Over the years, we have prepared a short series of articles, to help you with the basic orientation in reloader’s jungle. Should you have a suggestion on the articles, or even your own one – don’t hesitate and contact us!
Your team STROBL.CZContent:
- Safety first
- How to get started
- How to choose a reloading press
- Brass case cleaning
- Bullet casting
- Case preparation
- Loading tables, load data
- Sample from Petr Leitnar's reloading book - Proper die adjustment, case preparation, basic reloading principles
Everything we do in your lives, we do by some set rules. Driving a car requires you to have a license and follow certain behavior – watching the speed limit, having the seatbelt on, driving on the correct side of the road...
It’s basically the same with shooting and reloading. We have to obey our local gun laws and always think about safety of us and our surroundings. If we follow all of the safety recommedations, there’s nothing to be scared of. Most competitive shooters reload their ammo – and we do so, too.
Most importantly: keep your reloading components away from sources of heat; absolutely no open fire is permitted anywhere near your reloading bench and/or components; lead and it’s fumes are toxic, use proper ventilation when working with that; use simple logic to prevent any possible dangerous scenario.
Basic reasons for reloading:
- Your ammo is cheaper
- It’s also more accurate
- You set it’s power to your liking (or IPSC factors)
- It’s fun to reload
- You’ll finally start to shoot more
Naturally, the more expensive is the factory round – and the higher is volume you need – the higher are the savings. For example: basic, cheap factory-made 9mm Luger ammo costs about 5 CZK per round. You can reload this round for about 2-3 CZK, depending on the components used.
Reloader’s way is also the only meaningful way to shoot some of the exotic calibers, too. Well, unless you are sitting on a gold mine, that is.
How to begin reloading?
Good question – for starters, you need just a few basic tools:
Case tumbler (means of cleaning the brass)
- There are basically 2 main types of brass cleaning – wet and dry.
We use dry cleaning, since it gets the job done too and it‘s much easier process.
Wet cleaning produces nicer brass, but it’s too much of a stretch just for looks. For starters, we suggest going with dry cleaning. It’s cheap, quick and easy. You can hop on the wet train anytime later, if you decide so.
- Now this is the important part. The choice of your press depends on your expectations from it. Do you expect to load rifle ammo, or just pistol rounds? One or more calibers? These are the questions you have to ask yourself, to pick the right press for you. Are you not sure? No problem, you can always contact us and consult the options.
- Rule of thumb: For rifle calibers, it’s better to get a rigid single stage press. For pistol calibers, there is no meaningful benefit in single stage presses, you may want to focus on greater loading speed. Great option is e.g. Lee Classic Turret press, or progressive presses. We love Classic Turret, since it’s reliable, cheap and allows quick and simple caliber change. You may find we talk about this press a lot.
- Expect your ammo consumption to go up, because it will. Your ammo will be chaper, so you will start going to the range regularly. You will start seeing better results on target, which will motivate you to shoot even more.
- If you try to save time by having your kid reload (like Strobl sr. did), you may find the ammo consumption doubles. Strobl jr. is the living proof :)
„I’m not doing it for free… I do it for a shelter, food and ammo.“ – Strobl jr.
- Quick or slow, clean or dirty-burning… there are many powder types from many manufacturers. Good option is to ask experienced reloaders for their loads. As always, you can ask us – we are always happy to help you with your pick.
- Picking the primers is not so high alchemy. Let‘s suppose you will use Boxer-type primers, as the only commonly loaded primers. If there is a single flash hole in your brass cases, it’s made for Boxer primers.
There are still many variants from many manufacturers, but there are just 2 main types (pistol, rifle) and 2 main sizes (large, small). Type and size is determined by your caliber e.g. 9mm Luger uses small pistol primers. There may be some exceptions, though. Not sure? Ask!
- You can either pick from the broad offer of bullets of many shapes and properties, or you may cast your own lead bullets. For competitive shooting, nothing beats a good homemade lead bullet. It requires another equipment though.
Either way, it’s the best to consult your pick with someone experienced. Again, we will be pleased to guide you through the process.
HOW DO I PICK THE RIGHT RELOADING PRESS?
Reloading press is the key component of your bench. Sum up what do you expect of your press. Do you expect to reload rifle or pistol ammo only? Or maybe both? Would you like to change calibers often? What about the volume? Remember, your ammo consumption will most probably go up.
All of the reloading presses on our web are of high quality, were tested and bench-proven by years of practical use. Most of the presses were tested by us, some we still use to this day.
To make your pick as easy as possible, we have prepared Reloading Kits, which include a press and everything the press should be equipped with – including correct die set. Simply order a kit and tell us the caliber (or calibers) you’d like to reload! We will put it together, maybe do a few adjustments to tailor the kit specifically to your needs and you’re all set! The only things you’ll need are consumables – gun powder, primers and bullets. Brass cases can be found on shooting ranges and picked for free, or bought new. Brass cases will last you many reloads. You will probably lose them more often, than damage.
