Basic Handloading for beginners

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  • Basic Handloading for beginners

    Back by demand

    Fellow shooters, This article is intended for those seeking information on the basics of handloading and getting started with this wonderful hobby (within a hobby).

    The main topics covered in this first post will be:
    - Safety whilst handloading and shooting
    - The purpose of handloading
    - Equipment requirements

    Safety whilst handloading and shooting
    Before I begin to talk about why we handload or the equipment required, I will take the time to point out that safety should remain our number one priority in this sport. We only have one life, one set of eyes, one set of ears, two hands and so forth. The same can also be said for those around us at the range, in the field or at home in the reloading room. We do not want to put others in danger, the same way that we do not want to put ourselves in danger. I’m sure you would not like it if a fellow shooter put your safety in jeopardy. So take the time to think about your duty of care as a handloader, and that is to ensure the health and safety of yourself and those around you whilst making ammunition and shooting it at the range.

    In order to maintain a safe shooting environment I recommend the following:

    - ALWAYS wear safety equipment whilst shooting. This includes appropriately rated ballistic eyewear and hearing protection as a minimum
    - Follow all safety precautions and procedures that are taught in firearms safety courses. If you have forgotten the rules take the time to read them again
    - Get yourself a good reloading manual and read it until you understand the principles within (Speer, Hornady, Nosler etc, all make fantastic reloading manuals) A lot of guys on here also give praise to the Nick Harvey Reloading Manual, so thats also worth checking out.
    - When seeking information on loads, ALWAYS start from the ground up. That is, use the manufacturers minimum recommended starting load and work your own way up. Most Australians use ADI Powders. Here is a link to the ADI Handloaders Guide...
    - ADI Manual <-- CLICK HERE
    - Never shoot your custom handloads in someone else’s rifle
    - Whilst making ammunition concentrate solely on the task at hand. Turn off the TV and do not strike up distracting conversations. Distractions lead to mistakes which lead to injuries.
    - Only work on one calibre at a time. When multiple powders are involved only ever keep out the appropriate powder on the bench. Place all other powders away to avoid confusion and potential dangerous scenarios.

    I could stretch this safety section out for a long time but I won’t, however I will say this; All newbie’s to handloading, please read a good Reloading Manual cover to cover before you begin your first attempts at handloading.

    The purpose of handloading
    Handloading (or reloading) is a common hobby amongst shooters. There are many reasons why one would chose to make their own ammunition. The following is a list of reasons of why one chooses to enter into this hobby:
    - Ammunition Prices: In the long run, once equipment has been paid for, the cost of ammunition is dramatically lowered.
    - Ammunition Quality: Handloaders can spend as much or as little time as they would like in making their ammunition. The more time dedicated usually equates to a higher quality round produced. The less time dedicated can result in lower quality of reloads on a high volume. It is worth noting, lower quality does not mean the ammunition is bad.
    - Accurate/Tailored Ammunition: Handloaders do not have to stick with ammunition that is designed to work in all rifles of the same calibre. Ammunition can be tailored to a specific rifle chamber therefore allowing room for increases in accuracy. Handloaders also have access to certain components that aren't found in factory loaded ammunition (Berger projectiles and custom solids are just two examples)
    - Hard to find ammunition: If loaded ammo is hard to come by for rare or wildcat cartridges, Handloaders have the option of making these hard to find items. This then opens up the options for future rifle builds. No longer are you restricted to purchasing a rifle chambered in what’s offered on the shelves.
    - Recycling of components: The cost of brass is significant, and holding onto it for future use is not only good for your wallet and the environment, it is good for your reloading room.
    - Something fun to do: Most importantly (In my eyes), reloading opens up new doors and gives us something fun to do. If you have not experienced significant increases in accuracy due to ammunition that you have made, you are missing out.

    Equipment Requirements
    Just as there are many ways to skin a cat, there are also many ways to start your journey into Handloading. A common question that I hear is “What sort or brand of equipment should I purchase?” Replies to this question are usually varied, however I find there is one common theme amongst the most responses. It all comes down to a budget and/or your level of enthusiasm for this hobby.

    The budget handloader:
    The budget handloader is someone that wants to get started into the hobby with a small budget. The level of enthusiasm can range from someone just looking to get started and reload, to someone that wants to create highly accurate ammunition for competition. I recommend that those looking to shoot in competitions give a little extra thought to quality components such as competition die sets, and quality components such as Lapua brass.
    A reloading kit such as the Lee, RCBS or Hornady are good to go and will get you started in the hobby. These kits are based around the single stage model presses.
    Pros – Gets you started on the cheap
    Cons – Entry level components may end up getting replaced down the track by a more superior product depending on how serious you are

    The high volume Handloader:
    The high volume Handloaders primary goal is to make ammunition and lots of it. Pistol shooters and those churning thru heaps of rounds on a daily/weekly basis should look into getting a progressive press setup to facilitate better use of time to produce more ammunition. Dillon progressive setups are a common and well made choice for high volume Handloaders.
    Pros- High volume output
    Cons- Equipment costs are high, generally not the type of equipment used for bench rest shooters (although some do still do it)

