Jul 29, 2014

Reloading Bench

Back when I started reloading, my "bench" was a 20" square butcher-block table. I had enough room for the press, powder measure, a reloading tray, and a scale if I was doing precision loads. All my powder was kept in a nearby cupboard, along with primers and bullets. Dies and brass and other small bits were kept in a small filing cabinet. It worked, mostly.

When we bought the house, I had long-term plans to build a larger bench (right after closing and insulating the third bay of the garage to become a workshop, and refinishing the deck, and replacing the garden shed, and...), but that never happened. With the move last year, that turned out to be a good thing.

Now that we're mostly settled for the time being, and with the new .308 in the stable begging for precision loads, I decided it was time to start reloading again. I ordered a 2x4basics workbench kit from Amazon ($70 to my front steps) and picked up a dozen eight-foot 2x4s, a sheet of 3/4 B-C plywood cut 24/24/24/12/12(x48)*, and a 24x48 piece of 1/8" hardboard (Masonite).

I took things home and cut the following lengths of 2x4s:
12 - 48"
6 - 21"
2 - 39"
4 - 30"
1 - ~48.5"
(I ended up with a full 8' and a 40-odd-inch chunk leftover, which is fine.)

Then I screwed all the boards into the brackets following the handy pictorial "directions" included with the kit, and ended up with a nice 2'x4' bench. A handful of 1" drywall screws anchored the hardboard on top, and I built the shelving up on top of that, with the heights adjusted so I could get kegs of powder on top, and have plenty of room to work underneath.

Initially the bench felt wobbly - not weak, just that it was teeter-tottering on the legs. That changed in a big hurry when I started loading it up with equipment and components. It's now rock-solid and not going anywhere.

I picked up a couple architect-style LED desk lamps from Walmart and discarded the base in favor of drilling a 1/2" hole in the top shelf I'd built. A power strip on the side of the bench feeds those and an RCBS electronic scale, plus the tumbler as needed.

A few 2" lag screws hold the press down, and tonight I'm going to grab a small bench vise from Home Depot to mount on the other end.

End result? A pretty solid bench for a minimal investment (about $200 including the lights and power strip), no fudging around with building corners, and a great space for me to work on reloading or other gun stuff:

* - If I was cutting this again, I'd make it a 30" deep bench instead of 24". It doesn't take up a tremendous amount more space and would provide a LOT more space for storing things.

Jul 17, 2014

The Greatest Generation: A Missed Chance

MrsZ had some bodywork done today, patching up a dinged wing that's been an issue for a while. She's home and resting as comfortably as can be expected.

While GfZ and I were in the waiting room killing time before being called back to retrieve MrsZ, there was an elderly gent sitting with his young grandson on the far side of the room. He was any of a hundred older men you might see holding court at the local barber, or diner, or on the bench on the town square... right down to the "NAVY" ballcap.

I didn't get a close look at it until he shuffled by us... underneath "NAVY", in smaller print, was embroidered the legend, "WWII - VB-20".

The nurse called us in to find MrsZ then, so I didn't get a chance to give him more than a smile and nod. I just looked up VB-20. Here's a brief history of the squadron, courtesy Wikipedia:
On October 15, 1943, the squadron was redesignated Bombing Squadron TWENTY (VB-20), and on November 15, 1943 the squadron started to receive its first SB2C-1C Helldivers.
From August 16 through November 23, 1944, VB-20 flew the Helldiver from USS Enterprise (CV-6) for the first of two World War II Pacific Theater combat cruises. The squadron's first combat action occurred on August 31, 1944 and involved an attack on the Bonin Islands. In September 1944, VB-20 participated in pre-invasion strikes on Palau Islands and provided air support for landings on Peleliu Island. In October 1944, the squadron participated in air strikes against Okinawa, Formosa and Luzon. On October 24, 1944, VB-20 participated in the Battle for Leyte Gulf. Squadron SB2Cs flew sorties against Japanese surface force in the Sibuyan Sea, these attacks contributed to the sinking of the Musashi, one of the two largest battleships in the world. On October 25, 1944, VB-20 aircraft were part of the Fast Carrier Task Force that attacked the Japanese carrier force in the Battle of Cape EngaƱo. Four Japanese carriers were sunk during this engagement.
From November 23, 1944 through February 2, 1945, VB-20 embarked aboard USS Lexington (CV-16), for the second of two World War II combat cruises. Squadron Helldivers struck Japanese positions in Ormoc Bay, Leyte, Luzon, Formosa, Hong Kong, the South China Sea and Okinawa.
On November 15, 1946, VB-20 was redesignated Attack Squadron NINE A (VA-9A).
 If those links above don't ring a bell for you... well, go back to History class. That stooped and shuffling old man has seen the elephant.

