What do I Need to Reload?
What exactly do I need to start reloading? This is a question I read on internet message boards and hear a lot and in gun stores. Well it is not much when you get down to it. This also depends on many different factors. Do you want a large amount of loaded ammo for pistol practice and competition? Are you just going to the range once or twice a month to shoot your rifle at some paper commies? Do you want to squeeze the last thousandth of an inch out of your rifle or just become a better shooter and have more control over your ammo? Reloading can be a very rewarding venture and hobby to accompany your shooting hobby. We are going to explore what some of the basic tools are that you must have to start reloading.
Reloading Manuals and books
First things first you need to get reloading manuals and reloading books. These are slightly different; reloading manuals contain data for reloading and each manual will have different components listed in them. You should have at least 4 good reloading manuals, but to start out now you can get away with one manual plus using the Internet to get load data from just about all of the powder manufactures. To start out with I would suggest that you start out with the Sierra 5th Edition Reloading manual. This is a very comprehensive manual with many different articles in it along with some of the best loading data compiled. Now this manual is only for Sierra Bullets, but these are some of the best bullets out there and they offer a wide verity of bullets from varmint hunting to big game and some of the best mass produced match bullets out there. You should go to a Borders books and see if they have any or just about any sporting goods store that is selling reloading supplies will sell them. Look at them and see which one you like the best and go with it. If you are dead set of using Hornady bullets then get the Hornady manual along with some others like a Lyman manual. As you will find out later you can never have too many reloading manuals.
Reloading books are slightly different as they may or may not have reloading data and what they do have may be very limited to the specific area of reloading they are dealing with. One of the best and surly the one reloading book that should be on every novice reloader’s bench is the ABC’s of reloading by C. Rodney James. Some other books that I like to have are Cartridges of the world as they have just about everything ever produced by a factory and even one of the best sources of wildcat (More on this in a later article) information I have ever found. These book many times deal in a specific area of reloading. Many of them are dealing with accuracy and how to obtain the most out of your hand loads. OK so now you have them both a reloading manual and a reloading book. So let’s get on with the good stuff.
Press types and uses.
The good stuff is always the equipment the so called meat and potato’s of reloading. Cast iron precisely machined hardened steel. If you have been on one of the popular internet forums and have seen some of the pictures of some reloading benches you are saying to yourself holly cow I can’t afford all that. Don’t worry it all comes in time. First we are going to talk about the back bone of the whole operation the press. There are different types and different styles of presses as well as different material they are made out of. You have single stage presses, turret presses, manual progressive, and progressives. The single stages are for the most part the cheaper of the press types. That however does not always hold true as some are very specialized in the way they operate. A turret press is a press that has a rotating turret on the top much like a tank. You can place your dies in the turret all at the same time. That allows you to perform all of the operation on a single case and finish it at one time. A progressive is one that performs all the operations involved with reloading in one pull of the handle. The two main differences are the manual and auto. The manual progressive like the Dillon RL550b the operator has to manual index the shell plate.
The preferred starting press for me to recommend is a good quality single stage press. Something like the Lee Classic cast press, Lyman Crusher II, RCBS Reloader Special 5, or the Redding Boss press. In these you have two different types O frame and C frame. An “O” frame press is one that has a frame that is shaped like an “O”. You can see this in the picture to the right of the RCBS Reloader Special 5 press. The other frame type s a C frame this offers easier access to the case in the press but if they are not built very sturdy you can get frame flex and this will lead to hand loads that are not very accurate and could be out of specs. The Lee reloading press is a C frame press that I would not recommend to a starting reloader as it cost around $25 and the Lee classic cast press comes in at $70. For a price difference you get a much stronger press made out of cast iron and not aluminum. Lee reloading equipment is going to be the cheapest of the bunch but for a starting reloader it is good quality and will last you a long time. Now you have your press you need something to put in it you now need reloading dies.
Dies Dies ever where Dies.
