Thursday, October 17, 2013

Another compact and cheap reloading stand

Not long ago I bought a "Universal Bench Grinder Stand" at Harbor Freight during one of their periodic 25% off sales. That meant the normally $29 stand was only $21.75, which would have been a good deal if it fit my grinder- which it didn't. I was annoyed- until I found a good use for it. This afternoon I cut down a formica-covered sink cutout a friend had given me and bolted it to the top of the grinder stand. Voila! Instant reloading stand.

The Lee Turret press is mounted in Lee's quick-change Bench Plate mounting kit, so I can easily swap it for the single stage press seen  on the shelf below. I think I'm going to just bolt the other press right to the stand. I suspect it's easier to just rotate the stand than to go through the hassle of swapping presses. There's more than enough room to mount four or more presses.

Monday, October 7, 2013

The Ruger Hawkeye Pistol

Ruger has been using the Hawkeye name lately for a series of bolt action rifles, but the original Ruger Hawkeye was a single shot pistol it built for a brief time in the 1960s. It was built on the classic Blackhawk frame, but instead of a cylinder it had a revolving breechblock:

The Hawkeye was offered in only one chambering- .256 Winchester Magnum, which was a .357 Magnum case necked down to accept a .257 caliber bullet. The .256 Winchester was created for the Hawkeye, and was winchester's response to the .22 Remington jet, which was also built on a necked down .357 Magnum case and was offered in the S&W Model 53 revolver. Both were designed as varmint cartridges, and while both have their following, neither was a huge seller.

While the two cartridges have have very similar ballistics, they have a sharply different appearance. The  .256 looks like the typical bottleneck cartridge, while the .22 Jet has a gradually sloping body that tapers over almost the full length of its case. That turned out to be the Achilles heel of the .22 Jet. Unless cylinders and cartridges cases were kept very dry and clean of oil, on firing the Jet case would be forced rearward and lock up the cylinder. In most revolvers, the expansion of the case on firing allows the case to grip the cylinder walls, even when there's some oil there, but the tapered form of the Jet meant the the expanding case exerted even more rearward force.

The bottleneck design of the .256 meant that setback was not a problem, and the swinging breechblock design all but eliminated any chance of jamming. Problem was, not that many shooters saw the need for a flat-shooting .22-.25 caliber varmint pistol.
Those who were looking for such a gun typically bought a Thompson/Center Contender single shot, which came out in 1967. The Contender had a more solid lockup than either the Hawkeye or the Model 53, and could be had in just about any caliber imaginable via interchangeable barrels.

The Hawkeye is another curious pistol I'd like to add to my collection, but it's not likely that's going to happen any time soon.  Only one short production run of guns was made, and the last one I saw for sale on Gun Trader was listed at $3,800.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

The RCBS Little Dandy Powder Measure

The RCBS Little Dandy Pistol Powder Measure is the simplest measure on the market. There's just one moving part, a steel rotor that transfers a fixed volume of powder from the hopper to the feed tube below. It's also the most consistent and reliable powder measure on my reloading bench, and perhaps surprisingly, one of the cheapest.

That seems like an impossible combination, and the reader is probably thinking that there must be a catch. There is, and that is while the measure itself is only $35, a different rotor is needed for each charge, and rotors cost anywhere from $12-17 each. There are 28 different rotors available, which means that a complete set will run you $336-476. Not exactly cheap.

Of course, you don't really need a complete set. This is not a measure for developing loads for a wide variety of rounds. Rather, it's for delivering a few set loads repeatedly and accurately. I have four rotors for mine, each corresponding to a particular well-established load. For instance, the #2 rotor delivers exactly 2.7 grains of Bullseye, which happens to be one of the all-time favorite .38 Special wadcutter loads, and one I load several hundred of at a time. I still measure and dump a half-dozen charges, minimum, when I start loading, and I still weigh charges before dumping the first one into a case, but I've never had a charge vary more than a tenth of a grain using this measure.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

My .357 H&R Handi-Rifle, Part 3

In my last post, I discussed my first trip to the range with this rifle. I tested a mild "cowboy" load and a medium hot load, neither of which gave very good results. Today, I returned, after remounting the scope, bringing it into rough alignment with my new laser boresighter, and making up some new loads- a 158gr lead SWC over 6 grains of Unique. At around 22,000psi his would be too hot for a .38 Special load (maximum 17,000psi), but for .357 it's on the mild side, as the maximum pressure for .357 Magnum is 35,000psi.

I started at the 50 yard range, on the left in this photo:

Neither the new Unique loads nor the old Cowboy loads (120gr LRN over 3.5gr Trail Boss) produced acceptable results, with shots being scattered all over the target. I switched to the box of Remington factory loads I'd brought with me as a check:

Immediately things looked much better:

That's 5 shots inside 1.5", or 3 MOA. Not super match accuracy, but considering I was using a 2.5x scope, not bad at all. The Remingtons are very comfortable to shoot, too, thanks to the lightweight bullet.  I moved to 100 yards and got similar results:

Four shots inside 3.25", or 3.25 MOA, again with a 2.5x scope. Definitely good enough for woods deer hunting. At that distance I suspect aiming errors dominated. So why did my handloads perform so poorly? A look at the cases yields one piece of evidence:

The first case is from the light Trail Boss "cowboy" loads, and you can probably see that it's pretty dirty. There was a lot of soot on the cases when I extracted them from the gun, and a fair amount on the barrel face as well, suggesting the pressure was just too low to fully seal the case in the chamber. While it's not clear from the photo, the middle case (6gr Unique) showed some soot, too. Only the Remington factory loads (110gr JSP) showed no signs of blowby.

