Learning how to reload ammo is a great way to save money and customize your own ammunition. You’re probably interested in reloading to save money, but hand loading in general can also allow you to have incredibly consistent rounds. Many handloaders do so more to get repeatable accuracy and precision that outperforms factory ammunition.
Reloading your own ammunition gives you the ability to tailor your rounds to your exact specifications and needs, whether it be for target shooting, hunting, or self-defense. I have written this guide to be a basic introduction to the process of reloading, not as a how-to article.
How Do You Reload Ammo?
Ammunition reloading is the process of taking used brass casings and turning them back into usable rounds. You’ll need to replace the primer, powder, and projectile, as well as modify the brass to return it back to spec after the slight deforming that occurred when the round was fired.
The process itself is safe, has been around for a long time, and can be done at home with some basic tools and supplies that aren’t too difficult to find. You do have to be careful about making sure all of your measurements are exact and that you don’t skip any steps, or the ammo may not work as expected.
Gather Necessary Equipment to Reload Ammo
The first thing you will need to do when start reloading ammo is gather the necessary reloading equipment, reloading tools, and reloading supplies. These include:
- A Reloading Press
- Bullet seating die
- Shell Holders
- Case Trimmer
- Chamfer Tool
- Deburring Tool
- Calipers or Micrometers
- Powder Measurer and Scale
- Primer Pocket Cleaner
- Priming Tool
- Reloading Manual
- Cleaning Brush or Media Separator
- Lubricant / Case Lube
- Case Tumbler or Vibratory Cleaner
I know that sounds like a lot, but most of the time you can just buy it all as one big kit, like this one from RCBS. After you’ve done it for awhile, you’ll start to notice issues you have with individual tools in the kit and you can replace those with better ones as you go. Once you have all of these items on hand you are ready to begin loading your own ammunition.
Reloading Ammo – Step-By-Step Guide
1. Inspect Brass for Defects
Before you reload used brass casings it is important that you inspect each piece for cracks or other defects that may have occurred during the firing process. If any defects are found then discard the casing as it could potentially cause problems down the line when fired again.
Most of what I’ve seen in this regard are small cracks at the top of the neck, though cracks could theoretically appear anywhere.
2. Wash Brass
Once your brass is inspected for defects it should be washed in warm soapy water with a toothbrush before proceeding further in the reloading process. This will help remove powder residue and any dirt that ended up on the casing.
Soapy water and a toothbrush is just the most accessible method of cleaning brass, but you can invest a lot more into the process by getting case neck brush, if you want to do a lot of reloading. The best way to get the cleanest like-new brass cases for reloading is to use a wet tumbler with stainless media. Add hot water and soap and let it run.
3. Inspect Brass Again
After washing it is important to inspect each piece of brass once more before continuing on with the reloading process. The main reason for this is that it can be hard to see defects, particularly on the inside of the brass, when it’s covered in powder residue.
If you think it will save you time to hold off on inspecting the brass at all until after washing, that’s up to you. If you’re cleaning brass with a toothbrush, though, it’s usually worth taking the time to inspect for obvious cracks or damage before going through the cleaning process. If you’re just throwing them all in a tumbler anyway, maybe it’s faster to wait on inspecting.
4. Remove the Used Primer
The next step in reloading ammo is to remove any used primers from the brass casing using a primer pocket cleaner tool. Important note: don’t touch the primer pocket with your hand. The oils from your hand can create issues with the primer lighting the powder charge. If you bought a kit, there should be a tool included to remove the primer. Or we have a separate article for reloading kits if you didn’t bought.
5. Trim, Chamfer, and Bevel the Brass as Needed
Each casing reacts differently to being fired. Usually the case lengthens ever-so-slightly during the firing process and needs to be shaved down. This is referred to as trimming. A case mouth trimmer is often included in a reloading kit, but if not, you’ll want to get one. The maximum case length is critical to it functioning properly, so don’t skip this part unless the length is still dead-on.
