I have a 995TS carbine that is really fun to shoot. I use it for home defense, hunting small game, and target shooting. I like shooting it so much I decided to invest in the tools to reload to save money so I could shoot as much as I want. I've not only been able to save money, but I really enjoy making bullets as well. I find it relaxing and fulfilling. There's something about turning items that most people think are trash into a useful and valuable product, ammunition!
I started by purchasing reloading equipment, buying components, including plated bullets. However, recently I started casting my own bullets, and then powder coating them as well. I think the setup I have allows to me to make inexpensive high quality ammunition in an efficient manner.
Now that I've acquired all the necessary equipment, it all starts with acquiring the components for a round. For bullet casting, I get my wheel weight lead from a truck-tire store and a nearby gas station that also sells tires. Getting cheap or free lead cuts one of the biggest costs of reloading, buying bullets. I melt the wheel weights and mold them to create purified one-pound ingots with a cheap 1,000 watt electric burner from Wal-Mart, old metal tea pot, muffin tin, and a cafeteria style serving ladle. I found all these items in the basement in storage boxes. I then melt the ingots as needed in the teapot, pour with the ladle into the Lee .356 round nose 124-grain mold. It drops two bullets at a time. I can make about six per minute or 360/hour.
Once the bullets are molded and water quenched, I run them through a Lee .356 sizer to make sure they are properly sized using my inexpensive Lee Hand Press.
Once sized, I powder coat them with Harbor Freight red paint. I use the "shake and bake" method that can be found on lots of sites on the Internet. I've found I can get a great coating by warming the bullets in the oven, placing them in a cool whip container with the powder, shaking them for 3 minutes, place them nose up on a metal tray lined with parchment paper to keep them from sticking to the pan., and then baking them in a cheap toaster oven at 400 degrees for 15 minutes.
Once they have cooled, I spray a little Pam on them and run them through the 356 sizer once more. I've found these bullets to be fantastic as the powder coat bonds with the lead so well, there is no way the cast bullets can lead your barrel. So now, I've got a big supply of bullets waiting to be mated with the rest of the components.
The other costly component is brass. I'm lucky to have some buddies with 9mm guns that don't reload so they save their brass for me. I shoot at a public outdoor range where some folks leave brass behind for me to pick up as well. I also keep my eyes open on Craigslist and other websites for folks selling brass at a reasonable cost. Therefore, when I acquire some new brass or shoot some of my own rounds I put the cases in my cheap SmartReloader Tumbler and clean them up.
Once clean, I get out my Lee Hand Press with the full-length resizingdepriming die, expander die to bell the case mouth to accept the cast bullets, and the Lee ram prime. While sitting in my family room watching TV with my wife, I run all the cases through each die. In a fairly short time, with my wife not feeling abandoned as she would if did all this in the garage, I have the brass resized, primed, mouth belled, and ready to load.
I don't load the powder and bullets in the house, that part happens in the garage. I again use my Lee Hand Press with my crimpingbullet seating die and my Lee Precision Powder Measure for this last step. I also have a set of calipers I inherited and a cheap electronic jewelry scale. I use these to make sure the overall length (OAL) and charge weight is correct. I made a reloading tray from a pine board that holds 24 rounds at a time.
I pre-set the OAL using one of my finished rounds by placing it in the hand press and completely closing the handle. I then tighten the seating plug until it hits the top of the round. I then use the Lee Perfect Powder Measure after checking a few thrown charges with the digital scale and double check by pouring a charge into the Lee .5cc yellow dipper that came with my die set. I know the dipper won't hold a major over-charge and that it should only be 9/10ths full with the proper charge of Bullseye powder.
Once I'm confident the powder measure is set right, I place powder in 24 cases. Once 24 cases are charged, I look into each case on the board to make sure they all have powder and aren't double charged. I then run the charged cases through the Lee Hand Press with the bullet seatingcrimping die, setting the powder coated cast bullets in the belled case mouths, and seat the rounds. I then check the OAL length with the calipers. I repeat the round of 24 until I'm done. Depending on how much time I've got to spend, I'll load around 100-200 rounds at a sitting.
Once the rounds are complete, I drop each round into the barrel of my 9mm pistol. If they chamber properly in this barrel, they will also do the same in the 995TS as the pistol has a short throat and if the rounds are too long, they won't fully chamber.
I have about $250 invested in the equipment that I had to purchase. Since the toaster oven, metal tea pot, ladle, and burner were already laying around the house, I got by a little cheaper than someone that has to buy those items, but I'm told you can get them cheap at Goodwill or flea markets.
My advice to a "wanna be reloader" is to read everything you can about casting and reloading before you start. The Internet is a great resource, but be careful to doubletriple check any load recipes and use the powder manufacturers web sites to verify any recipes. A good reloading book or two would be a wise purchase as well.
Now that I'm set up, my cost to produce 100 rounds using free lead and free brass is:
-100 primers from a local gun range shop. $3.50
-Bullseye Powder $1.25
-Harbor Freight Powder Coat $0.20
Total Cost of 100 rounds $4.95*
*Some energy is used to melt lead and bake bullets, but I don't have the cost calculated.
My Equipment Purchase List (shop around for the best deals)
-SmartReloader Tumbler $30.00
-Lee Bullet Mold TL356-124-2R $22.00
-Lee 3 Die 9mm Luger Set $35.00
-Lee Breech Lock Hand Press $40.00
-Lee Ram Prime $12.00
-Lee Perfect Powder Measure $28.00
-Lee Universal Case Expanding Die $12.00
-Lee .356 Lube and Size Kit $22.00
-Digital Scale (eBay jewelry scale)* $25.00 (*Make sure your scale measures in grains and goes to the nearest 0.01 grain)
Total Cost of Reloading Equipment $226.00
I like what I've come up with, but I realize it might not be for everyone. The portable Lee Hand Press gives me the flexibility to work in multiple locations. I've even heard of some folks taking it to the range with them for loading on the spot.
It is a great hobby and helps keep me supplied with plenty of ammo on hand at all times. If there is ever another period where ammo is hard to find or too expensive, I can continue reload and shoot while others chase around looking at empty shelves.
Buy your primers and powder in as large a bulk as you can afford to keep prices down. Try to get your lead and brass for free and have a great time shooting your guns!