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Ammunition Reloading 101

Tuesday, 19 February 2013 00:00 Written by  Cyclops

If you are just now weighing the pros and cons of ammunition reloading as a prepper skill, you could not have picked a more inopportune time. Between the actions of the far left leaning loonies in government, and the many sellers of firearms and related equipment / supplies who are intoxicated by the visions of huge dollar signs dancing in their heads, the initial investment for reloading equipment can put a serious dent in the bank account of the average prepper.

 

Disclaimers:

  • (1)    The reloading of ammunition holds inherent dangers capable of causing injury or death. Although modern smokeless powders are not considered an explosive, they are considered a propellant and a fire accelerant capable of creating great pressures and fire hazards when improperly stored or permitted to be in the close proximity of an ignition source.
  • (2)    Primers DO present an explosion hazard and should also be stored and handled in a safe manner, separate from powders and away from heat and impact sources.
  • (3)    The State of California has determined, just like almost everything else on the planet, certain reloading components, are known to cause cancers. The proper storage and handling of lead, lead bullets and lead core bullets should be as high a priority as with powders and primers.
  • (4)    All reloading components should be kept out of the reach of children.
  • (5)    The information, opinions and the less than glowing remarks aimed at the government, and its many mindless semi functionaries, are my own and do not reflect the opinion(s) of Prepper Link administrators or Prepper Link users. Reader discretion is advised.

Reloading for the First Time Buyer

In preparation for this article, I thought I would look into used reloading equipment as a first option for the first time buyer. Needless to say, I was taken aback and highly repulsed, by the prices folks are asking on (for example) eBay. I saw simple, single stage reloading presses, sans accessories, (descriptions to follow) in obviously well used condition, with starting bids of $550.00 plus shipping. These same presses, with the included starter kit accessories, were selling for around $200.00 (brand new!!!) just a few short months ago.

Again, thanks to the un-Constitutional demands of the despots in government and the Tsunami wave of panic buying by the public,  it is disheartening to see the big name dealers showing regularly priced items as “Out Of Stock / No Backorders” in listing, after listing, after listing. I think it very obvious that besides preppers, much of the panic buying is being conducted by those who see an opportunity to resell this equipment with obscene profits in mind.

In my opinion, these profiteers are no better than the socialist bureaucrats, and their lemmings in government, and both groups should be fitted for a new suit of molten tar and feathers by those of us fortunate enough to make it through to the other side of whatever evil this way comes. But, in the words of Dennis Miller, as he finishes his stand-up routine rant sessions, “That’s just my opinion… I could be wrong. “  

Please don’t get the idea I am trying to dissuade anyone from becoming involved in ammunition reloading. That’s not the case at all. I am, however, trying to make it perfectly clear that if you can find the equipment and supplies; it’s going to cost ya.

After a recent outing to buy a few supplies, I am able to provide the following itemized expenditures / cost list, based on .45 caliber pistol ammo.

  • Ammo cases, once fired - $25.20 per 100 pieces, unprocessed (not de-primed or polished)
  • Bullets - $37.80 per 100  (Hornady .45 cal., 300 grain, XTP MAG JHP)
  • Powder - $25.00 average per pound
  • Primers - $3.37 per 100

So, we are looking at $91.37 initial outlay to produce 100 rounds of ammo. Of course, one pound of powder may be enough to load several hundred to one thousand rounds, depending on the powder charge size required for the specific ammunition load. So this becomes a variable in cost figuring until powder replacement is needed.

Although there are some who will tell you it is “way cheaper” to load your own, current prices and availability of supplies beg to differ. Depending on your sources, you can buy 100 rounds of ammo for around seventy dollars. This figure is based on Speer Gold Dot 200 grain .45 ACP + P jacketed hollow points, purchased through Gander Mountain at $34.99 per box of 50.

Note: I tend to use the proper terminology; so to avoid confusion, when I say “bullet” I am referring to the actual projectile. Likewise, a “round” is one completed unit that includes the case, powder, primer and bullet, and in a state ready to launch said projectile.

