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.