The Myth of Reloading

Discussion in 'Reloading Room' started by lklawson, Jun 17, 2015.

  1. lklawson

    lklawson Staff Member

    9 out of 10 of the people I've spoken with got into reloading because they were convinced that it would save them money.

    It makes sense. If you reload, you only have to pay for the consumables of a cartridge, i.e.: the powder, primer, and bullet. The brass case you can reuse numerous times before it needs replaced, and you don't have to pay for someone else' labor. If you only have to pay for the powder, primer, and bullet, most reloading advocates suggest that a single loaded cartridge will end up costing somewhere between 1/5 and 1/2 the cost of a factory manufactured cartridge.

    But they're lying; to both you and themselves.

    OK, that's a harsh statement. They're "significantly exaggerating" is really closer to the truth.

    "Why is that," you say? Because they're not factoring in a number of hidden costs. If it was only the cost of powder, primer, and bullet, then, yes, the reloaded cartridge is maybe 1/5 that of a new factory loaded cartridge. But it's not just powder, primer, and bullet. There are two other, significant, costs involved with reloading.

    First, and most tangible, is the cost of the gear required for reloading. Besides powder, primer, and bullet, a cartridge requires a case; brass cases are pretty well a requirement. Those don't fall out of the magic brass case tree into your lap. They have to come from somewhere. Usually, these cases, for the new reloader, are once-fired brass that you've collected from your own shooting trips. They can (and often are) expended ammunition that you've already bought. You bought NIB ammunition and shot it, salvaging the cases. This cost you something. Yes, you can argue that you're "recovering" money which would be lost if you just left your cases laying on the ground and, to a degree, that's true. But you still had to spend money to get the ammunition in the first place. It's not free. Some reloaders say that they pick up "range brass" and that it is, therefore, free because someone else bought it, shot it, and left it laying on the ground. It's like mining for gold! But they still had to pay the range fee. And then you have to replace that brass as it wears out from repeated use. It should last through multiple firings, but there is a limit; 5, 10, 20, whatever, it wears out and then you have to invest in more. Brass is a "consumable" too, it just consumes slower. Unless some third party, literally, gives you brass for nothing, then it's cost you something to get it. TANSTAAFL. If you can get them "for free" from range pick up, it may be only a fraction of a cent, but if you buy new unfired brass to reload with, that costs goes up significantly.

    But, of course, it's not just the brass. There's all of the equipment needed to successfully and safely reload. The most expensive of these is the press itself. There are various kinds and quality points of presses, running from a simple "hand press" to a nearly automated robot, starting at as low as $30 or so and running into the many hundreds of dollars. ...for just the press alone. But don't think you can just plop down $30 for a simple hand press and get away with it. Apparently, you soon find out that a hand-press, while it can theoretically do all of the loading, is inefficient, slow, uncomfortable-running-to-painful to use, and, quite simply, not the best choice for making more than a few rounds for instant testing at the range or a few dozen rounds a time at home (squeezing them between your knees for rifle rounds!). Single-stage presses are the next step up, costing between $100-$150, but the advocates also admit that they are also slow and cumbersome, though less slow and less painful to use than hand-presses. Many life-long reloaders start with a hand press. Notice I said START. Before you know it, they've come to realize what ever one who went before learned; they don't like using a single-stage press for cranking out hundreds of rounds. They have to stop and modify the press for each operation. Soon, they either give up reloading or buy a multi-stage press of some sort (costing 10%-50% more than the single-stage press). But don't expect to find them trying to offload their old pal single-stage to you for a song. Nope. They keep it and use it for specialized tasks, such as depriming or set up for a wonky caliber they have. And some advise that the most economically priced single-stage presses often aren't built of sufficient quality materials to run some of the cartridges or that they wear out too quickly. If you really want to save yourself money (and your arm, and your time, and frustration), in the long run, you'll have to skip the hand-press and jump straight to some multi-stage press; being prepared to shell out $150-$200.

    Oh, but the equipment requirements don't end there! There's dies (and if you don't want to spend money and even more time lubing the cases then cleaning off the lube you have to buy the 2x expensive carbide dies!), shell holders, funnels, trimmers, scales, measures, calipers, go-no-go gauges, etc. Expect to spend another $100 at least for all of these. Fortunately, you can get most of this stuff as a "kit" with your press, but you'll still need to buy, separately, the dies, shell holders, gauges, puller, (and maybe the trimmer) for your specific caliber separate from the "kit."

