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You want to start reloading... Now what?

Rik Bitter's Reloading Primer

1/26/2014 - Initial version

Keywords: reloading primer guide beginner basic starting new cost

1) Intro
2) Safety
2) Basic Steps
3) Economy
4) Reloading Components
5) Presses
6) Pistol Reloading Equipment
7) Rifle Reloading Equipment
8) Equipment and Reloading Component Resources
9) CYA

1) Intro

A while back a distant relative (as in a relative who lives far away) was interested in getting into
reloading. He knew I was actively reloading and peppered me with questions via email. This article
contains much of that correspondence which has been edited and reorganized. I will update it with any
info I think is relevent on a periodic basis. It is not intended as a "How To" for the process of reloading
but rather a guide to getting set up with basic equipment, getting some idea of the costs involved and
giving high level view of the steps in the reloading process. Some reloaders cast their own bullets as
well, however that is outside the scope of this document. If you're interested in casting there is no
better site than

There are many excellent books that have been published by bullet and reloading equipment
manufacturers that cover the minute details of reloading. I highly recommend picking up one of
these books and reading the first few chapters. I found the Lyman book to be the the best organized
and illustrated but any of these will give you the info you need to get started.

Books (Reading Is Fundamental)
Lyman, "Reloading Handbook: 49th Edition"
Lee, "Modern Reloading 2nd Edition, Revised"
Hornady, "Handbook of Cartridge Reloading: 9th Edition"
Speer, "Reloading Manual #14"
Sierra, "5th Edition Rifle and Pistol Manual of Reloading Data" Reloading Manual"
Nosler, "Reloading Guide #7" Reloading Manual"
Barnes, "Reloading Manual: Number 4"
Berger, "1st Edition Reloading Manual"

2) Safety

Centerfire cartridges are essentially tiny explosives so we should talk a little bit about safety. Here's
a few tips to help keep you healthy and whole at the reloading bench.

-- Use common sense. If I need to explain this then perhaps this hobby is not for you.

-- Precision and good judgment count in reloading. Reloading under the influence of alcohol or drugs
(both legal or illicit ) is a very bad idea.

-- Don't reload when you're tired, anxious or agitated. Mistakes made in reloading can cause serious
injury to yourself or anyone using the produced ammunition not to mention potential damage to expensive

-- Remove any potential ignition sources from the reloading area. While smokeless powder is not explosive
of itself it is extremely flammable. Smoking while reloading is a bad idea for obvious reasons. Also
make sure your reloading bench is located away from less obvious ignition sources like water heaters,
furnaces, electric heaters, motor stators, etc.

-- Do not exceed recommended maximum powder charges or go below minimum over all lengths. Overpressure
rounds have the potential to damage you and your guns.

-- Almost every bullet you will work with contains lead which is a potentially toxic substance if not
handled correctly. Lead in high concentrations can cause serious kidney, heart, bone and neurological
damage. Taking precautions like Washing your hands immediately after performing reloading tasks,
wearing gloves and working in a well ventilated area will help reduce your exposure to lead. I get
a yearly lead level blood test to make sure I'm not slowly poisoning myself with my hobby.

2) Steps of the Reloading process

Now that we've covered safety we can start thinking about what we need to get started. If you are new to

reloading I would suggest starting with a straight-walled pitsol caliber like 45 ACP, 40 S&W or 9mm Lugar.
The pistol calibers have fewer steps and the lower chamber pressures involved mitigate some of the risk due
to minor errors.

2.1) Cleaning:
For straight sided pistol cases this step is entirely optional but if you like nice shiny
brass ( and who doesn't? ) or will be reloading rifle brass then we need to tidy up that grimy case
before we start. Here are some of the more popular methods.

2.1.1) Vibratory shakers:
These work by putting the brass in a large bowl-like contraption along with
a mildly abrasive media such as corn cob pieces or crushed walnut shells and vibrating them for
hour or two. Shakers vary in bowl size and quality. You can expect to spend anywhere from
$38.00 to $145.00. Shakers are probably the most common method of cleaning. The low cost of
media and the equipment make this an attractive option. Since the media is used dry it will
generate some dust, especially the walnut media.

Lyman (and others) makes a treated corn-cob media ($16.00 for 6 lbs) but you can save some money
by buying corn cob or walnut shell litter at you local pet supply or big box store. Walmart has 8
lbs bags of corn cob or 7 lbs bags of walnut shell litter for $10.

