Letter Re: Loading Your Own Ammunition

Dear Editor,
I have some comments to follow up on the letter from Kent from Illinois. I specifically left out mentioning match primers, salvaging brass with swaged primer pockets, etc., as this article was on the basics, barely touching upon a few advanced techniques.

As to touching the primers: My handloads suffered from maddening duds occasionally, until I tracked down the cause. An old timer told me about skin oils and primers. I, being a young know-it-all, could not find this old timer’s story mentioned anywhere (this was way before broad public use of the Internet), so I set off to test his hypothesis for myself. I took a brand new tray of primers and opened the drawer one row. I poured the primers onto my work surface and used a clean tool to put five in my hand. I then seated these five, and then seated the other five without touching them. I later fired all ten, sans powder and projectile. The five I had kept in my palm clicked on duds twice. That is a forty percent failure rate. That was unacceptable. The other five popped off one hundred percent. The only thing differing was not touching the control batch. I recommend you try this experiment for yourself, as perhaps primers have gotten better. That was some time ago, but it proved the concept to me. Once I got a specific priming tool the problem vanished. [JWR Adds: I use an RCBS brand primer-flipping tray with a concentrically-grooved surface, and then pick up the primers with a primer feeder tube. That way my fingers never touch the primers. But I have doubts that the high failure rate that you reported was solely due to skin oils. There must have been another factor.]

As to the length of the loaded round, If you will check some SAAMI specs on specific calibers you will note that most will have at least an eighth of an inch of leeway (the distance from minimum to maximum length) in overall length, in many calibers (.357 Magnum, for instance, MIN: one point four zero five, MAX: one point five nine. This is well over an eighth, point one two five. I think most can measure to a sixteenth with a [machinist’s] ruler). This can hardly be considered a critical measurement, in an article where sometimes, as in the die interior, one thousandth of an inch is critical. [JWR Adds: I disagree. Lining up a cartridge alongside ruler allows for variances from 90 degree alignment with your eye. (Bullets are tapered, so their tips will not be right along side the ruler markings. Physically calipering removes that error, and is far more accurate. Bullet seating depth can also affect accuracy, and it is crucial for getting a good crimp that properly engages a bullet’s s cannelure.]

And as to the tapping on the case and bullet, I did forget one important detail: A small wooden block (and care to tap and not pound) should be used to prevent damage to the case or bullet, as in the Lee loader instructions. I also should have listed this block in the basic equipment. Thanks for noticing and allowing me to improve the article. – Ken from Montana