Reloading Beginners Guide – How to Start Reloading

Bolt Action Reloading • July 25, 2023

There are many benefits to becoming a reloader. A lot of folks may tell you about all the money you would save, but I would rank that as the last reason to start reloading. Maybe even consider it more of an optional side benefit. The biggest benefits you get are often the ones you cannot put a price tag on:

  1. Better performance than factory offerings - With time and effort you can make better performing ammunition that you can purchase off the shelf.
  2. A learning experience - Reloading ammunition offers a hands-on opportunity to learn more about ballistics, individual components and how they affect a load (good and bad), and more time behind your firearm than you would likely spend shooting factory offerings.
  3. Availability of unique calibers, wildcat rounds, or otherwise make custom rounds that are unavailable otherwise.
  4. Reloading can offer some independence from factory ammo availability, shortages, and some price fluctuations- assuming you keep an appropriate amount of supplies on hand.

A rewarding hobby that offers the satisfaction and accomplishment of not only being self-sufficient, but also being capable of creating a load that performs so well it will surprise you.

The experience of carefully performing every step yourself and then watching each bullet go into the smallest group you have ever shot is an experience that you likely will never forget. (Until you shoot the next smallest group you have ever shot, and so it continues) You may not know it then, but at that point, you will be hopelessly hooked and wonder “If I can do that, what else I can do?”

Reloading only requires four basic components: brass cases, primers, powder, and bullets. Put these things together in the right amounts with the correct combination and you can unlock better performance than you have probably ever achieved before. What do you need to get started? Let’s walk through the steps.

Preparing the cases

The first step to reloading is always going to be preparing the brass cases. Even though it is not specific to only this step you need to inspect your cases every time you touch them. Flaws in the brass like split case mouths, case head separations, excessive bulges, and other case defects need to be removed from the lot of brass that you are reloading. It’s less likely for new brass to have defects, but you need to inspect them as well. With new brass there is a good chance that the necks of your cases were dinged in shipping, so you are likely to want to subject them to at least some part of your sizing process.

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Defective Brass

So you are going to need a press, a full-length sizing die, the appropriate shell holder, if required by your press, and some case lube.

What will you accomplish with this step?

  1. Remove the old primer
  2. Size the body and shoulder of the case so it can fit in the chamber of your firearm
  3. Resize the neck with both the die and expander ball to accept a new bullet
  4. Remove the primer crimp (if your previously fired cases had crimped primers)
  5. Trim the brass to a dimension between the min and max case length.
  6. Chamfer and deburr the case neck to aid in bullet seating and case feeding.

Most Full length dies recommend some sort of the following set up process:

  1. Install the appropriate shell holder. (if required by press)
  2. Raising the ram of your press
  3. Screwing down the sizing die until you make contact with the shell holder
  4. Lowering the ram of the press
  5. Screw down the die an additional 1/8 to 1/4 turn
  6. Tighten the lock ring on your die.
  7. Next lubricate your brass, paying attention to getting some inside the neck of the brass cases
  8. Put the case in the shell holder and cycle the ram on the press to resize the case

Some dies come with the shell holder but it may need to be picked up separately.

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Lee Universal Shell Holder

If you are using brass that has crimped primers you need to remove them in one of two ways. Both methods can be effective and if you are using new brass, or reloading brass that has not been crimped, you can skip this step completely.

  1. Crimp removers that cut the crimp or swage to remove the crimp.
  2. A swage operation that is done with a die on the press or a dedicated unit.
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Crimped Primer Pockets

Some of the cutters can be operated manually but for any quantity you are going to wish you had some type of powered tool to operate the cutter.

After sizing is complete, the case lube must be removed. This can be accomplished with a little alcohol on a rag, but if you are dealing with very dirty brass I prefer wet tumbling. Frankford Arsenal makes a rotary tumbler that I've found works well for this step.

