If you’re here it means that you’ve most likely heard that going the DIY route of reloading your own ammo can help you save money and shoot better.
After an initial outlay for the equipment, you can begin to enjoy great cost savings, especially if you’re the type to shoot in high volume at the range. If you invest a little time in load development, you will notice your firearms become much more accurate.
However, if you’re new to it, reloading can be a little complex and a huge pain in the butt.
In our beginners guide to reloading ammo today, we will talk about the pros and cons of reloading ammo as well as how you can begin your path of making your own ammunition.
Once you’ve decided to reload your own ammo, you will need to purchase a few basic equipment and find a suitable space with enough room and lighting to work in.
Why You Should Reload Your Own Ammo
It Saves Money
One of the very first questions that everyone will ask about reloading ammo is if it saves money. And the answer to that is an absolute yes! The potential to save money while reloading your own ammo comes in not just one but a few ways!
The brass casing is the most expensive part of ammo. And when you reload your own, you can reuse the brass five, ten, or even more times (depending on the caliber)! This means that you don’t have to buy a brand new brass case for each shot which translates to huge potential savings right there.
On top of that, you’re also doing the work yourself and not paying someone else or the manufacturer to do it for you. Time is money, so you’ll also need to factor in the money saved from there.
But how much will you actually save? The amount you save will be highly dependent on the caliber you are reloading. Reloading larger calibers or unusual rifle cartridges can help you save a significant amount of money.
For example, if you’re reloading something like a match-grade .308, you can expect to save more than 50%. But if you’re reloading something relatively cheap like a 9mm, you might be able to save around 10-20% and you don’t even factor in your time.
So to answer the question on whether you will save money by reloading your own ammo is obviously yes but you might just shoot twice as much as before and end up spending about the same amount. Still, you should also remember to take into consideration the upfront costs for the equipment required which we’ll get into later.
You Can Create Custom Loads and Achieve Maximum Accuracy
On top of helping you save money, another reason why you would want to consider reloading your own ammo is to maximize accuracy and customize loads. Reloading allows you to make custom rounds for each of your guns to help you get more accuracy out of your firearm.
This can be achieved in a few ways. The first thing you should know is barrel harmonics. Barrel harmonics is the way the barrel of your gun whips, torques, and contorts when you shoot.
When shooting, you want your barrel to move as little as possible by adding or reducing the amount of gunpowder to your loads that will adjust the speed of the bullet as it goes through your barrel.
You can also extend the length of your round by seating the bullet further out of the brass casing which will help reduce the amount of force needed to push the bullet out of the casing.
This case is especially true for rifle loads as you can tweak your loads until you achieve the perfect combination of bullet, powder, primer, and charge to help your rifle perform at its best.
Yes, factory ammo works just as fine but they’re designed to function in all rifles of a given caliber. So the combination may not be optimized to help bring the best out of your firearm. So this is where reloading can help you create custom loads for your guns.
Some shooters may even like to load a few practice or training roads that are on the lighter side of velocity to reduce recoil, thereby allowing them to focus on their technique.
Shooting with lower-velocity rounds can be a good way to introduce new shooters to guns as a large amount of recoil might scare off some people. So, we’d recommend making some light loads for new shooters to get a hang of shooting the gun before moving on to heavier rounds.
Have Constant Supply of Ammunition Even With Restrictive Gun Laws
Gun laws have been getting more and more restrictive lately with lots of cities prohibiting online ammo sales. In fact, California has recently just passed a bill that states gun owners need to get an ammo license and purchase ammo online through a licensed vendor only.
By reloading, you can avoid ammo shortage, gouging prices, and hoarding that could happen after unfortunate events, restrictive laws, or during elections.
All you need to do is to ensure you get enough reloading supplies and build up your inventory to enjoy a constant supply of ammo. You will no longer have to be at the mercy of your local gun shop’s ammo supply.
The Reloading Process is Fun
Last but not least, reloading your own ammo can just be plain old fun! If you’re the type who enjoys upgrading your gun to fit your style, then you’ll also love to begin the reloading process to help wring out the last bit of accuracy in your firearm with customized loads.
