Reach For The Stars

Ok, maybe not that high….

Due largely to my difficulties in reaching in to repeaters in the DFW metroplex, I have been looking somewhat into erecting a tower. While my immediate plans are to put a Diamond X300 up on the top of it, having a structure for wire antennae or a tower mounted camera would be nice, too.

The tower itself is expected to be $1500-2000, depending on installed height.

Universal Tower has an aluminum self-supporting tower design that seems to hit all the bullet points. They use a system wherein they design a tower from 30 to 100 feet high, with wind load ratings of 3 to 35 square feet, using modular 10 foot sections of various sizes. They have straight, tapered and top sections in 11, 14, 18, 22, 26 and 30 inch widths. The heavier ratings are shorter towers with wider sections. The straight sections are, duh, a straight section of that width. The tapered section are of that width, but they taper down to the next smaller size at the top. The top sections are finished off like you expect a top section to be, with a conical bit and a place to put a pipe or tubing mast.

I have analyzed the sizes and chosen a starting point of the 9-40 tower, 9 square feet rating, 40 feet high. The entire system consists of a big block of concrete (4 x 4 x 4 feet, which would weigh just short of 5 tons) in the ground with a 22 inch base unit, a 22″ tapered section, an 18″ tapered section, a 14″ tapered section and an 11″ top section. The tower itself is about $1115, not counting the concrete and digging the hole for the anchor.

If 40 feet is not enough, I can add an 18″ straight section between the 22″ tapered and the 18″ tapered for $270, raising the assembly to 50 feet. Continuing, I can add a 14″ straight section for $155 to make the 50 into a 60 and a 22″ straight section for $409 to make the 60 into a 70.

As the height goes up, the wind load rating goes down, 9 square feet, to 7, to 4 and to 3. The 70 foot design is the tallest they allow for the 22″ base. The next size base, 26″, requires a bigger concrete base (4.5 x 4.5 x 5.0 feet) and the 40 foot tower, while rated for 23 square feet wind load, starts just a little cheaper than 22″ 70 foot. Furthermore, the 70 foot tower with the 26″ base only gets 1 more square foot of wind load rating.

I’m guessing a 50 foot tower is likely what I will need to get a better signal into the metroplex. The antenna itself is 10 feet tall and could be mounted on a 10 foot mast at the top of the tower, so the base of the antenna would be at about 58 feet and the top at about 68 feet.

I have a couple of emails out to get quotes on the concrete and the digging. I suspect that digging in our area will hit rock only a little way down, so mechanization is probably going to be a requirement.

There is another variable that I thought wise to check on. The runway at a nearby grass strip airport points pretty much directly at our house. On the website, there is an online tool called TOWAIR wherein you can plug in your coordinates and some details about your proposed tower and it gives a PASS/FAIL on whether your structure needs to be registered with the FAA. It basically calculates the maximum height that a structure can be, based on some rules and specifications. Because this little airport has a runway in excess of 3200 feet and is designated for Public use, a structure within 20,000 feet must fit in a 100:1 glide slope. For every 100 feet farther away, the structure can be 1 foot taller.

When I plug in the coordinates where the tower would be and specify a total height of 70 feet, the tool returns the following failure message: “FAIL SLOPE (100:1) FAA REQ – 0.0 Meters (0.0 Feet) away & exceeds by 11.0 Meters (36.0900 Feet)”

Short version, 70 feet is 36.09 feet too high.

Now I am almost certain this does not mean that the tower would be prohibited, only that it must be registered. Further, it may need to be painted or lighted. I have much research to conduct.

By easter-egging various figures, I was able to determine that a height of 32 feet 9 inches would not need registration. Also, although it would be fairly impractical, moving the tower to the farthest point away from the airport and still on our property is not far enough away to change the permitted height.

While I was snooping around with antenna heights and locations, I punched in the numbers for an 80′ tower on a property not too far away. It is far enough away to clear the requirements with 9.8 feet to spare.

He’s Young, He’ll Adjust

I had a pretty decent pass rate on ammo QA with the Lee Pro1000. I didn’t really keep any stats on it; I didn’t think I’d ever need to prove it out.

The new (to me) Dillon press had an even better rate, at least to begin with. When I did have a QA failure rate that crept up kind of unnoticed, I first blamed the brass, but in the last post I revealed that I had found the real reason, which on the surface was a loose nut. That loose nut may have been me, but the point is now I have the press all readjusted and probably even better than before.

I loaded a box worth of 40S&W night before last. If my goal is “a box of ammo”, I don’t particularly count them as I’m loading them, but I know what about a box of ammo looks like in the output tray. I happened to have loaded 59 rounds when I stopped. I put them, one at a time, into my gauge block and of the 50 rounds it holds, I had one that didn’t quite drop into the gauge block freely and it was towards the end of the block.

The thing is that I don’t think I have ever had 40-something rounds in a row drop freely into the gauge block, even when I thought the ammo QA process was going along swimmingly. This tells me that I have the press adjusted better than I ever have.

To verify the dimensions, I put the calipers on 10 fairly random rounds out of the finished box. Overall length was 1.125″ +/- 0.002″ and case mouth diameter was 0.419″ +/- 0.001″

The failed round was good on OAL, but read 0.422″ at the case mouth. This round did drop unimpeded into the actual chamber of the Lone Wolf barrel in the pistol, so I am confident that this particular degree of “failure” is not worth rejecting the round.

As for what I was loading, I finally ran out of Power Pistol, so I have put in my next experimental powder, Winchester 231. I bought a pound of it quite some time ago based on a recommendation for it as a soft shooting powder for 40S&W. They were right. With 3.7 grains pushing a 180 grain bullet, it was a joy to shoot in a match last night. I could probably reduce the charge even more, but I need to see what it’s doing on the chronograph first.

