Sunday, February 3, 2013

Responding Once: Twist Rates & Gas Checks in 357 Magnum


Every so often I hear some disturbing comments, or someone makes one to this blog.  Dealing with the twist rate discussion takes some time.  The gas check question is easier to deal with.  The problem usually comes up when a fellow caster and handloader reads their first book on each topic.  I don't know if that's exactly the scenario for the comment made here, but I want to use it to make my points.

Here is the comment, which I believe represents typical thinking for a small number of fellow casters:

"Remember, twist rate favors different "length" bullets, and not necessarily weight.

Also, my personal opinion is that gas checks aren't needed in .357mag. You may have to dork around with the correct hardness/size, but a flat base with correct obturation will prevent gas cutting.

(I just finished reading a book on Elmer Keith's work. Pardon me if I sound snarky)"

Now for my response.

Twist Rates

Technically this is correct about twist rates. If you look back at prior posts I actually do mention that fact it's really about length, and also weight. However for a given nose and lube groove configuration, a longer bullet will weigh more.  A shorter bullet will weight less.  It's as simple as adding lead to make a bullet longer has to make it weigh more.  Based on that simplification, a heavier bullet is usually longer than a lighter bullet.  Read on before you object.

The nose and lube grooves being the same is key to my claim.  Bullets with a different nose/lube groove configuration may vary from this.  Generally, a SWC with the same weight as a RNFP will be longer.  If the nose had less diameter, it simply has to be longer to weigh the same.   So a full wadcutter, with no thin nose to add length, will be the shortest bullet for a given weight.   Bullets that are a blunt shape will also be shorter than one with a long thin nose.  OK, are we all on the same page.  Oh, tumble lube grooves are also shorter than a single large conventional lube groove too, so this is another consideration.

However, it becomes tedious to have to type that in every time twist rates are metioned, so I don't. I expect the reader to understand that.  I'd prefer to use the short version and talk weight.

Handloaders (or readers)  do find it more helpful and informative if I mention a 145 RF vs a 173 SWC. Talking to .580 inches and .744 inches just isn't helpful. Again, it gets tedious to mention both weith and length every time, unless the article or post is specifially on the subject of twist rates and bullet design.

Why do we care about twist rates anyway?  The rate of twist will determine which bullets will stablize in a gun.  For 357 revolvers, typical twist rates are 1 in 16 to 1 in 18 inches.  The longer the measurement, the slower the twist.  Slower twist means a shorter, and generally lighter bullet will stablize and be more accurate.  Small changes in twist don't have a huge difference, in handguns.  Also, shorter barrel guns may need a faster twist than a rifle and it's long barrel.  The magnum revolvers were standardized (roughly) years ago, and will shoot bull house loads with heavier bullets.  That's one reason the 358-429 shoots so well.

There are some good calculators to get in the ballpark bullet length/weight for a rifle.  The Greenhill formula is one that has been used for years.  There are variations that allow for velocity and other addtional varibles.  Another more current calculator is that is extremely useful.  This calculator uses diameter, length, velocity and weight by the way, which makes it very different than the Greenhill formula.  Note: If you do some reasearch you will discover that bullets up to a 3.5 stability number maintain their accuracy.  That's different than what is posted on the JBM webpage.  From my rifles I shoot bullets with a 2.5 to 3.4 factor with excellent results.  If you plug in numbers for your revolver, the results may indicate the bullets will overstabilize and not be accurate.  Don't worry, just don't use it for your 357 revolver.

I hope this was helpful.  In the future I will not post all of this every time I mention twist rate and bullet weight and length.  I will use the shorthand version and simple metion twist and weight.  Otherwise, it's just to tedious and repeditive.  That's the last time I beat that drum.

Gas Checks

As you know, I'm a fan of the 358429 bullet designed by Elmer Keith. He didn't like gas checks in 357 or 44 Magnums. At least in revolvers. However he's not the only accomplished bullet designer out there. Check out some of the info regarding Ray Thompson who created the 358156. It's a gas checked bullet for the 357 that many consider the best design for my favorite caliber. Also Skeeter Skelton wrote some great articles and is rather famous too.  He has pet recipes for both the 358429 and the 358156.

I haven't posted a detailed review of the 358156, but I will do one soon.

I have found in lever rifles, that gas checks really extend or raise the usable velocity, at leadt for mid-weight bullets (140-150 grains). I get a very accurate 1,850FPS with a 145 RF design with a gas check. Without a check, the accuracy falls off after 1,500 FPS. That's a significant difference. It's worthy of a gas check. 

This fact alone dispells the statement that 357 Magnums don't need a gas check.  To wring the last bit of perfomance out of a 357 rifle, and to avoid leading, gas checks are needed and useful.  You can agree or not, get a 357 rifle and do your own tests. 

The Rossi has a faily slow 30 inch twist, so the lighter bullets that it likes shoot at a higher velocity.  A Marlin with a much faster twist (16 or 16.5 if memory serves me correctly) will shoot heavier bullets well.  The Henry has a 38 inch twist, which to me seems bizarre, but it shoots well too.

The poster of the comment and many others choose to not use gas checks in a 357. There are others that use the Thompson design and use checks all the time, in their rifles and in revolvers. I have no problem either way.

