Ammunition Reloading: Getting Started

By Bob Campbell published on in Gun Gear, How To

I seem to be one of the few writers to extensively use handloads in testing. I have always done so, and will continue to do so. That’s mainly because handloads offer real economy, custom grade performance, and excellent accuracy potential. Best of all, getting started in handloading isn’t difficult. The NRA offers handloading classes; check the website for a class near you. An experienced friend is the best bet for easy pointers and learning the mechanics of reloading. There are also good books, including the ABCs of Handloading. Obtaining several handloading manuals is a must. There are also a few tools you’ll need to get started.

Lyman All American 8 Reloading Kit

Gear is built around the loading press. You do not need a progressive press, especially when getting started. Start with a single stage press such as Lyman’s All America 8.

Choosing Equipment

Gear is built around the loading press. You do not need a progressive press to get started. Instead, a single stage press is all that is needed. The complication of a progressive press may come later. If you are loading for only a few calibers, the single stage press may be all you ever need.

You must obtain a good quality powder scale—no shortcuts here. A good quality balance beam scale has been the cornerstone of my loading for many years. Electronic scales are very nice to have if you can afford one. Mount the scale on a level surface and treat it like fine China!

A specific shell holder for each cartridge/caliber is needed to fit the press. Loading dies are specific to the caliber. You will need a set of dies, cartridge case lube (even for carbide dies, this makes things easier), powder funnel, powder measure, and again, loading manuals. It is ok to us your digits to lube a case, but a rolling pad is neater. A cartridge case cleaner and cartridge case trimmer may be on the list if the high volume bug gets you.

Lyman 50th reloading manual

Obtaining several handloading manuals is a must.

You really need a loading block that holds the cartridges. I cannot imagine getting by without this. The powder measure is pre set by you to drop a specific amount of powder in the cartridge case. Be certain to check the settings from time to time against the powder scale.

Do not get into trouble with over charges! If there is any doubt, dump the powder back in the can and start over. While most loading presses have a means of priming the cartridge case during the loading cycle, I prefer a hand held tool. You will get a feel for the crunch as the primer seats. One of the best means of obtaining everything you need at a fair price is to purchase a loading kit with the press, measure, scale, and other needed items. This is a relative bargain and a neat way to get started.

Reloading

The mechanics are simple enough. With the loading apparatus set up, the first step is to resize the cartridge case. They swell a bit on firing and must be sized to the original diameter. This sizing eventually wears the cartridge case, but if you use standard pressure loads, and particularly with handgun brass, you may enjoy dozens of re-loads. The brass is resized, and the primer removed during the first step.

Lyman digital powder scale

Do not get into trouble with over charges! If there is any doubt, dump the powder back in the can and start over.

The case is primed on the press or by a handheld tool. Next, with the three-stage pistol die, the case mouth is flared. Powder is added during this stage in some presses. Finally, the bullet is seated and crimped in place.

I also like to have a go no-go gauge to chamber the loaded cartridge in—just to be certain it will chamber in the firearm. A pistol barrel removed from the firearm or a revolver cylinder works as well. Be certain to check for proper chambering before you load a substantial amount of ammunition.

Bullet crimp differs, with the revolver generally getting a medium crimp for most loads and a heavy crimp for Magnum loads. The self-loader gets a taper crimp. Rifle cartridges generally use two stage dies. While simpler rifle cartridges demand greater leverage, a small single stage press isn’t ideal.

Handloading is enjoyable for its own sake and allows greater amounts of ammunition to be fired for the same budget, and also tweaking loads for the individual rifle or pistol. It is a worthwhile pursuit that is well worth your time.

Are you interested in learning to handload? Do you have a reloading tip? Share your question or answer in the comment section.

SLRule

Bob Campbell is a former peace officer and published author with over 40 years combined shooting and police and security experience. Bob holds a degree in Criminal Justice. Bob is the author of the books, The Handgun in Personal Defense, Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry, The 1911 Automatic Pistol, The Gun Digest Book of Personal Protection and Home Defense, The Shooter’s Guide to the 1911, The Hunter and the Hunted, and The Complete Illustrated Manual of Handgun Skills. His latest book is Dealing with the Great Ammo Shortage. He is also a regular contributor to Gun Tests, American Gunsmith, Small Arms Review, Gun Digest, Concealed Carry Magazine, Knife World, Women and Guns, Handloader and other publications. Bob is well-known for his firearm testing.

