Reloading Ammunition: The Final Steps, Seating, Crimping and Inspecting

Most seating dies will also crimp in the same step, but I prefer to treat seating and crimping as separate actions.

Most seating dies will also crimp in the same step, but I prefer to treat seating and crimping as separate actions.

Last time we covered the powder charging step and briefly touched on the whole concept of pressure curves. While reloading is a safe pastime when proper care is taken, the care-taking part is a really big deal. The last steps, seating, crimping and inspecting cartridges, are equally important when it comes to safety.

Seating the new bullet

Seating the bullet simply means pressing it into the cartridge case to the proper depth. Precise seating depth is important for a number of reasons. Obviously, the cartridge has to fit in the magazine and/or cylinder and chamber. Far more importantly, the seating depth has a big impact on peak pressure when the cartridge is ignited.

It's important to pay close attention to seating depth because incorrect depths can have dramatic impact on pressure.

It’s important to pay close attention to seating depth because incorrect depths can have dramatic impact on pressure.

The Cartridge Overall Length (C.O.A.L. or C.O.L.) is specified for each type and weight bullet combination as a way to control the interior volume of the cartridge case. Any given published load recipe is carefully developed making an assumption about the volume in the cartridge case. If a bullet is pushed farther into the case, there is less interior volume. If the same amount of powder ignites in a smaller volume, pressure will be have to be higher. Likewise, if a bullet is not pressed in deep enough, there will be more available volume in the case, and pressure will be lower.

Most seating dies actually perform two functions: seating and crimping. If you adjust your die and press exactly right, then you can do both steps at once with good reliability.

I prefer treating these as separate steps – especially for the new reloader. Here’s why. Seating the bullet involves pressing it into the cartridge case. When you’re crimping at the same time, you’re applying inward pressure while also applying downward pressure. So you’ve actually got opposing forces that have to be perfectly timed for a correct result. If small details, like cartridge case length are out of whack just a bit, you can actually create bulges in the case which may prevent the cartridge from chambering properly.

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Want to start reloading? Then check out our newest book – The Insanely Practical Guide to Reloading Ammunition – it will help you start reloading in no time!

Learn how to reload ammunition the easy way with the Insanely Practical Guide To Reloading Ammunition!

Learn how to reload ammunition the easy way with the Insanely Practical Guide To Reloading Ammunition!


New Book! The Insanely Practical Guide to Reloading Ammunition

Learn how to reload ammunition the easy way with the Insanely Practical Guide To Reloading Ammunition!

Learn how to reload ammunition the easy way with the Insanely Practical Guide To Reloading Ammunition!

When I started reloading, I made lots of mistakes. I learned the hard way by screwing things up on occasion. Yes, I had fun, but my learning process might have been more fun if someone had taken the time to explain the procedures and equipment to me. In plain non-engineering oriented English.

Fortunately, that’s what we do here at Insanely Practical Guides. Nothing would make us happier than to have a million or so folks start reloading their own ammunition.

This book is not a reloading manual. Great companies like Hornady, Sierra, Lyman and others publish those. They invest millions of dollars in fancy equipment like ballistic test barrels, strain gauges, piezo transducers and plenty of Cheezy Poofs and Red Bull for the lab staff — all to develop safe and tested load recipes.

The Insanely Practical Guide to Reloading Ammunition is an instructional guide that will walk you through the steps of reloading your own ammunition in a fun, and more importantly, easy to understand way. Reloading manuals are great resources for understanding safe and tested load recipes. While most include an introductory section that talks about the reloading process and equipment, none that I’ve found show you, step by step, exactly how to do it in an easy to understand way.

Think of reloading manuals as sheet music. And this book as Mrs. Clutterbuck’s piano lessons you took in third grade. If you develop a sudden urge to play Carnegie Hall, or even Bodean’s Wet Whistle Bar and Bait Shop, you could just order sheet music from the internet. But it probably wouldn’t be the most direct path to ivory key success. Take some lessons first, then order the sheet music. We’ll all thank you!

Although we think reading this book will be a far more pleasant experience than weekly lessons in Mrs. Clutterbuck’s den, the idea is the same. We’ll teach you how to do the steps. Then you’re off to fame, fortune and custom ammunition.

