A word about 9mm sizing
Most 9mm pistols were never known for being a "bullseye type" firearm. Original specs for the 9mm cartridge gives + - specs that are quite "loose" The most common problem that I hear from most customers is they encounter a lot of bullets that tumble or very poor accuracy when they hit the target. This usually indicates that the bullets are loose and one is not achieving a good fit of the bullet to the barrel. Certain pistols were more prone to these problems. Ruger and Beretta pistols were the most notorious in having oversized barrels but it could be found on other brands as well. Sig Sauers and Browning Highpowers were the "tightest". It was not uncommon to see barrels with dimensions of .357 or .358.
Slugging the barrel to determine the right size is the first step to eliminating the problem. I have sold many 9mm bullets sized to .357 and .358 to get the guns to shoot well. Yes, the cases do bulge but they still feed and function in the guns so the problem is cosmetic. Reloading Tip..... Even if you are using carbide dies to resize your 9mm cases, lubricate them with a spray on lube ( RCBS Case Slick is the best.) The carbide insert in 9mm die sets is a full case length carbide insert due to the fact that the 9mm case is tapered unlike most other calibers which utilize a short carbide ring for resizing on straight wall cases. This will minimize stretching of the cases and excessively distorting them during reloading. You will also find that the effort to resize the cases will be cut by 50%.
Reloading Dies & Presses
Everybody has their reasons as to the type and style of reloading presses that they own. Conventional wisdom held that you should start out with a single stage press and learn the basics of cartridge reloading before moving on to a progressive press. There is some wisdom in that and certainly some people would be well served to follow such advice. If you are the type of person who is not comfortable with machinery and multiple things going on at one time then a progressive press may not be the best choice starting out. However, if you are the kind of person who can deal with multi-tasking well then there is no reason not to start out on a progressive if that will fill your need for speed. And that brings up another point. You can load perfect ammo on a single stage press just as well as any high dollar progressive. What you pay for is speed and as we all know that speed costs.
I started out on a great little semi progressive press. A Ponsness Warren P200 that I still have and use. Its actually faster and more useful for load development than my Dillon 650s and 1050. Once I have loads developed I set up the Dillons for cranking out large volumes of ammo. A single stage is also useful for doing low volume reloading for guns that you don’t need progressive amounts of ammo for like Contenders and bolt action rifles and specialty work like case forming and wildcats. If you get into reloading seriously there is always room for a single stage in your process.
As far as progressives go the three most well known brands are Dillon, Hornaday, and Lee. Each has advantages and disadvantages. Dillons are the most popular especially with their lifetime no BS warranty. The early projector presses were plagued with many indexing problems but my understanding now is that the current Projector is as good as any other press available.
Over the years there were many attempts to produce various kinds of progressive presses. Such as the RCBS Green Machine and CH had their versions of an inline progressive press. A company out of Ohio by the name of RDP produced a massive rotary progressive called THE TOOL that eventually was motorized but the machine was expensive and the company eventually closed. Ransom made a inline progressive but I never saw one in the metal as it were.
No doubt that Mike Dillon set the standard with progressive reloading with the 450 press, a refined version of his 300 series and eventually the 550 and the 550B became the world class standard of reliable progressives still to this day. Dillons offerings have changed much of the way most of us reload by giving us the ability to turn out very large amounts of ammo very quickly and reliably. Yes, I am a bit biased but the machines live up to people expectations. I sold Dillon presses for about 3 years and they were and are the overwhelming choice of most reloaders that load on progressives.
I have been often asked about LEE's progressives and I know people that have them and like them but the presses have always been problematic for a lot of people. Those that have them and know them well seem to do quite well with them but a large percentage of others just can’t seem to get them to be consistent in their operation. During the time I sold Dillon presses, the number of people that wanted to trade in their Lee presses for Dillons was quite overwhelming and I was surprised by that but I would only take other Dillons in on trade for those that wanted to move up to a 650 or a 1050 press.