After your brass is sized and clean you need to make sure it is the appropriate length as specified in your reloading manual. Your manual should list a minimum and maximum case length. You will find a pair of digital calipers is needed for this step. If your brass measures between the two values you may skip trimming if desired, but would still recommend a quick chamfer and deburr to make your life easier later. If you want to keep your cases a consistent length, or you need to trim the cases below that max case length, a great tool for a beginner is the Lee cutter and lock stud system. This combined with the appropriate case length gauge, shell holder, and power drill can trim your cases quickly and consistently. After trimming you will still need to chamfer and deburr the cases.

The final step of preparing the cases is brushing out the case neck with an appropriate neck brush. This will ensure that no brass chips affect the bullet seating step and you are ready to start priming your cases.

For a comprehensive overview of preparing your cases, see How to Prep Cases for Reloading by Bolt Action Reloading.

Priming

Priming cases is a pretty simple step. There are three types of tools:

  1. Hand priming
  2. Bench priming
  3. On-the-press priming

Ultimately they all can work when set up correctly. When you are first starting out, assuming you have hands that can tolerate some repetitive motion, hand priming is the fastest way to figure out the “feel” of priming. A bench primer is a good middle ground, and while you can prime on some presses, you just do not get the feel on the long handle that you do with a hand primer.

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Primers with Seater
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Your reloading manual should tell you the correct primer that is needed. Primers are designated large or small, pistol or rifle, magnum or standard. Especially when you are starting out, follow your manual’s guidance as closely as possible. You will have to configure your tool for the appropriate size (large or small) and follow the directions for your priming system of choice. At the end you should have primers fully seated below flush of the case head.

For a comprehensive overview on primer seating, see How to Seat Primers by Bolt Action Reloading.

Powder

Before you ever open a container of powder you need to have your load data figured out. A reliable source of load data from a published reloading manual, powder or bullet manufacturer should always be where you are going for safe load data that can be trusted.

To perform this step, you are going to need as a minimum:

  1. Reloading scale
  2. Powder pan
  3. Funnel to transfer the charge into the case.
Some good additions are:

Follow the startup procedure for your scale, validate it is working with your check weights and then set up your powder measure or the scoops and trickler if you are striving to get the exact charge weight every time. To start out, measure each charge to ensure you are comfortable that your process is giving you the amount of powder that is acceptable. Changing the way you operate a powder measure can alter the amount of powder dispensed more than you may expect.

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6.5 CM Load

Once your powder charge is validated, you can dump the charge in the case with the funnel. After all your cases are charged, make sure to visually inspect the powder levels before you start seating bullets. Make sure you have written down your load data with something you are keeping with your ammo. I recommend keeping a separate logbook with all the reloading details so that you can easily duplicate your load if you find something that works well.

For a comprehensive overview of how to dispense powder, see How to Dispense Powder by Bolt Action Reloading.

Bullet seating

When it is time to seat bullets, you may need to accomplish slightly more than just seating a bullet. You need to make sure if there was any bell in the cases (to aid in the seating process) that it is removed as well as adding any crimp that you feel is needed for the finished rounds.

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Hornady Dies

You are going to need an appropriate die or dies, calipers to measure cartridge overall length (COAL)-hopefully, you wrote down the intended COAL with your load data. If you bought a complete caliber die set you likely have seating die. Lee sets separate seating and crimp die; however, some brands come with seating die that can also perform a taper crimp. You need to decide if you intend to crimp. Unless there is a cannelure on the bullet, I do not plan on crimping. I have yet to find a situation where a crimp has made my rounds more accurate, so long as I have enough neck tension being provided by the brass sizing die. Your mileage may vary.

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COAL gauge

Follow your die manufacturer's instructions for setting up your bullet seating die. You may want to back out the seating stem; if so insert a case with a bullet on it that you have validated has an appropriate amount of powder. Raise the ram of the press, screw the seating stem down until it touches the bullet, lower the ram, and add two or three turns so that you can start seating the bullet. You are just trying to seat it far enough to get an initial measurement without the bullet falling out of the case. Continue to adjust the seating stem until you achieve the desired COAL and tighten the lock nut if applicable.

