The Los Angeles Handgun, Rifle, Air Pistol, Hunter/Field Pistol Silhouette Club

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A collection of comments and articles on the many aspects of bullet casting by various cast bullet shooters
Cast Bullets For Beginner And Expert
SECOND EDITION, 2007 - Joe Brennan
How To Reload With A Lyman 310 Tool

Ric Bowman

Years ago I purchased a used Ideal 310 reloading setup for 30/06 only because it was cheap and someday might wish to reload while traveling in my RV. It came in the orange cardboard box indicating it was made by Lyman Gun Sight Corporation after they purchased the Ideal Reloading Tool Company. The handles are steel with mottled blues and purples from hardening. The original instruction sheet was still in the bottom of the box, as were all of the original dies, one replacement, several extra dies and one handmade powder scoop. The tools were cleaned, inspected, oiled and put back in their box. If time is not a major concern, they work well and can make very serviceable ammo.

The Lyman 310 Tool is actually very convenient to use in the following manner as long as a group of cases are processed one step at a time. Here is what works best for me:

The de-capping chamber is screwed into the handles. By adjusting the chamber and de-capping rod depth, you can vary how close the handles close for your best grip strength or reach. This is the replacement die of the set and it came with three extra de-capping pins. The first time a crimp primed military case was de-capped, I knew why. They are very hard to push out and the flash holes are not necessarily in the center of the primer pocket. After the military crimp is removed or with commercial cases, de-capping was easily done with light finger pressure. A hook on the handles extracts the case after each operation.

1. The neck-sizing die is then installed. The die is screwed into the handle until you have the length of neck resized you require. Some care is required as you can seat the die deep enough to begin pushing your case shoulders into the neck sizer section. This works best if you only resized the neck as far down as you need to hold the bullet in place. This set had two dies. One remains as manufactured and it resizes the inside of the necks to 0.304 inches. The other die has been enlarged and polished to reduce the neck to 0.307 inches.

2. The neck-expanding die is installed. The chamber and the plug are both adjustable to allow the action to take place at the desired amount of closing of the handles. There were two plugs, one marked “308” and one marked “311”. While they are both accurately marked, case neck springback brings the finished neck size one or two thousandths of an inch smaller. The plugs also have a tapered shoulder that will bell the case mouths to ease bullet seating. I use the enlarged sizing die and the “311” marked plug for cast bullets. It slides in easily and bells the case mouth.

The priming chamber is installed. It is a threaded shell older with a sliding pined punch. It is fast, easy to use and has excellent feel. The deeper the die is screwed into the handles, the farther the punch rises. It is easy to adjust for a thousandth of an inch of primer depth change.

3.  Lastly, the seating die is installed. This “double adjustable chamber” is meant to seat the bullet and crimp the case, if desired. The set contains two nose punches, one for a spitzer bullet and one for a round nosed bullet. Holding the tool with the chamber vertical, a powder charged case with a bullet balanced in the neck is inserted into the chamber. The opposite handle is swung up and squeezed to complete the operation. With practice, you can train the hands and fingers to complete this without dropping very many cases, but it may take a while. The die is designed to not control the case body as it rises into the die. The bullet stops against the nose punch with no radial support. The case slides up over the bullet unsupported.

With a modern press, where the ram is in line with the die, this seating action may not be an issue. However, with the swinging handle not only pushing the case up but also sideways, case runout can become a big problem very quickly. Here the light bulb flashed on in my head! That is why the carefully made sizer and two sizes of expander were made. Reducing neck tension reduces the force required to seat the bullet and lessens run out. It helps to only have the die body screwed into the tool the minimum amount required.

Picture #1 shows the steel handles and the following dies, left to right. First is the de-capping die, which is universal as it just serves to hold the de-capping pin. Next is the neck resizer. Third is the priming punch die that fits specific case head sizes. Forth is the neck expander, also just about universal for caliber. Last is the seating / crimping die.

Picture #2 shows the handles with the priming chamber seated and shows the extractor hook for case withdrawal.  Adjuncts include a homemade powder measure, fitted screwdriver, extra seating plug for spitzer bullets and extra case neck expander.

