The Beginner’s Guide to Reloading

the beginners guide to reloading. the reloading bench at guns and gear guide

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What is Reloading and Why Should You Do It?

While many sports shooters and hunters may never dive into the world of reloading, those who do find it very rewarding. 

Reloading, or handloading, is the process of making your own ammunition by assembling the components: case, primer, powder, and bullet.

This allows for customization and potential cost savings over factory-loaded ammunition.

There are plenty of good reasons to take up the hobby, but there are also many things to consider. In this article, we’ll cover the basics, including safety, necessary reloading equipment, and the benefits of rolling your own. I will also cover the step-by-step process of reloading on my progressive press.

However, one thing I will not discuss is specific load data or recipes, as some call them. Several resources are available that cover load data and give recommendations for safe limits to stick within. And don’t worry, I’ll point you to some of the resources I found particularly useful.

The Guns and Gear Guide reloading bench.

Here’s what you’ll get from our guide:

The following guide aims to demystify the reloading process for new or future reloaders.

I’ll offer clear insights and practical advice on the essential equipment needed to get started.

From understanding the components of ammunition to selecting the right tools for your reloading setup, I’ll walk you through what it takes to start reloading your ammunition.

I will answer the most common questions and equip you with the knowledge to begin this rewarding hobby confidently.

There is much to cover on the topic, and I’ll do my best to break it down into what you need to know as a beginner.

So, if you’re ready to take the next step into a rewarding hobby and start reloading, read on!

Understanding the Basics of Reloading

Understanding the basics can initially seem overwhelming for those new to reloading, and you’re not alone.

When I first started, it took me quite some time to research, read tutorials, and watch video content before I poured my first measurement of powder—and for good reason.

You must have a firm grasp of reloading basics before attempting to do it live.

This article is a significant first step to understanding the basics.

Let’s talk about the basics before going any further.

anatomy of a cartridge

1. Identify Your Reloading Goals: Understand whether you’re reloading for precision shooting, casual range visits, or competition. This will influence the type of equipment and materials you need.

2. Know Your Firearm and Cartridge: Familiarize yourself with the specific firearm you intend to reload for. Different firearms, even within the same caliber, can have unique requirements.

3. Research and Education: Learn about reloading through guides like this, tutorials, books, and experienced reloaders. Understanding the tolerances and load data for your specific caliber and firearm is critical for safety and accuracy.

4. Safety First: Always prioritize safety by understanding and adhering to standard reloading safety procedures. Being thorough, analytical, and organized minimizes risks. Remember, complacency can lead to dangerous mistakes.

5. Equipment and Components: Learn about the essential equipment for reloading, including presses, dies, scales, and safety gear. You’ll also need to know the components involved: cases, primers, powders, and bullets (projectiles).

6. Brass Considerations: Decide if you’ll use new (fresh) brass, once-fired brass, or brass fired multiple times. Each has different preparation requirements.

7. Step-by-Step Process: Map out the reloading process from start to finish. Understand each step, from cleaning and inspecting brass to seating the bullet and final inspection.

8. Record Keeping: Maintain detailed logs of your reloading batches, including load data, observations, and any adjustments made. This can be invaluable for refining your process and ensuring consistency.

By embracing these basics, you’re laying a solid foundation for your reloading journey. Each step is vital for creating reliable and safe ammunition tailored to your needs and specifications. As you progress, you’ll find that reloading is not just about producing ammunition; it’s about understanding the intricate relationship between shooter, firearm, and cartridge.

Benefits of Reloading Your Own Ammo

As mentioned in the intro, there may be several reasons why a person might want to take up reloading. 

Identifying a few of the main benefits will help you select the equipment best suited to your needs. 

So, let’s look at the top reasons we get into reloading in the first place. 

When considering loading your ammo, the first thing that comes to mind is saving money, right? 

That is true; however, cost savings only happen over time. 

There can be a significant investment when you’re just starting. And, much like with any tool or equipment, there is a sliding price and quality scale regarding reloading equipment. 

We’ll discuss specifics later in this post.

