Reloading firearm cartridges: Part 2

by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

Part 1

This report covers:

  • Military primer crimp
  • Almost done
  • Seating primers
  • Lee Loader
  • Summary

There was a LOT of interest in this report on reloading — more than I expected. And, believe it or not, I’m not finished discussing case preparation. Last week I offered to teach a man who attends my church and his son how to reload and said we would make 100 .223 Remington/5.56mm cartridges in the process. Well, that was cool, so I took my own advice and tumble-cleaned about 120 cases to get ready. Then I read the headstamps on the cleaned cartridges and saw a big problem. Most of the cases I had cleaned were military ones that I collected from my range after the local sheriff’s department went through qualification training. They get military ammo through government channels; I believe it is less expensive for them.

cleaned cases
Cleaned cases on the left. The discoloration at the neck and shoulder of the uncleaned cases on the right is from the annealing (softening by heating) process the case undergoes at the factory.

The military specifies a crimp on the primer of all their rifle and machine gun cartridges. The M1 Carbine round is the only American military rifle cartridge I know of whose primer isn’t crimped. The crimp is to hold the primer in place during full-auto fire, so it doesn’t fall out and jam the gun. It isn’t a large crimp, but it’s enough to prevent new primers from being seated in the case. You can try, but I guarantee you — you’ll mess up the primers, if they go in at all. If you are going to reload 5.56mm cartridges, you need to remove that crimp.

556 crimp
The 5.56mm cartridge on the right has a crimped primer. That’s the indented ring you see around the primer pocket. Although the primer has been removed, that crimp is still in the way of reloading a new one. The commercial .223 Remington cartridge on the left has no crimp, as you can see.

To remove the crimp you can either swage out the metal (push it out of the way) or you can ream it out (cut it out). I have swaged hundreds of primer pockets in the past and it is a long, slow process. Reaming works just as well and takes about a third of the time. A primer pocket swaging machine costs $130+. A tool to ream the pocket costs about $17. It’s faster and cheaper to ream. Do the math.

deburring tool
This cartridge case deburring tool will also ream the crimp out of a military primer pocket.

I haven’t addressed cartridge case deburring tools yet, but I will in the next report. Removing military primer pocket crimps is just another handy thing they do. The nice thing is their blades are set at the perfect angle to remove the crimp without damaging the rest of the primer pocket.

reamed pocket
Three twists of the cartridge case deburring tool in less than 10 seconds removed the primer crimp without damaging the pocket. This is the same case that is shown with the crimp above.

Once the crimp is removed you can put primers into the case. Most reloading presses have attachments for this, but in my experience they are not very accurate. I had a heck of a time putting in primers with my RCBS Rockchucker. In fact the only press that’s ever allowed me to seat primers correctly is the Forster Co-Axial press. They are the absolute most precise single-stage reloading presses ever made. However, with an MSRP of $528 and a street price of $350, they are very expensive.

The Forster Co-Axial press is the most precise single-stage reloading press around. It’s expensive, but it does good work and it seats primers like it was made to!

Almost done

The case preparation is almost finished. I have already deprimed the cases, so they could be cleaned. Now we can use the reloading dies in the press to resize the case to fit into a standard rifle chamber. With a semiautomatic rifle like the AR-15 resizing is important, Since the cases will be fed into the chamber rapidly they have to be smaller than the chamber into which they are loaded. The base of each case is the point of greatest concern.  Another die opens the case neck to accept a new bullet. Another die seats the bullet and the final die crimps the neck around the bullet to keep it tight during handling.

Seating primers

As I said before, once the primer pocket is ready (cleaned and de-crimped) you can seat a new primer. I have used many different reloading presses to do this over the past 50+ years and none other than the Forster Co-Ax was suitable. What I have used for the past 40 years is a hand primer press like this one from Lee. It’s not perfect but once you get accustomed to how it operates, it goes fast and is relatively reliable.

Lee primer press
The Lee Auto-Prime hand-operated primer press is more precise for seating primers than a single-stage reloading press.

I’m now going to address a different type of reloader that some of you have mentioned in your comments.

Lee Loader

I have been teaching you how to reload with a single-stage press that uses reloading dies. I would call that the conventional way. But there is a simpler way. The simplest reloading setup is the Lee Loader. It costs less than $30 and is a great way to  break into reloading. I referred to it in Part 1 without mentioning it or going into detail, but so many of you mentioned it in the comments that I feel obligated to cover it now. Instead of a reloading press you use a plastic-tipped hammer to drive the cartridge into and out of the reloading dies and to seat the primer.

