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Old November 15, 2012, 03:09 PM   #1
Pond, James Pond
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Learnt an important lesson today.

Went to the range today, with my dad who's visiting.

Fired off some 9mm, 22's and my .38spl and .44Mag reloads.

.44s went off without a problem, but out of 40 odd .38s, there were two weak rounds. They sounded more like a pop than a bang. Luckily I was shooting out of a snub as it only twigged what had happened on the second occassion: I'd had two squib loads. I even found one of my .38 bullets on the floor about 5 yards from the bench.

Had I had a longer barrel, perhaps it would not have made it out the other end, in which case the follow up shot to the first, undiagnosed, squib could have made a real mess of my gun!!

So the question now is "how?"

I loaded all those .38s on a Lee turret, with a Lee Pro auto-measure fitted so as long as I kept pulling the lever there is little chance of a badly made cartridge, unless I only pulled the lever half way on the charging station, which I can't imagine happening.

So what other possible reasons are there?
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Old November 15, 2012, 03:55 PM   #2
BigJimP
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all kinds of things...can affect powder drop ....

a. not cycling the handle all the way thru....
b. obstruction in powder measure...
c. static elec in powder measure / and or in powder storage cannister ( most of us use anti-static dryer sheets to get rid of static). If you have grains of powder sticking to the sides of the powder measure - you have a static problem.
d. human error - in operating the press...( something caused you to take cartridges out of rotation / ...do something ...put them back in and got confused....
e. excessive humidity can cause powder to change how it flows - but in winter, static is probably a bigger issue
f. did you use the correct powder...
g. is the powder measure tight, is it adjusted properly - make sure any nuts or bolts on it are tight.../ if it has a fail safe rod - is it adjusted properly .....

In general,

My procedure when I set down to press...
a. I weigh each of my first 10 drops....making sure they are all within 0.1grain of my goal drop...
b. If they are right on ....then out of next 10, I measure 1.....out of next 10, I measure 1.....so I know, that everything is 100%.
c. I rig a little mirror - to look into the case / so I can see the volume of powder in the case - after I drop powder and before I seat bullet....

----------------
my guess is, on the bad rounds....you had no powder.../ primer only ...and you were lucky the bullet cleared the barrel.
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Old November 15, 2012, 03:59 PM   #3
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You most likely short stroked it.

My recommendation- visually inspect each and every charge as it is dropped and then immediately place the bullet. For .38 this might mean removing the case from the press. In this case, place the bullet before returning the cartridge to the press (to avoid the chance of double charging). Also, when you spot check a charge, get in the habit of visually inspecting that you are returning an empty case to the press and then again, inspect the new charge that you throw.

Follow those steps every time and you will be squib free and double charge free. Pretty soon it will become a habit. At this point the thought of placing a bullet on a case that I havent just visually inspected would seen foreign to me.

Happy loading.
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Old November 15, 2012, 07:36 PM   #4
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With the LCT is very easy to look at the powder in every cartridge before you set the bullet on top of the case. You should make it a habit to ALWAYS do that.
When I recently acquired a LnL AP I had to start a chant: primer, case, powder, bullet, load. Helps me stay on course even though anyone passing by might think I was crazy.
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Old November 15, 2012, 07:45 PM   #5
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This is why I like batch loading using a loading block, charge 50 cases at a time, check the charge using a light, seat the bullets, and I use the Lee Cast turret as a single stage, easy-peasy--it's just as fast as indexing each round.

That's all I'm saying about that
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Old November 15, 2012, 08:13 PM   #6
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I am always positioned over my LCT so I am looking down into the cases to verify there is what looks like the correct charge in them. A small desk lamp of some sort shining down into the shell holder area helps a lot.
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Old November 15, 2012, 08:14 PM   #7
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Perhaps the powder bridged in the measure. Do you give it a good tap top and bottom when you cycle the measure? The vibration helps the powder drop more consistently. Some powders are worse than others about this. What kind of powder were you using?

But if it did bridge in the measure then other rounds would be likely to be heavier charge than intended.
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Old November 15, 2012, 10:52 PM   #8
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Many hand loaders experience squib loads. You learned another lesson:If a round sounds weak check your barrel before pulling the trigger again.
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Old November 15, 2012, 11:21 PM   #9
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Glad there were no problems after the Squibb loads. Your very lucky.
Checking or looking to see powder was dropped is a good idea. Never be in any rush to reload.

