Of course, safety is always the most important thing to consider and there are safety precautions reloaders should always follow. Always wear safety glasses while reloading and anytime you are handling primers (e.g. loading primer tubes). Powder spills will happen. Always keep the reloader, the area around your reloader, and the floor under it free from spilled powder.
Powder generally comes in five basic forms: extruded tubular kernels, cut round flakes, cut sheet flakes, round ball, and flattened ball. From time to time, manufacturers will modify the formula for a given powder so always use load information from current reloading manuals or the powder manufacturer’s on-line data.
The powder’s shape and density directly affects how it will pack and then flow from your powder measure’s reservoir. With some powder shapes, you must maintain a consistent fill or pack in the powder measure’s reservoir to ensure each charge the measure throws has the same weight. I refill my powder measure when it reaches the ¾ mark anytime the powder I am using has cut round flakes or cut sheet flakes.
You must always visually confirm that the powder level is consistent in each and every case as you load—this is the single most important reloading step. If you find a load for a particular application that uses a bulky powder which fills the case more than half way all the better. Experience will help you calibrate your eye and enable you to detect differences in powder charges.
Inconsistent powder charges can cause serious problems. For example, when you fire a round with no powder or too little powder in the case you will typically have a bullet lodged in the barrel. If you hear a slight “pop” instead of a bang when firing a round, stop, properly clear the firearm, and make sure the bullet exited the bore. With pistols and rifles, be careful about automatically doing a “tap/rack” and trying to fire another round during a match or in training. If the bullet did not exit, firing another round will likely cause a bulge in the barrel at best and may destroy the firearm and cause injury if the barrel bursts. I’ve seen shooters destroy four barrels (and two pistols) due to reloaded ammunition with no or too little powder in the case and the shooter automatically doing a “tap/rack.”
The other side to that coin is the dreaded double charge. A double charge can literally destroy your firearm and may cause serious injury. If you believe you have double charged a case and it got by you, you must not shoot any suspect rounds in that batch of reloaded ammunition. If you do, you may end up with a blown case at best, at worst you can end up with a destroyed firearm (I have seen that three times, two pistols and one 5.56 AR rifle) or severe injury.
You can certainly pull all the suspect rounds; however, another means to find the suspect cartridge is to weigh every round in that batch. Any round that is overweight by more than a grain should be segregated and the bullets pulled. This is where segregating your brass can be important since brass from different manufacturers will often have notably different weights. I've even seen different lots of brass from the same manufacturer with significant weight variances.
The picture below shows a 9mm case that experienced a catastrophic failure on firing. It is very possible that this round was double charged and the pistol could not handle the pressure. No one was injured in this incident; however, the pistol was destroyed. An expensive round of ammunition.
Weight the Charge
Weight at least 3 charges to ensure you are throwing a consistent charge weight when you first set the powder measure. With most powder measures, the charge weight should not differ by more than 0.1 to 0.2 grains across the three measurements. If I get a spread of 0.2 grains or more, I continue to weigh charges until I get a consistent reading. Certain powders (e.g. long grain extruded and stick rifle powders) may not meter as uniformly due to their grain size and the fact that you often cut grains as you throw the charge. Experience weighing a lot of powder charges will teach you how to consistently throw accurate charge weights.
I have found that using a device to gently vibrate the powder measure helps maintain consistency in charge weight. I use an aquarium aerator pump which vibrates gently and is not excessively noisy to perform this function. Polishing the interior of the powder measure body can also aid in maintain powder charge consistency. The polished surface helps powder flow more easily into the powder bar. This is easy to do yourself and several instructional examples of the process are posted on the internet and YouTube.
Aftermarket powder measure accessories can help you throw consistent charges. A number of manufacturers offer Micrometer inserts or powder bar kits that can significantly ease the process of achieving consistent measures (see the picture below). One example that I use consistently throws charges of flake pistol powder within .01 - .02 grains of accuracy (that’s hundredths of a grain). My normal powder scale will not even measure to that degree of weight—I used a special gem scale to check its consistency.
Consistent Stroke (OK, no giggling)
Another factor in consistent powder charges is cycling the powder measure or press using consistent force. Varying the amount of force you use as you cycle the powder measure or press can result in slightly more or less powder in the charge. Additionally, on a progressive press a heavy-handed operator that slams the lever hard against the stops can cause the powder to settle a bit more and/or bounce out of an already filled case which will result inconsistent charge weights. If you notice that powder as bounced out of a case, dump that charge and refill the case with a fresh powder charge.
If am interrupted during the reloading sequence, I always place the handle fully down before I deal with the interruption. When I am ready to begin the loading sequence once again, I raise the handle and then visually confirm the status of every station on the press (I use a progressive machine), ensure the powder fill is correct, that I have primed the case in the priming station, etc.
New brass can be harder to size, prime, and seat bullets in than fired brass at times because the brass may be lacking lubrication. Sometimes the powder-thru expander can be hard to get back out of the case when dealing with new brass, particularly with short cases. This happens due to the brass being stripped clean and polished during the manufacturing process. On progressive presses, the lurch when the case pops free from the die can upset powder drop consistency and bounce powder out of filled cases.
Brass residue buildup on the expander can also cause this problem. Periodically cleaning off the brass residue using a Scotch-Brite™ pad (or similar product) will restore smooth operation. You can also tumble your new cases in used media for half an hour before reloading. The powder residue in the tumbling media will add just enough lubrication to the brass to ease the loading process. Another option is periodically swab a small (less than a drop) of lube on the expander or use a case lube on the cases.
Check your brass
When brass cases are reloaded a number of times, the brass will eventually develop splits upon firing. With pistol cartridges, these splits often (but not always) occur at the case mouth. The picture below shows a piece of 45 ACP that split further down in the case body. The 300 AC Blackout case in the center experienced a similar split. The 9mm case however, has a very unusual split pattern. This split may have resulted from using an ammonia-based cleaning solution to clean the brass.
Check your rounds
I check every round in a chamber checker. There are a variety of chamber checkers on the market and they are well worth the money (see the picture below). Prior to the advent of chamber checkers, it was common for pistol shooters to remove the barrel and check every round by hand. You can still do this; however, the chamber checker has made this step easier. A chamber checker’s dimensions replicate the chamber of the barrel in your firearm. If your reloaded round does not easily go into and drop out of the chamber checker, then that round is suspect.
The picture below shows several rounds that failed the chamber check. Round #1 is clearly out of spec and may have been the result of a high-pressure load fired in a pistol with a chamber configuration that does not fully support the chambered cartridge case, round #2 has the primer upside down (a condition that might have gone unnoticed without checking the rounds), and round #3 is questionable and will likely not chamber. The 4 rounds in the bottom row passed. As you can see, they sit flush or slightly below the chamber checker opening.
Reloading can be very satisfying and can save you money. I hope you’ve found these tips and tricks useful and I welcome tips from readers.
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