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Cartridge Crimp Styles and Uses
Oct 5th, 2014 by RoundsReloaded

Cartridge Crimp Styles and Uses

Lee 3-die set with taper crimp die.

Lee 3-die set with taper crimp die. Photo courtesy Massaro Media Group and JNJphotographics.

Crimping, that final stage of handgun cartridge assembly. Whether done as a separate operation, or as a part of the bullet seating process, one simple fact remains – it must be done.

There are two distinct types of cartridge crimps: Roll crimping and taper crimping.

In the handgun world, it is a pretty clear distinction. Roll crimping is best used on the revolver cartridges, and taper crimping is the way to go for semi-automatic pistol cartridges. Here’s the why.

Cartridges designed for use in a revolver use some sort of a rim to properly headspace the case in the cylinder. Think .38 Special, .357 Magnum, .45 Colt, .44 Remington Magnum. This guaranteed headspacing allows the reloader to “roll” the case mouth around the cannelure of the bullet, ensuring that the bullet will not move during recoil. This also gives us a consistent overall length if you roll crimp on the cannelure.

I will note that a roll crimp should only be used with bullets that have a cannelure; if you try to roll crimp on a bullet without one, you risk bulging the case mouth, and it will not fit properly in the cylinder. We’ll get back to how to crimp a bullet with no cannelure for revolver use in a second.

The bullet seating die for most pistol cartridges can be adjusted to give a good, solid roll crimp. Read the die set instruction carefully, and follow the directions. It may take a few tries to get the proper crimp, and I usually make a dummy round, with no powder or primer, to use as a guide should the die come out of adjustment.

Those cartridges that work well in the semi-automatic pistols can’t be roll crimped, because those cartridges headspace on the case mouth rather than a rim, which most lack. You see, rimmed cartridges (generally speaking) don’t feed well from a pistol magazine, so the autoloaders usually employ a rimless design. Think .45 ACP, 9mm Luger, .40 S&W, .380 Automatic.

The rimless design needs to headspace on something other than the rim, of which there is none, and the lack of a shoulder (as in a rifle cartridge) leaves only the case mouth. If we were to roll crimp, we would compromise the squared case mouth for headspacing. Yet, we still need to hold the bullet firmly in the case.

40 Smith & Wesson ammo needs to be taper cripmed.

40 Smith & Wesson ammo needs to be taper cripmed. Photo courtesy Massaro Media Group and JNJphotographics.

This is where the taper crimp method comes into play. It squeezes the sides of the case wall tightly against the bullet, and effectively prevents the bullet from moving, while maintaining the nice square case mouth that allows the cartridge to headspace.

A taper crimp can solve the problem I previously mentioned, where revolver cases use a bullet with no cannelure, yet need to be crimped. No bulged cases, no mess. Taper crimp and fire away!

Most companies that make quality reloading dies will have a taper crimp die available for purchase. If you’re serious about your pistol’s performance, I highly suggest you invest in one.

Stay crimpy, my friends.

The Breaking Point of Brass Cases
Oct 5th, 2014 by RoundsReloaded

The Breaking Point of Brass Cases

A close inspection of brass cartridges before every reloading is a must. Fine cracks such as the one above on the neck of the case render it useless.

A close inspection of brass cartridges before every reloading is a must. Fine cracks such as the one above on the neck of the case render it useless. Photo courtesy Massaro Media Group and JNJphotographics.

The brass case is the only part of the cartridge that can be reused.

It is made of a material that is malleable; it can be reshaped to proper dimensions, and fired multiple times. But, like all good things in life, sooner or later the usefulness of that brass case will have reached the end.

Question is: How will you know?

There are several tell-tale signs, some are easily identified, and others take a bit more investigation. Here’s the skinny: you absolutely do not want a brass case to fail upon firing. It can be detrimental to your firearm, not to mention your health.

Brass becomes brittle as it is worked and reworked. In a bottle necked cartridge, the case mouth and shoulder gets most of the action inside the resizing die. Usually you will find that when a cartridge has become too brittle to withstand that reworking, it will develop a hairline crack in the case mouth, either at the edge of the case mouth, or just below it.

