Getting started handloading... Suggestions?


December 1, 2006, 02:34 PM
I'm sure this is going to be a highly debatable question, but here goes:

I'd like to get into handloading for rifle and handgun calibers, what kind of price range should I reasonably expect? I'm sure there isn't really an upper limit, but I don't need a gold plated powder measure. :D What items/equipment will I need, what should I expect to spend, and what brands have a reputation for reliability or unreliability? (I know everyone has their preferences, but sometimes certain turds stand out.)

I've been reloading 12ga for about six years now with a MEC 600 JR Mark 5. Now I'd like to reload .40, .38, .357, 6.5x55, .308, and 30-30. Thanks for any suggestions!

After some more browsing, I ran across this post:

That's chock full of info and should probably be stickied!

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December 1, 2006, 04:59 PM
Your first step is buying the best reference book or what I call Reloading for Dummies or The ABC's of Reloading from Krause Publications.

There are several great reloading manuals of the real kind not the freebee ones! Paperback manuals are good for cross referencing data, at times. For meaty manuals a person can not go wrong with the Lyman48th and Sierra. One must always look at the loads when you compare data. Especially in larger calibers as some data might be using different brass from yours. Case in point Hodgdon used WW brass to work up loads with, whereas Sierra used Fed cases in their 308 Winchester loading information.

Press - Single Stage or Turret presses are the best way to learn before advancing to any kind of progressive press. You will always have need for a single stage press. Redding and RCBS are good sources of all kinds of presses. RCBS Rockchucker Supreme for a single stage and Redding T7 for a turret press are basically the gold standard for press types.

Dies - I like Redding Dies, and I would get the carbide expander ball upgrade for bottle neck rifle cases. Dillon makes carbide rifle sizer dies, but you still need to use case lube and make sure you lube the inside of the case neck, too. I would just stick with regular dies for rifle cartridges. Dillon makes die sets specifically for their press so to speak, meaning that it does not come with a case mouth belling die; Redding makes a set of dies for progressive presses, too. I like Forster competition seaters, and they can be had as an individual item. Dies are pretty much threaded universally, except for Lyman 310 dies, and Dillon dies for the Square Deal N. Accuracy nuts will use hand dies, and they require an arbor press be used.

Shell holders (if the die set doesn't have them like Lee) or the appropriate shell plate for the progressive press. Remember that many shell holders work for more then one cartridge. I would do some home work, especially if you get a Dillon. Some cartridge conversions might only require you to get powder funnel for the new cartridge.

A tumbler will be a good investment, as clean cases will not harm you dies. There are vibratory and rotary tumblers out there. I like corn cob media treated with some Iosso case polish. You can get walnut in bulk at Petco or Pet Smart. Bulk corn cob grit is a great way to reduce the cost of commercially supplied media, because you pay through the nose for the treated media from other vendors.

MTM makes great loading block tray that handles most cartridges.

Case Lube is great for both conventional dies, and to treat your brass used in a progressive press even with carbide dies. That extra lubricity makes the cycling of the press a tad slicker! Dillon spray lube works well for shake and bake application. I like Imperial Die Wax for rifle cartridges when FL sizing.

Case Neck Brush to clean bottleneck rifle cases

Dial Calipers

Case Trimmer (Lee works, but Possum Hollow is better, Wilson makes the best hand powered Lathe trimmer, and Giraud is the best powered Trimmer)

Deburring/Chamfering Tool

Primer Pocket Cleaner and uniformer

Primer Flip Tray is needed for loading pick up tubes for some primer systems like the Dillon.

Priming Tool (I like the RCBS (now even better with universal shell holder, but Sinclair makes the best)

Powder Scale - remember that is always better to have a mechanical scale as a back up to any electronic scale.

Powder Funnel kit with drop tubes especially if you intend to use powders like Varget.

Powder Trickler (used to tweak powder charges )

Powder Measure (nice for faster powder charges it does require a bit of learning curve to get consistent powder charges sort of rhythm thing) standard with progressive presses, but the RCBS Uniflow is nice! Redding makes a better one, and Harrell is the gold standard!

Hammer Type Bullet Puller (for taking down the boo boo's)

Ammo boxes and labels

A notebook for recording your results! Saves covering the same ground twice!

A chronograph is great when working up loads, but is more a luxury in the beginning.

December 1, 2006, 06:15 PM
Nice list po832177, but way overboard. Here are the basics.
The books I agree. The more the merrier.
PRESS Although I have a Dillon 550, I cannot recommend Dillon, because they are so overpriced. A good Lee turret press will be quite practical or a coax. Redding, RCBS & Hornady make excellent single stage press.
DIES & Shell holders. Carbide dies for all straight walled cases, carbide for bottleneck is a waste of money. Lee dies are the best bang for the buck, but I have some dies from all the major Mfg. and they are all good.
CASE LUBE. Imperial Sizing Die Wax the best I’ve found since I started loading in 1960. Bought 2 cans and still haven't opened second after 15 years.
Dial Calipers
Case Trimmer
Deburring/Chamfering Tool
Powder Scale
Powder funnel
Powder trickler
Bullet puller (hammer or collet)
Stuck Case Removal Tool

December 1, 2006, 08:52 PM
I will second the turret press vote. Although the single stage press would be great for rifle reloading it would be to slow for pistol. I own the Lee Classic Turret. I can load 200 rounds per hour for pistol but I don't load rifle yet. It can also be used as a single stage press so you really have the best of both worlds in one press. It would be a big help to know how many rounds you want to load per month to give you more accurate advice. Make sure you get a couple of reloading manuals and read them.