I have no issue with everyone having their own opinion. Just don't expect everyone to agree that gas checks are not needed or helpful in a 357, espcially when there is someone like Ray Thompson who's designs are outstanding.  The 358156 shooters are getting their own great results.

I think Skeeter got it right.  The real point is what bullet / load combination shoots best.  He uses the 358429 without gas checks, and the 358156 with gas checks.  They are both excellent.

If you don't believe me, just Google away.  Or cast some and head to the range.


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

I'm back, and will be posting test results from some custom molds.

I haven't been able to post for some time as work has been crazy.  That's good, not having work would be tough.  Anyway, I've been testing a cutomer 145 grain round nose / flat point bullet in revolvers and lever action rifle.  I also have a 168 grain version to discuss too.

I'll refer to these as my first generation custom molds.  I went through several designs and found some noses that worked and some that didn't.  In the near future I'll cover the good and the bad.  I already have orders placed for generation 2, or Version 2.0.

The question is, what is the optimum bullet size for a 357 magnum rifle, in this case the Rossi.  It has a slow 30 inch twist, which like lighter bullets.  Then what is the optimum bullet size for 357 magnum revolver, something in the 16 to 16.5 inch twist range.  Which likes heavier bullets, with high velocity.

The answer I came to is that the 140-150 grain range would provide the shorter length that the rifle would like.  It also turned out to work really well in the revolver. 

Here is the bullet, which exits the rifle barrel at 1,850 FPS, and the six inch revolver at 1,400 FPS.  It's a little hot for the handgun so I don't shoot it often.  In the rifle, this bullet has more energy at 100 and 200 yards than a 125 or a 158 grain bullet.  With a gas check, it is a sweet hard hitting shooter.  Accuracy is very good, but not stellar.  So 2 MOA at 100 yards is very repeatable, but more about that in the next update.

For now, heres the 145, I'll post more soon:

Saturday, May 26, 2012

More coming, just slower than last year.

I've promised some more test results, and plan to continue updating this blog.  However my 50-60 hour a week job, with a lot a travel, is slowing progress down quite a bit.  Since it's a great job in a company whose business is growing I'm very fortunate.  The past few years haven't been good for many people.

The local shooting range that closed in February is still being refurbished in late May, that's another twist to getting shooting time.

However, I'm still testing, casting, shooting and measuring results and will continue to publish it all right here.

Currently my Rossi 357 lever action is loving the Group Buy Keith's.  They are the long "as Keith designed them" version.  Loaded in the crimp groove in 38 special brass, over 12.5 grains of 2400, this is a very nice magnum load, with excellent accuracy.

Using the 38 special brass, the OAL is actually longer than what the Lyman Cast Bullet Handbook specifies for 357 brass.  With 1,500 38 special cases on hand, it makes good sense to use them.  Just be careful they never get loaded into a 38 special rated gun.

Have fun shooting tight groups with your 357 magnum!

Saturday, March 31, 2012

357 Lever Rifle-Crimp Test the Rifle FCD & Ladder Test 2400 - Plain Base and Gas Checks

For some time I've wanted to test a custom  Lee rifle Factory Crimp Die.  Now that there are two new bullets designs in the works, it has to be done before proceeding with them.  The purpose is to determine if these new design needs a crimp groove for the lever rifle or not.  Conventional wisdom says yes, this crimp die however, says no. 

The 125-RF likes to be loaded long (1.597-1.600), with the crimp below the crimp groove and right on the middle band.  That makes it a great test bullet for the rifle FCD.  It makes sense the collet style crimp die (this is not the pistol FCD, it's completely different), could be highly effective in the lever action.  This die is available from Lee as a custom order, or from Ranch Dog who stocks them in house.  The can both be found via Google.  These FCD's will not work on 38 specials, the cases aren't long enough.

In the lever rifle's magazine, the firm grip prevents the bullets from being pushed further into the case.  Even with max magnum loads there is no concern of a dangerous high pressure situation due to compressed case volume.

Also, in the chamber, a bullet like the 358-125-RF can be loaded enough to bump up against the rifle's throat.  This is proving to be the most accurate OAL so far.

There's no reason this won't work just as well in a revolver too, but that's beyond the scope of this test.  Conventional crimp groove bullets can be loaded long.  But not having the groove in the way makes fitting the bullet to a gun easier, quicker and cleaner.

The rifle FCD is adjusted to touch the shell plate on the press.  Adjusting it down further, the shellplate drive a inner slide up into the die, forcing the four collets to close in and crimp the case mouth.   This picture shows a rifle bullet extending through the die, and the four collets crimping right on the case mouth.

The 357 bullets I'm using don't extend through the die like that, but has the four collets further down in the die body. 

I wanted to show the difference in the standard roll crimp and the rifle FCD crimp.  In the following picture, the first bullet is the standard roll crimp, the second pictures show a rifle FCD crimp adjusted 1/2 turn, and the third picture shows a rifle FCD crimp adjusted 3/4 turn.

It's tough to tell the differences, but it's the best shot I was able to get.  I noticed that the third case has a split mouth... not good.  If you click on the picture is will expand, maybe you can make out the differences.