    By the time you're done buying "consumables" and actual equipment, expect to pay between $350 and $600 "startup/investment cost." The good news is that equipment is considered a "durable good" which just means that it wears out way slower than consumables so you don't have to buy replacements very often, if ever. But consider how much NIB factory loaded ammunition you can buy for your investment cost of up to $600. This is the "break even" point or the "Return On Investment" (ROI). Be honest now, most people looking to save money by beginning reloading are likely to start with one of the most popular and most available cartridges, usually the 9mm Luger or .223 Remington. They're chambered in more guns than anything else so it's what the owner most likely owns and the components are most easily available. But that's a double-edged sword. The most common calibers that people want to reload are also the cheapest NIB purchase due to Economies of Scale. You really want to save money? Reload expensive or hard to find calibers. 9mm Largo, .44 Magnum, or .210 Bee, for instance. Your "break even point" comes quicker. What's that you say? You're AR isn't chambered in .218 Bee? Sorry, I guess you'll just have to wait longer for your break even point. 600-900 loaded rounds seems to be about what it is in 9mm or .223.

    Ah, but once you've passed the "break even point" then it's just the consumables, right? Then you can finally enjoy the bliss of super-cheap-almost-free ammunition, right? Well... um... no.

    Did you forget to factor in your time? Yes, your time has actual value. If it didn't you wouldn't insist on your employer actually, you know, paying you. It takes time to load cartridges. That's the second significant hidden cost I mentioned. How much time depends on the cartridge and the person, of course, but also on whether you bought an inexpensive hand-press or upgraded. The less expensive the press you bought, the more time you're going to spend trying to build cartridges. Minimum wage in the U.S. is currently $7.25 and probably higher, realistically, in the state where you're at. Even McDonnalds pays higher than Minimum Wage. And if you have a job that makes better than McDonnalds you have to start asking yourself, "at what point does it make more sense to to just work another hour?" You may be making more per hour than what the real hourly-creation cost is per round (the end cost to you, the consumer). Now reloading advocates will, at this point object, claiming that, for them, they consider reloading a hobby; something they do which is entertaining and relaxing. That's nice. But you're not looking at it as a hobby, remember? To you it's supposed to be a cost saving endeavor. From a dollars and cents perspective, there's a cost floor, below which the cost of ammunition simply isn't worth your time to produce yourself. It's more cost-effective to just spend another hour at work, skip all hassle (and potential dangers if you do it wrong), and buy a new manufacture box of ammo.

    By this point, many reloading advocates will object that reloading allows them to "tune" ammunition to specific guns, making the most accurate and reliable ammunition possible for that, one, specific gun. Again, that may be true and that's nice for them, but at that point, it's not about making inexpensive ammunition which beats the price of factory loaded NIB ammunition.

    If you're going to consider reloading as a method of saving money, you need to look at it from a business perspective. Usually, this means that you're willing to accept that you're going to make ammunition a lot slower than factories can and that you're probably going to have to place a dollar value on your limited personal time of far less than what the ammunition factory worker makes, to say nothing of what you make at your "real" job. Even then, the claimed savings cost per round is usually exaggerated due to failing to include the cost of the durable equipment over the depreciation period (the factory depreciates their loading gear over a 7-year period).

    So, yes Virginia, reloading can save you money on ammunition in the long run (maybe, sometimes), but it's less than you've been told and it'll take longer than you've been lead to believe. :(

    Peace favor your sword,
    Last edited: Apr 1, 2016
  2. ajole

    ajole Supporting Member

    NE Utah
    You are right....except you are wrong.

    I pay no range fees, and my time isn't worth anything no matter what the A-type personalities tell you, as the time I spend reloading is time I'd be wasting on TV, or investing in "fishing", or as I call it, "wading with a pole".:p

    Also, while I may be able to buy large quantities of plinking ammo or range fodder for very little cost per round, the JHP SD ammo, or the finely tuned match or hunting ammo I can produce, are relatively expensive to buy commercially, so reloading that is another animal, entirely.

