Reloading Info

Jump to: Retailers, Bullets, Powders, Shell Casings (Brass), Primers, Presses, Other Reloading Wesites

Introduction

First and foremost... I'm no expert.  I'm relatively new to this reloading thing.  Don't trust anything here that even LOOKS like an opinion.  Learning how to reload is a journey, and I'm still pretty early in that journey.  This page is a reference for me to use, to not have to remember all this stuff in my head.  You're welcome to use it, but don't blame me if a cartridge you make blows up in your face.

A cartridge (a.k.a. a round of ammunition) is generally made up of 4 components: the shell casing, the primer, the powder, and the bullet.  The only part that you re-use when reloading is the shell casing, which is typically the most expensive component (although some bullets are pretty expensive, too).  A reloading press (and it's many accessories) is what you need to assemble those components together to make usable ammunition.

A certain shell casing, with a certain primer, and a certain amount of a certain powder, with a certain bullet, seated to a certain depth in the casing, with a certain crimp, is called a "load".  Therefore "load data" is the information that you need to make a certain cartridge.  Traditionally, one would get load data from a book, often published by the manufacturers who make reloading presses. Nowadays, load data is often available for free from the websites of powder manufacturers, and occasionally bullet manufacturers.

Reloading Press and Related Equipment

Choosing reloading equipment is horribly confusing.  It's truly daunting to determine what you really need.  You'll see everything from $30 hand loaders to $1200+ automated progressive presses that all say that they contain "everything you need to start reloading".  They are ALL lying.  What most newbies really want to know is "What equipment do I need to take brass I picked up at the range, and make it into ammunition that is safe to shoot, with a reasonable amount of time, money, and effort?".  

The fundamental problem with answering that question is that it depends on your situation... Do you want to reload pistol ammo or rifle ammo or shotgun ammo or some combination of those?  Will you be satisfied making 20 rounds in an hour, or do you need to make 150 rounds in an hour, or do you need to make 1000+ rounds in an hour?  Are you reloading so that you can find the perfect load for maximum accuracy for competition target shooting, or are you just trying to save money by making your own practice, plinking, hunting or self-defense ammo?  The answers to those (and other) questions determine what equipment you will need.  I'm not prepared to give you all possible scenarios, so let me give you this... here's my situation, and what I bought in 2016.   (Spoiler: I bought a Lee Classic 4-hole Turret Press.)

After using the Lee Classic Turret press for 2 years, in April 2018, I bought a used Lee Load-Master progressive press so that I could reload faster.


Press Manufacturers (in alphabetical order)

    Dillon,     Forster,     Hornady,     Lee,     Lyman,     MEC (shotshell reloaders only),     RCBS,     Redding,     Sinclair

    Lee Knowledge Base - information from customer support issues

Reloading Information Websites

The Firearms Blog (TFB) has a 6-part series of articles for the reloading beginner. It's sponsored by Lyman, so don't expect brand comparisons, but they are a good place to start reading about reloading.

    AmmoGuide.com
    Graf Tech Resources -
    Handloads.com
    The High Road (Reloading Forum)
    Hodgdon Reloading - 
    MassAmmo Reloading Articles - Really good information answering common reloading questions.
    ReloadAmmo.com
    Steve's Pages (Reloading)
    Ultimate Reloader - blog, news, articles, etc about reloading

Reloading Parts, Accessories, & Supplies Retailers

Reloading Retailers - Online (in alphabetical order)

    Brownells (Reloading section)
    Butch's Reloading
    Grafs - They also have some useful stuff in their Graf Tech Resources section
    Inline Fabrication - makes press accessories like roller handles, mounts, feeders, etc.
    Lucky Gunner - mostly sells complete ammunition, but does sell bullets and brass as well
    Midsouth Shooter's Supply (Reloading section)
    Midway USA (Reloading section)
    MTM Case-Gard - maker of ammo boxesammo crates, and other shooting accessories
    Natchez Shooter's Supply - 
    Powder Valley - 
    Precision Reloading
    Reloading Unlimited
    rrpmi (eBay) - sells seating die stems for 45 ACP that only touch the shoulder, plus other reloading tools, squib rods, and more
    TargetBarn - sells a few types of bullets
    Unique Tek - makes press accessories and other do-dads
    Wideners - 