The following pictures show test groups, at 25 yards, rested, with the iron sights on the lever rifle.  It's the longest distance available, so that's what I use.  To better indicate the differences, each group is 10 rounds.

These test are using the Lee 358-125-RF over 5.4 grins of Unique.  An extremely accurate load, and a personal favorite.

The follow group is rifle crimp die adjuste 3/4 turn.

The best result is with the rifle crimp die adjusted 1/2 turn.

In the final analysis.  When crimped directly on the bullet and not in the crimp groove, the rifle FCD is the most accurate.  Adjusted 1/2 turn, for non-magnum loads.  The rifle FCD may work just as well using a crimp groove, it just isn't part of this test.

Now, let's take a look at ladder test results using this bullet and Alliant 2400.  In a previous post I covered the laddter test methodoloy.  Basically using one loaded cartridge per powder charge, the idea is to find the two sequential charges that shoot the closest together.

To add another element of interest, there are two ladder test.  One with gas checks and one with plain base bullets. I'm able to make and seat gas checks on plain base bullets such as the Lee 358-125-RF. 

The numbers map to the charge, but they are different in each picture.  I'll explain, first though, here is the gas check result:

The charge for each of the numbers is:

7 & 816.3

During the test, each whole gets numbered, the target reset and then the next round is fired.  Because of that 7 and 5 are misleading in the picture.  In reality the potentially most accurate charge from this test is between 5 and 6, at 15.5 grains.  They are closest vertically, I just pulled number 6 to the right.

Next up, the test result from the plain base bullets.  Note, these are full magnum loads which produce no leading.  It could be the low round count, or that gas checks aren't needed.  The 16.3 grain load estimates out at 2,020 FPS.  That's getting up there for a 357 magnum.

Wow, that's dramatically different.  There are a wide ranges of charges that all group closely together.

This test also uses the same load for 1 & 2, a 13.3 grain charge.  That's very close to previous results a few months ago, indicating 13.5 grains of 2400 to be an accurate load too.

8 & 916.3
1 & 213.3

It turns out that the potentially most accurate load is also 15.5 grains.   That load produces and estimated 1,920 FPS in a 20 inch lever rifle.  Pretty sweet.  The 13.5 load is fun to shoot, the 15.5 has a bit more kick to it.  Not painful, but a newbee to shooting may not enjoy it as much as 13.5 or the 5.4 grains of Unique.

It's unclear so far if gas checks are needed, or helpful, for this bullet and load.  The Rossi has a slow 30 inch twist that may offset the tendancy for these magnum loads to lead.  If your lever action has faster twist rate, such as 16 inch, than your result may be different.
These ladder test both used the rifle FCD with a 3/4 turn crimp applied.  As I continue to shake all this out and refine this die, and 2400 charges, I'll post final crimp results.  Right now when using the rifle FCD, it looks like the best setting is for custom die to touch the shell plate, then add 1/2 turn for non-magnum load or 3/4 turn for magnum loads.

I'm looking forward to getting back to the range!  Enjoy your time casting, loading and shooting.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Rossi M92 - 357 Magnum 20 Inch Round Barrel, Lever Action. New gun in the house!

My new stainless Rossi is here, and it's one sweet rifle.  Or more technically correct, carbine.

For the new readers, this is my second Rossi.  I sold my blue gun, and regretted it immediately.  It had much of the action job recommended by Steve's Gunz (more later), a Rossi weaver mount and a 2x scope. Since 99.9% of my shooting is indoors, it's usually limited to 25 yards maximum.  Off a rest it shot a best five round group of .18 inches.  That's not a slam dunk, even at 25 yards.

Now, let me show you the new gun!

It looks just as great on the other side too:

The round barrel Rossi's come predrilled and tapped for a weaver mount, which Rossi also manufactures.  The holes are underneath the rear sight and make it easy to swap sights back and forth.

I really liked shooting with the 2x scope on the old gun. However,  I decided to keep iron sights on this beauty.  It came with a brass beaded front sight, and a nice rear sight.  There's no need to mess up it's lines with a scope. 

The rear sight looked good, but it was swapped out for a Marbles Bullseye rear sight.

It's hard to make out the inner ring, here's how it looks:

This is one fun sight!  The open field of view helps to aquire the target.  Your eye naturally centers the front sight in the center ring.  It's not as precise as the scope off of a rest, but shoots better off hand.

With my range closed for renovations, I have to trek quite a way to be able to shoot.  But the temporary range has some 30 yard lanes. With the Marbles Bullseye rear and stock front sight, it is lot's of fun when shooting off-hand. 

This new gun came with a nice smooth action, and a great feel.  However the Steve's Gunz ( ) DVD contains video for a step by step action job.  This gun now has some light work done on:
  1. Trigger is lightened
  2. Loading gate is lightened
  3. Magazine spring shorten to lighten it
  4. Left cartridge guide smoothed
  5. Bolt bottom smoothed very slightly
  6. Replaced the plastic follower with a metal one from Steve's Gunz
Carefully using a Dremel, these minor tweaks take 15-25 minutes.  Not much time, but with a huge benefit. 