Most shooters rerport their best results in this gun from jacketed 155gr bullets over a wide range of loads. I've also read that heavier cast lead bullets perform well. Bullet shortages are still with us, but I found a few boxes of 125gr JHP Sierras I can use to try to approximate the Remington factory load. I also found a box of 500 cast 190gr lead bullets at Midway that I'm going to use to come up with a subsonic load that should be good in the H&R and the Blackhawk.

Handloader Jack Davis has been experimenting with seating jacketed 140gr and 180gr Hornady bullets far out enough to almost engage the rifling. His loads have an overall length equal to that of the .357 Maximum, and some of his loads equal .357 Maximum loads- something you can certainly get away with in this gun, though I wouldn't try it in any other .357 Mag. You can read about his experiments here.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

My .357 H&R Handi-Rifle, Part 2

Continuing from the previous post:

Having mounted my BSA long eye relief 2.5x scope on the rifle, I collected a variety of ammunition I had on hand along with some fresh loads made up for testing, and headed to my club's outdoor range for some serious testing. I started with some low-power "Cowboy" loads consisting of a 120 grain round nosed bullet over 3.8 grains of Trailboss.  I'd actually made up for my Blackhawk revolver, and decided to use them for initial sighting as they're relatively quiet, and I had well over 100 of them.

Initial results were acceptable, and enough to get the rifle shooting pretty much where it was aimed. I then switched to a mild magnum load- 158 grain hard cast SWC over 13.5 grains of 2400. This was one of Elmer Keith's favorite loads for the .38 Special fired in a heavy duty revolver, like a Smith & Wesson N-frame, and one he continued to use when the .357 became commercially available.  Many loaders report that it's easy to shoot and very accurate, but my shots were all over the place. I fired around 40 rounds, trying to get the rifle sighted in at 50 yards, but just when I thought I had a reasonable group the bullets were suddenly landing somewhere else on the paper. I finally called it a day after an hour and a half and packed up.

Cleaning the rifle at home I didn't detect any leading, so that was ruled out as a cause. It's possible (but not terribly likely) that this just wasn't a very good load for this gun. It's also possible that my scope had its reticle knocked loose, or that the scope mount was loose, or the scope was torqued when mounting it, or a dozen other causes. I'm going to check the scope's alignment with the help of a laser boresighter, and remount it, making sure all the screws are snug. I'm also going to bring with me some .38 Special target loads of known accuracy, a variety of hand loads in .357, and a box of  commercial Remington 125gr JSP .357, and see if I can't do a bit better next time.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Attention to detail in reloading, and the best way of killing primers.

Having acquired a new rifle in .357 Magnum (see the previous post) my next step is to develop a selection of accurate loads for it. That meant finding some new or fired brass. .357 brass is almost always in short supply, and given the shortage of any and all reloading components, I found myself paying a ridiculous amount of money for 200 pieces of dirty range brass- more than I last paid for new Starline! But for now, that was the only brass I could find, so I bit the bullet and bought it.

I de-primed the lot and tossed it in my vibrating tumbler filled with corncob media and a few drops of brass polish. A few hours later I had a batch of new-looking shiny brass. I primed 100 pieces and started setting up my press and adjusting the dies. Before I did, though, I looked at the unprimed brass and noticed that about 80% of them had a piece of tumbling media stuck in the flash hole- something I should have expected, and something I would have thought of if I'd been reloading more regularly.

Visual inspection revealed that roughly 70-80% of the primed shells had a piece of media stuck in the flash hole. In the rest, I could clearly see the red color of the foil in the primer. Those I set aside. I put my Lee universal depriming die (a very handy tool to keep on hand) in the press and gently pressed out the primers and media from the remaining pieces.

What to do with the pressed out primers? There's a huge shortage, which is a strong motivation to reuse them, and judging from what I read in forums a lot of guys do this. But I read some comments from an engineer at CCI who maintained that this is a very dangerous practice.  Pressing out the primer may have shifted the anvil so that it's pressing on the primer disk, making the primer more sensitive. It may have cracked the pellet. In short, it's just not worth taking a chance. The best thing to do is deactivate them.

You may have heard or read that WD-40 or oil will kill primers. It won't. I found a a number of shooters who actually soaked primers in WD-40 or oil for a week, loaded them in cases, and attempted to fire them.  Even after several weeks, once the primers were allowed to dry most of them either fizzled or went off with a bang. Some guys dispose of primers by tossing them in the campfire or burning them in a coffee can with kerosene or some other flammable liquid; this is also a huge mistake. There's a lot of energy in primers. When they explode outside of a gun, the two halves will depart one another at extremely high speed, more than enough to penetrate skin, possibly injuring, even blinding someone.

Oil, water, and kerosene will not kill a primer. What will work, according to this paper from Caltech, is a solution of sodium carbonate (Na2CO3), also known as ordinary washing soda, Make a solution of washing soda in hot water, and pour this into a container with the primers to be discarded. Overnight soaking should be sufficient.

You can find sodium carbonate at the grocery store- a common brand is  20 Mule Team Washing Soda. Note that this is NOT the same as Borax! That's sodium borate, a completely different product that won't work in this application. Spic 'n' Span will also work as it's largely sodium carbonate.

