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The RCBS Ammomaster-Auto.

We set up this progressive press step by step from the box to loaded ammo

If you really want to become proficient with a handgun, there is only one way to do it. You have to bust caps. You need to spend time on the range and send rounds downrange. Once you have made the commitment to practice the skills that a modern handgunner needs, whether for self-defense or competition, you will soon find out that you can shoot more if you reload your own ammunition. It is very easy to burn up 200 to 1,000 rounds of ammunition during a weekend at the range.

Loading 200 rounds on a single-stage press is not terribly burdensome in terms of time and energy, but if you want to load 1,000 rounds for a weekend of practice then the slightly added expense of buying a progressive press quickly pays off. Modern progressive presses allow you to hand-load a round of ammunition with each stroke of the press's handle. In the January 2000 issue of Handguns, Reloading Contributing Editor Geoff Schneider worked out the economics for anyone who shoots 10,000 rounds annually.

"Even with the lowest price of $1,750 for 10,000 of the commercially reloaded cartridges, we save at least $435 annually," concluded Schneider. "Thus, if your reloading setup costs less than $435 you have paid for it the first year. If you amortize the cost over five years, you can spend over $2,000 on reloading gear and still break even in five years.

"If you shoot more than 10,000 rounds a year, the savings are increased. If your factory ammunition is more costly, then the savings are proportionally greater as well."

Let's assume that you took Schneider's advice and decided to purchase a progressive reloading press. There is a wide selection of presses on the market, and in this report we will look at setting up the RCBS Ammomaster-Auto Progressive Reloading Press. We will assume that you have a suitable workbench in your garage or other room where you intend to reload your ammunition.

The RCBS Ammomaster-Auto came with a black and white 81/2-inchx11-inch manual of safety and operating instructions. The manual was well-illustrated with black and white photos. We recommend that you spend 30 minutes reading through the manual before you start to set up the press on your workbench. The time spent reading through the manual to familiarize yourself with the parts of the press and their function is well spent.

1 To mount the RCBS Ammomaster-Auto on our workbench we selected three 1/2-inch bolts that were 21/2 inches long, along with six flat washers and three lock washers and three nuts. We used a drill with a half-inch bit, a 9/16-inch spanner wrench, an adjustable crescent wrench (not pictured) and a socket wrench with a 9/16-inch socket.

2 In order to produce loaded ammunition with the RCBS Ammomaster-Auto Progressive Press, you will also need to purchase a set of dies and a five-station shell plate that corresponds to the calibers you want to load. They do not come with the RCBS Ammomaster-Auto Progressive Press. The ROBS five-station shell plates are numbered the same as the standard RCBS shell holders. In this case we selected a ROBS three-die set for .357 Magnum/.38 Special, and we opted for the set with a carbide sizing die. The RCBS five-station shell plates that correspond to the die sets are listed on page 23 of the manual. For the .357 Magnum/.38 Special die set it is a Number 6 shell plate. If you are going to spend the money for a progressive press, the slight additional expense for a carbide die set is well worth the expense for the time saved in not having to lubricate cases before sizing them. We recommend buying the carbide die set.

Other items you will need include a powder scale, primer tray and a set of calipers. Since the introduction of digital powder scales, measuring charges thrown by the powder measure has become a less onerous task. We selected the ROBS Powder Pro Digital Scale. Also, a set of calipers is useful for measuring the overall length of a loaded cartridge. This is an important adjustment that you will make when adjusting the bullet seating and crimping die at station five.

3 The first step in setting up the RCBS Ammomaster-Auto is to bolt it to your workbench. On page 26 of the manual there is a template that can be used for drilling the holes in the bench. Not wanting to tear the page out of the manual, we copied it and then taped it to the bench. We then drilled the three holes right through the paper template. It took us 10 minutes to drill the holes and bolt the press to the bench.

Step 2 requires the installation of the operating handle through the toggle block. We used the adjustable crescent wrench to tighten the handle nut.

Installation time: two minutes.

4 Next we opened the two plastic bags of parts. All of the parts necessary to change the priming systems to mount the shell plate are in Bag #2. Included in Bag #3 are the hex wrenches necessary for certain adjustments and three steel die lock rings that are included in case you have a set of dies with aluminum lock rings. The addition of the three hex lock rings was very thoughtful, but we did not need them since we had a set of brand-new dies with the correct lock rings. We laid out all of the parts on top of their illustrations to make sure they were there. The three case-retaining spring plugs were missing from the package, but it was not a cause for concern. These plugs were installed already on the press as it came out of the box. Time: 10 minutes.

5 The small priming system was installed at the factory. Since we were loading .38 Special cartridges that use small primers, we did not have to changeover the priming system to accommodate large primers. If you have to do this, allow 30 minutes to read the directions and make the change over the first time.

