The photos and the text of this Tech Note originated as a "mini-series" of threads in the Handloading Procedures/Practices Forum on ShootersForum.com. The result was such a useful and instructive photo documentary on the handloading process that we have, with Mike's permission, compiled this tech note. Many thanks to Mike for his excellent work on this article! I have taken the liberty of editing the original posts for the purposes of continuity of this article, however the text remains largely unchanged from his original excellent forum posts.
If the group will indulge me on this it might prove to be a good way to share information. There isn't a week that goes by that a beginner hand loader isn't asking questions about how to get started. Maybe this will help. I am not a self professed expert at this but I know what has been working for me....please chime in when there is something worth sharing.
I thought it would be interesting to show a reload, start to finish. I shoot 45-70 more than anything and there is almost always some reload step in progress on the bench. The pictures may not be specific to your cartridge but in general, the work steps and equipment are the same only tailored to a different caliber.
First the hand tools:
These are the tools I use when preparing a case. Other things will pop in and out of the photos and hopefully I will make mention of all the things as they show up. If not, ask. All will be discussed with a photo to help the words.
These are the hand tools needed to clean the inside case neck, clean and uniform the primer pocket, uniform the flash hole, cut the case to the proper length and trim the burrs from the case mouth after trimming to length. All these tools can be purchased from various sources for under $100 total. I personally like Midsouth, Midway, and eBay. Buy good quality hand tools, you will use them a great deal.
Shown are some 45-70 cases with your typical stains and powder residue. I don't own a case tumbler, don't even want one. In the picture you see a bottle of Hoppes Coper Solvent/Powder Solvent, a brush, and a tin of Imperial Sizing Wax. The solvent is the same stuff you use to clean the fouling out of your gun barrel. The wax is what is used to lube the case when sizing it with the sizing die.
This is the best time to inspect the case for damage or flaws. Give it a good looking over. If you find cracks, splits, isolated bulges, or anything that looks abnormal...throw it away, you can't recover it. At best, processing it will pose an undue risk to the shooter.
I first use the brush to clean the inside of the case, a few turns does the trick and I have not found the need for a dry neck lubricant with this cartridge. Use the appropriate size brush for your caliber. I bought a Swiss Army cleaning kit on eBay for $6, the kind that wrap up in a green plastic holder, it came with large, medium, and small, brushes along with the handle and extension rods.
I then lightly wet a rag with the solvent and wipe the outside of the case. It doesn't take much solvent but it may take a little rubbing. This gets rid of the powder residue and stains on the case. Wipe it clean and set it aside, do all the cases the same way. Really stubborn cases may need a ScotchBrite pad. Do not get solvent on the inside of the case.
Others will have different ways of cleaning the case. I have been doing it this way for 3 years and never had a problem. My cases are clean and shinny when finished and I do it in real time. I don't have to wait for a tumbler and then clean the tumbling media residue off the case. I clean case within a day or so of shooting them. This seems to work best to minimize staining and they are easier to clean when the material is freshly deposited.
Sizing and Decapping 45-70
First a word about equipment:
Shown is my 45-70 die set. Hornady - Full Length Sizer Die (right inside red box), Expander Die (center), Seater Die with micrometer adjust (left inside red box), Redding Taper Crimp Die (green box). All 4 dies are shown with the Hornady Die Bushing for use with the Hornady Lock-N-Load system.
The 45-70 is a straight wall case. As such, it needs a separate process step to expand the case neck to the proper size to accept the bullet. A bottle necked cartridge will have an expander on the inside of the die as part of the decapping rod. The working part of the decapping rod is the small diameter pin on the end of the shaft. They are replaceable on all similar type dies.
The sizing die is a Full Length Sizer meaning it will shape/size the entire length of the cartridge. This would be compared or contrasted to a neck sizing die that will only work the neck of the cartridge. If you shoot bottle necked cartridges it is best to have both types. I will talk about neck dies when I process a bottle necked case. It is a good idea that beginners full length size all cases until they get their arms around what it's all about. I have had virgin brass that did not fit in the chamber of my gun. It required full length sizing before I could use it. Once the case is fire-formed (you shoot it in your gun and it expands to fill the interior volume of your chamber) you can neck size only if you choose. It saves wear and tear on the brass and aids in improved accuracy. For now, we will full length size the brass.
This is a picture of my reloading bench. It's not large; I have it outfitted with two presses and a powder measure. I also tie a rag to the corner, that's just for convenience. In the foreground is my Redding Ultramag press. You will see as we go through this I favor Redding equipment. There are lots of good things out there, I just favor Redding. This particular press is outfitted with the Hornady Lock-N-Load bushing adapter that screws into the top of the press. Look in the next picture. The die with the bushing simply twists into the bushing adapter screwed into the top of the press. The RCBS Rockchucker, the new Lee Classic press and others have a similar ability to screw in the Hornady adapter. THE BUSHINGS AND ADAPTERS ARE NOT NECESSARY, THEY ARE CONVIENIENT TO USE.