Loaded with pictures and simple and useful illustrations, this book will get you started reloading your own ammunition in no time!

Topics include: 

  • Why take up reloading?
  • Is reloading right for you?
  • What equipment do you need?
  • Cleaning and processing brass.
  • The reloading process: step by step.
  • Pistol caliber reloading.
  • Rifle caliber reloading.
  • Buying reloading components.
  • Advanced equipment options.
  • Introduction to advanced topics.

You can get the Kindle version on Amazon right now! The print version will be available April 14th!

Optimus Prime: The Priming Step of Reloading

Simple and inexpensive priming tools: a primer flipping tray and two hand priming tools with shell holders. Note the "comfort" enhancements of duct tape and/or thousands of rubber bands.

Simple and inexpensive priming tools: a primer flipping tray and two hand priming tools with shell holders. Note the “comfort” enhancements of duct tape and/or thousands of rubber bands.

Last time we talked about about ways to resize brass like a boss. This week, let’s look at some different approaches to the re-priming step.

We’ll cover this from a “getting started” point of view. If you own something like a Dillon Precision Super 1050 progressive reloading press, you’ve spent somewhere approaching $2,000 and are auto-priming like there’s no tomorrow. Rock on!

On the other hand, if you’re thinking about getting into reloading, or have just started, we’ll help narrow the approaches by looking a few different methods. To keep things simple, let’s consider three different methods: hand priming, single-stage reloading press priming, and progressive reloading press priming.

Pro Tip: Don’t hammer primers into place with a mallet, as that generally results in lost fingers and your quick enrollment onto the terrorist watch list. (Tweet This)

Hand priming tools

This RCBS priming tool is built for comfort. Note the contoured grip!

This RCBS priming tool is built for comfort. Note the contoured grip!

The thought process behind hand priming tools is that you can easily, and cheaply, prime hundreds and hundreds of cartridge cases per hour. Better yet, you can do this from the comfort of just about anywhere. “Hand priming tool” is a literal definition and most of them are small, light, and portable. Want to camp out in the family room? No problem, bring a box of cases, your priming tool, and an empty box for your completed cases.

There’s another benefit of hand priming tools. You can control the pressure and depth of priming fairly well as you are pressing the new primer into place with a hand tool, not a hydraulic machine. After a couple hundred, you’ll develop a feel that tells you primers are seated correctly.

Here’s how they work. First you clean, decap (remove the spent primer), and resize your brass. Most hand primers have a tray that’s large enough to hold a box of 100 primers. Holding your opened box of primers, turn the hand priming tool tray upside-down over the primer packaging tray, then flip the whole assembly. If done correctly, you’ve now got all 100 primers in the hand primer tool tray. You’ll notice the tray is ridged or textured. That allows you to gently shake the tray until all the primers are facing upwards, so they will insert correctly. When all the primers are oriented correctly, put the cover over the tray to prevent primers from spilling and flipping.

Many hand priming tools use removable shell holders to hold the case still while a primer is pressed into place. The shell holders are sized to caliber. Once you’ve got the right shell holder in place, primers loaded and cover in place, you’re ready to prime. It’s a simple process. Insert a shell, squeeze the hand tool, and drive the primer into place. You’ll quickly learn the ideal angle at which to operate your hand primer so that the next-in-line primer falls into place by gravity.

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Squashing Brass: The Basics Of Resizing Rifle And Pistol Cartridge Cases

A .40 S&W resizing die (left) Note the carbide ring. The .223 Remington resizing die on the right has the decapping rod extended to show the case mouth expander ball.

A .40 S&W resizing die (left) Note the carbide ring. The .223 Remington resizing die on the right has the decapping rod extended to show the case mouth expander ball.

Every time you pull the trigger, lot’s of violent things happen inside the chamber of your gun.

