Tag Archives: zediker publishing

RELOADERS CORNER: What Matters…

Don’t lose sight of the basics when making tool, dimensional, or load choices. Here are four unchanging “musts” to make your results the best they can be. READ ON!

moly coated bullets
Bandwagon! I jumped on this one as did a whopping lot of others. Moly coating got a huge amount of attention and, indeed drastically improves bullet performance. The furf died down, though, after we discovered it had its share of problems (some were and some weren’t willing to accommodate or work around them). I still use coated bullets but now it’s Boron Nitride.

Glen Zediker

I have been basing some of my topics for this department on correspondence, and here’s another. Someone wrote asking me for a compare/contrast on the two handloading-specific books I’ve written, and the essential question revolved around whether or not the older of the two had been “updated.” Concerns were over inclusion or exclusion of new tools and propellants, and other components, and reloading techniques: essentially whether the newer book was better just because it was newer. Hmm… I thought long and hard about all that.

My answer, strongly self-paraphrased, was that there were always going to be new tools and propellants and bullets and cartridges and primers, but “what matters” in learning how to make ammo gin (accurately and safely) hasn’t really changed. Those who know my work over the past twenty-something years know I’ve never been eager to step up on a soapbox and proclaim coronation of the latest-greatest propellant, bullet, or even cartridge king. Instead, I’ve done my best to help folks learn how to judge merits and values of new things, based on a thorough understanding of all the old things. But this isn’t about me and it’s not just shameless self-promotion. It’s an overview of what I really think matters: it’s an effort to put into perspective the potential merits of all the new things.

full length sizing die

case neck sizing
Choosing the appropriate case and neck sizing die, and then learning how to correctly adjust it, for the needs at hand, which really means for the rifle the ammo will be used in, is another essential element in good loading.

For me, the four most important things to achieve with a handload are, one, that the case has been sized correctly and appropriately for the rifle; two, that care has been taken to ensure that the round is concentric (more in a bit); three, exercising some discretion in bullet velocity (also more in a bit); and, four, taking steps from reloading to reloading to maintain consistent performance.

Then there is an almost never-ending slew of finer points within all these points. And one ton of tools.

What I “know” about a load combination hasn’t come from one afternoon at the range. It’s often come from years. I have seen a whopping lot of bandwagons competitive shooters have jumped onto and off of. Newly hitched wagons are still rolling strong, departing continually. It is very important to have a set of components and processes and load structures to fall back on, which really then means a set that you can move forward from.

concentricity fixture
One of the “big four” goals I set for handloads is concentricity, run-out. Most of the tool and die upgrades I ever suggest making, as well as many case-preparation steps, seek to improve the straightness and centeredness of a loaded round. “Start in the center, finish in the center.”

I look at new things from a perspective of how and how well I can apply one of them to satisfy the same old needs. These needs are a filter, more or less, that helps determine if the new things are indeed improvements, or just new.

I am a competitive person. Our club CRO, Col. Floyd, once announced to the crowd at a local High Power Rifle tournament that I could smell gold-plated plastic through four feet of reinforced concrete… I admit to the truth in that. So, I am in no way suggesting that new things aren’t good, that we should all stay only with what we know. I’m always looking for ways to do better; but for me it’s not been so much trying something new, but rather taking another step using what’s been working pretty well for me thus far. That usually involves more focus on consistency.

I have a lot of stories about ultimate failures eventually resulting from initially wild successes, including lost championships, but the only value telling any of them would have is to make me sound way too old school. They are, again, never (ever) taken to mean that new things aren’t worth pursuit. Just shoot a lot of it under varied circumstances before packing it up along with the suitcase to attend a big event.

Back to setting down some tangible point to all this: most tool choices and case preparation steps I take have a goal of improving loaded round concentricity, which is to say centeredness or straightness. No doubt about it, a bullet looking dead center into a rifle bore is going to shoot better than one that’s cockeyed.

Cases with more consistent neck wall thicknesses, sizing die designs, and bullet seater designs can either enhance or detract from concentricity. Likewise, operations like outside case neck turning are done ultimately to improve concentricity. It matters!

The comment earlier about not getting too greedy for speed gets preached a lot by a good many, and the reason is avoiding anything that’s edgy. “Edgy,” to me, means something that’s going to take a turn for the worse on a day that’s 20-degrees warmer, or (in the case of the lost event mentioned earlier) 20-degrees colder.

pressure check carrtidge cases
Don’t get greedy on speed! An essential component in handloading success is consistency, predictability. Find a “tolerant” propellant, which means it demonstrates flexibility: shoots well at a little lower-than-maximum velocity, and shoots the same at different temperatures. No matter how small the groups were in testing, if pressure starts spiking due to some unaccounted for change those great test groups are likely to open up.

The best advice I can offer on this is, first and most obvious, use a little discretion working up a load to a ceiling higher than what equivalent-spec factory ammo can produce. It can take more than a few case and primer inspections to know if a “max” load is truly safe. Next is to get to work on finding a propellant/primer combination (mostly propellant) that’s showing good accuracy at less-than-max velocities. By that I mean I will not trust anything that seems to shoot well only when it’s running “hot.” Accuracy is, after all and always, what ultimately defines success.

(Since this piece is kind of a “year-end” thing, I plan to start the new year up fresh with a whopping lot more about specific new (and old) things that will help ensure you’re getting the most you can from your time spent at the loading bench.)

The information in this article is from Glen’s newest book, Top-Grade Ammo, available HERE at Midsouth. Also check HERE for more information about this and other publications from Zediker Publishing.

RELOADERS CORNER: The Priming Process

Priming is the final case preparation step, and it’s one of the most important. Read how to do it right.

Glen Zediker

There are pretty much three different style tools used to seat primers.

The first, and way on most common, is the priming “arm” attached to most every single-stage press. This works, but it’s the least best way to do it. There’s too much leverage at hand, and that makes it hard to feel the seating process to its best conclusion.

