Ever thought about reloading ammunition? It’s a lot easier than you think! With clear step-by-step instruction and a basic set of starting equipment you can be reloading your own ammunition in no time.

Reloading ammunition is a rewarding hobby that's surprisingly easy to learn.

Reloading ammunition is a rewarding hobby that’s surprisingly easy to learn.

When I started reloading ammunition, 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.

Reloading ammunition is a great hobby if you’re cut out to enjoy that sort of thing. Yes, you can save money, but the real fun is the process and the satisfaction of being able to create the perfect ammunition for any of your firearms. Want less recoil in your competition pistol? No problem! Want to get your bolt-action rifle to shoot one half-inch groups at 100 yards? No problem, assuming your rifle is up to the task. Want to hunt with ammunition you made yourself? Got that covered!

The key to getting started is understanding the basic process. If you want to learn how to play the piano, you don’t just run out and buy sheet music. That won’t help you learn the basics of how to play. In fact, it’ll just lead to frustration and confusion. It’s the same with reloading. If you just buy a reloading manual, you’ll get plenty of arcane technical information and a whole lot of “recipe” combinations of powder, primers, and bullet types. If you don’t understand the steps, that won’t do you much good.

That’s exactly why we wrote The Practical Guide to Reloading Ammunition. It is a step-by-step walk through the process. Once you understand those basics, reloading is easy and all those reloading recipe manuals will make a lot more sense.

The Reloading Process

When you boil all the complexity down, reloading ammunition is simply recycling fired cartridges. Just like plastic milk containers, but a lot less smelly. For most modern ammunition types, a cartridge is composed of several components — some of which are expendable and others reusable.

Let’s take an insanely practical look at the steps involved in reloading straight wall handgun ammunition, like 9mm, .40 Smith & Wesson, .38 Special or .45 ACP. Later on, we’ll talk more about the basic equipment you need to do this.

The circle of life: Loaded cartridge, spent brass, primer has been removed, new primer installed, ready for powder, seating a new bullet, and completed cartridge.

The circle of life: Loaded cartridge, spent brass, primer has been removed, new primer installed, ready for powder, seating a new bullet, and completed cartridge.

1. Inspect and 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.

2. Remove the spent primers

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.

3. Resize the cartridge case

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 right at the person standing to your immediate right. 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.

4. Belling the case mouth

While this sounds like a boxing move, it simply means opening up the opening of the cartridge case mouth so you can fit a new bullet in there. In the previous step, you squished the dickens out of the brass from the outside in. In this step, you “re-open” the case mouth just a little.

5. Priming the cartridge

Remember that spent primer we knocked out earlier? It’s time to shove a new one in the primer pocket. The primer is what starts the whole “go bang” process, so this step is important!

6. Charging the cartridge (Adding powder)

At this point, we have clean and properly sized brass. And since we just put a new primer in, there’s no longer a hole in the bottom so that we can add a new measure of powder, or as the reloading geeks call it, powder. Propellant charge is measured by weight, in grains, but the right equipment allows you to dispense the correct amount by volume.

Gun words explained

Grain: While we’re here, people often wonder what a grain is. While intuitively it sounds like one little speck of powder, it’s actually 1/7,000th of a pound. As a handgun cartridge might use four grains of powder, think of that as 0.00057142857143 pounds. It only takes a little.

7. Seating the bullet

Seating refers to pushing the bullet into the (now slightly opened) case mouth to the proper depth. For safety reasons that we’ll talk about later, and to make sure your newly manufactured cartridge will fit in your gun, the overall length of the cartridge needs to be within standard dimensions for that caliber.

8. Crimping the cartridge case

In this step, you press the brass around the case mouth back into proper shape once the bullet is seated. Remember earlier when we opened the case mouth a bit to allow for bullet insertion? This step puts things back to normal. We’ll get into more detail later, but for now, just know that crimping is not what holds the bullet in place. The tension of the bullet and cartridge case interior walls does that. Crimping just evens things out and removes the belling we created.

9. Packaging and inspection!

I like to list this as the last step as it’s important to check your work. For me, doing this as I put completed cartridges into containers makes sense. I look to make sure that primers are seated correctly and that bullets are seated to the right depth. The inspection step is important for safety and reliability. You don’t want to be blazing through the Smoke and Hope stage of your local Steel Challenge match when you encounter a cartridge where you forgot to insert a primer, right? That empty-sounding “click” would be embarrassing.

This sounds like a lot of steps, doesn’t it? It can be, but fortunately, you can pay for automation. Depending on your equipment choices, many of these steps can be consolidated into a single action. We’ll teach you all about that too.

How do you know what equipment to buy?

When you get serious enough to break out the checkbook and buy some equipment, we can help you know what you absolutely need first — and what optional gear will make your life easier. Like any activity that requires an investment in gear, there are a million and seven ways to accomplish the task with varying types of equipment.

In The Practical Guide to Reloading Ammunition, we’re going to focus on what I think is a reasonable tradeoff between cost and effectiveness. You can do with less, and I’ll point out those areas where you can skimp. You can also make your life a lot easier by spending a few extra dollars, and I’ll point out those opportunities too.