Secondly, although this point will soon outweigh the first, it is about control and accuracy

When you can develop a load specifically for a firearm, you end up with a far superior product to factory ammunition. 

Reloading allows you to fine-tune your ammo based on its intended use and, more specifically, how it performs in your firearm. 

Last but certainly not least is the education factor. Earlier, I referred to reloading as an investment because I genuinely believe it is an investment—both in the knowledge you’ll gain over time and in preserving this age-old tradition. Also, there is something very satisfying about the entire process, from start to finish.

Reasons to Reload Instead of Buying Factory Ammo

In summarizing the essentials and profound benefits of reloading, it’s clear that the practice transcends mere hobbyism—it’s an art form that offers unparalleled control over one’s shooting experience. 

9mm projectiles and loaded round from guns and gear guide.

The ability to customize ammunition for a specific firearm not only enhances accuracy but also provides a deeper connection to the shooting process.

This customization allows shooters to achieve optimal performance for competition, hunting, long range shooting, or just plinking.

Reloading ammo also grants you independence from the limitations of factory ammunition.

Whether tailoring loads for rare or antique firearms, reducing recoil for a more pleasant shooting experience, or simply ensuring you have ammunition when supply is scarce, the control is in your hands.

While the cost savings are a significant benefit over time, they are but one aspect of the rich tapestry of advantages that reloading offers.
Want to calculate your ammo cost? Check out our helpful Reloading Calculator

Essential Tools and Equipment for the Beginner

In the last sections, I covered the basics and benefits of rolling your own ammo. Now, it’s time to explore the various equipment and terms you’ll need to familiarize yourself with. 

I used the term “Essential” in the section title since there are specific tools and equipment you will need on hand.

As you go deeper down the rabbit hole, you will learn that there is no end to the gadgets available to you. However, as this article is the beginner’s guide to Reloading, I will only dig into specific components, everything you need to get started.

Identifying your Reloading Goals

Before discussing the specific tools needed to start reloading, it makes sense to ask yourself, “What am I reloading for?” Your budget and objectives determine your equipment needs. 

Let me unpack that a bit. 

For example, if your reloading goal is to produce ammo for precision/long-range shooting, you will most definitely look to acquire either a single-stage press or a turret press with high-quality dies

On the other hand, if your intention is bulk rounds, for competition, or just plinking, you should look at either a turret press or, more ideally, a progressive press to speed up the overall process. 

Balancing Budget and Goals

Reloading can be as affordable or expensive as you make it.

A single-stage press is a good starting point for those looking to save money and learn the basics.

Precision reloaders should invest in high-quality equipment from the beginning, whereas high-volume reloaders should consider a progressive press for time efficiency.

Choosing the Right Reloading Kit

You can amass the tools and equipment to get into reloading in two ways. 

  1. You can acquire individual components. New or used. 
  2. Look at one of the all-inclusive reloading kits. Great for beginners!

For my first reloading setup, I went with option number 1 because I had a bit of a “buy once, cry once” mentality. However, looking back, I could have saved a ton of money by focusing on my specific needs as a beginner. 

Starting with a reloading kit is an excellent way for beginners to get most of the essential tools in one package. 

Kits vary in complexity and price, from basic setups ideal for single-stage reloading to more comprehensive packages suited for progressive reloading.

When selecting a kit, consider the type of ammunition you plan to reload and how your goals might evolve. 

While a kit can offer great value, ensure it aligns with your current and future reloading goals.

Reloading Kits & Presses

Hornady Lock-n-Load Classic Reloading Press Kit

Lock-N-Load reloading kit includes classic single-stage press, powder measure, electronic scale, Hornady Handbook of Cartridge Reloading and more
  • Single-Stage Press
  • Ideal for beginners in reloading, this kit includes all the necessary tools to begin. (Reloading dies and shell holders must be purchased separately.)

