A Successful Load Begins with Case Preparation
If your objective in reloading is accuracy, then you need to strive for consistency throughout the reloading process. The first step is Case Preparation - the foundation of your Pet Load.
First Step - Research
Where to begin?
Therefore, it can fire bullets as light as 40 grains and up to a maximum of about 69 grains. Bullets lighter than 40 grains might come apart due to the high twist rate, while bullets heavier than 69 grains might not be sufficiently stabilized to avoid tumbling. There are, however, many choices of bullets between 40 and 69 grains available for me, from a wide variety of manufacturers, from commercial to custom made.
To date, I have tested 40, 53, 55, 60 and 69 grain bullets, predominantly from Hornaday (53, 55 and 69 grain), but also Nosler (40 gr). I am currently refining a load for Hornaday 50 gr V-Max bullets and need an initial starting pint with which to develop a load specific to my rifle.
There are three articles in Ken Water's "Pet Loads" discussing .223 caliber. In reading the articles, I noted the following comments with regard to Hodgdon's H 4895 powder:
50 Sierra Spitzer - "third most accurate with high velocity"
52 Remington BR - "fourth most accurate with high velocity"
53 Hornaday Match - "most accurate load tested"
55 Speer FMJ - "best all-around load" and
60 Hornaday HP - "especially fine long range load"
From these comments, I decide that Hodgdon H-4895 powder will, in all likelihood, provide the results I am wanting with regards to powder. It works well with a wide range of bullet weights and, I expect, should perform well for the bullets I wish to test.
(Note: H-4895 has worked well for my tests with Hornaday 53 gr HP Match, 60 gr SP and 69 gr BTHP, however, none has yet provided me with the consistent accuracy I am seeking. Furthermore, due to seasonal availability in components, I want to have several loads worked out for different bullets in the event one (or more) become temporarily unavailable. Finally, it is just FUN to evaluate different components).
Having selected Hodgdon H 4895 powder, I note that Ken Water's used 27 gr H 4895 with a Speer 50 gr Spitzer. I then go to my preferred Hornaday Handbook of Cartridge Reloading for data pertaining to 50 grain bullets (which includes my 50 gr V-Max) and determine that the maximum load (and, therefore, maximum velocity) for H-4895 is ... not listed!
Luckily, I have additional references:
Lee's "Modern Reloading" lists a maximum load of 27.5 gr of H-4895 for a 50 gr Jacketed Bullet
Lyman's "Reloading Handbook" also does not list H-4895.
Finally, I refer to Hodgdon Reloading Data Center and find the maximum load for a 50 gr Speer SP is 27.5 gr (slightly compressed). (Note: refer also to Hodgdon's 2013 Annual Manual - see accompanying photo). I now have two references that, rather unusually, return the same maximum weight for H-4895 powder.
The recommended maximum load for my .223 caliber rifle, using Hodgdon's H 4895 powder and a 50 gr bullet weight in 27.5 gr.
Strongly Recommended References
The following references are strongly recommended.
The 8th Edition has a considerable amount of information and is my primary reloading reference
This makes a handy introductory reference as it covers the basics of reloading, followed by appendices with reloading data
Ken Water's "Pet Loads"
An Indispensable Reference
Pet Loads provides an excellent starting point for identifying the components one might wish to test for a given caliber. The corresponding loads can then be cross referenced against analogous data from other available references (i.e. those recommended below) to derive a starting point for a test series.
A strongly recommended, indispensable reference to assist the reloader in identifying the starting components for a test series.
Second Step: Brass
I started out buying commercial ammunition as I did not have, nor could I afford, reloading equipment necessary for my interests. Therefore, I purchased commercial ammunition and saved the brass. Over time, I accumulated enough brass to begin reloading using my brothers equipment, then bought / acquired my own. I subsequently purchased bags of once fired brass to supplement my supply. My wife bought me two bags of Remington .223 brass as a birthday present and so I committed to Remington brass.
