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This article is for informational purposes only. Suthenboy is not a credentialed expert. Do not attempt any of these activities without first consulting an expert or a manual published by accredited experts or manufacturers.
The number one consideration in choosing component cases and bullets is price. There are lots of manufacturers out there but the quality of the cases all meet the same requirements for material and dimension. I have never found that any one brand is better than another. What I have found is that used surplus military stuff can be a problem. Military brass is thicker and softer than civilian brass. This is because military loads are higher pressure and a looser fit in the chamber. The loose fit is so the cartridges will still chamber under adverse conditions (mud, sand, water). Because they are a looser fit they need to expand more to seal the chamber so they are softer. Because they are soft and higher pressure the walls of the cases are thicker. Resizing these cases can be a real struggle. I once ripped my press off of its bolts trying to resize some 7.65×51 NATO brass. The straight wall pistol cases are fine and the 5.56 NATO is ok but after that buy commercial brass. The military stuff also has shorter life because of overexpansion and the resulting work hardening.
For standard calibers there are multiple outlets including Midway, Brownells, Cheaper than Dirt, Black Hills and a host of others. Just do a search for ‘bulk brass reloading’ and you will get oodles of suppliers. For non-standard calibers the suppliers are spotty. Some calibers are seasonal, meaning they are only produced once every ten years or so. Some suppliers will have some calibers sometimes and others not. You just have to search. I once found where Black Hills had bought all of the 375 Winchester produced and was selling it for a song. I bought a lifetime supply.
Another consideration for cases is the priming. Standard priming means the primer flash hole is single and centered in the bottom of the case. All standard reloading dies are designed for standard priming. Another type of priming is Berdan priming. This type case has two small off-center holes in the bottom of the case. Normally these cannot be reloaded without special tools and are a pain in the ass even with that. Stay away from Berdan.
For priming you definitely want quality, consistent, reliable primers. The best on the market I have found is CCI. Remington and Winchester are good. I have never tried any foreign manufacturers. They are pricey anyway. With primers you want to handle them carefully. I use tweezers to manage them. Never touch them with your fingers. Any oils from your fingers can kill the primer. Any oils or grease from your bench can spoil the primers. Open them fresh, use them immediately without touching and then put the package away. Never subject the primers to any kind of shock. The priming material is very powerful. It may seem like a tiny amount but it wont seem that way if you set one off.
The primer is a small swaged brass cup. Inside the cup is the priming material and on top of that is a little three legged anvil so that the priming material is mashed between the cup wall and the anvil upon being struck by the primer. This little anvil can be ejected from the cup if the primer is set off outside of the cartridge case. Even smashing one with a hammer can cause small pieces of shrapnel to fly. Be careful with primers. Don’t screw around with them. It is all fun and games until someone gets their eye put out.
Gunpowder. I love gunpowder. I love the look, the smell of fresh powder and the smell of burned powder.
Gunpowder does not explode. Gunpowder burns. It is a very rapid but very carefully controlled burn. Because the grains burn on the exterior adjusting the surface area of the grain can control how fast it burns. The fastest burning powders are flakes. American gun powders are small disc shaped flakes. Adjusting the width and thickness of the flakes controls the burn rate. These powders are used in pistol and shotgun rounds. They are lower pressure and lower velocity. European powders are square flakes but the principles are the same.
Next up are tube powders. These are primarily for rifles. Tube length, outside and inside diameter governs the burning speed. The tube powders are the ones most likely to be severed in the powder measure. If you really want precision with tube powders you have to trickle them into the scale by hand instead of using the powder dispenser. I can load without any margin of error at all using that time consuming method but with standard hunting loads I prefer using the powder dispenser.
The last powder type are ball powders. These are the slowest powders. They are for Magnum loads in pistol and some rifles. Burn rate is governed by ball diameter. These guys can give tremendous pressures and velocities and can also be metered out very consistently.
Remember, after choosing your load only use the exact powder, powder measure and bullet style and weight in the published load. Never mix those combinations and NEVER, EVER, EVER mix two different powders together.
