Thursday, April 6, 2017

How to Start Hand-Loading Ammo

Let’s get Started

1. Why hand-loading makes “Cents”.

2. What will it cost to get started?

3. Do I need a separate room for this?

4. Secrets for Success & Safety

5. Ok, I have everything.. Let’s start

6. Additional reading & web links

7. Tracking Load Data & Results

                                                                                                        8. Definitions & Pictures

Why Hand-Loading Makes “Cents”

§Ammunition availability can vary greatly, and often the price is hiked up beyond affordability when you do find it

§My ammunition is not common and I can’t find it anywhere

§At this price, who can afford to shoot more than a couple times a year

§With very few exceptions, you can shoot two times as much ammo if you hand-load versus buying factory ammunition. Even cheaper if you mold your own bullets

§I want more choices in my ammunition than what I find available in the stores

§I want to shoot reduced power loads with less recoil

§For Accuracy, Affordability, and Availability



§I’ll make this comparison using the fairly cheap 38 Special, 125gr lead in a quantity of fifty rounds. Some assumptions are made including that you already have paid for your hand-loading tools and that you have shot fifty rounds of factory ammo leaving you with 50 brass cases ready for hand-loading.

§Average factory price of 50 rounds (125gr lead)  $20.00

§Average hand loaded price of 50 rounds (125gr lead)    $9.50
Item Description
Total Cost per Round
Total Cost per Box of Ammo

What Will it Cost to get Started?

There are some variability in this equation & you can get started for even less $$ than what I’ll show here however this method that I’m sharing is where most people start & for good reason. The materials I’ll list here will allow you to start & keep hand-loading for years without having to buy the next step up at a later date.

I started hand-loading over forty years ago and have used more expensive equipment through the years however I have gone back to the basics recently and I enjoy it even more now.

I’m going to provide a materials list in this package with average 2017 cost data for each item. You may find these prices vary depending on where you live however you should be able to buy everything online from anywhere within the USA.

What Will it Cost to get Started.. (Non-Recurring Cost)

§Lee Single Stage Press  $37.99
§Hornady Die Set  $41.99
§Lee Hand Primer  $20.99
§Lee Shell Holder set  $34.99
§Lee Primer Shell Holder Set  $15.99
§Lee Chamfer Tool  $4.99
§Lee Primer Pocket Reamer  $4.99       
Powder Scale  $65.99

Total Investment:      $227.92
What Will it Cost to get Started.. (Recurring Cost)
Sample round is 38 Special:
§Brass  (100)  $17.29
§Primers (100)  $3.50
§Powder  (1 Pound)  $22.00 ($1.41/100 rounds)
§Bullets  (100)  $12.99 (Cheaper in bulk)
§Case Lube Spray (1 can)  $8.49   
Total Investment:        $64.27
Do I Need a Separate Room for This?
I’ve always been fortunate enough to have a separate room for my hobby however it isn’t required and many folks heavily involved in hand-loading do this in their Living Room, Kitchen, Dinning Room, Back Porch, etc. Many take their equipment on the road while camping or to the range as well. Think about high humidity & grease & oils as your enemy. On the flip side you wouldn’t want to contaminate food prep surfaces in your kitchen with lube or sprays either. When I spray lube my cases for sizing I do so in the garage or outside and then carry them back into my reloading room.
I started hand-loading literally with a hand-loader, not the typical bench mounted units most think of. This gave me even more flexibility as to where I worked. You can still buy these from Lee for around $37.00. I’ve taken mine with me to the range so I can change & test out new loads on the fly.
Many folks also mount their bench presses to a board and then C-clamp the board temporarily to a table or bar top (taking care not to mar the surface).
Secrets for Success & Safety
Just the Facts:
Contaminants such as oils can & will kill primers. Keep your primers away from case lube or other oily things such as fingers. Handle as little as possible
Case Length uniformity is a key factor in maintaining uniform crimping, uniform case mouth belling & uniform bullet seating depth. Lee’s “Zip Trim” costs around $20 and works very simply & well. 
Distractions are the enemy of hand-loading safety. When you start down the road of hand-loading try to do so with a minimum of distractions such as other people, TV, etc. As you become more comfortable with what you are doing, by all means incorporate others to help or learn with you. Be especially diligent when measuring and dispensing gun powder. THE BIGGEST REASON FOR FAILURES OR ACCIDENTS AT THE RANGE are incorrect powder used or to small or too large of powder charge. Damage to firearm or personal injury can occur.
Keep open flames away from reloading materials. Do not smoke while reloading.
Do not eat while handling lead bullets or reloading
OK, I have Everything… Let’s Start
About dies: there are steel dies which require that you lube your brass before inserting into the sizing die and then there are carbide dies which do not require pre-lubing the brass. Make sure you know which dies you have and lube when required. It is better to over lube than under lube and stick your brass in the die. Over lubing is still a problem as it will likely put dents in your brass after sizing so you will have to experiment to find the “correct” amount.

