When in Doubt, Inspect

This is just a quick cautionary note. I inherited an old Craftsman belt sander from my father. I think the last time he used it was when I was a child, so it has been decades since it has ran. Anyway, at some point he must have damaged the power cord, and thought that a few quick wraps with electric tape would be a sufficient fix. Not knowing what happened, I assumed it was just a nick in the outer insulation that he reinforced.

I used the belt sander for a while and it worked fine, but sometimes it would just stop running for some reason. One time the circuit breaker tripped. I knew something was up with the thing.

I opened up the tool and nothing was amiss inside, so I started examining the trigger, a frequent cause of such problems in power tools of this age. Nothing wrong there. Then I started to just look at the power cord and decided to unwrap the electric tape. This is what I found:

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That enormous gash was just given a quick wrap with tape, and the inner insulation was compromised on BOTH wires, almost surely causing short circuits! I’m glad, given the cellulose cushioning, that it didn’t start a fire.

Anyway, this was pretty easy to fix correctly. Just cut a length of adequate extension cord (I used the orange indoor/outdoor kind of 14 gauge, plenty for a 7 AMP tool) at the female end and splice it into the tool’s wiring (I even went through the trouble of grounding the tool by screwing the ground wire to the metal frame). I used heat-shrink butt-splice connectors rated for copper (it turns out that the tools wiring was thankfully copper and not aluminum). This should be a durable fix. Now we’ll see how long it will last until something else breaks.

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Slugging a barrel

Slugging a barrel is the process of pushing a soft, lead round ball through rifled barrel to determine the precise internal dimensions. Usually modern firearms hold very tight barrel tolerances. I suspect that even the least expensive barrels made today are vastly better than the most expensive barrels of the past. Still, some very good barrels were made in the past, and most barrels can be improved. But one must start somewhere, and if you have an old barrel that isn’t shooting to your liking, slug it! This is usually the first step in any attempt to improve inherent accuracy in a firearm.

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The round ball tells all! 

Accuracy problems are often related to barrel dimensions which are oversized, thus the bullet leaks gas around the sides or doesn’t engrave on the rifling well. Another common problem is that the dimensions slightly loosen from breech towards the muzzle, which is almost as bad, since the bullet will be swaged down to the narrow dimension near the breech and then leak gas as it proceeds towards the muzzle. In fact, in most firearms with a  tapered barrel (and they taper narrower towards the muzzle) this occurs to some degree, and this is why cylindrical or “bull” barrels are often reputed to be more accurate (though their outer profile has little to do with the matter). When the metal is removed from the outside the inside of the barrel “springs” outward ever so slightly. With cylindrical barrels metal is not usually removed from the outside, and if it is, it is removed equally along the length of the barrel, so the “springing” never happens.

Now, the particular barrel I am concerned with is an older Thomson Center 32-20 barrel, or really a 30-20 barrel, since the barrel is thirty caliber (.300 bore, .308 groove) not 32 caliber (.306-.308 bore, .312-314 groove). I know this because I slugged it, and the slugging yielded other useful information.

How do you slug a barrel? First you will need a rigid cleaning rod longer than the barrel. You will need a soft lead round ball, too. For thirty caliber barrels this is easy to get. Cut open a shot-shell loaded with 0 (around 32 caliber) or preferably 00 (around 33 caliber) buckshot. Fortunately for me I own a 32 caliber roundball mold that can be used to make buckshot, but I also use it to make low-powered ammunition for 30 caliber rifles and handguns. Now lubricate the round ball and the barrel with some kind of high film strength lubricant. Over the years I’ve used Canola oil, WD-40, and motor oil, but I now think the best by far is Hornady One-Shot First Firing lubricant. It is very expensive, but it is made to specifically condition the bore of a firearms, and it results in less friction BY FAR compared to any other lubricant I’ve used. You will also need a micrometer or dial caliper to measure the slug.

Now what you do is get the lubricant on the inside of the barrel and on the round ball, then you drop it into the chamber. Usually you will want to put the barrel muzzle down on a piece of softwood. Then put the cleaning rod (with a flat faced jag on it or NO jag) against the rear of the bullet. I think no jag is best because the circular nature of the end of a rod will automatically center it on a round ball. For a thirty caliber barrel a 22 caliber rod will work. Now push or gently rap on the rod and drive that round ball down the barrel carefully feeling if you get more or less resistance as you go. The best situation is even resistance throughout the length of the barrel, this means the barrel is the same dimension breech to muzzle. But most barrels will get easier to push as you go which means they are slightly “belled,” like my T/C barrel. Anyway, as the round ball nears the muzzle take care to catch the round ball and not let it drop out on the floor. Now measure it. The shiny, deep parts will indicate the BORE dimension, and the darker shallower parts will indicate the GROOVE dimension, which is the more important to know of the two, since it determines what bullet diameter to use (bullet diameter should be equal to or slightly more than GROOVE dimension, so for a .308 bore, you want to use .308/.309 diameter bullets, or with very soft lead bullets, perhaps .309 to .312).