Cases with a split in the neck cannot be used any further, and should be immediately taken out of commission. The straight walled cases develop their splits at the case mouth, usually when they are sent up into the flaring die. This is the portion of the straight walled case that sees the most action.

Rigorous inspection of your cases, before, during and after loading, will ensure that things stay safe. I hold the cases up to a light source to check for splits, and do my best to keep a good record of how many firings a group of cases has seen.

The neck of the case isn't the only area that needs to be inspected for damage. Cases can break in two after repeated firings, due to the brass flowing forward.

The neck of the case isn’t the only area that needs to be inspected for damage. Cases can break in two after repeated firings, due to the brass flowing forward. Photo courtesy Massaro Media Group and JNJphotographics.

In bottle necked cases, depending on the pressures and velocities, four or five firings is usually where I become overly suspicious and start to see split necks. Pistols and straight walled rifle cases generally tend to operate at lower velocities and pressures, so their useful life will tend to be a bit longer.

There is a process called annealing, where the case mouth and neck are heated and quenched, which will soften the brass to extend the life of your cases. You’ll often see a rainbow like color on quality brass that has been annealed; Hornady and Norma brass often come annealed from the factory.

There is another place you need to check for danger. The situation we are trying to avoid is referred to as case head separation.

I’ve told you that brass is malleable, and the brass in the case tends to ‘flow’ forward, toward the case mouth, upon repeated firing. The area of the case body about 1/3rd up from the rim tends to become thin as the brass flows forward.

What can happen is terrible: the brass case can actually rip in half in the chamber or the firearm. This can be deadly.

Pressures freak out, receivers can be destroyed, and the shooter can be injured or even worse, killed. I’ve seen case head separation happen quickly when the wrong ammunition is used; say firing a .270 Winchester in a .280 Remington chamber. It can also happen in a chamber that has excessive headspace, as the cases stretch quite a bit due to an oversized chamber dimension.

Here’s how you can check for this problem, and avoid disaster.

If damaged brass is discovered it must be disposed of. A good habit to get into is rendering damaged brass completely, by crushing it.

If damaged brass is discovered it must be disposed of. A good habit to get into is rendering damaged brass completely, by crushing it. Photo courtesy Massaro Media Group and JNJphotographics.

First step is to keep your eyes open for a very shiny ring in the area I’ve described. As the brass thins in this area, it makes the brass shine brighter than the rest of the case. The second method is very, very high-tech. I use a straightened paper clip, with the last ¼” bent at right angles as a “feeler”, and if the brass is thin you’ll feel th e case wall change as the brass gets thin. Ok, not so high-tech, but effective. Perhaps there’s a market for matte black “tactical ballistic paper clips”, I might have to get on that…When I find a case that has seen the end of its days, I crush the mouth closed with a pair of pliers, so that there is no chance of having that case find its way back to active duty, and then discard the case in the recycle bin.

Check your brass, and check them well, and you’ll enjoy a lifetime of safe reloading.

Forming Good Habits at the Reloading Bench
Oct 4th, 2014 by RoundsReloaded

Forming Good Habits at the Reloading Bench

Perhaps one of the most important reloading habits to get into is keeping a diligent records of your loads. This is vital data is as important as any tool on your reloading bench.

We all form habits, be they good or bad.

I’d like to give some advice that you may already adhere to, but I’ll sleep better having shared it with those of you who are new to reloading. Let’s form good habits, and stick to them, please.

Keeping a clean and tidy reloading bench is a must. Owning a custom ammunition shop, I have the privilege of loading many different cartridges in a number of configurations for my customers, which is awesome. So come safari season and the North American fall hunting seasons, things get rather hectic around here. I do my best to keep the Laboratory as neat and organized as I can, but it isn’t easy.

When you’re dealing with multiple calibers and cartridges that require different primers, powders and bullets, confusion lurks around every corner. As a self-imposed rule, I only keep the items I’m using for the particular load at hand on the bench: one box of primers, one canister of powder, one set of dies and one type of bullet at a time. This prevents any possible mix up, and the resulting dangerous load. It requires digging out new stuff for each project, which gets to be a pain in the butt, but in the name of safety I’ll deal with that.

