If you have been reloading for any period of time, you will have heard of Redding.
Robin Sharpless is the Vice-President of Redding and an absolute wealth of information.
We have been trying to get together for a chat for a bit, and finally, the stars aligned!
Transcript (rough edit)
For those of you who have been reloading for a little while the brand Redding will already be quite familiar. I have been trying to organise an interview with Robin Sharpless their Vice-President for a little while and finally our schedules have synced together and we were able to spend a good hour or so talking about things Redding and Reloading. Robin is an absolute wealth of knowledge when it comes to Reloading; both of the Redding products and their inner workings and what sets them apart from many of the other products out there and then also just Reloading in general.
So we cover off a lot of subjects; there is going to be a lot of stuff you can learn in there; of particular interest to me was our discussion regarding neck turning and its relative importance in the greater scheme of things, and a little bit about primer pocket forming and consistency which leads to concentricity which leads to lower SD and more accuracy and everything like that.
So check it out; this is Robin Sharpless from Redding. Enjoy.
Q: I would like to think most people who are into reloading anyway are going to be familiar with Redding as a company, but you could give them a little bit of a history of the company; a bit of background where they got going.
A: Absolutely. Redding was founded in 1946 in Courtland, New York right at the end of the Second World War and the first product that they ever made was a powder comparator scale. The original scale didn’t actually give a weight but what it did was it allowed you to set a weight and match the charge and again that was in ’46. The company continued to grow in Courtland. Mythology says that it actually was started in a chicken coop behind the fellow’s house and grew into a very small company and then continued to grow; added on dyes, added powder measures, additional powder scales, continued to file lots of cool patterns on things like our competition seating dyes and all of our things with micrometres on them and in them; and really grew to be a sort of uniquely oriented niche company serving the very high or sophisticated reloader – and I don’t mean that in terms of just money but in terms of the sophistication of their demands; what they wanted that ammunition to really do.
The part of it that is interesting is we have always categorised the reloading business into two people; one person is the reloader whose primary goal is to produce ammunition as good as commercial qualities at a lower cost so that they can shoot more; and then the hand-loader who is the individual that’s looking to do something that you can’t buy off the shelf and attain levels of quality that you would never be able to have produced even by some of the custom ammo houses, but be able to actually tailor load to his rifle or his handgun or whatever he is after, so that it either improves accuracy, range or gives them the opportunity to do something in terms of bullet weights or bullets that aren’t available in the commercial market.
Q: It’s interesting; there was an article I actually put up on my site recently is that difference between the reloader and the hand-loader. At one end I shoot 9mm pistol for IPSC which realistically like you say is reloading; it’s an economical choice where I am just going through a couple of hundred rounds at a particular session and just want to reload up to commercial quality but I am only shooting to a distance where that’s fine. And then the other end is like you say the hand-loading for my long range rifle where you are starting to measure every charge and just spend all that time prepping the case and making sure everything is perfect and it has been tailored to my gun as well.
It’s been interesting recently as well – which we will talk about later as well and with some previous interviews. So I have interviewed the 6.5 Guys recently and Regina Milkovich and one thing that has popped out both of them is they’re both using essentially progressives or turret pressures for their match [4.16] ammo.
A: Regina and Tim are big Redding fans. In fact Regina bent a 66CD cap rod the other day and Tim wrote me a note and asked to send one out if I would; so yes we know them well.
Q: It’s also interesting I think is that the quality of the equipment that is becoming available to us is meaning that while still hand-loading we are able to start speeding up that process and improving that process, which is nice as well because while I understand a lot of people love spending hours in the reloading room, because it’s their little bit of solitude and quiet, I am also now at the point of trying to get out onto the range more and spend more time out there.
A: That’s one of the interesting things that’s happened. Really after the advent of the T7 turret press when we came up with that, we were able to provide a press that could speed the operation and yet not diminish the quality over a single stage. And while yes all turret pressers have to have some small amount of give in them, the T7 is designed so that little bit of, let’s thousands and a half, of tilt that the turret head has when you put a load on it, it actually tilts it into square; and that’s the design of it. So we tilt it into dead square but the important part of that is we are talking about a 27 pound press and quite honestly I love to liken it to the fact that it be the same as having seven single stage presses lined up down your bench. Folks talked about that little possible… and it’s not really because you can cam over on it just like a good single stage, but they talk about that potential for some small variation. But when we realise we have to back a dye out and screw a dye in we are going to create that much or more variation.
I actually tasked and I wrote an article for last year’s Big Handler’s Digest that came out. The idea was to look at that whole shoulder bump situation; folks that believe you can back a dye off and set the shoulder.
We started with 40 rounds of the same lot of federal match that was fired out of the same rifle at our local sheriff’s department range day when their precision shooting guys were shooting; so we have exactly the same temperature and exactly the same lot – everything. Similar cases as we can get in a reasonable manner. The goal was to make a plus six case. I did the first one by playing the game and tweaking the dye, tweaking the dye until I came up with a plus six. That’s easy on a T7 because I can put an instant indicator with a datum line contactor in the next spot and just click it left and right so I can see where we are.
So I made my plus six and then I took 19 more cases with that exact same set up and I made 19 more cases; none of which were a plus six – not a single one.
Q: So to clarify for people though, by plus six you are meaning?
A: Semi [7.20] minimum datum line head space for the chamber plus six. It’s sort of in the middle of the range but we wanted to pick one that would be a reasonable one to have that was one that was still shorter than what the original rifle had fired to. So let’s say we had a plus eight chamber in the rifle and we want to build a plus six round.
The interesting part of it was then by using Redding competition shell holders with a full hard cam-over and using a plus six, we made the first one, checked the measurement on the indicator and made 19 more; though the greatest derivation was either rubbing the top or the bottom of the plus six line on the dial indicator.
