This is intended as an overview of the reloading process explaining the steps required to turn spent brass cases into new loaded rounds. It is aimed at those people who are unfamiliar with the reloading process but if any old hands want to chip in with alternative suggestions then please do - I have only been reloading a year or so myself and there is always more to learn!
The article assumes we have the load data for the load we want and doesn't go into any detail about deciding what that load should be, the seating depth etc. That can be for another article!
So, we have 50 used cases and I'd like to take them and reload them to the following spec:
Powder: 58.4 grains of H4350
Bullet: 150 grain Speer Boat Tail Soft Point
Cases: Once fired Lapua brass
Note: This load was safely worked up from minimum in my rifle - this does not mean it would be safe in your rifle! Always work up from minimum loads!
First our fired brass goes into the tumbler with crushed walnut shell as the media with a powdered polishing compound. Typically I'd leave them going in there for up to 24 hours depending on how badly tarnished and fouled they were. The purpose of cleaning the brass is so that any imperfections such as cracks or splits show up better. Dirt on the cases will also reduce the life of your resizing die as it will cause additional wear between the brass and the surface of the die. Oh and shiny brass looks nice.
After the tumbling cycle the brass should come out looking a lot cleaner. At this stage I give them a quick shake in an old towel to take off any dust from the outside and they are ready to be de-capped and re-sized.
We need to resize the case because the pressure caused by firing will have expanded the case out to fit the inside dimensions of the chamber of the rifle. The neck will also have expanded and a bullet will not sit snugly in it any more. If the loaded rounds are going to be used in the same rifle and we don't mind a tight fit in the chamber we can opt to just resize the neck of the case. However, in this instance we are going to resize the full length of the case to make loading and unloading the rifle easier.
A small amount of lubricant is applied to the inside of the neck...
...and also to the outside of the case by rolling on a pad. All that is required is a thin film, just enough to make the case feel slightly greasy. This is to reduce friction between the brass and the die as it's forced back to size.
It is important not to use too much lubricant because it can build up inside the resizing die and become trapped. The result is a hydraulic dent on the shoulder of the case like the .243 case below. This case will pop back out on the next firing so long as the dent is shallow. You would also need to open up the die and clean out the excess lubricant to stop it happening again.
At the same time as resizing the die will also push out the old primer from the case.
The lubricated case is placed in a shell holder on the press and is raised up into the resizer die.
A pin in the die pushes out the old primer at the same time.
And now our case is resized and the old primer has been removed.
The next task is to check the length of the case and trim it back if required. Firing and resizing also has the effect of stretching the brass and over time it will become longer. The trimming tool below is set to the standard length for .30-06 and if the case is over length the cutter will trim excess material off from around the rim of the neck.
This is a fixed length tool however adjustable ones are also available. For a hunting cartridge I find trimming with a fixed length tool a lot less hassle, although the downside will be that you will have a slight variation in case length as some cases will be under-size from the factory. The case is held in a shell holder and can be spun using a cordless drill.
If any material is removed from the neck there will be a sharp edge left and possibly some burrs. The rotating tool below removes any burrs from the outside of the neck.
And the tool below removes the same from the inside of the neck.
A tiny chamfer is left on the inside of the neck which helps with bullet seating.
While we are at it we clean out the soot from the primer pocket so the new primer will seat properly and we also make sure the flash hole is clear. This spinny brush makes the task easy.
Before and after cleaning.
At this stage I tumble the cases again for 30 mins or so to remove the lubricant left over from resizing. I'm using a corn cobb media this time which is slightly softer, more absorbent and gives a good shine.
The downside of tumbling again at this stage is that media can get stuck in the flash hole and will need to be poked out prior to re-priming.
We select our primer based on the cartridge. In this case .30-06 requires a Large Rifle primer. The primers are poured onto a special tray that, when jiggled, flips all the primers up the same way.
They can then be loaded into the press - in this case the RCBS press uses a tube which you use to pick up the primers.
Then the primers are transferred from the tube to the press by pulling out the pin. The whole stack of primers falls into the lower tube ready to be seated.
The primers are fed one by one into a little cup which carries the primer under the shell holder where the case is waiting to be primed.
When the press is brought down the cup pushes the primer up underneath the case inserting it into the primer pocket. (view below with case removed)
And there is our re-primed case.
So now we have 50 shiney primed cases ready to be reloaded.
The hopper of the powder dispenser is filled with our chosen powder, H4350, and the measure is adjusted to throw just below our required charge of 58.4gr. The reason for this is that H4350 powder consists of bulky, cylindrical pellets that don't meter very well in a standard powder dispenser. The result is that the charge varies somewhat.
So to combat this below the powder dispenser is a powder trickler. The main charge is thrown, just under 58.4 grains, and then the trickler is used to trickle more powder very slowly to make up the difference which may only be a few pellets of powder.
This time the main throw of powder comes to 58.2gr, so we only have to trickle in another 0.2gr of powder.
Twist the knob and several pellets drop down into the scale until...
...we are bang on 58.4 grains. There are those who will laugh and question why we are worried about .2 grains of powder and they may have a point but some of us like precision and if you can be precise then why not!
Our 58.4 grains of powder is now poured straight into the case.
When all 50 cases are filled we do a quick visual check to make sure they all have powder in them and that the levels look consistent. This is our last chance to pick up on any mistakes!
The selected bullet for this load is a Speer boat tailed soft point of 150 grains. The boat tail is the tapered back to the bullet. There are ballistic arguments for and against this profile of bullet but for my purposes I chose a boat tail because it's dead easy to seat.
The bullet is placed into the neck and the case is raised into the bullet seating die. The die has been set up to push the bullet in just far enough so that when the round is loaded in the rifle, the bullet is 20 thou off the lands of the rifling. I'm not going to go into the reasons for this particular distance here as it probably deserves an article of it's own, suffice to say that 0.020" gives good accuracy for me in this rifle and results in a round that fits in the magazine and feeds well.
We check the length using callipers against a known value. I know that 2.706" = 20 thou off the lands. The red apparatus attached to the callipers is a comparator and is used to measure from a point on the outside of the bullet on the 'ogive'. We do this to avoid inconsistencies of measuring from the tip of the bullet which can occur, especially with soft tipped bullets that can become deformed.
Now we have 50 loaded rounds ready to be boxed and labelled.
The load details go on the label and should also be entered into your reloading records for future reference.
And there we have it.... the entire process from spent case to loaded round!
If you've made it this far, comments or suggestions welcome!