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Handloading Beyond The Basics
Rifle Magazine
August - September 2002
Volume 37, Number 4
ISSN: 0017-7393
Number 218
On the cover...
A Kimber Custom Shop .45 ACP and Smith & Wesson Model 625 .45 ACP were used in Brian Pearce's report on page 62. Coyote photo by John R. Ford. Kimber photo by Gerald Hudson.
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Product Tests

Redding’s Instant Indicator

Many of us who handload ammunition strive to be as consistent as we can. We try to make each round as alike as possible and to make them meet the requirements of the firearm in which they are to be fired. All this boils down to, among other things, having our cases fit the chamber and our bullets seated to the proper depth. Such efforts became a bit easier recently with the introduction of the Instant Indicator Headspace and Bullet Comparator by Redding Reloading Equipment of Cortland, New York. Certainly there are few of us who are not familiar with Redding. The company has a well-deserved reputation as an innovator and for a level of quality second to none. With the announcement of the product I contacted Pat Ryan, Redding staff engineer, and asked for a sample to review. My caliber choice was the .243 Winchester.

The tool came appropriately boxed. Inside were two more boxes, one with a dial indicator and the other, the familiar green Redding die box, containing the basic tool and accessories. The Instant Indicator consists of a die body onto which the dial indicator is mounted. Inside the die body are a spring and, depending on the operation, a Shoulder Contactor, a Blank Contactor or a bore diameter bushing. The die body looks like a traditional bullet seating die: hardened polished steel with the top half knurled and the bottom portion threaded 7/8x14 to fit a standard press. In the middle is a smooth band stamped “Redding Instant Indicator.” Into the top screws a black, steel adapter that holds the dial indicator. A locknut completes the outward description.

When we unscrew the adapter, we find the pressure spring and whatever accessory is being used. In addition to the above mentioned parts is a Set Up Gauge, a brass mock-up of the specific cartridge case turned to minimum SAAMI headspace dimensions. In use the Instant Indicator is capable of performing four functions: measuring headspace, checking bullet seating depth, determining bullet uniformity from base to ogive and measuring case length. Each of the functions is performed on individual cases or bullets or loaded rounds. The tool does not “fix” anything, it simply informs the handloader of the sameness or difference that exists between samples. The instructions that are included with each tool are well written. They explain the basic tool, how it is set up initially and how to perform the various comparisons.

Headspace is the first test to be performed. Actually headspace is a chamber dimension and relates, in rimless bottleneck cartridges, to the distance from a datum line on the shoulder to the breech face. The case must closely conform to this dimension. In the .243 Winchester, the datum line on the shoulder is determined by a diameter of .400 inch. The length from that point to the breech face must be a minimum of 1.630 inches and a maximum of 1.640 inches. In use we mount the Instant Indicator in a press and “zero” the dial indicator using the Set Up Gauge. In order to do this and to measure cases, we must install the Shoulder Contactor in the tool body. It has the requisite .400-inch hole and will contact the Set Up Gauge at the appropriate point on the shoulder. The instructions direct the user to first measure several cases that have been fired two or three times with full loads. These cases most likely have fully expanded to match the chamber   and have contracted a minimal amount. The cases must be in fired condition when measured - not sized. The resultant headspace measurement is the dimension that sized cases should approach. If sized cases are longer, they either won’t chamber, or only with difficulty. If they are much under this measurement, excess stretching will occur upon firing, case life will be shortened and, likely, accuracy will suffer.

One of the reasons I chose the .243 Winchester for my Instant Indicator was that I had previously used the same cartridge and rifle in reviewing Forster Products’ new Match Headspace Gauge (Handloader 208, December 2000). From that experience, I had learned the precise headspace of my rifle. The bolt would close on a gauge of 1.635 inches but not on one of 1.636 inches. Cases fired in that chamber, after some contraction, should measure .003 to .005 inch over the minimum dimension of 1.630 inches. I was delighted to find that was the case using the Instant Indicator.

In checking bullet seating depth, the Instant Indicator is disassembled and the bore diameter bushing is inserted into the Shoulder Contactor. The tool is reassembled and measurement can be taken from the head of the cartridge to a point where the bore diameter bushing contacts the seated bullet. It helps to know what you are trying to accomplish here. I had previously determined that this rifle liked its bullets about .020 inch off the lands. With the Instant Indicator I could use a dummy round with the bullet seated to the proper depth to “zero” the dial indicator or seat a bullet to touch the lands, use that as my “zero” and subtract the bullet-to-land gap.

Bullet uniformity is measured with the Set Up Gauge and the Blank Contactor, which is similar to the Shoulder Contactor but without a hole in its center. The Set Up Gauge has a bore diameter hole machined in its nose. In use, a bullet is placed, nose down, in the Set Up Gauge and the press ram raised to allow the bullet base to contact the Blank Contactor. The dial indicator is “zeroed” and subsequent bullets can be compared for variations in length. The bullets could be sorted by length, but this is a bit much for me except, perhaps, for benchrest competition. I did compare several bullets of known accuracy and found the most accurate varied over a range of .0007 inch for a sample of 10; the next most accurate varied by .0022 inch and the least accurate by .0012 inch. All the bullets were more than sufficiently accurate for the purposes to which I would put them - varmint or game hunting.

Case length measurements also use the Blank Contactor. Here the idea is to trim a case to maximum case length, insert it into the shellholder, raise the ram and “zero” the dial indicator to that length. Any case that exceeded that length would need trimming. You could also “zero” using a case of minimum or trim-to length and trim all that exceeded it.

One thing that became apparent before I even started, with respect to measuring headspace and bullet seating depth, was that attempting to use a single press, switching the Indicator and sizing or seating die back and forth with each case, would drive me crazy. I chose to use a second press for the Instant Indicator. I have an inexpensive Lee Reloader press I often use for jobs such as bullet seating or with an expander-through neck expander and die-activated powder measure to throw powder charges. I installed the Instant Indicator on it and used my regular press for the sizing and bullet seating operations. It made life much easier.

Although the Instant Indicator is sold as a caliber-specific tool, it’s really more versatile than that. The tool can be used for any caliber with the same datum diameter, shoulder angle and headspace dimension. For example, the .243 Winchester Instant Indicator can be used with the .260 Remington, the 7mm-08 Remington and the .308 Winchester. All have a datum diameter of .400 inch, a shoulder angle of 20 degrees and a headspace dimension of 1.630 inches. To measure bullet seating depth or bullet uniformity I need only add a bore diameter bushing. For the .260, one of .256 inch; for the 7mm-08, .277 inch; and for the .308, .300 inch. The bore diameter bushings are the same as the neck sizing bushings in the Redding catalog for its Type S Bushing Style sizing dies. The Instant Indicator is available in 28 calibers.

I have to admit that, with tools already on hand, I had the ability to take the same measurements that the Instant Indicator would permit me to take and on almost any bottleneck cartridge. Using the Instant Indicator, I was to discover, was easier, a lot faster and, I suspect, due to the ease with which the dial indicator can be read, more accurate. For the .308 family of cases, it’s going to get a lot more use in the future. If any of this seems appealing, Redding can be reached at 1089 Starr Rd., Cortland NY 13045; or visit its web site online at: www.redding-reloading.com. - R.H. VanDenburg, Jr.

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