Take a close look at how a primer is constructed: there’s a cylindrical cup, inside the cup is the incendiary compound, and then there’s the anvil (that’s the little part that extends below the cup rim; it’s like a flat spring with three feet).

rifle primer close up
Take a close look at a primer. The anvil is the tripod-shaped thin metal piece protruding above the bottom of the primer cup. Getting the primer sitting fully flush on the bottom of the primer pocket in the case, without crunching it too much, requires some keen feel for the progress of primer seating, and that’s where the stand-alone tools come in to help. I strongly suggest using one.

Ideally, a primer will seat flush against the bottom of the primer pocket, with compression, equally of course, against the anvil. Also ideally, there should be some resistance in seating the primer (if there’s not then the pocket has expanded an amount to cause concern, and a rethink on the suitability of reusing this case, and its brothers and sisters).

If it has to be a choice, even though it doesn’t have to be, it’s better to have “too much” seating than not enough. The primer cannot (cannot) be left too “high.” That’s with reference to the plane of the case head. There are both safety and performance concerns if it is. First, if the primer is not seated snugly to the bottom of its pocket, then the firing pin will finish the job. No doubt, there will be variations in bullet velocities if this happens because it affects ignition timing.

Each and every loaded round you ever create needs to be checked for this. Every one. Get in the habit of running your finger across the case bottom and feeling a little dip-down where the primer is. Look also. Rounds loaded on a progressive machine are susceptible to high primers. The reason is no fault of the machine but rather because the feel or feedback is that much less sensitive than even when using a press-mounted priming arm. If there are a half-dozen other stations on a tool head in operation at once, then the one doing the priming is that much more obscured from feel. And also because we’re not usually able or willing to inspect each finished round as it emerges from the rotating shell plate. But do check afterwards as you’re filing the loaded rounds away into cartridge boxes. Much more to be said ahead on this topic next edition.

correctly seated primer
Check each and every (every last one always) primer you seat to make sure it’s below flush with the case head.

The better priming tools have less leverage. That is so we can feel the progress of that relatively very small span of depth between start and finish. There is also a balance between precision and speed in tool choices, as there so often is. Also, so often, my recommendation is one that hits the best balance.

The press-mounted primer arm styles exhibit variations from maker to maker, but they’re all about the same in function. What matters most in using a press seater is going slowly and double-checking each and every result. Again, it’s the lack of feel for the progression of the primer going into the pocket that’s the issue.

press priming arm
Here’s the most common means for seating primers: the attached arm assembly on most single-stage presses. It’s tough to really feel the primer seat correctly because there’s a honking lot of leverage at work.

The best way to seat primers, or I should say the means that gives the best results, are the “hand” tools. They are also a little (okay, a lot) tedious to use, and, for me at least, aren’t kind to my increasingly ailing joints after priming a large number of cases. Those types that have a reservoir/feeding apparatus are less tedious, but still literally a pain. The reason these type tools give the best results is that they have poor leverage. The first few times you seat with one, you’ll be amazed at just how much pressure you need to apply to fully seat a primer.

LEE hand priming tool
Here’s a “hand” tool. This one from LEE works plenty well, despite its low cost. There are others similar from most major makers. The whole point to these designs is absence of leverage. Check it out HERE at Midsouthl

The best choice, in my book, are the benchtop stand-alone priming stations. They are faster than hand tools, and can be had with more or less leverage engineered into them. I like the one shown nearby the best because its feeding is reliable and its feel is more than good enough to do a “perfect” primer seat. It’s the best balance I’ve found between speed and precision.

Forster Co-Ax priming tool
Here’s a Forster Co-Ax bench-mounted tool. It’s a favorite. It provides relatively low leverage for better feel for the progression of primer seating.

Forster Co-Ax priming tool

Get a good primer “flip” tray for use in filling the feeding magazine tubes associated with some systems. Make double-damn sure each primer is fed right side up (or down, depending on your perspective). A common cause of unintentional detonation is attempting to overfill a stuffed feeding tube magazine, so count and watch your progress.

RCBS APS
Another good one is available from RCBS, the APS. Check it out HERE at Midsouth.

It’s okay to touch primers, by the way. Rumors abound that touching them with bare fingers will “contaminate” the compound and create misfires. Not true. All the primers I’ve ever used, and all those anyone else is likely to encounter, are treated to a sealant. Now, a drop of oil can penetrate the compound and render it intert, but not a fingerprint.

The priming process, step-by-step is almost too simple to diagram. Place a primer anvil-side-up in the device housing apparatus, position a case, push the primer in place. It’s learning feel of the whole thing that takes some effort. As mentioned, using a tool with poor leverage, you might be surprised how much effort it takes to fully seat a primer. On anything with an overage of leverage, there’s little to no sensation of primer movement into the pocket. It just stops.

TWO DONT’S:
Don’t attempt to seat a high primer more deeply on a finished round. The pressure needed to overcome the inertia to re-initiate movement may be enough to detonate it.

Don’t punch out a live primer! That can result in an impressive fright. To kill a primer, squirt or spray a little light oil into its open end. That renders the compound inert.

ONE (BIG) DO:
Keep the priming tool cup clean. That’s the little piece that the primer sits down into. Any little shard of brass can become a firing pin! It’s happened!

See what’s available here at Midsouth HERE

The information in this article is from Glen’s newest book, Top-Grade Ammo, available HERE at Midsouth. Also check HERE for more information about this and other publications from Zediker Publishing.

RELOADERS CORNER: 4 Steps To Improve Standard Die Performance

It’s easily possible to improve the alignment and concentricity of a die set, and the result is getting closer to perfection in your ammo. Here’s how…

Glen Zediker

Last time I wrote about some problems some dies can have. A couple of those things mentioned had a thing or two to do with preparation and setup, and I said then that “next time” I’d address a few ways to improve the results from the dies you already have. So here it is, sizing die first:

Many of the parts that make up a die, including the die body itself, have threaded couplings to allow for adjustment. Well, threads have gaps and that means there’s some amount of free movement afoot, or “afloat” more correctly. If there were no gaps between threaded surfaces then there would be no threading possible. To see it, loosen a locking or jam nut from a die part, the seating die or decapping stem for instance, and wiggle the part. It wiggles… Taking steps to, at the same time, take out that play and improve parts alignment pays off.

