

Next I triple check the bullet seating depth. By the way, I’ve also become convinced that the more initial checks made reduce any chance for an erroneous check. I look once, then again, and then again, and by then I sho should have seen all there is to see. I might overlook something, though, if I look only once, and I have done that before setting seating depths.

I triple check seating depth before starting long loading session.

The best trick I can tell you to keep tools lined up where they should be, when they have to be moved, is to handle a threaded die ONLY BY ITS LOCKING RING! Never, ever hold on the die body to thread the piece in and out the press top. Handled only by the ring, there’s no chance of movement (well, assuming that the ring was snugged in place as it should have been).

Use index lines to easly see if anything changed (moved). And handle dies only using the lock ring!

Next time we’ll look at a few things that might have gone wrong, and see about getting them fixed, or worked around.

The preceding is a adapted from information contained in Glen’s Top-Grade Ammo. Available at Midsouth Shooters Supply. Visit for more information on the book itself, and also free article downloads. Also, check out our new new lineup of eBOOKS!

14 thoughts on “RELOADERS CORNER: more mistakes over more time, now what?”

  1. There are two major problems I see being made by reloaders when I go through the various forums and Facebook groups. First, and by far the most common, is the use of cheap equipment that is poorly designed, and made from inferior materials. If you have to constantly be tinkering with your gear to keep it accurate for sizing and throwing powder charges, etc., its junk. The other thing is too many new reloaders don’t take the time to read and study enough to know how to do it right and recognize when they’ve made a mistake. There are tons of people who don’t do their due diligence when it comes to reloading, and then wonder why they’ve blown up a gun or some other incident that was potentially hazardous. I’ve been reloading for 50 years, and have never damaged a gun or myself in any way. Lots of that involved working with wildcats where reloading data didn’t exist unless I developed it. I can’t emphasize enough how vital good equipment is, and actual study of the process and components to be used.

  2. After years of using a single stage press, I really don’t trust a progressive press. I have a good one, a Dillon 550. I make sure all of my cases are the same in each reloading session then I weigh each loaded round on an electronic scale. It goes fairly quickly. I am looking for a weight that varies from the average by an amount close to the weight of a powder charge. So far I have never had a double charge or an empty case but I did find that I had mixed a bullet of a different weight in with my reloading components.

    1. IMHO you are taking a step backwards when operating a progressive press and futzing around weighing each round. Try a light/mirror so you can check the powder charge while in the press.

    2. The whole point of a progressive press is to reduce the type of handling that results in mistakes being made and to speed up production of good ammunition when a single stage is no longer adequate to do so. There are plenty of accessory items for all the major progressives presses that eliminate (or greatly reduce) the possibility of an under/over charge on the powder. Things like stands to mount the press on that raise it up to a better eye level; ergonomic handles to make operation easier; LED lighting systems that make it easy to check powder level in every case as you load; Powder Cop and lockout dies that ensure proper charge levels and shut you down if they aren’t, and so on. The key to proper use of progressives is to take the time to learn proper steps, develop a routine, and have a plan on how to correct problems if they arise. It isn’t all that hard despite what I see a lot of people saying in various forums. You don’t have to be a mechanical engineer to operate one, and even newbies with their first press who have never loaded before can use them. I can teach anybody who can tie their shoes how to successfully use a progressive press in one afternoon, and I’ve done it many times.

  3. Great article on a highly important topic. What comes to mind is a scenario that happened to me. I bought many boxes of reloaded .45acp that my seasoned mentor had loaded on a Dillon 550, using Winchester 231. A double-charged round blew up a friend’s Glock 36, but fortunately, she had a metal-lined brace for carpal-tunnel syndrome and suffered very minor injuries.

    I learned several things from this. An inadvertent double charge is usually obvious (powder spills everywhere). However, while using a progressive press and this powder and the .45 cartridge (and maybe other cases too?), that one could inadvertently double-charge a case and still allow a bullet to be properly seated, causing catastrophic damage/injury.

    I now have to go through many other boxes that my friend loaded (about 20 boxes). I either have to take weight samples of each brand of case and weigh each one, looking for an extra 4 grains or pull each and every bullet off and reload. Anyway, word to the wise. I’ve still got 30 pounds of 231 and will use it, albeit even more cautiously.

