Getting Started in Reloading
By Chuck Hawks
As the title states, this article is about how to get started reloading metallic centerfire rifle cartridges. I'm going to assume that you already want to reload, and have some idea of the advantages of so doing. (If not, see my article "Introduction to Reloading.")
If you have just reached the point where you have decided to take the plunge, reloading probably seems a complicated and difficult process. However, with only a little practice you will discover that reloading is actually simple and easy to do. Care and attention to detail are required to produce safe and reliable ammunition, but the process has only a few steps and is basically repetitive.
A reloading press is the basic tool used to reload centerfire metallic (rifle or pistol) ammunition. What the press essentially does is to hold the dies that reform, prime, and eventually reload the case and provide the mechanical leverage that allows the operator to easily accomplish these tasks.
Many of us older shooters started reloading with a Lyman Tong Tool (a hand held reloading press resembling a large nutcracker) or a Lee Loader (a set of reloading dies into which you literally pound the cases. You don't see these makeshift devices very often anymore, thank goodness. Avoid them like the plague (particularly the Lee Loader!).
Most reloaders use what are called single stage presses. These are not automated, you have to push or pull a handle to accomplish each task in the reloading process. Good single stage presses have a long lever with a lot of mechanical advantage for a handle, and are quite easy to operate. A separate powder measure, which dumps a preset amount of powder into each case, is a practical necessity, and a hand priming tool is a great convenience. Centerfire metallic cases are reloaded in batches and a single operation is performed on all of the cases to be reloaded before moving on to the next step. If you are reloading 50 cases, for example, the first operation is performed on all 50 before moving on to the second operation. Performing the same operation on all cases before moving to the next operation saves time and effort.
The first step in reloading a batch of rifle cases is to clean and inspect them. Look closely at the case mouths and necks, as these are the areas most likely to be damaged or show incipient splits. Also look for a light ring around the head of the case, which indicates potential case head separation. Discard any cases that are not perfect.
To actually reload centerfire metallic cartridges, the following steps must be performed (not always in exactly the same order): resizing, decapping (removing the spent primer), priming, powder charging, and bullet seating. With the exception of the priming and powder charging operations, these operations are carried out using a set of reloading dies, which screw into the top of a single stage press.
For conventional bottleneck rifle cases, such as the .30-30, .30-06, and 7mm Remington Magnum, these steps are accomplished by a set of two dies. For straight cases, such as the .44 Remington Magnum, a three die set is used. To hold the case, a shell holder slides into top of the ram (the part of the press that elevates the case into the reloading dies when you pull the handle). The shell holder must match the case to be reloaded. All of the cases mentioned in this paragraph, for example, use different shell holders.
A single stage press does not have a powder hopper, so powder charging is almost always done by means of a separate powder measure, and repriming is best done by a hand operated tool, although it can be accomplished on most single stage presses. (It's just easier and faster to use a separate priming tool.) There is also no bullet hopper, bullets are removed from their box one at a time by hand and fed into the cases, then seated using the press and the bullet seating die.
For reloading rifle cartridges, a few accessories are indispensable. Among these are one or more reloading manuals (At a minimum I like to have the manual for every brand of bullets to be used.). Another is an accurate powder scale, necessary to set up and check the powder charges being dispensed. A lube pad and lubricant are necessary for reloading rifle cartridges, as is one or more loading blocks. While not, strictly speaking, absolutely required for reloading, a solid and dedicated reloading bench is a practical necessity. Presses can be clamped to breadboards or kitchen tables, but these temporary set-ups are rarely completely satisfactory.
The experienced reloader usually acquires numerous accessories that make the job easier, faster, or more precise. Among these are case trimmers, deburring tools, case neck brushes, case gauges, primer flippers, primer pocket brushes, powder tricklers, powder funnels, bullet pullers, dial calipers, and numerous other gadgets and devices. None of them are absolutely necessary to begin reloading, but most are useful. My advice is to buy a "starter set" that includes a press and the basic necessities required to begin reloading, and then acquire additional accessories as you need them.
The RCBS Partner Press Reloading Kit and Reloader Special-5 Starter Kit include a reloading press, case loading block, case lube kit, primer tray, powder funnel, powder scale, deburring tool and the latest edition of the Speer Reloading Manual. The former comes with a compact RCBS Partner Press and the scale is the inexpensive (130 grain maximum capacity) RC-130 scale. The latter comes with a more powerful solid aluminum block Reloader Special-5 press and the more capable (500 grain capacity) 502 scale. For either you will want to add at least a powder measure and probably a hand priming tool.
The deluxe RCBS Rock Chucker Supreme Kit includes a heavy duty, cast iron Rock Chucker press, 505 powder scale (505 grain capacity), Uniflow powder measure, Speer Reloading Manual, hex key set, case loading block, case lube kit, automatic primer feed, primer tray, powder funnel, deburring tool and Trim Pro manual case trimmer kit. This kit includes basically everything you actually need to at least get started in reloading except a set of reloading dies and a shell holder. (These must be purchased for the particular cartridge or cartridges you wish to reload.) It is actually the best deal of the three RCBS starter sets and you will never need to move up from the Rock Chucker press.
Everything comes with instructions for set-up and use. If you read them carefully and follow them exactly you will have no problem learning how to reload rifle cartridges. There are also detailed instructions, including tips to make the process faster and easier, in most reloading manuals.
Today it is rare to find a serious shooter who does not reload. There is no doubt that the recreational shooter can save money if he or she reloads. Saving money, or shooting more for the same expenditure, is always gratifying. Perhaps the greatest reward for the rifleman is producing reloads that shoot smaller groups than the finest premium factory loads, or bring down a trophy buck with a single well placed shot.
Copyright 2003, 2012 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.