Some folks getting started in reloading find it confusing. It need not be so. The short answer to the basic question of how to start is as follows. First: Get an up-to-date reloading Manual and read all the “how-to” material. Second: Review the data for the cartridge you wish to reload. Third: select a bullet weight, an appropriate gunpowder and the required primer size. Fourth: follow the suggestions in this document for the basic tools you will require. Finally: from all this information make a list of the items you will need and you are ready to go shopping.
Nonetheless, if you are to be a safe and sane reloader you may wish to know the long answer to the question, “How do I safely get started assembling ammo?” Several aspects required in becoming a safe reloader cannot be purchased at the local gun shop or firearms dealer. Most important is a good supply of common sense. Not everyone who drives is qualified to be an auto mechanic and not everyone who shoots is qualified to be a reloader. However, it is reasonably easy to develop the necessary skills and attitude and work ethic to be a safe reloader.
An appropriate place to reload is another important consideration. You will require a place free from all distractions. Included among the potential distractions are radios, TVs, kids, phones, pets and a host of other items that could possibly divert your attention from the task at hand. To prevent accidents, when assembling your own ammo you must be able to give undivided attention to what you are doing.
The work area chosen should have adequate lighting and a suitable bench. Apartment dwellers can convert a closet to include a bench and the necessary storage space. A basement or seldom used room can also provide the basis for a suitable reloading area. Powder and primers will require safe, lockable, remote storage. Do not overlook potential problems such as heavy objects stored in such a manner that they could fall onto the work area and perhaps cause ignition of primers or powder.
You must follow the recipes of reloading - the data listings - exactly. This is a basic requirement. If you think published data is deliberately kept extra safe and therefore you can develop loads that use powder charges heavier than the listed maximum loads, or that you can interpret data for unlisted powders and bullet weights, then you could be headed towards trouble.
There is never a justification for random experimentation when loading ammunition. If you cannot respect the wisdom, judgment and testing of the ballistic laboratory then you are not a candidate for reloading your own ammo. It is sometimes reasonable or tempting to wish to substitute one brand of bullet for another or to want to use a different brand primer. However, such changes must always be approached with extreme caution. When doing so the load must be worked up carefully. Always remember that any change in components, procedures, or loaded round dimensions will create a measurable change in ballistics. The direction of this change is not predictable and therefore all ballistics changes will require extreme caution and very careful load development.
Your first reloading efforts are best directed at duplicating the factory ammo you have been using for your firearm. Start with a bullet weight that duplicates your favorite factory load. If you do everything right, you will notice an immediate improvement in accuracy.
Later, you may wish to assemble your ammo for a specific purpose not well served with factory cartridges. For example, you may want to assemble an off-season varmint load for a thirty caliber big game rifle or a highly accurate target load. This is fine, but wait to do so until you have gained a bit of experience.
To ensure continued savings and accuracy, the reloader should purchase the most durable equipment that can be afforded. Equipment that fails to perform as hoped will quickly need to be replaced. If you start with reloading tools and accessories that will provide many thousands of loaded rounds of ammunition, you will never regret your purchase.
Your initial purchase need not include every conceivable accessory. For a good beginning you will need to equip your loading bench with a number of other specific basic items. To omit any one of them is to ensure a less than 100% safe reloading operation. The essential items are as follows.
Basic and Essential Loading Equipment
- Up-to-date Loading Manual
- Reloading press
- Shell holder
- Reloading die set of appropriate caliber
- Case lubricant*
- Case lubricant pad*
- Safety glasses (especially for priming)
- Priming unit
- Primer tray
- Powder scale (graduated in grains avoirdupois)
- Powder trickler
- Powder funnel
- Two loading blocks
- Dial indicating caliper (graduated in 0.001” increments)
- Case trimmer with pilot
- Deburring tool
*Note: items 5 and 6 are not required when using a carbide die with some handgun calibers
Click on the photos below for more information about specific products.
