Welcome to our “Reloading 101” series. In this series, we will teach you the fundamental skills associated with reloading your own ammunition. This article provides you with the basic reloading process and provides some detailed descriptions of each step in that process. Bookmark this article or print it up and keep it by your reloading bench – you will use it often.
Reloading is a time-honored tradition among shooters of all skill levels. It was not until the early 21st century that modern ammunition manufacturing made reloading something that, at one time, was only done by “gun nuts”. Most shooters made or reloaded their own ammunition in some shape or fashion prior to this change.
While modern bullets, powders, brass and primers have advanced significantly, the basics of reloading have not changed much. Talk to any serious reloader and they will tell you that following the correct process and steps in the process (consistently and with care) can produce ammunition that will outperform any that you can buy.
Let’s get to learning this process and these steps!
Basic Reloading Process
Before getting into the details of each step, we first want to present the process in its entirety, . Memorize this simple list. Whether you are doing bulk loads or precision loads, this is the core of what you will do.
While these are the core steps associated with reloading, we highly recommend that you read the manual associated with your reloading press. There are often minor nuances to some of these steps you want to ensure that you follow.
- Inspect & Clean Brass
- De-prime & Resize Cases
- Measure, Trim, Deburr & Chamfer
- (Optional) Expand Case Mouth
- Prime the Cases
- Charge the Cases
- Seat the Bullet
- (Optional) Crimp the Bullet
Reloading Steps In Detail
Inspect & Clean Brass
Whether you are working with used or new brass, we always recommend that you do some level of inspection. While it is a sad truth, mistakes happen. Even new brass can have defects. With old/used brass, make sure to look for cracks, dents and splits. Also, look for unusual lengthening or thinning of the brass at the neck or the base.
Once you have performed your inspection, you need to clean your brass. If the brass is muddy, sticky, dirty, etc., you may want to run it through some soapy water to remove the gross mud before tumbling them. Otherwise, you may have to clean or turn over your media a lot more than you would like. Ultimately, you want to tumble your brass to remove all of the residue and polish the brass back to a clean state.
De-prime & Resize Cases
This will be your first step using your reloading press. In this step, you will be using the proper caliber de-priming/resizing die. The die needs to be adjusted in its alignment and height each time you install the die into your press. Bottleneck cases need to be lubricated inside and out prior to running them through the press. Set the case in the shell holder and then press the case into the die. This will resize the case and de-prime it.
Measure, Trim, Deburr & Chamfer
Most often, the measure and trim steps will only be required with rifle cases or bottleneck cases. Because the case neck will lengthen, you will need to measure each case. If out of the range of the maximum case length, then you will need to trim to the proper case length.
I generally deburr and chamfer all of my brass. Even if I do not trim it, I run a deburr/chamfer tool over the case end to make sure nothing is going to catch the bullet when I begin seating bullets. If you trim then you absolutely should deburr and chamfer.
(Optional) Expand Case Mouth
If you are working with straight-walled cases (typical pistol cases), then you will need to run the cases through a neck expander. Neck expanding is a bit of an art – do not over expand. You just want the mouth opening belled out slightly to allow for the bullet to seat properly.
Prime the Cases
Let the fun begin. While you should have been wearing safety glasses with a lot of the activities here, this is where you absolutely want and should wear safety glasses. There are many ways to prime cases: hand primers, bench primers, press primers… Read the instructions fully for the primer tool that you plan on using. It does not take much to over pressure a primer and set one off.
Make sure your primers are seated fully flush. If you have primers that are high, then it can cause a misfire.
Note: any primers that are very easy to press in, this may be an indication that the primer pocket has become too big.
Charge the Cases
Charging the case is known as “dropping the powder”. More clearly, it is putting the right amount of gun powder into the case. The charge is the amount/weight of the gun powder that you put in. One rule of thumb with charging: Check and double-check everything you do. The last thing you want to do is over-charge a case, or even under-charge a case. Either way, you could end up with a dangerous firing condition.
When choosing the charge for any load, ensure that you stay well within the known load data ranges. Do not start out at the high nor the low-end. Known load data should not include: magazine articles, online material, etc. Known load data comes from manufacturers like Hornady, RCBS, Nosler, etc. Only use the known load data!
Seat the Bullet
In this step, you will place a bullet on the case and then press it down into the case using the press. You will be using a seating die in your press to accomplish this step. For the first few, you want to incrementally do it deeper until you are seating to the proper OAL (overall length) for the caliber that you are loading. Once you think you have the seating depth correct, then run 2 – 3 more bullets through, measuring them to ensure you are within tolerances of the OAL.
With some seating dies, you may need to change internal parts for different bullet types. For instance, flat-nosed bullets may use one part while more conical-shaped bullets may use another. Check your die guide.
(Optional) Crimp the Bullet
On most handgun ammunition, you will need to crimp the edge of the case around the bullet to allow it to chamber properly in your firearm. A crimping die (sometimes the seating can function as a crimping die) is used for this step. While with combination seating/crimping dies you can do both in the same step, we recommend that you crimp as its own step. Crimping involves rolling the edge slightly. When setting up the die for the first time to set the crimp, do so in very small increments – you do not want to over crimp the round. Again, read your die instructions to make sure you set up the crimping die properly.
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