The Basics Of Reloading Ammunition

The Basics Of Reloading AmmunitionReloading ammunition is a beneficial and economic skill for a large number of shooters. It helps them save money, and it provides the reassurance of having available ammunition when shortages are in effect. In a SHTF scenario, reloading ammunition may be the only way to get bullets for your firearms in case you don’t have a large supply on hand.

The following guidelines should help all shooters who have little experience with reloading metallic cartridges, but who want to be able to load when needed. Reloading ammunition can be done with elementary equipment and adequate methods. This is neither a difficult or unsafe task if you take care during the process and follow the basic instructions.

The anatomy of a cartridge

Before you jump into it, you should become familiar with the anatomy of your ammunition. A metallic cartridge is composed of four elements:  a primer, powder, bullet and a brass case to contain the other items. As you can probably imagine, the case is the only component that can be reused and it’s also the most expensive part.

If you want to load a cartridge, you must pick the appropriate primers and powders for the particular cartridge being loaded.

How to prepare the case

Before you can reload a cartridge, there are some steps needed to be performed on it. As a first step, the spent primer must be removed, and the case should be restored to the approximate dimensions of an unfired case. You can perform these operations simultaneously by sizing die that contains a punch on the end of a spindle. When the case is forced in the die, which has very accurate internal dimensions appropriate to the caliber, the case is reformed and the punch forces out the spent primer.

To resize strong brass cases by forcing them into a die, you will need some type of press. The case needs to be placed in a shell holder that fits the base of the case, and once you move the press handle, it will force the case into the die. You will need to apply a lubricant to the case before resizing it to make the operation easier.

To be able and insert a bullet into the case mouth, the internal diameter of the case neck must be made to fit the diameter of the bullet. When the case is forced into the sizing die, the neck is reduced to a smaller diameter than that of the bullet. However, as the case is withdrawn, a spindle is pulled out of the case, causing the neck to expand and form the correct internal diameter.

Handgun cartridges that do not use necked cases require a different procedure. Once the case is restored to the correct external dimensions by the sizing die, a separate die is being used to expand the case mouth so the bullet can be seated.

Related article: Stockpiling Ammo For SHTF – How Much Is Enough?

The expander die contains a punch that has a diameter that corresponds to the caliber of the bullet to be used, and it also has a shoulder that flares the case mouth slightly so the bullet can be inserted slightly in the case before it is actually seated to depth.

When reloading ammunition, the cases that are too long can cause problems as a result of the neck not being able to expand at the front of the chamber. In that case, you will need a caliper to measure the lengths of the cases and loaded cartridges.

You will need to reduce the length of the case, and you have two options. You can use a case trimmer or a flat file. Regardless the option you prefer, a rough edge of brass will form on the case mouth. You will need to remove it with a special tool or a countersink.

Once you remove the brass, you must be sure no residue is left inside the primer pocket. You need to remove it before a new primer is seated. You can use a sonic cleaner, but even a small blade screwdriver will work.

Priming the case

The primer contains a material that explodes when the firing pin hits it. Primers come in types know as small rifle, small pistol, large rifle and large pistol. You need to use the correct type for your ammo. Rifle primers contain more explosive material since rifle cartridges contain much more powder that requires more spark to ignite the charge.

The primer is seated in the case by means of a punch that pushes it into the primer pocket. A reloading press should have a primer arm that is used for this purpose. There are also small hand-operated tools available for this purpose.

Adding the powder

Once you prepared a primed case following the correct dimensions, your next step is to load the powder into the case. You will need a loading manual to determine the correct powder charge for your ammo. A scale is also needed to weigh the charge, to avoid making any mistakes regarding powder volume.

You should know that powders have different burning rates and those used for rifle ammunition have a slower burning rate than those used for handgun ammunition. If you plan on reloading ammunition for different firearms, you will need more than one type. In a SHTF scenario, some may use a couple of powders that are useful in several rifle calibers but can work for handgun loading as well. Whatever you chose to do, make sure you check the data found in reliable loading manuals.

Bullet seating

Once you prepared, primed and charged the case, it’s time to move to the final step of reloading ammunition, seating the bullet. For this operation, a special seating die is used which pushes the bullet into the case but also crimps it in place.  These steps should not be done at the same time. By adjusting the bullet seating screw, the bullet can be pushed into the case to give the cartridge the desired overall length. Crimping the bullet is done in a separate step.

The bullet is either started in the case mouth manually or else placed on the case mouth. The case is forced into the seating die to insert the bullet in the case. The seating die contains a punch with a recess that should match the shape of the bullet being seated. In this way, the bullet will not get deformed once it is pushed into the case. For seating the bullet, you need to screw the die partway into the press. When you operate the press handle, the bullet seating screw will make contact with the nose of the bullet to push it into the case, but the crimping shoulder inside the die does not make contact with the case.

