Handloading Basics
Welcome to the challenging and rewarding hobby of handloading. It’s a fun, safe and economical aspect of the shooting sports—one that will enhance your ability to shoot. Let’s take a minute to answer a few of the most common questions about reloading. 

How safe is handloading?
Reloading is extremely safe thanks to today’s smokeless gun powders. In fact, modern smokeless powders are classified as propellants, not explosives, meaning when properly used, these powders only burn when ignited. While common sense and certain precautions should not be ignored, handloading is safe and fun. ALWAYS REMEMBER TO WEAR SAFETY GLASSES WHILE SHOOTING AND HANDLOADING.

How good is handloaded ammo?
Carefully handloaded ammunition is usually better than its factory-loaded counterpart because it can be fine-tuned to fit a specific gun and a certain type of shooting. The result is far greater accuracy.

How complicated is reloading?
It’s simple. There are only four components to a rifle or pistol cartridge: The primer, powder, bullet and brass case. When a cartridge is fired, the primer ignites the powder, and the powder then propels the bullet out of the barrel. All that’s left is the brass case and the spent primer. This is where handloading comes in. The brass case can be reloaded over and over.

How much money does reloading save?
A lot. Take factory-loaded 30-06 Sprg. ammunition, for example. At today’s prices, each round cost about $2 each. Of that, the primer, powder and bullet account for about .70¢. So about $1.30 of every factory round is chalked up to the brass case plus the expense of loading it. Since you will be using the case over again, you save nearly 65% over factory ammo or about $26 per box of 20!

That’s why handloaders generally make better shooters, because they can afford to practice more.

How much equipment does it take?
Surprisingly little. The truth is you can get all the equipment you need to start out with for $300-$500. If you do much shooting at all, this amount can be saved in your first year alone.

How many types of cartridges can be reloaded?
Most any except rimfire type, like .22’s . Most brass cases can be reloaded 5 to 20 times, depending upon the cartridge and powder charge. Besides the standard cartridge, RCBS has the tooling to make over 3,100 custom reloading dies, so there’s no limit to what can be handloaded. 


Reloading has its own language. Here are some words to familiarize yourself with. See the Speer reloading manual for more reloading information.

Bell: To flare a case mouth to receive a bullet easily.

Bullet: A piece of metal formed into a projectile. Available in a variety of shapes and weights.

Bullet Swaging: The forming of a bullet using pressure in a die instead of casting molten lead in a mould.

Caliber: The approximate diameter of a bullet or gun bore.

Cannelure: One or more grooves cut around the circumference of a bullet where the crimped case can grip the bullet.

Cartridge: A completely loaded, ready-to-fire round of ammunition.

Case: A metal cylindrical container which holds the primer, powder and bullet. Also called brass.

Case Forming: To form cases of one caliber into a different caliber.

Chamfer: To bevel the inside of a case mouth. The bevel allows rifle bullets to start into the case mouth without crushing the case.

Chronograph: An instrument used to measure the velocity of a bullet.

Components: The parts that make up a cartridge. The case, primer, powder and bullet.

Crimp: To bend inward the mouth of a case to grip the bullet. Used only with bullets having a cannelure or crimping groove.

Deburr: To remove the small metal burrs from inside and outside of a case mouth.

Decapping: Removal of the spent primer from a fired case.

Decapping Pin: The slim needle-like rod in the sizer die which pushes out the spent primer.

Expander: The part of a die that expands the case mouth to receive the bullet.

Flash Hole: The hole through which the primer ignites the powder charge in a case.

Handloading: Another term for reloading.

Hangfire: Slang term for any detectable delay in cartridge ignition.

Ignition: The action of setting a powder charge on fire.

Jacket: The cover or “skin” of a bullet.

Misfire: The failure of a cartridge to fire after the firing pin strikes the primer.

Neck: That portion of a case which grips the bullet. In a bottlenecked case, that portion of the case in front of the shoulder.

Neck Sizer Die: A die used to resize only the neck portion of the fired case back to approximately its original dimensions.

Primer Pocket Swaging: The “smoothing out” of the crimped primer pocket found in military cases.

Priming: Installing a new primer into a case.

Progressive Press: Allows the user to achieve multiple steps of the reloading process simultaneously. 

Ram: The steel rod running through the center of a press that holds the shell holder and drives the case into the die.

Reloading Press: The tool which performs the major tasks of reloading.

Resize: To restore a fired case to approximately its original size.

Round: A military term for one complete cartridge.

Seater Die: The die that seats the bullet into the mouth of the powder charged and primed case.

Seating Depth: The depth to which a bullet is seated in the case mouth.

Shell Holder: The part that holds the case in proper alignment while the case is being run into the die.

Sizer Die: A die used to resize a fired case back to approximately its original dimensions.

Spent Primer: A primer that has been fired.

Ultrasonic Case Cleaner: Very high vibrations generated by an ultrasonic case cleaner that are used to clean brass cases. The ultrasonic case cleaner warms and vibrates ultrasonic case cleaning solution, removing buildup and restoring luster to brass cases. 


Let Speer guide you through the complete process of reloading a centerfire metallic cartridge. Follow this step-by-step guide to create your own high-performance handloads.

1. Clean And Check
Using a soft cloth, wipe each case clean to prevent dirt from scratching the case and the sizing die. Inspect the case for anything that would keep it from being safely reloaded, such as split case mouths, case head separations, excessive bulges and other case defects. Any case found to be defective should be thrown away.

2. Lubricate The Cases (Part 1)
Because of the force involved, you’ll need to lubricate the cases before they go into a sizer die. Spread some lube on the pad and lubricate the body of the case. Make sure not to lube the shoulder of your cases as this can cause dents. If you’re using a carbide sizer die for reloading straight-wall pistol cases, you can eliminate this step. The carbide ring in the sizer die is so smooth that cases simply can’t get stuck in the die.

