Tuesday, August 3, 2021

A Primer on Reloading

While metallic cartridge reloading has been covered before on Blue Collar Prepping, it’s been a while. This post isn’t going to be an in-depth discussion of all the details involved in the reloading process, but rather more of a general primer. I’ll go into more detail in future articles.

For the record, if anyone claims reloading will save you money, they’re trying to sell  you something. Reloading simply enables you to shoot more for a similar expenditure. For example, if I’m spending X amount of dollars on practice ammunition, that money would go much farther if spent on reloading supplies.

The equipment needed to start reloading need not be either extensive or expensive.  A basic single stage press, dies, shell holder (if it doesn’t come with the dies), powder measure, and calipers are really all the items needed to begin.

A set of reloading dies with shell holder

Nor does a reloading setup have to take up much space.  Aside from the press itself, all other components fit in a small tub which can be stored in a closet when not in use.

The consumables used in reloading are brass, bullets, primers, and powder. 

  • Brass can be saved as it’s shot, and straight wall pistol brass can be reloaded many times over. Ask any friends who don't reload to save their brass for you; the calibers you don't shoot can be traded with other reloaders.
  • Cast or plated bullets are less expensive then jacketed and are fine for target shooting. 
  • Primers and powder can usually be sourced at a local gun show or retailer. If not, then they’ll need to be ordered online. This will be more expensive because of the required hazardous materials fee, which is generally twenty dollars per order.

To reload metallic cartridges, certain steps must be taken. Starting with a clean fired case it needs to be de-primed, resized, flared or belled, primed, powder added, bullet seated, crimped, and finally checked.

A series of cases from start to finish
The Reloading Sequence
I’ll review each step in turn.

Depriming is the removal of the old primer so that the case can be reused.  Depriming may be done before or after case cleaning. If done after cleaning, depriming is combined with resizing of the case. If depriming is done before cleaning, a universal depriming tool is used.  This is like a standard depriming die, except it only pushes out the old primer and doesn’t touch the case itself.

Resizing is done after the case is cleaned to prevent damage to the case and die from small particles of dirt and debris. Resizing squeezes the case back to starting size based on recognized standards.  These standards are maintained by the Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers' Institute or SAAMI.

Case flaring or belling is a slight widening of the case mouth to ease insertion of a bullet.  Jacketed and lead bullets require different amounts of case flare. This step can occur before or after priming, and can also be combined with powder dispensing.

Priming is the insertion of a new primer in the case.  This can be done either on a press or with a hand tool.  Regardless, pay special attention to make sure the primer is seated properly to prevent potentially dangerous issues.

Next is dispensing powder.  Always check the chosen powder in at least two recent reloading manuals for a starting load.

A powder scale and dispenser

Bullet seating is, as the name implies, placing a bullet in the belled mouth of the case and pressing it in to the proper depth. Overall Cartridge Length (OAL) is an important measurement made with a caliper and compared with the entry for that cartridge with that bullet weight and style in the manual.

Crimping is the removal of the flare that was added in an earlier step.  Depending on the type of cartridge, either a roll crimp or a straight crimp will be used. Roll crimping curls the case over and slightly into the bullet to help hold everything in place.  This type of crimp is most commonly found in revolver cartridges. Straight crimping is more common in cartridges designed for semi-automatic pistols and irons out the crimp, so the case mouth is parallel with the bullet.

At this point the cartridge is complete and ready for firing.

Testing is recommended whenever assembling a new load for the first time, or when using once-fired brass that wasn’t shot from your firearm. This testing can take the form of measuring with calipers, using a chamber gauge, or something called the plunk test.

The plunk test consists of removing the barrel of semi-automatic pistol, holding the barrel muzzle-down, and gently dropping the loaded case into the chamber. It should seat to the proper depth with no effort and make a soft “plunk” sound as it drops into the chamber. When you invert the barrel, the loaded cartridge should drop straight out with no sticking. If it doesn’t seat to proper depth or sticks on removal, it means the cartridge is out of spec and may require die adjustments.

If the idea of reloading ammunition is of interest, but there’s concern about making a large investment in equipment up front, reloading equipment can be found used either on various firearm discussion boards or online auction sites.

Since many people are more visually oriented, I created a series of videos that cover the reloading process.

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