  • The primer ignites.
  • The primer ignition sets flame to the propellant, which then begins to burn at an obscenely fast rate. It doesn’t technically explode (unless you’re using black powder) but it burns so fast you might think it’s exploding.
  • As the propellant burns, the chemical reaction creates high pressure gas, which has to go somewhere – fast.
  • This swelling gas cloud inside your cartridge does two things. First, it expands the brass cartridge case until it’s pressing against the inside walls of the gun’s chamber. Then, it pushes the projectile hard enough to overcome the friction of the cartridge case mouth and launch it down the gun barrel.
  • As the bullet leaves the cartridge, and the pressure starts to drop, the brass cartridge case starts to shrink back closer to it’s original size – but not all the way.
  • The cartridge case mouth will be opened up a bit as a bullet that was comfortably seated there has just been violently ejected.

All of this happens in a split second and is the reason that, when reloading your own ammunition, you need to resize the brass cartridge case using a resizing die. While resizing the cartridge case rarely compresses it to it’s original size, it will crush it back within cartridge dimension standards, allowing it to chamber in any gun of the proper caliber.

Resizing Dies

A resizing die is simple a carefully shaped hunk of metal that is used to “press” the empty cartridge case back to standardized dimensions. The brass cartridge case is forced into the interior of the die with a reloading press and the internal shape of the resizing die presses the brass back into the proper dimensions.

Think of this process as making a hamburger. You take a misshapen pile of ground beef, and using pressure from the outside, you shape it into the desired form. With fired brass, you take a cartridge case that has contained a massive conflagration, and therefore expanded in size, and press it back into shape. Unlike the hamburger, brass is hard, and tastes lousy, hence the need for a steel resizing die and a reloading press to apply the necessary pressure.

Brass is not as easy to “work” as hamburger meat, and significantly more pressure than available with bare hands is required to reshape it to standard size. Squashing a brass case into a steel hole under great pressure will almost certainly result in a unified piece of useless steel-brass metal as two parts are hopelessly stuck. Why? Unlike hamburger meat, neither brass or steel have yummy, slippery fat grease naturally available. So, when resizing brass, you need to have some type of lubrication.

Depending on the type of cartridge you’re resizing, this can be done in a couple of different ways. Let’s talk about how that’s handled in both straight wall and bottleneck cartridges.

Pistol Brass (Straight Wall Cartridges)

By “straight wall” I simply mean that the cartridge case is shaped like a cylinder that has the same diameter from the rim of the cartridge to the mouth. Like a toilet paper roll or aluminum soda can. Not all pistol cartridge cases are like this. A great example of an exception is the .357 Sig, which is shaped more like an old Coke bottle as it narrows as you get closer to the case mouth. In these rare cases, you need to resize it as you would a bottleneck rifle cartridge. We’ll get to that in a minute.

Even though most pistol cartridges have straight walls and resizing is minimal, lubrication is still required. This is where ingenuity comes into play. Some clever reloading engineer figured out that carbide is a little more slick than standard steel. If you could make a reloading die out of carbide, then additional lubrication would not be required, as the brass case won’t stick to the carbide material. Most reloading dies for straight walled cartridges have a carbide ring. As you pass the “ring” down the length of the cartridge case, it resizes as it goes – without grease.

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How To Do A Kick (Br)ass Job Of Cleaning Your Brass

A dry brass tumbler (left) and wet ultrasonic brass cleaner (right), both from Lyman Products.

A dry brass tumbler (left) and wet ultrasonic brass cleaner (right), both from Lyman Products.

I’m feeling a bit cranky, bordering on crotchety, today. So let’s focus on the ammunition reloading step that I think is the biggest pain in the butt – cleaning brass.

At the beginning of this series, when we talked about the 10 Easy Steps of Reloading, you’ll remember that the first thing to do, after hoarding brass like it’s made of Brown Sugar Cinnamon Pop Tarts, is cleaning. Just to reiterate, you only need to remove mud, powder residue, lead and whatever other gun might be on your fired brass. After all, the primary purpose of cleaning brass is simply to remove loose stuff that will gunk up our reloading dies and/or cause feeding problems in your gun. There is no “technical” need to make your used brass bright and shiny.

However, OutdoorHub is a class operation, so we’re going to talk about how to make it safe and beautiful. Why shouldn’t your reloads be the envy of the range?

Given the “beautiful” requirement, we’re going to dispense with the backwoods method of cleaning brass – shaking it in a bucket with some Tide or perhaps a mixture of dish detergent, vinegar, and salt. This will make it safe, but not all that great looking.

