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Zombie Steve 05-16-2011 18:15

Reloading 101
So you’re new to reloading, you’ve read the “How to get started in reloading” sticky and decided on what kind of gear you want to spend money on. I thought we should start a thread covering what’s actually happening during the process and getting the software between your ears up to speed regardless of what hardware you bought, and maybe address some things that aren’t talked about in the manuals so you can save yourself some headache and enjoy your new hobby more. You should be reading several reloading manuals and any instructions from whomever made your new gear in addition to this. This isn't a comprehensive instruction manual. I just wanted to address some common questions and problems for guys starting out. Since it seems most people start with common auto cartridges like 9mm, .45 auto, .40 S&W et al, I’ll walk you through those first in order of operation.

Resizing / Decapping: Pretty simple – brings the dimensions of a fired piece of brass back down to the size it should be so it can feed well and grip a bullet again. Don’t overanalyze it. The dimensions on the drawings in your manual are maximum dimensions. This stage is where you get neck tension on the bullet (more on this later). Decapping is simply popping out the old / spent primer. Life is a lot simpler if you have a resizing die that has a carbide ring in it (you won’t have to lube cases). With carbide sizing dies, make sure you aren’t setting it too far down so that your press cams over. You’ll break the carbide. I just raise the ram, screw down the die until it barely touches and lock it down.

Trimming, Chamfering and Deburring:
It’s doubtful you’ll ever do it on brass for auto loading handguns. In fact, they often shrink the more you shoot them. I thought I’d bring it up here because this is where you take your measurements – after sizing. If you’re doing a rimmed cartridge like .44 mag, .357 mag or .45 Colt, you might want to trim to get a more consistent roll crimp. If you’re loading for rifle, trimming will be a lot more important. If the case stretches too much it can stick into your leade / freebore and it will act like a roll crimp die and squeeze your bullet. Guess what – pressure increases. After you trim, your brass will be really rough on the case mouth. A chamfer / deburring tool will clean up the inside and the outside of the brass. You aren’t trying to create a knife edge with chamfering. For rifle, you are just trying to remove any burrs and relieve it a little on the inside so your bullet can get started into the case. With handgun cartridges, you use a different technique called flaring.

Zombie Steve 05-16-2011 18:16

Flaring or Belling the case: Now that we’ve sized down the case it’s going to be difficult to start a flat base bullet in there. Putting a slight bell or flare in the case mouth is the solution. We normally wouldn’t ever chamfer these on an auto cartridge because they headspace on the case mouth.

***Just a quick side track. Setting up dies can be a pain. Since this die isn’t as easy to find the right place as the previous one, I’ll give you a free tip. Get some lead shot. Take out the set screw on the lock ring and drop in a single piece of shot. Once you get this die adjusted lock it down. You won’t need to adjust it again. The lead shot will save you the hassle of ruining those set screws when you over wrench it, and possibly save the threads on the die too. Anyway, works for me.

Back to flaring – DON’T OVERDO IT. If it looks like a trumpet’s bell when you’re done, you’ve gone too far. You’re just overworking your brass. If you hold it up to the light and can’t see anything, you need a tad more. All you need to do is slightly open up the mouth so you can start a bullet. That’s it.

Priming: There are many methods of doing this by hand or on the press, and I’m not getting into Ford vs. Chevy here. The main thing I wanted to point out here is that you want to make sure the primer is seated slightly below flush with the bottom of the case. A common problem with (other people’s) handloads is they don’t seat the primer deep enough. When the firing pin hits it, it finishes seating the primer instead of igniting it. If you try to shoot it again, it will go off. Again, make sure your primer is seated as far as it will go into the primer pocket.

Powder charge: Here’s another step that has many different methods that I won’t go into. The two most important things the new reloader should remember (if they want to become an old reloader) are: make sure every case has powder in it, and make sure you don’t double charge a case. Screwing up the first one (no powder) will create a “squib” (the primer has enough pop to start the bullet down the barrel, but not enough to get it out). If you think you have a squib (heard a pop when it should have been a bang) do not pull the trigger again until you’ve checked the barrel for obstructions! The pressure has to go somewhere, and if it can’t go down the barrel, it’s coming back at you. The second scenario, the double charge, is also very bad news. A double charge doesn’t necessarily mean double pressure – it’s likely much worse. Just do a google images search of blown up guns. To help avoid this, I recommend newbies use a bulky, slower burning powder. If you double charge a case, it will spill out of the top and is much more obvious. Uberfast burning powders like Titegroup (although many like it) use very little powder and it’s much harder to spot a double. Mid range to slow burning powders also don’t have the sharp pressure curve and give you a little more wiggle room as you approach maximum loads.

