* This information was written by Bob Palermo, President of Penn Bullets (though slightly edited a bit for clarity).
Loading Cast Bullets - Getting Started the Right Way - with extra focus on loading 9mm cast bullets
There are several factors that have to be taken into consideration in order to maximize the full potential and cost savings involved with cast bullets.
Rule # 1 - KNOW THY GUN
The first thing I ask most of my customers when they need help is about the firearm they are planning to use the cast bullets in. I have a pretty good background with most of the firearms out there and that gives me some insight into the quality and range of tolerances usually found in such guns. If I am unfamiliar with a gun then the basics still apply to the firearm in question. Knowing the dimensions of the barrels is only the start. If you are shooting a revolver then knowing the cylinder throat dimensions is also crucial to getting the bullets to shoot well. All the manufacturers vary in the closeness of the tolerances found in today's firearms. Newer CNC manufactured firearms and precision made parts have had an impact in that we are seeing guns being made with a lot tighter tolerances than before without the need for as much hand fitting that went into the guns of previous years. Still there are many excellent older guns that were made during a time when craftsmanship still meant something. I am going to assume for the moment that firearm you have is in good working order and has no major problems.
On revolvers the easiest way to measure the cylinder throats and the barrel is to obtain lead round balls that are larger than the cylinder throats. (On occasion if one can find soft split shot type fishing sinkers that are the right size those can work as well.) By pushing the soft lead ball thru the cylinder you are left with the exact size of the hole. By measuring this with a micrometer we can now see what the dimensions of all the cylinder throats are for your particular gun.
A side note here about measuring. Many people believe that if they use a caliper that they can get the proper measurement and the fact is that most people can’t use a caliper well enough to get an accurate reading. Thumb pressure alone on the wheel of a caliper can cause a variation in readings of a couple of thousandths. Very few people have the skill to get it right with calipers. The micrometer is more reliable in getting an accurate reading. In the event that you do not have a good micrometer then you can wrap the lead balls up in paper and mail them to me and I will measure them for you at no charge. Once you have done this you need to push a lead round ball thru the barrel with a wooden dowel to get the barrel measurement. Knowing these dimensions will resolve many issues about proper bullet sizing for your particular gun.
While it is rare it does happen that there are firearms with cylinder throats that are smaller than the barrel and in those cases its going to be difficult to get cast bullets to shoot well. However any good gunsmith can ream the cylinder throats to a uniform dimension that will be at or slightly larger than the barrel dimensions and that will go a long way towards eliminating problems down the road. Some companies have sprung up as it were that now specialize in this type of work so maybe it not as rare as I think it is. If the dimensions on the throats and the gun are O.K. then we can move on. Now many people have loaded and shot their guns with cast bullets for many years without ever having to measure their guns. They just loaded them and shot them and everything worked out fine. Still others who did this and had mediocre to poor performance and turned their back on cast bullets did so without ever knowing why it was so. A little measuring can go a long way.
There are some other areas of concern that, while rare, may need some attention if it is warranted.
On revolvers it is required that the forcing cone is true and if necessary have the proper taper leading into the barrel. There are tools readily available to true the forcing cone if necessary and once again any good smith can handle that problem should it arise. The other concern is more subtle but can cause some serious headaches if its not diagnosed properly. Sometimes when barrels are threaded into the frame of the gun a bit of a crush fit can occur causing a constriction in the barrel at the junction point. This causes a problem in that the lead bullet will reduce in size when passing thru the constriction but then only to emerge into a larger area past the constriction inside the barrel. In most cases the bullet will not enlarge (obturate) back to a size that will provide a proper seal to the hot powder gasses and you end up with blow by and gas cutting and that leads to barrel leading and generally poor performance. The solution is more involved but requires the gunsmith to lap the restriction out to make the dimension as one with the rest of the barrel.
Finally the last area of concern is the condition of the barrel itself. Once again the variance of quality of barrels thru the years has varied a lot even within the same company’s history. Smith and Wesson produced a lot of revolvers for many years. As it was well known that for a time when S&W was owned by some different conglomerates thru the years there were time periods when the quality of the firearms was less than perfect or even desirable from a consumer standpoint. With the return of S&W to American ownership and control I have seen a vast improvement to the overall quality of the lineup. I have a S&W model 25-7 (5 inch .45 Colt) with the most perfect barrel I have ever seen on a production gun. A dream for shooting cast bullets through and this gun will NEVER see a jacketed or plated bullet thru it as long as I have it in my possession.
