Recommended Products for the Beginning Reloader
This guide is designed to detail the various products that are recommended to get started reloading. All the tools listed below are not necessarily required to reload consistent ammunition. However, each tool is designed to help the reloader with a certain step or steps in the reloading process. All of the products listed below may be purchased individually, while many are available as part of a packaged kit with almost everything needed to start reloading. These kits are available from almost every manufacturer and typically offer savings over buying items separately.
This is the most critical source of information for reloading. Not only is the reloading manual the reference that will be used each time a load is being developed, they also contain important information on the reloading process and offer tips and ideas to make the reloading process more efficient. Every manufacturer has their own reloading manual covering a wide range of topics and load data. It is important to note that each manual provides different information on the reloading process so it can be beneficial to reference more than one manual. Additionally, some of the manuals only give multiple loads for a given cartridge covering only bullets or powders that are made by that manufacturer.
There are 3 basic types of presses. Single Stage, Turret and Progressive. Each one has pros and cons. To determine what type of press to purchase, think about what type of reloading is going to be done. For the most part a solid single stage press is considered the best press to learn on.
Single Stage Presses:
- Single stage presses are the easiest to set up and learn the basic reloading processes and are the recommended press for first time reloaders. Single stage presses require fewer adjustments than turret or progressive presses and are the least expensive to purchase. They have the slowest rate of production and are the preferred press for loading smaller batches of ammunition. A high quality single stage press will last a lifetime. If a reloader determines a need for a turret or progressive press, a single stage press will still find use on a reloading bench for load development and small batches of ammunition.
- Turret presses are ideal for a person who reloads larger batches of ammunition but not enough to justify spending the additional money to purchase a progressive press. An experienced reloader can load as many as 200 rounds an hour. Turret presses also allow the mounting of more than one die on the press and either have a rotating turret or the ability for the cartridge to move from station to station for each reloading sequence. Simply rotate the turret to the next die in the reloading sequence until a loaded round is produced. Most turrets have an extra hole for mounting a powder measure which increases production rate. Turret presses also allow the reloader to have more than one turret setup for each cartridge that is being loaded. This is a time saver as the reloader only has to setup their dies in the turret once so when they are ready to switch calibers they simply switch out turrets.
- Progressive presses are ideal for shooters who reload high volume and need to turn out up to 500 rounds per hour. Progressive presses require additional time and maintenance getting set up and keeping them operating smoothly. Most progressive presses require extra set-up time to switch between calibers, as there are many different adjustments that need to be made. Most progressive presses have between four or five die stations to hold all the dies needed for reloading, as well as powder measures and other specialty dies. Progressive presses are the most expensive type of press to purchase and are not designed for small batches of ammunition, once a progressive press is set-up they can crank out the rounds.
Dies are used to deprime the brass, resize the brass within specification, seat and crimp the bullet. The reloader can purchase dies individually or save money by purchasing them in a set. Sets typically come packaged as 2-die sets for bottleneck cartridges and 3-die sets for straight wall cartridges.
- Bottleneck cartridges can be resized using a full-length resizing die which resizes the entire case or they can be resized using a Neck sizing die. Neck sizing dies reduce the amount of stress put on each piece of brass by only resizing the neck to just above the shoulder of the cartridge. It is important to note that Neck Sizing dies should only be used when reloading brass cases that are to be shot out of the same bolt action rifle as the brass was fired in. This is important because once a round is fired in a rifle, the brass case expands to fit the chamber of that rifle. Neck sized brass will only fit into the chamber of the rifle it was fired in as rifles of the same caliber can exhibit different sized chambers that are still within the standard minimum and maximum specification. Three- die sets for bottle neck cartridges can also be purchased. They typically come with the full-length sizing die, neck sizing die and bullet seater and crimp die. Some 3-Die sets include a separate crimp die.
Straight wall cartridge
- Straight wall cartridge dies can be purchased singly, as 3-die sets or 4-die sets. Most of the straight wall cartridge dies come with a carbide ring or nitride ring inside of the dies which eliminates the need to lube the brass. If the die does not have either a carbide or nitride ring inside of the die then the brass must be lubed prior to sizing or the case will get stuck in the die. Three-die sets come shipped with a sizing die with depriming unit, a case mouth expanding die (some manufacturers dies are powder through expander dies which allow the reloader to charge the case after the case mouth has been expanded) and a bullet seater and crimp die. Four-die sets typically come shipped with the same dies as the 3-Die sets except the bullet seating die is separate from the crimp die.
