Getting Started Reloading: Part 1 – Things to think about
There are a variety of videos, web pages and articles out there that can tell someone “How” to get started reloading ammunition. Even with all that is available, there is room for more and I want to give advice for newer people starting out, or those who have not started yet, but are thinking about reloading. My hope is that when someone comes to The Reloaders Network for information I can be a help. I would encourage anyone that is interested in reloading ammunition to look into it and do a lot of research and reading. I also recommend they start out slow and careful. I personally enjoy all the aspects of reloading ammunition and believe it is a great hobby, pastime and lifestyle choice.
Today I start with Part 1 of a series on “Getting Started Reloading” titled “Things to think about”. If you are just starting out or still deciding if you want to reload your own ammunition, this article is for you.
It is nice to get varied perspectives and opinions, especially when spending hard-earned money is involved. I encourage anyone reading this to go do your own research online, watch videos from different people and read as much as you can about reloading before you actually buy equipment. The Reloaders Network Authors have tons of information available, please dig in. Before you know it you will be watching an hour long video of just a guy’s arms and his reloading bench, as he explains his trials with small and large rifle primers. You will learn a lot, and you will enjoy it immensely.
You will want to read some reloading manuals so you understand all the steps in the process and the equipment involved. I have read countless reloading manuals and read the good ones repeatedly. “The ABC’s of Reloading” by C. Rodney James is one of my personal favorites and highly recommended. I suggest you read as many as you can. They are available for free online; you can borrow them from the library, purchase them new or used and in electronic format. Reloading manuals are your friend. All the major powder manufacturers and bullet manufacturers have their own manuals as well. You need to own them and use them for load data, as well as general information, when you reload ammunition. Only use load data from legitimate manuals and work up slowly from the lightest loads.
I think the first thing you need to think about is Can you be a safe reloader? This is the most important question you need to answer. Much of your answer will be based on your personality and work habits. What sort of personality do you have? Are you mechanically inclined? Do you pay attention to details? Can you and will you follow instructions? Can you stay focused and not get distracted? These are very important to think about. There are times I want to do some reloading and I get things set up and then realize I am too tired and may not be focused enough, so I stop. The last thing I want is to make a mistake that hurts me or someone else, let alone damages a gun. We have to be honest with ourselves and realize, not everyone is cut out to be careful enough or caring enough to make ammunition. I have a friend who is a nice guy. He talks about reloading and says he wants to reload. I know him well enough to know, he probably should not be a reloader. I don’t think he is careful enough. He never asked me what I think and he has never started reloading, so it has not been an issue. But he is easily distracted and not a patient person. Maybe this will change with time. Reloading can be dangerous and needs to be undertaken with care. Safety is the foremost priority to shooting and reloading.
I have another friend, an elderly man who has reloaded for decades and has ruined guns with double charges, twice. He now weighs every handgun cartridge when it is finished to be sure he does not have a double charge. He told me himself, “I got careless, it is easy to do.” He is right. Accidents happen. We need to be very careful. Take our time and check things, double check and be sure. If you are in too much of a hurry you will make a mistake. Safety is our first priority in shooting and reloading. Never forget that. So you have to be honest with yourself. Can you be a safe reloader?
The next thing you need to figure out is: Why do you want to reload ammunition? Is it just out of curiosity? Do you want to be self-sufficient? Is the ammunition for target practice and range shooting or for hunting? What expectations do you have? What are your goals? Why do you want to reload? This is just one of many questions only you can answer for yourself. I am not trying to discourage or dissuade anyone from making their own ammunition. I want you to think it through. I want you to be successful. I want you to be safe. But before you jump in, try to define “Why am I doing this”. It will help you decide all the other things you need to determine going forward. If you have a goal, or direction it will guide your decision making and be a help. There are lots of options when you make your own ammunition and you don’t want to make it too complicated in the beginning.