Two things to know about these Rossi Lever Action rifles.  There are some tricks to getting them back together.  If you haven't ever tried before, get the Steve's Gunz DVD.  It's worth every penny.

Also, keep an eye out for the loading gate.  If it slides back, you will get jams.  It must be adjusted to be "in" the gun and not flush.  Believe it or not, lightening the magazine spring lessens the pressure on the gate and minimizes the chance of a jam.  When the gate is right, it works like it's supposed to.

The everyday - super accurate & fun target load is the proven Lee 358-125-RF, over 5.4 grains of Unique.  Proven in the old gun, it's just a accurate and just as much fun in this gun.

Though my range is still closed for renovations, I'll be working up some hotter, high velocity loads for this gun.  There are two new bullet designs in the works.  I'm unsure if the 110 grain gas check mould or the 150 grain gas check bullet will the test bed.  Maybe both, over time.  I posted an early draft 110 grain GC and tumble lube bullet several weeks ago.  Here is the conventional lube groove version, which is another option in the works:

Over a heathly dose of 2400 or H110, this promises to be one awesome varmit bullet.  With velocity potential up to 2,300 FPS.  It's still in design with a lot of work remaining before it becomes a reality.  The other option is a 150 grain version:

The 150 grain version could be really something special!  Both bullets are designed specifically for the Rossi.  Using chamber casting alloy, I carefully made a chamber casting, then designed each bullet to match the measurements.

They promise to be excellent bullets with a plain base too.  With the Lee 125 and several 158 grain moulds so inexpensive, I'm not sure another low-mid velocity bullet design is needed.  However all options are on the table.  The only thing I'm 100% sure of is, I'll change my mind many more times.

If you have a preference which should happen, post your comments.  I'm always interested in what fellow casters / handloaders think.

There are more immediate tests needed first though.  They are designed to validate the effect of crimping and different dies with no crimp groove.  Those results are needed before either of these will be given the green light.  Getting custom moulds gets expensive and it all adds up rather quickly.

I'll be following up with those results shortly!

Have fun at the range and shoot tight groups.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Group Buy Update - 357 Lever Action Testing - New Blog Format Coming

My shooting range is closed for renovations, which means testing and development time has been scarce.  Don't worry, there are some good projects underway.  First, here's another look at the the Custom Lee 358429 Group Buy Bullet:

The sign-up phase runs out at 5pm on Saturday, 2/25.  It's a sweet bullet, designed like the Lyman long nose version.  Check out the link on the right for more info.

357 Lever Action Tests & Results Coming Soon:

OK, I've been enjoying the heck out of a Rossi 357, 20 inch, carbine.  The goal is to explore higher velocity loads.  There are some very accurate loads already in my results-database.  I'm changing gears a bit and will pursue pushing some 110 and 158 grain cast bullets.  These very strong guns respond well to pushing things a bit. 

Pushing a 110 grain cast bulllet over 2,000 FPS is on the test agenda.

A new Rossi is on the way, if you haven't cast/loaded/shot one of these, see if you can get your hands on one.  There are some tips to smooth them out a bit, that will be covered too.

These will not be revolver loads, they are intended only for modern day, very strong, rifles.  The M92 Rossi is one of them, and will be used for the load development.

I'm really looking forward to ringing this out!  Here's a preview of a 110 grain bullet still on the drawing board:

There's more where that came from!

A Table of Contents is Coming Soon:

It's reached a point that the usual Blog format is getting hard for readers to navigate around.  A Table of Contents to make it easier to find a particular topic and post is in the works.  This will be a big help in seperating the Revolver & Rifle specific topics.

That is somewhat less exciting than a 2,000 FPS load, but worthy enough to mention.

Stay tuned, the range will be opening soon and more results are one the way.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Sign-up Phase in Final Week: Group Buy for a Custom Lee Mould. The 358-429 Keith

UPDATE: The group buy is going very well.  There are 8 people signed up as I'm typing this.  I'm making a change to the minimum number needed, to 7.  That means the buy will happen.

I've decided to start a Blog based group buy for a custom Lee six cavity mould.  I'm so impressed with the results from my mould that I thought this would be both fun and a chance for other 357 casters / handloaders to take advantage of this style mould.   There aren't many places to get a Keith six cavity mould, as a matter of fact a custom mould is the only way I know of.

There's a Blog Page that describes the planned group buy.  It's a slightly different protocol than other group buys so please read through it.  The link at the top of the right hand column will take you to the details.

Comments, feedback and questions should be posted there as well.

Here are some results, rested at 25 yards:

A little reminder of how they look:

As always, have fun and shoot tight groups.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Update on the New - Custom Lee 358-429 & Bullet Fit Tips

Getting a new-to-me Taurus 669 at the same time as the new mould came in created a double learning curve.  It's what I love to do, but it takes some time to develop great loads.  Finally, here's more detail about my target load and some early results from a full magnum load.

This Lyman styled six cavity mould is cut to my specs and drops soft alloy bullets over .360 inches.  Just as I wanted.

The Taurus has a conventional groove diameter of .357.  It's throats are huge, at .3595 and .360.  It's a good thing that mould drops some fat bullets! 

