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Education / Training Reloading firearm cartridges: Part 4

Reloading firearm cartridges: Part 4

by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

This report covers:

  • Design an Airgun
  • Godfather’s Gold Gun giveaway
  • Reload a cartridge
  • Types of cartridges
  • Rimmed and rimless cartridges
  • Resize and deprime
  • Bell the case mouth
  • Prime each case
  • Put powder in the case
  • Powder measure
  • Insert the bullet
  • Summary

Design an Airgun

Just a reminder — the Design an Airgun contest ends on this Friday, October 16. The winner will be the niftiest design that most people can build. The winner will receive the American Zimmerstutzen as a prize. I have to limit the contest to residents of the United States because of international shipping laws but readers from other countries are welcome to show us their designs.

American Zimmerstutzen
The winner of the Design an Airgun contest will win the American Zimmerstutzen.

Godfather’s Gold Gun giveaway

Don’t forget that some lucky U.S. reader this month will also be drawn to receive the Godfather’s Gold Gun — an Ataman AP16 pistol designed by B.B. Pelletier. So, there is a lot going on this month!

Ataman AP16 Standard
The Godfather’s Gold Gun will belong to one lucky blog reader after October is over.

Reload a cartridge

Today we are continuing our tutorial on reloading a cartridge. We will actually put a cartridge together in this report.

Types of cartridges

There are several different types of cartridges. Some have bases that are rimmed. Those rims are what the reloading equipment holds onto while the case is run through all the reloading steps. Revolver cartridges like the .38 Special and rifle cartridges like the 30-30 are rimmed. 

Cartridges that work in semiautomatic actions have cases that are rimless. Those would be like the 9 X 19 mm Luger pistol cartridge and the 5.56 mm rifle cartridge. 

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Rimmed and rimless cartridges

Each type of cartridge, rimmed and rimless, is held by the reloading press at its base. This requires some kind of shellholder for most reloading presses, though the Forester press has an automatic shellholder that opens to grab any cartridge base.

rimmed rimless cases
Rimmed .30-30 and .38 Special cases on the left — rimless 5.56 mm and 9X19 mm on the right.

Resize and deprime

The first step is to resize the cartridge case and remove the primer from its pocket. Resizing makes the case a standard size to fit the chambers of all guns. Today I will take it one step further and show you what can be done with a sizing die. Sometimes, one caliber case can be turned into another!

I was aware that the .38-55 Winchester (or Ballard, as it was called when it was first introduced in 1884) is the case that the .30-30 Winchester is based on. To turn one into the other all you have to do is resize the .38-55 case in a .30-30 sizing die! I no longer have a .38-55 rifle, but I do have a .30-30, so I took the few .38-55 cases I had laying around and turned them into .30-30 cases.

.38-55 case
A .38-55 case sits in the press, ready to go into the sizing die.

.38-55 case resized
After running it into the .30-30 sizing die and back out, this .38-55 case has been turned into a .30-30 case. Only the headstamp gives away what it used to be.

After this is done, the primer pocket must be cleaned, so the new primer can be inserted.

dirty primer pocket
This .38-55 has been resized into a .30-30 case, but its primer pocket still needs to be cleaned.

Once all the cases are sized and de-primed, I dump them into the tumbler that I showed in Part 1 and tumble them for about 12 hours. I do it overnight, so no time is wasted.

clean primer pocket
This is how they come out of the tumbler. Yes, this is a different case, because I already loaded the other one.

Bell the case mouth

At this time the mouth of the case is expanded or “belled” so it doesn’t shave off part of the bullet when it’s inserted and pushed home.  This is especially important when loading lead bullets, as I usually do. These days it’s hard to find jacketed bullets to buy, so my bullet casting has kept me and three other reloaders shooting. There is usually a special loading die to expand the case mouth, but when there isn’t, I use a .50-caliber bullet from a .50 BMG round to do it.

.50 caliber bullet
My .30-30 die set doesn’t have a die to bell the case mouth, so I use this .50-caliber bullet.

Prime each case

Now it’s time to put a fresh primer in each case. This can be done either with the reloading press or with a separate priming tool, like I showed in Part 2. Make sure the primer is flush with the bottom of the case or slightly below.

new primer
A fresh primer has been inserted. As long as the primer pocket is clean the primer will fit correctly. The notch on the rim of this case was for aligning each cast bullet  (that had been loaded into the case) in the same orientation, to help with accuracy. That was for the Ballard.

