Sunday, August 28, 2011

Part 5: Using The Ladder Test - 700X Works in the Blackhawk, Lesson Learned - Maybe

The final notes on Ladder Tests:  Retesting ladders as follow up has proven to be critical.  Consistency and accuracy with a revolver at 25 yards, even off sand bags, is hard to achieve.  I wish I could say I redid the 700X Ladder for the Blackhawk, and this time it worked.  But I didn't redo the Ladder.  I had some 3.5 700X loads handy, with the 2 X Alox with Mica (Extreme Alox in prior post) lube and shot this great group:

Shot indoors, 25 yards off a sandbag rest, using the open iron sights on the Blackhawk.

This is a favorite load from the Taurus 66 and Rossi M92 rifle.  700X didn't shoot in the Blackhawk at all, at first.

In hindsight I suspect that the 700X Ladder missed this load because I flinched or made some other error.  Maybe having worked out the lube & leading problem made the difference.  So retest from time-to-time.  Especially if you don't have much experience shooting off sand-bags or a rest.

Technique makes a big difference and it is all too easy too influence the Ladder Test results.  This is true no matter what approach is used to work up loads.

Ladder Test - Incremental Load Develop continues to be my new favorite approach to work up accurate loads.

Luckily for me I had some 3.5 - 700X loads handy to shoot a few groups.  It could be that a Ladder Test with fast powders should use .2 grain increments.  The .3 increments I used in the other tests has a much great impact on 3.5 grains of 700X than it does on 13.5 grains of H110.  Food for thought and a suggestion when you work up a load with a Ladder Test.

H110 in a Rossi Lever Action Carbine:

For fun I've included a picture of a 10 shot group from the 20 inch Rossi M92 Lever Action rifle.  It's at 25 yards (max at my range) with the Lee TL-358-158-SWC (lapped) over 13.5 grains of H110:

A load of 13.5 grains of H110 with a magnum primer and either the Lee TL-358-158-SWC or the Keith 358-429 is a great performer.  Fun to shoot in a revolver and fun to shoot in a rifle too.

Have fun refining your 357 Magnum handloads, the finest caliber of all.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Part 4: Using The Ladder Test - H110 Results, Also - Extreme Alox Defined

It's been a few weeks since starting this series.  Here is a review of the H110 Ladder test.  If you haven't been following along, please go to Part 1 and start there, otherwise this won't make sense.

First, the ladder test results using the Lee TL-358-158-SWC bullets, now dropping at 168-170 grains.  I modified the mould by lapping it, which is described in a earlier post.

Based on this ladder, 13.5 grains is the sweet spot, now to test it out.

Testing the 13.5 grain load:  The test revolver remains a Ruger 357 Blackhawk with a 6.5 inch barrel, and stock open iron sights.  Shooting groups at 25 yards, even off a sandbag rest is a challenge for me.  I included a quarter as a reference, the target sizes are completely different in these photos, with this one being 1/2 the size of the ladder test picture.

I've started shooting off-hand (unsupported) and more rounds in each group for these tests.  This is one great result, for me, the variance is all shooter induced.  The iron sights make it difficult to shoot every round in a tight group, but I seem to be improving.  Even though it might not look like it to some of the readers. 

The results of the tests have shown that the Ladder Test WORKS.  At least in a longer barreled 357 magnum.  I do plan a test with a 38 special snub-nose, but not as part of this series.

If you want to work up loads quickly and effectively use a Ladder Test.  In one session, with as few as 5 rounds to 9 rounds, you can identify sweet spots with a given powder.  

Refining the charge at the sweet spot is completely up to you, but I have yet to improve the cartridges accuracy beyond the test result.  During this test, great loads using Unique and H110 were discovered for both bullets used.  The Lee TL-358-158-SWC and the 358-429 from NOE, both are lapped.  700X was shown to not work in my Blackhawk (see Part 5 for more about 700X & fast powders in general), even though my Taurus 66 loved it.

Extreme Alox Described:

The Blackhawk shot the TL-358-158-SWC accurately from day 1.  However it starts to lead at 10-20 rounds and looses accuracy at 40 rounds.  At this point, the bullet isn't a viable option for this gun.  The leading is right at the start of the lands, extending 1/8-1/4 inch.

I decided to see if it would ever shoot without leading this bullet, without fire-lapping the gun or modifying the gun in any way.  I've gotten great results fire-lapping in the past, but it's not guaranteed to fix this problem, and once some metal is removed it can't be added back.  So instead, I decided to test different way to lube with liquid Alox.

First, the Lee instructions for a standard application leave a very thin coating of Alox.  This is the proven and standard way to lube using liquid Alox.  Since that didn't work, I went non-standard, so this Extreme Alox (my term for the process) is to address a problem.  If you have a similar leading problem, give either of the two approaches a try.

