If you are a gun enthusiast, then like most shooters you would have considered the hobby of Handloading or reloading your ammunition. Handloading or reloading is the process of manufacturing or recycling your ammunition for the firearms.
What Is Reloading/Handloading?
Reloading or handloading involves loading shotgun shells or firearm cartridges through the assembly of various individual parts such as hull, case, powder, primer, and shot or bullet, instead of buying fully assembled and factory-loaded ammunition.
Handloading is a widely-used term because it refers to the assembling of ammunition with the use of individual components from different sources.
Reloading, on the other hand, is a more specific term used with regards to the assembling of ammunition by using shells or cases from ammunition fired previously. These two terms are interchangeable, which is because the techniques used are same for the most part whether you use previously fired or new parts.
However, the main differences relate to the way you prepare shells or cases. New parts are often ready to load; in contrast, previously used parts usually require thorough cleaning, elimination of used primers, and at times other necessary preparations to get the components ready for use.
Why Is Reloading A Great Hobby?
So, do you want to make reloading your new hobby? This question is relevant before you buy pricey equipment, and make room for your new hobby. In the following sections, we will discuss why reloading your ammunitions can be a great hobby.
You Will Save A Lot Of Money
If you tend to shoot on a frequent basis, you will know buying ammunition could be very expensive. Unless you happen to shoot .22lr, you are likely to spend plenty of money on your ammunitions. If you reload your ammo, you will be able to reduce your ammunition expenses by a significant margin!
For instance, nowadays, a pack of fifty 44 magnum cartridges usually cost around $35. On the other hand, you will be able to reload a pack of fifty 44 magnum rounds for only about $8 to $10. For example, if you shoot on a weekly basis and shoot two packs on each trip, it will save you about $50 per week!
However, we agree that if you shoot 9mm instead, your savings are likely to be considerably lower, but you will save some cash.
You Can Make Better Ammo
With the use of reloading, you can make better ammo. You will be able to customize your loads for energy, speed, accuracy, velocity, and even reduce the recoil. There is no doubt that specialized factory rounds tend to offer better speeds and lighter recoil, but many shooters want to know what they are shooting.
If you prefer reloading and are willing to spend some extra time, you are likely to squeeze the highest potential from your rifle.
In many situations, reloading your ammo makes plenty of sense, particularly if you happen to own unpopular calibers. Oddball rounds and wildcats tend to swiftly fall out of favor when their sales decline; however, in case you have all components, you will be able to reload what is not available in the nearest store.
Although ammunition is easily available in most regions throughout the country with more famous ammo reappearing on retail shelves, ammunition levels are low compared to 5 years ago.
Although you cannot do a lot regarding the overpriced or ever-elusive 22 LR rounds, you can easily generate your shotgun ammunition and centerfire using a reloading press. Therefore, you do not have to worry about your nearest retail store running out of different types of ammo, as you can easily develop your ammunition.
For plenty of folks reloading or handloading is a great pastime. It can also work as a stress reliever if you are really into it. Many people are very passionate about it. You will enjoy the self-satisfaction that comes with the creation of your ammo. Reloading is the art-and-craft in the shooting world.
iAlso, for most shooters reloading is a version of going environment-friendly or green. They reuse or recycle the brass, re-purpose the lead using re-claimed shots. They also cast and melt redundant wheel weights to make new bullets. All these factors contribute to the pride and satisfaction in the trade.
It Is Fun
If you are one of those people who prefer to experiment and tend to work and fiddle with fancy equipment, reloading could be plenty of fun! And with the passage of time, you will enjoy it even more.
You can always try and learn new things. Whenever you get yourself a new weapon, you will get the chance to evaluate the different type of loads, and carry on experimenting till you figure out the perfect combination customized to that specific firearm.
What Do You Need For Reloading?
You will have to spend some and cash to buy some basic reloading or handloading equipment required for your ammo. Like plenty of other activities or hobbies that need investment in the form of equipment or gear, there are several ways to hand load your ammo with different kinds of equipment.
In this discussion, we will try to strike a reasonable balance between effectiveness and costs. Here are the essential items that you will need to start your reloading journey.
If you get a chance to pick up a previously-fired brass cartridge case, you will notice the dirt. The dirt on the case is likely to vary depending on whether the shot was fired outdoor or indoor.