    The precision handloader:
    This category of Handloaders are the guys that generally have more equipment at their reloading benches than most others care for. The good news is that you can start on a budget, and over time purchase more and more components as needed in effect placing you in this category. The precision handloader will often utilise equipment that whilst is not needed to make ammunition, is needed to improve the quality of ammunition. Examples of equipment that fall into this category are neck turners, concentricity gages, meplat trimmers, annealing equipment etc.
    Precision Handloaders will either use a reloading kit or various components carefully selected, along with other more specialise pieces of equipment like those listed above.
    Pros- Precise equipment leads to quality ammunition
    Cons- Gets a bit pricey

  • #2
    SAAMI Specs
    The acronym SAAMI is commonly seen in many of the handloading/reloading texts you will encounter in your travels. If you don’t already know what SAAMI is about, have a read of the information provided below.

    About SAAMI

    The Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers' Institute (SAAMI) is an association of the nation's leading manufacturers of firearms, ammunition and components. SAAMI was founded in 1926 at the request of the federal government and tasked with:
    - Creating and publishing industry standards for safety, interchangeability, reliability and quality
    - Coordinating technical data
    - Promoting safe and responsible firearms use
    SAAMI Strategic Goals
    1. Be the leading global technical resource regarding firearms and ammunition manufacturers' issues.
    2. Maintain technically correct standards for terminology, performance, interchangeability and safety.
    3. Create a forum for the introduction of appropriate new standards and policies.
    4. Publicize pertinent SAAMI policies and standards.
    5. Increase our public visibility as "the experts" in our fields.
    SAAMI Mission
    To Create and Promulgate Technical, Performance, and Safety Standards for Commerce in Firearms, Ammunition, and Components
    Here is a link to the SAAMI/ANSI Standards to rifle cartridges


    Note, this document is not a must to read, however it is very informative and has all sorts of chamber spec drawings. Having a read thru this document should give you a better understanding of chambers and how maximum safe pressure data is obtained;

    So your probably wondering what this all means to you. To keep in simple in lay terms, if you stick to SAAMI specifications you can rest assured that the ammunition you are loading will be safe to shoot and work in most chambers. I say “most” chambers because there are those of us who occasionally deviate from SAAMI specs in some way or another for various reasons. Sometimes these deviations can be safe, sometimes not in the case of exceeding recommended pressure levels. Please keep in mind that all rifles are different and whilst powder charge ranges are generally well defined, you should really start from the beginning and work up a load yourself.

    Choosing Components
    If you are loading ammunition for very common calibres you will probably be lucky enough to have access to a wide variety of consumable items which increases the choices you have when it comes time to purchase. But what do you decide on when there are so many choices? Give the following a think about the next time you make a decision to purchase reloading components.

    At first cases can appear to be the most expensive component in reloading, but in actual fact they are probably the cheapest once you factor into account the amount of reloads per case versus the total cost of a batch of brass. Keep that in mind.
    Case quality is extremely important, but just like all of the other components, consistency is what really splits the difference between average cases and good cases. An example of good brass is something that has consistent case to case weight, consistent neck thickness and higher manufacturing standards. An example of high quality brass is Lapua or Norma brass. The most obvious positive attribute to Lapua brass is the reputation for long brass life. The longer the brass life, the less purchases, fire-forming and load development is required. Another positive associated with high quality brass is that you generally don’t need brass prep tools when using these brands as the cases are made to higher standards.
    Your average run of the mil brass on the other hand will generally come with more inconsistencies throughout and will require more time prepping and sorting. Besides the inconsistencies, average quality brass may also have a lower case life. At the other end of the scale you have Military once fired brass. This type of brass requires primer pocket reaming, pocket uniforming and often a decent full length size. If the once fired brass has come from a machine gun, usually the brass will have been fire formed to a larger chamber size.
    My advice when choosing brass is to go with the good stuff if money and availability permits. Otherwise just get the best you can afford.

    The most commonly available powder brand sold in Australia is that which is manufactured by ADI Thales. For this reason, that would be my first choice unless there is a very strong reason for needing an alternate brand.
    Brand names aside, put a little effort into online research to find out what powders have been working for others. You may quickly narrow your choices down to one or two powders. If you already have, or plan to purchase another calibre rifle, check to see if you can utilise one type of powder for multiple rifles. This not only reduces risk of using the wrong powder, it generally makes your reloading room a little neater.
    When you have multiple choices of powder types you may need to consider the projectiles you are shooting, length of barrel and the speeds you require.
    Competition shooters with longer barrels usually want faster speeds so they stick with slower burning powders that stay burning thru the length of the barrel. Short barrelled fast twist rifles (18”) usually need a faster burning powder to accomplish adequate velocity in a shorter barrel whilst keeping the projectile stable.