There are couple of tricks I can pass on to help optimize the setup of a Dillon 550 or 650 press and I am working on a 1050 mod that should enhance its performance as well. I’ll tell you more about that once I get it finished. My die sets that I purchased for my presses were the early versions of the Dillon die sets and several of the Redding pro series die sets made for progressive presses (these are my favorite dies). The new series dies from Dillon feature a quick release pin to disassemble the die to facilitate cleaning but the seating die is now too crude to get fine adjustments out of it so I don’t use them. One of the ongoing complaints about loading on progressives is that the finished rounds can vary by several thousandths in O.A.L. (Over all length). The reason for this is simple. If you look at the press while its in operation the compound linkage that is used to generate the tons of force to size the case is actually causing the shell plate to flex a bit out at the edges. Lets look at the shell plate assembly on either the 550 or the 650 presses. The shell plate has rotational capability by virtue of a shoulder bolt thru the center of the shell plate. The shell plate has a clearance between itself and the shell plate platform with a ball bearing in a recess that acts as a stop between indexes. If you tighten the shell plate down too far you cannot rotate the shell plate. Leave it too loose and the amount of clearance between the outer edge of the shell plate and the center of the shoulder bolt increases. Some leave it loose to make the indexing faster and easier. But if one looks carefully at the edge of the plate when you put a brass case there and size it you will see the case, flex the plate down at that spot. Look at the opposite side of the shell plate and that side will be moving upward with the shoulder bolt acting as the pivot point. If you have the Dillon presses with the removable tool heads you will also notice that there is clearance in the fit of the tool head that will also have some looseness that contributes to the overall problem.
When you have cases in all the stations the amount of flex will be different than when you are just starting out with just one case in the shell plate. When you seat the bullet into the case this flex will cause the O.A.L. to vary from one round to the next. Here’s how to correct it. When I set my dies up I set the press to toggle over top dead center on the linkage. I screw the size die and the seat die down to apply a small amount of pressure against the die plate as the press toggles over top dead center. This will remove most of the loose tolerances in the head and shell plate and will give you much more consistent seating of the bullet and maintaining the correct O.A.L. The seat die and the size die are opposite of each other and thus act to support the shell plate and minimize flex and changes in the setup.
Another area that I can’t stress enough about its importance is the mounting of any press with a toggle linkage system that generates the amount of force that these compound linkage systems can generate. Solid mounting with solid bracing to the floor will make the presses operation smoother and more effective. I had a customer that had purchased a large Redding single stage press and was having issues with cases that would not cycle through his bolt action rifle. Some of the cases would cycle and chamber while others would not despite the fact that he was full length resizing the cases. He was perplexed by this and I went to his place to see what was happening. He showed me the rifle and cases and how they would and wouldn’t chamber. I told him to size some cases and I would watch what would happen. As he operated the press, from time to time the bench would flex as he pulled the handle but not always. Every time the press flexed the bench those cases weren’t being resized fully even though he was going over top dead center with the linkage system and thus would not chamber. Upon proper bracing of the press the problem went away.
When I started to reload I used RCBS dies and they served me well for many years. The part about most of the die manufacturers was that when you bought the standard three die set for loading auto pistol cartridges you ended up with a seat and roll crimp die. Not the best way to seat and crimp auto pistol cases. I ended up buying a separate taper crimp die and used the other die for seating only by backing out of the roll crimp. Today you can get 4 die sets or die sets that give you a separate seat and crimp die for you application especially if you are using a progressive press. That’s why I favor the Pro Series die set from Redding for a lot of my applications. The size die is Titanium carbide which is a lot smoother and needs less force to size cases than the regular carbide used by others and you get the seat die and the proper crimp die for your cartridge application. For auto pistol loading you get the taper crimp die and for revolver cartridge loading you get the superb Profile crimp die which is a more secure roll type crimp than standard roll crimp dies. This die is especially useful when loading hard recoiling guns like .454 Casulls that had issues with heavy bullets jumping their crimp under recoil and locking the gun up with the bullet wedged between the cylinder mouth and the frame of the gun. Not a good situation to have if you are banking on a gun like this going up against dangerous game. The other added benefit to the profile crimp die is that you get more complete burning of slower burning powders and lower standard deviations. All in all Redding makes some very good dies.
