Let’s talk rolling your own

Ammo, that is – not tobacco or weed.

This isn’t an instructional post, there’s way too many resources out there that can give you much better instructions than I can – any reloading manual for one, plus with the internet these days? Let me just say that I learned how to reload from Guns and Ammo magazine as well as Speer’s #9 manual (I just aged myself) and I’ve never had a misfire or squib load yet – and that’s with thousands and thousands of bullets loaded. I’m not exaggerating here. It’s a simple assembly line process that anybody with a half a brain can do. I even know Okies that can reload.
Keep in mind that I’m talking handgun cartridges here – rifle bullets are a different process but just as easy. Shotgun shells are a whole ‘nother critter but again, just as easy but that process requires a different press.

The very basic process is: Your first die punches the primer out and reshapes the case, the second bells the mouth out to accept the bullet, your next step is to prime the case, the next step is to charge the case, the third die inserts the bullet and crimps it in and you’re done. It’s that easy. If you’re loading an auto you’ll want to go an extra step and buy another die – the factory die does a roll crimp. You’ll want to seat your bullet with that but buy a taper crimp for more reliable feeding. We’re talking another 15-20 bucks.

Okay, start-up costs. I’m gonna use RCBS because that’s what I know. You can buy the entire kit, and I’m talking rifle and handgun, for $433 bucks HERE. That’s new from the manufacturer and will load anything up to 50 BMG. Shop around and you can get the same deal cheaper. It’s a single stage press so that means you have do it manually and one step at a time. Again, we’re talking handgun here so you can figure about 100 rounds per hour after you get a little practice in. How long will it last you? Well, I’m still on my original press with no signs of wear and I started reloading back in the mid 1980s. Your grandkids will be loading on it long after you’re dead and buried.

Savings – Assuming you police your brass we’re talking powder, primers and bullets. Powder? 30 bucks a pound and there’s 7000 grains per pound. My recipe calls for 5 grains of Bullseye per 45 ACP cartridge, you do the math. Primers run about 30 bucks per thousand. Stay away from the Russian primers, they suck – or they used to when they first came out, they may have improved. Bullets are about 70 bucks for 500 FMJ but lead bullets for plinking are much cheaper – shop around.
Non-magnum cases can be used until the rims are so chewed up they won’t extract anymore or until you notice a defect in the case walls. Magnum cases can be used until their 3rd trimming, after that the case walls are too thin and should be discarded.

Again guys, it’s an assembly line type process. Do 50 rounds (because that’s what your loading blocks hold) per step. De-cap and re-form 50 rounds. Bell 50 rounds, prime 50, charge 50 and cap 50. Rinse, lather, repeat.
Once you get familiar with the basics you can start to explore if you want, but if you’re doing basic reloading and that suits your purpose, stick with that.

The advantages of reloading used to be suiting your cartridge to your gun to make it more accurate but with QC being what it is in the ammo industries nowadays, you’d have to really be on your game to beat a factory load for accuracy anymore – again, I’m talking handguns. But….. you can beat the hell out of the cost and with money being as tight as it is, that’s a good a reason as any to load particularly if you shoot more than a couple boxes a month. Hell, I recouped the cost of my equipment within 3 months, but back then I was shooting a hell of a lot more than I do anymore. And to be honest with you I can’t say I actually saved money because once I started loading I started shooting more just because it was more affordable – I probably shot an average of 100-200 rounds a day then. What can I say, I was single and lived on property where gunfire wasn’t an issue. Hell, I got into loading so much I that I would go out and burn a couple hundred rounds just so I’d have brass to load.
I can honestly say though that the main advantage, other than costs, was that I began to understand my firearms and ammo so much better – it wasn’t just hitting my target where I was aiming, it was balancing velocity and accuracy and economy – sometimes faster ain’t better. Depending on the weight of the bullet and the rifling of your barrel, especially with magnum calibers and extra heavy loads you might actually want to reduce the velocity to maximize your accuracy – or you might want to pump it up. WyeReconMarine can and will verify this in the comments of this post.

