Made 1,000 Rounds of Wad Today

My usual quota is 300 rounds in an evening but, starting about 2:00PM today and with two television breaks and another for dinner, I finished 1,000 rounds about 7:00PM. That includes setting the OAL (1.240″), crimp (0.469″) and throw (3.8 gr. Hodgdon’s Clays) for the 200 gr. LSWC X-Caliber 0.452″ bullets, pulling the crank to load them, and then boxing and labelling the result, and finally putting everything away and covering the machine. [Phew!]

Doing the math, I produced 200 rounds per hour. That’s not very fast.

But there are reasons for this, and they are very good reasons.

First of all, you don’t just start pulling the crank and turning out ammunition. Indeed, the first 30 minutes or so is setting everything up and checking the specifications. Today, for example, I had to increase the powder throw even though it was the same as when I last used the machine. Today was considerably warmer and, I assume, parts change size with the temperature. The throw had to be adjusted back up to the 3.8 grains I wanted.

And, in checking everything over, I found that the lock nut on the crimp die had worked loose. That had to be not only tightened, but then a test round made and measured and then the die adjusted, another test round made and then re-measured as well. And when all that was done, there were test rounds to be disassembled. Sure I could do that later but, nonetheless, it’s part of the time required to reload. It counts.

And at the end of the run. the leftover powder had to be removed and locked up. We have two grandchildren that run around here from time to time. The dangerous stuff has to be locked up every time. No excuses.

Normally the same “lock it up” would also be true of the primers but, with this run, I used them all up. [I just emailed Don, one of the club’s shooters who buys in bulk for club members, and asked if he had a sleeve of WLPs to sell and whether or not he could bring it to the 2700 on Sunday.]

Then, of course, the reloaded ammunition then has to be boxed, 50 per, and labelled with the date and load specifications so that, if something is later found to be wrong with the batch, it can all be identified.

Without the breaks and dinner, and subtracting the setup and cleanup, I was probably pulling the crank for two or three hours. That puts my production rate at 300 to 500 an hour, still below Dillon’s published rate for the 650.

But, you see, I’m not trying to beat the clock. This isn’t a race.

Instead, I’m trying to produce a very high quality round and in a very consistent manner. Bullseye shooters need good technique, yes, but they also need to do it in a highly repeatable manner. The ammunition needs to have those same qualities, accuracy and repeatability.

So when my production for five hours work is 1,000 rounds, that’s 1,000 rounds with a quality very close to if not better than what the major manufacturers achieve. More importantly, it’s the precise load that my wad gun shoots very accurately. The commercial manufacturers don’t make “my load.”




Crimp = 0.4695″
(within tolerance)

I do.

Reloading, if it weren’t for all the details that need to be monitored, could be very boring. But because a shell with too little powder is just as dangerous as one with too much — the former can leave a bullet stuck in the barrel which is then struck by the next bullet if you don’t catch it and wrecks the barrel, and the latter pretty much destroys the barrel too and possibly hurts the shooter — so there’s a lot to be watched on each and every round. I have all the Dillon bells and whistles for the available safety checks but I also look into each shell and eyeball the amount of powder before setting the bullet on top.

But it’s only fair to add that I enjoy shooting more than reloading.

Bullseye shooters reload for one reason — they can make the ammunition that’s absolutely the best for each of their guns and for each of the distances they need to shoot. Many have one load for the short line, 25 yards, and a different one for the long line, 50 yards. My shooting isn’t good enough to require that fine a tuning so I “get by” with the same load for both.

Shooters often start reloading thinking they will save money. And it is true that reloaded ammunition is significantly less expensive than what can be purchased in the store. My wad loads cost me about a dime each, mostly for the bullet. The brass gets used over and over so it becomes essentially free, and the cost of the powder and the primer are only a couple of cents. Commercially manufactured ammunition will, depending on brand and quality, cost 35 to 50 cents per bang, 3-5 times as much as my cost. Of course, I’m doing the labor and that “cost” should be factored in except I enjoy it so it’s more a labor of love than a chore.

