If you want to be more independent with your rifle ammo, or try to save a few dollars, reloading ammo is for you. As you might imagine, making a modern day cartridge that is ready to fire isn’t the easiest thing ever. You need plenty of equipment and know how to get it done. There is a small learning curve, but after this article, you will be headed in the right direction and ready to reload.
Gear You’ll Need
Unless you’re the hulk, you are going to need plenty of gear like presses and dies to get your cartridges put together. There can be a lot to look at for a beginner, so let's start with a quick list of the gear you will need. Reloading equipment can get as fancy and expensive as you want, these are the bare bones.
Wet or Dry Tumbler
If you are using reclaimed brass, you need to clean it. Wet tumblers have caught on in the past 5 or so years, but dry tumblers are what we have been using for decades.
Press & Die Set
For the mechanical part of reloading, a press will do the hard work. Although you need a die set for that press. You can get 2 or 3 dies in a die set. The 2 basic dies you need are resizing/depriming, and bullet seating dies. Some more expensive 3 die sets also come with a factory crimping die. Each die set is made for a certain type of cartridge.
This will hold your shell/case in place when it is in the press, case trimmer, and anywhere else you want the shell to be held.
This will remove excess brass. After a shot case is resized on the press, the brass gets stretched out, and you usually need to trim the neck to be the right size. You get an expensive trimmer, or make your own out of a drill and shell holder.
Chamfer & Deburring Tool
After trimming, you will need to chamfer the inside of the neck so the bullet sits right, and deburr the outside of the neck so the cartridge feeds right.
Primer Tray & Press
The easiest way to manage your primers is in a primer tray, which loads into another small press, where you can press primers into your cleaned cases.
Case Lubricant & Pad
You will want to lubricate your case anytime you are working with it in the press. This will keep the case from binding in your die, and make sure everything goes as planned.
You will need a scale to measure powder and other components. This is a must have.
This lets you accurately dispense gun powder. You can dispense it right on the scale in a little cup, or straight into the brass. If you dispense it on the scale, you can use a powder funnel to put it in the case. If you are reloading a lot, you will want a powder throw that measures your powder for you and makes it easy to put in the shell.
Since measurements are so important while reloading, a digital caliper is a must to make sure your case and overall cartridge is the right size.
This is a checker board looking block that you can keep your cases in while you are working with them. This helps you stay organized, and keeps the cases upright.
After you have the gear, you need the parts to make something that actually shoots! Thankfully, there are not a whole lot of components that make up a cartridge, you just need four things.
- The first thing you need is a brass casing. You can buy these in bulk used or new, or you can reuse the ones that come from factory ammunition. If you didn’t buy new unused cases, you need to clean your cases with some sort of tumbler. If you don’t you could run into a lot of reliability problems.
- After you have your casings figured out, you need primers. If you are looking into reloading, you probably understand how a primer works, and know that these are one time use. So you will need to remove spent primers from your casings and insert new ones with a press.
- Next, you need gunpowder. It is incredibly important that you measure your powder accurately. More is not always better, and if you stuff more powder than you need, your cartridge will have way too much chamber pressure, and you could break your firearm, or have it explode in your face.
- The last thing you will need are bullets! You can use any bullet design you like, just make sure you keep your parts labeled so you don’t try to press the wrong bullet into a casing it isn’t made for.
You will also want to pick up a reloading manual. This will have step by step instructions and measurements for reloading your specific cartridge, and sticking to the same measurements is a good idea if you want your ammo to be reliable. Lastly, you will want some ammo boxes to put your finished product in.
Steps to Reloading Rifle Ammo
Now that you have all the equipment and cartridge components that you need, we can go over how you actually reload a cartridge. There are so many different methods out there, and some presses do more than one job, so just know that this is not the only way to do it, it’s just the basics. After you figure this out, you can buy fancier equipment and really improve your efficiency.
Cartridge Components - Before you go buying components willy-nilly, make sure you reference your reloading manual. Know what bullets you want, how much powder you need, the right primers, and make sure you get quality brass. Don’t wing it.
Cleaning Brass - If you didn’t buy new brass, you will need to clean it with a tumbler. A dry or wet tumbler will work, just make sure you have enough media.
Lubricate Your Brass - Before you work the shell in the press, you will want to lubricate it. Roll the bottom half of the shell on the lubricant pad, and you should be good to go.
Deprime & Resize The Brass - Put your resizing die in your press, and your shell in the shell holder. Make sure you adjust your die as needed the first go round, and then deprime and resize all of your casings.
Trim Your Brass - After resizing, you will need to trim the excess brass. Check your reloading manual for the right measurement, and then trim each casing until it is the correct length. Go slow, you can take brass off, but you can’t add it back.
Chamfer & Deburr The Brass - After trimming, you will need to deburr the brass. This makes it seat the bullet and feed better, and just makes it cleaner.
Prime The Shell - Now that the brass is ready to go, you need to press a primer into it. Put the brass into a shell holder, and load it into your press that is loaded with the primer tray. Add primers to all of your shells.
Add The Gunpowder - With clean brass, and primers added, it is time to add the gunpowder. Reference your reloading manual and make sure you get the right measurement. You can use a powder throw that will measure powder for you if you plan on reloading a lot, or a simple scale and powder funnel if you want to save some cash on equipment.
Seat Your Bullet - Next, you need to seat your bullet in the press. Take the first one slow and make sure you get your measurements right on your die. Once everything is good to go, you can crank out ammo until you get tired of pressing. If you are not using a seating die that also crimps, you can replace the seating die with your crimping die after you are done seating. It is best to only have to set up a die once instead of going back and forth.
- Quality Check - By now you’re done! You just need to go over everything and make sure it is correct. Use your calipers often and make sure everything measures correctly. If you use a powder throw, measure how much comes out every 10 or 20 shells. The tighter rope you keep on your process, the better your product will be!
In conclusion, reloading rifle ammo can seem daunting at first, but with the proper gear and knowledge, it can be a simple and cost-effective solution to getting the most out of your brass. By following this guide and the steps outlined, you will have a solid foundation for getting started with reloading and hints at what you will need to learn more about. It's important to always use caution when handling ammunition and to teach yourself the safety measures that more experienced reloaders use. Once you get the hang of it, you'll be able to customize your ammo to your specific needs and enjoy the satisfaction of creating your own cartridges.