Each cartridge that is being reloaded needs to have the appropriate shellholder. The shellholder is specifically designed for the thickness, diameter and taper of the rim of the case and the thickness of the extractor groove. Some die sets come packaged with the appropriate shellholder while others do not (always check to make sure you have the appropriate shellholder). Even though most universal shellholders will work with any press it is a good idea to use the same manufacturer of both as tolerance can differ.
A powder scale is another essential tool for reloading. Powder scales enable the reloader to accurately determine how much powder is going to be placed in each round of reloaded ammunition. There are electronic and balance scales available with a wide price range. Balance scales are typically the type of scales reloaders start with. They are easy to use and calibrate and do not run the risk of having an electronic malfunction. Electronic scales are typically quicker to use because the user doesn't have to wait for the balance to quit moving, but they are more sensitive to electronic interference from other devices, have more parts that can fail and typically are more expensive.
Powder tricklers are an important tool for getting the powder charge to the exact charge weight needed. They allow the reloader to drop just one kernel of powder at a time to get to that perfect charge weight. If the reloader is not using a powder measure, a powder trickler is a necessity to get an accurate charge.
A powder funnel is needed to pour the powder from the powder pan from the scale into the brass case. There are many different types of funnels available. Some are designed for one caliber, while others have multiple adapters to fit a wide variety of calibers.
There are a few different ways to measure out the correct powder charge.
- Dippers are the least expensive way to measure powder and they measure by volume. The dippers consist of uniformly graduated cylinders which measure in cubic centimeters. By using dippers and a scale a reloader can inexpensively measure out desired powder charges. Dippers can be modified easily for the desired charge so all the reloader has to do is dip, check the charge weight and pour the charge into the brass case.
- Bench Mounted powder measures use a hopper to hold the powder. These use a rotor to measure out each powder charge. The reloader adjusts a metering insert that attaches to the rotor or changes out an insert inside the rotor to increase or decrease the amount of powder that is released. These measures speed up the reloading process as it is very easy to fine tune the powder charge and then release a set amount of powder directly into the brass case being reloaded. (It is always wise to check your powder measure after 10 dispenses to make sure the measure has not come out of adjustment).
- Electronic Dispensers are a very useful tool for getting the exact charge you want to get without a lot of experimentation. Most of them allow a reloader to simply type in the charge weight and the dispenser dispenses powder until the desired charge weight is attained. These units are very handy but they are also the most expensive way to measure a powder charge.
Calipers can either have an electronic readout or dial readout and can be made of stainless steel or plastic. On a reloading bench they are needed to measure brass to make sure that it is not out of specification. Calipers are also needed when setting the seating die by measuring the cartridge overall length and adjusting the die to get the desired length as the bullet is seated. Calipers, like any other equipment, can be found inexpensively or can cost a lot.
Most presses come with a priming attachment so a priming tool is not a necessity. There are two basic types of priming tools that are not attached to the press: hand priming tools and bench mounted priming tools.
Hand-Held Priming Tools:
- Hand priming tools allows a reloader to prime a large lot of brass quickly and they don’t have to be next to the reloading press to do so. Priming tools also allow reloaders to have a little more control and better “feel” of the primer going into the primer pocket. Different priming tools use different shellholders. The Lee Autoprime priming tool uses special shellholders designed just to work with it. Hornady’s hand priming tool only works with Hornady or RCBS shellholders. RCBS offers two hand priming tools that don’t use standard shellholders instead they have a shellholder that will fit every cartridge.
Bench Mounted Priming Tools:
- Bench mounted priming tools mount on a sturdy bench and offers excellent feel when seating primers. This option usually is a little more expensive than the hand priming tool option but is a very popular way to prime brass cases.
Press Mounted Priming Tools:
- Press mounted priming tools mount on the reloading press, they can be either upgrades to a press or they can mount in the same location as the reloading dies get mounted. These upgrades are designed to make priming quicker and easier on the reloader.