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Comments (7)

  • BBBob

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    I purchased my first centerfire pistol, a new Colt Government Model .45 ACP in late 1968. Raising a bunch of small children compelled me to avoid wasting money on factory ammo, so, within weeks I purchased a Lyman Spar-T 6 station press, powder scale, powder measure, H&G #68 four capacity bullet mold, lead furnace and began collecting free used wheel weights from friendly garages. A Lyman Handloading handbook and a few hundred new or once fired empty brass cartridges was all that it took to begin handloading.
    Some very basic instruction from an old time handloader, plus reading and carefully following written instructions was all that was necessary to begin loading my own ammo. I have never regretted spending the initial $250 that it cost, and have saved 500 times or more the cost of the equipment over the years, plus enjoyed many hours and winter evenings producing excellent target loads for a tiny fraction of the cost of factory ammunition. I observed that most of my fellow target shooters loaded their own ammunition in order to allow them to afford to shoot up to 1,000 rounds of ammo per week in order to be competitive with the best target shooters in the country.
    While my Dillon loading press, purchased in 1984, is fine for producing a large batch of ammo in a hurry, I still use the old Lyman press to run off a single box of .45s, especially if the Dillon press is set up to reload .38 or .357 magnum loads.

    Reply

  • scatcat

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    I have been reloading for about 40 yrs now and still enjoy making the bullets fit the gun. It is a relaxing hobby, and very rewarding when you get the accuracy from your weapon you are looking for. As I am retired now and have plenty of time to get them right, I can spend all day at the bench. This is a good starter article and there is plenty of information out there to help out. Good equipment is a must, so if it fits your budget get it. There are also lots of little things to get along the way to make it easier, such as case cleaners, primer pocket uniformers, also a bullet puller if you find that you made a mistake. Just remember to take your time and enjoy a lifetime hobby!

    Reply

  • Kirby

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    I am an amateur reloader who got into it because military ammo is hard to find and is expensive. 8mm Mauser and 7.7 Japanese is as easy as 30-06 to load and allows me to shoot rifles that would otherwise sit in the cabinet.

    I have recently tried to load 45 (long) Colt but have difficulty getting the bullet to seat. When I read the article I realized that a two piece die kit is probably my problem. Any suggestions?

    Reply

    • Vic vapor

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      .
      Hey Kirby,
      See about getting an additional die for your set.
      Try to flair the case mouth just enough to accept the projectile.
      Then in another step, set the projectile to depth.
      The crimp should be another step.
      Even the most difficult bullet / case combos should be manageable when stepped like this.
      Yes, a bit more time involved.
      The payoff is successfully loaded ammunition crafted by “y O u”.
      Good luck.
      .

      Reply

  • OldGringo

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    If you happen to shoot odd calibers, reloading saves much more money, than say a 30-30 or 30-06, for which you can buy quality ammo for $20 box. I was given a 257 Wby for retirement, the promo loads are $40 box and premium double that. I learned early that you can make 257 brass by one simply swipe through a forming die, from 7mm mag brass. They are 1/20 inch short, but extensive testing shows they chrono and are as accurate as Wby ammo. Premium loads from all new components are about $1.50 but reusing that case puts you under a dollar. Think about it, 50 cents per case,3 cents primer, 30 cents powder and the best premium bullet at about 60 cents, is $1.43. If I use something like Gamekings for reloads, the price drops by 80 cents per reload, to about 63 cents. If you reload things like 45-70 factory ammo is $35-$40. I cast my own bullets (about 5 cents) primer 3 cents, case 50 cents first time, and powder (pistol powder like Unique, 15 cents. So, new cases ammo is about 73 cents, and reloads about 23 cents, and that is about 1300 fps for a 340 grain load. about what they killed off the buffalo with. Just saying…reloading makes cents.

    Reply

  • Pa John

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    Search YouTube for reloading videos, there is a tremendous amount of information there on how to use all of the major reloading presses. Be aware that any videos that disappear from YouTube typically end up on full30.com so be sure to head over there and look around too. many excellent gun channels from YouTube are migrating over there.

    You can do YouTube searches using the name of the loading press you are interested in, and you can click the little green magnifying glass in the upper right corner of the Full30.com home page to enter in searches for “reloading” and whatnot as well. Experiment and learn how to find what you need.Many hours of educational content all for the viewing and all for free.

    Reply

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