A Beginner's Guide To Reloading

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Reloading ammo is a complete hobby in and of itself. It's also a great way to both improve your gun's accuracy, and save you a little money in the process. This guide isn't an in depth guide to reloading, only a means of getting you started down the right path with some basic knowledge. Please note that due to the current political atmosphere, some reloading supplies may be hard to find. Supplies are slowly coming back into stock though. I have found plenty within the last month.

Reloading ammo can be as simple or complex as you want to make it. I'm not a precision shooter, so I try to keep reloading as simple as possible. Let's go through what you'll need, and the basic process of reloading.

Pick Up A Book
For beginners, I recommend The ABCs of Reloading. This book will go over a lot of things that you need to know. It goes over everything from safety, to tools and how to use them. The book is not expensive, so I highly recommend you pick up a copy. The link above is for Amazon, but you may be able to find a slightly cheaper copy elsewhere.

You'll also need a good reloading manual. I recommend you get a newer one. If you get a really old one (let's say from the 70s for example), the data in it could be off. Companies may change their powders over time, so this means that the powder data from the 70s could be too hot, or too weak for today. This could be potentially dangerous to both you and your gun.

The reloading manual I use is the Lyman 49th Edition Reloading Handbook, but there are others you can use. Many people end up getting several different manuals because one may have calibers or data that the rest may not have.

Get Some Tools
Let's talk about the tools you'll need. The main tool you'll need is a press. There are different kinds you can get, and they can ranger in price from cheap, to insanely expensive. The three basic types are single stage, turret, and progressive. For a beginner, I recommend starting with a single stage, or a turret press, but you can go with a progressive if that's what you really want.

Single stage presses are generally the cheapest. With these presses, you have to change the dies after each stage of reloading.

A Beginner
LEE Classic Cast Single Stage Press

Turret presses are similar to single stage presses, only you don't have to change the dies out after each stage. Instead, all of the dies are mounted on a turret, and you can just spin the turret to the correct die once your ready to start using it.

A Beginner
Lee Classic 4 Hole Turret Press

Progressive presses are generally the most expensive, but also the fastest to use. Once the dies, bullets, primers, and powder is set up on these presses, all you have to do is put a casing in the shell holder, and pull the lever. The press will do the rest for you. Every time you pull the lever, the base will turn and move the casing under a different die. At the end of this cycle, the completed ammo will drop into a tray.

A Beginner
Lee Load-Master Progressive Press

In addition to a press, you'll need a good scale (You can either get a mechanical, or an electronic scale.). A scale is needed to weight each powder charge. They are extremely fine. Even a small gust of wind can cause their reading to change.

A Beginner
Hornady Balance Beam Powder Scale

A Beginner
Frankford Arsenal DS-750 Electronic Powder Scale

Here's a few things you may not need right away, but I recommend you getting them. Trust me, once you have these things, you'll wonder how you ever got along without them.

Bullet Puller
You will eventually make a mistake when setting the bullet depth. When you do, one of these will come in handy. They allow you to save everything instead of having to throw it away. There are several different types, so look around and decide which type you like best.

Powder Thrower
If your reloading a lot of rounds that don't need to be super precise, you'll love having one of these. They measure the powder for you. They will not be super precise, but they will be really close. I don't recommend loading any hot rounds with it though. You may also want to check what weight of powder it's throws periodically. I do this every 10-20 rounds just to make sure it's still throwing accurately.

A Beginner
LEE Perfect Powder Measure

Case Trimmer
This tool trims your brass to the correct length. After shooting casings a few times, the brass tends to expand some. With this tool, you can trim it back to where it needs to be. There are a few types you can use. There are hand held models, models that mount to your press, and models that mount to your bench. Personally, I like the kind you can mount to a bench.

A Beginner
RCBS Trim Pro-2 Manual Case Trimmer

This tool will allow you to check the overall length of your rounds, and the case length to make sure they remain where they should be.

Case Chamfer/Deburring Tool
All this does is clean up the end of your case, and give it a chamfer to aid in seating bullets.

Primer Pocket Cleaner
Over time, your primer pocked may end up with residue in it. This small tool will clean it out for you, ensuring that the primer can be fully seated.

Case Tray
This is basically a tray with holes drilled in it. They hold your shells for you so that they won't be knocked over. I personally don't use one because I pour my powder into my case, and then immediately seat the bullet into the case. This makes it harder to miss a shell, or double charge one.

Case Cleaner
This little machine cleans your casings for you. After reloading a case a few times, they tend to get dirty. While this is not really a big issue, it makes it harder to see if there is something wrong with the casing. A case cleaner will make them look like new again.

