There are lots of reasons why you might want to learn how to reload old casings to make your own ammunition. For one thing, it simply saves you money.
For small-caliber rounds, like the .22, the savings probably won’t be enough to make it worth your while, but for larger handgun and rifle ammo you can save 20, 30, or even 50 percent of the cost of buying your cartridges new. After a while, that adds up to enough to cover the cost of the tools and the time.
In the meantime, you get to learn a useful skill and get well acquainted with your ammunition. In fact, you can even get better accuracy by loading your own cartridges, because you can adjust the load and the type of powder to best suit your firearm. That will be beyond the scope of this short tutorial, but I encourage you to look it up!
However, there is a more pressing reason to learn how to make your own cartridges: gun control regulations continue to make it more difficult to purchase ammunition. Reloading and reusing your own ammo saves you the legal hassle and the trouble of buying new and ensures you always have a ready stock when it’s time to head out to the range.
Kinds of Presses
The primary tool you’ll need to load your own ammunition is a reloading press. These tools use metal dies to swage, press, and form cartridge casings back into the shape you want, and also prime them, fill them with powder and bullets, and crimp them shut, ready to use.
There are three major types of reloading presses:
- the single-stage press
- the turret press
- the progressive press
A simple hand-held or bench-mounted single-stage presswill do just fine if you only need a few rounds, but is tediously slow. You’ve got to put a new die or tool in to the press for each stage of the process.
Turret presses, like the Lee PrecisionClassic 4 Hole Turret Press, will hold all the dies you need to make a cartridge of a particular caliber on a rotating turret, allowing you to cycle through each step in turn. This will let you increase your output from 50-100 rounds per hour to over 200.
But if you want to go really fast, you’ll want a progressive press, which rotates several casings through the dies, performing multiple tasks simultaneously to produce one round with every pump of the handle. Since you’re reading this guide, you probably don’t need a progressive press, so we’ll focus on the other two.
Tools and Supplies
The most important thing you need for reloading specific cartridges is a reloading manual. These make sure that you know how much powder and what size dies to use for each caliber of ammunition you want to make.
Each ammunition manufacturer produces their own reloading manual, so it’s important to know you’ve got the right information. Too much or too little powder, in particular, can be quite dangerous.
Also, it’s important to make sure you have:
- Powder, primers, and bullets of the right size
- A powder scale to measure powder
- A powder measure or powder trickler
- Calipers to measure casing and cartridge sizes
- A chamfer and deburring tool (for removing burrs)
- A pair of safety goggles (in case of accidental primer detonation)
- Case trimmer (for when casings are too long)
- Case cleaner, like a tumbler or ultrasonic cleaner (used casings are dirty!)
- Case lube (depending on the dies you use: check with the manufacturer)
Of course, the simplest way to get all the things you need is with a complete reloading beginner’s kit. Lee Precision sells complete kits to match most of their presses, as do their higher-end competitors, such as Redding, RCBS, and Hornady.
What to Do?
Once you’ve cleaned out your used cartridge casings, you’ll want to inspect them—cracks and other flaws are easier to see on clean casings—and then remove the primers and resize them.
There is a die for each of these tasks; if you have a single stage press, like the Hornady “Lock-N-Load” Iron Press, you’ll put the die in and perform each task on all the casings before changing the die and moving on to the next one.
If you have a turret press, like the Lee Classic 4-Hole, you’ll leave each casing in the press as you press one die after another down onto it. You’ll always need to use lube for these steps when reloading bottleneck casings, and sometimes also for straight ones (depending on what kind of die you use).
Next, trim the casings to the proper length using your case trimmer. This is necessary because casings tend to stretch over multiple uses.
If you trim, you will also need to chamfer and deburr, using the Chamfer and Deburring Tool to remove burrs from both the inside and outside of the case. Finally, if you have straight-wall cases, you’ll need to return to the press to expand them with the expander die.
The next stage is the actual loading process. This is the trickier bit: make sure to consult your press’s instructions and your reloading manual for detailed instructions on each step. First, you’ll need to seat a primer into each case. You can do this by hand with a hand primer or (depending on your press) in the press itself.
Once the case is primed, you can pour in the powder. On a turret press, you’ll probably have a powder measure attachment, but for the single-stage press you may have to weigh and pour the powder yourself.
Either way, you’ll want to check your manual to make sure you have the right amount! Next comes the bullet; you should have a die to seat it in and a die to crimp it shut (or a combination die that does both.)
That’s it! Your cartridge is ready to shoot. Load up, head out, and have some fun!