The next thing to know is: What type of ammunition you will make, rifle or pistol? I will not cover shot shell reloading. So we are talking about metallic cartridge reloading. A finished cartridge is a case (brass), a primer, propellant (gun powder) and a projectile (bullet). You need to decide if you are reloading rifle cartridges, pistol cartridges or both. I do both. My suggestion for starting is (if you can) start with a pistol caliber, especially .38 special, .357 Magnum or .45 auto. Any of them is a great place to start. These are very forgiving cartridges with a myriad of different possibilities for loads. If you reload rifle ammunition instead, most popular cartridges will give good results if care is taken. Either way, if you start reloading and work at it, you will find the ammunition you tailor to your particular gun will perform far better than store bought ammunition.
How much do you want to spend? If you are not trying to make a lot of ammunition or just want to try it out and don’t shoot very much, you can buy a Lee Loader kit for your caliber rifle or pistol and start reloading by hand with a minimal investment. The kit comes in a box and cost $40 or less. It contains small hand tools for doing each operation involved in reloading a specific caliber of ammunition. You still need powder, primers, cases and bullets, but not a press or bench. It also only ‘neck sizes’ the brass so you will be limited to use the ammunition in the same firearm. But a small hammer and some time to learn the process is all it takes to get you making ammunition. How much do you want to spend? This, like everything else, will change over time. But the upfront costs are important and you need to figure it out.
Lee also makes a hand press that is available in a kit for under $60 and does not require a bench. This will work for small batches and you can make ammunition for very little investment. Unlike the Lee loader kit, you will have the added cost of a caliber specific set of dies that cost $30 – $60 (or more) depending on what type you get.
Do you have a dedicated place to reload? You will need a safe area away from distractions when you reload. You will want to keep reloading supplies (powder, primers, etc.) away from children or other unauthorized individuals. The residue from primers and spent powder is dirty and toxic. Not the kind of stuff you want on the kitchen table. If you can have a dedicated reloading area, that is ideal. Even a small space will work.
Do you have a place for a bench? A workbench or reloading bench that is sturdy is required for mounting a reloading press. Lee makes a reloading stand that can be used for mounting a press if you don’t have a bench, and it can be moved or disassembled as needed. They can be found on line for $100 or less. You need a bench and a place for it, if you are going to mount a reloading press and not use a portable stand. Normally a person would mount the press to a workbench in a garage or basement. These are just things to think about. Your situation and needs will dictate what you do and how you do it. Of course, you can build a reloading bench yourself as many do.
Do you want a bench mounted reloading press? The heart of most reloading operations is the press. There are a lot of different kinds of reloading presses. The short version is that each step in reloading a cartridge case is called a “stage”. A reloading press that holds one die and does only one stage with each pull of the handle is called a single stage press. My recommendation for a new reloader is to start with a single stage press. Single stage presses are usually very accurate and well suited to rifle cartridge reloading. A single stage press is considered slower than the other types of presses. You can speed up your process by working on your brass in groups (batches) one stage at a time. If you want to do 100 cartridges, you do each stage 100 times in a batch. I know a retired guy who hand loads thousands of rounds of .45 auto per year and does every single one on a single stage press and has done it that way for decades. He does large batches and told me he won’t do it any other way. A single stage press is a great tool and can be used in many different reloading operations.
The least expensive single stage press is a Lee breech lock reloader that lists for $35, and, in my opinion, is worth every penny. My first press was a Lee breech lock reloader that I purchased years ago for $20 on sale and it has made thousands of rounds, resized bullets and de-capped countless cases. I have no affiliation with Lee Precision, but I do like their products. I still use that original press all the time. Single stage presses go up in price from there and all the major manufacturers make them. There are multiple models from each manufacturer and everyone has an opinion of what brand they like, sort of like trucks, Ford vs Chevrolet vs Ram vs Toyota. To me, they all make nice trucks. You have to figure out what you like and what you want and be happy with it. Luckily, the most expensive single stage reloading press does not cost anything close to the price of a new truck. But you can spend up to $600 if you get a high end press. From what I have seen, they are all well made. There are different features and doodads and on press priming differences. Many offer ways to “quickly remove and install dies” with bushings or specific systems. I am not a fan of the quick change bushings from any of the manufacturers. It takes a couple minutes at most to reset a die and the extra expense of a bushing for each die is unnecessary to me. Some people love them. Single stage presses can be purchased in a kit form as well that usually comes with the needed extras to get you started reloading. I started by buying one piece at a time, but, if I could do it over, I would probably buy a kit (a Lee Challenger kit most likely. It retails for $130). The nicer kits are $200 – $600, and some of them are very nice. If you have enough money, it may be worth it.
