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, http://airgunner.org:


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,  www.tech-custom.com.

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!" ;-)

Monday, January 21, 2013

Choosing .22 Long Rifle Ammunition, Part 1

There are probably more varieties of .22 Long Rifle rimfire ammunition made today than any other caliber, and the newcomer is often puzzled as to which to buy. There's solid point and hollow point, subsonic, standard velocity, high velocity, and hypervelocity.Some .22 LR rounds are as cheap as 3 cents each; some cost over  half a dollar each.

Some shooters just buy the cheapest, and for many uses that's probably not a bad idea. This post is for those newcomers who would like a bit of advice in deciding what to purchase. First, a little background.

Budget .22LR Ammunition

Let's start with the budget or bulk-pack .22LR,  like Winchester "white box," Remington  bulk pack or CCI Blazer .22:

This ammunition typically comes bulk packed, with 500 or more rounds in a box. The Blazer seen above can be had as cheaply as $17 for a box of 525 rounds. Most budget .22LR is reliable, which means it'll go off every time you pull the trigger. Some cheap .22LR doesn't do that. The primer compound isn't fully distributed into the rim, and there can be dead spots in some rounds. I've never had that problem with Blazer, but I have seen it in some very cheap ammunition.

Performance wise, the typical budget round propels a 40 grain round nosed lead bullet at around 1100 feet per second in a rifle barrel, generating around 1100 foot-pounds of energy.

What's the budget stuff good for? Plinking, casual target shooting, practice, anywhere high accuracy isn't a priority. A friend uses it in practice for .22 "pin shooting," and switches to CCI Standard Velocity for actual competition.

Standard Velocity Ammunition:

Like the budget .22, this ammunition pretty much duplicates the ballistics of the original .22 LR cartridge; the biggest difference is tighter quality control. Velocity is also generally just under 1100 feet per second, and the bullet is a 40grain round nosed projectile. Standard velocity ammunition is good for informal target shooting where extreme accuracy isn't needed, or for small game hunting of smaller animals at moderate ranges. It's not too loud and generally has a muzzle energy of around 100 foot-pounds.

High Velocity

Moving up in energy, we come to high velocity rounds, like the popular CCI MiniMag and Winchester Super-X:

These come in both solid and hollow point version, with velocities in the 1200-1300 fps ranges, and muzzle energies (in a rifle) of 120-130 foot-pounds. Typically they're copper plated in order to prevent leading, as the standard wax-type lubricants used on .22 rounds lose effectiveness at higher velocities. These rounds are the choice of most hunters, as they carry more energy than standard velocity rounds,  and they shoot a bit flatter. The downside is that the higher pressures make them significantly louder than standard velocity rounds. They're a good choice for small game out to 50 yards, or perhaps a bit farther. The hollow point versions are a god choice for hunting, as they transfer more energy to the target.


Next are the hyper-velocity rounds, a category that was introduced by the CCI Stinger, though just about every .22 maker offers a version now. Some, like Aguila, offer two versions. Hypervelocity ammunition typically has a muzzle velocity in a rifle barrel of between 1400and 1750 feet per second, and muzzle energies from 180 to 200 foot-pounds. That's .380 territory:

There's a limit to how much pressure a .22 rimfire care can withstand before bursting, so hypervelocity .22s typically attain their high velocity through the use of a lighter bullet, typically 30grains. The lower mass of the bullet helps keep pressure down.

The CCI Stinger uses a 32grain bullet and a non-standard longer case to keep overall cartridge length of the round the same as the standard .22LR. This can lead to problems, as illustrated by the caution from Ruger:

Hypervelocity .22s are sold as hunting cartridges, as they have a flatter trajectory than high-speed .22s, and higher initial muzzle energy. There's a trade off, though;  the light 30 grain bulllets also lose energy faster than the standard 40 grain bullets, and aren't as effective at maximum ranges. Accuracy usually suffers when compared to slower rounds, but this can vary from gun to gun.

Another popular use for these cartridges is personal defense for those people who for reasons of age or health cannot handle the recoil of a heavier weapon. A hypervelocity .22 in a small revolver is more effective than a lot of the standard defensive cartridges of the past, like the .32 Long or the .38 S&W.

