Reloading 101 for Beginners
If you are thinking about reloading and want to have a basic idea of why, what, and how it is done, it is my intent for this article to help answer these questions you may be asking.
First, you might ask why reload? Well, for one thing, you can reload to save money. As much as you may hear that reloading doesn't save you money, it can be done pretty easily. The only compromise is that you will end up shooting a lot more, so you really save on the price per round, not as a whole. You will also find that the amount you save per round will pay off your equipment pretty quickly.
Besides saving money, what other reasons are there to reload?
Personal satisfaction: There is something special about shooting an exceptional group with ammunition you crafted yourself, a feeling that shooters relish. Other reasons to reload include custom ammunition and availability.
Custom tailored ammo just for your gun can shoot some impressive groups, be it your rifle or your handgun. You can also do a lot of cool things with reloading like making low-recoil ammo or magnum ammo instead of being limited to what is sitting on the LGS's [Local Gun Store - Editor] shelf.
Also, during ammunition shortages (Election year!) reloading supplies aren't as affected and prices remain stable for longer. It also enables you to stock up on your reloading ingredients and assemble your ammo over time.
Now comes the "what" part of the question: What do I need to start reloading?
Well, there is a big market for reloaders out there. Just take a look through a Cabela's catalog if you don't believe me. And most of the stuff has a three-figure price tag. One of the worst feelings is the one you get when you buy an expensive piece of equipment and realize that you bought something you didn't need or paid way too much for it. I want to help you avoid that feeling.
The first thing you should buy before you buy anything else, is a reloading manual. Go on to Amazon and spent $20 on a Lyman's 49th edition reloading manual. It'll explain the whole process and gives 100's of pages of data for 100's of calibers. Read the how-to section of the book at least twice. Then decide if reloading is for you or not.
Most people are qualified to drive cars, but most people aren't qualified to be mechanics. Same principal applies to shooting and reloading. Most shooters are safe shooters, but not all shooters have the skill set to be safe reloaders.
So, you've got the first piece of equipment down. The manual. So lets assume you've made the decision to buy the rest of the equipment and start reloading.
Here is a list of what I consider to be the bare minimum of equipment and the general price:
1. Reloading manual $20
2. Lee Press $35
3. Set of dies for caliber of your choice (lee) $35
4. Scale $30
5. Powder measure (lee) $25
6. Hand primer (lee) $25
7. Loading block $5
8. Calipers $15
9. Case lube $5*
10. Case lubing pad $5*
11. Case prep tools $10*
12. Case trimmer with die $25*
1. Brass (hopefully you've been saving yours and don't need to buy new brass!)
2. Primers $3-8 per 100 depending on what type
3. Powder $20-30 per lb
4. Bullets range anywhere from $10-30 per 100 depending on the type.
*only necessary for rifle cartridges
That is the basic list of things that you'll need to buy to start reloading. BTW, Lee sells a kit with a lot of the things on the list for a much better price than compared to buying everything individually.
How does the reloading process work? It's actually pretty simple once you get the hang of it. For this example, I'm going to use a handgun cartridge, mostly because I have more experience reloading handgun cartridges.
First, you need to read your manual. Then read it again. Follow the manual exactly. Do not deviate from it!!!
Second, inspect your brass. First off, make sure that it's brass. Steel can be reloaded but it really isn't practical. Only reload brass unless you really need to do otherwise.
Your brass should be clean. Clean brass makes the process a lot easier. You may notice that I didn't include a tumbler in the list of things to buy, that's because you don't absolutely need it. Throw you brass in a tub of hot soapy water overnight. Rinse it off in the morning and let it dry for a few days. Make certain that it is bone dry though!
Now, inspect your brass for dings, cracks or any other visual defects. Discard the rejects by crushing them with pliers and tossing them in the trash.
Now, install the decapping/resizing die. Adjust per manufactures specifications. Resize the brass.
Next, install the expanding die and adjust. If you are priming on the press, do so during this stage.
If you prefer to prime off of the press, do so now.
Next, charge the case. Start at the minimum charge weight to start. DO NOT deviate from the listed load data. If you need additional load data, go to the powder manufactures website. Charge the cases with the appropriate amount of powder.
Now, seat the bullet. Install the bullet seating die and adjust. You'll have to use your calipers to make sure that the get the case overall length (COL) right. Normally, you'll have a minimum COL. You want to make sure that your cartridge is short enough to chamber in your gun and long enough that it is still within specifications.
The next step it to crimp. Crimping is the process of molding the brass around the bullet to hold it in place.
Crimping is different on auto cartridges than on revolver cartridges. Revolvers use a roll-crimp which involves rolling the edge of the case into a groove on the bullet. Auto cartridges use a taper-crimp. A taper-crimp squeezes the sides of the case around the bullet, holding it tight. The reason you crimp is so that the bullet doesn't creep forward in the case from recoil and jam the gun up. Recoil certainly does not improve accuracy so use as little crimp as possible. Refer to your manual as to how much crimp should be used.
After this, you've successfully reloaded your own ammunition! Only thing left to do is to hit the range!!! Good luck and safe shooting!