Let’s focus on two primary methods of brass cleaning – wet and dry.

The Dry Method

Otherwise known as tumbling, the dry method involves vibrating or tumbling the spent brass in a mixture of what reloaders call “media.” As tempting as it is to make a wisecrack about the potential uses of mainstream “media” for things like scrubbing dirt, I’ll refrain. Reloading media is the material that goes in the tumbler with your brass. Media can be made of natural or synthetic materials. Materials include ground walnut shells ground corn cob and sometimes ceramic bits. Some media is impregnated with polish to help your brass come out even cleaner.

Cleaning a load of rifle brass using a dry tumbler. Note how the used dryer sheets help pull the dirt out.

Cleaning a load of rifle brass using a dry tumbler. Note how the used dryer sheets help pull the dirt out.

Most dry tumblers actually vibrate; although a few models use a rotating drum like those home rock polishers. A large plastic bowl with a clamped-on lid is mounted on an electric motor that vibrates the bowl and it’s contents. You fill the bowl with both media and dirty brass, clamp the lid on, and let it run. It hums. It shakes. It causes neighbors to wonder if a 3.2 scale earthquake is in progress. After anywhere from thirty minutes to a couple of hours, depending on the condition of the dirty brass, you turn it off.

Tip: The dirt from your brass needs to go somewhere, so it’s transferred to the media in the tumbling process. If you want to make your media last longer, and get cleaner brass in the process, tear a couple of used dryer sheets (like Bounce) in half and drop into the tumbler. The sheets will attract most of the dirt, keeping your media fresh for many more uses.

At this point, you need to separate the media from the clean brass. Some tumblers have a built-in filter that allows the media to be drained out while the machine is running. If yours doesn’t, you can pick up a case media sifter to speed the process.

Whatever the method for separating your cleaned brass from the media, you need to be sure that all cases are completely empty of media. This can be tricky in rifle cases with small necks like the .223 Remington. While you can buy media that’s ready to go and consistent in size from reloading supply companies, some folks like to use cheaper products like ground walnut shells used for pet cage liners and such. This can work fine too. Just make sure that the grind size is small enough to easily exit the casings and large enough so it doesn’t get stuck in primer pockets and flash holes.

Tip: When dry tumbling, I prefer to clean the brass while the spent primers are still in place. This prevents media from getting stuck in primer pockets. After the brass is clean, I resize it and decap the primer in one step.

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What Equipment Do You Need To Reload Your Own Ammunition?

It doesn't take much to get started reloading your own ammunition. Of course, once you start, you'll want all the toys...

It doesn’t take much to get started reloading your own ammunition. Of course, once you start, you’ll want all the toys…

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.

Case cleaner

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.

A single-stage reloading press is pretty simple. It holds a case with a shell holder, then helps you jam that into a reloading die.

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!

Reloading press

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.

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Reloading Ammunition in 10 Easy Steps

Birth of a reloaded cartridge, from left to right: dirty, nasty, stinky range brass; shiny cleaned brass; spent primer ready for decapping; decapped brass; resized brass; re-primed brass; ready for powder charge; bullet seating (it's not fully seated here); the finished product!

Birth of a reloaded cartridge, from left to right: dirty, nasty, stinky range brass; shiny cleaned brass; spent primer ready for decapping; decapped brass; resized brass; re-primed brass; ready for powder charge; bullet seating (it’s not fully seated here); the finished product!

Now that the infinite gun-gasm known as SHOT Show is over, it’s time to get back to reloading! If you read the first article in this reloading series, “To Reload or Not to Reload: 12 Important Considerations,” and decided reloading might be for you, read on! Today we’ll talk about the basic steps of reloading brass ammunition, like common rifle and handgun cartridges. Shotgun reloading is fun and rewarding, too, but we’ll handle that as a separate topic as the steps and equipment are different.

First, the safety warning! I don’t have a lawyer, but if I did, he would tell me to tell you to exercise extreme caution when reloading ammunition. Always, and I mean always, follow printed loading recipes from major bullet, propellant, or reloading equipment manufacturers. They have lots of expensive testing equipment that ensures their published loading data is within safe pressure limits.

