Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Make Your Own Nitrocellulose!

Schel is an amateur chemist that I met on Youtube after I made videos about making my own black powder and black powder substitutes. As it turns out, he was making nitrocellulose aka guncotton using components that can be locally sourced from hardware stores! Check it out.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Is Reloading Worth Your Time?

Those of us who are "into" reloading (also known as handloading) consider reloading to be a hobby within the larger hobby of shooting. Likewise, bullet casters see casting as a hobby within the larger hobby of reloading. But how many times have you heard the claim (from non-reloaders) that reloading and bullet casting are just not worth it when you consider the initial equipment costs and the time spent reloading?

A common refrain on gun forums and in the comment section of reloading videos is, "you only save money if you place no value on your time." This statement is based on the assumption that the only enjoyable part of shooting sports is the actual act of pulling the trigger; everything else being mere drudgery. For those of us who enjoy reloading, that is akin to claiming that camping is only worth it if you have camp hosts who set up the tent, build the fire, cook the food and tell the scary campfire stories. Perish the thought!
But the statement might not add up even from a strictly mathematical standpoint, because the folks who make that claim aren't telling the whole story. We'll look at that in a moment. First though, let's consider the initial equipment outlay.

Here's what you will need to get started handloading. Click on the highlighted titles to see a representative selection of what is currently available.

This is the basic piece of reloading equipment that everything else revolves around. With this machine you can resize, deprime and reprime the fired cartridge case, then seat and crimp the new bullet over a fresh powder charge to complete the cartridge. As you can see, a basic C-frame press from Lee can be had for just over $30. If you want benchless portable reloading, Lee also sells a hand-held press for well under $50 that allows you to reload while sitting in front of the TV, computer or campfire; or at the shooting range. It's not cast iron btw, regardless of what one of the sellers claims. Even with a bench-mounted press you can bolt the press to a short section of 2 x 6 or 2 x 8 lumber and then use C-clamps to fasten it to any handy table.
Keep in mind that with the very cheapest presses you will have to buy something to seat the new primers, such as a hand priming tool or a ram-prime die that screws into the press. My preference in a press is the RCBS Rock Chucker. At about $150, it is a heavy duty cast iron press that will last a lifetime of hard use. It comes complete with a primer seater, too.

You will need a set of dies and a shellholder for each caliber you reload. These will cost anywhere from about $20 on up. Bottlenecked cartridges only need two dies (although there are accessory dies that may or may not be useful, depending on application), and straight-wall cases (including most pistol rounds) need three dies.
For bottlenecked cartridges and large straightwall rifle cartridges, the sizer die will be plain steel and you will need to use case lube. For straightwall pistol cartridges, pay a bit more for the carbide sizer die (which most pistol die sets use; it will be advertised as such) and you can skip the case lube. Even for pistol rounds though, if you buy plain steel (non-carbide) dies you will have to lube your cases.
So what do these dies do? Well, you screw them into your press to perform various operations on your cases. There will be minor differences between brands, especially in which die the decapping pin (for removing the spent primer) is located. But here is the basic setup.

Bottleneck cases: Two dies. The first die resizes the fired case back to SAAMI spec. It actually sizes the neck of the case to a smaller diameter than it needs to be, but retracting the case pulls it over an expander that opens the case neck back to the correct dimension. This is to compensate for differences in case thickness at the neck. This die also has the decapping pin; in a two-die set that is the only workable solution.
The second die seats and crimps the bullet. If you don't want a crimp, you can adjust the die so it doesn't crimp. Some rifle dies don't even have a crimping shoulder. Bad idea in my book, although single shots and bolt actions don't usually need a crimp.

Straight cases: Three dies. The first die is the sizer die. As mentioned, it may have a carbide sizer ring. If so, you can forego case lube. Never skip the case lube with a standard sizer though, because you will stick the case in the die! Second die is the neck expander die. The decapping pin can be in either this, or the sizer die. Third die is the bullet seater and crimp die, just as in two-die sets.

