Ammunition prices continued to rise and show no sign of falling anytime soon. Even prices for primers, brass and bullets have gone up significantly. So, what’s a shooter to do? For myself and others, reloading is one solution.
Reloading involves recycling spent brass and prepping it to reload with new primers, powder, and bullets. But where do you begin?
The Lee Anniversary Reloading Kit is one of the most popular kits for the beginner. It includes almost everything you could need for reloading a single caliber of ammunition for a low entry level price of $89.99. Lee Anniversary kits include powder measure, powder funnel, case prep tools, priming tool, scale, breech lock press, and a reloading manual. In addition to the reloading kit, you will need dies in your caliber, calipers, primers and powder. All told, you can get started with this basic press, new brass, bullets, dies, powders and primers for around $500 shipped (depending on caliber).
When your new reloading gear arrives, try to restrain yourself from diving right in and starting to throw things together. Stop! Find your instruction manual and reloading manual, and sit down with a nice cup of tea and READ IT. I can’t emphasize this enough – reloading involves working with smokeless powder and primers, both of which have the ability to severely injure you if you don’t respect them. Be patient, turn off the TV, and read your instruction manual front to back before doing anything else with your kit.
After you are done reading the manual, begin to unpack your kit and parts and familiarize yourself with them. Make sure that you can positively identify each and every part of your kit. Next, find a clean safe area you can work in and find a solid base that you can mount your press to (hint: if you’re married, the kitchen table is not a good choice!) and a separate place to set your scale that is sturdy and level.
Now, let’s get started reloading. First of all, this information should be considered ancillary to the instructions that came with your reloading press and in your reloading manual and in should no way be construed as overriding or replacing the instructions for your particular press. That being said, let’s get started.
|.38 Caliber Resizing Die|
I want to address straight-walled cartridges first, as these are the easiest to reload. Straight-walled brass does not need resizing lube when it is used with a carbide die. Ensure that your brass is clean. Grit and particles on the brass can damage a resizing ring, so your brass needs to be spotless. There are a number of brass cleaning systems out on the market. If you are polishing your brass (as you should) make sure that all of the polishing media is thoroughly removed from the brass. You can use brass that hasn’t been polished, but make doubly sure that all powder particles, dirt and grit have been cleaned away.
Take the appropriate shell holder for your brass and install it on the ram of the press. With the ram raised up, screw your resizing die in until it only barely touches the shell holder. With the ram lowered, move the sizing die in by turning it one full turn. Raise the ram up again and the shell holder should press up against the die. Now tighten the locking ring of the die tightly so that it can’t back out. Adjust the deprimer pin on the resizing die so that it sticks out enough to push the primer out of the case, and lock it down securely.
Now, take your clean brass and insert one case into the shell holder. While raising the ram, the case will begin to encounter resistance as it enters the die. If it feels like it is stopping or jamming completely, DON’T FORCE IT! Lower the ram and make sure that the case is well seated in the shell holder. If it is not, the die can crush the mouth of the case and ruin it for reloading. Once you’ve verified that the shell is properly seated in the shell holder, operate the ram lever to the full extent of its stroke. The primer of the case should pop out. If it does not pop out, or if you are unable to operate the lever all the way, check that the rod carrying the deprimer is not screwed in too deep. Adjust the decapping rod and try again.
Inspect your deprimed and resized case. Make sure the metal is uncreased and undamaged. Ensure that there are no cracks or shiny rings around the case rim. Check that the case properly chambers in your firearm and that the bolt will close and chamber properly (or for revolvers, that the cylinder will close and operate properly). This is how we will verify that the case is resized correctly. Once verified, you can proceed to resize the rest of your cases. After resizing and depriming all of your brass, inspect all of the brass, looking for the same flaws we mentioned above. Clean out the primer pocket with a cleaning tool, making sure that all soot, dirt, and grit is cleaned out. If you are reloading rifle ammunition, at this point you should chamfer and deburr the case mouth.
