Or, “Damn, I just made 500 rounds with the wrong powder!”

Eventually – and sooner than later – you will need to take a loaded cartridge apart.  Wrong powder, not enough, too much, wrong primer, and so on.  There are three ways:

  • pliers and press
  • inertia
  • collet-style

None is “The Best” – what you do is highly dependent on your situation.  Just so long as you don’t pull out a hacksaw.

One tip: if the bullet is difficult to pull because it is sealed with tar, as is common with milsurp ammo, first use your seating die to push the bullet in a few thousands.  This breaks the seal and makes the pulling easier, or just plain possible.

Pliers and Press

If you are only doing a few and don’t want to wait for the stores to open to buy an inertia puller, this method works with any bullet that sticks out of the case.  It is also slow, and damages the bullet.

Raise the round up in your press, grab the bullet with pliers, and pull the round down – the bullet will stay behind.  Set a large washer on top of the press to act as a buffer between the pliers and the press – it will prevent or limit damage to the threads in the press.

Pulling with Pliers and Washer

Inertia, or Hammer Pullers

Put the round in, whack the thing one to three times on something hard (not concrete), and the bullet falls out along with the powder.

  • universal and inexpensive: everyone should have one
  • Bullets are generally re-usable – stuff some foam in the front of the puller to reduce marks on the bullet when it slams into the front / open cavity of the puller
  • slow
  • messy – powder management is an issue
  • watch concrete floors: the instructions say “don’t”, and I have broken two by ignoring those instructions.  Hardwood, or a piece of cardboard over the concrete, will protect the striking surface.

Some people substitute a shell holder for the three-sided collet that comes with the puller. This works, and is claimed to give a more-reliable grip, but I have never needed to do it – and have pulled everything from .223 Remington to .50AE to .308Winchester.

Inertia pullers all look about the same.  Here is the RCBS version – notice that it is well-used and has something soft stuffed in the front to catch the bullets.

RCBS Bullet Puller

This is the three-sided collet that holds the shell in place:

Bullet Puller: RCBS inertia, collet closeup

Collet Pullers

Let’s define these as “things that hold the bullet while you pull them out of the case”.   They are fast, relatively mess-free (good powder management), but may fall down when trying to grasp a bullet that is soft (lead), or has a short- or non-existent exposed shank (for example, some light .224 bullets, or semi-wadcutters, or wadcutters).

RCBS, Forster, and Hornady have similar, but not identical, operating systems: cartridge goes up, collet is tightened about the bullet, casing is pulled down while bullet remains in collet.  Collet is loosened and the bullet drops out into your hand (or not – you may need to tap the assembly to make it drop).

The main difference is that the RCBS collet is tightened by pulling it up – so when you yank the bullet down, the collet tends to loosen.  We compensate by over-tightening the collet, and now the bullet may stick.  As a result, I have found the RCBS systems to be less effective than the Forster or Hornady.  In both of those systems, the collet is tightened by pushing it down, so yanking the bullet down tends to tighten them more.  This is a diagram of the collet / bullet in the Forster / Hornady system (real collet surfaces are parallel):

Puller: Generic Collet Diagram

RCBS (notice the collet gets pulled up to tighten):

Puller: RCBS Collet

Forster (notice the collet gets pushed down to tighten):

Puller: standard Forster

Hornady (notice that the locking system is a cam and lever – this is the fastest conventional collet system, and the collet is pushed down to tighten):

Puller: Hornady Camlock Dissassembled

Other Collet-type Pullers

Forster used to make the “Superfast” puller – push the bullet in and the fingers give, pull the case down and the fingers dig in and hold the bullet.  The next bullet pushes out the previous one, and you remove the final bullet with pliers.

Mine, setup for .223 Remington, will not break down milsurp (even after breaking the tar seal) or my own bulk reloads (55gr .223Rem, with a Lee Factory Crimp finish), but it does pull commercial Winchester whitebox .  Having said that, if you rush the case neck will get pushed into the fingers – difficult to remove, and doing so may damage the puller.   And, every bullet pushed through is significantly marred and not really reusable.  These issues may explain why Forster is discontinuing the puller.

Puller: Forster "Superfast"

Lee is about to release an innovative, patented (like so much of Lee’s equipment) pulling system.  The c-ring (part 14) is progressively tightened as the bullet pulls down, by wedging between it and the tapered annulus at the top of the die body (part 12).  We’ll see how it works when Lee finally releases it, perhaps in 2012.  If the claims hold true, it will be as fast as the Forster “Superfast” puller was, and may work better on tough-to-remove bullets.

Puller: Drawing of the Lee Bullet Puller


2 Responses to “Pull! Dissassembling Your Mistakes”

  1. GunFun ZS Says:

    Love the site. Any news on the Lee puller?

    1. squibloads Says:

      Thanks! As for the lee puller, it is as elusive as a snipe. I’m not sure, but Lee may have pulled it from the product map – if you email them and find out for sure, please share it here.

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