Reloading Retailers - Stores in and around New Jersey, USA

    Garden State Armory & Reloading Supply LLC in Warren, NJ - Good experience, and they had the powders I wanted (Bullseye, VV N310, VV N340).  
            Their website is pretty bad, and the store is pretty small, but they were very friendly, and offered to order any powders that they didn't have in stock. Phone: (732) 893-8500
    Saloman's in Farmingdale, NJ - No website.  Supposedly have great prices, but strange hours.   Address: 142 Yellowbrook Rd, Farmingdale, NJ 07727    Phone: (732) 938-2189
    T&T Reloading in Stockertown, PA (address is Easton, PA) - I've been told the owner can be gruff, but I've not been there myself.
    Cheyenne Mountain Outfitters in Bordentown, NJ - I've been told they generally only have rifle powders, not pistol powders, but I've not checked myself.


Bullets

To understand bullet descriptions and abbreviations, like "45 ACP 200gr LSWC-HP", see my Bullet Types page.

Bullet Manufacturers (in alphabetical order)

    Bayou Bullets - makes coated cast lead bullets.  Make 9mm in a variety of weights from 95gr to 160gr, including 150 SWC.
    Berry's Manufacturing - popular maker of plated bullets
    Blue Bullets - makes polymer coated bullets
    CJN Casting - maker of reasonably priced hard-cast lead bullets in popular sizes.  They do make 200gr LSWC 45 ACP bullets suitable for Bullseye.
    Dardas Cast Bullets - 
    Hornady - 
    Magnus Bullets (online store) - popular (at least with the Bullseye crowd) maker of cast lead 45, swaged lead 45, and jacketed 45 bullets
    Missouri Bullet Company - popular maker of lead and coated bullets
    Montana Gold - 
    Nosler Bullets - another popular maker of 185gr jacketed hollow piont 45 ACP ammo for Bullseye.  They make a wide variety of other bullets and finished ammunition.  They also provide load data for their bullets.
    Precision Delta - makes jacketed bullets at reasonable prices (especially if you buy 2000 at a time)
    Sierra - 
    SNS Casting - maker of cast lead bullets
    Speer - Speer Reloading Manual
    Summers Enterprises - makes cast lead bullets at surprisingly low prices
    T&B Casting - makes hard-cast lead bullets
    Xtreme Bullets - makes both copper jacketed and lead bullets.  Makes a copper-jacketed 200gr SWC in 45 ACP.
    Zero Bullets (for sale at Roze Distribution) - popular (at least with the Bullseye crowd) maker of  jacketed 45 ACP (.451), and swaged lead 45 ACP (.452) bullets.  Zero only sells directly to dealers.  For retail sales, they direct you to Roze Distribution.  Available from other retailers, but usually cheapest if you buy from Roze.

Powders

What powder should you use?  The best advice is to consult a brand-name reloading manual (Hornady, Lyman, Lee, etc.) for the caliber and type of bullet that you want to reload, and pick one of the powders listed there.  Most powder manufacturers and some bullet manufacturers have reloading data on their websites.

The most popular powder for bullseye shooting (aka precision pistol) is the appropriately named Alliant Bullseye powder.
Places to buy Bullseye powder:  Brownells  -  Butch's  -  Grafs  -  MidSouth  -  Midway  -  Natchez  -  Powder Valley  -  Precision Reloading  -  Reloading Unlimited  -  Wideners  

Powder Comparison Chart from ADI Powders in Australia
Older Powder Relative Burn Rates from reloadammo.com
Newer Powder Relative Burn Rates from reloadammo.com
An interesting composite burn rate chart put together by an enthusiast: SteveT's Relative Burn Rate Chart

Powder Manufacturers (in alphabetical order, links updated August 2018)