There's one other safe way to destroy a primer: Put it in a cartridge case and fire it in a gun. But it's not that simple. You have to use a case with an enlarged flash hole, or the primer will be pushed backwards out of the primer pocket, possibly jamming the gun. How come this doesn't happen when you fire a regular cartridge? The chamber pressure resulting from firing a loaded cartridge pushes the case rearward, keeping the primer in its pocket. It's only when you fire a primer in an empty case that you get this problem. Something to keep in mind if you ever feel like making wax bullet loads.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

My .357 H&R Handi-Rifle, part 1

Last Tuesday I ordered an H&R Handi-Rifle in .357 from Gander Mountain. It shipped the next day, and Friday I received a phone call from my local store telling me it had arrived.  I wasn't able to get there to pick it up until today, and I was worried the place would be crowded on a Sunday, but the store was surprisingly empty.  I inspected the gun, showed my ID,  filled out the Federal for 4473, state paperwork, acknowledgment of receipt of gun lock, and it was mine. They gave me the opportunity to buy a box of ammunition from the stock they save for gun buyers, which was nice, but I have a good stock of reloads at home.

First order of business was to clean the gun. The barrel had a film of grease inside to which was adhering dust and bits of cardboard from the shipping box. The salesperson told me they offer a free cleaning with every purchase, but I assumed that would involve leaving the gun. (Why don't they just clean them when they receive them?)  I decided to do it myself. Scrubbed the barrel and ran a few patches down, and gave the gun a wipe with polarized oil.

Next step was to install the hammer extension- a must for scope use, and handy in any case. One nice touch: The setscrew came with a coating of Loctite on it.

I then installed a leather sling and snap-on swivels I had on hand, using the attachment points installed on the gun.

The last step was installing and aligning a scope or sight. I went back and forth between using a red dot sight and a 2.5x long eye relief scope that were sitting on the shelf here. I decided on the scope, but the Weaver rings I have on hand are too tall for this installation, so I ordered a set of Weaver Quad Lock 1-Inch Medium Detachable Rings (Matte Black) from Amazon; when they arrive I'll do a post on the scope installation. I temporarily installed a small red dot sight on the off chance I visit my club range before then, but I'm probably going to wait until I can do some more reloads before I go there. I plan on testing a number of different loads, including some factory loads, and several cast lead loads, starting with Elmer Keith's favorite: 158 grain semi-wadcutter "Keith" bullet over 13.5 grains of 2400. That's almost of a mild load today; Alliant's manual specifies 14.8 gains. But it's a good all around load for cast 158gr bullets. If it shoots accurately in the Handi-Rifle, I'll have a good load for both it and my Ruger Blackhawk.

So what's it for? Mostly to have an interesting rifle to develop loads for. My club has a maximum 100 yard range, so there's not a lot of reason for me to work on .300 Win Mag loads. .357 is cheap to reload, too, and I already have all the dies and powder I need. And there's the chance it might find use as a hunting rifle. I think it would make a good woods deer rifle for Michigan for shots up to 50 yards with a max load of 2400 and a 158gr or heavier JHP bullet.

Part II: Initial testing at the range

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Tiny Guns: The Swiss .09 Caliber Minigun

I like miniatures, and miniature guns, like my North American Arms mini revolver. That's a pretty small gun. But this gun from Switzerland makes the NAA mini revolver look like a giant. It's a fully functional double action revolver in .09 caliber- that's around half the diameter of a .17 HMR round, and a lot less powerful. The .09 caliber non-reloadable rimfire rounds cost $10 each, which is not surprising, as each is hand made:

Muzzle velocity is a blistering 400fps, or about what an older Daisy BB gun produces. The 2 grain bullet leaves the muzzle with a thundering 0.72 foot-pounds of energy, less than half that of a BB. According to a story in the Daily Mail, UK lawmakers are up in arms about this dangerous threat to public safety, since it could potentially penetrate the skin. (Someone should point out to them that a ballpoint pen in the hands of a ten year old could do a lot more damage.)

If you really wanted to carry it, there's a holster available:

How much is all this precision and craftsmanship? $6,750 if you could buy it in the US, which you can't, as the small size makes it ineligible for import under the 1968 Gun Control Act's points system. Canada, interestingly enough, recognizes it as a "non gun" owing to its extremely low muzzle energy. Regardless, the price alone should be enough to keep it out of the hands of potential miscreants.

What's it good for? From a practical standpoint, nothing. But it's a marvel of craftsmanship.  You can read more about it, and the makers, here.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Homemade Scope Level

My pal Ric and I made up a number of these when we were competing in Airgun Field Target back in  1997 and 1998. The idea was to have a quick reference to check if you're canting the gun, something that can make a huge difference when you're trying to get a pellet through a 3/4" hole 50 yards away.

You can buy a commercial scope level, but they're extremely easy to make. All you need is an inexpensive level bubble, a cheap scope ring, and some epoxy. The bubbles came from string levels we bought at Home Depot, the rings were the cheapest aluminum .22 rings we could find, and the epoxy was generally J-B Weld. Saw off the clamp from a ring, add a dab of JB, press the bubble on, and let it set. It helps to put the ring in a vise to hold it while the epoxy sets.

In addition to serving as a shooting aid, a level like this is also very useful in installing a scope. Put the level on the unmounted scope, in a place where it won't conflict with the rings you'll be using to mount the scope. Find a horizontal or vertical reference- I like to use a piece of string and a weight. Align the crosshairs with your reference, adjust the level to center the bubble, and snug it up.