Chamfering and beveling needs to be done on the neck. The trimming process can create a sharp and jagged edge along the top of the neck, making it more likely to grab and snap when the projectile is being put into (or shot out of) the casing. Chamfering rounds out the inside of the neck edge, and beveling rounds out the outside of the neck edge.
6. Deburr the Inside of the Flash Hole
After you removed the old primer, you probably saw a fair amount of debris in the flash hole. The ignition process can cause burring in that area, so you need to clean that all up before trying to insert a new primer. Using a deburring tool, carefully remove any burrs inside of the flash hole. Not only can they interfere with inserting a new primer, but even if you get it in, they could cause problems when you fire the round.
7. Insert a New Primer
If you buy the kit that I linked to above, then you’ll have a hand priming tool to use for this part of shell holder. I think most kits come with some kind of priming tool, but you’ll want to check and make sure as you’re shopping for one. The new primer will be seated in the same place as the old one, and needs to be squeezed into place.
Quick tip: don’t do the squeezing next to any other primers. Primers are a lot like match heads, so if you ignite one next to another, you might get a somewhat terrifying domino effect.
8. Measure and Add Powder
Using either a digital scale or volumetric powder measure carefully measure out enough powder for each round being loaded up. It is important that each round gets the correct amount of gun powder measure. The difference of a single grain of powder measure will affect everything from muzzle velocity to bullet drop.
This is where having a reloading manual that specifies loads for certain calibers and cartridges becomes very important. It has to be perfect powder measure. Unless you reload/handload for a living, you probably aren’t going to commit to memory the exact grain amounts that are appropriate for each load, so use a reloading manual to get to the correct spot. Using a reloading manual will help you in a lot of things. The reloading manuals have much more information than just reloading.
9. Seat the New Projectile
Assuming you have the correct die, this should be a pretty simple step. Or you can take more reference for the correct reloading dies. Most of the time you’ll put the projectile into place on the reloading press or resizing die, then use the reloading press to lift the casing and squeeze it together with the bullet. Depending on the kit you have, it may stop you when you’ve pressed far enough with the help of single stage press, or you may need to eyeball it yourself. Using reloading presses can sometimes become tricky.
Either way, make sure the projectile is set to the correct depth or it will not have a predictable velocity or trajectory when you fire it.
When done properly, the process of reloading ammo is plenty safe, unless you’re smoking a cigar while loading up powder or something like that. The danger comes when you try to fire rounds you’ve reloaded ammunition incorrectly. Most of the time, the round just won’t perform correctly, but dangerous things can happen depending on where in the process a mistake was made.
Primers are considered explosive materials and must therefore abide by certain regulations regarding storage and sale. Normally, the logistics between manufacturers, distributors, and retailers has a good system in place to get primers where they need to be for reloaders. Recently, supply chain issues have forced primer manufacturers to prioritize the contracts they have with own ammo manufacturers over the retail market.
High demand combined with limited manufacturing capabilities caan make some calibers/types of ammunition harder to come by at times, especially when demand increases suddenly (such as election cycles). At the moment, factory ammo actually isn’t all that hard to come by for retail shoppers. You might have trouble if you’re buying thousands and thousands of rounds, though.
Saving money by reloading ammo also gives you complete control over your ammo. You can tailor it precisely for different activities like target shooting, hunting or even self defense scenarios.
Handloading or reloading ammunition incorrectly can result in catastrophic malfunctions and you should proceed carefully if you are planning on entering this world. That said, as long as you follow everything to spec, reloading can save you a lot of money, especially if you’re shooting an uncommon caliber.
Even trying hard to get everything perfect, you’ll still make plenty of mistakes. No need to add to those mistakes by being nonchalant about it.
Have you had any experience with reloading that you’d care to share? Any mistakes I made in the article that are important to point out? While I’m familiar with reloading, I wouldn’t consider myself an expert, so I’m happy to hear from others.