Those are the most common types of .22LR ammunition today. In Part 2 we'll look at some of the specialty rounds available.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Another Budget Restoration Project, Part 2

At the top of the photo is the Glenfield 25 I picked up in shabby condition a while ago. All the metal has been cleaned of rust and re-blued with Brownell Oxpho-Blue.. The stock was sanded down to bare wood, and finished with good old Birchwood Casey Tru-Oil.

Below it is a Marlin 60 I restored maybe 30 years ago. You can see the difference in the wood- the Glenfield uses poplar, and the Marlin, walnut. Both were finished in the same manner, the difference being that the Marlin 60 was given a final once-over with #0000 steel wool to cut the shine as it was supposed to be a hunting gun. (That shine on the stock is a smear of oil I didn't notice until I looked at the photo. Oops.)

The technique is simple, but it requires patience. Start by sanding the wood down to about a 320 grit. Working in a small area at a time, pour some try-Oil (or other oil based finish) on the stock, and work over it in a circular motion with a small piece of 320 grit sandpaper. Add enough oil to keep a wet surface. Rub the oil /sandpaper mix into the stock with the heel of your hand, and wipe off excess against the grain.

The next day, after the stock has dried, do this again. Keep repeating until the grain is filled and the stock feels smooth. At that point you can just add layers of oil. Go over the surface with #0000 steel wool, wipe off the dust, and rub the oil in as you did before, but without sanding. The more layers you add, the deeper the shine. You can leave the surface glossy or give it a final steel wood rub for a matte finish.

Even though the Glenfield 25 looks a lot better than it did when I started, I'm still not crazy about the poplar. I'm kind of tempted to give it a rattlecan paint job in forest green, or even a mixed camoflauge job, in order to make it into more of a hunter. I'll probably add an inexpensive 4x scope as well.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Best Cold Blue

One absolutely irreplaceable tool in my maintenance kit is a bottle of Brownell's Oxpho-Blue.. This is the only cold blue I'd found that will give you a finish that's as good as the typical factory blues. Most quick-blue formulas actually deposit a thin wash of a bright blue copper compound that's easily abraded, and doesn't look much like bluing. Oxpho Blue produces a really tough blue- if you use it properly. It comes in liquid and cream form in sizes from 4 ounces to several gallons, but I've always purchased the liquid form, usually in the 16 ounce size, but the 4 ounce size is enough to blue several guns.

I typically use it when restoring old neglected and rusty rifles, like the Iver Johnson Model X and the Glenfield 25 I wrote about recently. What I do first is remove surface rust with steel wool or a synthetic steel wool replacement pad, like 3M's Synthetic Steel Wool and a little kerosene or light oil. If the pitting is really deep, I'll draw file the surface, and  then polish it out with abrasive cloth grits up to 600 or 1200.

Once I have a rust-free surface, I apply Oxpho-Blue with #0000 steel wool. Yes, this is a blue you can actually apply with steel wool! It seems to clean the surface of any residual oxidation and make the surface more receptive to the bluing. One caution: Wear plastic gloves when you do this, as the Oxpho-Blue will seriously irritate your skin if you don't. You can also just rub it on with a cloth, though I find the steel wool works better on some steels. Whichever method you use, put some effort into it, rubbing it into the surface. Tiny pieces like screws can be cleaned, degreased and dipped in it.

After two or three applications you should have a deep, but matte-looking surface. Wipe the metal down with a good thin polarized oil like Birchwood Casey's "Sheath" or better yet, Brownell's Water Displacing Oil. This is also a great light oil to wipe all your guns down with to preserve the blue and keep out water. A quart will last you a long time.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Another budget restoration project, part 1

Here's another project that came out of a dusty corner in the back of the safe. It's a Glenfield Model 25, a simple .22 bolt action rifle.  Glenfield is Marlin's budget brand, typically sold in department stores. At one time Glenfields were more or less identical to Marlins with mainly cosmetic differences. Marlins had walnut stocks, and Glenfields had birch stocks. Marlins had metal trigger guards, and Glenfields had plastic trigger guards.