Now you've got an external reference that is perfectly aligned with the crosshairs. Mount the scope on your rifle, put a level on the rifle, and when you've leveled both the rifle and the scope, snug up the scope rings on the rifle.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The H&R Handi-Rifle

Many shooters assume the most accurate rifle design is the belt action. While it's true that bolt actions are generally the most accurate repeaters, when it comes to single shot designs, there are many other designs that can be as, or more, accurate. Falling block designs can be exceptionally accurate; most the Olympic Free Pistols are falling block designs, as were most target rifles of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. Even something as simple as a break-barrel rifle can be exceptionally accurate.

I've been looking at the H&R Handi-Rifle lately. These guns are of a very simple break-barrel design usually seen in shotguns; my first shotgun was a Sears break-barrel 20 gauge.  But the break-barrel design offers a lot of features that make it useful for rifles, too. It locks up very solidly, and it can be made with a very short and fast hammer throw and firing pin. I've read a lot of glowing reviews of Handi-Rifles in various calibers.

Speaking of calibers, you can get a Handi-Rifle in over a dozen calibers ranging from .17 HMR to .500 S&W, including .22LR, .22Mag, .357, .44mag, .22 Hornet .222, .223, .243,.30-30, .30-06, .308, .444, .45-70 and several more, including .410, 28ga, 20ga, 16ga and 12ga smoothbores. You can even send your existing action back to H&R and have new barrels fitted to it. Each barrel has its own sights or scope rail, so changing calibers doesn't involve re-zeroing. Swapping barrels takes only a few seconds.

There was an article in a recent issue of  The Backwoodsman written by a fellow who bought a Handi-Rifle and then saved up to send his gun back and have it fitted with 12 more barrels. That's a bit excessive, perhaps, but I can understand his motivation. I'd like to have a rifle with .22 Hornet, .30-30,  and 12 gauge barrels. The rifle calibers that can be loaded with lead bullets, which makes for inexpensive reloading, and between these three barrels the gun could handle any game in Michigan. I saw a .30-30 in the used rack at Gander Mountain that was tempting; might pay a visit there again.

Update: I saw several at Gander today in .243, .30-06, .44 Magnum, .45-70, and .444 Magnum. All had cheap scopes mounted on them, and they were asking something like $379 for the package, which I thought was excessive as the list price is $299 w/o the scope, and I'd want to replace the scope.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Where have all the .32s gone?

A few months ago I was looking at an old Colt Police Positive in .32, like the one shown above. There used to be a lot of these guns made, in what was called S&W .32 Long or .32 Colt New Police, depending on who you were talking to. The cartridge goes back to 1896, when S&W introduced it as a black powder cartridge for its first Hand Ejector revolver, and was a popular police round until the  .38 Special slowly displaced it. Today, it would not be considered an adequate defensive round, having a modest muzzle energy in the range of 100-130 foot-pounds in the few factory loadings that are still around. But defense not the only use, or even the preferred use for the .32. It's a very accurate target round and a very useful small game cartridge, too, when loaded appropriately.

Writer George Nonte was a great fan of the .32 S&W, and one of his favorite loads was a 98gr cast bullet over 4.5 grains of Unique, producing 235 foot-pounds of muzzle energy. That's better that the hottest .22s while being a lot quieter (owing to much lower chamber pressures) and a lot more accurate. The heavier bullet will produce less meat damage as well. Elmer Keith, best known for his work with the .44 special, was also a great fan of the .32 S&W. He loaded a cast bullet over 4gr of Unique and deemed it an excellent small game round. Skeeter Skelton was a fan of the .32, too.

One reason that factory loads for the .32 S&W are so anemic is that there are a lot of older guns around that are strong enough to handle black powder loads, but not strong enough to handle even 2.7gr of Bullseye (which would be a very mild target load in the .38 Special.)  So in 1984 H&R (who were still making revolvers) got together with the Federal Cartridge company and did what Smith & Wesson and Winchester had done with the .38 Special back in 1934: They stretched .32 S&W Long cartridge 0.155", just enough to keep the new cartridge from being chambered in .32 S&W cylinders, and called it the .32 H&R Magnum. Max pressure was increased from 15,000 psi to 21,000 psi, and muzzle energies went up to over 300 foot-pounds.

The .32 H&R Magnum never had a huge following, and in 2007 Federal got together with Sturm, Ruger, who make some of the strongest revolver actions available, stretched the case again, and this time set the working pressure at 45,000 psi- that's 10,000 psi higher than the .357 magnum. The result was a .32 caliber round with more energy than a .357 magnum. This time, the shooting press went wild. Magnum power in a .32 caliber! Fantastic! And, if you ask me, useless in a handgun.

We already have the .357 Magnum, a cartridge that produces so much muzzle flash and noise that it's very impractical in short barreled revolvers. In longer barrels it's an acceptable cartridge to medium sized game, but the .45 Magnum and .45 Colt are much better. It's really a better rifle cartridge than a handgun cartridge, as a long rifle barrel can make much better use of the high volume of gas and high pressures developed in the .357 case. Handguns work better with lower pressures and heavier bullets. Less flash, less noise, and better accuracy. Which would you rather shoot- a .357 with a 4" barrel, or a .45ACP 1911?

