My Adventures in Reloading

This guest post by JP in MT and entry in our non-fiction writing contest.

My reloading started almost 40 years ago. I had no one to show me what to do (or more importantly what not to do) so it has been an interesting process.

This is not meant to be an exhausting discussion on reloading, just what has happened to me. Hopefully, my experiences will help someone else.

Most people reload for one of 2 reasons. First is to reduce that cost of shooting. If you are going to shoot 200+ rounds per month of a particular caliber of ammunition, reloading may save you some money. If you are well off financially and the choice is reload or shoot….shoot. This was why I got started.

The other is for precision loads that are not available for your particular firearm. With the current choices out there, these are pretty much limited to older firearms that have limited volume or target shooters looking for the “perfect load”.

Procedures:

Reloading basically involves taking used brass, removing the used primer, then reinstalling new components (primer, powder, and a bullet). I also put my cases through a cleaning process after removing the old primer and reloading the brass. I prime (install the primer) my cases with a hand operated tool, prior to putting the case in the reloading press but this is a personal preference due to past experiences (more on this later).

Presses:

I started off reloading for my M1 Carbine. In 1974 (military surplus was not available to me) the ammo was $15/50, as I recall; so shooting a box of ammo cost me 3+ hours of working wages.

I bought a reloading manual, a Speer, because they made the bullet I was going to use. I bought a powder scale (that I still have today), bullets, a 1 pound package of powder, a package of 100 small rifle primers, and a Lee Loader.

Ah, the Lee Loader. What a wondrous piece of equipment. No special table needed, no mounting to something sturdy; just follow the instructions and whack it with a hammer. Now being a poor working stiff, and still living at home, I didn’t have a proper mallet, so I used a 16 oz ball peen hammer. Needless to say, on my 3rd round I tried to reload my thumb into the case and quit for some 3 years. (I recently found this kit in an old box. I thought about bronzing it. Instead I sold it at a gun show to a collector that started the same way I did.)

Next I bought a “single-stage” press in an RCBS Rock Chucker Jr. set. This is a great starting set as it includes most of what you need to safely reload rifle and pistol cartridges, abet slowly. It includes everything you need except the dies for your caliber and the components. I still have this press too, and it works well. I currently use it to deprime used cases prior to cleaning them.

Using a single-stage press (meaning it does one reloading operation at a time) works well and by my understanding is what most people that are reloading for hunting use, as volume is not a major consideration. This was the press that I used for some 20 years.

As my resources (financial) increased I upgraded to a “turret” press. This press is very similar to the single-stage press except is has a steel disk that holds 4+ dies. This way you can set up all 2, 3, or 4 dies in your set (the number of dies depends on whether it is a rifle, pistol, or competition die set). This way you can load a complete round without having to take the die out and set up the next one in the process. You can also purchase as many disks as you want so you can set the dies up once and leave them there. This is the setup I still use for rifle ammunition. I currently don’t bulk reload for my rifles.

My next upgrade was to a “progressive” press. These are not cheap, but they have a “stage” for each step in the reloading process. You can literally put a used case, with the old primer still installed, and have a fully loaded, ready to shoot, cartridge come out.

Currently I use a Dillon XL650, with a powered case feeder. When I bought mine I spend about $900 (but I did get all the toys with it); currently a set up similar to mine is closer to $1200. Set up take an hour or more, but I can put out 500-700 rounds per hour. And it keeps it setup. I had not reloaded with it for more than 3 years, and this week started up again. The powder charge it dropped out was exactly as I left it! Since I have an area to use, I set it up, and get to leave it. I have several sets of parts (similar to the turret press), including powder measures, so I can reduce set up time for the 4 cartridges I currently bulk reload for (this was a big part of the initial cost of my set up).

If the money ever shows up without a higher need, I am looking to get a Dillon 1050. This is a high end press that also takes the crimp out of military rifle cases. It’s also about $2,000! But if you are going to load a bunch of ammo with “recycled” military brass, this may be the way to go, especially for a group buy.