Manufacturer Load Data Burn Rates Other Data Notes
Accurate Arms Load Data Accurate Burn Rates FAQ Owned by Western.
Alliant Handgun Load Data
Rifle Load Data
Getting Started
Resources
Owned by Vista Outdoor, who also owns CCI, Speer, Federal, RCBS, Savage, Hoppes, and others.
Hodgdon Hodgdon Reloading Hodgdon Burn Rates Pistol Load Data Form
Data Sheets
Owns Hodgdon, IMR, and Winchester brands of smokeless powder, and Goex brand black powder.
IMR Hodgdon Reloading IMR Burn Rates Data Sheets IMR stands for "Improved Military Rifle"
Owned by Hodgdon.
Norma Loading Data Burn Rate Chart Ammo Academy
About Handloading
Owned by Western.
Ramshot Ramshot Load Data Ramshot Burn Rates Owned by Western.
Vectan Vectan Load Data
VihtaVuori Handgun Load Data
Rifle Load Data
Cowboy Action Load Data
Western Owners of Accurate, Ramshot, Norma, Montana X-treme, and Blackhorn brands
Winchester Hodgdon Reloading Winchester Burn Rates Data Sheets Owned by Hodgdon.

NOTE: The reason why I note in the table above which companies own or are owned by other companies, is because it explains a lot of the load data that you see.  For example, if you look at the handgun load data on the Alliant website, you'll notice that they have tested almost exclusively with Speer brand bullets.  That's not because the Alliant engineers think that Speer bullets are always the best choice, it's because Alliant and Speer are both owned by Vista Outdoor.

Brass / Shell Casings

Whether to just reload whatever you've got, or what you picked up off the floor at the range, or to buy new brass seems to depend on who you ask. Some bullseye shooters claim that new brass is noticeably more consistent/accurate at 50 yards, but the difference is negligible at 25 yards... so they buy new brass, load it with their 50 yard load, shoot it, and then reload it repeatedly for 25 yards after that.

Lots of people who shoot bullseye recommend using Starline Brass, because it's good quality, very consistent, and reasonably priced.
    45 Auto/ACP Starline Brass can be purchased from the factory, MidwayUSA, CZ Custom, AmmoMart, Brownells, Midsouth Shooters Supply, Grafs, Cabela's, Wholesale Hunter,
    45 Auto/ACP Starline Brass price lists can be found on: WikiArms, and AmmoSeek

So, you picked up some brass at the range (perhaps accidentally) that's not yours, and it has this weird headstamp on it.  What is it?
Check the Headstamp Codes page at CartridgeCollectors.org.

One warning that I see time and time again is to not pick up and attempt to reload brass fired from a Glock, because Glock barrels do not fully support the case.  The result is a bulge in the side of the case just above the extractor groove.  Noticeably bulged cases are referred to as being "pregnant". The resizing die will usually resize bulged brass, but the stretching of the case wall weakens it to the point where it is not safe/recommended to reload and reuse it.  Google search for "reloading safety fully supported chamber".  Or Ramshot's warning page.  I've also seen warnings that the Smith & Wesson M&P Shield does not have a fully supported chamber, so it's not just a Glock problem.  Note that the reason for making the chamber not-fully-supported is because it improves the reliability of the gun, because the gun can reliably feed, fire, and eject rounds that are a little bit oversized or otherwise out of spec.

Generally speaking you want to use brass casings when reloading.  Nickel-plated brass is ok, too, but may take extra effort to resize, and may not handle being reloaded as many times as plain brass.  Steel casings cannot be reloaded with typical reloading equipment; you need special reloading gear for that.  Aluminum casings cannot be reloaded safely.

Primers

The primer is the component that, when hit by the firing pin, ignites or explodes, and thereby causes the powder to ignite, generating large quantities of gas, which pushes the bullet out of the shell casing, down the barrel, and on it's way to the target.  There are many types and styles of primers for firearms.  For the purposes of reloading, we are primarily interested in centerfire primers (which are the ones where the primers are in the center of the base/head of the shell casing).  It is, generally speaking, not practical to reload ammunition that uses rimfire primers (in which the primer is initially a liquid put inside the shell casing, which is then spun to force the primer to rim, where it dries and thus stays).  There are shotshell and muzzleloader primers, too.  There are also percussion caps and musket caps for muzzleloaders, too.  But, for the purposes of reloading modern pistol and rifle ammunition, we are mostly concerned with centerfire primers that use the Boxer primer system. 

Centerfire Primer Systems: Boxer vs. Berdan

There are two common centerfire primer systems... Boxer and Berdan (both named after their inventors).  What you want for reloading is Boxer primed brass and Boxer primers.  The Berdan system has two flash holes in the brass, because the "anvil" part of the primer is built into the shell casing.  The Boxer system has a single flash hole in the brass, and has the "anvil" part built into the primer component.  The problem with the Berdan system is that a typical reloading press uses one single, centered rod to push out the primer, so it won't work with Berdan brass, which has two off-center flash holes.  All commercially available ammunition made in the US is Boxer primed, but you need to be careful with military surplus ammo or foreign-made ammo.  Since this page is about reloading with normal reloading equipment, we're only talking about Boxer primed brass and Boxer primers here.

