Posts Tagged ‘Reloading Blog’

RCBS Pro Chucker 5: Loading 40 S&W

Sunday, September 27th, 2015


It’s hard not to appreciate the 40 S&W cartridge. It’s compact, it’s powerful, and it’s very versatile at the range or for personal defense. Heck, if you reload your own ammo, you can practice with premium hollowpoints for near the same price as your “economy” reloads. Whether or not you carry your own reloaded ammo is a topic I won’t get into here (queue up the lawyers :) ).

Since getting my Glock 20, I’ve been eager to reload 40 S&W as it’s been a frequent go-to cartridge for me at the range. Since I’m working on the RCBS Pro Chucker 5/7 series, I thought this would be a great opportunity to pull out the RCBS pistol bullet feeder and show you this bullet feeder working together with the RCBS Pro Chucker 5!


As noted in the video below, I did encounter a bit of a surprise when mounting the bullet feeder, but the solution was quite simple and straightforward. In the RCBS Pro Chucker 5 loading 45 ACP post, I go over the basics of setting up dies in the “conventional/default” manner. Here, I’m using a variation of that setup, this time using the RCBS Bullet Feeder die in station 4, and a seating/crimping die setup in station 5:


Here’s what I’ve got going on here for die station utilization:

  1. Size/de-prime
  2. Expander
  3. Powder charge
  4. Bullet feeder
  5. Seat/crimp

This is just one of many different possibilities for die station utilization when using the RCBS bullet feeder on this press. With no dedicated powder check station, one MUST be committed to performing a visual powder level check for EVERY cartridge that goes through the press. Without this diligence, one is more vulnerable to squib loads (no charge) or double charges.

Here’s a video showing this setup in action, and using a case gage and barrel to check the cartridge dimensions:

I really like the combination of the basic press plus bullet feeder. It’s really nice to be able to keep one hand on the lever, and the other hand manipulating brass. The biggest win is to automate at least one of (bullet feed or case feed). Automating both is even better for throughput, but it comes at the cost of complexity and expense. Each reloader has to decide what’s best for them, and what they’ll get good “return on investment” for.

Stay tuned- more Pro Chucker content coming soon!


Essential Gear: Using the L.E. Wilson Rifle Case Gage

Friday, September 11th, 2015

There are certain tools that can save you a lot of time, effort, and money. For reloaders of ammunition, a case gage is one such tool. Have you ever gone to the range and discovered an issue with your handloads? I certainly have. While a case gage can’t prevent all ammunition problems, it is what I would call “cheap insurance”. If you properly use a case gage, you can be have confidence that your ammunition will chamber properly, and feed reliably (for magazine fed firearms).

L.E. Wilson Case Gage Dial Indicator Full-2000

I have recently upgraded to L.E. Wilson case gages for all of the cartridges that I load (with the exception of 7.62x54R which L.E. Wilson doesn’t make a case gage for). I had a bad experience with a 308 Winchester sizing die setup on one of my progressive presses and ended up with some batches of bad ammunition. From now on, using a case gage is “mandatory process” for every press setup I perform. There are plenty of options for case gages, but I use L.E. Wilson because their products are top quality, they are a family run business, and they are “local”: just 4 miles from the “Ultimate Reloader Outpost”. The information in this article will be in reference to the L.E. Wilson bottleneck rifle case gage, although most of the principles will apply to other brands and types of case gages. I’ll use 308 Winchester as the “example cartridge” here, but note that the concepts apply to most other bottleneck rifle cartridges. Gages like this are used to verify your sizing die setup, and to verify trim-to length for your brass.

Before talking about how to use this type of case gage to verify sizing die setup, it’s important to understand the concept of “headspace”. There are various classes of rifle and pistol cartridges that have their own concept of headspacing (bottleneck rifle, belted magnum rifle, traditional semi-auto pistol, rimmed revolver cartridges, …). Headspace is a measurement that determines what the cartridge “stops against” when chambered, and any corresponding dimensions/tolerances. In the case of bottleneck rifle cartridges this dimension is between a “datum line” on the shoulder on the front side, and the bolt face on the back side. The datum line corresponds to a portion of the shoulder on the case of known diameter.

Headspace is a measurement that determines what the cartridge “stops against” when chambered, and any corresponding dimensions/tolerances.

