Handloading 101

By Bob Campbell published on in Gun Gear

Getting started in reloading isn’t that difficult. Hopefully, you have been saving your brass—if not, once-fired brass isn’t that difficult to come by. There are several ways to learn about reloading. In my case, almost everything I learned about handloading came from books. The NRA also offers excellent classes and videos. The tools, dies, measures and scales come next.

Loading Bench

A carefully laid out loading bench with all tools in easy reach is important.

For some, reloading is a necessity for the volume of ammunition used in varmint hunting or competition. For me, personal development and training demanded time at the loading bench. It is something I thoroughly enjoy.


The press is the first piece to consider. I would NOT recommend beginners invest in a progressive reloading outfit. They require a bit of experience, and frankly I do most of my work with a turret press. The progressive reloader is complicated and demands experience in the basics. The multiple position turret press is a great place to start.

A single-stage press is OK, and you may wish to get your feet wet with an inexpensive Lee single stage press. If you are loading a few rifle rounds and concentrating more on accuracy than volume, the single stage may be the only press you’ll ever need. Just the same, the turret press may be the best investment for the long term.

Single Stage Press

Single Stage Press

This is a single stage press. You change the dies between each operation. Image courtesy of RCBS.

One station, the dies are changed for each operation. You may resize the cases—100 or so—then change the dies and complete the operation with the second rifle die. Pistols require three dies.

Turret Press

All dies mount on one “head.” The head rotates as the cases size, powder charges and the bullet crimps in place.

Progressive Press

The mechanical press is hand powered and moves the head with each pull of the handle—and you load a cartridge with each pull of the handle. Everything else revolves around the reloading press.


Next, you need a quality powder scale. You must weigh the charge, both for safety and consistency as well as accuracy. I am an old school loader and still use the balance beam-type scale. Be careful with the scale and recalibrate it from time to time. Keep it on a flat and level surface.

Safety and respect demand that you keep the scale in good working order. The powder measure actually dumps each powder charge, and you must carefully set its powder charge by the scale.


You will need a set of dies. Tool and die makers recognize the process and the press.

  • The spent cartridge case is resized.
  • The spent primer is ejected.
  • The cartridge case is reprimed with a fresh primer.
  • The powder charge is dropped.
  • The case mouth is flared for insertion of the projectile.
  • The bullet is seated and crimped in place.


Good Handloading Layout

This is a pretty good layout—and it took a few years to reach this level of supply, but organization may be practiced from the beginning.

There are other tools you will wish to use. A block of some type to hold the cartridges at different stages of completion is often desirable. A cartridge mouth-chamfering tool is a good touch. A primer pocket cleaner is one item we may need, particularly in accuracy work.

As you progress, you will know which tools you need, and which ones make the day go faster.

General Loads

I do enjoy loading; I have many things to do with my life and I like to get the most ammunition out of my time. This may mean 20 rounds of .308 precision loads or 250 rounds of .45 ACP for an in-depth study of a new 1911 handgun.

You need to lay in a good supply of gunpowder. Now, many of the handloading gurus  have specific touches they like with handloads, and that is just fine. There are certainly good powders for specific applications.

However, there are also excellent all-around gunpowder selections. As an example, for most economy and target loads in handguns, Winchester 231, Hodgdon Titegroup and Alliant Unique cover anything you need to do. Moving to the Magnum revolver cartridges more thought is needed, and H 110 is never a bad choice. In rifle cartridges, H4895 is a standby. A good while ago, I settled on Varget for just about everything. The name—a combination of Varmint/Target—works for me.

Check Primer Pockets When Handloading

The best shot I know is also the best handloader I know—he is checking primer pockets.

The fact is you will know in a few months whether you like to reap economic rewards and make the best possible buys on bulk purchases and follow that totem or whether you get the accuracy/efficiency bug and branch out into the type of experimentation that demands a half-dozen types of gun powder. Gunpowder costs less than a bottle of quality cologne. And smells better than most!

As for projectiles the Speer 158-grain RNL bullet is available from Cheaper than Dirt! for $36.75 per 500. This is a wonderful all around .38 Special target/small game bullet. For jacketed bullets, the price goes up although you do not have to use jacketed bullets all of the time—or at all. In rifle bullets, the FMJ “burner types” are excellent and exhibit excellent all-around accuracy for practice.

Frankly once sighting in the rifle, you only need to use premium bullets in the hunting field.


Check out the RCBS Partner Standard Reloading Kit!

Brand: RCBS 87467
Item: 2-RCBS87467
UPC: 076683874672

This is a just a start; I hope I have sparked your interest. Get a good loading manual and study. Better yet, get more than one manual.

Good luck and safe reloading.

What are your experiences with reloading? Are you ready to reload now that you have a starting point? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

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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.

View all articles by Bob Campbell

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Comments (20)

  • Doug Mahone


    I have been reloading for some time now and really enjoy it. I have 2 single stage presses, one turret press and one progressive. Recently one of my sons told me that he wanted me to teach him to reload but I instead enrolled him and myself in an NRA basic reloading course. I’m so glad that I did it this way. I had questions that I did not know I had until I took this 1 day course and I really believe that my reloading will benefit greatly from taking it. For on, I have discovered that I have been taper crimping my projectiles too tightly. My only problem that I have now is getting my son to purchase his own reloading supplies.


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