Okay, this post ran a little longer than I intended so I’m going to wrap it up now. If you have any questions or if I can clarify anything, shoot me an email at k59lane@yahoo.com – I’m not an expert at reloading but I have 30+ years experience – if I can’t answer your questions I can steer you to somebody or someplace that can and trust me, I’m more than willing to do so.

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36 Responses to Let’s talk rolling your own

  1. Gator says:

    How many times can you reuse 223/5.56 on average? I haven’t had a place to reload where i was living, but probably will once im in my new place.

    • Wirecutter says:

      7-8 times from what I hear. Again, I don’t load rifle so check with those that know.
      Every time you shoot, the metal flows forward so it’s a process of measuring and trimming when the brass length gets too long. Eventually the case walls will be trimmed too may times resulting in thinner walls. That’s when it’s time to discard.

  2. Buen Amigo says:

    Same kit at Amazon is $280

  3. Mike says:

    Any experience with a Lee hand press? I’d like to put together a compact kit to start with.

    • JSW says:

      Good press and will give you forearm exercise, probably to the point where you won’t use it. Go with a basic Lee setup for $129-+/-.

      Unless by ‘hand press’ you mean their basic ‘Lee Loader’ where you’ll need a nylon head hammer. Also a great beginner loading kit (probably the most popular loader of all), runs about $30 and will last forever.

  4. Richard says:

    I would also recommend a brass tumbler to clean dirty brass. they run around $50 to $90 bucks

  5. bill says:

    Great post. I like the idea of keeping to batches of 50. I would work in batches of 100 and use the whole pack of primers. I like the rcbs hand primer a lot, btw. “Shoot some rounds just to get brass” cracked me up.

    • Wirecutter says:

      The ONLY reason I load in batches of 50 is because that’s what my loading blocks held and new reloaders will understand when they get theirs…..
      “Shoot some rounds just to get brass” cracked me up.
      Anybody that’s ever loaded understands that. Right on.

    • SemperFi, 0321 says:

      +10 on the Lee hand primer. The older model was actually better. Haven’t used an RCBS, but they all beat using the press primer system.

      I shot up a box of new .45 acp FMJ last night just to have new brass for reloading some hotter loads today. That factory stuff is anemic, much of it isn’t even up to G.I. factory specs. 10mm is barely rated at .40 S&W +P, if you want good 10mm, you either buy hotter specialty ammo, or reload.

      • Richard Rix says:

        Agreed on the hand primer, much easier than using the press, and allows for faster repriming.

  6. SemperFi, 0321 says:

    Reloading isn’t for everyone, some folks don’t have the patience to sit and do repetitious operations for hours, or keep track of reloading info. Keeping a clean bench is a good start.
    I’ve been reloading since 1974, started with a Lee Loader and an old Trapdoor Springfield 45-70. Today I load for about 20 different cartridges. Buy quality and it will last forever. RCBS has treated me well, I called them 2 yrs ago and they sent me a new trimmer head (free) for a case trimmer I bought in 1980. Dillon has been excellent also.
    On those Russian primers (Tula), have not had a problem until last week, found out my Glock 20 doesn’t like the Large Pistol primers, they’re too hard. About 1/4 of them don’t go BOOM! Then found out yesterday Glock makes a ‘blue’ firing pin spring especially for hard primers, but most big places (Brownells, Midway) in the US don’t carry them. Will order several.
    Case stretch happens every time they’re fired, and the first thing I do after sizing is trim my cases (especially with the new brass), lot’s of folks don’t understand how bad pressure can get with cases that are too long in the chamber. That’s one reason a bolt closes so hard, you’re cramming and crimping the case into the bore.
    I’ve just spent the last 3 days casting/sizing/lubing 10mm and .45 bullets, it’s a time consuming operation that hardly pays for itself, but I was just given a huge 50 lb ingot of wheel weight lead. I cast and drop them in a 5 gal. bucket of cold water and make my own heavy hard cast bear bullets, something that’s easier for me to do than pay $50/box 50 for Underwood or DoubleTap cartridges. I like the big heavy loads, they’re fun to shoot, and for me, necessary in grizzly bear country. There are a lot of small boutique reloading companies springing up, who cater to those who want the super hot magnum/specialty loads, it’s really hard to beat what they have to offer, unless you already have the loading/casting gear.
    Another thing is yard/estate sales, I just got some old Lyman reloading gear from the 50’s, a buddy picked it up and GAVE it to me! A turret press and luber/sizer in excellent condition with several bullet molds and dies too.
    Reloading components are getting to where they’re so expensive you can barely break even today. I’m glad I started 40 yrs ago, I’ve had a lot of fun and saved some money along the way too.