Equipment, Supplies and Personal Philosophies

Let’s consider the reloading of a .45 caliber ACP (Automatic Colt Pistol) round. Besides having to possess a reloading press, you will need tools (dies) specifically manufactured for that caliber. You will need a caliber specific shell holder and a bullet seating stem for the type of bullet used (Round nose, hollow point, etc.).

Since some ammunition manufacturers have recently opted to redesign their brand of .45 ACP cases to use Small Pistol Primers rather than Large Pistol Primers, you will need to either decide on purchasing cases of one or the other primer size or, purchase both sizes of primers and both sizes of Primer Seating Stems.   

Nearly all calibers of bullets come in a variety of sizes, designated by the bullet weight in grains. The .45 caliber bullet comes in a dozen or more weight sizes. Some sizes are too heavy for the .45 ACP round. Each change in bullet weight may require changes in the amount of powder weight used, (also measured in grains) so as not to exceed maximum pressure limits for that caliber.

There are hundreds of powder brands and types on the market. You have to choose from the few that are recommended for the .45 ACP round. In short, not all pistol powders will work in all pistol calibers, as some types burn too slow, while others may burn too fast.

STOP ALREADY!!! My eyes are starting to bleed.

I suppose by now you can see this is where the prepper’s K.I.S.S. philosophy becomes essential in order to maintain one’s sanity.  

I have been reloading ammunition for some 30 + years and over that time, I have collected a semi large quantity of caliber specific tools and supplies for dozens of different pistol, rifle and shotgun rounds. As I gravitated into the prepper’s philosophy, I began making certain decisions that would streamline my reloading cost factors.

I first decreed that all “combat handguns” in my group arsenal would be of one caliber. Therefore, I need only buy and stock one bullet type, one primer type, one powder type and one case type.  As price specials come along, I make bulk purchases of these items.

I need only concern myself with two calibers of “combat rifle” rounds and one shotgun gauge round. Again, one bullet type and weight for each rifle caliber; one powder type for each, and both use the same primer type. As for the shotgun, I use one powder type, one primer type, one shell case type, one shot cup type and one shot or slug type.

Of course, over many of those 30 + years, I have been able to determine the best combination of components that perform very well in my particular firearms. You do have to experiment some in order to find reloaded ammunition Nirvana.

So, if by now you are still interested in reloading your own ammo, here is what you are going to need.

Reloader’s Manual

I recommend you buy a reloader’s manual before buying anything else. These books go into great detail about the many aspects of the reloading equipment, accessories, supplies and processes. They are broken down into sections for both pistol and rifle, (shotgun is in its own separate world and generally not covered in typical reloader’s manuals) then broken down into calibers. Each caliber will list various bullet types and weights along with several different powders best suited to those bullets, and then safe minimum and maximum weight powder charges for each powder.

Reloading Presses

A press is the most primary tool required in the reloading process. There are two types of reloading presses. The metallic cartridge type press; for pistol and rifle ammo, and the shot shell press for shotgun ammunition. The RCBS Rock Chucker Supreme Master Reloading Kit is a great entry level press, and have some of the accessories needed. 

Of the two types of presses, there are two sub-types, manual (hand powered) and electric powered.

The next sub types are single stage presses and progressive, or multi stage, presses. Single stage presses perform a function, or set of functions, on one case per press cycle action. The dies are then changed in the press to perform the next set of functions. In a progressive type press, a case is rotated from one function or die station to another, per each cycling action on the press, and usually a completed round is produced at the end of five cycling actions.

An added advantage to a progressive press is, after the first cycling action, a fresh case is added into the rotation so that it will follow the first case through the processes. (Then a third and so on) On the fifth cycle of the press, the first round is completed and drops away. Upon the sixth press cycle, the second round is completed and drops away, then the third on the seventh cycle and so on. So, obviously, a progressive press can churn out more rounds in less time than a single stage press.

