What Else Do I Need?
Once you decide on press, there are a number of things that you are going to need in order to get started. Most of these items are required more for the initial setup of the dies and won't be used as much once you start reloading.
- Case Cleaning Equipment
- Die Set
- Priming System
- Powder Measure
- Powder Scale
- Digital Calipers
- Reloading Supplies (Bullets, Powder, Primers, Cases)
Cases and Cleaning Equipment
The most expensive component of a cartrdige is the case. You can always buy cases at most sporting goods stores or online, but you are really cutting into the cost saving potential of reloading by doing so. Luckily, most ranges will let you pick up brass without making a fuss about it. Always ask others before assuming you can pick up their brass. In my experience, most people don't mind, especially if you ask. I started my case collection by buying some cheap ammo from Wal-Mart and just picking up the cases after each session until I had a few hundred to get me started.
Fired cases are of course dirty (some more than others), but you are going to need a way of cleaning them before you can load them. I tried a couple of frugal ideas that ended up being so tedious that I felt it wasn't worth the savings. I found a vibratory tumbler manufactured by Franklin Armory that works great and was only $35.
There are a few options when cleaning cases. Vibratory tumblers use some kind of tumbling medium such as dried corn cob or ground walnut and vibrate the cases until the medium takes the carbon scoring off of the case.
Wet tumblers use solutions in water along with steel media that work better but are more expensive. In my opinion, as long as it works I don't care how cheap it is. My $35 dollar investment has worked perfectly and I see no need to drop $200 on a wet system. Do what is right for you.
The die set is the most important part of your system besides the press. They work in tandem with the press and each is useless without the other. A die set is caliber specific and you will need a new set for each caliber that you want to reload.
Generally speaking, each brand of press will have its own brand of dies. You can usually use a die set from one brand with a press of a different brand, but I would just buy all the same brand. Less chance of having problems.
Some sets come with 4 dies and others with 3. Remember that part about the bullet seating die being able to crimp too? It just depends on what you want. I like the 4 die sets, but it is totally personal preference. The 3 die sets are a little cheaper.
You will need to have some kind of priming system for your press. Single stage presses such as the Lee Classic Breech Press have a mount for an integral primer feeder and can be found in a kit where they are sold together along with some of the other equipment that you will need such as a scale and powder through. Some people prefer to use the hand primer however. Again, it is totally up to you, but my advice for anyone new is to use an integrated system if possible as it greatly increases speed.
If you are running a progressive press, it is going to have some kind of priming system built into it as it is essential for the nature of the press to function.
The next important piece of equipment that you will need, is a powder throw. This is what actually allows you to put a measured amount of powder into each case once it has been setup for a specific amount. These are sometimes sold together in the kits as mentioned above and come in a few different flavors. They are either manually actuated or automatically actuated by the case as it enters the die.
A single stage press is usually used with a manual measure as having to remove the measure from the die during the die changing process is a little cumbersome. Turret and progressive presses utilize automatic powder measures as the goal is speed.
There a few different types of auto powder measures as far as how they measure the powder. Some used pre-sized plates with measured chambers that increase in small increments. This comes down to trial and error to see which chamber or "disk" is correct for the desired charge with the powder that you using.
There are others that have screws that adjust very precisely the amount that is being thrown. Again, this comes down to your preference as to how you want to set it up. It's part of the fun of setting up your reloading bench :)
Of course it doesn't matter what type of powder measure you get if you can't measure the amount of powder that is being thrown anyway. This is why you have a powder scale. They come in two types: balance beam and digital. The balance beam scale is included in quite a few of Lee's starter kits. It works, but it is extrememly frustrating and time-consuming compared to a digital scale. While some digital scales are quite spendy, Franklin Armory makes a decent one that is about $20-$25 on Amazon. You can find it here. Trust me on this one. Balance beam scales are the worst. Save yourself the frustration and just buy a digital one.
Whichever one you decide on buying, make sure that it can measure in grains (gr) and that it has 1/10 of a grain capability. Since most loads are measured in 1/10 grain increments a scale that can't do that is useless.
You'll need a set of calipers in order to set your bullet seating die to ensure that your cartridge overall length (c.o.l.) is within the parameters of the load data you are using. You can find them on Amazon and at Cabela's. I got the Cabela's brand for about $20 and they have been great so far.
Once you have procured the aforementioned gear, it is time to buy some supplies to actually start loading!
In my experience, the best starting point is powder since it is the usually the hardest to procure. Most sporting goods stores that deal with hunting and shooting will have a selection of reloading powders. It will often be limited to a small set of brands and finding the one that you are looking for can be difficult.
You can always order online but will have to pay hazard shipping fees and so will need to order in bulk or else you will lose some of the precious per round savings.
I would suggest going to your local Sportsman's or Cabela's and bringing your smart phone. Find a powder that you think would work well and use the load database that can be found here to see if there are loads that work for what you are planning on shooting. This part requires some research on your part to see which powders that you have access to are the most cost effective for the load you are going to be making.
Remember that there are 7000 grains to one pound. Use this to calculate the price per grain of powder and then multiply that by the number of grains that your chosen load will use to see the cost of powder per cartridge. This will help you to decide which powder will be the most cost effective for you.
The rest of your supplies are pretty straight forward. You'll need primers (pay attention to what size you need; 9mm uses small pistol while .45 USUALLY uses large pistol, etc). Bullets depend completely on your preference. I like X-treme bullets as I have been able to find them almost as cheap as lead cast bullets but they are FMJ and MUCH cleaner.
Having reloaded using hard cast lead rounds, I would suggest not doing so. They will gum up your dies as well as your firearm and make cleaning a pain. They are so much dirtier that I feel like I'm causing damage to my gun which is not going to save money in the long run. Use them at your own discretion.