Put powder in the case

There are many different kinds of smokeless gunpowder. Some burn very fast and others burn very slow. Fast-burning powders are usually for short-barreled firearms like handguns. Slower-burning powders are for rifles and some magnum loads in handgun cartridges.  The reloading manual tells you what the safe loads are for each powder and bullet weight/type (lead or jacketed). I follow those recipes scrupulously. Safety is always the first concern for a reloader!

Powder measure

To measure the powder you put into the case a powder measure can be used. Since different powders come in different-sized granules and coarseness, you use different measures for different powders. It’s not one measure per type of powder. More like one measure for flake and ball powders and another one for granulated (like small grains of rice) powders. However, a few, like the RCBS Uniflow, work well with all powders.

RCBS powder measure
The RCBS Uniflow powder measure I use works well with all powders.

Once they are adjusted, powder measures will throw charges that are within 0.2 grains of each other — at least the ones I use will with the types of powders I use. That’s close enough for general shooting and hunting ammo. But for shooting small groups, it’s best to weigh each powder charge by hand. You set your measure to throw a charge that’s a few tenths light and then use a trickle charger to increase it to exactly the rght amount. Naturally every charge is weighed on a powder scale.

Lee also makes a set of special dippers that measure a load of powder reasonsbly well. With some practice and care you can usually stay within 0.3 grains of the desired charge.

Insert the bullet

The last step is to insert the bullet and ram it home with the press. As the press’s ram gets to the end of its stroke, the die is set to crimp the case mouth into the bullet. At least that is what I have my dies set to do. This step does not take force, but rather a feel for things. It’s easy to use too much pressure on the press handle. Everyone who reloads has a pile of cartridges where something went wrong. You try to disassemble as many of your mistakes as you can to save the components, but some cannot be saved.

empty and loaded cartridges
It took longer for you to read this report than it took me to do everything needed to turn the empty cartridge case on the left into a fresh new loaded round. Since I made the bullet, this .30-30 cartridge cost me a little more than a nickel!


Reloading is a good way to save a little money, and a great way to make better ammunition. And, when supplies are short, such as they are these days, it is the only way to continue shooting.

I went through all the steps today pretty fast. Let me know what you need to have explained better.

author avatar
Tom Gaylord (B.B. Pelletier)
Tom Gaylord, also known as B.B. Pelletier, provides expert insights to airgunners all over the world on behalf of Pyramyd AIR. He has earned the title The Godfather of Airguns™ for his contributions to the industry, spending many years with AirForce Airguns and starting magazines dedicated to the sport such as Airgun Illustrated.

72 thoughts on “Reloading firearm cartridges: Part 4”

  1. Don’t have a powder burner myself, nevertheless I really enjoy your articles on it so far. I’ve always wanted to know how to reload, and feel the more I learn of all guns the more it will help me to better understand airguns.

  2. B.B.,

    Do you neck size or size the entire case? I couldn’t tell because you went right into resizing from the 38-55 to a 30-30. It might confuse more than me about simple resizing of a used 30-30 for another reload as a 30-30.

    Errata in: Powder Measure end of second to last Para: “Naturally every charge is weighed (on? or some other way of saying this entire sentence?) a powder scale.”

    And in: Insert the bullet

    “The last step is to insert the bullet and ram it home with the press. As (it)the presses’ ram gets to the end of its stroke, the die is set to crimp the case mouth into the bullet”

    Great clear write-up of a complicated part of the process that scares lots of folks.


  3. B.B.,

    For safety I have read that some have advised placing primed empty cases primer side up and after loading to place the loaded cases primer side down to avoid double loading. How did you pull out the .50 caliber bullet out of the casing? I don’t see any marks from pliers.


    PS Section Insert the bullet 1st paragraph 2nd sentence: “As itthe (the) presses’ ram gets to the end of its stroke, the die is set to crimp the case mouth into the bullet.”

  4. A great write up as usual.

    When I saw the notches on the headstamp between the W-W, I knew what they were for.

    A couple of questions, and I may be opening a can of worms you don’t want opened yet.

    The 38-55 is about a millimeter longer than the 30-30 case to start with, and when I have sized cartridge necks down to a smaller size, The cartridge length increases (the extra brass has to go somewhere.)

    Did you trim the modified cases to the correct overall length?

    And if so, how much did you have to trim off?

    And correction listed below.


  5. Wow! .38-55 cases are usually very hard to get. Sell them and buy .30-30 cases and have some money left over to spend on other components. I made a few .38-55 cases from .30-30 cases when I had trouble finding the .38-55 cases.

  6. BB,

    My Dad and I used to make .25-06 and .270 Winchester from .30-06 casings. We also would make .22-250 and .243 from .308 Winchester or 7.62 NATO casings. The 7mm-08 and the newest 6.5 Creedmoor are also from the same casing. We made .221 Fireball from .222 casings and .222 from .223 or 5.56 NATO.

