Metering small-caliber loads

Discussion in 'Handloading and Reloading' started by pairof44sp, Dec 12, 2020.

  1. pairof44sp

    pairof44sp Member

    Jul 4, 2020
    New to reloading, I am trying to come up with a mild 44 special in Unique for my chopped-down Charter Bulldogs.

    The system I’m using doesn’t measure out powder accurately or consistently enough for making pistol cartridges. Maybe it’s good enough for rifle volumes; I don’t know. But if it’s difficult to measure 44 powder volumes, I don’t see how I’m ever going to do 32 acp!

    I’m using three things right now:

    1. Lee scoops, modified for volume.

    Problem: depending on how you scoop and tap, it comes out +/- a tenth or more.

    2. Lee Auto Drum.

    Problem: Varies by a couple tenths or so.

    3. Lee balance

    Problem: Weird “strobe” hashmarks only accurate down to +\- about three tenths of a grain, meaning you are basically working in full-grain increments.

    Is there a better way to measure out pistol powder ?
  2. bersaguy

    bersaguy Member

    May 5, 2011
    Tampa Bay
    With unique, +/- 0.1 grains shouldn't be much of a problem. Some powder measures and powders don't get along very well as far as consistency goes, and unique has a reputation of not liking to meter well. With the Lee auto drum, I've had to play around with the adjustment knob and get the tension on the drum just right to get the consistency dialed in, I've also heard that having a couple of drum inserts is a good idea as one may fit closer or looser depending on what your particular powder likes. The powder scoops are what they are, and require consistency of technique for consistent results. The "strobe" hash marks on the lee scale is a vernier scale and should be pretty accurate, though, I've had one new out of the box where the printed hash marks were misaligned and it was pretty worthless. For getting pretty close in a reasonable amount of time, I use a Hornady electronic scale, the small pocket size one. Its fairly inexpensive and works reasonably well. Nearly all my reloading equipment is Lee, and I've found it works very well in relationship to its price. Sounds like you're doing it right, and unless you're right up against max loads, +/- .1 is going to be fine
    pairof44sp and Skgreen like this.
  3. Middletown

    Middletown Member

    Jan 28, 2017
    I am still using my Lee Perfect Measure cheap plastic powder measure bought maybe 20 years ago and haven't felt any need to improve on it. I keep the canister between 1/3rd and 3/4th full, move the lever up to fill the cavity and thump the drum twice and then dump. Check weigh until I am getting the consistency I want and then check weigh every 10 or so. Able to get within a tenth or so when I do my part.

    Unique isn't the best metering powder but I haven't found it to be as bad as some have suggested.
  4. Bill M.

    Bill M. Member

    Nov 21, 2019
    I think if you use the Auto Drum it will be fine. It is really a pretty good tool.

    Based on what you have said I think you need to buy a better scale or balance. I would hate to think that I could not weigh a charge to 1/10 grain. If you do decide to weigh every charge you set the balance once to the correct weight and then add powder until it balances so you only have to read it once. A Lee dipper and a trickler and a decent balance will work.

    I doubt if a couple of tenths makes much of a difference. I doubt if you can shoot a short barreled gun well enough to even test to see if it makes a difference. My auto drum is pretty consistent with some powders. Varies with some powders. I have been looking for a "better" way to measure handgun charges and have settled on a RCBS small chamber Uniflow. is not a lot more uniform than the Autodrum with the powders that give me trouble. It is just that I figure I have done all I reasonably can when I use the Uniflow and thus no longer worry about it. In reality the same things that cause variation affect all methods of throwing a charge and there is no magic to make them go away.
    Last edited: Dec 12, 2020
    magyars4 and pairof44sp like this.
  5. WeekendReloader

    WeekendReloader Member

    Dec 3, 2020
    SE Michigan
    I use the LEE Perfect Powder Measure when doing a large lot of ammo. I also weigh each charge on a small digital scale with an advertised +/-0.1 grain accuracy. For small lots of 100 or less, I gust use a dipper and the scale.

    The LEE PPM is pretty accurate for being inexpensive plastic.
  6. AJC1

    AJC1 Member

    Jan 14, 2020
    The cheapest path to accurate charges is a trickler. Scoop a charge under weight and trickle up. The next option is getting a premium powder dump. The rcbs, reeding or herters are very accurate and repeatable. Many come with a rifle drum and can be ordered or a second pistol drum added. The more expensive options are machines like the charge master 1500. There are cheaper and more expensive machines.
    pairof44sp likes this.
  7. Larry Ashcraft

    Larry Ashcraft Moderator Staff Member

    Dec 24, 2002
    Home of Heroes, Pueblo, CO, USA
    My RCBS Uniflow throws surprisingly even charges, and I've had it for almost 40 years. I always throw my rifle charges a little light and trickle up, but it's even consistent with the stick powders, always have to trickle the same amount. I load 45 and 38 Special on a Dillon RL550, and spot check the powder charges every so often. The Dillon powder measures seem very good also.

