*An Introduction to Reloading*
So, you think you want to reload some ammo. Maybe you just purchased your first centerfire weapon and want to save some money on practice ammo or you want to create some customized loads that the ammo factories donít offer. Iíll help you figure out if you should reload and maybe the best way to get started. Reloading is simply putting a new primer, bullet and powder into an existing brass case. Patience and attention to detail are required for safety.
Most people reload to save money; I do. My primary pistol is a 45 auto. I reload practice ammo for $3 a box of 50. The cheapest factory ammo I can find is about $10 a box. So, I save $7 for every 50 rounds that I shoot. It doesnít quite work that way. That is the first myth of reloading: that you will save money. Wrong, many will end up spending as much, or more, than if they bought factory ammo. But, you will shoot much more for the same money and that is what makes reloading valuable. You can stop worrying so much about the ammo cost and concentrate on practicing. If you donít plan to shoot more than 1 box of ammo every few months, donít bother with reloading, just save your brass for future use. The cutoff point of reloading economics is about 1 box every month. The exception to this is some calibers in which military surplus is available. It really doesnít make sense to reload for 7.62x39 ammo unless you want a special load. Bulk 9mm and .223 plinking ammo are also hard to justify reloading for right now. If the import supply gets cut off, it will make sense to reload these calibers. Just save the brass until then.
Everyone wants to know how much will it cost for a reloading setup. Iíve been reloading rifle and pistol ammo for 10 years now and have acquired about $500 worth of reloading equipment and it suits my needs for precision and high-speed reloading for both rifle and pistol. You donít have to spend that much, but the hobby can be addictive especially to mechanically-oriented people. I was in college when I started reloading and money was tight. I spent about $100 to be able to begin reloading .357 magnum ammo. Over the years, I added more equipment to handle different caliberís and be more efficient in reloading ammo.
If money is tight, the Lee anniversary kit with the Challenger press is the best start Iíve seen for $75. Spend another $30 for the caliber-specific Lee dies and the correct Lee case trimmer pilot and youíll be set. The equipment is not optimum for long term use, but it is a good start. This will allow rifle or pistol reloading at roughly 50 rounds an hour (maybe 75 with practice). Lee equipment new normally sells for about 60% of the suggested retail price.
If you are going to be reloading a great deal of pistol ammo and can put a few hundred dollars in up front, you can produce pistol ammo at several hundred rounds an hour. For loading pistol ammo only, a Dillon Square Deal B press is a decent choice for $250 or so. I would suggest looking really hard at a Dillon 550B press. It will load rifle or pistol ammo and is very versatile. It costs about $330 new. Dillon has a very good reputation among people who use a progressive press. The reason these presses are able to load so fast is that several cartridges are being processed at once. Dillon equipment new sells at or close to suggested pricing.
If money isnít so tight and you donít want or need a progressive press, Lyman, Hornady, RCBS, and other companies make higher quality reloading equipment that uses more steel than aluminum and plastic. They each have kits that (like the Lee anniversary kit above) provide everything needed to get started and it will last a lifetime. These kits run from $150 to $300 and provide some savings over buying individual pieces. These kits will work for rifle or pistol (caliber-specific dies are required, about $20-$35 for each caliber).
Rifle ammo can be loaded on a progressive press also, but it is a more complicated operation that is somewhat advanced and should be covered in a different article. For basic rifle loading, one of the kits described above really is a good start.
Cases to be reloaded need to be clean or the grit/fouling can rapidly wear the dies (or scratch them internally). Most people use a vibrating tumbler similar to what is used for polishing rocks to clean cases. The cases are vibrated with ground up corn cob or walnut hulls. Midway (www.midwayusa.com) has tumbler kits that will serve very well for most people. I have used one of their tumblers for several years now. You donít have to have a tumbler to clean cases, you can was them in hot water and rinse them well. Put the cases in an oven on LOW heat for an hour or two to dry the cases completely. Cleaning is optional for revolver cases if they donít touch the ground. Most people consider a tumbler a good early addition to their reloading setup. $50-$80 will get a good tumbler.
One thing that you will need is a good reloading manual and 2 are better. The Lee kit is available with a manual called "Modern Reloading" written by Mr. Lee himself for about $5 more. Get it if you get the kit. Other reloading companies and bullet-making companies put out reloading manuals. Speer makes a good one as does Hornady and Lyman.
You will want to buy powder and primers locally if possible. Hazardous material shipping charges ($13 per package) can get expensive quickly for mail order. Gunshows are often a good place for powder and primers. If you buy bullets at a gunshow, remember to buy them on the way out as they are heavy. The powder companies produce free guides that tell how much powder to use with particular bullets in each caliber. Study the powder manuals well before buying to minimize the different powders you will need for different purposes.
The following is a list of websites to visit for more information.
Mail order reloading supplies:
Graf & Sons (www.grafs.com)
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