Ammunition reloading is the process of loading ammunition cartridges using individual components. Most often this is called reloading, but also goes by the name of handloading. Reloading is commonly done by individuals who shoot often to reduce per-round costs or who wish to develop customized loads for accuracy in a particularly firearm model. While reloading can be a fun and enjoyable process, great care should be used as certain components are flammable or explosive. Additionally, inappropriately created ammunition can destroy a firearm and cause grave bodily harm.
Basic Reloading Process
The process of loading ammunition can be broken down into the following major tasks:
- Case preparation - preparing a cartridge case for a load. This step includes, but is not necessarily limited to, cleaning the case, removing a spent primer if present, resizing the case, trimming the case, cleaning the primer pocket, preparing the case mouth for a bullet
- Primer insertion - pressing a new primer into the primer pocket
- Charging - dispensing powder into the case. Smokeless power, used in modern cartridges, is the propellent for the bullet.
- Bullet Seating - inserting a bullet to the appropriate depth for the cartridge. This step includes crimping the bullet when necessary for a given cartridge.
The equipment necessary for ammunition reloading varies widely in purpose, cost, and complexity. Reloading is often an expensive hobby, but it does not have to be depending on the goals of the individual. At minimum, the following types of equipment and tools is required.
The first, primary tool necessary for reloading is a reloading manual. A reloading manual covers, in detail, the steps required to successfully and safely load ammunition. It then contains tables of caliber information requires to create a cartridge. Some manuals will also provide a history of the cartridge and specific recommendations for bullet weights and other applications.
Common, well-respected reloading manuals include:
- Hornady Handbook of Cartridge Reloading - Hornady Manufacturing Company (currently in the 9th edition)
- Lee Precision Modern Reloading - Richard Lee
- Lyman Reloading Handbook - Lyman Products Corporation (currently in the 49th edition)
- Speer Reloading Manual - Speer Bullets (currently in the 14th edition)
The press is the basic tool for loading ammunition. It is used, at minimum, to seat and optionally crimp a bullet into a case. Commonly however, a press is used for many or all of the stages in the reloading process (resize, deprime, prime, expand, charge, seat, crimp) either through a manual change of the tool in the press or the press itself having multiple stations (e.g. turret press, progressive press) for each stage.
A die set is the tool used in a press for a particular operation in the loading process. Commonly, a rifle cartridge requires two dies (a resizing/depriming die and a seating die) whereas a pistol cartridge requires three dies (a resizing/depriming die, an expanding die for the mouth, and a seating die).
A scale is one of the most critical tools for the reloader as it determines the amount of power the cartridge is charged with. Scales used in reloading measure weights in grains and are usually either slide-beams or electronic. A scale must be accurate to 0.1 grains to properly measure for ammunition loading.
A powder dispenser is used to insert, and in many cases also measure, the amount of powder in a case. In its most basic form, the dispenser simply inserts the powder into the case in a uniform and controlled manner. Reloaders who are less concerned with match-level accuracy will often use a volumetric powder measure that dispenses a fixed amount of powder, measured by volume, into each case. These can be either standalone units or part of a larger reloading press.
Calipers, usually Vernier calipers, are used to measure during the reloading process. Calipers with an accuracy of 0.001in. are required to properly measure a cartridge, particularly the case length and the overall cartridge length (the "OAL").
Other Common Equipment
A case trimmer is used to reduce the length of a cartridge case, usually with rifle rounds, to the "trim to length" specified for a given caliber. After a particular case has been shot once or twice, the brass in the case will stretch leaving the case longer than the maximum length of the specification for that caliber. In these cases, the cases - if they are still acceptable for reuse - must be trimmed shorter so the assembled round will meet the maximum OAL.
Chamfer and Deburring Tool
A chamfer and deburring tool is used after a case has been trimmer to smooth the case mouth of any burrs or excess material that would affect the seating and crimping of the bullet. In most cases, the chamfer and deburring tool also has bits to deburr and clean the primer pocket.
Kenetic Bullet Puller
A kenetic bullet puller is hammer-like in appearance and is used to force a bullet from a loaded cartridge safely.
While it is possible to do reloading without one, a primer tray is almost an indispensable tool for reloading. A primer tray is used to orient primers in the same direction prior to being loaded into whatever tool that will be used for inserting the primer into the cartridge case. Primers are explosive and should be handled as little as possible and a primer tray provides a gentle and safe way to align primers for use.
A shooting chronograph is uses to measure the velocity of a bullet to check performance of a given load.
A tumbler is a common way used to clean cartridge cases of dirt, powder residue, light burn marks, and other blemishes prior to reloading.
There are a variety of manufacturers in the market for reloading equipment. Commonly known manufacturers include
- Dillon Precision (presses, dies, tools)
- Frankfort Arsenal (tools)
- Hornady (presses, dies, tools, bullets)
- Lee Precision (presses, dies, tools)
- Lyman (tools)
- RCBS (presses, dies, tools)
- Redding (presses, dies)
Christian Gun Owner fundamentals of reloading with a Dillon press.