Bullet Fit Tips 

The basic rule for shooting cast is for the throats to be bigger than groove diameter, whatever they actually measure is less important, in my opinion.  If the throats are equal to the groove, the gun can shoot good, but it's not ideal.   If the throats are smaller, it's a problem, the gun will lead, most of the time, and accuracy will be dissappointing.

If you have some dead soft lead (sinkers work well), here's a quick way to check your revolver dimensions are OK:
  1. Tap the sinker into the muzzle, no more than 1/8 inch
  2. Grab it with pliers and pull it out
  3. From the cylinder face, see if the "sized" portion of the sinker will fit into each throat
If it won't fit, the throats are undersized and tight.  This is not ideal and the throats may need to be reamed to fix the problem.  Assuming the sinker fits, your gun is good.

Here's how my bullets checked out, this becomes important later:
  1. Unsized a bullet will not push through the throats of the Taurus
  2. Sized to .360, with a Lee custom sizer, they push through with finger pressure, using a pencil
  3. If they drop through, they are to small.  My Lyman .360 trims them a little to much, they drop through and they lead.
I tried my favorite tumble lube recipes, including Johnson's Paste Wax and Alox, and nothing worked. More about lubing later with each recipe.

Note: If you want, you can slug your barrel and throats and measure the slugs with a micrometer, the basic rule to prevent leading is for bullets to be +.001 or +.002 over groove size.  I've found that helps avoid leading, however often isn't the most accurate.  Using the simple approach above works as well, in most cases.

3.5 Bullseye Target Load

The 3.5 grain Bullseye load is still tops for a light target load.  I was suprised to some degree when this bullet like to be loaded short.  In 357 revolvers the vast majority of great bullet/load combinations are with a long OAL.  Pushing the bullet as far into the throat as possible has become almost second nature.  Loading a 358-429 so the nose is .005 from the cylindar face has proven to be a good starting point, backing it down from there.  Typically a 358-429 has performed at it's best loaded 1.620-1.630, in my guns.  Cylinders lengths vary a bunch, so your revolver may like a different OAL.  In this case, it doesn't seem to matter.

I always try a few loads loaded short, or near the minimum length for the given recipe.  The Lyman Cast Bullet Handbook list 1.553 as the minimum.  This load really came alive at 1.560 with a light to medium crimp.  Very accurate, and a great load that anyone can shoot.  At least in a 6 inch revolver, it does smooth out the recoil.

This load shoots best with a pan-lubed & unsized bullet.  They are over throat size an do not even push through the throats.

So the target load likes a short OAL, an unsized fat bullet that is over throat size and a light crimp.  Another surprise to me is that 700X was outdone by Bullseye, as they say: It is what it is.

12.7 H110 Magnum Load

The long OAL 358-429's liked 13.5 grains of H110, loaded short this bullet and gun really like 12.7 grains, with a heavy crimp.  It's a nice, big load, that shoots to the same point of impact, time after time.  I admit that after shooting a while I have to work to avoid flinching.

This full-house load works the best, still loaded short with the same 1.560 OAL, but with a heavy crimp.  Pan-lubing and then sizing with the custom Lee nose-first .360 sizer proved to be the most accurate combination.  This load likes the bullet to push through the throats with finger pressure.  Use a pencil to test your bullet / throat fit.  I suggest trying throat size and over-throat size bullets to see what shoots best in your revolver.

In Conclusion

So far, this magnum load likes a short OAL, a Lee sized bullet (finger pressure to get it through the throats) and a heavy crimp.  What else?

  • An old trick: So just as I'm thinking this is as good as it gets.  I decided to lube both grooves in the bullet.  The lube groove, and the crimp groove.  Loaded short, it's fully covered by the brass, so why not.
  • Wow, this shoots even better.  So let me add a lubed crimp-groove to the list of what works for this bullet, in this revolver.
The Bullseye target load also likes the short OAL with an unsized bullet, pan-lubed in only the bottom lube groove and a light or medium crimp.  The medium crimp shoots cleaner and is just as accurate, it's perfect for the range.
There will be more pictures coming, so stay tuned as I continue to ring this combination out.  Have fun shooting those tight groups!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Best All Around Mould to Cast for your 357 Magnum Revolver

What makes a particular mould the best?  Good question.  In my opinion there are a few criteria:
  1. The bullets must be capable of less-than one inch groups.  Shot at 25 yards off a sandbag
  2. To raise the bar, a magnum load must group less than one inch with iron sights, and
  3. A light target load must group less than one inch, with iron sights
  4. It doesn't lead the barrel
  5. The mould must cast consistently from cavity to cavity
  6. The mould shouldn't cost more than a car payment
Those are the criteria, from the most important down to the very important.  Bullet design is critical for each of these, mould design beyond the cavity is an important secondary factor.  The results on target, measured by calipers are the deciding factor.  It's all about the groups.

After casting, loading, testing, shooting, measuring and recording the results of over 30,000 357 magnum cast bullets:  The Keith 358-429 design is the clear winner.  That sounds like good news, and it pretty much is.  The problem is, there a many flavors of this old design, and they aren't all equally effective, either on target or on the wallet.

Three of the best and my favorites, in no particular order, are:
  1. NOE 358-429 - a semi-custom mould, available as a group buy, so if a buy is going on you can get one.  Available is two cavity aluminum, five cavity alumunum, and I think four cavity brass.
  2. Lyman 358-429 - a standard mould, made of a soft steel and lead alloy, in two or four cavity versions.  In the past several years they have been cut to drop small undersize bullets.  This is a big frustration as the design is superb.
  3. Mountain Molds Custom - you create the design using the website, the three cavity mould is first rate and one of the finest I've ever cast with.  So you can't just order one of these, it takes work to figure it out.  But they make great bullets.  I've posted the specs I used in a prior post if you are interested.
If you read my older posts, then you know that the Lee TL 358-158 SWC is also an excellent shooter, but it leads in many guns.  If it shoots in your revolver without leading and loosing accuracy after 50 - 100 rounds, it's a great deal.  The leading is the only reason it isn't at the top of the list.

There are other 358-429 moulds that are excellent, they all range in price from $84 for a four cavity Lyman to $120 - $170 for a three or four cavity custom or semi-custom mould. 
However, I wanted a great casting six cavity mould that met all of the criteria above.  I now have one.  Based heavily on the Lyman design, with some changes, I sent my design to Lee Precision as a custom order.  Not cheap, it cost $205 when everything is all said and done.  But the bullets are the best of the best.

A Lee custom mould looks just like their standard mould, from the outside.

The bullets from the 358-429 Lee custom mould all drop larger than .360.   As I've written about before, these fatter bullets have consistenly outperformed thinner bullets.

Using my favorite soft alloy of 98% lead and 2% solder (lead free), the Lee custom bullets drop at 178-179 grains, so I round up and call them 180's.  Wheel weights are about three grains less.  They took some load development for my revolver, just as it would for your revolver.

Here are a few from my first casting run:

I'm loving these, here's one more look:

Load development and results using my new-to- me used Taurus 669 are outstanding.  I'm lovin' shooting this gun:

It does have large throats, so your revolver may shoot best after you refine my recipes (coming after load development is complete).  For a light target load, 3.5 grains of Bulleye is a top perfomer.  For now, this is what is possible at 25 yards, rested, iron sights:

I can't shoot six rounds, with iron sights, without pulling one.  I think you get the idea, the five round group measures .8 inches, center to center, so far.

The load development and refinement is going so well that I'm thinking of offering it as a group buy on eBay or other online marketplace.  To get a custom mould from Lee is $205.  At $150 it would be a great value, a custom six cavity 358-429 that if full size, and shoot light and heavy loads.  But that wouldn't meet the criteria...  I believe it can be done for less than $100.

Stay tuned for load development results!  I'm loving this bullet!

Shoot safely, and shoot tight groups.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Going Back to Taurus, With a Used 669 6 Shot! Switching up Moulds by Selling My Best!

Accuracy claims between owners of different revolver brands is a contentious topic.  The owners of lower cost guns hope they are as accurate as the known "good performers".  Such as a Dan Wesson, Ruger Blackhawk or S&W. Since I've been testing and measuring the accuracy, I've used a Taurus 66 6 inch, a Dan Wesson 6 inch and a Ruger Blackhawk 6.5 inch.  I also shoot a GP100 and S&W 686 at the range, just to flush out some of the better known brands.

Accuracy at 25 yards, rested and measured with calipers to .01 inch tells me that they can all shoot equally well.  OK, not exactly all of them.  The Blackhawk and Taurus are tied for the most accurate with a very slight advantage over the others.  Slight means within .2 inches, which is way beyond my abilitiy and within the area of shooter error.  But the difference in measurement does exist and seems to persist and be repeatable.

If you spent big bucks on your 357 revolver and just love it, that's perfect.  If you spent less and just love it, that's perfect too.   An $800 or $1,200 revolver is one great revolver, it just doesn't outshoot a $400 revolver.  I haven't tested a Freedom Arms, because they are out of my price range.  They may in fact be more accurate, but I'll probably never know for sure. 

I decided to change things up a bit and sold the Blackhawk.

It was a good test bed and a fun gun to shoot.  In it's place is a used Taurus 669, according to the Taurus serial number lookup it was manufactured in 1992.  I want to see how it performs, compared to the other guns.  If you are looking for a good buy, the post mid-1980's Taurus are well made pieces.

I found one on, that had no one bidding on it, with no reserve.  I figure folks have heard horror stories about Taurus and want to avoid them.  Hang out on the and you'll get a different story.

Long story short, here's my new-to-me 669, 6 inch and 6 shot revolver:

This fine looking revolver cost me $269, plus the usual costs for shipping and FFL fees (the Federal Transfer Fee for those outside the USA).  I've had it for a few days, and have learned a lot about what cast bullets it likes, and what it doesn't like.  Full house loads of 180 grain Keith bullets, over 13.5 grains of H110, rested at 25 yards suprised me with this first group:

Pretty good, especially with the iron sights.  Actually, that's exellent!  This Taurus, like the prior Taurus, doesn't respond well to loads using Unique powder.  But is warming up to faster powders like 700X and Bullseye.

