Reloading for the Rifle

Match Grade M1 Garand in 30-06.

Match Grade M1 Garand in 30-06.

A couple of friends of mine from the cycling side of my life suddenly showed up exhibiting a deeply flawed personality quirk the other day.  It all started when Dan started asking me questions about the best choice for a defensive shotgun. Now Dan is a  good ole farm kid so the question wasn’t all that far afield but as the e-mails and texts rocketed back and forth it became apparent to even the most deaf old man that the kid had taken the plunge and gotten himself all mixed up in an interest in the shooting sports.

Well, as I completely overdid my response by alluding to issues such as the “Zombie Apocalypse” and the proverbial “Balloon Going Up”, I began to realize that there was another critter in the woodpile somewhere.  So, enter Scott!  Seems Scott had actually gone out and equipped himself with some hardware and was eager to take the same out for a walk and have some meaningful discourse with nitrocellulose and lead.  This of course led to a road trip to the local range and some meaningful hearing abuse.

As questions came up regarding this and that, I thought, gee it might be fun to share some of that with the greater community out there, so here we go…

You’re back from the range, Now What?

Dan couldn’t make that first trip so Scott and I went out and when we came back, two Garands, an AR 15, an M-14, and a 1917 Enfield were still warm and in need of a cleaning.  Several sheets of paper had suffered irreparable damage, and we had a pile of seriously grungy brass, en bloc clips, magazines and stripper clips collected in an old bank change bag (excellent things for precisely this purpose – go out and git yer self sum).

Now if you’re one of those dudes who is independently wealthy, or who has a rich uncle into shooting, or has a wife who feels it’s ok for you to spend grocery money on ammo, you can quit reading this portion of the post. But if you’re a cheap old bastard like myself, read on:

Reloading Phase One:

OK so separating your brass sounds like a stupid thing to do, but trust me, especially with pistol calibers, you gotta do it.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve found 9mm cases wedged inside 45 cases by some piece of dirt or a twig. I haven’t tried it yet, but I suspect a 5.56 or 17 mm would fit nicely inside a 308 or 30-06.  If you somehow managed to reload such a tandem trailer, I’m pretty sure the outcome would not be good, so first step is, separate your brass! While you are separating the brass you really also need to take a good hard look at it.  Brass has a limited service life and it gets tired. You should inspect all your brass prior to and subsequent to cleaning.  For some notes on inspecting your brass why not visit, “Reading Your Spent Cases – Learning to Be Your Gun’s Best Friend” and/or “That Bright Ring – Incipient Head Separation”


OK, so you bought yourself a brand new whatever, and you want to reload, so you scrounge all the brass you can and stuff it with power and shove home a bullet and you wander back to the range and shoot the stuff. Out the barrel comes the bullet, powder gasses and all the sand you never took out of the cases.  The next round scours your bore with the sand that’s left and presto your new whatever is now a smooth bore! SUX!

So, the second step of phase one is to clean your brass!!! Any tumbler and media are ok, well almost any media, stay away from abrasive media. Use stuff like walnut shells or corn cob or any of the stuff specially made for ammunition reloading like Lyman or Dillon.  Again, tumble your brass in separate sizes, do not mix brass calibers or you can have the same issue of cases inside cases, a very bad thing!

If you like your brass really, really shiny, you can add specifically made Ammunition Polish like the stuff Dillon makes.  DO NOT USE BRASSO or pretty much any other regular brass cleaner, as most have ammonia in them and this makes brass brittle, something you definitely do not want in ammo brass. Your cases will split and you endanger your self and those around you with a catastrophic case failure.  Buy and use ONLY specially made case polish, period!

The Clean Brass is on the ends, .223 and 30-06.  Still to be cleaned .308 (7.62) is in the middle for comparison!

cleaned brass

Brass after cleaning (tumbling) with Dillon Brass Polish and Lyman Media

Next comes Resizing and decapping!  Stay Tuned

Resizing and Decapping – Starting Down the Rabbit Hole

The Stuff You’ll Need

  • Fired cases – You figure out how to get these.
  • A cookie sheet – Steal it from your wife or buy new, I don’t care which.
  • A Reloading Press – They really don’t wear out, nor do they change a whole lot, buy used if you can find one.
  • Dies for the Caliber you’re reloading – Buy these new!
  • A Primer Catch Tray – Specific for your press, you gottta have something to catch the things, some are gonna wind up on the floor anyway, but cleaning them up is a pain.  Catch as many as you can and toss ’em in with your scrap brass.
  • Case Lube – I like Dillon Precision Case Lube.  It’s just lanolin dissolved in alcohol.

Empty cases, dies, primer catch tray, case lube and press,

The Process:

After you’ve cleaned and inspected your cases, take the cookie sheet and spray your cases with the case lube solution.  Roll the cases around in the pan for a bit to ensure full coverage and let them dry. There are so called case lube pads, much like stamp pads you squeeze goo onto and then roll the cases across the pad with your palm to  lube, but I prefer the spray. This process is really important and you’ll find out why later, but don’t over do it because you’ll need to clean this stuff off after resizing.

The cookie sheet and spray lube, roll your cases around the tray for a bit to ensure full coverage.

The cookie sheet and spray lube, roll your cases around the tray for a bit to ensure full coverage.

Setting up your press and die:

For arguments sake, lets presume that you have already mounted your press to your reloading bench.