Any gun owner who enjoys DIY projects will love spending time making their own ammo, tinkering around with the ammo presses or equipment, and feeling proud of being self-sufficient.
How to Reload Ammo For Beginners?
Now that we’ve gotten the ‘why’s out of the way, we can dive in to discuss how you can reload your own ammo. This section is an overview of the reloading ammo process with a few possible steps that are involved.
Whether you need all of the steps or just a few will depend on your caliber. With that being said, it is best to follow the manufacturers reloading manual before attempting to reload.
Important Products Involved in Reloading Ammo
A reloading manual is a very important reference used each time a load is developed. They also contain important information on the entire process as well as offer tips and ideas to make it more efficient. Every manufacturer has its own reloading manual covering a wide range of topics and load data.
A reloading die is used to reprime the brass, resize the brass within specification, seat, and crimp the bullet. You can choose to purchase the dies individually or save money by buying them in a set. The sets typically come packaged as 2-die sets for bottleneck cartridges and 3-die sets for straight wall cartridges.
Each cartridge that’s being reloaded will need to have its own shellholder that’s specifically designed for the thickness, diameter, and taper of the rim of the case and also the thickness of the extractor groove.
Some die sets come with an appropriate shellholder while others do not. There are also universal shellholders in the market that will work with any press.
A powder scale is essential for reloading as it enables the reloader to accurately determine just how much powder needs to be placed in each round of reloaded ammunition.
There are electronic and balance scales available to help with powder measurement. A newbie will typically start with balance scales as they are easy to use and calibrate without running the risk of electronic malfunction.
Electronic scales, on the other hand, are quicker to use since the user does not have to wait for the balance to quit moving, but they are also more sensitive to electronic interference from other devices. Since they’re electronic, they also have more parts that may fail and they’re also typically more expensive than balance scales.
Powder tricklers are another important tool for getting the powder charge to the exact charge weight that’s needed.
A trickler helps you to drop just one kernel of powder at a time to get the perfect charge weight. If you’re not using a powder measure, then a powder trickler is necessary to help you achieve an accurate charge.
A powder funnel will help you with pouring the powder from the powder pan into the brass case. There are many different types of funnels available and may be designed to fit only one caliber or have multiple adapters to fit different calibers.
There are different ways to measure the correct powder charge:
Dippers are the least expensive way to help measure powder by volume. Dippers are made with uniformly graduated cylinders that measure in cubic centimeters. Dippers can also be modified easily for the desired charge so all you need to do is dip, check the charge weight, and pour it into the brass case.
Bench Mounted powder measures use a hopper to hold the powder and a rotor to measure out each powder charge. You’ll then need to adjust the metering insert that attaches to the rotor or change the insert inside to increase or decrease the amount of powder that is released.
This type of measure will help speed up the entire process as it is very easy to fine-tune the powder charge and release a set amount of powder directly into the brass case that’s being reloaded.
Electronic dispensers are very useful for helping you to get the exact charge you want without tinkering around experimenting. Most of them only require you to type in the charge weight and the dispenser will automatically dispense the right charge weight.
Calipers may have either an electronic readout or dial readout and can be made of stainless steel or plastic. Calipers are needed to measure brass to make sure they’re within specification. You may also use calipers when setting the seating die by measuring the cartridge’s overall length and adjusting the die to get the desired length.
Most presses come with a priming attached so you don’t really need to go out to get a separate one. There are two types of priming tools that are not attached to the press: hand priming tools and bench-mounted priming tools.
Chamfer and Deburring Tool
This is an important tool that can help put a slight taper on the inside of the case mouth to ensure the bullet goes in straight and effortlessly. The deburring tool will remove any burrs that may have been caused during the chamfering process.
Primer Pocket Tools
There are a few different tools used for cleaning primer pockets, uniforming primer pockets, and reaming primer pockets.
A brass case will stretch each time it’s fired. Once the brass reaches a certain length that’s no longer within the acceptable specification, it will need to be trimmed back. This is where the case trimmer steps in to help you trim the brass.
Primary trays are used to get each primer to orientate the same way. All you need to do is put the primers on the tray, place the top on, and gently shake until the primers are oriented the same way.