Much simpler and must faster but one of things that we find is, remember we have a very… it’s not a poor quality but it’s an intentionally loose fitting thread on dyes; it’s a class 2B thread and it’s meant to go in and out fast. Well it has take-up, slop, in it so to speak and even if we think we have got it cranked down tight, remember a really good presser camber is going to generate almost a couple of tonnes of force for that absolute instant. So we’re pressing it up quite hard.
The other thing is each of the axles, each of those shafts in our linkage, have to have a thousandth or so, or thousands-thousands and a half clearance or they wouldn’t rotate. So when we don’t have cam-over we have by best sort of guestimate based on what we did in that particular day – we photographed everything and we did the whole deal. A really good press has got 6-7 thousands worth of play in it; if you don’t do the cam-over.
The beauty of cam-over is we eliminate that play. We actually create a solid what’s called dye-square which means its top of the shell holder and the bottom of the dye are in such rock solid contact that really nothing else exists at that point. And the third part that folks don’t get is that is that we are creating the greatest possible mechanical advantage of the press; not that we need the greatest advantage but we’re creating a uniform mechanical advantage, so that the amount of force generated each time we size a case is the same. And since we know that accuracy is kind of the game of everything being the same consistency, and it doesn’t hurt the press – our presses are designed to handle it – and cam-over is an absolute necessity in terms of what we believe.
Q: That’s the thing. I think people, we sort of know it’s our consistency but then we will do stuff for ourselves in our how head that is actually removing that consistency and then try and justify it some other way.
We are sort of going to skip a little bit, but it sort of relates to this, and it was a question that I actually got asked a couple of times. I was talking to somebody on the phone yesterday and it was in regards to seating primers; it was the difference between I’ve got a hand seating tool and I was talking to a guy yesterday who is a Co-Ax press so it’s mechanical seating by force. What are your thoughts on the hand seating; like I say we are basically seating those primers by feel versus something where it is mechanically limiting you to a point where it is going to be the same every time?
A: I think in terms of seating primers it’s much more important to properly prepare the primer pocket. One of the things that we produce is a primer pocket uniforming tool which is actually a five fluted industrial carbide cutter like you would find a little miniature machine tool situation; so we’re cutting with five flutes so there can be no chatter because an odd number always stops chatter. And we’re cutting to a square solid depth because of course we’ve got a stop-collar that stops against the cartridge case head. As long as we know we are getting a good solid bottom.
I’m a hand primer guy; I’m the Vice-President of Redding Reloading Equipment and I am still in love with my little Lee hand primer because I just feel that. Guys prime successfully on presses all the time and don’t have any problem at all and I know lots of folks that do but I am just a big fan of those little hand primers. First of all as long as you have a good square primer pocket that is clean and square and cut to uniform depth and we clean our flash hole out then seating is really a matter of just bottoming it solidly without crushing it. Obviously if we are misadjusted and we’re crushing a primer that’s a different story; but as long as we get a good solid bottom that’s all that’s really necessary.
Q: That was what brought it up. This gentleman I was talking to yesterday, he had received some loaded rounds with a new firearm he had bought. Looking at the primers a couple of the primers seemed to be almost a mm further down into that primer pocket than the others. And we were just figuring out reasons why it was. They didn’t seem to be crushed. The question came up whether they had actually prepped the primer pockets at all and whether they were even as well. That’s sort of just where that question came out of it.
Myself included, I am hand priming with him, and the one thing it does for me as well is it let’s me start feeling, because I was running particularly hot loads for my 308 and lets me start feeling when the primer pockets start to get loose and open up.
Just to quantify myself; I am still relatively new to a lot of the shooting and reloading side of things. Part of me doing these shows was for me to be able to get access to guys like you and ask these questions, so it’s slightly selfish from that point but then we get to share with everybody else.
The other thing then that flows into that, which is a question I have got, is at what point do those primer pockets start loosening up? Obviously if you’re primer starts just falling out then you have got a problem, but otherwise at what point do you start going, “Right it’s time to actually replace this brass out.” Is there a definitive point or is it just a call?
A: One of the things that I would always look for is if I know that I have got cases that are not an overly high pressure load – if I’m not right up on the ragged edge and I see primer starting to back even just a little bit – I know that my primer pockets are starting to get weak. To me that’s really the key and there’s no way to make them smaller; we can only make them larger unfortunately.
The nice thing about the Redding tool is that we don’t touch the sides at all. We are dealing simply with the base of the pocket so that we can get square, true and uniform depth in relation to the cartridge case head.
It’s a nice tool. I really like it. I use it religiously on anything that is important. I have got some 65 [14.04] down there now and I broke down and bought a new lithium Black and Decker power screwdriver because I don’t want to have to do it by hand and we don’t use the power drill because they go too fast; but just the basic power screwdriver is a nice speed that you can use with it. It comes with a little adapter to fit the power screwdriver. I loaded 40 the other night and just okay, so put that one in the power screwdriver, go in and do the primer pockets, then when I was done with that flip over and put my flash hole uniforming tool in, which in our case uses a pilot stop so we’re actually coming in from the neck end, so we’re keeping everything very precise. But the really neat thing too that I like about [14.46] is above the actual bit if you will that’s going to ream that primer pocket or that flash hole uniform, is there is a small rebated taper; so that what we are doing is we are actually creating a cone at the end of the flash hole so the dispersion of the [15.06] is much more uniform. We’re not doing a jet aflame but we are allowing that flame to go out and hit more powder; and back to the consistency piece.
Q: When I was doing this as well I picked up Lapua brass. Everybody said, “Okay you’ve got to prep all your brass unless you get the Lapua because it’s nearly there.” Would you just go ahead and do it anyway to any bit of new brass, just for your own piece of mind?
A: A couple of technical pieces about Lapua drills their flash holes where everyone else pierces their flash holes. When we have a pierced flash hole we’re going to have a little bit of flash of material that’s going to be thrown out. Another reason that I think our tools sort of meet and that it’s got that little taper, because it’s going to clean that off; it’s going to kind of cut that edge, that raggedy edge off, so if anything is going up into the case it’s going to loosen it so we can remove it.