Additional dies: Lee sells some 4-die sets for straight wall rounds, and three-die for bottleneck rounds. In most cases the extra die is their proprietary "factory crimp" die, which is a collet die for adding a 4-point stab crimp. Personally I think these are fluff, to justify selling the dies for 40 percent more. But I suppose they might come in handy at times. I don't usually buy them.

Lee also sells what they call the collet die, which is similar to the factory crimp die except instead of crimping, the collet fingers resize the neck of a bottleneck case against a mandrel. In contrast to the factory crimp die, I think the collet sizing die is wonderful. It's only good for bottleneck rifle rounds, and generally only for manually operated actions; especially bolt actions. It is also only good for reloading cases for a rifle it was previously fired in. Try this with range pickups, and you stand a good chance of sticking a case in your chamber.
To offset these disadvantages though, the collet die has the advantages of requiring no case lube, better accuracy compared to a full length sized case, and greatly increased case life. Get one of these in addition to, not instead of, a full length sizer die. In my opinion Lee should offer this die, not the "factory crimp" die, in a three-die set for bottleneck cartridges.
Lyman sells what they call the "M" die, and it is a great one for those of us who shoot cast bullets in bottleneck rifle cartridges. It is basically the same thing as the second, expander die in a die set for straight-wall cases. It expands the neck after sizing, and also flares the case mouth a bit to accept a cast bullet. It also helps when loading very short bullets, such as .30 carbine or .32 ACP bullets in a .30-06 case; or .357 Magnum bullets in a .35 Whelen case.    

and scale
To reload safely and successfully, you need some way to measure your powder charge. Actually you need both a way to measure it and a way to dispense the same charge repeatedly. If you are on an extreme budget you can get by for awhile with nothing more than a set of Lee dippers. In fact if you are on an even bigger budget you don't necessarily have to buy anything in this category just yet if you buy Lee dies; because most Lee die sets include both a sheet of load data and one powder dipper in the most useful size for that specific cartridge.

I do recommend that you buy a set of dippers and a scale as soon as possible though, and then add a real powder measure when you feel the need. The dipper set is only $11 as I write this. Be careful with your choice of scale, though. Some of the less expensive digital scales aren't accurate enough (both resolution and accuracy should be a tenth of a grain or less), and some of them even shut down after as little as 30 seconds of inactivity. It is possible to use a scale that goes to sleep that quickly, but I guarantee you will grow to hate that feature after awhile. My recommendation is that you spend a minimum of $30 on a scale. And even then, I also recommend that you eventually (if not immediately) back that up with a good quality mechanical balance beam scale, such as the RCBS 505. It really is as RCBS claims, "the legendary standard in mechanical scales." I have one, and have had it for over 25 years. They are actually made by Ohaus, who used to sell the exact same scale (albeit with a tan paint job) under their own name.

Back to the Lee dippers. The set comes with a slide rule showing the weights of various powders thrown by each size dipper. Until you have this set, you will never understand just how handy it is. I have several powder measures, and yet I use these dippers more than all my other powder measures combined. You can use them with an adjustable measure too, to help you get your measure adjusted close to your desired charge; after which you can fine tune the measure. They're a real time saver.
You can use them without a scale too, in some cases. But be sure to follow Lee's instruction of not using them for maximum loads, especially if you are not using a scale.

So what are we up to now?
Let's have a tally. Bare minimum, we're looking at (current prices as of this writing) about $33 for a press, maybe another $33 for dies, shellholder and a single powder dipper (included with the dies; check the listing to make sure). 
An RCBS ram priming set is about $25. That's $91. The only other thing you need are bullets, powder and primers. Let's assume we are starting with 9mm Parabellum, since that is the cheapest loaded centerfire ammo in the world and the subject of the discussion that prompted me to write this.