Okay, I feel less legally exposed now, so let’s get back to the fun stuff.

When you boil all the complexity down, reloading is simply recycling of fired cartridges—like plastic milk containers, but a lot less smelly. For most modern ammunition, a cartridge is made up of several components, some of which are expendable and others reusable. The only “directly” reusable component in a cartridge is the brass casing. Fortunately, that’s generally the most expensive component. Let’s take an insanely practical look at the steps involved in reloading rifle and handgun ammunition. We’ll walk through the process today and discuss the equipment needs next week.

Save the brass!

If there is the slightest chance you might take up reloading in the future, the very first step is to hoard brass. Yes, like that show on A&E. Hoard brass until your living room is knee-deep with the stuff and the dog can’t make its way to the kitchen. Why? You’ll need it. And it’s expensive. Every time you bend over to pick up a casing, think $0.10 to $0.75! You’d pick up a quarter or two every time you saw one on the ground, right?

Clean the brass.

Technically, you don’t have to clean brass cartridge casings to reload them, but I always do. Cleaning the brass helps you make nice, pretty ammunition that is sure to impress your friends. More importantly, it reduces the risk of your reloading dies getting all gunked up. Clean ammunition also feeds into your gun more reliably.

Deprime the brass.

The primer is one of the expendable items. Once it’s blown up, it’s no good anymore. Either a dedicated decapping die is used to punch the old primer out of the bottom of the casing, or more commonly, the die that resizes your brass will also knock the old primer out.

Resize the brass exterior.

When you fire a rifle or handgun cartridge, the whole brass casing actually expands in the chamber of the gun. As the pressure goes down when the bullet leaves the barrel, the brass shrinks back a bit, thereby allowing extraction from the chamber and ejection towards the person next to you. While it shrinks, it doesn’t shrink all the way back to original size. A resizing die is used to “encourage by brute force” the brass back into the correct exterior dimensions. This step ensures that your reloaded ammunition will fit back into the chamber of your gun and fire properly. If you reload bottleneck rifle ammo, you will also need to trim the case back to the proper length. All this mashing tends to make it stretch.

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Be sure to check out our latest book, The Rookie’s Guide to Guns and Shooting, Handgun Edition. It’s available in print and Kindle format at Amazon:

The Rookie's Guide to Guns and Shooting, Handgun Edition

The Rookie’s Guide to Guns and Shooting, Handgun Edition

To Reload Or Not To Reload… 12 Important Considerations

Once you decide to start reloading, you'll want all the cool gear...

Once you decide to start reloading, you’ll want all the cool gear…

The first step towards healing is to admit you have a problem. I’ve got an ammunition reloading addiction. I can spend hours fantasizing about all the cool gadgets like case concentricity gauges in the Sinclair Reloading catalog. There. I’ve said it.

Since part of my problem is uncontrollable reloading evangelism, I’m going to allocate a couple of these weekly columns to reloading your own ammunition. This week, we’ll look at factors you should consider when deciding whether to reload or not. After our SHOT Show coverage next week. We’ll come back and talk about how to get started.

So how do you decide if reloading is for you? Consider the following.

Are you, or can you be, detail oriented?

As with any shooting related activity, safety comes first. Like shooting, reloading is perfectly safe, as long as you pay attention and follow the rules – every time without fail. With reloading, you have to pay close attention to all aspects of the task. Undercharging (not enough powder) and overcharging (too much powder) are equally dangerous and can harm the shooter and the gun. Seating bullets at the proper depth consistently prevents dangerous over pressure situations. Using the right components, per professionally published recipes is mandatory. While it sounds scary, as long as you are careful and attentive, you can manufacture safe and reliable ammunition.

It’s a gateway drug.

You know, like Crystal Meth. Once you start on that stuff, you’ll quickly move to something really serious. Likewise, if you start reloading something simple, like pistol cartridges, you’ll soon move to rifle cartridges. Before you know it, you’ll be melting lead in your kitchen and casting your own bullets. And we all know how much other family members enjoy lead fumes in the kitchen.

You’ll save money.

If you reload for fun and/or don’t place a dollar value on your reloading time, your cost per cartridge will almost certainly be lower than the price of factory ammunition. Of course, you have to reload often enough to cover the startup equipment costs. We’ll cover that in the next article.