At least, you will have to get rid of any powder residue and dirt that the brass has gathered on hitting the floor. Although the brass is not required to be squeaky clean or new, it is important to wipe off any loose dirt.
If you are tight on your budget and would to go for a cheaper alternative, you have the option to clean the brass with materials you may have at your home, such as a plastic container, some hot water, and a detergent like Tide. It will do the job.
Although the brass will not look shiny and pretty, it would be good enough for reloading. But the main drawback is that you will need to dry it thoroughly. And it needs bone-dry, which is likely to take plenty of time. This reason is why a case loading is so much better.
A reloading press is a vital component needed for reloading. Fortunately, it is very helpful for completing various steps in the reloading process. Similar to Play-Doh factories, reloading presses are devices that use mechanical advantage for squishing parts together.
The sturdier reloading presses that are ideal for both normal die use and bullet swaging purposes are usually in the shape of the letter O. A single die is fully enclosed by heavy steel on these types of reloading presses. On the other hand, both aluminum and steel construction is common in reloading presses that are in the shape of the letter C.
Plenty of shooters prefer the C styled reloading presses over the O shaped ones, which is because there is much more space for the bullets and they can be easily fitted into cartridges when using the C presses. A reloading press can perform many functions such as:
- Pressing brass cases against de-capping pins to remove the old primers.
- Pressing casings into resizing dies that helps to jam the brass to its standard dimensions.
- Placing new primers into empty pockets
- Pressing the bullets in the casing
Reloading dies are often available in the market in groups of twos or threes. The number depends on the specific shape of the cases. A set of three dies is required for a straight case, while a set of two dies is ideal for a bottlenecked case.
In both sets, the first die is used to perform the de-capping and sizing functions, except in a few cases where you can perform de-capping using the second die, in three die sets.
In a set of three dies, the middle die is for expanding the mouth of the case in a straight case (and de-capping, if not performed with the initial die). On the other hand, in sets of two dies the complete neck is stretched at the time a case is pulled out with the first die.
The final die in both the sets is used to seat the bullets and, at times, apply a crimp. There are specialized crimping dies available in the market for applying a much stronger crimp when you seat the bullets.
A caliper is a must-have equipment for the reloading process. It is used to measure a variety of things. Perhaps one of the most crucial measurements you will have to make with the caliper is the overall length of the cartridge. It is vital to ensure that the bullets are seated deep and well enough to allow for a reliable feed.
However, they should not be too deep as it can lower the volume of the interior case and lead to overpressure. A reloading guide or manual will come in handy as it will inform you precisely how deep you need to seed bullets of different types and calibers.
A powder scale is also vital equipment. It is important because if you charge your cartridge with too much or too little powder, it can be quite dangerous! You can buy an electronic or mechanical scale.
It will help ensure the powder dispenser is discharging a suitable amount of powder every time. A majority of starter handloading or reloading kits often include a powder scale.
Although you can load using only a powder measure and volume to weight conversion chart, it will considerably limit your precision concerning load adjustment, which can increase the risk of inadvertently overloading a cartridge with powder.
A powder scale will also help you sort cases and bullets by weight, which often increases consistency a bit more. Also, sorting bullets according to weight has other benefits because each group of matched bullets can perform with more consistency. Similarly, cases are sorted by weight to group them according to wall thickness and interior volumes.
For instance, military cases are usually much thicker; in contrast, a case reloaded several times is likely to have comparatively thinner walls as the brass flows forward while firing.
Although it is possible to weigh every individual powder charge for all of your different cartridges by hand, it is a tedious and time-consuming process that you will soon become boring. A powder dispenser is a tool that will allow you to state a specific quantity of powder dispensed each time you pull the lever.
You must be wondering, what is the most effective way to purchase all the above equipment. Well, the answer will depend on your budget. You may know that many companies now offer starter kits to their customers. These kits often include nearly all of the equipment on our list (some starter kits usually don't have the shell-holders and dies).
You must also know that many starter kits have single-stage presses; however, there are some more progressive kits available in the market that come with different types of presses.