50th Reloading Handbook
Remember that all data sources become obsolete. The ballistic characteristics of specific components can and do change over time. It is possible for a component to undergo a substantial change without a name change. Thus, data changes with the passage of time. Failing to keep your data and knowledge up to date can bring on serious consequences.
Data tables are only a part of the knowledge needed to assemble safe ammunition. Take the time to read all of the instructional material in each manual update. Then reread it from time to time as a refresher.
Brass-Smith® Victory Press™
The reloading press selected is the foundation for the loading bench. A good beginning is to select a single station press having a “O” shaped frame, such as the Brass-Smith® Victory Press. This type of tool offers precise alignment of dies and shell holder, as the die station hole and shell holder ram hole are machined in line. Such tools will generally offer a lifetime of use. Lesser priced reloading tools are available for the shooter on a tight budget.
It is often advantageous to purchase the reloading press as part of a packaged kit. Such kits include many of the essential items needed at a substantial savings when compared to buying each item individually.
Multiple Item #’s
The shell holder allows the cartridge case to be aligned with, pushed into, and withdrawn from the various dies. One shell holder may serve for several cartridges. For example, a 30-06 shell holder is also correct for use with calibers 22-250, 243, 25-06, 270, 308 and many others. Be sure to use the correct shell holder or the case rim may tear off during resizing. This will leave the case jammed in the die, a very difficult situation to correct, and one best handled by the die manufacturer. Use the Shell Holder chart by Lyman to make sure you have the right shell holders on your workbench. A must for anyone reloading their own ammo.
Lyman Die Sets
Multiple Item #’s
Reloading Die Set
A die set may consist of two, three, or four separate dies. The first die is a resizing die designed to return the fired and expanded case back to factory dimensions. This die also usually removes the fired primer. Without appropriate resizing, fired cases may fail to rechamber. For beginning, as well as most advanced efforts, we suggest the purchase of a full length resizing die set. Most die sets are caliber specific. When it comes to reloading your own ammo, shop Lyman’s reloading die sets for proper bullet resizing.
Note: For many straight walled handgun cartridges, the use of a carbide sizing die will eliminate the need to apply sizing lubricant to the case and to remove the lubricant after sizing. This is a great time saver and prevents jammed-in-the-die cases due to improper lubrication.
WARNING: Never attempt to resize a loaded round.
Sizing dies for bottleneck cases include a spindle mounted expanding button which opens the case neck to a dimension suitable to properly accept and hold the bullet. Straight walled cases must be neck expanded in a separate die. This means that all straight case die sets have an extra die.
The bullet seating die, seats the bullet to the correct depth (adjustable). When required it can also crimp cases to bullets. A crimp is necessary for ammo used in most revolvers and in guns with tubular magazines. Ammo for use in pump or semi-automatic rifles is also normally crimped. Some shooters find crimping to be more precise if done separately from bullet seating. Thus, an extra die is sometimes used. Most bullet seat/crimp dies use a roll crimp. However, taper crimp dies are used for reloading of cases which headspace from the case mouth.
Qwik Slick Case Lube
For all reloading efforts (except when using a carbide die for straight walled handgun cartridges), cases need to be lubricated before resizing. Failure to do so will result in a case hopelessly jammed in the resizing die. Qwik Slick™ Case Lube allows you to spray an entire loading block of cases in seconds!
Case Lube Kit
Case Lubricant Pad
The proper method of applying lubricant is to use a lubricating pad to transfer sizing lubricant to your cases. As an alternative to using a pad you may use a spray-on type of lube such as Lyman’s Quick Slick Case Lube. Improve your reloading process with the Case Lube Kit by Lyman. Order today!
