Handloading basics: reloading from the very beginning

It is wrong to think that handloading is only for people with vast knowledge and a bench full of tools. It’s also wrong to think that it costs too much in time and money for the average shooter. 

Perfectly good, reliable ammunition can be made with a minimum amount of tooling, some basic research and a good dose of plain old common sense. 

Standard two-die set, a de-capping and sizing die, plus a seating die on top of a normal lubricating pad

The most basic and important part of handloading is: if you do not know, ask the question until you get the answer. There is no such thing as a stupid question. 

Second, you simply must understand the reloading process. For a start, read at least two reloading manuals until the process is firmly embedded in your brain.

To produce ammunition with the least fuss and bother, you will need the following minimum bits, pieces and tools:

  • A minimum of two reloading manuals. Australian Nick Harvey’s Practical Reloading Manual is a good start
  • A reloading press
  • A set of dies suitable for your particular cartridge
  • A lubricating pad and suitable lubrication
  • Empty cartridge cases
  • A suitable amount of propellant powder
  • A powder scale
  • A small container for the powder and an old teaspoon
  • Projectiles to suit your cartridge
  • Large or small rifle primers to suit your cartridge
  • A roll of paper towel.

Check out reloading kits. They contain just about everything you need and may be a cheaper alternative than buying individual items. Once again, do not be afraid to ask. 

Your reloading press needs to be firmly attached to a suitable, strong bench, as some forces are involved during the various processes. 

Normally, the reloading dies are a two-die set, with the first being a de-capping and sizing die and the second being a projectile seating die. Read the manufacturer’s instructions on exactly how to set them up for trouble-free operation. 

Because of the forces involved in resizing cases, good-quality lubrication is required. This would normally be in a reloading kit or could be purchased separately. 

Lubrication is usually squeezed onto the lubricating pad and spread out with your fingers. It’s pretty sticky stuff; perhaps some form of solvent may be useful on a paper towel to remove it from the cases and your fingers after use. 

Some cartridge cases are already in short supply; ask around if you have a problem.

Don’t get confused with powder selection. As an example, for the .223 Remington cartridge and a 55-grain SPR soft point, there are six powders listed for potential use. I would choose either of the Benchmarks. 

Mid-range powders usually produce the result you want. 

There are shortages of foreign-sourced powders, but I have found that the Australian ADI range will cover everything.

A powder scale is necessary to weigh out the powder charge. 

You will notice that most manuals recommend a starting load. When you become a bit more advanced, don’t be seduced by velocity and think that you can add just a bit more powder than that recommended just to go a bit faster; it achieves nothing except to place you in dangerous territory. 

handloading ammunition
Some use a powder trickler to top off a load in the scales; Ron prefers an old teaspoon

Some say you need a powder dripper to add those last few grains of powder to centre the scale; if not, use an old teaspoon; you will soon get the hang of it.

The type of projectile that you need is more or less dictated by what you intend to shoot. 

Again, if you are not aware of what you need, seek advice from those who know. The options are vast; some projectiles will cover a wide range of possibilities, and some are very specialised.

I have left the hardest to last: primers to ignite the powder are almost unobtainable at present, with very few being imported sporadically. 

Large rifle primers are completely sold out, and I keep hearing that it will be the end of 2023 before we get more. 

There are some small rifle primers available, but you might have to troll the internet or, again, ask to find out where they are available.

handloading ammunition
Powder, projectile and primer have to be compatible for a good load




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Ron James