Interested in reloading your own ammunition? If so, this basic primer is for you. I'll give you a solid, fundamental understanding of what's involved with reloading, specifically using the Mark 7 Revolution Press.
I started my reloading journey a number of months ago. I'm no expert on reloading, but in just a matter of months, I've reloaded over 115,000 rounds and have a good understanding of the basics, which I'd like to share with you–particularly if you have been thinking about reloading or are about to purchase your first reloader.
For the experienced reloaders reading this, if I get anything wrong or my terminology is off, please let me know in the comments section below. As mentioned, I'm still learning a lot about reloading.
To start, let's discuss several common reloading questions.
Should You Reload or Buy Factory Ammo?
The answer really depends. How much do you shoot? What calibers do you shoot? Are you looking for the very best performance from your ammunition?
When it comes to reloading, it seems like the first question revolves around cost: “Will I save money by reloading?”
The answer depends on a number of different questions, such as:
- Will you be using a manual reloading press or an automated press?
- What caliber will you be shooting mostly?
- How much do you shoot?
- Will you be buying your own brass or do you have a source for once fired brass?
Manual Versus Automated Reloaders
There are two main categories of reloaders, manual versus automated, and many variations of each.
Both types of reloaders can have one or more “stages” and costs range from a couple of hundred dollars for a manual, single-stage reloading press to $18,000+ for an automated reloading press with multiple stages and sensors, such as the Mark 7 Revolution Reloading Press used in the video above.
I like to think of “stages” as individual steps where a specific reloading task is performed, such as decapping, i.e. removing a spent primer from a piece of used brass.
If you buy a manual press, your chances of breaking even in a timely manner are much better, especially if you shoot a lot, but you will need to spend a good amount of time operating the reloading press. Because automated reloading presses can cost a lot more, unless you shoot a lot and/or shoot large calibers, you may not see a return on your investment–though you will spend much less time actually reloading.
If you plan to shoot mostly large caliber, long-range rounds, I feel a manual reloader is the most cost-effective option because a long-range shooter typically will shoot only a hundred to several hundred rounds a session.
Manually reloading a couple of hundred of rounds is much more manageable than reloading 2,000 rounds of 9mm.
As you'll learn next, reloading long-range calibers are cheaper overall than buying factory ammo. Combine this point with the fact that manual reloading presses are much cheaper, one can see a return on investment faster reloading long-range rounds with a manual press.
What Caliber Will You Shoot the Most?
The vast majority of long-range shooters reload their ammunition because of performance reasons (more on this later) and because factory long-range shooting ammunition is expensive.
In terms of cost, in general, the larger the caliber the more likely one will see cost savings faster by reloading.
If you shoot common pistol calibers, i.e. 9mm, it will be difficult to come out on top. Unless you shoot as much as a professional shooter, get your brass for free (more on this later), and buy your reloading components in bulk, you may be better off buying factory ammunition.
How Much Do You Shoot?
The more you shoot, the likelier it is you will see a return on investment.
You might be asking, how much is enough?
It's difficult to answer the question because variables come into play, such as whether you're using a manual or automated reloader, and what caliber you mainly reload.
As you'll see below, whether you're able to get your brass for free or if you have to pay for it matters, too.
Personally, it took me roughly 115,000 rounds of 9mm to break even on the cost of the machine above. Now, however, I'm saving 50% off of retail prices for 2000 rounds of 9mm ammo.
Buying Your Own Brass?
As I researched component costs when I got into reloading, I was surprised to see that brass is actually pretty expensive. You can reuse brass a few times when reloading, but the initial cost is high.
For example, good brass will cost about $140 for 1000 pieces. Buying your own brass will add up quickly, especially if you shoot a lot.
If you have a contact or source to get your brass for free, that will help you save on your initial and on-going costs.
As I alluded to earlier, another big reason why shooters get into reloading is that it opens up a whole new world of improving your shooting performance.
