Even with todayís vast selection of powder measures, there remains a persistent and solid need for powder dippers in a handloaders arsenal of equipment. Powder dippers are quick to use, easy to store, and can deliver extremely uniform powder charges when properly used.
You might ask, ďWhy have powder dippers?Ē The applications are many. Perhaps you have a pet specialty load that you only load a few dozen rounds per year, or maybe a travel kit with either a Lee Loader or Lyman 310 Tong Tool for loading while away from home. Or, maybe you have limited space or resources and donít have a powder measure, but desire the convenience of a measured powder charge without having to weigh each load. Lastly, powder dippers are great for impromptu loading sessions when a few rounds of a known load are desired. It is amazing the consistent charges that may be measured out using powder dippers, and the speed by which one can load ammo, when armed only with a dipper!
Lee Precision is the only current manufacturer of commercially produced powder dippers. These are calibrated in cubic centimeters, and are marked according to the capacity of each dipper. Using a slide-rule supplied with the dipper set, or the charts Lee Precision has published, one may select a powder dipper with a close approximation to the desired charge weight of a given powder. However, these dippers rarely dispense the exact powder charge desired of a given brand and type of powder. As can be seen from the photo, these Lee dippers are stained from years of frequent use.
For just pennies, an extremely durable set of powder dippers can be made up, mostly from scraps and cast-offs. Dippers crafted from fired, empty straight-walled cartridge cases, and a metal handle soldered to the case make first class powder dippers!
When I make up powder dippers, I try to do them, a batch at a time, utilizing an assortment of different size, and capacity straight-walled fired brass cases. Generally, these are either range-rabbits (cases picked up on firing ranges), brass that has been loaded to the end of what I consider the working life-span of the cases, or perhaps cases with cracked or split mouths. None-the-less, the dippers are assembled from cast-off cases.
Handles may be fashioned from anything from coat hanger wire, bailing wire, brass welding rod, or copper electrical wire. My favorite is either brass welding rod, or copper electrical wire, due to it being impervious to rust, and very easy to solder. The easiest to acquire is electrical wire, and the cheapest as well. Number twelve copper wire is the smallest gauge wire that makes suitable dipper handles, with number ten copper wire being about optimum. This can be purchased by the foot in most hardware and home improvement stores for a very modest cost per foot. However, most construction sites have an abundance of wire lying around once the electricians finish their work, especially on a commercial building where the wires are pulled through conduits. Too, miles of copper wire may be had for less than a dollar a pound at scrap yards.
If using electrical wire, make sure to use copper wire, as aluminum wire wonít solder worth a hoot! Simply strip the insulation off the wire, and cut into about five-inch pieces. Cut an equal number of wire pieces as you have empty brass cases for your dippers.
Preparation of cases is the key to easy soldering. They must be bright and clean where the handle is to be soldered into place. Whether using steel wool to clean the brass, or putting them into a brass tumbler to clean them, itís absolutely essential that the case be bright and clean where you attach the handle.
Common electrical solder, available from hardware and home improvement stores is all that is needed to make these custom powder dippers. If not using a pre-fluxed hollow core solder, youíll need to flux the case with a commercial soldering flux where the soldered joint is to be made. Pre-fluxed hollow core solder allows sidestepping this procedure. Heat is applied via propane Bernz-O-Matic type torch. The accompanying photo shows a brass case held in a bench vise, with the copper wire positioned ready for soldering. (I use one of the steel plates I use for rolling lapping bullets to support the wire handle in place for soldering)
When soldering, make sure that flammable items are well away from the work area, and that you have adequate ventilation. Apply both heat and solder sparingly. Over heating the case and wire arenít necessary, and only results in a sloppy soldering job where the solder runs and sags in big drips on the brass case. Only use the edge of the flame from the torch to heat the area to be soldered, and at the same time apply the solder (smaller diameter solder is easiest to work with). As soon as the solder flows into the joint between the wire and the case, pull the flame away and allow the assembly to cool.
A properly finished soldered joint should be smooth, and relatively small, confined to the immediate area of the junction between wire handle and brass cartridge case. It should be free of excess solder as well. A properly executed soldered junction with the handle will be no stronger with excess solder added.
Once components for the dippers are laid out, and necessary tools set up, it wonít take long to make a whole passel of dippers once you get into the groove of soldering the handles. In fact, the unfinished dippers shown in this photograph only took about twenty minutes to solder together once I got going on the project.
Once the handles are soldered into place, itís a simple matter to form the handles using a pair of pliers. Once finished, as shown in the photo, I bundle them together with a removable wire tie or piece of wire until they are needed.
Finally, when a dipper is needed of a specific capacity, it is a simple matter to weigh out the appropriate amount of powder on a powder scale, and then pour the charge into a dipper most closely approximating the volume of the powder charge. Then, using either a file, or a case trimmer adjust the length of the brass cartridge case where the capacity is equal to precisely the desired powder charge with the powder of interest. This is much faster and easier than it sounds to accomplish. By getting the case length close, then testing the weight of three or four dipped powder charges as you fine tune the length of the case, a very precise quantity of powder may be dispensed with these home-grown powder dippers.
Interestingly, I have a few of these dippers that live in each and every set of reloading dies that see frequent use. Itís very fast to put together a few known loads of a favorite recipe if you have a powder measure specifically tailored for that particular load. Simply use a fine-tipped permanent felt marker to clearly label both the weight and type of powder for which the dipper is calibrated, and it will both eliminate guess-work, and make dipper selection fast. Also, this is much faster than having to get out a full dipper set, and look up what dipper throws a charge close to the desired amount, then have to double check with a scale. The dippers you make are tailored for an individual purpose, and if stored with the dies for a given application, youíll find that you use them more than you realize possible!
The next time you get ready to toss some brass, donít! Instead save them for a dipper making session, and create an enduring tool that youíll use for years to come.
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