Zombie Steve 05-16-2011 18:16

Bullet seating: While this can be done in combination with applying a crimp, I’ll take the subjects one at a time (many like to crimp in a separate step anyway). Like I said before – setting up dies can be a pain. If you’re on a turret or progressive press, you’ll likely get the die set up and never touch it again. If you’re on a single stage or using multiple bullet profiles, I think it’s wise to make a dummy round first (no powder or primer) so you can easily set up the die in the future and not have to fiddle around as much. One thing you’ll notice as you get going is that your overall length (OAL) isn’t always coming out the same. The one you set up the die with was perfect, but the next was a few thousandths shorter or longer. This is normal. The bullet profile will vary a little in the manufacturing process, even with match bullets. Something with a flat nose and a flat seater plug will be more consistent. It will start to drive you nuts when you’re dealing with soft point spitzer bullets in rifle. Get your die set up to make sure the long ones don’t exceed the listed maximum OAL and stop sweating it. That extra thousandth of an inch won’t make a bit of difference.

Taper Crimping (Auto loading handguns): The important concept to walk away with here is you aren’t trying to squeeze the bullet. All you’re doing is removing the flare you put in the case to start the bullet. A taper crimp doesn’t provide any neck tension… that comes from step 1 - sizing the case. In fact, if you go too far the case will buckle and you’ll have less neck tension. Again, you just want to remove the flare you put in the case. So how far do you go? A decent rule of thumb is the thickness of the brass times two, plus the diameter of your bullet. Another way to test is go in small increments until your loaded cartridge drops freely into and out of the chamber of your barrel (a lot easier and safer if you take it out of the gun first). You also want to make sure the cartridge sits flush or slightly below your barrel hood. If it sticks up above it, something is wrong (probably isn’t crimped enough). This has been referred to as the “plunk” test. There are also aftermarket gauges to test your cartridges if you feel you haven’t spent enough money at this point.

Roll Crimping (Revolver and Rifle cartridges): A roll crimp actually does hold the bullet in place, but it’s still not exactly neck tension. You’ll see bullets for rimmed cartridges like .357 mag or .44 mag that have a groove or “cannelure” in the bullet to crimp the brass into. The big idea here is that with hard-kicking magnums, the recoil impulse can actually yank the other cases in the cylinder back hard enough to begin pulling the bullets out (known as jumping the crimp). If this goes far enough, it can lock up the action of the revolver – not something easily fixed in the field. Another purpose of a good roll crimp is to hold on to that bullet a microsecond longer to get a good consistent powder burn, as many of these cartridges use slow burning powders. Some rifle bullets will have cannelures, but you’ll get mixed opinions on whether or not to roll crimp a rifle bullet. It can help prevent the bullet from moving when being battered in the actions of auto loading rifles, but some argue it can also be detrimental to accuracy. DON’T roll crimp a cartridge that headspaces on the case mouth or on a bullet that doesn’t have a cannelure. Bad juju. There is a little bit of a touch element to roll crimping that can’t be taught. To little doesn’t do any good, too much can wreck your case and bullet. Like most things here, you’re just going to have to do it a few times.

Reloading for rimmed handgun cartridges: This process is the same as what was described above, but you’ll likely roll crimp instead of taper crimp. Also, you’re more likely to want to trim your brass so they are all the same length and line up to the cannelure consistently.

Zombie Steve 05-16-2011 18:17

Reloading bottleneck rifle cartridges: There are very few carbide resizing dies on the market for bottleneck rifle rounds like .223, .308 or .30-06, so you’ll most likely have to lube the cases before they go in the sizing die. A stuck case is no fun, so don’t get stingy on the lube. On the other hand, you’ll get dents in the shoulder if your die gets too much lube in it, so it’s just another one of those things you’ll have to do and figure out. Again, there are many types of lubes and methods I won’t get into here. Just trust me when I say that when you start out, too much lube is preferable to too little. With rifle, you won’t flare the case and often won’t crimp at all. There are two ways to size rifle brass – neck only and full length resizing. If you’re shooting a bolt gun, you can just resize the neck of the brass to accept another bullet using a neck only die. The case has expanded to perfectly match your chamber, so messing with it is really pointless and unnecessarily working the brass. If, however, you are shooting a semi-auto or using the load for more than one gun, you’ll want to full length resize for reliable operation. There are also small base dies that size even smaller to make sure they feed well through your action. If in doubt, just get a full length die. You can adjust it back so it doesn’t push the shoulder and only works the neck, and they usually will work fine in semi-autos. Be sure to follow the directions closely so you aren’t pushing the shoulder too much or too little. The case gauges I mentioned in the taper crimp section are more worthwhile here (you can’t do a plunk test on your rifle) if you are loading for semi-auto.