Even with Lapua I would still probably take the primer pocket uniforming tool so that I know all my depths are exactly the same. Flash holes on them tend to be better because they’re drilled and not pieced. I will go back to this point: if we are spending that much money on cases why not spend another 15 seconds to make them perfect.
Q: And then it’s one more thing that you have removed when you’re on the line and actually pulling that trigger, that you don’t have in the back of your head, “I wonder if I should have got rid of those…”
A: I will tell you; many years ago I was with a different company, I was the Senior Vice-President of [16.37] and I was making a presentation to the general staff of the Italian Army. No disrespect to the Italian Army but their snipers were training at 300m is their maximum engagement range and I walked in with a sniper weapon system that was good for 2300yards. It’s like a stepped off a space ship. I had to come up with a theory or a way to explain all of what we were doing at [17.03] between the ballistic computers and the things were done [17.06]. [17.07] is a whole other story.
But I came up with three magic words which now apply to everything with reloading and that is identify, quantify and mitigate. If we can identify a variable, if we can lay a tool on it to quantify that variable and then create a mitigation strategy for that variable… we would love to say we remove it but we diminish it to the point where it’s not as affecting. So whether we talk about wind, whether we talk about powder charges, internal case capacities, and let’s just get to this, because we can identify the fact that the primer pocket that is of a different depth is going to cause a different flash. We are going to engage the primer differently; maybe it’s not seated deep enough or maybe it’s not seated flat or whatever. But we can identify that as a potential problem, we can quantify it through the idea that we can measure after we put a primer in it, but the beautiful mitigation strategy is always we’ll take a tool and we’ll make them all exactly the same. That pretty much comes with everything from bullet seating primer depth, case capacities and powder charges if we look at that.
The beauty is let’s look at every possible variable that there is out there and say, “Can we identify this as a variable?” Is there a way? Is there a tool, is there a method that we can quantify that?” If we can quantify it then we can mitigate through making all of that quantification the same from case to case to case.
And now we get back to the only problem is the adjustment of the nut behind the trigger.
Q: And if you can ever figure out a way of completely mitigating the need to call for wind please let me know.
A: Unfortunately it’s thousands of dollars and somewhat classified.
Q: That’s another conversation I was having; similar to some of that and some of the gear that we might see actually publically in another five or ten years maybe.
You sort of touched on what you were doing before Redding. Did you have a background in engineering? How did you get to where you are now?
A: I had a marketing degree except I grew up, as you and I have discussed before, racing motorcyles, being very technical, keeping a mini-bike running when I was six years old. I think it’s the best engineers in the world have common sense first. So we can look at a lot of problems from the standpoint of common sense. I will use the word physics but let’s think of it in terms of the physical world as opposed to the high maths astrophysics; the physics of how things work and that has a great deal to do with what is going on in good hand loading and even to that point firearms design. We want to make it easier for the user.
And interesting point and I don’t want to make this sound like it’s a show about everything that Redding makes themselves, but we built a tool called the instant indicator that does about seven things and if it were really well designed it would do two. It does seven extremely well but it confuses everyone.
The beauty of this tool is that it gives you very, very critical dimensioning on a lot of different things to do with the case, the bullet, reloading and all, but it does it on a press where the average guy can stick the case in the shell holder, pull the handle up until the shell holder hits the bottom of it and we’re done. He doesn’t have to be a machinist and he doesn’t have to know how to really delicately use his callipers and things like this; it’s just stick it in, just like we’re loading, pull the handle up and it goes.
For instance on datum line headspace we provide a semi minimum headspace gauge; so we run it all the way till it touches the bottom and we set our dial indicator on top to zero. Any other case we put in there it is going to be plus something or minus something. Very easy to do; we’re not handling the case, we’re not trying to hold it between two things that are clamped onto our dial calliper etc. etc. It gets easy to do. That’s really one of the unique things that the company has done over the years. I mean you look at all the things we put micrometres on; that’s a high level of sophistication, it absolutely is, but guess what? If I want to seat my bullet two-thousandths deeper I can turn my mike-head two thousandths. I don’t have to do the calculations in my mind. Let’s see that’s a 24 thread pitch and how far do I have turn that to move it two-thousandths, which realistically isn’t going to happen. You’re not going to do it. You sort of do the twist and hope method until you get close and usually go too deep with one first.
Q: Or often what you’re doing is you’re then pulling it out onto the [21.50] callipers and back in and back out, back in, back out, ooh gone too far, right have to try that again, back in, back out.
A: I have a funny story on that if I might take a minute.
A: Years ago I wrote a little white paper and I think it appears in our Tech Tip section called “Point of Engagement.” One of the big issues obviously to keep that consistency of our pressure curve is that we want to have that bullet seated to the exact same depth. The misnomer is that people think that that means cartridge overall length. It doesn’t. Pressure curve is a function of how far the bullet moves before it engages the rifling and then we get the big curve. We have the little curve start pressure, as the bullet starts to move pressure drops because we’re expanding volume, pressure hits a lot point and then it hits the rifling and then we get our big pressure curve.
Since ultimate pressure usually is a function of the amount of heat and pressure that we start with when we hit the pressure curve, if we jump further and that drops more we’re never going to generate all the heat if you will that the powder is capable of and that particular round is going to go low.
So back to that instant indicator. One of the tools that comes in it is a bore diameter contactor; so we can actually measure or compare… measure if the wrong word because it’s comparative. So we can actually compare cartridge case head to land bearing point on any given round. With this we will start out and we will make a dummy round right into the lens and then once I am done with my dummy round for that particular firearm I just goop it up with crazy glue so it will never move again at the case mouth. So what I am going to do is I’m going to run that up into my indicator and I’m going to set that as my zero, because that’s into the lens.