Step 1. Adjusting your Decapping/sizing dies:
    Each die set will come with instructions so I won’t go through every detail here as your   set may vary slightly. You will begin with your decapper/sizing die. The purpose of this   die is to remove the old/fired primer from a used case & to re-size the brass to   specifications after firing. The decapping pin typically protrudes about a ¼” below the   bottom of the die. Down too far and it will likely bend/break and not down far enough it   won’t push the old/fired primer out of the brass. You will need to make sure that you   have the proper shell holder inserted in the bottom of the press then pull the press   handle raising the shell holder to the top of it’s   stroke. After you have done this, insert   your decapping/sizing die into the press. Screw it down until it seats against the shell   holder. At this point tighten the locking ring around the die to lock it in this position.  
    This step is complete.
Step 2. Lube your brass if required and decap/resize:
    Load a shell into the shell holder and pull the press handle moving the shell upward into   the die. Sometimes you will have to help align the shell with the die as it enters. Pull   the handle until the shell holder tops-out against the bottom of the die. That will ensure   that the case as been fully sized. If you are resizing a “bottle-necked” case such as a 30-  30 as an example, you may have to adjust your sizing die up or down to correctly form   the case neck. Read about adjustments in your die instructions.  Perform this action until   all cases that you intend to hand-load have been re-sized. After sizing, if case lube was   used, wipe each case clean to remove all lube.  The graphic shown below by Shooter's   Forum member UncleNick shows how a case can be lengthened when being squeezed   down:

  This step is complete.
Step 3. For 3-die sets: Insert the second die which bells the mouth of the shell
    For straight-walled cases such as 38 special, etc.., this die will bell the mouth so you   can start a bullet into the case later. You don’t want to enlarge the opening much, just   enough to barely start a bullet. Adjust the die down until you achieve the desired flare.   Be careful to not flare too much or you will have scrapped that case. Flaring will vary   between cases if their overall case length varies so before you bell the mouth or press in   the primer, you should always check over-all case length 1st to see if you need to trim.      
    This step is complete.
Step 4. Now we want to clean the primer pocket with the primer pocket reamer. You insert the   correct end of the double ended reamer and twist back and forth until you have   removed debris from the pocket. I typically twist back and forth three times then turn   the case upright and tap on the bench top to dislodge everything. Once this is done I   move onto the hand priming. I hand prime the cases one at a time. Insert the primers   hollow side up in the primer tray. Make sure you follow the reloading manual for   recommended primer size. For instance if you use Winchester primers and you are hand   loading 38 Special. You would use small pistol primers, not the large pistol primers or   any of the rifle primers. 

  Before priming, make sure you are wearing safety glasses. Insert the correct primer   tool shell holder then insert one case at a time. You squeeze the trigger and this will   take some pressure to fully seat the primer into the primer pocket. Check to make sure   the   primer is flush or slightly below flush on each shell as you perform this task.

 This step is complete.
Step 5. Now we want to measure the correct powder load, measured in grains. Again this   information should come directly from your reloading manual. In fact I like to compare   loads between two or more manuals to make sure I’m not reading a typo or my own   mistake. This is important so don’t take this step lightly. You need to know that you are   not exceeding the maximum charge recommended. Different load manuals may show   different charge weights however you should see that they are very comparable. If you   see a gross difference in charge weights you need to look even further to other load   manuals. Be sure what you are doing here. I always recommend beginning with the   “starting weight” listed in every manual. That assures that you have a safe load. You can   either weigh the powder on a digital or beam scale. The powder can be trickled onto the   scale or you can use a powder measure which dumps the required amount into each   case.  Always verify that the powder measure doesn’t change the amount dumped after   initially setting it. I like to verify every fourth powder drop on the scale. Load every   case with powder & visually look at each case to see if they look filled to the same   level. Remember to always verify you are using the correct powder!
    This step is complete.