    We moved into a new house three years ago and I'm just now setting my reloading room back up. Last year my wife gave me an RCBS electronic measure and scale for Christmas. Going to try that out in the next few weeks.
  8. Blue68f100

    Blue68f100 Member

    May 25, 2011
    Piney Woods of East Texas
    When setting up your powder dispenser after you have it set with a single throw. Do a 10 drop to get the average, this will allow you to tweak it a little close using std scales that only have a ± 0.1 gr resolution.

    I bought my GemPro 250 when I started getting into the small caliber charges with very small load windows. When you have a charge window where the low to high is only 0.3 gr. Your only good choice is to load for the center since your accuracy of your scales will take you to the extremes.
    bersaguy, pairof44sp and AJC1 like this.
  9. bullseye308

    bullseye308 Member

    Nov 24, 2007
    Smyrna Tennessee
    I loaded for 20 years with a Lee Perfect Powder Measure, a Lee balance scale, an RCBS trickler with the bottom full of lead, and a set of scoops to get the weight close before trickling. As long as your scale is level and you check zero occasionally you should have no problems.
  10. Dudedog
    • Contributing Member

    Dudedog Contributing Member

    Oct 19, 2013
    Southern CA
    Unique is known for not metering well.
    I don't own a .44 but will relate .38/.357 results.
    When loading midrange loads with my Lee measure drops were generally + or -.1 .but sometimes .2 (this won't work for .32 ACP however)
    After weighing every charge and rethrowing a bunch I said what the heck, +.2 is still under max charge lets just shoot some how they are and see how they do.
    Seemed to shoot just fine. (sam sort of thing in 9mm as well)
    I don't like the way Unique meters so I don't use it any more.
    Lots of powders out there that work that meter much better.

    AA#2 meters great, about as good as it gets and has listed loads for .44 Special and .32 acp.
    I like it a lot in.380 where I am throwing small charges. Burns clean as well, but is not going to give you MAX velocity in .44 but it doesn't should like that's what your after.
    Last edited: Dec 17, 2020
    magyars4 likes this.
  11. FROGO207

    FROGO207 Member

    Dec 7, 2008
    Mount Desert Island Maine
    The key to using a scoop is to practice a lot and become booringly the same every time. As said there are propellants out there that will measure better. Still a small difference in those rounds will not show up on paper I am willing to bet. The Lee scale is a good one for its cost but many have problems reading the vernier part. I grew up with a slide rule and have no problem setting it. The key is to set it so the number you want is perfictly aligned with one top mark and the others are narrower.
    magyars4 and pairof44sp like this.
  12. BWS

    BWS Member

    Dec 6, 2017
    Love Lyman Accumeasures.... but they're about unobtainable,being way overpriced these days.The RCBS little dandy? is an OK replacement. They are in use about identical.... only minor difference is,the Lyman rotors are stupid easy to make. But the RCBS is much better supported,you plunk your money sort of thing.

    There are some old Pacific pistol measures around that use extremely easy to make cylinders. They use a sliding bar system,the aluminum cylinder fits in the bar. I bought #3 son a cpl off evilbay. He's the Pacific/Hornady "guy". He has a very nicely equipped home shop. Buys 3/4"(IIRC) aluminum round rod..... cuts and finishes to length.... then drills through holes on a drill press.

    On full size powder measures..... a Lyman 55 is tough to beat. Their adjustment system takes some getting used to... can be durn frustrating at first. Hard to explain,and even if I tried to.... you'd still be better off figuring it out yourself. They do however,lend themselves very nicely to modify,look up Culver conversions on them. An excellent home shop project if there ever was one.

    Good luck with your project.
    pairof44sp likes this.
  13. NMexJim

    NMexJim Member

    Oct 26, 2020
    New Mexico
    The Lee Reloading Manual by Richard Lee is an interesting read and probably everybody should have a copy at some point. I find myself going back to it often enough. He writes about "striking off" the charge with a card after scooping and presents evidence that volume is more accurate than weight.

    I've used Lee scoops quite a bit, but I will admit that I never gained the confidence that Mr. Lee discusses, I think Frogo said it best - do it until "booringly the same".

    When we use a powder meter, we're using volume verified as weight by a scale, and it's inevitable that there is always going to be some variation especially with such as stick powders. I think it's the extremes you need to watch out for. I hand weigh max loads, most especially with a fine powder. But then, I'm not loading 1k of them at a time either.