Brass can also be purchased new from a variety of manufacturers, including (but not limited to): Remington, Winchester, Federal, Hornaday, etc.
For the purposes of accuracy, purchase of Lapua and Norma is widely recommended. Lapua (and, to a lesser extent, Norma) brass is widely acknowledged to be higher quality, with less variation, than other brands of brass. However, there is a premium associated with its purchase and, more importantly, it is not readily available to me in rural British Columbia.
Therefore, I have approximately 600 Remington cases (no preference, that is simply the brand I started with) and, more recently, have decided to test Federal brass (purchasing 500 once fired cases). Winchester is also widely available.
Case Prep Centers
Much of the work preparing your cases is manual and is summarized below.
However, if you are prepping cases on a volume basis, it can be tough on the hands. Several of the manufacturers specializing in reloading equipment have recognized this and developed "Case Prep Centers". Each center is basically a power supply sufficient to turn a varied selection of supplied tools required for preparing cases for reloading.
Each provides camfering and deburring tools (both outside and inside), brushes (for clearing brass cuttings from the neck) and/or reaming / cleaning tools for primer pockets.
Personally, I have the Hornaday Lock N' Load Center, however, I think i will sell it and buy the Lyman Case Prep Express. The Hornaday Lock N' Load Center has the additional trimming feature, which is the reason I purchased it, however, the trimmer is slightly skewed, which results in the trimmed end being slightly uneven, leading to potential issues with accuracy. In addition, I like the fact that both the Lyman and RCBS Prep Centers rely on downward pressure for case prep, rather than lateral force. Therefore, the desk (or whatever surface I am using) provides the resistance to allow me to apply the force I need for case preparation. The Hornaday Lock N' Load Center needs to be clamped to the desk.
If I am not going to use the trimmer, I don't need the Hornaday Lock N' Load Center. Downgrading will free up some money for other equipment.
This is the unit I currently have, however, the trimmer is slightly skewed and trims the cases unevenly as a result.
I am probably going to sell the Hornaday Lock N' Load Center and use the proceeds to buy the Lyman Case Prep Xpress.
I prefer the Lyman Case Prep Xpress simply because it appears to do the same job at a lower cost.
Lee Case Length Gauge
Consulting the reloading manuals of choice, one can easily find the maximum Case Length. In the case of the .223, the maximum case length is 1.760". Once the case approaches 1.760", the case should be trimmed.
I find a cheap and easy tool to use is the Lee "Case Length Gauge and Shell holder". Simply screw the Case Length Gauge into the cutter (purchased separately). Place the case into the shell holder and insert the gauge into the case. If the cutter cuts the neck, then the case needs to be trimmed.
I generally retain my spent casings until I get a minimum of 100, then prepare them for reloading. I will use the Lee Case Length Gauge to test a random selection of cases. If any one of them is cut by the Lee Case Length Gauge, I trim the lot.
Lee Case Length Gauge
A Handy Tool
It is a very useful and inexpensive tool for reloading.
This example is in .223, the caliber i am discussing here, however, it is available in a wide variety of other calibers as well.
The Cutter and Lock Stud is universal, the gauge and shell holders are caliber specific. Both are required.
Their use is relatively generic, simply insert the case into the holder and slide the case forward to the cutter, using a pilot (supplied or purchased separately) to guide the neck and prevent lateral movement. Usually, the stop on the cutter will have to be gradually (incrementally) moved until you reach the desired length (again, the manuals often provide a recommended "Case Trim Length").
Some trimmers have a micrometer, allowing the cutter to be moved forward (or back) by a known length. In the case of the .223, the "Trim-to-Length" is 1.750". Using a pair of calipers, move the cutter until the recommended length is reached (or close - one does not have to be exact, provided it cuts to less than the Maximum Case Length and is not significantly below the "Trim-to-Length" size). (Note: In the case of the Federal cases I have recently begun to work with, the fired length is approximately 1.745", well below the "Trim-to-Length" suggested).