Reader reviews…

Check out some of the feedback from other readers.

I have now bought and read a couple of beginners books on reloading. Each has their pluses and minuses but this one, I believe, is superior to the rest. Primarily this book has a sense of humor about it which makes it more readable. I also like the way the tips are laid out, they are not hidden in the text and are easy to page back to.

This book exceeded my expectations by a wide margin. Fun to read, but filled with very practical advice. Even experienced reloaders will likely learn a thing or two.

If you are thinking about getting into re-loading, this is a great place to start. It’s full of tips and advice for shooters looking to save money, gain knowledge and get more out of the hobby.

This book was exactly what I needed. Very informative, easy to read, and understand.

Great book for anyone wanting to get into reloading.

Excellent book. Step by step on choosing equipment and how to use it. Best “how to” book on reloading.

Outstanding! I feel very confident getting started on the road to reloading after reading The Practical Guide to Reloading Ammunition. Mister McHale’s writing style kept me engaged throughout the book. He has a way of explaining things in a light-hearted manner, while keeping focus on safe practices. Highly informative and funny!

This is an excellent book. It is very process oriented, and covers every step in the process of reloading both pistol and rifle ammunition, doing so in clear and concise language. Anyone reading this book will be well prepared to reload ammunition with knowledge and confidence.

An incredibly good basic book explaining how to get started. Well worth to have in a library.

There are several books at the begginer level on Amazon and after reviewing all of them I chose this one (The Practical Guide to Reloading). This book has turned out to be all that I expected it to be. It is logical, sequential, easy to understand, and and gives excellent illustrations in its coverage of the reloading subject for beginners.

This book is a CRITICAL read before buying equipment or attempting to reload.

I’ve been debating with myself for a while about getting into reloading. I didn’t know a whole lot about it. Heard lots of positives and lots of negatives. Armed with the knowledge in this book, I feel more confident now to take the plunge and get started.

Very well done. I’ve read four reloading books and feel that this one laid it all out nicely. Super simple to follow and lots of great tips and information.

Finished the book in a day cover to cover and I usually am not that big into reading. Although I haven’t started reloading I feel I am confident and ready to find a press and a manual and give it a shot. Very easy and informative read.

The author explained the reloading process in terms I can understand. Now I feel more confident in reloading for my handgun.

I’m new to reloading and have viewed several supposed reloading guides. This book is, by far, the best primer for the beginning reloader. If you’re serious about reloading or just want to understand the process, this is the perfect book. I’m waiting for the author’s next book!

Excellent, well-written guide for beginners, chock full of valuable information but also an entertaining read, with tips that even experienced handloaders may find useful. An essential book for anyone who is considering getting into handloading/reloading for the first time.

Loved this book. Well written and easy to understand. Also lots of very useful tips that will save a lot of stress downstream. I also liked the advice on gear purchasing…now where has my credit card gone….! I would consider this book a must have for beginner hand loaders.

This is a good book for someone just getting the itch to reload. It manages to explain the process in an informative, but fun to read way. This Christmas when someone asks me what I want, I can hand them my reloading wishlist!

Excellent short, clever and informative book for anyone that is seriously considering getting into handloading/reloading. I recommend it highly.

I bought this for my Husband, He says it is very thorough and really good with step by step instructions. He really loves it.

Very good book for beginners, full of good information. Bought it because I was interested in starting to reload, now I really want to go out and buy a press and reloading manual.

This is a terrific book for someone who knows nothing about reloading but is interested. Easy writing style and assumes no prior knowledge.

Why You Need This Book

This book has a simple mission: to help you learn how to reload your own centerfire ammunition and avoid some of the pitfalls that plague every new ammunition reloader. 
Notice I specified centerfire ammunition. That’s standard rifle and pistol ammo with brass cartridge cases. Rimfire ammunition, like .22 Long Rifle, .22 Magnum, and .17 HMR is not reloadable as it does not use a removable primer. Shotgun ammunition is reloadable too, but the process is significantly different, so this book won’t address it.

Left to right: .22 long rifle rimfire, .22 Magnum rimfire, 9mm centerfire (notice the primer in the base) and 12-gauge shotgun, also centerfire.

Left to right: .22 long rifle rimfire, .22 Magnum rimfire, 9mm centerfire (notice the primer in the base) and 12-gauge shotgun, also centerfire.

When I started reloading ammunition, 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 Practical Guides. Nothing would make us happier than to have a million or so folks start reloading 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.
This book 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.

About The Practical Guide to Reloading Ammunition

Chapter by chapter, the book explains the entire reloading ammunition process from brass cleaning to final inspection. Loaded with pictures and illustrations, the process is made simple and clear. With this book, you will be reloading you own cost-effective ammunition quickly and safely.

Topics Include:

  • Why take up reloading?
  • Is reloading ammunition 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 – how gear can speed up the process.
  • Introduction to advanced topics.