    • Wirecutter says:

      Oh great, leave it to you to fuck up my post….. Asshole…..
      Actually, I enjoy the fuck-off time – it zombies me out.
      Seriously it’s not that bad once you get into a rhythm, I even had an ex that tried to get her into it but I refused because that was my escape from HER.

      • SemperFi, 0321 says:

        Glad to be of help.
        I love to reload and relax in my shop, but the honest reality is; it’s getting very expensive to shoot; factory or reloads. There’s more to it than trying to save money though, it’s the experience, kinda like sex. Then you become like an oversexed 15 yr old and can’t stop playing with yourself. Buying more components, and neater bullets, and more gun parts to keep from blowing your face off, and then there’s all the newest gimmicks and machines like digital powder measures (they break often, read reviews before you buy!) and just no end to all the goodies you can waste your hard earned cash on.
        Did I miss anything?

  7. Jesse Bogan says:

    I use my dads old presses A Lyman that takes 310 dies, perfect for handgun stuff, and I have 2 of his old Herters presses, a single stage and a double single stage. The double is older than I am and I am 58. None of them show any signs of wearing out. I am just starting to reload, and still weigh each and every powder charge. Easy to do, and impossible to make a mistake. I had no mentor, so I read everything I could get my hands on, read all the loading manuals I have a few of which go back to the late 50s and early 60s, and watched some stuff on youtube.. So far so good, have not had a squib, and have not hurt any of my S&Ws either. Good website to look at is cast boolits..

  8. Mac says:

    Casting is the next step in the evolution. The quest for cheap lead and pouring your own adds another dimension to the experience.

  9. Elmo says:

    If you’re in the market for reloading equipment, don’t overlook eBay. New or used, they’ll have what you’re looking for.
    I think if you’re going to start reloading it’s good to have a mentor that’s just a phone call away, as you’ll have questions that might come up while you’re in the process (ie; how much to flare/crimp, and a thousand others).
    And if you’re going to load rifle, it’s really important to understand headspace. Really important.

    One thing about learning is that I can’t think of an experienced handloader/reloader that isn’t glad to share what he knows with others. They’re good people like Kenny.

    Oh, and one more thing. If you’re going to buy brass, Starline in Sedalia, MO is great brass, and when you order direct from them it’s a super bargain (free shipping!). They’re good people, too.

    • Wirecutter says:

      I LOVE STARLINE!!!!!
      It’s great brass whether it’s for the caliber you’re loading or wildcatting.
      Yeah, I’m willing to help out anybody with anything gun related.

      • Elmo says:

        $100.50 / 500 or $176 / 1000 for 41 Mag, shipping included – How can you beat that?
        Ooops. There I go with that weird obsession for 41 Mag again. Sorry.

  10. mark says:

    When you have enough primers/ powder / projectiles, you become immune to the goofy market swings.

    We’ve had 8 years of the greatest gun salesman in the world swelling the ranks of gun owners beyond belief. A run on ammo can happen anytime.

    As much as Obozo’s Brownshirts put in ammo orders, it behooves you to have the ability to roll yer own.

    • Elmo says:

      Amen, Brother. And that’s also the way you better roll in the land of Moonbeam’s/DeLeon’s/Newsom’s Brownshirts, too.