Here are some more helpful hints. Clean the tool and dies well. They were shipped with very clinging grease that picks up and holds lots of dirt and dust. The original owners must have never cleaned them because every set I look at is hard to work with and are filthy. The most effective way for me to clean them is with carburetor cleaner and a brush. A light coat of thin oil is then applied. Find or make a proper screwdriver for the lock ring set screws. These miniature screws only have to be set occasionally, but a knife tip isn’t the right tool. If you are reloading for revolvers, you need to keep the brass separate between pistols. These also only neck size pistol cases, so if a fired cases from one gun will not freely chamber in another, it will not fit after reloading.  The new style, well within the last 50 years, aluminum handles require a bushing be used on the handle opposite the side with the adjustable hook extractor. This allows a wider choice of dies be used with a large or small handle set. The older steel sets were case head size specific, that is 30/06, 45-70, 38 S&W Special, etc.

How To Use The Lyman Tong Tool

Ken Mollohan

The Tong Tool has a history that goes back to the days of Indian fights and buffalo hunters. It started out as an offering of the Ideal (now Lyman) company, and older specimens frequently include a bullet mold on the handles, which had built in dies for only one single shell - of the same caliber as the mold. It wasn’t very versatile, or very precise, but it didn’t have much competition, and it got the job done well enough to handle both outlaws and buffalo.

As time went on, the basic design was revised and reworked to keep pace with the changing expectations of shooters, who tended to lean increasingly toward paper targets, owing to the growing scarcity of buffalo. The mold was removed and given a set of handles of its own.

The built in dies were removed, and the handles were threaded to accept interchangeable dies, albeit of a smaller diameter than most of us are used to using. In time, the handles were threaded all the way through, and inserts that could be changed to let you load different sized cases were added.

Now the guys who collect antique reloading tools will laugh at the simplicity of this brief introduction, but the idea was to let you see that the Tong Tool has served well and long, and can still do so today. And let me also note that Lyman also offered exactly the same dies to be used in a small press under the name “True Line”, except that the True Line die sets did not include the priming tool, as the press used a different setup for primers.

When you buy a tong tool set, you will find you have a set of handles that look much like a set of holiday nutcrackers: Fairly long, and joined only at one end. In fact, this resemblance is so pronounced that they have long been known fondly as “Nutcracker” tools. One handle will have a cylindrical projection about an inch or so from the hinged end. Inspection will reveal that the projection is hollow and threaded.

Opening the handles, you will see that the threaded hole is counter-bored slightly on the inside, and has a screw adjustable hook projecting into it from the opposite handle. The reason for the counter-ore is to provide a stop shoulder for the case insert, which should be threaded into the handle (from the inside) as far as possible, and stopping with the groove in the case insert aligned with the hook. In use, this hook will drop into the recess and snag on the case rim, and pull it out when the handles are opened. Use the adjustment screw to assure it is set properly for your type of ammo.

Now examine your dies. The one with a small pin projecting from the bottom is the sizing die. It will be the first one you need to use. Back the de-capping screw down into the die, and screw it into the handles. Drop a fired case into the insert, and squeeze the handles shut by hand pressure. Now pull them apart and examine the case. The neck of the case should show polish marks all the way down to the shoulder. If it doesn’t, adjust the die accordingly. Once the die will size the neck fully (and no further), screw the de-capping pin back up in small adjustments until the fired primer is ejected when you squeeze the handles. Use the lock nuts to keep these settings.

One of the dies will have a white steel plug through the top, and an apparently oversized button will be visible inside it.  This is the expander die, a most useful accessory whether you are loading jacketed or cast bullets. I have Tong Tool expanders for every caliber you can imagine, and use a 7/8x14 bushing to add them to every set of conventional dies I buy. But just start threading yours into the handle of your tong tool, and drop an empty neck sized case in the bushing side. Ideally, it should drop down below level, or nearly so. Adjust the die and the expander so that the empty case is about 1/4 or 3/8 inch above flush with the handles, and squeeze them shut. Now open the handles to extract the case, and try to insert a bullet (sized and lubed if you are using cast) in the mouth of the case. It should not go in at this point, at least with most cases. Now replace the case, and squeeze and release the handles. Screw the die or expander button in a bit further and squeeze the handles again. Repeat until you feel a very slight ‘pop’ when the handles are squeezed. This signals the expansion of the mouth of the case, and this operation is generally referred to as ‘belling’ the case.

Remove the case and try your bullet again. The case should allow it to enter the mouth a short distance with little or no resistance. Ideally, the bullet should enter the case neck far enough to orient it reasonably straight to the neck.

Again, lock these die settings for future use.

One of the dies will look like half of it has been cut away, and this will have a recess that fits the base of the case you are loading. It will also have the large end of a spring loaded plunger on the other end. This is the primer seating die. Screw the plunger end into the handles until closing them will press the small end of the plunger just past flush with the case cutaway, and lock the die in position.