E-ZEE Prime Hand Priming Tool
Priming units are also called priming punches, priming rams, or priming arms. Priming units are used for reloaders to achieve maximum accuracy. All loading presses are equipped with basic priming units that accomplish the task of seating new primers. With these, the primer is often seated as the sized case is withdrawn from the resizing die (or in the case of a straight walled case as it is withdrawn from the neck expanding die). However, it is suggested that the shooter interested in maximum primer seating uniformity will do best to replace such standard priming units with a Ram Prime system. Ram Prime units are mounted at the normal die station and can be adjusted to give a very uniform primer seating depth by using the press stroke stop as a means to control primer insertion depth. Other tools such as a hand priming tool can greatly increase the speed and comfort in which cases can be primed manually during handloading. It may be best however for a beginner to start with the Ram Prime die as only one primer at a time would be handled.
A primer tray is used to orient all primers one side up so as to ensure that, as each one is picked up and placed into the primer post, it is correctly oriented. It will also help keep primers free from any contaminants.
To ensure the precise amount of powder is placed into each case, each powder charge must be carefully weighed. A powder scale is also required for the correct adjustment of any accessory powder measure. No dangerous gun powder overfills or underfills with a Powder Scale by Lyman.
Powder Trickler (aka Dribblers)
These make the job go quickly and accurately. The trickler adds powder, one granule at a time, to the scale pan in order to bring a propellant charge to exact weight. Lyman’s powder Trickler is the first trickler designed that works with any reloading scale, mechanical or electronic.
E-ZEE Powder Funnel
Without a powder funnel there is no practical way to get propellant from the scale pan into the case. A simple but effective funnel will work with cases as small as 22 caliber and as large as 45 caliber. The Powder Funnel by Lyman is a great reloading tool to pour gunpowder into a case without spills.
Loading blocks hold the cases on the bench in an organized manner. Always use two loading blocks. Cases are picked up, a loading step performed and then they are placed in the second loading block (positioned on the opposite side of the loading tool). Lyman’s Bleacher Blocks are compact and sturdy for holding your cases during reloading operations.
Dial Indicating or Digital Caliper
This tool allows the reloader to accurately measure the depth of seated primers, to check case lengths before and after trimming, to maintain an appropriate cartridge overall length and to discover the source of many difficulties. Calipers are available as inexpensive plastic types or stainless steel models that sometimes outlast the reloader.
Lyman Universal Trimmer Power Pack Combo
Cases stretch when they are fired. Case bodies are often shortened when resized but their necks tend to stretch during this process. After a single firing and sizing, a case may stretch past the point of being suitable for reloading. Under some circumstances, a case may be reloaded and fired four or five times before its length exceeds the maximum allowable dimension. In any event, there will always be a point at which the case must be trimmed back to a workable dimension before it can be reloaded. Trimmers require the use of a pilot of appropriate caliber to keep cases positively aligned during the trimming process. Some case trimmers require the use of an appropriate shell holder. Precise case length is critical to accuracy and smooth, reliable functioning. Lyman has the broadest selection of trimming tools in reloading.
During trimming, burrs form on the inside and outside of the case mouth. A deburring tool quickly gets the case smooth and ready for reloading. Cases should be deburred for the first reloading, especially inside the case mouth, even if they are not trimmed.
The cost of getting set up with the necessary essential tools will vary depending on where the equipment is purchased and exactly what model tools are selected. The return on the initial investment can be rapid or slow depending upon how often you shoot.
You will require a supply of primers, powder and bullets to begin reloading. The cost of these will vary dependent upon the caliber and the type of ammunition you want to assemble.
There will come a time when you may wish to add to your basic reloading tools. Accessory items can help improve accuracy, save on ammunition costs, or make the loading process faster. Some of the more useful accessories include the following:
1. Powder Measure And Optional Stand
No. 55 Powder Measure
A powder measure allows the reloader to dispense a near exact powder charge rapidly. Because charges thrown from a measure will vary, gun powder measures must be used in conjunction with a scale. To do so, adjust the measure to throw a charge slightly below the desired weight. Set the measure so that no individual charge will be over the desired weight - it is irritating to try to remove excess propellant from the scale pan. Then, meter a charge directly onto the scale pan. Return the pan to the scale and bring the charge into exact balance by adding the last few granules of powder with a powder trickler for accurate measurements.
