RELOADING BASICS – Required Tooling

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A basic reloading setup is fairly straightforward: you need a press, dies, and case preparation tools to shape your brass, powder tools to measure and drop powder within the cases, dies to seat the bullet, and some measurement tools to check your work. Below we break down these categories to help you choose the tools best suited to your needs.

This guide is a work in progress. For the overview and links to other chapters, click here.

Press Types

Single Stage Press

If you’re new to reloading, this is probably where you want to start for a few reasons. The Single Stage Press is the simplest press type. It holds a single die at a time and performs a single operation per stroke of the ram. This simplicity means that a new reloader can pay attention to a single step in the process free from any distractions or worry about mistakes at other stages as they master one step at a time.

Most single stage presses also support priming cases on the press. The priming attachments tend to lack the sensitivity or “feel” that can be achieved with a hand primer or benchtop primer, but for new reloaders are sufficient to get your cases primed without needing to purchase an additional tool.

These presses are retain their utility to experienced reloaders for their ability to make highly consistent loads due to their tight tolerances and limited moving parts.

Below are a few popular presses and their current prices at MidwayUSA:

Lee Challenger Breech Lock $76.49
RCBS Rock Chucker Supreme $189.99
Hornady Lock-N-Load $189.99
Redding Big Boss II $262.99
Forster Coax $339.99

Turret Press

The Turret Press, like the single stage, performs one operation per stroke of the ram, but features a rotating toolhead which can hold preset dies. The user rotates the turret to the next die for each step in the reloading process. These presses can be built with the tolerance advantages of quality single stage presses but without the inherent slowdowns of changing out dies between each step in your workflow.

The Area 419 Zero Press is a perfect example of a turret press with incredibly tight tolerances, allowing for the production of ammo with near perfect consistency.

Lee Classic 4 Hole 4 $143.99
Lyman Brass Smith 8 $269.99
Redding T-7 7 $399.99
Area 419 Zero 9 $1275.00

Progressive Press

Dillon 550 Progressive Press

The Progressive Press is an efficiency tool. Each pull of the ram completes multiple different operations on multiple cartridges at different stages of completion. The Dillon 550 series, for example, contains 4 stages – usually resizing, powder charging, bullet seating, and crimping. By the fourth pull of the ram, the first cartridge is completed and every subsequent pull of the ram will complete another cartridge. These are ideal for churning out high volumes of ammo. While these are generally understood to produce less perfectly-consistent ammo than single stage presses, with some simple tweaks it is possible to produce very consistent loads.

Progressive presses can be manually indexed, meaning the user rotates the baseplate to move cartridges from one stage to the next, or automatically indexed. These advanced presses move the baseplate automatically at the end of each ram stroke and are often equipped with automatic case feeders and bullet droppers, so that the user can continually drive the press without needing to perform any other operations manually with the exception of refilling components as they run out.

When using a progressive press, in addition to the normal switching out of dies, the user will also have to change out the baseplate which holds each cartridge, as they are fitted to the particular cartridge you are producing. So if you want to bulk load 9mm Luger, 5.56 NATO, and .308 Winchester, you’d need three different baseplates in addition to all the relevant dies. Many of these presses have removeable toolheads, so that if you purchase separate toolheads to match each baseplate, you won’t need to reset your dies every time you change what you’re loading.

Lee Pro 1000 3 x $143.99
Lee Pro 4000 4 x $241.19
Lee Pro 6000 6 x $305.99
Hornady Lock-N-Load AP 5 x $614.99
Dillon 550C 4 $590.00
Dillon 1100 w/caliber conversion 8 x $2499.99


Reloading Dies

Dies use the force of the press to reshape your brass cases in different ways. The primary dies in the reloading process will resize fired cases back to new dimensions, seat the bullets within the neck at specified tension, and crimp the neck if necessary.

Specialty dies can expand the inside diameter of case necks, point the tips of bullets to improve ballistic coefficient, decap used primers without resizing, and more. Some of these specialty dies will be discussed in the Advanced Techniques section of this guide.

Resizing Dies

Full length resizing dies, as the name implies, are designed to resize the entire length of the brass back into original specifications. Not all chambers match these specifications with perfect tolerances. Therefore it is possible to overwork the brass by pushing the shoulder back excessively, which will then re-expand upon firing. Achieving optimal shoulder bump to extend brass life will be discussed in the chapter on case preparation.

Neck resizing dies were developed as an answer to overworking the brass, allowing the body of the case to “fire form” to the chamber, and then only working the neck for proper tension on the next loaded bullet.