This is an important tool for any reloader to have in his or her reloading kit. This tool is required for new brass or newly trimmed brass. The chamfer end puts a slight taper on the inside of the case mouth. This taper helps to ensure when seating the bullet that it goes in straight and effortlessly. The deburring end of this tool removes any burrs that may have been caused during the chamfering process. Most of these tools are designed to work in a wide range of calibers and can be handheld, work in a manual case trimmer setup or be used in an electrical trimming tool and are available from most manufacturers.
The brass forming process sometimes causes burrs to be created inside the flash hole of brass cases. These burrs can cause ammunition to ignite differently from one round to the next. The flash hole deburring tool removes this burr so ignition can be optimized and kept uniform. After flash holes have been deburred once they no longer need deburring. These tools are also made by many manufactures so there is a wide selection available.
There are a few different tools used for cleaning primer pockets, uniforming primer pockets and reaming primer pockets.
Primer Pocket Cleaners:
- Primer pocket cleaners do precisely what their name implies. They clean the residue out of the primer pocket that is left over after the primer has been detonated. This residue keeps primers from seating all the way down in the primer pocket, can cause a weak strike on the primer and can also causes the reloader to exert more effort to fully seat a primer.
Primer Pocket Uniforming Tool:
- Primer pocket uniforming tools are used ensure that primer pockets are the same width and depth for each piece of brass. They take very little pieces of brass out of the primer pocket until they are the same size as the tool ensuring each piece of brass has the same size primer pocket.
Primer Pocket Reamers:
- Primer pocket reamers are used to remove crimps from primer pockets. These crimps are associated with reloading military brass. If reloading military brass, these crimps must be removed before reloading the brass or the primer won’t seat correctly.
Each time a brass case is fired, it stretches. At a certain length the brass is no longer within acceptable specification and must be trimmed back. A case trimmer is used for this process and every reloading manufacturer makes some type of tool for trimming cases. These tools can be handheld, bench mounted or electric.
Hand-Held Case Trimmer:
- Hand-held case trimming tools are useful for a reloader just starting out. They are inexpensive and work well. Handheld trimmers consist of a gage which measures to the maximum acceptable length of the cartridge and require a cutter. The cutter holds the length gage which is inserted into the case. The reloader twists the cutter until it stops trimming down the brass. The length gage keeps the reloader from cutting the brass too short.
Bench Mounted Manual Case Trimmer:
- Bench Mounted Manual Case Trimmers are useful if the reloader has a lot of brass that needs to be trimmed or the reloader wants to be able to control the length they are trimming to. These often offer attachments that allow the trimmer to be connected to a drill speeding up the trimming process. Bench mounted trimmers are available from a variety of manufacturers and can be used for almost every cartridge. Adjustable depth gages allow the reloader to consistently cut brass to the same length.
Power Case Trimmers
- Power Case Trimmers are designed to save as much time as possible. Once set up all the reloader does is put in each piece of brass and trims it to a set point. These trimmers are quick and efficient and the reloader doesn’t have to turn a crank or use hand held cutter.
Primer trays are made by many different manufacturers. They are used to get each primer to orientate the same way. Simply put a box of primers on the tray, place the top on and gently shake until the primers are orientated the same way.
There are a few different ways to clean brass before it gets reloaded. Some reloaders use a liquid brass cleaner, others prefer to tumble their cases and still other people like to use an ultrasonic cleaner all three have advantages and disadvantages.
- Case polish is a relatively inexpensive easy to use and do what they are designed to do. They are also messy; require the brass to completely dry before reloading and, depending on the level of tarnish of the brass, will only last so many uses. The reloader simply soaks brass in the solution until the brass has reached the level of cleanliness desired. Once this level is reached, the brass has to have the chemical washed off and the brass has to be completely dry before reloading.
- Tumbling brass is a very popular way of cleaning brass and quality tumblers and media will last a long time cleaning thousands of cases. Most tumblers on the market use either corn cob media or walnut hull media and vibrate to cause agitation that cleans brass. Both types of media are used to remove residue and tarnish from brass. Additives can also be added to media to aid in the cleaning process. Once brass has tumbled to the reloaders liking there is no waiting to dry the brass before reloading. A limited number of tumblers are designed to use both dry media and liquid media. These units are usually the most expensive units to purchase and they do not use vibration to clean the cases. Instead, a drum rotates on two axis tumbling the brass and cleaner inside.