A few things about Overall Length (OAL):
This one invariably drives the new guys nuts. One manual shows your .45 auto should be loaded to 1.275” and the next shows 1.210”, et cetera. Don’t stress about it. The thing you need to remember here is that the shorter the OAL (or the farther you push the bullet into the case) the less case volume you have. All things being equal, the round with the shorter OAL / less case volume will give you higher pressures. Assuming you’re inside max published OAL, you’re always safe going a little longer, but you might not be going a little shorter. I say to stay inside max published OAL because if you load too long you can run your bullet into the lands in your barrel and it can’t get a running start – this bumps up pressure too.

Working up a test batch / load development: Use multiple sources of data. When they all start showing you different things, you need to have an understanding why. “The bullet this source used is shaped differently, so the OAL is shorter – that’s why they used less powder”, “these people have better velocity numbers – oh, wait… they tested in an 8” universal receiver, where these guys tested in a 4” barrel”, et cetera. Look at the whole picture – bullet type, OAL, what gun they used to test the numbers, standard primer vs. magnum primer, what brass they used... it all makes a difference. The good news is that it will begin to make more and more sense the longer you do this. Never hesitate to ask in the forum if you have any questions whatsoever. There’s too much experience here from some of the old farts and young, good looking folks like me to risk anything. What works for most folks is to “ladder” their way up. I’ll find my start load and move up in small increments until I’m close to max. How big the increments are depends on the cartridge. In a 9mm, a one-tenth grain increment represents roughly 2-2.5% increases. In a .300 win mag, it isn’t even a tenth of one percent… you can take larger jumps up. No matter what you’re using, consider using smaller increments as you approach max published loads. Some folks will swear reloading manuals are written by lawyers and there is a lot of cushion in the data, but I’ve found exactly where the top is more than once well inside the listed max. Remember – you won’t always have the same brass they tested or be using the same exact primer and you definitely won’t be using the same exact gun. Load development takes time and resources. Get over it. Don’t try to take shortcuts. Start low, work up slowly and check for pressure signs along the way (any manual will take you through pressure signs, so I won’t go into it here). I load a minimum of 7 rounds of each powder charge for testing then mark the primers with different colored sharpie markers and write down what’s what so I know what I’m looking at a week or a month later when I get to the range... It’s important to take good notes. The first time you drop a batch of work up loads in the dirt and they aren’t marked, you’ll understand what I’m talking about. Mark them with lighter colors so you can still see what’s happening with the primers, and I usually leave my hottest charge with no colors. As you work your way up through the loads you’ll likely get a little frustrated then have your first “ta-da” moment. Every gun is different and will like different things. When you come across the right load, you’ll know it. I’ve experienced a .2 difference in powder charge making the difference between what looked like a shotgun pattern and a single ragged hole. Depending on what your goal is, you might stop there and pull the others for their components. You might not find the right combo on the first try, or you may get something close, but it’s not great. That’s when you go back to the drawing board. If you were going in .3 increments, you may take your best load and go in .1 grain increments in either direction. The next time around, you may mess with OAL. All depends on how obsessive – compulsive you want to be with it. Just make sure you’re only messing with one variable at a time. Like I said – load development can take a while, particularly for rifle, but I’m here to tell you it’s worth it.

Zombie Steve 05-16-2011 18:18

The dangers of chasing published velocities: I’ve seen it here in this forum - A guy with all new gear trying to get a certain speed from his rifle because his manual showed those results. So, he loaded them and kept going until his chrono showed that speed. Why was this a big deal? He was shooting a rifle with a 20” barrel, and the test data was a 26” barrel. This goes back to understanding the whole picture I touched on in the last section. I can guarantee he was at much higher pressures than he thought he was. Safety first, folks.

Changing Components: If you have a favorite recipe but have to change one of the components like type of brass or primer, the safe thing to do is to back off your powder charge and work your way back up incrementally. Differences in bullets, brass thicknesses and primers can all push you over the top in terms of pressure, particularly if you’re anywhere near maximum loads. You’ll get a better feel for this the more you start reloading and putting your work over your chronograph, but you can still be surprised. Back off and work back up.

