Thursday, February 26, 2015

.357 Magnum and .38 Special LEE Speed die update : Observations

In my .357 Magnum Speed die post  I pondered what made the .357 mag speed die specific to .357 magnum. I fathomed  that it was only the decap flare stem that made it .357 specific but alas I was wrong! In fact not only is the decap flare stem different, the die body itself has different INTERNAL dimensions...Looks like just over 1/8"  which is how much longer the .357 is to the .38 special. But the bullet seater stem is longer in the .38 special set as well, which makes sense since it would have to reach further down into the die to seat a bullet.

Picture of compared parts coming soon, If you are looking at getting one of these speed dies to load both 38 special and .357 mag I'm sorry but it will not work. The dies are very cartridge specific as the the case lengths are different .135" difference actually.  The whack a mole type lee loader will work for both .357 magnum as well as .38 Special as will most 3 or 4 die sets.  Would you rather have 2 dies to load 2 cartridges or 3 dies to load two cartridges when those 3 dies are still in production and widely available.

Sorry for any inconvenience I may have caused on this assumption of interchangeability. I myself would have liked to see one speed die be able to load both as that would have made a very handy on the range set up for testing. Stay safe out there.

Lee loader overview: or : possible reloading tools for beginners

As winter gives us here in Ohio another round of 10° highs and constant wind with sputtering precipitation I start to think more about long days spent out at the range.  Even though simple pleasures like ringing the steel gong at 200 yards is still weeks away I have (as some of you may have noticed with my recent trend of posts) been obsessing over the .38 special / .357 Magnum combination, range time with the new carbine has been exceedingly limited. But as I mentioned in this post about the 38/357 carbine teamed up with like chambered revolvers  I wanted simplicity and utility in a revolver/carbine package that would be hard to beat. For going on 2 years now some ammo like .22LR has been cost prohibitive for a lot of folks, myself included in fact. No, we are not hurting for ammo at the wonderwolf residence but we aren't acting like we're in a time of plenty either. The way I see it is its more important now than ever to make every shot count. If you're not learning something from every pull of the trigger (even in dry firing) then you're not bettering yourself as a rifleman.  Reloading as has been mentioned before can save money, time and resources are your limiting factor. Getting the most utility out of your chosen tools (be it sewing kit, firearm, lathe/mill, car) is important.  Simplicity when starting to reload is important so you understand the basics steps and learn what to look for. As you see your need grow you can determine if its worthwhile to put more resources into tooling. Start with a few select books on the subject if you are just starting out, here is a good place to start if you are not sure where to look .  

"Lee loaders" through the years, these 4 boxed sets show the various ways these tools have come packaged.
Reloading equipment-
The most basic tool for reloading a complete round of ammunition be it metallic or a shot-shell cartridge is the "Lee Loader".  Economic and somewhat versatile the "LL" is designed to offer everything except the components to load ammunition. A note here however, these dies in the bottle neck cases ,30/06, 223, 30-30 etc only neck size. As you will find in the directions you are instructed to only use cases that have been fired in your gun. Which works out well if you think about it, save your brass for that Savage axis in 30/06 or Ruger American  and when you go to load it with this kit you'll only be neck sizing for your rifle, something that can aid in accuracy as well as brass life though your mileage may vary. Lee comments that cases fired in pump, semi or lever actions gun can not be reloaded with these kits. I imagine that this mostly applies to the bottle neck/tapered cases. However I would keep this in mind no matter what gun you are looking at reloading for.

Top left and top center kit are pistol kits, top right kit is 30/06 , bottom is .410 shotgun kit.
If you take a closer look you'll note 2 of the kits are missing parts, Common when it comes to used kits. Easy to fix though if you have a lathe. 

Pistol kits come with a flare tool as most pistol bullets have a very flat base and do not start as easy as rifle bullets with which boat tails or bevel bases are more common. If you find yourself wanting to flare your rifle cases I recommend being a little resourceful and look for a short punch at the hardware store that would give you a little flare...not much is needed however so beware. Lee makes a universal flare die for presses but that is outside the scope of this post.

A complete .38 special lee loader kit, Note this kit can also be used to load .357 Magnum as well.

The major parts of the .38 special set can be seen below, not much to it really. Midway currently sells the most if not all lee loader kits for $27.99.....How much is a box of 20 rounds for that 30/06 or .38 special again?

Pistol kit parts, Decapping chamber,  capping rod, priming base & bullet seater, flare tool, die body, decap rod & powder measure appropriate to caliber. All that is needed to convert to .357 mag would be a different powder measure (or scale) and load data.

Rifle set has a lot in common with the pistol set, die body is a 2 part die however, adjustable for bullet seating depth.
Incomplete 30/06 die set (missing decap stem, something I'll make on the lathe later), Note the die body on this set has a little more to it, the bullet seating depth is adjusted by adjusting the die body instead of a knurled knob on the bullet seater as can be seen with the pistol set. 

Although Lee no longer makes the shotgun shell loaders as pictured below they can still be readily found online for sale in various places as well as at gun shows. I have been told that it was a different "LEE" company that produced the shot-shell loaders. They probably went through some restructuring at some point and came out a new company. I'm not sure on this but LEE does not support the shot-shell loaders any longer.
.410 Shotshell kit, Powder & shot dippers, skive tool decap rod, priming rod, wad/crimp tamp and die body.

That gets most of the information out of the way I wanted to get out there before I started reviewing the individual dies, the end product they make and their accuracy. As time and weather permits I will post tests and results, for accuracy I'll be using the 30/06 dies out of a bolt action scoped rifle I have handy. 