Be safe and good shootin,

Mike
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Old November 16, 2012, 12:09 AM   #10
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The only squib loads I've seen have been in .38 Special. All the squibs were from using a slow powder for loading .38 Special combined with a loose bullet fit in the case. The primer going off was enough to start the bullet moving before the powder fully ignited. The bullet moving creates a much larger volume for the slow powder to burn in greatly reducing pressure. I've seen a fellow shooter that when he fired some rounds you could actually see the bullet bloop out of the barrel and fall to the ground 10 to 20 yards down range. Make sure you have good bullet tension in the case by pushing with your thumb and by pushing the loaded round against your bench. If the bullet moves at all you are not sizing enough to hold the bullet. Some .38 cases have thinner walls. Also I've found that faster recommended powders in .38 Special will give more consistent velocities. I prefer Accurate Arms #2 for loading .38 Special. I believe that a lot of .38/357 Magnum sizing dies don't size the thinner .38 cases enough. You don't have to have a bad primer to get a blooper load. Loose bullet tension and slow for .38 powder is the biggest culprit followed by inaccurate charges of powder.
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Old November 16, 2012, 12:17 AM   #11
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Quote:
Also I've found that faster recommended powders in .38 Special will give more consistent velocities.
True that. There is a reason Bullseye, W231/HP38, etc are among the most effective powders for .38
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Old November 16, 2012, 07:10 AM   #12
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Worst handloading goof I've yet made was sticking a bullet in the bore of my most prized revolver. At least I was good enough to not fire any after it.

The after-investigation painted this picture:
--I was using a powder that meters really poorly, and I likely got just a bit less than I thought I was getting in that round

--I was using far, far too light a powder charge for the round, the bullet, and the gun from which I was launching them

--I was going really baby with a PLATED bullet, which I have constantly (since that day) attempted to warn others not to go so lightly & reserved

--I was shooting these from a revolver which has the added affect (however small) of releasing some of the pressure from behind the bullet in the jump from cylinder to forcing cone...which will not EVER help you when you've got ammo that's well underpowered.

With that said, I think it makes very good sense to tell us the bullet construction and weight, and the powder type and charge weight of these loads that gave you erratic results. Just because of my own experience, my first reaction is that -ALL- the loads you made & brought in .38 Special that day were powder puff loads...too light overall, and two of them happened to be ever-so-slightly lighter, and when they make that jump across the flash gap, some of the much needed gas is escaping and not helping the situation.

That may not be the situation at all - - but that is what occurs to me without more information about the load.

I'll also take a moment to highlight something already said:
Quote:
This is why I like batch loading using a loading block, charge 50 cases at a time, check the charge using a light, seat the bullets
I've got like 40,000 loaded rounds over the last two years and God's honest truth is that I've looked in every single one of them by peering over a load block, usually with 50 rounds in it, and seen all of my happy powder charges before I place a bullet over each one.

I have complete and absolute faith in my handloads, and THAT step is the biggest reason why. It is very nearly the definition of "warm & fuzzy."
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Old November 16, 2012, 09:20 AM   #13
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If you read the warning on Hodgdon's site about not loading 296/H110 down more that 3%, it's because of the squibbing out issue. One of their techs once warned me that the warning really applies to any slow-for-application powder can. So Rg1's explanation is, indeed, a mechanism whereby a loading setup that worked fine with your other rounds might be made to produce squib loads.

In general, the slower the powder the nearer to maximum pressure you need to run it to get reliable performance. A heavier bullet gives it more time to build pressure, so that also helps. A magnum primer will increase the starting pressure, which also can help if there's a lot of unused room in the case. Since we don't know your load data or velocities, that's about all I can think to offer on that subject.