Another area of contention is that sometimes people will see excessive bulges in their reloaded cases. Sometimes these bulges are just on one side of the case while on others its all the way around. The reason this happens is that if the bullet is seated a bit crooked and the brass is not uniform and you are using a cast bullet that is .001 over nominal diameter then you might see a bulge. If the bulge is only cosmetic and doesn’t prevent its chambering and functioning in the firearm I wouldn’t worry about it too much. When brass cases are drawn (formed from brass cups and the metal is drawn thru a die to elongate the brass to shape and size) the process is never 100% uniform thus the cases are not even in thickness all the way around. Some brass is better than others and some brass is thinner than others and some brass is less ductile than others and if you use mixed brass then you run the gamut of different problems with such brass. In a lot of applications its not critical but if you are shooting for a match then it might be wiser to have uniform brass.
There’s is a great tendency among reloaders to not flare brass sufficiently to proper seat the bullet. Many people falsely believe that by not excessively cold working the case mouth of the brass that their brass will last much longer. It’s a false economy as far as I’m concerned. When expanding the case mouth I like the effect that Lyman's M die creates. It expands the opening of the case mouth by a couple of thousandths creating a “shelf” inside the mouth of the case that allows you to seat the bullet squarely into the brass case. When used with a proper seat stem that properly matches the nose profile of the bullet then the crooked seated bullet or excessive bulge can be practically eliminated or minimized with these setups. Its interesting to note that Redding offered such expanders in their standard die sets and that Dillon started machining the same expansion step into its powder drop funnels that also expand the cases.
Some people have resorted to using a Lee factory crimp die with a carbide resize ring to “iron” out such bulges and distortions while creating more distortions within the case and bullet by resizing the bullet that didn’t need to be resized smaller. This is a band aid approach to solving the problem instead of correcting the problem the right way. I can’t recommend this solution.
In some situations you will find that because the gun you have has oversize throats that you need oversize bullets and you are going to end up with a bulge anyway. The Lee die would in such cases destroy any hope for any accuracy under such conditions.
So that you don’t get the impression that I am 100% opposed to Lee products the fact is there are several items and dies I use with great success. I have several of their disk powder measures as well as their hand prime tool which is excellent and I recently discovered their factory crimp dies for rifles (these don’t feature a carbide resize ring) for use in .223 and .308 auto loaders. I also have their die sets for .444 marlin and 30/30 that work quite well. Its just a matter that I pick what I deem to be the best from each manufactures offerings.
Sometimes some of the bullets that we offer for certain calibers can do dual duty in another cartridge when the bullet is sized properly. For example The .40 cal 180 gr. bullet features a crimp groove for use in .38/40 with a roll crimp and when used in .40 S&W the crimp groove is seated to below the case mouth and then taper crimped, Conversely there are some auto pistol bullets that cross over to revolver use but don’t feature a crimp groove so what is one to do? There are two solutions. The first is to just apply a light to moderate roll crimp to the outside of the bullet and that will work well in most cases. OR you can get Taper crimp dies for revolver calibers. I have taper crimp dies for all my revolver calibers for light to moderate loads that don’t need a full roll crimp or when I use an auto pistol bullet in a revolver case like the .45 230 gr. Truncated Cone in .45 Long Colt. (Now before you e- mail me that there is no such thing as.45 Long Colt I know its .45 Colt and .45 ACP. ) I started to use the Long Colt designation due to much confusion in the marketplace creating even more confusion among new or inexperienced reloaders. With revolvers being chambered for auto pistol cartridges and autos being chambered for revolver rounds it got to be quite an issue when talking to customers on the phone or at gun shows and we ended up talking about two different cartridges. The Long Colt designation while not technically correct helps cut down on confusion so that’s why I use it. My apologies to the purists out there.
Another tip that may help you 9mm reloaders out there is that due to the nature of the 9mm case being a tapered case the carbide size ring that is used in the size dies has to be made full length to fully resize the cases. (That’s the reason why 9mm dies in carbide cost more than other carbide dies from the same company.) Because it is full length it takes more force to resize 9mm cases and if you are loading a lot of them it can take its toll on your arm after a while. To help ease things along a little bit of spray on case lube will make the resize process a lot easier even if you are using carbide dies. There are a number of spray on lubes that work well. I happen to favor RCBS’s Case Slick for most of my rifle reloading but have used others equally well when loading 9mm. Some people will use a bit of case lube on all of their cartridges regardless of the caliber or case while some will just lube a few during the reloading process. Whatever works best for you is the way to go.