 

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Snow is gone

We had an unseasonably warm weekend and accomplished much. Discovered a few things, too. It’s important to get a few of these during the winter to catch up and fix problems that have accumulated.

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Cartridge conversion: from 30-30 to 357 Herrett

A more detailed account of my brief description earlier…

Cartridge conversion is viewed by some as difficult and hardly worth the time. I think it is worthwhile, especially for someone fairly experienced with reloading, because it is really just an extra step or two added to the reloading process. In this case two steps, cutting down and annealing, but some conversions require neither. Some Wildcats offer definite performance or logistic advantages, and of course there is a sense of pride and accomplishment that accompanies the process.

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The first step in converting is obtaining suitable parent cases. This is not too difficult with 357 Herrett since its parent case, the 30-30, is among the most common of rifle cartridges. Give the cases a good examination looking for defects like splits or dents in the rim, etc. Being careful here can make subsequent steps more predictable.

The second step is to cut the case to length since 357 Herrett is shorter than a 30-30. Take off about 3/10ths of an inch from the end of the case. The best tool, by far, that I IMG_3288have found for doing this is a small, cheap, ultra-fine narrow-kerf Zona “razor saw.” These are about $7. They are way neater than a hacksaw, and much faster than a Dremel (and don’t send abrasive dust into the air). If the edge doesn’t come out great or got crushed a little, don’t worry. As long as it isn’t too short, those imperfections will be corrected.
The next step is to anneal the case neck/mouth area. Annealing is a metal treatment process that softens the metal. This makes the brass more ductile and malleable, which will be necessary to prevent splitting as the case mouth is expanded from .308 to .358 inside diameter. IMG_3293The way I do this is with a small propane torch. Just run the torch over each side of the brass lined up for a few seconds until it visibly discolors. Make sure not to hold it too long or you will anneal the brass body and weaken the case. If discoloration goes below the neck area then it has gone too far. I usually err on the side of under-annealing than over-annealing. If you get splits in the sizing step, then you are under-annealing, but if you don’t get at least one split, you may be over-annealing. I split one in this batch of fifty-five (another three I cut too short leaving me with 51).

Now that the brass has been annealed apply a quality case sizing lubricant as directed. Make sure to get some on the inside of the case mouth, too.

IMG_3298Now flare the case mouth. There are dies that do this, but I use a steel pin punch with a flared shoulder. The ¼” or 5/16ths” punch works fine. Just a couple light raps with a light hammer is all that is needed to put a slight flare on the end.

Now you will deprime, expand, and size the case. This requires a little more attention than usual. Since 357 Herrett is supposed to headspace on the rim, you have to make sure you set back the shoulder just far enough that the case isn’t headspacing on the shoulder.

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However, you do not want to set back the shoulder more than necessary since IMG_3301this will cause case stretching and wear out the brass prematurely. Since I am loading for a T/C G2 Contender, this is very easy. Screw the full-length resizing die into the press until it touches the shellholder when the ram is at top of stroke. Then back out the die a couple turns. Size a case.This will be hard at first since the expander button has to expand the neck up to diameter (it will never be this difficult again). Now trim the case (see subsequent trimming instructions). Insert the case into the chamber. You shouldn’t be able to close the action because the shoulder is too far forward and the rim isn’t seating into its groove. Now turn the die in an eight of a turn or so and size the case again and then check to see if the action will close. Keep doing this until the action just closes. Then give it another 1/16th to 1/8th of a turn for good measure. Now you may size all your other cases based on this die setting.

The next step is trimming. I use the Lee-style lock-stud and pin type trimming system. This will require a custom pin from Lee, which costs $16. I’ve made these things on drill press with a file using a grade eight bolt in the past, but this takes a long time. I really think Lee does a better job and it is worth buying the custom pin. What is great about the Lee system is that it keeps the neck concentric with the case, the mouth perpendicular to the case, and it adapts to a cordless drill. If you only cut off around 3/10ths of an inch, then you only should have to trim 30-80 thousandths to arrive at the max case length of 1.750 inches.

