*How To Reload*
After reading Slayer's article on reloading, I figured Id go ahead and write a "how to reload" type article geared toward the beginner with no prior knowledge. A little personal information is due here, Ive been reloading for about 13 years, and although Im sure there are some here who have been doing it longer than me, Ive got lots of time on the machines due to the fact that Ive got an ammunition manufacturers license and do this as a part time job.
I figure that most beginning reloaders will start with handgun ammo and then progress to the rifle calibers so for this article we'll stick to handgun calibers and single stage equipment. Single stage simply means that individual steps in the reloading process are done one at a time on a press that holds one cartridge at a time.
First lets get to a list of equipment that you will need to get started, I know that Slayer covered this in his article, but bear with me.
1. A STURDY reloading bench-dosent need to be fancy, but rock solid. You can buy one and assemble it or you can build one yourself. Since most people here are do it yourselfers I suppose most of you will go with the second option. Recommended minimum dimentions for the top is at least 24"wide by 48"long, but this will depend on where you decide to set it up. Height will depend on the chair you plan on using, just make it comfortable for you and remember you will be spending a considerable amount of time here so you dont want to be in an ackward position. One final note, make sure you leave a lip on the edge closest to you because the press will need to hang over a bit.
2. Press-there are a number of single stage presses on the market, the one that I have the most experience and confidence in is the Rock Chucker press from RCBS. This is not the least expensive press that you can get, but this thing is built like a tank and will handle even the most arduous resizing and case forming duties.
3. Powder measure-this is what meters powder and speeds up the entire process. This is not a must have item, you can use powder dippers, little scoop like devices, but believe me the price of a good powder measure is money well spent. There are lots of good brands to use, and are available as "fixed cavity"or "adjustable cavity". Go with the adjustible model as it is much more flexible . A good inexpensive model is the Lee Perfect Powder Measure. Ive had one of these for years and for the price its hard to beat.
4. Powder Scale-A reliable and accurate powder scale is absolutely mandatory for safe reloading. It must be calibrated in Grains, not Grams or Ounces and needs to be accurate within +/-0. 1 grain(1/10th grain). Again the price range for these is extreme but get the best you can afford. I recommend the RCBS 10-10 scale, its accurate and for about $100. 00 its good insurance. Digital scales are also available but are no more accurate than the rest.
5. Reloading manual-Again, absolutely necessary. Most bullet and powder companies print manuals, some even offer free data pamplets, and some have websites. More than one is preferred, so you can compare them. NEVER guess at a charge wt. , use only published data and even then NEVER exceed the maximum loads, this is where people get hurt!
6. Reloading dies-You need a set of dies for each caliber you plan to load, but some dies will load more than one caliber, Such as . 38/. 357, . 44spl/. 44mag. Dies for pistol cartridges come three to a set, the sizer die sizes the case( reshapes the fired case back close to the original dimension) and deprimes the case(removes the spent primer). The expander die flares the case mouth so that a new bullet can be seated without damaging the bullet or the case. The seat/crimp die does just that, seats the bullet and applys either a roll crimp(revolver cartridges) or a taper crimp(auto loading cartridges). I recommend either Lee or RCBS dies, Lee is cheaper. Dies are available in either steel(requires you to lube cases)or carbide(no lube required) spend a little extra and get the carbide dies, as this will greatly speed things up.
7. Shell holder-as in dies, each caliber you plan to load requires a shell holder. Lee dies come with the proper shellholder but RCBS does not. Some different cartridges use the same shell holder, such as . 45acp/. 308win, . 38/. 357, . 270/. 30-06 etc. The shell holder is what holds the case in the press in alignment with the die.
8. Priming tool-Some presses such as the Rock Chucker allow you to prime cases(install new primer) with the press itself. If your press lacks this feature then you can prime in a number of other ways. Hand priming tools are easy to use-on the Lee tool you dump the primers into a tray, shake until all are facing up, put the cover on, put the case in the tool and squeeze the tool to insert the primer. RCBS has a tool that eliminates the dump/shake routine by using primers that come on strips, thus saving time. These CCI primers cost the same as the ones without the strips, and they also have a tool that will load loose primers onto the strips.
9. Powder Funnel-this inexpensive device is used to transfer powder from the measure to the case, thus avoiding spills. Any small funnel that is new/unused can be used, but be sure to wash it first with dishsoap to remove any static electricity that will cause the powder to stick to the funnel. DO NOT use a funnel that has been previously for something else as you can contaminate the powder.
10. Loading block-used to hold the cases while your charging to prevent spills, and to help prevent double charges/missing charge, more on this later. You can buy these or you can use the plastic trays that come in factory ammo. boxes.
11. Case Tumbler/Vibratory Cleaner-All cases need to be cleaned after firing, even nickel plated ones and the easiest wat to do this is by using a vibratory cleaner. These are sometimes called tumblers, but this is not correct as a tumbler is a different machine. Several companies make these such as RCBS, Hornady, Midway, etc all are good, just pick one that fits your needs. Just fill with media, dump in the dirty brass, turn it on and check every couple hours until clean. Theres other ways to clean brass, but this is the easiest, least messy way to go.
12. Media-this is what you put in the tumbler/vibratory cleaner to clean the brass. Theres two types, walnut and corncob. Walnut cleans better, and corncob polishes better. If you only want to use one then go with walnut. I use both in seperate tumblers but this not necessary.
13. Cases-you can buy these new or once fired , or you can simply use fired brass from factory ammo. that you have shot. One common question is "how many times can I reload brass?"Well theres lots of variables involved, but with moderate loads its not uncommon to lose the brass at the range before you wear it out. Ive reloaded the same case so many times that I couldnt even read the headstamp anymore! Magnum cases firing maximum charges usually wont last more than maybe 2 or 3 times before they split but can last longer.
14. Bullets-you can buy them or in the case of lead bullets you can cast your own. Decide what you want to do with this ammo, (hunt, plink, shoot people, whatever)and buy accordingly.
15. Powder-Start out buying it in the 1lb cans until you find a load that you like and then you can buy in bulk and save money. Check your load book to find a load that suits you and start from there.
16. Primers-Several choices here, CCI, Federal, Remington, Winchester. I prefer winchester myself, have had good luck with them. LG pistol fits . 45acp, 10mm, SM pistol fits 9mm, . 40 s&w, . 38spl, . 380. LG pistol magnum fits . 44mag, SM pistol magnum fits . 357 mag. Check the load book before you pick primers as all magnum loads do not require magnum primers.
I know this seems like alot of stuff, but this is just the basics that really are required. To load rifle ammo. requires even more stuff, and Ill cover that in another article.
Now lets walk through the steps to load this stuff and get to the fun part-SHOOTING.
1. Clean and sort brass-or vice versa, clean brass as outlined above and sort by caliber. You can sort by headstamp if you want, but this is not required.
2. Inspect brass-look for anything out of the ordinary like splits, dents, holes, crushed cases, excessive bulges, badly corroded cases etc. Theres no sense risking your safety or your gun on questionable brass, throw it away. Also pick out any cases that are made of steel or aluminum, these are not reloadable. Check any foreign brass to see if its "berdan primed"this brass is not worth the trouble to reload, you can tell by looking inside, if its got two flash holes offset its berdan primed, if its got one flash hole in the center its boxer primed and can be reused.
3. Resizing and depriming-Insert the case holder into the press and screw the sizing die into the top of the press. With the ram at the top of its stroke screw the sizing die down until it touches the shell holder then back it off a tad until theres about 1/64 of an inch clearance between the shell holder and the die body(about the thickness of a matchbook cover) this is to prevent the carbide insert from contacting the steel shell holder causing damage to the die. Set the large lock ring on the die and your set for resizing. Now screw the decapping pin down until it protrudes about 1/4 inch below the bottom of the die and set the small nut on top(if using RCBS dies). Now is a good time to check and see if you are sizing correctly, drop this first sized case in your chamber or charge hole and make sure that it fits. If it dosent go in, fix it now before you continue. Size all the brass you have for this caliber and set aside or put in a container.
4. Expand case mouths-Unscew the sizing die and remove. Screw the expander die into the press until the die touches the shellholder. Unscrew the expander plug until a sized case just touches the plug when the ram is fully raised. Lower the ram slightly and screw the plug down one quarter of a turn at a time until you see that the case mouth is slightly flared. Too much flare causes premature mouth splits, too litle flare causes the bullet to catch on the edge of the case destroying the case and or bullet. Once adjusted properly, set the large lock ring. Expand all cases and set aside or put in a container.
5. Priming-see above if using a hand priming tool. INSURE you have the correct type/size primers before you begin. Prime all cases and set them into the load blocks. Note:primers should be seated just below flush to prevent misfires, if the primers are not seated deep enough the firing pins energy may not be enough to ignite the primer. If you notice a high primer after you charge the case with powder DO NOT attempt to reseat it unless you dump the powder out first.
6. Set your scale on a level surface(not your bench, as once the scale is zeroed you dont want anything to disturb it) . Since all scales operate differently, you need to refer to the manual that comes with it, and zero your scale. Now set the scale to the charge weight that you want by refering to the load book. NEVER exceed the maximum charge weight for any reason, ALWAYS start at the beginning load and work your way up checking for signs of excessive pressure along the way(explain in a minute). You may want to purchase a set of check weights to verify your scale.
7. Refer to the powder measure instructions (because their all different too) and adjust the measure until it throws the precise charge that you want. On some measures its easier to just use trial and error, throw a charge in the pan, weigh it , adjust, throw, weigh etc. until you get the charge you want. DO NOT move on to the next step until you have double checked the data from the book, the scale setting, and that the measure is throwing the correct charge every time.
8. Charge cases-If and only if everything above is correct, charge your cases by either removing them from the loading block one at a time , charging them under the measure, returning them back to the block, or by passing the block under the measure and charging them one at a time. Dont forget to use the funnel to avoid spills. You need to check your scale every 10 throws until you have reached 50 throws and then after every 50 throws thereafter. If your scale gets bumped, stop and check it. If the measure starts throwing too little or too much powder, stop and readjust it before continuing. I may seem paranoid here but dont take any chances with this stuff, it can be very dangerous. After all cases are charged, visually check to make sure all cases have a charge in them, and only one charge. This will prevent squib loads(no powder) and double charges(BOOM!). O. k. were getting close, hang in there.
9. Seat and crimp, revolver-Take out the expander die and screw in the seat/crimp die into the press , leaving about 1/4 inch between the die and the shell holder. Screw down the lock ring until it touches the press but dont set the set screw yet. Lower the ram and insert a bullet into the mouth of a charged case and place it in the shell holder. Raise the ram until you feel the bullet entering the case. Check and see how far the bullet is seated in the case and adjust by turning the seater stem(center part of this die)untill the desired depth is achieved. The bullet should be seated until approximately 90% of the cannelure(crimping groove) is covered by the case. Once the correct seating depth has been reached, unscrew the seater stem as far as it will go. Now on to the crimp. Loosen the large lock ring and raise the ram all the way with the cartridge still in the shell holder, slowly screw the die into the press untill you feel resistance. Lower the ram slightly and screw the die in about 1/4 turn. Raise the ram and check the crimp. Raise or lower the die body until you get the desired crimp. Tighten the large lock ring, raise the ram, then adjust the seater stem down until the stem makes contact with the bullet. Tighten the seater stem lock nut(if RCBS)and your ready to check the final product.
Open the cylinder on your revolver and drop the loaded round into a charge hole. It should enter fully and freely. If it only goes in a little ways you probably used too much flair when you expanded, if it sticks near the rim, you probably did not size the case fully. Either way if something is wrong at this point, correct the problem before you continue on and have a whole lot of problem rounds on the table.
10. Seat and crimp auto pistol-Taper crimping is required for cartridges that headspace on the case mouth. Setting the seating depth for auto pistol cartridges is the same as the method used for revolver cartridges above. Since bullets designed for use with auto pistol cartridges usually do not have a cannelure, bullet seating depth needs to be set with a caliper or if your too cheap to buy one you can use a round of factory ammo. to set your die. Once seating depth has been set, setting the taper crimp is similar to the method used on the revolver cartridge above. Once you think the crimp is adjusted correctly, take the loaded round out of the shell holder and push the bullet againt the your bench. If the bullet moves deeper into the case, you need more crimp. You want to make sure the bullet will not move during feeding or excessive pressure will result(BOOM). Once everything seems o. k. , disasemble your pistol and like above, drop the loaded round into the chamber and check it. If it dosent slide right in, youve got a problem.
Almost done!Once you have the first 10 rounds loaded, its time to take it out and check it out. We are not worried about accuracy yet, were just trying to determine whether the ammunition is safe, and functions correctly. Put your eyes and ears on and load one round . Fire and examine the fired casing, signs that you have excessive pressure are as follows-split cases, backed out primers, excessive recoil, flattened primers, hard extraction. If any of these conditions are found stop firing immediately! Do not fire any more of these rounds until you can correct the problem. Its much better to have to go back and redo the whole process, or even throw some ammo away, than to risk injury or damage to your gun. If the first round shows no signs of problems, fire three more and repeat the inspection process. If still no problems, fire the rest and inspect. Now is the time to go back and load a full box and try them. Hopefully everything works fine, your ammo is safe, it functions fine, and you learned a thing or two.
Always remember that safety is the number one consideration here. Go slow at first, if you are unsure of
something ask someone-never assume. Reloading is a fun and interesting pastime, an important skill to know, and it
even saves money. Enjoy.
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