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New Brass prep and Load Development, by Jim See

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New Brass prep and Load Development, by Jim See
« on: December 31, 2015, 10:10:26 AM »
 

Jim See

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Basic Brass Preparations, the first step to accurate ammunition.

Your rifle brass is the foundation of your load, take the time to ensure it is consistent and truly ready to load. Let’s start with Lapua brass the same can apply to Norma. It’s often stated that this brass is “ready to load straight from the box”, well not really. Shooters who use quality brass realize how consistent quality brass is, typical weight variations between pieces and boxes in the same lot are usually within a weight range of 2 grains, sometimes less. This is what you pay for in blue box brass. That does not mean it is ready to load. With drilled flash holes we can usually by-pass and flash hole uni-forming in high quality brass.

The case necks themselves are a completely different story. Dented and oval necks will still be present, and the inside outside chamfer of the neck is minimal to non-existent. If we want our bullets to seat with minimal run-out, consistent neck tension and no bullet scaring, we need to get a good even chamfer on our case mouths. We cannot begin this process with-out first uni-forming our case necks in a size die, and yes I run an expander ball. The trick to consistency with an expander ball is inside neck lube, un-lubed expander balls/necks scar the inside of case necks and this will cause problems.

There are many tools available for neck chamfering from $10 to $500 as with anything workmanship means more than the cost of the tool, the expensive stuff in reloading is usually the item that saves you valuable time. You will all be pretty surprised that I chamfer my new cases with a $10 rcbs chamfer tool, yep no Giraud on my bench. What I do is chuck up the rcbs tool in the lathe and chamfer the outside of all 500 cases , flip the tool around and do the insides. I can run thru 500 pieces of brass in less than 3 hours, and I only repeat this chore if and after I need to trim my cases. The point is, don’t skip this important step, it can literally mean the difference between a ” gun and a ”gun or worse. Consistency is important so if you’re using a manual system inspect your cases for consistent results.

Once I have accomplished this I simply clean my brass of lube and brass chips and prepare to seat primers.

Winchester Remington and Hornady brass need a bit more attention. I usually buy 1000 cases at a time and the first thing I do is weight sort them to get 500 cases within 2-2.5 grains of each other. I have found this to shrink vertical displacement at 1000 yards by close to 50%, during f-class testing. The culls from this process are sorted in smaller batches and used for hunting or club level matches where small quantities of rounds are needed in a typical half day match. The last batch of 6.5 creedmoor brass I sorted had a high to low range of 9 grains. The batch before that was 13 grains. Once sorted, I move into the sizing and chamfer operations as outlined above. When that is done I use the Lyman flash hole debur to remove the inside bur from the flash holes. I also do this with the tools handle removed and the tools shaft chucked in the lathe. Be careful to properly set the stop to get an even chamfer that does not “cone out” the flash hole excessively.

One thing you might see missing from this is case trimming, that is a process I now reserved for after the first firing and resizing sequence, and on occasion I have left that go until I physically measured cases that were beyond the maximum case length spec. to me a neck length variance of .005” means nothing on the target. Once this case trimming is done I will repeat the chamfer process on the newly cut case mouths.

Neck turning is something I rarely do, the one occasion I did neck turn was to simple give myself ample room in a tight necked chamber, and that was an f-class gun, which would ensure I would not lose brass on a PRS style COF. Top bench rest shooters most likely all run tight neck chambers and turn necks, for our style of competition it is not necessary.

The final key to brass consistency is in the way you use your brass, I never mix sorted brass with different use rates. Meaning if I have 500 sorted pieces I fire them all once and then resize and reload. I don’t fire 400 of them and save 100 pieces on their 3rd firing and reload the previous 400 on their 4th loading and mix them all up and take them to a match. Work hardening and neck tension differences between the differences in the number of firings may cause you vertical issues.
This is where work hardening of the necks comes into the equation, and we need to start the annealing process, but that will have to wait for another time. –keep it on the steel -Jim

Load Development for the Precision Rifle.

I’m going to assume most of the readers here have at least an intermediate level of experience in hand loading ammunition. My previous articles covered brass prep and what I do to ensure my brass is ready to load, so no need to repeat any of that. What I am going to cover in this article will be based off the assumption that you just received a new custom rifle with 0-1 rounds fired through it.