By reloading, you can make ammo to your specific needs. You can change the weight of the bullet, the type bullet, the overall length, the amount and type of gun powder, etc.
One can really geek out in creating and experimenting with unique ‘recipes' that improve accuracy and dampen recoil–this is one of the reasons why most competition shooters reload their own ammunition.
Reloading Supplies & Equipment
Before we dive into how reloading presses work, let's briefly cover what reloading supplies and equipment you need to get started.
As I discussed above, there are two main types of reloading presses: manual and automatic. The type you get will depend on a number of items, such as what your budget is, what calibers you'll be shooting mostly, and how much you actually shoot.
Contrary to popular understanding, bullets refer to the projectiles that fire out of gun's barrel. Bullets are not the entire cartridge, i.e. pre-assembled ammunition.
There are many bullet types and weights on the market, and the one that is right for you will depend on what you want to use the ammo for, e.g. hunting or target practice.
Brass is the casing in which gun powder is placed, and where a bullet is seated on top and a primer is seated at the bottom. Most brass can be reused twice, and military brass can be reused about 4 to 6 times.
Gun powder is the propellant explosive that when ignited, causes a bullet to fire from the cartridge and through the barrel. There are many different kinds of slow and fast-burning gun powders, each with their own use cases.
A primer is a component responsible for initiating the propellant combustion, i.e. ‘ignite the gun power', that will push the bullets out of the barrel of a gun.
A tumbler is a piece of equipment that is used to clean used brass so that you can reuse them for reloading. Used brass is placed in a tumbler with media/corn cob, which cleans the brass. In a few hours, the used brass will be cleaned and ready for reuse.
Reloading separators area piece of equipment that separates cleaned brass from the media/corn cob used in a tumbler. Separators are essentially a big container with holes that allow dirt and media to fall through while containing the cleaned brass.
In addition, when reloading you'll want to use the following safety equipment as we are dealing with hazardous components.
- Eye protection
- Ear protection
- Latex gloves
- Cleaning brush and compressed air
How Does A Reloading Press Work?
Now that we've addressed some common questions and discussed the reloading supplies and equipment needed, let's briefly cover how reloading presses work. (The video above covers more and goes in more depth.)
Let's assume we are reloading using once-fired brass, and assume the used brass has been cleaned and is ready for reuse. Here are common steps/tasks we need to take to reload and make one cartridge.
- Decapping – removing the spent primer from the used brass
- Swaging – preparing the empty primer pocket for another one to be placed
- Priming – placing a new primer in the primer pocket
- Case Expansion – expanding the neck/edge of the brass casing
- Primer Check – ensuring that the primer is properly seated in the primer pocket
- Powder Drop – placing gun powder into the brass casing
- Powder Check – ensuring the proper amount of gun powder has been dropped in the brass casing
- Bullet Drop – placing the bullet on top of the brass
- Bullet Seating – setting the bullet further into the brass
- Crimping – crimping the neck/edge of the brass casing over the bullet
Reloading presses can have one or multiple stages, using various dies. Stages refer to where a specific reloading task is completed, and dies are used to complete a specific task at a specific stage.
For example, single-stage reloaders refer to a press that performs a single stage of the reloading process at a time using a single die. For example, you'd install a sizing die and begin sizing all of the brass. Once completed, you would have to switch to a powder die for the next stage in the loading sequence. It's a manual process that can become cumbersome if you're reloading a ton of rounds.
A multiple-stage reloader will have already have dies set up so they do not need to be swapped out for different dies. Hence, the reloading process will be faster and more streamlined.
The reloading press I use in the video is a 10-stage reloading press that completes all of the major tasks outlined above. In addition, it also has sensors that alert reloaders when something is off and needs to be manually inspected.
So those are the basics of reloading. I encourage you to watch the reloading video above as I go into more detail and walk you through the process live, using the Mark 7 Revolution reloading press.
Have any questions? Please leave a comment below!