The diagram below shows the headspace measurement for 308 Winchester:

308 Winchester Headspace Diagram

The case gage measures case overall length based on the shoulder, a function of headspace dimensions – Image copyright 2015 Ultimate Reloader

From the SAAMI 308 Cartridge Dimensions Page, the headspace dimensions are as follows:

  • Datum shoulder diameter: .400″
  • Headspace length: 1.634″ -.007″ (1.627″ – 1.634″)

When checking to see if your cartridge will properly chamber, the case gage is checking the “datum to head” length between the case shoulder and the case rim. The nice thing about this type of gage is that you don’t have to have special tools that are used with calipers- you just drop in the case/cartridge and check min/max indicators on the gage compared with the depth of the case/cartridge. It’s fast and easy.

L.E. Wilson Case Gage Scene Full-2000

After gaging my “bad batch” of 308 Winchester, I noticed that these previously machine gun-fired cases had neck bulging. A further examination of my reloading press setup revealed that while the sizing die appeared to be “bottomed out” – flex in the press sub-plate resulted in a not-deep-enough sizing die condition. Here’s the before and after shot showing what the brass looked like:


While I could have found this by visual examination, using a case gage would have made this issue instantly apparent and obvious. Lessons learned! I have since decided that for super-duty sizing operations (like this military 7.62x51mm brass) I’m going to size on a single stage press first, then prime/charge/seat on a progressive press. Hopefully that will yield reliable and consistent results. If you are full-length sizing brass on a progressive press, be sure to check your sized brass carefully both while sizing a case (only case in press) during setup, and while performing full-progressive loading with cases in all stations.

Using the L.E. Wilson case gage to validate sizer die setup is simple- you size a case, then drop it in (case mouth first) into the large opening on the case gage. There are two surfaces on the top of the gage:

  • The upper surface: corresponds to max length
  • The stepped-down lower surface: corresponds to minimum length

If the case rim for the case/cartridge your are checking protrudes above the max length surface, there’s no gurantee your completed cartridge will chamber. If the case rim falls below the minimum surface, the case shoulder will not be tight in the chamber which is bad for accuracy. Furthermore, if the shoulder moves forward more than ~.005″ when the cartridge is fired, the case head could separate- and that’s not good at all!

L.E. Wilson Case Gage Dial Indicator Indicating Rim-2000

In the picture above, you can see the dial indicator reads – 0.005″ indicating off the case rim, which means it’s flush with the lower step, which means it’s in-spec.

There are a few different ways you can perform this measurement:

  1. Use a straight edge – scraping over the upper surface, should clear the case rim. Scraping over the lower surface should “skim” or catch on the case rim
  2. Use a dial indicator on a stand (shown in the pictures in this article, and demonstrated in the video below)
  3. Use a depth micrometer
  4. Use dial or digital calipers

Note: if you use the dial indicator method to measure headspace length, you need to make sure the case mouth does not protrude out the bottom of the case gage or sit flush. This will cause a faulty measurement/indication. If this is a possibility it is best to position the case gage over a suitable recess or hole to prevent such a condition.

If you use the reference surfaces on the case gage, you’ll be assured that your ammunition should chamber in any “in-spec” firearm of the proper chambering. But what if you want optimized sizing for precision and accuracy for ammunition intended for a single (non semi-auto) firearm? If that’s your desire, you can use the method recommended by L.E. Wilson:

  1. Drop a previously fired case into the gage (ensure there are no dings or nicks, case mouth not bent/collapsed)
  2. Take a depth reading of the case rim relative to the upper surface of the case gage
  3. Subtract .002″ – .004″ (depends on how tight you want cartridge to chamber)
  4. Use the adjusted depth measurement to evaluate and fine-tune your sizer setup

As mentioned previously, the case gage can also be used to measure the trim-length of the brass you are working with. To perform this measurement, drop a case into the gage, flip it over, and set the gage on a flat surface as shown below:

L.E. Wilson Case Gage Case Length Measurement-2000

Reading the measurement is simple, just check that the case mouth length falls between the lower surface and upper surface of this end of the gage. Very fast and easy to use! By checking sizing die setup and case trim length, you’ll be confident that your ammunition will perform optimally from a performance/accuracy perspective, and will also chamber and feed reliably.

It’s also important to understand that final sized brass dimensions are a function of the pre-sized brass dimensions, case wall thickness, sizer die setup, and other factors. This concept is important, because the result is that different batches of brass will size to different final dimensions due to the “spring-back” effect. You push back the shoulder with a sizing die, and the shoulder “springs back” a few thousandths of an inch (but will vary based on the factors described previously). If you are particular about precision and accuracy, you should sort your brass into “groups” and then validate sizing die setup for each group of brass that you process.

Sorting criteria for groups of brass can be simplified to:

  • Cases that are over max headspace
  • Cases that are  at or close to max headspace
  • Cases that are close to min headspace

This way you can be certain of your results.