Single stage press
The simplest press, immortal classic, to this day undefeated champion of rifle calibers. Least number of moving parts make this kind of presses the most precise, and most reliable. Basically, the only thing that moves is the piston with shell holder!
One operation per pulling a lever, one die installed. You run through all of the brass cases you have prepared, then you switch die, run next operation on all – and so on.
In terms of accuracy, this is the best kind of press. Good enough for rifle calibers, where you also appreciate it’s toughness, and won’t mind the lengthy process.
For pistol calibers, you’ll want something faster than this. Faster single stage? Maybe something like…
There are many turret-style presses, like Lyman’s All-American, but one press stands out. Lee Precision Classic Turret press.
To make the press as fast as possible while keeping it simple, Lee Precision decided to add a tool head with 4 die positions on a single stage press. The toolhead (referred as “turret head”) is automatically indexed, so you just keep pulling the lever and adding the components. You insert the brass empty and take it out loaded. With a bit of practice, you can easily get to over 200 rounds per hour.
Caliber change is super easy. You swap the whole turret head and change shell holder. It takes 30 seconds – maybe 40 seconds, if you need to change the priming arm as well.
Long story short, this is the best press for you, if you look for decent yet inexpensive machine for pistol rounds, or expect to change calibers often.
How to make the loading machines even faster? Let it be full auto!
Well, not really, but it’s pretty much close. Progressive presses excel at one thing, and it’s making the rounds fast. It’s still highly precise, as you’d expect, but the main point of going progressive is the gargantuan increase in speed. Fully equipped Dillon Super 1050 with case feeder, bullet feeder lets you go WAY over 1000 rounds per hour, and it can be easily automated with Mark 7 Autodrive. So yes, you actually can say your press goes full auto at 1000 rounds per hour. When you go for progressive press, you look for possible ways of upgrade in the future – you look for speed, and these presses aren’t cheap, so you will want something that can be easily upgraded in the future. Dillon XL750 and SUPER 1050 are good picks.
Why is it so fast? On top of the press, there is a toolhead equipped with dies, much like Turret press’, but these do not revolve. Instead of a shell holder, these presses use shell plate, which carry multiple brass cases at a time. Basically, the process goes like this – you pull the operation lever and one case is fed in the shell plate. Pull again. The case is sized and shell plate indexes, as another case is fed. Also, the first case is primed. Pull again. First case gets powder charge. Second case is sized and primed, third case is fed. Pull again. First case gets the bullet seated, others follow as before, fourth case is fed. The shell plate is now full. You pull the lever, first case gets crimped (others, naturally, follow order of operations) and as the shell plate indexes to be fed with another empty case, the first case, now a finished round, is ejected. From now on, each pull of a lever results in a complete round.
All the operations are done simultaneously, so there’s obvious problem – this is NOT for new, inexperienced reloaders. Sometimes even the experienced reloaders prefer a Turret, because here, the things get really complicated. When these things jam, you need to know exactly what you are doing, or you can cause an irreversible damage to the press. The construction is everything but simple, change of calibers… you don’t want to change calibers here, but if you have to, it’s not so quick and simple, but it’s possible.
Expect it to be expensive, but for competitive shooters, who empty buckets of 9mm or .223 ammo, this is the best companion ever. You will want to accompany it with a Turret press on the side, to reload all your other calibers like .45, .38, .357… because you won’t want to do a caliber change here.
A few concluding words
Thanks for reading the article! To save your time, here is what we usually use:
Lee Precision Classic Cast – This beast of a single stage press will last a few generations. Made to handle a .50 cal, this single-stage press is worth the money. Equipped with Quick-change bushings, it allows for quick and easy change of already pre-set dies, which saves both time and nerves.
Dillon XL750 – Once set for 9mm Luger, and since then it just works.
Dillon Super 1050 – Similar to XL750, but bigger. We run .45 ACP on this beast.
Lee Precision Classic Turret – For all the other small batches of pistol rounds, since single-stage is too slow and rebuilding a progressive press for 200 rounds is… stupid.
CLEAN YOUR BRASS
Cleaning the brass you find on range is highly recommended. There are multiple methods, which can be all reduced to 2 main approaches.
- Dry cleaning
- Wet cleaning
Both has it plus and cons, but keeping in mind, that wet cleaning is not so easy (deprime cases, do the cleaning cycle, let it dry) as dry cleaning (put the brass in a tumbler, take them out after few hours), we strongly recommend you to do the same as we did – do it the dry way.
For dry cleaning, any vibrating case tumbler works good. Value Frankford Arsenal Quick-N-EZ, big Lyman 2500… what matters the most here, is the media, the stuff the brass is tumbling with. The media is usually tufnut or corncob based, often treated by polishing additives.
We use Lyman Corncob (treated), as it seems to work the best for us.