More results wil be coming, after a brief Christmas break.  That's not all that's changing around here.  To start the new year off, I took the top four bullet moulds:

They have all been sold on eBay.  The lapped Lyman 358-477, the lapped Lee TL-358-158 SWC, the Lyman 358-429 and even the new custom made Mountain Molds 358-429 180 grain Keith.  It was the single best performing bullet in the Blackhawk.  It wasn't around when I had the Taurus 66 so there's no direct comparison available.

On the way, hopefully soon, is a custom 6 cavity Lee mould.  I produced the design and they are cutting the mould.  It'll basically be a 6 cavity version of the 180 custom Keith.  It's expensive, but the best bullet I've shot in any gun to date.  With the custom tooling it's costing $205.  That's almost as much as my gun!

I plan to work with that new mould, and to dust off a 200 grain SWC from NOE.  One of my favorite mould manufactuers.  These heavies have been consistently outperforming the lighter bullets, and are the best that I've found.  Working up a lighter load, and more testing to refine the full house loads will be the priority for next year.

The 669 has big throats, and likes the .360+ bullets unsized, so I'll walk you through how I determined that fact, and other key steps to getting superb accuracy.  Casting and handloading a 357 magnum can produce terrific highly accurate results.  But not every revolver will shoot lead effectively, that's an unfortunate truth.

There will be a few brief diversions to the Rossi, 20 inch 357 magnum lever action carbine too.  Shooting loads of 700X and a Lee 358-125-RNFP, it is something to behold. 

More info and test results are coming soon!  Shoot well and have fun at the range.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Affect of a Nose Punch on Accuracy - 358-477 Lyman & 358-429 Keith

The Lyman 358-477 is one of the most accurate moulds for my 357 6.5 inch Blackhawk.  For my 357 20" Rossi lever action carbine the 358-477 bullets won't even group at this point.  That just doesn't seem right,  Thinking through the different accuracy tests ant the results (over the past several years and tens of thousands of bullets), I knew this bullet shot best when sized in a custom Lee sizer and tumble lubed.  The Lyman 450 sizer produces bullets that perform almost as well in the Blackhawk, but both lube approaches just failed in the Rossi.

  • I decided to try some tests with different nose-punches, to see if the 358-477 would at least group out of the Rossi.

  • If it worked, I would then run the same test on 358-429 bullets from my new Mountain Mold (see prior posts for more details).

The primary rationale for a nose punch test is that the nose first sizing of the Lee die pumps out "well-centered and square" bullets more often than the Lyman.  Could a loose fitting nose punch in the Lyman cause the bullets to be less accurate?  It's an easy enough test.  Here's the lineup of nose punches with a 358-477:

The flat punch is my standard, it is widely accepted as affective so it made sense to use it.  The deep fit / snug fit middle punch came with a NOE mould.  It also makes sense to give it test and see if there's any improvement in the Rossi.  The RCBS sits in between, but is loose fitting with not much more support than the flat punch.  I included here as a visual reference to show just how deep and snug the test punch is.

I loaded up test loads using 5.4 grains of Unique, using the deep seating NOE punch and headed to the range.  Using the same 2X scope as before, I didn't expect much.  This exact same load was a dissapointment every time I shot it in the Rossi.  So how did it do?  Here are the two best groups, the single flyer in each is shooter induced (sorry about that, I'm only human after all... with no Ransom Rest):

So much for low expectations.  The bottom 4 shot single hole (above the dime, excluding the fifth flyer) measure .190 inches, center to center.  That is the single best group I've ever shot.  Ever.

A quick recap: the 358-477, when sized with the Lyman & a loose nose punch, or the Lee, doesn't group from the Rossi lever action.  There is no before picture, so just think "swiss cheese" and randomly placed holes.  I change the punch to a deep fit / snug fit punch to see what happens.  This bullet goes from zero to hero, unseating the Lee TL 358-158-SWC as the most accurate in the Rossi. WOW!

  • The improvement comes from the bullet being centered while running through the sizer, and being very square and straight as it's sized. 

It's time for the next step, how would this work with the beautiful 180 grain, 358-429 Keith bullets cast with my new custom Mountain Mold.  First, the punch lineup:

The flat punch produces good results with this large meplat bullet, with groups less than 1 inch, at 25 yards & off a rest.  How does the deep fit / snug fit NOE punch affect accuracy. 

These are two different loads. On top is a 5 shot group with13.5 grains of H110.  Very impressive, the real story is the bottom .  It's a 4 shot group (I ran out of test bullets) and my very first revolver group less than .5 inch.  That's pretty special in my book, rarified air IMHO.  It is now the number one most accurate bullet and load, measuring .380 inches, center to center.  WOW AGAIN!

These are spectacular results.  The problem is, my one NOE custom nose punch isn't very helpful to you or anyone else.  It doesn't help me either, with new bullet besigns in the future that need a different size punch.

Luckily, I recently came across Keith Benedict and his unique nose punches.  I've just order 4 for future use.  He offers standard nose punches for a many calibers.  What's so different about his "open" design punch:

They are open so then can be filled with epoxy, or hot glue, and then form fitted to a specific bullet.  That gives a deep fit / firm fit, every time, for any bullet.  If the standard nose punch doesn't quite meet your needs, you can order one custom sized one.