Keeping your tools clean is a must also. Dirty, gummed up reloading dies can produce inaccurate ammunition. I keep a good supply of cotton swabs and a bottle of solvent – like Hoppe’s No. 9 – on hand for a quick cleanup of my dies.

As things start to slow down, I actually give my dies a nice warm bath in the ultrasonic cleaner to remove all of the gunk that builds up from the flakes of brass, nickel, copper and lead as it mixes with the case lubricant. You’ll be surprised what comes out of them!

Storing components can become a nightmare if you let it get out of hand. I keep my projectiles organized by caliber, and within each caliber by bullet weight. By keeping things well organized, I know just where to look for whatever I’m after.

Brass cases are organized in the same manner. If they’re once fired, I clearly mark the bag or container with the cartridge name so I can find them at a glance. Heavy duty freezer bags or empty coffee canisters (especially the newer plastic ones) make a great storage method for brass cases.

Keep your powder in a dry, dark place, safe from any possibility of sparks or open flame. And please, don’t ever store powder in a gun safe. God forbid it were to ignite, you’ve just created a half-ton bomb, a rather insalubrious notion! I keep my primers well organized and separated to avoid grabbing the wrong size or type of primer. And I keep them well away from the powder canisters.

When I store my reloading dies in their handy plastic boxes, I save the little silica gel packets you find in bags of beef jerky and put them in the die box. This draws all the moisture away from the dies and helps prevent rust. I also keep the presses well lubricated with gun oil so they don’t rust. You’d be surprised at how quick things can get rusty in the humid summer months here in Upstate New York.

I screwed a narrow strip of plywood to the wall and drove little finishing nails about 1.5” apart to store all my different shell holders. They are clearly labeled in permanent marker by number, and I even jotted down which cartridge they are appropriate for. Saves an awful lot of time, and is much easier than digging through a pile of shell holders.

Tricks, such as organizing case holders by number and appropriate case, can save time and create a safer reloading environment. Photo courtesy Massaro Media Group and JNJphotographics.

Tricks, such as organizing case holders by number and appropriate case, can save time and create a safer reloading environment. Photo courtesy Massaro Media Group and JNJphotographics.

Not everyone can have a loading area that is removed from the comings and goings of daily life, but do your best. What you want is a well lit space, as distraction-free as possible. Turn the cell phone off (you’ll live, trust me!), and keep the children at bay. “Oops” is a word that can lead to disaster in the reloading world.

Keep diligent records, please. After all the hard work that we reloaders go through, if you were to lose your load data, well, I’m getting teary-eyed just thinking about it. My notebook is invaluable to me, and I even keep things backed up on my computer.

One last point, and this may be the most important of all: Never mix alcohol with reloading. It just doesn’t work.

You all know the guy who likes to crack a beer or sip whiskey while reloading. Don’t do it, please. It can be tough enough get things right while sober; reloading while under the influence of your particular form of recreation can lead to trouble. Save it for when the powder and dies are all put away!

The Essence of Reloading – Flexibility
Oct 4th, 2014 by RoundsReloaded

The Essence of Reloading – Flexibility

The great thing about reloading is the ability to build a round to meet the situation. A .45 Colt can become a perfect plinking revolver with a light load. The same gun can halt a rouge bear if the powder and bullet weight are pumped up. Photo courtesy Massaro Media Group and JNJphotographics.

As a reloader, you are able to control the ballistic parameters of the ammunition for your firearm. Whether it is a pistol or rifle, the ability to vary the bullet weight and velocity of your firearm makes each and every one of them much more flexible than most people would think.

There are oodles of great factory loadings available today, and it is better than it has ever been, but we handloaders have the wide world of bullet choices and powder selections at our fingertips.

Take a long look at your favorite rifle, and odds are that you can find a pretty wide choice of projectiles, that can serve in a multitude of different hunting situations. Let’s look at a few examples.

The classic .300 Winchester Magnum can use a selection of .308” diameter bullets that weigh between 110 and 250 grains. That’s quite a wide range, and each weight has its place in the hunting field.

Winchester’s .300 has earned a very good reputation with 180 grain bullets moving along at around 2,950 feet per second and that load is one I use often, especially when the possibility of a long shot exists, like moose across a Quebec lake, or kudu in the karoo of South Africa. Many elk hunters grab this configuration of ammunition, and with good effect.