Lyman Ultimate Reloading System

lyman ultimate 2
  • Turret Press
  • A great, all in one setup. Everything you need to process, and reload ammo. 
    (does not include dies, or shell holders)

Hornady Lock-N-Load AP

Hornady Lock-n-Load AP
  • Progressive Press Kit
  • Complete press set up, all you need the dies and shell plates. (does not include additional reloading equipment) 

The Reloader’s Check List

  • Reloading Bench (somewhere that you can mount your press)
  • Reloading Manual (data and guide)
  • Reloading Press (single-stage press, turret press, or progressive press)
  • Eye Protection
  • Note Pad (your reloaders journal)
  • Reloading Scales (mechanical or digital)
  • Powder Measurer (as a press component or standalone)
  • Powder Funnel
  • Reloading Block (a place to stand each cartridge as you work)
  • Callipers (digital or dial)
  • Reloading Dies (including decaping die, resizing die, crimp / bullet seating die)
  • Shell Plate or Holder (specific to the caliber and press body)
  • Case Gauge (specific to caliber)
  • Case Trimmer (more applicable to rifle and magnum pistol cartridges)
  • Chamfer & Deburring Tool
  • Vibratory Tumbler (a way of cleaning fired brass)
  • Primer Pocket Cleaner
  • Priming Tool (if not done on the press)
  • Case Lube
  • Brass Cases
  • Powder
  • Primers
  • Bullets
  • Ammo Box

Types of Reloading Presses and Their Functions

Depending on your reloading goals—precision shooting, volume production, or a mix of both—the type of press you choose plays a pivotal role. Here’s a high-level overview of the three primary types of presses you’ll encounter and their primary functions: 

  1. Single-Stage Press: Ideal for precision and beginners, a single-stage press performs one action per handle pull. You must manually change and recalibrate dies for each reloading step.
  2. Turret Press: A turret press holds multiple dies simultaneously and requires manual indexing to move from one die to the next, allowing one action per handle pull with easier die transition.
    For detailed look at the Redding T7 turret press , check out my full review: Redding T7 Turret Press
  3. Progressive Reloading Press: A progressive press automates the reloading process, performing multiple actions (up to five) with a single handle pull, thanks to its auto-indexing feature.

Essentials for a Succes

Above, I listed off some of the most common equipment, tools and presses needed. However, a key factor in your success is focus

Focus is essential.

To ensure safety and precision, you need a dedicated space where you can work without interruption. A reloading bench in a quiet corner of your home, garage, or workshop is ideal.

While reloading, you should avoid multitasking and rushing. Finish each task before moving on to the next.

Getting to know the different types of reloading presses

It’s crucial to ensure that focus is paramount in your reloading area. Even the most experienced should approach each session with focus.

Creating a dedicated space for reloading is about respecting the craft and acknowledging the importance of safety in every round you produce.

So, make your space, focus on each step of the process, and let the quality of your work reflect the care and attention you bring to every session.

Order a Reloading Manual and Read it!

When it comes to manuals, two primary types of resources emerge as pillars of knowledge: reloading manuals and load data manuals. One such book is The ABCs of Reloading by C. Rodney James. Educating yourself on the principles will help you to form a good understanding of the process.

Reloading Manuals & Load Data

The ABCs of Reloading, 9th Edition

The ABCs of Reloading
  • Covers a wide range of topics
  • Not specific to one caliber or firearm
  • Great place to start

Hornady Reloading Manual - 11th Edition

hornady 11th edition
  • Load data 
  • Covers a wide range of calibers and firearms
  • Mainly focuses on Hornady products

Lyman 51st Edition

Lyman 51st Edition Reloading Handbook
  • Comprehensive load data
  • Covers a wide range of powders
  • Great reference book

A Reloading manual offers a comprehensive overview of the reloading process. It covers critical topics such as understanding different tools, reading load data, and the principles behind each step. 

Load data manuals provide specific data, tailored to different calibers, powders, bullet weights and barrel lengths. They combine practical recipes with insights into the science of ballistics

It is crucial to have at least one comprehensive reloading manual; however, you may end up with more load data manuals over time.

As you delve deeper into reloading, you’ll discover that each source of information contributes to your overall understanding. 

Remember, reloading is a commitment to understanding and mastering a craft that rewards precision, patience, and ongoing education.

In the into I mentioned that I would not be discussing any specific reloading data here in this article. However, I did say that I would point you in the direction of reputable sources. 