The Lee 9mm dies come with a .5cc dipper. One of the recommended loads for a 115 grain bullet in 9mm is 4.2 grains of 700-X, for which .5cc is the proper dipper. 700-X also happens to be one of the least expensive and most readily available powders, so let's go with that. You can get it for a little over $15 per pound by the 8 lb jug. Do that if you can afford it; you can reload just about any round (including reduced loads in full size rifle cartridges) with 700-X. But if you can't afford to buy that much at once, go ahead and get a single pound. In that format and buying locally it will probably set you back close to $25. Also get a box of 1,000 primers (about $30), and I would recommend going ahead and getting a sizeable (at least 250, preferably 500 or 1,000) box of copper-plated bullets. Or FMJ, if you find them on a super sale. In this case you might want to go ahead and buy them online; you probably won't find them cheaper locally. Doing a quick search, I just found 115 grain plated 9mm bullets for $83 for 1,000, with free shipping. The price is even lower for larger quantities: $149 for 2,000 and $289 for 4,000. Also with free shipping. That's 7.3 cents per bullet; but we will go with the 1,000 count price: 8.3 cents per bullet. 

If we bought a pound of powder for $25 and we will use 4.2 grains, that makes it exactly $15 worth of powder for 1,000 rounds (1,000 x 4.2 grains is 4,200 grains, which is .6 lb). Add $30 for the primers and $83 for the bullets and we are at $128 per thousand rounds. I'm not counting the cases because I have never had to buy a 9mm case yet, in my entire life. Most non-reloaders don't bother to pick up their fired brass at the local shooting area, especially for something as cheap as 9mm.

Counting equipment, that means we have about $220 in that first 1,000 rounds. That's not a terrible price for 1,000 rounds of 9mm. It is 22 cents per round, which equates to $11 for a box of 50. That compares quite favorably to just picking up a box.
But someone pointed out a place that currently has 1,000 rounds of steel-case Russian 9mm for $160 shipped. Ok, I'll play. Never mind the fact that it is a short-term sale, limited to stock on hand after which the price will be back to its normal level of $200-$225. Also never mind the fact that I wouldn't want to fire a thousand (or really, any) rounds of that steel-cased, steel-jacketed stuff through any gun I cared very much about, and that I consider doing so to be the very definition of false economy. So let's take it a bit further.

In fact, let's not take the entire price of the equipment out of the first thousand rounds (which would make further loading look even cheaper); and let's not use the 2,000 or 4,000 bulk price on the bullets. We won't even buy any bulk powder or primers; instead paying exorbitant local prices for primers and powder and repeatedly buying bullets by the 1,000 pack. So amortizing the price of the equipment, we will be paying about $175 per thousand by the time we load our second thousand. $158.33 per thousand by the third thousand. At this point we are below the super, limited quantity sale price on the Russian ammo. So there's your answer: 3 thousand rounds. I could shoot that in a weekend, if I put my mind to it.

Now we'll call the equipment fully amortized. And believe me, by this point you will consider reloading to be a major part of the hobby. Now you can easily justify buying more equipment, too. Things that will speed up your reloading, for example. Or you can buy a jug of powder and 5,000 primers for the best price available online, and buy the bullets in bulk to get the best price. Now you will be loading the same 9mm ammo for less than $110 per thousand!

"Ok, fine. But here's the problem: I don't have any 9mm brass. And I'm not finding it scattered where I shoot either; or if I do find any it's that steel-case Russian stuff."
Not to worry. Here's 1,000 rounds of once-fired, reloadable 9mm brass for less than $35 shipped. That wouldn't break the budget even if you only loaded it once. But in fact, with this load it will probably last for over 10 reloads. You will probably lose some though, so let's just call the total price tag $115 per thousand rounds. You could stop right there and never even bother with casting your own, and you will still come out ahead.

But let's pretend for a moment that it's not an enjoyable pastime, and that you can't perform some of the operations while you watch TV and the rest while listening to the radio, or music, or an audiobook, or a Morse code practice app on your smartphone. Let's "place a value on our time," as in the common charge that reloading is only worth doing if you don't place any value on your time. One wonders if those folks place a value on the time they spend on Youtube and forums. But that's beside the point.