Dies:

You need a set of dies for each caliber that you are going to reload for. You will also need to decide whether to choose steel or carbide lined dies. If you are loading for a “straight-walled” case, such as a 38 Special, carbide dies negate the need to lubricate the case. (Other common examples are 44 Magnum/Special, 357 Magnum, 9mm Luger, 40 S&W, and 45 ACP. There are many others.) The issue is 1) lube is messy but 2) carbide dies are more expensive. For a progressive press (or other high volume reloading) carbide dies are the way to go.

You can buy carbide dies for bottle necked cartridges, such as 357 SiG, 400 Corbon, 44-40, 38-40, and several others, but don’t waste your money. You will still need to lube these cases even if they are carbide lined.

Powder Scale:

When I started, all there was to measure you powder charge were Lee Powder Measure cups or a balance style scale. The scale is the more accurate of the two by a large measure. Now there are battery or AC operated scales, some with powder dispensers attached. I’d start with a scale that measures each charge, use a “trickler” to add powder to the measuring pan, and repeat this for each cartridge. It’s slow, but you won’t get the “surprise” of a double powder charge in the case (a VERY dangerous situation)!

Currently I have my original balance scale, a PACE battery operated scale, and a Lyman electronic scale/powder dispenser. My Dillon 650 has a powder dispenser as part of the set up.

Optional Equipment:

As I mentioned before, I prime my cases using a Lee Hand Primer, after the cases are cleaned, but before I start reloading. I do this for a number of reasons. But I have to remember to remove the depriming pin in my die that is in the press (it goes bang if you forget, something you will only do once). I also found that the pressure my Dillon exerts will put a primer in sideways, the round is no good, but the primer is flush.

There are other tools for doing this same function. This is just the one I use. I get a positive “feel” when the primer is seated correctly. It is not necessary, many don’t do it this way, it’s just my preference.

A carbide expander ball (the part that goes inside of the case mouth to open it up) may be handy if you are having problems with the expander getting stuck inside the case mouth on cartridges with a small rim (such as the .223/5.56×45). (Using one of these has reduced the number of one syllable works with hard consonants that I use when reloading the .223.)

Case Cleaning:

The most common way of cleaning you brass is in a vibrating tumbler. These have a basket on top that you put your cases in. You then add a “tumbling medium” usually of ground corn cob or walnut shells. It is loud, takes quite a while to clean the cases, and puts dust everywhere when you are separating the brass from the media. (Note: I live in a town with an active open-pit type mine, I already have enough dust in my house.) This is why I have mine in the garage on a timer. Most places that sell reloading supplies will also sell you cleaning medium, but walnut can be found at stores like PetCo., cheaper. Due to the time, noise, and dust, I am going over to a sonic cleaner.

I got one as a present (as requested) distributed by Lyman that will do 250 rifle or 900 pistol cases at a time. I charge distilled water with a cleaning solution at a 40:1 ratio and the cleaner uses sonic vibrations and heat to clean them much cleaner, in less time, and quieter and with the vibrating type. I will just have to make sure the cases are completely dry before I move through the process and charge the cases with powder.

I deprime the case before putting the case in the cleaner. They make a special wire brush to clean the “primer pocket” (where the primer goes into the cartridge). Some people don’t bother cleaning them out, and I didn’t for a long time, but I usually reloaded the case only once or twice. I recommend cleaning the pocket. And if you are using a vibrating cleaner, you will want to check to make sure nothing is left in the pocket.

As I mentioned before, if you are using military cases, you may need to remove the military crimp that holds the primer in place. Dillon, and several other companies, make a tool specifically for this function. I prefer the Dillon but that is a personal preference.

Documentation:

You will need at least one manual. Get your manual from the company that makes the bullet you want to use. I have found the Speer manual was the easiest for me to understand as a new person, and their bullets are not very expensive. Sierra and Hornady make good quality bullets for a very reasonable price, but their manuals are a bit more complicated. I really like Barnes bullets for my primary hunting and defensive loads, but they are much more expensive!

Components:

You will need to decide what components you will need to buy. For the most part they will be different for each caliber you are reloading for. A lot of this is about personal preference, but understand that if you load your Glock 19 with a 9mm Luger with a 115 gr JHP bullet, that’s probably what you will want to reload. When buying ammo that is already loaded FMJ bullets are significantly cheaper to buy, but when you are reloading the cost difference is much less. And if the bullet is a different weight, then your load will have to be adjusted. So, load what you shoot.