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Then I file off any dents or burs that are on rims, and chamfer the inside and outside of the case mouth with a chamfering tool. I give the case a good inspection. Then I wash then in hot water with ample dish detergent. I use a little nylon brush to clean the inside of the cases and rinse thoroughly in hot water and let it all dry out by the wood stove overnight. These cases are ready for loading.

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It is best to fireform the case with a starting load. The case will expand to fit the chamber well, and now you may only neck size the case. The case will have a slightly larger capacity (so max loads will be safe) and last longer if you neck size only. Neck sizing dies for the 357 Herrett may be purchased, but I prefer to have a custom Lee collet neck sizing die made. It’s worth the wait in my opinion. Eventually, after a few reloadings, you may find that the brass has expanded to the point where the shoulder is bumping against the chamber and the case and the action wont close because the case has gone to headspacing on the shoulder rather than the rim. The solution here is to full-length size it again as described above to set back the shoulder slightly. After many reloadings this full-length sizing may thin the brass in the critical web area of the case, usually on the inside, where you can’t see it. This is why you should periodically run a bent paper clip or dentist pick inside the case and “feel” if the web area is thinning. The web should be thicker than the brass in the middle part of the body. If it isn’t thicker or is thinner stop using that brass. It has become worn out. All good things must come to an end sometime, but at least with 357 Herrett, which operates at moderate pressures and is minimally sized with each reloading, should long time before you will have to repeat the conversion process.

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357 Herrett Compared

357 Herrett is a “wildcat” cartridge developed in the early 1970s by Steve Herrett and Bob Mileck and eventually standardized by Thompson/Center for their Contender pistol. In this platform it is an ideal medium to large game cartridge and it excels in handgun metallic silhouette competition. Formed from ubiquitous 30-30 brass, the 357 Herrett delivers nearly 35 Remington performance in a smaller, more efficient rimmed platform. Since it is derived from 30-30 and adheres to its overall case length and pressure limitations, 357 Herrett can be adapted to popular lever action carbine platforms like the Winchester 94/Marlin 336. Because of the larger bore diameter of 357 Herrett it surpasses 30-30 energy levels with an equivalent length barrel, and using the 200 Grain Hornady FTX bullet, it surpasses 30-30 external ballistics using conventional bullets.

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357 Herrett case with 200 grain Hornady FTX bullet on left.    30-30 WCF case with 130 grain Speer Hot-Cor bullet on right.

Basically, the 357 Herrett is a “necked-up” 30-30. It is also slightly shortened, and these characteristics make it a legal chambering for rifles (.357 bullet caliber min, 1.8″ case length max) in Indiana on public land (at least presently). I happen to think that it improves upon the 30-30 for use on deer under 200 yards, mainly because it launches a heavier, larger diameter bullet at a somewhat slower speed. 30-30 is in my option TOO FAST for deer and causes excessive meat damage, which is a function of bullet velocity more than anything it seems. Of course one can always slow down a bullet, but then you start to run into problems of it retaining sufficient ability to make a clean kill. Thirty caliber is simply too narrow in my opinion when the velocity is reduced. 30-30 does a fine job, but only when it is launched at its standard velocities (~2200 FPS for 170 grain, ~2300 FPS for 160 grain, ~2400 FPS for 150 grain ~2500 FPS for 130 grain). By using .357/.358 diameter bullets, which are commonly found in handgun and rifle styles, the 357 Herrett dials back the velocity (~1800-2000 FPS for 200 and 180 grain bullets) slightly while still maintaining very good ability to make clean kills (and knock over steel targets on the silhouette range). Such large bullets are completely unnecessary for critters smaller than deer, so 30-30 is actually a more versatile cartridge, but I do think 357 Herrett has an edge on deer that only becomes more pronounced the shorter the barrel becomes.

357 Herrett is NOT a commercially available cartridge, though it is not particularly difficult to convert a 30-30 case to 357 Herrett, and the bullets are commonly available. A moderately experienced reloader in possession of a propane torch should be able to do it; the trick is to ANNEAL the case prior to attempting to expand the neck. Brass is an alloy that when exposed to heat softens. By touching the neck/shoulder area of the 30-30 case with a propane torch for a couple seconds causing visible discoloration and a rapid warming of the case, the brass becomes much more malleable and ductile, preventing splits. It is important to NOT ANNEAL the case where it shouldn’t be: the bottom of the case. Basically you can stand up the cases in a pan of water, which acts like a heat sink, and then touch their neck/shoulder area with a torch, or you can simply hold the case with your thumb and fore finger, which allows you to roll the case around, and hold the torch against the neck/shoulder while you roll the case. This also lets you know when the case is getting too hot. Basically, if it is burning your finger and thumb, then you’ve overheated the case. It only takes two or three seconds on a very low torch setting to accomplish this.