Ok, so how much are you going to pay yourself to reload all that ammo? Keep in mind that you don't have to get dressed for the world and drive anywhere to do it. Driving time is something you have to consider, although some people apparently don't. Fuel expenditure, too. Also outside meals, which cost more out in the world than they do at home. Remember, we're not talking about the time you already spend at work. If we're being fair about it, we're talking about driving somewhere to work an additional day or partial day, instead of spending some time in the home reloading shop.
Also, you don't have to pay any taxes on what you are paying yourself, because it is money you are keeping instead of paying out. So how much? How about $20 per hour, tax free? It's no big deal to produce a couple hundred rounds per hour, so $20 an hour would put your total expenditure at $215 per thousand rounds of ammo that is better than the Russian stuff. Far more sustainable, too.


But you don't have to stop there. Granted, if you're paying yourself $20 per hour and buying your lead at the market price, casting is probably not gonna pan out. But if you're ready to consider it at least partially a hobby or maybe a means of prepping, it makes sense. Especially if you can scrounge at least part of your lead.

Let's look at the numbers. You can get good, clean lead ingots for $2 per pound. It takes about 16.5 pounds to make 1,000 115 grain 9mm bullets. That's $33. If you have two, six-cavity bullet molds and keep both in play, alternating between the two, you might cast 1,000 bullets in a couple hours. At $20 per hour, you're at $73 for the bullets. Add a couple bucks worth of liquid alox bullet lube and the (very little) time necessary to tumble lube them, and you are at if not over budget on the bullets. It just depends on how you look at it. If you decide it might be worthwhile to cast your own bullets, you will need a lead melter and bullet mold.

Want to know more? Check out my "Guns and Reloading" playlist on Youtube. 

Monday, August 1, 2016

30 MPG Jeep Wrangler!

This is my 2011 Wrangler Unlimited getting 30 mpg (with 165K miles on the odo!) with 3.8l V6, 6 speed transmission, 2.73:1 gears (I really want to put 4.56s in it). Here's how it works: the MPG indicator calculates average (not momentary) fuel usage based on fuel flow and speed. I reset it while driving at about 35-40 mph on a paved backroad, because other wise what I had been doing earlier (which was driving through mudholes down by the river, btw) would affect the reported mpg. For awhile I kept it above 50 mpg and even well into the 70s (average remember; not momentary. That is significant) and then settled down to 48 mpg. But then I had to go uphill for a bit, stop and wait for traffic, and accelerate to 50+ mph on the highway. That brought the overall average down to 30 mpg.
It's all about how you drive it. Well, that and not putting 37" Super Swampers and a rack of 8" off-road lights on it.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Homemade Black Powder from Commonly Available Ingredients

Black powder has become difficult to come by in most areas, partially because most retailers don't want to deal with the licensing involved (or so I've been told) and partially because most people who shoot black powder guns prefer to use one of the multitude of black powder substitutes that are now available.
If you do find real black powder locally, be prepared to spend thirty bucks or more a pound for it; not that the substitutes are much if any cheaper.

You can buy black powder online and have it shipped to your home (subject to local restrictions), and its price is about half what most gun stores sell it for. But then you have to pay shipping and haz-mat fees, making this an unrealistic option unless you buy several pounds or more at one time; up to the federal maximum of 50 pounds.

One of the great things frequently mentioned about black powder though, is the possibility of making your own at home if you can't get it any other way. With that in mind, I decided to try my hand at making some workable black powder. My first effort, using the so-called "CIA method," was a failure. So I bought an inexpensive ball mill and tried again. This time, although I already had some potassium nitrate and sulfur, I decided to start from scratch and try making usable gunpowder from ingredients that were readily available from my local big box home supply store. Watch the video and see what happens.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

How To Assemble an AR-15 Lower Receiver

Every time the anti-gunners mount a new assault on our gun rights, people pile into the gun stores to get their hands on an(other) AR-15 while they still can. The problem is, a complete AR is expensive. The receiver is the part that is controlled though; everything else is just parts. So it stands to reason that if you might want more than one (now or in the future), it makes more sense to buy a few lower receivers and lower parts kits. The lower receiver itself is the only part you have to purchase through a licensed dealer. At the time of this writing they are well under $100 each (I've seen them for less than $50), and a lower parts kit consisting of all the small parts that go in the receiver is likewise well under $100.

