Reloading Room

Reloading Table

(Click to enlarge)

The newest addition is that air conditioner in the upper-left corner. With daily temperatures already over 100 in late May, it’s what you may acknowledge as a necessity here in Phoenix Arizona.

Some other features you may notice will include the “L” brackets holding the brass feeder on the top of the Dillon 650 and clamping it to the wall, two walls to be precise. For whatever reason, when I would get cranking at a regular pace, the “tower” would start to wobble and eventually feed a piece of brass upside down. Depriming an upside down shell doesn’t work. Indeed, it jams up the works pretty good. But with the head now glued to the wall as you see it, that no longer happens.

Even so, the table is bolted to the rear and side walls. The table top consists of a sheet of 1″ particle board with a sheet of 3/4″ plywood glued and screwed to its top. Just exactly how that 650 gets to rockin’ with all that is beyond me but, well, there it is.

Looking at the 650, you’ll see all the bells and whistles from Dillon. I particularly like the powder checker but, in my paranoia, you can also see the side of the red battery tube that is hose clamped to the frame and the black “snake” coming from its end that carries the wires to the white LED that is aimed down so I can look inside each shell before setting the bullet on top. Yeah, I look at how much powder is in every shell, and Dillon “feels” for it too. And so far, no squibs. (Knock on wood.)

The mechanical balance on the table is the backup and double-check for the RCBS digital scale on the shelf. RCBS equipment is green, in case you didn’t know, so that should help you spot it. Two tiny boxes just to the right of the digital scale are the check weights. Paranoia again. I turn the scale on 30 minutes before loading to let it reach a stable temperature. I then press its “Zero” button and then drop in the two tiny 2.0 grain weights. The scale should read 4.0 grains. (My wad load is 3.8 grains of Hodgdon’s Clays; I check the scale as close to that as the check weights allow.) If the scale disagrees with the check weights, then I would have to stop and figure out what’s wrong. That’s where the mechanical balance would come into play. But so far, it hasn’t been needed.

But with the new air conditioner, the timing of all this will have to change.

The reloading room is part of the garage and it’s on the west side of the house where the concrete block construction soaks up the infrared all afternoon. When the sun goes down, all that infrared re-radiating into the garage and reloading room will push the interior temperature 10 degrees above the high at the airport.

The record high in Phoenix is 118. Add 10 and you’ll understand why I haven’t done much reloading over the past several summers.

And when I did reload, I’ve noticed that I had to adjust the powder drop with the season to get those same 3.8 grains of Clays. Without doing so, summer loads would have been about 0.2 grains lighter. I presume this is because the size of that cavity in the Dillon powder drop was changing size with the temperature. Whether it is the cavity adjustment screw (of’s Micrometer Powder Bar Kit) getting longer in the heat or the cavity itself getting smaller as the metal sides adjust to the temperature, I couldn’t say. I just know it changed about 0.2 grains with a temperature change of 50 degrees or so.

But now, my new plan is to start the air conditioner an hour ahead and go back inside, possibly for dinner with a recorded NCIS episode. Half way through the show, I’ll pause it to run back out and turn on the RCBS digital scale.

With the air conditioner, I’m looking for that to be less of an issue. If it’s not, I’ll have to do some more sleuthing.

The black box on the tabletop to the left of the mechanical scale is the digital caliper. I keep two spare batteries in the box so I’m never denied its truth-telling. I’ve thought of getting a purely mechanical caliper as a double-check but, well, I’ve had no reason to suspect the caliper of any funny business. Not yet, anyway.

The rest of the stuff is typical for home shops and reloading rooms.

Oh yeah, you can see the spare license plate for the car hanging on the wall to the upper left. It’s one of those geeky obscure codes and if you know what it means, then you’re a significant as well as an “old time” geek yourself.

Under Table Storage

Beneath the table are my three buckets of brass, all 45 ACP. The left-most reads, “Clean 45 ACP (Needs Martindale)”, which refers to the Martindale gauge through which I hand-pass each and every piece of brass before I reload it.

