Tools of the trade

0202

Laurie Holland concludes his review of the new handloading gear on the market with some case measuring, cleaning and preparation equipment.

The Australian 155gn 0.308in HBC bullet (‘High Ballistic Coefficient’), accurately named as its G7 BC is rated at 0.236, is beaten only by Berger’s new and much more expensive Hybrid (0.247). The HBC is very well made, competitively priced, and – equally important right now with the dearth of US manufactured bullets – available (from Fox Firearms UK). It’s a VLD (secant ogive nose-form) design, but I’ve found it to perform well with a 15-thou jump to the rifling. Sellier & Bellot ammunition and components are back thanks to York Guns Limited. Most popular sporting cartridges are available with various expanding bullets, and FMJ or HPBT Match ammo is catered for in .223 Rem, .308 Win and some historic designs including 6.5 and 8mm Mauser, 7.62X54R Nagant, and .303. There is a limited range of unprimed cases and FMJ bullets too including brass for the veterans.

Themes

SONY DSCThree themes stand out when we look at tools: case measuring, cleaning and preparation; electronic powder weighing/dispensing; and case annealing. I’ll leave this last one for a future issue, but will say that the manufacturers of automatic annealing machines don’t include any mainstream reloading equipment providers so far. RCBS, Lyman and Hornady offer combined powder dispensers and scales, Lyman currently launching two new models simultaneously, its ‘Gen 5’ and ‘Gen 6 Digital Dispensers’, the latter a compact model. Also, RCBS’s Charge Master 1500 combo has been most praised by reviewers and users, although at over £400 it is half as expensive again as the Hornady ‘Auto-Charge’. The Charge Master actually comprises two machines, clipped and connected to each other, which can be bought separately (although the dispenser is useless without the compatible 1500 model scales).

How accurate are they? The manufacturers claim ±0.1gn, and the RCBS machine will throw most charges of some powder grades with less variation providing you monitor the scale reading after dispensing finishes, as it may overdo things by a tenth of a grain or two during final top-up.

Lee Precision has updated its hand-held priming tool, and there are now two models: a new ‘Ergo Prime’ that is held and operated differently from the established Auto-Prime using squeeze-hand operation, and an updated ‘XR’ version of the original, recognisable by its square magazine. It features improved magazine feed and a small integral rod that lifts a single primer out of the magazine on each stroke letting it drop into the tool head for the following case, this reducing the chance of an explosive chain reaction if things go awry. I reckon that the ‘XR’ gives more ‘feel’ through the operating handle than earlier models, but not everybody regards the changes as improvements.

Upside Down

01 BJD + Scenar + 155.5Ber + SMK2156 02001RCBS recently introduced a large single-stage press to complement its venerable ‘Rockchucker’. The ‘Summit’ has a static shellholder positioned just above the press-base, while a sliding tool-head takes the die down to the case when the top-mounted handle is pulled. It runs on a single massive two-inch diameter steel column and has hardly any overhang, so manages with a tiny base-plate and two bench-mounting bolts. None have arrived in the UK, but importer GMK Ltd. has promised to send one for review when it receives its initial order. There are several benefits claimed for the layout and ‘upside down’ operation, including: ease of operator hand access, true ambidextrous operation, reduced run-out, nothing located below the bench-top, and less bench space needed.

Prep

06 Hornady Calliper Anvil06Case cleaning and basic preparation have attracted the US manufacturers’ attention with nearly all now offering ultrasonic cleaners. Lyman – long known for vibratory case tumblers – now lists a range of ultrasonic types, including a gunsmith’s machine that accepts a barrelled rifle action or disassembled AR-10/15. A recent innovation is STM case cleaning (stainless tumbling media) an adaptation from industry that employs small steel pins in a water/detergent solution contained in a sealed barrel-type tumbler – I’ll report on this separately. A raft of power-driven ‘case-preparation centres’ that will clean and uniform primer pockets, chamfer case mouths, clean the inside of case-necks, and more have appeared. The most ambitious (and expensive at over £400) example is Hornady’s ‘Case Prep Center’, which includes a unique powered case trimmer alongside half a dozen other roles.

Measure

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Hornady and Forster now have case concentricity (also known as run-out) gauges, previously the preserve of precision handloading toolmakers and RCBS’s well-known Case Master Gauging Tool. Hornady bought Stoney-Point and its range of OAL gauges and comparators some years back and has been quietly upgrading them ever since. Its latest innovation is a ‘calliper anvil’ whose outside diameter matches that of the comparator inserts, clipping onto the opposing calliper blade and making it easier to align bullets and cases with the comparator for consistent measurement.

SONY DSCIt seemed Hornady had this market sewn up, but Forster has joined in with its ‘Datum Dial’, a sophisticated but easy to use alternative. A tool-holder clips on to a calliper blade and accepts a range of disks or ‘dials’ each drilled with five different size holes. A black Delrin version takes case-head to shoulder datum-line measurements, most designs covered by one of the five apertures. Five fired unsized cases are measured, the readings averaged to arrive at an ‘optimal headspace’ setting. Cases are remeasured after sizing and the die adjusted in the press frame to set case-shoulder positions at the previously measured ‘optimal’ length – they will still chamber easily (but only guaranteed in that rifle) while longitudinal clearances are minimised for accuracy and case life. Undo a small retaining setscrew with the Allen key provided and replace the Delrin ‘dial’ with a brass bullet measuring equivalent (two versions cover 10 calibres from .17 to .338, the #1 model offering the more popular diameters – 0.224, 6, 6.5, and 7mm, .308) and the Datum Dial now measures [comparative] cartridge OAL using the bullet ogive. This mode also provides a ‘bullet comparator’ to measure bullets from the base to ogive and batch them if needed.

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Posted in Features, Target news

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