Sunday, July 29, 2012

Beginner's Reloading Advice?

I'm seriously thinking about getting started in reloading. I'm pretty sure I understand the basics, having helped my best buddy do it many times before I moved out here to Kaliforniastan in 1980, but I'm also sure things have change a LOT since 1980!

SO......I'm calling on my friends out here to suggest

1. Some good beginners books about it
2. Some good quality equipment; press, dies, scales, et al
3. Sage advice about how to do it, and store my supplies, safely.

I know a LOT of you have far more experience in this than I do, so if you had it to do over again, where would you change things, and what "rookie" mistakes did you make?

I promise I won't laugh.

God knows I've made plenty of rookie mistakes in most things I did when I was young and first learning about whatever new endeavor struck my fancy.

Now that I'm older, I ask and read anything I can find before I dive headlong into things!


  1. Look into a Dillon XL 650 press. They are not inexpensive, but they are fast (So it pays for itself quicker!)

    Digital scale, powder meter, case feeder, primer flip tray - a magical device, powder funnel.

    My tip: even though I've calibrated the automatic measure, I still use the funnel and the digial scale to confirm powder charges. Sometimes static causes a few grains (more or less) variation.

    Knowledgeable folks will advise to start with low pressure and build up to the desired load. My rookie mistake was starting too low. The first reload round I fired made it only about 50 feet down-range. Duh.

    For precise load evaluation, you may also want to look into a chronograph for velocity measurement.

    I don't use a Chrony because I have been loading 9mm subsonic rounds - when I hear to supersonic crackle, my load's too hot.

    For subsonic 9mm I use 4.7 gr. of HP-38 for 147 gr 9mm bullets.

    You are right in your last sentence: Read, read, and read some more. Especially, to confirm load recommendations (like the one above) that you see on the Internet.

  2. Hey Bro,
    Give me a day or so and I'll give you some decent advice. If you have any questions that you really want to know before that, shoot me an email. I don't know everything (only been at it for 30 years) about reloading but I'll damned sure tell you everything I know.

  3. Go look at Carteach's blog and PawPaw's, both have good advice. And take wirecutter up on his offer too!

  4. Just follow the directions to the letter, and visually inspect every case to ensure that there is powder in them. And yes, you really do need to measure overall cartridge length when done. Do a few rounds first, test them, and only then make more. Nothing sucks worse than a marathon reloading session that produces several hundred rounds of ammo that's unusable.

  5. Well, on the advice I've received so far, I ordered a Speer reloading manual, a Lee reloading manual, and a book called "The ABC's of Reloading".
    Should give me some interesting reading for this next launch mission I'm going out on!

  6. I am almost a total newbie at reloading, having only reloaded about 100 rounds, all for rifles (.223, .30-06 and a few .308). I bought the RCBS Rock Chucker single stage press, and now that I've gotten started, I really wish I had gotten the progressive press. Everyone convinced me that I should get the single stage because the progressives are too complicated for a beginner. They told me you'll always need a single stage; if nothing else, to work up loads for the progressive press. Maybe those are both true, but I don't know. The biggest problem I had was getting the handheld priming tool to work, and that isn't used in the progressive systems.

    It is a painstaking process, although it won't be hard for someone with your background. It's like any sort of lab work; chemistry or microwave engineering. Meticulous attention really pays off. I think I'm going to get one of those automated scales that dispenses powder to within 0.1 grain every time.

    The Speer manual is excellent (came with the RCBS), and "The ABCs of Reloading" is worth it. I also like the Hornady reloading manual. I also got the little paperback that Hodgdon sells, which was worthwhile.

  7. Chris Byrne has covered this subject extensively:

    And the forum he helps moderate has a wiki that is down now, but I'd just bet there is a ton of info there as well. The forum traces it's roots to the one Kim Du Toit started so many moons ago. PawPaw is a member there and contributes info on reloading on specific questions there as well.

  8. Thanks for the links and advice so far, guys.
    I've got two votes for RCBS, and no other recommendations. I know I've read somewhere that either Lee or Dillon was not the one of the better presses to buy. Somebody actually called one of them "junk".
    Looks like about $600 should get me a very good start. I only shoot 45ACP, 357 Magnum, and 30-30, but when I finally get around to ordering an M1 from the CMP, I'll need the dies for either 30-06 or 308.
    That's another decision I have to make....what caliber to order my M1 in!

  9. The Lee presses are ~okay, but are nowhere near the quality of RCBS.
    I second the Rock Chucker supreme. I have the autoprime and the repetitive powder charger (don't recall the model name), and I routinely load out about 100-150 rounds of pistol ammo an hour, or 50-75 rounds of rifle ammo.
    Don't be afraid to buy an inexpensive single stage press at first, but prepare to buy a progressive within a year or two, and buy the best progressive you can justify when you do.

    My advice? Be meticulous in what you're doing.

    Inspect your cases after tumbling them. Look for cracks and/or bulges. On milsurp cases, look for cases with mil primers, which are a pain to deprime and a pain to reprime, and must be reamed out.
    Look for deformed shoulders, excess dinging, and unburned-ish powder.

