9mm Lee Loader & OAL


December 11, 2009, 06:19 AM
I recently picked up a classic lee loader in 9mm, hoping to make some reasonably price ammo to shoot in a P89. I found that besides the cost of the kit and a few accessories, I am able to turn out 9's (cast 125 grain bullets) at about $.14 - .16 a piece. That's a lot cheaper then most of the ammo I can find where I live, and as slow as the Lee Loader is, I find it faster then I imagined and pretty relaxing. I'm not one to "burn a lot of ammo", so this works for me.

So here's my concern. I have followed the Lee instruction tables as perfectly as possible. I'm especially careful not to "scoop" the powder, but to "dip" it so as not to increase the load. I also bought a case trimmer and a caliper to measure the oal. The Lee table says that, with the bullets I am loading backed with 4.7 gns of Bullseye powder (the starting load), the minimum OAL should be 1.150. I tried to set the bullet seater so that I would end up with the 1.150, but quickly found out that there was some variance between finished cartridges. I know that compressing powder quickly increases firing pressure, so to be safe I reset the seater so that the finished dimensions are 1.152 - 1.1535. Is that a reasonable setting, and how much will the variance affect accuracy. Also, before resetting the seater, I had one oal measurement of 1.1485. Am I still within the safety zone for that cartridge or should I toss that round. Also, just for fun I checked the oal of cartridges in a box of American Eagle 9's. Variance was a much as .01 ( 1.14 -1.15) between rounds! so I felt a little better with my efforts.

I'm learning as I go, so I really appreciate all suggestions and comments! And yes I know there are faster ways, but I'm the kind of guy who enjoys preparing to shoot as much as the actual time on the range (well almost.)

All thoughts and suggestions are greatly appreciated!:D

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December 11, 2009, 08:25 AM
1.148 is still fine.

1.150 is a good place to start with a 125 Gr RN. If it feeds well, use it.

.01 varience is pretty big, but not dangerous at your target O.A.L..

You should be able to get a varience of no more than .005.

December 11, 2009, 09:10 AM
Bear, as long as your rounds headspace correctly using your barrel as a hesdspace gauge, I would not worry about tha small differece in OAL.

December 11, 2009, 09:15 AM
Yes. That is the key. Use your barrel to headspace your load. The longest OAL that headspaces coreectly that is closest to the published OAL will be your best choice. Also remember that the Lee Loader only neck sizes. If you pick up brass from another gun you may not be able to get a good fit.

December 11, 2009, 09:30 AM
Thanks Guys,

As a reloading new guy, I wasn't sure how "close is close enough." Walkalong, it was the factory ammo with the big variance. Once I got set up my variance was only .0015. So I guess I'm doin' ok. That really helps. Vacek, unless I'm mistaken, it is the rifle loads where the Lee kits only resize the neck. Could be wrong about that though.

By the way.... I really like the Ruger p89. I think its a great workin' man's gun. I like the full size (even though everyone seems to be racing to build the tiniest gun for concealed carry), and was able to shoot pretty well with it the first time out.

Happy Shootin' :D

December 11, 2009, 10:34 AM
The overall length of the cartridge has nothing to do with headspace. ;)

If you load to long, it may not chamber because the bullet is hitting the lands, but that is not headspace.

In 9MM the length of the case determines how much headspace you have. 99.% of the cases out there are OK for 99% of the chambers out there. Don't sweat headspace in 9MM. Just find the O.A.L. that feeds well in your gun and use it.

Patrick R
December 11, 2009, 07:38 PM
Also make sure your finished rounds will fit in your magazine.

Other wise you end up with a single shot P-89.

December 11, 2009, 08:13 PM
Mr. Bear -
You were correct to ask. Differences in 9mm OAL DO change the chamber pressure faster than on other cartridges due to the very small case volume.

However, since your changes are so very, very small it is unlikely to make a measurable difference. IMHO changes under .010" are unlikely to effect a 9mm at moderate loads. So if you are aiming at 1.150", then anything between 1.140" and 1.160" will probably be OK. The closer to 1.150" of course the better, but you'll be a LONG way from blowing up the gun!