Add a dash liquid car polish/compound to the media for some extra shine. Cut up some used
dryer sheets and add that to the mix to help reduce dust.

2.1.2) Ultrasonic Cleaners:
These types of cleaners work by passing ultra high frequency sound waves
through a liquid to create a cavitation effect (looks like bubbles) in the liquid. The resulting
shock-wave created by the repeated implosion of these bubbles is used to remove dirt from the
casings. The machine will run anywhere from $75 up to thousands of dollars. Generally the
bigger the tub capacity the more it will cost. Cleaning solution concentrate runs about $18.00
per quart and will makes 10 gallons of solution.

The Ultrasonic cleaner has a shorter cleaning cycle and will clean inside the case and the primer
pocket where dry media has trouble reaching. Since it's liquid there is no dust to deal with
either. However the cleaning liquid isn't intended to be used more than once and you will need
to find a method of rinsing and drying all that shiny wet brass before it tarnishes.

2.1.3) Tumblers:
These work by putting the brass in an enclosed container along with liquid cleaner and
an abrasive material. (stainless steel pin media is a popular choice) and simply rotating the
container to agitate the mixture. Tumblers have lots of applications outside of reloading so
the range of prices on these is huge. Like the ultrasonic cleaners you generally pay more as
the tub capacity increases. A 5 lbs bag of stainless steel pin media will run about $45. The
cleaning solution is usually just some soapy water.

As with the ultrasonic there is no dust to deal with and the pin media really doesnt need to be
replaced. However you still have to deal with separating the media, rinsing and drying the brass.

2.2) Depriming/Sizing:
Now that you have some nice clean brass you're ready to start reloading. Depriming
is where the old primer is pressed out of the primer pocked in the head of a brass case. Sizing is
where the brass is squeezed back to it's specified outside diameter. This task is usually done on a
press with a die that will both deprime and size the brass in one operation. Some folks prefer to do
this operation separately so they can remove the primer before cleaning to expose the primer pocket.
For that purpose there are universal depriming dies that will only remove the primer.

For straight sided pistol brass sizing is a simple operation where brass is squeezed into a die using
a press to bring it back to it's correct outside diameter. For rifle brass it's a little more
complicated because the brass needs to be lubricated before sizing so it does not become stuck in the
die. Also, with necked brass you will need to decide if you will be doing a full length sizing or
only resizing the neck portion of the brass. The discussions concerning full length or neck sizing
rifle brass are epic so I won't go into that here.

2.3) Priming:
At this point we have clean, sized and deprimed brass. It's time to add a new primer to
the case. Most presses have mechanism for priming cases. Usually it would be done on the upstroke
of the sizing/depriming step. Many manufacturers will also sell an add-on mechanisms for
automatically feeding the primers so you don't have to handle the tiny primers for each case.

Another way to prime your brass is with a hand primer. This is my preferred way of priming since I
can do it away from the press while I'm outside on the deck or watching TV. Another advantage to
hand primers is you get a better "feel" for the primers so you're less likely to smash one in sideways
from a misfeed or not seat it fully.

2.4) Flaring/Chamfering:
This step is to prepare the brass case to accept a bullet. With pistol brass
the case opening is widened slightly using a die so that the bullet will not be damaged as it being
seated into the case. With necked rifle brass you use a reamer to add a slight chamfer to the opening.
Improperly flared/chamfered cases can shave metal off of the bullet as it is being inserted which could
adversely affect velocity and accuracy.

2.5) Charging:
Typically it is done with a volumetric powder measure (sometimes called a "powder drop"
since they are gravity fed) which you can think of as a sort of adjustable measuring spoon. To set up
the powder measure you drop an amount of powder and then weigh it using a scale. Then you adjust the
amount of powder dropped up or down until it drops the correct weight each time. This method is
usually accurate enough (+/- 0.2 gr) for most reloading tasks. Once the drop is set up you should
check the amount of powder being dispensed on a periodic basis. I check every 15th or so for pistol
calipers. To weigh you powder you will need some kind of scale like a beam/balance scale or electronic
scale that measures in grains. (~1/7000 th of a lbs.)

