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April 14, 2019

Gun Thread: Reloading 101 Pt. Dos [Weasel]

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You all do realize your tax returns are due tomorrow, right? And if you haven't finished your taxes, what in the hell are you doing here? Hopefully, you're finished and have a small refund in the bank and need something to spend it on. Why not buy gun stuff, or more specifically, reloading gear! Let's pick up where we left off last week and look at preparing your reloading bench for action, shall we?

Did you get your reloading manual yet?

So this week we're going to start setting up some of the shiny new reloading gear we discussed last week. But before we do, a couple more housekeeping items. As a reminder, please do not list specific load powder charge weights when discussing reloading. If you like, you can mention the powder youre using and the velocity, but unlike the food thread, let's keep the specific recipes to yourself. Thanks.

Next, throughout this series, I am going to discuss reloading for the .38 Special. It's an easy cartridge to work with and generally forgiving for the new reloader. However, the concepts discussed here are applicable to any straight-walled handgun cartridge. We will save rifle cartridge reloading for another time. 'Kay?

Finally, I'd like to reiterate this material is intended for the novice reloader. We're fortunate to have reloaders here with years of experience, but for now let's keep the information basic.


One of the first considerations is where to set up your reloading operation. I know benchrest shooters who reload in their vehicles at the range, and others with enormous setups occupying large spaces at their home. Let's assume you will at least be indoors and after that, all that's really required is a modest amount of workspace if youre using a basic single-stage press. What makes a good reloading location? I'd say there are a few key elements. A quiet place to work undisturbed and uninterrupted, in a comfortable and climate controlled area. You will need a reasonably solid bench or countertop workspace about 36 to 48 inches wide. This is just a approximation and you may find you need slightly more or slightly less space, depending on how you like to work. If you have a basement area where you can spread out that's great, but I want to assure those in a smaller home, an apartment or condo for example, can reload just as effectively as everyone else. A kitchen counter will work fine. For those in that situation, I will give you an idea below for keeping your reloading setup easy to breakdown and store in a medium size storage tub.

Tips for selecting and reloading in your work area:
- locate the bench away from direct air flow from forced air vents, ceiling fans, etc.
- store powder and primers in original containers in a cool, stable environment.
- whenever possible, choose a quiet area, free from foot traffic and other distractions.
- plan your reloading session so you can complete different steps entirely, with logical break points.
- never, ever, ever have more than one type of powder on the bench at a time.
- always check your work. If something looks or feels funny, stop and investigate.

The Press

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Redding Single Stage Press

I'm going with the assumption you have purchased a single stage reloading press like the one shown above. You will note that it's a sturdy piece of steel designed to be bolted to the edge of a workbench. I'm lucky to have a nice, but by no means expansive, countertop workspace in our laundry room. It's in a quiet part of the basement without distraction, and WeaselWoman was nice enough to get all of her stupid laundry shit out of the way and allow me to take over what's supposed to be a folding area. I did not want to drill mounting holes in the countertop, so I mounted my press(es) on a short double thickness of 1"x 6" pine board, and use two 4" C clamps to fix the assembly into place on the countertop. Just countersink the bolt heads so the board rests flush, and it's every bit as solid as if it were bolted directly to the countertop. When configured in this manner, the gear can be easily stored away between reloading sessions. The important point is to mount the press to the board or directly to a bench in a way so the the ram function of the press is not impeded, so play around with the setup and operation before you start drilling holes!

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Press setup on kitchen counter

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Press setup alt view - note bolts

press bottom scaled.jpg
Countersunk holes on bottom of base

Your press is the primary tool on your bench. I'm right handed so I have my press on the right side of the workspace. The press is just that; a device with a mechanical ram that moves up and down when the handle is pulled. It doesn't do much by itself without reloading dies, which screw into the top of the press and perform different functions. Brass cartridge cases are shaped and resized under pressure produced by the ram and die, and in order to achieve the necessary small tolerances they need to be setup carefully. You will check the die function with precision measuring tools such as the calipers and case gauge included on last week's shopping list.

