Handloading Can Be As Time Consuming As You Like.
Here Are Some Steps To Speed Up The Process So
You Can Load More Faster.

IMR 4350 was a revolutionary powder when introduced in 1940, but has never been very friendly to load
through powder measures due to the “log” granules. Newer versions of 4350 have much shorter granules,
and also work very well in the same cartridges.

Many shooters handload so they can shoot more, but often spend more time handloading than shooting. Like most hobbyists, they’re partly in it to forget about the “real” world for a while, so perform all sorts of little tasks to keep them in the loading room longer. These tasks don’t make any measureable difference in ammunition performance, but make many handloaders feel better about their ammo, themselves and the world in general.

If you’re a handloader who owns a bunch of minutiae-tools and uses every one, you can quit reading right here. But if you’re a handloader who actually wants to shoot more, rather than forget about your job for a few hours or avoid the honey-do list, then you might read on.

The biggest time-waster in most rifle handloading is “uniforming” brass. It does make a difference if you’re a benchrest or long-range bull’s-eye competitor, but most of us aren’t. Consequently we don’t own super-accurate custom rifles with tight chambers. Instead we own factory rifles, or custom-barreled rifles with chambers cut to the standard dimensions listed by the Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers Institute. This is usually called SAAMI, an organization founded in the 1920’s to agree on approximate chamber and ammo dimensions, so ammo from any manufacturer would fit in a firearm from any manufacturer and not blow it up.

This means SAAMI chamber dimensions have some leeway. As a result, spending hours prepping every one of your rifle’s cases is a lot like a Montana rancher putting on his scuffed boots and stained hat in the morning, then Windsor-knotting a pressed silk tie around his collar: It may delay heading outside to chase cows, and may look pretty nice (or weird, take your pick), but it won’t make any difference to the cows.

I know this from years of experimenting with various rifles. It won’t make any difference in 99 percent of rifles if you sort cases for weight, “uniform” the primer pockets and flash holes. The only thing that makes any measureable difference in accuracy in most SAAMI-chambered rifles is uniform case-neck thickness. (It also doesn’t make any difference if you clean case or primer pockets after every firing. Or at least cleaning primer pockets doesn’t matter unless you fire a case so many times primers can’t be seated deeply enough. A friend reported that happened after he’d fired some .223 cases over 20 times without cleaning the pockets, but most of us don’t refire cases that much before retiring them.)

A really good powder measure like this old Culver conversion of the Lyman measure will drop very precise charges,
very quickly. Harrell’s Precision offers a modern version of the Culver measure, and several other companies also offer
really good measures capableof dropping more precise charges than low-cost measures.

Electronic scale/measures don’t actually save time when charging cases, but do when weight-checking cast bullets.

Brass Matters

Even with really accurate custom-barreled rifles with minimum SAAMI chambers, buying really uniform cases like those made by Lapua will avoid wasting time spent measuring or turning case necks. If you can afford the difference between really good brass and brass that comes pre-dented in plastic bags (and may include a few split necks, or maybe a .270 in a bag of .30-06’s), then you’ll save time, and perhaps money and frustration. This is because bad brass often doesn’t work as well as good brass, even after you spend hours trying to turn it into good brass.

Plus, good brass is usually available, because most shooters buy cheap brass instead. Thus, you don’t have to waste time looking for good brass.

It also saves time to buy dies designed to size cases and seat bullets straight. Most standard-loading dies are pretty good these days, but standard-sizing dies using expander balls may or may not size case-necks straight, and standard seating dies don’t hold bullets straight while they’re pushed into the neck.

Standard dies can make straight ammo, right out of the box, but more often require some tweaking, eating up anything from a few minutes to a few hours. And even then you’ll have to check each loaded round to make sure it’s straight, rather than knowing it’s straight, as you would with dies designed to make straight ammo.

Good dies don’t have to be pricey. Lee Collet dies usually do a fine job of sizing necks straight, and only cost as much as basic expander-ball dies. The only downside I’ve found to Lee Collets is occasionally running into one that refuses to function the way it’s designed, due to some manufacturing anomaly. This happens occasionally when manufacturing stuff to sell for lower prices, as Lee does. (The really inexpensive Lee Loader hand dies also make very accurate ammo, but are slow.)

You can spend more money but save time by buying more expensive dies, such as Redding “S” bushing dies or Forster Bench Rest dies. The Redding dies are also available in a micrometer-adjustable Competition version, and use interchangeable cylindrical bushings to size necks down just right, avoiding the need for an expander ball. The “Bench Rest” of the Forsters is somewhat misleading, since benchrest competitors don’t usually use them, but Forster dies make straighter ammo than standard dies, using an expander ball situated high inside the sizing die so the case can’t be pulled out of line as the neck’s expanded.

Handloaders waste a lot of time placing individual cases in the holes in loading blocks. Most stages of handloading don’t require a loading block, and it takes time to insert each case, because you have to actually look at the hole. When loading big batches of ammo I use the small plastic tubs packets of dishwasher detergent come in, but any container of the right size will work, including small cardboard boxes.

Instead of carefully placing each of a bunch of fired cases in loading-block holes, I dump ’em in a plastic tub, and after a certain step’s performed on each case toss it in another tub, easily done without even looking. The only time cases are placed in a loading block is after they’re sized, trimmed and primed, ready for powder.

Bushing dies usually result in straighter case necks than standard expander-ball dies,
as do several other brands of dies including Lee Collets and Forster Bench Rest.