I'm not connected with Keith or his busness.  This is the best solution I've found and need to pass the info along.  You can contact him directly at and he will provide all the information needed.  Including instructions.  If you have a loose fitting nose punch, it may work with epoxy or hot glue, give it a try with what you have.

Either way, taking advantage of a deep fit / snug fit nose punch for maximum accuracy makes good sense.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Mountain Molds Custom 3 Cavity SWC, 358-429 Keith Style

For folks that can't seem to get a 358-429 mould that drops full diameter bullets, here is one great solution.

The last couple of Lyman 358-429's that I bought cast .356-.357 bullets.  Too small to be lapped, especially since they are made of a steel/lead material.  It's too difficult to lap them to .3604 or so, which my guns like sized to .360.

My NOE mould 5 cavity is awesome, but it's only run once a year so you can't order one right now!  There are a few places that can help you out.  Mountain Molds is one of the most unique, with an online design tool.  There are ton of options and measurements that can be changed to make the mold you want.  If the tool can draw it, Mountain Molds can make it.

My new custom 358-429 shoots as great as bullets cast from the NOE and Lyman moulds.  It's one of the top bullets, one of the most accurate and it loves magnum full-house loads.  It is 100% of everything I had hoped for and expected. I did tweak it for a wider meplat, it's a beefed up Keith! 

Before I get to the details, here's a quick look at the top 3 designs that I've found:

A quick review of these great bullets, from left to right:
  1. Lyman 358-477:  The 150 grain mould came already dropping nicely sized bullets.  To get exactly  the size I want, with my soft alloy, took some minor lapping.  With the softer, and also heavier alloy, it drops 4 160 grain bullets.  I shoot a bunch of these every month.
  2. The Lee TL-358-158-SWC  was easier to lap, since it's aluminum, unlike the steel/lead construction of the Lyman.  This now drops at 168 grains, with the soft & heavy alloy.  The Ruger Blackhawk leads at the lands, unless it gets a heavy dose of Liquid Alox.  It's incredibly accurate.
  3. The last two are both 358-429 bullets.  I didn't have a NOE handy for this picture, because I shot all that I had on hand!
    1. This is the Lyman bullet.  It's a little longer than the NOE, but they are similar.  I used this as the model for my custom Mountain Mold.
    2. This is the bullet from the Mountain Mold.  I wanted a little bigger meplat, specified it using the online tool, and it's right on the money.  It fits the Blackhawk really well, and even cycles in a Rossi Lever Action.  A few more thousanths and it probably wouldn't. You can decide how big you want your meplat.  The orignal Keith was (I believe) .250, this one is also .250.
How do you design your own mould

 Go to Mountain Molds website, and select 35/9mm in the drop down.  The measurements that I used are in this screenshot:

Click on the image to get a full size version, use this for input if you are interested.

It takes some learning but in no time you will be used to the interface.  It's a lot of fun and very easy considering that you are actually designing a bullet mould.

Let me say, this mould is awesome.  Mountain Molds will cut either one, two or three cavity moulds.  Check out the absolutely wonderful sprue plate.  If you enjoy casting as much as I do, it's easy to get excited over the Mountain Mold design.  It's thick, it cuts great and the recessed holes making casting a breeze.  I can cast more bullets with this 3 cavity than most other 4 cavity moulds.

What does a Mountain Mold look like (after casting about 10lbs of bullets):

The RCBS handles fit it, or Lee handles fit as well.  It's easy to cut the sprue, and the bullets just drop out of this mould.

Nice looking vent lines and a big block help make this cast so well.  Note the block size in the design tool screen shot above.

Attention to detail is evident in the alignment pins, and the overall look and feel,  This mould is a joy to cast with.  Now you can get any bullet you want, without having to waiting for group buys.  Modeling a design after a known bullet can get you started quickly.

One of the more important decisions is the diameter.  You must decide if you want the specified diameter to be the maximum or minimum, or in the middle of the tolerances.  I choose for .360 to be the minimum.  Since I size and lube, and my guns love fat .360 diameter bullets, this works.

I'll be working up additional design specs in the near future, stay tuned for those results.

At the beginning, I was concerned that the bullets from my custom mould would not be as accurate as I demand and expect.  After all, testing thousand of rounds, testing endless alloys, unending moulds, lapping, sizing, lubes and alloy temps, it all resulted in a finely tuned set of a few excellent moulds.  

Not to worry.  The design is close enough to the model design, which is proven.  Then adjusted for the diameter my guns want, with my alloy.  It surpasses the accuracy and performance of the others, to make it into the top three bullet moulds.  Gotta love it!

I hope this provides another way to get that bullet you really want.  Now, if you design something your gun doesn't like to shoot,  that's another story.  Stay close to a proven masterpiece (the 358-429 Keith in this case) and tweak to suite your guns, and you'll be one happy casting handloader.

Coming soon there will also be another post regarding testing with nose punches (on a lubrisizer), and how a good fitting punch can improve accuracy.

Have fun, be safe and shoot tight groups!