And there’s the initial investment, too. Quality reloading equipment is, well, you get what you pay for. I have the best equipment for hobby reloaders, and I’ve added almost all of the optional features especially those for safety, and I’m very pleased with what I’ve got.

I initially rationalized that the savings would pay for the equipment. I estimated it would take about a year for that to happen.

But I forgot the human element because, while it is cheaper to reload, shooters soon find that with the availability of more economical ammunition, they shoot more.

In the final analysis, most shooters shoot as much as they can afford. They have X dollars per month that can be spent on shooting and if they reload, those dollars make more rounds of ammunition available during the month.

And that’s certainly been true for me.

So, do I save money by reloading?

That depends on how you measure it.

If it’s dollars per month, then the answer is “No” because I’m spending, over the year, just about the same as when I used to purchase pre-made ammunition at the store. I just didn’t shoot as much.

On the other hand, if you measure potential savings in “cents per round” and amortize the cost of the equipment over a year or so, then “Yes”, reloading does save money.

But again, the “human element” has to be factored in.

You see, my reloaded ammunition seems even cheaper because I buy the raw parts in bulk, and most significantly, rarely.




OAL = 1.240″

(OverAll Length)

For example, when I buy 5,000 bullets for nearly $400, you can bet I feel the draft as that money flies out of my wallet but when I then put those ten boxes in the storage cabinet and wait a month, the pain of that expense is soon forgotten. Indeed after a month or so, those bullets are still just sitting in my storage cabinet along with all the other “stuff” that’s been there, some of it for years. And I don’t have to spend a cent to use any of that stuff. It’s all just sitting there waiting for me.

The same thing happens with primers purchased a sleeve at a time (I don’t remember if that’s 5,000 or 10,000) and powder bought eight pounds at a time. By the time I get around to using those supplies, I will have forgotten the expense.

I don’t shoot nearly as much as I would like. Indeed, if I could shoot more often, I’d progress up the ranks of the NRA rating system much faster. But, alas, my work simply doesn’t allow me to do that.

Today’s 1,000 rounds will last me anywhere from two to four months depending on whether I’m able to work in some practice and competitions with my business travels. And because most of my travel is to the northeast part of the US where shooters move to indoor ranges for the winter, most of those ranges permit only 22 caliber ammunition so today’s 45 ACP wad reloads may last even longer (because I won’t be able to shoot it).

Regardless, I’d like to work in another day of reloading before work resumes on the 5th when I fly to Houston for the week, back for a week, then round out the month with Houston again followed by Long Island. (I haven’t found any Bullseye in either location so, other than the one week here, I may do very little shooting in January.)

But by the time February rolls around, all this ammunition will be “free”.

Hooray, free ammo!

Martindale Gauge




Martindale Gauge

If you reload 45 ACP for automatics (but not necessarily for revolvers), you need one of these gauges from Bruce Martindale (kingsarcher2@yahoo.com). It’s basically a bored-out nut — made on a precision lathe — and you pass all your brass through it before reloading.

If the brass passes, reload it. If it won’t, chuck it.

Fired brass is subject to some interesting ills.

First, every time a gun such as the model 1911 is fired, the slide is propelled backward, pushed by the rim (bottom) of the shell. Over time, this causes the solid brass rim to “squish out” and increase in diameter. Eventually, the rim will be too large to fit under the extractor and the gun will jam with a partially fed round. Similarly, the extractor “hook” may nick and slightly draw-out the area it contacts.

Most so-called “full length” resizing cannot correct this problem. “Roll resizers” may do better but such machines are usually the domain of commercial reloaders who can afford the larger investment required.

Next, in some guns such as the Glock in 45 ACP, it is thought by some that the slide’s rearward movement begins while a substantial pressure still exists in the shell and, coupled with the different chamber end found in that gun, the brass in that area is given a bulge that stresses the brass beyond its ability to recover.