This 47 second video shows how it works:


Since the Lee only sizes the neck of the cartridge it is not suitable for cartridges that go into semiautomatic rifles. They need to be fully resized.


I will stop at this point, but there is a lot more to come. If you have questions please ask them now so I can address them in the upcoming segments.

50 thoughts on “Reloading firearm cartridges: Part 2

  1. The only time I reloaded was a class at the local cc. We used dillon presses and made the ammo for the rest of the class in about an hour. so for me it was 500 rds of .40 s&w. Seemed like an easy process.

  2. B.B.,

    I never knew how fast the process could be until the YouTube clip showed how. I wonder how much time and additional tools will be needed to add case sizing as a step?


    PS: Section Seating primers Illustration description: The Lee Auto-Prime hand-operated primer press is more precise for seationg (seating) primers than a single-stage reloading press.

  3. B.B.,

    I started using a Lee hand press when I was 17. That was in 1957. My friend Eddie and I loaded for an ’03 A3. We did some dumb things with that press and rifle but survived because God is gracious and the ’03 A3 had a strong action. Some of our experiments cost me my present hearing loss. A word to the wise, do protect your hearing, Use ear plugs followed by ear muffs. Electronic muffs if the budget allows.

    There is a temptation to join the “More is better” club regarding the amount and type fo powder used. Do stick to the published recommendations. In fact, start with a little less than the “hottest” load. Unless you are hunting in the western US where ultra-long-distance ranges are frequent, most big game is taken a ranges of 100 yards or less. My doe blind is in an area in which 30-35 yards will be the most frequent range.

    Life happens and there has been a long dry spell. I bought a Game Hunter 440 to eliminate pests, mostly chipmunks. Then found your blog.

    I now have a Lee turret press and accessories still unboxed on a bench. Also the components for 9mm handgun loads. I think that you have supplied a Round TUIT.


      • RR,

        Some days it’s crickets, some days a waterfall, others frying something. A wonderful variety of sounds and to think, I did it all by my self.

        My wife thinks my hearing loss is selective. 😀


        • LOL! I remember the first time I went to an audiologist, who happened to be a woman. She tested my hearing and said I had severe hearing loss in the range where most women’s voices are. I had proof!

          • Other than the ringing, I have had pretty good hearing until just a couple of years ago. (I am 56 now.)
            My audiologist measured right at 4578hz as the tone i hear constantly.

            If I am in the woods, and its quiet, and I concentrate on a sound I heard, the ringing would go away, for a few seconds, until my concentration lapsed.

            I have had the ringing since my mid 20’s.
            Loud guns, 80’s rock concerts, and max volume headphones eventually takes its toll….

            It has been a good ride, with excellent music and guns..

            I have never looked into it, but i wonder if there is a hearing aid that could cancel out the ringing.


            • 45Bravo,
              My wife had heard that hearing aids could help with tinnitus. She has some hearing loss as was determined by an audiologist. We bought a set of hearing aids from Costco for about $1700 but she said that they did not help with the tinnitus for her. I guess it varies from person to person, and also the type of hearing aid.
              Hearing aids for tinnitus can help decrease the effect of tinnitus by masking the sound with white noise. … Tinnitus is unique from person to person, but with help from your hearing care professional, you can find the right hearing aids for tinnitus to help manage your tinnitus symptoms. (found from Google search)

  4. You cannot get much more simpler than the Lee Loader. The next step up is the Lee Hand Press.

    Now, it you are wanting to resize .308 Winchester brass to 6.5 Creedmoor, you had better get a serious press.

  5. BB,

    This looks like it would be fun to do. Just like getting a compressor or CF tank for a PCP,… get it up front and enjoy it from then on. Having good/proper tools make all the difference and makes any task more enjoyable. Like air guns,.. here you have a cheaper work around that works as good or better. Looking forwards to learning more.


  6. My Lee Loader is for 357/38 special and sizing the case was considerably more difficult than what is shown in the video. I think all new reloaders should start with the Lee just to get the basics of reloading before they progress to a Dillion that puts out hundreds of cases per hour. Just my 2 cents worth.

    • Brent

      Yes, the most basic Lee Loader is fine for a bolt action .243 and as BB states it teaches you exactly what each step does. Also yes to the squeeze type auto primer tool BB uses. My first reload was my Remington 700 BDL in .243 caliber. I still sometimes use the Lee Loader which delivers sub MOA in this rifle.