Now the beauty of this is I want to be six thousandths off the lens with every round. So what I do is I take my T7 so I can click from station to station, set up my Redding competition seating guide with a micrometre on top and just arbitrarily back it off a little bit; seat the bullet long intentionally. Because on each bullet the point that the contactor the seater impacts the bullet and the point where the land bearing point are, they’re in different places on every bullet made. That which is made by the hand of man will never be perfect because it’s not made by the hand of God.
But the distance between the two on any given bullet remains the same, regardless of how many times we push on it. So we intentionally seat long. We click our turret head over, we run it up into our indicator which has been set for end of the lands and we read that it is plus 12. Okay, no big deal, we click it back, we grab our micrometre and we run it at 18 thousandths.
The coolest part of this is when I first put the paper together I had a fellow, and this goes back about five years, who was a team burger bench rest guy that got even hand selected bullets because he was just that category. He told me it’s not going to make any difference. He went ahead and did it and called me on the phone very apologetic because in just 20 rounds by using my method, knowing that a bullet jump into the lands where pressure is going to change, because quite honestly the nose of that bullet could go 10 thousandths further down the barrel but until it touches pressure doesn’t change; as long as the weights are the same.
He called me and he apologised because in those first 20 that he used with my system he had maximum overall length variance of 8 thousandths; and he admitted that his group sizes got even better after he did the idea of using that.
But again that’s back to that tool. It would be very difficult for a guy that wasn’t a machinist to do that with hand tools.
Q: Yeah I have done it with the systems where you are putting something through the back of the action with a bit of plastic rod and then you measure it. They will even say do it five times and average it because they know there’s going to be enough variance or slop in that way of measuring it that way; or the other guys have dowel down the other end of it and you just know that there’s only a limit of accuracy that there could ever be.
We did a long range shooting fundamentals course on the weekend. We did a bit of theory, so at the beginning we ended up we were explaining mms and moa; had some figures up there and I pointed out to the guys it was that one time for a lot of us since we have got out of school that things like maths, some of the sciences and some of the physics are actually going to be applicable. I have heard it said a few times. It’s one really nice thing about reloading and shooting in general is that we get to apply some of these sciences and for us guys, in a very, very practical we can instantly see the results of us taking our time to understand things like variance and the measurements. We load it, round up, pull the trigger and we have got instant satisfaction of our work.
A: Sure. And the same thing with like running [27.07] on feeding depth; I’m going to try some at 10 thousandths off, I’m going to try some at 8 thousandths off. And I can watch; what is interesting I can watch my group get smaller and then start to get larger again. We have quantified that spot if you will in the bell curve of where we want to be and it’s a lot of fun.
Again that’s another reason that the micrometres are so nice; it’s because it’s so darn easy to do instead of trying to figure it out with a more traditional seating dye. Good heavens, in some cases you a little nut and you have got a screwdriver slot in the top of a piece of rod; so this works out a little bit better. But again that’s always been our place in the market. Redding has sort of changed, evolved and grown over the years because two things have happened: (1) we know there’s a discernible change in who the beginning hand loader or reloader is. Traditionally when I started reloading I didn’t have enough money so I could scrounge together enough press and some dyes and what not I could save money and shoot more. And I was young and traditionally the guys coming into the reloading market were in that sort of 18-24 bracket.
What we have seen with sort of the world wide ammunition shortage that occurred for a while there is that fellows that were older and more sophisticated started to be first time hand loaders. Maybe more sophisticated is the wrong word; but they had also grown up enough in the shooting sports to realise “Hey it’s the old guy” instead of being smarter than everybody else because you’re young.
That’s had a tremendous impact on Redding because we get feedback from individuals that say things like, “I had to get into hand loading and I needed to do this because I couldn’t find what I wanted and I wasn’t getting the quality, or it just wasn’t available, and to continue competing or doing whatever.”
I asked the guy around the club that has always done this for years and in many cases I get the same answer which is he said, “Just spend the money and buy Redding first instead of trying to save a little bit of money along the way.” You buy the good stuff and you buy it one time.
Q: Yes. That’s the thing for a lot of people. It’s like you’re going to end up there anyway. I have had instances, even with other industries as well, sometimes ironically it’s nice to have something that you have to struggle a little bit with so you can truly appreciate what you end up at the end. Sometimes you jump straight into the high end thing, which some guys will do, and I just don’t think they ever quite get to appreciate the level of equipment they have actually ended up with.
A: What is interesting is one of things to respond to just what you are talking about, is some of the new dye sets that have come out in the last five or six years. Traditionally competition seating dyes were only available in sets with Type S bushing style dyes, or Type S bushing competition dyes. Because we have found these competitors that had, if you will, a different need structure we created things like the national match dye set. So we have got the semi-automatic military match shooter that really needs a standard full length sizing dye because he’s not buying 500 or 1000 of Lapua from one lot like you would want to do with a bushing dye. He needs that full length sizing, he needs that expander ball that is going to be able to open necks back up because there’s going to be brass neck wall variation. A lot of these guys are buying Lake City off the internet once fired that came from who knows where or who knows what. But they still want the precision of the competition seating dye; so we add that. Then for those fellas we add also a taper crimp dye because if they’re running big mags we want to make sure we have got more crimp than just the bullet seating.
Because the other thing that has occurred in those is guys that are serious military match shooters they’re not shooting bullets with cannelures in them anymore for long distances; so you can’t crimp them without a taper crimp.
A: Those are traditional crimp on a .223 [31.09] or a .308 and things like that. It’s going to be a roll crimp into a cannelure. Good bullets, higher BC bullets don’t have a cannelure so a taper crimp makes all the sense in the world.
The other thing we added for the more sophisticated hunter is we added our master hunter series; which are basically just a full length sizing dye because again an ethical hunter has got a full length size. We don’t want to risk a neck sized dye on a follow-up under stress when we have got an injured animal. But we still have good bullets. Again good hunting bullets don’t have cannelures in them anymore either so we’re loading them with our competition seating dye because it doesn’t have a crimp in it.
