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Shell priming made easy


After an extensive review of available products, my choice came down to Forester Products CoAx Primer Seater or the RCBS Automatic Bench Primer Seater.  Both have good and bad points.  But, the final selling point was availability.  I now have the Forester Products CoAx Primer Seater as it was not back ordered.

As it is a bench mounted tool, I had to find a place for it to sit with limited bench space.  My solution was a semi-portable mount.  A quick trip to my local industrial salvage discount store that carries a wide range of products.  I did find a piece of phonolic material of the ideal size (8x14x1).  And, the phonolic material is an insulator that can be drilled and tapped.

The CoAx primer seater has three holes for mounting.  I found that #10 machine screw was the ideal size (and my parts bin contained a number of sufficient length).  It was short work to drill pilot holes (#21 bit) and tap using the 10-32 tap. Final mounting, I did resort to reaming the mounting hold slightly to allow for solid flush mounting of the primer seater on the phonolic material base.

The unit has two primer seater plugs: small and large.  I did experiment with the shell holder.  Other primer seater units have replaceable shell holders for each caliber.  The CoAx unit holds the shells by a three-point clamp over the casing rim.  As such, you have a left-to-right center/clamp and one clamp to hold the third position for accurate centering.  This process does allow for proper alignment to compensate for slight deformities in primer pockets.

Depressing the handle set the post forward and into the primer pocket. From there it is a quick tightening of the Allen screws to hold the clamps in position.  My first attempt was with .357 shells.  Once set, I checked tolerances with ten more shells and found no binding inserting the primer post into the primer pocket.

I tried a second time using 9 mm.  Unlike the .357 shells, the 9 mm were not fully prepped for primer seating and I did have a little more trouble setting the for proper centering of the shell primer pocket.

Once shells are processed through a primer pocket uniformer, proper setting of the centering of the shell should be a simple adjustment.

Loading the primer tubes appears to be a simple matter.  The CoAx unit has a built-in tray where primers can be dumped and slid into the primer tube with minimal handling of the primers.

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Reloading - Prepare for a good beginning

Lyman Ultrasonic Cleaner

After each shooting session, I decap and clean brass.  Decapping consists of using a Universal Decapping Die in my single stage press to remove spent primers.  The de-primed cases are then cycled through an ultrasonic cleaner to remove powder residue.  My choice is a Lyman Ultrasonic Cleaner with a citric-acid based cleaning solution that does not weaken the molecular structure of the brass.

The cleaned brass is rinsed (preferred in distilled water) and dried.  I use compressed air to remove most of the rinse water followed by about thirty minutes in a toaster oven set to 140 degrees to complete the drying.

Once cleaned and dried, brass is sorted into 50 round lots and prepped for the next step - inspection and trimming as required.

Prior to reloading, each case must be inspected and measured to determine if it can be safely reloaded.  Shell cases are made of brass and brass does change shape with each use.  Close inspection can reveal case head separation, case splits, and other potential problems.

Each cartridge has a standard not-to-exceed maximum length.  And, each cartridge has a minimum length.  In addition, once primer,  powder and bullet are added, each cartridge has a maximum Cartridge Over All Length (COAL or OAL).  These measurements are listed in the reloading manuals.

An essential tool for every reloaded is a caliper capable of accuracy to .001 inches. You can use old-school vernier calipers or new style digital or dial readout calipers.  While the digital readout provides the necessary accuracy, they do require a battery that is not available at the neighborhood convenience store.  My preference is for the dial caliper.

In the beginning is the cartridge length.  In general, straight-wall handgun cartridges remain fairly consistent in length through multiply loading and firing sessions.  It is important that you measure each cartridge as trim as necessary.  Again, while straight-wall handgun loads remain constant, it is important that all cartridges are kept to a consistent length as this length will impact the Cartridge Over All Length; also noted as COAL or OAL.

Next is to clean and prepare the primer pocket and chamfer the case mouth using my RCBS Case Prep Center.  The primer pocket requires cleaning to ensure new primers will seat to the proper depth which can be altered due to residual carbon buildup after each use.  The case prep center has several power driven stations where different types of cleaning heads can be attached.  In the five powered stations, I have installed a carbide pocket uniforming tool, a flash-hole uniforming tool, a pocket brush, and inside and outside case mouth chamfering tools.

Depending on the caliber, primer pockets are large, small, or crimped.  Large caliber handguns (.44 Magnum, .45 ACP and others) use Large Pistol Primers).

The .45 ACP is notable as depending on "head stamp" or manufacturer, the primer pocket can be either "large" or "small".  While not a complete list, Blazer .45 ACP ammo is "small" primer pocket. Other headstamp brass may or may not be "small" pocket.  Generally, a quick visual inspection will determine the difference.  If in doubt, a 3/16 pin punch will fit into the "large" primer pocket, but not the "small" primer pocket.

The other oddity primers are from military ammo with "crimped" primer pockets. Those are found in .45 ACP, 9 mm, 5.56, .308 and others.  From a visual inspection, they generally exhibit a defined ring around the primer pocket.  You can remove the crimp with either a press mounted swaging die or with a carbide "pocket uniforming tool".

The chamfering tools provide a slight inside case mouth bevel to ease bullet seating and to remove burrs left after case trimming.  The flash-hole uniformed tool provides a consistent sizing in the case flash-hole.  This step is only necessary once in the life of a cartridge.

As a final case prep step, brass is cycled through a tumbler such as the Lyman Turbo Pro 1200.  About an hour through the tumbling process (I use medium crushed walnut shell media) produces shiny brass with a majority of the case mars and tarnish removed.  Adding a couple of used fabric softener sheets cut into strips or squares helps remove media dust.

These steps provide the good beginning to preparing the cases for the final steps to produce reloaded ammo - sizing, flaring, primer seating, powder charging, bullet seating, and crimping; completing your ammo build.

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Reloading?? What’s that???

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Second, improved accuracy is not a given achievement.  There are a number of variables that determine accuracy improvement - ammunition, gun, and personal technique.

Reloading provides the opportunity to begin matching ammo with the specific gun.  Each gun has specific fixed characteristics such as barrel groove twist rate and bore/chamber tolerances.  By reloading, you can provide some measure of control over the variable characteristics such as bullet type and weight, shell case length, and powder.

There is no magic formula to provide the optimum load for your specific gun as each gun comes from the manufacturing process designed to meet specific not-to-exceed standards.  And, there are variances between guns as they are produced.

As the first step in reloading is safety and knowing the characteristics of ammo and gun, knowledge is important.  That knowledge is gained through reading and constantly referring to reloading manuals. The major bullet and powder manufactures publish reloading and reference manuals.  

Should you decide to enter the hobby of reloading, there are some steps I recommend.

1. Make a list of the calibers of ammo you expect to reload.  Then, begin saving the shell cases matching those calibers.

2. Buy a reloading manual.  Lyman's 49th Editor is an excellent resource for description of the steps involved.  And, one manual is not enough.  My favorite reference manuals are Lyman's 49th Edition and Sierra Bullets 5th Edition.  My library also includes manuals from Speer, Hornady, and Nosler.

In addition to the manuals, a separate notebook is recommended for your personal notes as you work through the reloading steps.

3. After studying the reloading reference manuals, determine the type and weight of bullet you expect to be using.  This step involves your decision on the expected use of the reloaded ammo and the type of firearm.  For example, if you have a 9mm semi-automatic pistol and want loads for general plinking/target practice, 115 or 124 grain full metal jacket round nose bullet is a popular choice.  If you are considering ammo for self defense, your choice might be 124 or 147 grain semi-jacketed hallow point.  

If you have a .223 Remington (5.56 mm) and your desire is for a varmint hunting load, a popular load is 55 grain jacketed hallow point.  However, your specific type of rifle may require a different bullet weight due to the twist rate of the barrel.

As a general rule, the firearm characteristics such as semi-automatic, lever action, bolt action, magazine type, barrel twist rate, and barrel length are variables governing type of bullet used.

4. Once type of bullet is decided, determine the type of powder necessary.  Seldom will you find one type of powder that will work for a broad range of bullet weight and calibers.  For example, a powder type developed for .223/5.56 is not suitable for safe use in a 9 mm semi-auto pistol load.

At this point, it is important to review your reference manuals to help your decision making.  The powder manufacture's websites are another source of information that needs to be reviewed.  Hodgdon and Accurate are two powder sources that provide load data for there powder with a variety of bullet types and calibers.

In summary, ammo, type of firearm, and personal technique are inter-related in the quest for accuracy.  Key point is to study each point and understand the characteristics of each.  The more you know about each, the more successful you will be in achieving your quest for accuracy.  Keeping your costs reasonable depends on the amount you shoot and the amount of equipment you buy.

As a cautionary note, there are many recipes for reloaded ammo that can be found on Internet forums.  These should be viewed with caution and only used after considerable research to verify the powder, primer, bullet, and caliber are compatible.  ALWAYS review the powder and bullet manufacturer websites for the latest information about their tested and recommended loads.

Reloading is fun, challenging, and satisfying.  Enjoy your new hobby.

Useful links:

Lyman Products - http://www.lymanproducts.com
Sierra Bullets - http://www.sierrabullets.com/
Hornady Manufacturing - http://www.hornady.com/
Nosler - http://www.nosler.com/
Hodgdon Powder - http://www.hodgdon.com/
Accurate Powder - http://www.accuratepowder.com

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How Clean is Clean?

Lyman Ultra-sonic Cleaner

Method one is the use of an ultrasonic cleaner. Method two is use of a tumbler. Both methods require one preliminary step -- removal of the spent primer. Neither step should be tried without removed of the spent primer.

Universal de-capping dies that fit the standard thread of reloading presses provide a convenient way to remove the spent primer. The only contact with the casing is at the prong that removes the spent primer which saves premature wear on the die surfaces.

As a trial, I dropped 50 9mm cases into my Lyman Ultrasonic cleaner after removing spent primers. During the de-capping process, noticeable grit was transferred to my hands from handling the cases. The Ultrasonic cleaning did a creditable job of removing excess powder residue and other grit. However, there were still burn marks and tarnish leaving the clean cases dis-colored.

As I wanted a cleaner look to the finished reloaded ammo, I ran the cases through a Lyman Turbo Pro 1200 tumbler with medium crushed walnut media. A 15 minute cycle of vibration in the crushed walnut media resulted in cases that had a relative clean and polished look.

A close inspection of cases before and after the cleaning process revealed that the Ultrasonic cleaner did remove the excess powder residue and grit; but, the cases were left with powder burns and a tarnished look. Clean, but tarnished.

The tumbling cycle did remove the powder burn and tarnish from the cases. However, the cases were coated with residual dust from the crushed walnut media. A short cycle through the Ultrasonic cleaner did remove the residual media dust coating.

Interestingly, nickel-coated cases clean nice with a shine using Ultrasonic only. Brass cases need the tumbling action to attain a polished case surface.

It is a matter of personal choice -- Ultrasonic, tumbler or both. For me, the decision was both -- for the additional cleaning utility of the Ultrasonic cleaner. With a change of cleaning solution, you can field strip pistols and run them through the Ultrasonic cleaner. Or, clean jewelry or most other metals.

The Ultrasonic Cleaner is multi-function while the tumbler is just a single function case cleaner. Both do a good job of cleaning with a slight edge to the tumbler for a more complete cleaning of the case interior and primer pocket.

The downside to the tumbler is the residual media dust left on the cases. However, a short blast of compressed air should remove that dust. And, there is still a case cleaning step prior to resizing and trimming and final reloading.

Images below show the cases before cleaning, after ultrasonic cleaning and after tumbling cycle.

Related Articles:

Reloading - Inspection and Cleaning

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Reloading - Inspection and cleaning

Lyman Ultra-sonic Cleaner

A re-sizing die can be used to remove spent primers.  However, as the cases have powder residue, that does provide undue wear on the die.  The decapping die does not touch the case while the center punch removes the spent primer.

There are two methods to clean spent cartridge case:  1) tumble them in a dry mixture (crushed corncob or walnut shells), 2) run them through an ultra-sonic cleaner with a formulated case cleaning solution.  

There are several brands of ultra-sonic cleaners available.  Mine, sold by Lyman, is used for a more than just cartridge case cleaning.  There are different cleaning solutions based on the material you want to clean.

The model I use, Lyman TS-2500, has a stainless steel tub with basket insert.  The tub is marked with MIN (about 3 cups) and MAX (8 cups) fill levels.  While tap water can be used, distilled water is recommended for better cleaning and reduced water spots while drying.  

For medium to heavy duty cleaning, a mix of 1 oz. cleaning solution to 20 ozs. of distilled water is recommended.

Place your dirty cartridges in the cleaning solution, agitate the basket to ensure there are no air pockets in the cartridges, and start the cleaning cycle.  For normal cleaning, a single three minute cycle should be enough.  The cycle timer can be reset for a longer cleaning cycle if desired.

After cleaning, rinse the cartridges in distilled water and allow to dry.  I do use a compressed air to speed drying time.  Once dry, the cases can be dry tumbled for a brighter finish.

Cases before cleaning
Cases after cleaning

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