Disclaimer: neither the author nor www.thesurvivalistblog.net shall be held liable for the injuries and other side effects resulting from applying the advice in this article. This article is for information purposes only.
Reloading ammunition is a great way to save money on rounds now, when resupply is possible. Learning or honing this valuable survival skill could likely save your life when the SHTF and going to the local gun shop to buy more boxes of rounds is no longer possible.
Our Second Amendment rights remain under constant attack by liberal state and federal lawmakers. Those attempts to infringe upon our right to bear arms are definitely not limited to the purchase, ownership, and carrying of firearms.
Both the proposal and passage laws limiting the ability to purchase ammunition are ongoing in many states across the country. Buying what you need, when you need it, could become difficult even before a doomsday disaster.
One such law was slated to be enacted at the beginning of 2018 in – yep, you guessed it…California. The law requires residents to purchase ammunition solely in face-to-face transactions. This means ordering rounds online or through a catalog to garner difficult to find rounds to find a less expensive price, or to stockpile large quantities quickly is no longer legal. The NRA is challenging the implementation of the restrictive California ammo law.
Basic Components to Ammunition Reloading
There are four basic components to reloading ammunition:
- Brass Casing – You can save spent casings, or purchase new empty casings from firearms suppliers. The casing holds the bullet, the gunpowder, and the primer.
- Primer – There are different types and sizes of primers designed for use in various cartridges. Primers vary by brand of ammunition. The reloading manual will help you determine the primer you need.
- Gunpowder – Choosing the right type of gunpowder and measuring it exactly right will determine if you have created a safe and functional reloaded round. This is perhaps the most critical step in the entire reloading process. The reloading manual will guide you through this stage of the process.
- Bullet – There’re almost as many bullet types as caliber types. The reloading manual will once again be your most valuable resource when purchasing bullets to place inside of the reloaded rounds.
Ammunition Reloading 101
Reloading ammunition is not something to be undertaken on your kitchen table, or even in your attached garage. Before spending time and money to purchase all of the necessary supplies and learning how to reload rounds, create a safe space to undertake the task.
The reloading of ammunition should not be done inside the home, the possibility of something going boom prematurely, is simply too high. Always do the reloading in a well-ventilated space that is not damp (no basement reloading) and sufficient lighting to help ensure proper measuring and pouring of materials.
All that you need to set up a reloading workshop is a space that fits the above requirements and a nice level and solid table to use as a work area. Ideally, the work table should be about six feet long to allow for freedom of movement and the ability to space out all of the necessary supplies.
Depending upon current local, catalog, and online prices, expect to spend around $500 for the supplies and tools necessary for reloading. Supplies will need to be replenished over time, but the tools, especially the press and dies, should last a lifetime
Common Ammunition Reloading Tools and Supplies
This is a list of commonly used reloading tools. Some are essential, as you will discover in the “how to reload” section below, but others are optional or used based upon the personal preferences of the reloader.
- Dies in a broad range of calibers
- Die Press – the type that can be mounted to the work space may cost a few dollars more, but are worth the added expense
- Reloading Manual
- Hammer Pull
- Priming Tool
- Vernier Calipers
- Powder Scale
- Case Trimmer – necessary for the reloading of rifle rounds
- Allen wrenches
- Shell Holder
- Lube pad
- Bullet Puller
- Ammunition Casings
- Powder Funnel
- Case Cleaner
- Powder Dispenser
Reloading Press Functions
- Presses the bullet into the casing.
- Presses the brass case so it hits the decapping pin to force an old primer out of a round.
- Presses the new primer into the primer pocket of the empty casing.
- Pressed a casing into the die and forces the brass back to its former dimensions.
- Crimps the casing around the bullet so the bell can be removed from the expansion step.
- Presses the casing against a die to open the mouth end just enough so the reloader can place a new bullet into the round.
If you plan on reloading both pistol and rifle rounds, buy a heavy duty grade press.
Single Stage Press
The single stage die press is most often recommended for beginner stage reloaders. It is a simple yet sturdy tool that mounts to the work table. Because it is mounted, the physical strength and pressure necessary when using the dies and resizing cases is lessened.
Reloading presses come in various sizes, and are sold by a broad range of manufacturers. Some of the best-selling presses and general reloading tools are sold by: Hornady, Redding, Lee, RCBS, and Lyman.
Think of the reloading press like you do that handy Leatherman multi-tool. It serves multiple functions during the reloading process, and negates the need to use many different tools to accomplish the same tasks.
Most single stage presses permit the reloader to insert primers one-by-one. By adding a hand priming tool to your equipment stash you can prime multiple cartridges both reliably and far quicker.
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This type of press helps a reloader process larger batches of ammunition fairly quickly on a regular basis. It is more expensive than a single stage press, but less costly than a progressive press.
A reloader with some experience under his or her belt, could reload up to 200 rounds per hour with a turret press. This type of press also permits the mounting of multiple dies. A rotating turret moves to permit the user to press in a uniform sequence until a loaded round is completed.
Most presses of this type include an additional hole for mounting a powder measurer to further speed up the reloading process.
