Greetings fellow patriots, bikers and other fans of the Second Amendment. It’s hard to believe it’s 2020. It seems like just yesterday that we were worried about the Y2K bug. Holy cow, it’s been 20 years since then. We have been very fortunate the past month to have some excellent, mild weather here in Tennessee. The only snow we have had in the middle part of the state was a dusting before Thanksgiving. Hopefully you have been getting some riding in.
Over the past couple of blog posts, your ever lovable Grey Beard Biker has written about the cost of equipment and components you need to reload your own ammunition. If you have decided to move on with reloading, this article deals with the actual process of loading with a progressive loading press.
This is a three part series:
Part 1: Reloading Basics – Part 1
Part 2: Reloading Basics – Part 2 – Brass, Primers & Powder
Part 3: Reloading Basics – Part 3 – Loading Ammunition
Setting Up Your Press
The first thing you will need to do is set up the press. You will get to be an old hand at this if you reload multiple calibers. First, install the cartridge dies in the top of the tower. Nearly every caliber takes different dies. Follow the die instructions to set up each of the dies before you start reloading. Install the correct shell holder and retention spring in the rotating base of the turret. Depending on what caliber you are using, you will need to load either small or large primers (standard or magnum depending again on caliber) in the primer feed tube. This process is much easier with a primer tray as it will flip all of the primers to the correct side to grab them in the filler tube. Once this is done, cycle the arm on the press and make sure a primer loads into the press.
Setting Up Your Scale
Most progressive presses come with a case-activated powder drop, which resides in the third station of the press. The powder drop does work sufficiently well for most handgun powders, but some powders are flakey, or rod shaped and do not work well with this system. This is why I use an electronic scale, which accurately dispenses the correct amount of powder for your recipe. If you decide to use the powder drop, make sure you verify the weight of the powder charge at least ever 10 drops. It will change – and if you are loading fairly stout loads it can be very dangerous – especially with faster powders.
Once I power up my electronic powder dispenser, I let it warm up a couple of minutes and then calibrate it. Next, I use either a recipe I have loaded in the past or refer to my reloading manual for the correct powder charge – entering it in the scale. Remember, this varies significantly based on the weight and type of bullet you are using. If you are using a new recipe, I highly recommend loading towards the lower weight of the recipe. You can always work up from there on future reloads. Once the scale is setup, you’re ready to start loading.
As mentioned in my previous articles, I am very picky about my brass, as damaged brass causes most malfunctions with reloads. I tumble it in stainless steel media and throw out any which are not perfect. I find that I can reuse my brass for at least ten loads before I throw them out.
As my powder load measures out, I use a Lyman case prep tool set to clean the primer pocket and the bullet opening. This removes burrs and cleans everything up, so the cases run through the press smoothly. This step also allows you to examine the case for any flaws – especially cracking and expansion of the primer pocket. If you are reloading rifle ammo, you will need to use lube on the bullet opening since the cases are tapered.
Loading the Cartridges
Once the case has been examined, I load it in the shell holder at station one. Pull the arm down and run the case through the sizing die. This takes the case to stage two where the primer is installed. Here, instead of pulling the arm, you push it forward to seat the primer in the pocket. You will feel the primer seat. If it doesn’t feel like it pressed all the way in, take the case out and examine it. If it looks like it is installing straight, put it back in the second stage and push forward again on the arm. If this still doesn’t work, throw it out and start over with a different prepped case.
If the primer installed correctly, pull the handle back and run it through the expansion die (if your caliber uses one). This puts a very slight bell in the bullet opening to allow the bullet to seat far enough in, so it doesn’t move when it rotates to the seating stage.
At this point, I pull the case out and make one final inspection of it and pour the powder in the bullet opening – making sure it all pours in. Once the powder is in, I gently place the case back in the shell holder, at station three, and set the bullet in the opening. MAKE SURE IT’S STRAIGHT! Pull the handle back to seat the bullet with the seating die – the fourth station. Lastly, pull the handle back and run it through the crimping die (if used on your caliber). This snugs the case to the bullet – the fifth station. When you release the handle at this stage, the finished bullet kicks out into the cartridge bin.
The last step is to measure the overall cartridge length (OCL) to verify the bullet is fully seated. The cartridge should easily slide through your dial caliper, which you have set up based on the recipe and the bullet you are using. This may well be the most important step. If you seat it too deep, the case pressures will increase rapidly, which can cause severe damage to your handgun or possible injury!
Reloading your ammunition is not something you should take lightly. You have to follow these steps and be very precise in all you do. Taking short cuts or not paying attention can be disastrous. But with patience and practice, your hand-rolled ammo will be more consistent than factory ammunition. And if you are like me, you will find it an enjoyable way to spend some time.
For more information, check out my video on reloading on YouTube: