It’s a beautiful sight looking down at rows and rows of shiny brass, all tipped with just the right little projectile that will make your rifle of choice shoot to its maximum capabilities! The finished project of hand loading new rounds is something that gives you a sense of satisfaction of a job well done and excitement in anticipation of sending some of those new, little beauties downrange. For some, reloading becomes a real obsession and for others, it’s a just a way to save a little money and also make their gun shoot better groups. Either way, if you think reloading might be something that you’d like to delve into, but aren’t sure of some of the basics or how to get started, than this is an article for you.
First off, let’s talk about all the great things that making your own hand loaded ammunition has to offer:
Cost: Hand loading your own ammo, can save you money compared to buying factory ammo off of the shelf. Naturally there is some considerable start up costs to purchasing all the equipment that you will need to reload, but after time those components you buy will pay for themselves. Brass alone makes up such a high percentage of the price of ammunition that being able to get multiple uses out of the same cases can really begin to add up in savings over time. Reusing cartridge cases can reduce your cost per shot considerably.
Accuracy: When building your own loads, you’re able to experiment with different variables such as bullet weight, type of bullet, amount of powder, type of powder, choice of primers, and the list goes on and on. All of these will most certainly give you the opportunity to try different recipes until you find the right one that your gun really likes and will deliver that tack driving accuracy that we all seek to achieve.
Knowledge and Enjoyment: There’s just something relaxing about the process of reloading. It becomes a hobby of sorts for many people. It can be therapeutic to quietly relax and concentrate on loading and escape the stress of everyday life. The knowledge you gain from hand loading lets you know all of the characteristics that your firearm likes and dislikes and you learn a lot about things like ballistics.
Hunting purposes: By hand loading your own rounds, you can discover the versatility that even one caliber a rifle or pistol is capable of. You can increase or decrease the bullet weight and or powder charge (within recommended safety guidelines) to accommodate hunting everything from deer to coyotes. The experience of bagging that animal that you are hunting is made all that much sweeter by knowing that you built the round that did the job perfectly!
Tools of the Trade
So you know the reasons you want to load your own ammo, now what? How do you get started? Knowing what items are essential and what items aren’t is kind of a “head spinning” ordeal when you haven’t yet loaded a single case. Mandatory equipment include:
Reloading manual – All of the loading tools in the world are of no good unless you have safe, reliable data to adhere to when assembling your load. Reading and understanding safe reloading techniques can be accomplished with published instructional materials and then using load data from them that was developed from standardized test methods in laboratory settings. Many reliable reloading component or equipment manufactures publish books including proper, and safe reloading methods as well as recommended load data.
Reloading press – A reloading press gives you the advantage of reduced effort to resize your cases and reload ammunition. Two dies are needed to reload for each cartridge if you’re reloading bottleneck rifle cartridges and can be installed in the press. One die resizes the case to insure that the case neck is the proper diameter to grip the bullet and also ejects the spent primer in once fired ammunition and the other die seats the new bullet and applies crimping. Die sets for straight cases such as handgun ammo, have three sets of dies. A sizing die, an expander die, and a seating die. The press will also hold a shell holder specific to the caliber you want to reload for. The shell holder grips the rim of the cartridge. The press holds the shell holder and die in perfect alignment. Case lube and a pad to use to lubricate the cases as they go through the press are necessary as well. Rifle cases must be lubed before resizing or they will stick in the die.
Most presses use an “O” type frame or a “C” or “H” shaped frame and should be mounted to a solid, sturdy work surface. The press is the centerpiece of your equipment and should be maintained and it along with your dies should be treated like you would treat your firearms. The press will use an arm as a fulcrum to help give you a mechanical advantage by being able to more easily multiply force.
Powder measure – This measures the propellant that you will load into each case. You can set the powder measure to meter the same volume of powder for each round that you load. This makes the process go much quicker than trying to measure every load by hand, although some more meticulous reloaders like to do so to make sure each round is uniform. A powder measure is set to the amount of powder you’d like to discharge for each load but should not be substituted for a powder scale. The amount of propellant discharged by the powder measure, must always be measured by an accurate scale, before beginning to charge cases.