If the powder isn't slow, and this is just a fluke of charging, while the loading block suggestion is good, if you are using the turret press in auto-indexing mode that would defeat the purpose of the indexing mechanism (speed). I know several guys have mounted small LED lights over on their presses to get a better view down into the case. It can, in your case, be either at the front or the next station. You just have to remember to look.
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Old November 16, 2012, 09:57 AM   #14
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Quote:
With the LCT is very easy to look at the powder in every cartridge before you set the bullet on top of the case. You should make it a habit to ALWAYS do that.
This. ^

I have a small hi-intensity gooseneck lamp clamped next to the press, brightly illuminating the process. I sit close enough and at an angle so as to be able to peer into each round after it is charged.
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Old November 16, 2012, 05:44 PM   #15
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If your powder meansure is still mounted and you haven't changed anything you may want to try and load another case and then see if the charge is right. Maybe there's an obstruction, maybe it was something else but the only way to know for sure is to repeat it.
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Old November 17, 2012, 03:37 AM   #16
Pond, James Pond
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OK, so the powder measure comes off after every session and discs are changed if I go from .38 to .44.

I can understand the theories about the measure and Seven's statement that all those loaded that day are light.

I did check the primers for any signs of pressure, in case: none.

I will say that I found one bullet on the floor, as stated, but also found two more in the wooden bullet catcher, behind the paper target, that had had so little penetration that they sat flush with the wood's sawn plane.

The issue is that the loads used are the same as all previous ones and, typically, I will tip every tenth powder charge into the Harnady digital scale to check the measure is charging well.
That day, I didn't need to re-measure any charges.

Having had lots of trouble to get the auto-disk to work consistently from the outset, I've been careful to do things that have been shown to make it concsistent so I do pull the lever all the way, each way. I do pull the lever firmly to help shake the powder above and I do perform the mini double pull on the charging stage to make sure any granules are all dislodged.

The data is 125 plated FN bullet, 39.39mm OAL, half-turn FCD crimp, 5.6gr of N350 powder (often leaves unburnt powder).
All these are shot through a snub Astra 680.

Some may say, up the powder charge by a couple of granules, but with unburnt powder, what is the point.

Is it the fact that powder is unburnt mean that my near minimum charge sometimes slips below the min charge, rather than a measuring issue?

Remember that this data and method are the same as the last time I loaded cartridges and previously they all shot well...
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Old November 17, 2012, 07:44 AM   #17
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Never heard of unburnt powder before. How old is it? Could it be contaminated? How about the primers?
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Old November 17, 2012, 08:07 AM   #18
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I have not followed your thread completely, just now and then, so this is probably a repeat.
When I have unburned powder it is usually a sign of a too light load. Upping the charge a little usually makes it go away. It is pretty common with Unique and I had it with HP38 when I first started using it and was starting pretty light in 45 ACP.
Sorry if this has been covered, or, if you are pretty well up on the charge weight. I have never used the VV powders.
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Old November 17, 2012, 08:39 AM   #19
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Some powders have problems as the temperature drops. With minimum loads in .38 special, I find using magnum primers with the same load for winter helps. It increases the pressure and burn improves. You could be having such a problem.
Most times a magnum primer is enough to push a lead bullet all the way through a 2" barrel. I have not always lived in the south and still remember what a real winter is like. Being so far north this could be a solution.
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Old November 17, 2012, 05:09 PM   #20
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Unburnt powder is a common occurrence. I see it often in handgun loads with Hogdgon Universal. In fact, if my .45 Hardball load doesn't disply some unburnt powder, then something is amiss.

I also see it in some loads using Alliant 2400.
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Old November 17, 2012, 06:16 PM   #21
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Pond, James Pond I don't believe you mentioned the powder brand you were using for your 38s? (ball, flake, or stick) I wouldn't place blame on that press without knowing the powders name first. As that set-up of yours is indeed very reliable.
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Old November 17, 2012, 06:44 PM   #22
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Why increase powder charge when there is unburnt powder anyway?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Pond, James Pond, post 16
Some may say, up the powder charge by a couple of granules, but with unburnt powder, what is the point.
James,

I believe that raising the pressure increases the burn rate, resulting in less unburnt powder. So, a charge with (just pulling figures out of the air) a powder charge where a 10 grain charge that leaves 2 grains unburnt (burning 8) might, if upped to 12 burn all 12 at the higher pressure. (Anyone knowing more about this phenomenon, please chime in.)

