Questions as a new reloader


John Wayne
September 29, 2009, 11:34 AM
I recently purchased a Lee O-frame press kit, the one that comes with the Auto-Prime, "perfect powder measure," scale, shellholders, and so forth. I have only one set of dies, for .38 special. I plan to get more but wanted to start off with a straight-walled revolver cartridge to get the basics.

My first batch of handloads, a .358 dia. 125 gr. hard cast LRNFP over 3.0 gr. of Trail Boss in a R-P once-fired case with Magtech SP primers, was very much to my liking. This is the minimum load listed in the chart that came with my press, and I found it a joy to shoot in my Airweight 442. Out of the 4" model 10, it was like shooting a .22 compared to factory loads. I was not looking for performance, rather something that would make practice with the Airweight cheaper and less painful (could shoot these all day long!).

I would like to purchase other supplies, like a brass tumbler, more comprehensive load manual, and dies for other calibers, but I have a few questions before I get started:

-I have two guns chambered in .38 special, and two in 9mm. I would also like to add something in .357 magnum, and .38 super in the near future now that I can afford to shoot them by handloading. Is there a bullet size that will work reasonably well for all these calibers? IIRC, 9x19 bullets are generally .355 and .38/.357 are .357 for cast bullets, but I have seen .356 listed as both a 9mm and .38 bullet.

-I started with Trail Boss powder because it is supposed to be more forgiving. The manufacturer states that it is only for use in certain charges, which are not to be exceeded nor underloaded. I notice that there are only one or two bullet weights listed for this powder in my chart, and that it is intended for use with lead bullets. Can I use this powder for jacketed bullets, or for different weights than those listed (assuming max charge for next heaviest bullet)? Is there load data available for other cartridges, even if they'd be less than ideal candidates? How about 9mm?

-I have not crimped any of my bullets, nor have I flared the case mouths on any of the cartridges. I just run them through the depriming/sizing die, reprime, charge, and seat a bullet. The bullets are not hard to seat and do not come loose under recoil. I assume this is due to the forgiving nature of lead and a slightly oversized bullet, which provides enough tension to hold itself in the case. I also have some .357 dia. 148 gr. jacketed DEWC bullets that I'd like to try, but I'm not sure what I need to do differently.

-How exactly do you come up with a custom load? I know the basics of "working up" to a load, but can you start with any safe minimum load and work it up to get it where you want it? My knowledge of things to watch for is as follows: flattened or cratered primer, split casing, and bulged case heads. I do not plan on even loading max loads any time in the near future, but I would like to know the safe procedures for creating a custom load.

-My friend is attracted to the idea of handloading because of the cost. He is by nature a rather impatient person, who shoots a Glock 17C. This sounds like a disaster waiting to happen to me (reloaded cast bullets in a compensated barrel with polygonal rifling and an unsupported case head), so should I even let him use my press?

Thanks for any advice.

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September 29, 2009, 11:48 AM
can you start with any safe minimum load and work it up to get it where you want it?Yes, as long as it is not over Max loads listed and there is no signs of trouble.

Many folks shoot less than max loads for much of their handgun shooting. We are looking for recoil that we like (whether light, medium or heavy), accuracy, cleanliness, etc.

You can shoot 9MM (.355 jacketed) bullets in .38 Super, and many 9MM's shoot .356 jacketed just fine, so you can use one bullet for both if you like. (Lead the same way)

You are not really going to fond much in the way of a bullet that will shoot well in 9MM, .38 Super, .38 and .357. (Not completely out of the question, but not really that feasible)

You can pick one bullet for 9MM/.38 Super and one for .38/.357. That narrows it down to two bullets to stock.

You do need to start belling your cases and learn to crimp properly, especially if using lead, but it isn't hard. :)

John Wayne
September 29, 2009, 12:32 PM
What is the advantage of belling the case if the bullet seats easily? It seems like it would just shorten the life of the case.

I noticed another post about crimping using the Lee Factory Crimp Die. This is the crimping die I have (I bought the .38 spl. 4-die set). From my understanding, the crimp serves to keep the bullet in place under recoil (that is, the cartridges other than the one being fired) or to keep in from being crammed back into the case when it hits the feed ramp in an autoloader.

It seemed like most in that thread regarded the Lee FCD as a rather poor piece of equipment. What should I be using?

Crimping has to line up properly with a crimp groove in the bullet, correct? How do I crimp full wadcutter bullets?

September 29, 2009, 01:14 PM
1) The advantage of belling a handgun case is that you greatly reduce the chances of shaving lead from the bullet during seating. Shaving lead from a bullet (especially from around the base of the bullet) will greatly affect your accuracy. When the belling is done correctly, the amount you shorten your case life is minimal.

2) A taper crimp serves to remove the belling and allow an auto-loading cartridge to feed smoothly and still headspace correctly on the case mouth. In revolvers, a roll crimp serves to remove the belling and prevent bullet pull (due to recoil). Roll crimps are also used sometimes to increase the bullet pull required in heavily loaded handgun loads (such as .44 Magnum, .454 Casull, and other boomers) so that the slow burning powders being used (H110, W296, etc) can burn more efficiently. Remember, the primary force holding the bullet in the case is the friction between the brass case and the bullet. A good crimp may increase this force if applied correctly, but can also decrease this force if over-done.

3) The problem with the LFC die is that it can post-size a round after the bullet is loaded. Since the lead bullet is softer than the brass case, the case will "spring-back" some after post-sizing, but the lead bullet will not. This can leave you with an undersize bullet (never conducive to accuracy) and a bullet that is now less tightly-held by the case than it was before post-sizing.

