Friday, November 21, 2014

What is Your Time Worth?

I called Borepatch last night to tell him about the surplus .303 at $0.40 a round. One of things I said was, "You can't reload it for that price." Which is true, if you're buying projectiles.

I looked up some prices. These are current prices, although the powder was unavailable.

Bullets -- $29.00 a hundred, so 29 cents each
Powder -- H4350, $28.00 a pound, 7000 gr./lb., 44 gr./round, so about 17 cents each
Primers -- $32.00 a thousand, so 3 cents each
Cases -- Let's say you have the cases.

Reloading .303 British would cost you $0.49 a round for materials. ($235.00 for 480 rounds)

Of course, you could cast bullets. Assuming that you can find a source of free lead and you don't count the cost of the propane to make the ingots, let's call the cast bullets free. Now, you're at 29 cents a round. ($139.00 for 480 rounds)

Let's also forget all the equipment costs for the reloading and casting equipment, too. Call that a sunk cost, amortized years ago. The storage and work space, tables, cabinets, presses, dies, the brass prep tools, scales, lead molds, lubrisizer, powder measures, etc. all written off and forgotten.

You haven't done the work yet. So let's talk about time.

Note**: The following applies to calibers you already know, that you have loaded before, and that you can readily set up. If you were starting with a new caliber, all bets are off on how long it would take. You would be making up small test lots, going out and shooting them over a chronograph and shooting them for accuracy and function, collecting data and generally spending many hours getting to the point where you would consider loading in larger quantities like this.

Say I set up the lead pot, get it heated up, warm up the mold, get all the safety gear on, and cast some bullets. I have a 2 cavity steel mold, and allowing a half hour of getting things ready, I start making usable bullets at the rate of 4 to 6 bullets a minute (I'm an optimist). Allowing for some futzing, some discards, and the setup time, I make about 200 bullets an hour for a couple of hours work.

I take my 400 usable bullets and run them one at a time through a lubrisizer to size, lube, and seat a gas check. That's probably 2 bullets a minute, give or take. Maybe I'm a little quicker than 2, so let's call that 3 hours at the lubrisizer.

That's 5 hours to make 400 loadable rifle bullets. And I think that's optimistic, but not unrealistic.

Now you tumble up 400+ cases. One by one, you rub some lube on them. I use Imperial, put a very light coat on each case. Get the sizing/decapping die adjusted in the press. Pick them up one by one and size them. Then maybe I tumble them again, or rub the lube off. After that, one by one, I prime them. I have a couple of priming tools, but none that don't require some attention and effort.

Primed, sized cases, ready to be loaded with powder, are what you want to keep around. Now you set up the seating die in the press. Set up a powder measure to the specified quantity. Then you put powder in cases. I tend to do 10 at a time, then check them visually. Each one is run through the press one more time. At this point, setting the bullet in place and pulling the handle finishes a usable round.

What kind of time do I have in making 400 rounds? 3-4 hours to lube and size the cases, 2-3 hours to prime them,  4-5 hours to throw powder and seat bullets? I dunno. I doubt I'm handling a hundred an hour on a single stage press no matter how efficient I am. I may have to actually time myself on each step of a hundred the next time I do 30.06 and see what it is for each part of the process.

Pretend I'm in the ballpark and it takes about 2 hours accumulated work to do 100 rounds of rifle ammo for a caliber you're familiar with. If you're using cast bullets, add another 2 hours to cast and lubrisize 100 bullets (one hour for each step).

What is an hour of your time worth? I reload. I cast. I do it because I enjoy it. It's a hobby unto itself, not just work I do so I can go enjoy the shooting sports. But I know I'm not reloading to save money and I don't think about the time.


Borepatch said...

This is a great analysis. Your question can be restated as "What is the opportunity cost of your time" - the answer is probably non-financial. It's an hour not spent with family or friends, or whatever.

But if you enjoy this as a hobby, the opportunity cost of a couple hours of South Park might be a lot less. ;-)

Goober said...

How do you shoot supersonic unjacketed bullets without lead fouling your barrel?

ASM826 said...


I run my lead bullets in the 1600 to 1800 fps range. That keeps me in a zone where leading isn't too much of an issue. It is possible to get bullets up to maybe 2000 or 2100 fps without leading. It's a combination of the alloy you use, the exact size diameter of the bullet, the bullet design, the lube, and your particular rifle barrel. Start slow, work up, watch for leading, reassess. Sometimes a 1/1000 of an inch difference in bullet diameter is the difference between a clean barrel and a lead problem. The Cast Boolits link in the sidebar is my go-to resource. I'm still a beginner at lead rifle bullets. Anything I want to send downrange at normal velocities I do with jacketed projectiles.

Goober said...

I get it now.

I keep forgetting that we use our rifles differently.

I load one round for each of my rifles. For hunting, for target shooting, for whatever. I do this because I use my rifle in all sorts of chaotic conditions - this year, it was a running buck, offhand, at 325 yards, and a standing doe, also offhand, at 220. Last weekend it was a coyote at 150 yards running away from me, from a kneeling position. .

If I practiced with 1,800 fps loads, then used my 3,000 fps loads on that buck, i'd have missed, because I would have been holding way too high. Probably wouldn't have made a difference for the doe and the coyote, though.

I like to have the exact same thing happen every time I pull the trigger, because ethically, I'm responsible for making sure that critter goes down.

But yeah, for punching paper, what you're talking about seems like a good idea - for the pocketbook, for the shoulder, for the barrel... everything. Especially if the rifles are antiques, like Borepatch's .303.

ASM826 said...