Primer Pocket Cleaner
2. Primer Pocket Cleaner
After decapping, inspection of the primer pocket will reveal a hard, crusty, black deposit. If allowed to build to excessive amounts, this deposit can interfere with uniform primer seating and thus cause inaccuracy. A high primer can also be a potential hazard. This deposit is easily removed with a few twists of a primer pocket cleaner. Great for handloaders.
Cylcone Rotary Tumbler
3. Case Cleaning Equipment
A dull looking case is of no consequence. A dirty case, however, may reduce reloading quality and keep a defect from being noticed or scratch reloading dies and/or chambers requiring premature die/firearm replacement.
Cases can be cleaned in a number of ways. Case tumblers, either vibratory or rotary can make some mighty dirty brass look like new. Case tumblers are available to fit almost every need with respect to the quantity of cases to be processed and cost. Ultrasonic cleaners also do a great job and will clean out primer pockets as well as the inside of the case.
Turbo Sonic 2500
Turbo 1200 Pro Tumbler
Scale check weight sets
4. Scale Check Weight Sets
A reloading tool that keeps your scale honest.Scales are delicate instruments. Should a scale be inadvertently subjected to some undue rough handling, a scale check weight set can help determine if the scale’s accuracy has been compromised.
All-American 8 Press
5. Turret Presses
Turret presses have multiple die stations. The advantage is that a reloader can place a case into the shell holder and fully load it, by rotating each die into position. This speeds up loading and is a method sometimes favored by handgun cartridge reloaders.
Turret presses also allow the reloader who loads cases by the preferred batch method (performing the same operation on all of the cases to be loaded before moving on to the next step) to set up all the dies and leave them in position on the press. This eliminates the need to repeatedly remove and replace dies. Lyman's improved and versatile Turret presses allows smooth indexing while maintaining rock solid turret support.
6. Flashhole Uniformer
This little handheld reamer will remove the burr at the terminus of the flash hole. This is an accessory that originally saw use with serious bench rest shooters. Today, in their search for accuracy many handloaders feel it worthwhile to deburr flash holes.
Primer Pocket Reamer
7. Primer Pocket Reamer
Primer pocket reamers are required to remove the crimped material from military style cases. Such cases have the primer locked into place by an impact-shifting of case head brass around the end of the primer pocket. It is best to use a special heavy-duty decapping rod assembly to remove crimped in-place primers. After removing fired primers from such cases, a new primer cannot be safely or correctly seated until a reamer is used to remove the crimped material. The Primer Pocket Reamer by Lyman is essential for removing military crimps.
Primer Pocket Uniformer
8. Primer Pocket Uniformer
A primer pocket uniformer is used by many shooters to ensure that the bottom of every primer pocket is flat, which ensures that every primers is seated to a uniform depth. The benefits of this additional effort however may not be noticed unless reloading for a very accurate rifle. The Primer Pocket Uniformer by Lyman allows reloaders to ensure a uniform primer depth for more consistent ignition and improved accuracy.
9. Automatic Electronic Powder Scale
While not inexpensive, this accessory can simplify the process of powder charge weighing and improve accuracy on powder measurements. At a push of a button the electronic scale automatically feeds powder onto the scale pan, first at a fast rate and then at a greatly slower rate to bring the scale into balance. Once started it is a hands-off operation.
As time goes by, the reloader will find that the list of other available accessories appears near endless. Let real needs or personal goals dictate which ones should be on your loading bench.
Getting started requires only the previously discussed sixteen basic items. Indeed, one could happily load hundreds-of-thousands of rounds with only a few additional accessories - a powder measure and primer pocket cleaner being the most likely candidates. From this point on, it should be obvious when you will actually benefit from an addition to your basic tools. Lacking an obvious need, chances are you will get along nicely without further additions.