This video is a complete tutorial of how to assemble those parts into a working AR lower. All you need then is a completed upper, which attaches to the lower in seconds to make a fully functional AR-15.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Crosman Ratcatcher PCP Conversion

I bought this airgun from Crosman Custom Shop. It is a .22 caliber co2 carbine, model 2400 which is the Custom Shop version of the discontinued (in America; Crosman may still sell it in the UK) model 2250. In the UK, this airgun is commonly called the "Ratcatcher."
As delivered, it is a great little air rifle. Velocity with 14.3 grain lead pellets is about 550 fps, and a co2 powerlet is good for about 30 shots. Powerlets are inexpensive too; about 50 cents each in bulk. I don't remember how much they cost in the early '70s when I had my Crosman 180 carbine, but they were expensive enough to cause me to add a pumper to collection so I could shoot more. At a guess, they might have cost 20 cents each. But 50 cents now is cheaper than 20 cents was then.

As cheap as co2 powerlets are, bulk co2 is much cheaper. And if you have the means to compress it to 2K psi or so (which I do in the form of my Hill HPA pump), the air around us is free. So I wanted to expand the capabilities of this little hunting airgun by converting it to use those power sources. At the same time, I wanted to retain the ability to use powerlets. That way I could charge the rifle with high pressure air and go hunting, with a couple of powerlets in my pack as backup in the event that I deplete the air charge while I am still in the field.

This video is a description of the conversion and the initial chrono test. Since I created the video I have tuned the gun further, gaining both efficiency and power. Now with the same 14.3 grain pellets I am able to achieve 700 fps for a dozen shots. I haven't yet tried bulk filling with co2, but by detuning (via the homebuilt velocity adjuster) to the original 550 fps I should theoretically get 100+ shots from a fill that costs mere pennies.
You can find the HiPac conversion here: http://www.powermaxhipac.com/

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Colorado Air Show

Here's a video I shot a few years ago of the USN Blue Angels performing in Grand Junction, Colorado. I've been to a few airshows in my time, but I enjoyed this one more than most because of the setting. I had a great spot to set up; some of the security guys who were patrolling the safety zone helped me out.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Motorized Bicycle

Here's a motorized bicycle I built awhile back. The frame is a '70s Murray Westport. I added a front suspension fork and a cheap 2 cycle engine kit. I have somewhere around 500 miles on it now.You can get your own kit, parts and accessories, or even a complete motorized bicycle here: http://amzn.to/1Ys0dJ0

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Crosman Doomsday Bugout Kit

Awhile back I purchased this Crosman Doomsday Bugout Kit which includes a 2289G "Backpacker" .22 caliber multi-pump pellet pistol/ carbine as well as a small backpack, water bottle, rudimentary first aid kit, targets and a tin of 175 pellets.
Lots of airgun snobs talked trash about it, but I love mine. It is a nearly perfect low-profile food gathering tool. For the money it can't be beat, and both Crosman and several aftermarket companies sells lots of parts to upgrade it is desired. Unfortunately it's discontinued now, but you can put together basically the same thing from a Crosman 1322 pistol.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

MAC 11 Parts Kit

This is a gun parts kit that I recently bought to build my own 9mm semi-automatic pistol. Although the finished product looks like a submachine gun, it is functionally no different than a typical 9mm pistol.
What is different is that, because I built my own receiver (which is the regulated part), I didn't have to jump through any government-mandated hoops. That's not why I built it, though. I built it because home gunsmithing is an interesting hobby.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Honda Trail 70

I bought this in non-running, incomplete condition from an ad on Craigslist. Then for less money than fixing the original engine I bought a Piranha pitbike engine and associated parts and installed it. Now I have a great running, 100 mpg trail bike for use on my property, running local trails and hauling in my pickup truck. And because it was originally street legal, I can register it once I install lights.