Types of Boxer primers

When it comes to types of Boxer primers, there are 3 variables: (1) small or large, (2) pistol or rifle, (3) regular or magnum.  Every combination of those 3 variables is available. Plus there are different primers for shotguns and 50 BMG cartridges.  Which one you need to use is determined by the caliber and brass you are reloading.  Almost all calibers use one specific size of primer, but some can use different types of primers, depending on the brass that you're using.  For example, 45 ACP traditionally and normally uses large pistol primers, but can also use small pistol primers... which one you need to use is dictated by your brass.

Graf's has a Primer Size Chart and Bullet Diameter Chart
Vectan Powder has a table of primers by size and manufacturer, showing model numbers from primer manufacturers
Handloads.com has a table of primers by size and manufacturer, showing model number from primer manufacturers
Here's a good forum post about primers.


Size Name Abbreviation Diameter Used for calibers Notes
Small Pistol Primer SPP or SP 0.175" (4.45 mm) 9mm, 38 Special, and some 45 ACP
Small Pistol Magnum Primer SPM 0.175" (4.45 mm) 357 Magnum
Large Pistol Primer LPP or LP 0.210" (5.33 mm) most 45 ACP, 10mm Auto
Large Pistol Magnum Primer LPM 0.210" (5.33 mm) 475 Linebaugh
Small Rifle Primer SRP or SR 0.175" (4.45 mm) 223 Remington
Small Rifle Magnum Primer SRM 0.175" (4.45 mm)
Large Rifle Primer LRP or LR 0.210" (5.33 mm) .308 Winchester
Large Rifle Magnum Primer LRM 0.210" (5.33 mm) 300 Win Mag
Shotshell & Muzzleloader Primers 0.209" (5.31 mm) shotguns and muzzleloaders, I would guess
50 BMG Primers 0.315" (8.00 mm) 50 BMG, obviously

NOTE: Large rifle primers are taller than large pistol primers.
NOTE: Rifle primers tend to be harder (require a heavier firing pin strike) and stronger (to withstand higher cartridge pressures) than pistol primers.
NOTE: Some manufacturers make more expensive "match" or "benchrest" primers.  I'm not sure how those differ from regular primers.
NOTE: CCI makes "military" versions of certain primers.  These are harder than regular primers, to prevent slam fires.

Brands of primers

Common manufacturers of primers available in the US in 2016 include CCI, Winchester, Federal, Remington, Fiocchi, and RWS.
CCI, Winchester, and Federal seem to be the most commonly available, and most commonly discussed in online forums.

Opinions vary, but the general consensus seems to be that (at least for pistols) CCI primers are the hardest (require a stronger firing pin strike), Winchester primers are in the middle, and Federal primers are the softest. As such, if your gun is giving weak firing pin strikes (perhaps because it's dirty, or it's springs have weakened), you might get inconsistent ignition with CCI primers, and have better luck with Winchester or Federal.  Conversely, some people avoid Federal primers due to fears of making it too easy to have accidental slam fires (when the firing pin goes forward even though you did not just pull the trigger... perhaps because you dropped the gun muzzle-down on a hard surface, or your gun is malfunctioning in such a way that momentum is carrying the firing pin forward during the cycling of the bolt (causing it to inadvertently go "full auto")).  And if you read the instructions included with most of the priming tools made by Lee Precision (such as these), it says that, in their testing, Lee was able to make entire trays of all types of Federal Large primers explode, which is a pretty serious accusation, and definitely not something you would want to happen while you were reloading.

Load Data

    See the "Load Data" column of the Powder Manufacturers Chart, above.
    Finding the OAL - a great post from the CZ forums describing how to find the maximum safe OAL (OverAll Length) for a particular bullet in your particular gun.
    Thread on 1911forum.com about headspace in a 1911 45 ACP.  Has a nice diagram showing good and bad headspace with a 1911 barrel.
    The Handload Database from handloads dot com.