A volumetric powder measure will cost between $50 and $120.
Beam scales will run between $25 and $160
Electronic scales cost between $35 and $200 ( be wary of low cost electronic scales, they have a
tendency to drift after being zeroed. Read some
reviews online to find a good one. )

2.6) Seating/Crimping:
For this step you will need a seating die and a set of calipers for measuring the
total length of the finished ammo. The die normally has two adjustments, one for the depth that the
bullet will be inserted into the brass case and a second for adding a taper crimp to the top of the
brass to help hold the bullet in place. In most cases this crimp will be sufficient however if you
prefer a roll crimp (if it's caliber appropriate) or a more precise taper crimp there are separate dies
that can be used after the bullet is seated. At this point the cartridge is complete however it is
very important that you take a precise measurement of the over all length to be certain that it is
within tolerance for the type of cartridge you are loading. This is usually done while setting up
the seating die but much like periodic checking of your powder drops it is a good practice to get
into while seating. Ammo that is too long or too short can cause feeding or chambering problems and can
even lead to dangerous overpressure situations. Measurements are taken with a set of machinist's
calipers that are accurate to the 1/1000th of an inch. Prices for a good set of calipers can be from
$35 on up.

3) The Economy of Reloading

Most people become interested in reloading as a way to save money on ammo. If you start reloading you
WILL save a lot per round but you will also invest a lot of time and energy in the process. If you're
a "time is money" type of person it may not be for you. However, if you look at it as a separate hobby apart
from your shooting and find the process of making ammo enjoyable then the time calculation is not a factor
and you'll save money or (likely) shoot more often.

So just how much will you save if you start reloading? As with most things, the answer is: That depends.
First lets just consider the ammo components themselves.

Brass, pick them up after you shoot = FREE (new brass is available separately but can get pricey)
Primers, 1000 count box = ~$35.00
Powder, 1 lbs. (7000 grains) bottle = $18.00 - $27.00
Bullets, price varies by caliber and construction = $20 per 100 on up (heavier = more expensive)

To better illustrate lets take a box of 45 ACP pistol rounds

A 50 count box of Federal 45 ACP, 230 gr FMJ at my local Wal-Mart is $24.67

If we were to reload the exact same box of ammo:

Brass (range pickups) $ 0.00
Primers $ 1.75 (purchased as 1000 ct box for $35.00)
Powder (5.3 gr) $ 0.76 (purchased as 1 lbs. bottle of HP-38 for $20.00)
Bullet (230gr FMJ) $11.25 (purchased as 100 ct box for $22.49)
Total $13.76 (Savings of 44%)

You can bring the cost per box down even lower by buying powder and bullets in larger quantities, using a
lighter weight projectile, and switching from Jacketed or hollow point to lead. My favorite target load
for 45 ACP (200 gr Lead Semi-wadcutter, 4.8 gr HP-38) only costs $6.05 per 50 rounds because I can get
quality hard-cast bullets locally (no shipping) in 500 count boxes and I buy powder in 4 or 8 lbs containers.
In general, the more the round you are reloading costs, the more you will save by reloading.

4) Reloading components

Brass Cases: This is where a large portion of the savings you will see when reloading comes from. New brass
is expensive and depending on caliber can run from $20 - $40 per 100 for pistol and $65+ per 100
for rifle brass. Most people just reuse brass from factory loads they shoot or forage brass at
local ranges. If you shoot a less common caliber there are many places that sell once fired
brass at a significant savings.

Primers: Primers are sold in 100 count sleeves or 1000 count boxes. (10 sleeves) 1000 count boxes
can be had for between $30 and $40 in most shops and online.

Powder: Powder is sold in 1, 4 or 8 lbs. bottles. A 1 lbs bottle will typically sell for between $18
and $27 depending on the powder type. It definitely pays to buy the larger bottles. A 4 lbs
bottle will cost roughly the same as three 1 lbs bottles purchased separately and an 8 pounder
will save even more per pound.

Bullets: Prices vary widely on bullets based on caliber and construction. As a rule of thumb, prices
increase as the bullet gets heaver. Hollow points (both for hunting and personal
defense) are more then full Jacketed bullets which in turn cost more than solid lead. Since
this is where the majority of your reloading component cost is, it pays to buy in the largest
quantities you can use and/or afford.

5) Presses
The press is the centerpiece of any reloading bench. There are several styles to choose
from but for a beginner I recommend starting with a single stage . Here's a list of some
popular choices for each type of press. This list is by no means comprehensive.

5.1) Single stage press: A single stage press holds a single die at a time and performs one operation
per pull of the handle. If you do your priming on the press, many single stage presses also have
an option of repriming brass on the upstroke. For each operation of the reloading process you
will need to install a die above the press ram. The ram has a shell holder installed to hold
the brass while it is being worked. When the handle is pulled the ram is raised and the brass
is pressed into the die. For people new to reloading I recommend they start with this type of
press. It lets you concentrate on a single operation at time and gives you a good feel for each
step. With a single stage press you can expect to output approx 100-200 rounds per hour.