Other things you should know that I’m not getting into here: As I said before, know what pressure signs look like. Try to find a manual that shows CUP or PSI pressures with the loads. That will all help your understanding. You also need to understand the concept of headspace and what’s happening in a chamber. Read about it in your reloading manuals, and then read about it again. It’s important.

Some final thoughts: Thanks to Garander for pointing out to me that I should add a comment about frame of mind when reloading... It's probably not a good idea to reload if you just had a huge fight with the wife, just found out you're getting audited, your dog died or any other time you aren't likely to give it your full attention... And despite Jack talking about scotch in the reloading room, it's pretty stupid to play with small explosive charges and propellants under the influence of alcohol or anything stronger than aspirin. Turn the cell phone off, don't get distracted and enjoy your new hobby.

Next thought - It seems natural for new reloaders to want to hot-rod the snot out of a given load. I’ll ask that instead of trying to get a barn-burner out of your .357 mag, get a .44 mag and load in the mid range of the data. It will outperform the .357 mag and it’s safer for you and your gun. Swap whatever cartridge you wish into my last statement. .30-06 vs. .300 mag… whatever. The point wasn’t .357 vs. .44, the point was you should try and strive for better performance at lower pressures when it’s at all practical. I’ve said it before (and forgot who I stole the saying from): you can pull a horse trailer with a V6, but it has to work a lot harder than a V8. It’s not worth it to push the envelope. There are old reloaders, and bold reloaders, but you don’t see old, bold reloaders.
Ultimately, nobody here is going to help you if you blow your fingers off. Just like crossing the street – you reload at your own risk. It’s a safe hobby if you are cautious. My intent here was only to address some common misunderstandings with people new to reloading and to help de-mystify things a little. When I started, manuals and this place were all I had. Since then, I’ve come to realize that GT’s Reloading forum is one of the coolest places on the internet. I’m glad to have you in the forum. Again, don’t hesitate to ask questions. I still do. Be safe, remember consistency is the key and soon you’ll be shooting match grade ammo at less than half the price of factory ammo.

Colorado4Wheel 05-16-2011 18:30

Wow, Very Nice.

Zombie Steve 05-16-2011 18:33

Couldn't sleep last night.

Did I miss anything?

RustyFN 05-16-2011 18:34

Damn and I thought Jack was long winded, well he is but that's another thread. :rofl: Great write-up Zombie.

RustyFN 05-16-2011 18:35


Originally Posted by Zombie Steve (Post 17355806)
Couldn't sleep last night.

Did I miss anything?


Colorado4Wheel 05-16-2011 18:38


I think so. Glad you took the time to write it.

Fwdftw 05-16-2011 18:40

DEFINATLY a sticky.. Steve has helped me a ASSLOAD lol..

Zombie Steve 05-16-2011 18:46

I learned this stuff from manuals, the other guys in this forum and from screwing things up. Just wanted to pay it forward.

We'll need some of the older, less attractive smarter guys to write Reloading 201. :whistling:

whenmonkeysfly 05-16-2011 18:47

Good thread Steve!

GioaJack 05-16-2011 19:02

I read it once, I read it twice and being a highly trained investigator I read it thrice... I still can't find the section on black powder muzzle loading.

Should have known it would be just for sissy flatlanders.

I light of that glaring and unforgivable omission a job very well done none the less. Kudos.

(I suspect Little Stevie tripled or quadrupled his knowledge of loading by reading it. :whistling:)


GioaJack 05-16-2011 19:04


Originally Posted by RustyFN (Post 17355807)
Damn and I thought Jack was long winded, well he is but that's another thread. :rofl: Great write-up Zombie.

:miff: :fist:


Rinspeed 05-16-2011 19:12

Very nice Steve.

Angry Fist 05-16-2011 19:24

Thanks a million, Steve. Great stuff! Plain English is always great.

Jack, don't even.... :whistling:

g29guy 05-16-2011 19:39

Nice job Steve.
This really needs to be sticky'ed for the beginners or those who want to but aren't sure if they can do it. It took a lot of searching and reading to find the confidence to load my first home brew. All the lingo makes sense after I read a crap load of books and put thousands of hours on the computer on Glock Talk. This sums most of it up!

Hogpauls 05-16-2011 19:49


Originally Posted by Fwdftw (Post 17355839)
DEFINATLY a sticky.. Steve has helped me a ASSLOAD lol..

Be careful using these two words in the same sentence in these parts, some people might get the wrong impression.

Zombie Steve 05-16-2011 19:51

Good catch. I don't want to be in that sentence anymore...

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