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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.

If you missed the previous posts on reloading, you can find them here:

Reloading – Part 1 – Basics

Reloading – Part 2 – Brass, Primers & Powder

Setting Up Your Press

Dies and Shell Plate with case installed at Station 1

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

Hornady electronic powder dispenser

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.

Case Prep

Clean and polished brass is critical to successful hand-loads

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.

Dial caliper and case prep tools

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

Prepped case in station 1

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.

Bullet sitting in slightly expanded case – Station 3

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.

Bullet seated after station 4 and ready to be run through crimping – station 5

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!

Measuring Overall Cartridge Length (OCL) with dial caliper

Wrap Up

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:

ΜΟΛΩΝ ΛΑΒΕ,
Grey Beard Biker
gbb@TheGreyBeardBiker.com
@GreyBeard_Biker on the Twitter

Good afternoon fellow riders and Second Amendment aficionados. As I write this article, it is nearing the winter solstice. The days are very short, the mornings are cold, and your ever-lovable Grey Beard Biker is a bit grumpier. I really am not a fan of it being dark at 16:45 in the afternoon. I prefer the warm sun at my back in the evening, while blasting along a backroad. But I guess we should look at things from a positive standpoint. After December 21, the days will start getting longer and it will be a downhill slide to spring. Right?

This is the second installment on the basics of reloading. The first article dealt mainly with the costs of the basic equipment you will need to reload your own ammunition. Summarizing my first article, unless you only planning to reload rifle ammunition, you will need to purchase the following items to reload: progressive reloading press, shell plates, reloading dies, powder scale (recommended even if you are using a shell activated powder drop), brass sonic cleaner (or tumbler), reloading manual and a dial caliper. This is in addition to your powder and primers.

Brass

If you brass doesn’t look new – it’s not good enough!

Most people that have considered reloading their own ammunition have been a bit of a junkyard dog at the range, picking up as much spent brass as they can find. I did this before I started reloading, nearly a decade ago. I would gladly go around and sweep up everyone’s spent brass, knowing at some point I would resurrect this byproduct of shooting and make superb ammunition from it. But this is the easiest part.

If you are serious about the quality of your reloads, you have to sort it by caliber, de-cap it (run it through your press to remove the spent primers) and properly clean it. This is a rather tedious process. After I have sorted and de-capped the spent brass, I run it through a tumbler with cleaning solution and stainless-steel media. My tumbler is made by Frankford Arsenal. It is essential that you clean your brass with calibers of the same size projectiles. For example, I tumble .357 SIG and 9 mm brass at the same time. They take the same diameter bullet. If you tumble 9 mm with .40 auto or .45 ACP brass, the smaller brass will end up inside the the larger brass and none will be properly cleaned. I am a stickler for perfection, so after I have cleaned the brass, and used my magnet to remove the stainless-steel media, I stand up all the brass on a cookie sheet and dry it in the oven, at 275 degrees, for about 45 minutes. If you do not do this, your brass will be quite spotted – and the old Grey Beard Biker doesn’t like water spots!

Powder

The Grey Beard Biker uses lots of different powders!

Powder is the building block for your ammunition. I have several dozen different powders which I use for reloading. They are all unique and have very different burn characteristics. For example, if I am reloading .357 SIG, I may use Alliant Power Pistol, Accurate No. 9 or Hodgden CFE Pistol. Each of these powders have different burn rates. I reload my .357 SIG target ammo with CFE Pistol. It’s a great powder, but the velocities are a bit slower than the other two powders. For my personal protection ammunition I use 125-grain Speer Gold Dot bullets over 8.1 grains of Power Pistol. This provides velocities north of 1,400 FPS with the only downside being a fairly significant muzzle blast – but I will accept this trade off because the stopping power is superior. For .45 ACP I use any number of powders including IMR 800X, Hodgden Longshot, Alliant BE-86 or Power Pistol. These, along with many others, work great for plinking at the range. But for my personal defense ammunition, I use 6.8 grains of Longshot powder with a 230-grain Gold Dot bullet. This produces a velocity of 900 FPS, which is plenty sufficient with a .45-inch bullet weighing 230 grains.

Your most important consideration when loading handgun ammunition is the burn-rate of the powder. It is especially critical when reloading smaller calibers, such as .380 auto or 9 mm. I use a lot of Accurate No. 2 powder for these smaller calibers. But because No. 2 is a very fast burning powder, the case pressures ramp up extremely quickly. For example, with a 124-grain bullet, the recipe for No. 2 is 3.6 – 4.2 grains of powder. Because this powder burns so rapidly, if you exceed the 4.2 grains your case pressures increase exponentially. At just a few tenths of a grain over the maximum charge you risk a catastrophic case failure which can self-destruct your gun, in the best case, or seriously injure you. This is why it is very important to follow your reloading manual. When I am loading these smaller caliber cartridges, I use a digital powder scale so I can load them hot – but safely.

Rifle powder is even more temperamental. When you shoot long range, like I do, it is even more tricky to work with. This will be covered in a separate article.

Primers

Primers are definitely not all the same. They do act differently, based on what you are rolling. I like Winchester primers in my larger caliber pistols, Federal in my .380, 9 mm and .40 pistol and Remington in my magnum rifles. The most important thing to remember, when it comes to primers, is to follow the recipes in your reloading manuals. Magnum primers burn much hotter and faster than a standard primer. Incorrectly using these over a very fast burning powder, you will definitely risk exceeding the recommended maximum case pressures on your brass.

If you follow your manuals, use the correct primers and load towards the middle range of the powder recipes – you will have consistent usable ammunition.

ΜΟΛΩΝ ΛΑΒΕ,
Grey Beard Biker
gbb@TheGreyBeardBiker.com
@GreyBeard_Biker on the Twitter

Many fellow firearms aficionados I speak to have considered reloading their own ammunition. There are several things to consider before you decide you are going to roll your own ammo:

  • You have to shoot a lot to pay for the cost of reloading gear
  • With ammunition prices so low, and ammo plentiful, buying at your local gun store or big box store may be the best thing to do
  • You need quality dies for each caliber you plan on reloading
  • Reloading is delicate work and it is time consuming – you cannot take shortcuts
  • It can cost north of $1,000 to get started – you can buy a lot of ammunition for that cost

Your friendly Grey Beard Biker suggests you take a decision to reload very seriously. One place to start is by watching the following video your old Grey Beard Biker put together just for you!

The Grey Beard Biker recorded this video on reloading just for you!