This is the second part of a two-part series concerning reloading. In the first article, the basic necessities were outlined in order to get you ready for this portion; actually completing the necessary steps to reload your own cartridges.
Step 1: Cleaning Your Brass
As a new reloader, you will most likely be doing small batches (100 or 50 at a time) and that is the assumption I am operating under via these instructions. Getting a tumbler and media is nice and easy but it does add to cost so that might be covered in a future article.
If you are going to reload your shot brass (or any “once-fired” brass you’ve acquired that was not pre-cleaned), you will need to clean it first. There are a couple schools of thought; some say to deprime your brass before cleaning and others say to deprime after. I usually deprime after an initial cleaning because I clean out the primer pockets anyway.
What you will need:
Gallon Ziploc bag, Dish soap, Hot Water, Dirty brass, Old/clean towel
What you need to do:
Put your spent brass casings into the Ziploc bag. Next fill it about 3 quarters full with fairly hot water (not hot enough to burn you) and then put about a cap of dish soap into it. Close it up and now shake it around a bit. Please make sure you aren’t too crazy with it as avoiding a mess is also a goal. Do this for a bit and gently move the brass around so they do rub each-other a bit to get some friction going on. Now, set it down for about 10 mins. After about 10 minutes, drain the water out and fill it up again with warm/hot water. Do the same for about a minute and you should notice the water being less dirty and the soap will appear to be less concentrated in the bag. Continue these steps until the water is clear and free of soap. After the brass and bag is free of soap and the water looks clean, take the brass out of the bag and onto the clean towel to dry. Let the brass dry about 24 hours and they should be ready to deprime.
Again, I am assuming we are working with a small batch as a new reloader so this works fine for cases that have only been fired once and not been buried for ages. Drastic cases will require more drastic measures *pun not intended*.
Step 2: Depriming and Resizing Brass
Next, we will get to the fun part; removing the primers from your spent casings. I had a bit of trouble the first time as I was afraid I would break something. Don’t worry too much but do proceed with some caution.
What you will need:
Cleaned brass, reloading press, resizing/depriming die from your reloading die set
What you need to do:
Make sure to read the instructions that came with your die set. They are indeed helpful and will tell you how many turns need to be completed when inserting the depriming/full sizing die into the press. Usually, you put the shell holder onto the ram (the part of the press that holds the casing) and you pull the lever down to make it go up as far as it will go. As you keep it there, you start to thread the sizing/depriming die in and you make it barely touch (or kiss) the shell holder. Some dies will tell you to either put the ram down and then tighten the die another 1/3rd or sometimes back it out 1 full turn so instructions are important; specific to caliber and die maker.
After you setup the sizing/depriming die, we will need to lube the cases. If you are using Lee lube, you will want to apply it liberally (not too much but enough to cover the case on the outside and inside but not on the case “shoulder” if it has one). I use a Q-Tip or something similar to get the inside of the case. This is important because if you do not do this, the case could get stuck…not fun at all but not the end of the world either. Please note, if you have Carbide dies, you supposedly, per the instructions, do not need to lube. Some people still do and others do not. I always do with rifle brass.
Next, we position our first shell on the shell holder so that it is centered and straight. After it is on the shell holder (remember, straight and centered), you can now push/pull the lever of the press down to push the shell into the sizing/depriming die. Make sure the whole shell goes in and you should hear a “clink” or something to that effect. You may not hear it depending on the press you have but you will need to verify. After you pull the ram lever down, take the casing off and look to see if the primer is still attached. If it is gone, great job! Set that aside and let’s repeat this step until you are done depriming and sizing all of your brass. If you were unable to get the shell out of the holder because it feels stuck. Do not fight it. It means you almost got the primer out and it is sticking out of the back of the case a bit and preventing it from being removed. This means you are on the right track. If occurs, push the shell into the die again and if the shell is still not moving (IE: Deprimed), turn your sizing/depriming die about ¼ to ½ turn tighter. Now try again. This is the solution many times. If it still did not work after this, check your die instructions as it could be the depriming rod is not inserted correctly and needs adjusting. Not too hard, just make sure you follow the directions.
After you finish all cases, make sure you check the primer pockets and clean them out if they appear dirty. Also, inspect the case for any with cracks, too misshapen (after resizing) or any that have large dents in the shoulder, if your casing has a shoulder (IE: 223, 308, etc). If you find any cases that look suspect (cracks, big dents, or other obvious flaws, scrap them as it is not worth the potential safety issue).
Step 3: Priming and Inserting Powder
What you will need:
Primers (specific to the caliber you are loading), Smokeless powder (specific to what you are loading), Safety glasses (NOT Optional if you like your eyesight), Powder measure (digital scale in this example), Funnel and a method to prime. Generally, single stage presses have a way to prime on the press and that is the assumption this article is operating under.
What you will do:
First, we need to prime our cleaned, sized and deprimed brass. The way we do that is going to be press-specific but it usually entails putting the correct size primer into the primer arm on the press, lifting the ram with the shell on it and then pulling it down to seat the primer. This is a part where the specific instructions that came with your press are important and should be followed closely. Since it does differ so much, I will focus on correctly seating the primer to make sure you get consistent and reliable ignition. When you are inserting/seating the primer, it is very important that you make sure the primer goes down far enough that it is about 0.001” below the base of the shell. This is to prevent possible slam fires and accidental discharges (and other very dangerous situations). Also, please wear safety glasses and ONLY store primers in the package they came in. Primers are strong enough to propel a 45 caliber wax projectile about 500 feet per second without powder and can also do some damage to you if you are not careful. Most of the time I read about someone having a primer go off on accident is when people have used the “Lee Loader” system that is a little kit to reload one at a time (at a range or something) … I do not recommend it. It was awesome when it was invented back in the day but we are definitely not wanting to go that route.
