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Reloading Brass For Handguns-Part 1

As the title indicates, in this two-part series, we’re going to look at how to begn reloading brass for handgun shooting. I'm going to assume that you already want to reload, and have some idea of the advantages of so doing. If not, there are many articles on our site that will help show the advantages of reloading your own ammo.

If you have just began to research reloading brass, and starting to look at reloading handgun cartridges, it probably seems like a complicated and mysterious process; one that requires a degree in chemistry to master. However, with only a little practice you will discover that reloading brass is actually quite simple. Care and attention to detail are required, but the process has only a few steps. Once you master those steps, you’ll be reloading ammo with the best of us.

The Press

A reloading press is the basic machine used to reload centerfire metallic (rifle or pistol) ammunition. What the press essentially does is to hold the dies that reform, prime, and eventually reload the case and provide the mechanical leverage that allows the operator to accomplish these tasks.

Many of us older shooters started reloading with a Lyman Tong Tool (a hand held reloading press resembling a large nutcracker) or a Lee Loader (a set of reloading dies into which you literally pound the cases with a mallet). You don't see these makeshift devices very often anymore, although Lee Precision still markets both the Lee Loader and a tong-style tool called the Hand Press. I strongly advise ignoring these devices in general, at least until you’ve mastered the process. I do, however, still use my hand-held tools when I’m feeling nostalgic.

Most reloaders use what are called single stage presses. These are not automated, you have to push or pull a handle to accomplish each task in the reloading process. Good single stage presses have a long lever with a lot of mechanical advantage for a handle and are quite easy to operate. Cheap ones sometimes require a lot of force to resize cases. Yet, don’t think you have to spend a small fortune to get started; these cheaper ones are quite alright if you’re just beginning.

A separate powder measure, which dumps a preset amount of powder into each case, is a practical necessity, and a hand priming tool is a great convenience. Centerfire metallic cases are reloaded in batches and a single operation is performed on all of the cases to be reloaded before moving on to the next step. If you are reloading 50 cases, for example, the first operation is performed on all 50 before moving on to the second operation. Performing the same operation on all cases before moving to the next operation saves time and effort.

Getting Started

The first step in reloading a batch of pistol cases is to clean and inspect them. Look closely at the case mouths, as this is the area most likely to be damaged or show incipient splits. Also look for a light ring around the head of the case, which indicates potential case head separation. Discard any cases that are not perfect.

To actually reload straight walled handgun cartridges the following steps must be performed (not always in exactly the same order): resizing, decapping (removing the spent primer) and belling the mouth of the case to accept a new bullet, priming, powder charging, and bullet seating and crimping. With the exception of the priming and powder charging operations, these operations are carried out using a set of three reloading dies, which screw into the top of a single stage press.

To hold the case, a shell holder slides into top of the ram (the part of the press that elevates the case into the reloading dies when you pull the handle). The shell holder must match the case to be reloaded. Different cases require different shell holders.