A Beginner
Hornady Lock-N-Load Sonic Cleaner 2L

Grab Some Dies
You'll need a set of dies for every caliber you plan on reloading. Most die sets come with anywhere from 2-4 dies depending on what your reloading. Let's go over the basic types that are out there.

A Beginner
LEE Deluxe 3 Die Set (From left to right: Bullet Seating Die, Full Length Sizing Die, Collet Neck Sizing Die)

A Beginner
LEE Deluxe Carbide 4 Die Set (From left to right: Factory Crimp Die, Expanding Die, Sizing Die, Bullet Seating Die)

Full Length Sizing Die
The full length sizing die sizes the entire casing back to factory specs. It will also remove the primer for you as you size the casing.

Neck Sizing Die
This die is mainly for guns like bolt action rifles where the casing is manually fed into the gun. It sizes only the neck of the casing. After you fire a round, the casing expands to fit the chamber of your gun. This can actually improve accuracy, so many people will just size the neck and leave the body as it is.

You cannot do this for ammo that will be used in semi auto guns, or it will jam. You also cannot do this to ammo that was shot in one gun, and try to use it in another. The guns may have slightly different chambers. This is meant for ammo that will be used in only one gun.

If your using new brass, or brass that was used in a different gun, you'll have to use a full length sizer first. After this, you can fire it in the gun you want to use it in, and size the neck. Using a neck sizer will also improve case life.

Expanding Die
This die is mainly used for handgun ammo, or ammo that uses lead bullets. It will cause the mouth of the case to be belled outward slightly. Just be careful not expand it too much. It will decrease case life.

Bullet Seating Die
This die does exactly what is said. It seats the bullet into the case. Some bullet seating dies will also double as a crimp die. Note, you do not want to seat a bullet too deep, and you do not want to seat it too shallow either. If the bullet is jammed into the rifling, this can cause pressure spikes. It's better to have the bullets almost touching the rifling, but still backed away from it some.

Crimp Die
This die will crimp the end of your brass onto the bullet, making it harder for the bullet to move. Some types of ammo need this, others don't. For example, I don't crimp 30-06 rounds because the case holds the bullet tightly on it's own, but I do crimp 7.62 Nagant and 45 ACP rounds since I have to expand the mouth for these rounds, and I use mostly lead bullets for them.

There are different types of crimps. The caliber your using usually decides what kind you need. Also, please note that over crimping a round can be dangerous, and can deform your bullet. You only need enough crimp to hold the bullet firmly in place.

When you get a set of dies, they will tell you how to set them up, and how to use them. I use mostly LEE dies because they are the cheapest, and are good quality. What brand you choose is up to you. RCBS, Redding, Hornady, and Lyman all make great dies as well.

Find Some Supplies
Now that you know what tools you need let's move onto the supplies.

Case Lube
Unless your using carbide dies, USE LUBE. Otherwise, your case will get stuck in the die, and you will not have a fun time trying to get it out. You may even ruin the die. I have an old stamp pad tat was never used, so I just rub the lube on it, and roll my brass over it.

This is for rounds that have necks. All you have to do is stick the top of the neck into the graphite, tap the case to get the excess off, and then your ready to go. It's purpose is to lube the neck.

There is a breathtaking amount of components out there. There's different types of bullets, powder, primers, and even the casings can be slightly different. Your reloading manual (you did order one... Right?) will tell you what kind of powder you need to use with what size/type of bullets you have. Do not ever mix powders, and avoid using more than the max load listed in your manual.

I suggest looking around online and seeing what other people use so you can get an idea of what you need. Also suggest trying to find a source for powder and primers locally. That is, unless you like paying an extra $30 for hazmat shipping. Look on online stores like Midway USA at the prices of powder and primers, and expect to pay a little more locally.

Reloading Procedure

This is just a very basic guide on how the reloading process works.

(1)Using either a full length, or neck sizing die, size your case.
(2)Place the primer into the primer holder, and press it into your case.
(3)Pour a measured charge of powder into the case. (If your die set came with an expanding die, use it first, then pour your powder into your case.)
(4)Seat your bullet to the proper depth.
(5)If your going to crimp your round, crimp it now. If not, you're done.

What To Take Away From This Guide
As said before, this is just a basic guide to get you started on the right path. I highly recommend that you read The ABCs of Reloading before you ever sit down at a reloading bench. If you know somebody who reloads, ask them to show you the process first hand. Do some research before you buy tools and supplies. See what you like, and see what you think will work the best for you. Remember to always stay focused and always put safety first. Reloading can be a very enjoyable, and rewarding hobby.

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August 5, 2013  •  11:52 PM
Great Info!!!