Handloading Basics

September 12, 2019
Handloading Basics

Many people enjoy handloading. Whether you like to handload different rifle and pistol ammo sizes or powerful loads, it is a great hobby and can save you money. Sometimes called reloading, handloading allows you to experiment with different smokeless powders to find the perfect load to help with accuracy and reliability. You can craft a handload to work with your specific weapon, releasing not only cost savings but improving the accuracy. Unlike store-bought rounds, you can ensure the round reacts the same way each time by paying careful attention to the powder load and using the same brass and bullets. Once you know the basics you too can save money and start handloading. If you get good at it you will eventually be able to produce bullets identical to factory ammo, whether it be handgun loads or rifle loads.

Bullet Components

A bullet has four components: primer, powder, bullet, and casing. Handloading ammunition lets you determine the optimal amount of powder to use. How much powder you use effects the bullet weight and may be the difference between a high velocity round and one that travels sluggishly.

How a Bullet Works

Sending a bullet downrange is simple. Once you pull the trigger, the firing pin impinges the primer pocket. The primer goes off, igniting the powder and propelling the bullet out of the barrel. The spent cartridge, in semi-automatics, gets ejected or is manually ejected by the shooter.

Smokeless Powder

Smokeless powder produces a lot of gas and high temperatures when burned. When the powder burns in a confined space such as a round of ammunition inside a gun, the pressure created propels the bullet. Smokeless powder has some ingredients in common with high explosives like dynamite. However, smokeless powder will not detonate, and it has a controlled burn rate. You can legally buy small amounts of smokeless powder for reloading without a license. Primers are also legal to buy in small quantities for personal use.

Components Required to Make a Bullet

You need six components to make a bullet:

  • Smokeless Powder
  • Primers
  • Brass
  • Bullets
  • Reloading Die (each caliber round requires the correctly sized die)
  • Shell Holder

Required Equipment

The equipment needed for reloading does not cost much. For handgun reloads you need:

  • Powder Dispenser and Scale
  • Cartridge Case (Brass) Cleaner
  • Reloading Press
  • Calibers

Rifle cartridge reloading requires a few more pieces of equipment:

  • Chamfer and Deburring Tool for smoothing out rough edges and creating a slight angle to the cartridge so it loads correctly.
  • Case Trimmer to remove the excess brass from the mouth of a used cartridge as the heat and pressure slightly stretch the brass.
  • Lubrication Kit to lubricate the inside of the cartridge (not required for handgun ammunition reloads).

Useful Life of a Cartridge

Useful Life of a Cartridge

You can usually reload a cartridge at least five times, sometimes as much as twenty times depending on the power charge and type of round. You can’t reload rimfire cartridges such as .22 long rife. There are dies available for all other types of cartridges.

Reloading Manual

In addition to equipment and the components, you will need a reloading manual. A handloading manual is like a cookbook that provides you with various possible formulas or recipes for reloading different calibers of ammunition. Reloading without consulting a manual can be dangerous as you may overload the cartridge and cause damage to the gun or worse.


Any cost savings you realize depends on the caliber. If you exclude the cost of equipment and your time, reloading match-grade ammunition saves you the most money. Reloading your own match grade ammunition costs up to three times less per bullet than buying match-grade from a retailer. Reloading handgun ammunition, such as the popular 9mm luger, will save you approximately twenty or thirty cents per round.

Improving the Accuracy

The reason handloading can enhance your weapon’s accuracy relates to your gun barrel’s harmonics. When you shoot a round, the lands and grooves inside the barrel whip the bullet around before it exits. The speed the round travels when exiting the barrel depends on the amount of powder. Finding the right amount of powder to use and ensuring each bullet contains that amount will improve your accuracy. The size and weight of the bullet will also affect an individual’s accuracy. Some shooters like heavier bullets. Shorter or longer bullets reduce or increase the force and distance required for the round to leave the barrel. After a little experimenting, you can determine what handload works best for your weapon and your shooting style.

How to make your own bullets

If you want to disavow factory loaded bullets and start making your own, you’re going to have to know how to manufacture the bullets. While having a manual on hand is a good idea for even experienced handloaders, sometimes manuals can be difficult for beginners to comprehend all the nuances. Cartridges, bullets, and slugs can all be at your fingertips with a little practice. First you will have to prep the excess brass that you’re using to craft your factory ammunition substitute. Next you need to remove the used primers. Clean out the spent primer and then replacing it with a brand new primer. Then very carefully add the right amount of powder in. Make sure to measure your finished bullets to ensure that they will work in your rifle.

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