Let’s look at a simple example. Right now, .223 practice ammo costs somewhere around $.45 to $.50 per round. If you reload it yourself, plan on spending about $.09 per bullet, $.03 per primer and $.08 for each powder charge. If you have to buy brass, you can use each casing about 10 times, so your per use cost is about $.04. That brings us to about $.24 per round, not counting your time. Yeah, I know. You know a guy who can get all this stuff cheaper. Keep in mind, this is just a rough estimate example for those uninitiated.

You’ll spend more money.

Once you start reloading, you’ll want to get all the gear. Like digital scales, electronic powder dispensers, power case trimmers, progressive reloading presses, and custom reloading benches. You’ll also shoot a lot more, so even though your cost per round might be lower, you can easily end up spending more money overall.

What’s your time worth?

In our .223 Remington example, we might save $.25 per round, not counting the value of your time. So on a per round basis, your time needs to be worth less than $.25 for the time it takes to assemble one round, else you’re unprofitable. The time value calculations are tricky because they depend on the equipment you have and the pace at which you work safely. Progressive reloading press manufactures claim numbers like 500 rounds per hour, but that doesn’t count other chores like case preparation. Read this to get an idea of the steps involved in reloading .223 Remington ammunition. It’s a little tongue in cheek, but will give you an idea.

If you spend most of your waking hours hanging out at Occupy Something Evil Protests, you’re probably in good shape. If you have a paying job, chances are you’re not beating the ammunition manufacturers in the hourly wage efficiency game. You might be better off working more to cover your ammo bills.

Read the rest at OutdoorHub!

Be sure to check out our latest book, The Rookie’s Guide to Guns and Shooting, Handgun Edition. It’s available in print and Kindle format at Amazon:

The Rookie's Guide to Guns and Shooting, Handgun Edition

The Rookie’s Guide to Guns and Shooting, Handgun Edition

To Load Or Not To Load, That Is The Question…

I’m one of those guys who enjoys reloading.

Yes, I can save some money on a cost per round basis – if I place an hourly value on my time somewhere below the cost of 1/3 of a Wintergreen Tic Tac. (Tweet This)

The main reason I reload is that I like to tinker. Why experiment with 42 varieties of .357 Sig? Why shoot lead bullets at 1,000 feet per second out of my 1903 Springfield? Why not?

But lately, I’m having doubts about my patience for tinkering with one specific caliber. That would be .223 Remington, or when I’m feeling tactical, 5.56mm. Quite frankly, it’s a pain in the butt.

If it was a low volume shooting round, that would be one thing. Tinkering for hours to make a few hundred rounds of some caliber is fine if it will last a couple of shooting outings.

But, as I have found out, my kids are capable of maintaining a constant cyclic rate of fire of just over 42,358 rounds per minute in semi-automatic mode with my sons DPMS A3 Lite AR-15 rifle. (Tweet This)

Doing some quick math, I might spend 42.8 hours reloading .223 ammo that lasts 19 milliseconds at the range.

Not only that, the process of reloading .223 ammo is somewhat complicated and has many important steps:

I gripe at my kids to pick up the .223 brass from the range.

Next, I have to cancel texting service on their phones so they can pay attention to the request I made in step 1.

Sort thousands of rounds of dirty brass to filter out the desirable .223 brass. Separate it from the 5.56mm brass that has gotten mixed in. Those Navy Seals have a bad habit of mixing their military brass into my stuff. Sneaky bastards.

Call Discovery Channel, again, to request that Mike Rowe does an episode of Dirty Jobs about sorting range brass. Ask why they have stopped taking my calls.

Shoo my dogs away from nosing around dirty, leady brass that suddenly seems more interesting to them than bacon topped with Cheez Whiz.

Dump a pile of filthy .223 brass into my Lyman 1200 Auto-Flo Tumbler. This causes earthquake like sounds to reverberate from my garage for hours. Fortunately the neighbors no longer call 911 or the University of Southern California Earthquake Research Center.

After the brass is reasonably clean, I make sure that all of the walnut / corn cob / gritty tumbler media stuff is out of the cases.

