by Chuck (Onehorse) Tarinelli
The tools used for handloading can, but need not be complicated nor terribly expensive. Most can be purchased at local gun supply stores, through catalog sales, or from suppliers on the internet. The essential equipment and main tools that are necessary are covered below. This basic equipment can be purchased for about $300. Not a bad investment when you consider the savings, and these tools really pay for themselves over the years.The entire job can be completed with just these tools, however, there is no end to the amount of additional tools, gadgets and accessories available to the handloader. What you decide to purchase will most likely be determined by how sophisticated you would like your set up to be and the depth of your pockets.
As this article is an overview of handloading, it will not include instructions for the set up and detailed use of the following equipment. This information will be included in the directions that come with each tool. Follow the directions provided with each exactly as described by the manufacturer.
When a cartridge is fired in the chamber of a rifle barrel, a tremendous amount of pressure is generated. This pressure is measured in pounds per square inch or PSI. Some calibers can produce pressures as high 65,000 PSI or higher. When this force is released inside a cartridge, it pushes on the base of the bullet, forcing it down the barrel. It also, pushes against the insides of the case, expanding the case outward and lengthening it somewhat. The case expands up to the inside dimensions of your rifle chamber and, at that point, the strength of your rifle chamber is what keeps the case from expanding to the point of becoming little bits and pieces of brass. (There are other factors that can cause not only your case, but your rifle chamber and barrel and you to become little bits and pieces, so I’ll be including some tips on safety in this article.) So, what do we need to get the case back into shape and ready to be fired?
Dies – For most rifle calibers, a set of two dies is needed when reloading. The first die is used to reform the cases to pre-fired specifications. The second die is used to seat the bullet to the correct depth in the case.
Handloading Press – The press is at the center of most of the handloading process. It can be a relatively simple device, holding one die at a time, or a progressive press which automatically advances the case to the next step as the handloader raises and lowers the press arm. Both turn out an equally dependable and accurate cartridge, but the latter will greatly reduce the amount of time required to produce the same number of reloaded cartridges.
Primer Seating Tool – A primer seating tool is needed to push a new primer into the primer pocket. There are several different kinds available that vary in terms of ease and style of use, capacity and, of course, price. It’s also a good idea to get a primer pocket brush to remove any fouling that remains in the pocket.
Powder Scale – Since we need to place an exact amount of powder into the case, we need a good quality powder scale. These can be as simple as a balance scale or as complicated as a digital scale, both of which are made specifically for measuring powder charges in terms of grains. A powder trickler is a handy device to use along with the scale when only a few granules of powder need to be added to the scale.
Case Length Gauge – A case length gauge or vernier caliper is critical for many uses throughout the whole handloading process. These are measuring tools that calibrate to thousandths of an inch. Such precise measurements are necessary for determining such things as the length of the case after firing and after resizing, the cartridge over-all length (COAL) after loading, etc.
Case Trimmer – As stated earlier, cases expand outward and lengthen when fired. When this happens, a case trimmer is necessary to trim cases back to the proper length. Basically, the resizing die takes care of the outward expansion and the trimmer takes care of the excessive lengthening. Resizing of the case needs to be done after every firing; trimming needs to be done only when the case length measures beyond specs. This may happen with one firing, or may take several. Measure the length of your cases before every reloading session so you know the status of your cases.
Chamfering/Deburring Tool – A chamfering-deburring tool is needed to bevel the inside of the case mouth and remove any rough edges on the outside of the case mouth before loading.
Powder Funnel – This item is really handy in getting the powder to go just where you want it to go… right into the case.
Loading Tray – A loading tray or block holds the cases in an upright position while they are being processed. Probably the least expensive tool, but it’ll keep you from having to sweep up powder from your floor.
Handbook – A loading handbook is needed for the data regarding correct bullet weights and powder charges for specific calibers. Think of this as a recipe book for cartridges. These books are published by most of the bullet makers, like Hornady, Nosler, Speer and Barnes, etc. Because they contain so much information beyond the scope of handloading – the history of individual calibers, tips on field judging game and shooting, and ballistics, etc.- I recommend that every hunter includes one of these handbooks in their shooting library whether they intend to handload or not.
At almost 40 years old, the author’s basic equipment has paid for itself many times over and is still getting the job done!
Along with the necessary equipment, it is a good idea for the beginning handloader to find a mentor. Most hunters who have been loading for a while are eager to give assistance and advice to beginners. If you belong to a gun club, you’ll have no trouble finding someone who will give you some pointers.
Also, most of the handbook publishers have handloading technicians on hand to answer questions about their products. After all, these are the folks who really wrote the book. Give them a call if you need assistance.
Next, we’ll take a look at the reloading/handloading process.