In my last article I started looking at basic reloading equipment, including a number of the types of reloading dies/tools that are used. In this article I want to complete the discussion on reloading dies and their associated equipment.
Replacing the Projectile
Replacing the projectile is a simple matter of placing the new projectile on top of the case mouth, which should have already been slightly expanded, or “belled,” and pressing it down into the case with a seating die.
For pistols, seating dies generally come with two types of projectile masks, often referred to as seating “stems”— usually one for round nose projectiles and one for wadcutter projectiles. These stems form fit over the top of the projectile so as to cradle the projectile during seating, thereby minimizing damage to the head of the projectile. The exact means of changing between the seating stems varies between manufacturers, and should be covered with the notes provided with the die. Figure 1 shows a Dillon Precision pistol seating die and their method of implementing the seating stem changeover, in this case a quick changeover circlip system.
If you use non-typical projectiles (in my case round-nose wadcutters) which have a non-standard head shape, you may need to have the seating steam machined to fit your projectiles. This can be done on a lathe if you have access to one, or by your local gun shop or machine shop. For pistols, if you stick to round nose or wadcutter projectiles, the standard dies will work just fine. Rifle projectiles tend to be rather more standard than pistol projectiles, so standard rifle dies should work in most cases.
The important lesson, if you have a choice, make sure you have the correct seating stem installed for your specific projectiles, otherwise you risk damaging the projectile during the seating process. This may have an adverse affect on the aerodynamics of the projectile, and hence reduce accuracy.
The exact depth that a projectile needs to be seated will vary depending on the specific caliber and projectile type. The critical measurement is the Over All Length (OAL). This value is found in reloading tables and is best checked with a set of calipers. These can be simple direct reading calipers (Figure 2) costing $20-50, or more sophisticated digital instruments (Figure 3) costing $40-100. The digital ones are far easier to use, and well worth the extra few dollars.
Figure 4 illustrates the measurement of OAL, in this case for a .44 magnum pistol round with a specified OAL of 1.60”.
The implications of varying the OAL will be covered later when I address load development. In the meantime, the best advice is to stick to the maximum OAL and you shouldn’t go far wrong.
Re-crimping the Projectile
After 10 years of reloading I thought I understood the crimp process in reloading. After doing a bit of additional research, I’ve discovered crimping is more contentious than Obamacare. There are so many experts out there who can’t agree, so let’s stick to a quick equipment overview at this point, and address the issue in detail in a separate article later on.
The crimp process is the final action required to reload an ammunition round, and can be of two basic types; a roll crimp or a taper crimp. There are variations to the two basic types, but let’s leave it at that for now. The type of crimp you use is largely a function of the specific projectile type and the firearm type. Roll crimps are often favored for revolvers, with taper crimps favored for semi-auto pistols and rifles. Most likely the type of crimp you use will be dependant on the dies you buy, especially if you buy a complete set. If you don’t like the type of crimp die supplied in your die set, you can always buy an individual crimp die with your favored crimp type; cost about $25.
Special Purpose Dies/Tools
In the first equipment article, I briefly mentioned a number of special purpose dies which may or may not be applicable to your reloading activities. I use the term die here in a very broad sense because the actual die may be no more than a mounting bracket for a special purpose tool. However, these dies still commonly comply to the industry standard 7/8”-14 screw thread.
If you have a progressive press, one of the more useful dies (tools) is a powder level checker. The powder level checker is a die with a small plunger which is inserted into the case after the power is added, but before a projectile is inserted. A basic mechanical version supplied by RCBS for about $25 is shown in Figure 5. The white dot moves up and down on the plunger and is compared against the fixed scale on which a second white dot marks the desired powder level. The Dillon Precision powder level checker (cost about $70) is shown in Figure 6. In the Dillon checker, the plunger is attached to a simple switch mechanism and buzzer which sounds if there is no powder in the case, or an excessive amount of powder. The system is only designed to detect large discrepancies in powder charge not small errors. These are great tools for detecting no powder and avoiding “squib” loads. These powder level checkers are relatively cheap and, in my mind, are cheap insurance against the cost of replacing a barrel if you miss a squib load, not to mention the potential for personal injury. Of course, you need a press suitable to accept these powder level checkers, and a spare station to install it.
If you use, or reuse military brass, it is often necessary to remove the primer crimp using a swage tool. This may be a stand-alone tool costing around $100 (Figure 7), or a built in die installed on a press. The swage tool can be a simple conical shaped pin which pushes the primer crimp out of the way or a cutting tool designed to remove the crimp completely. Either way, the object is to enable a new primer to be inserted without damaging it. Some military brass may also have a sealing compound (glue) in the primer pocket. This will also need to be removed using a primer pocket cleaner. These are simple hand held tools costing around $3 (Figure 8).
The next special tool I want to mention here are case trimmers. These are mainly of importance to rifle reloading, and are simple grinding tools which reduce the overall case length. As these are generally more applicable to low volume rifle reloading, they are most often found as manual stand alone tools costing $100-150 (Figure 9). However, there are motorized versions available (cost about $270) (Figure 10) which will fit onto reloading presses, and form part of a more automated process. If you trim a case, this may leave a bur on the case mouth, which is removed with a de-burring tool, costing less than $10.
The final special die/tool I want to mention are “bullet pullers“. These are special purpose dies which essentially reverse the seating process, i.e. they pull the projectile out from a loaded round. This may be necessary to re-check that the correct powder charge has been added, or to recover a projectile if the case has been damaged during seating or crimping. For competition shooters, the weight of the projectile is one component of the ammunition’s “power factor,” which may need to be checked by the match officials. This is accomplished by pulling the projectile out of one (or more) of the competitors rounds of ammunition—more on “power factor” later. Bullet pullers come in a variety of formats, the two most common being the kinetic bullet puller, which I’ll cover in my next article, and the bullet puller die. Figure 11 is a bullet puller die, which is commonly used in a single stage reloading press. These dies cost around $25, and are usually caliber specific. The caliber specific collets vary in price from $15-65.