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Centerfire Reloading For Beginners

centerfire ammunition reloadingI want to start by saying I am not an expert at reloading by far. As of the publishing date of this article I have only been reloading for about 5 years. I load various rifle and pistol calibers and think that reloading is a great hobby that if done well can enhance your shooting capabilities and accuracy potential and put a little money back into your pocket for important things like health care. When I first began reloading, something I have always wanted to do since I realized that you could, I found it to be a lot like a Chinese restaurant menu. Too many choices and gadgets to do all of the things you need to do to make a great cartridge.

The aim of this article is to help a newbie get started in the right direction. If you're already experienced and have another opinion, you're welcome to it. The internet is full of opinions. Be warned there are a lot of people who think they are experts whom are not. So take information you find out there like a grain of salt. Reloading can be dangerous and or fatal if extreme precaution is not taken.

Here is what I believe you will need to begin reloading centerfire rounds. You should first ask yourself some basic questions. 

 

Q1. What are my goals for reloading?

This is the beginning of a reloading journey. If you goal is to only load precision rifle or handgun rounds where accuracy is your primary objective then you should consider starting with a single stage press. If your goal is to mass produce 223 or 7.62x39 to feed your AR or 45 ACP for your pistol then a progressive(multi-stage) press may be advantageous. It really boils down to your economy, shooting skill level, shooting frequency and the quality of ammunition you desire to produce.

With either progressive or single stage presses quality cartridges can be made. It is all in the care you take before you get to the bullet seating and even the care you take after the bullet seating. The reason I recommend single stage for precision bullet making is that typically the quantity of ammunition you're working with is pretty low and it is easier in some ways to change calibers on a single stage press. Some may argue that single stage presses are more precision. I haven't done or read any thorough analysis on this so that may in fact be true. 

If your goal is strictly economy, you may be better off sticking with common military rounds and buying surplus ammunition. Be sure to clean your weapon a lot if using most surplus ammo. The only way reloading makes shooting more economic is if you have plenty of free time to spend on it because by the time you're done putting hard work into it you've spent more time in dollars perhaps than it would cost to just buy some ammo. 

All that being said, if you start reloading and enjoy it, it can be a great source of adventure and knowledge as you will want to learn everything there is to know about the subject. Believe me, it is a bottomless pit. 

Q2. What calibers do I want to load?

This should be dictated by your weapon selection. If you haven't selected the weapon or weapons you will be reloading for yet, that's ok. We plan to do another article soon on caliber and weapon selection. If you have your weapon selected, you will need to select dies for your weapons caliber.

There are many brands of dies available for nearly any caliber. As far as I know, all dies fit in other manufacturers presses except for a few odds and ends. Some dies may require an adapter to fit into other manufacturers presses. Dies are precision tools and are available in different price(quality ranges). I strongly recommend purchasing the most expensive set of precision dies as you can afford. If maintained properly, they will be with you through a lot of use.

Q3. How will this affect my life?

Your family life may suffer as there is a steep learning curve at the beginning and all you want to do is learn. You may feel alienated like a kid with stinky socks sent to the basement or shed outside. Whatever! You are a mad scientist after all. For me, reloading is just like shooting, hunting or fishing. It's a moment or two of mind freedom where nothing else in the world matters so much. When the world seems to stop spinning. When your concentration is heightened. You get what I am talking about. I hope reloading will take you there too. 

It is easy to go overboard on stuff for reloading. Every time you turn around there is a new gadget or doo hickey for reloading. It is real easy to spend a lot of money on equipment that you may or may not need. That is OK! Remember, your purchasing precision tools it's an investment (wink). Don't purchase them unless you're going to put them to use or to give them to someone who will.

The Beginning Reloader Purchase List

Well here is what I would recommend bare minimum to get going:

