Welcome back to the science of reloading. If you haven’t already, I highly recommend reading part one as it goes over bench and press selection. Today we are going to discuss all the rest of the things you MUST have in order to begin reloading. We will also cover some of the nicer options that will exceed the bare minimum and make life easier and reloading less tedious and more fun. Once again, this is a beginner’s guide to reloading but some more experienced loaders might see some items they hadn’t thought of before.
You have your press and bench picked out, now what? The first thing is going to be a reloading manual or even better several so you can cross reference loads and data. You can’t do anything without a manual. They tell you everything from what size your brass needs to be trimmed to, how much and what kind of powder to use, how deep to seat your bullet, and some other information. Most of the manuals also give a brief history of each round and some tips on loading. If the manual is published by a bullet manufacturer, they may also give good descriptions of each bullet. So what manual should you get? Well that can be a difficult question especially starting out. The best manual to get is typically the one by the company that makes the bullet that you are using. That can be difficult when you start out since you will want to, and should, try several different bullets. Buying each manufacturer’s book would give you the most accurate information, but could have you buying several books. On the other hand, you could buy a book, like Lymen, that uses multiple different manufacturers bullets. It may not cover every single bullet produces, but gives you more data in one book.This decision is completely up to you. Personally, I like to cross reference and have multiple manuals.
The next thing you need to look at is your die set. You have a few options here depending on what your goals are. The prices on a die set can range from $30 to over $300. So let’s look at the cheaper dies first and work our way up. First we have Lee die sets (we keep seeing that name). They are the cheapest die sets but in some ways rather nice. They are very easy to adjust and they come with some extras you don’t see in other die sets. One of these extras is a shell holder which is very convenient since you have to have one. They also come with a powder scoop (we will talk about them later) and that can be nice if you decide to use one. And the best part is they are normally right around the $30 price point and you can make quality ammunition with them. Next we have the RCBS dies that are of a similar quality of the Lee dies but the seating die is a little bit more precise and consistent. They however don’t come with the shell holder or powder scoop but overall are a slightly better die. The adjustment on the seating dies are slightly more difficult to set but will be more precise. Next, in the same quality category, you have Hornady dies. I have not personally used them, but from talking with people that have they are just as good as the RCBS dies. Next in the the selection of dies you have are match (or competition) die sets. The biggest thing with them is that they have more precise adjustments and stricter tolerances than the regular dies. Next we will talk about redding competition dies they are one of the best die sets you can get but, much like the foster in our last article, they come at a price which is anywhere from $250 up to $350 per set depending on caliber. So what makes them worth so much more you ask? Well the biggest thing is the micrometer on the seating die that you can adjust accurately to .001” it also comes with a neck sizing die that allows you to adjust neck tension. This can be important during load development for extreme precision.
The next thing is case lube. If you are resizing rifle brass you have to have case lube or you are going to have a really bad day when you get a case stuck in your sizing die (I could write a whole article just on that subject). You have a lot of options for this one. There are lube pads that some people like to use where you apply lube to the pad and the roll the brass on it. There is also lube that you put on your finger then put it on the case. I’m not a fan of this method because if you use too much lube you can get dents in your case. Then there is spray lube method which is my personal favorite. It lets you put several cases into a container spray them and shake them around then you are ready to size all of them. I have used both Hornady and Dillon spray lubes and they both work great. The Hornady is in an aerosol can while the Dillon is in a regular spray bottle. How you lube your cases really just comes down to personal preference, but just remember even though you can get small dents in the cases, as with most non reloading applications, too much lube is better than not enough….
The next must have is going to be your scale. You can’t do anything without a scale. You need a mechanical scale on your bench!!! Yes they do make digital scales and I personally use one but a digital scale can fail causing serious injury or death!!! Not to mention, scales need to be calibrated regularly. Every company has a beam scale Lee, RCBS, Dillon, ECT… and it doesn’t really matter scale you go with. The Lee is 26 bucks on amazon and the dillon is over $100 with the others in between. My friend’s Lee is just as accurate as my Dillon it really just comes down to the way you set them up. I like the ease of use with the Dillon over the Lee. In reality, it just comes to personal preference and what you can afford. Now onto digital scales. You have a lot of options here. You have scales that are just a scale, like the one from Hornady which you can get for around $35 and it’s a lot faster than a beam scale for actually loading rounds. Lymen makes one that has a powder trickler built into it so you can get to exactly the amount of powder you want and that’s about $115. Then you have the auto powder dispensers. This is what I personally use for precision loads. They are great because all you do is tell it what charge you want and hit a button and it will measure out what you want. The three major ones are the RCBS, the Lymen, and the Hornady. They all cost between $200 and $300 I have personally used the Lymen and RCBS and can’t say I prefer one over the other, but the Lymen is a little cheaper. I have seen mixed reviews on the Hornady, but people seem happy for the most part with them. But if you can afford one I recommend it! LRS- Pro Tip#2 If you can’t afford one, then get a regular digital scale and a powder thrower. Throw a charge close to what you want and then use the trickler to get you exact without spending all the time on a beam scale to get it exact…
The next thing you will need is a powder trickler (unless you get the auto powder dispenser). They are available from a number of companies and they all seem to work well I have an RCBS and really like it but I won’t recommend one over the other.