There are several methods to clean brass before it gets reloaded. Some may use liquid brass cleaner while others may prefer tumblers or ultrasonic cleaners.
There is a wide variety of case lubes on the market ranging from aerosol sprays to wax. Case lube is required when resizing bottleneck cases. Do remember that too much case lube can be a bad thing and will dent the brass while too little can cause it to get stuck inside the reloading die.
Case Neck Brush
Case neck brushes are used to deposit a slight amount of dry lubricant inside the neck to lubricate it and reduce friction as the expander ball of the sizing die is pulled out of the neck.
It is completely normal to make mistakes every now and then when reloading. This then becomes a very important tool to help reclaim valuable components when you’ve made a mistake. There are a few types of bullet pullers: impact style, press mounted collet and plier-type bullet pullers.
Parts of the Cartridge
A standard bullet cartridge is made of a few parts namely the brass casing, gun powder, bullet, and primer. Most people will refer to ammo as bullets but that’s not accurate. Cartridges are what go into the chamber of a gun and the bullet is what comes out of the muzzle. To be accurate, the ammo used for handguns and rifles is called a cartridge.
In the market currently, there are two types of cartridges known as rimfire and centerfire. Rimfire cartridges have the primer along the rim of the cartridge. This type of cartridge cannot be reloaded and are popular with the .22 long rifle.
Centerfire cartridges, on the other hand, are more common and their primer is at the center of the ammunition. As mentioned above, cartridges are made up of different parts:
Case: The case or casing is what holds the primer, powder, and bullet.
Primer: The primer is the part that will explode when it’s struck by the firing pin, igniting the powder.
Powder: The powder will burn when ignited to create gas that will push the bullet out of the muzzle.
Bullet: This is the part of the cartridge that will leave the barrel and hit the target.
The reloading process will put all of these parts together into one cartridge.
Prepping the Case
The first step of reloading is to take some time to inspect each case. You will want to be sure to inspect them closely and watch out for any dents, cracks, or corrosion. Anything that compromises the case could lead to pressure problems within the chamber of the firearm which could be bad news.
After inspection and checking that everything is okay, it’s time to clean them up with a brass tumbler, some sort of medium (corn cob or walnut shells), and polish. Gun residue from firing tends to collect on the outside of the case which you’ll need to clean before reloading.
There are a few methods for cleaning the casings that are relatively simple. The most common way of cleaning a large batch of casings is to use a case tumbler. Case tumblers are easy to use and you’ll only need to dump all your casings into the tumbler with a medium.
Ground-up walnut shells and rice are popular medium choices. You can also add some polish into the tumbler and just let everything tumble for a while. However, this process tends to be a little noisy and may have a potential lead contamination risk, so it is recommended for you to do this in your garage.
Another method is to chemically clean your casings. Just collect all your casings in a mesh bag and dump them into a chemical case cleaner. Give it some time as the cases soak for a bit then rinse it off with hot water. Let them air dry and you’ll be presented with squeaky clean vases!
Then, there’s also a third method that involves good old-fashioned hand cleaning. If you choose to clean the cases by hand, you will have the opportunity to inspect and clean them at the same time to help you save some time.
Once you’re done cleaning the casings, you’ll need to resize them. This is necessary because the brass casing may expand or contract every time a round is fired, altering its shape. And if you want to reload the used brass, you’ll need to bring it back to its original specifications and size so that it will feed reliably.
To get the casing back to its original specification, you will need a sizing die and reloading press. One of the most popular reloading presses is the RCBS Rock Chucker Supreme reloading kit which contains virtually everything you will need to resize the casing and force any old primer out.
Once you’re done resizing the case, you’ll need to measure it with calipers to see if it’s the proper length. If it’s too long, you might want to trim it down with a trimmer. After trimming, you will reach the final case prep stage.
Here, you’ll need to deburr the case mouth and flash hole, clean the primer pocket, and chamfer the case neck. The chamfering and deburring step will cause a gentle slant to make it easier for you to seat the bullet.
In this step, we’ll talk about the primer. When seating the primer, you ought to be careful to make sure not to contaminate it with any oils or liquid. If you have the RCBS Rock Chucker Supreme, you can also get an auto priming system or opt to use its priming tool instead.
