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. 

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.

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…
  • Summary

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.

Lee Challenger
At $77, the Lee Challenger is about as cheap as a new bench-mounted press gets.

Lere hznd press
At $42 the Lee hand press is as simple as it gets today.

Case preparation

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.

Cleaning detergent

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. 

inside tumbler
Stainless steel pins and detergent clean the brass.

Brass Shine
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.

brass before
These brass .357 Magnum cases were cleaned before by an alternative method but they still don’t sparkle.

brass after
After cleaning in Brass Shine, the cases sparkle!

primer pocket
My method of case cleaning gets every primer pocket scrupulously clean! This is very important.

Why reload?

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. 

Dillon Square Deal B
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!