Or you could seat the bullet a little deeper (within book values) and see if unburnt powder decreases or velocity increases, or both.

It occurs to me to ask if there is any visible soot on the outside of the cases after firing. That would indicate too-low pressure. (The case does not seal against the chamber walls and propellant gasses leak back. This is more often bound with firearms without a barrel-cylinder gap but does occur in revolvers, too. I have seen it.)

Lost Sheep

p.s. What Jim Watson in post 23 said agrees with my "Modern Reloading" manual. Lead 124 grain bullet, starting load suggested is 5.7 of N-350 (maximum 6.3) and for jacketed bullets 6.2 grains of N-350 (maximumn 6.9).

p.p.s. Grains and granules. Readers of all knowledge levels will read this far into the future and we don't want to cause anyone to mix the two meanings in their thought processes. Granules are the individual flakes or pieces of powder. Grains is how powder charges are quantified. A secondary meaning of grains is, of course, a synonym for granules, but it would not do to mix the terms on the forum.

Last edited by Lost Sheep; November 17, 2012 at 07:38 PM.
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Old November 17, 2012, 06:54 PM   #23
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You are at or below the recommended starting load for that combination, and N350 is not a very good .38 Special powder anyhow.
You were either getting incomplete combustion at low pressure and temperature or you were not getting as much powder as you thought you were. (Have you weighed the actual powder delivered or are you depending on the Lee chart for the measure?)

I understand your rationale for trying to do it all with one expensive powder, but as R. Buckminster Fuller said, "Simplify as much as possible, BUT NO MORE!"

You can check the powder charge more closely and increase the load a bit to save buying another powder but you are on the wrong side of the edge of suitability and safety now.
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Old November 18, 2012, 02:26 AM   #24
Pond, James Pond
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Quote:
I don't believe you mentioned the powder brand you were using
Mea culpa.
I started another reloading thread, pretty much about the same problem in .44Mag. Gave the powder brand there, but not here. I always use Vihtavuori. A fine powder, most say, and just as well as it is the only brand stocked locally. All the powders I've seen of theirs are stick powders.

Quote:
p.s. What Jim Watson in post 23 said agrees with my "Modern Reloading" manual. Lead 124 grain bullet, starting load suggested is 5.7 of N-350 (maximum 6.3) and for jacketed bullets 6.2 grains of N-350 (maximumn 6.9).
I based my loads on the Lee die chart that came with the .38Spl carbide die kit as it was the only source of mine that actually had values for a 125gr plated bullet, which is what I load. In fact my load is not the listed starting load on that sheet. It was 5.3gr, IIRR, but 5.6gr was what I could get from a 1.06 auto-disk aperture, so I took that. The VV site say a start load of 5.9, but that is a Rainier 125gr FP. I don't know if that is plated, cast etc.

The Lee data was exactly the bullet I had and so I took that. If it is an unreliable/unrecommended source, I'll err toward the VV data.

Quote:
p.p.s. Grains and granules. Readers of all knowledge levels will read this far into the future and we don't want to cause anyone to mix the two meanings in their thought processes. Granules are the individual flakes or pieces of powder. Grains is how powder charges are quantified. A secondary meaning of grains is, of course, a synonym for granules, but it would not do to mix the terms on the forum.
Yeah, I know. Mea culpa here too.
I was too lazy to type "a couple of fractions of a grain", so went for granules as in "extra pieces of powder". In other words upping the charge by 0.2-0.3 grains or so.

Quote:
I understand your rationale for trying to do it all with one expensive powder
Well, I've got N110 for .44 now, so N350 is a dedicated .38 powder for now. It may not be a good .38 powder, but it is certainly adequate given that both VV and Lee list it as a viable choice.
Once it's finished, I'll look at a faster burning option: only about 250 grams to go!
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Last edited by Pond, James Pond; November 18, 2012 at 02:43 AM.
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Old November 18, 2012, 06:15 PM   #25
Jim Watson
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Quote:
5.6gr was what I could get from a 1.06 auto-disk aperture,
Repeat, is 5.6 gr what you get from the autodisk on a scale or is it what the chart says you are supposed to get?
The chart nearly always overstates the amount delivered.
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