The goal of this step is to make sure the primer is seated into the primer pocket at the gith depth, which is flush with the case head.
Some gun owners may be using military brass with a crimped primer pocket. In such cases, you’ll want to get it super uniform for precision’s sake.
To do so, you’ll need to first pop out (deprime) the primer and then use a reamer to resize or a cleaner tool. Some may opt to pop out the primer before tumbling to take care of the cleaning step as well.
There are a few ways you can take to pop out the primer but they all usually involve a reading press and can be done in conjunction with resizing the brass.
There are two types of brass in the market: straight wall and bottleneck. To resize the brass, you’ll need to run the fired case through a resizing die to reform it. Some calibers or dies may also need you to lube up each case.
When you resize a fired case, the sizing die will begin narrowing and squeezing the case neck and shoulder of the die forward. The sizing die finishes as it irons out the pressure ring and pushes the shoulder back. At this point, you may notice a longer neck that’s caused by the squeezing and will need to be trimmed off.
Bottleneck brasses such as the popular .223 and .308 calibers will involve more steps as you’ll need to worry about the shoulder. A lot less stuff happens in straight wall cases such as most pistol calibers. A resizing die can also help to reform any dents and case mouth problems.
As mentioned above, the squeezing action might result in a longer neck. You’ll then need to check the case for proper length and cut off the excess. If you do end up cutting material off, you can expect it to be pretty sharp which might mess up your bullet seating. So, you’ll need to deburr and chamfer the case.
Next is to add in a new primer. Priming the cartridge can involve hand tools while others are also integrated into the first sizing stage.
Loading the gunpowder tops the list of important things that you need to get right while reloading ammo. To know just how much powder to add to your ammo, you can refer to a reloading manual such as the Lyman Reloading Handbook.
There are also several ways to drop the powder into the prepped, primed case with the most popular choice being the stand-alone powder measures or part of a press.
Gunpowder is a smokeless powder and you can find plenty of them in the market, most of which can work for your caliber/bullet. But there are also some that are more specific to a certain caliber or bullet weight.
For this, you can also look up the reloading manual to determine which gunpowder is suitable including the amount to add and to confirm the correct size dimensions needed for case length, etc.
The last step now is to add the bullet and press it into the case. However, you might encounter cases where the case is too narrow for a bullet to fit and you will need to flare the top. This usually occurs with pistol cases. This step can involve a separate die or be integrated into the resizing or powder stage die.
Once that is done, you can place the bullet on top of the case and run it through a bullet seating die. Occasionally, you may also want to add a crimp (pressing in the case onto the bullet) to make the bullet more secure.
A seating die also usually comes in your die set to help you ensure the bullet is seated at the proper depth. You can also refer to your reloading manual to get the correct measurements for your cartridge.
Voila! Now you are done with reloading your own cartridge!
Types of Reloading Presses
Now that we’ve talked about how to reload your cartridge, we’ll dive into the type of reloading presses available on the market that can help make your work easier!
There are simple single-stage presses that will take one die at a time and huge progressive presses that can push out up to 1000 rounds an hour. Whatever you decide to get will depend on your own usage and preference.
Single Stage Press
A single-stage press is called a single stage simply because it has room for only one die at a time. You may also need to switch it out at least 2+ times (resizing and bullet seating), not to mention priming the cases in the press or by hand.
A single-stage press is more manual and involves more work but they are also affordable so that you can prepare cartridges without a high capital.
The Lee Breech Lock Challenger Kit is a great single-stage press that comes with almost everything you need to help you get started with reloading your own ammo. It costs only $120 and comes included with a powder station, hand-priming tool, scale, and some case prep tools.
This is the perfect choice for those who are new to reloading and do not want to spend too much money on an expensive reloading press.
A turret press uses more dies that can be rotated over the casing. This type of reloading press can help you save a lot of time since you do not need to switch out dies every time you go to a different stage of reloading.
One great turret press option is the Lee Turret Press Kit which provides you with everything you need to begin reloading quickly and conveniently.
