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Old July 17, 2011, 11:40 AM   #1
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Reloading questions from a newbie

Hello all! I'm new here, and to the art and science of reloading. I have done some searches, tried reading, etc. and have come up with a few questions that just don't seem to have "straight forward" answers. I hope you don't mind, but wonder if anyone can answer some of these.

Even though some of this is beyond me, and I haven't really haven't necessarily had problems with it yet, I was wondering:

What happens if you "under load" a charge? For example, if Hodgdon HS-6 powder suggests a 6.8 gr charge for a 9mm 124gr FMJ round, and the reloader uses only 4.8 gr (for example - just to emphasize a completely undercharged situation), what risks or complications could one have, with an autoloader pistol? Would it simply fail to eject or go through a complete autoloading cycle?

What if the charge is 6.0 gr instead of 6.8? Sounds silly, but I am more inclined to be overly cautious with loads rather than overly aggressive. It's clear that an overcharged load could damage the firearm, or hurt the shooter, but what about an undercharged round? Would a slightly undercharged round fail to cycle properly?

Also, just to cut to the chase, because there is SO much information about lead cast bullets, it's hard to know what to understand/believe/do with them. When I first started to reload for 9mm, I bought a box of 500 125 gr lead cast bullets because they were the cheapest thing at the shop. Then the next day a friend tells me leading can be a real problem with autoloaders firing lead cast bullets. Is it possible to use these, or have I wasted my money? Can I use them to reload with? What do I need to do to reload them effectively (if I can)?

Finally, I have not used a caliper to measure Over All Length of reloaded rounds - just compared them to factory rounds. I set the seating die to the height of the factory round (as a template), by placing a factory round in the press and screwing the die down until it made contact. Not very scientific, but with a little adjusting, was able to produce reloaded rounds that are indistinguishable from the factory's. Is this completely stupid? How does OAL affect reloads?

Thanks a lot for any input you can offer and I apologize if these seem like stupid questions... there are just no easy ways to answer them, it seems.

Thanks again!
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Old July 17, 2011, 11:48 AM   #2
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I'm going to give you the same advise I give new reloaders.

Buy a manual. Read it twice, cover to cover.

Then buy a second manual. Read it twice from cover to cover.

Then come back here and ask questions. We'll still be here.
Dennis Dezendorf
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Old July 17, 2011, 12:25 PM   #3
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These are all intelligent questions to ask.
Reading the reloading manuals will, indeed, greatly help answer them.
But some straight answers are definitely helpful so you don't make any serious mistakes.

As to the reduced load question, different powders are used for different loads and bullet designs.
The powder choice for a normal range load will be different than say for a light load.
Or for one with a different bullet design.
That's why it's real important not to try to get creative with the loading data.
If the combination of ingredients in the reloading data don't give you the results that you want, that is telling you something.
Different ingredients are needed.

As for using lead bullets, they are fine if they are the right ones for the job.
If the lead bullets are the correct diameter for your barrel, and hardness for your loads, they won't cause much barrel leading.
If they do, that tells you something is not quite right.

As for adjusting your overall cartridge length by duplicating factory ammo,
that works just fine, and is the method used by lots of people.
As long as you are comparing apples to apples.

Hope this helps some, and keep asking before doing, if you are not sure.
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Old July 17, 2011, 12:30 PM   #4
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Welcome to the forum!

As stated above, reloading manuals are a MUST! I would highly recommend The ABC's of Reloading for some quality reading. This, in conjuction with at least 2 manuals, will answer most, if not all, of your questions.

To quickly answer your question, no you have not wasted your money buying lead bullets for your autoloader. I shoot cast lead boolits in all my pistols and some rifles.

An undercharge in an autoloader will not cycle the action AND possibly not have enough oomph to push the bullet out of the barrel. SO, be careful and be sure to understand the powder you are using. Some powders are not meant to be downloaded.

Read some manuals and get back to us with any questions those manuals don't clear up.

Good luck!

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Old July 17, 2011, 01:03 PM   #5
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multiple variables

I won't give you straight answers either, but maybe I can help some.
In handloading ammo each component affects all of the other components. There are many safe combinations, but what is safe with one component could be dangerous with another. That is why good load data lists details about everything that was used. Change any one of those and the results will be different. Remember that you already aren't using the same gun they did, that's one of the variables.