As mentioned under documentation, choose a manual made by the bullets manufacturer. You can usually get good numbers when using a similar weight bullet, but at 1st stick with a book/bullet combination.

Primers are another item that after you get past using the proper size for your case is a matter of personal preference. I have used CCI for a number of years, but currently use Winchester because I and get them for $20.00/1000 versus $35.00/1000. I’m sure you can set up the test equipment and show me mathematically that once set of primers is faster that another, but I’m not that good of a marksman. I shoot for “minute of light blue cantaloupe” either at 5-50 yards with a handgun or 200-300 yards with a rifle, so practically there is no difference.

Powder is like primers. Your manual will give you several options for a particular bullet. I would caution you on a couple of areas. First is if you are going to reload for several calibers, try to find a powder that will work for as many a possible. Second is availability. Common powders are usually available in most stores that sell reloading components. Stay away from specialty powders. I have found that most of the rifle cartridges I reload for can be loaded with Varget. Most of my standard pressure pistol cartridges use Tite Group. My magnum pistol loads use Lil’ Gun. These 3 powders covers about 10 different calibers. Now I could use the “best” powder type for each cartridge, but I’d rather have one powder that does several types. Unique is another very common powder that is used for a large number of pistol cartridges and many people have had very good results with it.

Misc.:

Spare parts are always needed. I have a spare parts kit for my Dillon press. Dillon will replace any part on their machines, even if you loose it, but without spares, reloading stops. And I have a BUNCH of spare depriming pins. I reloaded in Europe and they use a different primer system. Ours is called “Boxer” primers, with a large central hole. Theirs is “Berdan” primed, with 2 smaller holes offset from the center. You’ll know if a “Berdan” case gets in you press, so check your cases, especially if you pick up “found” brass at the range.

There are a large number of helpful products available for the reloader. If you are new to this, go slow. Some of it is like fishing equipment, designed specifically to separate the reloader from his money.

A Note On Cases:

I only reload Boxer primed brass cases. If you are shooting steel cases or copper-washed steel cases, don’t reload them! It might be possible, but I would not recommend it for anyone but a VERY experienced reloader.

Final Notes:

First off – SAFET FIRST!! You can loose and finger, an eye, or worse. You are dealing with flammables (smokeless powder) and explosives (primers), so act accordingly! Use a rubber mat or hard wood to stand on, as carpets can generate static electricity!

Second, get educated. There is a lot of information in the front of the reloading manual. There a DVD’s on reloading, put out by both the equipment manufacturer and second parties. Do your homework. Reloaded can be fun and rewarding. You can also blind yourself, or lose body parts you may want later in life, so pay attention. Keep distractors out of your reloading area. I only listen to light jazz music, if anything, because there are no words (plus I find it relaxing). Wear safety glasses or a face shield (I don’t care if your buddy thinks you look funny)! And finally don’t be in a hurry; my 650 says it can load about 650 rounds per hour, but I take regular breaks, so I might get that done in a couple of hours.

These are just some of the equipment issues that I have encountered over the years and choices I have made. Some of these equipment purchases might be better served by a group of people versus an individual, due to the cost. Since I have this stuff, I can fill this capacity for our group and let others who have talents in other areas fill theirs. I am no expert. I have no vested financial interest in any other the products specifically mentioned about. Some are just the outcome of choices made over the years, some were made by recommendation from others, some by the customer service experiences with the companies involved. There may be better choices, but these work for me.

This contest will end on February 16 2013  – prizes include:

Well what are you waiting for – email your entries today. But please read the rules that are listed below first… Yes

"My Adventures in Reloading", 5 out of 5 based on 2 ratings.

Comments

  1. I’m glad you covered this today- even if it’s been looked at previously, it hadn’t been a conclusive article (until now) that I felt covered every aspect of it. I’ve wanted to start reloading for some time now, and thus has only broadened my scope for both equipment, and usable knowledge.

    • GQ:

      Thanks. In this time of increasing costs of ammo (on supplier went from $500 to $1500 for the same 1,000 rounds of 5.56), this was really designed to give others some basic knowledge, maybe benefit from my “experience”, and expand from there.

      It’s certainly not all inclusive, as others have written full books on this subject. My hope that this will give others a place to start.