So it’s been a place where we have tried to bridge that gap between the competitive shooter and his needs and the serious hunter. The hand loader who goes hunting, the hand loader who is serious about his national match, because remember when we’re taking an [32.22] out to 600yards ammo does start to count at that point.
Q: It is also interesting as well is the more I have been learning about it, you start learning those subtle little differences out towards the end or the finish of it; like you say the crimping or where the full length versus just the neck sizing. The difference is often am I hunting, am I shooting it in a semi-automatic, is it a bolt? It’s those little bits of information that just make the difference in a real practical sense. You see a guy has read on the internet that you want to seat the projectile into the [32.59] but it’s a hunting round or something like that; so he seats it, animal goes away, pulls it open and now he’s got powder and everything all through his action.
It is quite important and something we stress is even with our shooting courses, like what is your end goal? Do you want to hunt, do you want to be hitting bits of paper, do you want to be hitting bits of steel, because they’re all just slight little tweaks just depending which way you are wanting to take it? It’s certainly not one size fits all which is great because you get to learn those little idiosyncrasies specific to what you are after.
A: It’s one of those comments that I like to make to folks when they say, “Oh I can neck size and go hunting with it.” I say, “You can neck size on the range all day long because I have yet to see a piece of paper crawl off the range and bleed out somewhere where you can’t find it.” So that’s perfectly fine.
Or I have the fellows that say, “It’s okay because I neck size but I sit in the living room and I run everyone through the rifle before I take it out hunting.” Well the living room is not minus 20 degrees with snow and mud in the action.
Q: That’s the thing. I have watched the guys on the range as well who are neck sizing and they’re just unable to chamber rounds. And like you say, it doesn’t really matter although they have probably now just lost the match if there’s a time limit on it; but it doesn’t really matter. Ethically and morally and humanely yes you don’t want to be doing that in the field; either (a) because the trophy of a lifetime is about to get away, or even worse yes you have injured something and now that’s limping away and you need to actually do the job properly.
Q: Like you mentioned, talking to the guys who have got the experience where they’ve got available, but what I find for myself where I am in Auckland it’s one of our biggest cities and there’s a lot of guys getting into hunting and into shooting where they haven’t had that access to that knowledge base and those people. So like myself included a lot of my early learning was all on the internet which is great; a lot of information, too much information sometimes out there and contradicting information as well.
One thing that really still confuses me and you’re obviously going to be in a great place to give me some quite specific guidance for this, is for the neck sizing and specifically for the bushing dyes; going from full length or onto a bushing.
I guess can you just talk a little bit about the point where guys are wanting to maybe look at going onto a bushing dye and it will be a big thing possibly but how neck turning goes into that and then additionally the expandable in the middle, because I have read pages that go, “If you’re doing a bushing you probably don’t want the expander in the middle,” and other ones like, “No, you should always still be using that expander even if you’re in a bushing.”
A: There’s about four good questions in there.
Q: Yes I realise that.
A: It’s a good theme. It’s not a paragraph; it’s a chapter. Let’s talk about dye design first and what we as a manufacturer have to do to accommodate all of the brass that meets either the [36.15] or CIP standard that’s out there. Because the most difficult thing we have to get our head around is we build a dye that sizes an outside diameter to make a specific inside diameter to hold that bullet.
We have a range of wall thicknesses that are allowed under the [36.35] and CIP specs; so there’s a min and a max. The problem is the min wall means that we have to make a smaller OD to create the idea that we want. Let’s pick .308 just to make it easy, because we know it’s a .308 bullet. So we’re going to look for an internal neck diameter of somewhere between .306 and .3065 for a good neck tension. The problem is we could have some very thin walled Winchester [37.05] that might have a wall that’s only six or six and a half thousandths thick; but we could have some Lapua breadths out that’s got a wall that’s got 11 thousandths thick. Remember we have to double that number because the wall is on both sides.
So when we look at it we say, “Wow.” Let’s say the semi min for the neck wall thickness is 7 thousandths; so we need to create seven and seven is 14, plus 306 is 320. So we would have an internal neck diameter of 320 in the dye to size the OD to 320 to create a .306 interior. We run that up against an 11 thousandths wall thickness and now we’ve got .308 plus 22 so we’ve got 330. So if we size it to the same outside diameter we have in fact now made an internal neck that’s not 306 it’s 296; it’s 10 thousandths too small. And if we get way too small we can get into the problem where we can actually cave the neck into the shoulder when we are trying to seat the bullet. That’s the expander button is for; the expander ball or expander button is for is we pull that back through and reopen the neck to the proper diameter.
That being said, the bushing guy says, “Wait a minute, I bought that Lapua brass, I’ve got that nice thick wall that I want to keep because it’s going to last longer, it’s not going to split, it’s going to be more stable and I don’t want to work it down so far and work it back up so far that I induce a great deal of stress into that brass,” which is where our problems come from. The idea that an expander button or a decap rod is going to really pull the neck off; it’s more a function of we have a problem with inducing stress into the brass and stress in/stress out. I am sure as a young man with a dirt bike you’ve been a brake lover or a clutch lover and yeah you don’t bend them back. Brass does the same thing; it’s resistant to those stresses that are put into and wants to fight back.
So with a bushing what we want to do is we want to take that same scenario and we want to create that .306 internal or .3065 internal. So we are going to buy the bushing that is appropriate and the easiest way to do that is we measure the neck of a loaded round. Now the beauty is that most manufacturers supply their brand new brass ready to accept a bullet; though we can take half a dozen of our brand new Lapua cases, or especially our brand new Lapua palma cases with small primer pockets, and we can load bullets in them and we measure them on the outside with a calliper. We come up with a number. We deduct two thousandths from that number to create our .306 internal because that number is reflective of both sides of the neck plus the bullet diameter of .308.
