You want to learn to reload ammunition but you are not sure how. You want more information first. No technical terms. . . no confusing details. . . just some basic information about reloading. Well, here it is - an introduction to reloading ammunition.
A Case For Reloading
Each metallic centerfire cartridge consists of four components: a case, a primer, the propellant, and a bullet. The case is the component into which the other three components are assembled. Most modern rifle and handgun ammunition cartridges have brass cases. The brass case is the only component of a centerfire ammunition cartridge that is reusable. In other words, the brass case is reloadable.
Some cartridges have cases made of aluminum or steel. Factory-loaded ammunition with brass cases is typically more expensive than ammunition with aluminum or steel cases. That is because brass is more expensive than steel or aluminum. However, aluminum and steel cases cannot be reloaded.
Yes, brass ammunition cases are more expensive than aluminum and steel cases. In fact, the brass case is the most expensive component of an ammunition cartridge. So don't throw yours away. Your empty brass cartridge cases can be reloaded. . . several times. Reusing those expensive brass cases is what reloading ammunition is all about. You can actually save money by reusing (reloading) your brass cartridge cases.
Shooters reload ammunition for a variety of reasons. Some reload ammunition to develop ammunition loads customized for their firearm. Customized ammunition for a particular firearm is often more accurate than factory-loaded ammunition. Another reason to load ammunition is unavailability. Because factory ammunition is no longer available for some older firearms, reloaded ammunition is the only ammunition available. However, most shooters reload ammunition to reuse brass cartridge cases and recover some of the cost of buying ammunition.
You can reuse the brass cases from the factory-loaded ammunition you fire. They will be resized back to its original dimensions during the reloading process. The other three components - the bullet, the primer, and the powder - must be replaced. The primers, powder, and bullets are each sold separately. Primers and bullets are typically purchased 100 at a time. Smokeless powder is usually sold in one-pound cans.
Ammunition Reloading Equipment
Ammunition reloading (also called ammunition handloading) is surprisingly easy to do. The reloading ammunition does, however, require some special ammunition reloading equipment. Basic ammunition reloading requires a reloading press, a reloading manual (or some sort of instructions), a priming tool, a cartridge tray, a powder scale, powder funnel, a set reloading dies for the cartridge you will reload, a shell holder to fit the cases, and some case resizing lubricant.
You could shop for and order each piece of reloading equipment separately. However, most reloading equipment manufacturers offer an easier way to order the equipment you need to start reloading ammunition - an ammunition reloading starter kit. Purchasing a starter kit is also less expensive than purchasing each piece of reloading equipment separately.
Ammunition reloading starter (or beginner) kits include everything needed to start reloading except brass cases, bullets, powder, primers, a reloading die set, and a shell holder. Those items must be purchased separately because the reloading equipment manufacturer cannot predict exactly what cartridge you will be reloading with the starter kit.
Each ammunition reloading starter kit includes only the equipment you need to start reloading and nothing more. Starter kits do not include additional reloading equipment that you may need later to make reloading ammunition faster and easier such as a case trimmer, a case cleaner, a powder measure, a primer pocket reamers, a caliper, a bullet puller, and a few other items. You could order each piece of additional equipment kit separately or you could skip buying a starter kit and order a 'deluxe' ammunition reloading kit (or an 'expert', a 'pro', or a 'master' reloading kit depending on what the manufacturer names it). A deluxe ammunition reloading kit includes many of the additional items you will want after you are an experienced ammunition reloader. Obviously, a deluxe reloading kit is more expensive than a starter kit, but a deluxe kit includes many of the additional items you will probably order later anyway. If you can afford a deluxe reloading kit, order one.
The ammunition reloading manuals printed by various reloading equipment manufacturers, bullet makers, and smokeless powder suppliers contain a wealth of information. A reloading manual is included with most reloading kits. (Although Lee Precision publishes a reloading manual, its kits do not include a manual. You should order a reloading manual separately if you order a Lee reloading kit.) Within the contents of your reloading manual, you will find chapters about basic ammunition reloading, advanced reloading, reloading equipment, reloading safety, and basic ammunition ballistics. However, the bulk of any reloading manual is the reloading tables. The reloading tables are where you find background information about your cartridge; its uses; cartridge dimensions; the correct shell holder; suitable primers, powders, and bullets; minimum and maximum powder charges; estimated muzzle velocities and energy; and estimated chamber pressures. Refer to the reloading table for your cartridge before every reloading session to be certain you are using suitable reloading components.
The primary piece of reloading equipment is the reloading press. The reloading press provides the leverage to swage cartridge cases back to their original dimensions and to seat new bullets. Most beginning reloaders order a single-stage reloading press. A single-stage reloading press accepts only one reloading die at a time and performs only one reloading step each time the operating lever is cycled. A turret reloading press, on the other hand, holds four, five, or six dies at a time, depending on the model, but still only performs one reloading step with each pull of the operating lever. A progressive reloading press holds five dies at a time and performs multiple reloading steps with each pull. A progressive ammunition reloading press will reload bulk quantities of the same cartridge faster than a single-stage press, but a progressive press costs more than most beginning reloaders are willing to pay. Whatever brand of reloading press you choose, it will accept the reloading dies of any other brand because the threads are standard among reloading equipment manufacturers. Hornady brand reloading dies will fit an RCBS reloading press, for example, and Redding dies will fit Lyman presses.
