Gear, Parts and Accessories

Handloading 101

Loading Bench

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.

Presses

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.

Scales

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.

Dies

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.

Tools

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.

HOT TIP!

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.


[bob]

The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (21)

  1. 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.

  2. This comment is for steve who posted a comment on jan 7th.. 1st of all GITMO takes millions of our tax $ to keep open.. An 2nd George BUSH is the one that got us into 2 illegal wars!!! For those of you that have idiots block… 3rd our police force is to protect an serve an not look like a occupied force thats kills unarmed people that are running away from police or selling cigarettes on the corner.. They do not need tanks an other military style gear.. That’s why we have a national gaurd!!!! Let’s also remember that George bush was AWOL for over a yr in the national gaurd during the Vietnam war wich is a shootable offense during war time!!!! An yet that coward sends our brother an sisters to war an took the longest presidential vacation in history then he ran to his brothers home state of Florida while GW was locked down in Florida he let 9/11 happen so the patriot can be in acted to spy on American people!!!!

  3. I purchased 3 boxes of Tulammo PerFecta Ammo .223 50 in each box. In these 3 boxes all the primer holes are off to the side and not in the middle making them no good for reloading ? or does it not matter if the hole is not in the middle. The reason I buy this ammo is to use the brass for reloading.
    Thank you
    Tony

    1. @Tony: I am by no means an expert, but with an “off-center” flash hole, it will be difficult to remove the primer. Not impossible, but difficult and probably not worth the effort for .223 caliber. Most de-capper dies use a centered pin to push the primer out of the pocket. I would suggest another source for reliable brass since .223 brass is plentiful.

    2. Tony: There are video’s on line for removing these primers. That being sad Galaxie_Man is right, its more of a hassle than it is worth. Try outdoor ranges some will let you pick up brass,this can be privet or public ie local wildlife ranges, good luck

    3. Tony, Tulammo is one of Europe’s most prolific ammo manufactures. There is nothing wrong with their ammo either. However if the ammo you have has two little holes just off center of the case they are Berdan primed. That is common in Europe. Before we started importing so much ammo for 7.62×39 and 5.56/.223 it was generally excepted that Berdan primed ammo was European and Boxer primed(one large hole in the center) was American. Now with cheap steel or aluminum cases(CCI Blazer), the Berdan system is used to prevent reloading, because steel and aluminum cases are damaged with stress of resizing. If you have brass cases that are Berdan primed, they were intended for sale in Europe but because of surpluses they were imported at a price that could be competitive in the US market. If you only have 3 boxes I would just dispose of them. However they are reloadable. As a matter of fact there are two ways to go about reloading them. I have tried both. I had an old European handgun that no one in the US made ammo for. I had to buy European ammo. It was too expensive, and to hard to get, to just keep buying factory ammo. After reloading the brass once for each method I traded the gun. The proper method is to pry the old primers out with a special tool made for that purpose. The tool hooks on the rim of the case and kind of crushes one side of the primer down in the pocket which pops the other side of the primer out of the pocket. Then you will notice a big bump in the middle of the primer pocket. That is the anvil. You will then need to get Berdan primers. (the words Berdan and Boxer refer to a style of primer. Not a brand. They are capitalized becase they are named after the man who designed them.) The Berdan primer has no anvil in the primer like the Boxer primer does. As a matter of fact they look a lot like the little plastic caps for a cap gun. They are just a little primer cup with an igniter in it. Once you have the primers out, and the new Berdan primers on hand, the reloading process is just like you have been doing all along. Resize the brass, seat the primers, pour powder, and seat bullet. The hard part is removing the old primer. It takes a little effort and if you aren’t careful you can damage the rim of the case or the primer pocket. The second method is a little more “outside the box” and I hesitate even mentioning it here. So before I do let me clarify, I do not recommend this method. I recommend you dispose of the brass and get Boxer primed brass. I am merely describing a method I used once out of desperation. Looking inside the brass I noticed a dimple between the two flash holes. This dimple was the inside of the anvil that stuck up in the primer pocket. Using the dimple as a guide I drilled a flash hole through the Berdan anvil. This still left a little bit of the anvil sticking up in the primer pocket. I took out my dremmel and ground down the remaining anvil. The trouble was the dimple was tapered so by the time I had the primer pocket flat the hole was to big. I started with another case and just used the dremmel without predrilling, but I got the same result. What finally worked was to drill a flash hole the same as with the first case. Then turned the case over and dropped it over a steel rod in my vise. Then I took a punch about the same size as the primer pocket and with a couple of blows I flattened the bottom of the primer pocket. Of course this made the flash hole too small, so I had to redrill it. The case was now able to use Boxer primers and reloaded using conventional methods. After the first case I tried to leave out the first drilling step. I flattened out the anvil first, but with just a hand drill (I didn’t have a drill press or a mill) it was to hard to drill such a small hole in the middle of the primer pocket without the dimple for a guide. Using the dimple as a guide first then the hole as guide for the second drilling added a step, but was much simpler. Removing and replacing the Berdan primers took about an hour and a half +/- to reload 50 rounds single stage. With some practice I’m sure that would improve some but was always going to take considerably longer than Boxer primed brass. The second method took about 3 hours +/- to do 50 rounds but only had to be done the first time. Over time brass got lost or became defective. Something all reloaders have to deal with. I ordered another box of ammo, which because of it’s rarity, wasn’t cheap. Then I traded the gun with a full box of factory ammo and half a box of reloads. I’ve never regretted it and I always look for the words Boxer primed when I buy European ammo.