Examples of single stage presses w/ prices:

Lee Breech-lock Challenger $61
RCBS Partner Press $70
Lee Clasic Cast $95
Lyman Orange Crusher $124
Hornady Lock-N-Load Single $136
RCBS Rock Chucker Supreme $140
Forster CoAx $290

5.2) Turret press: Turret presses are similar to a single stage in that one operation is performed
each time the handle is pulled. However a turret press will allows you install all of the dies
before hand eliminating set up time between steps. To do this the press has a rotating tool head
with 3-5 slots. Each slot performs one step in the reloading process with the tool head being
turned so that the appropriate die is positioned above the press ram. Many people who use this
type of setup also install a powder drop in one of the positions so that all operations can be
performed without ever removing the brass from the ram's shell holder. On some models the tool
head can be advanced to the next die automatically using an indexing mechanism. Others rely on
the user to rotate it to the next position. With a turret you can expect to output roughly
150-300 rounds per hour.

Examples of turret presses w/ prices:

# of Extra
Press Slots Price Toolhead
Lee Turret 3 $70 $10
Lee Classic Turret 4 $100 $12
Lyman T-Mag II Turret 6 $190 $42
RCBS Turret 6 $215 $47
Redding T-7 7 $261 $61

5.3) Progressive press: The progressive is the next logical step from the turret press. The dies are
arranged in a circular pattern on a fixed tool head above the press ram. Now instead of having a
single shell holder like the turret or one stage press, there is a rotating shell plate that holds several
pieces of brass at once. With each pull of the press handle one part of the reloading process is
performed at each station in the shell holder. For example lets say you have four stations on your
progressive press, Station 1 has the sizer/deprimer die, station 2 a flaring die, station 3 has a powder
drop and station 4 has the seater/crimp die. Now you load a piece of brass into station 1 on the
shell plate and pull the handle. The brass is sized and deprimerd. Now the shell plate is rotated to
advance the first piece of brass to station 2 and a another case is inserted in station 1. Pull the
handle again and case at station 2 is flared and the one in station one is sized and deprimed. The
shell plate is rotated again moving the original case to station 3, the second case to station 2 and
yet another piece of brass is inserted into station 1. Now pull the handle again and the original case
gets it's powder charge, case 2 is flared and the new one is sized and deprimed. You continue this
process until with each pull of the handle you are inserting a new case and a completed cartridge is
coming out of the press. With a progressive you can expect to make anywhere from 300 to 600
rounds in an hour.

Examples of progressive presses w/ prices:

<tr><th>Press</th> <th># of Slots</th> <th>Price</th> <th>Extra Toolhead</th> <th>Shell Plate</th></tr>
<tr><td>Lee Pro 1000</td> <td>3</td> <td>$170</td> <td>$10</td> <td>$35</td></tr>
<tr><td>Hornady Lock-N-Load AP</td> <td>5</td> <td>$435</td> <td>N/A</td> <td>$37</td></tr>
<tr><td>Dillon 550B</td> <td>4</td> <td>$440</td> <td> $23</td> <td>$35</td></tr>
<tr><td>RCBS Pro 2000</td> <td>5</td> <td>$525</td> <td>$20</td> <td>$32</td></tr>
<tr><td>Dillon XL650</td> <td>5</td> <td>$567</td> <td>$28</td> <td>$39</td></tr>
<tr><td>Dillon 1050</td> <td>8</td> <td>$1690</td> <td>$199</td> <td>$119</td></tr>

6) Pistol Reloading Equipment

Single stage press: $60 - $240
Single calibur Die set: $32 - $80 ( set will contain at least sizer/deprimer, flare & seater dies )
Scale: $25 - $200
Calipers: $30 - $65

Turret Press: $70 - $261
Progressive press: $170 - $1690
Vibratory Cleaner: $38 - $140
Ultrasonic Cleaner: $75 - $1000+
Tumbler Cleaner: $45 - $1000+
Primer Pocket Cleaner: $4 - $15
Hand Primer: $35 - $70 ( some models require a shell holder for each caliber )
Taper/Roll Crimp Die: $14 - $40

NOTE: Many of the reloading manufacturers like Lee, Lyman, RCBS and Hornady make starter kits
which contain all of the basic equipment needed to get started (except dies) at a a price much
lower than buying the individual pieces separately. These kits are something of a comprimise
since you do not get to pick which model of a particular tool is included. Before purchasing
one of these make sure that each included tool will suit your needs.