Of course, electric is more expensive than manual and progressive presses are more expensive than single stage.

I suppose I should mention there is another reloading alternative; the “venerable” Lee Loader.

The Lee Loader consists of a few tools that fit in a box that can easily fit into a cargo pocket. The user progresses through most of the reloading phases by use of a hand and a mallet.  Lee Loaders are small, light weight and highly portable. They only require the mallet, a hard flat surface and patience. The ease of “in the field portability” though, is quickly overshadowed by the carry weight of having to lug around powder, bullets, cases and primers. Although inexpensive and available in a wide variety of specific calibers, we are talking SLOW going… two to five minutes per completed round and the tap, tap, tapping of the mallet is not conducive to running silent if operational security is a high priority.

Die Sets

As previously mentioned, dies are caliber specific. Dies are sold in sets of two; one that resizes the case diameter (which has expanded from the pressure of being fired) and the second to assist in the proper seating of the bullet into the case and adding a tapered crimp around the case mouth to hold the bullet tight. An adjustable stem inside the first die will hold a pin that pushes out the spent primer while an expander on the upper portion of the stem will form a slight outward belling of the case mouth, to facilitate insertion of the new bullet. An adjustable stem inside the second die determines how deeply the bullet is seated into the case. The seating stems are designed for particular bullet designs; round nose, hollow points, wad cutters, etc. Using the wrong stem risks deformities to the bullet and thereby risks in erratic bullet accuracy. Here are a few die set examples: 9mm Luger.223.45 ACP (Carbide)

There are standard carbon steel dies that require a lubricant to be applied to the cases before the cases can be pressed into the die for the case resizing function. Forget the lube and you risk a case being severely stuck up inside the die. At this point, a Stuck Case Tool (optional accessory, of course) is required to remove the case without causing damage to the die. The case, once unstuck, is usually damaged beyond usefulness.

Carbide steel dies allow case resizing without lubing the cases. They are far more expensive than carbon steel dies and far more brittle too. For this reason, care must be taken to avoid situations that could damage them.

For the hooters who are competing in high stakes target shooting, there are very expensive bullet seating dies that have micrometers built-in to insure the bullet depth is identical case after case. In my opinion, these are impractical for preppers, and those content to shoot in the “close enough for me” crowd. 

Powder Scales

At least in my mind’s eye, the next important piece of equipment is a scale for measuring the amount of powder being placed inside the case. Be forewarned; this is a complicated subject.

There are devices called powder measures that have a hopper on top and a drop tube at the bottom. In the middle there is a rotor that has a cavity for a determined capacity of powder. Turn the rotor upward and powder drops from the hopper into the rotor. Turn the rotor downward and the powder drops down into the drop tube then into the cartridge case. These are some really slick little gadgets and I have two. Despite the fact that one is high money, top of the line… they’re junk. Turn after turn, they never drop the same amount of powder more than a couple times out of twenty. It’s due to the nature of the powder.

It’s not that I am looking for pinpoint accuracy. I just don’t like the idea of not knowing the exact charge weight of something that’s going kaboom in my hand, or up close to my face.

There are digital scales that you can spoon in powder until you hit the correct weight charge you want. Some run off batteries and others are powered from a cord. I bought one and I hate it. They’re great if you like techno-geeky stuff but they are a tad to finicky for my liking. The AC or heat comes on in the house and the weight fluctuates. I breathe too heavy and the weight fluctuates. Don’t move quick enough and the digital processor times out and you have to start from scratch. I can’t even understand why they are so popular with drug dealers, besides looking cool.

Then there are beam scales. Mine has a damper on the beam that is partly submerged in a reservoir of 90 weight motor oil. You don’t see too many like that anymore. Most modern beam scales have a damper piece that moves through a magnetic field created between two small earth magnets. I can’t find a single fault with a “lack luster” beam style scale of quality manufacture. 