I'll also make mention at this point that as I believe I said in my review of the "LEE LOAD MANUAL" the instructions for most all of their products are in the manual (load book) if you are curious about starting to reload this book is a good one to have besides "The ABC's of reloading". And as always if you don't know if you want to put money out yet for books.....check your local library! Stay safe out there.

Cost of reloading: or : 22LR in stock ?

 This post is meant for folks who reload or thinking about starting to reload, to everybody else you may be bored by the following. In preparation for the aforementioned lee loader review I wanted to share a fun fact I discovered a few months ago while talking about the availability of .22 LR with some other shooting folks. It seems to me that some people in the firearms culture are static when it comes to ammo availability. They obsess over what they can't get instead of seeing the opportunity to see what they can get in order to prepare for the next "paradigm" shift we will experience in this crazy world. IE.....primers are widely available right now, remember in 2007/8 or so when primers were none existent on shelves? AR mags were kind of the same thing there for awhile as well. Now .22 LR has seemed to have held on the longest to being absent from the shelves.

 Now, that isn't the fun fact I discovered....the fact is reloading (small center fire pistol) is now cheaper than buying .22LR ammunition (even cheaper if you are REALLY lucky and get it for shelf price of  $27) but it seems like everybody has it (2nd hand) at $60 per 550 round bulk packs. This isn't a new fact really for those of us who have reloaded for awhile, but it wasn't until now when I actually looked at the cost and was kind of pleased to see what it was(n't) costing me to shoot as often as I like.

Lets take a look at the numbers really quick, these are prices I have paid within the last 3 months. Store shelf purchased, no special deals here. Though I will admit availability in your area will vary. obviously reloading equipment is not factored in.

1lb of Bullseye powder- $19
1,000 small pistol primers $30
Lead is for the taking really, you just have to know where to look.'ve been saving your brass haven't you? I have only traded or picked up all the pistol brass I have with few exceptions.

Now on that 1lb of Bullseye, if  I'm throwing a common 2.7gr charge it will give me 2592 charges, that is less than 7/10 of a penny per round. Let that sink in for a moment and at the same time remember .22LR is selling between $.05 and $.11 per round....with some brands going for more. The proof is in the math however, start multiplying and we quickly see that in 500 rounds of .38 special we've only used $3.66 worth of powder. Primers??? $15 for that same 500 rounds. That's $18.66 for 500 rounds of ammo.....

You can get well into reloading for under $100, you really don't need much in fact the most expensive thing is going to be a good powder scale. Even if you use a lee loader you will want a good powder scale to double check your charges. Used lee loaders are everywhere and affordable. Even if you want to get into die sets you can still do it for under $100 with a press. My point is be dynamic to the situation, learn to be resourceful as well as frugal as time permits (and resources). If you're not happy with the availability of one commodity like .22 rimfire, don't focus on it especially while the price is so high. Instead look elsewhere for the things you need.

A 2 cavity mold would cost you somewhere around $20 or so from lee, smelting pots can be found cheap at garage sales or flea markets (plumbers pots as well).

This is also a good argument for staying with common calibers like 40 S&W and 9mm.....I don't think I will ever have a want for 9mm brass for all the range pick up I have, same with 40 S&W....and .223 rem in fact. Now obviously there are lots of exceptions, if you have a 50bmg or a 5.7x28 or any other cost not a factor type gun and you don't reload and have not won the lottery or are otherwise well off then reloading is a way for you to shoot that firearm more. Nobody is a master of a safe queen, practice practice practice. May be time to look at options that would allow you more range time, true you may have to buy a gun in a different caliber....but last I checked not a single one of us ever complained about that. Just remember to clean/lube that .22LR gun before you put it up for awhile, this foolishness with the .22 ammo may go on for some time.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Practical Dope On The BIG BORES- By Fred C. Ness

As we continue to skim the bookshelves of home and the library another promising volume comes up packed with information....some obsolete and some useful. "Practical Dope on The BIG BORES" By Ness is a 300+ page reference work on everything from where his book on the .22's left off. In fact this book goes all the way up to the .50 cal cartridges including the .50 BMG. If you have read "PD on .22's" then you would quickly gather  that Ness loves to hunt varmints and do most of his testing on them. "PD on The BB's" starts of course with some smaller big bores in the 25 caliber range and their use on varmints and the like, in fact all the way through the book Ness discuses a good many varmint loads for the various big bore rifles excluding the very large ones however. The book printed after WWII of course has a lot of obsolete load data with obsolete components, however one would be surprised at how much still remains today with some calibers, the bullets they use and powder still in use....proven load combinations that have stood the test of time. The book covers some very obscure cartridges and is packed with great ballistic data as well, great for those interested in the progression of precision performance hunting rifles post WWII. I found a great wealth of knowledge covering America's favorite center fire hunting cartridge the 30/06 as well...Ness dedicates a large number of pages to various loads for the famous '06 including yes....varmint loads sporting pulled 93gr .30 cal luger bullets. Brown bear as well as moose loads with 220gr bullets are also talked about and everything in between that and those little 93gr pills. The book as stated before is older but we find it still has a lot of  great information on design, ballistics and challenges overcome by what was then cutting edge technology.....or desperation for needed performance out of what was at hand.

"Practical Dope On The BIG BORES" By Ness is a great book to add to your library and read if you are the kind of person that is interested in attaining a more intimate understanding of the performance requirements of rifle, cartridge, powder and bullet of choice for either target work or deep woods hunting. You might not agree with everything contained in the 300 some odd pages but a lot of good information is covered all of which gets a body (novice or advanced) thinking about the physics of bullet performance. 

The copy used in this review was obtained through my local library loan program but I sure will be on the lookout for a copy for myself as I learned a great deal and desire a permanent copy for future reference. Like Ness' previous book  this one was a copy of a special 1500 edition run.