May work fine. May fire but not cycle a semi-auto. May fire but leave the bullet stuck in the barrel (search for squib). May break your gun and cause injury to you and/or others (search for detonation).
Do you have a scale to verify powder amounts?

Lead bullets:
Many people, myself included, use lead bullets successfully. They need to be sized appropriately and their hardness must suit the velocity or you can get significant lead deposits in your barrel. Find safe load data for your bullets (different data for lead and jacketed bullets) and give them a try. It may work great as is or you may need to adjust. Search for "cast boolits" and leading.

Over All Length:
OAL is very important. Especially important in small, high pressure cartridges like 9mm.
Not all bullets of the same weight are the same length. So if you load a long bullet and a short bullet to the same OAL the longer one is seated deeper into the case. This reduces the volume in which the powder has to expand and the pressure can become dangerously high (damage to body and property) before pushing the bullet out. Think about popping a firecracker outdoors, in a gym, in your bedroom, and in your car.
Too long OAL can push the bullet against the rifling and cause dangerous pressures. Bullets also have different ogives (shapes at the end - pointy, flat. . .) which can affect safe OAL as well. Search for checking OAL in your barrel. Yes, get a pair of calipers and learn how to use them.

This is definitely art & science and each answer leads to more questions. That's what so many of us love about it and what makes others pull their hair out. The ABC's of Reloading and multiple manuals are considered required reading because that provides you with a more complete understanding of the process instead of only answering the questions you knew to ask. Just never forget that one small step in the wrong direction can take you from good clean fun to serious injury.

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Old July 17, 2011, 01:28 PM   #6
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Thank you so much for the input!

I have begun reading, but sometimes, in anticipation of successful research, it's too much not to simply ask other, more informed folks, a question.

I suspected it was possible for a bullet to get lodged in a barrel from undercharging, but wasn't sure. Thanks for confirming the possibility! I certainly intend to follow load data properly, but wondered what other potential complications could occur from undercharging. I started using the HS-6 powder, according to the charts, and was surprised at how much more HS-6 powder was required compared to, say, Unique... and was a bit leery of overcharging. So I started using the least amount possible. Then I wondered, "well, what if you undercharged a round? Could that lead to complications? Of course it can, but wasn't sure I could independently answer what they could be. I have an RCBS 5-0-5 scale, and am comfortable using it, so I'm not concerned about a lot of potential for error (though it does exist -I'm human, after all), but just started to wonder...

The point about OAL is well made! I understand that because the 9mm round is a bit shortish to begin with, that the pressures that can build if improperly sized could be tremendous! I'm glad that the technique I used has precedence. The list of equipment necessary to make perfect rounds is long! But I will soon get a caliper, because it's too important not to.

Thanks for the input about the lead bullets! I will stick to the FMJ stuff for a bit before I step out into the lead, but once I feel more comfortable, and have a bit more knowledge/competence, I'm gonna give it a try! Thanks for confirming it can be done, though!

I really appreciate the feedback and the patience with a new guy!
Much respect!
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Old July 17, 2011, 01:31 PM   #7
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Welcome to the asylum. We give straight answers to specific questions but when a question indicates a lack of understanding of the principles of reloading we get a little vague, and it's in your best interest.
Reloading consists of replacing the primer, powder and projectile in a fired cartridge case. Simple? No!
There's no way our responses could replace the vast amount of info available in a loading manual and every manual has info not contained in others.
We really want to help but as you have already noticed reloading is an art and a science and until you understand the principles we just can't help you much. Once you do understand the fun really begins!
Be safe. Have fun.
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Old July 17, 2011, 01:33 PM   #8
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I set the seating die to the height of the factory round (as a template), by placing a factory round in the press and screwing the die down until it made contact. Not very scientific, but with a little adjusting, was able to produce reloaded rounds that are indistinguishable from the factory's. Is this completely stupid? How does OAL affect reloads?

The above is a good starting point however it is also dangerous. The shape of each manufacturer's bullet is different and each manuafacturer tells you what the correct COL is for their bullet.
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Old July 17, 2011, 02:16 PM   #9
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Expanding a bit on the COAL and Lead questions

Welcome to the forum and welcome to reloading. You have asked good questions. They also show that you think before acting. Good for you.