“… the unsupported region of the chamber [is] a fact of life in any automatic but much worse in some types of guns.” Bruce Martindale, personal email, November 24, 2008.

Although full-length resizing may temporarily compress such brass back into tolerance, the shell has been overstressed and will not “spring back” correctly after firing ever again. Worse, if during reloading the brass expands in the later stages after resizing, it will be left “fat” and may be too large to fit into the gun’s chamber. A jam will result. This type of failure can also arise from overuse, overloads, weak brass or a bulged or oversized chamber.

Bruce adds a warning about re-using such brass.

“… it is possible for bulged brass to fail (burst) if reused in a gun with inadequate chamber support. True it is a bit ‘broad in the beam’ but it may still chamber, with no indication of the upcoming failure or if it doesn’t fully chamber, it can burst if the gun is capable of firing out of battery.” (Same email.)

Bottom line: Bulged brass and hammered out rims are bad, even dangerous.

When I first started reloading 45 ACP, I became a “range scavenger”. If anyone near me was shooting that size and they weren’t picking up their brass, I’d ask if I could have it. The answer was almost always, “Yes,” and brother, did I think I was getting a deal.

Fast forward a couple of months and you’d see me dealing with jams and misfeeds about once every 20 rounds or so.

Fast forward again and you would see me in the garage running all my brass, shell by shell, through the newly acquired “Martindale Gauge” — and discarding almost 30%. (Glocks were, and probably still are, very popular at the range I was using at that time.)

And then fast forward and look, and forward to look again, and fast forward again and again and you won’t see a single jam in my admittedly tight-chambered wadder.

Bruce’s directions will give you the details but the process goes basically like this:

  1. Clean the fired brass as usual, then
  2. Mouth first, drop each piece of brass through the Martindale Gauge and, if it won’t go through easily, reject it.

Bruce makes his gauges for a nominal fee on an irregular basis. You’ll need to email him to get “on the list”. He can be reached at kingsarcher2@yahoo.com.

And tell him I said, “Thanks!”

Reloading Supplies Storage Cabinet

Primers and powder need to be stored in their original containers, but locked well away from grasping and naive hands. If you have the space and a place to get them from, many reloaders use lockers harvested from a local school. These are about a foot wide and five feet tall, and can be had as singles, pairs and so forth up to just about any width you might want. Each “locker” can be padlocked — and MasterLocks, probably among others, sells them in pairs set to a common key. (Try WalMart, for example.)

But my space was limited. The cabinet needed to fit under the worktable. There was no way a school locker would work.

Lucky for me — and don’t you tell her I said so — after a couple of forced trips to the rat-maze at IKEA with the wife, I had a good feel for the kinds of things they might have and when I started thinking about the under-desk “locker” space, they came to mind. Checking the on-line catalog, I came across this “cabinet on casters”.

It is $49 (plus tax), fire engine red, has a keyed lock on the front door, and measures about 24″ wide, 16″ deep and 20″ high – with wheels, or about 2″ less without.

The vented front (and round hole at the back of the bottom floor) will, in a fire, not allow pressure to build up inside the storage unit. Your powder will burn and probably melt the unit and worsen the fire, and the primers will probably “cook off” and scare the fire-fighters, but because it allows the pressure to escape, it won’t turn your supplies into something that flattens the block.

Assembly is typical for IKEA. It comes with wordless picture instructions — well, they did slip in “Click!” — and takes only a couple of minutes. There are a couple of tabs to be bent over but anyone with a moderately adequate 1911 grip will be able to bend these and complete the assembly without resorting to tools. (The lid will pinch your finger, however. Don’t ask how I know.)

My wife is very pleased with the look, so much so that we got a second unit and I’ve moved all the loaded ammunition into the second cabinet which probably would be wiser with some help in the form of angle-iron from Home Depot under each shelf but, for now at least, isn’t sagging to any great degree.