A consideration in choosing the load is recoil. For every force there is an equal and opposite force. Heavier bullets generate more recoil than light ones. Faster bullets create more recoil than slow ones. Another factor in recoil is the powder. In addition to pushing 200 grains of lead out of the barrel at 2500 fps you are also pushing 50 grains of powder out of the barrel at the same speed. You can add that mass to the bullet mass as recoil generating. Finding a load that gives comparable speeds but using less powder can make a noticeable difference.
In general there are three different type bullets and they all require different considerations in loading.
The first are the lead bullets. These are usually cast but sometimes swaged. Cast bullets are made by pouring molten lead into a mold. The hardness of these bullets is adjusted by varying the mixture of the alloy. Pure lead is soft as chewing gum and will cause heavy lead deposits in your barrel. This can be very difficult to remove. I have seen barrels so heavily leaded that the rifling was completely filled. Leading occurs because the high friction between the bullet and the barrel causes the contact surface of the bullet to become liquid resulting in heavy lead streaking. Repeating this over and over results in heavy deposits. The easiest way to remove barrel leading is with Mercury but that is hard to come by these days. Stay away from pure lead. The easiest way to prevent leading is to put a small copper cup on the base of the bullet called a gas check. I highly recommend gas checks.
Typical bullet alloy is Lead, Tin and Antimony. The lead is for weight, the Tin for hardness and the Antimony for ease of casting. You can buy pre-mixed alloys for bullet casting but my preferred source is waste lead. In the past that has been wheel weights from garages. This mixture is anybody’s guess. It is usually pretty hard but does lend itself to limited tempering. By simply dropping the bullets out of the mold into a bucket of water while they are hot you can harden them but they only keep their temper for about one year. A freshly cast and tempered bullet of this style is a wonder. I have had 44 magnum cast flatpoint bullets penetrate 12 inches of oak with almost no deformation. There are more sophisticated methods of tempering but we will get into that later.
Swaged bullets are made by pressing sections of lead wire or lead powder into dies using a hydraulic press. Those pressed from wire are a bit softer than cast bullets and those pressed from powder (common for 22 long rifle) can disintegrate on contact with a target.
Copper jacketed bullets allow for much higher velocity loads as copper fouls the barrel much less than lead because copper has a significantly higher melting point. Jackets can also be adjusted to allow for controlled expansion in the target. They aren’t nearly as hard as solid cast, tempered bullets but for most game they are more than sufficient. Never mix copper jacketed loads with cast bullet data and visa versa. The increase in friction between the copper jacket and the barrel causes the powder to burn at a much higher pressure. Only use data listing jacketed bullets for jacketed bullets.
The last kind of bullet are the solids. These are swaged or machined individually from solid copper or solid brass. They are very expensive. They are designed for high penetration and low deformation in tough, dangerous game. Because they are solid they will not compress as easily as the other type bullets causing still higher pressures to develop. Only use loading data for solid bullets with solid bullets. It is unlikely that you will ever load many, if any, of these.
Jump over to Midwayusa.com. Choose SHOP DEPARTMENT – > RELOADING SUPPLIES and peruse the powders, primers, brass and bullets. You will get a good idea what is available and at what prices. Before you do, hide your wallet from yourself. You will be like a kid in a candy shop.
If you have managed to slog your way through my articles, congratulations. You are probably a reloader at heart. Encyclopedias can be filled with all of the information about reloading. Everything in the world has been tried and retried but it is still fun to experiment with. You can shoot more and cheaper, you can make specialized ammunition for all kinds of uses. If you are not that into all the technical information you can buy one of the reloading kits from any of the manufacturers and stick strictly to the published data. You can load for one caliber or a hundred. You can shoot 500 S&W or 10mm Auto for nearly the same price as 38 Special. You will have access to obscure calibers or highly specialized ammo. Whatever you decide to do never forget: SAFETY, SAFETY, SAFETY. That goes for more than just reloading.