ONE: Let the shellholder float. One of the easiest mods to make to improve all die ops is to remove the apparatus that secures the shellholder into the press ram. It’s usually a wire spring clip. Pliers get it gone. Now the shellholder is free to slip in and out, mostly out, of its slot in the press ram, and an appropriately-sized O-ring banded around the slot area keeps it secure. Head to a real hardware store and find one easy enough. This mod has done two things: one is that the spring clip usually cocks the shellholder so it’s not sitting flat and flush with the ram top, which means neither is the case it’s holding, so now it is; and, two, there is now a self-centering action since the shellholder is free to move a tad. Always keep in mind that we’re dealing with small “tads” (0.001s of inches) and even though it might not be visibly noticeable, this floating setup will result in better alignment.

shellholder clip
Here’s an easy trick that will, not may, improve alignment in die ops. The ultimate result from all these steps is a more concentric round of ammunition, and most seem to think that’s worthwhile… It is.

TWO: Flatten the die lock ring. The next little help is to get the die body and press ram as closely aligned as we can. There’s a lot of gap resultant from the helix of 14-pitch threads. After adjusting the die body downward to produce the amount of case shoulder set-back you want, run a case fully into the die and, holding pressure (lightly, not forcibly) down against the press handle, secure the locking ring. This will ensure that the die is sitting “flat” atop the press. Then ONLY install and remove the die using the locking ring itself! Never the die body. By the way, and this actually is important: I don’t like lock rings that secure via a set screw; I prefer those that offer a clamping-style effect. The little set screw will lever against the angled threads on the die body and that, alone, can tilt the lock ring.

handling die by lockring
Once you get the dies secured as outlined here, handle them ONLY by their lock rings. That ensures all the careful prep stays intact. It also means no change of altering the die height, an asset toward maintaining correct case shoulder set back and also consistent bullet seating depths.

If you’re using a standard-form full-length sizing die, it will have an expander ball or sizing button (either term applies the same, just varies with who’s literature you’re reading). This part is mounted to the decapping stem and functions to open up the inside case neck after the case neck has been outside-sized by the die interior area. Depending on the difference in diameters between the newly-sized case neck inside diameter and the sizing button diameter, that’s more or less stress and friction the neck endures.

clamp-style lock rings
I use clamping-style die body lock rings, like these from Forster. Those with a set screw can tilt the lock ring when the screw tightens in against the angled threads.

I’ve talked more than a few times about the value of polishing the expander to reduce friction, but you still need then to make sure it’s sitting dead center within the die. So…

THREE: Align the expander ball. There’s a little bit of “feel” involved in this step, but it’s not hard to develop. The idea is to tighten the locking screw that secures the decapping stem against movement while the expander ball is captive in the sized case neck. After adjusting stem height (and, by the way, noticing the relatively huge amount of free movement the stem has) run a case up fully into the die and then retract it until you feel the expander engage within the case neck. Stop there. Now apply a little pressure against the press handle going the other direction (as if running the case back up) as you tighten the lock ring on the expander stem. That just set the expander in the center. If you have the tooling to determine this, select a case that represents your better examples of case neck wall thickness consistency for ultimate results.

 

expander ball adjustment
When it’s possible, and it usually is, secure locks for the pieces-parts when they’re doing their jobs. For instance, tightening the lock on a decapping stem when the expander is holding inside the case neck helps bring the stem into centered alignment, and the expander along with it.

Moving to the “other” die, the seater, the first step is the same as for the sizing die: flatten its seat atop the press, and that’s done pretty much in the same as for the sizing die. Instead of running a case into the die, though, I set an adequate number of flat washers atop the shellholder to bear some pressure against the die bottom. Then…

FOUR: Center the seater stem. Just like with the decapping stem, there’s thread play in the seating stem. Move the stem more toward an aligned center by simply securing its lock nut when there’s a bullet bearing up against the seating plug. As said, select a case with consistent neck walls to get best results. Now. The only foible with this is when you change seating depths by threading the stem up or down. It’s easy enough to repeat this op-step, but remember to do it. The BEST defense against alignment issues is purchase and use of a “competition”- or “benchrest”-style seating die. I’m talking about those having a spring-loaded sleeve that accepts the case fully before being run up to engage the seating plug. But, those still need to have their seating plug centered following the same sort of process used in these other “tricks”: snug the lock over a little pressure. That only has to be done once, though, for this die type.

The information in this article is from Glen’s newest book, Top-Grade Ammo, available HERE at Midsouth. Also check HERE for more information about this and other publications from Zediker Publishing.

Reloaders Corner: Case Trimming: finishing the job

So you have a sack full of trimmed cases. Now what? Here’s what! A few tips on final preparation that may even promote better accuracy. Keep reading…


Glen Zediker


The most basic and necessary tool or tools we’ll need to get the freshly-trimmed case into shape to take on a new bullet is an “outside” and “inside” chamerfing appliance. These are most popularly housed in one hand-held tool: one end does the outside and the other does the inside. Of course (of course) there are options, and some are right dandy.

LE Wilson chamfer tool
Here’s a basic and common LE Wilson inside/outside chamfering too. One end does the outside, the other does the inside. Shown is a 45-degree tool.

After trimming the case mouths will be square, flat, and appear wider-walled than before. That’s normal.

There will usually be a little edge-ring of brass on the exterior surface of the case neck, and that’s the reason for the wider appearance. That’s easily remedied. It takes only a light skiff using the “outside” function of the tool.

trimming burr
That little ring of brass around the top outside edge of the case neck: just get it gone. Doesn’t require a cut, just a skiff with an outside deburring tool.