These cabinets aren’t adequate for anything needing real protection. A mildly determined individual with a large screwdriver would have the lid off in under a minute. But if the “attacker” doesn’t want to mangle the unit, and doesn’t have access to the key, it should prove to be a reasonably effective deterrent that seems to have all the qualities the powder manufacturers list on their products for safe storage.

Repeating Repetitious Redundancy

When we do anything dangerous such as shooting guns, reloading ammunition or jumping out of airplanes, it is very helpful to have *several* overlapping things that, any one of which, will prevent or catch an otherwise fatal mistake. For example, the NRA has three safety rules for shooting (see http://www.nrahq.org/education/guide.asp), each one of which will keep you from shooting yourself or anyone around you. Indeed, to hurt someone, you have to fail at all three rules simultaneously.

The key attribute here is that the rules overlap. A fatal mistake can only happen if all three rules are violated at the same time. Safety on top of safety on top of safety.

In reloading, we also need overlapping rules. Squibs and double-loads are possibly the two most dangerous errors that can happen (well, other than setting off that tube full of primers and igniting the three pound jug of Clays). To prevent squibs and double-loads from ending up in your pile of ammunition, there are a combination of things that can be helpful.

First, use a progressive reloader that auto-indexes. The Dillon 650, to name just one such progressive, has auto-indexing. It advances the shells automatically beneath the reloading dies and, thereby, makes a double-charge difficult (but not impossible). In theory, a squib should also be impossible but anyone can run out of powder and, on some progressives, a short stroke of the lever will also advance an empty shell right on past the powder drop. (It could be argued that auto-indexing makes a squib more likely. I won’t disagree with that.)

Second, a powder-check die right after the powder drop is a great idea. It basically measures the height of the powder in the shell and triggers an alarm if it is either too high or too low. On the 650 I use, the check won’t catch small errors in the drop but I have verified that it will catch double, and zero, loads. (I load 3.8 grains of Clays in my 45 ACP wad loads, incidentally. The shell is roughly half full.)

Third, look in each shell after the powder check and verify that the level of powder is about right. That’s not very precise, of course, and it’s easy to get distracted — Darn it, the case feeder is jammed again — but if you work at making this a habit, it will become your third safety, one that is not subject to mechanical foul up.

Any *one* of those checks can go awry but the remaining two should catch (or prevent) a squib or a double load. Only when all three go wrong at the same time will the process fail. Only when auto-indexing doesn’t do right, and the powder check die fails to sound the alarm (or is ignored!), and you don’t visually see (or wake up when!) the powder level is way off, only then will your process build a bad round.

Finally, let me add that I’ve personally witnessed one of the best shooters in the world blowing a hole in the firing point table when he failed to follow one of the NRA’s three safety rules. His round went harmlessly into the dirt away from everyone so the remaining two safety rules ensured everyone’s safety, but this does illustrate the point that if the rules overlap, it’s far less likely that someone will get hurt.

Repeating repetitious redundancy is good for you.

Ordered 1,000 Reloads of 45 ACP

I sent 1,000 empty pieces of 45 ACP brass to Neil at NSK Sales along with a check for $155.35 to reload them as “wad” (Bullseye) ammunition. My total cost per round will be at $0.16 per round after adding in the postage for the empty brass. (The check consisted of $121.25 for the reloads and $34.10 for the return shipping.) The cheapest ammunition I had been able to find is the 100 round white box of Remington from Walmart and, at $19.95 (plus tax), that ammunition works out to be $0.22 per round. Neil’s reloads are seven cents a round cheaper.

