(Continued from Part 2. This part concludes the series.)
After a couple years of this I decided the pocket reaming operation was too labor intensive and taking too much time, so I decided to throw some money at it. After evaluating tools, I decided on the top of the line Dillon Super Swage 600 primer pocket swaging tool ($125). While a fairly expensive tool, its performance is unequaled and known to be the best for the task. It is also a “lifetime” tool. If taken care of and used properly, it should last forever. But also very important, replacement parts are available.
The swaging tool doesn’t cut away metal from the edge of the pocket like the Lyman reaming tool. Instead it utilizes a hardened steel rod and compound leverage to “swage” or mechanically press the tip of the rod into the pocket to resize the pocket by “stretching” the brass to the diameter of the tip. Also note, the Dillon tool comes with rod tips for both small and large primer pockets, and case guide rods to accommodate both .30 caliber and .22 caliber cases, and an adapter for .45 ACP. Separate options are available to accommodate other calibers as well, such as 9mm, .38 Special and .40 Smith & Wesson. I was very impressed the first time I used this tool, quickly swaging about 450 cases in a couple of hours.
Now all the cases are completely prepared, the worst of the job is over, and its time to load those cases! This is the part I enjoy the most since you finally see the fruits of your labor by producing your own custom, high quality ammo.
I set up my Lee Classic Cast press for the .223/5.56 caliber (or another short action caliber) with the powder charging die, bullet seating die and factory crimp die according to the printed directions from the die manufacturer. The turret press has four die holes. With mine, one is an open hole since the resizing/ decapping was performed earlier.
On top of the powder charging die is either my Lee Auto Disk powder measure or my Lee Auto Drum powder measure. I use the Disk measure for pistol calibers and the Drum Measure for rifle calibers. For the Disk measure I have both the “double disk” and adjustable disk options, allowing me almost limitless adjustments. The double disk kit can also measure and throw enough powder for loading the .223/ 5.56 caliber or similar small rifle calibers. The drum measure has 2 drums- one small, more suited to pistol and small rifle and one large- more suited for rifle cases that hold larger volumes of powder. Both the Disk measure and Drum measure work very well and are easy to set up. They work very well on the turret press, but they do require an additional small “riser” between it and the charging die to allow the powder measure to clear the primer feeder when the die holder plate rotates in the turret.
After the powder measure is set and adjusted, the bullet seating die is set in the die holder plate and adjusted specifically the bullet or tip you are loading. The tip is seated at a proper cartridge overall length (COL) from your loading manual. This COL should also be checked to ensure it is short enough to allow for proper loading and feeding from your magazines. It should be good, but it never hurts to double check
The Crimp Die
Next I put a caliber specific Lee factory crimp die in the 4th hole of the die plate and adjust it for a firm crimp of the case mouth around the bullet. I like the Lee crimp die because it works with tips that have a cannelure (recessed series of indentations around the rear third of the bullet) and tips that are smooth. A crimp keeps the tip firm in the mouth of the case and protects concentricity from rough handling. It is also required for loads like the .30-30 or .32 Winchester Special which are used in rifles with a tubular magazine, like the Marlin 336 or the 94 Winchester. Without a firm crimp, the tips in these cartridges, when placed in tube magazines are under compression, and will cause the tips to be pushed deeper into the casings.
Important Safety Note: When loading for tubular magazine rifles, use only flat or blunt tipped bullets, or the new Hornady special soft tipped bullets. That will prevent a bullet tip from discharging a primer in the cartridge in front of it under recoil of the rifle firing, and then a chain reaction–a very dangerous situation.
Now all the dies are set and adjusted. Next I put a pack of proper size and type primers into the primer tray of the primer feed system and place it in its mount on the press, and the payoff begins. A fully prepared casing, that now looks like new is placed in the shell holder of the press ram and brought to full height of the ram with the first down stroke of the handle. Under the shell holder the primer inserter swings out from under the shell holder; the primer feed is actuated with a fingertip push and singly drops a primer in the inserter. The upstroke of the handle brings the ram down, the primer inserter is actuated into the ram and up through the shell holder to feed and press the primer into the primer pocket of the brass with a firm push. The turret rotates to the next position simultaneously.
