Reloading Tools for the Beginner
(The most frequently asked questions)
by Scott Crawford - July 18, 2020
1st off let me welcome you to the wonderful world of small batch ammo manufacturing. If you’re reading this you have an interest in buying a reloading kit or just seeing how you did when you started the process. Whether you are Matthew Quigley or from generation “Z”, if you are making ammo you need a set of tools to do so. You can use some basic tools at minimal cost or spend a great deal all producing reliable ammunition, the choice is yours.
38 Special Starline Brass & Hornady 125-grain XTP's
Probably the most frequent question asked of me regarding hand loading is “what is the best kit to start with”? My personal feelings on available starter kits are they are just that, starter kits and they won’t have everything you should have. They are the easiest way to get started on the materials you will need however in my mind, not the best value for the money. I didn’t start with a “starter kit”, I bought individual items that I knew would serve my purpose.
Lyman Ideal Press
A quick note on general types of presses in order of simplicity, price & ammunition accuracy. There are many manufacturers of hand loading equipment, all producing good quality hardware. Which brand you buy becomes a personal investment in this equipment often driven by overall looks, color, available options, etc!
Frankford Arsenal M-Press
I bought my equipment based on overall value. Knowing that everything on the market would produce “good enough” ammo to shoot safely & reliably. I decided to invest in the lower price press, good quality dies and solid hand tool “accessories” that would get the job done. I didn’t care about speed, I focused on good enough to build ammo.
So I bought a cheap cast aluminum C frame Lee press for around $27 ($48 today). Then I bought Hornady New Dimension dies ($48) which were capable of loading full length brass or the shorter brass often used with Hornady’s proprietary Leverrevolution FTX bullets. Note! I have loaded more than 10,000 rounds on that press from 38 special to 458 Winchester Magnum. Mostly 45-70 so you can see it can take a beating at a low price. Recently I've changed over to two newer single stage presses. The Frankford Arsenal M-Press ($121) and the Lyman Ideal Press ($90). I plan on loading revolver cartridges on the Lyman & rifle on the Frankford Arsenal.
Another area that requires attention is powder dispensing and measurement. Depending on your needs you can use powder dippers like Quigley or measure down to a tenth of a grain on electronic scales (30), the later being much safer to the end user! So you should seriously consider buying a powder dispenser and a scale. I use both, a beam scale and an electronic scale after dispensing from a Lee Perfect Powder Measure ($26). This is the lowest cost powder dispenser, other more expensive dispensers are available. In fact if you want to spend the money you can buy various brands of combined dispensers and electronic scales which are really nice.
Various equipment & components
Once you’ve picked your press, dies, dispensers & scales you can move onto the hand tools & misc. equipment. I’ll start with the starting point. Buy a hand loading book ($28), buy as many as you can afford. From my experience I’d start with either Lee’s or Lyman’s but any book that both provides load data and the “how to” details is worth the investment. You can’t have too many of these. Then I’ll talk about priming your empty brass cases. Some presses come with an integral priming tool. I actually prefer to hand prime my brass as a separate process. I use a Lee hand primer ($30) however every manufacturer markets their own. You will also need separate shell holders ($8 each) for your press & your hand primer.
You will need to lube your brass (rifle brass) and hand gun brass cases unless you buy Carbide or Tungsten lined dies when sizing the case and removing the spent primer. I use these carbide dies for handgun dies and I lube my rifle brass before sizing. I use Hornady One Shot case lube spray ($11) but there are other types that you rub on your brass. I prefer the spray.
You will need primer pocket reamers (small & large) ($12), case neck chamfer tools ($8) (internal/external) and at some point in time you will need to trim your brass to a certain length. Brass grows in length the more you use it. Depending on your cartridge type & how hot you load it it should last up to ten or more times before you should discard it. You’ll also want a six inch vernier, dial or digital caliper ($25) to measure both, your brass length & your combined overall length (COAL) of your loaded round.
After I fire my brass I like to clean it in a dry tumbler with a media such as corn cob or crushed walnut. That means you will eventually want either a tumbler or wet media cleaner. My dry media tumbler is made by a Lyman and cost around $70. . I’ve used this one every week since 2009. They last a great while.
Don’t forget a powder funnel, mine is a Lee for about $3. You can spend up to $100 if you are so inclined for pretty aluminum funnels with colorful powder coated neck adaptors in a kit. Add in a powder trickler for finishing out your powder measurement and a load tray ($10) to hold your cases upright. You may want to add a bullet puller for those mistakes we all make. You can buy either an inertia hammer type ($15), a press adapter or a Frankford Arsenal wall mounted pile driver bullet puller ($50).
Next it’s time to start thinking about your components ( Brass, Primers, Powder & Bullets). Depending on what you plan on shooting, game, targets, or personal protection there are many, many choices of bullets. When you pick your bullet it’s time to look up load data for your specific bullet. Don’t forget which firearm you’re going to shoot it in. Depending on which firearm you will narrow your choices. Note! For instance, if you are going to load a 45-70 round, you need to consider if it is for an old “trapdoor” firearm, a modern lever gun such as a Current Henry or Marlin or for a rifle such as a Ruger No. 1. There are three different types of loads. You could shoot a “trapdoor” load in all three types of lever guns but you shouldn’t shoot a Ruger load in any of these other rifles and so on.
Buying quality components is recommended because repeatability, quality, and in the case of brass cartridges lifespan means a lot. I have always used Winchester primers just because that’s what I started with however all brands seem to be very reliable. Regarding brass, I use StarlineBrass almost exclusively because of how long it lasts. There are so many types and brands of powder to choose from however you will primarily choose your powder based on recommended load data and that powders availability. I prefer a Hodgdon powder. The wonderful world of bullets is almost never ending so picking the right one for your need may seem overwhelming. Do some research or go online and ask questions. You’ll find hand loaders are willing to share their experiences.
There are all kinds of add on equipment to make loading easier, more repeatable however to get started in the small batch hand loading game the equipment that I’ve mentioned will get you on the range shooting your own ammo safely.
Marlin 1894 & 45 Colt Starline Brass Hand Loads
IN THIS ARTICLE
Lyman Products Starline Brass Frankford Arsenal Lee Precision Hodgdon Marlin Firearms Winchester Components Hornady Reloading