My rifle loves the 180 grain Swift Scirocco II, handloaded with Reloder 19 to 2,960fps. But, you really don’t need that velocity or the heavy bullet all the time.

Let’s assume you have a .300 Winchester that you absolutely love (which I do!), and want to use it for pronghorn antelope on the Great Plains.

A fast, flat shooting 150 grain bullet will fit the bill perfectly. At 3,150 fps, you should be able to hit those goats out as far as you’d ethically shoot them, and a bonded core spitzer bullet will kill quickly without making a bloody mess.

If you want to take that same rifle deer hunting, a 165 grain bullet loaded to just under 3,000 fps will make a very effective whitetail load, regardless of the distance.

Sometimes, a specialty hunt will pop up that may force you to get creative; bear hunting over bait is one example that comes quickly to mind. The shot will usually be under 75 yards, yet you want something beefy because bears have claws and teeth after all. In these situations, I subscribe to the Elmer Keith “slow and heavy” school of thought.

I took a box of 220 grain Hornady round-nose bullets, and used IMR 4064 to reduce the velocity to 2,425 fps, similar to the older .30-’06 Springfield loads. Group size hangs around minute-of-angle, and these big heavy bullets will really thump a bruin.

As a matter of fact, that particular load has worked very well on whitetail deer as well. My eleven point buck from 2011 fell as if he were pole-axed. He weighed 180 pounds on the hoof.

The plains of Africa can present a diverse selection of game, from the diminutive Steenbok to the moose-sized eland, and you have to carry a load that can cover all the bases. I brought the 200 grain Swift A-Frame, loaded to 2,700 fps in my .300 Winchester and it worked out very well.

The .300 is just one example, and the same could apply to a .30-06, .280 Remington or .270 Winchester. Learn about the different types of bullets available in your favorite caliber, and utilize the different weights and construction available.

Pistols can benefit from the same mentality. My Ruger Blackhawk in .45 (Long) Colt is a very strong revolver, and that cartridge can be stoked up to bark!

The big 300 grain Hornady XTP bullets can be pushed to around 1,300 fps, which is a wonderful insurance policy while hiking in my native Adirondacks or Catskills. The same revolver likes to play cowboy with me though, and when you roll up some 250 grain hard-cast lead Falcon Bullets at a velocity of 850 fps, you can shoot all afternoon at paper hombres.

Lighter bullets like Rainier Ballistics’ 180 grain flat point, which are usually reserved for the .45ACP, can be loaded in the Colt case in either a high velocity situation or in a reduced velocity scenario, depending on the application, or your mood.

The larger caliber safari guns can be rather intimidating to a shooter who doesn’t have a ton of experience with them. The heavy recoil they produce, being a side effect of the big bullets and powder charges, can pose a problem.

Firearms, such as the .300 Winchester, are eminently flexible. Given the sheer amount of components that can be used with the caliber, reloaders can tailor the cartridge to nearly any need. Photo courtesy Massaro Media Group and JNJphotographics.

Reducing their velocity for practice is a wise idea. Drop the velocity by 150 or 200 fps and that recoil drops off quite a bit, making the rifle much more manageable. The classic .416 Rigby launches its 400 grain bullets at 2,400fps, with rather severe recoil. Drop the muzzle velocity to 2,200 fps and you can immediately feel the recoil drop off, yet you still have a potent big game loading.

The most popular chambering in safari rifles is undoubtedly the .375 Holland and Holland Magnum. The 300 grain bullets that made the cartridge so popular are loaded to 2,550 fps in most factory loadings. These bullets are wonderful for buffalo, elephant and brown bear, but that .375 can be used for much more than the big nasties.

Barnes makes a great 235 grain TSX bullet; it’s a solid copper hollowpoint that can be pushed over 2,800 fps. This makes a great long range elk and moose load. It also works well on black bear, and gives you more time afield with your favorite .375.

So, look at the possibilities for your favorite rifle, and don’t be afraid to use you reloading bench to make sure you have the perfect load for the hunting trip you’re planning. There are tons of great bullets and powders out there, and that’s something we reloaders should be very grateful for.

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