Well, there’s one exception to that rule. I’ve been shooting some Aguila in my ball gun and that always comes to the reloader a bit fat. It won’t go through the Martindale gauge in that once-fired condition. But after resizing, reloading with the lighter wad loads and firing, it passes. It seems to be reasonably good brass so I make an exception for it. But only for that one brand, and only after the first firing. Anything that fails the Martindale gauge after that is tossed.

The use of the middle bucket should now be obvious from its label, “Once Fired.”

The right-most bucket is for dirty brass but I try to keep it empty. That is, the day after a match, I clean brass. It then goes into the “Clean 45 ACP” bucket to await the Martindale gauge. And after passing the gauge, the cleaned and gauged brass is stored in empty 1 qt yogurt containers — they hold about 200 pieces each and are the right quantity to dump into the shell feeder on the top of the Dillon without jamming it up. Those containers full of ready-to-load brass are stored out in the garage in a cabinet with other supplies.

More recently, I’ve suffered a spate of high primers, perhaps as many as 1 per 100. I shoot and reload the same brass a lot and someone suggested that after a half dozen firings, the primer pockets may accumulate enough crud to prevent the primers from seating correctly. So today I bought a primer pocket reamer and will spend a couple of hours going through everything. [Boring!]

On top of the middle bucket you can see a plastic jar labelled, “Bucket O’ Primers.” There’s about an inch of water in the jar and damaged primers go in there. In a different posting here on this blog, you can read of my researches into deactivating primers but, in a nut shell and depending on who you ask, water will do it, but only until the material dries out again, or oil will do it, or won’t, or it just can’t be done. These reports are from the companies that make them! My “final answer” came from a Phoenix Police officer who said he soaks them in water until trash day, puts them in the trash wet and hopes they make it to the city dump before reactivating.


The baggie you see to the right contains 38 Special brass. Only my snubbie shoots that caliber and I don’t (yet) reload for it. Someday I’ll have a nice K-38 for Bullseye and will need that brass but, for now, I’m just collecting.

Work Table

Here’s the final part of the area. This is where I clean guns, fix lamps, break small irreplaceable plastic parts and so forth.

On the extreme left you can just barely see the Lyman single-stage press I occasionally use, mostly to shrink that once-fired Aguilla brass. The press is attached to the board you see and the near end is held to the table with that large, rusty “C” clamp. The far end is held down by a screw through the board and into the work table below.

You can see a couple of bottles of Dillon’s purplish brass polish on the shelf but most of the other items are standard fare for anyone’s home workshop that’s been accumulating tools, bolts and odd parts for a couple of decades.

Off to the left is storage with most of the items being put there years ago and forgotten. Worse, of course, is the storage shed in the backyard. We haven’t seen the boxes in its deepest parts for more than a decade. And then there are the items stored in the attic above the garage we put in there when the roof was off but can’t get to now. We don’t have even the faintest of clues about what’s up there.

But that’s another story.

Keep ’em in the black, ya’ll!

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 ( 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

And tell him I said, “Thanks!”

The Value of Range Brass

Heretofore, I’ve picked up 45 ACP empties at the indoor range I use in Scottsdale AZ. The ROs have even been so kind to sweep empties from others in my direction (after the other shooters have left) because they had observed me doing so. Over many weeks and months, then, I’ve accumulated quite a collection.

But I’ve also had troubles once that ammo was reloaded, most commonly with “fat rounds” that won’t go all the way into the tight chamber of my 1911’s competition-grade barrel.

After struggling with a lot of jams, I bought a Dillon case gauge and tested my reloads and discovered that a full 30% of a batch of just-reloaded rounds would not fit!

So I went through all the reloaded rounds in the cabinet and culled out the bad ones. There were far too many to disassemble so they just went to the “bad live round” bin at the range for disposal. Boy, that was a lot of work down the drain. There’s got to be a way to either reshape this bad brass or at least of identifying and discarding it before reloading.