Shown below is a Redding Turret Press. This press will not accommodate a Hornady Bushing Adapter and the dies must be screwed into the press. The dies shown are for a 30-30.
Decapping and Sizing:
Adjusting die seating depth is a relatively simple task and is well explained with the instructions provided with the die. Here I have it adjusted exactly like recommended by the die manufacturer. This ensures proper performance of the die. With the ram (the push rod on the press) at the top of its stroke, the die is seated to just kiss the shell holder. The decapping rod itself is adjusted sufficiently low in the die to make contact with the spent primer and push it out of the cartridge case.
This next picture shows a case in the shell holder on top of the ram (the push rod on the press). I have SPARINGLY applied Imperial Sizing Wax wiped the outside of the case. I put it on with my thumb. I wipe my thumb across the wax container and then wipe it onto the case, spreading it evenly over the entire length. The tub of wax shown has been used for hundreds of large cases and you can see there is not a lot gone.
The next picture shows the case fully inserted into the sizing die.
The upstroke pulls the case from the die. Wipe the case clean when finished and do another one.
The next picture shows what a dirty primer pocket looks like. As stated earlier, the spent primer is pushed from the case with the decapping rod. Yuck. The pockets are fouled; we will clean them after we trim the case to length.
Next, trimming to length.
Back to the hand tools. I like to use the Lee Case Trimmer. You get one for each caliber you shoot. I have 5, they're cheap, about $4 for the specific shaft and shell holder and $7 for the ball handle cutter. It's extremely simple to use and you can't screw it up. I have never worn one out. The Sears exploded lawn mower picture is shown below.
I bought the ball handle because it's comfortable in my hands. I also use a small nut driver to hold the locking shell holder with the case when trimming. Again, it's easier on my hands. You can also chuck it up in a drill if you like but there is no need to. The photo below is the working assembly. Do all the cases the same way.
When finished the trimmed cases will have burrs on the edges. That's what the deburring tools are for. I show two sizes, I favor the large one made by Lyman for this cartridge but either will work. I hope the burrs are visible in the photos, if you can't see them, you can certainly feel them. I deburr inside then outside. It doesn't take a lot of effort.
The next photo shows the same cases after deburring. Deburring is just that, removing the burrs. We're not trying to shape the case neck, just remove the burrs.
Next, back to the primer pockets.
I do two things to the primer pockets, I uniform the pocket itself and I uniform the flash hole. The tools I use are shown below. These are made by EJS. I bought both on sale from Midway for around $18.
Uniforming the pocket means cutting it to a consistent size. Cleaning is done in the process. The EJS tool I use comes with a different size cutter on either end for different size primers and is adjustable for depth.
It is not critical to clean every last bit of crud out of the primer pocket. These are fine. What is important is to cut the primer pocket to the proper dimensions to accept the primer. I like to seat my primers just below flush on the bottom of the case.
The flash hole uniformer is used to deburr and cut crud out of the flash hole, it's easy to use. Like deburring the case neck, we're not trying to shape it, just remove the burrs. The EJS flash hole uniformer tool shown is adjustable for length, just follow the simple instructions that come with it.
So here they are cleaned, sized, cut to length, primer pockets and flash holes uniformed.......aren't they pretty.
I’m 50. I’ve been on this planet half a century. I am qualified to say things like, reloading is just like everything else you do……the more you put into it…..the more you get out of it! Detail, you pay attention to detail. I recently read where a grey-beard was giving advice to a newbie reloader……”treat every reload as if it were for NASA”. You won’t find any better advice than that.
In the previous photos I prepared the shell cases: they were cleaned, sized, trimmed, primer pockets uniformed. and flash holes uniformed. Now they are ready to be primed, charged with powder, and outfitted with a bullet.
At this point, it probably makes sense to look at some more equipment. To prime, charge, seat, and crimp you will need equipment that steps up to the rigor of each process step.
This is my powder scale. Less elaborate scales are just as effective. The important thing is it is graduated in grains. There are 7000 grains in one pound. On the platform to the right of the brass tray is my powder trickler. Turning the knurled knob on the trickler deposits a few kernels of powder into the tray, more on this later.
This is my funnel. This particular model comes with different size drop tubes for different size cartridges. The drop tubes insert from the bottom. I also have a funnel I stole from my wife’s kitchen compliments of Tupperware.
This is my Redding Model 3BR Powder Dispenser (on the right). I never store powder in the dispenser. I fill it at each charging session. This one is shown mounted on a stand. The stand simply makes it easier to access the drop tube on the dispenser during charging. The black thing on the bottom right is the micrometer-adjust that regulates how much powder is dispensed into the case. Some people like to mount their powder dispenser on their press, I like mine mounted on the bench.
