Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Operation Homeloading

Ongoing shortages. High prices. No end in sight. Panic and greed. It's time to look at the alternative. Some call it reloading others say handloading. This new hobby of mine will be known by me from now on as homeloading.

After years of making and perfecting my own homemade sausage, home-brewed beer, home baked bread, pizza as good if not better than most restaurants make, canning and preserving garden harvests and many other make-at-home DIY challenges why not homemade ammo? This will be fine hobby that should make me more self reliant and save a buck or two in the process. It will make me impervious to all this retail market price and availability nonsense. Besides, recycling brass will help save the planet and prevent global warming. So I got that goin' for me. Which is nice.

While working at the famous big box outfitter store I was able to look at and study the tools of the homeloading trade and spoke with many hobbyists who dabbled in it as well as a few experts on the subject. For over a year year I have read, researched, listened and watched all I could about it. If I were to take the plunge it was going to be done with full knowledge of what I would be getting into.

Last week I attended homeloading lessons in South Bend. Len the instructor specializes in it and owns a retail brick-and-mortar store that offers homeloading supplies exclusively. He is retired ex-military, ex-law enforcement, historic military hardware collector along with being a licensed owner and aficionado of high caliber belt fed weaponry. Len is also a licensed dealer for progressive presses manufactured by Dillon, the finest consumer ammo presses in the world. The advice he gave me is to begin using a simple single-stage press to better understand the basics. His recommendation for beginners is equipment by Lee Precision. Len instantly earned my respect for being honest and practical as they come.

Lee makes affordable homeloading systems and hardware such as dies, powder measurers and the rest of the flotsam and hardware associated with loading specific calibers. They do not make components such as bullets, cases, powders and primers. His sage advice was to go low cost at first and if I tired of it (not that this it is likely to happen) my wallet would not get dinged too bad. The loading press brands I initially considered were those manufactured by Hornady, RCBS, and Redding.

All make somewhat sturdier equipment than Lee that will probably last a few lifetimes but they cost nearly twice as much. Len convinced me otherwise claiming that those brands were over engineered. He claimed Lee would be a wiser and cost-effective choice so I went with his reco.

Long term I have my eyes set on this very handsome Dillon Progressive RL550B if I decide to take it to the next level. With a Dillon Progressive a trained user can pound out a ton of ammo in a short amount of time. Like this…

She makes it look so easy. What she doesn't show is the case prep and fine adjustments to the dies which are time consuming tasks. Now that is one sweet machine. The press ain't so bad either. For my needs large ammo production may be overkill. We'll see.

I bought dies for homeloading both .380 (very hard to get lately and expen$ive when it's available at retail) and .40 S&W. My main interest in homeloading is for rifle calibers but Len says it's much simpler and easier to go with handgun calibers to get started. As of now I have all I need to load 500 rounds of each and when I shoot up my existing factory ammo all brass will be saved from now on. A few friends have promised to donate their spent brass to me. One friend already has so my component collection is growing.

For now the base of operation is in my upstairs office. as it warms up the garage will be my secondary base for Operation Homeloading. For this purpose I have created a portable press mounting block with clamps.

Sunday I went through the case prep exercise. This involves punching out the old primers and resizing the brass cases. This is done in one step with one die on the press. Then hand cleaning the primer pocket before tossing 300 cases of .380 into a tumbler for a thorough clean and polish. The next step will be setting the primer, flaring the case, adding powder to the case, seating the bullet and then finally adding a factory crimp. The crimp isn't always necessary but it helps a lot for reliably cycling in semi-autos.

Sure, this is a time consuming operation. But I have a lot of time on my hands along with the desire to have on hand an ample and readily available supply of affordable ammo for whenever I want it. On my terms.

To be continued.


Dan from Madison said...

This is very cool. I wish I had time to do it. As you advance you can begin to alter the grains to optimize accuracy on your particular weapon but that is probably further down the pike.

Jonathan said...

I have several times gone through the process of reading up, studying catalogs, planning how I was going to set everything up, etc. But I never went through with it. It is the time commitment, plus the nagging suspicion that I would go all OCD and neglect my other interests in life. So, maybe not for me. But it sounds like you are going about it in a thoughtful way, and if you enjoy it, great.

Gerry from Valpo said...

Measuring the powder is very tricky since it is weighed in grains and in most instances tenths of grains. I now have two scales for cross referencing the accuracy of each.

As far as time commitment the entire process doesn't mean all steps need to be executed consecutively. More on this in a later entry.

Jonathan said...

Right, you also have to be very careful to follow directions and not make errors with powder charges and so forth, so it is not like watercolor painting. Who am I kidding, I will probably get into it eventually.