I have one go-to load for jacketed 30.06, for the same reasons you describe.

drjim said...

I look at working on my car restoration project the same way.

Yes, I'm "saving" money, but that's only because my own time is zeroed out by the "therapeutic" value I drive from it.

Tony Tsquared said...

This reasoning is why I do not reload 9mm, 223 or 7.62x39. I can buy it cheaper than I can reload it. The 45GAP is a toss up, about 2/3 of my 45GAP is hand loaded and the rest is store bought. I have the ability and inventory for most of what I regularly shoot but economics always plays into what get put into the gun (except for protection loads).

B said...

I think you are pessemistic for the lubrizizing, You can do the lubricating and the sizing at the same pass, so cut that in half.

And the same on the case prep and loading. should cut that time in half as well.

But the advantage you have is that you can make custom made loads for your rifle that are as close to *exactly the same* as you care them to be....Unlike the surplus rounds which will vary by +/- 5% or so.

Goober said...

For the casual reader that's interested: I said "for the barrel" above, and that's for several reasons.

My rounds are probably harder on the barrel of my rifle than ASM's, even though all of my rounds are jacketed. If I was int he habit of putting a thousand rounds a year down range, I'd probably do what ASM is talking about, but I don't.

Maybe 100 to 200, at most.

The reason is because my loads are loaded as hot as you can get them. 190 grain, 3,000 feet per second.

As you can probably imagine, that is very hard on the barrel. I will be lucky to get 5,000 rounds out of it.

At the rate I surmise that ASM shoots, I'd be replacing my barrel every 5 years...

Sherm said...

I generally find these "what's an hour of your time worth" arguments odd. Unless I'm actually foregoing income, that is I have someone willing to pay me for the time I would otherwise spend reloading, the monetary value of my time is effectively zero no matter what someone will pay me at another time.

Not that that time doesn't have value it's just that quantifying it becomes a bit more difficult. Are the hours spent reloading more valuable to me than playing with my kids or washing the car or tagging along while my wife buys clothes or or or? The actual value of reloading time is different in every instance.

When I sit down to reload there is no other use for my time that is more valuable. That's why so much reloading gets done in the winter rather than the summer. Winter time has less value than summer time.

Barney said...

It really isn't fair to compare new bullets to reloaded bullets when you're shooting old weapons.
A lot of old guns like Enfields, Mosins, Springfields and Krags, you start your reloading trek with swaging the barrel first to see what you've got. Then you have to get friendly with the nice folks at Lyman.
As for what's your time worth. That's probably a mite different for each mother's son.

Old NFO said...

We did a back of the envelope one day and figured the break even was 5000 rounds when you add in the cost of the equipment. If you figure your hourly rate in, you never break even unless you're shooting 1000 rounds or so a week. Friend of mine has a Dillon 650 loading station in his gun shop, when it's slow he reloads and can pump out about 1000 a week. He figures 'he' is breaking even... FWIW...

ASM826 said...


It's isn't just what someone might pay for that hour. It's an hour that I didn't use to anything else, be it paint a room, do a woodworking project, or watch a TV show, etc.

Skip said...

Making match ammo is worth the time it takes to make them perfect.
I don't trust a factory machine to make them as well as I do.
If all costs ( including time ) are factored, my .308 rounds are about $3.00 apiece.
It is a nice hobby as opposed to a shitty round of golf ;)

greg said...

My wife and I have a similar conversation with her knitting/crochetting. This time of year, she gets a lot of requests for custom hats and scarfs and such, and I NEVER think she values her time properly...but to her, it's something she enjoys, and she can pull up an episode of Dr. Who on the kindle, and let her fingers do their thing...which is a difference. With knitting, a mistake means a bit of frogging to undo a line or two...not a squib, or a double load.

kx59 said...

Going all the way back to Borepatch's first comment:
The time cost for me does not work right now. It's far more cost effective to buy factory ammo in bulk.
The niggling thought in the back of my mind is that learning this skill could be very, very "cost" effective under dire circumstances.

abnormalist said...

You guys make me glad I only (at this time) reload for pistol.

Cheap loads for 45 auto can be rolled for about $0.13 a round (.03 primer, .02 powder, .08 bullet 200gr rnfp) compared to new at $.45 a round.

Cheap 44 mag for about $0.17 (.03 primer, .05 powder, .09 bullet 240gr lswc) compared to new at $.70 a round.

Both are hard cast lead bullets, using w231 for the powder (I buy that in bulk and run somewhat light loads for the 44 mag stuff 1150 fps from a 4" revolver 1450 from a 20" carbine)

On a lee turret press I can turn out about 200 rounds an hour, I don't tumble, I use carbide dies so I don't lube, so that's a fairly honest 1 hour, 200 rounds. I use separate turrets for each caliber, so my switch out time is more based on verifying the powder measure, and a quick run through with a batch round to verify all measurements. Maybe 15 minutes switch out time.

abnormalist said...

I just ran my math, I had the powder prices off... The cheap 45 auto is $0.015, and 44 mag is about $0.027 for powder (9.5gr w231 8lb keg $160 45 auto is 5.4gr same prices).

I also forgot to mention, the bullets are purchased at that price online in the 1000 qty level.

Now on the 44 when doing hunting rounds, the light deer load works out to about $0.235 (.03 primer, .03 powder, .15 bullet 180gr hornady xtp) for 1200fps from the 4" and 1600 from the carbine.

Lastly the beast rounds are a bit pricey (.03 primer, .066 powder, .35 bullet 300gr hornady xtp) running a 300gr @1650fps out of a 5lb rifle though kinda sucks to shoot a lot of :-D