  2. You brought back many fond memories. I still have all my old Lee Loaders.
    I wouldn’t think of using them now.

  3. livinglife says:

    Good article, my two cents on reloading.
    Dies-Full length ensure no swelling after firing and extraction, more for semi auto. Lube needed, spray or by hand, good time to inspect cases
    Crimping die-mixed reviews, some swear by it, others say it wears out the brass quicker.
    Case cleaning-I use a liquid, Iosso to remove carbon and dust. Once dry, polish in tumbler for about 10-15 min.
    Primers’ magnum can be used in any round, drop the powder charge one grain
    Additional Tools, flash hole reamer, case trimmer (Lee makes caliber specific, cutter head can be used on different trimmers)
    Buy a good scale! Also a good micrometer to ensure overall length is correct. Chronograph is great to own to ensure proper loads.
    Brass that is taken care of can be reloaded up to 18 times before it cracks.

    • livinglife:

      All good points. Most of what I wrote about is for straight wall pistol cases. I use carbide dies, which eliminates lubing for straight walls, but it’s is still needed for bottle necked case, as might length sizing.

      Neck sizing is usually only recommended if you are reloading for only one rifle. If used in more than one, yes, full length is the way to go.

      Scales are a mus, even if you have a press that “throws” the powder charge. It should be checked occasionally, see the manual for how often you should do it. Most of the guys I know load 100 primers, so when they reload primers, they check to powder charge.

  4. j.r. guerra in s. tx. says:

    The nice thing about those simple Lee Loader kits is you can build a pretty nice self contained unit for a single ammunition size round. For example, 9mm specific ammo load tables can be photo-copied, laminated for durability and folded to be kept in that single 9mm kit – neato. Or the kit can be placed into an ammo can with bullets, cases, primers and powder designed for 9mm – kept altogether in one location. Within reason of course 8^).

    • j.r. guerra in s. tx.:

      Lee also makes a hand press that is very portable. I have one of these, with the appropriate parts in my BO Trailer.

  5. It’s started. Although I have to admit the list of what the President has done, doesn’t seem to intrusive as of yet.

    http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2013/01/16/list-executive-actions-obama-plans-to-take-as-part-anti-gun-violence-plan/

  6. Thanks JP. I may have to investigate this further if I can find .30 Rem dies. Expensive to shoot, too much sentimental value to sell.

  7. recoveringidiot says:

    Good article JP, your experience is a lot like mine. I started out in 1976 with a RCBS jr press kit and over the years have accumulated a bunch of stuff, some worked well and still see use and some are collecting dust. I have four progressives and a old rock chucker single now. Most of my reloading was to support my competitive shooting over the years. The sonic cleaner sounds like a nice tool, can you clean gun parts in it as well as brass? I also never used the press to prime except for .45ACP in cheap Lee 1000 progressives, for such a inexpensive press they worked really well and the primer feed system works surprisingly well. I did use primers with “harder” cups that Lee recommended and never had an accident. I always wore glasses at the bench, a primer cup is a missile if detonated outside of its intended place and they can all go together if mishandled. One of my friends had to get a primer cup removed from his cheek due to a loading mishap. Primers are by far the most dangerous thing on a loading bench, everyone should give them great respect.

    • recoveringidiot:

      Yes, the sonic cleaner will clean guns and other items. The instructions cover using it on jewelry. You do use a different solution to mix with the water when cleaning steel and other, non-brass, metals.

      I am currently waiting on a basket to hold the parts. After it gets here, I think the tank is large enough to how the parts from a stripped down 22 LR Browning Buckmark. I sure hope so as some of the cheap Russian ammo I got several years ago is accurate, but really dirty.

  8. wicked props says:

    brass work hardens. heat treating takes the hardness out and extends the reloading life of the cases. also making resizing easier. simply take a pan of water, we (my dad and I)used a brick to set the cases on, use a propane torch to heat the neck until is starts to change color and knock into the cool water. POOF, the brass has softened up, ready to resize, trim and ect,ect.

    this is the only thing I would add (other than personal exp, tips).
    good job, thanks for the article.

    good luck pack!

    • recoveringidiot says:

      wicked props, I actually own an automatic annealing machine, two torches and and rotating wheels. Good for doing a bunch at a fair rate. I had to make brass for one of my match rifles and that thing was a life saver.

