Last week we talked about the 10 basic steps of reloading your own ammunition. Now it’s time to spend a little money and purchase the basic set of equipment needed to reload your own ammo. Like any activity that requires and investment in equipment, there are a million and seven ways to accomplish the task with varying types of equipment. Here, we’re going to focus on what I think is a reasonable trade-off between cost and effectiveness. You can do with less, and I’ll point out some areas where you can skimp.
One more thing: for simplicity, we’ll focus on reloading traditional straight-walled pistol ammunition here. Reloading bottleneck rifle cartridges requires a little more equipment and slightly different steps. I’ll briefly touch on that at the end of the article.
With that said, let’s look at the equipment you need to get started.
When you pick up brass cartridge cases that have been fired, they’ll be dirty. Depending on whether you shoot at an indoor or outdoor range, the relative level of “dirt” will vary. At minimum, you’ll want to remove any loose powder residue and whatever dirt your brass acquired when it hit the floor. While your brass does not have to be shiny and like-new, it does need to have the loose dirt removed.
If you want to go super cheap, you can clean your brass with stuff you already have. Hot water, a plastic container, and some Tide (or a mixture of dish detergent, vinegar, and salt) will get the job done. Your brass won’t be all pretty and shiny, but it will be clean enough to reload. The drawback here is that you have to let it thoroughly dry. I mean bone-dry, inside and out. Unless you bake it in your oven for an hour at the lowest temperature, that can take a day or so. To me, this is a hassle that’s not worth saving $60 to $80 on a…
Brass tumbler. A tumbler is simply a plastic bowl with a motor underneath that vibrates the contents. Add “tumbling media,” which is a fancy term for ground-up corn cobs or walnut shells, and the vibration of the brass mixed with tumbling media will get your cases clean inside and out. After it runs for a while, you simply sift the media from the brass and your cases are ready to go. Some tumblers, like this Lyman model, have a sifting feature built in.
You can also buy an ultrasonic cleaner like this Lyman Turbo Sonic model that I use. Like the Tide or dish soap method, you’ll need to dry your brass. But it will be nice and shiny!
This component is required. Fortunately, it helps you complete several of the 10 steps of reloading. Think of a reloading press like one of those old Play-Doh factories. You know, the ones where you dump Play-Doh in a hopper and press a big lever so it comes out like spaghetti? Like the Play-Doh factory, a reloading press is just a device that uses mechanical advantage to squish things together. A reloading press can be used to:
- Press a brass case against a decapping pin to push out the old primer.
- Press a casing into a resizing die that jams the brass back into it’s original dimensions.
- Press a new primer into the now empty primer pocket.
- Press the casing against an expanding die that opens the mouth just a tad so you can insert a new bullet.
- Press the bullet down into the casing.
- Crimp the casing around the bullet to remove the bell from the expansion step.
You can achieve some of these steps with different equipment. For example, I often use a dedicated priming tool like this Lee Auto Prime to insert new primers. But for simplicity, and the recommended minimum equipment set, we’ll rely on the reloading press for all of the above steps. Many have a priming arm, which lets you use the press to push a new primer into place.
What type of reloading press do you need to get started? I always recommend starting with a single-stage press. Single-stage means the press does one thing at a time. To perform the different steps listed above, you’ll need to reconfigure it—usually by changing the reloading die. Using a single-stage press, you’ll load in batches. For example, you’ll size all your cases, then prime them all, then add powder, then seat the bullet, and finally crimp the case.