Because you need to be able to work to very fine levels of precision and consistency when reloading, your kit and workspace become very important. The scales that seem like a bargain on Ebay may look tempting. Will they weigh to a 10th of a grain consistently, thousands of times over? Probably not. Every small inconsistency increases your chance of a complete miss at extended range (1000+yds). In this, the second of my articles on reloading I will attempt to offer the new starter a basic idea of what is needed to begin reloading for long range…
Claim an area!! My reloading station in the bedroom.
Find yourself a space that has an even temperature, no draughts and stays dry. Leaking, cold garden sheds are no good. You are going to be working with materials that need to remain dry. Remember condensation from extreme temperature change is a serious consideration. Roof spaces do not make good reloading rooms unless they are well insulated. I use the back wall of my bedroom.
You will need a very sturdy bench. A good press will weigh a lot and has large moving parts which function under pressure. The components also weigh quite a lot (bullets, powders) so you do not want to scrimp here. Build or purchase a decent quality heavy bench which is held down and to the wall securely. A wooden top is the best in my opinion as it allows you to bolt components to it with ease.
You will also want shelves, hooks, drawers ect. for storage. I bought some cheap pine shelf units for the wall and they are fine.
The good news is that reloading is well catered for. There are numerous companies producing kit most of which is of at least reasonable quality. I will list a few popular brands and give a basic summary of each.
Lee – the cheaper end of the market. Lee offer very reasonably priced kit which works well. I have some Lee dies and a few other bits and they all work exactly as I would hope. They may not have some of the bells and whistles that the more expensive brands do but they work. Lee offer several beginners kits which my friends have used with good results.
Lyman – good quality, mid price gear that works well and will last a lifetime if you look after it. I use their case trimmer and it works very well and is incredibly sturdy.
RCBS – The same positives as Lyman. RCBS seem to be the most popular among my reloading buddies. I use their Rockchucker press, scales, hand priming tool and various other bits. I actually got a great deal on a rockchucker kit. I ordered from the USA when the pound was strong against the dollar. Even with import duty I saved over £100.
The starter kit I bought
Redding – high quality components that tend to be a little more expensive. Redding have a superb reputation and great customer services. I use their excellent competition dies and bushings. They happily replaced a scratched bushing with no questions asked.
Forster – A similar rep and price to Redding. I do not use any Forster gear as it does not seem to be as widely available in the UK as other brands.
Like any hobby you can buy endless amounts of reloading kit. There are tools available for every kind of tweak you can imagine. When building up your reloading essentials it is important not to get swept up in the “sparkly kit” syndrome. We are reloading for long range target and practical. Bench rest shooters may have a whole bunch of fancy gizmos for reloading but they are not “essential” for what we are doing.
This will be the largest piece of kit you need and it will be heavily used so buy the best you can afford. The press is used to reshape brass cases, remove spent primers and seat bullets. Make sure you screw it down securely (I screwed mine to a piece of wood and then use G clamps to mount it to my bench). Make sure you have enough room to operate it properly as you will be raising and lowering it a lot!
The dies screw into your press. There are several types available – neck sizing, full body sizing, bullet seating, crimping and others. I will try to keep this simple… We will need a sizing die and a seating die. If you are running a bolt gun then a neck sizing die will be fine. Semi autos are a little more finicky and will need a full body size. The brass gets fire formed in the chamber making a perfect fit so I like to neck size only in my bolt gun. This also puts less stress on the brass leading to longer brass life. You will also need a seating die. Dies come in all calibres so make sure you buy the right one! Phone your local friendly gun shop they will happily assist in selecting the right dies for you.
you can see the die here sitting on top of the blue press
Do not attempt to use your kitchen scales, or the jewellery scales you bought from China for £3.99. It is absolutely critical that you weigh your powder consistently not just for accuracy but for SAFETY. People have blown their guns and themselves up due to incorrect powder charge. Buy a decent set of manual scales which are specifically designed for reloading. I would also suggest a digital scale as a backup to double check weights.
This will give you an approximate measure of powder which you can then check with your scales. Once you get used to using one of these you will find you get good at dropping the exact weight needed into the pan. It gets a bit Zen actually! A little tap of the lever here and there and you start to find perfection! They have a screw system which allows adjustment. The idea being you drop just below your charge weight and trickle the rest in when its on the scales. Which brings us to…
This will trickle out powder a grain at a time so you don’t end up fiddling with fingers and getting in a mess. You really want to avoid touching powder anyway as it can contain toxic ingredients which in theory could be absorbed through the skin or transferred to your mouth if you dont wash your hands between reloading and eating.
Some presses will have an attachment which will seat your primers. Personally I like a separate hand tool. Presses are big and heavy and you do not get any feel as the primers are going into the pocket. When you use a hand tool it is a lot easier to exert a consistent pressure.
You will struggle without a funnel guys! How else are you going to pour powder into narrow case necks?
Every time you fire your rifle the brass case you use becomes a little elongated. The brass is under huge pressure and heat if only for a few milliseconds. The rifles chamber prevents the brass moving anywhere but forward. After a few firings the brass will have become to long to safely use. Check out a reloading manual which will always give you a max length for brass in your calibre. When you exceed max length it is time to trim the whole batch of brass back to a generic length with your trimmer. Inconsistent length between cases could mean inaccuracy so having a good, reliable trimmer is a must.
These are just blocks with holes which you stand your brass in. Simple but essential.
You will want a selection of hand tools to work your brass. Trimming creates burrs and sharp sections, firing creates residues and leftover particles. Chamfer tools, primer pocket cleaners, flash hole reamers can all be bought cheaply and often as part of a handy kit.
Case lube and pad
When the brass gets resized in the press it needs to be lightly lubed or it will become stuck/damaged. The word LIGHTLY is important. To much lube can lead to brass deforming in the die.
A reloading manual
Most bullet and powder manufacturers produce a guide or manual. I would seriously suggest buying a couple. Buying two means being able to cross reference data. If you want a money saving tip, shop on Amazon for used volumes dated the previous year. The info within will still be totally relevant and safe.
Last but not least we will need to be able to accurately measure a number of dimensions such as brass length or overall length one bullets are seated. Calipers and micrometers are available for this purpose. They are not cheap. Do not think you can use a ruler, just suck it up and buy the right gear. My old shooting pal Sam has a saying “Buy once, cry once”. The price might make you wince initially but you are investing in reliability and longevity.
That about covers it so far in terms of kit. The next step is to buy some consumables – bullets, brass, powders and primers. That is a HUGE subject which we will deal with in the next article…
Happy new year fellow sports shooters! See you again in 2015 😉