I had a 6 inch S&W model 19 that had one small rough spot in it that would ALWAYS hold a spot of leading that was the proverbial PIA to remove. The rest of the barrel was perfect but that one spot gave me fits. I sold the gun off before I really knew enough on how to have fixed it. I should have smoothed out that spot by polishing and lapping but I didn’t know it at the time. Besides the gun was a .357 and I really was hooked on big bores at the time. The point is that if the barrel is rough and has tool marks and the like then proper sized cast bullets shot by proper powders for a given load with cylinder throats and barrel dimensions all up to spec will still leave lead fouling behind. The barrel must be in good condition or all is for naught. Most barrels don’t need any attention while some may seem like you’ll never get it to shoot right. That’s something you’ll have to figure out whether or not you want to put in the effort to make the barrel a shooter or not. Sometimes you can’t turn a silk purse out of a sows ear as the old saying goes but then again you just might. Rebarreling is always an option and many have had good guns rebarreled and obtained tremendous performance increases in accuracy and ease of cleanup with this straightforward upgrade.
Auto Pistol Cast Bullet Loading
With .45 auto being the number one caliber in handguns it's little wonder that so many people load for this venerable classic. The 1911 style pistol along with all its variants has been going strong for almost 100 years. Granted that the shift to 9mm for military and police use is more in keeping with current trends (although the police have moved more towards .40 S&W and .357 Sig calibers recently and less departments are staying with the 9mm) the past and current sales of 1911 pistols and other guns chambered for .45 ACP is still going as strong as ever. The reasons for the cartridges popularity are its great ballistics, accuracy and, ease to reload. The .45 ACP being a low pressure round is ideal in many ways for cast lead bullets. When Colonel Jeff Cooper (The father of modern pistol craft) gave his blessing upon the .45 ACP and began the original “leatherslap” type competition (the forerunner of I.P.S.C. (( International Pistol Shooters Confederation)) the shooters took to this competition like the proverbial duck takes to water. Here was combat style shooting at various targets and with diverse distances. And the .45 ruled due to the scoring system that relegated the .45 to MAJOR and the 9mm to minor by virtue of a stated power factor. Since scoring became an important issue and feed reliability was a must it was found that the IPSC shooters needed a bullet that was feed reliable, accurate and would cut clean holes on paper for scoring purposes. The bullseye crowd had the 185 grain SWC that gave them two out of the three requirements. But the feed issue with the short nose 185 was unacceptable to the IPSC crowd since an alibi (allowable in bullseye) was not allowed in IPSC if your gun jammed. After some searching it was settled that the bullet that met all the requirements was the venerable H&G68 200 grain semiwadcutter. The bullet was developed by the famous (but now closed) Hensley and Gibbs mold manufacturers. It was their number 68 mold designation and it became the Gold standard in the shooting world. Today this bullet is the number one selling bullet period regardless of any other caliber weight or shape.
The requirement that the bullets feed reliably fell upon, to some extent, the bullet makers to produce bullets hard enough to take the rapid and heavy cycling of these guns so that the bullets did not deform from being too soft which was a problem with the swaged bullets.
The 2/6 mix proved to be pretty reliable in this application but suffered from being a bit too hard for the pressures that the .45 ACP was generating and the powders being used during that time (mostly WW 231 and Bullseye). This resulted in breech bore fouling that usually ran about the first 1/2 to 3/4s of an inch inside the barrel. The initial engraving of a lead bullet, whether it was in a revolver or auto pistol, led to the most common type of fouling that was being seen and that was at the breech end. The three things that corrected this problem were powder speed, hardness of the alloy and proper sizing.
Most shooters lived with the problem as the match was usually over before the fouling became enough of an issue to cause a significant reduction in accuracy. Along the way a shot shell powder started being used because it was cheaper than the other powders and it metered well thru powder measures and lo and behold the powder caused far less fouling because of its slower and cooler burn rate and the accuracy was as good as anything else out there. The powder was WW452AA. After a while the powder was discontinued and replaced by WW Super Target which is still one of the best .45 ACP powders available especially if you have to make a power factor. Along the way other powders started to show up that reflected newer technology and were better suited to cast bullet usage. Hodgdon introduced Clays, a powder developed for (you guessed it) the new shotgun sport; Sporting Clays. Since this new action oriented sport was growing by leaps and bounds the shotgun crowd wanted a powder that was cleaner burning than the old traditional Red Dot. The new powders being formulated were moving towards flatter pressure curves and more progressive burn rates, meaning the powders burned faster at the end of their cycle rather than at the begriming and avoided the larger initial peak pressure associated with some of the older technology powders. This was due to the change from the old copper crusher method of measuring pressure to the more advanced piezo pressure transducer system that measured in pounds per square inch (psi). The advantage was also that for the first time ballisticians could hook the output of the transducer to an oscilloscope and see the entire burn trace as opposed to only reading the peak pressure as measured by the older copper crusher method. The newer powders didn’t generate the same peak pressure but then they didn’t fall off as rapidly as the older powders. A change in felt recoil was being experienced as the flatter pressure curves felt more like a shove than a snap and that was also a big plus.