- Ultrasonic cleaners are another way that shooters can clean up their brass. Some say they are more efficient and able to get most of the carbon residue that tumblers and liquid cleaners leave behind. Ultrasonic cleaners utilize high-frequency sound waves that attack and break down the carbon buildup on the outside of cases.
There is a wide variety of case lubes on the market, from aerosol sprays to wax, each one having a different application method. Case lube is always required when resizing bottle neck cases. Straight walled cases must have case lube if they are being sized in dies that do not have a carbide sizing ring on the inside of them. It is important to note that too much case lube can be a bad thing and will dent brass ultimately ruining it while too little case lube will cause cases to get stuck inside the reloading die.
- Aerosol sprays and pump bottle sprays are very simple to use. Simply spray the lube at a 45 degree angle on a loading block full of brass and wait for it to dry on the case. Once the spray has dried the brass is ready to resize.
Case Sizing Wax
- Case sizing wax is also very simple to use. Rub a finger over the wax and very conservatively coat a piece of brass. One rub of the finger will coat a few pieces of brass. Usually it will take a little trial and error to find the correct amount of wax for resizing brass.
Case Lube Pads
- Case lube pads are easy to use. Simply put some liquid lube on the pad, take five pieces of brass and rub them back on forth on the pad until they are coated.
Case Lube Dies
- Case lube dies are special dies are made just for lubing cases. They take the same liquid lube as case lube pads. These dies are designed to be used on the first station in a progressive press before the sizing die when loading a lot of ammunition. These save time by not having to individually lube small batches of brass. Lube dies can also be used on single stage or turret presses but it is not practical to use them there.
A loading tray is a necessary tool to have on any reloading bench. They allow the reloader to stay organized and work in small batches of usually 50 pieces. They are also helpful to prevent brass from falling over on the bench causing a huge mess to develop. There are many universal one-size-fits-all loading blocks and specialized loading blocks that fit a certain range of cartridges based on the width of the cartridge rim. All loading blocks are made out of plastic material that is not harmed by oils or lubricants.
Case neck brushes are used to deposit a slight amount of dry lubricant inside the case neck. It is important to lubricate the inside of the case neck as the lubrication will reduce friction as the expander ball of the sizing die is pulled out of the case neck increasing the ease of resizing brass and lengthening brass life.
Everyone makes a mistake every now and then when reloading. This tool is important to have to reclaim valuable components when a mistake has been made. There are a few different types of bullet pullers: impact style, press mounted collet and pliers- type bullet pullers.
Impact Style Bullet Puller:
- Impact style bullet pullers work like a hammer and use inertia to separate the bullet and powder from the brass case. A few hard whacks on a piece of wood are usually all that is necessary to remove the bullet. Different brands of impact bullet pullers hold the round in the puller differently. Some use collets and others use adjustable chucks. This style of puller is ideal for the reloader who only has a few bullets to pull at a time.
Press Mounted Bullet Puller:
- Press mounted bullet pullers mount in the press and use interchangeable collets to pull bullets. These collets are available for a wide range of calibers. This style of puller is usually ideal if the reloader has a lot of bullets to pull. This style of puller will not work if the reloader is using cast bullets.
Plier Type Bullet Puller:
- Pliers type bullet pullers are designed to work with light tension seated bullets and are used with the press. The reloader takes their die out runs the round all the way up, puts the appropriate caliber puller around the bullet and lowers the ram to remove the bullet.
Labels are very useful to a reloader. They act as a place to detail everything about the load that you just made. This information is very important to have listed. A reloader can purchase pre-made labels or create their own.
Pre-made labels usually include space for the following information: caliber, bullet weight and style, brand of bullet, powder weight, powder type, primer type, type of brass, brass length, overall length, number of times brass has been loaded, date, a space for important notes and bullet seating depth. Not all labels have spaces for the same information so it is always useful to make sure the labels have space for the information you find useful. Pre-made labels have an adhesive backing which makes them very useful when using reusable ammo boxes.
There are many different types of ammo boxes available. Some reloaders choose to keep reusing factory ammo boxes that they have laying around, others prefer to purchase plastic ammo boxes that fit a certain range of cartridges, and others prefer to use “factory style” ammo boxes.