The powder drop on the Dillon presses is designed to work the best with ball type powders and doesn’t always meter well with the flake powders. One of the things you can do is to buy a small vibratory air pump used in aquariums and attach that to the powder measure with tape, rubber bands or a worm drive clamp. The vibration will assist in making the powder charges more uniform especially with the smaller charges. The pump is about 6-8 bucks and is a cheap but useful upgrade.
The Hornaday uses a rotary drum and is less likely to have such issues but would probably benefit from the pump as well.
The Lee uses their Disc measure system and that works surprisingly quite well. I have several of the Lee disc measures for use on the Ponsness Warren press that I have for load development. The only drawback is if you want a charge that the disc doesn’t cover. Lee makes a stacking kit that allows you to get different charge weights but I never found it to work well. Some company did come out with a adjustable charge bar for the Lee but I never got to try one.
RCBS makes a case activated linkage kit for their excellent Uniflow powder measure and that can be retrofitted onto a Dillon press if needed to handle some powders that the Dillon doesn’t handle well such as extruded powders like the IMR series.
Finally if you are tired of using a wrench to adjust the Dillon powder charge bar there is a winged cap that will snap onto the head of the bolt of the charge bar available at the Home Depot. This allows you to change the setting with just your fingers. They come in black and white. I use the white ones and use a magic marker to put a curved arrow on the head of the knob to indicate which way increases or decreases the powder charge. (Its opposite of the way you think. Turning left increases while right decreases it.) There is a company called Unique Tek that has a very good led light with a rubber fitting that fits into the hole on the head of the 550 and 650 presses that beautifully illuminates the whole shell plate while you are loading. I think it’s a worthwhile investment as it puts the light right where you need it the most. The also offer a countdown timer for your tumbler and I have a couple of those that I use for that and other things. Very useful. Check them out at http://www.uniquetek.com.
Leading Issues And What To Do About Them
Nobody likes to deal with fouling in their guns but the fact of the matter is that everything we shoot WILL FOUL to some extent. There’s no such thing as a free lunch applies here to our shooting. Don’t want to deal with fouling then don’t shoot the gun. Now of course that’s not practical if we like to shoot and shoot a lot. Controlling the amount of fouling that one does get can be a big help in the clean up afterwards.
It still amazes me that even still today many shooters still turn their nose up at shooting cast bullets. I see the same concerns voiced over and over again on the various shooting and reloading forums despite the fact that others who answer these complaints with positive experiences relate the advantages of shooting cast bullets. The fact they choose to shoot plated or jacketed bullets doesn’t alleviate the problem of fouling it just changes the equation to a different kind of fouling and that is copper fouling. This type of fouling is the hardest and most difficult to remove as it needs to be broken down chemically with powerful solvents capable of literally eating the copper away. Copper fouling is very bad to any accuracy.
Next time you look at a bench rest shooter look at the number of shots fired between cleanings. It is not very many. Now compare that with the strings of shots that most other people shoot thru their rifles and handguns with copper bullets between cleanings. Most people never get all the copper fouling out of their guns when they have been heavily used as most people won’t spend the time or work necessary to get the barrels clean. Some have taken the steps to use an electronic bore cleaner like Outers Foul Out that removes the copper or lead fouling out thru a reverse electroplating system that pulls the fouling to the rod in the center thru the chemical bath in the barrel by electrically charging the rod. Most people I have dealt with don’t go to this level of cleaning. Most are content to run a few brush strokes and wet patches and think the barrel is clean enough for their next round of abusive shooting. Others will take time to carefully soak and scrub and work long and hard to remove their copper fouling. Copper, in addition to being difficult to remove is very abrasive as well. The BHN number on copper jacketed bullets runs about 35 BHN; which is way above the hardest of cast bullets (21-22BHN). Plus add in the fact that the bullets offer no lubrication for the copper unless you are using Molly coated bullets which carry their unique sets of problems.
Lead bullets on the other hand are lubricated and are far less abrasive by a ratio of 10 to 1 over their jacketed counterparts. The main concern always revolves around the amount of lead fouling that the shooter is going to encounter. By following some simple guidelines one can have a very positive experience when shooting quality cast bullets.
First off is going to be the condition of the barrel. If there are rough spots or tool marks within the barrel then those areas are going to be prone to increased fouling. A simple lapping with some very fine lapping compound can do wonders for smoothing out a barrel.
Many times some have shot so many abrasive jacketed bullets thru a gun that the barrel is already smoothed out and just needs a thorough cleaning and prep before switching over to lead bullets.