    It is easier to resize civilian brass than military brass as the military specs thicker walled and based casings to withstand the heavier loads they generally use.

    • Rk,

      Yes it is for the 788. I never worry about velocity, but I’m sure it will be around or less than 2,000 f.p.s. I go for accuracy only.

      I don’t have a lot of experience shooting cast bullets in this rifle, so I’m at the beginning of the learning curve. I was able to put 10 jacketed bullets into 3/4-inches at 50 yards so far.


  7. BB

    I assume you melt down used pellets from your pellet traps for casting into bullets. Do you find the lead content consistent enough for reasonable range accuracy?

    I was not aware that Forrester shell holders were universal. I learn stuff everyday here. Good report.


  8. Not entirely universal. There are two sets of double-ended jaws available- Standard and Large/Small. The four sizes available cover a wide range of case sizes. There is also an adapter for regular shell holders.

    The name of the company that makes the Co-Ax press (originally Bonanza) is Forster.

  9. Thanks B.B. – I like this kinda stuff!

    Reloading is something that I always wanted to get into but by the time I had a place the I could setup in and had the cash for the equipment my interests had drifted to archery and bow hunting.

    Still, I find the process intreging. I enjoy working with metal (I am setting up a forge to do some blacksmithing), reloading involves a lot of that – swaging bullets and reforming the cases.

    Will you be discussing annealing at all?


    • Fish,

      I used to have a Spanish made double barrel .410 that I paid $33.00 for back in the late 60’s.

      Always brought it on fishing and camping trips to have some sort of firearm with me (pistols are illegal to carry here in Canada).


  10. BB, Is there speed limit for a cast bullet? If shot too fast, will a lead bullet/pellet ride over the lands and grooves of the barrel? I am curious about the annealing too. The notch on the rim is so the fire formed case is oriented to the barrel as consistantly as humanly possible? This is great stuff, I bet the Ballard is simplicity itself.
    I think the side by side photo of the now antique, commercially designed cartridges, and the mil-spec cartridges
    shows the challenges facing ammo makers today. The 100 year old rounds have aged very well indeed, I would say.
    Do folks still buy 6mmPPC from the factory? Or, is that a specialty round that is mostly handloaded?That would be an example of a wildcatted mil-spec round?

    • Rob,

      Here is the Ballard:





      I can’t answer the 6 mm PPC question. Maybe someone else can?


  11. So no loading pre-primed LR brass for the do it yourselfer? My experience is that .22’s are as finicky about ammo as a pellet rifle, and if you find something that works, buy allot of it. .22 ammo seems pretty expensive compared to the accuracy and economics of the modern pellet gun, a .30-.30 seems like a smart choice compared to those two.

    • BB

      You talk about tumbling as a way to clean the primer pockets. Do you use a different media for cleaning as opposed to polishing, or does one do both at the same time?


    • 1stblue,

      Think that it is more that the rimfire ammo is inconsistent than that the rifles are finicky.

      I tested a number of popular brands a couple of years ago and they ranged from 60 to 110 fps difference in velocity over 10 shots. Was pretty surprised at that.


      • Hank,

        I do not know what typical spreads are for (factory) rim and center fire ammo is,… but 60-110 seems pretty bad. I wonder just what is considered “good” for either type of ammo?


        • Chris USA,


          “I wonder just what is considered “good” for either type of ammo?”

          Just like fine wine it is your taste that (should) drive it not price tag or reviews by wine (whine) snobs!

          Interestingly in rim fire you can buy the EXACT same brand and version of rimfire ammo but if you mix rounds from different lots you will virtually NEVER think that it is good ammo. There seems to be a bit more consistency in centerfire ammo but the PRIME reason people reload is to gain better accuracy by consistency of process. Yes it can also be less expensive but that can also become an Apple to Orange comparison if you buy super quality components.


          • Shootski,

            I am all about consistency, eliminating any variables and quality components. Like sorting pellets,… I would find myself hand loading too.

            Don’t mix lots of PB ammo is the takeaway,………….


        • Chris,

          That was the first and only time I checked rimfire ammo so I don’t know what is typical. (Per shootski’s comment, all ammo came out of the same box’s – didn’t mix from different batches)

          My friend shoots serious. 22 rimfire target (50 yards) and he buys the very expensive ammo. From what I have seen, a half decent PCP would compete pretty well against the rimfires.


          • Hank,

            Yea,.. it sounds like “don’t mix lots” of powder burner ammo is the rule. I think I would take a quality PCP too for only 50 yards if only shooting for group size.


