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L.E. Wilson for Match-Grade Accuracy
By Daniel M. Moudree
As a handloader, I’m always looking for ways to improve my loads and my results at the range. In addition to the powder and bullet manufacturers’ data and magazine articles on the topic, my tools also include the presses and dies. I’ve been using the single stage press since forever. I also use the turret press and the progressive press. One day while reading Warren Page’s 1973 classic The Accurate Rifle about top accuracy shooters of yester-year, a piece about their re-loading process caught my eye. Now, theses fellas earned their reputations of greatness in hard fought competitive rifle shooting events years ago. One of the things they did was they took their loading dies with them on the road to reload during competitions. These dies couldn’t be bolted down to a desk, they needed to be portable. They had to be. And, those tools had to be precise to produce competitive precision rounds. In pursuit of ever smaller (100 yard ¼ inch) groups, they demanded precision in their equipment, their components and themselves. The book describes a highly competitive environment where information was freely shared. After all, improving shooters results improved the sport. They then passed on the secrets to others which made for happier shooters world-wide. These guys were in the groove. One of those guys who was, back then, included in the demigods of precision shooting was L.E. Wilson. A proven winner, he continued to support the industry with better tools and dies. Today the lineup of products bearing his name has been expanded to include case trimmers, gauges and more.
Reading the book and other related articles inspired me to research L.E. Wilson reloading tools. Midway and Brownells both carry full lines of those products. Product reviews all speak highly of the quality and craftsmanship with which the tools are made. The more I read, the more I wanted to try these dies.
What really stood out was the use of an Arbor style press. It was so different from the single stage presses on my reloading bench. Having capped bottles of homemade beverages with a similar style device, I knew the basics of how Arbor presses worked, but had never seen one used in a cartridge loading process. Making the commitment to try these new tools meant first making a commitment to starting with an Arbor press. Online product reviews influenced my decision to get a K&M Arbor Press from Midway. I’m sure there are other presses out there that work well too, but this had all good reviews. Easy to set up, easy to use without breaking or giving up. It just works and it’s portable. It doesn’t even need to be bolted down. It proves to be a good performer for me.
Since I shoot a bolt action, I prefer to handload with a neck sizing die, instead of a full length one. It’s easier on the brass, allowing them to last a lot longer. The part I struggled with the most about switching to L. E. Wilson neck sizing die was how to select the proper size bushing for it. When the die arrived, directions on how to set it up the die and an Allen wrench. But a sizing bushing was not included, it was ordered separately. It’s easy to imagine, how seasoned re-loaders will over time acquire an inventory of different sizes of bushings for different calibers and different thicknesses of brass. But, nonetheless, starting out without a neck sizing bushing in the die was a bit odd. With a little research and a bit of confidence, I had ordered an initial bushing when I ordered the die. It wasn’t the fit I expected. Now after a bit of trial and error and learning along the way, I have a better understanding of how to select a bushing. For example, today I switched to my Norma brass in .223, which is heavier and thicker than the less expensive variety I had been using. I had to switch to a .001 larger diameter bushing because the smaller one constricted the case neck too much for seating a bullet with reasonable pressure. The smaller diameter bushing worked with thinner brass, but not with the thicker Norma brass. My suggestion is, if at first you don’t succeed in selecting the right diameter bushing for your application, add it to your inventory and use your new found knowledge to select one more likely to fit. Eventually you’ll get it, and when you do, it is one of those “ah ha” moments when you know it’s right.
The Neck Sizing Die includes a decapping pin, but in addition to a neck sizing bushing one also needs a Neck Die Decapping Base. This piece needs to be ordered separately. Good news is, one size seems to fit many different calibers. Check the details in the product description to see which one fits your needs.
Finally you will need a Bullet Seater in the specific caliber. Unlike the two-die or three-die sets other manufactures offer, this seater needs to be acquired separately. They come in their own yellow box with their own instructions and an Allen wrench for making adjustments. They have a standard bullet seater and an upgraded version with a micro adjuster to fine tune seating depth. Assuming you already have what it takes to seat new primers, those tools listed above are the initial components needed for loading cartridges with L.E. Wilson dies.
What I found to be unique is that when seating the bullet with the Arbor press you get a much better feel for how much pressure it takes. And when it feels different I ask myself why was that? Remembering consistency is the key to getting good results I began paying closer attention to cases, case preparation and how much bullet seating force it takes to seat the bullets. This lead me then to another of their products called a Headspace Gage. It inspects fired cases for proper dimensions, including case length and head space expansion. From my experience, most of my fired cases passed this review just fine. But, when the first case failed this test, I thought hmm…I’m glad I’m not reloading this case today, I better first full length resize it to get it back in shape. So I set those few cases aside that didn’t pass review and vowed to full length resize them another day before reloading them.
The case trimmer is another product they have that is pretty neat. It comes with a stand that easily secures to a table with just a strongly sprung clamp. The trimmer includes a handy device which holds a cartridge in a case holder securely centered like in a jig while it gets neatly trimmed in place. A separate cartridge case holder is generally needed for most calibers. A few calibers share the same holder like the 222/223 but most do not. Get the one(s) you need. The system does a marvelous job of keeping the case true while it gets trimmed. Other tools fit in this same holder, including The Deburring tool, the Inside Neck Reamer and Primer Pocket Reamer.
The Inside Neck Reamer addresses the issues of cases deforming in the inside of the case throat near the shoulder from constant case expansion. I think it will be a worthwhile tool as my lot of brass gets more use, especially from the higher power rounds. Oddly, one batch of new brass benefited from this process more than some other seasoned brass of a smaller cartridge size. I’m just getting started using these products, but I like what I see. The individual rounds appear much more precision tailored to my style of target shooting and my 100 yard groups are getting smaller.
In preparation for sharing this story, a review of the company’s website shows they also produce full length resizing dies for use in single stage presses and they have now come out with complete die sets. Visit their site https://lewilson.com to learn more.
Once you get the hang of it, the process of using these tools moves right along. They may not be as fast as other types of systems, but when quality counts over quantity, these tools do a nice job, worthy of their pedigree.
In summary, these high quality precision cartridge loading tools are nice to use. They have already helped me reduce the size of my 100 yard 5 shot groups to sizes that would earn initial respect from the old timers. Thanks to L.E. Wilson and to all of his buddies who advanced the performance of our firearms and improved the tools that provide for our greater shooting enjoyment.