The turret press. A turret press holds more than one die and does one operation (stage) with each handle pull and goes through the different dies in sequence, helping speed up the process. The dies are mounted in a circular “turret” that can be rotated on the press, hence the name. Rather than doing a batch and performing the same operation repeatedly over and over, you perform the stages in order and complete a loaded cartridge in a few steps. I use a turret press for most of my handgun cartridges now, but used a single stage for a long time. Lee makes several turret presses that auto rotate and the one I own is the “value” turret press. It retails for $80 and is a worthwhile investment. Multiple manufacturers sell turret presses and they are well made but more expensive. Starting in the $200 range and going up from there.
The progressive press. A progressive press completes multiple stages on multiple cartridges at the same time and greatly increases the volume of cartridges completed in a given time. Automatic feeders feed the cases, primers, powder and bullets to speed up the process. Progressive presses start in the hundreds of dollars and go into the thousands. There is an endless array of attachments and extras you can buy and add to your set up. Some set ups are electronically controlled and automated. The complexities of setting them up and the cost involved keep many beginners from starting with a progressive press. Lee makes some less expensive models that should be considered if someone wants a progressive press. I have a friend that was given a Dillon 650 (a really nice progressive press) with all the attachments to do three or four different calibers of handgun ammunition. He had never reloaded ammunition before and was able to use it with very little help. I still recommend that a new reloader start with a single stage press, just to get a hang of how things work. Presses are something you need to research and consider the different options you have. If you want a high volume of handgun ammunition a progressive press is going to do that. The time savings may be worth the extra money if you shoot a lot. I started with an inexpensive single stage press that I still use. I have learned a lot with that press and recommend anyone who is just getting started to get a single stage press. Even if you upgrade later, you will find the single stage press useful as a dedicated de-capping station or for other uses.
How much time do you want to spend reloading? It will cost you time. The most valuable thing you have in life is time, spend it wisely. I find reloading relaxing and rewarding. I often enjoy the process more than shooting. Shooting is a part of the process for me and sometimes I shoot, so I can reload. When you buy factory ammunition so you can reuse the brass, you have become a reloader. Some people start reloading and then get aggravated because it takes so long or because they have to take time to create new ammo when they want to go shooting. It takes time to make your own ammunition; but it is time well spent, and the benefits are great. You get to shoot more for less; and when done correctly, the ammunition performs exceptionally.
Many people I know reload because they “have to” because they’re involved in shooting competitions and need a lot of ammo. They do not enjoy it as much when they “have to” make it. They can enjoy it more when they are doing it because they want to. Others choose not to reload because they don’t want to spend the time or do not shoot that often. Only you can decide what is right for you and your situation. I find it rewarding and enjoy the whole process. There is no denying it can take a lot of time. If you don’t pressure yourself, it will be worthwhile and relaxing. The ammunition produced is fabulous and it takes shooting into a different sphere. I have a small area for reloading and storing all my components and completed ammunition. The limited amount of storage space makes it so I have to make ammunition if I want to shoot. I can’t stay too far ahead or store a lot. But some people make tons of ammunition and store it. So if you have the room the sky is the limit for how much you can make ahead of time.
Only you can answer these questions and figure out if you want to try reloading. If you are a shooter, you can get a great deal of satisfaction from making and using your own ammunition. You can make very accurate ammunition and specialty load and bullet combinations that can only be custom made. You can experiment with load combinations until you get a load tailor made for your particular firearm. In many cases the “per round cost” will be less than store bought ammunition even when you factor in the cost of equipment. If you have read through this article and want to get started reloading, I encourage you to do so. Do it safely and carefully and I think you will really enjoy it.
I will discuss “Picking the needed equipment” in Part 2. If Part 1 has helped you, please leave a comment. Thank you for your time.
John has been shooting since he was a kid and is now a middle aged man. He likes shooting rifles and handguns, reloading, bullet casting and the outdoors. He believes in God, freedom and a good sense of humor.