Step 6. Now we want to insert the case back into the press. We are now using the bullet seating   die which is combined with the crimping all in one. This will take some amount of trial &   error to get both the bullet seated to the recommended depth and properly crimped. To   start you should pull the handle of the press forcing the case all the way to the top of   the stroke. The die should be removed before doing so. After the press is all the way to   the top, re-insert the die and screw in until it stops. Then lower the shell back to the   bottom. You should now be able to insert the bullet into the top of the case. Before   raising the shell & bullet back to the top, you need to back out the bullet seating punch   (by turning it counter clockwise). Now with the shell & bullet raised to the top of the   press you should screw the bullet seating punch down (clockwise) until snug.
    This step is continued on next page.
Step 6. Continued: Then drop the shell & bullet back down and continue to screw the seating   punch clockwise four turns. Raise the shell & bullet up to top and see how far the bullet   seated, check the recommended combined overall length of the case & bullet and adjust   as required. You also have to raise the entire die up or down in the press to achieve the   proper amount of crimping. Trial & error. Once setup correctly. Make sure your die is   locked in place so it doesn’t move. Again, the brass length will affect crimping so keep   your brass uniform in length.

    This step is complete.
Step 7. Take hand-loaded ammo to the range and fire them. There is a lot of satisfaction building your own ammo and then actually firing it successfully. Welcome to the world of hand- loading, shooting & repeating. Have fun but always be safe and stay within the published specifications..
Additional Reading
§The previous instructions are meant to get you started and as with any endeavor there is much more you will add later such as case length trimers, Tumblers to clean your brass, different bullets, powder measures, scales, etc.
§I currently  reload for seven different calibers which drives more dies, shell holders components such as different powders, bullets, primer sizes, brass and on & on.
§Make sure you start with at least one reloading manual and add as many as you can afford to, as soon as you can. I like the Lee Reloading manual, Hornady, Speer, Lyman 50th edition, Hodgdon, etc. There are also many online load books. I almost entirely load with Hodgdon powders so I like to compare what is mentioned in the reloading manuals with the online load data of Hodgdon
§Another note is that I identified bits and pieces of reloading tools that are needed. Often you can find complete starting kits at reduced prices online. Popular reloading website suppliers are noted below but not limited to:
§On Facebook. Look up a group called “Reloading Central”. It is a closed group and you will have to request membership. I belong to that group and there are almost 43,000 members. A great place to learn more, ask questions and just hang out with like minded individuals. As with other things, look around the web and participate. Just remember to never trust somebody’s load data unless you can verify that it is published somewhere else as well.
§Good luck and go have some fun. I enjoy hand-loading/reloading almost as much as shooting!
Tracking Load Data & Results
Consider a notebook, spreadsheet or some other method of recording what loads you try & the results at the range from each load. I’ve developed my own spreadsheets for each cartridge I load and each of the different bullets, powder, primers, etc.

This helps me track what works and doesn’t work as well. I use these sheets to also record actual range performance to include group size, bullet drop at varying yardages, etc.

There are many examples available free on the Internet or you can buy software programs designed just for this purpose.
§Single Stage press: Uses one die at a time for one process at a time
§Turret press: A press that has three or more die positions & rotates for die access. Can reload from start to a finish without changing out dies
§Progressive press: A semi or fully automated press with multiple stations including dies, primers, bullets, brass, powder when actuated builds a round in stages without leaving the press. When cycled completely a finished round pops out of the press
§Charge: Usually relates to the weight of the powder being used, measured in grains. There are 7,000 grains in a pound
§Decap: Removing the old/fired primer from the brass case
§Primed: When a new live/primer has been inserted into a brass case
§Sized: When a brass case has been run through the sizing die. This process returns a slightly damaged or fired piece of brass to industry specifications ready for hand loading



  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Very nice post. Buy Cheap bulk ammo at bite the bullet, find the quality best pistol & rifle ammunition, gun magazines & accessories at discounted price.