good scale is one of the most basic and essential reloading tools.
Normally used to set and check powder charges, it will also prove
invaluable for checking bullet weights, sorting cases by weight,
verifying case volume (by water capacity), etc..
Digital electronic scales have become quite popular in the
last few years, due to their faster operating speed.
balance beam scales have been the mainstay of handloaders. Within
the last few years, however, electronic scales have become commonplace.
With either type, the scale must be accurate to within one tenth
(0.1) of a grain to be adequate for most reloading operations.
of the common electronic and balance beam scales are capable of
approximately the same degree of accuracy. The primary difference
in the two types is speed. Although almost all of the balance beam
scales on the market today utilize some form of dampening system
(magnetic, liquid, etc.), the electronic scales settle much faster.
Speed becomes a factor if there is a large amount of scale work
to be done, such as sorting cases by weight. In general, balance
beam scales are less expensive than the electronic models. If price
is a major consideration, this may be a deciding factor, but either
type should give years of trouble free service.
of the type used, the scale must be zeroed before each
use. Please follow the manufacturers instructions for the
particular model in question. With either a balance beam or electronic
scale, an accurate set of check weights should be used occasionally,
to verify the scales accuracy. Reloading scales are sensitive
enough to be affected by
good quality scale is an essential tool for any reloader. This balance
beam model is from Redding Reloading.
imperceptible drafts, and should be located in a spot where they
will not be subjected to breezes or air currents caused by air conditioning
or heating vents.
loading cases with weighed charges, some method of bringing the
powder charge weight up to the desired level is required. This is
the function of a powder dribbler. Also known as a powder trickler,
this handy little device is normally used in conjunction with a
powder measure. In operation, the powder measure is set to throw
a charge a few tenths of a grain lighter than the desired charge
weight. The powder dribbler is used to drop powder directly into
the pan as it sits on a scale, a few kernels at a time. In this
manner, the powder can be brought up to exactly the desired charge
weight before being funneled into the primed case. Presently, both
manual and electric dribblers are available. Either will make loading
large quantities of ammunition with weighed charges easier.
A standard powder funnel (left) compared to one with a 6" drop tube
Both of these models
are available from Forster/Bonanza.
powder funnel, as the name implies, is a small funnel used to drop
powder from the scale pan into the case. Nearly all reloading equipment
manufacturers sell funnels made specifically for this purpose. Generally,
one funnel will work for all cases from .22 to .45 caliber. Special
funnels for the
diminutive .17 caliber cartridges are also available.
tube is a specialized accessory used to
load large charges into a case. They may be found as either a conventional
powder funnel modified by the addition of a long tube, or as a long
accessory tube attached to a powder measure. The long drop allows
the powder kernels to settle into the case very compactly. This
will frequently allow a significantly greater amount of powder to
be loaded than could be charged into the case with a standard funnel
alone. It is worth noting that the length of the drop tube
a definite effect on how much powder can be crammed into a case.
Long drop tubes tend to settle the powder into the case more efficiently
than do shorter tubes. Drop tubes are available through Bonanza,
as well as several other manufacturers.
two .308 Winchester cases contain exactly the same amount of powder
and have the same internal capacity. The case on the right was filled
using a 6" drop tube, while the case on the left was filled using
a conventional powder funnel. A drop tube settles the powder more
compactly, allowing a greater amount to be loaded into a given case.
powder measure may not be an essential reloading tool, but if large
quantities of ammunition are to be loaded, a good measure is a worthwhile
accessory. As opposed to a scale, a measure dumps a preset charge
of powder by volume. Depending on the handloaders preference,
these charges may then be weighed individually, or thrown directly
into the case.
measures, such as the RCBS Uniflow, Lyman 55, and Lee Perfect Powder
Measure, are probably the most commonly used today. All operate
on the same principle, using an adjustable powder chamber that can
be set to throw the desired charge weight of a given powder. To
adapt to both rifle and handgun reloading, most measures use interchangeable
drums to accommodate the large discrepancy between pistol charges
or magnum rifle loads within the same measure.
addition to the more generic units, several makers produce measures
designed specifically for dispensing pistol loads. The RCBS Little
Dandy is an excellent example. Utilizing small, interchangeable
rotors to adjust charge weights, these units are less expensive
than many of the larger measures, but are still ideally suited to
reloading the smaller charge weights common to pistol ammunition.