Now remove the resizing die from your press and install the expander die. We will use the expander die to slightly widen the mouth of the case in order to allow us to easily seat a bullet. The process for installing and adjusting a case expander vary, so follow the manufacturers instructions precisely. Make adjustments to the case expander slowly and incrementally to avoid damaging a case. Damaged cases will not be able to be used or repaired and should be discarded. When you have the case mouth flared just enough to begin seating a bullet without having to struggle to get it positioned properly, stop. There is no reason to expand the case mouth too much, and in fact over expanding the case mouth can impede your ability to properly crimp the bullet in position.
Once all of the brass has been flared, it’s time to prime them. I can’t emphasize safety here enough: primers are essentially small self-contained and impact-sensitive explosives. Proper eye protection is a MUST when you are priming your brass. Make sure that you have the proper sized primer for your cartridge – pay close attention, because rifle and large pistol primers appear to be the same size, but they are markedly different in their performance.
|RCBS Priming Tool|
There are a number of priming tools available on the market, and most of them work in similar fashion using a lever to gently press the primer into the primer pocket of a case held in a shell holder. Follow the manufacturers instructions for your particular priming tool. When checking the primed brass, make sure that the primer is firmly set so that the cup of the primer is set just below the head of the case. It should not stick out at all. If it does, place it back in your priming tool and press it in a little farther until it is just below flush.
Finally it’s time to charge your case and seat a bullet. Again, since we are working with dangerous materials, make sure that your work area is clean and that you are free of distractions. Reloading is not something you can do while watching TV or carrying on a conversation – all of your attention needs to be focused on the task at hand. As always when working with potentially explosive materials, always wear safety glasses!
There are a number of ways to properly measure a powder charge. Many of the budget model presses include pre-measured scoops or dippers that are marked with a grain measurement. These will work, but they are not as accurate as a powder measure and scale. But before doing ANYTHING with powder, grab your reloading manual and check the proper load for the caliber you are loading. Make sure that you have the right powder and bullet weight. Check your load data. Check it AGAIN. Cross reference it with a second reloading manual. Now is not the time to mess around or experiment, make absolutely sure that the load you are using is safe and within spec according to your reloading manuals!
Once you’ve confirmed the proper powder charge, set up your scale on a stable and level surface and place your powder pan on the scale. Zero (tare) the weight on your scale so that you are only measuring the contents of your powder pan. Dial your powder measure back to its smallest setting and fill the hopper with powder. Dispense a charge of powder into your powder pan and measure it on your scale. Slowly increase the setting on your powder measure until it dispenses the correct amount of powder into your pan. Repeat this charge two or three times to ensure it is consistent.
You can pour your charge directly into the case, use a funnel, or if you have a deluxe press, use the supplied charging system. Make a note of how full the case is. With come calibers, it’s possible to double or even triple charge a case! Use this mental note of how full a properly charged case is to keep an eye on your charges and ensure that you don’t overcharge any. Also, make sure to stop every 10th round or so and weigh your charge to make sure that the powder measure has not changed.
With your cases all charged, it’s time to break out the bullet seating die. For bullets with a cannelure, seating is a fairly straight forward process. For bullets without a cannelure, it’s slightly more difficult. First, you need to know what your overall cartridge length is. Dial calipers are extremely useful here to measure the finished cartridge as the seating die is adjusted. Using an empty (uncharged) primed and expanded case, raise the ram to full height. Unscrew the seating stem of the seating die out almost all the way. Now screw the die back into the press until you can just feel it touching the case, and then back it out a half turn and lock it in place. Take the case back out of the press, charge it, and start a bullet. Place it back into the press and slowly raise the ram. The ram should go almost all the way up before the seating stem touches the bullet. If you are able to raise the ram all the way up, hold it up while screwing the seating stem down until it makes contact with the bullet. Lower the ram and screw the seating stem down a little bit more. Raise the ram back up and the bullet should be fully seated into the case. Using your dial calipers, measure the overall cartridge length to make sure that it is within spec. Continue this process while adjusting the seating stem until it is within spec, and then lock down your seating stem. Proceed to seat bullets in the rest of your charged cases.
We’re almost done, but there’s one more step we need to take. Unless your manufacturer includes a crimp in the seating die, you will still need to crimp the bullet securely in the case using a factory crimp die. Follow the manufacturers instructions for your factory crimp die, and you’ll be done!
That’s all there is to reloading straight-walled ammunition. In our next installment, we’ll discuss loading necked-down cartridges.
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