    Lastly, as a hobbie, reloading comes in relatively cheap over all. Compared to the equipment and supplies and clothing for hobbies like gardening, sailing, skiing, 4-wheeling, motorcycling or bicycling...or even taking judo classes:p...I can do it relatively cheaply.

    So, compared to "other" hobbies, reloading DOES actually save me money!:D

  3. Rachgier

    Rachgier Administrator Staff Member

    Reloading for me is therapeutic, so it's definitely cheaper than a therapist. Plus I usually take a kid out with me and teach them how to do it and let them run the press with me so it doubles as priceless time with my kids teaching them a useful skill.
  4. There is always the option of selling your once fired brass online. I suggest this to some people when I explain the costs that they are surprised with. Reloading is worth it if you want custom loads, or rare cartridges that are very expensive. Such as 32 auto, I was shocked at Walmart they were 50 bucks a box.

    I don't like progressives, I am very picky about the loads I use. I use a single stage press, but I have time on my hands. I usually suggest a turret press for most people. It saves time changing dies, but still allows one pull for each die. I deprime all my cases before trimming, then resize. I check every single case, even new ones. I also weigh every single load, but then I have time on my hands. My loads are very consistent, FPS variation usually no more than 30fps.

    I also like medium loads compared to factory loads, I can only get that reloading. But for the hot stuff instead of reloading one could always buy from the handful of companies that specialize in hot loads, and probably save money over reloading.

    Brass can be sold on Etsy for jewelry, or armslist, or gun brokers. I think most sellers are selling for a dime a case. That is a return of 5 dollars for every 50 round box you shoot. Bringing the cost of target ammo down to about 10 dollars a box.

    Forgot, if you are shooting over heavy grass you might also have to invest in a metal detector. Those brass seem to dig their way to the bottom of the grass blades.
    Last edited: Jun 17, 2015
  5. lklawson

    lklawson Staff Member

    You've been talking to my wife, haven't you. ;)

    <nods> Yup. Like I wrote, it's possible, but it's not the vast-sums-quickly that is so often claimed. :)

    All these things have been going through my mind as I've been developing a "buy this stuff" spreadsheet for my entry into the, ahh..., "hobby."

    I just kinda get a wry grin when I read people claiming that they're only paying $0.08 per round by reloading. Nope. No they aren't. hehehe

    Peace favor your sword,
  6. ajole

    ajole Supporting Member

    NE Utah
    True...that's consumables per round, on low velocity plinking ammo, if you cast your own lead, using free lead, without the overhead cost of everything else involved.:)
  7. It's harder to find free lead these days. The tire shops use mostly zinc now, and junk yards no longer give wheel weights away. I used to be able to get a bucket of lead for free from the local yard. They now charge a buck a pound.
  8. lklawson

    lklawson Staff Member

    I've got a number of guns in expensive and/or oddball chamberings. My intention is to learn and reach the initial equipment break-even point on commodity cartridges such as .223 and 9mm, which seems the safest and most reliable way to learn to me. Once I've hit that point, I should be able to save money on oddball and expensive cartridges.

    The best candidates for my personal use, imo:
    7.62x25 Tokarev JHP
    .38 S&W
    9mm Largo
    7.62 Nagant
    .45ACP (even FMJ is silly expensive)
    .357 Magnum
    9mm Makarov
    .308 (mousefart)
    .32ACP Spoontip
    30-30 JSP (for my dad)
    .380ACP (depending on local availability)

    Peace favor your sword,
  9. lklawson

    lklawson Staff Member

    Maybe if you offered to take the dead auto batteries?

    Peace favor your sword,
  10. Rachgier

    Rachgier Administrator Staff Member

    My buddy down in NC used to love it when I remodeled houses. Some of the older houses had the double hung windows with the lead counter-weights. He would hit me up once or twice a year to see what I had for him. After one hurricane season I think I had around 150lbs of those counterweights sitting in the shop for him. Used to love getting the brass ones, but those were few and far between. A lot of times they were pig iron. Not as profitable for scrap, but still worth the effort.
  11. I was going to buy a Keltec 32acp for the wife, until I saw the ammo prices. But reloading 380 is a pain(small cases), I can just imagine how tedious 32acp would be.