This type of press is usually purchased by a reloading working with exceptionally high volumes of rounds. It really takes a skilled reloader to both operate and maintain this type of press. It is capable of producing up to 500 rounds per hour when used by skilled hands.
Typically, a progressive press boasts up to five die stations, can support specialty dies, and has a mounted powder scale – also referred to as powder measure. It does require additional time to switch between calibers on a progressive press due to all over the moving parts and attachments on the machine.
Every casing being reloaded must have a corresponding shell holder – meaning one designed exactly for the casings diameter, thickness, and taper.
Some die sets include a shell holder, but sometimes they must be purchased separately. If using a universal shell holder, make sure the manufacturer of the press you are using is included on the list of compatible machines.
These reloading tools are required to ensure exactly that the right amount of powder is placed inside each ammunition casing. If you make a mistake during this vital part of the process, a deadly accident or severe damage to the firearm will very likely occur.
Powder scales come in both mechanical and electric versions. Weighing the reloaded round after it has been through the process only takes a few moments, and can prevent a tragedy.
The reloading manual will provide the proper amounts, and should be referenced frequently when learning how to make your own rounds. I highly recommend buying a poster with the measurements or printing of the manual guidelines, and displaying it above the workspace for quick and easy reference.
Typically, reloading manuals offer a hotline number to call for assistance, but there is no guarantee the hotline is in operation 24/7.
This handy little funnel allows you to pour the gunpowder from the scale into the casing without losing any of the material in the process.
Typically, reloaders purchase multiple powder funnel to best suit the specific types of calibers they are working with, or one funnel that has multiple opening adapters to deter spilling when pouring into the casing.
A specific die is used for each round caliber. Purchasing dies will likely be the biggest expense involved with reloading.
Carbide dies are often deemed to be of the best quality and most durable. These type of dies do not require the reloading to use lube on the ammo cases. Some reloaders staunchly maintain carbide dies make the sizing process go both more accurately and smoothly.
These type of cartridges are adjusted using a full length resizing die so the entire casing can be fitted using a neck sizing die. A neck sizing dies is often favored by reloaders because it reduces the stress placed on the brass.
But neck sizing dies are strongly recommended ONLY for casings that will be fired from the same bolt action rifle the original round was also fired from.
When a round is fired from a rifle, the bass casing expands to fit that specific rifle chamber. There are three die designed for bottleneck cartridges: bullet seater, full-length sizing die, and neck sizing die, with some sets also including a crimp die.
Straight Wall Cartridge
This type of cartridge dies is typically sold in sets of either 3 or 4. Most straight wall cartridge die sets include either a nitride ring or a carbide ring to eliminate the need for lubing the casing.
The 3-die sets usually come with a case mount expanding die, a depriming unit, and a sizing die – as well as a crimp die and bullet seater. The 4-die sets include a separate crimp die and bullet seater instead of a combo tool.
This reloading tool is used to stretch rifle cases when they are fired. Case trimmers are not used when reloading ammo for handguns.
The Vernier calipers are used to measure length during the reloading process. The reloading manual will also detail the proper length necessary to refill a casing for each type of common caliber.
A powder dispenser allows the user to designate a specific powder amount and then dispense it with a simple and quick pull of a lever. Using a powder dispenser negates the need to weigh each powder charge individually by hand. When making multiple rounds, hand weighing can become extremely tedious, and the fatigue which results could cause fatal errors to be made.
If the cases used for rifle rounds are not lubed properly, they WILL get stuck inside the die. Many reloaders use a toothbrush to reach inside the rifle casing to manipulate it easily during the reloading process.
Most reloading presses include a priming tool attachment. If your machine does not, there are two different basic types of priming tools readily available. Most presses come with a priming attachment so a priming tool is not a necessity.
1. Hand-Held Priming Tool
You can prime a decent amount of brass in a short amount of time with this tool because you are not tied to the press to get the job done. Some reloaders believe they have more control over the priming process when using the hand-held primer.
2. Bench-Mounted Priming Tool
This durable primer mounts onto the work space and is easy to use, but more expensive than a hand-held priming tool.
3. Press-Mounted Priming Tool
This primer is mounted directly onto the reloading press, and are supposed to help streamline the reloading process..
Mistakes happen, even if you have been reloading for a long time. A bullet puller tool will help you salvage a casing, and prevent the loss of valuable brass.
Three Types of Bullet Pullers
- Impact Style – This functions like a hammer and separated the bullet powder from the brass case.
- Plier Type – This bullet puller is made to correct mistakes in light-tension seated bullets. It is used in conjunction with the reloading press.
- Press Mounted – This bullet puller is also mounted to the reloading press. It functions by using interchangeable collets to remove the bullets.
Choosing the right gunpowder for the type of reloading you are doing of the utmost importance. If you get this part wrong, the same type of drastically negative results that will happen due to a measurement screw up, will also likely occur.
The type of gun powder chosen will greatly impact the ballistic characteristics of the finished reloaded round. The reloading manual will help you determine what type of gun powder is recommended for specific types of reloading.