A progressive press comes with multiple die stations on top and multiple places for you to put your brass cases. It’s designed such that each pull of the press you are doing will help you perform up to four different actions. Some progressive press models even have tool heads that allow quick caliber switches without having to set each die again.
The Dillon 550B Progressive Press is a great reloading press if you plan on reloading quite a bit or if you’re looking to upgrade from your existing single-stage press or turret press. There are also higher-end progressive models with an “auto-index” feature to save your time from having to move the plate that holds all the brass cases.
How to Set Up Your Reloading Bench
How you set up your reloading bench and organizing it will be heavily dependent on personal preference. But generally, you will want to have ample storage where everything is in reach, a place to sit and prep cases, and a place to stand to run the press.
You can make a bench from steel pipe and an 8-foot long butcher block countertop. You’ll need to first bolt the 2×4 to the wall before bolting the back edge of the countertop to the 2×4.
Then you’ll need to support the front edge of the countertop with a 360inch threaded steel pipe on floor flanges. If you do not have 8 feet of wall, you can also scale it to 4-feet easily. In fact, any really ultra-sable commercially available workbench will work just fine.
Other than that, you’ll also need bins for holding bullets, completed ammo, and sorting brass. Most gun owners will go for the Arko bins but once you start reloading, you may find that you’ll never walk the Tupperware aisle at Walmart or the Parts Bins & Racks section the same way again.
Once the bench is ready, you’ll need to attach your reloading press directly to the bench. This is another reason why your bench must be rock solid as any wobble will translate to flex in the press. This can ultimately affect the consistency and accuracy of the cartridge reloads.
For even more stability, we recommend getting the UltraMount Press Riser from InLine Fabrication that does two important things. The first is that it elevates the press so that you don’t have to hunch over at the bottom of the downstroke.
Second, it spreads the footprint of the press to give you added stability. But still, you need to make sure your work surface is solid and stable, to begin with.
Beginner’s Guide to Picking your First Reloading Press
All reloading presses take removable dies that are designated by caliber. They size the brass cases and seat the bullets to create rounds that can fit in the chamber of your gun. The dies will also change depending on which reloading step you’re at.
The process boils down to taking clean brass, resizing it by pressing the brass into a resizing die, trimming the case length, expanding the neck of the case to fit the bullet, insert a primer, charge the case with powder, seat the bullet, press it into a seating die, and finally, crimp the case if required.
Do keep in mind that these steps might not always be done in that order as each reloader can develop a process that matches his own best workflow. You can also refer to the reloading manual or guide for reloading for the specifications and requirements for your caliber.
As discussed above, there are three kinds of metallic case reloading presses: single-stage, where each pull of the lever will complete one step of the process, turret presses where you rotate the reloading dies manually and press the round through each step, and progressive press where a pull of the lever will automatically complete every step for multiple rounds at a go.
For those who are new to reloading, we recommend starting out with a single-stage as it offers the clearest, most direct way to fully grasp all the different steps in reloading a round.
Reloading ammunition is gear intensive and selecting what you need can be overwhelming, especially if you’re new to it. Fortunately, many press manufacturers recognize this and offer starter kits that range from bare benchtop to almost everything you need to reload cartridges.
Unless you’re shooting precision bench rest competition, all name-brand presses essentially do the same thing, the same way without much variation.
If you don’t want to spend too much time and effort comparing and contrasting every press available on the market but still want something reliable and easy with all the tools you need, then the RCBS Explorer Plus Reloading Kit might just be the reloading kit for you.
And if you’re on a tight budget, you can’t find something else that beats the Lee Precision Breech Lock Challenger Kit.
Conclusion: Can You Reload Ammo Well Now?
Reloading may be a little complicated if you’re new but it’s not difficult. We hope our beginner’s guide to reloading ammo has given you enough information and insight into what you need and the steps involved in reloading your own ammo.
With some gear and extra time, you can keep yourself well supplied with all the ammo you need while saving time and money!
Hello there, it’s Michael here. A gun lover since young, served the country for the last 20 years. I started the blog to share my experience and gun-related knowledge accumulated throughout the years. Hopefully, you will find something useful over here or just have fun! You can learn more about me here.