Sunday, October 23, 2011

Lee 3 Die Set or a Dillon 4 Die Set. Any Difference in Accuracy?

The benchmark for accuracy remains at 25 yards, off a rest.  Sometimes with iron sights, other times with various scopes that I seem to buy and sell off.  I also own and have owned casting and reloading equipment from various manufacturer.  Looking at what I have on hand:  I load 38 Special with Lee Dies (3 die set) and Dillon Powder Measure.  357 Magnum is loaded with  Dillon Dies and Dillon Powder Measure.  Each setup is on it's own toolhead, which makes swapping them out a snap.

I wanted to see if a RCBS lock out die would work into my handloading process for both 38 and 357.  It takes one of the 4 holes, leaving 3 stations for the Lee 3 die set (since I had it already).  Seating and crimping at the same time in the last station.  Before deciding to make the switch, I wanted to see if the Lee Die setup produces ammo with the same accuracy as the Dillon.

It's not exactly and apples to apples comparison, but my goal was to free up a hole for the RCBS.  In an earlier post I noted that the Lee FCD can cause problems.  So I'm not really interested in doing additional tests with a Lee 4 die set, which wouldn't free up a station anyway.  My recommendation is to not use the FCD for oversize cast handloading, which is 100% of what I do.  It's great for jacketed bullets, just not cast.

First, the press and other gear, for handloading 357 magnum and 38 special (for my snub-nose) I really like a Dillon 550:

FYI, I don't have the roller handle or the fancy base.  But this is one awesome press.  It is a manually indexed progressive.  After owning turret presses, and several auto-indexing progressives I've decided this is the way to go.  Very safe, very quick and easy to do a mid-course correction. 

A Dillon 3 die set doesn't include a powder/expander die.  They take a little more time to set than the Lee dies, but are easy to clean.  They come apart and go back together without having to unscrew and reset them.

The powder dies comes with the toolhead, and is one size fits all.  The toolhead with powder die is pretty inexpensive:

Each caliber takes a specific powder funnel.  The one on the left is for most pistols, it expand the brass as well a flares the case mouth.  The same one fits 357 and 38 special, it's pretty convenient.

That is what I used to handload the "Dillon" bullets.  I removed the dies and added this equipment from Lee:

A Lee carbide 3 die set.  It costs less than half of the Dillon dies, and includes a powder through expander too.  Really a great deal and price point.

In place of the Dillon Powder Measure, I used the Lee Pro-Auto Disk.  It cost about half of the Dillon setup, and is another great deal.  The disks make finding a known load quick and easy.  It's surprisingly precise too.

I tested, off a rest with my 6.5 inch Blackhawk, with a 2x scope, using the 358-477 bullets and 3.5 grains of 700X.  My most accurate load.

The question is, are the two setups equally accurate?

My first test, at 15 yards, showed no difference in accuracy.  I shot many groups, sometime the Dillon was better, sometimes the Lee group was better.  They were all close.

At 25 yards there was a more clear pattern, first some pictures:

Typical groups loaded with the Lee equipment:

Now for a couple of typical Dillon groups:

The difference should be obvious, if not clouded by my poor photographic skills.  On average, the Dillon groups are in fact smaller.  

At 25 yards, Dillon handloads range from .25 to .5 inch smaller, 80% of the time.

After adjusting seating and crimp dies to get the most out of the Lee's, that's the bottom line.  At 25 yards, the Dillon loaded ammo begins to show superior accuracy.

If, like me, you want the most accurate handloads, at 25 yards, Dillon wins this one.  If your goal accuracy at shorter distances, Lee will save some money.

So, the RCBS isn't working into the my reloading process.  It was really a thought about "additional" safety.  The standard Dillon setup isn't unsafe in any way, to the contrary, it's a great design all the way around.  Since I'm comfortable with the Dillon, and it's more accurate, that's what I'll continue to use for my daily handloading.

Next up, I recieved my mould from Mountain Moulds.  I used their great online design tool in an attempt to get a Lyman styled 358-429, that drops at a full .360 diameter.  I've cast with it, and shot my initial test groups.  Let me say, this is one fine mould.  Details will be coming...