My first attempt at a solution was directed at the Dillon Square Deal B’s partial resizing. I reload on this progressive press and love it but had observed that the resizing only seems to go about half way down the brass. I figured that, at least in some cases, it was just unable to resize far enough down the shell. So, I picked up a single stage press, added a Lee Full-Length resizer and ran everything through before reloading.

After reloading, I used the case gauge again to see if this batch was any better. Sadly, the rejection rate was still very high, maybe 20% or so and a lot of rounds had to be disassembled. Although the full-length resizing did appear to help some, there were other problems dominating the situation.

Then, through the Bullseye-L email list, someone mentioned the “Martindale gauge”. I ordered one from Mr. Martindale and it arrived a couple of days later. I sent him my $7 (cash) by return mail.

Basically, the Martindale gauge is a drilled-out nut. Empty shells either go all the way through, or they get hung up.

Earlier this week, I went through my clean brass supply and tested everything and, lo and behold, almost 25% of my brass would *not* go through the Martindale gauge! I set aside the “good stuff” (that passes) and tried full-length resizing some of the bad stuff and then retesting. A small amount of it will then pass, but not very much. Martindale’s instructions said his gauge would check the web and rim which full-length resizing cannot correct. And apparently, that is exactly the problem I was seeing!

So, using only the good brass (as passed by the Martindale gauge), I loaded 100 rounds and tested the result in the Dillon case gauge. Only two were rejected, and only by 0.022″ (sticking out the back of the gauge). Zounds, that is so much better than the 25-30% failure rate I used to see.

I also added a Lee Factory-Crimp die into the mix, after as an extra step in the single-stage press after the progressive but I don’t think that die made a substantial contribution to the issues at hand in this test. Instead, it just made an accurate crimp a lot easier to achieve, and more so to measure to my satisfaction of accuracy.

To settle my curiosity, I marked those two barely-failing the Dillon case gauge rounds and then mixed them in with the other 98 before leaving for the range Sunday afternoon. At the range, I went through my normal routine of shooting a 900 with Slow, Timed and Rapid targets. (At the end, I “use up” any remaining rounds just focusing on trigger control and ignoring the target.)

At the range with those 100 rounds I had two instances where the slide did not fully close. In each case, I removed the round and inspected it carefully. One of them was one of the marked rounds. The other marked round ran through the gun without problem but, from that one that did stick, I’m convinced the Dillon case gauge is a productive step in my process.

The other round that prevented the slide from closing was, well, at least visually, nothing seemed awry. So, for both of the rounds that kept the slide from full closing, I put them back into the magazine and tried again, and on the second attempt, both rounds worked fine. (My guess is they were a tad long [C.O.L.] and the first chambering seated the bullet a little deeper so, the second time, it would chamber OK.)

Finally, after this range visit, I took my fired brass — and only *my* fired brass home and tested them in the Martindale gauge. Of the 100 pieces of brass, one would not go through, and it was one of the shells the Dillon case gauge had previously identified.

So, I’m convinced of several things.

  • The Martindale gauge should be used before reloading and anything that won’t pass through should be discarded. (There is a small percentage that *might* pass if resized but, the number was so small I deemed it not worth the effort.)
  • The value of the Lee full-length resizing die as opposed to what the Dillon Square Deal B provides is uncertain at this point. Although it is an extra step, I am going to keep it in my process for the time being. Later, if I get tired of the extra cranking, maybe I’ll do a test to get a definitive answer but, for now, I’d rather be safe than sorry.
  • The Dillon case gauge should be used after reloading and anything that won’t “pass” that test should be disassembled and the brass discarded.
  • Picking up and reusing my own brass, tested as above, works great.
  • Picking up and using “range brass” is of questionable utility. Certainly it should all be tested in the Martindale gauge before reloading but if the 30% rejection rate I found in my general collection is indicative of what I will find in the future, I’m not sure it is worth the “bend and grab” effort needed to collect it in the first place.

Reloading is definately fun!