The next thing you need to do is to install the five-station shell plate. The manual has three steps, five photos and one illustration that make it clear how to do this. It took us extra time to get the ram shoulder bolt through the shell plate and to start to grab the threads. The secret seemed to be to make sure the alignment of the shell plate was near perfect over the center hole. It took a bit of wiggling, but we finally got it. The directions in Step 3say to "Tighten the bolt with the hex wrench provided. The shell plate should rotate smoothly and stop at each station." We took this to mean that you shouldn't tighten down the bolt too tight. Not tightening the bolt enough proved to be a problem later on because the auto-indexing rod connects to the shell plate. If the hex bolt is not tightened enough, the movement of the shell plate will loosen up. We later had to go back and tighten this bolt down. Be sure to tighten the ram shoulder bolt down. Installation time: 12 minutes.

Next you lower the hex index rod with the connecting plate to the shell plate. You securely fasten the connecting plate to the shell plate with the two knurled screws provided. It was simple, but it seemed like it took a while to catch the threads with the knurled screws. Installation time: four minutes.

It took us the same amount of time to install the white plastic spent primer tube and bottle because we didn't look closely enough at the photo in the manual. The first time we ran the tube on the outside of the toggle block instead of behind it, as was clearly shown in the black and white photo in the manual. Don't assume anything. Read the directions, and look at the photos.

Installation time: four minutes.

6 The powder dispensing system is very easy to install, but you first have to disassemble the powder measure and wipe the preservative oil off all of the rotating parts. We used no solvents in cleaning the powder measure parts; we simply wiped them with a clean, dry cloth. We took the powder measure apart with the help of the exploded diagram of parts in the powder measure booklet inside the powder cylinder as it comes packaged with the press from the factory. It took us a while to figure out how the powder measure comes apart. The secret is to take the measuring cylinder bushing, bow washer and measuring screw lock ring off the powder measure screw, then turn the powder measure upside down so the powder measure screw can drop through the plastic powder hopper. It took us five minutes to figure out how to disassemble the powder measure for cleaning and only one minute to reassemble it.

Installation time: eight minutes.

The really tricky thing about the powder dispensing system on the RCBS Ammomaster-Auto is the case detection unit. If there is no case at station three where the powder is dispensed, no powder is dropped. If there is a case present (as seen in the photo), the case detection push rod swings over to the narrow part of the keyhole in the case detection arm and the case detection arm activates the powder measure, dropping the powder charge. The photos and directions are very clear for the installation of the case detection push rod.

Installation time: 1.5 minutes.

Once the case detection push rod is installed, it is now necessary to align the powder measure with the shell plate empty. The powder measure must be rotated until the push rod is centered in the large diameter of the keyhole in the case detection arm. Once this adjustment is made, this is an excellent time to test the adjustment of the powder measuring system. It was so much fun cycling the press through the stations that we spent extra time doing it. And it was a good thing. Because this is where we found that the ram shoulder bolt had not been tightened down enough as the shell plate loosened up. We then went back and re-tightened it. Once the powder measure system is adjusted properly, it is a good idea to mark the quick change collar and the powder measure adapter with a matching line.

Installation time: 2.5 minutes.

Now it is time to install your RCBS die set into the press. The instructions on how to do this and adjust each die are not in the RCBS Automaster-Auto manual. You have to go to the set of directions provided with the die set. Fortunately, those directions are located inside the top of the die set. The first die that is installed at station one is the size and deprime die. It is very easy to install. You simply raise the shell plate to the top of the stroke and screw the die down until it touches it. Then you back the die off a half-turn and set the Allen screw in the hex lock ring on the die. Once the hex lock ring is set you can unscrew the entire die out of the die head at anytime. We found it necessary to do that so we could set the lock ring Allen screw on the die in station two.

Installation time at station one was two minutes.

The die in station two is the Prime and Expand Case Mouth die. At this point in the setup of the press the only thing you can do at this station is to adjust the expander plug on the die. We found out right away that the expander plug as it came out of the die set was screwed way into the die. Note the extreme belling of the case on the far left. It was the first case we placed in the press and cycled through station two. It took five tries to get the expander plug set right so that the case mouth of a .38 Special case was opened just enough to let a .357-diameter bullet sit in the case without dropping in. In the photo you can see our progress on the cases from left to right. At the far right is one of the Nosier 158-grain JHP bullets that we used to check the case mouth expansion.

Installation time at station two used five cases andtook5.5 minutes. Perhaps the die that is most critical in the final production of handloaded rounds is at station five where the bullet seating and crimping die is located. We found no fast and easy way to adjust this die. it takes trial and error. We used empty cases with spent primers so that they would not be mistaken for loaded rounds later on. It took us 16 minutes to adjust the bullet seating die to the correct depth and another two minutes to adjust the crimping part of the die to get the proper amount of roll crimp.

Total installation time at station five was 18 minutes.

Following the progression in the RCBS Ammomaster-Auto manual, the next procedure in the setup would be installation of the priming system. However, it seemed to us to be a logical time to set the powder measure to drop the charge that we wanted. We selected Hodgdon's Universal Clays powder, and we referred to the company's manual to determine an appropriate charge to use with the Nosler 158-grain JHP bullets loaded into .38 Special cases. We selected the data for the .38 Special +P load recommended in the Hodgdon manual that indicated a charge of 4.7 grains of Universal Clays powder. The setup of the RCBS Powder Pro Digital Scale was quick and simple. It took us 10 minutes to read the manual and to set up the scale using the check weights to verify its accuracy. We then proceeded to drop charges until we got consistent throws of 4.7 grains of Universal Clays powder through the RCBS Uniflow Powder Measure. Total installation time at station three: 19 minutes.