  12. No joke about the ammo shortage!

    Went to Gainesville (FL) Bass Pro – no .22 of ANY kind, no 9mm, .38 and more – or less, sarcasm intended. There was .32 auto, so picked up a couple boxes, and there was .44 jacketed deer/bear loads, so bought a box of that. Not cheap, but supply/demand economics rule. If you could use .17, 30-06, .300 Winchester Magnum, 7mm, 6.5 Creedmoor and 12GA, fine, otherwise you were out of luck and ammo.

    Even airgun pellets were scarce; saw a couple tins of Daisy .22 and .177 pellets. That was it.

    What are your sources for lead to make bullets, besides the obvious, such as reclaimed pellets? I remember when I was considering casting .58 miniés a few years ago reading about the pitfalls of melting down wheel weights and other non-pure lead scrap. We sure live in too interesting times.

    • FawltyManuel,

      I used to meld down wheel weights to cast sinkers an jigs all the time.

      Last year I got a slingshot pellet mold and picked up 50 pounds of wheel weights to make a couple of batches. Turned out that only 10% were usable lead/antimony, 25% were steel, some were potted plastic and the rest were an alloy of some type that melted only at very high temperatures.

      I’m looking for a new source of lead myself.


  13. I present, for your consideration, another entry into BB’s Airgun “as long as it shoots something at a target” Design Contest – The Penny Arcade Shooter.

    What we have here is a catapult style penny shooting three shot derringer. Three cents can be loaded into the “magazine” cut out on top and each in turn is automatically loaded into the chamber/ barrel as the charging handle is pulled back. It has a spring loaded penny catch and trigger mechanism, straight blade brass trigger, and open sights. It is made from Red Oak, .125” brass rod, some thin plywood (.15”), a small bit of music wire, and rubber bands.

    The design could be built with only the most basic woodworking tools, and the materials could be altered to what is on hand/ available. (Paint stirrers, popsicle sticks, small nails and pen spring?) The design could be scaled to the denomination… ahem..caliber of your choice. Ammunition is likely already on hand, and is cheap, especially since it can be reused.

    I built it in a day, along with an arcade (cardboard box with rod running through it from which 3D targets are suspended ) that my partner and I got a kick out of using indoors that evening. She got the hang of it quickly and was hitting a 4” target at 5 meters.

    One could even just build the barrel and plunger mechanism and use rubber bands to manually shoot coins. But, if you want my two cents, it is worth building the handle and trigger mechanism (it does not have to be that precise). Just as the act of marksmanship brings with it the joy of seeing your sphere of influence projected beyond the direct reach of your hands, a similar enjoyment can be experienced with the construction and use of a mechanism by which you touch/ act upon one thing and the effect takes place upon something else. Go on, get your Rube Goldberg on.

    Thanks for checking it out. I welcome any comments or suggestions.

  14. Anyone besides me notice and like the similarities in the shape of the wrist on the stocks of the American Zimmerstutzen and the 1896 New King? I really like the “shotgun style” eye to sight alignment and the almost pistol grip shape.That shape seems ideal to me on low powered lower recoil plinkers and wing shooters.

  15. Hey all,

    I am going way off subject with this one.

    I have been rebuilding a Crosman 101 and have run into a little problem. There is an odd size o ring that goes between the plenum and the valve assembly. I tried to make one, but it is not working. Does anybody know what size this o ring is and where I might find one?

    I could tear into it and measure, but I would rather not do that until I had an o ring to put in there. I could also buy a rebuild kit, but I do not need most of it, just the one o ring. Help me!

    • RidgeRunner,

      You are talking about the flat washer at the fron of the compression chamber that goesvinto the compression tube?

      It will cost you…$7.99 unless Crosman will tell you or has the parts list on line.

      Edit:. RR you will find a free copy in Airgun Warriors in the Library 10MB

      Crosman Pn. 130-35


      • Shootski,

        Thanks for the link. I should have looked there in the first place. That is where I bought my rear sight assembly.

        As for the o ring, I was looking for the exhaust valve body gasket, CRS105-031.

        If I knew the size, I could probably get one a lot cheaper. Ah well.

  16. Thanks BB for a nice ‘off subject’ article. Your explanation of the resizing process reminded me when, many years ago, I was making .30 Herrett ammo for my TC Contender out of 30-30 brass. I kind of remember it was pretty stout.

    A question about tumblers, I have used for many years a vibratory Lyman tumbler with corncob media. In general it does a good enough job, but super-dirty primer pockets and tarnished brass are the weak points. Do you find the rotary wet tumbler with SS pins as media more effective?



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