      • WP & RI:

        I am not familiar with this process. Currently I look for damaged cases and dispose of them. I know of annealing on some military cases, and I assumed it was for durability in using weapons with military chambers (which are oversized compared to their civilian counterparts).

  9. Great article. I encourage everyone I know to do this. The only thing you left out was wildcat cases. The ability to make cases from other cases. For instance I make 308s out of a bunch of cases 30-06, 270, 280 the list goes on. For more info on the this search utube for AMMOSMITH.

    • Spook45:

      I consider wildcatting VERY advanced reloading. My congrats to those that do. There is so many things that you can do on reloading. You can bulk load (which is more what I do) to precision reloading (in which I include the wildcatters). It’s quite a “hobby”.

  10. wicked props says:

    RI,
    an automatic annealing machine? cool, the torch thing took alot of time. still worth it though if you dont have anything that nice. My Dad decided to swedge out spent .22 casings to make .223 jackets, dont do that, we spent hours scrubbing the brass out of the barrel not to mention the insane hours making the bullets. sorry memory lane.
    hang on to that baby! that thing gives alot of options.

    • wicked props:

      Thanks for the advice on making 223 jackets out of 22 casings. I’d heard of this being possible but not whether it works.

      • wicked props says:

        JP in MT,
        welcome, it does work and they re accurate,but… scrubbed for hours after 20 rounds. 980 of them left,I only have 20 of them and they would be the absolute last rounds I would fire.

        stack em high

  11. wicked props says:

    JP in MT,
    you said” I am not familiar with this process” short and long
    resizing and necking work hardens the brass, the harder the more prone to cracking,heat treating the neck to softens it and lets you reload the same case at least 2x more times than your talking. we heat treated every other reload.

  12. MountainSurvivor says:

    I was going to look into reloading equipment yesterday and how to use it and here comes a really good article telling all about it. Thanks, JP in MT!

  13. Thanks for sharing your experience. Cost is going to increase & people wont get chance to enjoy automated shooting.

  14. JP,

    Thank you very much for the article. I find it very interesting and helps me feel a bit more comfortable in my plans to consider learning to reload. I’m still trying to find a local person to get some “show and tell” from. I do greatly appreciate you sharing your personal information on the subject and would much prefer to listen to someone like yourself than the typical “self-proclaimed” expert on a youtube channel. I’m still looking for GOOD DVD’s and/or books. I did pick up a “Lyman Pistol & Revolver Handbook, Third Edition” which they claim to be “The Worlds Leading Handgun Reloading Manual”. Plan on reading it this coming weekend and possibly will have more questions on the subject after the read than before.
    Again, Thank You for your highly educational article. I enjoyed it greatly.

    WireNut

    • WireNut:

      As I said, my current progressive press is from Dillon Precision. Not only do they make quality equipment, but they have an outstanding retail support division. They publish a monthly magazines/catalog called “The Blue Press” which is free, details their equipment, features 2-3 full articles on gun related topics, and sells a variety of gun/shooting related products. One of the sections is on DVD’s & Manuals.

      http://www.dillonprecision.com/#/Books__DVDs__and_Videos-8-11.html

      They have some reloading videos and a number of quality products for instruction. AGI has a series of videos on gunsmithing for a specific weapon.

      You can contact most major manufacturers, but the guys at Dillon are the quickest in getting products to their customers.

      I have gotten good response from RCBS’s customer service too. I jammed a brass case into a die so hard that they sent me a letter of congratulations and a new die, free of charge.

      Enjoy!

  15. Thanks again.

    OT, but scienceforyou.net is having a 20% off sale on all pyrotechnic chemicals this month with the coupon code “chemjan”. Order $75 and get a free black powder kit.

  16. Tactical G-Ma says:

    JP in MT,
    Reloading is on my to-do list. Thanks for the great article.

  17. I had a lee loader for my o6 when I was a kid.Kept me busy and out of trouble.My stepdad has a 280 Ackley improved that he reloaded with a pacific press. He also loaded other calibers with it.I alwys thought that if someone shoots centerfire that they should handload for it.

