More Hot Air On Handloading
Just Call Me “Rip Van Reloader”
Check out “Quartermaster” in this issue, OK? It’s about reloading, and I’m the guilty party/hack writer. Of course, I could only stuff about 2.5 pounds of handloading hoo-rah into that 1-pound bag, and had 3 pounds of reloading rubble left over. And here, I just happen to have an empty 3-pound bag! So if you will, go read those scribbles, ogle the photos, and return here for the ragged remainder….
Few people today even think of reloading as a patriotic act, and that’s a pity, because it certainly is. You’ve often read our nation’s founders highly prized “skill at arms” and felt it was not only a right but an obligation of free men—and women too. But to them, skill at arms included a sound working knowledge of a broad spectrum of related skills, including what you might call “management of munitions.”
Just think about the weapons and ammo of the day; flintlock muzzleloaders, and what was involved in their care, loading and the manual of arms. A skilled operator might fire three rounds per minute, executing several distinct physical actions in loading each shot—while under fire!—a far cry from today’s ease and efficiency.
Virtually every gun owner had their own ball molds and most had a lead pot and dipper for casting. Many even knew how to make gunpowder from the raw ingredients, and shooters cut their own patches. Casting slugs and shot was often an activity for extended families or communities, an important social and civic function. Thrift, industriousness and preparedness to meet danger bred comradeship and consensus. Of those who signed the Declaration of Independence, how many had cast and trimmed their own slugs, cut their own patches, “managed their munitions”? I would bet on 100 percent, even among the rich, the pacifists and the Quakers of that group, and even those who didn’t do it regularly made it their business to know the process thoroughly. It was a hallmark of liberty then—and should be now.
Lizard-litter, car polish and dryer sheets—essentials of reloading?
Handloading is both an archaic and a modern skill, and with ammo prices climbing ever higher, a great money saver as well. Loading your own ammo ranks right up there in self-satisfaction with dressing, cooking and eating your own game, and you won’t even have to deal with a gut-pile! Interested? C’mon; George Washington would be proud of you.
I wouldn’t give you a low-ball figure just to make reloading more attractive to you. But even with a brand new quality startup outfit like Lee’s Classic Turret Press Kit, a set of reloading dies, primers and powder, you can be loading 200 rounds of factory ammo an hour for well under $500. Used components are rarely “worn out” because they’re so inherently strong and durable. Typically, they’re sold because the owner has upgraded from a single-stage press to a turret or a turret press to a progressive setup.
One of the best places to look for good used gear is the same place you’ll find hordes of helpful, experienced friends: the Internet. Google search “reloading forum” and you’ll get 600,000-plus hits, including sites like reloadingmadeeasy.com, where you’ll find a section called “Beginner’s Forum: Have questions about getting into reloading? Ask them here and we’ll do our best to help!” That site also has three forum sections devoted to selling and trading reloading gear, components and supplies. I don’t know of another activity with a comparable number of people enthusiastic about helping newcomers.
Sure, the Internet is loaded with tons of misinformation—some of it potentially dangerous—but as most reloaders will tell you, “Trust, but verify,” and always check recommended loads against one or more reloading manuals. And, I’ll add, “Never take loading tips from a guy who’s blind in one eye, is short three fingers, and says I like my loads kinda hot.”
Read a good manual like Modern Reloading or The ABC’s of Reloading, fill a notebook with questions, log onto a forum and make some friends! No promises, but you’ll often find reloaders so anxious to help a novice they’ll offer you supplies for pennies on the dollar—or even free.
I recommend you start with a plain, straight-wall cartridge like .38 Special for sheer lack of complexity and low cost. If you’re a shotgunner, you can get into shotshell reloading even cheaper and easier than reloading metallic cartridges. A complete Lee “Load-All II” set up in 12-, 16- or 20-gauge lists for just $71.98! I started with .38 Special and 12 gauge, and they’re a great avenue to more complex loads.
Ain’t they pretty? Bright tumbled brass in a SmartReloader Media Separator.
Once white, these used dryer softener sheet strips suck up walnut dust
and help polish your brass cases.
While I was snoozing, my cousin MacKenzie went from being an avid reloader to becoming a “home ordnance factory,” and he now averages loading over 1,000 rounds per week. I got a lot of good tips from him as I eased back into the craft. For one, copper-plated slugs, like Berry’s, have become far more numerous and available, and if you haven’t tried ’em, they’re great. Generally priced between jacketed and lead slugs, they eliminate leading in your bore, and they don’t pose the toxicity problems of handling—and indoor-range firing—of lead slugs. If you do load lead, I highly recommend Lyman’s 4th Edition Cast Bullet Handbook, written by our own Mike Venturino. It’s the top info source in its field.
Want to put more shine on your tumbled brass? Drizzle a capful of Nu-Finish Car Polish—not the wax—on each new load of crushed walnut hulls, and a half-cap after each long tumbling session. It really slicks ’em up, with no downside.
I’ve spent hours picking stuck walnut bits out of primer pockets, but no more. MacKenzie turned me on to “lizard litter”: crushed walnut hulls sold at pet supply stores as kitty litter for reptiles. It’s much cheaper than walnut hulls sold for brass tumbling, and ground a bit finer so it won’t stick in those pockets. How ’bout controlling the walnut dust in your tumbler? Another trick from Mac: save the used softener sheets from your clothes dryer, cut them in 1″ strips and toss ’em in! You’ll be amazed how well they work.
And primers? Well, uhh… sorry. Seems like I actually had 6 pounds of reloading-rubble for this 3-pound bag.
So, good luck to you reloading rookies and Rip Van Reloaders, and you old hands at handloading, give ’em your support! Connor OUT
By John Connor