So we still have .32 revolvers, but now the only ammunition out there is magnum and super-magnum stuff that produces a great ball of flame and an earsplitting crack that will turn a rabbit into pulp but is useless for hunting anything larger. Chuck Hawks has written that the .327 would be great in an 18" barrel carbine as it would pretty much duplicate the performance of the old .32-20- a cartridge from 1882! Of course the current loads available for the .32-20 suffer from the same problem as modern .32 S&W loads in that they're very mild, on account of all the old guns chambered for the .32-20 that couldn't hold up to the kids of pressures the .32-20 can be loaded for.

The dedicated handloader can still make his or her own .32 S&W loads and fire them in a .32 Magnum or .327 Magnum revolver, but as .357 Magnum owners all know that leads to a buildup of carbon in the front of the cylinder. And the new magnum guns are designed for high pressures, so the cylinders are thick and bulky, and the frames are similarly massive to handle the high pressure. Ruger's sole .327 Magnum gun is a GP100 that weighs 40 ounces- two and a half pounds. What I'd like is a gun bored for .32 S&W that was the size and weight of an old Colt, or a Ruger Bearcat- a pound and a half. With a four to six-inch barrel it would be just the thing for small game hunting- quieter than a high-velocity .22 with just as much energy, firing a very accurate subsonic lead wadcutter.

Back in the days before Ruger offered a .44 Special Blackhawk, a number of serious ..44 Spl fans would buy a Blackhawk and have a gunsmith fabricate and install a .44 Spl cylinder and barrel. I'm picturing something like my 5" Ruger Single Six with a six-shot .32 S&W barrel. It would probably cost well over a grand, but it would be a completely unique piece. Barring hitting it big in the lottery I think I'll keep and eye open for a nice old Colt or S&W in .32 with adjustible sights.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

An AR for the Steampunk Traditionalist

I'm a fan of older guns,  from the days when blued or browned or case hardened steel and finely checkered walnut were part and parcel of a fine gun. I'l be the first to admit that synthetic stocks are far superior to wood when it comes to dimensional stability and accuracy. but they just don't have the same old-school feel. Synthetic stocks are popped out of a mold. Walnut stocks might start out being turned on a duplicating lathe, but they have to be hand-fitted and, for the finest guns, hand checkered.

Same goes for cast aluminum receivers. Light, precise, efficient, and totally without charm. Yes, the modern AR-15 platform is simply the modern evolution of the traditional firearm, and I suppose my grousing is not unlike that of the old-time who bemoaned the passing of the muzzle-loader for those new-fangled breechloaders, but that's the way I feel. There's just no way a modern black rifle could equal the warmth and workmanship of a  19th century design.

Or is there?

Above is the Turnbull TAR-10, Doug Turnbull's  version of the AR-10 in .308 using traditional materials. That's a genuine case-cardened steel upper and lower, along with DPMS and Bushmaster internals and barrel and a hand-tooled walnut stock. Sort of what we'd have been shooting had Eugene Stoner been a contemporary of John Browning.

This kind of luxury doesn't come cheap, but then the best custom rifles never did. This rifle, complete with hardshell case and two magazines, will set you back $4,995, and I suspect there's probably a bit of a wait while they build yours. If that's too much, the TAR-15 in .223 can be yours for only $2,495.  More information at Turnbull's website, here and here.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Glenfield 25, continued

Part 1 of this story begins here.

After experimenting with an offset scope mount, I found an even better way to scope the Glenfield 25 I've been restoring- a long eye relief scope. To be specific, it's a BSA Deer Hunter 2.5x20 Rifle Scope DH25X20 that lists for about $65, but that Amazon has for under $38. Optimum eye relief is 4", which works perfectly on this rifle.

Magnification is a modest 2.5x. I usually like to put a 4x or 6x scope as a minimum on a .22, but I thought the lower magnification might be appropriate for a woods small game gun. Light, fast target acquisition, and enough magnification for up to perhaps 30-40 yards max. I took it to the range today to sight it in at 25 yards.

These were my first two groups, using CCI Standard Velocity ammunition. The first three groups measured 0.5", 0.625" and 0.875", which equates to between 2 and 3.5 MOA.  Not bad, for a 2.5x scope and a budget .22; certainly minute-of-squirrel accuracy. I shot a total of ten 5-shot groups with the standard velocity ammunition and got similar results.

I then switched to Mini-Mags (this is supposed to be a hunting gun, after all) and got some very similar groups- and a couple with wide flyers, like this group:

Four of the bullets would be in a tight cluster, and then one would be an inch away from the group. I'm not sure if that was the ammunition, the cold weather (it was about 22F) or me. I might try some more accuracy refinements, like epoxy bedding the barrel and action. That's kind of excessive for an inexpensive  .22 like this, but it might be fun. 

Monday, February 4, 2013

When Sears Sold Ammunition

Found while cleaning and organizing the basement. I think all these go back to the 1960s, and were purchased by my father for his old Winchester Model 06 rifle. Not only do we have genuine Sears "Ted Williams" brand .22s, we have an example of the now-obsolete .22 Long cartridge.

The .22 Long was a holdover from the black powder days (1871, to be exact), and combined the 29 grain bullet of the .22 Short with a larger powder charge- 5 grains of black powder versus 4gr in the Short. It was obsoleted by the introduction of the .22 Long Rifle in 1887, which combined the heavier 40gain bullet of the .22 Extra Long with a heavier powder charge, but they kept making and selling Longs well into the late 20thC.