Have fun and shoot tight groups!  After all, you are shooting a 357 Magnum, the finest of all cartridges.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Lyman 358-477 Added to Favorite Bullet Moulds and Loads, with Johnson's Paste Wax Lube or Darr Lube

In the post "Follow up on the Lyman 358-477 and the 358-429" I cover the details of this mould.  It is great to get a new Lyman Mould that drops decent size bullets.  After lapping, this gem of a mould is now being added to Favorite Moulds.  The 6.5 inch Blackhawk is loving these!

Using a Lubrisizer with Darr Lube, NRA or Carnauba Red leaves a clean shiny barrel.  200 rounds and no cleaning needed!  Johnson's Paste Wax as a tumble lube, a personal favorite, also produces great results.  After 100 rounds there may be a slight hint of leading, the Blackhawk likes to lead more than the Taurus.

Use a bronze brush wrapped with a swatch of copper Chore Boy and clean any trace of leading, in less than 30 seconds.  There is no accuracy loss after 100 rounds, but I do need to test after 200 rounds.  I'll get some measurements with 5 shot groups, but 1 ragged hole with 10 rounds at 25 yards is excellent.

Any time the barrel can be completely clean in a minute or two, that's good.  Less than one minute is great.  Needless to say, I'm now using a custom .360 Lee sizer and then tumble lubing with the JPW.  There are posts about Tumble Lubing if you are interested.  There is also a post on how to lap a mould.

A four cavity Lyman Mould, made out of soft steel & lead alloy, can cast a bunch of bullets quickly.  It is a real joy to use.  A little heavy, but holds heat well and drop the bullets easily.  I enjoy casting with this mould, and then handloading & shooting these bullets.

Updated Favorite Bullet Moulds and Lubes:

Favorite MouldsBlackhawkM92 (Rifle)Taurus 66Pre-LappedLapped
358-477 Lyman3.5, 700XN/A**N/A150160
TL-358-158-SWC3.5, 700X3.5, 700X3.5, 700X158168
358-429 NOE13.5, H11013.5, H11011.8, H110168178
TL-358-158-SWC13.5, H11013.5, H11011.8, H110158168
TL-358-158-SWC5.4, Unique3.5, HP-383.5, HP-38158168
358-429 NOE5.1, Unique5.1, Unique5.1, 700X*168178
*5.1 of 700X was with the 168 grain bullet, not for use with the 178 grain lapped version.  Check all loads with your reloading manuals and recipes to ensure they are not over-max-pressure.
**The 358-477 had bad accuracy in the Rossi M92 Carbine.  After several tests I've concluded it isn't a match with this gun.

Getting a 358-477 mould and that drops decent sized bullets can be hit and miss.  But when it's a hit, it's very good.

There will be another follow-up, testing this bullet with H110, with Magnum loads.

Shoot tight groups!  Till next time.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Most Accurate Powder - Poll Results (updated chart as of October, 2011)

Note: Scroll down to see the updated results.

Below is a chart of the poll results.A total of 148 handloaders cast their vote and are represented in the graph below.  Click on the chart to enlarge it.

The question posed on the poll was:

New Poll: When loading for your Handgun, what is the most accurate powder?

If you're going shooting with the goal of the most accurate round for your most accurate handgun. What powder do you grab off the shelf? Some folks have a top 2 or 3 because they load a bunch of different calibers.

This is in your most accurate handgun, you can shoot the wings off of a fly powder.

Original chart posted in 2010:

This poll has continued to add up input for quite some time. Below is an update as of May 8, 2011.  The total number of handloader votes is up to 342:

As of October, 2011 there are now 424 votes cast:

It a surprise that the votes keep rolling in.  Each person (ID) is allowed to vote only once. 