Here's the engine I put in it:

And other parts, books etc, here.


Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Freedom: Religion, Speech, Etc.

I was reading a discussion about the so-called "separation of church and state" clause that some believe is part of the first amendment to the US constitution, and this discussion led me to contemplate both that, and another part of the first amendment. Before we continue, here is the first amendment in its entirety:

Amendment I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

The word "respecting" came up in the discussion. One participant in the discussion made clear that he or she thinks the word as used in the 1A means something like "showing favoritism to one particular religion." This is the third definition given by Merriam-Webster for the word "respect: High or special regard.

Another participant pointed out that the first definition given in multiple dictionaries for the word "respecting" as well as "respect" is the proper one, especially as it was the definition in most common use at the time of the drafting of the constitution. Respect: A relation or reference to a particular thing or situation. Respecting: About or relating to (something).  Source: Merriam-Webster.

In other words, if I may (and I may; freedom of speech and all that): Congress shall make no law about an establishment of religion. That means neither pro nor con, because it doesn't specify which. Then it goes on to say (Congress shall make no law) prohibiting the free exercise (of religion).

That is pretty simple, isn't it? Apparently not, when viewed through the tinted lenses of a desire to control what other people do. How else would you explain this very statement being used as an excuse to prohibit free exercise of religion in public areas, most notably in public schools?

But I digress. The poster who could not or would not consider any other meaning of "respecting" than "favoritism" actually seemed to be stuck on the idea that the US government is showing favoritism towards the Islamic religion to the detriment of Christians. That may or may not be the case, but it is beside the point; which is that the government shouldn't interfere with the establishment nor free exercise of religion. Any religion.

"But what if..." the pro-big-government types would be asking right now, if they were reading this. News flash: the government doesn't need to be involved in everything. Some things, we the people can handle without their "help." That's the whole reason we need a Constitution in the first place. If everything needed to be handled by government edict, why waste time with a Constitution?

While pondering all this, it occurred to me that most of the slogans and talking points hurled about by folks on both sides of the aisle are a result of misunderstanding the issues. And here is where we come to the other part of the first amendment: freedom of speech. I'll go on record right now saying that everyone has a right to free speech, as far as I am concerned. That doesn't mean everyone's speech is worth listening to, nor that everyone has a right to an audience. If you say something I deem worth hearing and thinking about, I'll listen. If I consider what you are saying to be nonsense or just repeating a slogan or talking point, I've got better things to do.
One of the talking points I often hear and see on various forums goes something like this: "If you are gonna be in America, you should have to speak the language."
Ok, let's take that a bit further. If you are gonna have freedom of speech, you should understand the language so that you know what you are actually saying when you repeat a slogan. Because believe me, a lot of people don't have a clue what they are saying. The person who repeats the "speak the language" talking point is often the same person who will talk about freedom, such as "America is about freedom; not free stuff." Oh, really? You mean like freedom of speech?

Look, I don't care if you stand on the corner expounding on your beliefs in Klingon or Quenya. Or shouting slogans you haven't really thought about, because you like the person you heard them from. If I don't like it, I don't have to stop and listen. I'm not going to complain to the nearest "authority" figure. But if you want me to listen, convince me that you have something worthwhile to say. That, in my opinion, is what freedom of speech is about. 

Monday, February 15, 2016

QB-79 HPA conversion

This is a new project air rifle I am working on. It is a QB79, which is the tanker version of a Chinese copy of the Crosman Model 160. This air rifle is designed to be used with co2, but I am using it with a high pressure air tank that stores the air at 3,000 psi and outputs a regulated 1,100 psi.