Pick up a fresh primer and place it on the small end of the plunger, with the anvil forward, and the smooth end of the primer touching the plunger. Place a sized, de-primed case in the recess, and squeeze the handles. This will cause the plunger to press the fresh primer into the primer pocket. Check your settings by standing the primed case on a flat sheet of glass. It should stand firmly, with no tendency to rock or wobble. If it does wobble, you either have a burr on the casing, or the primer isn’t deep enough, and the die needs to be readjusted. This is a fairly slow priming process, but very well designed: The primer is seated gently and slowly, with no danger of igniting it by impact, as there is in the Lee Loader. I can’t say it’s impossible, but I’ve used the Tong Tool for decades, and never experienced one, even when I encountered very obviously defective cases with primer pockets so shallow that a primer couldn’t be seated at all. With a little practice, the process becomes automatic: I’ve spent untold hours watching television while I primed cases by feel: The feel of both primers and cases are quite distinctive, and this allows them to be handled with assurance.

Unfortunately, the Tong Tool has no provision for charging gunpowder. The Lee volumetric scoops work fairly well (See the note on technique in the Lee Loader section), but you will find that a more conventional adjustable powder measure will provide the greatest versatility.

Once the sized and re-primed case has been belled and charged, it is time to seat the bullet of your choice. There is but one die left, and it’s the bullet seating die. It’s also readily recognized by the threaded stem in its center.

Thread it into the handles until it begins to push an empty case above flush. Then back it out several turns and lock the setting. Now back the threaded stem out as far as it will go. Holding the handles so that the seating die is tilted upwards, insert a case (sized, primed and charged with both powder and a bullet) as far as it will go. It should go past the flush position to indicate that the bullet has not been seated at all. Close the handles and begin screwing the center post down until it is stopped by contacting the bullet. Hold the handles loosely while you screw the center post a bit further, then squeeze the handles tightly. This should seat the bullet into the case mouth by the distance you moved the center post. Note the distance that remains to seat the bullet where you want it, and approach that point in small steps. Once the settings are producing the results you want, lock them in with the usual locknut.

One seldom seen accessory for the tong tool was called a sizing chamber. No, it didn’t size the case, it sized cast bullets. It was a threaded sleeve that was bored out for a loose slip fit that enabled a cast bullet to drop down to the very end. At the end, it was stopped by a constriction sort of like the choke in a shotgun barrel. This constriction could be ordered in a variety of diameters, and determined the size of the bullet that was forced through it by a push rod that was powered by compressing the handles.

Ideally, the bullet was forced through base first to prevent fins from forming because of out-of-round bullets from less than ideal molds.

I sure pushed a lot of lead through these sizers, but they had to be lubed first. They were a real pain at times, because the excess lube would be scraped off and get everywhere. Some of it got on the base of the next slug to be pushed through, and forced you to wipe the base on a bit of cloth before loading it. And some of it got squeezed back along the push rod, making it harder to remove for the next bullet unless it was cleaned out periodically. I still have a few of these sizing chambers, but it’s been many a year since they were used.

Summary: The Tong Tool is a very versatile tool, particularly useful on camping trips or at the range, where a normal press setup would be awkward at best. Some remarkably small groups have been fired using ammo that it produced.

It has three weaknesses in my experience:

First, it is still relatively slow to use, though much faster than some other hand-held reloading tools.

Secondly, it is dependent on some sort of external powder measurement equipment, though that is easily remedied.

Third, it is still a neck size only operation, which means case expansion will sooner or later cause chambering problems. There are claims for full sizing of some straight walled cases like the .38 Special, but they are not quite true: MOST of the case is sized, which is a big improvement over the usual 3/8 to ½ inch ‘neck sizing’, but the case near the base web will not be fully sized. However, this is where the brass begins to thicken too, so if your loads are moderate, the problem is at least moderated.

Lyman used to sell a full length sizing die that operated by forcing a lubricated case into it in a vise, then pounding it out with a hammer and rod. It worked, but the least said about production rates, the better.



Warning: All technical data mentioned, especially handloading and bullet casting, reflect the limited experience of individuals using specific tools, products, equipment and components under specific conditions and circumstances not necessarily reported in the article or on this web site and over which The Los Angeles Silhouette Club (LASC), this web site or the author has no control. The above has no control over the condition of your firearms or your methods, components, tools, techniques or circumstances and disclaims all and any responsibility for any person using any data mentioned.

Always consult recognized reloading manuals.


The Los Angeles Handgun, Rifle, Air Pistol, Hunter/Field Pistol Silhouette Club