Similar units are available from Lyman, Lee and Quinetics.
measures are not really a different
type of measure per se, but are a much more refined version of the
conventional powder measure. In brief, they can be defined by their
greater precision and absolute repeatability. Most incorporate a
system in the powder reservoir to maintain a more consistent pressure
on the powder being dropped into the measuring chamber. These measures
generally utilize some form of micrometer or
A correctly operated benchrest quality powder measure is capable
of dispensing remarkably uniform charges. This superb unit is produced
by Neil Jones Custom Products.
adjustment on the powder drum, allowing a positive setting to be
clicked or locked into position, and reliably repeated
at the next reloading session. Most of the true benchrest powder
measures on the market today are either limited production items,
such as the superb units available from Neil Jones Custom Products,
or custom conversions of conventional powder measures. The Lyman
55, SAECO, and Belding & Mull measures have been favorites for
these conversions for many years.
factory measures, Redding offers their Model BR-30,
which is highly thought of by many competitive shooters. Designed
for powder charges of approximately 30 grains, the BR-30 offers
a capacity range of 10 to 50 grains. This makes it unsuitable to
many pistol cartridges and some of the larger rifle cartridges,
a characteristic it shares with most of the custom units as well.
It is, however, ideally suited to the cartridges that are being
used in benchrest competition, such as the 6mm PPC and 6mm BR Remington.
This type of limitation must be considered before buying such a
specialized measure. Naturally, the benchrest grade measures are
quite a bit more expensive than the conventional units, but if absolute
precision and repeatability are necessary,
they are well worth the money. Concentricity Gauges
shooters have become more demanding in their search for accuracy,
specialized reloading equipment has become much more commonplace.
It is well known that bullet run-out, or concentricity, is a major
factor in producing accu-rate ammunition. In years past, the accepted
practice for checking concentricity of a handloaded round was to
roll the cartridge across a flat surface, such as glass, and note
any wobble at the bullets tip. This approach will allow for
fast culling of obviously defective cartridges, but will fail to
isolate those with less obvious run-out problems. Add to this the
fact that run-out problems can be caused by not just an improperly
seated bullet, but by the case itself, and the limitations of this
approach become unacceptable.
A NECO gauge is used to check the concentricity of a loaded cartridge.
In addition to bullet run-out, the NECO
gauge can be used to check a number of points along a case, such
as wall thickness variation, neck and body concentricity, and the
squareness of the case head.
NECO gauge can also check case head squareness.
handloaders have several options that are capable of measuring concentricity
to .001" or less.
Most operate on some variation of the same principle. A loaded cartridge
is mounted in the unit, normally supported by a V block
arrangement at the case head and bullet ogive. The cartridge is
rotated slowly, while a dial indicator bears on the area of the
cartridge being checked. Any concentricity problems are not only
immediately visible, but measurable on the dial indicator.
of the first commercial models, which is still readily available
and quite popular, was the Forster/Bonanza Co-Ax Indicator. Recent
entries in the concentricity gauge market include models by Sinclair
International, NECO and RCBS. Some models, such as the NECO Gauge
and RCBS Case Master, are capable of not only measuring bullet run-out,
but case neck variation, wall thickness and concentricity as well.
Given the accuracy obtainable, particularly from many of todays
bolt action rifles, using a concentricity gauge to get the last
bit of accuracy out of handloaded ammunition makes perfect sense.
A collet type bullet puller in use. With the collet firmly gripping
the bullet, lowering the ram will pull the case down and off the
bullet puller is an item that is infrequently used, but should be
on every reloaders bench. A bullet puller is exactly what
it sounds like; a tool used to extract a
bullet from a loaded cartridge. It is not uncommon for a handloader
to produce a quantity
of ammunition that is unsatisfactory for one reason or another.
The easiest way to dispose of such ammunition is to shoot it during
a plinking session, assuming that the ammunition is safe to shoot.
If there is a pressure problem, or any other safety concern that
would preclude shooting it, the ammunition must be broken down into
its component parts. This is the purpose of a bullet puller. There
are several different types, but all perform exactly the same task.
a plastic mallet, inertia bullet pullers are one of the most widely
used styles available today. The head of an inertia bullet puller
is hollow, and equipped with a collet to hold the cartridge to be
broken down centered within the bullet pullers head. With
the cartridge locked in place, the puller is given a sharp rap against
a non-resilient surface such as concrete. The inertia of the bullet
will pull it from the case mouth. The bullets are not usually damaged
during this operation, and all salvaged components can be reused.
Since the collet shell holders in inertia bullet pullers are normally
universal, one puller can be used for virtually any size, caliber
or type of centerfire cartridge.
popular model is the collet puller. Most brands have a die body threaded
to fit a standard 7/8"x14 reloading press. Within this body is a collet
correctly sized to grab the exposed portion of a bullet in a loaded
cartridge. With the cartridge to be pulled placed in the shell holder
of a standard reloading press, the ram is raised until the bullet
has entered the collet of the bullet puller. The collet is then tightened
on the bullet, and the ram is lowered. The leverage of the press easily
pulls the case off the bullet, which stays tightly gripped in the
collet. Like the inertia pullers, collet pullers do little or no damage
to the bullet or case, and salvaged components can be reused. Collet
bullet pullers are more expensive than the inertia pullers, especially
since they will require a separate collet for every caliber bullet
to be pulled.