In a way, the 22 Long is still around in the form of the CCI CB Long and similar low-powered .22LR cartridges that combine a 30 grain bullet and a very light powder charge with a standard Long/Long Rifle case- although these modern low-powered rounds average around 30 ft-lbs, and the original Long had a muzzle energy of 67 ft-lbs.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Putting a fine finish on a gunstock

Here's the method I've used on fine walnut stocks- though it can be used on any wood, really. The text and photo are from my airgun blog,


There are two ways to finish a gunstock: The quick way is to get some spray cans of urethane finish, spray a couple coats on the sanded stock, and you’re done. You’ll have a waterproof, utility finish that’s fine for (say) a cheap gun with a mystery-wood stock. But if you’re paying $180 or so for a nice wood stock, why not spend a few days doing a hand-rubbed oil finish? Here’s a method I’ve used on airguns, muzzleloader kits, restored .22s and a much-abused 1815 English muzzleloader:

Start by carefully sanding the shaped stock with 120, 180, 220 and 320 grit paper, in that order. Use a soft sanding block or sponge to help insure a smooth surface- using your fingers alone in the early stages almost guarentees a wavy surface. When you’re satisfied that the wood is as smooth as you can make it, it’s time to seal the stock.

For many years I used Birchwood Casey Tru Oil and Lin-Speed for finishing; both are a mix of tung oil, linseed oil, and metallic dryers that speed curing. But during a home remodeling project seven years ago, I discovered Waterlox wood finish. It’s a similar product, with a somewhat slower cure time, that produces an excellent finish and comes in quarts and gallons, and not just tiny expensive bottles; handy if you’re planning on doing more than one project. Any of these products, or any similar product, will work fine.

Start by thinning a small amount of your finish 2:1 with mineral spirits- use more mineral spirits if the finish you’re using is thick. This will be used for sealing the stock. Brush on the thinned finish, saturating the stock, recoating any areas that look dry. Repeat this until the stcok won’t take any more finish. Then, wipe the surface dry and hang the stock up to dry overnight. Repeat the process the following day.

Now it’s time for wet sanding. You’ll need 320, 400 and 600 grit wet-or-dry paper, cut into small (say, 2' square) pieces. Starting with the 320 grit, dip the paper in some unthinned finish, and sand the entire stock, using small circular movements. You’ll notice a sort of “mud” building up. This is a mixture of finish and fine wood particles that will be used to fill the grain. Work a small area at a time; after you’ve done an area, you can work the mud into the grain with the heel of your hand, and gently wipe across the grain to remove excess.

Let the finish harden for a day or more, and repeat with 400 grit paper, and then with 600 grit. Don’t move on to the next grit until you’ve filled the stock as well as you can with the grit you’re using. Some people can do this in as few as 4 sandings; I usually do 6 or more. The drying takes time, but each sanding only takes perhaps a half hour or so, depending on the size and complexity of the stock, so the actual time involved isn’t much.

Eventually you’ll have a nice finish as seen in the photo above. At that point, you can give it a further polish with rottenstone and oil, or a product like Birchwood-Casey Gunstock rubbing compound.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Extended Magazine Base Pads for the Ruger 22/45

Most removable magazines are designed to fit flush with the bottom of the magazine well. It looks neat, and makes the pistol more compact. So why would you want to put a big lump of plastic on the bottom of your magazines?

In many types of competition, speed in reloading is important, and an extension on the bottom of a magazine makes it much easier to securely seat a magazine in one movement. The extension you see here was purchased in a set of six from Dominic Notaro, who makes these for the Ruger 22/45 in a variety of colors. Dominic also makes custom grips, and both the magazine base pads and the grips are priced very reasonably. Last time I checked, the base pads were $2.25 each, or 5 for $10.95, plus $2.95 shipping.

Here's a better look at how the magazine looks with the extended base pad:

Swapping base pads is easy. There's a hole in the bottom of the stock pad where a spring loaded pin holds the base pad in place. Stick a punch in the hole to depress the pin and carefully slide the pad off, moving your thumb over the plunger to keep it in while you remove the stock pad. Then slide the new pad over the pin and into the lips on the base of the magazine. The whole process takes about 10 seconds.

You can reach Dominic and learn more about his base pads and grips at his web site,

Sunday, January 27, 2013

An Offset .22 Scope Mount

Whoever designed the Marlin and Glenfield Model 25 made one error: The scope grooves in the receiver don't extend rearward past the bolt handle. That makes it just about impossible to use a short or medium length scope, as seen above. It's a problem with a lot of .22 rifles.

I found the solution at Amazon:

This Airgun/.22 Bi-directional Cantilever 1" Ring Mount cost just under $18, and was just what I needed for the 25 and for my older Marlin Model 60:

 (If you needed an offset mount for a gun with a Weaver or Picatinny rail, Leapers has s similar unit for under $14.)

Friday, January 25, 2013

The Smith & Wesson 22A, Part 1

Regular readers know I'm a big fan of the Ruger .22 auto Mark series and the functionally identical .22/45. These guns are inexpensive, accurate, practically indestructible, easy to work on, and there are hundreds of custom parts available for them. So why the 22A? Well, I've always been curious about them, and this one was cheap. How cheap? About a third of what new ones are selling for locally.

This is a simply constructed pistol that combines a cast aluminum frame (the registered part) with either a solid steel bull barrel, or an aluminum barrel with a steel liner, which is what you see here. It's a development of the earlier 22S, which had an all-steel frame that weighed several ounces more, and cost more as well. Functionally, they're pretty much identical. The one seen here is actually a 22A-1, a modification of the 22A design that corrects a problem having to do with barrel mounting in the original 22A design that could result in cracking the frame when the barrel was removed.