As the .223 case has a mouth diameter just smaller than a mosquito’s left nostril, this step is more difficult that it sounds.

Shaking the case vigorously doesn’t always do it, so I’m thinking about rinsing them with an insect-sized Neti Pot.

Now for the brass depriming and resizing step. Here is where things get interesting. Invariably, at least 5 out of 4 cases will get stuck in the sizing die, causing me to stop the operation, drill out the case head, and remove it with bolts and a thread tap I bought at Wal-Mart. Yes, the stuck case situation might have happened one night after proper hardware stores were closed. Friends don’t let friends buy tools at Wal-Mart after all – that’s what pawn shops are for. Oh, by the way, Mighty Putty is on sale.

In a fit of impatience trying to get the show back on the road, I break the tap. What, anger issues? Me? Hey it was a cheap tap bought at Wal-Mart after all. It was asking for it.

Figure out how to remove a case that’s stuck in the die, that in turn has a broken tap stuck in it.

This is a great time to go watch a re-run of Home Improvement. And ask my neighbor if I can borrow a flame thrower.

After the load of brass is successfully deprimed and resized, I break out the case trimmer. Don’t lose heart, we’re 10% of the way done.

My wife and kids decide to go on vacation. They know I will be trimming brass 18 hours a day for the next few weeks.

I gently move my dogs that have camped out on top of my feet. Apparently they think I have died standing in this position and are holding vigil.

Some ammo companies have the audacity to crimp their .223 primers in place. I have reason to believe that this is a plot by my dogs to keep me from moving for another couple of weeks as they are continuing to soundly sleep on my feet. Apparently my shoes are comfortable and smell nice. In any event, this step involves either reaming or swaging the primer pockets to make sure that new primers will actually fit. Swaging is the way to go here. You don’t cut away metal and the results are consistent. It’s kind of like making an auto part fit by hammering it really hard. Dillon makes an excellent swaging tool that is well worth the money.

Now we’re on the offensive and are beginning steps that are actually adding stuff back to the empty case. So you can think of this as the beginning of the 3rd quarter. Except that the Colts are ahead.

Using one of several highly scientific techniques, I stuff new primers into the newly reamed or swaged primer pockets. Depending on volume and how bad my mood is from dealing with stuck cases in my resizing dies, I will use the hand method or a progressive reloading press. If something really good is on TV, like Band of Brothers reruns, I use my hand operated Lee Auto Prime tool, since I don’t have DirectTV in my man cave.

If Fashion Stars is on, and I therefore have no access to the TV due to the ‘Chicks Occupying Den Movement’, I’ll configure the Hornady Lock and Load Auto Progressive press to knock out a few steps at once – priming, powder charging, and bullet seating.

But for discussion’s sake, let’s follow the hand priming route. It’s far more dramatic for this particular column.

If you’re feeling like the Anal Retentive Chef, it’s time to chamfer and deburr the case mouths with some sort of hand or electric tool.

I’ve been dying to try out Hornady’s Lock and Load Case Prep Center, but for now am using stone tools fashioned from cinder blocks.

Either that or I skip this step entirely.

It’s time for charging the case. This is fancy techno-speak for adding powder that makes things go bang. I like to use TAC by Ramshot as it works well, and more importantly, is really easy to measure consistently. And it looks like something people would identify as gunpowder.

It’s bullet time. The grand finale. The climactic moment. Add the bullet and crimp the case – usually in one simple step.

And now, last but not least, it’s final check time. As I put the rounds into plastic ammo boxes, I like to do one last visual check to make sure primers are there, they they are not upside down, that the case looks good with no cracks, and that there are no love handles on the case shoulder. Sometimes, a case will sneak through the system that is a tad to long, and when it gets to the bullet seating and crimping step, a very unsexy bulge is created at the shoulder. Not good. Mainly because it creates another step – pulling the bullet out and fixing the case.

And there it is. Just a few simple steps to prepare for my kids unleashing a hailstorm of .223 downrange – for at least 9 seconds.

Sometimes I think it’s just better to buy some bulk .223 ammo.

Danger! Men Cooking!

Danger Men Cooking - Reloading

Danger Men Cooking

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