Aug
16

Shotshell Reloading Tool Basics by Randy Rowley

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It is not difficult to get started in shotshell reloading.  The necessary ingredients include reloading tool, components (empty hulls, primers, powder, wads, shot), safety glasses, a measuring scale and at least one good reloading handbook.Hulls, primers, wads and shot are offered in staggering variety and can easily be changed as the reloader chooses different “recipes” (the specific ingredients for a particular load).  Reloading tools, on the other hand, are not so easily changed and consequently require much more consideration.

The reloader has basically two choices for reloading tools: the single stage press and the progressive (semi- automatic) press.  Major manufacturers of reloading tools include: Hornady, Lee, Lyman, MEC and Pacific.  There are other manufactures of presses, however, I only listed those who have products that are readily obtainable at the average reloading dealer.

The basic press is the single stage press.  This is a mechanical device that has a large handle and usually five “stations” (areas of the press in which a specific action takes place).  The stations include de-priming/re-sizing, priming, powder charging/wad seating/shot charging, crimp starting and crimp finishing (in that order).  Each individual hull must be moved from station to station by hand.

The reloader begins by placing an already fired hull (after careful visual inspection) on the de-priming/re-sizing station (some presses separate this station into two stations).  One pull of the handle both knocks out the old primer and resizes the brass to its original specifications.  Of course, if the reloader has purchased new “factory” unfired hulls he can skip this step due to the fact that there is no primer in the hull to de-prime and the shell is already “factory sized”.

The next step is to pick up and move the de-primed hull over to the priming station.  If the press has an automatic primer feed, a primer is already waiting to be inserted into the hull.  If not, the reloader will have to place each individual primer in the primer cup by hand.  One pull of the handle will seat the primer into the hull.  Next, the reloader must pick up and move the primed hull over to the powder/wad/shot station.  This station usually requires two pulls of the handle.  The reloader first pulls the handle until it stops.  He then slides a powder/shot charging bar (usually to the left).  On top of the powder/shot bar are the powder and shot holding receptacles (usually tubes or screw in containers).  The bar releases a varying amount of powder (determined by a powder bushing that can be easily replaced by a different size one or an adjustable charging bar) and a predetermined amount of shot (1 oz., 1 1/8 oz., 1 1/4 oz., etc. ). Smaller diameter bushings release smaller amounts of powder and larger ones, of course, release larger amounts.  Sliding the powder/shot bar will first release the powder.

After the powder has been released, the reloader must return the handle to its normal (up) position.  He then must place a wad unto the rammer tube.  Another pull of the handle “seats” the wad onto the powder.  The degree of seating can be varied by adjusting a wad pressure gauge.  A gauge reading of 40 PSI is adequate for most loads.  Then, with the handle still in the down position, the reloader slides the charging bar to its original position to deposit the shot.

Now all of the necessary ingredients are in the hull and all that remains is closing it.  This is accomplished by picking up and moving the hull over to the crimp starter station.  One pull of the handle starts the crimp towards its final (closed) position.  The reloader has a choice of six star or eight star starters.  An already fired plastic hull easily reverts back to its original crimp.  The reloader then slides (or with some presses picks up and moves) the shell over to the crimp finishing station.  One pull of the handle finishes the crimp.  The completed product should now look very similar to a factory loaded shell.  If the finished crimp does not look right (spiraled, wrinkled, etc. ) or the tube is bulged, then simply adjust the cam above the crimp finisher until the desired product is achieved.  Reloader’s can take a hull from start to finish in 10 – 20 seconds with a single stage press.  The starting price is around $100.00.

A progressive press is very similar to a single stage press with the exception that five or six shells (depending on the press) are in the process of being reloaded at the same time.  Each pull of the handle performs actions on either five or six different hulls.  While one hull is de-primed/resized, another is primed, another is charged, another is having its crimp started and another is having its crimp finished.  This type of press is significantly faster (five or six shells in 20 seconds) but considerably more costly than a single stage press ($300.00 and up for a good quality model). Some progressive presses even have hydraulic power (for greater speed but also considerable more expense).

In the final analysis of choosing a shotshell reloading tool, the shooter must determine how many boxes of shells he fires a year and how much he is willing to spend.  An occasional dove hunter who shoots 10 boxes of shells a year hardly has use for a progressive press, but a skeet shooter who fires off four boxes a weekend should not consider anything else.

Regarding brands I am partial to MEC.  For single stage presses I recommend the Sizemaster (present cost, 11/15/03, is around $145.00).  The de-priming station de-primes and re-sizes the brass to the original factory specifications.  It also has an automatic primer feeder.  For progressive presses I recommend the 8567 Grabber (present cost, 11/15/03, is around $260.00).  It has the same style de-primer as the Sizemaster.  It also has a three stage crimp setup and an automatic primer feeder.  It is a six position press (works on six shells at a time).

As you can see from this article, there are quite a few things to consider when choosing a shotshell reloading tool.  Don’t become overwhelmed with all the choices or factors of consideration.  Having an experienced friend is invaluable.  I would be happy to give advice and answer questions.

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