  4. This was a great article and I would love to sit down with him at a loading bench for a few hours and not get any loading done. This is the comment section though. He mentioned getting a loading manual, but it was at the end and almost as an after thought. I feel that is the most important and first thing any potential loader should obtain. Get a quality one from a reloading tool or component manufacturer. If you get one by a powder manufacturer, the manual will only have load data for their powder. If you get one by a tool or bullet manufacturer it will have data for several different powders and charge weights. I own four manuals and the only I ever use is from Sierra. It has everything you could need including instructions on reloading. I’ve been reloading for 40 yrs. and I used my first Sierra manual for 30 of them. Ten years ago I bought some different manuals because they had some calibers that didn’t exist when I started reloading and didn’t feel I need to buy the whole new Sierra manual. It wasn’t long before I decided I was wrong. There other good manuals out there that may serve you well, but I promise you, you won’t be disappointed if you buy the Sierra manual.

    The only other complaint I have with this article is he didn’t mention the most economical way to get started. I started reloading 40 years ago with a Lee Loader. They still make them. It has everything you need to get started reloading except the components (bullets, powder, primer). Each Lee Loader is caliber specific. They are about the same price as a set of dies for a press, but you don’t need a press. All functions are preformed safely albeit noisy with a mallet. When I started I bought the Sierra manual, Lee Loader, and enough components to load five boxes of .308 Winchester for about the same cost as five boxes of 308. After that every penny I saved on a box of shells went into my pocket. Back then it was about 300 pennies per box, it is probably about 3 times that now. I used my 308 Lee Loader for five years while buying additional ones for .357 mag./.38, 6mm Rem., and .270 Win., By the time I upgraded to a press I was to attached to my Lee Loaders to get rid of them. I still have them and still use them to teach new reloaders the basic process.

    There is one more way to save money starting out. You don’t absolutely have to have a set of scales. Lee makes a set of dippers for measuring out powder. They come with a chart that tells you which measure to use for any given powder charge. Be aware however, while the measures are very accurate from scoop, the weight in the scope is not necessarily accurate compared to the chart. Your technique affects the accuracy and without a scale you can’t be sure what the exact weight is. So if you use the scoop stay away from Maximum loads and you will be fine. The Lee Loader has a scoop in it and if you follow the directions included you won’t get into any trouble. I recommend a good set of magnetic damped scales for any serious reloader. However if you’re just loading a couple of boxes a year for your deer rifle, the Lee Loader is all you need until you get good and hooked.

  5. Guys-obama releases more scumbags from Gitmo,diblasio keeps alienating the finest Police force in the world, And sharpton sets the racial agenda.Reloading insures your Constitutional Rights of self defense either against a violent criminal or a rogue government.God bless you all in a new year!

  6. For 9mm with what you get your bullets for you are looking at about 5 cent a round or $2.50 a box, now that does not include your time, but not a bad trade off.

  7. For 9mm with what you get your bullets for you are looking at about 5 cent a round or $2.50 a box, now that does not include your time, but not a bad trade off. you can try EBay for your dies and press. You will need to buy a ditial micrometer, to check case and overall bullet length. You can get them at harbor freight tools if there is one near you. It does not to be expensive.

    1. Wayne,

      You are dead on the money.

      But not Ebay– Cheaper than Dirt please!

      Thanks for reading. You made good points.