There are many resource manuals available both in paperback and digitally online. You can find manuals written by popular brands like Nosler, Hornady, Hodgdon, Lyman and many others. It is highly recommended to have at least one of these manuals as they are an absolute must for reference.

Personally, my go-to online resource is the Hodgdon Reloading Center Data

How to Reload Ammo: A Step-by-Step Guide

Before diving into the specifics of reloading ammo, it’s crucial to underscore that this guide serves as a high-level overview to outline the fundamental steps in the beginner’s guide to reloading. 

It is not a substitute for a comprehensive manual, which will provide in-depth instructions, safety protocols, and specific load data essential for safe and effective reloading practices. 

Always refer to a detailed manual and familiarize yourself with the nuances of your specific equipment and the caliber you’re working with.

The following sections and steps will differ depending on a few things. The process will vary if you use once-fired brass, shiny new stuff, reloading handgun ammo, or rifle ammo. 

For example, with new brass, it won’t be necessary to decap (remove a spent primer) since there isn’t one. In addition, running the new brass through a tumbler is not required.

Also, reloading rifle rounds requires additional steps compared to pistol ammo. The exact process may also differ depending on the die set and press you use. 

To simplify this article, I will explain how the process works for reloading 9mm pistol ammo on my progressive press

Cleaning and Preparing Your Brass

As mentioned, I will discuss reloading 9mm on my Dillon Precision XL650 progressive press. In addition, in this example, I am using range brass from the floor of my range. (dirty, nasty, beat to hell, but 100% free brass. hahaha)

Tote full of 9mm range brass ready to be prepped fro reloading.

As you can imagine, the first step is to sort and inspect the brass. I’m looking for obvious defects, damage, incorrect caliber, and general nastiness. 

Once I’m satisfied that the brass meets a minimum requirement, I’ll toss a batch into the vibratory tumbler, which contains a polishing media, more specifically, crushed walnut. 

After a few hours, I’ll sift the brass and inspect it again now that it is clean. If I’m using range brass, I tend to be ruthless regarding inspection at this point. Only the best brass will move on to the next step.

Setting the Powder Charge and Seating Die

Here’s where things start to get interesting. Since I’m using a progressive press, I must set up each Die Station to run my machine through the stages. For detailed look at the Dillon Precision XL650, check out my full review: Dillon XL650 Review

For the purpose of this beginner’s guide to reloading, I will not discuss the specific process for installing each of the five dies in my press setup. But essentially, I have set up each die according to the requirements of the caliber, 9mm. 

Adjusting the die on the tool head sets each die to a specific depth. 

A Measure of Powder: With my dies in place, I will measure an appropriate powder weight based on trusted load data. For this step, I ensure that my press does not have brass in the hopper or primers in the primer tube.

All I want to do is place a single 9mm brass (with spent primer still seated so the powder doesn’t spill though the flash hole) under the powder dispenser. Pull the press handle to dispense an amount of powder into the case, then take that charge and weigh it on my scale. I repeat this process until the powder charge is consistent and meets the required measurement. 

Additionally, I use a powder check system in station 3, which follows the powder charge station. When the brass moves into station 3, and the shell plate comes up to meet the toolhead, a rod dips into the case. If the powder is over or undercharged, an audible beep occurs, alerting me to a potential problem. It’s a nice feature to have, offering peace of mind but not totally necessary. 

Seating your Bullet: Since I’m using a progressive press, the next station is the bullet seating die. I’ll set this up using a dummy round with no powder. Once the projectile is seated, I’m looking for the proper overall length OAL. I check the OAL of the round using a dial caliper, and referencing my reloading manual.  

Crimping the Case Mouth: The final station in my press is the crimp die. For straight-wall brass, particularly 9mm, all I’m looking to do here is remove the flare from the powder die and give a slight crimp to the case mouth. 

Running the Progressive to Reloaded Ammo

Before I start, the last thing I need to do is fill my primer magazine, make sure my low primer alert is on, and fill the hopper with my clean brass. I’m now ready to run the press and start making ammo. 