December 1, 2006, 10:17 PM
I don't think P0832177's post is overboard, but you can start with a little less than that. Start with the manuals, and do a little reading before you buy anything. It's best if you have a friend you can spend an afternoon with reloading your first few hundred rounds. That's how I got started. You get a basic education and some experience on a press before you buy. Some shops (one that I go to anyway) have a press setup and the guy rolls his own when he's not showing someone how it works.

Although the single stage press would be great for rifle reloading it would be too slow for pistol. .... It can also be used as a single stage press so you really have the best of both worlds in one press. It would be a big help to know how many rounds you want to load per month to give you more accurate advice. Make sure you get a couple of reloading manuals and read them.

Every press has it's pros and cons. I have a Dillion 550B, and I use it as a single stage for certain rounds where I want to hand meter the powder, just as Rusty suggested. It was my first press, and I'm glad I started there. A guy at work has a single stage, and if we compare notes, he'll load 200 rounds in an evening, and I'll be out of components in a little over an hour and have 500 rounds ready to go.

Like my brother is fond of saying, if you have the right tools, the job will be finished right and you'll be spending your evenings on the deck drinking beers while everyone else is busting their butts still trying to get the job done.

December 2, 2006, 09:01 PM
GaryL I agree. Dillon is an awesome press. I am about 99% sure my next press will be a 550B. But I got the impression when Odnar said reasonably priced he had left Dillon out. It depends how much he shoots and how much time he has to reload. Dillon might be the best way for him to go depending on his needs. I have plenty of time to reload and enjoy it so I am in no hurry to make a bunch of ammo. As soon as our club IDPA matches and other matches start I will be shooting 500 to 700 rounds a week. I can make that on my turret press in one or two nights easy.

December 4, 2006, 02:56 PM
Thanks for the info, I think I'll be leaning towards the Lee Classic Turret. It seems to have a pretty happy following for a reasonable price. I don't get to shoot nearly as often as I'd like to. I probably only get to the range once or twice a month (esp. this time of year), but when I go I usually spend a while there and go through 300-500 rounds of assorted calibers.

First things first, I'll pick up the ABC's of reloading. Thanks for the suggestions!

December 5, 2006, 09:04 AM
Not to dissuade you too much odnar...

I have been thinking about this a lot lately, since I have a few friends who are looking to start reloading, and they are all hot to throw lots of money at the problem.

As far as presses go, there are lots of different opinions, so here are mine:

Single stage presses - For low volume and precision reloading this is the only press you will ever need to own, It's not fast, but it does everything you will ever need. In addition to reloading, you can also do bullet swaging, (if you cast) you can do lubricating/sizing, priming, and primer pocket swaging. This is the most versatile tool on your reloading bench. There are so many things you can do with a single stage that you can't do with anything else.

Turret presses - Turret presses have the advantage of being midway between a single stage and a progressive. In my experience they are slow, cumbersome, and generally a pain in the ass since they are not as fast as a progressive, yet have some of the same headaches.

Progressive presses - Progressive presses are awesome, they are the greatest thing since sliced bread, I own 3 of them with another on the way, I have one I do all my brass prep work on, another I load on, and another I just fart around with. Progressives make all the hard work of reloading simple and allow you to focus on the fun parts of reloading (buying more components and shooting).

I'm really inclined to tell people no matter where they are coming from to buy a single stage first. Even if they decide to buy something else, buy a single stage at some point, because you will use it. If you are looking for a cheap option, get a lee reloader (the press, not the goofy toolkit) and maybe a lee hand press. Admittedly, these are not really strong presses, but they totally do the job when lubesizing bullets, but they are cheap, so even if you never use it that often you don't feel horribly burned. (I think has them for about $20/each)

Personally, I like RCBS products, I have both a rockchucker and a partner. I like these better than my lee single stage presses. For some reason Lee thinks it's a good idea to make the used primer reservoir part of the press, so you have to unbolt the press to empty it. The RCBS presses are really strong, cast steel or iron and are damn bulletproof. Plus RCBS has a great warranty "If it breaks, even through normal wear and tear (think decapping pins) it gets replaced, free".

I also own two lee pro 1000's They are pretty good presses, and are fairly cheap, I bought them direct from lee off thier "surplus items" page at I think I paid $83 each, and they came with the caliber conversions. The thing I will warn you about, Lee's powder handling really sucks. I replaced the powder measures on mine with dillon powder measures. I consider the lee measures unsafe, as they often do not throw powder when they should. Whenever you talk about getting a progressive press, you are going to spend hundreds in accessories and parts. So keep this in mind when you are going to take the plunge.

As far as dies, if you are reloading pistol, buy carbide. Sure they're more expensive, but they are so much nicer to work with. I'm a huge fan of RCBS (due to thier replacement policy) and openly recommend thier products. For reloading rifle cartridges (especially for auto-loaders) I highly recommend the Lee Factory Crimp Die, which is a collet type crimper for the case mouth. It's like $10, it eliminates problems with bulged case necks when crimping rifle cartridges.

I hope all this helps. I think due to the holidays, a few places have sales on starter kits. May want to get one while the getting is good.

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