Don’t cut into the outside, just remove the ring. No bevel is necessary; that only thins the case mouth. If the ring is left standing, the case might not want to feed, and then there will be little shards of brass here and there.

Next, the inside. The inside edge of the case mouth needs to be broken and also beveled to more easily accept a bullet. Now we’ve got options in depth of the bevel and angle of the bevel.

The long-time “standard” is a 45-degree chamfer. That functions okay to allow most bullets to sit unsupported in the case neck prior to seating. I believe, and I’m not nearly alone, that a steeper angle is better. For anyone loading bullets that are of a longer, “spikier” form, I strongly recommend something closer to 30 degrees, or less. These are often called “VLD” cutters or chamfer tools, and that is because these tools followed the “low-drag” style bullets that, among other attributes, featured relatively longer, more steeply angled boat-tails. They also have relatively thinner jackets (“J4”). Essentially, a 45-degree pathway and the geometry on the bullet didn’t mate up.

Lyman VLD chamfer tool
Here’s a Lyman “VLD” chamfer tool. It’s got a 22-degree angle. I’ve used other brands that were 19 and 20, and I honestly don’t know that a couple degrees makes much difference. However! There’s a world of difference between this and a 45-degree tool.

The result of a greater angle mismatch is that the bullet gets a pretty hard start into the case neck, and it can also get a crooked start, and that’s because it’s not sitting “into” the neck very far. It’s in a precarious position and easily tilted. These long bullets create what amounts to more leverage in less-than-perfect case necks, which is going to be the most of our case necks unless we’re neck turning. (It’s also why I’m a big believer in a bullet-seating stem that engages farther down the bullet nosecone; this also helps reduce the angular deflection in seating.) I’ve seated and then pulled bullets from cases with 45- and 20-degree chamfers, for instance, and those from the shallower angle show noticeably less scuffing. (Plus, many of the custom-made low-drags feature a “pressure ring,” which is a tiny elevated ring right at the boat-tail/shank junction, usually about 0.0005 diameter, which helps obturation. That ring can get deformed by a 45-degree chamfer.)

It’s not the depth into the case neck cylinder that improves the transition into the case neck, so a “bigger” cut with a 45 won’t do a thing. A steeper cutter is going to make a deeper extension into the case neck simply because the angle is steeper.

Cutting the inside, do not go for a knife edge! For a yardstick, I suggest going about halfway on a 45-degree cut and 2/3 on a VLD-style chamfer tool. By that I mean that the appearance of the wall thickness at the case mouth is roughly half after chamfering that it was before.

Forster 3-way trimming head
There are also “all-in-one” cutter/chamfer/deburr heads for some case trimmers. These are one bugger to set up, but they work well and save a ton of time and extra steps, and since it’s incorporated into the length-trimming operation, the chamfer consistency will be spot-on. Trick is finding one that cuts a shallower angle on the inside… If not, it’s going to produce better results overall to do this operation separately.

It is important, at least in logical thought, to have the same chamfer depth on each case to ensure perfectly consistent engagement with the bullet shank. Honestly, I don’t know if that shows up on a target, but it’s easily attained using either an LE Wilson or Forster case trimming base, as well as some others, with the addition of a chamfering tool in the apparatus to replace the length trim cutter. It’s an extra step in retooling and adjustment, but then if the cases are all the same length and the stops are set, each case mouth will have an identical chamfer.

LE Wilson neck reamer
Here’s a trick and half for seating flat-base bullets. These are difficult to get started straight since there’s no boat-tail to ease transition into the case neck. I use an LE Wilson inside neck reamer set to engage a feature built into that tool. LE Wilson added a short tapered area that can be run into a sized case neck, about 1/16 inch, that machines something close to a “shelf” that provides a nest for the flat bullet base. There’s a noticeable improvement in runout on the flat-base bullets I have seated with and without this cut. [Note: This is the “standard” inside neck reamer intended to remove excessive thickness in the case neck cylinder on fired cases, not sized cases; the feature just described is an accessory benefit and, again, is engineered for use on sized case necks.]

The preceding is a specially-adapted excerpt from Glen Zediker’s newest book Top-Grade Ammo. Available right’chere at Midsouth Shooters Supply. Visit ZedikerPublishing.com for more information on the book itself, as well as others.

RELOADERS CORNER: Case Trimming Tools

Choosing the right case trimmer has to do with the quest for precision, the need for speed, and the budget bottom line… Here’s how to make the fewest compromises.


Glen Zediker


Last time we talked about the needs and reasons for trimming bottleneck rifle cartridges. It’s a necessary step in the case preparation process, at least at some point or three before the brass hits the trash can bottom.

MANUAL
Case trimmers are available from most all industry tooling manufacturers. Most replicate a miniature lathe: the case is held in place at its back end, usually by a collet-type appliance, and suspended from its front end via a pilot, surrounded by a cutting head, that fits inside the case neck. They have a crank-handle.

case trimmer pilot
Here’s the source of imprecision in most trimmers. The case is held securely only at its base. The cutter pilot has to be smaller than the case neck, and can’t have a close fit. There’s a lot of wiggle room and that translates to non-square case mouths and even length inconsistencies.

This essential architectural arrangement carries potential contributors to imprecision. The case body is not supported, only the case head is held firmly in place. The pilot goes in the case neck and, so it can go into the case neck, has some gap. Inconsistencies in case neck wall thickness and the inevitable case body warpage, plus plain old flex, can result in what some, me included, might call wobble.

If the case isn’t being rotated along a flat axis, then the cutter isn’t going to engage the case mouth squarely.

I think a better arrangement is taking the case head out of the equation and focusing on supporting the case body. To this end, I’m not bashful about saying something good about something I use, especially not when post-recommendation feedback continues to thank me profusely. Put it this way: if you asked me face-to-face which bench-top case trimmer to get, I’d say “LE Wilson.” Just like that. Check it out at Midsouth Shooters Supply HERE.