      Go for it.


    • A side note on reloading for extreme accuracy.
      This side note is about the extreme steps some decide to go to, and is not for the normal reloader or shooter.

      Some shooters resize and lube their cast bullets for uniformity.
      Some shoot paper patched bullets.

      Some of the schutzen shooters use the same cartridge case for each shot, and do not resize it since it is fireformed perfectly to that chamber only.

      With their specialized single shot rifles, they have a special made tool, that seats the projectile to a certain depth every time, and they reload the shell for each shot, and it has an index mark on the shell casing so it is inserted in the same orientation every time.

      The weighed powder charge is put into the case, with a filler over the charge, so the powder is in the same place against the primer for every shot.

      Some of the extreme shooters say they can tell by their groups if the powder was against the primer, laying flat in the case, or against the projectile.

      But Tom will probably expound more on that area when he discusses powders.

      But when you get into the big bore, long range extreme accuracy, there is a lot of witchcraft & voodoo going on.

      Actually, I think I just opened a can of worms that he will have to add another page to the series about reloading.


        • I thought i had read on here some time ago about you having one, but wasn’t sure if i was imagining things..

          That level of firearm accuracy IS BEYOND what i want or need in this point of my life.

          When I started shooting 3 gun in the 1980’s I was using an RCBS single stage, and quickly found i was loading all week every night, just to have ammo so i could compete on the weekends.

          Funds were tight, so I bought a Lee progressive 1000 set up in .45acp.
          I found I could load enough for a whole month in a couple of evenings.


      • Ian,

        “….. a can of worms ……. “,….. was just what I was thinking as I read your comment. I think that if we were all honest,… that level of insanity can carry over to many other hobbies as well.

        ” But when you get into the big bore, long range extreme accuracy, there is a lot of witchcraft & voodoo going on.”,…….. made me laugh!


  7. BB,

    Another reason to use the Lee Auto-Prime or another similar tool is that you can feel when the primer is properly seated. A regular press has so much leverage it is easy to apply too much pressure and possibly damage the priming compound and maybe cause a misfire. It can be done properly, but it definitely takes careful setup.

    Paul in Liberty County

  8. BB-
    Kudos for taking an involved subject and dividing it into small digestible bites for readers who otherwise are unfamiliar with the firearm world and reloading ammunition. Too many overview type articles on the subject throw in details and jargon that only serve to confuse and ultimately turn away potential reloaders.

    It really is simple stuff at heart. Primers, powder and projectiles are expended with each shot. The cartridge case is reused. Any details above and beyond that are dependent upon what the shooter/reloader wants to do. Shoot ammo tailored to your gun for best accuracy? Have lots of blasting ammo for your trip to Knob Creek? The answer to these and many more questions about reloading, is Yes!

  9. So you don’t have to trim the neck with any tool separate than the Lee Loader? I guess the only other things I would need to get are a tumbler with some stainless steel pins and perhaps a scale if I wanted to experiment with powder charges. I do think you need to address leaving empty space in the case because that is a real no no with blackpowder because it tends to act as an explosive rather than a propellant then.


  10. My reloading days are behind me. Gave my press, dies and supplies to a good friend years ago.

    I reloaded for accuracy. Some reload because of cost savings. Nowadays, some reload just to have something to shoot.

    A friend of mine that lives full time at our fishing club is an avid hunter. This young buck is one of my favorite people since we swap stories regularly of hunting big game. He recently traded his 6.5 creedmore for a Fierce Carbon in 28 nosler. I’ve been out of the game for so long I didn’t even know about the 28 nosler.

    He’s been working up a load for his new gun to get ready for his elk hunt in a few weeks. He’s narrowed it down to 180 gr bergers and is still testing the amount of powder. We took his latest loads to the range on Saturday and shot out to 900 yards. Very impressive cartridge. Heavy gun though for the field but he’s young. This is a prime example of reloading for accuracy.

  11. BB,
    Are there any red flags that should stand out when selecting reusable brass for reloading?
    Can a case become worn out/ unusable?
    Separating mil-spec from commercial is the first.
    You never know. I might be able to reload one day.
    Thank you,

  12. Tom and Edie got me hooked on reloading about 6 or 7 years ago. Matter of fact, going to the range became my secondary hobby and reloading my primary fun time. I usually go to the range after lunch on Fridays and reload over the weekend. For the sake of compactness, I have limited myself to 3 rifle calibers. I have recently added a fourth as I am now hooked on 300 blackout in subsonic. I watched all the YouTube videos on how to modify 223 brass into 300 blackout and bought the chopsaw at Harbor Freight.