After all your brass is primed, we need to measure and fill each casing with the specified and tested load data only. This is important because we want safe, consistent and economical rounds and not something that will potentially blow up our precious gun or face.
After you have selected the appropriate powder, get your scale out and make sure it is set on “grains” as that is how powder is measured. We need to take some powder and measure it on our scale (some die sets come with a scoop that I love to use to take powder out to measure on a digital scale but do not recommend using as a new reloader to charge a case). We should check our load data, appropriate to our projectile weight and type (IE: a 55 grain, copper full metal jacketed projectile) and aim for that amount of powder. Let’s say we are loading 223 rifle cases and we are using H335 as our smokeless powder. I know that a charge (the amount of powder) to use for a 55 grain projectile is around 25 grains or so as a starting point. We should definitely pay attention to the starting points and not the max at first. Since we are aiming for 25 grains, take the powder via scoop and put it on the digital scale. Odds are, it will be over or under that amount so remove or add as necessary until you get to around 25.01 or 25.2. It does not have to be exactly to the decimal point for a starting load but it should be close. It does, however, need to be exact when dealing with a max charge. After you get the charge you need, place the funnel on the casing and put the single charge of powder in. Now move this away from the area you are working (preferably in a case or something to hold cases while you are charging ammo) to make sure you do NOT double charge the case. This can and does happen to some people if they get distracted or do not pay proper attention…yes, I have done it but I double-check my cases after I complete them and have caught a couple that would not have made for a fun afternoon at the range. Do this with each casing until all are charged.
***Note: The example I used above was for 223 ONLY. You should pay specific attention to the caliber you are loading and the correct powder for the correct projectile. Neither I nor this website take any responsibility for your handloads as all this information has been provided as a basic guideline only.***
Step 4: Seating the Projectile
What you will need:
Charged cases from previous steps, correct projectiles for the caliber you are loading for and a bullet seating die (that came with the set you purchased), calipers for measuring overall length (OAL). You may also want to crimp and some sets do come with a crimping die.
What you will do:
Take the bullet seating die that came with your caliber-specific set and thread it into the press as per the instructions. This is important as we want to seat the projectile far enough to be correct but not too far to possibly compress the powder if it is uncalled for (which it is often not called for) but we want it to stay in the casing and help provide that accuracy that stock ammunition sometimes cannot achieve. So, after correctly inserting the seating die, place a charged casing onto the shell holder and then place the projectile into the mouth of the case a bit. Make sure it is as straight as possible but don’t force it too far down. Now, pull/push down on the press lever to bring the casing with the projectile on it into the seating die. When you pull it back down, if all went the way it should, you will have a reloaded round. Congratulations! This is great but we want to do more. We also may want to crimp so there could be one more step. Continue this until you are done with your batch.
Next, we want to check our load data to make sure that the Overall Length (OAL in the load data) is not too long or short. Make sure you use your calipers (digital or analog) to check all your rounds. To do this we simply take a round and measure from the tip of the projectile to the base of the casing. You may find that some require seating the projectiles deeper if you find they do not meet the minimum OAL.
**If you are loading for a semi-automatic or rifle, you may want to crimp**. In order to crimp your rounds, you will need to again consult your instructions for your caliber specific dies and thread the crimping die in the press. After you do that, you simply adjust the die, per the instructions, to the crimp level you want and then put a round on the shell holder. Now simply pull/push the press rod and when it comes down, it should have a nice crimp mark. I do try to crimp on the cannelure (a line on a projectile, such as with the aforementioned 223 rounds) but you can crimp rounds that do not have a projectile with a cannelure. There are many, many schools of thought as to crimping and methods; different types of crimps and opinions as to necessity and accuracy gains but I will leave that to you to find what you like and want to accomplish.
Step 5: Shooting the rounds you reloaded
Let me be frank with you…the first time I reloaded a round and went to shoot it…I was nervous (to say the least). In fact, I considered tying fishing line to the trigger and putting my rifle in a vice to pull the trigger but in the end, I worked up enough courage to put on my safety glasses and ear protection and I just decided to go for it. I knew that I had followed the directions very closely, did not overcharge any rounds and I knew that I was at the starting loads. I was still a bit frightened but after the first trigger pull and the spent round ejected, I was good to go. No one mentioned this to me so I wanted to share this with you. It is absolutely possible that you might have zero concern about shooting your first completed round but you also might have some trepidation. If you are the latter, don’t worry too much and I promise, it gets a lot better after the first pull!! Reloading is a rewarding and sometimes economical experience (after you get all the gear to setup). Sometimes you shoot more and don’t save as much money but you gain experience, friends and become part of a group of people who are prepared for some situations that others are not. The online reloading (and offline) communities are great and everyone I’ve asked for help has been more than happy to do so!! Above all, have fun but BE SAFE!!!
***Disclaimer*** This article is just a reference point for the absolute basics of reloading. It is recommended that you buy and read a reloading book and also consult experts if you have questions or concerns. It is also highly recommended that you check your warranty manual for the guns you want to reload for as “handloading” can and does void some warranties. It is fully the responsibility of the reader to decide whether to reload and any safety or warranty issues reside with the reloader and not this website or article author.