Extreme Alox 1: The Blackhawk has no leading in any load with the 358-158 any more. By applying a heavy coating of Alox and Mica, it shoots everything from puff loads to full magnum rounds leaving a shiny barrel after 100 rounds.  The steps to apply this heavy coating are:
  1. Apply first coat of straight Alox, making a Z shape across the bullets, tumble, spread on wax paper and let dry overnight.  This is a heavier coating than Lee recommends
  2. Apply the second coat of straight Alox, just like step1
  3. Apply a medium amount of Mica and shake around (see the tumble lube post)
This will result in a very heavy coating, however one single coating didn't work.  It took 2 coats of liquid Aloxx and the Mica to resolve the problem.  You will need to check the bullet seating and crimp dies every 100 handloads.  Any buildup should be cleaned out using mineral spirits or another good cleaner.  If you don't do this the buildup will eventually make a mess, and seat the bullets deeper.  That can cause accuracy and potentially pressure problems.  This is my preferred solution and what I use.

Dillon has dies designed to pop out for cleaning, then be put back, all without messing up the adjustments.  They aren't cheap, but they are very well made and make cleaning a no-brainer.

Extreme Alox 2:  Dipping the bullets into Alox also solved the leading problem.  Alox applied using this technique is probably the most effective I've seen.  That's the big plus, the negative is it's slow and takes patience.  Rather than detail the how-to, here is a link with great instructions:

If your revolver is super accurate with a tumble lube design, but has a leading issue, it may need to be lapped to the correct size.  In my case, the leading was minimal and the size wasn't an issue.  So Extreme Alox solved the problem and continues to leave a shiny barrel.

That's a wrap for today.

Have fun and shoot tight groups!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Part 3: Using The Ladder Test - 700X Result, Keith and Unique Final Result

First the mould & bullet used in this Ladder Test:  The 358-429 mould from NOE is lapped and now it drops 178 grain bullets.  I round it to 180 and use those recipes.  Since the actual bullet weight is lighter, it's safe.  Working the other way can cause unsafe pressures, so don't use recipes for a lighter bullet.

A recap of Part 2 results:  The 5.4 charge of Unique under the lapped TL-358-158 has proven to be extremely accurate.  The leading problem reported in Part 2 has been completely solved.  Look for an upcoming post "Extreme Alox" to see how.  Ladder tests with a 357 revolver (a 6.5 inch Blackhawk in this case) is producing accurate loads.  This continues to be a great surprise.

Now for the 180 grain Keith.  For a description of the test approach please refer to Part 1 and Part 2.

This time there are 2 sweet spots.  The pairing of shots 1 & 2 is the first, then 3 & 4 is the second.  That suggest 5.1 grains of Unique and also 5.7 grains of Unique.

At this point, I know this bullet and the TL358-158 are the 2 most accurate moulds for a 357 magnum, and that the Ladder test produced a great load for the  TL358.  So I decided to shoot the 2 loads from this ladder off-hand, 25 yards with the open iron sights and unsupported in any way.  I fully expect that off a rest they will group well, just like the TL358.

First the 5.1 charge of Unique.  This is looks to me like another great load:

The 5.7 load is just a bit bigger, but still very respectable:

Not bad!

A review of the progress so far:
  1. 700X didn't produce a good ladder using the Blackhawk.  Verfied later on, this combination isn't accurate.  The 700X and the Taurus 66 357 is the most accurate combination, with that revolver.  The variation of what works in one revolver vs another is quite large.  So don't get frustrated is one of the "proven" recipes doesn't work in yours, try some other powders and you'll find one.
  2. The TL358-158 ladder with Unique produced a charge of 5.4 (1 sweet spot).  It checked out to be incredibly accurate.  Producing a best group, rested and iron sights, of .668 inches. That's awesome.
  3. The Keith ladder with Unique produced 2 charges (2 sweet spots).  A charge of 5.1 and also a charge of 5.7.  They are both excellent, with the 5.1 load having the slight edge.  One off-hand test isn't conclusive in my book.  But that is the result for this test.
  4. With the leading of the TL358-158 resolved, it just edges out the Keith for accuracy, making it the preferred bullet for 357 magnums.

Coming up next, test results for H110 and the TL358-158.  I plan to try all these loads out in the Rossi 20 inch M92 Lever action rifle.  Oh, the Extreme Alox solution will be laid out in detail too.  Without that, the single most accurate bullet would loose accuracy in 40 rounds.  That would make it unusable.

But it is resolved, the Blackhawk and the TL358-158 are now an awesome combination.  If you have similar problems with a bullet leading right at the start of the lands (rifling) maybe Extreme Alox will solve your problem.

At this point, the Ladder Test certainly work in a longer barrel 357.  Give it a try to develop your most accurate loads. 