This technique seems to have fallen out of favor some time in the last decade. Neck sizing only will eventually result in brass that will be overly tight in the chamber, resulting in difficulty closing the bolt. This may happen as early as 3-4 loads, at which time the brass must be full length resized or discarded.

Bullet Seating Dies

These dies drive the bullet into the case to a preset depth. Premium seaters tend to be equipped with a micrometer adjustment knob to make setting the depth you want as simple as measuring a cartridge’s overall length after seating a bullet with your calipers and then turning the knob the corresponding amount.

Crimping Dies

Depending on the cartridge you’re reloading, you may need either a taper or roll crimp. Some cartridges will not require any crimp at all. In cartridges where bullet setback during recoil is a concern, such as in magnum revolvers or rifles with tube magazines, the heavier roll crimp is likely a requirement. See your manual for your particular cartridge.

Some bullet seating dies will also crimp in the same operation, and may require special setup which should be described in the documentation included with your die. We will include an example in the chapter on bullet seating.

Case Trimming Tools

LE Wilson Case Trimmer
Redding Case Trimmer

Case trimmers fall into two categories – those that rotate the case and those that rotate the cutter. Those that rotate the case tend to be cheaper, but require the user to properly align the bullet within a collet. A misaligned case will result in an imperfect cut.

Trimmers such as the L.E. Wilson trimmer, which rotate the cutter, require the use of cartridge specific bushings which hold the case in proper alignment, eliminating this issue, but are significantly more expensive.

Powder Measurement

Redding Powder Measure

The traditional bench mounted powder measure is a simple tube hopper with a volumetric chamber for metering powder before dropping it into the case. Many of these designs struggle with extruded stick powders. From the $24 Lee Perfect Powder Measure to the $290 Harrells Precision, you’ll find users with mixed results using these types of powders. It has been my experience that the more expensive measures have better machining on the cutting edges and therefore deal with these powders more easily.

Ultimately this is a question of whether you want to tinker with your measure trying to optimize it and a question of acceptable tolerances with your loads. If you’re loading for a long range match, you may have to trickle charge every load anyway, but a more consistent throw will speed up this process. For beginners, the Lee is so cheap it may be worth testing regardless.


Electronic Scales

There are a variety of budget electronic scales available online in the <$100 range. Most beginners can get by with these, but keep in mind that they should be calibrated frequently with their supplied check weights. In my experience, proximity to a cellular device can also interfere with their accuracy. They also have a tendency to exhibit lag between the addition of powder and producing an updated reading. They work, but very slowly.

As you move up in cost, some scales such as the RCBS chargemaster integrate a powder trickler into the scale, so that the pan fills to a preset weight, eliminating the need for a bench mounted powder measure altogether.

Setups like the Autotrickler represent the pinnacle of this type of setup, using scales capable of to-the-kernel accuracy (or sometimes finer) and a trickler that fills the pan rapidly without overshooting the target charge weight. This type of setup is pushing $1100 and suited to the competition shooter looking for the lowest standard deviations and extreme spread possible in their reloads.

Beam Scales

Dillon Beam Scale

A properly leveled and tuned beam scale is an essential tool for any reloader concerned with an uncertain future. Electronic scales are great tools for efficient reloading, but if you need to weigh powder without electricity or batteries, beam scales are the way.

Calipers, Micrometers, and Comparators

Reloading Tools

A caliper is an essential reloading tool, as you will at the very least need to measure the overall length of your loaded cartridges and the trimmed length of your cases. A comparator can help you measure your cartridges from a point on the bullet’s ogive, typically giving a more consistent measurement than the bullet tips.

If you want to measure brass neck thickness, you will also need a micrometer. A ball end is perfect for this task. This is useful if you’re doing any neck wall thickness sorting or trimming.

I played with a cheap Hornady caliper for years, and it was not something I would describe as pleasant. Constant rechecking of zero was required, and the movement of the lower jaw along the scale was not smooth enough for fine adjustment. I recommend spending the money on a quality Starrett or Mitutoyo tool. They can be found in excellent condition used on eBay if the new prices are too steep.

I recommend the Mitutoyo 500-196-30 digital caliper or the Starrett 120a dial caliper and the Mitutoyo 115-313 ball end micrometer.

There were a number of reloaders recommending iGaging tools a few years ago. They are more affordable, but I do not recommend them as they are made in China. Buy at your own risk.


These tools will get you up and running. In the next chapter, we’ll cover the steps necessary in preparing your brass for loading.

To return to the guide’s Table of Contents, click here.

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