    Primers are an easy option in my opinion. You can test out various brands if you like but I prefer to stick with readily available options. By doing this I have less chance of not being able to obtain my usual preference and risk having to use a new type of primer. I like Federal Gold Medal primers such as the Federal 210M match primer. These primers have slightly wider cups than most other meaning you can squeeze and extra load or two in per case before loose primer pockets become an issue. CCI, Winchester, Remington and Wolf are also commonly found primers in most stores.

    There are an enormous amount of projectiles to choose from in most calibres. Projectile choice is determined by application (Target, hunting, plinking) and barrel. Knowing the twist rate of your rifling will allow you to determine the maximum weight projectile you can use before bullet instability becomes a problem.

    Pure bench rifles, target guns and range rifles will benefit from using high ballistic coefficient match projectiles. Match projectiles are usually cheaper than hunting projectiles, and offer much better flight characteristics when compared to a similar hunting projectile. Match projectiles often have thick jackets and for this reason are not suitable for hunting (or some may say).
    Pros (Match Bullets) - Generally cheaper than hunting bullets, Highest BC's available, very uniform bullets
    Cons (Match Bullets) - Not the greatest hunting bullet

    Hunting rifles will benefit from utilising hunting projectiles such as the Barnes TSX, Remington CoreLokt, Sierra Gamekings etc. These projectiles are made for taking game animals. There are also solid type projectiles that are designed for taking large game such as buffalo, elk, elephant, camels etc. These projectiles do not rapidly expand and rely on high penetration to punch through tough hides. Typically one does not shoot match or long range with your regular run of the mil hunting projectiles.

    Pros - Great for hunting
    Cons - Not the best for target shooting and utmost accuracy

    Long Range hunting rifles require both high BC bullets that are suitable for hunting. In order words, a hunting projectile with the performance characteristics of a match projectile. Berger hunting bullets make excellent choices for long range hunting rifles as these projectiles meet both the BC and hunting requirements.

    Pros - Great hybrid between a high BC match bullet, yet suitable for hunting
    Cons - VLD types are difficult to get shooting right, Solids are very long in size and can be an issue when it comes to fitting into a magazine

    As a general rule I recommend all shooters invest time into research BEFORE they commit to a purchase. Research could be experimental data that you obtain yourself, or it could simply be chasing up information on the internet. I’m a big fan of later, but you have to be careful that you are reading the right information. A simple search on google can net you an array of results that may make your mind up for you. Combine this with readily available components in your area and you will quickly have just a few choices to go with. As an example, the most common powders in Australia come from ADI Thales, so that is the more natural choice in powder type. Of course you could go with Vihta powders if you really wanted to, but will you be limiting yourself to only a handful of suppliers?


    • #3
      Keep going VMAN...good work.
      I'm in love with Jennifer Hawkins and Alessandra Ambrosio


      • #4
        Cheers again

        Part 2 ??? LOL


        • #5
          H`Ray VMan is back with the goods --welcome mate I was really enjoying your articles part 1 --.
          Don’t poke the snake, walk around it and come back later with a double-barrelled shotgun and blow its [email protected]#!ing head off!.

          Australia in future, the outcome is the same, a bloody dictatorship run on the whims of a very few ego-centric pathological elitists.


          • Druid 66
            Druid66 commented
            Editing a comment

            Just what I need to start me off on the road to reloading - I decided once I`d saved up 100 .308 empty cartridges from my GRS I`d look into the subject and this information is a great help for me - Thank you indeed VMAN.

        • #6
          this is exactly what half a dozen different threads in hand loading were getting at. That is to say you answered most of those questions in one place. this should probably get pinned if moderators would agree. Thank you sir. that about covers the basics.
          "He got the whole nine yards" - as it happens World War II (1939–1945) aircraft machine gun belts (US 50 cal) were nine yards long.


          • Guest's Avatar
            Guest commented
            Editing a comment
            Guess what fellas... after 2 months of being away from home, I'm finally back in! The place looks like it could do with a major clean up (the reloading room), but once its looking a little cleaner the ol 7D is coming out of the safe for a shoot.

        • #7
          okay lets continue with school. Nuts n bolts style preferably. The book you gave is all about bullets and their weights in grains (and there shape), and powders and their weights and recommended min and make powders for given weight projectiles. So who do you read to get the idea of HOW to reload. What do you do in what order.
          "He got the whole nine yards" - as it happens World War II (1939–1945) aircraft machine gun belts (US 50 cal) were nine yards long.


          • shooter3975
            shooter3975 commented
            Editing a comment
            Originally posted by Laflamme" post=24909
            okay lets continue with school. Nuts n bolts style preferably. The book you gave is all about bullets and their weights in grains (and there shape), and powders and their weights and recommended min and make powders for given weight projectiles. So who do you read to get the idea of HOW to reload. What do you do in what order.
            I'm in the same boat... I heard Nick Harvey's book is very good (which I plan on purchasing soon). There are some good videos on youtube/internet but personally you can only get so much from them. What is needed is an experienced reloader showing you the basics and getting your hands dirty.

        • #8
          the above ADI link isn't working so here is the link for the 6th edition =>