The next notch on the “cheaper ammunition” ladder is doing my own reloading but that has a relatively high startup cost. Although I could probably start reloading for about $200.00 and at a cost of about $0.08 per round, all the Bullseye shooters say I will tire of the single-stage reloader (at that cost) pretty fast. Almost universally, they recommend one of the progressive presses from Dillon, especially the 550B which sells at Sportsman’s Warehouse for $319.00 (plus tax). If I then add a few of the “this and thats” that are bound to be needed, and then roll in some consumables (powder, primers and bullets), the up-front cost of reloading with something I’ll use for a long time is more like $500 — and that’s just too much for now.

I’ll probably buy reloads from Neil a couple of times before getting into the reloading game.

22LR Ammunition Spreadsheet

Email posted to Bullseye-L

EDITED 12/17/2016

The spreadsheet of 22LR ammunition velocities is as ready as it’s going to be (for a while). Several had requested copies and those have been mailed. (If you haven’t received yours, it’s because your Email service bounced my message. Sorry, I can’t do anything about that — but read on, all is not lost.)

The full report is available HERE. You will find a “zipped” copy there if you wish to download it.

A word of caution — zip files and spreadsheets *can* carry computer viruses into your computer. Opening the spreadsheet or unzipping the zip is what springs the virus if there’s one there. I’m quite certain this particular zip file and spreadsheet are “clean” at this point and if you always come back to this same website for updated copies, you can be reasonably assured that I’ve done everything possible to make sure the file is still clean. But if someone else sends you a copy, be careful. (Hopefully you all have virus-protection software installed, turned on and fully up to date, yes?)

So what have I learned from the spreadsheet?

First, please note that almost all of the listed velocities are measured by manufacturers — in rifles. And also please note that none of them state whether or not they were using any sort of mutually-used standard. Those two facts mean that 1) you probably won’t see these velocities out of your handgun, and 2) comparing one manufacturer’s ammo to that of another using this velocity data is, at best, debatable.

But experience does speak rather clearly sometimes.

For example, I’ve kept pretty good records on how different brands of ammunition have worked in my Smith and Wesson model 41. Having all the possibly-questionable velocities available, I can see a direct correlation between stove-piping and the manufacturer’s rifle-measured muzzle velocity even though I’m shooting a handgun. That is, once the rifle-measured muzzle velocity is above a certain number (about 1100 ft/sec), I’ll start to see stove-pipes in my S&W 41 and, as the velocity goes higher, the frequency of stove-pipes also goes up.

On the other end of the scale at the slow end, the problems I see in my 41 are typically not cycling the gun hard enough to eject the old round, nor cock the hammer. I end up pulling the trigger harder and harder until I realize it isn’t going to go bang! I haven’t fired enough subsonic to know where the dividing line is but it certainly looks like “rifle-measured muzzle velocity” will be a good way of deciding what to buy and what to avoid.

More generally, if you “mine” this data and pull out everything that says subsonic, you’ll find the average is about 1028 ft/sec. (The speed of sound is generally accepted as 1120 ft/sec at sea level, etc…)

The average “standard velocity” is 1092 ft/sec, still sub-sonic and, frankly, not that much faster than subsonic. That’s only a 6% difference. In addition, you’ll find that some brands of “standard” are slower than some brands of “subsonic”. CCI Standard Velocity, for example, is slower (at 1070 ft/sec) than Eley’s Subsonic (at 1085 ft/sec).

There’s a very wide range of velocities when it comes to “High Velocity,” anything from 1235 to to 1329 ft/sec, and all definately above the speed of sound.

Some of the manufacturers publish handgun-measured velocities as well. I’ve noted those values in addition to the rifle-measured velocities from the same manufacturer. The average difference (between rifle and handgun muzzle velocity) from these manufacturers is about 15%. That is, if someone tells you a rifle velocity, you may be able to subtract about 15% and come up with a pretty reasonable estimate of what you might see coming out the end of your handgun.

Well, maybe. It still depends on barrel length (shorter = slower), ambient temperature (lower = slower) and probably a dozen other factors as well.

That’s it for now.

Gotta get some range time in!