  18. Prepper Daddy says:

    Great Article…thoughts of case prep…

    You will absolutly want to lube your case before you resize it. I make my own case lube using pure Lanolin Oil ( get it at a health food store – $10 per 4oz bottle) and denatured alchohol (know a moonshiner? – ask ask for the ‘heads’ ). Mix 4 or 5 parts alchohol to 1 part Lanolin – shake well, lay cases on newspaper and spray litely. Did 3000 once fired mil surplus 5.56 cases last weekend with no stuck cases and no broke decapping pin.

    I am a woodworker also and this weekend I am rigging up my router to remove the primer crimp on the cases I did last weekend…hope to have all my digits come Monday…:-)

    I use an old Pacific 007 press I have had for 25+ years and also have a Lee Loader for every caliber I have.

    • Prepper Dad:

      You point out a very real fact about reloading equipment; if taken care of it will last a life time. I have worn out a few small parts over the years, but never had dies or presses fail and break.

  19. Great article. One of the best I have read in a while. It might just be might interest in starting into the realm of reloading, but I thought the article was very informative. Thanks for the info.

    So to recap, what would be a list of basics needed to start reloading? Manual, scale, bullets, powder, primers, press(single, turret, or progressive), dies(caliber specific), case cleaner(tumbling or sonic), safety gear.

    Did I miss anything? Thanks again.

    • DRDug:

      As Prepper Daddy pointed out, to reload a bottle necked case you will need a lubricant. There are a variety of ways to do this, but the most common is with a pad-type and roll them on the pad, or a spray-type. Just make sure you don’t get any lube on the primer! I will make it non-functional and you will essentially have a dummy round. Or worse one that just sends the bullet half way down the barrel.

      But other than that, yep that’s about it. If you are shooting your own, once fired cases, you might just get a primer pocket brush instead of a brass cleaning set up. You deprime the brass then clean the pocket out. But if you have a lot of brass, and/or it’s been sitting around an has gotten real dirty, then a cleaning setup is needed.

  20. extexanwannabe says:

    My brother, many years ago reloaded .44 magnums. He and his buddy used to experiment with compressed loads. One of the things they noticed was that after shooting a particular hot load, the bullets would actually work their way out of the casing to the point that they were unable to fire the sixth round, as the bullet would hit the breech as the cylinder rotated. They then learned to crimp the bullets into the casing to keep that from happening.

    • extexanwannabe:

      I even put a slight crimp on my 45 LC Cowboy loads. I had a fellow shooter who said, quite adamantly, that you didn’t have to crimp Cowboy loads. Then he’d complain about accuracy of his loads. I gave him a handful of mine and suggested he just try them. He has never said anything about it since, but a mutual friend said he was heard telling a new shooter that he should put at least a slight crimp on the loads. I smiled.

      Heavier loads really require a crimp. Many jacketed bullets have a groove just for that. The recoil can cause the bullets to move forward.

      A similar problem can happen with primers. If you don’t get them completely flush, they can hang up at the back of the cylinder. I had it happen at a Cowboy Shoot, and I had to withdraw from that stage as I ended up having to disassemble the revolver to free the cylinder up. (This is the main reason why I hand-prime my cases.)

  21. Prepper Daddy says:

    jp in mt

    Your comment really illustrates that there is no one right way to proceed. I always clean my brass, resize and de-cap in one step, trim to length and then put new primers in. Sounds like you do it a little differently. I would add to the newbie’s…DONT try and tumble/clean your brass after you de-cap, you will get media stuck in the flash hole and experience misfires.

  22. Rider of Rohan says:

    Loved your article, JP, and glad I finally got to read it. Great info for someone who wants to enter the realm of the reloader. Well done, sir.

  23. My first post here, but I have lurked for quite some time. A little tip to anyone who can benefit…if you are using a tumbler for brass cleaning, cut up a dryer sheet in 1″ squares and throw it in with your media. The pieces gather the fine dirty dust and your media stays much cleaner. Also, I buy corn cob bedding at my local pet store, and add a cap full of brass cleaner/metal polish available from the hardware store to it. Heck of alot cheaper than buying media designed for reloading, and it’s the exact same stuff. BTW great site and good folk here, happy to be involved finally.

    • Sadaddy:

      I had not thought of the dryer sheet, excellent idea. I haven’t found the corn media at pet stores but I did find walnut media in the bird section of the “Pet Warehouse” stores.