3. Lubricate The Cases (Part 2)
Clean dirt and powder residue from inside case necks and simultaneously add a light coating of case lube with a case neck brush. This will reduce the sizing effort and prevent excess working of the brass. Roll the brush across the lube pad after every three or four cases for just the right amount.

4. Install The Shell Holder
Snap a shell holder into the press ram with a slight twisting motion. The shell holder will securely grip the head of the cartridge case. Check out our latest catalog or see your local dealer for help in selecting the correct shell holder, or reference the chart on pages 12–13.

5. Install The Sizer Die
Thread the sizer die into the press until the die touches the shell holder when the ram is at the top of the press stroke. Raise the press handle and turn the die down another one-eighth to one-quarter of a turn and set the large lock ring. If you’re using a carbide sizer die, leave a 1/16” gap between the bottom of the die and the shell holder.

6. Insert The Case
With the press handle in the up position, slide a case into the shell holder.

7. Size The Case
Gently but firmly lower the press handle all the way to the bottom and run the case all the way into the sizer die. This will size the case to the proper dimension and push the fired primer out of the case. Next, raise the press handle. This will lower the case and expand the case mouth (on bottle-neck cartridges), correctly setting the case neck diameter to hold the bullet tightly.

8. Check The Length And Trim If Necessary
After several firings, cases sometimes stretch and become longer than the specified maximum length. These cases must be trimmed to allow for proper chambering and for safety reasons. The trimmer works like a small lathe and can be used to trim most cases up through 45-caliber. Check the reloading manual for maximum case length and trim length. Use a dial or digital caliper to check the exact case length. Check the reloading manual for maximum case length and trim length.

9. Chamfer And Deburr
Cases that have been trimmed need to also be chamfered and deburred. This will remove any burrs left on the case mouth after trimming and will allow a new bullet to be easily seated into the case. Insert the pointed end of the Deburring Tool into the case to remove burrs and chamfer the case mouth interior. Fit the other end over the case mouth to remove exterior burrs.

10. Expand The Case Mouth (Applies Only To Straight Wall Cases)
Because of their design, straight-wall cases need to be expanded in a separate expander die. Install the expander die in the press, place a sized case in the shell holder and run it into the die. The expander should be adjusted so the case mouth is belled outward just enough to accept the new bullet.

11. Priming Tray
To use, first scatter primers onto the grooved surface of the tray. Then, shake the tray horizontally until all of the primers are positioned anvil side up.

12. Prime The Case (Option 1)
The Hand Priming Tool seats primers quickly. Insert primer tray into Hand Priming Tool. Use the cartridge-specific RCBS shell holder (the Hand Priming Tool is ONLY compatible with RCBS shell holders.) The proper primer plug adapter size (large or small) must also be installed. Insert the case and squeeze the handle, which inserts the primer. Check to ensure the primer is seated. The advantage of the Hand Priming Tool is that it can be used separate from the reloading bench.

13. Prime The Case - With The Press (Option 2, Part 1)
Place a fresh primer, anvil side up, into the cup of the primer arm.

14. Prime The Case - With The Press (Option 2, Part 2)
Slightly raise ram and insert the case into the shell holder. Run the case up into the sizing die.

15. Prime The Case - With The Press (Option 2, Part 3)
Now, gently and slowly raise the press handle. As the case is drawn out of the sizing die it will be lowered onto the fresh primer which will be seated into the primer pocket. Push the handle all the way up. Inspect the primer to make sure it is properly seated. In order to gain optimum primer sensitivity, the primer must be seated firmly to the bottom of the primer pocket.

16. Setting The Powder Measure (Part 1)
You can dispense a precise charge, without weighing every charge on a scale. Fill the measure with powder and dispense several charges to establish flow and settle the powder in the hopper. Return the dispensed powder to the hopper. Use your reloading scale to adjust the powder measure. Weigh every charge until several consecutive charges show the desired weight. Re-check the weight about every 10 cases.

17. Setting The Powder Measure (Part 2)
Consult the reloading manual to learn what kind of powder, and exactly how much is recommended to reload your cartridge. Then weigh the recommended charge on your scale.

18. Setting The Powder Measure (Part 3)
After accurately weighing the powder charge, pour it into the case using a powder funnel.

19. Bullet Seating (Part 1)
Thread the seater die a few turns into the press. Put a case in the shell holder and lower the press handle, running the ram with the case to the top of the press stroke. Turn the die body down until it stops. The crimp shoulder in the die is now pressing against the top of the case mouth. Back the die out one turn, raising the crimp shoulder above the case mouth. Secure the die in position with the die lock ring.

20. Bullet Seating (Part 2)
Loosen the locknut, used to secure the seat plug, unscrew the bullet seater plug enough to keep the bullet from being seated too deeply.

21. Bullet Seating (Part 3)
With the handle in the up position, insert a properly primed and charged case into the shell holder.

22. Bullet Seating (Part 4)
Take a bullet and hold it over the case mouth with one hand while you lower the press handle with the other, easing the case and bullet up into the die. After raising the handle, note the seating depth of the loaded round. If the bullet needs to be seated deeper into the case, turn the seater plug down.

23. Bullet Seating (Part 5)
Run the loaded round back up into the die, raise the press handle and check the seating depth again. A few more adjustments may be needed for the proper bullet seating depth; then, you simply tighten the locknut to secure the bullet seater plug.

24. That's It!
Your first reloaded cartridge is ready to be fired. Of course, we’ve described only one case going through all the reloading steps. When actually reloading, you’d take a batch of cases through each operation before moving on to the next step.