Basically the conversion process goes like this:

  1. Find some 30-30 cases and cut their necks with a fine-tooth hobby saw (Zona or the like) or with a hacksaw a to about 1.8-1.9″ long. A small, padded vice is helpful.
  2. Anneal the neck/shoulder area.
  3. Take a steel center punch or pin punch with a tapered shoulder and flare the case mouth slightly with light hammer raps to the butt of the punch.
  4. Thoroughly lubricate the outside of the case and inside of the neck shoulder area with a quality resizing lubricant like Hornady Unique.
  5. Run the case into a full-length sizing die with expander button (hopefully you will have a tapered, flared, or bullet shaped button and not a sharp conical one). The Hornady FL sizing die has a bullet shaped button and it works well.
  6. Now trim the case to 1.750″. Some folks use brass trimming lathes. I prefer the LEE-style lock stud case trimmer system; they’ll make you a custom 357 Herrett pin in about a week, and a 30-30 lock ring will work. A little case lube inside the mouth will help here.
  7. Chamfer and smooth the inside and outside of the case mouth.
  8. Prime the case
  9. Charge with a  moderate load and seat bullet. The purpose here is to expand the case to full chamber dimension, not to obtain maximum performance. This is a good time to make gross adjustment to your sighting system whatever it may be.
  10. Deprime case, check case length, trim if necessary, clean case, and you can either full-length size it or simply neck size it going forward. Now you are ready for full powered loads. Accurate 1680 seems to be the optimal powder available for this cartridge in bullet weights 158 grains to 200 grains, which are really the bullet weights that work best with the Herrett.
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When loaded to its potential with the 200 grain Hornady FTX, the 357 Herrett is an ideal deer hunting cartridge at close to moderate ranges. In fact, I wouldn’t hesitate to use it on Black Bear or Pigzillas either, giving it a far broader appeal. 

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Murderous Raccoons

A murderous raccoon killed every one of our ducks. It didn’t eat a single one, or even make off with one of their bodies. It simply decapitated seven of them and killed the other two, in the usual manner of a Raccoon.

We’ve never had any sort of incident like this, and indeed our electric fence was working, churning out over 5000 volts when I tested it the morning after. The raccoon(s) entered by pushing their body through the two ends of the electro-net, which were tied together, and surely suffered many shocks. They also attempted digging under the fence, but the frozen ground prevented it. It was cleary determined, and I hope the bastard dies the slow, agonizing death of hypothermia and starvation. I used to have sort of a soft spot for these animals, even doing things like releasing ones I caught in traps; now I will be killing every one I am legally able to, and by every means I am legally able to, and with extreme prejudice.

There is no doubt in my mind it was because of the extreme cold we’ve been experiencing that this happened. The irony is it happened on the last night of the cold spell, which has lasted about two weeks. The pond was frozen, and water is a duck’s first line of defense. Even though they can fly, they are reluctant to, especially with the extreme cold. More importantly, every dog in the neighborhood was inside Saturday night, as it was sub-zero temperature. Raccoons and every other vermin had the freedom to range undetected, and in fact, this Raccoon’s tracks crossed right through my neighbors’ front yard, where his dog normally lives. And of course everyone’s windows were sealed up tight, so quacks of distress went unheard.

Still, I figured a working electro-net and the ducks ability to fly (we’ve never clipped their wings to preserve this ability)  would prove to be two layers of defense. I guess three or more is needed: add a dog or a pond and this would have probably never happened.

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Dogs are pretty useless indoors. And a dog used to living outdoors like ours gets cabin fever almost immediately when tied up inside. 

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The Contender

There is a certain elegance to single shot firearms. They do not involve complicated and noisy actions to cycle cartridges in and out; in fact they do not really have an “action” at all, and this allows for fewer design compromises. It can be focused a certain competitive shooting discipline or a certain kind of hunting. In the case of the Thompson/Center Contender pistol, it was designed by Warren Center to be an ideal handgun for Competitive Handgun Metallic Silhouette Shooting (hence its name), but it was found by the budding handgun hunting crowd to offer numerous advantages over large-framed revolvers for hunting medium (Deer) and even large game (Elk).