    Reloading can get to be a bad habit where your friends and relatives may have to have an intervention. It becomes very difficult to NOT pick up spent brass on the ground at the range and bring it home along with your own used brass. Your ammunition stored at homes simply seems to increase and increase. These days, that can be a good thing. Unfortunately, it has become a real hunt to find the correct primers, bullets and powder for reloading. When I do find primers, I’m usually limited in the number I can purchase.

    I started to reload in the garage but it gets too hot in the summer in Houston and frequently too cold in the winter. My solution was to purchase a used Black & Decker folding work bench on craigslist and modified it so that I can use it inside the house in my study.

    • B-I-L,

      I’ve had a WorkMate for decades. I’ve used it as a makeshift shooting bench but this a new one for me. Please post a couple of other photos from other angles. I see a clamp that is the type that I have. I might get lucky and have the items to make my own reloading bench.

      I’m not above stealing ideas from others. 🙂


      • After a 3 gun match, everyone would pitch in, and pick up the brass, and put it on a table, and everyone would go through and pick out their own brass, identified by a certain mark or permanent marker colors or initial written there.

        I used to use Hot pink fingernail polish on the primer, it served 2 purposes,
        1. Mark my brass by the pink ring around the primer.
        2. It would sel the primer pocket against moisture.

        Not that the ammo would sit long enough to worry about moisture.

        I would run 200-250 rounds of .45 every Sunday in a match, and about the same during the week and on Saturday getting ready for the match.

        Every Sunday there was a match somewhere, Mansura, Bastrop, Baton Rouge, Lafayette.

        Not to mention the larger regional larger cup events.

  13. B.B.,

    At the end of the reloading basics are you going to talk about HOT load, High velocity, heavy for caliber bullets, solids and effects on barrel life and throat erosion and carbon rings and copper fouling and seating depth/jump and all the other horrors of reloading powder burners…not to speak of total cost of upgrades and barrel caliber exchanges and gunsmith fees!
    Pure Airgunners may not know!

    Just sayin….


    • shootski,

      The hottest rounds I ever fired were 105mm APDS (armor-piercing discarding sabot) rounds that move out at one mile per second. A barrel gets only 450 of them in its lifetime. All other rounds are gauged against those full-charge rounds, so we kept a log on equivalent full charge rounds fired for every tube.

      • B.B.,

        Those are HOT!

        On Naval Guns (Rifles for the Big Boys) FER – Fatigue Equivalent Rounds is used now. It used to be EFC or ESR – A means of estimating the remaining accuracy life of a weapon. Accuracy life for a gun or liner is usually expressed as “EFC” meaning Equivalent Full Charges or as “ESR” for Equivalent Service Rounds.
        The 16″ SILK bags of powder days are all gone now… :^(


        • Shootski,

          Naval guns,…. So,… what happens (would happen) in a battle situation where the “life of a weapon” gets shot past it’s limit? Keep shooting? Add a “drooper” mount? 😉


          • Chris USA,

            I was Brown Shoe Navy (Naval Aviation) so I’m not as informed on IF that ever happened. On smal guns I’m sure they carried spares or could meet a supply ship to get replacements. On the BBs and CL (Battle Ships and Cruisers) i suspect they would run out of ammo long before they would shoot out their barrels during an engagement. So you would steam to the rear and have the rifles replaced. They were 16″ x 50; which means the bore is 16 inches in diameter measured from the Lands to Lands; the grooves added 0.30″ to the diameter and the 50 is for length in calibers or 800″. I did get to see some impressive NGS (Naval Gunfire Support) over the years both from the air and on the ground/water. This piece mentions at least one of them if not more: From “Ghostrider One” by Gerry Carroll, published by Simon & Schuster © 1993:

            Battleships – Even though these great warships do not figure in this novel at all, I can’t resist commenting on them. From the earliest days of naval warfare, even the dumbest commanders have known that the thing which is the number-one most important gotta-have-it asset in a fight is weight of metal on the enemy. You can screw up the tactics, but if you’ve got the biggest guns and the heaviest shells coming down on the bad guys accurately, you will probably win. There are all sorts of annoying exceptions to this rule, but it still holds most of its water.

