This page is meant for new handloaders, I have tried to talk about some of the basic ideas of metallic handloading and how to get started safely.
If any old hands read this, please let me know if I have forgotten anything or should make things clearer, by emailing with your comments or suggestions.
There are lots of pictures and more conversation on this site about how to use the equipemnt, you will probably want to check out the Techniques pages.
Link to beginning of all my handloading pages.
Link to a glossary of handloading terms from reloadbench.com, or here is the same thing in case they drop it.
Link to my local handloading information page which has shellholder tables (sometime one isn't enough). and bullet abbreviations.
There are two basic kinds of reloading: metallic (rifle and pistol) and non-metallic (shotguns). I am most familiar with metallic reloadig so thats what I'm discussing here.
You hear the work "caliber" used in referring to firearms, it referrs to the specifications of the loaded cartridge to be fired by a specific firearm. Caliber is frequently thought of as the diameter of the bullet, but, as I said above, it actually refers to all the cartridge specifications. More about bullet diamters here.
Choose a caliber and learn to reload it, moving to most other calibers is straightforward.
The most important thing I can say here is Be Safe:.
If you use a little common sense you'll never have a Safety problem.
Don't load when there are distractions around, like TV, children, etc.
Use the correct ammunition for your firearm.
In all phases of handloading there are things that should be done to make sure your handloads don't blow up in your face or damage your firearm.
You will need to look at your fired brass cases for signs of damage, wear, or high pressure, and the loaded cartridge to make sure it is the correct length (Overall Cartridge Length) for it's particular caliber, more below.
When I load, I have one can of powder out on the bench and only the things that directly pertain to the caliber I'm loading. When I'm through loading, I pour any remaining powder back into it's original container. Any unused primers go back into their original package. Never, mix powders or use a powder that you don't know exactly what kind it is. Never put or use powder in an unmarked container. If you use 7gn of Bullseye thinking it is Unique, your in for a rude surprise and maybe an injury. Same goes for primers, remember the primer is the most dangerous individual part of handloading, but when packed in the shipping carton, they are safe. The original primer package is the safest way of storing them, leave primers in their original packages, till you use them, both for identification and safety. Store powder and primers in a cool, dry place apart from each other and away from sparks, flame, children, etc. Leave powder in it's original container both for identification and safety (powder containers are designed not to explode if burned containing powder). I have a little demo for people wanting to learn about guns and loading, I place 5gn of powder, loose, on a metal plate, outside, and light it, then I take a primed only case (no powder or projectile) and fire it in a handgun, pointing in a safe direction. This produces some interesting observations from folks viewing the demo. Always keep handguns, ammunition, powder, and primers away from all people who don't know how to use or handle them safely, especially children. Remember idiots abound and all of them claim to know all about everything. In short, never take someone's word about handling guns or ammo, teach them then watch like a hawk. If they don'e want to learn or obey the rules (on another page), DO NOT LET THEM HANDLE YOUR FIREARMS, you might be liable, in court (or dead), for what they do.
There are generally are 3 phases of metallic reloading: case preparation, resizing/depriming, and the actual loading, I do the cleaning in two parts before and after the depriming/resizing. I combine resizing and depriming as a sigle step because they are usually done with a single die. Some hardware is needed for each phase. The blue hyperlinks following the paragraph headings are to other pages with more details of the operations covered by the paragraph, these and other items are on my techniques pages.
Case Prep page
Case preparation is the cleaning of used brass in preparation for reloading. Case prep always includes depriming (removing the expended primer sometimes referred to as decapping) and resizing the case. Case prep may vary from cleaning the primer pocket after depriming to a thorough cleaning inside and out.
Tumbling cleans the outside of the case, I usually do this before depriming/resizing, it reduces wear on the dies caused by powder residue and grit on untumbled cases.
Depriming / Resizing removes the spent primer, and resizes the outside of the case back down to it's correct diameter. BTW: Brand new brass must also be resized.
Ultrasonic cleaning cleans the inside of the case including the primer pocket. Ultrasonically cleaned cases must be dried before reloading, there are normally no spots on the cases.
Be Safe: Case prep should always include inspecting the case for high pressure, wear, or cracks. High pressure is most easily seen by inspecting the primer before it is removed, it may have a flattened appearance (the bottom corner of the primer cup will not be rounded, it will have an almost square corner), and or the indentation made by the firing pin will have a crater (lip) around it and or there may be hole where the firing ping hit the primer.
One type of wear may be seen as a dark or burned area around the primer, indicating a gas leak because the primer pocket is worn or stretched, discard the case. A not so visible type of wear is the thinning of the case wall just above the head caused by stretching and resizing, this usually leads to cracks or head separation.
A nick in the case neck may cause the neck to split the next time the case is fired.
.45 Load Sequence
Turret Press Load Sequence
Loading consists of seating a new primer, charging the case (with powder), expanding the case mouth (just a little), seating a bullet, then crimping the case mouth to secure the bullet.
The first step is to choose a load from your loading manual for the specific caliber, bullet, and firearm. Loads in the manual will be indexed by the caliber then the weight (in grains) of the bullet, then will have rows of powder types and a range of charges (amount of powder) in grains, and usually indicates the expected velocity of the resulting load for each type of powder.
I oil all the moving parts of the press before each loading session, then wipe the press clean after I finish the session.