If you were running this cartridge on a progressive press, you might feel lucky to get ammo at 1.150" +/-.003" (1.147 to 1.153")!! So when you ask us about +.002 (about 1/2 a human hair) we are sort of chuckling to ourselves. But it's a good question, and definitely "better to be safe than sorry".

As an aside... If you want to be persnickety about loading, then may I humbly suggest that you move towards dispensing your powder from a variable powder dispenser that is adjusted to a desired powder weight. OAL is important, but IMHO loading each case with powder that varies less than 1/10gr (0.1gr) will buy you far more in terms of accuracy AND safety.

Hope this helps!

December 11, 2009, 08:37 PM
Excellent advise. A good powder measure is a big plus. Hard to do dippers as well as a good measure can dispense powder.

December 11, 2009, 11:15 PM
Another +1 on the powder measure.

I'm fairly new to reloading and also load 9mm. I loaded several different jacketed 9mm bullets and experienced similar variances that you did.

If you measure your bullets, you'll find variances in length. The bullet seater presses from the ogive, but on those long/short bullets your COAL changes with it. Bulk factory rounds do the same, as you found out.

I'm not just persnickety but also anal AND stubborn. I just set the limits I will except, and mine are lower than factory bulk ammo variances. It costs a little more time, and I know it isn't a safety issue with my light loads, but that's just me.

December 12, 2009, 10:49 AM
IF a load is on the ragged edge of coming apart and you suddenly seat .1" deeper, that's big change and you could get into big trouble. But trivial seating differences give trivial pressure differences.

December 12, 2009, 01:39 PM

At one time I also thought that Lee Loaders would neck size for rifle and pistol / revolver would fulll size. Not the case. If I take a 9mm case shot from another gun that case may or may not headspace in my Glock barrel. If it doesn't, the Lee Loader doesn't size it. That is unfortunate and I would like to know why Lee didn't set up the non-rifle Lee Loaders to full size. This would be a great feature for pick-u brass.

In an earlier version of the company called Lee/Mequon they actually made Lee Loaders that would full size rifle shells. I have a couple from ebay but haven't had time to try them yet.

As long as you are shooting your own brass and sort through the pick-up to see what fits the Lee Loader works great.

December 12, 2009, 01:51 PM

Go to this thread. I have some photos of what I am talking about.

December 12, 2009, 04:29 PM
A case that is not sized sufficiently to chamber in a barrel has nothing to do with headspace. It just means it won't chamber. Once you get it sized enough to chamber, then you can worry about headspace, which is a non issue with 99% of 9MM brass in 99% of the chambers out there. A bullet seated out to far to chamber is not a headspace problem either. It is a "not seated deep enough" problem.

IO have read a lot of this type of confusion lately. Headspace is a relationship between the brass and the chamber.

December 12, 2009, 06:17 PM

Understood. The point is that if the 9mm case has been expanded to much from a previous pistol then it will not chamber until it is full length sized. In the case of 9mm, not fully chambering, assuming good COL, is the equivalent of not headspacing.

December 12, 2009, 06:35 PM
Maybe I am just being picky and hardheaded, but it is not the equivalent of "not headspacing", it is just to fat to chamber.

But I understand what you mean to say. :)

December 12, 2009, 07:49 PM
Also, not trying to nit pick, but 99.99% of variable powder measures do NOT dispense by weight, they dispense by volume just like a dipper. When you turn the screw on a powder thrower to change the amount dispensed, you are changing the volume of the cylinder at the other side of that screw. Yes,we then weigh the thrown charge and spend the next 30 minutes turning the screw 0.005 microns one way or the other to get the .01 grains we absolutely must have, but it is actually dispensed by volume from the thrower. :)

December 12, 2009, 08:05 PM
Absolutely right, but the good ones throw really consistent weights while doing it. I have said here before that consistent volume is as, or more, important than weight, but most do not agree.

Jeff H
December 12, 2009, 08:29 PM
I find it interesting that it reliably chambers at 1.15" and others in this thread haven't made comment about that. I could not get a 9mm round to chamber until I was at 1.135 in my SP9.
I gave a few reloads to my brother to try in his XD with the warning to check them and make sure they chamber. Instead he slingshotted the slide and locked up the gun for a while until we finally managed to get the slide back and the cartridge was pulled apart and the bullet still stuck in the lands.