LE Wilson Case Trimmer
Here’s an LE Wilson. I bought my first one in 1985 and I’m still using it (just needs a new cutter head every so often). This tool produces square, precisely trimmed cases, and it does so quickly. This one shown is the latest-greatest version. The addition of the micrometer makes it the zoot-capri benchtop trimmer. That’s a real asset to precision for some operations, like case mouth chamfering, that you can use your LE Wilson for. Recommended.
LE Wilson Trimmer
The cases tap in and then tap out. There’s enough taper in the sleeve to secure the case against movement. It’s way on faster than locking and unlocking a collet. Plus, one LE Wilson base serves for virtually all cartridges, just change the sleeves.

I like this design because it uses a sleeve that holds the case and sits atop rails on the trimmer base. The case can’t move, and it doesn’t move. The cutter, which is the only thing that moves, engages the case mouth. All the alignment is in the parts of the trimmer itself; the case is taken completely out of the equation.

Forster Trimmer accessories
Another trimmer I like, and I do use, is the Forster. It’s what I recommend for those who want to get more of a “multi-purpose tool” out of their base unit. There’s a wide ranging array of add-ons, or add-ins, that make it serve to work over primer pockets, turn case necks, ream case necks, and even hollow-point bullets. I’m not exactly sure why, but my Forster does a superior job compared to others I’ve tried built along the same lines. The Brown & Sharpe collet is touted as providing higher precision than others out there.
case trimming accessories
There are a myriad of accessory add-ins for a Forster trimmer: shown is a neck reamer, outside case neck turning parts, centering pilot for primer pocket tools, primer pocket cleaner, crimp remover, power-drill adaptor, and the list goes on beyond these. Versatile!

POWER
Yeah boy. If you’re up for it, a truly specialty power case trimmer is the bomb.com. I really don’t think that adding power to a “lathe-type” trimmer is all that impressive or worthwhile. It helps ease the effort but it’s not necessarily speeding up the process.

There are two power trimmers that are more than impressive. One is a Gracey Match-Prep and the other is the Giraud. Both are expensive ($300+) but after processing a sack full of Lake City Match brass in a scant few minutes, the cost might get forgotten. Might. It really depends on the volume you do. I can tell you that, much to the contrary using a conventional tool, case trimming is the single fastest step in my case prep routine using a Gracey. I have not used a Giraud but have it on very good advice that it’s as good as all.

Gracey trimmer
Here’s a Gracey. It’s a powerful machine that’s a tad-amount intimidating the first time you use one. But just push the case in and bring it out. That’s it. It’s extremely fast and, according to my notebook entries, produces perfectly precise lengths as long as all the cases are full-length resized (the case stops on its shoulder in the holder). (Shown separately.)

Both work pretty much like giant overly-powerful electric pencil sharpeners. Push the case in and the spinning cutting head zips it flat in a heartbeat. Case length is determined by cartridge case headspace, which is to say that the case stops within the trimmer holder on the case shoulder. Clearly: trim only full-length sized cases to get consistent lengths. If the case shoulders haven’t been set back or at least all set the same, lengths will vary.

Take a look-see: Gracey, Giraud

Gracey holders work off the case shoulder, so all the shoulders have to be the same for best accuracy.
Gracey holders work off the case shoulder, so all the shoulders have to be the same for best accuracy.

Click here to see all the Midsouth Shooters Supply case trimming options.


Next time we’ll look at tools used to treat the trimmed case necks and finish this task in fine style.


The preceding is a specially-adapted excerpt from Glen Zediker’s newest book Top-Grade Ammo. Available right’chere at Midsouth Shooters Supply. Visit ZedikerPublishing.com for more information on the book itself, as well as others.

RELOADERS CORNER: Case Trimming

Trimming bottleneck cartridges is a necessary chore, and here’s how to make it easier, and better…


rifle case trimmer
Case trimming is a needed step in the case-preparation process, and needs vary with the rifle type, and other factors. Don’t get obsessed with it, but don’t neglect it either. Not all case trimmers are equal. We’ll talk more about some I like next time, and I’ll tell you why.

At some point, now or later, bottleneck cartridges need to be trimmed. The reason is because brass flows in firing. After one or more firings and reloadings, a case will measure longer than it was when new. That extra length can only come off of the case mouth, and that’s why we trim cases. The case neck itself isn’t the main culprit in the growth, it’s just where we can address it. The most flow comes from lower down on the case.

The reason I said “now or later” is because the amount of lengthening varies from firearm to firearm and, generally, there’s usually a sooner need for trimming on a semi-auto than there will be on a bolt-action. There are two reasons for this: one is that the semi-auto will tend to expand a case more (and we’ve talked though a few reasons for that in previous articles). Another is that we’re having to full-length resize cases and set the case shoulders back a little more to ensure function. That works the brass more, no doubt. The brass is stretched more, it’s expanded and contracted more.

Important: The primary reason to trim cases is so they don’t get long enough to create a safety problem. That problem is when the case neck extends to a point where it contacts beyond its given space in the rifle chamber. That can pinch in against the bullet; excessive pressure results. The leeway will vary from chamber to chamber, and there’s no defined standard; there are plug-type gages available to measure a chamber if you want to know what you have.

case trimming
The primary reason to trim is to keep overly-long cases from overrunning their space in the chamber. If the case mouth encounters the end of its allotted space, it can pinch in on the bullet, elevating pressure. Now, there’s usually a good deal of leeway before safety can be a question, but don’t push it…

From a “performance” perspective, trimming cases should mean that all the case neck cylinders are the same height. If they’re not, then varying effective levels of bullet retention result (even if the sizing is all the same, more encasement can mean slower release).

Another is that a good trimmer will square case mouths. This is an asset to better starting alignment seating bullets and is especially and measurably noticeable using flat-base bullets.

