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Reloading: Where to Begin

Reloading: Where to Begin

Justifying the decision to reload ammunition is easy, especially for shooters who chew through a lot of ammo on a regular basis. However, looking at the equipment necessary to turn smoky, spent shells into range-ready rounds can be intimidating, as well as the attention to detail necessary to create safe, reliable ammo.

Fear not, cartridge consumers – with a little guidance, you’ll be loading the range box with fresh reloads destined for targets in no time. 

In the beginning, it’s best to consult a friend with experience in reloading or find a reloading class. If these aren’t options for you, consider picking up books or videos on the basics of reloading. As usual, use good judgment when watching videos online – while there are certainly many reputable sources of information, reloading ammo requires extreme care, and can result in dangerous ammo if not done correctly. 

Once you have your tutorials squared away, you’ll need to acquire the tools of the trade, which starts with finding the right press for you.

Depending on the type of cartridge you’re loading, you may have as few as two or as many as five dies needed to create the finished round. Using a single-stage press, you will complete your rounds in stages, with each die used in a separate stage of the process.

Beyond the single-stage press, users can opt for turret and progressive presses, which feature higher production rates and more automation, but at an expectedly higher cost. Again, for those just getting started in reloading, a single-stage press represents the best option for not only value, but for gleaning and education in the manufacturing process. 

Perhaps the most important tool on the reloader’s bench is a quality scale.  There are two types of reloading scales available: the traditional balance beam scale, and the digital scale. Balance beam scales use gravity – science! – and require no electricity. Digital scales substitute high-tech, hypersensitive sensors to weigh your powder. Experts suggest owning both, and during the process, cross-referencing powder loads between the two to ensure you’re producing accurate load results. 

As mentioned, you’ll need dies specific to the round you are loading, as well as a shellholder, powder funnel, and – important! – a data manual. Data manuals prescribe precise measurement needed to produce safe, functional cartridges. While experts and professionals will occasionally go off-recipe to create custom rounds for specialized use, the average reloader should never improvise – follow the data manuals, for safety’s sake, or you could wind up churning out a chamber bomb. 

You’ll need a case trimmer in the process, and if you only plan to load one or two cartridges, consider picking up a dedicated, cartridge-specific trimmer that fits in a hand-held drill. Alternatively, you can invest in a bench-mounted trimmer, which can trim the case length of several types of cartridges. 

Next, a good deburring tool will help removed burrs left over after the case trimming process. Chamfering the case mouth allows you to seat bullets without dealing with the possibility of the sharp edge of the case mouth shaving metal from the projectile. 

Sooner or later, you’ll need a case cleaner, which is a vessel that uses a cleaning medium to scrub cases free of grime and prepare them for the loading process. The tub vibrates the cases in the cleaning medium, which can consist of a variety of materials. Using the cleaner not only de-grimes cases, but also strips away lubrication after resizing, which is important. 

American Rifleman’s Bryce M. Towsley suggests picking up a few extra convenience tools, including a loading block, a plastic or wood block designed to hold the cartridges standing up.

If there’s room in the budget – I know it’s a lot of equipment to buy – consider a hand-held priming tool, an inexpensive implement that can spare you a lot of frustration. Invest in good dial calipers, which provide precise measurements, paramount in the reloading process. These calipers are practically a necessity for setting bullet seating depth and checking case length. If you use the press instead to prime, invest in a primer tray. Not only does it hold the primers, but it’s designed to orient all the primers in the same direction, cup side up or cup side down. 

(Photo courtesy/MidwayUSA)

GunsAmerica’s Scott Mayer produced a good reloading shopping list for beginners:

  • Press
  • Data manual(s)
  • A secondary source of loading data – double-checking never hurts!
  • Shellholders (single-stage) or shellplates (progressive)
  • Dies
  • Case neck brush
  • Case lubricant
  • Primer tray
  • Powder scale
  • Adjustable powder measures or scoops
  • Powder funnel
  • Loading blocks
  • Caliper
  • Case trimmer
  • Deburring tool
  • Bullet puller
  • Vibratory or ultrasonic cleaner
  • Priming tool

The above represent the must-have tools for a novice reloader to start producing completed cartridges. Like most things, the deeper you get into the process, the more experienced you’ll likely become, and you will begin to find room for improvement in your processes and in your equipment.

Of the utmost importance is attention to detail. Reloading isn’t an operation you can undertake while watching the game on TV and a sandwich in one hand. You need to commit to the process and give it your undivided attention. Deviating from the order of operations or halving effort in some steps in not only unacceptable, but entirely unsafe, and could result in dangerously overcharged cartridges that when employed, could severely injure the operator, or worse. It’s easy to make mistakes if you don’t mind the details, but by following instructions, can produce substantial cost savings, as well as afford you a new hobby. 

Interested in reloading, but need some help getting started? Select NRA Certified Instructors offer Metallic Cartridge Reloading Courses. Visit http://www.nrainstructors.org/search.aspx, select NRA Instructor Metallic Cartridge Reloading Courses, and search for upcoming courses near you.

(Marquee image courtesy/OutdoorHub.com)

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