The Powder Drops
On the next handle down stroke the case mouth actuates the powder drop and the measured amount of powder drops into the case with the actuation. For larger shells, I usually give the press two seconds to be sure all the powder has charged. On the handle upstroke the turret advances. A bullet tip is placed in the case mouth and on the next down stroke the bullet is seated by the bullet seating die to the adjusted COL as set previously. On the upstroke the turret advances. On the final handle down stroke, the case mouth is crimped by the factory crimp die. On the final upstroke, the turret advances and is ready for the whole procedure to begin again; the completed cartridge is removed and placed in a loading block or ammo box.
The aforementioned process with automatic indexing works for cartridges of .308 caliber and shorter (short action) For long action cartridges (.270, .30/06 and longer) the auto indexing rod is removed and the press operates as a single stage press for each operation, and the turret is rotated by hand. It takes a little longer, but it is still much faster than using a single stage press.
All of this reads like a lengthy process, but it actually takes between 15 to 20 seconds per cartridge. I average three cartridges per minute. At this rate, I’m taking my time to be sure a primer is always properly seated, the powder level is correct, etc. I joke to people that my press is like playing a slot machine that always pays off, I never lose! And I take pride in producing quality ammo, better looking and shooting than factory ammo. I highly recommend all readers interested in loading view the many videos on the Lee Precision web site and Youtube, if a picture is worth a thousand words, the videos are worth a million.
Straight Wall Cases
My whole process has a slight variation for straight wall handgun cases and calibers. I usually tumble and clean the cases with the spent primers in the case. The die holder plate is set up the same except the decapping and case sizing die is placed in the first hole rather than being performed as a separate operation. I now buy and use carbide pistol dies exclusively, which do not require lubrication of the cases, eliminating the tumbling after resizing.
The same process as outlined above is utilized, with the exception that all 4 die spaces in the turret are filled. On the initial down stroke of the lever the empty brass is decapped and the case is sized. The primer is fed to the inserter as outlined above and the rest of the operation continues, producing a new factory crimped cartridge. Again, on YouTube you can search loading videos for the Lee Turret Press and see the entire operation in sequence. I suggest watching a minimum of 12 different videos prior to purchasing any loading equipment. And better yet, if you know someone who loads, sit with them for a couple hours and watch, ask questions, and learn.
I’ve been loading on the Lee Turret Press for about six years now, with great results. I’m now considering a true progressive press to set up as a dedicated machine to load only one caliber – one I like to shoot the most- the .223 Remington. The .223 is a great rifle for practice due to it being a flat shooting, mild recoil, hard hitting (for a .22 caliber bullet, anyway) accurate and easy to load cartridge. It’s also more economical, with the powder volume and tips at half the cost of a .30 caliber cartridge. I’ve been evaluating the Lee Pro Master Press ($264) the Hornady Lock-N- Load press ($467) and a Dillon 650 Press ($650+, depending on optional accessories).
I still haven’t decided which progressive press to purchase. I have a friend who owns a Lee Pro Master and is happy with it, especially using it only for one caliber. I know a gentleman who owns a handloading shop and business, he swears by the Dillon 650 as a “one & done lifetime purchase”. I’m sure they are both correct. When I do purchase one of the above, after setup, operation and more than 1,000 rounds produced on it I would like to write a separate article as a review on SurvivalBlog.
I hope I haven’t thrown too much detail at any non handloaders at once- it really is a much easier process than one may think. Like any other hobby or craft, it’s important to know the nuances of things.
Now Get to Loading!
Begin by loading for one caliber and become proficient at that; then move on to a second. Note that many calibers are similar (.308 / .30-06 / .270). By the time you have mastered a rifle and pistol caliber, you will be learning at a faster rate and producing more ammo.
Hopefully, like I did, you will discover a fun hobby that produces a highly useful and valuable product.
JWR Adds: The only “Progressives” that I like are reloading presses! If any SurvivalBlog readers want to buy the best, they can get presses and accessories from Dillon Precision with free shipping on orders over $99. Use Promo Code CS19 at CreedmoorSports.com. Be sure to use Coupon Code CS19 so that SurvivalBlog will earn an affiliate bonus. Thanks!