If you load the same round frequently, you may want to consider making a dummy round. To create one, seat a bullet in a case that has been sized (clearly labeled so you do not mistake it for something that it is not), and it will help you set your die up much faster next time.

Many seating dies have changeable stems, useful if you find the seating die you are using leaves marks on your bullets. Standard vs. VLD (very low drag) style seating stems may work better or worse depending on the bullet and seating stem combination you intend to use. As long as you are not observing any damage to the jackets as you seat the bullets, your stem is probably fine. If you see rings or any deformation of the jacket, you may want to consider a different seating stem if your die offers that option.

If you accidentally seat a bullet too far, you can use tools to make the cartridge a little longer, or even remove it completely. If you only have one or two cartridges to disassemble the impact bullet pullers are sufficient. If you have a lot of cartridges to disassemble, you may want to look at something like the Hornady collet style bullet puller. The Hornady bullet puller uses your press to quickly disassemble rounds, though I am sure it will leave marks on the bullets as you pull them out.

If you decide to crimp, do it after the seating process is complete with a tool like the Lee Factory Crimp die. Other dies that utilize a taper crimp style die; follow the direction with your specific die.

For a comprehensive overview on how to seat your bullets, see How to Seat Bullets by Bolt Action Reloading.

If you're ready to get started here is a fairly comprehensive list of tools you are going to need. If you get a kit, some of these may be included. If you decide to put your own together, these are my favorite picks. Of course you are going to need the applicable brass, primers, powder, and bullets.

Necessary ToolsRecommended Individual Brand / ProductRecommended Kit Options
PressForster Co-AxRCBS Rebel
Powder MeasureOptionalIncluded in Kit
Scale / Powder PanHornady G3-1500 Digital Powder Scale 1500 Gram CapacityIncluded in Kit
Hand PrimerRCBS Universal or FA Perfect Primer SeaterIncluded in Kit
Reloading ManualHornady, Sierra, or your favorite bullet manufacturerIncluded in Kit
Powder FunnelHornady Basic Powder Funnel 22 to 45 CaliberIncluded in Kit
Chamfer and Deburr ToolLyman Case Prep Multi ToolIncluded in Kit
Reloading TrayFA Perfect Fit or MTM UniversalIncluded in Kit
Case LubeRedding Imperial Case Sizing Wax GreenIncluded in Kit
TrimmerLee Case Trimmer Cutter and Lock Stud / Case Length Gauge and Shellholder
Brass TumblerFrankford Arsenal Rotary Tumbler Lite Essentials Kit
Shell Holders (if press required)Lee Universal Shellholders Pack of 11
DiesLee, RCBS, or Forster
CalipersNational Metallic Digital Caliper 6" Stainless SteelMitutoyo Digital Caliper 6" Stainless Steel
Optional ToolsBasic Brand / ProductAdvanced Brand / Product
Headspace ComparatorsHornadyShort Action Customs
Bullet ComparatorHornadyShort Action Customs
Press MountInline Fabrication Mount and Plates
Stand for Powder MeasureSame as manufacturer of powder measure you choose
Crimp RemoverRCBS Trim Mate Case Prep Center Straight Cone Military Crimp Remover Small/Large
Check WeightsLyman Scale Weight Check Set
Stuck Case RemoverRCBS Stuck Case Remover
Bullet PullerFrankford Arsenal Impact Bullet PullerHornady Cam-Lock Bullet Puller
Powder ScoopsLee Powder Measure Kit
Case Trim StationFrankford Arsenal Platinum Series Case Prep and Trim CenterHenderson Precision Gen 3 Powered Case Trimmer 115v Motor

I truly hope this helps you get started reloading. Don’t feel you have to have every single tool to get started. Most of us just collect them over time and then wonder how we ever lived without them.

--Bolt Action Reloading