The stock is in excellent shape, but it's not very attractive. The finish is a sprayed on lacquer without much surface preparation. My plan is to strip the original finish, and sand, fill, and coat with Tru-Oil. The wood is just clear birch, without any figure, but the grain is reasonably tight and with a light stain it might come out reasonably attractive.

The rifle was also missing the detachable magazine when I bought it. Gunparts listed one for $33, which was more than half of what I paid for the rifle, but I found several brand-new ones on eBay for $16, postage included.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

RCBS customer support

Not long ago I bought a new RCBS Universal Hand Priming Tool which I think is absolutely the best priming tool I've ever used, except for one thing: The spring that holds the jaws that grip the cartridge rim kept flying off. If you look at the above photo, you can see that the posts that hold the spring don't quite reach the plate above, and there's more clearance above the post on the left than on the right. I did a web search and couldn't find anyone else with the same problem, so I sent a note to RCBS.

I didn't hear back from them by email, but five days later this turned up via SnailMail:

A complete new top assembly. I wonder if perhaps they didn't have a small run of bad castings that somehow got through QC? Regardless, they didn't ask questions- they just sent this right to me.

I've always been a fan of Lee for their inexpensive products and innovation, but my experience with various RCBS products and their superb customer service is making me a big fan of theirs as well.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Testing .22 ammunition

My second purpose in going to the range today was to do some comparative testing of .22 ammunition. I brought three different loads with me, and left to right they are Remington Target, with the addition of a thin layer of Alox lube; CCI Standard Velocity; and Aguila Pistol Target. The Remington was an experiment to see if adding lube would improve the performance of these rounds, and the Aguila was to see how it compares to my old favorite, the CCI. The Aguila and CCI both cost around $3/50, but the Aguila is advertised as actual match ammunition.

The Remington had a lot of flyers, so after one magazine full (10 rounds) I moved on to the CCI Standard Velocity. That's one of my trials with the CCI, above, at 50 feet, fired two handed, resting my wrist on my range bag. Not really bullseye accuracy, but good enough to make some comparisons.  The Aguila was a bit of a surprise:

This was shot standing, two handed, without any rest. Again, not brilliant shooting, but look how little vertical stringing there is. The horizontal dispersion is the shooter's fault, and some of the vertical, too, but the ammunition did well. I'm going to do some more tests, firing from a rest, and I also have a brick of the Aguila Rifle Match that I'll test at the outdoor range in my Anschutz... when it warms up again.

Reloading for the 7.62x38mmR Revolver, Part 4

Part 3 can be found here

Finally got to my club today to do some testing of reloads for the Nagant revolver. Circled above is the last group I fired with the 115gr RN lead "cowboys" bullets over 3.5gr of Trail Boss. That's two-handed, resting my arms on my shooting bag, at 50 feet. Not the steadiest rest.

The first load, which used 98gr plated DEWC bullets from Graf over 3.2gr of Trail Boss was pretty accurate, too, but didn't seem to be as consistent, and the last shot I fired made a quieter-than-expected "pop." Being the cautious type I pulled the cylinder and ran a cleaning rod down the barrel... where it encountered the slug halfway down the barrel. This generally means a primer-only load, which surprised me as I did those on a non-turret press, checking each load visually... or so I thought.

The 115gr bullet over the same load (3.2gr) gave significantly more recoil, which made sense; heavier bullet, higher pressure, faster burn. But there also seemed to be a lot of variability shot-to-shot with all my loads. I used my RCBS Little Dandy for all these loads, and weighed a half-dozen before I even started and a few after each group of 21, but I'm wondering if the Little Dandy might not be the best measure for Trail Boss. I plan on doing more tests, and next time at the range I'm going to bring my chronograph and see what kind of variance I get in velocity.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Great Ammunition Shortage

If you've been shopping for ammunition lately you may have noticed that there isn't all that much around. Shooters are worried about new attempts to go after those of us on the right side of the law and are buying ammunition as fast as the makers can ship it. Makers weren't ready for the huge demand and they've pretty much sold out of what should have been several months' production. Even police departments are reporting they can't buy enough ammunition for training and duty needs.