So joyous, in fact, that I made 6th overall in the standings again. That’s two weeks in a row. To fully disclose, a fair number of the club’s better shooters were down in Bellville for some match I couldn’t attend this time, and one particular Master class shooter had to leave early, so I might not have placed so well had they all been there. Doesn’t matter, 6th overall! 🙂

Crushing It!

Over the years, I have had a few loaded cases that seemed “wrinkled” when they were done.


This particular one is fairly extreme as most don’t have such a clearly defined fold in the brass.

Since they were infrequent, I have always presumed that there was only some case issue, such as a case that had been reloaded a coupla times too many and lengthened from repeated resizing. Of course, 40S&W is a bit more likely to have been bulged, which makes them lengthen even more when resized.

As I said, they were fairly rare. Lately, however, I have had a lot of them. I first blamed the brass, assuming it was just range brass that had been fired and reloaded a few times, but it got more and more frequent. I just set the press up to try a load with 3.7 grains of Winchester 231 and loading a whole box of 50 took 68 loaded rounds to complete because of 18 rounds with various degrees of this kind of damage, including this one:


Well, duh, I finally started checking elsewhere and found it almost immediately. The lock ring on the bullet seating die was probably two turns free of the tool block and the die had simply worked down to being way too short. The fact that some rounds weren’t crushed is curious.

I am using Lee Precision dies, which I kept from my Lee Pro1000 press partly because I already had them in hand and also because the Lee factory crimp dies come highly recommended, no matter what press it’s on. I kept the 3 die set and added factory crimp dies for each caliber I load.


The Lee lock ring (left) is an aluminum ring with an O-ring in a groove. Lee boasts thusly:

Lock Rings – Finger tighten – set and forget, they never move. Just be sure to always loosen your dies by turning the ring, not the die. These have become so popular that we sell thousands of lock rings to people who want to update other brands.

Admittedly, they have served me well on Lee presses, but there is a shoulder on the Dillon tool head that might keep the O-ring from working as Lee intends. I think this is probably what caused the ring to work loose.

Of course, I should have seen it long before it got that far out of adjustment, but in my defense, they have historically worked perfectly, so I had no reason to suspect them.

I already had a bunch of Dillon’s rings, which are also of a low profile, making them easier to work with a wrench in the close confines of the tool head. I reinstalled them, readjusted the press and, what do you know, 25 rounds error free. That’s significantly better than 1 in 4 rounds crushed beyond recovery.


Primer Pocket Swaging

A couple of years ago, I purchased a box of about 1000 rounds of 10mm brass, mixed large and small primer, at a discount. I ran them all through the tumbler together then manually sorted them out by primer size. A little more than half of them are small primers.

By original specifications, 10mm and 45 Auto brass is made to use large primers. There is a lot of ammo being made today using small primers. Small primers on 10mm or 45 Auto are not a problem to load. It can actually be an advantage. It is easy for me to switch between loading 10mm with small primers and 40S&W designed with small primers because I don’t need to reconfigure the press for large primers.

Manufacturers are using more and more small primer in traditionally large primer applications in the quest to make range ammo less harmful to the shooter, particularly those who practice indoors often, such as law enforcement and competitors. Lead styphnate is a common primer chemical component and avoiding the concentration of lead in your body is a pretty good idea, “Green” agenda notwithstanding. Non-lead primer compounds tend to be significantly more energetic; it takes less of it, so small primers make sense. Even with smaller charges in a small primer, these energetic compounds tend to drive themselves out of the primer pocket, which can lead to feeding and ejection issues and even present a danger to the shooter from gases escaping into a part of the pistol that normally doesn’t have any high pressure gases. These issues are addressed by crimping the primer into the case.

The manufacturer’s most common crimping process is basically to use a circular punch that is very slightly larger than the primer to deform the case brass around the primer to crimp the primer into the pocket. When reloading ammo. step one on the press is a die that simultaneously resizes the case and presses the spent primer out. The crimp does not adversely affect removal of the old primer. Unfortunately, the crimp does leave a burr around the primer pocket that makes seating a new primer iffy. Most often, the new primer is crushed as it snags on this burr rather than seating into the primer pocket.

That is why I still have this brass.

There are two basic ways to recondition primer pockets to remove this burr and render the case reloadable. One is to use a primer pocket reamer, a specially shaped cutting tool that physically removes the burr. I have a set of these reamers and they work quite well, though they are a little tedious to use in competitive pistol shooting quantities. It also permanently removes material from the case head, though not a large amount.

The other is to use a tool to swage the primer pocket back into the desired shape. Swaging in this case is a form of cold forging, shaping the metal under force without a significant loss of material. The process lends itself to a higher rate of production than the reamer and makes the discount price on such brass even more attractive.

In my case, I currently have several hundred rounds of small primer 10mm brass, but I am finding that small primer 45 Auto is a little less expensive than large primer. I suspect that will not always be the case as more lead-free priming becomes normal.

The RCBS tool is intended to be bench mounted, but for a quick test, I operated it as handheld. It is really easy to set up and adjust. The directions suggest sorting the brass by brand because the web of the case may be slightly different between manufacturers. Here is a crimped small primer 10mm case after depriming.


Note the ridge, most visible near the “FC NT” stamping.

After running the case through the primer pocket swager, the same case looks like this:


While adjusting the tool, I managed to get a case slightly off center, which put a slight eccentricity on one side of the pocket, barely visible adjacent to “FC” in the picture below.


I don’t think this is going to adversely affect primer seating at all because it’s only the very edge of the pocket affected, but I will pay close attention when loading this case.