Decapping, Resizing, and Priming: This is the beauty of a progressive press. Once an empty case is set into the shell plate, one pull and one push accomplishes three tasks. The decapping pin knocks out the spend rimer, the brass is resized, and bringing the shell plate back down, a firm push forward seats a new primer into the primer pocket. We’re ready for powder!

Case mouth flare and Powder charge: Every time I repeat the process above, the brass is reindexed and the pull on the press handle sends the brass up to flare the case mouth and deposit the powder charge. 

Powdercheck: The following pull indexes on the powder check, and as long as no alarm goes off, I’m ready to place a bullet on the flared case. 

Seat the Bullet: On the next pull, the bullet is seated and ready for the final die. 

Crimp Die: Finally, the crimp die gives a slight squeeze to the case mouth, ensuring that the projectile is held in place before ejecting the new bullet into the ammo tray.

Once I have run out of primers (100 primers in the tube), I’ll stop and inspect each round. I want make sure the primers, bullets are seated properly. Finally, I place each round in a case gauge to ensure that the round will chamber properly. If any of these things are out of spec, the round goes into a reject tray.

Safety, Care, and Maintenance in Reloading

Proper safety precautions must be taken at all times to ensure the safety of yourself and others

Understand the risks and take appropriate steps to minimize them. Failure to do so can result in severe injury or worse. 

Also, one should always abide by the Federal regulations regarding explosives. 

And, of course, always wear appropriate PPE when handling and working with them. Learning how to reload requires a commitment to safety, a deep respect for the process, and an ongoing education.

Organize Your Reloading Bench

Keeping organized is very important in ensuring your safety.

I Keep a Detailed Journal: One of the best ways to stay organized is to start a reloading journal. Here, you will log all your data for your specific project. 

You may want to include the date, the firearm and its caliber, and the load data consisting of the brass, the powder, the primer, and the bullet.

Accurate notes will help you in the long run and give you time to walk through all the processes.

Label Everything: If you step away from your reloading press, especially for an extended period, label the tool head with the current load you’re working on. A simple sticky note would do the trick. 

A well organized reloading bench.


Brass Organization: For rifle shooters, segregating once-fired or fire-formed brass from range pick-ups is crucial. I use small totes to store and separate all my brass. 

Projectiles Storage: Keep bullets in their original packaging or a clearly labeled alternative storage solution that specifies bullet weights.

Powder Storage: Make sure you are up to date on your jurisdictions rules regarding proper explosives storage. And while this may sound obvious, don’t mix powders. haha, I had to say it. 

Importance of Following Reloading Manual Instructions


Don’t take my word for it.
The next thing I’m about to say may sound counter-intuitive to the purpose of this article but bear with me. Don’t take anybody’s word when it comes to reloading data.

Not mine, not your buddy’s, and certainly not something you watched on YouTube. You alone are responsible for your safety. Understand what the maximum loads are and what the dangers are should you exceed them. And as such, you must always verify your load data with one of the powder or bullet manufacturers guides.

These reloading manuals will provide you with valuable information based on the components you’re using. They’ll refer to the maximum power charge and pressure of the load, while also noting the most accurate composition based on the firearm they used to test.

Conclusion

In conclusion, reloading your ammo is both fun, and a rewarding hobby. If you’re the type of person who enjoys the science and technical side of things, then I’m sure you’ll be able to jump right in.

Another thing that makes this such a great pastime is its community. I owe a good deal of what I know to people who took the time to share their experiences with me. In turn, drop me a line, and I’d be happy to answer any questions that you may have about getting started.

Also, let me know in the comments below if you found this article helpful, and there is a topic you’d like to see us cover on Guns and Gear Guide.
Thanks for reading!
Josh

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A man in a dark T-shirt and a cap is aiming a Sig Sauer P226 handgun at a target off-camera. He is wearing protective earmuffs and sunglasses, and the setting appears to be an outdoor shooting range with a concrete ceiling and green structural elements.
Josh Malcolm
EDC Enthusiast
&
Gear Whore

I’m a dedicated firearms enthusiast as well as an advocate for firearm rights. I have a great appreciation for quality gear, be it firearms, every day carry, or hunting and outdoor equipment. 

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