Richard Beebe who is the President of Redding and really the guy that has all of the patents and designed all of the really cool stuff and was quite an adventurous guy in his day as well, still runs and expander button and the reason is – and this gets into those little tiny details that give you that last thousandth of a inch difference on the bench rest competition – well let’s think about it. We have an OD that we are sizing to create an ID [40.41]. That means any flaw or any difference in the outside of the case is going to get pushed in, which is going to impact bullet release on one side or the other. Let’s say we have got a little dimple in there somewhere. So that’s going to make the bullet not release as well or release properly.
Richard has always been one that he likes to size it down two thousandths and then open it up about a half. The Redding carbide size buttons are roughly that one and a half thousandths under. So if we size the neck down two and we open it up a half we’re not really inducing any kind of a stress. But if there’s an anomaly inside of that neck we’re pushing it out of the way; and that’s a critical piece.
Now we will talk about neck turning. As a company we believe that neck turning exists for one reason and that reason is that we have a special tight neck chamber developed by our gunsmith that is smaller than the [41.42] or CIP spec and we start neck turning brass that’s already perfect. In other words if we take something like our Redding case neck gauge which allows us to measure wall thickness all the way around the circumference of the neck and we have a run out on a variance of that case of three and a half thousandths then we throw that case away, because all the turning in the world is not going to fix it because the only reason the neck got that way is the whole case is that way all the way down to the case head.
How that occurs is that when the cup is initially dropped into the drawing dye it wasn’t properly centred; so we have a thick side and a thin side that runs all the way up. As that brass starts to move and flow we get what is called oil canning where the thicker side is going to push the neck off at an angle anyway.
So unfortunately the only thing to do with those. Folks like to say, “Well I’m going to turn the neck and it’s going to be perfect.” Well let’s go another direction on that too, and that is think about what we are trying to do. For pure accuracy we are trying to make a cartridge case that is as conformal to the chamber of possible so that we wind up with a bullet that is perfectly axially aligned to the centre of the bore of the barrel. The neck is part of what helps us with that. Yes we push the shoulder up in but we have a neck that is closer to the neck portion of the chamber our bullet is better aligned to start with.
If you look at the Redding competition bush neck sizing dye with the sliding sleeve and everything inside of it, the micrometre is on top of that for one reason and that is to only size the portion of the neck deemed necessary. Why? Because hard core bench rest guys want to leave the rest of that neck expanded as fully as possible to get better bore axis alignment.
And yet we have folks with neck turning tools telling us we should turn all that extra metal off so it could really flop up and down inside of the chamber.
Unfortunately the only reason if you have a true tight neck chamber, in other words you have a barrel made by xyz barrel company that says .223 ram or .243 Win and then it has a dot and three digits after it that tells you what that neck is, and that’s smaller, then that’s why we turn. We are at that point with turning so that we don’t have case growth etc. because we can be that precise.
But for the fellows that think they can take non-concentric neck walls and turn it into something else it really doesn’t help.
Q: Neck turning is a process; it’s something that’s probably further down the line than many people would think. It’s not something we can take bad brass and fix it by just neck turning it; we’re taking good brass with the good rifle and then matching the two in that way.
A: Correct we have got a barrel that is actually made with a neck that is tighter than the [44.44] or CIP specification – minimum spec.
Q: So as a guideline, until the guys are looking at the match grade barrels that have been cut specifically, neck turning is probably not something that is really going to give the return for the amount of time that you’re going to have to spend actually doing it.
A: I have a very good friend who is an extremely good long range shooter and very capable hand loader. He actually works for me part-time in customer service covering the phones during the show and when I’ve got a lot of my guys out. He called me recently and said, “Robin, it’s great, I got a Hart rifle barrel, I got a .222 barrel with a tight neck and this and that, it was a take-off, it hardly had anything shot through it, what should I do?” I said, “Send it back up to the Hart’s and have it rechambered to a standard neck.” He went, “Well why would you want to do that?” I said, “Parker if someone called you and said, hey I got access to this dairy farm that’s just loaded with woodchucks and we’ve got a bill hill and we can shoot them from 600 yards and we have to go tomorrow, do you really want to sit up all night and turn necks tonight for that rifle?”
Again, it’s a very specialised rationale behind that. Again is it is necessary? Sure, if you’re shooting bench-rest; if you’re a top tier competitor in long range shooting it can be. Remember the crazy thing about the bench rest guys are, they go out and they buy a thousand brand new Lapua cases and sort through and hope to get 50 that they’re going to use this season and throw 950 away. Well you and I and most of the fellows that probably watch this broadcast aren’t that guy.
Q: And don’t intend to be as well; that’s the other thing.
So I guess when it comes to reloading there’s things like everyone is looking for that sort of secret step that’s going to give them the perfect concentric ammo and the best ammo ever. You have certain things that maybe are further down the line that are not the Holy Grail. So on the flipside then, in your opinion, and I know there’s multiple steps and they all need to be there, but is there a particular step that kind of stands out for you as one of the most important steps that’s going to give you the most bang for your buck basically?
A: Yes and that is using something like a case neck gauge or a ball micrometre and actually measuring your necks. Because if you wind up with brass that is three and a half thousandths thicker on one side then the other it is virtually impossible to make a concentric load and we get down to a very simple reason. We are going to size that and create a perfectly concentric OD when we run it through either our neck dye, or full length dye or even our bushing dye. But then when we go to pull that expander back through and the guys says, “I don’t use an expander,” then okay when we go to push that bullet in something is going to happen and that is that we have the age old physical adage of the path of least resistance. If I am pushing something that’s perfectly round into a hole that is egg shaped, egg shape is going to turn out somewhere. And what really happens is we will generally find a greater variance in the finish round than even the difference that’s in the case neck wall itself, because the thin side of the wall gives up faster causing the bullet to seat off to that side; because we’re pushing something round into something that isn’t round. One side is strong and one side is weak and the weak side breaks down and the bullet is going to drift off that way.