Barrel removal is as simple as you'll find in a pistol. Depress the  button in from of the trigger guard...

...which releases the lug that anchors the barrel assembly to the frame:

Now you can easily clean the barrel, or swap it out for different one. Fans of the old High Standard pistols will probably recognize the method of barrel attachment.

I've noticed that on mine, sometimes it takes a light whack with a soft hammer to get the barrel release button to move at first. After that, finger pressure is enough.

One particularly nice feature of the 22A is the full-length Weaver rib that allows the easy attachment of a scope or dot sight. It's finished in the same semi-gloss paint as the rest of the aluminum on the barrel assembly; bullseye shooters using iron sights might want to repaint this part with some flat black. If I were ambitious I'd strip the frame and treat it with Birchwood Casey Aluminum Black Metal Finish, which produces a really nice flat black finish.

The 22A has a lot of fans, but it has also come in for a fair amount of criticism from some shooters who say that it won't cycle, or it's inaccurate, or it breaks. The fans say that failure to cycle is almost always due to "limp wristing" the gun, i.e., not gripping it tightly enough. (This can be a problem with many blowback .22 designs. If you let your wrist absorb the recoil, there isn't enough energy to operate the slide.) Accuracy seems to be a matter of practice and ammunition selection.

The breakage issue usually involves the lug that anchors the recoil spring and limits the rearward travel of the slide. I've seen a few photos of cracked ones on the web. Here's what it looks like with the slide removed:

You can see that the forward edge is radiused where it meets the rest of the frame, which prevents the stresses from the recoiling slide from being concentrated at the base of the lug, which in turn could lead to failure at that point.

 Here's another view of the lug , from above, with the slide in place:

Do you see the a thin white nylon shim right hand end of the spring and the recoil lug? S&W calls that the "recoil spacer" and it acts as a buffer between the slide and the lug. It's a sacrificial part; my 22A came with a spare in an envelope. This is a part that the shooter is supposed to monitor and replace if necessary. On-line discussions suggest that if you limit yourself to target or standard velocity ammunition, you won't wear this piece out for a long time, and if you do, S&W will send you a half-dozen for free.

Using nothing but standard velocity ammunition, this gun should las a long time between failures, but reading the forums it's clear that a lot of owners are stuffing high-velocity rounds in their 22As. Many use CCI Mini-Mags, which generate about 30% more energy than standard velocity rounds. One said his 22A was happiest with CCI Stingers, which generate twice the energy of standard velocity rounds. If his cracks, I wouldn't be all that surprised.

So while the S&W 22A isn't as rugged as the Rugers, or as tunable, it's still an interesting pistol that's easy to maintain and repair. If you can find a used gun cheaply (as I did) it's worth playing around with. But given the asking price of a new 22A ($349-360), my personal preference is still the Ruger 22/45 Target model.

Next: Shooting the 22A.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Choosing .22LR Ammunition, Part 2

My previous post dealt with the most common kinds of .22 ammunition. In this post, we'll look at some of the less common types.

Target or match ammunition:

Target or Match ammunition is more or less identical to standard velocity ammunition in overall performance. It's characterized by a 40 grain round nosed projectile, and velocities that are subsonic- around 1080 fps. There are several reason for this. First, a supersonic projectile generates much more atmospheric drag than does a subsonic projectile. Second, when a bullet is traveling faster than sound, it's dragging a shock wave behind it. As the bullet decelerates, the shock wave catches up with the bullet and overtakes it- disturbing its flight.  Third, there's no need for high speed. Target ammunition doesn't need any more energy than it takes to get downrange and punch through a piece of paper. The flatter trajectory that comes with high speed is unimportant when you're only shooting at known ranges.

There are a number variables that can affect accuracy in .22 ammunition. The powder charge must be absolutely identical from round to round. Projectiles must be perfectly symmetrical about their longitudinal axis, and be identical in weight. (Eley laser scans every single Tenex bullet before loading it!)  Primer charge must be absolutely identical from round to round. This calls for careful control of the manufacturing process and measuring each round for weight and dimensional consistency.

Rim thickness is also carefully controlled in the best target ammunition. A slightly thicker or thinner rim will result in a change in ignition, and that can influence the trajectory of the bullet.  Many target rounds also use special lubricants. For example, most manufacturers use paraffin as a .22 bullet lubricant, as it's inexpensive, it works well, it's hard, won't wipe off, and it doesn't break down over time. Eley uses paraffin on their least expensive .22s,  but on Tenex and other higher priced ammunition they use a mix of beeswax and tallow. This is a compound with improved lubricity over paraffin that gives better results but has to be handled a bit more carefully, it's more expensive, and over time it will dry and crumble.

All this results in significantly higher cost than standard ammunition. The cheapest target ammunition, like Eley Club and Aguila Match, runs $3 to $4 for a box of 50. CCI Green Label, which I have been told is selected from runs of their Standard Velocity, is typically $7.50-$8 per 50, or over twice as much as the standard velocity. The best ammunition used by National and Olympic competitors, like Eley Tenex and Lapua X-Act, can run $20-30 for 50 rounds.

To get the most out of real target ammunition you need a gun with a match chamber. Most guns have a chamber made to the SAAMI "sporting" chamber dimensions. They're a bit looser than match chambers in order in insure smooth cycling with a range of ammunition, even after many rounds have been fired and the chamber is a bit dirty. Match chambers, as found in single shot pistols and rifles,  are much tighter, in order to insure consistent shot-to-shot performance. Auto target pistols often have a chamber with dimensions somewhere in the middle, to insure reliable cycling while maintaining good accuracy.