When loading big batches of ammo, electronic scale/measures just take too long to dole out a powder charge. Some handloaders seat the bullet in one case while the next is being (slowly) filled, but one of the basic principles of mass-production is performing a single step, over and over again, rather than doing one step, then the next. It takes far less time to dump powder from a mechanical measure into 50 or 100 cases in a loading block than to wait for an electronic measure to fill each case—and no, most electronic measures aren’t more accurate than mechanical measures. I’ve tested that too. However, an electronic scale is quicker than balance scales for checking the weight of each bullet while you’re casting a bunch.

But I don’t weight-sort most jacketed bullets, because except for some extreme-accuracy target shooting it doesn’t make any difference. What does matter is the balance of the bullet, and a scale doesn’t measure that. (Vern Juenke used to make a machine that measured the internal balance of jacketed bullets, but eventually he retired. Juenke Internal Concentricity Comparators worked well, within their limits, but so many companies used them to improve their bullets that most of today’s jacketed bullets are better-balanced than most jacketed bullets of even 20 years ago.) However, if weighing each jacketed bullet makes you feel better, and keeps you out of trouble with family members, by all means go ahead.

A really good mechanical powder measure also saves time because you can reset it to a certain powder charge without having to re-tweak the adjustment. These days there are a bunch of really good powder measures out there, including the Harrell version of Homer Culver’s conversion of the old Lyman measure so revered by benchrest shooters, but I just happen to have one of the original Culver conversions, a generous gift from Ken Oehler, used for some special loading. The Redding measures are also very good and repeatable but of course Harrells and Reddings cost considerably more than many other measures. With measures, you can’t buy real precision and repeatability at bargain prices.

John’s modification of his Redding T-7 turret press turned it into a semi-progressive, capable of putting
together 300 rounds of accurate ammunition an hour. The powder measure is a Redding BR-30.

Of course, many shooters use electronic powder measures (or even weigh each charge) because they continue to use older extruded powders with huge granules they started using in their youth. Loyalty is great, as is the old principle of not fixing something that ain’t broke, and I share an affection for good old IMR 4350 and other “log” powders myself.

But one reason those powders became so popular in the first place was because powder coatings were far more primitive back then. The burn-rate of extruded powders was controlled as much by granule size as coatings, and extruded powders burned far cleaner than early spherical powders, and more consistently at different temperatures. But improvements in powder coatings have resulted in small-granule extruded powders and new sphericals that burn clean, are far more resistant to heat and cold, and run through a mechanical measure quicker and more consistently than log powders. Yeah, you’ll have to spend time working up a load, instead of just using the same charge of IMR 4350 you’ve used since before Nixon resigned. But if you shoot more than a couple boxes of ammo a year, you’ll be able to make up the time quickly by speeding up your loading.

Many handloaders buy progressive presses to speed up production. Some work far better than others, but those that don’t eat up far more time than they save, because you have to stop to fix the screw-ups. Also, most of my bulk handloading involving rifle cartridges is for shooting small varmints, and I haven’t found most progressives capable of producing really accurate ammo. There are a couple reasons for this, but the biggie is progressives (like SAAMI chambers) have some tolerances built into the system, allowing them to work quicker. As a result each round isn’t as straight as it could be. This doesn’t matter in some ammo, but does in other ammo.

The use of bushing dies results in precise ammunition even when cranking it out in quantity,
handy for prairie dog shooters who need a lot of accurate ammo.

Eventually I figured out a way to use my Redding T-7 turret press as a semi-progressive for loading really accurate rifle ammo. This turned out to be easier than expected, only requiring a shortening of the primer-feed tube and mounting a Redding BR-30 powder measure with its lock-ring on top of the turret, allowing the measure’s spout to clear the shortened primer-feed tube.

Redding doesn’t recommend this “conversion,” but not because of any danger or wearing out a T-7, but because the jostling of even a semi-progressive prevents powder measures from working as precisely as when mounted solidly. But I’m loading relatively small charges of fine-grained powders, mostly sphericals, and the system works well enough for me to load 300 rounds of pretty precise ammo an hour, matching the real-world output of many lower-priced progressives. (By the way, a turret press also saves time over a single-stage press, because less time is spent screwing dies in and out. Most turret presses also have switchable heads, so dies can be left set up in different heads. This saves time but not money or space.)

If you load for a number of different cartridges, another time-saver is to keep a running inventory of brass, bullets, powder and primers. This may seem like a pain but really isn’t—at least after performing the initial inventory. Every time I buy more components, or shoot up a batch of ammo, I log it into a file on my computer. (A paper system works just as well, though slower.) As a result I know when it’s time to buy some more small-pistol primers or IMR 4895—or even if it’s not time. One reason I started the inventory system was finding a good-sized batch of new 7×57 brass a couple of weeks after I’d bought another good-sized batch of new 7×57 brass—because I’d forgotten about the first batch. In that instance, the inventory system would have saved both time and money.

Forster Products, Inc.
310 East Lanark Avenue, Lanark, IL 61046
(815) 493-6360

Harrell’s Precision
5758 Hickory Dr., Salem, VA 24153
(540) 380-2683

Lee Precision
4275 Highway U, Hartford, WI 53027
(262) 673-3075

Redding Reloading Equipment
1089 Starr Road, Cortland, NY 13045
(607) 753-3331

SmartReloader Products
Helvetica Trading USA, LLC
701 Lawton Rd., Charlotte, NC 28216
(800) 954-2689