    2. If you’ve seen any of my replies you have to know I love reloading, however 5 cents/rd. seems a little low to me. That’s 5 dollars for a box of 100. The only time I’ve seen bullets that cheap in this century was when I cast up several hundred for a friend. Also, you don’t really need a micrometer. I have a RCBS case trimmer I’ve been using for 20 years and works perfectly and I have to use a micrometer with it. However I’m not sure it works any easier than Lee case trimmers you buy for a specific caliber. The RCBS is nearly $100 now. You can buy the Lee cutter for $9.00 and the trimmer gauge for each caliber is about $5.00. That’s $14.00 for the first caliber and $5.00 for each additional caliber. That’s a lot cheaper and the proper “trim to length” is built in. No micrometer needed.

  8. I started reloading just a couple of years ago, with used equipment I had bought several years earlier, but just had sitting around. When I finally got into it (which only required a commitment on my part), I discovered reloading was as much fun as shooting itself. I load .45ACP, .38 Special, .357 Magnum, 9mm, and more recently rifle ammo in 7.62x54r for my three Mosin-Nagants. Reloading the rifle ammo is a whole different animal than cranking out handgun ammo on a progressive press, but just as much fun. I loaded twenty 7.62x54r rounds for testing and did not have one failure. In fact, the velocities on my chronograph were quite consistent, I just need to adjust the loads for the velocity I am looking for. I have introduced three other shooters to reloading (one who actually got into it) by demonstrating the operation and letting them run the press under my guidance. I also offer to share what knowledge I have and my recipes to anyone that asks, and have found reloading to be yet another aspect of the shooting sports where people are polite and willing to share.

  9. I have been reloading for over 30 years. I got stared when an uncle gave me an od reloading outfit he had. I learned from friends I hunted with. My big advantage was I was using a firearm of a caliber that ammo was hard to find and expensive . Over the years I have acquired many more dies, I still use the same single stag and scale from so long age. I like using Lee reloading dies. As far as getting reloading information there are many places to go to. For projectiles I go to extreme bullets online for bulk buying. As far as getting brass the range I go to lets you pick up brass while you are there. I have spent many hours reloading and enjoyed it very much. Even with the price of ammo today when you can find it, I can still reload for far less than what ammo sells for in the store. For anyone who wants to start, start small.

    1. I have been purchasing 115gr 9mm for .1944 cents per round delivered. What would the average cost per round be if I loaded my own after I recouped the initial equipment investment?

    2. I’m assuming you mean $.1944/rd., or approximately twenty cents per round. .1944 cents is less than two tenths of a cent per round, or ten cents for a box of 50. It’s a simple and easy error to make, but one worth clarifying before we start price comparing. Since you quoted price/rd., and carried it out to the fourth decimal, I assume you buy this in bulk and divided it out. There is nothing wrong with bulk ammo as long as you stay away from corrosive imports. It’s great for practice and plinking, and it’s a very economical way to hone your skills. Especially if your are not a reloader. However it is not top of the line for accuracy or defense. So the prices I’m about to discuss fall in the same category. Not the best, but good quality. There are cheaper components available, and you can save even more if you buy good components in bulk. These prices are if you walk into the local gun shop and buy 100 bullets, 100 primers, and a pound of powder. Bullets can be had for $12.00/100 or 12 cents/rd. Primers for $2.00/100 or $.02/rd. Powder for $25.00/1 lb. can. You should be able to load way over 1000 rounds of 9mm from 1 lb. of powder. That’s not a misprint. Powder weight is measured in “grains”(no I don’t mean grams). You will use 5-7 grains in a 9mm. There are 7000 grains of powder in 1 pound. So that is 2.5 cents/rd. Now that’s .12 + .02 + .025 = .165. $.165/rd. or 16.5 cents/rd. saves you nearly 3 cents/rd. or $30.00/1000rds. That’s just talking about price. There is a great deal of satisfaction in creating your ammo. When you fire off that first round that you reloaded, when you empty that first magazine of ammo you reloaded, and you realize it punches holes just as well, clangs plates just as well, penetrates just as well, and everything else just as well, you will be hooked. When you find out you can create better ammo than any you can buy, for les than what you are paying for plinking ammo you’ll be unstoppable.

    3. Yeah, I’m replying to my own reply. After posting the previous comment about reloading prices, I received email from Midsouth Shooters supply. I get 3 or 4 a week but this one advertised bullets on sale. They had 9mm bullets priced at $20.00 for a box of 250 bullets. That’s 8 cents/rd. Plug that into the previous formula and you get 12.5 cents/rd. That saves you 7 cents/rd. or $70.00/1000rds.

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