I won't go shorter than 1.135 since the min in my manuals is 1.15 so my brother is on his own shooting factory stuff.

December 12, 2009, 11:15 PM
I am loading Ranier plated and Hornady jacketed 115 Gr bullets at 1.130 to 1.135 O.A.L.

Other more blunt bullets are being loaded shorter than that. TrFP, JHP, etc

Speer #13 shows an O.A.L. of 1.135 with their 115 Gr jacketed bullet & 1.130 with their 125 Gr lead bullet.

Load to what O.A.L.your gun will allow to chamber and feed reliably. Work up your loads from there. If you have to load them appreciable shorter than recommended, you know you will need to stop short of max data.

December 13, 2009, 12:00 PM

I agree. When I load the truncated cone bullets whether I cast them or buy them my OAL is quite less, more on the order of 1.100 to prevent the ogive from interferring with full chambering / headspacing.;)

December 13, 2009, 06:48 PM
Great Thread Guys,

I was away and just signed on to see all this great info. Bottom line, sounds like my Lee reloads are well within acceptable limits. As for the dipper, I'm really careful not to compress powder when I fill the dipper, so I think the volume is a pretty close measure of actual grain weight.

Next week after a trip to the range I'll report back after I see how they shoot.

Many Thanks!

December 20, 2009, 08:35 PM
Had a chance to go to the range to try some of my reloads. By and large they shot just fine for plinking or general target practice. I didn't shoot them off a rest to check accuracy. Functioned just fine, with a little less kick then the American Eagles I had on hand to compare.

Had one round fail to chamber. When I examined the round I saw that it was not properly sized and was hangin' up in the mouth of the chamber. Once I had gotten home I checked about 275 rounds which I had reloaded by removing the barrel from the gun and dropping each individual round into the chamber. About 20 of the lot stood a bit proud of the chamber. About two of those were bad enough that I think they would jam as well. I think it is an easy fix if I only reload factory brass from rounds I have fired in my gun, and to take more care when I size with the Lee Loader. I also think I'll check my reloads for a while. As crazy as it sounds I like the lee Loader, and am well satisfied with it as long as I do as described above.;)

December 21, 2009, 12:35 AM
aprayinbear - As crazy as it sounds I like the lee Loader, and am well satisfied with it as long as I do as described above.;)

Now why would that sound crazy????

Well satisfied is all any of us are looking for.

Congratulations - now the journey begins....



December 21, 2009, 11:24 PM
I'm not trying to steal the thread, but have a question.

The NRA Firearms Fact Book gives this definition: "Headspace is the distance from breech face to that part of the chamber which stops forward movement of the cartridge case."

Being fairly new to reloading, and on behalf of others who may not know all the correct terminology;
Can it be said that for straight wall semi auto cases, headspace is a fixed distance from the breech face to the seat for the cartridge mouth?

If that's the case, the case itself has zero effect on headspace. The case should chamber, fully seat on the mouth and make full use of the headspace available in that particular gun.

Please correct me if I'm wrong. I'm not trying to nitpic. I'm just trying to get it straight the first time.

chris in va
December 22, 2009, 02:15 AM
Aprayinbear, do yourself a big favor and get a Lee Hand Press and a FCD. Sounds like you really could use both. Neither will cost much. BTW do you have a beam scale?

twice barrel
December 22, 2009, 07:41 AM
Interesting thread. Is this what we're doing?



December 22, 2009, 08:01 AM
If that's the case, the case itself has zero effect on headspace. The case should chamber, fully seat on the mouth and make full use of the headspace available in that particular gun.

Headspace is a set number, plus or minus, machined into the chamber and is assuming the use of proper ammo sized properly.

In 9mm, a perfectly good chamber can have artificially induced "working" headspace with a case that is too short. You won't find many that are, but it can happen.

A very simple explanation of headspace is the slop in a chamber allowing a properly made/sized case to move back and forth a hair. We need this small amount of clearence to chamber.

Assuming our gun has proper headspace, which we have no control over, then the only way we can screw it up is to chamber a piece of brass that is too short, or sized too much. That creates excessive "working" headspace, even though our guns headspace is within limits.

There are, of course, very technical ways to explain headspace, and if you do a search you can find a few very entertaning threads with headspace discussions. :)

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