Ammunition > Rifle

Getting Started in Handloading

It's easier than you think.


It is easy to get started reloading. The best way is to have an experienced friend show you how, or to take a class. But lacking those options there are several excellent books and videos on the market that can help. Whatever route you choose, you will need some basic tools to get started.

The Press
The foundation to handloading is a press. Don't be lured by the glamour of a progressive reloading press, at least not to start. They are wonderful for high-volume reloading, but they are complicated tools that are best used by experienced handloaders. The best tool for the beginner is a single-stage press. If your handloading is for hunting it may well be the only press you will ever need.

The Basics
While the press is the foundation, the scale is actually the most important tool. Balance beam scales are less expensive than electronic scales and you can get by fine with one if it's of good quality. Make sure that the scale is on a level surface and treat it like it's made of expensive crystal to avoid damage. Later you can switch to an electronic scale, as they are much faster and easier to use.

You need dies and a shell holder for the cartridge you are loading, as well as case lube, a powder funnel and a data manual. The data manual is your Bible, and stick with the recipes listed for the cartridge you are loading. Never deviate from the scripture.

Buy a deburring tool. This will put a small chamfer on the case mouth. It's used to remove the burrs left after trimming the cases to length, but it should also be used with new or once fired cases to chamfer the case mouth so that you can seat bullets without the sharp edge of the case mouth shaving metal from the bullet. It is powered by you and will work well until you start loading in high volume.

You can lubricate cases with your fingers, but it's easier if you use a lube pad and a nylon brush of the proper size for your case neck. Or better yet, use a spray lubricant.

Eventually you will need a case cleaner. This is a big tub that holds many cartridges along with a cleaning medium, usually ground corncob. When turned on, the tub will vibrate the cases in the cleaning medium. This works great to clean dirty and stained cases so they look like new. It's also the best way to remove the lubrication from the case after resizing, a very important step. You can do all this by hand, but that gets old fast, so put a case cleaner on your wish list.

You will also need a case trimmer. If you are only going to load one or two cartridges a dedicated, cartridge specific trimmer that fits in a hand held drill is the most inexpensive way to go. The more common bench mounted trimmer is essentially a small, hand-turned lathe. These can trim the case length of various cartridge types.

Tools That Make Reloading Easier
You can load ammo with the basic tools listed above, but there are a few other things that will make life easier. Eventually you'll need a loading block, which is a plastic or wood block designed to hold the cartridges standing up.

A powder measure is used to dispense a measured amount of powder each time you rotate the handle. Plan on one soon, as they are one tool that can save your sanity when trying to measure charges. A powder trickler is used to dispense powder one grain at a time to top off a powder charge. For working with extruded powders and precision charges it is well worth the low price.

Consider a hand-held priming tool if you can afford it. They are inexpensive and will save you a lot of frustration. Also, consider a good dial caliper. The dial caliper allows you to measure with precision. It is just about a necessity for setting bullet seating depth and for checking case length. If you are priming with the press you will need a primer tray. The primer tray will orient all the primers in the same direction. When you buy a hand held priming tool, make sure it has this feature.

The simple way
If you're starting from scratch, consider buying complete reloading kits from RCBS, Hornady, Lyman and others that include everything (except bullets, brass and primers) that you will need to get started.

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6 Responses to Getting Started in Handloading

Fireguy wrote:
April 17, 2012

I have to disagree with the assertion that newbies should always start out with a single stage press. I started loading for the first time a few months ago with a progressive loader The Dillon 550B. The nice thing about this loader is you will not out grow it as it can be loaded as a single stage or progressive. True that SS presses are a little easier to learn on, but it`s not rocket science. If you buy a SS press, I guarantee at some point as your skills increase, you will be looking at a Progressive anyway, and you will need to unload your SS press. We all look for ways to save, but one place you don`t want to scrimp is in the loader. Most agree that the Dillon is the best loader in the business, and will be the only one you will ever have to buy. So, bite the bullet and invest in a good machine, they are pricey, but hold their resale better than any other. And their No warranty is legendary.., if anything breaks, they will repair or replace it for free, no matter if your the first or 20th owner. There are other good machines out there, but your buying the best w/Dillon. As you skills improve, the loader will be able to handle it. Just my 2 cents..good luck!

Mike Murphy wrote:
December 17, 2011

I started reloading 30 years ago after buying my first rifle, a Ruger 77 in the .280 Remington. My reloading equipment was an RCBS Rock Chucker,Jr. It worked great and between the great .280, Ruger, doing my part and the RCBS it was not difficult to get 1 MOA groups using 130 to 145 grain bullets. I gave that press to one of my sons and bought the LEE single stage press and Lee dies. With the came careful load development 1 MOA groups are still made. And as Mr. Cummings stated, I used the money I saved for other reloading components. The Ruger couldn't tell the difference between RCBS and Lee. "Feliz Navida!"

John Cumming wrote:
November 24, 2011

I am surprised there is support for the RCBS Rock Chucker press, it is a good solid press and I have several RCBS products including the Rock Chucker. What I was trying to get across was that for the money other reloading manufactures might have presses which will serve you better than the Rock Chucker. As a competitive high power shooter I load thousands of rounds every year. For rifle rounds, a single stage press is fine because so much case preparation is necessary, but if you shoot mainly pistol, you might want a press which is faster. Remember in the Rock Chucker, you first have to resize, then unscrew the die, and screw in your seating die. That takes time, but there are presses which are less expensive than the Rock Chucker in which you can have all your dies screwed into a die holder which either rotates, or can be changes with a simple twist. Die changes take only seconds, and the dies only have to be adjusted once. So if you like your RCBS Rock Chucker fine, but along time ago, I found there were faster more convenient systems out there which cost less than Rock Chuckers.

Rocky Eshom wrote:
November 22, 2011

Personally, I agree with Robert. I've had a RCBS Rock Chucker for over 25 years and it still works great. I've had some experience with Lee products and don't care for them. You generally get what you pay for.

John Cumming wrote:
November 21, 2011

Robert Malone suggested that the RCBS Rock Chucker Kit is a great starting press. I take a slightly different view with respect to Robert's view. I would like to see a beginning reloader start with less expensive tools. For example Lee Precision makes a line of inexpensive presses. One problem is that most loading presses are much stronger than they need to be. That's OK, but it cost more to make a heavy cast iron press than a die cast aluminum one. Save money on the press and other reloading equipment and you can spend the saved dollars, for bullets, powder, primers and other things you will need. For example, Lee makes a very simple single stage "0" ring press for about $25.00 or $30.00 bucks and I think that also includes his reloading book! I think the RCBS kit is about $200.00...that's a lot of money. Can you load just as good ammo with an inexpensive Lee Press as the more expensive RCBS presses, you bet. If you purchase the Lee semi-automatic three or four hole press you will still spend less than the RCBS press and will be able to hand load pistol cases much faster. If after awhile you decide reloading is not for you, if you used less e expensive equipment you will not be out an arm and leg, if you decide to keep going, I bet you will eventually come to the same conclusion I can do better with reloading equipment which is more innovative than expensive.

Robert Malone wrote:
December 18, 2010

The best kit, in my opinion, to get started in reloading is the RCBS rock chucker kit. This kit has everything that you need to get started except the dies. I have this kit and have been using it for years and never needed anything else. Its that good