    I am going to research reduced weight recoil springs for a keltec 380, or 9mm. I already have the 380 dies, and 9mm would only need a four die set, and trimmer, plus a go-no-gauge. I have loaded 380 for the HP as slow as 600fps, and it still functions reliably, with almost no recoil(think 22lr).
  12. Fracman

    Fracman Member

    Do you want to shoot battery lead through your gun
  13. No, no, and no. Battery lead is very dangerous, much more so then wheel weights.
  14. Once smelted it is like most lead alloy. But smelting if not extremely well ventilated can kill you. Not just make you sick, but outright kill you.

    It is just not worth it for me.
  15. Yeah, i was very excited to start SLOWLY acquiring things. to start. Figuring i could sit at my kitchen counter, or in the living room and do it.

    Then i heard, you have to go a bench press. Okay not TOOOOO much more expensive. Then i find out they arent worth the **** either.

    It wont make sense to spend all the "investment money" on 9mm. When Perfect brass is $10.50

    I guess i will just keep an eye and ear out for someone looking to offload the stuff used.
  16. ajole

    ajole Supporting Member

    NE Utah
    I only load SD ammo in 9mm. It's cheap to buy regular stuff commercially.

    I have a box of 500 180 grain .401 lead FTC for .40 and 10 mm, and a box of 500 230 grain .45 RN, plus some Hornady XTP's for each as well. So I can load plinking ammo, and then hotter training and SD ammo at the same velocity.

    I have a few of the classic loader (that's the hammer model) for a couple of things, the 7mm Mauser, the 30-06, and the 30-30. I am trying to find one cheap for my 6.5X55 or .303 Brit as well. For the price of a set of dies, you can load 10-20 hunting or target bullets pretty cheap, that way. At $1+ a shot, it's easy to beat commercial loads.

    Of course, I also have the regular dies for 30-06, too. And for 30-30...they were $10 at a pawn shop.:p

    But really, for a hunting or target rifle...I'd recommend the classic loader every time. It's so cheap and easy compared to a press.
  17. Rerun

    Rerun Supporting Member

    Well now Kirk, aren't You spatial...

    Whatever the beginning costs are involved in buying equipment, powder, boolits, brass/nickel cases and primers, I still have most of my mental facilities available because reloading calls for concentration and skill not exhibited most anywheres else.

    My time, tho considered invaluable by some and worthless by others, IS my time. Whether I spend it drowning artificial lures, or building crooked furniture, or romancing my sweetie patootie, it is for ME to determine how valuable it is.

    I love to reload - shotshells (mostly 20 gauge, these days) and pistol cartridges (mostly .38 Spatial and .45 ACP) and if I want to determine my labor costs as minus $5.00, then that is up to me.

    There has been a time or 6 when my actual costs for reloading were a little higher than what it would have cost me to buy commercial but, with my minus $5.00 labor cost, I have at worst broke even.

    Bottom line, leave a man to live his dreams.

    Durned whippersnapper!

  18. moona11

    moona11 King of you Monkeys Lifetime Supporter

    It does cost more to set up than most people think dies for all your cal. ect... brass can be found at the range if you go at the right time for free. Its not that bad to order either. doing lighter loads extend the life of the brass also. I have some Ive used 30 times with no issues and some twice was it before it slit. bullets you can order at a good price for targets and pulled SD bullets are cheap also. I figured it out that I had to make 10000 rds to break even on the equipment which I did in less than 9 months. I sat there a long time. But it payed off and I can go and shoot as much as I want for way less than buying ammo for every range trip. I also buy ammo on sale every now and then just for the brass and to test new guns out.
  19. rickm

    rickm Member

    If you think 32acp would be tedious try the 25 acp lol.
    As far as including the cost of the equipment its hard to do cause if taken care of properly it will last 50+ years.
    And time is free, if i wasnt sitting at the bench i would be sitting here on puter or in front of the dumb tube some call tv, so in other words if your not doing anything to begin with you cant put a price on it.
  20. Talk to me about the Lee loader classic please

    I read that there is a lot of banging and primers going off un intended
    How repeatable is it?
    Can I out get the bullet in the right spot every time?