Friday, February 28, 2014

Reloading Ammunition

Our whole reloading operation hard at work

This is my first experience with reloading ammunition.

My friend Ezra invited me to a Two-Day Defensive Handgun Course at the Front Sight firearm training facility, in Nevada.  The training course was an incredible learning experience.  While we were at the hotel, in the evening, Ezra taught me how to reload ammunition.  (note: Front Sight does not allow the use of reloaded ammunition)

Due to the rising costs of ammunition, I continue to hear of more and more people reloading, just to keep target practice costs reasonable.  This is even more appealing when your particular caliber cannot be found on any shelves, due to stock shortages.

Reloading is bit of a long process, but kind of cathartic.  Having multiple people working on the parallel tasks significantly reduces total completion time.

There is an upfront cost.  The reloading kits run in the several hundred dollar range.  As mentioned before, having several people work in parallel greatly reduces the completion time.  So, the recommendation is to buy the kit as a family or group of friends, and have occasional reloading parties.  As the reloading kit is used, the cost is quickly recouped.

How cheap is reloading?  Well, if you collect your used brass, and can get a supply of free lead (think used tire weights from an auto shop), then it can be as cheap as a few pennies for each round.  Last time I checked, the cheapest I could get a box of 100 x 9mm rounds at Walmart was for around $30.  That is 30 cents per round.  You can then make up the cost of the kit by just reloading a couple thousand rounds.  Reloading can almost bring the cost of practice firing a your handgun/rifle to the level of a .22.

I tried to take as many photos as I could, but I apologize, there are some stages that I missed.  I inserted Google images (as noted) when needed

So what is involved?  First, some terminology.

Ammunition Terminology

Ammunition Cartridge (thanks Wikipedia)
Cartridge - The combination of the bullet (1), case/shell (2), powder (3), rim (4) and primer (5)

Caliber - Measure of the diameter of the bullet being fired.  (technically Caliber is the measure of the internal diameter of the barrel)

Bullet (1) - The metal projectile.  The diameter is measured in "Caliber" and weight measured in "grains".  Commonly lead, copper or steel.  For reloading we will use lead.

Case/Shell (2) - The casing that holds the bullet. Commonly brass or steel.  For reloading we will use brass casings.

Powder (3) - The propellant used to propel the bullet forward.  For reloading, we will use "smokeless powder".

Rim (4) - The rim allows the extractor to grab and eject the spent cartridge.

Primer (5) - The primary explosive that the firing pin will hit to ignite the powder.

Step #1 - Melting Lead and Making Bullets

If you buy your bullets, then this step can be skipped.

If you can get access to free lead (think used tire weights), this step does save quite a bit of money.  This step unfortunately also happens to take the most time.

Whether you have a brick of lead or used tire weights, the first step is to melt the lead and pour it into a mold.  We used a Butane gas stove and a cast iron pouring pot as the crucible (a container that can withstand high temperatures for melting other items).  Once the lead is sufficiently melted, it is poured into a bullet mold, trimmed and dumped into water to cool off.  (warning: lead fumes are not good for you, so do this outside with appropriate protection)

The cast iron crucible we used
Butane / Isobutate / Propane Gas Stove
Bullet mold (thanks Google Images)

A visual inspection is done to remove any failed bullets.  The bullets are then run through a bullet die to ensure proper sizing.

A file and pliers is then used to remove any burrs. The bullets are finally dumped into a zip lock bag, with some lubricant.

The collection of bullets is growing
Our finished bullets

Step #2 - Casing / Shells

If you buy your casings this step can be skipped.

You have been collecting your spent brass, right?  If not, you should start.  Your spent brass is what will supply this portion of the process.  This is the second longest portion of the reloading process.

Clean up the shells, and remove any shells that have un-struck or funny looking primers.  We will be removing the old primers, so you don't want any that may explode in your hands.

Place the shells in the first sizing die (neck expanding die).  The first sizing die will expand and shape (round) the shell and punch out the old spent primer.

Oil and place the shell in the second sizing die (sizing die).  The second sizing die will reduce the shells to the correct diameter.

Sizing Die (thanks Google Images)

Re-sized shells
Lubricated and finished shells

Step #3 - Primer

Next, a new primer will be added to the re-sized shells.  This step is fairly quick.  A hand primer tool can push through the hundred shells in a matter of minutes.

Hand primer tool (thanks Google Images)
Finished shells with new primer (see left shell)

Step #4 - Powder

Next we need to insert the proper amount of powder into the shell.  Using scales, and a reference table, the powder measure tool is adjusted to dispense the appropriate amount of powder.

Powder measure tool

Step #5 - Bullet Seating (Final Step)

Finally we need to seat the bullet into the shell and using the bullet seating die we crimp the shell to the bullet.

Seating Die (thanks Google Images)
Before storing your completed cartridges, they should have one final thin spray of lubrication.

Rinse and Repeat

Now we are ready to take these fine pieces of workmanship out to the range and begin this whole process again from square one.  Let the cycle continue.

Additional Information


Chris Russo said...

Do you have a local lead source? All the tire shops I've asked, won't give (or sell even) their old tire weights. They had recycling contracts and/or policy not to provide to the public! is where I get mine atm...

David N. Olson said...

Your post is very helpful, thank you. If you are new to the world of reloading, then this guide may be what you need to learn of ways on how to reload ammo. First of all, welcome to this new world, where you may encounter jargons and numbers that are of course overwhelming for beginners. See more