    Buy some Hornady One-Shot for your rifle cases. There are other ways to lube cases, but One-shot is the fastest I've used, and won't foul your primers or powder.

    Never, ever, ever put an unlubed rifle case into a die. You will hate yourself and wish death upon many by the time you get the case out.

    At first, pay attention to the way your brass feels as you push it into the dies. You might even buy some new brass at first to practice with to get a feel for how things work.
    Don't sweat OAL on pistol brass (notice I said brass, not loaded rounds), I did at first and found I was wasting my time. Now all my pistol brass (non magnum, anyway) is simply tumbled, given a glance for brass issues, then loaded.

    Headspace on lower pressure pistol rounds isn't as critical as on say, a rifle round. OAL on a rifle cartridge is VERY important. Pistol, not so much. My pistol brass varies by 1/8" (or more) sometimes, and I've noticed no difference. Usually, by the time that length will matter on your pistol brass, it won't size/deprime without being crushed, and that is a good indicator that the brass is too thin anyway. After you have a few hundred rounds loaded, you'll have a good feel for irregular brass as you pull the handle and feel the brass getting squeezed in the die.

    Going over (or under) your ideal powder charge by a couple tenths isn't the end of the world. Keep a log of what you loaded your first cartridges with, take it to the range with you. Weigh your rifle brass, weigh the finished rounds (in a group if you have to, to save time), to ensure you don't have a problem round.
    For example, I load my 5.56 to ~19 grains of Reloader 7 if I want to plink <100 yards with FMJ bullets.
    For the same cartridge AND bullet, I'll load 21 grains of Reloader 7 or 27 grains of H4895.
    When I reload these, I DON'T mix them up, because I'm going to weigh the lot of them, then do the math on what it *should* weigh.

    Rounds like my match 30-06 or .308, and especially my .50 BMG, get every cartridge weighed.

    Rifle cases like the .223/5.56 don't have enough room to be double charged, if you screw up it will be evident. The same cannot be said for 30-06, 50 BMG, etc. This is where paying attention matters.

    Many aftermarket rifle bullets will have a "cannelure", which will give you a good "eyeball" way of knowing your bullets are seated deep enough. OAL is important, as the deeper you seat the bullet, the more pressure you'll have.

    Pay attention to your primers. They are a good pressure indicator. Flattened or inverted primer cups mean you've reached the edge of awesomeness.

    Check out, there is a wealth of knowledge there, from load data by bullet caliber, powder manufacturer, and even a cost analysis. I learned a LOT from that site and the shop where I bought my press. I paid through the sinuses to buy local, but the shop stood behind it and walked me through every bit of it.

  10. My favorite part: "Flattened or inverted primer cups mean you've reached the edge of awesomeness."

    1. Heh.
      That is an immediate indicator you are just this side of trouble, yes.

  11. Two of my books arrived today, "The ABCs of Reloading" by C. Rodney Smith, and "Modern Reloading" by Richard Lee. I had hoped the Speer book that wirecutter and others recommended would be here, but no joy.
    The "ABCs" book is just excellent for all the little picky, nitty-griity details about the hows and whys of reloading, with lots of pictures. Just looking through it for a few minutes today really opened my eyes about things that I kinda-sorta knew, but this book explains them.
    AND.....talking with my sweet wife, she said it sounds like reloading would be an excellent hobby for me, and has no problem with the $600 or so I told it would cost to get started.
    And she agrees 100% about buying the best equipment I (we?) can get, even if I can't get "everything" all at once.

  12. It all depends on how much you want to invest in tools and equipment. You can produce something that goes bang and puts holes in stuff with a Lee Loader, rubber mallet and a block of wood. Or you can pump out massive quantities of ammo with a more expensive and complicated progressive press. You can make excellent performing ammunition either way. It's the effort and care that you put into it.
    A single stage press like the Rock Chucker (or it's clones) allows a visual inspection between reloading operations. That makes it the first choice for beginners and the go-to press for the rest of your career. Save the progressive presses for later if you decide to expand into that arena. There are still lots of other tools to consider in the whole process. A powder scale, funnel, brass trimmer, deburring tool, 6 inch caliper and 1 inch micrometer are all needed. Of course you'll need as many current reloading manuals as you can carry.
    This sounds like a fun project. Good shooting for you. ---Tim

  13. Good advice, Tim.
    Even Mr. Spock was able to modify his Tricorder using "Flint Knives and Stone Axes"!
    The micrometers and calipers I have in spades, along with a large collection of other measuring tools. My Dad was a Tool and Die Maker, and he passed all his precision tools down to me when he retired.
    Well...he kept a couple to give to my son when he got older and could appreciate them after I taught him what they were for, and how to use them.
    At this point I'm going to go with the RCBS gear. Based on all the recommendations here, and reviews on other sites, I think it will suit me fine, and be durable enough to pass down to my son, who's also an avid shooter.
    I'll start buying the gear next payday, and should have a pretty complete set within a couple of months. I've been saving my brass since I started shooting again six years ago, and have quite a selection of once fired brass.


Keep it civil, please....