Here’s a video demonstrating how the L.E. Wilson case gage is used to validate 308 Winchester sizing die setup and trim-to length:

You can find L.E. Wilson gages on various online retailer’s websites, or go directly to L.E. Wilson.

Happy [confident] loading to you all! Stay tuned here because I’ll be following-up with an article and video covering L.E. Wilson pistol gages.


6.5mm Grendel: 308 Ballistics for the AR-15

Friday, September 4th, 2015


When Steve Lawrence from the 6.5 Guys asked if I’d like to shoot his AR-15 chambered in 6.5mm Grendel, I said: “Absolutely!”. We were up at the “Ultimate Reloader Outpost” working on another shooting project, and had some spare time. A great opportunity to try a new AR-15 chambering!

Prior to to this experience, I knew little about the 6.5mm Grendel cartridge, and had no idea why it was developed. Steve explained that this cartridge enables an AR shooter to achieve similar ballistics to 308 Winchester from a 6.5 mm cartridge that can be utilized by rifles built on the AR-15 platform. Since the AR-15 is more compact and lighter in weight, an AR-15 in 6.5mm Grendel is an interesting alternative to the AR-10/LR308 type platforms.

When I first picked up a 6.5mm Grendel cartridge, I thought- “Wow, that’s short and compact”. It’s actually derived from the 7.62x39mm cartridge, another popular chambering for the AR-15. By necking down the 7.62x39mm to 6.5mm, more velocity is attained from a similar powder charge.


Designed in 2003, he 6.5mm Grendel is a relatively new cartridge. The “short and compact” form factor is the result of the need for more powder capacity (compared with 5.56 NATO or .223 Remington) and to allow “room” for long slender high-BC bullet profiles. At the same time, the cartridge needs to fit into AR-15 length magazines. It’s a game of trade-offs, but the 6.5mm Grendel manages these trade-offs very well.

Here are the dimensions for the 6.5mm Grendel cartridge, from the cartridge diagrams page on


And here you can see the ballistically-similar 308 Winchester cartridge along side the 6.5mm Grendel. Different designs, different proportions, different bullet diameters, but similar trajectory. You may also notice here how Steve’s Lapua brass looks much nicer than my 7.62x51mm military brass.


Steve’s rifle means serious business. It features a 26 inch barrel, a huge muzzle brake, a two-stage trigger, and a Bushell HDMR scope held in place by a LaRue SPR quick-attach scope mount.

Here I am holding Steve’s rifle:


It’s interesting to handle rifles, examine cartridges, and to study specifications and ballistics. But the real story unfolds when you pick up the rifle and see what it (and the shooter) can do. Steve had a bunch of loaded rounds that he needed to shoot as a part of his brass preparation process, so I got to empty several magazines through the rifle. This was enough shooting to get some good mirage through the scope from the air passing over the hot barrel.

Here’s a quick video that shows me shooting Steve’s awesome rifle:

I did have one flier (first shot), but I managed to put 4 successive rounds into about 1/2″ at 100 yards at a pace of 3-4 seconds between shots. Get rid of the flier, and I’d be really happy with that.


Steve has spent quite a bit of time perfecting his loads for this cartridge and rifle. The load we were shooting is as follows:

  • Bullet: Hornady 123 grain AMAX
  • Federal small rifle match primer
  • 27.9 grains IMR 8208 XBR (Hodgdon lists 28.5 grains as max)
  • Lapua 6.5mm Grendel brass

Note: This load data is for reference only. Always cross-reference with manufacturer’s load data. Ultimate Reloader is not responsible for errors or possible issues you may have when using this load data. Use at your own risk.

Steve noted that for some reason, IMR 8208 XBR is used pretty much across the board by competitive shooters shooting 6.5mm Grendel- it seems to be just the right formulation for this unique cartridge and the peculiarities of the AR-15 platform.

It was a lot of fun to experience the 6.5mm Grendel, and I’m really impressed with Steve’s rifle and loads. It’s not hard to see why people like this cartridge. If you want to read more, check out these resources:


RCBS Pro Chucker 5: Loading 45 ACP

Saturday, August 22nd, 2015

One of the most popular handgun cartridges in the world is 45 ACP. It has a controversial place in the concealed carry debate, and is a lot of fun to shoot at targets as well. In this post I’ll cover setting the RCBS Pro Chucker 5 up to load 45 ACP as well as full-progressive reloading of 45 ACP using this press. If you haven’t already done so, you may want to check out the posts leading up to this article:

With five stations at your disposal, the RCBS Pro Chucker 5 is a great option to load pistol cartridges with. Below you can see the setup that I show in this article (be sure to check out the video below) while in full-progressive operation.