Here’s what I do: When I get a new lot of brass, I set my trimmer so it just touches the case mouth. It takes a few tries to get this right, but the idea is that I want to see at least a skiff of a cut on each case, evidence that the trimmer contacted the case mouth. These cuts won’t all be even because not all the new case mouths will be square. Measure them all and you’ll likely see length discrepancies right off the bat. I want to eliminate those. Then I leave my trimmer set right there for future use. If we’re using the same trimmer for difference cartridges, keep a dummy case near to it and use that to reset the trimmer when there’s a tooling change. It might get expensive buying a trimmer for each cartridge you load for, but it’s sheer bliss never to have to retool a trimmer!

measuring case length
A caliper is the only tool needed to measure case length. It’s not really necessary to measure each and every case each and every time. It’s a whopping lot faster to set the trimmer so it just touches the shortest case you have (revealed through the process itself in setting up the trimmer) and trim all the cases using that setting locked in place. If it’s a fired case, make sure it’s been deprimed or the measurement won’t be accurate.

Now, there’s zero harm in using a longer “trim-to” length, and that’s way more popular than my method. These lengths are stated in reloading data manuals. Keeping up with it over years, I’ve seen no difference in the rate of lengthening trimming longer or shorter; I trim “shorter” solely as a matter of consistency over the (short) life of my semi-auto cases. Also, I trim all my cases, when I trim them. I don’t measure each case. I just trim them all. That’s overall faster and more certain.

Here’s a few things to always keep in mind about case trimming. One, and the most important in my process at least, is that the only time to trim a case accurately is after that case has been resized! That’s when there’s an accurate indication of case length. Measure a fired and un-sized case against one that’s fired and then sized, and the un-sized case very likely show a shorter length. That’s only because there’s been expansion in the case neck and body. As the expanded areas are brought back into spec by a sizing die it’s along the same lines as rolling a ball of modeling clay out on a table: it gets longer as it gets smaller in diameter.

trimmed case
A freshly trimmed case isn’t ready to go, yet, and we’ll fix all that next time too.

Also, only after sizing can we know that the case neck, case shoulder area is consistent in dimension. Measure enough of them and you’ll find some cases exhibit variance. We’re talking very small numbers here, but we’re always dealing with very small numbers, so let’s get them all the same. And that’s one of the virtues of trimming cases.

Next time more about the tools.


The preceding is a specially-adapted excerpt from Glen Zediker’s newest book Top-Grade Ammo. Visit ZedikerPublishing.com for more information, and BuyZedikerBooks.com to order.

Improving Tool Alignment: 5 Ways To “Float”

“If it’s not perfectly aligned, then it should float…” Here’s a few tips on improving concentricity in the handloading process.


Glen Zediker


Water seeks its own level. Moving parts seek their own centers. Trick is getting the centers to agree. When centers coincide, that’s “concentricity,” and that a prime goal in the process of creating better ammunition. Anything under pressure and moveable, such as a cartridge case being sized or a bullet being seated into a case neck, moves toward a path of least resistance. If all the tooling associated is straight, and the case hisseff is uniform, then the result is “straight.” However! That’s in a perfect world.

In reality, which is accepting existence of tolerances and misalignments, taking steps to help two conflicting centers come close together comes from providing some free-play in the apparatus. I call it “floating.” And it works, and here are a few ways to use it.

Now, free-floating can work two ways. One is to incorporate a float into the mechanism in use, and another is to create float, and then use that to center a piece prior to snugging it down.

1. Shellholder
This first one might seem a tad amount clumsy, but it’s really easy to get used to in operation. Presses with conventional shellholder arrangements use a spring clip to retain the shellholder in its slot atop the press ram. Get this clip gone! It cocks the shellholder askew.

The solution is to incorporate an o-ring to retain the shellholder in its slot. Get one at any real hardware store. Size that works is usually 7/8-inch outside diameter, 11/16 inside diameter, 3/32 thickness. The o-ring fits into the exterior channel previously occupied by the spring clip. To install a shellholder you just roll the ring down a tad, slide in the holder, and let the ring back up to block its exit out the front.

This modification lets the shellholder sit flat, as it should, and also provides some wiggle room so the case can align itself with the die opening. [Photo from Top-Grade Ammo]
This modification lets the shellholder sit flat, as it should, and also provides some wiggle room so the case can align itself with the die opening. [Photo from Top-Grade Ammo]
2. Sizing die lock ring
Speaking of wiggle room, there’s a whopping lot of it in a 7/8-14 thread set. That’s pretty coarse. Taking up the play created by thread-to-thread gaps goes a good ways toward “straight” installation of a die into a press. There are a couple of ways to help this.

One is to always (always) tighten a die locking collar ring when there is a case inside the die, and the ram is fully extended upward (handle all the way down). This bit of pressure helps to bring the die into straight alignment. Problem is that it also makes the daggone die hard to remove. Just get stern with it. After initial removal, subsequent re-fittings are easy. I use a “strap wrench” (plumbing supply and real auto parts stores have one for you) if it’s stubborn to turn loose after being tightened initally. Pliers result in cosmetic, but not real, damage. Lock rings with wrench-flats are dandy.

Always put an index mark from die lock ring to die body to press top. That’s a simple way to verify return to “zero” when a die is installed back into your press. And ALWAYS install and remove the die holding ONLY the locking ring! Never-ever the die body. Any teeny body rotation within the locking ring, which is easily undetectable, requires repeating the process of die adjustment.
Always put an index mark from die lock ring to die body to press top. That’s a simple way to verify return to “zero” when a die is installed back into your press. And ALWAYS install and remove the die holding ONLY the locking ring! Never-ever the die body. Any teeny body rotation within the locking ring, which is easily undetectable, requires repeating the process of die adjustment.
I prefer clamping lock rings, like these from Forster. Those with a set screw can cock when the screw tightens in against the angled threads.
I prefer clamping lock rings, like these from Forster. Those with a set screw can cock when the screw tightens in against the angled threads.