After dry cleaning, either take the brass out by hand, use rotary separator, or an inexpensive sifter.
CAST YOUR OWN BULLETS
Reloading your ammo, you expect higher accuracy and lower price.
The bullets you can buy allow you to load ammo with superb accuracy. BUT maybe you can do even better job, and you probably can. It’s also another thing you can save on.
We are talking about casting your own bullets. This sounds trivial – and it is, in a way – but it also requires the operator to have a bit technical background.
What do you need?
- Bullet molds
- Means of bullet calibration (sizing die)
- Means of bullet lubrication (bullet lube)
- Access to lead or lead alloys
For our use, the best option is electric melter with bottom spout and mold rest. Bigger and fuller pot means more stable temperature and the more consistent alloy. Homogenous alloy means precise bullets. We use Lee PRO 4-20, which holds about 10 kg of lead alloy.
There are many manufacturers, producing many types of molds. In respect to price and casting speed, we have selected Lee Precision 6-cavity molds. It consists of aluminum 6-cavity molds and handles, which has to be bought separately. Using the molds correctly, it will cast many thousand bullets. We use 3 molds at a time, I will explain why later.
Using the molds correctly stands for smoking and lubrication of the molds and checking the middle screw’s tension. In case the molds are not lubricated properly, it will not align and close properly, which will over time lead to its damage. It’s a good idea to renew the lubrication during longer casting sessions. Closing the molds while pointing it down is another way to prolong its life. This way the aligning pins do their job effortlessly and always consistently.
To lube the molds, we suggest using Lyman Super Moly Spray.
Now, why do we use 3 identical bullet molds at a time?
If you use 1 mold, you fill it with liquid lead, let it cool (30-60 secs, depends on temperature, lead mass and mold type), open the mold and pour the bullets out. Refill the mold and repeat.
If you use 3 molds, you fill first, fill second, fill third, putting them aside on an inflammable pad. By the time you have filled the third mold, the first has cooled-off enough to be opened, emptied and refilled. Then you grab the second mold… the casting speed is three times faster.
Calibration press – bullet sizing
Cast lead bullets have to be sized to uniform diameter. Sizing die does this. You can use it with any single stage press. The operation’s simple – every single bullet has to be pushed through the die. It doesn’t take long, but it’s an important process.
Cast lead bullets have to be lubed – twice, to be exact. Both before and after sizing. Thankfully, the lube is super cheap and easy to use. We use Lee Liquid Alox.
Put your bullets in a suitable container (e.g. plastic bowl). The bullets should be in just one layer, so you will probably do this in more steps. After you have the bullets in the container, you add a bit of the lube and start mixing it up by shaking and circling the container. After a while, visually check the bullets and check the lube. If there wasn’t enough lube, add more and mix it again. After all of the bullets are covered in a thin film of lube, you can pour them on a vaxed paper and let it dry. The drying takes about 24 hours.
For reloading, we are usually looking for hard lead. The usual 9mm Luger or .45 ACP is loaded using lead of 15 BHN hardness. For .38 Special and .357 Magnum, we use an alloy of 22 BHN.
Correct lead hardness can be achieved by ordering lead of specified hardness from the ironworks (which is not cheap), or you can alloy the lead yourself using tin and antimony. Ask reloaders in your area how, do they do it. To check the hardness of your alloy, you can use Lee Lead Hardness Testing Kit.
Keep in mind, that lead and its fumes are toxic. Hot lead can cause serious burns. Always work with lead in ventilated environment and use appropriate safety measures.
THE LEAD INSERTED IN MELTER HAS TO BE ABSOLUTELY DRY!
Case preparation (cleaning and conditioning)
When fired, the cartridge is stretched in the direction of the shot. This is a common phenomenon, but it is necessary to eliminate it, especially in case of rifle cartridges. For this purpose, we use special tools to achieve the required cartridge length. At the same time, it is necessary to ensure that the primer pocket and the flash hole are in optimal (clean) condition.
There are many tools to achieve the perfect case condition, we prefer Lee Precision and Lyman products.
Following tools are universal for all calibers:
- Cutter and Lock Stud
- Primer Pocket Cleaner
- Chamfer Tool
Shell holder is supplied for free with every Lee case length gauge. The trimmer can be operated either by hand, or you can attach it to a cordless drill – which is a good idea, since you probably already have one at home.
Loading tables, load data
Every manufacturer supplies load data for its components. Always refer to these manuals, never exceed maximum loads, and when developing a new load, always work from the bottom (weakest charge). Stay safe.
For reference, here are some examples:
VECTAN - NOBEL SPORT
- Catalog of new Vectan powders, includes load tables
- ONLINE load calculator Vectan (Handgun)
- ONLINE load calculator Vectan (Rifle)
LOVEX - EXPLOSIA, a.s.
- Load data Lovex 2020 (Includes load data for ARES bullets)
RELOADING SWISS - RS