And here you can see the “heart” of the reloading operation here, the dies, the press frame, the shellplate, and the cartridges in the 5-step process of progressive reloading.


The RCBS Pro Chucker 5 utilizes a “standard” clockwise rotation of the shellplate. This is opposite the counterclockwise shellplate rotation that is utilized by the RCBS Pro 2000: the press that has been essentially “replaced” by the RCBS Pro Chucker 5. Here is a diagram showing the die stations that are used by the RCBS Pro Chucker 5:


There are many ways to use these stations, but here I’m showing the classic “everything separate, separate seat and crimp” setup. In this case, I’m using the following die station layout:

  1. Size/De-Prime (RCBS carbide sizer die)
  2. Prime (bottom of stroke), Case mouth expansion (top of stroke, RCBS expander die)
  3. Powder Charge (new RCBS Uniflow powder measure improved for the Pro Chucker 5)
  4. Bullet seating (RCBS seater die, backed off to seat only, no crimp)
  5. Lee Factory Crimp Die

In the following video I show the entire process of assembling the dies (following the cleaning I did in this post), installing and adjusting the dies, running up to progressive reloading, full-progressive reloading, and rundown (emptying the press).

As outlined in the video, I used the following components and load recipe for this loading session:

  • Previously fired and cleaned 45 ACP brass (no lube)
  • 45 caliber 230 grain round nose Speer TMJ bullets
  • 6.0 grains Hodgdon CFE Pistol
  • Winchester Large Pistol primers
  • COL: 1.200″

Note: This load data is for reference only. Always cross-reference with manufacturer’s load data. Ultimate Reloader is not responsible for errors or possible issues you may have when using this load data. Use at your own risk.


I think it’s time to take the 1911 out for a shoot. The only question is: paper targets or water-filled cans?

Plenty more RCBS Pro Chucker posts and videos coming, so please subscribe (see left bar) to make sure you don’t miss out on any of the action!


Cleaning Brass with the RCBS Ultrasonic Cleaner

Wednesday, August 12th, 2015

Brass prep is a critical part of the reloading process, but it can be a huge pain to deal with. I’ve traditionally been a dry tumbler, but I’ve been curious to try some new processes including ultrasonic case cleaning, and stainless media wet tumbling. In this article I’ll give you the low-down on my experience cleaning 7.62x51mm (military 308 Winchester) brass with the RCBS Ultrasonic Cleaner.

A while back, I bought a huge lot of military once-fired 7.52x51mm brass (fired in a machine gun) that I’ve been slowly prepping for my DPMS LR-308B AR-10 style rifle. Some of this brass was fully prepped (sized/de-primed, trimmed, case mouths chamfered, primer pockets reamed) but was gunked up with lube and looking dingy. Time to try out the RCBS Ultrasonic Cleaner!

Here’s the brass before ultrasonic cleaning:


In my ultrasonic die cleaning video, I showed the RCBS Weapons Cleaning Solution in action. This time I’ll use a totally different solution, the RCBS Ultrasonic Case Cleaning Solution (RCBS #87058). It’s *very* important that you use the proper cleaning solution for your application- if you use case cleaning solution on guns or other parts, you’ll likely compromise or ruin certain finishes (like blueing). With that in mind, I mixed up a batch of ~2 liters of case cleaning solution at a 30 parts water to 1 part solution ratio.


Here’s a breakdown of the process:

  • Drain and clean ultrasonic cleaner (I saved the solution I cleaned dies in because it was still rather clean)
  • Fill the ultrasonic cleaner with solution (I just pour in water and solution and mix in the stainless tub)
  • Turn on the ultrasonic cleaner, activate the heater, wait for it to come up to temperature
  • Set the appropriate time interval for your cleaning (I used 30 minutes)
  • Activate the cleaning cycle
  • Wait until cleaning cycle is done
  • Lift out basket, lightly shake/tip to remove excess solution
  • Dry cases (I put them in a tub in the sun, you can also use your oven at low temp)

And here’s a video that walks you through the process from start to finish:

After cleaning, the solution looked pretty dirty, so I threw it out. This solution is biodegradable, which makes disposal much more convenient!


And here’s what the cleaned cases looked like all steamy after being lifted out of the murky solution:


But perhaps this picture tells the story best, before (left) and after (right). What you don’t see here is that the insides are cleaned better than when you dry tumble.


It’s great to have another way to clean cases. Each method has its pros and cons, so having multiple methods gives you great flexibility. Do you have a favorite way to clean cases? Have you home-brewed your own ultrasonic case cleaning solution? Please leave a comment!