The next thing you need is a micrometer so you can measure your cases so you know if you need to trim them and case overall length so you know that you have your bullet seated properly. I would recommend that you avoid the digital ones and make sure you get one that can measure to .001”. The reason I say avoid digital is they can lose accuracy if dropped or if their battery gets low.
If you are loading rifle ammunition you are going to need a trimmer. I use an RCBS trimmer it works very well and can be set to your desired trim length. Once it’s set, just turn the trimmer until it stops and you are good to go. All the other major brands make a similar trimmer with a similar design. I haven’t used them but I also have never seen anyone talking bad about them. They do, however, all seem to be in the same price range and most people just go with RCBS. the other option is a press mounted dillon electric trimmer they are nice for bulk brass prep on a progressive press but at close to $500 for a full set up with trimmer and trim die, it’s really not worth it for precision loading. LRS-Pro Tip # 3 On the RCBS trimmer you can remove the handle and attach a drill to give yourself a cheap electric trimmer
Now that you have your trimmer. You need to clean up that trimmed brass before you can size it in your new dies. You need a couple of things for this. First, you need to do some case prep to clean up the edges of the brass and get rid of the sharp edges and brass shavings. This can be accomplished with hand tools such as the Lymen case prep multi tool or the RCBS deburring tool. They are both good options and cost under 20 bucks. Or you have case prep stations which are the electric versions. Lymen, RCBS and Hornady all make them and they run between $75-$150. They are great if you are prepping a lot of brass or if it hurts your hands to use the hand tools. They also save time.
So now that your case is trimmed and deburred. You need a way to clean the brass. This comes in three forms: a dry vibratory tumbler, a wet tumbler, and ultrasonic cleaners. The most common way people clean brass is with a dry vibratory tumbler with either ground up walnuts or corn cob media and a splash of some kind of cleaning agent. I like Nufinish car polish but you have other options. Some media is also sold with polish embedded in it already. I personally don’t use that type because it’s a lot cheaper to use Nufinish and I load 1000-5000 rounds a week (no not all precision loads). For some, the pre-embedded is an easy option that does work. You also have the option to not add anything to the media at all. It just depends on how shiny you want your brass. Tumblers are another Item that it really doesn’t matter what brand you use. Just shop around for the budget and size that works best for you. Some do feature an on/off switch while some you have to just unplug or plug in so if that’s something you are concerned about keep an eye on that. The next option is wet tumbling. I’m personally not a big fan of it because I like to be able to pull my brass out of the tumbler and immediately start to load it, but then I load a lot of rounds. Some people do small batches where they might tumble it one day and not load it for a couple of day after the brass dries so wet tumbling might be an option and there is no question that it gets the brass shinier than a vibratory tumbler. The way they work is you mix a cleaning and polishing agent with water (and there are lots of recipes online for this so if you go with a wet tumbler you will find as many things to add as you will people with a wet tumbler) along with stainless steel pins and then the brass is rolled around in a drum with them. The biggest thing with wet tumbling is to remember to make sure your brass is completely dry or you will get misfires. A lot of people will put them on cookie sheets in the oven on a low temperature to help dry them faster. Then you have ultrasonic cleaners. I have never used one and don’t know many people that do just for the fact that they are small only holding a very limited amount of brass and expensive for the amount of brass you can clean with them.
A set of hand tools is another necessity to have around the bench. You will need wrenches and allen keys for many different things from adjusting your dies to setting up your trimmer to putting your press together. If you have RCBS dies you will need a small screwdriver to adjust them and the allen wrench to set the lock ring. Sometimes something will work loose on the press and you will need to tighten it so you want the right tools handy on the bench when you need them. The exact tools you will need will depend on what press and dies you end up getting. No bench is complete without at least a crescent wrench, a set of screw drivers, and a set of allen keys
So this concludes the REQUIRED items for reloading. We have gone over reloading manuals, die sets, micrometers, trimmers, scales, tricklers, and how to clean your brass along with giving you a few different options for each item and a few tips as well. Look out for our next article on useful things for your bench that might not be required but makes life a lot easier.