7) Rifle Reloading Equipment

Vibratory Cleaner: $38 - $140
Single stage press: $60 - $240
Single caliber Die set: $28 - $180 ( set will contain at least sizer/deprimer & seater dies )
Case Trimmer: $15 - $160 (powered units will be in the $200-$300 range)
Neck Reamer Tool: $7 -$20
Scale: $25 - $200
Calipers: $30 - $65

Turret Press: $70 - $261
Progressive press: $170 - $1690
Ultrasonic Cleaner: $75 - $1000+
Tumbler Cleaner: $45 - $1000+
Primer Pocket Cleaner: $4 - $15
Hand Primer: $35 - $70 ( some models require a shell holder for each caliber )
Taper/Roll Crimp Die: $14 - $40
Swaging die/press: $32 - 101

8) Equipement/Component Resources

When ever possible support your local gun shop and buy your components locally. Most reloading equipment
and supplies are heavy and bulky making them expensive to ship. This added expense will usually negate
any increased price or taxes you'd pay buying from a local store. Also, with powder and primers there
are additional hazardous material changes added by the shippers. However, if what you want is not
available locally here are a few online resources you can check out.

Midway USA:
Midsouth Shooters Supply:
Graf & Sons:
Able's Hunting & Shooting:
Sportsman's Warehouse:


This primer is not intended as a guide to reloading. By that I mean, if you just read this post you are
not prepared to start reloading. There are several excellent reloading books out there which cover each
step of the process in great detail. (see Intro section) I highly recommend you get one and read the
first few chapters several times. Refer to manufacturers set-up and user manuals for proper use of reloading
tools. What I'm trying to say is, if you blow your face off because you messed up something, it's on you.
Ammunition, it's the new lead bullion. Buy it cheap and stack it deep.
I need to format a few things so they display better. Can one of the MyBB ninjas point me in the right direction for formatting data into a table? I tried using HTML tags, but that doesn't seem to work.
Ammunition, it's the new lead bullion. Buy it cheap and stack it deep.
Rik Bitter;132950 Wrote:I need to format a few things so they display better. Can one of the MyBB ninjas point me in the right direction for formatting data into a table? I tried using HTML tags, but that doesn't seem to work.

I am neither an admin nor a database guru, but a quick search tells me that a plugin may be required for what you want to do.

Would it be easier to just create and populate a table offline, like in Word, and then insert a screenshot of it into your post?

Convoluted and ass-backwards I know, but it might actually work.
“Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.”

William Pitt
:bump: for the morning crew. Ninja
“Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.”

William Pitt
Rik Bitter, I made your OP a sticky when you first posted it, good job on the info, however, that's as much as I can do, maybe if you PM Rocketfoot, the owner of the site, he'll be able to assist further with the mybb stuff.
Starting to reload now is like putting up a smoke detector while the kitchen is on fire. Big Grin
NRA Life Member, NRA Certified Instructor:  HFS, Pistol, Rifle, PPIH,PPOH
Suarez Combat Arms Instructor School
Admit nothing.  Deny everything. Demand proof.
If we lie to the government, it's a crime. If the government lies to the people, it's called politics.
Paying for welfare is slavery.
spblademaker;132986 Wrote:Starting to reload now is like putting up a smoke detector while the kitchen is on fire. Big Grin

Better late than never.
P89;132987 Wrote:
spblademaker;132986 Wrote:Starting to reload now is like putting up a smoke detector while the kitchen is on fire. Big Grin

Better late than never.

Exactly, especially since "the kitchen" isn't on fire yet. A person with little to no knowledge can buy everything he needs in one day and have easily hundreds of round reloaded by the end of a week. I've done it. I may yet do it again.
“Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.”

William Pitt
Curmudgeon;132989 Wrote:
P89;132987 Wrote:Better late than never.

Exactly, especially since "the kitchen" isn't on fire yet. A person with little to no knowledge can buy everything he needs in one day and have easily hundreds of round reloaded by the end of a week. I've done it. I may yet do it again.

I reload shotshells, can get a 5 gallon bucket filled within a couple days with my Mec Jr.
Reloading components are becoming plentiful again... not for me since the powder I use had a fire at the factory... but it's easy to get powder, primers, cases and bullets.

RocketFoot's Minion since 09-07-2012

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