Reloading

Reloading, also called hand-loading, allows you to customize the cartridges you shoot. If you are careful you can make more accurate ammunition than you can buy. In addition there are savings to be had. Ammunition you hand-load will cost less than half of what commercial ammunition costs.

Another benefit is that you can make ammo that is not readily available. Ammo for antique or obsolete guns for example.

Most competitive shooters load their own ammo. Sometimes a small tweak in the load will improve accuracy for a particular gun.

Caution: Always use load data from a reliable source. This data has been tested to be sure chamber pressures fall within safe limits. Excessive chamber pressure can be very dangerous! Stick to the data!

Lyman Reloading Manual

What follows is an overview of the process of reloading. It is not a substitute for hands on training or a good manual. You have to pay attention to the details in order to reload safely.

Equipment

RCBS Loading Press
RCBS Rock Chucker

At a minimum:

  • Load Data from a reliable source - Bullet and powder manufacturers often provide this data on line for free. There are also many good reloading manuals for sale.
  • Reloading Press - The main component of your reloading operation. Use it to resize cases, install primers, and seat bullets.
  • Die Set - Used to resize cases and seat bullets.
Decapping/Resizing Die (right) and Bullet Seating Die (left)
RCBS Reloading Dies From Amazon
  • Shell Holder - Die sets are specific to a particular chambering, but shell holders work with all the cases whose bases are the same size.
  • Powder Scale - Powder is measured by weight. Even though a powder measure dispenses by volume you must ensure that each powder charge is the correct weight. (Powder and bullets are measured in grains. There are 7000 grains in a pound. A grain is a unit of weight and has nothing to do with the little individual particles of powder.)
Powder Scale
  • Case Lube - Cases must be lubricated prior to resizing.
  • Case Mouth Brush - Needed to clean burnt powder from the case mouth. Often included in a lube kit.
  • Deburring Tool - Needed to chamfer and debur case mouths.
  • Calipers - Use these to measure empty case length and finished cartridge length.
Dial Caliper
  • Cartridge Block - For holding cartridges while in process.
Homemade Reloading Block
RCBS Powder Dispenser

Extremely Helpful:

  • Powder Dispenser - Faster than weighing every powder charge. Set it by weighing the powder it dispenses. Weigh enough powder charges to be confident that they are all correct.
  • Case Tumbler - Bounces your dirty cases around in crushed walnut shell or corn cob until they are clean.
  • Case Trimmer - Trims long cases back to length. (The high pressures during firing, as well as the resizing process, cause the cases to stretch.)
  • Primer Pocket Tools - Primer pockets get dirty and need to be cleaned. Mil spec ammo has crimped in primers. The crimp must be removed before you can seat a new primer.


Nice to have:

  • Stand alone primer tool - Allows faster priming of big batches of cases.
  • Automated powder weighing equipment - Gets each powder charge to exact specs automatically.
  • Turret Press - Performs a different operation at each station, for higher throughput.
  • Magnifier - Especially if you are an old, blind guy.

Supplies

You need to have the following on hand:

  • Cases - Optimally all the same manufacturer, lot and number of times they have been fired.
  • Primers
  • Powder
  • Bullets
Bullets (left to right) 125 grain .32 Flat Top, 168 grain .30 Boat Tail Match, 500 grain .45 Lead Round Nose
Primers (two are flipped showing the anvil side)

Case Preparation

Case Tumbler
  1. Do a quick check for damaged cases. Discard dented, crushed or split ones.
  2. Run your cases through the tumbler, or clean them some other way. I tumble cases with the old primer still in, and I plug the case mouths. This keeps the cases from filling up with media, but it doesn't clean inside the case.
  3. As you remove your clean cases from the tumbler, keep an eye out for any more damaged ones. Make sure you get all the media out of the cases.
  4. Brush the inside of the case mouths.
  5. Roll the cases on the lube pad in batches of five or ten.
  6. Run the cases through the resizing die. This will also remove the old primer. Put them in a cartridge block as they come out of the die.
  7. Measure the length of each case with a pair of calipers. Trim the long ones. Be sure they all fall in the acceptable range.
  8. Chamfer and debur the case mouths.
  9. Clean the primer pocket and remove the crimp from the primer pocket if necessary.
.223 Remington Cases and plugs
Cases on Lube Pad

Priming

Caution: Primers are impact sensitive and more powerful than they look. Handle them carefully. Wear safety glasses. Keep them in their original boxes. Store them away from powder and other flammables.

Use your priming tool to seat a primer in each case. Primers should sit slightly below flush. High primers are hazardous as they may ignite during feeding or rough handling with disastrous results. But, on the other hand, be careful not to crush them.

Develop a feel for how they press in and what they look like. A loose primer might indicate a worn out case. If they pop out during firing they can jam your gun, burn the bolt face, or cause injury. If they are tight they will be damaged and may not work properly. Tight primers are almost always because of failure to remove the crimp or dirty primer pockets.

Powder

Different powders come in different shapes. Some are balls, some are rods others are disks. Some meter (dispense consistently) better than others. You must develop a technique that will ensure the powder you are using will be the correct weight. You may have to weigh every charge for powders that don't meter well.

Set your scale to zero and be sure it balances. Adjust as needed. Now set your scale to the correct powder weight. Dispense some powder and weigh it. Adjust your dispenser as needed.

Most powder dispensers dispense right into the case. If you are using a different system you may need a tiny funnel. Make sure all the powder gets in the case.

When you have powder in all your cases, peek into each case and judge whether the level of powder looks the same. Re-weigh any that look different. I have had some of the powder meant for one case get stuck in the funnel and end up in the next case, along with all the powder meant for that second case. When I performed the "peek in" test one looked low and the other looked overfilled, which was in fact what happened.

Bullet

The bullet seating die also does the crimping, when crimping is needed. The purpose of crimping is to keep the bullet from moving in the case during feeding, handling, and recoil. Don't crimp if you don't need to, and only crimp bullets designed to be crimped. Keep the die clean to avoid alignment problems between the bullet and the case.

First set the die to crimp, if needed, or to just barely not crimp. Then set the bullet seating depth.

Place a bullet on top of a filled case and run it gently into the bullet seating die. Measure the over all length. Check the crimp or lack of crimp. Check to see if jacket material is being shaved off the bullet. If so you might need a smoother, or more uniform, or bigger chamfer on the case. Adjust as needed.

Develop a feel for how the bullets press in. Any that feel different should be suspect. Loose might indicate a split neck, or a case that was not resized. Tight might be a bad bullet, or a mis-adjusted expander in the resizing die, or a bad chamfer on the case, or an alignment problem between the bullet and the case.

Remember that rimless, straight walled cases (most semi-auto pistol ammo) headspace from the case mouth so a crimp is undesirable.

A link to thousands of reloading products

Headspace

Headspace is the distance between the chambered cartridge and the closed bolt. It is measured from the Datum Point. The datum point is the part of the chamber that stops the cartridge when it is chambered.

This datum point may be:

  • The case mouth - Most rimless pistol cartridges headspace from the case mouth.
  • The rim - Rimmed cases usually headspace from the rim.
  • The shoulder - Rimless bottle necked cartridges headspace from the shoulder.
  • The belt - Belted cases headspace from the belt.

Headspace is important. Too short and the cartridge won't chamber. Too long and the case may rupture, causing injury and firearm damage.

Your resized cases must fall within tolerance to headspace correctly.