Reloading Dies - What the heck are they and why do I need them?
Reloading dies size and shape the brass cartridge and are caliber specific so, for example, you cannot reload .45 ACP cartridges with dies made for the .38 Special. This means you need separate dies for each caliber you plan on reloading. In order for a new or used case to be reloaded, it first needs to be sized to certain specifications for the cartridge. These specifications are maintained by SAAMI the organization that makes sure a specific cartridge fits properly into the specific chamber designed to fire it. An extensive catalog of cartridge specifications are maintained online and it's a great resource.

General Die Setup and Adjustment
Most dies simply screw into the top of the press. Hornady presses use an additional sleeve that locks into the press that makes changing dies a little quicker, but they all work basically the same way.

NOTE: Dies are shipped from the manufacturer with a coating of something as a rust inhibitor which should be removed before they are used the first time. Simply take apart the dies and spray with a cleaning solvent; Ballistol, WD-40, Hoppes 9 - whatever you have handy, and wipe clean (with a cloth!). Its not a bad idea to keep them very lightly oiled if you are in a high humidity location. Just a light spray is all you need, which can be removed before you use them again with a chamber mop.

To setup a die for the first time, perform the following steps:
- insert appropriate caliber press shellholder into the top of the ram. It just snaps into place.
- without a cartridge in place, lower the handle to raise the press ram to it's uppermost position.
- screw the die body into the press, so the bottom of the die just touches, or is very slightly above the top of the shellholder.
- screw the locking ring on the die body down until it rests on the top of the press and tighten the set screw.
- as you begin work, you may find small adjustments are necessary - simply loosen the locking ring, adjust the die, and tighten the ring and set screw.
- sometimes when the locking ring is set it makes the die difficult to remove from the press. A few whacks on the locking ring with a rubber mallet will usually do the trick.
- once properly set, you should not usually need to make additional adjustments. Simply screw in the die until it's stopped by the locking ring. Specific considerations for individual die setup are discussed below.

A properly set die will perform it's function at the top of the ram stroke, just as the lever begins to cam over and stop, and without a great amount of force. This is an important point. An improperly set die will return inconsistent results due to the application of variable force, and possibly damage the case. As you gain experience, you will notice many steps are done based on the feel of the amount of force required to complete them. Anytime anything changes, STOP WORKING, and investigate. Each step should be completed smoothly and without a huge effort. If you find yourself needing to use a lot of muscle, then something isn't working right and needs to be corrected.

A good video on die setup is here. A couple of points - the guy in the video has various interpretations of the word "cannelure" (can-ne-lure), and also doesn't seem to embrace the use of the die locking ring. Other than that, it's a fairly decent look at the process of setting up the 3 dies in your set. The press he is using is slightly different design, but the die setup instructions all still apply. There are a bazillion videos on reloading, so look around if this guy bugs you. If you find yourself actually doing any of this and have questions, please feel free to email Gun Thread technical support who will be happy to help!

You'll recall last week we talked about the dies and the functions they perform in the reloading process. Let's review them in a little more detail now, including ways the setup differs among the three dies.

Sizing Die
When a cartridge is fired, it expands against the chamber wall to seal the breech, then snaps back a little but not quite all the way. Depending on the chamber, the fired case may be several thousandths of an inch (.00X") larger in diameter than it was before firing. The sizing die simply returns the case to the correct pre-fired diameter. You will notice a pin sticking out beneath the sizing die. That's the decapping pin and it punches out the used primer. In a new or unprimed case the pin is just along for the ride. The screw and smaller locking ring on the very top of the die are used to replace or make adjustments if needed to the decapping pin depth which should be set to just pop out the used primer. To setup a sizing die just follow the steps above.