I used this picture because if you look closely in the upper right hand corner of the photo you can see a picture of our future President - John Kerry
This is my primer tray. Primers come in square packages and you dump them into the tray for easy handling. I much prefer the square tray to the round one because it fits the primer box. Notice the primers are in rows of ten. I only dump the number of primers I’m going to use into the tray during the loading session.
Brass, I have both W-W (Winchester) and R-P (Remington). We processed R-P cases earlier (Beginners 45-70 Start To Finish - Case Prep) so those are the ones to use. I have not found one shoots better than the other but my preference is to work with R-P cases.
Selecting a bullet, I have 4 bullets on hand for the 45-70. They are, from left to right, a 500 grain RNFP cast lead bullet (Round Nose Flat Point), the blue stuff is a lubricant that comes on the bullet, a 350 grain Hornady RNFP copper jacketed bullet (this is my second favorite bullet, my favorite is the round nose version), a 360 grain RNFP cast lead bullet, and a Remington 300 grain hollow point bullet (these bullets are inexpensive but I find them lacking in accuracy when compared to others). I choose to load the Hornady 350 grain RNFP bullets.
This is an interesting picture of the same bullets. Note that the cannalure (the knurled ring around the bullet that is used to facilitate a tight crimp) is the same distance back from the front face of the bullet on all the bullets. What this really means is each of these bullets will seat at different depths in the cartridge case with the same amount of bullet above the case neck. This is an important consideration when selecting a powder where you want good case-fill. Note the bevel at the base of the 3 left most bullets. These are bevel based bullets and they can be contrasted to the flat base bullet on the right. This is not a boat tail and it aids in seating the bullet into the case. Boat tails are significantly more pronounced and their purpose is to enhance the bullets Ballistic Coefficient (less drag), more on bullet seating later.
Selecting a powder, the two candidate powders (below) on-hand for this cartridge are Reloader #7 and Hodgdon Varget. I like Varget for this bullet because it provides good velocity with a full case of powder at a safe pressure. The preferred powder charge (58.0 grains) is lightly compressed when the bullet is seated to its appropriate depth inside the case. I strongly believe that a uniform pressure front (achieved with a lightly compressed powder load) is a significant contributor to good accuracy. Had I chosen the 500 grain bullet I would have gone with Reloader #7 for the same reasons but the reasons for selecting one powder over another are not the subject of this article. I want to show you the basic mechanics of loading and the equipment used in the process.
Primers – It’s a good practice to use the same type of primer referenced in the load data. For this load I use the Winchester Large Rifle Magnum primer as shown in one of the previous photos. More on this later.
Expanding the case for bullet seating:
Straight wall cartridges require the use of an expander step and a separate die. The expander die is the one in the center of the red Hornady die box. It takes less time to insert it into the press using the Hornady Lock-N-Load die bushing than it did for you to read this sentence.
I measured some cases with the calipers to show the difference in inside diameter of sized cases to those that have been run through the expanding process. As shown in the photo, the full length resized cases (unexpanded) measure 0.455” inside diameter.
When the case is run through the press outfitted with the expander die the case mouth is expanded to 0.460”. This will easily accommodate a 0.458” or 0.459”diameter bullet. How deep do you go? I expand the case to a depth of approximately 1/3 the length of the shaft of the bullet that will be nested into the case. This gives adequate depth to start the seating process with good bullet alignment and ensures a secure fit.
Priming the cartridge is done by inserting the primer into the empty primer pocket of the case. Below is a picture of the primers I use for my 45-70 reloads, it shows the primers top and bottom. Read your reloading manual for a description of how/why they work. The manuals provide the best description of the anvil type primers that are used in center fire cartridges. I just want to show you the difference between the top and the bottom of the primer so you understand how to put them in the case. The firing pin hits the smooth flat part. This is analogous to the joke about the building contractor that keeps yelling out the window to the landscaping crew laying sod in the yard….green side up. In this case, smooth side down.
I seat primers using the built-in priming arm in my press. My Ultramag press comes equipped with a “smart” priming system. The extent of its intelligence is it swings down out of the way when not in use. I seat all the primers as a separate step. Note the primer in the priming arm in the photo below.
The primer is seated on the up-stroke of the ram. A lot of people like to use a special priming tool, and there are many; hand primers, bench primers, press primers. I don’t own one of any flavor. I learned to use the one on my press and I will tell you that you can easily develop a feel for proper seating, especially when you uniform your primer pockets like I described in my previous post. I’m sure I’ll get comment about this.
The photo below shows how the primer arm drops into the channel cut into the ram. The primer has been inserted into the primer pocket. The primer arm moves up and down with the action of the ram. I prime all my cases at the same time.