COAL (Cartridge OverAll Length) The importance of the cartridge length is not so much the length of the cartridge (aside from making sure they cartridge can cycle through your action), but the length of the cavity under the bullet where the powder is. This is affected by how long the actual bullet/slug is as well as the cartridge overall length. If the particular bullet you are measuring has a longer nose than its brethren, you will get a smaller volume under the bullet and (if set to the same overall length) will have a smaller volume when the powder burns. Smaller volume means greater pressure.

Fortunately, handgun bullets are pretty uniform between bullets yo get from the same box. Handgun bullets are short and stubby. Spire point rifle bullets have more potential for variation. Fortunately, the bullet makers are generally VERY uniform.

The thickness of the web of your brass affects the under-bullet volume is also important, but is also pretty uniform in a given caliber. But if you are pushing up against the loading limits (either the high end or the low end) it would be wise to ensure all your brass came from the same maker. Federal brass is likely to have the same internal volume as other Federal brass, but may be different from Lake City or Winchester brass.

Leading is worse if you have an undersized bullet (hot gasses get past the sides of the bullet that does not completely seal the bore of your barrel, melting the lead on the bullets' sides and leaving it on the inside of your barrel).

Do a search on "Glock" and "lead". The conventional wisdom about polygonally rifled barrels is that leading is a problem with them. Then, the next time you shoot a jacketed bullet, it will tend to stick in the bore and cause ultra-high pressure. Do a search on "Glock Kaboom".

Glocks are not the only guns with polygonal barrels, but their popularity has gotten their name attached to the phenomenon. It is not a fault with the Glock.

There are aftermarket barrels with conventional rifling popular with Glock shooters who shoot lead bullets. Or, you can bring your cleaning kit with you to the range and periodically check your barrel for lead buildup. Or you can shoot copper plated bullets. They are only a little more expensive than lead and a lot less expensive than jacketed. Plated bullets take the load data from lead bullets.

On ultra-light loads: I just read an article from a fellow who was using an extremely light load in a large case. He blew up a Thompson-Contender (a VERY strong single-shot pistol). Apparently, because of the very small amount of powder in a very large case (he was fire-forming a 45-70 to a 475, .458 bullet diameter to .475" diameter). Several charges were OK and then one - disaster. Thankfully, no injuries.

The good firings were shot when the powder was at the back of the cartridge, near the primer. The last one, he had pointed the gun downward, then raised it up. This evidently left a huge air gap between the primer and the powder, leading to S.E.E. (Secondary Explosive Effect).

Interior ballistics is more art than science and, I suspect, even more guesswork than art. Even the experts have observed things that are very difficult to explain.

The recipes you find in the loading manuals have been pretty thoroughly vetted. Most shooters find it wise to stay within them even if they make no (apparent) sense until you dig deep enough. Sometimes it takes a laboratory to dig that deep, though.

Lost Sheep

Last edited by Lost Sheep; July 17, 2011 at 02:30 PM.
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Old July 17, 2011, 02:42 PM   #10
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Our loading manual makers are quite good a giving us all reliveant and critical info. The don't even try to explain everything we may ask if such things are friviolous to the task at hand.

A single GOOD manual is fine IF we read and understand it. They all basically cover the same things so if we can't get it from one, it's doubtful we will get it from a dozen.
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Old July 17, 2011, 06:01 PM   #11
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Hey Yomitche! Welcome to wonderfully frustrating world of reloading. Research is going to be your friend.

I started with the Rockchucker kit from RCBS and read the book about four times before I began reloading. Once I began, the questions that I felt needed to be answered kept piling up. I bought the ABC's of Reloading and it answered some of those questions... But raised a few more. I bought a few more reloading manuals and started asking for clarification from the folks here. They helped big time.

Definately invest in a pair of calipers. I have found that factory ammo lengths can vary from box to box.

Until you are VERY comfortable in reloading, do not venture out on your own and start making your own recipes. Follow established recipes and you will do OK.

When you have a question, ask us. Our bark is worse than our bite and we are more concerned about your safety than you would think.

Let us know how your reloads shoot and any problems you have with them. Someone with more experience has been in the same boat before and will offer you advice on how to fix/overcome the problem. Looking forward to seeing you on the forum.
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Old July 18, 2011, 07:18 AM   #12
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WOW! You guys have offered some incredibly good advise and anecdotal evidence!!!