As mentioned above, reloading kits do not include dies. You cannot reload ammunition without a set of dies for whatever cartridge you will be reloading. The reloading equipment manufacture does not know what cartridge you will be reloading, but you do. You must order an ammunition reloading die set separately for whatever cartridge you will reload. For instance, if you will be reloading .308 Winchester ammunition, you will have to order a .308 Winchester die set. Similarly, you will need a 9mm Luger die set if you will reload 9mm Luger ammunition.
You will probably get hooked on reloading ammunition and want to reload for all of your guns. Stay cool; you will not have to order a separate reloading kit or press for each cartridge you intend to reload. Your ammunition reloading equipment will reload any common centerfire handgun or rifle cartridge; simply buy a die set for each cartridge you will reload. (You may also have to buy another shell holder. There is more information about shell holders below.) Sorry, you will have to buy separate reloading equipment to reload shotgun shells.
Reloading dies are normal purchased as a set. Each set includes a resizing die and a bullet seating die. Reloading bottleneck cartridges requires only those two dies. A bottleneck cartridge has a shoulder and neck area distinguishable from the body of the cartridge. The case mouth of a bottleneck cartridge is noticeably narrower than the case body. Most modern centerfire rifle cartridges are bottleneck cartridges. The .243 Winchester and the .30-06 Springfield, for example, are bottleneck cartridges. The case resizing die (which also removes the spent primer) is used first to swage the case back down to its original dimensions. Later, after the new primer is installed and a new powder charge poured, the bullet seating die will seat the new bullet to the correct depth complete each cartridge.
In addition to a case resizing die and a bullet seating die, die sets for reloading straight wall cartridges include a case mouth expanding die. That is why die sets for reloading straight-wall cartridges are called 3-dies sets. Straight wall cartridges do not have a shoulder. The case body is either straight or only slightly tapered so the mouth is about the same width as the body. Most modern centerfire handgun ammunition and centerfire blackpowder rifle cartridges are straight wall cartridges. Examples include the .357 Magnum and the .45-70 Government. Reloading straight wall cartridges requires the case mouth to be expanded (enlarged) slightly with the so the bullet can be seated without damaging the case. Case mouth expansion is accomplished with the case mouth expanding die. The mouth expanding die is the second die of the three-die set used to reload straight wall cartridges. The bullet seating die - the third of a three-die set - will seat the bullet into the expanded case mouth. (Hint: Learning to reload bottleneck cartridges is easier than learning to reload straight wall cartridges because you do not have take the extra step of expanding the mouths of bottleneck cartridges.)
You will need a shell holder (sometimes spelled 'shellholder') for whatever cartridge you reload. The shell holder snaps onto the end of reloading press ram to clasp head of the cartridge case. Every brand of shell holder will fit any brand of reloading press. Also, most shell holders work with more than one cartridge. For example, .22-250 Remington, .243 Winchester, .25-06 Remington, .270 Winchester, .308 Winchester, .30-06 Springfield cartridges, and a few others use the same shell holder. Refer to your reloading manual to see which shell holders fit which cartridges. If you already have a shell holder that fits, there is no need to buy a new shell holder when you decide to reload a different cartridge someday.
Ammunition Reloading Components
Centerfire ammunition can be reloaded because its primer is easy to replace. The primer is the component of a cartridge, that when struck by the firing pin, ignites the propellant. The primer of a centerfire cartridge can be seen in the center of the case head. Modern high-power rifle and handgun ammunition are centerfire cartridges. (Modern shotgun shells are also centerfire, but this article covers metallic cartridge reloading.)
You cannot see the primer of a rimfire cartridge because the primer of a rimfire cartridge is inside the case. The primer of a rimfire cartridge cannot be removed and replaced. Therefore, rimfire ammunition cannot be reloaded.
There are three types of centerfire primers: shotshell primers, pistol primers, and rifle primers. The three types of primers are not interchangeable. You must not prime handgun cases with rifle primers, shotshell cases with pistol primers, or rifle cases with pistol primers - even if you can get them to fit into the primer pockets of the cases.
Pistol primers - for handgun ammunition - are available in two sizes: large pistol and small pistol. Both sizes of pistol primers are available for standard and magnum handgun loads. Therefore, there are four types of pistol primers: standard large pistol primers, magnum large pistol primers, standard small pistol primers, and magnum small pistol primers. Although they look the same, standard and magnum primers are not interchangeable. Refer to a reloading manual to determine which primer to use for whatever cartridges you will be reloading.
Rifle primers are also available in two sizes: large and small. Large rifle primers are available for standard and magnum loads. Hence there are three types of rifle ammunition primers: standard large rifle primers, magnum large rifle primers, and small rifle primers. Refer to a reloading manual to determine which primer to use. Although they look the same, standard and magnum large rifle primers are not interchangeable.
The powder, or propellant, is the second component of a cartridge that must be replaced during the reloading process. The powder is the fuel that is burned to increase pressure inside the case to expel the bullet. There are two general types of powder: blackpowder and smokeless powder. Modern center fire ammunition uses smokeless powder. Smokeless powder is available in three different types: shotshell powder, pistol powder, and rifle powder.
Smokeless rifle powders are never interchangeable with pistol and shotshell powders. They burn at much different rates that can produce dangerous internal pressures if interchanged. You must use a powder that is suitable for whatever cartridge you will be reloading. Refer to a reloading manual to determine which powder to charge your cases.
Smokeless powders even have different burn rates within their types. A smokeless rifle powder that is suitable for some rifle cartridges may not be suitable for all rifle cartridges. Similarly, a smokeless pistol powder that is suitable for some handgun cartridges may not be suitable for all handgun cartridges. Again, refer to the powder charge tables in a current reloading manual to determine a suitable powder.
The third and final replaceable component of a metallic cartridge is the bullet. The bullet is the projectile - the part of the cartridge that is shot from the gun toward the target. Bullets are classified by construction, shape, diameter, and weight.
Bullets are either lead, jacketed, or solid copper. Lead bullets are cast in a mold with molten lead alloy. Lead bullets are also called cast bullets. Lead bullets are used in low velocity loads.
Most ammunition is reloaded with jacketed bullets. Jacketed bullets are used with high velocity loads.Jacketed bullets are made with a lead alloy core swaged into a copper jacket. The jacket helps the rifling grip the bullet when fired, maintains bullet integrity at high velocities, and influences bullet expansion upon impact with the target. Soft point jacketed bullets are used for hunting ammunition because they will expand or "mushroom" on impact. Full-metal jacket bullets, on the other hand, are for target shooting because they do not mushroom on impact. Match-grade bullets are jacketed bullets preferred by competition shooters and others who strive for extreme accuracy.
Solid copper bullets are, as you probably realize, are made entirely of copper - no lead core. Solid copper bullets are environmentally-friendly. They are the only approved bullets in some locations. Check your state regulations before ordering bullets with lead cores.
Bullet shape refers to both the nose and the base of the bullet. The noses of rifle bullets are usually pointed, but may be round instead. Pointed bullets maintain velocity better than round nose bullets. The noses of handgun bullets are normally round, flat, or hollow. Hollow-point handgun bullets expand faster than round nose bullets upon target impact.
The base of a bullet is the end of the bullet. Rifle bullets are either flat-based of boat-tailed. Boat-tail rifle bullets maintain velocity better than flat-based bullets. Handgun bullets are usually flat-based, but can be concaved.
The bullet diameter is normally called caliber. Caliber is the approximate diameter of the bullet in 100ths of an inch or in millimeters (mm). The actual diameter of the bullet is expressed in 1000ths of an inch. We are concerned with bullet diameter, not just caliber, for ammunition reloading. For example, most 30-caliber cartridges take .308" diameter bullets, 7mm cartridges use .284" diameter bullets, and most, but not all, 38-caliber cartridges actually use a .357" diameter bullet. (Be careful - some 38-caliber cartridges use .401" diameter bullets.) Refer to a reloading manual to make sure you will be loading the correct diameter of bullet for the cartridge not just the correct caliber.
Bullet weight is expressed in grains. One grain is 1/7000th of a pound. For example, a 150-grain bullet weighs 150/7000ths of a pound. A heavier bullet of any caliber is normally longer than a lighter bullet of the same caliber. Thus, a 180-grain bullet 30-caliber bullet is longer than a 150-grain 30-caliber bullet. There is minimum and maximum bullet weight for each cartridge. Refer to a reloading manual to make sure you will be loading the correct weight of bullet for the cartridge. A bullet that is too heavy for the cartridge will not maintain stability after being shot.
There is currently no federal license or training required to buy ammunition reloading components and equipment or to reload ammunition for your own shooting activities. Purchasing smokeless powder and centerfire primers is restricted to people who are 18 years or older. There is no minimum age requirement to reload ammunition, but reloaders under 18 years old should have adult supervision.
Hazardous material shipping charges may apply if you order centerfire primers or smokeless powder online or from a catalog. If hazardous material shipping charges seem excessive, visit your local gun shop to purchase primers and powder instead. Hazardous material shipping charges do not apply to order bullets and brass cases.
Get ready to reload some ammunition. Order your ammunition reloading kit plus a reloading die set and a shell holder for the cartridge you will reload. Order a reloading manual also if the kit you order doesn't include one. Do not buy primers, powder, and bullets yet. Refer to your reloading manual after it arrives to determine the correct primers, powder, and bullets for your ammunition. Read your reloading manual, but study the section about ammunition reloading safety. After you collect your ammunition reloading components, you will be ready to reload your ammunition.