First, and foremost, don't become impatient and take shortcuts.
Second, try very hard to avoid interruptions during a loading activity.
Most of us load rifle cartridges on a single stage press and will do the
various loading steps in batch. That
is we will resize a bunch of cases at once before priming and so on. At the very least, complete whatever batch task you are
working on before setting things aside to attend to other matters.
Some handloading procedures can be more easily interrupted than others.
You can easily see which cases have been resized or trimmed or have had
their primer pockets cleaned. I
strongly suggest, however, that you do not interrupt charging the cases and
leave charged cases sitting around waiting to have the bullets seated. This is not recommended for a few good reasons.
First, it is not good to leave the powder open to the environment because
it can absorb moisture from the air and be subject to other types of
contamination. Second, it is very
easy to bump the loading block and knock a few grains of powder from several
cases, resulting in the need to dump them all and start over.
When you handload, you will have powder
spills from time to time. A major spill, such as knocking over a whole
cartridge case or dropping a canister, should, of course, be cleaned up right
then. The few kernels that accumulate on the bench during a handloading
session should be cleaned up at the end of the session. While on this
subject, it is not advisable to use a Dust Buster or something similar because
it is not advisable to have combustible propellant accumulating in the vacuum's
dust bag. A handy 1/2" stencil brush, which can be purchased
at about any crafts store, can be used to brush the spilled kernels into an old
coffee can that has a little water in it. This brush is also handy for
brushing dust and burned primer residue off the loading press and primer catcher
There has been a time or two over the
past several years that Iíve had a primer detonate unexpectedly.
One time the anvil bounced off my glasses with enough force to chip the
lens. Needless to say, this would
do nothing for continued good eyesight. Always,
always wear safety glasses when reloading or shooting.
Make no exception. Always wear them.
Do not ever smoke while loading cartridges. This is not a social statement. If you are a smoker, you do not
need to have a
hot ash drop into a canister or hopper of smokeless propellant.
Your whole day, or evening, will be ruined!
Make very sure you never mistake
propellants, by accident or otherwise. Be
very sure, for example, that when you reach for H4831 you do not pick up
IMR-4831. Along with this
consideration, is the excellent advice never to have out more than one
propellant at a time. It is very
easy, if you have more than one can open, to fill your powder measureís hopper
inadvertently from the wrong can. Likewise,
it is quite easy to empty your hopper into the wrong can.
Along with positively identifying your
propellant, it is important not to mix bullet weights inadvertently. Be
positively sure that if you want to load, say, 165 gr. bullets you do not
mistakenly pick up a box of 180 gr. bullets. Many bullets look the same or
very similar, and it takes a practiced eye to see the difference by simply
looking at them. Just as it is advisable not to have out more than one
propellant at a time, it is also advisable not to have open on your bench
more than one bullet weight, brand, or type.
Check the zero of your scale frequently.
This doesnít really take any more effort than good observation habits
which you, the handloader, should have anyway.
With electronic scales, when you have charged the case from the scale
pan, set the empty pan back on the scale. Before
weighing the next charge, look to be sure the scale is still reading zero with
the empty pan in place. Beam scales
are more inconvenient in this respect, but it is good to check the zero
periodically during the loading process. If
the scale is jiggled during the loading process, by all means check the zero
At least until you become a very
experienced handloader, always choose the starting loads listed in your manual
and then work them up gradually. Do not exceed the recommended maximum
load shown in your manual. If you have more than one manual, you are
likely to see different starting and maximum charge weights listed for the same
cartridge, propellant, and bullet weight. Don't let this confuse you
because it is the result of the differences in chambers, component lot
variations, measuring techniques, and so on. It is because of these
variations that you are well advised always to start with the minimum charge
weight recommended in the manual or set of manuals. Another technique when
you are consulting more than one manual is to take the average of all the
starting charge weights, and start your loading with that average charge weight.
Safe primer handling and use is an
absolute necessity if you desire to keep all your fingers and your eyesight.
From time to time, you will find it necessary to decap an unfired primer.
The safest way I know to do this is to pull the bullet, dump the powder
back into its canister, and fire the primed case in a firearm. In the
past, a standard recommendation was to squirt a little penetrating oil or gun
oil into the case and set the case upright on its base for a couple of hours.
Recent tests have convinced me that this is not an absolute certain way
to deactivate a primer. This technique did work for me in the past, and until
recently I had never had it to fail. Recently,
though, fail it did. I don't know
whether the primer's foil seals are more resistant to oil contamination than
they used to be or if the pellet itself is more resistant to the oil.
For whatever reason, the old oil method simply does not make primers
Decapping live primers is not recommended, but if you choose to do so, use extreme caution.
Store your primers in a cool, dry
place away from sources of heat, and keep them in their factory packages because
these are designed to protect the primer and to isolate the effects if one
should detonate. Do not dump a bunch of them into some kind of jar or can.
Trust me, you do not want to be anywhere around a bunch of exploding
primers! MG Julian Hatcher relates a story in the 3rd edition
of Hatcher's Notebook, page 525, about a technician in some ballistics lab
bouncing down a hall with a bucket of primers.
The darn things exploded with fatal consequences to the technician.
Smokeless propellant is quite safe to
handle and store if you use a little common sense. Since it is a flammable solid, it will burn if subjected to
temperatures high enough to reach its kindling temperature.
It will not, however, vaporize and dissipate explosive vapors throughout
your dwelling like gasoline, or other volatile liquids, can and will. It
is best to keep the propellant in its factory container, and store it in a cool,
dry place away from sources of heat. Smokeless powder may deteriorate over
time and will generally develop a reddish "coating" if it does
deteriorate. It is then useless as a propellant but makes an excellent
fertilizer for the flower bed.
Unconfined, smokeless propellant will
burn with a fairly hot flame that can certainly cause fire to spread.
Enough smokeless propellant, under certain conditions, can also detonate.
Hatcher also relates a story or two about this. Some years ago, apparently shortly after World War I,
experiments were conducted to see under what circumstances, if any, a large can
of smokeless propellant could be made to detonate. In one test, a person sat about 100 feet away and fired into
the base of a 150 lb. drum of smokeless propellant. In Hatcher's words, "Instead of igniting, it exploded
with great violence, and turned the startled firer end over end.
It seems that if there is more than about 2 feet of powder above the
point of entrance of the bullet, the powder may explode instead of simply
igniting." Obviously, various
jurisdictions have laws and regulations concerning the storage of smokeless
propellants. Handloaders need to
make it their business to learn prevailing laws and regulations and obey them.
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