We loaded Winchester small pistol primers into the RCBS Ammomaster-Auto's primer feed tube. The primers were scattered onto the grooved surface of the primer tray. Then, gently shaking the tray horizontally until all of the primers were positioned anvil up, we placed the cover on the tray and flipped it over. Now all of the primers were oriented anvil side down, and we began to carefully pick them up with the plastic-tipped end of the primer tube. This should be done carefully As the warning in the manual states, "Care must be taken when loading the primer feed tube. Do not force primers. Because of the stacked condition of primers, if one should ignite, all the primers in the tube will explode, causing an extreme hazard. No more than five pounds of force should be applied when picking up primers with the primer feed tube (this can be checked using a bathroom scale). If difficult primer pick-up should occur, investigate the cause and clear the condition or return the primer feed tube to RCBS for correction . Always wear eye protection when handling primers."

In the entire handloading cycle, the most volatile process is the handling of primers. You cannot use too much caution in handling them. The RCBS manual further warns: "It is the responsibility of the operator to insure that all primers are properly oriented. Attempting to seat a primer upside down in a case may cause the primer to detonate, causing serious personal injury or damage to the equipment. Primer residue is dangerous when exposed to heat, impact and/or static electricity. Therefore, it is important to keep the primer tubes clean. We recommend periodic cleaning with soap and warm water." The time for picking up primers and installing the primer tube into the primer dispenser on the RCBS Ammomaster-Auto was seven minutes.

Once the die set, powder measure and primer system was installed in the RCBS Ammomaster-Auto Press, the only thing left to do was adjust the primer seating depth in the cartridge case. There is a screw at the back of the press on the base of the press. From the factory the screw is set too high. It needs to be adjusted downward until the primers are seated to the correct depth. According to the RCBS Ammomaster-Auto manual, you should "Pull each case out of the shell plate at the priming station and visually check the depth of the seated primer. Ideally, the primer should be .002 to .004 of an inch below flush. When you are satisfied with the priming depth, ensure the jam nut on the primer depth adjustment screw is tightened." Be sure to read the five warnings in the manual regarding priming the cases. You cannot be too careful handling primers. Total time for adjustment of the primer seating depth was five minutes.

With all of the above adjustments made, you are ready to start loading ammunition on the RCBS Ammomaster-Auto Progressive Reloading Press. The following procedure is condensed from the RCBS Ammomaster-Auto manual. Be sure to read this section of the manual closely before loading any ammunition on the RCBS Ammomaster-Auto Progressive Reloading Press. Pay close attention to the warnings given in the manual.

Place a fired case in the shell plate at station one. Lower the handle, and the fired case will enter the sizer die. The case will be sized, and the spent primer will be ejected. The spent primer will fall through the spent primer tube, and you should hear it fall into the bottle. As the ram travels upward, the primer transfer bar will pick up a primer from the dispenser.

Raise the handle. As the case is lowered, it will automatically index to station two. As the press is cycling, the primer transfer bar will deliver a primer to the primer station. The design of the tool allows you to see the primer being transferred. You can confirm that the primer is anvil-side-up. Develop the habit of watching the transfer bar with each pull of the handle. Use a firm force to seat the new primer into the deprimed case. Using a smooth consistent stroke, a pause at the top of the handle travel before seating the primer will help develop the ability to "feel" the proper primer seating. Priming is done in the top few inches of travel.

After you have primed the case at station two, place another fired case in station one. Lower the handle, and the primed case will enter the die in station two. As the handle is raised and the shell plate is lowered, the primed case in station two automatically indexes to the powder dispensing at station three. Don't forget to seat the next primer at station two.

Place a fired case into station one. By lowering the handle again, the first case will enter the powder measure adapter. The powder will automatically be dispensed into the case. As the shell plate is lowered, the first case will index to station four.

Place a fired case into station one. Raising the handle, the case at station four will enter the empty space in the die head. As the shell plate is lowered the case will index to station five.

As the shell plate is raised, the case at station five will enter the bullet seating and crimping die. Hold a bullet on top of the case and guide it into the die. As the shell plate is lowered, the case is moved to the case eject spring. The case eject spring will push the loaded round into the ammo cartridge box, mounted on the side of the base. Now is a good time to inspect the loaded cartridge. Examine the primer seating depth and the crimp on the bullet. Remember from now on each step is performed with each cycling of the press to produce a loaded round. Cycle time for one round: .5 minutes.

16 The total time it took us to set up the RCBS Ammomaster-Auto Progressive Reloading Press was 111 minutes, or just under two hours. However, we recommend that you not rush the process and carefully read the manual through first and again as you do each step. Realistically, you should probably allow four hours from the time you unpack the boxes until you are loading your first round of ammunition.
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Date:Apr 1, 2000
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