Next in the powder measuring line is a powder trickler; a small accessory shaped like the cooling tower of a nuclear power plant with a stem running through its middle. Fill the top with powder and turn the stem and powder will drop out the front of the stem a flake or two at a time. You use a trickler to “finesse” your scale up to the “dead-on” mark. There are two types; (as to be expected) an electric type and a manual turn it with your fingers type. I’ll stick with the manual type since I never have to worry about the human power grid going belly up.

Primer Seating Tools

You may want to consider a handheld type priming tool, for speed and the sensitivity control needed during this particular function. On a progressive press, primer insertion is part of the automated process. Accessory attachments are made for single stage presses to feed the primer on demand. Or you can place a primer into the press ram one at a time as needed. However, moisture or natural skin oils can cause a primer to fail; and flattening of the primer is highly likely from applying too much pressure while seating it in the case. This is usually the result of the strong arm leverage of the press masking the sensitivity needed to get the job done.

A handheld priming tool can hold fifty primers at a time and can prime 50 cases in just a few minutes, once a rhythm is archived. Using a thumb to work the ram, you can feel the primer bottom out in the case primer pocket and thereby avoid asserting any more pressure that will flatten out the top of the primer.

Case Preparation Equipment

Since reloading is the process of Re-loading cases that have already been fired, there are certain steps that need to be taken to prepare the cases. Once the fired primers have been removed from once fired military cases, the primer pockets need to be swaged to remove a ribbon crimp that was created around the primer to seal out moisture. The pocket then needs to be cleaned with a small steel brush to remove the burnt residue so the new primer can be installed and seated properly. Since the cases also stretch in length when fired, you need a means of measuring and, if need be, trimming the case back to proper length.

Lastly, you will want a vibrating or tumbling type case cleaner with a polishing media to clean inside and outside of the case bodies. Most case cleaners will hold at least 25 cases at a time and can complete the cleaning process in a few hours. It’s more than just making the cases “all shinny and pretty” like new; it helps prevent shoving a grit-covered case up into your dies and potentially scoring the die walls.    

From this point, all other reloading equipment is really just ancillary kind of accessories. Some work, some are junk.

From my comments along the way, you have probably guessed that I prefer the lower tech type of equipment, including my (aged but still working) single stage reloading press. Call it OCD or just plain anal retentive; I feel I have to be up close and personal with every aspect of the powder measuring and getting it into the case functions. It goes back to that holding of something that could potentially cause the loss of my one good (aged but still working) eye or leave me with the nickname “lefty.” In thirty some plus years of “rolling my own,” I’ve never had a misfire, squib load, half charged or double charged reload. And confidence in your loads is a sure way of getting past the psychological reflex action of flinching as you squeeze the trigger.

In Conclusion

Keeping it short and sweet; as a prepper, you could buy thousands upon thousands of rounds of ammunition cheaper than getting into reloading and cranking out the same thousands upon thousands of reloaded rounds. However, somewhere down the road, store bought ammo may become scarcer than hen’s teeth and all you’ll have to fall back on is the equipment and supplies to roll your own. The ability to reload for others could also become a much needed barterable commodity.  Just saying… As always, pray for the best, prepare for the worst.    

Last modified on Saturday, 23 February 2013 12:51
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1 comment

  • Comment Link FrankinOH Wednesday, 20 February 2013 21:21 posted by FrankinOH

    The recent spike in gun, magazine and ammo prices has thrown the reloading advantages into disarray. I have been reloading for many years. What I have found is that reloading is a personal preference. Factory ammo can now be purchased that is very accurate. With a lot of work and testing, I "may" produce a load that is more accurate than factory. For all practical purposes, I look at reloading as a necessary skill. When no ammo can be had at any price, I can still make my own. That is a THE important consideration. At present I use a Lee Turret Press. I remove the auto indexer so that I can load in stages. Decapping first, sizing,etc. One of the benefits I find with reloading is that is actually very relaxing with a very real sense of satisfaction in having made something of value. I have dies for most every caliber I own and have reloaded some of each just to find the correct settings for the dies. I highly recommend learning to reload your common caliber sizes.

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