Charging the case with powder:
Charging the cases is done via the use of a powder measure. Mine is the Redding Model 3BR shown in the picture below. It has a micrometer type adjustment to regulate the amount of powder that goes into the case. My particular set-up is the “Universal” micrometer, meaning it will do a large range of powder loads from small pistol cartridges to large magnum rifle cartridges. The numbers on the micrometer are relative, not absolute, meaning the setting doesn’t equate to an exact amount of powder as scaled on the mic. At best, you record the particular readout for the powder you are using for future reference.
Charging the case with powder is as simple as lifting the lever. Do it (it = the mechanics of you physically moving the lever) consistently as some powders don’t drop as evenly as others. ALWAYS examine each load for the proper powder charge. I only load for rifle cartridges and I always throw light (I deposit slightly less than a full load of powder in the case) I dump the powder from the cartridge into the brass tray and use the powder trickler to bring the load to the exact level I want then I pour it back into the case. A lot of people will omit the trickler step and simply adjust the mic on the powder dispenser to give the desired amount but I like to measure each load…….exactly.
I charge all the cases in a separate step. I’m sure I will get comments about this too.
This is what a box of bullets looks like.
The picture below shows the seating die in the press and the bullet set into the expanded case ready for seating. Seating occurs on the down-stroke of the ram. Bullet seating is an important step in the reloading process. A lot of attention is paid to this step as it has a significant affect on accuracy. I have determined the appropriate seating depth for this bullet in my gun to result in a Cartridge Overall Length (COL) of 2.545”. In this case, the COL is a very meaningful measurement because the bullet has a flat nose and the COL is easily determined. This means the distance the bullet is set off the lands in the barrel is set to the same point with this simple measurement. COL is less meaningful with bottle neck cartridge bullets when the bullet is engaged on the ogive (tapered or curved sidewall of the bullet) as different bullets will have a different point of engagement in the die.
I have my Hornady seater die outfitted with the optional micrometer adjust. It’s not absolutely necessary to have the micrometer but I like the convenience of recording the setting for different bullets. I also like to keep a “master” cartridge when I have found a recipe that works really well. It’s a simple matter to put the master cartridge into the press, run the ram to the top of its stroke, and adjust the seating depth with a downward stem adjustment. In this case the adjustment stem is the micrometer shaft.
You can see in the next photo the bullet is seated to approximately the middle of the cannalure (the knurled ring around the bullet). You can also see how far the bullet is seated into the case. The powder charge I use with this cartridge (58.0 grains Hodgdon Varget) comes up to the bottom of the bullet and is lightly compressed. Note the crimp area around the bullet, this bullet has been seated and the case crimped.
The cartridge shown in the seating text has already been crimped and you can see the detail of the crimp around the bullet. Crimping is important but not always necessary. When the bullet has been seated into the case it needs a crimp to secure it in place. I crimp in a separate step using a separate die. The seating die can be adjusted to crimp but I prefer to do it separately. I find I get a better crimp and a more controlled crimp. The need for a crimp is especially important with this cartridge because it is used in a lever action gun. Recoil can jamb the bullet deeper into the case when they are stacked in an in-line magazine used on a lever action rifle. I use the Redding Tapered Crimp Die shown below. This die is outfitted with the Hornady Die Bushing for quick change out of the die in the press. Again, it took longer for you to read this sentence than it did for me to change the die in the press.
Shown below is the taper crimp die in the press and the cartridge to be crimped (it’s already crimped). I use a moderate to light crimp. This you have to feel to understand. As the bullet is pushed up into the die, the die tapers and constricts around the bullet. The further it is advanced into the die, the tighter the crimp. It doesn’t take much effort to get a good crimp, do them all at the same time. Yes, you can over-crimp and deform both the case and the bullet.
What did we end up with? The hand loads shown below are as good as any you will find anywhere. Paying attention to detail and consistency are the keys to quality hand loads. I label the box with information pertaining to the specific load; powder type and amount, bullet, primer, date of manufacture etc.
Cases – R-P
Primers – Winchester Large Rifle Magnum Primers
Powder – 58.0 Grains Hodgdon Varget
Bullet – Hornady 350 Grains Round Nose Flat Point (RNFP)
How do they shoot…..this is the fun part. I took these freshly loaded cartridges to the range. I always clean my gun thoroughly after a trip to the range and I always shoot 3 fouling shots before I take serious aim. I will generally use similar factory ammo or something I want to shoot up to reload as the fouling rounds. It’s important to use the same types of bullets; these are jacketed bullets so I shot jacketed bullets to foul the barrel.
Gun…Marlin Guide Gun 18.5” ported barrel, target distance…100 yards. I shot 4 shots from a sitting position after the fouling rounds. The tape was placed over some 30 caliber stuff I was having trouble with. That bottle cap was one shot.
We did good.
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