Once you have your Trimmer set to the desired length, do not adjust it any further and trim all your brass to the same length. From this point forward, you want all your individual pieces of brass to be as consistent as possible.
Beveling the Case Neck
I generally use 8 turns on the outside, and three on the inside, of the neck with light to moderate pressure. I do not want to remove alot of brass at this point, simply a light trim sufficient to bevel the inside and outside edges of the neck..
(Note: the camfer tool at the top of the photograph is a Wilson version. They are very common and available from a variety of manufacturers. The left end is used to trim the inside, while the right end is used to bevel the outside of a case. The tool at the bottom is a Lyman, and simultaneously trims both the inside and the outside. I really like the idea, however, in practice I find it awkward. Furthermore, I generally find the outside needs to be trimmed more than the inside and so I like to do them separately.).
Primer Pockets and Flash Holes
Tools for Reaming and Deburring
Primer Pocket Brushes
To Clean out Carbon Residue
Primer Pocket Uniformers
I Prefer These to the Brushes
As a result, I get very clean primer pockets having a consistent depth.
Flash Hole Uniformer
Again, looking for Uniformity
The Flash Hole Uniformer is inserted at the neck and you align it with the Flash Hole. Again, most of the Flash Hole Uniformers (probably all) have an adjustable stop to avoid over-cutting the Flash Hole.
Primer Pocket Reamer
Required for some Commercial Brass
My Remington cases are fine, however, I have found that some of the Federal cases have this brass rim. An example is evident in the photo under "Primer Pockets and Flash Holes" (above) as the thin blue coloured ring inside the primer pocket. This thin brass rim needs to be reamed out, followed by uniforming the primer pocket.
A Variety of Options for a Wide Range of Calibers
In full length re-sizing, the case is run through a full length die using a reloading press, which re-sizes the entire case. Neck re-sizing simply involves re-sizing just the neck so as to provide sufficient tension to hold the bullet in place.
All new brass should be full length re-sized. Once fired brass should also be full length re-sized, since the cases are either from the factory or from an unknown source (or at least not from your rifle). Full length re-sizing ensures the brass is restored to the SAAMI specifications for your caliber.
Neck sizing should be limited to cases previously fired in your rifle. Neck sizing limits re-sizing to the neck of the case and reduces the extent to which case hardening occurs. Brass starts out soft and, with each subsequent "working", whether by firing or by re-sizing, becomes progressively harder, eventually brittle. By limiting re-sizing to the neck only, you extend the life of your brass. Furthermore, the brass retains the fire-formed shape specific to your rifle.
Weight vs. Volume
Ideally, the cases need to be as consistent as possible and so should be sorted. Two means of sorting are available - by weight or by volume. To sort by volume, the flash hole needs to be blocked and the case filled with a liquid. Generally, either water (with detergent added to reduce surface tension) or alcohol is recommended. The case is filled with liquid and then the volume of liquid measured. I find this technique unappealing for two reasons: 1) dealing with a fluid and 2) consistently filling each case so as to produce an identical meniscus (the convex or concave shape the liquid will have due to surface tension).
The second method is to sort by weight. Each case is individually weighed, then categorized by weight. Recently, I sorted five hundred Federal cases by weight, sorted in to 0.1 grain increments between 90.4 and 93.9 grains. Generally, it seems that the experts recommend accepting cases varying by +/- 1 grain. Therefore, for my Federal cases, I accepted the 456 cases between 91.1 and 93.1 (92.1 +/- 1 grain).
Sorting By Weight
When I weighed them, I found I had a range between 90.4 and 97.7 grains. I then selected all those cases which fell within a range of 1 grain from a median weight. The maximum number of cases was located between 91.1 and 93.1 grains, or 92.1 1.0 grain. Therefore, having a similar weight, they should have a similar volume and should be relatively consistent in their behaviour when fired. As a result, I expect more consistency in performance and, ultimately, better accuracy due to minimization of variation between cases.