For these tricks, choose a case that represents your best: get one with the most consistent neck wall thickness.


3. Expander/decapping assembly
There’s some “feel” involved in this one, but it is worthwhile. To get the expander in your sizing die sitting on center, run up a case fully and then slowly withdraw it until you feel the expander lodge inside the case neck. Then put a little pressure down on the handle, in the direction of raising the ram, while you tighten the locking apparatus.

When it’s possible, and it almost always is, secure the pieces-parts when they’re doing their jobs. For instance, tightening the locking rings on a decapping stem when the expander is holding inside the case neck helps bring the stem into straight alignment, and the expander along with it.
When it’s possible, and it almost always is, secure the pieces-parts when they’re doing their jobs. For instance, tightening the locking rings on a decapping stem when the expander is holding inside the case neck helps bring the stem into straight alignment, and the expander along with it.

4. Lock-ring o-rings
Here’s one I suggest but don’t usually follow… Lemmesplain: It works but I prefer these other means because they’re more “secure.” However! Installing an o-ring up under the die body locking ring (sizers and seaters) provides a cushioned flexibility that provides for takeup in the amount and “direction” needed when a case is run up into a die. O-ring size is 7/8-inch inside diameter and a thickness of 1/8-inch.

O-ring trick: the flexible ring allows for some “wiggle room” to help case and die centers match. Trick is reinstalling the die to hold the desired setting, and the index mark really helps. Hold only the lock ring when threading the die in and out!!
O-ring trick: the flexible ring allows for some “wiggle room” to help case and die centers match. Trick is reinstalling the die to hold the desired setting, and the index mark really helps. Hold only the lock ring when threading the die in and out!!

5. Bullet seating die stem
This one is pretty simple: tighten the lock on the stem when there’s a seated bullet run up into the die. Threads are finer on stems than on die bodies, but better is a better. This is for a conventional-style seating arrangement. Those that use a spring-loaded sleeve arrangement, like a Redding Competition Seater, are good to go as are.


The preceding is a specially-adapted excerpt from the book Top-Grade Ammo just released by Zediker Publishing.

Load Testing Insight: 5 “Rules” for Load Work-Up

Don’t waste time and money collecting half-boxes of “loser loads.” Here’s how to start and finish load work-up in one day.


Glen Zediker


Last time I talked a little about keeping your ammo pressure-safe, under a range of conditions. Quite a bit of that dealt with observations made during load work-up. So this time I’d like to talk more about the work-up process I use.

The reason for the term “work-up a load” is pretty clear: we’re almost always looking to get the highest velocity we can, safely. High velocity, or, more clear, higher velocity, is usually all good. Shorter time of bullet flight to the target means less drop and drift, and a harder impact.

So working up means increasing propellant charge incrementally until we’re happy. Happy with the velocity or happy that the cases are still able to hold water. Ha. As said last time, it’s vitally and critically important to have a stopping place, a goal to be reached, prior to testing.

I also mentioned an “incremental” load work-up method that I have followed for many years, and it’s served me very well. I do all my testing and work-ups at the range. I load right then and there. I take boxes of sized and primed cases, and my Harrell’s powder meter, and a small press that I c-clamp to a bench. The press, of course contains my seating die. And the most important pieces of gear are a notebook and a chronograph.

load at the range
You don’t have to invest a fortune to take your handloading show on the road. Some c-clamps and one of these little Lee Reloader presses is all you need! And a good powder meter. One with a clamp is handiest, or just mount it to a piece of wood and clamp that down (even a pickup tailgate works just fine).

Before the trip, I have taken the preparation time, done the homework, to know exactly how much “one click” is worth on my meter. It varies with the propellant, but by weighing several examples of each click-stop variation (done over at least 4 stops) I can accurately increase the charge for each test a known amount.

reloading at the range
I map out the incremental values of each click on my Harrell’s meter adjustment drum with the propellant I’ll be testing, and it’s really easy to step up each trial with confidence. I carry the whole kit in a large tackle-type box.

I work up 0.20 grains at a time. Sometimes it’s more if I’m reading a low velocity initially. Since I have a meter with a “Culver” insert, which I trust completely, I actually reference the number of clicks in my notes rather than the weights. I check after the weights when I get back home, and I do that by counting to the setting and weighing the charge. It’s easy enough also to throw a charge into a case and seal it over with masking tape.

I started loading at the range because I got tired of bringing home partial batches of loser loads. And, you guessed it, the partial boxes usually contained recipes that were too hot. The only way to salvage those is to pull the bullets. Tedious. Or they were too low, of course, and fit only for busting up dirt clods. Plus, I’m able to test different charges in the same conditions. It’s a small investment that’s a huge time-saver.

During my work-up, I fire 3 rounds per increment. As it gets closer to done, I increase that to 5. Final testing is done with 1 20-round group. Does 3-round volleys seem inadequate? It’s not if there’s confidence that the rounds are being well-directed and speed is being monitored. If I’m seeing more than 10-12 fps velocity spreads over 3 rounds, I’m not going to continue with that propellant.

Here are a few things I’ve found over the years to better ensure reliable results. Learned, of course, the hard way.