There are three integral things to remember when selecting a gun powder to use for reloading:
1. Burn Rate – This determines how the gunpowder will react when the powder is charged to peak pressure. Reloaders must match the type of round load being made (i.e. magnum or standard) to several important factors, chief among them being bullet weight. Magnum loads function on a slow burn, non-magnum rounds burn through the gunpowder at a faster rate.
2. Granule Shape – Each fleck of gunpowder inside the container is referred to as a granule. The shape of these tiny specks will influence the metering and impact burn of the round. Common gunpowder granule shapes are detailed below.
3. Density – This gunpowder characteristic determines the amount of bulk available for a specific charge rate. Some reloaders prefer using a gunpowder that boasts more bulk to prevent a double charge issue.
A double charge occurs when one charge snags up most of the space inside the round and causes and overflow of powder that can prevent the bullet from seating properly.
Common Gunpowder Granule Shapes
- Ball Powder – This common and popular type of gunpowder is comprised of small granule spheres that tend to meter well.
- lake Powder – This type of gunpowder granules is disk-shaped. It can be difficult to meter properly, especially for beginning reloaders, because it tends to stack itself up inside the powder measurer and does not always retain uniformity inside the round, potentially creating density issues.
- Flattened – This is a powder is very similar to ball powder but is flattened slightly. Inside the casing, it tends to react primarily like ball powder.
- Stick Powder – This is the most commonly used rifle gunpowder. Its granules are cylinder-shaped. Measuring can be a slower process when using a stick type of gunpowder because cutting of some of the sticks to get the exact proper weight might be involved.
If you are picking up your own brass (and that of everyone else at the range or who takes target practice at your house) and not purchasing empty brass casings, it will have to be cleaned.
There are several ways to clean brass, ranging from the homemade and nearly free cleaning supplies option, to commercially manufactured cleaning tools that can range in price from $60 to $85
You do not need sparkly clean brass, but the empty rounds must be free of all dirt and debris before reloading them.
- To make a homemade brass cleaner, simply mix together about equal parts of water and any one of the following: distilled white vinegar, salt, or dish detergent. Soak the brass in the solution and use a gun cleaning brush or toothbrush to clean the inside. Then, allow the brass to air dry for at least 24 to 48 hours. Some reloaders bake the cleaned brass at the lowest setting on their oven, or the lowest dehydrator setting for 60 minutes to dry.
- Ultrasonic cleaners quickly clean brass casings without any hand scrubbing with a brush required, but the empty rounds must still be dried in one of the manners noted above before being used for reloading.
- Brass tumblers might be the quickest and easiest ways to clean the empty rounds both inside and out, there is no drying time needed when using a brass tumbler.
How To Reload Ammunition
- Inspect the casings for any signs of dents, dings, bulging, or defects of any kind. Either throw away damaged casings or save the brass to melt down for use in other projects.
- Wash the casings, and make sure they are 100% dry before proceeding. Use a toothbrush or gun cleaning brush to clean their inside .
- If instructed to do so on the die instruction or in the reloading manual, lubricate the inside of the casings before placing them in the die. Squirt just a small amount of lube onto the provided pad in the kit and roll the casings back and forth across the pad several times to thoroughly coat them.
- Place the casings in the reloading press and lower the handle.
- Press on the handle firmly and evenly to resize the casing. This will also push the spent primer out of the casing.
- Raise the handle on the press fully, and insert a new primer into the cup located on the primer arm.
- Place a casing into the sheller holder, then push the arm into the “ram slot” before lowering the casing into the primer steadily and firmly.
- Remove the casing from the press, and review both it and the primer completely. The primer must be sitting either flush or just barely below the base of the casing.
- Follow the reloading manual instructions for the caliber and brand of ammo you are working with and fill the casing with gunpowder. Closely monitor the scale weight, and use the powder funnel to avoid waste and gunpowder residue from collecting on the work space. Always clean the powder scale after reloading to remove any residue that can throw off the weight measurement during future sessions.
- Seat the bullet, following the reloading manual instructions for the caliber you are working with – placing the bullet at the proper depth is essential. The bullet should seat in the neck of the casing and be crimped into the shell.
- Put the primed casing into the shell holder, with the bullet end over the open casing and the lower the handle of the press to crimp it securely into place.
- Clean all of the dies, moving parts on the press, and other tools used around the gunpowder with gun cleaning solution, and permit to air dry before storing away.
Clean the entire workspace and all tools used thoroughly to remove any gunpowder residue. It is highly flammable and is easily transferred on clothing, shoes, etc.
Ideally, change your clothing and shoes before going back into your house – and definitely do not step out to light a cigarette or cigar wearing clothing that could be contaminated with gunpowder.
Tara Dodrill is a homesteading and survival journalist and author. She lives on a small ranch with her family in Appalachia. She has been both a host and frequent guest on preparedness radio shows. In addition to the publication of her first book, ‘Power Grid Down: How to Prepare, Survive, and Thrive after the Lights go Out’, Dodrill also travels to offer prepping tips and hands-on training and survival camps and expos.