Low powered .22LR cartridges

Next up are the various low lower rounds designed for plinking, indoor target shooting,  or dispatching small pests.  Standard ammunition typically has a muzzle energy of around 100-120 foot-pounds when fired from a rifle barrel. These round run anywhere from a high of 40 foot-pounds down to a low of only 6 foot pounds.

One popular low-powered round is the CCI "CB Long," which resembles the old .22 Long cartridge, but has a much smaller powder charge. Muzzle energy is 30 foot-pounds, which is similar to what a high-powered .22 air rifle would generate. Remington has the "CBee" which propels a 32 grain hollow point with 40 foot-pounds of energy. Used in a rifle, these cartridges have a mild sound report that's more like a cap gun than a .22.

Aguila makes two low powered rounds, one for pistols and one for rifles. The rifle version is called the Super Colibri and has a 20 grain bullet that leaves the barrel at  500fps, resulting in a muzzle energy of only 11 foot-pounds. This energy level is close to the typical spring-piston air rifle. The pistol version, called simply the Colibri, generates only 6 foot pounds of energy- close to what a spring piston air pistol would generate. I've fired these in a rifle, but I'm told in some rifles there's a good chance they'll only make it part way down the barrel! Both of these rounds can be safely fired indoors (assuming you have a solid trap and backstop and if local laws allow) without annoying the neighbors, but you need good ventilation, as the primers contain lead. (In fact, just about all the airborne lead found in indoor ranges comes from the primers.)

Next up: Subsonic rounds. 

Most standard velocity .22 LR cartridges are subsonic,  or very close to subsonic, which might make you wonder why there are also cartridges that are labeled "subsonic" as well. It's probably due to the explosion in interest in suppressed .22 pistols and rifles. You can't have a silenced round if it makes a supersonic crack as it passes by. Just about everything said about standard velocity rounds is also true of subsonic rounds. Projectiles are typically round-nosed 40 grain bullets, and velocity is just under 1100 fps.

There is, however, one subsonic round that's very different from most on the market. It's the Aguila SSS Sniper round I've written about previously:

Aguila manages to get 120 foot-pounds of muzzle energy out of a cartridges generating only 950fps of muzzle velocity via the use of an extra-heavy 60 grain bullet. As you can see, the bullet is quite a bit longer than the typical 40 grain bullet. Aguila managed to keep overall cartridge length within spec by using a .22 Short sized case. I've found that these will cycle most semi-automatic .22 pistols and rifles I've tried them in. It's a very clever design, but it does have a downside- poor accuracy in most guns.  The problem stems from the fact that the longer a projectile is, the faster it has to be spun in order to stabilize it. The round balls used in early muzzle loaders got by with rifling twists of 1 turn in 48"; a modern .22 rifle typically has a twist of 1 turn in 16". The Aguila SSS is said to need a twist of 1 turn in 9" to fully stabilize. If your gun has a faster than usual twist, these are great for short-range small game hunting, as they deliver a lot of energy without too loud a report.

.22 Shotshells

New shooters might be very surprised to learn that there are indeed .22 caliber shotshells. Most are of the crimped construction, in which a longer than usual case is filled with powder, a tiny under-shot wad, and 25 grains of #12 shot, and then crimped closed, like these Federal Game-Shok cartridges:

CCI makes a different sort of shell that uses a standard .22LR case and a plastic shot capsule that can hold slightly more shot- 31 grains, to be precise:

#12 shot, being only .05" in diameter, has an exceptionally low sectional density, and consequently loses muzzle energy very quickly. It's useful for things like shooting pigeons or other similarly sized vermin in a barn without putting holes in the roof. You can also fire it up without worrying where the projectiles will fall. Some hunters use them on squirrels and rabbits at very close range, but that's probably pushing it. Biologists have been known to use them for collecting specimens, much as James Audubon collected the bird specimens he painted via the use of a small gauge shotgun filled with was then called "dust shot."

.22 shotshells are two or three times as expensive as standard velocity rounds, so few buy them unless they have a specific use in mind. The  Federals are typically $8-9 per box of 50, and the CCIs, $9 per box of 20.

Miscellaneous types

Ammunition makers have been producing more and more specialized rounds to cater to tastes, and no doubt for marketing reasons as well. CCI, who seem to have more specialized .22LR than anyone else,  has "AR Tactical Rimfire Ammunition" which is said to be especially for "AR Style arms," and that it was tested specifically for the S&W M&P15-22. Winchester has the similar M22, designed for "high volume" shooters, i.e., plinker with AR-style guns. Whether these, or any other specialized round is actually functionally different from one of the more standard rounds is anyone's guess.

So what kind of .22LR ammunition should I buy?

For plinking, the bulk-pack stuff is the way to go for economy. For shooting at steel plates at 25 yards, it's probably even competitive.

Casual target shooting at paper targets, use bulk pack or standard velocity or the lower priced target rounds, like Aguila. Experiment and find out what's most accurate in your gun. If you're seriously interested in bullseye competition, your fellow competitors will suggest to you what works in your gun.

Hunting smaller animals at close ranges, use the subsonic or standard velocity to keep the noise down and get better accuracy. Out to 50 yards, or on tougher small game, use the high velocity hollow points, or even the hypervelocity stuff.

No doubt over time you'll develop your own preferences. Then you can come back, read this blog, and say to yourself, "he has no idea what he's talking about!" ;-)