I wish I'd had made a moment to shake his hand.

Jul 9, 2014

"In the zeroes"

I'm not a true precision shooter. Never have been. Probably never will be. Things like rail guns just don't appeal to me. From a mechanical standpoint, they're amazing pieces of work. From a shooter standpoint? They have no soul. (Say what you will. Sometimes the rifle and the shooter just click. Those rifles? They have souls.)

I may fine-tune a load for the Savage. I expect I'll spend more time reloading each round for that than I have on any other cartridge I've done, because the rifle can use that level of detail. I may well sort bullets and cartridges by weight. I don't foresee myself doing things like turning cartridge necks. I wandered off when the guys at my club's F-class match started discussing the pros and cons of trickling an entire powder charge vs dipping and trickling to final.

That said, there's an article I have read repeatedly over the years that is unlike anything I've found in the gun rags in the last decade. It was printed in 1993 by Precision Shooting, in a "special issue". The article was titled, "Secrets of the Houston Warehouse". It has been reprinted (reportedly with permission) in various places.

It literally was a benchrest shooter’s dream come true, the Camelot of shooting ranges. Here, the breezes never blew, the mirage never shimmered, the sun never set and the rain never fell. Even the harshness of the weather, either heat or cold, was moderated by the insulating properties of the walls and steel roof.
And so began perhaps the most insightful, revealing experimentation into practical rifle accuracy ever conducted. Over a period of six years, the levels of accuracy achieved in the Houston Warehouse went beyond what many precision shooters thought possible for lightweight rifles shot from sandbags and aimed shot-to-shot by human eye.
“Day after day, week after week”, Virgil recalled “it would NOT shoot a group in the warehouse bigger than .070".

There is a text-only version here, and a reconstructed pdf here (pictures are not the same). Read the whole thing if ballistic witchcraft is your thing. It's fascinating stuff.

Jul 7, 2014

Range Report: Model 12 (again)

I won't keep dumping target shots in here forever... With that said:

Shot 1 was a called flyer that I knew I pulled, so I took it out of the mix.
Shots 2-5 were the remainder of that string, single-loaded with no particular attention to barrel cooling.
Shots 6 & 7 were taken later, finishing up the box of ammo after another shooter had put several rounds through on a separate target.

I put this through OnTarget.

Shots 2-5 measured 0.55MOA.
Shots 6/7 measured 0.59MOA.

Combined, it's a 0.92MOA group. Six shots. 100yd. Factory rifle. Factory ammo.

If I decide to get crazy about chasing groups, glass- and pillar-bedding with tuned handloads could get interesting.

Savage Model 12 BVSS .308Win
Remington Premier Match 168gr BTHP
86F/light wind varying direction
front bag only

Jul 2, 2014

Rifle: costs

I started wondering what this would cost if I was paying cash out of pocket for the whole kit, instead of horsetrading wherever possible.
Rifle: Savage 12 BVSS .308, from Bud's: $850.
Base: Nightforce-Savage Short Action, Brownell's: $120
Rings: Warne Maxima 1", BassPro: $60
Scope: Bushnell Elite 3200 10x40, Midway: $190

Total: $1220.

It would be entirely possible to go lower-budget on the base and rings and knock another hundred off ... but for a precision rifle, why would you? This particular setup may not be worthy of a Schmidt-Bender or Nightforce optic, but it is entirely capable of effectively reaching 750+ yards. It's worth spending the money to do that properly.