            The BBs were the rulers of the sea up until the Japanese took their little trip to Hawaii in 1941, then were supplanted by the carriers (out of sheer necessity since the American battleships had been abruptly turned into hazards to navigation). The battleships were relegated to a supporting roll and, except for getting dragged out of mothballs for every war we’ve had since World War II, were pretty much finished.

            In the eighties, we recommissioned all four of our Iowa class battleships and deployed them around the world. They carried sixteen-inch guns and fired rounds weighing around 2,700 pounds apiece. The effect was like shooting an entire showroom full of Ford Escorts, packed with high explosive, about twenty-five miles. When the rounds hit, they made instant holes in civilization that were the size of tennis courts. I got to see the New Jersey fire a broadside at somebody in Beirut once, and I still haven’t found the words to describe it.

            This was also effective because the people who were fired upon immediately quit annoying their neighbors and repaired to their graves. The surviving terrorists went home for an underwear change and all was quiet for awhile.

            The battleships have all been mothballed again now and it doesn’t seem the same anymore. When one sees a battleship steaming along, one is seeing Navy and all that that meant through the centuries. There is no weapon on earth that will make a little tinpot dictator sit up and take notice like a battleship slowly cruising off his coast well out of pistola range with her guns trained on his presidential palace. It sort of gives him a little peek at his relative importance in the grand scheme of things. If that peek stops one firefight, however small, or saves one life, or ensures the fairness of one election, then the battleship has earned her keep.

            But, since those things usually happen outside the Capital Beltway, and Dan Rather doesn’t mention them, they matter not at all to the geniuses in Washington. Those events have no bearing on the next election, and every congressman knows that money to measure the effect of cow farts on the ozone layer is far more important than wasting it on a battleship. They’re quite correct, too. It’ll help next year, when the bill to teach cows to say “excuse me” comes out of committee.

            For those of you that read the piece I hope you enjoyed it!


            • Thank you Shootski…I did enjoy the read. It was a little insight into something which most of us have no idea. It’s hard to imagine a 16″ gun shooting a 2700# projectile 27 miles and hitting the intended target, just amazing when you think about it.

              • Geo,

                Given all we have today,.. it is amazing. I think that the guided missiles they have now are probably preferable these days. I imagine that once a 16″ “bullet” leaves the barrel,.. it is going to where it is going to go,.. period.

                I hate to see all that stuff ever having to be used,… but at the same time I am darn glad and proud that we have the capability,.. if ever needed.


                • Chris,
                  Here is a little tidbit of information. I began working on computers back in 1995. I helped out at local computer store here in town. The owner was super smart in all things computer and network related and I wanted to learn. He and I installed the very first network in my workplace for the QC department. If he ever was stumped on a computer problem he would call his brother in Chicago for help. Interestingly, his brother helped developed the software for the smart bombs.
                  I was not paid for working in the computer store. My goal was to learn as much as I could about fixing computers. I got a lot of education over the couple of years I worked there. Computers were much more difficult to repair back then. Rodi ran that business here in town for about ten years and then closed the shop and moved to another location forty miles away. I appreciate that I had that opportunity to learn from Rodi back then and it gave me the confidence to continue a side line of repairing computers. There is no substitute for hands-on experience. Those guys were amazing!

  14. Enjoyed Shootski’s writeup indeed – appreciate, knowledge, humor, sarcasm, irony and all that good stuff.

    When discussing the Lee loader, was intrigued about the comment on resizing cartridge necks and how that was applicable only if the cartridge was going to be used in a non-semi auto or auto firearm. Recently decided to take a “shooter” ’43 K-98 for exercise to an outdoor range; the night before cleaned/lubed it in preparation for the shooting session. Hate to “dry fire” anything, so FM attempted to insert an empty case into the breech and then “fire” it. However, it would go in only about 2/3 of the way and then get stuck. Gave up on that idea; next day the rifle had no trouble with Yugoslav-made mil surplus 8mm cartridges. So it seems it might be wise to resize the entire case when you are dealing with the 8mm rifle cartridge, not just the neck? The spent case was one from a box of surplus German mil rounds I’d “burned” thru many years ago, the “brass” dated back to ’41 and believe it is actually steel. Maybe that makes a difference, when compared to real brass “brass.”

    Very informative series, B.B. – there sure is a lot to learn on the subject, all of it quite interesting, the good, the bad and the ugly sides of it. 😉

    • Basil,.

      I see that I need to explain what was said and meant. A cartridge fired in THE SAME bolt action rifle will fit back with only neck sizing. If it was fired in another bolt action rifle, all bets are off. I will explain why in a future blog.


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