Reloading 101: Just the basics

For those of you who want to get into reloading your own ammo, but have been afraid to, or thought the cost was too high, or just want a basic understanding of how it works then this article is for you.  It would be impossible for me to cover every detail or scenario or option, but I can give you some guidance on how to start doing your research, and what it will take.

So 1st things 1st, you will need to be at least a little bit mechanically inclined.  I don’t say this to scare people off, or be condescending but I want to make sure you at least have the competency required before you spend your money.  You will be required to operate, maintain, and of course build a machine (the reloading press).  One of the best things about reloading is you get to try and find new ways to do things better/more efficiently than the last guy.  You have a freedom to experiment so to speak.

Secondly, you will need to be able to find pieces of information from multiple sources and then piece them together to create the whole picture.  There are a ton of resources out there from manufacturers, but they typically pertain to what they want to sell you and probably won’t have your very specific scenario.  The good news is there are a ton of forums out there with people willing to help so all you have to do is ask.

Third, you need to have common sense.  This should be obvious but I have to say it.  Reloading requires YOU to measure things, and work with inherently dangerous materials like gunpowder.  If you put too much in, your gun will explode (literally) in your hands.  Not enough and you get a bullet stuck in the barrel and then you squeeze off round number 2 and your gun explodes in your hand.  Read the load data provided by the powder manufacturer and always start at the minimum and work your way up.  NEVER exceed max load data unless you have a very safe way to test.

Finally you will need to be good at math.  Not necessarily being able to do it in your head, but being good at solving problems, working backwards, coming up with the correct equation to find the answer.  Almost as important as knowing how much powder to put into a cartridge is checking for case length.

If you possess all these competencies then odds are you will do great at reloading.  Just take your time, do your research and ask questions.  BTW I have reached out to powder and bullet manufacturers when I have questions and they want to make sure you are safe and successful not only because they want to associate their brand with great customer service, but because they want you to stay alive so you can buy their products 🙂

OK so now that we have covered the required skills to reload, what about the equipment?  There is quite a few things you will need to get your reloading bench all setup.  That list is:

  • Reloading press – This is the cornerstone of your setup.  There are 3 basic types of presses: Single Stage, Turret, and Progressive.

1)  Single Stage:  A single stage press is great for a lot of different reasons.  It offers the lowest cost, it also offers the most control and precision.  There are a lot of different single stage presses out there ranging from about $25 to a few hundred

2) Progressive:  A progressive press is the opposite of a single stage press.  with a progressive press you can perform multiple steps of the reloading process with a single pull of a lever.  A progressive press allows you to move a shell from die to die without having to remove it from the press.  This greatly increases efficiency but also adds cost and is typically not as consistent as a single stage.  Because a progressive press has more moving parts it is also more complex to setup and operate than a single stage press.

3) Turret:  A turret press combines a single stage press with the automation of a progressive press.  A turret press operates similar to a single stage press where you manually feed a single case into the press and then you perform each step individually with the pull of the lever, but instead of switching out dies to perform the next step, the turret head rotates and moves the next die over the case for you to perform the next task.  This way you don’t have to switch out dies and/or remove the case to move on to the next step.  The overall output per min is less than a progressive press, but higher than a single stage.  The same goes for the cost as well.

  • Dies for each caliber you want to reload for.  You have 2 choices of die types for pistol (and some bottle neck cartridges)
    1. Carbide Dies:  Carbide dies use a resize that is made of carbide and as a result does not require you to lube your brass before resizing.  This saves tons of time, but is typically only an option for straight walled cartridges with the exception of a few bottle necked ones.  The downside is they are typically more expensive.
    2. Steel Dies:  They do just as good a job as the carbide, but are less expensive typically and require the brass to be lubricated before running through the resizing die.  This will be your only option for the majority of bottle neck cartridges.
  • Powder measure/dispenser (if you buy a press kit it will typically come with one.  if you use a powder die, you typically must use the same brand measure with the die)
  • Scale that measures in grains.  Again if you buy a kit, one is typically included.  The more expensive scales will provide a more accurate and precise measurement.
  • Tumbler & cleaning media
  • Caliper that measures to at least a thousandth of an inch (0.001).  Like with the scales, the more $$$ the more precise and accurate.  I found one on Amazon that measures to the ten-thousandth of an inch (0.0001) for about $16, but if you need absolute precision then get one that is calibrated and guaranteed for accuracy.  Just be prepared to spend a few hundred dollars for it.
  • Storage containers (I use ammo boxes with rubber seals)
  • Bullet puller (you will mess up no matter how careful you are)
  • Priming system – most turret and progressive presses (and even some single stage presses) will have a priming system built into the press.  If not then you will need a hand priming tool like this one.
  • Case length gauge (these are caliber specific)
  • Case trimmer (this one is my favorite)
  • Chamfer tool
  • Shell holder and/or shell plate for each caliber you reload (Note: Shell Holders are universal, Shell Plates are manufacturer specific and only used for progressive presses)

As you can see there is going to be some gear that needs to be purchased.  You can find almost everything you need from Amazon (I purchased almost all of my setup from Amazon) as well as from any number of local gun stores or online retailers.  Thanks for reading and let us know your thoughts.  If you have any questions please post them below and we would be happy to try and answer them.

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