Reloading dies are what performs the operations in the press. You have a few different types’ of dies. We are going to stick to the very basics here for now. For pistol ammunition (IE 9mm, 45acp, 357mag) these dies all come in three dies sets and can also have a carbide ring in the mouth of the die body on the resizing die. The carbide ring is what allows you to not use lube for pistol reloading because of the straight wall of pistol cases. The three dies are a sizer/deprimer, belling die, and a seat/crimp die. The sizing die does just that it squeezes the brass casing back to the SAMMI minimum specs. Then you have to open the case mouth very slightly to allow the bullet to be seated. Once you seat the bullet some dies will also crimp or you can use a standalone crimping die like the Lee Factory crimp die. Some say a seat and crimp die is not as good but I prefer the all in one die myself. That can be hard to set up but all die set come with instructions on how to set them up. The seating die will have to be changed depending on what bullet type you are using as hollow point and flat nose bullets require a flat seater plug and round nose bullets require a round seater plug. Your basic rifle die set comes with two dies sets a size and depriming die and a seater die. You can also get rifle dies in carbide but, do not forget that you still have to lube your cases what the carbide does here is offer a die that will outlast a regular tool steel rifle die. These are mainly for high volume reloaders like High Power rifle competitors or varmint hunters that do a lot of high volume prairie dog shooting. You basic set of rifle dies run around $20 to $30 give with carbide dies going for over $100 most of the time. There are also some different types of dies here you can get neck sizer dies and full length sizing dies. A neck sizer is one that does not size the body of the case just the neck. Some neck sizer dies also come with bushings that allow you to change the neck tension on the bullet that is for more advanced reloading. For a novice reloader I would just stick to your basic reloading dies. Hornady dies are somewhat different as are Foresters dies as they have a floating seater plug that aligns the bullet and case in a near perfect alignment before seating is done this give you less run out (Run out is a bullet that is not seated in line with the center line of the case) allowing for more accurate reloads. I prefer the Hornady dies for that feature. So do some research and pick the dies you think best fit your needs. All the presses listed above will accept just about any die listed as most are the standard 7/8”x14 size. Dies come from all the manufactures named above in the press section plus some other sources.
Below you will see From left to right
1. RCBS 3 die Pistol set
2. RCBS 2 die rifle set
3. Hornady 2 die set cutaway w/ floating seater.
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Scales big and small.
One of the most critical if not the most critical tool that will sit on your bench is the scale. Here you have two types the digital scale or the balance beam scale. While both have their strong points they both have weak points. Balance beam scales are simple accurate and sometimes easy to use. The draw backs to them are the fact that you have to set it. Before you set it you have to zero it To make this step a little easier I would take a black sharpie pen and set your scale where you want it and draw an outline on your bench so you put it in roughly the same spot every time you use it, though I would also do this with a digital scale as well. The digital scale on the other hand is easy you get it out set it on the bench and plug it in or turn it one hit the zero button and then start weighing powder charges. You do not want to have a cordless or cellular phone anywhere near a digital scale and some times over head fluorescent lights can interfere with the scales operations. The biggest problem I see with a digital scale is that if the load cell (what does the weighing) goes bad you will have to pay for repair or you have a nice paper weight. The other thing about digital scales is they are only accurate to +-.2 of a grain whereas, a good quality beam scale will be accurate to +-.1 of a grain. This may not sound like much to worry about but accuracy comes from constancy and the more error in the powder measurement the less accuracy you will see. I started with a balance beam scale and then recently I purchased a digital scale that scale after 2 years of service stopped working on me. I would say that for a novice reloader to bet a decent quality beam scale like the RCBS 1010 or 505. The RCBS 1010 is a very high quality scale that is very well built and very accurate. I am willing to say that 90+% of the guys I know use the RCBS 1010. Now we need to get the right amount of powder into the powder pan on our new scale. That leads me to powder measures.
The powder measure is a very vital part of a beginner as well as a seasoned reloader’s bench. By far the lowest cost is the lee powder dippers which are graduated cups that you scope powder up with and pour into your powder pan. Low cost you bet, but these can be the most time consuming way to measure out powder. From here you step to the most common and widely manufactured powder measures which have a barrel with a calibrated screw that you adjust to get the right amount of powder from your powder measure. By far the most popular powder measure is the RCBS Uniflow. The Redding and Hornady powder measures are very close in design to the RCBS and all work equally well. On the hand, you have the Dillon powder measure which is slightly different than the other powder measures as this has a powder bar that slides back and forth I found that both systems are just about equally accurate the Dillon model is for use on progressive reloaders only as it is case activated. For the beginning reloader a drum type powder measure will provide years of service and has very little that can go wrong with it. The low cost is going to be the lee perfect powder measure; I have used this and found it to be not as good in quality as many of the other offerings. While it will work, I feel that the beginning reloader would be better served with a Hornady, RCBS, or Redding powder measure. My nod here would go to the RCBS Uniflow. You are almost there just a few more items you need.
From Left to Right
1. RCBS Uniflow
2. Lee Powder Measure
3. Forester Benchrest Model
4. Hornady Lock-n-Load powder Measure.
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Ok we have collected almost all the big stuff. Next you are going to need a case trimmer. Case trimmers are a vital part of the reloader who is reloading bottle neck cartridges. Reloading for straight walled pistol cartridges does not require trimming hardly at all. I have never had to trim a pistol case. This tool should offer some good precision but, for the novice reloader having the most expensive trimmer is not a must. You have basically two types manual and powdered. The manual ones are what 99% of all reloaders use they typically have a crank that spins the cutter and it will have a place to adjust the length so you can control the length of the case. Some have a universal shell holder like the Lyman offering. Some will use other means of holding the case. I like the Lyman for a beginner as you can get it with a power adapter to hook it to a drill. You can do many things with this one unit like trimming and cleaning primer pockets all for a low start up cost. There are powered units that cost from $100 on to over $200 or $300. With the top of the line high speed trimmer for high volume reloading, which is not our goal here. Most of the trimmers use pilots that go into the case mouth to hold the cartridge steady. I like the Lyman because it comes with just about every pilot you are going to need. Now just a few more items and we are set to get reloading.