In most cases, starter kits are one of the most cost-effective ways of starting out. In case you lack the financial resources and can't buy a starter kit, or the reloading press that came with your kit is not suitable for your requirements, you have the option to make your personalized kit by buying all the above items separately.
When you have acquired the equipment, you need you will be ready to start learning the process of reloading.
Types Of Reloading Press
A reloading press is a vital component of the reloading system. As reloading presses are quite expensive, choosing the most suitable press is very important. There are three main types of reloading press, as discussed below:
Single Stage Press
A single stage press is the simplest type of reloading press. The press can hold only a single die at any time, and often has an extremely rigid frame. Single stage presses are mostly used to reload rifles. The die is in a cavity in the top half of the reloading press, while a shell holder attaches to the press's ram, which can hold the case rim of the cartridge.
When you will push down the lever, the ram will go up, causing the die to act on the case. In most cases, priming is performed in advance using a priming setup; however, many single stage presses come with priming attachments. Out of the three presses, a single stage press is usually the slowest with regards to die switching setup and completed rounds in an hour.
Progressive Reloading Press
A progressive reloading press generates one full round for each lever cycle. The press does this with the use of a shell plate which can hold several cases at the same time. When you raise the ram by pushing the lever, many processes take off simultaneously. The shell plates will start turning once the ram is activated.
Each of the shell plates will be ready for their next operation, while the final round kicks into completion with a chute or round bin.
Many progressive reloading presses will index automatically (they are known as auto-indexing progressive), while others need to be manually indexed. Most pistol shooters and rifle shooters (semi-automatic like AR shooters) use a progressive press.
These presses can, in some cases, be used to load bolt action rifles, but because this process usually involves lower quantities, this kind of rifle loading involves single-stage or turret presses.
A majority of turret presses are very similar to single stage presses, (a single die will act on the cartridge at any given time) but can hold several dies at the same time, allowing you to index manually from one die to the next much quickly. Many turret presses can auto-index too, which eliminates the need for manual indexing.
Although a turret press still needs several strokes of a lever for each full round, it speeds up the reloading process due to better indexing capabilities.
A turret press has more flex which usually leads to lower precision in the reloading process than single stage presses; however, this is not a major problem. For most pistol or rifle reloaders, turret presses are often an ideal starting point, while for more veteran reloaders they can be a superb precision rig.
There are several manufacturers of reloading press and other reloading equipment. We will discuss a few of them in this section.
Lee Precision is one of the leading producers of reloading equipment. The company prides itself as an affordable provider of a variety of reloading tools and is known for product innovation. The company uses patented innovative designs which allow it to keep the prices low.
The products offered by the company include reloading dies, presses, shell holders, priming tools and bullets casting, etc. Most of their products incorporate high-quality metal which ensures their durability.
RCBS is one of the pioneers in the reloading equipment industry. Most of their products are known for their portability as they have a compact design, which makes them ideal for use at a shooting range. Another great thing about their products is that they are suitable for both seasoned shooters and beginners.
Lyman is a producer of reloading equipment that has been in the business since 1878. Their products go beyond getting the job done. They not only deliver the value but also advance technology.
Their specialty is that they incorporate their customers' feedback in the development of their products which improves customer satisfaction. They make a slew of reloading products such as presses, dies, scales, bullet casting, tumblers, and muzzleloaders, etc.
Reloading Press Maintenance
Reloading presses can offer several years of great service to their owners if maintained professionally. Most are micro-polished and hardened for superior finish, but they still require some maintenance.
First, de-cap the assembly and flush it with a degreaser and wipe the expander ball. You can wipe down any threads or springs using a rag lightly laced with fine oil. Inspect the seating stem (especially the opening) for any debris.
You can use the twisted end of a patch to clean the small caliber plugs and stems. Do not forget to inspect it after you have cleaned it to ensure the surface of the press is free of burrs and clean. Regular cleaning will prevent the excess buildup of lubes which is a frequent problem.
We have discussed what reloading or handloading is and why it can be a great hobby. We have looked at the various equipment needed for reloading along with their function in the reloading process.
We have also discussed the different types of reloading press and have highlighted the differences between them. Lastly, we looked at some of the top makers of reloading equipment. Our buying guide will discuss in detail the different features that you should consider when buying different reloading equipment with some recommendations.