Conventional wisdom early on held that semi-autos needed fast powders to cycle properly but the evidence over the years seems to contradict that belief. Most autos do very well with medium to medium slow burning powders and the result is usually better accuracy and a cleaner gun. For many years Bullseye and 231 ruled in auto applications and while they are still in use there are better choices available out there today. Bear in mind that powder development for pistols ranked last with powder manufacturers as their primary sales of powder went to the shotgun and rifle crowd. Only the explosive growth and demand of pistol shooting over the last twenty-five years changed their mind on this subject. Today the Handloader / Reloader has a wealth of choices available to them with respect to powder selection. There is also some false economy that some people indulge in with respect to finding powders that will give them the most loads per pound of powder rather than getting the best powder for the job at hand.
Some of the same things that applied to revolvers applies to the autos as well. For the most part 99% of all .45 1911 style pistols do perfectly fine with .452 diameter cast bullets. This includes Kimbers, Les Baer and Springfield Armory guns as well. If you are that concerned then by all means measure the barrel to get a true dimension. Most problems that some individuals encounter with cast bullets being .001" over nominal diameter has more to due with chambering issues with the reloaded ammo than with the actual bullet diameter. Improperly loaded ammo that has an excessive bulge from improper loading can cause many headaches and the result is to blame the bullet for being oversize and causing the bulge. Lee has sold a lot of Factory Crimp Dies that feature a carbide size ring that forcibly reshapes the finished round into one that will chamber into any factory spec barrel. The problem is that this also resizes the bullet as well and causes a detriment to accuracy. The solution is to not take a band aid approach to correct the problem AFTER it has occurred but to take the necessary steps beforehand to prevent it in the first place. I will cover this in much more detail in the 'Press and Dies' section of this guide.
On the other hand 9mms should always be measured. The extreme variance in barrel dimensions is staggering when I look back upon it. The range has run from a tight .355" to a exceptionally loose .358" diameter on some guns. For the longest time Berettas were among the most notorious in this respect while Sig Sauer was at the very tight end of the tolerance.
Shooting Cast Bullets in Glocks
I get a good number of inquires about lead bullets being used in Glocks so I’m going to express my thoughts on the subject. The most common thing heard about Glocks, as well as H&Ks and Kahrs for that matter, is that you should not use cast bullets in these guns due to the polygonal rifling used in these guns. It is said that such rifling causes dangerous pressure spikes in such guns and the result is a dangerous KB (kaboom) destroying the gun and injuring the shooter. This is due in part to the fact that the polygonal rifling impresses the rifling into the bullet rather than engraving the rifling thru the bullet as with conventional lands and grooves. Couple this with any fouling and the over pressure problem becomes even more acute. So my first piece of advice is to NOT DO IT. And I’m not going to be held liable should you not heed that advice and venture forth on your own.
Now having said that, I can tell you that many people load cast bullets in guns like the Glocks and they have shot tens of thousands of bullets thru them with no problems If one were to go to the Glock Forum and the Reload section there are many threads about this very subject. The important thing in making this work is know what you are doing before you start:
(1) only use quality cast bullets in the intended application.
(2) Get the bullets sized to nominal dimensions rather than the standard .001" diameter that most cast bullets are done at.
(3) Use clean, cooler, slower powders for the application and work the loads up from there.
(4) The gun needs to be clean of any copper or moly fouling.
The gun needs to be checked after the first 5 rounds fired for any signs of fouling from the bullet load combo you are running. If the load is clean then proceed to fire another 5-10 rounds and then check for any signs of fouling along the way. If the load exhibits any signs of excessive fouling then you have to stop, rework the load, clean the gun and start over. Eventually you should be able to work out a load that will permit you to run about 100 - 150 rounds between cleaning. The .40 S&W is the worst culprit due to the fact that the pressure curve is a very peaky one to begin with and the chamber is unsupported in the Glock barrels. HS-6 has served me well in this application.
If all this seems like too much effort then you can always get an after market barrel with conventional rifling and not worry about it. There are a number of quality after market barrel makers that will fulfill this need should you chose to go in that direction.
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.