  11. Tsquared says:

    I grew up with my dad and uncles reloading. I have a RockChucker and Dillon 550. The 550 has been set up for 9mm the past 9 months for volume. I have had the RockChucker 20+ years. I use it to load my “new load” data or small batch rifle. Reloading is a must if you do any serious shooting especially if you have any odd-ball calibers.

    I differ my process with the RC a little. Once I have added the powder charge I will set the bullet to the desired OAL. Once I have the desired amount I will then run them through the taper crimp to finish it out.

    • bill says:

      I love the Dillon primer crimp remover. Have some LC brass and it makes reloading them a breeze now.

  12. Roger says:

    Great article Kenny. The comments following are also great. The only thing I can add from my 40 years of reloading pistol, rifle & shotgun ammo experience is to buy quality equipment.
    Cheap presses, scales, etc do not last. Buy good quality stuff once & use it forever. Heavy cast iron presses are damn near indestructible & do not flex, bend or deform.

  13. Marshall says:

    Wirecutter,

    I got into reloading in 2012 to: 1) save money, and 2) if things go to crap, to be able to make something in high demand that I can barter for other stuff I might want. Therefore, I have die sets for every common and popular caliber (and some uncommon ones too). When reloading supplies dried up after Sandy Hook, I decided to go back a step and learn how to cast bullets, make gunpowder, and reload primers (yes it can be safely done). While I continue to stockpile components for the future (especially powder), I feel confident that even if the government decided to (try) to restrict reloading components, I would still be able to make ammunition without a pause for a very long time. It is also a skill that can make you a useful contributor to your local patriots.

    Marshall

  14. Jesse Bogan says:

    One of the guns I inherited from my dad is a Stevens 44 1/2 single shot that he built in the late 50s. It is chambered in 218 Mashburn bee. When we went through his stuff I found about 50 rounds of his reloads, but I never found the dies. If anyone has a line on brass or dies for the Mashburn Bee, I would LOVE to hear about it.

    • Elmo says:

      Call RCBS customer service at 1-800-379-1732.
      The set is special order (Group G), part #56030 and cost $151.95.
      Sounds expensive, but it’s really not much more than I’ve paid for a couple of Redding Deluxe die sets I’ve bought on sale.
      And if anybody can help with brass it will be Huntington’s, which is right next door to RCBS in Oroville, CA. (Fred Huntington founded RCBS in 1943.)

    • Elmo says:

      And Graf’s has a set in stock, $165.99 plus $7.95 shipping. Ouch!
      http://www.grafs.com/retail/catalog/product/productId/15725

  15. Jesse Bogan says:

    Thanks guys. Spendy? Yeah a little, but it beats not being able to shoot the old mans rifle. My Brother and I split his guns between us. He got the well sporterized 03A3, and I took the Stevens. Both were built by him as a young man. I have yet to find who barrelled the Stevens, but I have letters between him and PO Ackley talking about it. Means a lot to me to have it in action.

    • Elmo says:

      That’s awesome. Parker Otis Ackley was the man!
      One of these days I’m going to build a 250 Savage AI. I think you may have just rekindled the fire.

      • SemperFi, 0321 says:

        And I’ve learned from experience that a tapered shoulder has less recoil than a sharp one. Ackley had a lot of followers, the same ones who bought Weatherby’s later. But do you think a deer knows that it got hit by a bullet 100 fps faster from an ’06 AI instead of a regular ’06?
        Go shoot a .300 H&H and then try a .300 WinMag in the same type rifle with exact same handloads. I’ll opt for the H&H any day of the week. It’s easy on the shoulder and easy on the throat.

        • Wirecutter says:

          Y’all are beyond me – I’ve never shot either a 338 or a 300. Never had a need to.

        • Elmo says:

          It’s not just about velocity. Ackley was big on efficiency. That’s why I’m interested in the 250 Savage AI.
          He also found the 40 degree shoulder reduces flow of the brass into the neck and reduces the need for neck trimming while at the same time increasing brass life.

          If you’re a reloader and have never read either of his books you should. They’re really interesting.

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