Once the bullet is inserted in the case, the desired distance, the seating punch is backed out of the die and the die screwed into the press a sufficient distance so that operating the press forces the case mouth against the crimping shoulder in the die. This action will cause the finishing roll crimp on the case mouth. A taper crimp is used for straight-walled cases used in auto-loading handguns, but the processes are the same.

Recommended Gear for Reloading Ammunition

Ammo prices get higher, and the regulation of ammunition becomes a general concern nowadays. Rather than buying ammo at the store, try experimenting with reloading ammunition. It’s much cheaper, and there are a lot of equipment available for reloading ammunition you can get for reasonable prices. Here are a few recommendations:

Perfect Powder Measurer

I purchased this to speed up reloading my practice ammo in my handgun. The micrometer adjuster reads directly in cubic centimeters, and the o-ring positively locks the adjustment and removes any end play. The price is tough to beat. Most of the competing drum style powder measures are $60 to $120. Clicking around on those product pages, you’ll find many reviews stating that they also do not throw consistent charge weights with extruded powders. You can purchase it from Amazon.

DS-750 Digital Reloading Scale

The Frankford Arsenal DS-750 delivers extreme accuracy for precise measurement of powder, bullets, cases or loaded rounds. With 1/10th grain accuracy, you will be able to achieve the maximum potential of your hand loads. An integrated clear plastic cover protects the scale during storage and transport. The large, high-contrast backlit display is easy to read. Simple controls allow for easy changes of units, tare weights or counting. Powder pan, carry bag and calibration weight included. The performance and features of this scale make it a great value and will be a welcome addition to your loading bench. You can purchase it from Amazon

Lyman E-Zee Case Gauge

This is a useful tool to have for reloading ammunition. This improved version measures the case length of over 70 popular rifle and pistol cases. Many new cartridges are included like the Winchester Short Mags, 204 Ruger, 500 S&W and others. Precisely made, this rugged metal gauge makes sorting cases quick, easy and accurate. You can buy it from Amazon.

Sonic Cleaner

This is another item you will need for reloading ammunition. It will help you clean the inside of the case, as well as primer pocket. It features an  80-watt ceramic heater that enhances cleaning action and especially helps when cleaning gun parts. Its large two-liter stainless steel tank holds up to three hundred .223 cases or one hundred fifty .308 cases. Combined with One Shot Sonic Clean solution, the microjet action of the Lock-N-Load Sonic Cleaner 2L removes carbon residue and other debris from cartridge cases, small gun parts, and other small metal equipment and it cleans internal and external surfaces of cartridge cases and primer pockets. You can purchase it from Amazon.

Shell Tray

Universal trays are all the rage, and they’re handy, but these ‘Perfect Fit’ trays hold the cases much better. If that’s important to you, then this is what you want.  The trays are solid, well made and should last a long, long time. They’re also not too wide, and it’s easy to get them more than halfway under the powder measure. Of course, that depends on how your measure is set up, but the #5 trays are more compact than the universal trays. You can buy them here.

If you are just starting with reloading ammunition I recommend the Lyman 50th Edition Reloading Manual, it has a lot of information on how and why to do it. Solid information, always up to date and a very handy reference for both the novice and the pro.

A last word on reloading ammunition

Reloading ammunition can be done with minimum equipment, and you will still have great results. The finished ammo will perform just like the ones you buy from the factory. This may be the only way to obtain ammunition during a crisis scenario, and it is valuable knowledge to have.

While there are some controversial and legal issues surrounding online shopping for firearms and ammunition, there are benefits to reloading your own ammo. Get as much information as you can about reloading ammunition. This hobby requires caution and patience, and you risk of blowing up your firearms or injure yourself if you don’t follow basic guidelines.

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2 thoughts on “The Basics Of Reloading Ammunition”

  1. I notice that the reloading bench pictured has a Dillon Progressive press on one end and a RCBS Rock Chucker in the center. These actually represent the two extremes of presses. I would suggest, if you are shopping for a press, you should consider the RCBS Turret press. One of the more tedious tasks of reloading is getting your dies properly adjusted. With a single stage press you have to switch dies as you move from sizing to seating and crimping losing your adjustments with each swap. A Turret allows you to mount up to six dies on a head and additional turret heads are relatively inexpensive so you can mount and adjust your most frequently used dies and just switch heads. If you are on a tight budget or want to try your hand at reloading a few rounds before you invest in a system, Lee makes a Lee Loader for popular rifle and handgun rounds for less than $50 each.

  2. Hi Fifth, if you use fixed lock rings, you will not lose your die settings. Install a die into your press, adjust it until it is where you want, lock it into place with the lock ring, tighten that little set screw on the lock ring, then remove the die. The next time you want to load, spin the die into the press until it is tight on that fixed lock ring. You will reproduce your previous setting within about 0.001 – the lube and headstamp cause more variation than that. If you want to make small adjustment, you can buy die shims from Brownells. A caution, when you spin the die in the next time, either torque it into place or keep checking to see that it stays tight while you work.


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