Expander Die
The second, or expander die is used to very slightly flare the mouth of the case to accept the bullet. Set up the die as described earlier so the bottom of the die is barely touching or just above the shellholder. Next, adjust the expander plug inside the die using the smaller screw and lock ring on the top of the die. When properly adjusted, the expander die will flare the case mouth by a few thousandths of an inch to accept the bullet. It's a barely perceptable amount to the naked eye, but it allows the bullet to begin the seating process without being shaved by the edge of the case mouth. Use caution to avoid oversizing the case which can lead to reduced case life.

Seating and Crimping Die
The third die in the set performs two operations. It seats the bullet to the desired depth and applies a slight crimp to the case mouth to hold the bullet in place. There are two steps to setting up a seating/crimp die. First, back the seating stem screw on the top of the die counter clockwise, or up, most of the way and then screw in the die body in to the press until the bottom is a couple of turns above the shellholder. Next, place a dummy (unprimed and without powder!) sized and expanded case into the shellholder and place a bullet on top. Now cycle the press and advance the seating stem by small increments until the bullet is seated to the desired depth (more on this later) checking the overall length with calipers or using a case gage. Now back out the seating stem several full turns.

Leaving the cartridge on the ram in the full up position, screw in the die until you begin to feel the resistance of the cartridge. Lower the ram and advance the die in small increments, raising the ram after each adjustment and checking until the desired crimp is achieved. Bullets with a cannelure (groove) will require more downward adjustment to achieve a "roll" crimp, where the case mouth is very slightly curved into the cannelure. Cartridges which headspace on the case mouth (.45ACP for example) require less downward adjustment of the die body to achieve a "taper" crimp. Do not roll crimp jacketed bullets without a cannelure as you may damage the jacket, and again, do not roll crimp any cartridge that headspaces on the mouth of the cartridge, taper crimp these instead. Now lower the locking ring and tighten the set screw on the die body.

Finally, you will need to reset the seating stem. With the dummy cartridge on the ram in the full up position, lower the seating stem screw until you feel it stop against the top of the bullet and simply tighten the upper locking ring. The die is now configured to seat and crimp in a single step.

We'll discuss the various measurements as we begin the step-by-step reloading process. For now, we simply want to have the dies configured approximately. We will discuss making small final adjustments later.

NEXT WEEK: Setting up the powder dispenser and scale!

P.S. Looks like I forgot to include much (any) non-reloading content this week. Sorry! Feel free to discuss any gun stuff that interests you!


The following eight part series of short reloading videos are produced by Brownells, a supplier of reloading and shooting products. Please note, video number 6 discusses bottleneck cartridge reloading concepts which can be skipped for now.

Brownells Reloading Video Series Pt. 1
Brownells Reloading Video Series Pt. 2
Brownells Reloading Video Series Pt. 3
Brownells Reloading Video Series Pt. 4
Brownells Reloading Video Series Pt. 5
Brownells Reloading Video Series Pt. 6 (bottleneck cartridges)
Brownells Reloading Video Series Pt. 7 (straight wall cartridges)
Brownells Reloading Video Series Pt. 8

Other links:
Brownells Retail Video Library
Redding Reloading Guide PDF

***Mail Bag***

Alert gun thread commenter and all around great 'ette lin-duh has knocked one out of the park with this video find. It's a 25 minute video on handgun shooting, the factors which contribute to errant shots, and how to correct them. It's a very good presentation and I highly recommed you take the time to watch it when you have time!

Silverado Shooting Academy: Mastering the Handgun

From the producer:

We show you why handgun shooting is difficult and the real solution for effective handgun training. Learn the secret to mastery that others don't understand. In the event that YouTUBE removes firearm content and channels, this video is available in HD-DVD or mp4 file via our website: www.SilveradoShootingAcademy.com

Thanks lin-duh!!


Please note the new and improved gmail account morongunthread at gmail dot com. If you have a question you would like to ask Gun Thread Staff offline, just send us a note and we'll do our best to answer. If you care to share the story of your favorite firearm, send a picture with your nic and tell us what you sadly lost in the tragic canoe accident. If you would like to remain completely anonymous, just say so. Lurkers are always welcome!

That's it for this week - have you been to the range?

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