Reloading/Handloading Terminology

by Chuck (Onehorse) Tarinelli

In order to participate and communicate in any sport or activity, it is necessary to understand the working language of that interest. Anyone who has been even remotely interested in shooting sports is familiar with most of the words used in handloading, however, for the sake of clarity, we need to sharpen and redefine their meanings.

Cartridge – In the language of handloading, the cartridge is the finished product. The cartridge is made up of the bullet, the powder, the primer and the case.

Bullet – In every day speech, hunters (including the author of this article) use “bullet” when they really mean “cartridge”. In handloading guides, the bullet is the part of the cartridge that is fired from the rifle. It is the projectile that is shot out of the rifle muzzle.

Powder – The powder provides the energy that propels the bullet down the barrel and out of the rifle muzzle.

Case – The case is the component upon which the cartridge is built. It contains the powder and primer. The bullet is seated on top of the case. The case is also called the shell or brass (the material from which it is made).

Primer – The primer is the little pill-shaped structure that sits in a pocket at the bottom of the case. When the rifle’s firing pin strikes the primer, a small charge inside the primer will detonate and ignite the main powder charge in the case.

Grain – The term grain is a unit of measure that is used to specify the weight of either the amount of powder being used in any given load or the weight of the bullet. By definition, a grain is the smallest unit of the U.S. and British system of weights. One grain equals 1/7000th of a pound.

Reloading Components
The cases, primers, powder and bullets are the components used in handloading.

Although the words “handloading” and “reloading”, will be used interchangeably, they have slightly different meanings. The typical handloader sits at a workbench or table, usually located in a suitable area at home, and assembles cartridges using a variety of hand tools. Obviously, this is not how cartridges are produced commercially. So, applying the word “handloading” to this kind of at-home activity makes perfect sense.

“Reloading” can have a more specific definition. After firing the cartridge, the bullet is gone or, if you could recover it, not in any shape that you would want to push through your rifle barrel again. The powder has been completely burned; the primer has been dented by the firing pin and its charge also burned. Of all the components, only the case may be used more than once. Because the cases are reusable, the term “reloading” can correctly be applied to the practice of rebuilding the cartridge from the fired cases on up. The handloader COULD buy all new components, including the case, every time he or she wanted to load. Technically, this would be called “handloading” and not “reloading” because, in this instance, nothing is being “re”-used. However, buying all new components would greatly reduce the monetary savings that could be realized by reloading (the cases).

For this discussion “reloading” will mean using a fired case – reforming it, installing a new primer, charging it with a new load of powder and seating a new bullet. “Handloading” may be applied to using both all new components as well as reusing fired cases because, in either instance, hand tools will be used.

Next, we’ll take a look at Reloading/Handloading Equipment.

Chuck TarinelliChuck Tarinelli
The first real hunting Chuck did as a young man was with his English setter for the pheasants and ruffed grouse of New England. Later, he started pursuing deer and bear in the Green Mountains of Vermont.
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