4) Roll crimping is usually performed into the crimping groove provided. For full wadcutter bullets, there's usually a small crimping groove just aft of the bullet nose (usually double end wadcutters or such like that). For others (like those used in S&W semi-auto pistols shooting .38 wadcutters without crimp grooves), the case is lightly roll crimped just over the nose of the wadcutter bullet. This increases feeding reliability without harming accuracy.

Sorry this was so long winded...

John Wayne
October 5, 2009, 10:38 PM
Thanks for the detailed replies, guys.

I bought an RCBS reloading DVD which cleared up a lot of my questions. I've also shot about 200 or so of the aforementioned loads (3.0 gr. Trail Boss, 125 gr. LRN FP), and have even better results since I started belling the case mouths :D

Here's what I'm unsure of now:

1.) I still have not used the Lee Factory Crimp Die. It looks like the bullet seating die puts an adequate crimp on the bullets, none have pulled loose under recoil, and I do not plan on going much hotter with the loads. From what you guys have said, the FCD is a post-sizing die, which would be more important in an autoloader, correct?

2.) Regarding brass life, I've heard it's quite common to load .38 spl. brass until the mouth splits. I assume this is safe only because it's a low pressure revolver round which headspaces on the rim. Will .38 spl. brass ever need to be trimmed or full-length sized?

3.) I want to start loading 9mm, for my XDM9 and Hi-Point 995--mainly looking at low velocity cast bullet loads for the XDM and some hotter +P JHP loads to get the most out of the carbine. What do I need to do differently with autoloading brass that headspaces on the case mouth vs. revolver cartridge loading? Will I need calipers to measure it, and will I need to full-length size or trim it? Do I need a caliber gage in addition to, or instead of calipers to check finished rounds? Do standard 9mm 3-die sets provide the necessary crimp, or is something else needed?

4.) Re: reloading for Glock pistols. I've heard mixed opinions, everything from avoiding it like the plague, to only in newer models, to never with cast bullets, to only in 9mm, to only if you have an aftermarket barrel and use the brass once...not really sure what to believe. I have a friend who would like to use my press to load 9mm for a G17C and .40 S&W for a G27. Can cast bullets be used, is an aftermarket barrel required, and should brass be tossed after one reload?

I really appreciate your time, I try to find answers using search engines and the like, but getting into reloading has been a rather confusing process.

October 5, 2009, 11:20 PM
1) If you can crimp and chamber your reloads without using the Lee FCD, then you should be good to go without using it.

2) I feel comfortable reloading my .38 Specials until the case mouth splits. In my experience, handgun brass is always full-length re-sized as part of the reloading process. Trim your .38 Special brass to the same length if you want (it will make your roll crimps more uniform), but I haven't bothered.

3) Since the 9mm Luger headspaces on the case mouth, you want to use just enough taper crimp to remove the belling. I always use calipers to check the COL of my reloads, and I always recommend other reloaders do as well. As far as case gauges to check your finished rounds, why not use the barrel from your gun instead? If it doesn't fit there, then it really doesn't matter what the case gauge says... And yes, handgun 3-die sets include a crimping feature as part of the seating die. I recommend you seat your bullets and then crimp as separate operations, but reloaders who do both at the same time usually report no change in accuracy.

4) I own no Glocks (preferring Berettas...), so I don't know what's fact and what's urban legend concerning reloading for them. I'm sure someone with Glock experience will chime in with some helpful info in a bit.

October 5, 2009, 11:21 PM
1. Not needed in an auto loader either, despite what some will post. ;)

2. .38 Spl brass needs to be sized every time you load it. It can be "partially" sized if you wish (at least 1/3 of the case), but 99% of folks will size it completely, including myself. I trim my revolver brass to ensure even crimping. With .38 Spl and light loads you should never need to trim it again.

3. You just need to remove the bell and maybe a hair more as far as crimp on auto rounds. Your 3 die set will do this. It is easier to set up crimping in a fourth step with a crimp only die, but it doesn't have to be. A caliber gauge is nice, but you can remove your barrel and use it to check sized brass or loaded rounds. I never trim any auto pistol brass.

4. Some people shoot lead in Glocks. I don't have one so I don't know.

October 5, 2009, 11:29 PM
Walkalong, after reading your post (and knowing we were writing them at just about the same time), our responses are a little scary. You missing a brother or anything...?

October 5, 2009, 11:36 PM
They do mirror each other, don't they. :)

The Bushmaster
October 6, 2009, 10:47 AM
Oh for Pete sake...TWO Walkalongs!!:what: I don't think I can stand it...:neener:

October 7, 2009, 07:38 PM
Trimming with the Lee case trimmer is easy and kinda fun. Makes sure you get an even crimp as the man said. Be sure to chamfer the inside if the case mouth a trifle. A few spins of the chamfer tool will do.

Bell but just ever so slightly so you can barely feel it. This and your chamfer will keep you from shaving brass.

I do a moderate crimp in the groove with the seating die. I shoot mostly in 45 autos and they do feed well with this.

I you want to avoid cracked case mouths and have them last near forever, anneal. Get a cheapo propane torch and put the bullets in a pie tin and fill tin with water about 1/3 way up the case. Then hit the case mouths with the torch until they just start to turn color. Let them sit in the tin and air cool. Voila, you have resoftened the overworked brass.


October 7, 2009, 08:23 PM
I don't think I can stand it...:neener:
Suck it up soldier.........:D

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