  4. I happen to like the RCBS turret press. I can keep 2 calibers on 1 turret. I size and prime 50 rounds and verify quality and size. Each die in the turret has a Sharpie mark on it so that I can visibly verify it hasn’t moved. I then powder charge 50 cases, checking every 10 cases for dump accuracy. When finished, I use an LED flashlight and check each case for powder level. When seating, the die also has a mark on it, and I verify OAL with a digital micrometer every 10 cases anyway. I crimp with a factory crimp die. I load several calibers, so I have multiple turrets. I have also picked up several RCBS powder dispensers so I save a lot of time in setup. I just made up another primer dispenser, so now to change from small to large, I remove 2 mounting screws and swap out the entire mechanism

  5. I’ve been loading for about 6 years and have loaded tens of thousands of rounds and made very damn few dangerous mistakes, and numerous smaller ones. I’ve had one squib, and one marginally overcharged during development test, ( pierced primer chasing velocity ).
    Reloading appeals to my OCD nature and loading for better accuracy, velocity, consistency can be fun. When it’s not enjoyable is when mistakes are made. I would NEVER buy or sell reloads! Made this mistake 30 years ago as a kid shooting a 357 revolver and bought a box from a co-worker, had a squib that plugged the barrel. Had I been rapid firing or negligent, it could have blown up in my hand. I think this is the reason for my attention to detail. Blowing up my king Cobra would suck but loosing a finger to negligence is almost criminal.
    Lessons learned the hard way are the best, (most dangerous) and recognizing just how dangerous without blowing anything up is God’s gift to you. Be respectful, responsible and pay attention to every step , consistent load charges, primer seating, headspace, overall length, it all matters.
    My advice to new loaders is to always caution on the side of safety, start with ten pieces of brass and test everything before making 300 rounds you have to disassemble because you reamed crimped primer pockets too much and now your blowing out loose primers. This would have saved me hours and 300 pieces of brass that’s now in the scrap bucket. This is but one example of how easy it is to do it wrong but there are many more dangerous ways to grenade your favorite rifle, pistol.
    In the current political environment it only makes sense to become as independent as possible so it only makes sense for me to reload but it will cost close to $2,000 just to become competent with the most basic equipment. Reloading is only cheaper if you want to shoot more than 1,000 rounds a year or are chasing velocity, accuracy. Most people are not up to the task for a variety of reasons, startup cost and time being the two biggest reasons, but if your hearts not in it, it will become a dangerous prospect.
    Be safe and take someone to the range. The more people understand what freedom is, the more people will demand it.

    1. I worked with a guy that claimed he reloaded his 357 cases by filling the case and wiping any extra off the case mouth. I don’t know what powder he used but I made sure I was never shooting anywhere where he was present. He managed to eliminate himself in a solo motorcycle accident before he lost any fingers or eyes.

  6. Make sure your case length is within specification and that there are no odd or damaged cases in your load batch. I like to deprime and clean my cases as a separate step; then inspect or separate case makes if I desire prior to reloading. I also like to seat primers using a hand primer to spot any cases that allow the primer to seat too easily. If I encounter a case where the primer seats without the standard tension, I mark the case, shoot it separately and cull it after firing. Before starting verify your cartridge load data, powder data, bullet data, and scale settings. Using the wrong load data, using the wrong powder, or setting your powder scale can be serious mistakes. If you occasionally use both magnum primers and standard primers verify you are using the correct primer. Don’t have components setting around that are not being used for the current load, (one powder, correct primers & bullets). Load one round after verifying the powder charge, then adjust and verify bullet seating, (and crimping if used). Do this a second time; if everything is correct your ready to start reloading. While I do use a turret press with a powder measure for handgun loads I like to verify there is a powder charge in the case before I hand place each bullet over the case mouth. A bright light above the press makes short work of this operation.

  7. I’ve been reloading for 40 years – which really means I’ve had a lot of time to possibly pick up bad habits. But, I do find that OCD does come in handy with reloading. With rifle, I weigh each charge and use a powder trickler. Why do I do this? I load for accuracy and I don’t care how long it takes – it is my hobby, after all.
    Several months ago, I transposed the tenths digit with the units digit, so instead of 23.5 gr, I was loading 25.3 gr. I loaded 5 rounds and OCD required my to double check the load AGAIN. I just pulled the bullets and reset my scale to 23.5 gr.
    Now, I am in the habit of deciding on the load from the manual, writing it on the label for the ammo box, recomparing it with the manual and then setting my balance scale and throwing a charge to weigh, and then double checking it on an electronic scale and rechecking the results with the loading manual. In 40 years, I haven’t destroyed a firearm or had to pull bullets on a bunch of rounds.
    For pistol, on a progressive loader, I weigh the first few charges, then visually inspect each case for powder before setting a bullet on top.
    Best advice – don’t be in a hurry! Speed Kills!

  8. I may have to invest in a Culver type meter. Especially with pistol, I find that i measure more than i meter. Then compare weights on a manual scale because i don’t fully trust the digital. Using titegroup, a couple tenths of a grain can make a big difference.
    My big mistake some time ago was not clearing the bench and having a routine for doing it. I mistakenly poured some left over fast pistol powder into my rifle powder while switching cartridges. There wasnt a lot, but it was enough. 3000fps out of a 11.5 inch barrel should have been reason to stop. The next round thankfully blew out the magazine and cracked the case. No injury. I had to dismantle almost 1000 rounds. That was mistake #2 not keeping meticulous records around each batch i ran.

    Good article.

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