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Follow up on the Lyman 358-477 and the 358-429 and a Mountain Mold Custom Design is on Order

I thought it was time to revisit these moulds, and spend some more time flushing out their potential.  I ordered a new 358-477 from Cheaper Than Dirt.  What a great surprise!  Dropping nice size .3576 and .359 bullets with soft lead, as delivered from the factory.  That's much bigger than the prior mould.  Made of soft steel (steel and lead alloy) the four cavities create a pile of great looking bullets in no time flat.

My guns shoot .360 soft alloy bullets better than anything else.  That soft alloy cast smaller than the "spec" alloys used by the mould manufactures, as a result I expect to have to lap them at least some.  It took some time to get the go through that entire process.  Previously described in detail, here's an overiew:

  1. Before first use, heat cycle the mould, 3 times at 400 degrees
  2. Strip the sprue plate and screws off
  3. Heat the mould and alloy
  4. Pour through some nuts, one over each cavity
  5. Cool and measure, if all the cavities are full size (.3604 across the seam) it's done.  Wash up, and the mould is ready
  6. Lap with 220 grit Wheeler Lapping Compound (from Midway)
  7. Cool down & wash with Dawn
  8. Go back to step 3
It takes a few hours, and is well worth the effort. The lapped mould drops .3604 diameter, 160 grain BHN 8 bullets effortlessly.

Lubed with Darr lube, I loaded up a bunch of 357 brass with 3.5 grains of 700X.  Shooting off-hand at 25 yards matched my best results to date, of any bullet.  That includes the champ, a lapped Lee TL-358-158-SWC.  The lapped 358-477 requires a shorter OAL than the usual.  The Blackhawk can handle these at 1.600, just barely.  There is a little resistance when rotating the cylinder as they fit the chamber "snug".

Lube for Convention Lube Groove Bullets

I've written a lot about using Alox and JPW for bullets with tumble lube grooves.  But that's not all that I use, by any means.  For conventional grooves I also like to use a Lyman Lubrisizer and a .360 sizer.  It pumps out well sized and very round bullets very quickly, that may be worth a post sometime.  The conventional lubes of choice are Darr (homemade), NRA & Carnauba Red, from White Label lube.  Their 2500+ looks like a good one to try too, much like the NRA, but not as soft.  These lubes, and many others from other providers, are excellent-proven products.  Look for a used 450 Lubrisizer and get lubing!  A Star from Magma is a good way to go, if money is no object.  I have a used Lyman 450, it works just fine.

For loads that work with pure Johnsons Paste Wax, that remains a top favorite.  It takes testing to determine if that works the best.  For example, a Keith style bullet with a large deep lube groove doesn't work in my guns, with tumble lube.  At least for full-house loads.  I plan to test the 358-477 with JPW in the upcoming weeks.

In closing on the 357-477, the Blackhawk is loving these with a light load.  Heavier loads remain to be tested.  A huge surprise is that the Rossi M92 20 inch lever rifle doesn't like these one bit.  The Lee TL-358-158-SWC remains the king in the Rossi, at least for now.

Now, the 358-429

I placed an order (Cheaper Than Dirt again) shortly after the great results with the 477 mould.  I heated it up, cast some bullets, and with high exceptions began to measure them.  What a let down, .3555 to .357 inch.  After a couple of tries, I decided the micrometer wasn't lyin' to me.

That's way to much lapping for me, even if it might work.  I'm not sure it would.  I really like the design of this bullet, so it was time to get creative.  I measured and measured the 429 bullets.  Once I had a good idea of the dimensions, it was time to go with a custom mould.  I choose Mountain Molds, who has a nice oneline design tool.

It took some time to get solid measurements for the nose, lube groove and driving bands.  I ended up specifying a 175 grain bullet, the spec alloy being WW.  That'll put my soft lead bullets closer to 178 to 180.  The order was placed last night, here are the specs (you may have to click to be able to read the details):

It takes a combination of measurements and much tweaking.  But I believe it's close to the same measurements as the Lyman.  Needless to say, I'll do a write on the the mould and the results at the range.  I'm excited to have a custom design on order, even if I did make it as much like the Lyman as possible.

Have fun at the range, more results are coming soon.