Take care not to contaminate primers with oil, or other lubricants (like case lube), wash your hands with good soap before handling primers or priming cases.
Be Safe: Always use tested loads from recognized loading manuals. A recognized loading manual is one from a recognized manufacturer of handloading equipment or bullet manufacturer, like Hornady, Sierra, Lyman, Speer, etc. BTW: Loading manuals usually have section on loading which is quite informative. The manufacturer's manuals are the safest way to choose loads, beginners should not use loads from other unproved sources like sites on the internet, etc. Always start at the low end of the load range in the manual, then examine the fird brass for over pressure or leakage signs before increasing the load (amount of propellant AKA powder). Use good primers from recognized manufacturers, if you can't verify who made a primer or what kind it is, discard it. Remember small rifle and small pistol primers will fit interchangably into a small rifle cartridge, but the small pistol primer may not withstand the pressure in a rifle. An important part of loading is the procedure (sequence of steps) you use while loading. The procedure helps assure consistency and safety.
Adjust your powder measure at the beginning of the loading session to the desired charge weight. Note: Powder measures throw by volume not weight, so weigh the charge in the case often. Make sure the the powder measure is consistently throwing the same weight numerous times before beginning to charge cases. I initially throw charges into the scale pan, then into a primed case before and during loading. Part of learning to use a powder measure is consitently operating the charging handle, which results in more consitent charges. If you're using a Case Activated system like Hornady or RCBS (also progressive presses), the ram handle controls the powder measure so be consitent on the charging stroke. Weigh charges in cases frequently during loading to assure nothing has changed. Do not charge a case twice, a common cause of human and firearm damage.
Your brass must match your firearm, the caliber should be stamped on the breech end of the barrel, and the base of each brass case. If a brass case isn't clearly stamped or doesn't match discard it.
Also check any brass you might aquire being sure it is stamped for the correct caliber and for the correct primer type. Europe uses a Berdan primer which has two flash holes and can't be deprimed with standard American dies (usually breaks the decapping pin except Lee sizers allow the decapper to push back). American ammunition is primed with "Boxer" primers, that have one flash hole in the center.
Bullet diameters are critical, a .45 ACP is .451" where a 45 LC (Long Colt) is .452", yet both are called .45s, only 1/1000" but it can drastically change the pressure. Be sure you have the correct diameter bullet for your firearm and brass.
That said, as long as the bullet is the correct diameter and you can find a load for that weight in a recognized loading manual you can use the same bullet in more than one "caliber". For instance, I have loaded the same 110 gn .308 diameter bullets in both 30 carbine and .308 Winchester. I have also used .380 round nose 100 gn bullets (.355 diameter) into both 9mm luger and 357 SIG (357 SIG is strange in that the bullet must have a very short ogive). The 9mm luger only works with 100gn with a pretty hefty charge since the bullet mass is a little small to provide enough recoil to cock the pistol a pretty hefty charge since the bullet mass is a little small to provide enough recoil to recock the pistol.
Check the OAL (Over All Case Length) against the loading manual for the load you have chosen.
A very good place to start is a single stage, a lot of folks start here, but you can jump in a little farther up if you want, below are some considerations. The press you end up using depends on how much loading you want to do, but try to be conservative while learning, thats always a good approach to loading.
There are three basic press types: single stage, turret, and progressive.
Single Stage The single stage is a good place to learn, it only holds one die at a time so you end up loading in batches, using loading blocks. Each die is installed and adjusted then the entire batch of brass is cycled through. This is repeated for each die or stage of loading a round. Many handloaders use this approach, especially for match or rifle where you want very accurate ammunition.
Turret A turret press uses a rotating turret to hold all the adjusted dies at once, the turret is rotated so a different die is used for each stroke of the ram. Batches and load blocks are not required. A case is placed in the shellholder, the ram is operated once then the turret is rotated to the next position, and the ram operated again. This is repeated until the round is complete, then the round is removed from the shellholder and placed in a container and the turret is reset to the beginning position for the next case.
Progressive Like the turret press the progressive has all the dies, in place, already adjusted, except the dies don't move, instead a shellplate moves the cases from die todie as the ram is operated. You place an empty case in the open shellplate position, set a bullet on top of the case in the seater position, and seat a primer, then operate the ram and all cases are in the shellplate are operated upon. The shellplate is rotated, a completed round falls out, and you insert another empth case as in the previous line.
I would suggest an RCBS or Hornady press kit (there are positive and negative things about each) either should contain:
You will probably want to clean the cases so you'll need:
A word about Dies and Lubing
A set of dies and a shellholder (or shellplate) is required for each different caliber you wish to reload. I prefer carbide, or nitride, or titanium dies for pistols since you don't have to lubricate each case before resizing then clean the lube off before the next stage. The longer rifle case dies are steel so lubing is always in order, even carbide dies for the m1 carbine reccommend lube. To lube a case place a small amount of lube on the lube pad then roll the case across the lubed area and run the case through the resizer. You don't need to lubricate the neck on necked down rifle cartridges, just the larger part of the case. You can lube several cases before adding more lube to the pad, you can tell by the difficulty of resizing. If you get too much lube on the case you may see tiny dents in the cases after resizing. To remove the lube from a case you can wipe it off with a rag (a little alchohl helps here) or run the sized cases back through your tumbler.
Again, please visit the Techniques pages for info on exactly what brand/model hardware I use.