Typically if it is a cartridge you worked with before, you know what bullet primer and powder has worked well in the past. Stick with those proven components and normally things will go pretty easy and predictable. When switching to a new cartridge there are many ways to get starting load info; reloading manuals, calling the 800 # from the powder suppliers, asking guys you know and trust who use the cartridge. Some rifle jockey who claims 2950 fps with 140s out of his 6.5x47 is not a reliable source. The Internet is still a good place to research rifle data, just look at enough data to get a true general consensus on what works. Don’t rely on information from one individual. When 10 different shooters say 91 grains of H1000 under a 300 grain SMK is the go to load in a 338 Edge, you can have a pretty good feeling about that load selection.

My first goal in working with a new barrel is to “break it in” that doesn’t mean I clean it every other round for 20 rounds. What it means is I shoot a very standard load through it until the velocities stabilize. Many of you understand, and for a few of you this is probably new. As a new barrel is fired it tends to shoot on the slow side, as more rounds are fired the barrel will slowly speed up until it stabilizes at a velocity that could be as much as 100 fps faster than what that same load shot when the barrel was brand new. I’m not going to get in to my theory of how and why this happens; I have written pages on it in other forums over the years. Sufficed to say it is a common occurrence and not likely noticed; unless you use a chronograph, or you settled on a load with your new rifle early on and 100 rounds later you were getting ejector marks and pressure issues.

This barrel speed up is the reason I NEVER do an exhaustive load development in the first 100 rounds through a barrel. What I typically do is load a “break in batch” of ammo at what I know to be a reasonably safe load for the cartridge I am loading. So in a 6.5 Creedmoor I will seat a 140 HPBT on top of a charge of H4350 that is about 1 grain lighter than what I typically run in my match guns, and seated .030” off the lands. Now I know from experience this load will shoot really well in most barrels and will allow me to evaluate the potential accuracy of my rifle while at the same time “break in” the barrel. I am not really concerned if this load shoots under moa or moa. It will likely change as I fire 100 of these “standard loads” depending on the velocity node the barrel likes and velocity change the barrel produces. Just a quick note on cleaning, I typically clean the barrel of copper fouling after the first 10-20 rounds fired, I then clean it when I hit 50-60 round mark. Typically at that point, in most cartridges, that fire bullets from 2800-3000 fps, the barrels are not copper fouling much at all.

Ok so let’s assume we seen our “standard load” produce a velocity out of the gate at 2705 fps and now that we have 100 rounds fired it has increased and leveled off at 2780fps. I am now comfortable that the barrel has settled in and I can do more accuracy centered load development.

My best example of how I handle load development for a new gun can best be summarized by the occurrences 8 days before the Bushnell Brawl. I received my new Surgeon Scalpel team gun in 6.5x47, which is a cartridge I never loaded for.

I called a couple guys who I heard used Hodgdon Varget in their 6.5x47s because I had a good supply of it at the time. From there I received good data on charge weight and velocities, as well as distance off the lands, barrel manufacturer used, and bullets they used. The consensus was 36.0-36.4 grains were going to get you in the 2750fps range after the barrel is shot in. I measured my bullet to lands and set my first load at 35.8 grains of Varget .030” off the lands with a 140 hybrid. Velocity out of the new barrel was in the low 2600 range. By the time I had shot 100 of those loads my velocity had climbed to the low 2700 range. Accuracy was very good, so I felt like I only needed to climb the velocity to the area that was safe and running at a speed I was comfortable with. With-in the next 30 rounds I had increased the charge weight so the rifle was shooting 140’s at 2780 with Varget and .030” off the lands. This load was consistently under .200” at 100 yards, and shot very low vertical, less than 1” at 500 yards which was the longest distance I was able to check it at. From there I loaded 270 rounds and headed to the Rifle Ranch for some LR data 2 days before the match. My LR vertical remained very tight and I was confident in the load and rifle.

Now it’s not always that easy, and since that match I have re-worked the load because the original load went out of tune. That is not usually the norm with the 6xc and 6.5 Creedmoors that I have used in the past. But it all goes back to the fact that every barrel is different and that becomes the challenge, and the frustration with consistent shooting. We must be able to recognize when a barrel and load are no longer getting along and modify our loads accordingly.

Some predictable patterns in my loading routine include;

I always start .030” off the lands, and I rarely change this unless I have a load at my velocity limit that needs fine tuning or a good load that has gone out of tune.

I, in initial load development, always try and tune my loads by modifying the powder charge weight only, and in 90% of the barrels I have dealt with this usually will meet my accuracy expectations. 2780fps that shoots in the sub moa range will always get the nod over 2825 in the MOA range.