Having proper measurements of the barrel and cylinder throats for revolvers and barrel dimensions on the automatics is half the battle to get lead bullets to shoot well with a minimum effort to clean up afterwards. Lead fouling is easier to remove than copper fouling and when lead is loaded correctly there can be almost no fouling to clean up even after hundreds of rounds have been shot.
The biggest complaint I hear from others that have had lead fouling issues from other cast bullet makers is usually centered on one of three types of lead fouling:
The first is known as breech bore fouling with lead fouling usually found in the first ½ inch or so of the barrel near the breech (backend). Many have speculated and try to explain why this happens in some guns and not in others. Some will claim that the bullets are too small while others will claim the bullets are too large. Some will say that there is a constriction in the forcing cone area where the barrel was threaded and crush fitted into the frame. Others will say that its gas cutting leaving deposits behind from melted bullet bases. And finally some will say that the bullets are too hard while others will say they are too soft. Lots of different opinions and there is a few grains of truth in all of them but which one is the right one?
The process of the bullet first engaging the rifling engraves thru the bullet as the lands act as a knife cutting thru the lead bullet (copper too for that matter) as such an alloy that lacks ductility and cannot give will tend to foul more in this area. Some will try to overcome the problem with additional lubrication (Molly, Lees liquid Alox or Rooster Labs Rooster jacket which is a liquid wax that dries hard.) which on some cast bullet brands is not a bad idea. Many lubes as used by commercial casters are based on the ease of its application rather than any inherent lubrication quality. Soft lubes do a better job of providing lubrication in this area while some harder lubes do better job at the other end providing more protection at higher velocity over soft lubes.
Breech bore fouling is most affected and cured by trying and finding the proper powder speed for the load that you wish to shoot. Pistol users for many years were relegated to a few choices in the selection of canister powders with most of these being very hot and fast and generally not very well suited for cast lead bullet shooting. Over the years and with the growth of Combat and self defense and Cowboy Action Shooting there has been a onslaught of new powders that offer cooler burning temperatures, better pressure curves, and so much improvement in general cleanliness of powder residue that it makes shooting cast lead bullets easier than ever to get great results.
The next type of fouling is the fouling that leaves long streaks of lead throughout the barrel from breech to muzzle. Generally this comes down to improper fit and the alloy being too far out of spec for its intended usage. I don’t see many complaints centered on this type of fouling but there are some.
The last type of fouling that happens is the fouling at or near the muzzle end of the barrel caused by too much velocity or the lube not providing enough lubrication for the velocity achieved. This is the least reported issues of lead fouling that we hear about. With the alloys that we offer our premium grade alloy will take 1600 fps with ease and I have had many that have pushed it to 1800 fps in .445 super mags with magnum speed powders.
Which by the way brings up another important point: My basic rule is that as one goes UP in velocity one is to move DOWN in powder speed.
Slower burning powders like Alliants 2400 (dirty but good) and Accurate Arms No.9 and WW296 and Hodgdons H110 and IMR 4227 and Hodgdons Lil Gun can all easily achieve magnum velocities with our premium cast bullets with almost no lead fouling. Bear in mind one thing though and that is on an equal load basis between a jacketed bullet and a lead bullet of the same weight the lead bullet will be driven to a higher velocity than its jacketed counterpart due to the lead bullet having less resistance in the bore. The Cowboy Action Alloy and our Target Grade Alloy are both high quality ductile alloys made for lower velocities of 1000 fps or less although I have had reports of some pushing it to 1200 fps with no problems. I developed this alloy as metal prices skyrocketed over the last few years and many shooters did not need an alloy to take 1600 fps. Think of tin and antimony (the most expensive parts of the alloy) like octane in gasoline. The more tin and antimony I put into the mix to make the alloy stronger and harder the more expensive it becomes. If your car runs on 87 octane then you are just wasting money for 93 octane. If your car or in this case your gun is going to be running like a sports car at high velocity and needs premium then that’s what you go with to get your best results. And if you have a super hotrod like .454 Casull or a 500 S&W or something related to them then the Casull Alloy will handle that as well up to 2100 fps without the need for a gas check.
Finally a word on barrel preparation. Pre-lubricating the barrel with a quality lubricant after the barrel is clean will make the next round of cleaning go even easier.