So if we look to try and find brass that is say within a thousandth and a half; something like that – two thousandths maybe. But gosh if we get up into that three and three and half thousandths range in case neck wall variation we can do anything we want and we’re not going to really get a concentric load.
Q: I think that’s the point I am at; I am realising now I can go and get more and more tools, dyes, equipment and all these things but what I have started doing and need to do more of is like you start measuring and start quantifying things; so I can actually go, “That has made a difference,” or “That hasn’t made a difference.” Because otherwise all you can go by is what you are reading in the marketing material and all these things. But you can actually measure it yourself and go, “Yeah that made a difference,” “No it didn’t make a difference.” “Oops I have just done something terrible, what did I do? Fix it.”
A: Well someday it may get finished because it’s a real backburner project but I started it about five years ago; I started writing a thing to put on our website that’s actually entitled “The Concentricity Manifesto.” And that’s really where it all starts; it starts with the quality of the components.
We can take bad components and put them through the most expensive dyes in the world and then we are going to wind up with bad on the end. We can take really good components and put them through varying and expensive tools and do pretty darn good. If we have really good components and we use really good tools… case in point: our competition seating dye. First off it’s unlike any other dye in that it has the sliding sleeve inside, which is really a fully formed rifle chamber so we’re constraining that cartridge case at the shoulder, just like it would be in the chamber of a rifle. The portion above that where the bullet actually rides is just a few ten thousandths of a bullet diameter and that’s very important because what we are doing is we then have a free floating seater above it which has not only been machined but then centralist ground for perfect concentricity, for perfect round diameter, that is actually bullet diameter.
If we are bearing on the land bearing point of the bullet, the largest diameter, and then we have a sear in the top which has a taper inside that the bullet centres inside of that is also that same diameter we have turned that bullet into an axle between two bearings. So the bullet has to be dead square and straight as it gets ready to seat.
The reason for the sliding sleeve is the sliding sleeve now moves up. So we have constrained the shoulder, so we know the case is concentric to this diameter or this axis that we have created. We have the bullet on that exact same axis concentrically before we ever start to seat and then that’s why the sliding sleeve compresses up in. And then ultimately the top of that free-floating seater impacts on a little driver that’s sitting at the bottom of the micrometre which actually pushes the bullet in.
I wish I had one here to do; it’s kind of fun. If you ever get to the Shot Show we’ll do it and show you. But what is amazing is that precision of that tool is so great that if we take it apart and we take the sliding sleeve out and you put your thumb under the bottom of the sliding sleeve to seal the air, and you take the free-floating seat plug and you push it in, it will actually bounce back up. It actually compresses air and then will bounce back up. So will a good quality bullet.
So we can prove the guarantee that we are actually bearing on those two points; and when I say bearing it’s like a seat of bearing and now we can give that as an axle and an axle has to run true between a set of bearings. Now we have constrained the shoulder and we’ve got the shoulder pushed up into the shoulder so everything is in a perfect axial line.
Not us, but there is a few places on the internet where you have machinists and folks that have gone out and done their own independent testing. There are two or three different good writers out there that have done it well and have actually been able to document that they made a more concentric finished round than the components that they started with by using our competition seating dye.
Q: Very nice. So then the flip side again and there may be something you can think of; there’s nothing I can specifically think of at the moment. But is there certain processes or equipment and stuff out there, without intention of trying to slag anybody or have a go at anybody, but are there certain things out there for people… we’ll say not necessarily the high end bench resters but the guys who are either hunting and want the best ammo they can provide for that, or the long range shooters, the guys who are still shooting out distance so the concentricity is important and they’re competing and things like that. Are there any things that you find are just overhyped at the moment, that is maybe we are thinking too hard or too much about that we don’t need to worry about as much as maybe we do. Or is it all important?
A: I think what I would like to say to everyone is, whenever we are looking at a brass cartridge case, whenever we are looking at a bullet or whenever we are looking at anything that we deal with mechanically, do as little harm or damage; affect it as minimally as possible and we’re better off.
I’ll throw another tool into the mix and that’s our competition shell holders, because again with a good solid cam-over, a standard set of dyes for a 23-30 degree shoulder .308 or .223 and things like that, is designed to push that shoulder back eight thousandths under a [54.16] chamber; anticipating an obturation in the other direction, a spring back of about six; because back to it, we have to design everything around the mins. Well that’s much more work.
The real world is gun companies don’t go out and buy their chamber reamers at minimum because as we sharpen them they get smaller. You buy a chamber reamer at maximum, you run x number of barrels on it, you regrind it and it gets a little shorter, and you regrind it and it gets a little shorter. Eventually when it gets down somewhere between six and four thousandths over minimum it has probably had enough wear and tear on it that it blows into a million pieces from stress.
So the idea of getting a super tight chambered barrel without going to a custom gunsmith is not realistic. So what we do is by offering our competition shell holders we allow you to set that datum line on your shoulder. They come in a set of plus two, four, six, eight and ten. So if were to use that same dye that is designed to push it back to eight thousandths under and spring back to two thousandths under, except we’ve got a plus eight chamber; we use a plus eight competition shell holder. It’s exactly the same thickness and outside dimensions as a standard shell holder but we have cut the key seat deeper. The key seat is what the bullet actually slides into. So we have cut our key seat deeper by eight thousandths which means the shell holder is going to interfere with the dye eight thousandths sooner, causing the shoulder to not go as far up, i.e. it can’t be pushed as far back.
So the beauty of this is now if we do that full cam-over and we do what we are supposed to do, we have not pushed it back to eight thousandths under we’ve pushed it back to semi-min; anticipating a spring back of six which will take us to a plus six on an eight thousandths. We’re perfect; we’ve got that just thousandth and a half to two thousandths off the shoulder which allows good and proper function but we’re not slamming around in there and we’re not stretching cases every time and every two or three loadings down the pipe losing a case head because of the result.