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Part 2: Using The Ladder Test - Lee TL358-158-SWC & 358-429 Keith with Unique and 700X

This installment covers the initial test results using the Ladder Test for a Ruger Blackhawk.  A few key truths are made evident and discussed.  I believe the results of this project translate to your 357 Magnum revolver and aren't only for my Ruger.

For the time being, ladder testing and validation using H110 moved onto the back burner.  700X and Unique early results are covered.

700X has proven to be one of the most accurate powders in the Taurus 66, and also the Rossi lever action rifle.  The ladder test for the 358-158-SWC (tumble lube Lee mould, lapped and now dropping 168 grain bullets) going from 2.8 grains to 5.3 grains, in .3 grain increments:

The 700X ladder test for the 358-429 Keith (lapped and dropping 180 grain bullets) ranged from 3.1 to 4.6 grains:

The 358-168-SWC test results didn't look very conclusive to me, so I followed up with some accuracy testing to see what would those results would indicate.  Wow, it wasn't pretty.  Rather than posting picture of horrible groups, here is the bottom line:
  • The Blackhawk won't shoot this bullet accurately with 700X
  • This bullet causes light leading near the forcing cone, with all charges.  It wasn't horrible, but enough to affect accuracy after 50-60 rounds.  Not acceptable
  • The Blackhawk does not shoot either of the 2 best bullets well with 700X.  Proof that bullet / powder combinations don't work equally well in every gun
So what does that say about ladder testing?  Load accuracy is the result I was looking for and all that ladder testing promises to offer.  The results weren't conclusive and when followed up with additional testing, 700X proved to not be accurate.  As much as the other 357's love it, the Ruger doesn't.

The Ladder Test can in fact save time in determining that the gun-bullet-powder combination isn't effective, there was no clear sweet spot because this combination doesn't work.  I think that's a big plus.

  • A note regarding the leading:  It was a small amount of leading, right were the lands start. The area between the cylinder throats and the lands is critical in a revolver.  It's possible that the short 358-158 bullet allows gas to get around the bullet, in this critical area.  Enough to cause this light leading, and the resulting loss in accuracy.  Basically, a form of gas cutting. The leading occurred using Unique as well.  With the longer Keith, there's no leading after 200 rounds.  That's a big difference between the Taurus, that loves this bullet, and the Ruger.

How about the results from the Keith ladder test?  This test indicated a charge of 4.1 to 4.2 to be a sweet spot.  After testing, it wasn't.  There was no leading with this bullet, but it confirmed that the Blackhawk just doesn't like 700X.  At least with 2 of the most proven bullets in other 357's.

Again, the ladder test proved to be helpful.  It suggested a sweet spot that once tested, didn't work out.  It saves time over testing 20 rounds, or more, at each charge weight (my old testing approach).

Before I would have loaded and test 20 rounds at each of the 6 charges, for a total of 120 rounds.  Using the ladder test, I loaded 6 rounds and could have validated it with 20 more, for a total of 26.  I did load and shoot more than that to see if the ladder test missed a sweet spot, it didn't.  So far the ladder test is looking promising, even in a revolver and even at 25 yards.

But can it find a validate sweet spot?  Here is the Unique ladder test with charges from 5.0 to 5.9.  Not a huge range, but I wanted to give it a try.

Now we are talking!  The sweet spot is clearly between loads 2 & 3.  Here is a group using 5.4 grains:

Please don't let my limited photographic skills mess up the effectiveness of these results.  The ladder tests are on a big bullseye target.  This test is on a target less than 1/2 the size.  This group (excluding the shot I pulled) is a .668 group.  Yeah, that's what I'm looking for!  A sub 1 inch group, rested, at 25 yards using iron sights.  That is a further indication that ladder testing (revolver, at 25 yards) WORKS.

I was able further validate, this is one sweet accurate load. BUT!  This bullet still has the leading problem.  That tells me it's not the powder as much as the bullet and the Blackhawk not working together.  Testing with the H110 will either be strike three, or may work.  It remains to be seen.

Conclusion:  Early results of ladder test are positive.  It saves reloading and range time by reducing the number of rounds needed to find a sweet spot.  In my tests, the inconclusive results proved that there was not a sweet spot, another ladder result let me quickly determine that 700X didn't work with the Keith either.  Then the third test produced a super accurate load, with a minimal number of rounds loaded and shot.  That's very impressive.

This is extremely useful since bullet moulds and powders don't always translate from revolver to revolver, or if you need to work up a new bullet & powder combination for your revolver.  Both 700X and the 358-158 that work so well well in other revolvers barely even group in the Blackhawk.  Unique in the Blackhawk is working out very well, even though it didn't give the best results in the Taurus. 
  • A .668 inch group is the best I've ever shot with iron sights.  That's exciting!
Part 3 is already in the works.

Shoot tight groups and enjoy your 357 Magnum.  The most versatile and fun caliber to cast and handload, in my opinion of course.