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I have a somewhat complicated relationship with Contenders, and my observation of them is that people either really like them or they dislike them. There are few people that seem ambivalent about them and plenty who have strong opinions about them. I was never really interested in them as their appearance never really attracted me, probably because I imprinted on certain forms of firearms when I was a child that I have never shaken. They are idiosycratic, though when you study them for a while you see that they have everything that is essential, and possess a subtle ingenuity, but you don’t really notice this until you’ve owned and used one for a while. It is also the only firearm that I know of which can be configured as a rifle or a pistol.

Since Contenders never really attracted me, and nobody I knew had one, I only came to own one in a rather circuitous way. I once owned a Thompson/Center BuckMark 22LR semi-auto rifle. These were billed by T/C as better than the ubiquitous Ruger 10/22 for a number of reasons, mainly that they had all steel receivers, threaded barrels, and were equipped with a  better trigger, sights, and stock right out of the box. All of that was true, but mine had a very serious flaw in the trigger mechanism, so I sent it back, and it sat at the T/C factory in New Hampshire for nearly a year. I would periodically call them up and ask them what’s going on and was usually given some dismissive reply. Eventually, after pointing out that it was coming up on one year that they had it in their possession, and they admitted that they cannot fix it because a subcontractor that made parts for the rifle no longer was able to supply the particular part needed, the customer service person made me an offer: a brand new G2 Contender 22LR Rifle in exchange for destroying the unfixable BuckMark (which was discontinued from their catalog that year). At the time the G2 cost about double what I paid for the BuckMark so I agreed to it, basically knowing little about the Contender other than its MSRP. Despite not buying the Contender, it ironically became the only firearm I regretted later selling.

Thus began my curious relationship with a Contender RIFLE. I found the thing exceedingly heavy for a 22 Rifle, and I found annoying how the barrel tilted downwards, which makes it hard to reload at the range on a bench or on the ground hunting squirrels. I basically never shot it despite it being quite accurate. I eventually sold it after realizing I didn’t use it much. I never gave it a chance to really demonstrate itself as a pistol, which is what the Contender was originally meant to be.

I recently saw that T/C, now under the ownership of Smith & Wesson, started making G2 Contenders again, and they were running a nice $75 mail-in-rebate, and the price was very reasonable. I also now appreciate more fully the chief virtues of the Contender: simple barrel inter-changeability, accuracy, and easy maneuverability. Since I’ve started to hunt on public lands in Indiana, my firearm needs to conform to the old cartridge restrictions of Indiana. So 30-30, which is legal for hunting on private lands in Indiana, is out along with nearly all cartridges rifles are normally chambered in. Even large, powerful handguns do not have the practical range or accuracy ideal for Whitetails, and in my opinion, are a major disability in the field. Interestingly, 357 Herrett, which is a wildcat cartridge originally intended for silhouette competition in Contenders, falls within the Indiana restrictions (between 1.29″ and 1.8″ case length, between .357 and .50 caliber) and it is an ideal deer cartridge, even out of a shorter barrel (even a 10″ handgun barrel, which is long by handgun standards, is half the length of a typical rifle).

 

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As a pistol the tilting barrel isn’t annoying. In fact, it is quite fast. While not as fast as a revolver, I can reload a Contender handgun rapidly and easily. Best of all, the spent case doesn’t end up on the ground. One at a time out of the chamber and into a box, bag, or pocket. This is the reloaders’ dream! And Contenders are one of the few pistols that mounting a scope on makes sense. They have the range, power, and accuracy that makes good use of a scope. Unlike most handguns, which are held only from the grip, a Contender, particularly with a long barrel (over 10″), is held by the grip and forend. Typically most people find this to be a more stable hold. Also, there are many ways to hold a Contender using other parts of your body. You can rest them on your knee, or on a walking staff, or hold them on crossed shooting sticks.

They are nice in a  blind, too. While I usually stalk hunt, and they are fine for that, even a pistol of very great barrel length (mine is 14″) is very maneuverable compared to a rifle. They are easier to climb up trees with, and if you purchase a sling for them, they are very portable. In my opinion they are far too heavy for a holster, unless it is a holster suspended from a shoulder, and if you are going to do that, might as well just get a sling. Long-barreled Contenders sort of fill a middle ground between a carbine length rifle (small, short-barreled rifle, typically 16-20″) and a typical handgun with a barrel length typically around 4-6 inches. The Contender maintains much of a handgun’s portability and convenience, while it approaches a rifle’s accuracy and power. They even are half way between a typical handgun with its single point of body contact (grip, by one or both hands) and a rifle with its three points of body contact (grip, forend, and buttstock). Contenders are typically held by the grip and forend and so have two points of body contact.

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