  1. Limit testing to no more than one variable. I test one propellant at a time, per trip. If you want to test more than one on one day, bring the bore cleaning kit and use it between propellant changes. Results are corrupt if you’re “mixing” residues. Same goes for bullets. Otherwise, though, don’t clean the barrel during the test. Don’t know about you, but I fire my most important rounds after 60+ rounds have gone through it, so I want a realistic evaluation of accuracy (and zero).
  1. Replace the cases back into the container in the order they were fired. This allows for accurate post-testing measurements. Use masking tape and staggered rows to identify the steps. I use 100-round ammo boxes because they have enough room to delineate the progress.

    ammo pressure
    Keep track of the cases in the order they were fired. This helps later on back in the shop when the effects can be measured. This little outing here, though, didn’t require a gage to cipher: a tad amount hot on that last little go around (last case bottom row on the right). Thing is, I didn’t load a whole boxful of those chamber bombs to take with me, and that’s the beauty of loading right at the range.
  1. Use the same target for the entire session. (Put pasters over the previous holes if you want, but don’t change paper.) This helps determine vertical consistency as you work up (when you’ve found a propellant that shows consistency over a 3-4 increment range, that’s better than good).
  1. Exploit potentials. If you take the lead to assemble a “portable” loading kit, the possibilities for other tests are wide open. Try some seating depth experiments, for instance. Such requires the use of a “micrometer” style die that has indexable and incremental settings.
  1. Go up 0.20 grains but come off 0.50 grains! Said last time but important enough to say again here. If a load EVER shows a pressure sign, even just one round, come off 0.50 grains, not 0.10 or 0.20. Believe me on this one…

Last: Keep the propellant out of the sun! I transport it in a cooler.

shooting chrony
Chronograph each round you fire. It doesn’t have to cost a fortune to get an accurate chronograph. This one is inexpensive and, my tests shooting over it and my very expensive “other” brand chronograph (literally one cradled in the other) showed zero difference in accuracy. The more expensive chronographs mostly offer more functions. The muzzle-mounted chronos are fine and dandy too.

The preceding was a specially adapted excerpt from the new book, Top-Grade Ammo by Glen Zediker. Check it out at ZedikerPublishing.com or BuyZedikerBooks.com

Shooting Your AR15 (better)

The skill of developing a good trigger pull is the difference between a hit and a miss. Here’s how to get started developing perfect mechanics.

Pulling the trigger is the “last thing that happens” in the shot process. Well, technically, there’s also hammer or striker fall, primer ignition, and so on, but breaking the hammer loose from the sear is the last part we influence. Yes, it’s important.

There’s an old saw that goes “let the shot be a surprise…” Wrong. That’s a great concept for teaching a brand-new shooter not to be afraid: keep putting pressure back against the trigger until the shot goes. That helps avoid anticipation-induced flinch. However. When we’re really shooting, sights on targets and time is important, you best know when the shot is going. Trick is to break the shot, pull the trigger, without moving the sights off the target. That requires a little technique, and that’s what this article is about.

First, the best point of contact with the trigger face is near the middle of the first pad of the index finger. Not farther in. Ideally, the last joint of the index finger (closest to the fist knuckle) will be parallel to the gun receiver. That helps produce a “straight back” pull.

point of contact with trigger
Here’s the point of contact with the trigger face for best mechanics. It’s not easy to attain on an issue AR15 trigger, but get as close as you can. Of great importance is that no other little bit of the finger touches the rifle. If it does, there will, not can, be rifle movement during the trigger pull.

Make double-sure that no other part of the index finger is contacting anything else! Done right, only the trigger finger moves to press the trigger. The rest of the hand stays calm and steady (no matter how tight the gripping pressure is). This is something to put on the checklist: learning and practicing isolating movement to only the trigger finger. And move it straight back. Any side-loads will also move the gun, which will move the sights.

This ideal architecture may be difficult to duplicate depending on the distance the finger has to reach to access the trigger face. Usually, especially with pistol-grip-equipped rifles, the distance to the trigger is closer than ideal. Be aware of what you’re trying to accomplish (pull straight back, no side pressure), and a little fudging in finger positioning will find a way. For me, and the eons of hours I spent fiddling with this, with an AR15 I decided that getting the last joint parallel to the receiver ultimately was a more influential factor than perfect placement of the trigger face on the first joint of my finger. I’m moved in closer to the first joint than to the fingertip.

When you’re practicing the “move only the trigger finger” tactic, you might notice that it’s difficult to do that without also having the thumb move. They’re a team. As best as I can, I effectively remove my thumb from the equation by holding it upwards (if possible) and keeping it either away from contact with the rifle or deliberately held against the rifle with constant force. The sympathetic “pinching” habit has to be overcome. Sympathetic, in this use, means unavoidably linked. Flexing the thumb in conjunction with moving the index finger will, not can, influence shot impacts.

A great trigger makes all this next a far sight easier, but the mechanics involved in a skillful trigger pull have a lot to do with what happens after the sear breaks. “Follow-through” has different definitions, and that’s because it’s as much of a concept as it is a technique. Follow-through, to me, is “staying with” the trigger break for a spell after the shot has gone. This spell might vary from a couple of seconds to no more than an eye blink, and the reason is the sort of “reverse” effect it has on all that goes before. A focus on this will, not can, improve your shooting! I focus on keeping the trigger held back and also watching the sight. Follow-through promotes smoothness, and reduces undesirable movement. Call it a trick, but it works.

Shooting a semi-auto rifle, like an AR15, keep your finger on the trigger shot to shot. “Ride the trigger.” Some folks treat a trigger like it’s hot: they poke it back with the trigger finger and then jump off it. Staying in contact avoids “slapping” the trigger, which creates all manner of shot impacts strayed from center. You should be able to feel the trigger reset on every shot. The reset is the little “pop” you feel when the disconnector hands off the hammer to the sear. Pull the trigger, hold it back, let it forward and feel the reset: the trigger is prepped and ready for its next release.

AR15 disconnector function
With any semi-automatic, you’ll do better if you keep the trigger finger in contact with the trigger face all the way through each shot, back and forward, for all the shots. Don’t jump on and off it. Ride it. Feel the disconnector work: pull back and hold (top photo), and then release forward and feel the “pop” as the trigger resets for another go.

Learning how this feels, and seeing how much it helps, might add a whole new dimension to your shooting.

In another article I’ll talk about trigger types and traits that can either help or hamper results. The answers might not be predictable.


Glen Zediker is a card-carrying NRA High Master competitive shooter and earned that classification in NRA High Power Rifle using an AR15 Service Rifle. For more information, and more articles, please check out ZedikerPublishing.com