Folks throw the excessive head space thing around; it’s not because of excessive head space, it is simply you’ve got a cartridge that’s been loaded shorter than it need be for your rifle.
As a matter of fact, remember we have a set of specifications for cartridge and chamber. At Redding we don’t want to make a minimum cartridge. We want to make a cartridge that fits a minimum chamber because a minimum cartridge is even shorter and it would kill our case [56.58] faster.
Q: I think it’s important for people to realise as well and it gives just that little bit of engineering knowledge; that idea of the minimums, the maximums and the tolerance. My day job involves plastic injection moulding and we have a similar thing; that the pipe manufacturers they will want to do everything to minimum because then that’s less material they physically use and us as making the fittings we tend to go on the other end to the maximum to ensure that it’s always going to fit the different bits of pipe. So even though we are all working on the same spec potentially you get some combinations just have that little bit of play. And it’s just that understanding. We know on our end if somebody says they’re not fitting, well it’s not us because we’ve got these massive steel dyes that don’t move versus pipe [57.47]; but that’s a separate thing anyway.
A: Well no, I’m going to give you the same example in the gun industry. About three years ago a very large US brass manufacturer… because the Chinese had bought all the copper and copper prices had skyrocketed and it got terrifically expensive. And all of a sudden we’ve got a large American brass manufacturer that’s making neck walls that are thinner than the [58.08] min and we’re getting calls because “You’re dyes are no good, it’s not sizing my neck enough to hold the bullet.” Well, you’re right. So we’re back to that sizing and OD to create an ID. If we have an intervening neck wall that is thinner than the minimum our inside hole is going to be bigger and bullets drop in the cases.
So we actually responded to that with folks and said, “What we will do is we will trade you a bushing dye, an even up, for your stand dye but you have to buy the bushing and the reason you have to buy the bushing is we don’t know how bad your brass really is; you’ve got to go and figure that out now.”
Q: You still need to measure that yourself. All good. Thank you for your time. Just a couple more questions and we’ll get on with our days. It’s been awesome Robert.
Do you have a favourite bit of reloading equipment and not necessarily meaning the most useful or the best; it could be for nostalgic reasons – your first presser dye or something like that?
A: Well all those things are kind of gone because I went through that graduation from one level up to the next level, up to the next level and then was lucky enough to join Redding and buy part of the company. The high end expensive thing years ago I was fortunate enough to be able to buy a brand new – sort of new old stock never used – Star Universal progressive press for loading my .38 special bulls eye loads. It is just such a masterful and beautiful piece of engineering designed back in the ‘30s and ‘40s. Really just to me, and no disrespect to the Dillions or any of that, but to me it’s just the most wonderful progressive press that was ever made. Even with today’s CNC and all the rest it would be a six to seven, or $10,000 press today just to make it; you couldn’t afford to.
So I love that one from that perspective but I will say that I still love my little Lee hand primer because it is simplicity. We talk about elegance of engineering; well Lee’s had this unique ability with certain tools to make them very inexpensively, very simple to use and yet very, very effective. Mine is still the one without all the guards and special things. I have read articles year ago where they called it a hand held [1.00.47] if you did something wrong with it; well don’t do anything wrong with it – [1.00.51] and point it away from you.
It’s just such a marvellous old piece of engineering because it’s so darned simple; it’s about four parts and it does a great job. It is very quick. I enjoy the fact that you can almost use it without having to… you know you develop a quick muscle memory and particularly if I am loading handguns you can run through that thing so darn fast. It’s a great little tool so I am going to be magnanimous and I’m going to talk about one of our competitors and say that I love that little tool, but honestly I use it for everything.
Q: Awesome. I have another question and it’s a specific question that somebody I know wanted me to ask you as well. It may be something you can talk to. It’s a preference for brass finish. The question is basically for brass finish when [1.01.48]. Do you prefer [1.01.49], polished, carbon from having it once fired, graphite lube? The inside of that neck, I guess or the bearing surface, what’s your preference on that finish?
A: Let’s step away from that just for a second and talk about one thing that is interesting. We tend to find more stuck cases, even with relatively good lube, occur on highly polished brass. Think New Zealand. Think about the skin of a shark; it feels like sandpaper and it does that disrupt the surface tension of the water around it so it moves through the water more easily. Same thing with dirty brass; not dirty such that it has dirt on it but used brass that has that little bit of carbon and that has that tiny little bit of oxidation that we don’t see but we feel.
Actually don’t polish your cases until after you size them, because you’re have less change of sticking the case in the dye.
As far as internal I will have a little bit of residual graphite in my necks. I use Redding imperial sizing dye wax on the case up to the bottom of the shoulder and then I dunk my necks into what we call our application media with our dry neck lube in it, which is a graphite based dry neck lube. I say graphite base because graphite doesn’t stick to brass. It is interesting there are actually two other inert powders in there; one which sticks to graphite and one which sticks to brass and the two of them stick to each other. That’s how we get to there.
So there will be a little bit of residual left in the neck possibly. I also tend to run carbide expanders because they’re free floating and they’re a little bit harder. I like to run that expander and just again I call it ironing out the inside of the neck; making the inside of the neck as sort of burnished clean and free of any sort of anomalies as possible.
So truthfully the copper alloy of a bullet, the bullet jacket going into the brass in most cases, it is self-lubricating enough that you shouldn’t have to lubricate it going in.
Q: Awesome. Again Robin thank you so much for your time. I have learned a lot. I have got to nail off some of these questions; these guys have been asking me for it. I will put a list together and I am sure I will be in contact with you in another couple of months with some more questions.
A: Happy to do anytime; it was great fun. Glad we finally got together.
Q: Yes finally.
A: Yes take good care.