Reloading firearm cartridges: Part 1
by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier
This report covers:
- It costs too much
- Case preparation
- Cleaning detergent
- At what cost?
- Why reload?
- No reloading equipment
- Why tell you this…
One of the guys at my church asked me to show him how to reload cartridges and by the time everyone standing nearby had chimed in there were five guys on my list — including one man’s son. I remember many years ago when reader Matt61 asked me to teach him and we did it online through Skype. As we did I noted that Matt knew everything to do, but he wanted someone watching to make sure he did it right.
My brother-in-law, Bob, did pretty much the same thing several years ago. That tells me that a lot of people want to learn to reload! And why wouldn’t you want to learn? Ammunition is in very short supply at present, unless you reload. And the current situation has opened the eyes of a lot of people to the futility of depending on store-bought ammo. Yes, we shoot airguns, but there are some things that only firearms can do.
It costs too much
Before recently the biggest objection to reloading was the initial cost. That objection has evaporated in light of the current ammo shortage. However, it doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg to get started. Most guys will focus on a single-stage press when they want to start reloading. Many will look at something like the RCBS RockChucker that retails for $180.00
The RCBS RockChucker is a fine single-stage reloading press, but the cost may be too high for some.
Since there is more to buy than just a press, that represents the start of a large expense. A Lee Challenger press can be purchased for as little as $77, and I highly recommend something like that, but some guys don’t have a workbench to bolt it to and the price may still be too high. Those guys get the Lee Hand Press, instead.
Before I move on, remember that buying used is an option. A reloading press wears out about as fast as an anvil.
At $77, the Lee Challenger is about as cheap as a new bench-mounted press gets.
At $42 the Lee hand press is as simple as it gets today.
I have learned over the years that preparing the cartridge cases is paramount to reloading well. A clean case loads much easier than one that’s dirty. It takes longer to do it right but the results are worth the effort.
The biggest concern is the primer pockets. They must be scrupulously clean in order to seat the primers properly.
What I do is deprime the cases, then tumble them for several hours. I use stainless steel pins as my tumbling media. Some who reload tumble their cases in vibratory tumblers, but I have found that to be less than satisfactory. The cases don’t always get completely clean — especially inside — and the primer pockets almost never do. A rotary rock tumbler is the best way to do it.
I use a rotary tumbler to clean my cases. I let it run for 8-10 hours.
With the stainless steel pins I fill the tub 3/4 of the way with water, some Dawn detergent to soften the water and two tablespoons of Brass Shine detergent.
Stainless steel pins and detergent clean the brass.
Brass Shine is made expressly for cleaning cartridge cases in tumblers.
At what cost?
I am writing all of this from the point of view of having done it for the past 55 years. I know what works and what doesn’t. Cleaning primer pockets with a scraper or a wire brush doesn’t work that well, plus it takes a lot longer. When I finish tumbling my cases look like new and the effort was low.
These brass .357 Magnum cases were cleaned before by an alternative method but they still don’t sparkle.
After cleaning in Brass Shine, the cases sparkle!
My method of case cleaning gets every primer pocket scrupulously clean! This is very important.
If all of this sounds like a lot of work — it is! But when we get into the actual reloading process this preparation speeds up the work and gives a good chance of success.
In years gone by we reloaded to get more accurate ammunition. We also did it to save money over commercial ammo.
Today we reload to have something to shoot. Because the ammo makers are going full blast and people are buying up everything they make. Not only can you not buy ammo, there are no primers, very little gunpowder, and almost no bullets. That’s because people who reload are dusting off their equipment.
No reloading equipment
Not only are supplies unavailable — so are reloading presses, dies and bullet molds. If it has something to do with making cartridges, chances are you can’t get it right now. But I have been putting things aside for years so I have all that I need. A half ton of lead keeps me in bullets. And I don’t go to the range without sweeping up every cartridge case I find. Been doing it for years and I have hundreds and even thousands of cases for key calibers.
Why tell you this…
… when there is no chance of your getting into reloading? Well, that’s just it — there IS a chance to get into it! When my brother-in-law, Bob, got into it a few years ago, things were hard, too. Today he has thousands of cartridge cases, hundreds of loaded rounds, dies, powder, primers and everything he needs to keep shooting. My neighbor, Denny started asking me about reloading. He had almost nothing he needed three months ago. This morning I took a picture of his new Dillon Square Deal B progressive press.
My neighbor went from not being able to purchase 9mm cartridges to being able to reload 300 rounds per hour in three months of trying. He and his three sons went together to make it affordable.
In this series I will show you how a firearm cartridge is loaded. There is no reason not to have ammunition at any time!