Welcome to our “Reloading 101” Series. In this article in the series, we will discuss what you will need in order to get started for reloading with a single stage press. This is not an exhaustive article on reloading, rather a “what do I need” article to give you the basics needed to get started.
For years I avoided reloading. I actually thought that reloaders were those lunatic fringe, OCD gun nuts who just could not accept factory ammunition. In the military, I had been given match ammunition and, personally, I never had the need for that “perfect load”. Furthermore, I was completely naive to the concept of custom load development to fine-tune a specific gun.
It has been happening a lot lately… I was completely wrong!
After beginning my journey into really learning about guns, gunsmithing and custom gun development, the reality of why people reload ran over me like a train. Let us state why you may want to reload:
- Accuracy tuning of a rifle – matching the bullet harmonics to the barrel harmonics locks in that last accuracy difference
- Ensures consistency of the ammunition you are using when shooting
- Custom load development for specific shooting scenarios
- Reduces cost of ammunition
- Just because you like to tinker with loads
- OCD tendencies coming out 🙂
In the end, I decided to jump into reloading to become a more knowledgeable shooter. Reloading is the closest point where you can get to the core of shooting. When you enter “reloading land” you literally are changing the core science behind each round that you fire.
Reloading 101 – Process Overview
To understand the basics of what you need for reloading, you need to understand the basic process. Here are the steps with brief descriptions for the process:
- Clean brass – this consists of tumbling the brass in media (typically corn or nuts) or in water/cleaning solutions with some type of metal media.
- Prep brass – this consists typically of de-burring cases and lubing them (other prep work could be required, but these are the two basic necessities).
- De-prime and resize – this is typically done in one step using a re-sizing die.
- Prime – this is putting live primers back in the case.
- Powder charge – this is where carefully measured powder quantities are placed in the case.
- Bullet seating (optional crimping) – the final step is to add and seat a bullet and, if necessary (or preferred), crimp the case to the bullet.
Note there are some optional steps that can come into play. For instance, I typically re-clean my brass after Step 3, but you do not have to. Some cases require neck expansion and you can do it anytime after Step 3, but before Step 6. Most people do it after Step 3, where some will do it after Step 4. If you want to risk altering your charge, do it after Step 5 though we don’t recommend it.
There are two general styles of reloading that are reflected in reloading press styles: single stage and progressive. In a single stage (this really should be called single step) press, each step is done, the press is changed and then another step is done. Typically, a person would do 50 or 100 cases at a time, putting them through each step (stage). So 50 cases would be cleaned and 50 cases would be prepped. Then… You can tell a single stage press by the fact that it utilizes only 1 die at a time. You will have to swap dies out between steps.
Progressive presses do all of the steps on a case with each pull of a lever, thus all of the steps are performed on a case simultaneously. Typically, a progressive press has 5 or 6 locations for dies to support all of the required steps. Once you feed the number of cases you have for load steps (4, 5 or 6), then a loaded bullet comes out with each pull of the lever. Progressive presses are easy to identify because they have a larger top with the ability to place multiple dies in at the same time.
This article only discusses single stage presses. We do not recommend that beginners start with a progressive press. Using a progressive press requires some basic skills with reloading and a strong acumen for the nomenclature. For instance, even though I have solid skills with reloading, I recently purchased a progressive press and it took me nearly 2 weeks to set up due to the instructions and video not being correct (article can be found here).
Reloading 101 – Basic Setup (single stage)
So what do you need to get started? Well, here is a “basics” list:
Single Stage Press – This is the core of reloading. All press makers (Lee, Dillon, RCBS, Hornady) have single stage presses. The cost of your press will be about half of the overall start-up cost.
Tumbler – This is used to clean your brass. Water based tumblers are more costly, so I would recommend that you start with a vibrating/nut media tumbler.
Tumbler media – If you use a vibrating/net media based tumbler you will need to get the media. There are several styles. Pick the one that suites your needs. Water based tumblers have media (typically stainless steel chips) and solutions you need as well.
De-burring tool – There are many forms of de-burring tools. These tools are used to remove the rough edges inside and outside the case neck. One of the more flexible and cheaper versions is shown in the picture here.
Case lube – There are wax, liquid and spray lubes. I started with wax lubes and now I just use a spray lube like Hornady Case Lube.
Primer tool – Of all of the items here, this is the one I would spend a little extra money on and get a good one. I will say the one that comes with the RCBS kits, in my opinion, is an ornery one. Now I am looking for a new one.
Powder scale – You can get a digital or mechanical scale. I would recommend starting with a mechanical one to learn the “trade”.
Powder measured dispensers – These can be bought as stand alone units or as one that mounts like a die in your press. The simple ones are the latter, where the more expensive ones are the former. Again, start simple and inexpensive with this item.
Case trays – You will need 1 or 2 50 case trays. Once you start the process, you will want to keep a load set together – case trays are a necessity.
Case brushes – You will need a case brush or two to clean out the cases (especially narrow neck cases) and lube the inside.
A die set – Start with one die set in what you want to reload. Start with a full size die set if you are loading a rifle – once you learn them you can try other variations.
There are other components you may need for reloading. For instance, if you are just reloading straight cased (vs. necked) ammunition, you would not need to use a case trimmer. That said, it is one piece that I would add to the above list. Here are some optional pieces you may need to add depending on your reloading goals:
Case trimmer – There are two variations with this piece. The traditional case trimmer sold by Hornady and others looks like a mini-lathe (and it kind of is). The other is the drill bit attachment style, such as those from Little Crow Gunworks. Personally, I have only used the former. If you are going to do precision reloading, you will probably want to go the mini-lathe route. If you are ultimately just wanting quantity, then the drill bit style is quicker and easier.
Adjustable wrenches – I bought a decent set of 3 wrenches from our hardware store (small, medium, large), and it works well. You have a lot of things that need to be tightened at a time, often requiring the use of 2 wrenches simultaneously.
A few final tips we would like to pass along before you get started:
- If you are able to buy a used press to get started (or a whole kit), do not be shy about it. Generally, reloaders are really careful people and they do not let their equipment become trashed or messed up.
- DO NOT go out and overspend. Start slow and easy, 1 load at a time. Otherwise, you may end up with a mis-mash of things that you do not use very often. Some things are only needed for specific types of reloading.
- I can not speak of Lee, Dillon, or RCBS in regards to their warranty and support, but I tend to stick with Hornady dies (though I do have a few others). This is mainly due to the fact that no matter how or why a die breaks, Hornady will warranty it. Early on, I screwed up a few dies and they immediately replaced the parts.
- Reloading is not cheap to enter into, but will become cheap as you reload. So, do not strictly get into reloading because it is going to save you money. It will save you money as you continue to reload, but between the initial time investment and the actual monetary investment, it is not cheap.
- Reloading is a skill you must maintain. While not quite as perishable as shooting, reloading is a perishable skill.
- Find a reloading buddy or two. They will be the biggest help to you as you are getting started and they can help you find the items you will need. You will get a piece of brass stuck in a die and scratching your head on how to resolve the issue . Among this scenario and other craziness, a buddy can help keep you on the straight and narrow.
We have provided you with a basis for finding the right parts you will need to begin reloading efficiently and as minimally as possible. I recommend reloading as a skill that any serious shooter (handgun or rifle) should pick up in order to become a better shooter.