Plastic ammo boxes have some advantages over either reusing factory boxes or purchasing the “factory style” ammo boxes. The plastic ammo boxes are designed to last much longer than their cardboard counterparts. They are also available in a large variety of sizes and can hold anywhere from 5-100 cartridges per box. This versatility makes them the choice of a lot of reloaders. The only downside to the plastic boxes is they cost more to purchase upfront than recycling factory ammo boxes or buying the “factory style” boxes.
A reloading bench is one of those items that can be very simple and homemade that takes up very little space or it can be a heavy duty bench that is manufactured to tight tolerances and is very elaborate. Portable reloading stands are desirable to the reloader that does not have very much space like living in an apartment. A reloader that prefers to make a homemade bench should make sure that the bench is large enough to hold all of the necessary reloading equipment and is heavy enough or anchored down where the bench does not move during resizing. Storage is also a consideration when purchasing or building a bench. Many of the manufactured reloading benches have plenty of drawers and shelves to store reloading equipment when it is not in use. For reloader looking to make a bench themselves a quick internet search will turn up a bunch of different plans and ideas while a reloader who prefers to buy a bench has plenty of options over a wide range of prices.
To create a loaded round of ammunition the reloader needs 4 basic components. Brass case, primer, powder and bullet.
- There are many different manufactures of brass cases with large price variances between them; figuring out the best to use can be difficult. Reloaders have their own personal preference when it comes to the manufacturer they prefer to use. Some swear by the most expensive brands while others swear by the least expensive brands. Usually more expensive brass has been drawn with higher quality materials under tighter quality control tolerances. Higher end brass is typically ready for the reloader to reload out of the box without having to do the prep work that is required from the less expensive brass. Less expensive brass works the same way as expensive brass it, holds the bullet, powder and primer, it just takes more work to get it ready to use. There are many match shooters that swear by the least expensive brass they can buy. By utilizing cheaper brass they can afford to reload more ammunition so they can practice more.
- The type of primers being used depends on the cartridge being loaded as there are different size primers for different size cartridges. Refer to a reloading manual or contact the brass manufacturer to determine which primer size to use. Once the primer size is determined figure out what brand is going to be used. Primers tend to vary from one brand to another and also from lot to lot so it is important to find a brand that works well with a particular load and stick with it.
- Powder is one of those components that it is very important for the reloader to make sure the correct type and weight is being used. Putting a few extra grains of powder or the wrong powder for a given load can lead to a serious and potentially deadly situation. Always used published load data from respected sources (e.g. Powder Manufacturers). Start low and work up to higher velocities and pressure. The highest velocity load does not always mean it is going to be the best load for a particular rifle. Many manufacturers list the most accurate load with a given powder and bullet.
- There are almost as many different bullets as there are calibers, each type of bullet having certain advantages and disadvantages. The type of bullet a reloader decides to use it based on the application for their loaded ammunition. Hunting bullets depend on the type of animal being hunted. As a general rule, hunters look for a bullet that is solidly constructed, exhibits controlled expansion and does not come apart if a bone or branch are hit. There are specialty hunting bullets for different applications depending on what a reloader is looking for. Good varmint bullets are designed to expand very rapidly and dump their energy into the varmint so the bullet will not pass completely through. Reloaders looking at target bullets typically look for bullets having the greatest ballistic coefficient possible and are made to strict tolerances. It is very important to consult a good reloading manual when deciding on which bullet to use. A good manual will help guide the reloader to the correct bullet for their application. Bullet manufacturers’ reloading manuals will typically have only information pertaining to the bullets they manufacture so different manuals may have to be purchased if different brands of bullets are being used to get all the data needed.
This is a very important topic. As the reloader develops and shoots more loads it is important to have some way of looking back to see which loads worked the best and which ones to avoid. Taking notes on the performance of a particular load while at the range after firing a few rounds is one of the easiest ways to do this. These notes don’t have to be complicated and full of information or even written in a fancy book; simple things like group size can be all the information that is wanted. All that is needed to be written down is what the reloader feels is important. These books can be as simple as a three ring binder, a folder or small note book . For reloaders that would rather purchase a pre-made data book, these are available also and have pre-printed pages full of very useful information like the bullet type, powder type, primer type, case type, firearm used, velocity, conditions and other valuable information. Most reloading manuals have a section of pages for the reloader to write down notes.