1. Reloading Book - There are a lot of choices. I recommend getting a current book from whichever manufacturer you choose. 
2. Reloading Press - do some additional research on the press before you make your selection. Really pretty much everyone likes whatever press they have. If you end up not liking yours for some reason, sell it to a buddy or on a forum and take a little hit and buy something else.
3. Dies - obviously in the calibers you have selected. Remember this is a good place to spend some money. Dies come in a variety of options. Typically you're going to want to start with either a 3 or 4 die set. These will include: full length resizer and a bullet seater. Sometimes the sets will also include a crimper or a separate decapping die or perhaps a shoulder resizer. If you're shooting a semi auto or reloading range brass, you will need the full length resizer. You should look up the process of reloading whatever cartridge you are loading and select dies based on that procedure.
4. Shell Plate or Shell Holder - to hold the brass while it is being worked in your machine.
5. Priming Tool - sometimes built into the press, sometimes an add on to the press and also available as a hand tool. The hand priming tool is what I prefer for precision loads.
6. Calipers - another good place to spend some money. Get good calipers and I recommend having two of them on hand.
7. Grain Scale - many prefer tri-beam scales, there are also digital scales and even machines that will meter the powder for you. There are lots of options here. I think they are all pretty good.
8. Powder Dispenser - sometimes it is part of the press, sometimes it is a stand alone device. It can just be a little cup with a funnel. There are a lot of choices for dispensing powder into your cartridge, I think they are all pretty good.
9. Ammo Block - these blocks are designed to hold your ammunition throughout its manufacturing lifecycle. They usually hold 50 rounds and are designed to fit multiple calibers. Get several extra they will come in handy. They can be made of plastic, wood or perhaps not even used at all.
10. Ammo Box - now that you have spent hours making a box of ammo, treat that stuff like it's gold. Stick it in a nice box that will protect the tip and label it with the specifics of the round in some manner.

Those are the main 10 pieces of reloading equipment you will need to purchase. In addition to those items, there are several other items that may be required. 

1. Case Lube - to lubricate your brass as it is being worked in the press
2. Cleaning Tools - there are a lot of cleaning chores to be done to each piece of brass.
- if you're beginning with range brass you will need a tumbler of some sort or another method planned to thoroughly clean your brass inside and out. This process can take several hours to several minutes depending on your cleaning method selection and chemical selection.
- after the primer is removed, you will want to clean the primer pocket with a primer pocket cleaning tool.
3. Trimming Tools - after the brass has been cleaned and resized you will need to trim the brass to the required length to meet the specifications in your reloading manual. 
4. Debur and Chamfer Tools - after the brass has been cleaned, resized and trimmed, you will need to chamfer and deburr the neck of the cartridge so that the bullet does not snag on burrs while being seated and so that the cartridge will travel smoothly into your chamber. You should also deburr the flash hole where the primer ignites the powder.

Reloading Materials

Once you have the calibers selected, the equipment to load them with and the cleaning tools and lubes you are ready to begin. What you choose for reloading materials will again depend on your goals. If you're limited to 100 yard range and you take your friends shooting that never pay for ammo, you might want to load some pulled bullets using once fired Lake City military brass to save a little money. If you want your precision rifle to shoot in the same hole every time, you are going to want to invest in premium reloading materials.

Brass

Lots of choices here. Typically, the more you spend the better precision you will achieve with the least amount of effort made.

Powder

Whatever you select from the reloading book, should be fine as long as care is taken in every step of the process. My recommendation is to go ahead and buy 8 lbs or more at a time. Once your smokeless powder runs out you may not be able to find it again. If you can't find the same powder again you may be required to develop your loads all over again.

Primers 

It depends on the precision you are looking for. The more expensive  primers make a huge difference in the consistency of ignition and velocity of your rounds. Some primers work better than other primers in certain weapons so be aware of that.

Bullets

Lots of choices here. Pick a bullet that fits the type of shooting you do and your economy. If you want to shoot hogs subsonic at night with your 300AAC pick a heavy 220GR bullet. If your wanting groundhog annihilation, select something with a ballistic tip perhaps. If you're shooting a precision long range rifle for target practice you may select a boat tail hollow point bullet. If you're plinking your 223 with your friends 55gr FMJ bullets may be just fine for your application.

Conclusion

We hope you have found our beginners intro to reloading useful. There is a lot of information on loading we didn't cover here. We recommend reading the section in the beginning of your reloading book and studying the procedure for reloading the calibers you select. Lastly, be safe with your loads. Don't be an idiot and mix powders or try to load super hot rounds. Don't ever shoot anything that you're not 100% confident in. If something doesn't seem right, investigate it and be sure everything was done right or you might blow your gun up and injure or kill yourself or others. I am very serious when I say don't drink alcohol while loading. Make sure you mind is sharp when reloading. If you are reloading with friends be sure to double check each other's work. Any distraction or skipped steps can lead to big problems. Be safe and have fun with it.

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