I am really grateful to get your feedback, and wished I could address each response, but would produce a jumbled, mixed up post. Needless to say, I really appreciate the response from each of you.

I think, as I pursue this past time, I am finding as I progress a bit in knowledge, I realize how much more there is to learn. After posting my initial question, I broke out my ABC's of Reloading and began reading it again. It turns out that (as some of you have noted), my answers were there. I think as I became more conscious of potential problems (through the process of actual reloading), I was actually informing myself a bit (if that makes sense). At least I am able to ask questions informed by the process itself! Ha ha!

I spent years in martial arts activities, and in particular, weapons fighting and have just slightly adjusted my focus into firearms and the intricacies of the discipline that extend beyond shooting. I can see how this becomes an engrossing activity!

Thanks again for the wonderful responses!
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Old July 20, 2011, 06:49 AM   #13
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I have time

I search my vast library of collected data, and find the powder's range of charge weights.
Then I start in the middle.
Then I work upward.

If I'm not sure I start lower.
I try to find data that uses the specific bullet I've chosen.
"all my ammo is mostly retired factory ammo"
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Old July 22, 2011, 03:46 PM   #14
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Everything above is good advice. As far as ur first question goes, if you load too small of a powder charge, you get low pressure blow back. That's where there's barely enough umph to sling the bullet out and much of the gas escapes out the rear towards you!!! Good luck and do a lot of reading. Most of all, be safe!!
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Old July 22, 2011, 04:09 PM   #15
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You've got the right attitude ..../ and listen and learn ..and read and learn ...and just keep going thru the process. Its also really critical to read your loaders equipment manual ...and read it like the technical manual that it is / very precisely - vs a novel.

What I know you've realized at this point how important it is to maintain your equipment, keep it lubed and clean ...and check it when something doesn't seem right ... / keep a "lab" like mentality to your reloading processes ...and keep the bench clean and your reloading area organized ( don't leave large primers on the bench when you're loading small primers / don't put a powder can on the bench other than the powder you're using ...etc ) ....

To check overall length on a round ....I use a "case gague" - The last step I take, prior to boxing 50 rds /is I run each finished round thru a "case gague" ...if it drops in smooth ( flush on top ) - does not extend beyond the end of the gague - and it drops out cleanly ...its ok. If it sticks / there may be a burr on the case, a small crack that opened up under pressure - a wonky primer inserted ...or something else that will not make the round feed 100%. A case gague - is like the chamber area on your barrel - to pick up those few last rounds that need to be rejected - drop them in a small can / for bullets to be pulled - and components reclaimed.

And last - but not least --- have fun with the reloading process !! Its a great part of the shooting hobby ...there is something special about shooting your own high quality ammo...
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Old July 22, 2011, 11:21 PM   #16
Derek Scammon
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I'm also going to be getting into the reloading game soon, and I had a question about manuals. Do I need a manual that covers the specific bullet manufacturer that i'm going to use? The reason I ask is that I'm looking over the books on MidwayUSA, and they say that this manual covers most bullet manufacturers, Nosler, Sierra, etc. But if I bought bullets today, I'd get copper plated Rainiers, since they're pretty cheap, and they're not specifically called out as being included in any of the books available. Would, say, Lyman's manual have data for that manufacturer, or would I use data for a similar bullet? (I don't think using data for a different manufacturer's bullet of the same weight & basic shape is a good idea, but then again, there's a lot I don't know.) I'd hate to drop thirty bucks on a manual and then find out I can't do any loading with it because it doesn't cover the brand of bullets I bought! Thanks in advance,
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Old July 23, 2011, 07:06 AM   #17
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What if the charge is 6.0 gr instead of 6.8? Sounds silly, but I am more inclined to be overly cautious with loads rather than overly aggressive. It's clear that an overcharged load could damage the firearm, or hurt the shooter, but what about an undercharged round? Would a slightly undercharged round fail to cycle properly?
An undercharged cartridge in a auto loading handgun may not cycle the action completely or at all. The big danger of a squib load is the a bullet may become stuck in the barrel, the empty case ejected (by the gun or by hand), and another round is fired, which if you are lucky, will only bulge the barrel. If you are unlucky, you will be injured.
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