    Is there a better way? Sure, an RCBS Chargemaster combo at $400 or the Matchmaster at $900. I'm happy with a meter and a scale.
    magyars4, halfmoonclip and pairof44sp like this.
  14. PapaG

    PapaG Member

    Sep 12, 2010
    I use a lot of Lee stuff but the scale isn't one of them. I have two and that is only because the same in trades. My Lyman and RCBS beam scales and my electronic scales are faster and I think not accurate.
    Metering Unique, I've had no problem holding +/- .1 with my Lyman 55 or my RCBS Uniflow. For the little cartridges like the 380 I weigh my charges but I don't shoot high volumes of them. Whichever method or equipment you use, accuracy comes from uniformity.
  15. gifbohane

    gifbohane Member

    Nov 7, 2016
    Tried a few measures before settling on a Harrell's. The RCBS powder measure is a great bang for the buck and worked fine but the Harrell's gave me the finer result.

    There is a machine out there that will give you dead nuts on perfection...costs about $ 5,000.

    I have trickled and it worked best of all methods but was took a lot of time.
    pairof44sp likes this.
  16. exbrit49

    exbrit49 Member

    Nov 21, 2011
    Somebody after my own heart! Been doing this for over 30 years. When I check them with a chrono occasionally every so often, virtually no difference in velocity, and accuracy is great!
  17. Herman B

    Herman B Member

    Mar 15, 2018
    Redding makes excellent measures with various inserts for metering from smallest pistol to large rifle.
  18. Coyote conquest

    Coyote conquest Member

    Sep 30, 2019
    Volume doesn't always come out the same weight. There is a very good argument saying volume is more accurate than weight. I don't know.
    I'm not sure what 1cc of powder really weighs but think of it like this. Would it be more accurate to have a charge that always weighs 26 grains. Or one that is always 2 cubic centimeters? I'm not sure but I do know that even humidity (moisture in the air) can have a big effect on weight. A lot of BR shooters don't even bother to weigh charges. They just have their powder measure throw a certain volume.
    gifbohane, magyars4 and pairof44sp like this.
  19. osprey176

    osprey176 Member

    Feb 2, 2010
    I used Unique for many years,but switched to Auto Comp mostly for better metering, plus it’s cleaner burning. It’s not as versatile as Unique,but I do use It to load 32ACP,380,9MM,45ACP and 44 Mag. Being a fine grained ball powder,it meters very well.
    pairof44sp likes this.
  20. Natsun

    Natsun Member

    Nov 2, 2020
    I load cast bullets in .380 auto and when I was having trouble getting consistent powder drops at low charge levels I bought an RCBS powder measure with the small/pistol drum. It has satisfied my needs.

    Just a thought.
  21. JERRY

    JERRY Member

    Jun 5, 2003
    5.3gr of Unique under a 240gr SWC is a nice load for the Bulldog.
  22. EMC45

    EMC45 Member

    Jul 20, 2008
    I have an olllld Pacific measure a buddy gave me in pieces so I rebuilt it and use it for Bullseye powder almost exclusively. It is ridiculously accurate and consistent. The tube melted and got crushed in transit when I moved so I called Hornady and they sent me an NOS one. I reamed the holes a little and screwed it all together and it is like new. I really like it.
  23. halfmoonclip

    halfmoonclip Member

    Feb 4, 2011
    Pistol loader here, so using a measure is necessary. The autoprime on a Dillon 550 works remarkably well, but smoothness of operation makes a difference. Pull the press handle consistently.
    Too, there are extra-small charge bars for smaller calibers; I use the smallest bar for loading .32s. I've accumulated enough charge bars over the years that they can remain set and marked, less chance of error.
    Some variation is indeed unavoidable; clock the loads with a chrono.
    Got a Dillon electronic scale a few years back, but check it periodically while loading; been known to wander a little. A fixed weight, close to what you've been weighing works best.
  24. cfullgraf

    cfullgraf Member

    Oct 19, 2010
    East TN
    I had a Lee Perfect Powder Measure 25 or so years ago and it did not set my life on fire. Some folks like it.

    For pistol, I like my Redding 10-X. RCBS Uniflow or a Hornady L-N-L will work as well.

    One of the benefits of Unique is larger variations in powder charges do not show up in accuracy particularly with larger caliber cartridges (44 and 45 caliber). Plus/minus 0.2 grains will not show up in accuracy.

    Unique can be position sensitive in the case. The powder against the primer will have a bit higher velocity than the powder against the bullet. But, you really will not see the difference in the shooting.

    I like micrometer adjusters on my powder measures. It does not make the powder measure more accurate, but it makes it easy to return to a logged powder charge or dial in a powder charge.
    magyars4 likes this.
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