The small Stuff
Next you are going to need some small tools, shell holders for your press these allow the press to fit any and all cases that may be loaded. I prefer to buy shell holders that are made specifically for that press there are some universal shell holder kits that you can buy. With the universal kits you can sometimes run into problems where the tolerances are not quite right for the cases. So to solve this problem I stick to shell holders made by the same company as the press I am using. None of them are that expensive RCBS shell holders run about $5 or $6 each as do Hornady and others. You are also going to need a chamfer and deburring tool these come as an all in one or you can buy separate tools. The all in one tool will work real well for many years. I prefer to use a Lyman VLD chamfer tool as this put a nice 30 degree taper on the inside of the case mouth verses the 45degree angle used by the all in one tools. You can do it either way you like as the tools are not that expensive. Now we need something to measure bullet diameter and case length along with some other dimensions are critical this job falls to a dial or digital caliper. The caliper will run from $25 on up to $200. I prefer the digital caliper as there is less room for error. You can buy them in many different places and on line as well eBay is a good place to look as the $25 set are exactly the same and come from the same factory as the more expensive models with RCBS or other names on them.
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More small Stuff
A primer flip tray is another inexpensive tool that will get used every time you reload. This is used to place all the primer facing in the same direction to allow you to pick them up with your primer tubes (Which are sold separately on many presses). The RCBS hand priming tool has one attached to it that flips the primers and acts as a storage compartment for primers waiting to be seated. Another inexpensive tool is a powder funnel for getting all your powder into your case. Cost is a couple of bucks and they are a life saver. What if I screw up? Well you will need a bullet puller. There are two collet and inertia. Collets type can and often do mangle bullets and cause them to be useless. Inertia pullers are cheap easy to use (Think driving a nail with a hammer) and most come with all the shell holders you need. Now where are you going to put all your freshly loaded ammo? Ammo boxes there are just way too many manufactures to list find some and buy 2 to 3 times as many as you think you are going to need. Now you need some way to identify your ammo labels are what you need. I like to use the printable 8.5”x11” business card sheets that are perforated you can put whatever info you want on them I like to put data loaded, caliber, bullet, powder type, powder charge, primer, case, and Overall length. They are cheap and allow you to customize your layout to what you like and what info you need. Almost there we just need something to put everything on.
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Last but never least is a sturdy bench weather it is an old office desk that you modify or a custom built bench specifically for reloading only or a premade stand you can buy from some reloading suppliers. This needs to be big enough for you to fit all your tools on and sturdy very sturdy. I would recommend you attach it to a wall via screws into studs or into the floor with anchors appropriate to the flooring. It should have storage both above the bench and below. For your bench you need to determine whether you want to stand or sit. I prefer to stand so I make my benches to fit that height for me. I have seen benches range from milk crates to 10 foot long with 2x6” frames and 6x6” posts for legs to a Black and Decker Workmate to a chunk of plywood that gets clamped to the kitchen counter. Some will say you also need a case cleaner of some kind, but I don’t if you need to clean cases you can get an old pair of your wife’s nylons put some brass in there and tie it shut throw it in the dishwasher and bang clean brass. Some basic hand tools as well like a 10" or 12" Crescent wrench, Allen wrenches, screw drivers torx drivers and a set of open end box end wrenches and a hammer with plastic ends and a ball peen hammer.
This is the basics you need to start reloading and these will stay with you for your life time and longer. My powder measure is I bet 60 years old and I am the third owner of it and it still works as good today as when my grandfather bought it new. If you run into problems remember all the manufactures listed in this article have toll free help lines. Sierra has one of the best as well as RCBS. Customer services with any of the companies listed in this article are top notch and second to none. I have used RCBS, Hornady and Sierra bullets help lines. RCBS rebuilt my powder measure for the cost of shipping it to them. Hornady replaced broken die parts that were caused by my own stupidity and Sierra helped me when I first started reloading. So do not be afraid to call the experts and ask questions.
Safety Equipment Eye protection is a much and some will say to wear hearing protection as well but that is up to you. You better have a good ABC fire putter outter on hand and close by.
Next time we will look at the components of loading and some of the differences in them.
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