Powder scale – This item is extremely important to make sure of the amount of propellant that you have just gathered from your powder measure. An accurate and reliable scale is a must for safe reloading. You must know the amount of grains you have before trying to load the case and know that the amount is within safe recommended guidelines from a reliable and published load book. The scale must be calibrated in grains.
Along with a powder measure and scale, you need a few items like a powder funnel to pour propellant from the scale pan to the cartridge case. It will have a cupped spout that needs to be specific to the case mouth for different case sizes. A loading block also comes in handy to keep your cases neatly organized while loading. Being able to go from one to the next with many cases lined up in front of you as you load helps make sure mistakes aren’t made.
Micrometer – You’ll need a case length gauge such as a caliper to accurately measure the dimensions of the cartridge. Calipers for reloading should be calibrated in inches down to 0.001 inch. Caliper settings must be accurate and case lengths are measured before loading and also after the bullet has been seated to insure that the cartridge length will allow the cartridge to chamber in your rifle. Once again, you’ll refer to a published data book for safe recommendations of cartridge lengths. A caliper also makes setting your die to the proper depth for bullet seating easier. Calipers come in both digital read out and mechanical, dial readout styles.
Case Trimmer – This device will accurately trim your cases to a uniform length. With a case trimmer you trim the mouth of the case reducing the length of the case. Even new cases from the factory often times need trimmed down so that every round you load is the same. Once or more fired bottleneck rifle brass often requires case trimming before being loaded again. The case necks will expand between firings. Failure to check once fired brass case length in these cartridges can cause them to exceed the required length that will not let them chamber in your rifle and can also cause higher pressures. Going over your brass, new or old, with a caliper before loading is a good idea. If any cases exceed the recommended case length, you put them through the case trimmer to get them back with in tolerance.
Priming Tool – You can install the primer in your cases by using your press also, but a lot of reloaders like to use a hand priming tool. This little handheld device feeds the primers from a primer holding tray into a loading cavity. A rod is manually pushed upward to push and seat the primer into the case sitting on top. To load for different calibers, a shell holder specific to that case is placed into the hand primer to grip the rim of the case. Many reloaders like the feel of the hand tool to know that the primer has been properly seated. Once each case is primed, a visual inspection should be performed of the seating depth of the primer and to make sure that there was no denting of the primer.
Tumbler – A case tumbler isn’t an item that would be absolutely necessary as there are other ways of cleaning fired brass, but it is an item that many reloaders get around to buying eventually. The tumbler is a bowl that vibrates from a motor underneath. First you add a dry polishing media to the bowl and then add your cases to it. Then you start it up and let it run for several hours. The media and the cases rub against each other during the coarse of the tumbling and vibration, cleaning and removing dirt and stains. Primers and used primers must always be removed before this step. You can also clean dirty brass by simply using a bucket of clean, hot water or for dirtier brass adding some dish soap. It should be rinsed afterward thoroughly. It is extremely important to make sure that the cases are fully dry and not holding any water at all before continuing on with further reloading steps.
Deburring and Chamfering Reaming Tools – Sometimes burrs or roughness can be left on the case mouth after you trim the cases or even after you buy new brass from the manufacturer. Deburring these edges and chamfering them to form a beveled edge on the inside of the case mouth can make bullet seating easier.
These are most of the popular and needed items for reloading or hand loading your own ammunition. The first step is getting a quality hand loading manual and doing some reading. Reading over the process from start to finish will help you understand and determine what you need to begin your adventure. One thing I recommend is to spend some time with someone who has been reloading for a number of years who is knowledgeable and is serious and safe about his or her passion! You can learn the most from spending a little time with someone like that. Nothing beats hands on learning with someone of great experience watching over your shoulder. For me, it was my Father-in-Law who introduced me to loading and he remains a great teacher and guide for me through the process yet today. I learn more and more from him every time I reload.
Loading up different rounds with different powders, different grains of powder, different bullets and bullet weights is a lot of fun and even more fun to take out to the range to see how each will perform out of your gun. I think you’ll find that “rolling your own” can be a fun hobby to improve your aim and reduce your cost!