If I have a rifle that refuses to shoot my chosen components the first thing I switch is the bullet. Most of the time this alone will show accurate results. It seems on occasion you will get a barrel that just refuses to give you the accuracy with your first choice of bullet type/manf.

If a barrel will not shoot 2 different bullets; only then will I switch to a different powder. By testing the 2 bullets I conclude that if either will not shoot then I am using the WRONG powder. 

I typically do all my initial load development shooting 100 yard dots, and then once I find a promising load test it at long range.

When I shot f-class at primarily 600-1000 yards I did just the opposite. I would do a Ladder test at 600 yards and ignore 100 yard groups.

Since I brought up the Ladder Test I will describe the process, some people call it other things but basically if I had a load that produced good accuracy and I really wanted to fine tune the load, as to get it in a wide velocity node but still hold small vertical at distance, I would do the following.
I would load .1 grain increment loads with-in the velocity range I was expecting to operate. So for instance in my .284 I might start at 56.5 grains and load up to 58.0. I would load 3 of each charge and then shoot the ladder 3 different times, one evening, the next morning, and then that evening. As you shoot these loads in order, there location is plotted on the target. I used a video camera on the target, and then when I finished the string I would review the tape and label or number each bullet hole to its corresponding load. By the end of the process I had 3 targets to analyze data, and draw conclusions on the powder charge window that gave me the most forgiving vertical window. By doing this I could realize that even if my powder charge varied .2 grains high to low from one round to the next, those bullets may still land in less than X amount of vertical dispersion.

Our goal in f-class was a load that would maintain MOA vertical at 1000 yards. So for example if the load of 56.9, 57.0, 57.1 and 57.2 maintained 1.5” of vertical at 600 yards I was confident that if I settled on the load of 57.0 I would have a load that could have a variance of +- .1 grain and still remain in the accuracy node giving me sub MOA vertical. This process takes patients and the ability to sit down and get consistent results. If your shooting form or comfort level is different during this test your results may not be super consistent. With an f-open rig on a Seb rest and a rear eared bag full of heavy sand a lot of the human error was removed. Trying this with your precision bolt gun on a bipod requires very good form. I have not done a ladder test with my PRS guns, it is a bit time consuming, but I feel like it would be a help in making a consistent and forgiving load.

The last thing is maintaining your accuracy through the life of your barrel. I tend to try and operate in the velocity range that gives me good accuracy so when bullet velocity diminishes as the barrel continues to erode and wear out, I add powder to my charge weight until I get in the velocity node that was shooting great with that barrel. I velocity check the new charge weight and once I'm back up to speed I load the batch of ammo. (200-350 rounds) This alone usually gets my data back on track for at least one more match out of the barrel. If the barrel is still shooting great I will repeat the process and try to get another match out of it. Some people adjust the seating depth closer to the eroded lands to re-tune a barrel that is ageing, I rarely or never do this, I found adding powder to be the easiest fix.

I hope you can draw something out of this article; none of it is witch craft, just a process I stick with because it has worked for me. 20 years ago I used to get all wrapped up in trying different powders and bullets because that was part of the fun. Now I look for the one easy load and stick with it.

Keep it on the steel, Jim


Bio; Jim See currently competes as a Pro in the Precision Rifle Series, having finished the last 4 seasons Ranked in the top 15 Nationally. Jim has worked in the precision bolt action rifle industry since 2008 as owner of Center Shot Rifles, Quality Manager at Surgeon Rifles action division, and currently operates “Elite Accuracy” a Training, Consulting and Manufacturing Business in Decorah Iowa.


« Last Edit: February 13, 2016, 04:28:29 PM by Jim See »
 

Re: New Brass prep and Load Development, by Jim See
« Reply #1 on: December 31, 2015, 01:06:36 PM »
 

Jeff M

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Excellent article, Jim.  Your treatment of new Lapua brass is exactly the same as mine.  Since I use a bushing die for sizing, without an expander, I fix case necks by using a K&M expander mandrel.  I actually run ALL new brass over this mandrel when it comes out of the box.  I used to be in the "just chamfer it and load it" camp, but I noticed varying degrees of pressure required to seat a bullet in new brass using that method.  Because of that, I switched to running all the brass into the sizing die first to take care of the necks.  However, I continued to notice inconsistencies in seating pressure - because some of the necks were a little smaller than others.  Running all the cases over the expander mandrel and then through the sizing die to bring the neck back to where I want has produced much more consistent results for me.  Yes, the expander ball in the die would likely be a little easier, but the whole "lube the inside of the mouth" bit has always irked me.  Probably a mental issue, but since SO much of this game is mental, I'm ok with that issue only existing in my head and continuing to use the methods I've developed over the past few years.  It instills confidence in my ammo, and you've already covered in another article why that is so important to a competition shooter!