A kinetic bullet puller is available from Dillon, RCBS, Quinetics
last variety of pullers are the spring steel units that are threaded
into a standard reloading press. This is actually a slight variation
on the collet puller. With a loaded cartridge placed into the shell
holder, the ram is raised until the bullet pushes its way through
the flexible spring steel jaws of the puller. Lowering the ram causes
the jaws to grip the bullet even tighter, stripping it from the
case mouth. The bullet remains firmly clenched in the jaws of the
puller, until it is forced out by the next bullet to be pulled.
This type of puller tends to mar the bullets quite badly, but it
is a very fast way to breakdown ammunition. Like the collet pullers,
these require that a different set of jaws be used for each caliber
bullet to be pulled.
the scratches left on the bullets pulled in this manner, they can
still be reloaded for plinking or informal practice. When breaking
down surplus military ammunition, regardless of which type of puller
is used, bump the bullet a bit deeper in a seating die before attempting
to pull it. This will break the asphalt sealant around the neck,
making it much easier to extract the bullet.
are a relatively recent innovation for the average reloader but
have truly revolutionized handloading. Until about twenty years
ago, chronographs were almost exclusively used by military and commercial
ammunition manufacturers, being far too expensive and cumbersome
for all but the most dedicated reloaders. Today, it is uncommon
to go to the range and not find at least one shooter using a chronograph
to evaluate his loads. Aside from the obvious advantage of determining
the velocity of a given load, a chronograph can be invaluable in
evaluating the consistency of reloaded ammunition. Extreme spreads
in velocity, while not always obvious on short range targets, will
greatly effect the long range accuracy potential of a load. With
a little preliminary work, such chronograph data can save precious
range time by weeding out loads that may give good results at 100
or 200 yards, but will show too much vertical dispersion at long
range. For some shooting applications, access to a reliable chronograph
is an absolute necessity.
its inception, IPSC/USPSA action pistol shooting has evolved to
different scoring categories for both major and minor
cartridges. In order to make major, the power factor
(bullet weight in grains multiplied by velocity in feet per second)
must equal 165,000 or greater. A competitor who accepts the data
as shown in a manual and goes to a match without verifying the load
indeed makes major, may find himself competing at a
disadvantage when his ammunition is chronographed at the match and
falls into the minor scoring category. Even worse, a
shooters ammunition could fail to make the minimum power floor,
and would be disqualified from the match. Chronographs today have
become inexpensive and easy to use, making their use at matches
to check a competitors ammunition almost certain.
variables that may play an important role in load development can
sometimes be detected through the use of a chronograph. Primer incompatibility,
lot to lot variations of the same powder, differences
between brands of brass, etc., will become readily apparent when
velocity fluctuations can be recorded.
earliest units available to handloaders were anything but convenient
to use. Few provided direct readouts of velocity, with most giving
a series of numbers that had to be translated into velocity
by hand. This was generally accomplished by means of a manual, which
contained conversion charts showing which velocity corresponded
to which read out, and so on. The basis of most chronographs is
a counter, or clock, which measures the time taken by a projectile
to cover a specified distance. While most modern chronographs utilize
photoelectric skyscreens to trigger this clock, many of the older
units used paper screens containing a wire filament that had to
be physically broken by the passage of a bullet. Naturally, these
screens had to be replaced for each and every shot. The shoot-through
construction of these screens prevented the shooter from firing
for velocity and accuracy at the same time. In other words, you
shot for groups, or you shot for velocity readings, but you couldnt
do both in the same string. In use, the photoelectric screen serves
as an eye looking upwards. When a bullet is fired over
these screens, they detect its passage by a change in the amount
of light coming into the receptor, in effect seeing
the shadow of the bullet. Today, shooters tend to take these photoelectric
marvels for granted, a tribute to how efficient and easy to use
they have become.
of these early units were quite crude by comparison to todays
compact, powerful and versatile chronographs. Where most of the
older chronographs gave only velocity, some of the newer units will
provide shot to shot reviews of every string, standard deviation,
average velocity, extreme spreads, and high and low velocity readings
from every string. The Oehler Model 43, more aptly titled as a Personal
Ballistics Laboratory, is even capable of providing pressure readings
from a conventional firearm, determining ballistic coefficient,
and plotting group size via a downrange acoustical target.