The Handloader Never Wants For Ammo, Part 3, by Wingfootjr

(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.

Handloader: Dillon SwageI 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.

Going Progressive?

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!




9 Comments

  1. I have been reloading since the early eighties…I have used mostly RCBS products…have used a dillon 550 for several years…my experience with lee products has been less than satisfactory……they have some VERY innovative products and are (pricewise) on the lower end of the market…however their products which I have used have not stood up to long term volume reloading

    1. Additionally, Lee dies are a royal pain in the butt to take apart and clean, and the plastic cases they are shipped in allow the dies to be exposed to moisture. The full length dies dont always allow the round to chamber and i have had to modify several on my lathe, like the 7.65 x 53 belgium and even the .303 to get the cases to headspace correctly and the bolt to close. I have also NEVER heard of anyone using the little yellow dippers for reloading without a scale.

  2. I have a Dillon Square Deal that is 36 years old. When I was having a problem with it last year, Dillon had me send it in and they went through it and fixed everything free of charge due to their lifetime warranty……..best warranty I ever saw.

  3. When I was in 7th grade back in 1972, I read a book titled “American Guerilla in the Philippines” about an American soldier under McArthur who didn’t surrender to the Japanese when the islands fell but went into the hills and initiated guerilla warfare against the Japanese. I recall him writing of his Philipino soldiers who used the propellent from procurred japanese naval mines to reload ammo for his groups weapons and used brass curtain rods which they filed down by hand to fit their barrels. A lot of handwork, but he said while his men didn’t like the kick that the propellent gave their handloads but they liked the fact that they didn’t have to adjust for windage.

  4. I have been reloading since the 70s, and will reserve comments except to say that crimping a “tip”, which is a bullet by the way, that doesn’t have a crimp cannelure is not a good idea.

    I also would like to state that the Dillon warranty is the absolute gold medal standard for warranty. My square deal b press was also sent back and rebuilt after many thousands of reloaded rounds went through it. Dillon stands behind their products.

    I do not use a progressive for rifle rounds due to the fact that i can’t control case length. Even with the RCBS X dies, the case length is never consistant and the neck concentricity worsens.

  5. Enjoyed the article! Reloading is a great hobby and I own two Dillon Precision presses and recommend their entire line.

    But be warned — reloading will add to your preps. I buy primers in lots of 5,000, bullet heads 2500 at a time, and powder by the 8-pound keg. And you often have to make the buys in person because of the hazmat fees for shipping.

    My advice for beginning reloaders is to get a set of check weights to verify the accuracy of your scale. Back when I used a balance beam, I learned this the hard way and ended up blowing the extractor out of my Glock when a load actually used 4.8 grains of powder, even though the scale read 4.2. (No harm was done to me or the gun — but both my pride and my hand were stung.) Those tiny check weights are a small but valuable investment, even if you use an electronic scale.

  6. This is a good article and should help people get started. I started reloading in the 70’s and commercially in the early 80’s on Dillon 1000’s They have not made that press in years and it was great. I was a Dillon dealer and a Lyman distributor and sold all the major powders. The few things that I don’t agree with is cleaning cases after sizing. They need to be cleaned first to save the dies. The burnt powder left on the brass will scratch the dies and then leave scratches in your sized brass. Maybe not a big deal but looks bad if you are selling ammo. You should lube all brass the carbide dies are so they don’t wear out. Lubing makes everything work smother and last longer. I have seen a lot of reloading equipment mostly dies destroyed by not tumbling first and not lubing. Yes, carbide will work in straight wall pistol cases without lube but it is better to lube.

  7. Although I have a good single stage press, circumstances forced me to use a Lee Hand press and the simplest tools, some I made. Yes, it is possible to load hundreds of precision rounds using the least expensive equipment, and even crude implements, including a hammer. The LEE PRECISION 90248 .30-06 Springfield Classic Loader for $38.00 can be useful and inexpensive way to get started saving money by loading the old fashioned way. The kit will pay for itself quickly. Sadly the kits are only available for a few cartridges. Hand loading with good quality presses, and equipment requires one to load thousands of rounds per year to pay for itself. It might be best to start with an inexpensive outfit before going hog wild only to find that it is too time consuming, or requires more of an investment of money than is sensible.
    The simplest and least expensive Lee products can produce a useful quantity and quality of hunting ammo to be a ‘no brainer’ decision. Using a single versatile power, and only one projectile, will keep the cost down. IMHO, the .30-06 is the most versatile cartridge on the planet. There are decades of literature to found on the net, valuable experience shared. IMR 4895 is proven to work well with most loads and in many cartridges, and if there were only one bullet choice, a 180 grain bullet would do it to it on most anything. Load from mouse to moose if you’d like, from subsonic to brush breaking 180 grain and heavier round nose loads, the .30-06 is a chameleon in the woods. And inexpensive brass can still be found. The average price for hundreds of once fired match grade LC and mixed LC bot recently at the Kalispell, Montana show was 6.5 cents. Reloading is funner when it is cheaper! The current plinking load using 150 flat nose plated bullets costs only 18 cent a round. Cheap trigger time!

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