Your bench needs to be incredibly sturdy and weighted down.  The force required to resize large caliber rifle cases is substantial and if you set up your press to operate on the upstroke, you can literally lift the bench from the floor if there is not enough weight on the bench. I had been using the press pictured for reloading pistol cartridges for quite a while and had no issues after moving the press from its original location.  That was with pistol brass! However, about half way through this resizing session, I managed to crack the 2×12 the press was mounted through and had to re-inforce the bench. So. think sturdy here.

Decapping die.

A resizing die, showing locking ring, press threads, and decapping rod in place.

Dies and shell holders are caliber specific, so the first thing you will require is the correct sized case holder and die set.

Primer seating stuff

Shell holders amongst other primer related stuff like primer seating punches, primer pocket reamer, and decapping pins.

The resizing die is set in place by screwing it into the top of your press and raising the ram with shell holder in place to the full up position, then screwing the die down to “kiss” the shell holder.

Screw dies into press

You have to mount your resizing die by screwing it into the press.

The shell holder gets mounted onto the top of the ram by pushing it past a retaining spring in the top of the ram. Raise the ram to the top most position, and screw in the resizing die until they “kiss” then lower the ram. Now screw the die in just a tad more (1/8 of a turn or less) so that when the die and shell holder touch, you can still “cam over” the lever. It’s like you keep pressing the lever up and suddenly it jumps further and sort of locks into the “up” position. You’ll know it when you feel it. Once you get it right, screw the locking ring down against the top of the press and secure the ring in place with the allen screw.

Close up of the ram and shell holder

Viewed from the side, the press ram is fully up and the die is screwed fully down to kiss the shell holder. Yellow arrow is the bottom of the die, the purple arrow is the shell holder, the red arrow the retaining spring, and the green arrow is the ram.

Your resizing die actually performs a lot of functions in addition to the one for which it is named.

  • It squeezes the brass down to factory diameter.
  • It sets the shoulder back slightly if needed so that the “headspace” is correct for the cartridge and chamber.
  • It rounds the case neck once again taking out any dents from hitting the ground or getting caught in the action.
  • It punches out the spend primer and clears debris from the primer flash hole.
  • Lastly it expands the case neck slightly to accept a new bullet.
Decapping rod or stem

The decapping rod or stem, Detail of the decapping pin and Neck expander button, inserting the decapper into the resizing die.

The die body is machined inside to the exact dimensions of the chamber and it has threads in the top to accept a rod which  is also machined to accept the decapping pin and neck sizing button, both of which are replaceable because both are subject to breakage.

Next you will need to set up your decapping rod to the correct depth. You will want it to expel the spent primer, but you do not want it to bottom out against the case web. To accomplish this task first unscrew the lock ring and screw the decapping rod out a ways.  Next, take a fired case with the primer still in it, fit it into the shellholder and raise the ram guiding the case into the resizing die opening (this will require some effort). Raise the ram to the top of its travel. And lower it again (ditto).  At this point you should have resized the case but the primer will probably remain in place. Now fully raise the ram again (it’s easier this time) with the case still in place and screw the decapping rod down until it stops. Lower the ram/case slightly, screw the decapping rod down a bit and raise the ram and case again. You should feel some slight resistance as the decapping pin starts to push the spent primer out. Repeat the process until the primer is expelled, then lock the rod into place with the locking ring. This should leave you with plenty of space between the decapping rod and the case web yet still provide reliable primer extraction.

Inspect Cases

You should inspect cases as they leave your resizing die for any oddities or issues such as case cracks, gouges or other signs of weakness.

At this point you can lower the ram, extract the case and inspect it briefly.  If everything checks out, it’s time to attach the spent primer tray to your press and get ready to rock and roll.

Spent Primer Tray

At this point you can attach your spent primer tray to the press and get ready to rock and roll.

I put the lubed fired cases on my left, and the finished resized cases to the right of the press.  This just works out better for my right handed view of the Universe. The key to having a good resizing experience is smooth pressure and work flow with well lubed cases.  If you manage that, once you get moving along the night will progress nicely.

Smooth Progress

Once you have your die set up and your spent primer tray attached, well lubed cases should flow through your press almost effortlessly! Yeah, Sure!

Unless of course you lose your depriming pin, (this happens), the bench cracks (this happened during this shoot), or the case gets stuck in the die (which also happened during this shoot. I have be posted an article on stuck case removal) . But hopefully your outcome will look like the shot below.  A tray of spent primers and a tray of nicely resized cases.

Resized cases.

A tray of spent primers around the reloading press and a nice tray of resized cases is the hoped for outcome of our first reloading session.

By way of an aside, if you closely examine the lower left corner of the shot above, you will see the edge of the 2×4 I screwed into the bench  using the screws in the distance to strengthen the crack running through the 2×12 just opposite the burn mark. In any case the shots below show you how nicely the process re-rounded the case neck mouth, and popped out the primer.  We will also be posting a piece about military primer pocket treatment shortly.  The first time you reload military brass you need to deal with the fact that the primers are crimped in place.  This is NOT the case with commercial brass so we will deal with it on a sidebar.

Dented case neck before and after

Dented Case Neck before and after.

Case neck without dent after resizing,

A nicely rounded case neck subsequent to resizing,

An Empty Primer Pocket

A nicely empty primer pocket. This being military brass the primer pocket will still require swaging, but that comes a bit later.

Next up, Musings on Primer Pockets, how obsessive can we get?”

1 Response to Reloading for the Rifle

  1. Scott says:

    We need to start having ammo reloading parties at Gary’s place.

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