One question that I do have for you, though - you mention that you would measure your bullet to lands.  Could you go into a bit of detail on how you accomplish that?  I mean, I have the Hornady tool, and understand how that works - I've used it on 223 and 308 with great success.  I even lucked out, and found that Bruno Shooter's Supply had a modified 6.5x47 case, so I was able to do that as well.

However, I've got two rifles that are in the works right now for which modified cases are not available - 6BRX and 6Dasher.  I know there are many different ways of measuring the bullet to lands to come up with max OAL before you start jamming, but I was hoping you could detail your process here.

Also, for those that are newer to reloading, it might be good to detail why this is necessary, as well - if you wouldn't mind.

Thanks, and keep the articles coming!!
« Last Edit: December 31, 2015, 01:08:51 PM by Jeff M »
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Re: New Brass prep and Load Development, by Jim See
« Reply #2 on: December 31, 2015, 10:08:41 PM »
 

Jim See

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Jeff to measure my oal I use a fired case, flatten the neck slightly on one side so it will grip the bullet. stick a bullet in the case .050", color the bullet with a black sharpie, insert case and close bolt. Extract case, extract bullet if stuck in lands, push bullet back in case to where the case neck flat scrapped off the marker. measure. repeat a couple times. Then I take my longest reading and push the bullet in the case that far. I then close it in the chamber again and measure, the bullet should not stick in the lands now, but may push in the case .005-.015" more. once the measurement does not change that is my "touching land" dimension. I then start load development .030" deeper. 
 

Re: New Brass prep and Load Development, by Jim See
« Reply #3 on: January 01, 2016, 09:39:54 PM »
 

Jeff M

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Jeff to measure my oal I use a fired case, flatten the neck slightly on one side so it will grip the bullet. stick a bullet in the case .050", color the bullet with a black sharpie, insert case and close bolt. Extract case, extract bullet if stuck in lands, push bullet back in case to where the case neck flat scrapped off the marker. measure. repeat a couple times. Then I take my longest reading and push the bullet in the case that far. I then close it in the chamber again and measure, the bullet should not stick in the lands now, but may push in the case .005-.015" more. once the measurement does not change that is my "touching land" dimension. I then start load development .030" deeper.

I'm glad I asked that question, since that is one method I've not yet heard of.  Sounds very easy!
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Re: New Brass prep and Load Development, by Jim See
« Reply #4 on: January 03, 2016, 07:44:13 AM »
 

Cwinner

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However, I've got two rifles that are in the works right now for which modified cases are not available - 6BRX and 6Dasher.  I know there are many different ways of measuring the bullet to lands to come up with max OAL before you start jamming, but I was hoping you could detail your process here.


Jeff, is quite easy to spin up cases for the Hornady tool, a couple years ago I boutght a tap of the required thread pitch and can make you a couple cases in no time.  Contact me for my address and send me a couple resized or new cases for the calibers your interested in and I'll thread them and bore the necks so you can use your tool......Jim's process works and that's how I did it for years but after getting the OAL tool and making cases I haven't looked back.

Great article Jim,  another simple tool I've made is a headspace bump gauge.....Ill take he last inch of barrel that is cut off from a new barrel and ream it out with the reamer used to cut the chamber.  This gives me an effective gauge to set my dies and leaves enough throat to measure the OAL of the original chamber.  I've found this to be a useful tool to compaire the throat of my aging barrel to its like new condition and removes measurement bias by having to look up in the book what my OAL to lands was when new....simply measure against the gauge and compaire.

" You miss 100% of the shots you never take "
 

Re: New Brass prep and Load Development, by Jim See
« Reply #5 on: January 03, 2016, 09:02:50 AM »
 

Jeff M

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PM inbound!  Thanks!
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Re: New Brass prep and Load Development, by Jim See
« Reply #6 on: August 19, 2018, 10:52:36 AM »
 

Kingston

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Jim do you have any pictures illustrating how you use your lathe with the case mouth and flash hole tools? What steadies and squares the case to the tool?

Thanks.