If you're looking for .22LR, the shortages are especially acute. Gander Mountain's shelves are pretty bare. Midway is out of stock of just about everything except specialty rounds and expensive target rounds. I did manage to find a Dick's Sporting Goods that still had 12 bricks of 500 CCI Standard Velocity, bought 2, and came back the next day and bought another 2, just in case. I called a friend who also likes the CCI stuff to see if he needed any, and he told me he'd recently put away ten boxes for his competition shooting. I also ordered a few bricks of Aguila Target ammunition from Midway, one pistol and one rifle. That should be enough to tide me over for a while.

All that demand for loaded ammunition is also creating a shortage of primers- especially small pistol primers, which are used in the most popular centerfire loadings: .38, .380, and 9mm. None of the local or mail order suppliers list any in stock, and everything is listed as "no backorders."  I have a dozen boxes of Winchesters and Federals that will hopefully last until the makers catch up with the increased demand.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Reloading for the 7.62x38mmR Revolver, Part 3

(Part 1 starts here and part 2 starts here)

My order of 0.312" 115gr bullets arrived today, so after dinner it was down to the basement to do up some loads for testing. I set up the dies in the Lee Turret Press without the indexing, and put a #13 rotor in my RCBS Little Dandy. This gives a 3.2gr charge of Trail Boss. Others have recommended 3.5 and 3.7grs, but after looking at the pressure data for Trail Boss in similar cases I decided to start a bit lower.

Before making up live loads I did a test run with no powder or primer, and discovered right off that I had to set the bullet a hair deeper than I thought to get under the 1.5" OAL. Just a bit too long, and the protruding bullet won't rotate past the forcing cone of the revolver.

Once I had the length right, I set the dies and proceeded to load. Because I was using a stand alone powder measure, rather than the Lee mounted on the charging die, I inspected each visually after charging:

From there the loaded case and bullet went into the press where the bullet was seated (but not crimped)  with the .32-20 seating die and crimped with the .32-20 Factory Crimp die.

I made up 21 loads for test. Why 21? It's a 7 shooter. If these don't show any signs of excessive pressure (difficulty extracting fired cases, etc.) I may try 3.5 and 3.7gr.

(On to Part 4)

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Reloading for the 7.62x38mmR Nagant Revolver, Part 2

(Part 1 can be found here)

My new Lee Classic Cast Breechlock Challenger (that's a mouthful) press arrived yesterday, so I set it up to reform 100 .32-20 cases for the Nagant. I gave the cases a light spray of lube, let it dry, and the reforming went fast. The Challenger  is a heavy-duty press that doesn't flex at all under this sort of light reforming, and it should be useful for a number of future projects. (Makes me wish I'd gotten the cast steel version of their Turret press, too.)

I had decided earlier to reload the Graf 98gr plated DEWC bullets over 3.2gr of Trail Boss. I put a #13 rotor  in my RCBS powder measure, loaded a case, inserted a bullet, put it in the press, and immediately ran into some difficulties. The Graf DEWC (which I suspect is really from Barry's) doesn't have a crimp groove, and the only way to load it is to seat it just below the case mouth, and do a gentle roll crimp. The problem with that is that there's nothing to keep the bullets from moving backwards. Experimenting with crimp and seating I ended up accordioning a number of cases, which presented the problem of how to disassemble them? I ended up using a pipe cutter, discarding the powder, killing the seated primers with oil and discarding the whole mess.

I suspect that Graf chose these bullets as being the closest thing to the factory loaded bullet, which is actually a steel core jacketed bullet, but I haven't found anyone on line who's using them for 7.26x38R loads. I decided to take the advice of The Nagant Man, as he calls himself, and purchased a box of 500 115gr 0.312" flat-nosed cast lead bullets from Midway. These have a crimp groove as well as lube and will be seated over 3.5gr of Trail Boss.

I also decided to order a Lee .32-20 Factory Crimp Die, based on my experience using 4-die sets with a separate crimp on various handgun calibers. It's really much easier to seat a bullet with one die, and crimp it with another. You get less shaving of lead, and I've never accordioned a case using this method.

(On to Part 3)