Reloading Ammo: Case, Round, Primer, Die, Bullet, Brass…

August 3, 2012, by Ken Jorgustin

Guest post: by ‘Tripod XL’

What happens when you pull the trigger? This is not a “shooting aftermath”. This is recycling at it’s best! This is about reloading ammunition. When you shoot a round of BRASS CASED, BOXER PRIMED ammo, you leave a significant recyclable component, the brass case, which most people throw away.

First, there are four components to a “round” of ammunition (ammo). There is the case, the primer, the bullet and the “propellant”. This is what most people call a “bullet”, which is actually a “round” (one shot) of ammo. A complete round of ammo is these four components in one assembly. All are necessary to make the round function completely. Below is a picture of a rifle round and a shot shell, showing both the similarities and the difference.


The shot shell has another component, the wad for buffering the “trauma” to the shot during the recoil of the round going off. Google; “ammunition cartridge component pictures” and you can see many more images.

The shot shell, the rifle round and a pistol round, all have the 4 common elements for functioning that every round of ammo have. The four components have specific purposes. First, the primer is impacted by the firing pin and this in turn “ignites” the propellant, creating hot expanding gases, which then propel the projectile (the actual bullet) down and out the barrel and on its trajectory to WHERE IT WAS AIMED. The case is what holds these 3 elements together to function as a single round of ammo. The following picture shows the process of this happening.


What you have left after the firing of a round of ammo is the case. If it is brass AND is “Boxer” primed, it can be easily “reloaded”, saving 50% or more of the cost of a box of ammunition. It depends on the particular round in question and how many times you can use the case in question as to how much you can save.

What is reloading? It is exactly what it sounds like. You “reload” the brass case with the “other” three components and save a bunch of money, as well as have some independence from the ammo manufacturers, with appropriate preparation. Everyone that preps should have BASIC reloading capability for their main rifle and handgun rounds. It will and can mean the difference in surviving or not. It also will allow you to tailor the ammo to your specific needs. If you need a varmint round you can load up a high-speed, lightweight bullet at high velocity to do the deed. If you need a slower, heavier, soft-pointed round for stopping power for larger needs, you can make it so and have a lot of variability in one caliber.

So, what is needed for reloading? First you need someone to teach you what and how to reload. Reloading can be a hazardous activity if not done in an appropriately safe manner. I have reloaded since 1976 and have not had a single accident that involved any explosions, fire or accidental damage to me, my equipment or anyone else. Now, having said that, I had to “teach myself” to reload from a book. Today, you can get DVDs and books with a lot better presentations in them than I had. So it is possible to learn on your own but I STRONGLY advise that you get some “hands on training” from someone of repute.

Reloading involves “resizing” the brass to it’s original dimensions, removing the old primer (called decapping), installing a new primer, loading new powder into the case and then inserting, and then seating and crimping a new projectile in the case. This is all done on what is called a reloading “press”. A reloading press has an arm on it with some leveraged linkage to apply significant pressure to “reload” the used case to “new specs”. The easiest to understand is the “single stage press”, shown below.


Here are three different ones but as you can see they are very similar. The third one shows a case on the ram head and if you pull the handle down, the ram via the linkage with the handle, will push the case up into the “die”. The die, powered by the ram, is what performs the actual steps that will reload a round of ammo that started this paragraph.

Now, I can’t actually tell you how to reload in a blog article, I can only tell you about it, so this is by no means comprehensive, so you reloaders out there try to bear with me for the others sake. On rifle “dies” for reloading, there are two dies (on standard die sets, trite trivia) and both serve multiple functions. As I said before, these are single station presses, which means that you can ONLY perform one set of these 4 functions that I mentioned above, on one die at a time.

The first die will do two things (three actually but trite trivia). It will resize the case to the original specs as it is pushed up into the tight fitting “case shaped” die interior to force the case back into shape. This is why I mentioned the massive amount of leverage you need for this amount of pressure. BE sure this is a BOXER PRIMED case, (i.e. reloadable), or you will damage something. As the case goes into the “sizer die” a decapper pin descends (case is rising) into the interior of the case and goes through the center “primer flash hole”, and as the case bottoms out in the die, the old primer is “punched” out of the case as this happens. So at this point you have what amounts to a “new’ case, ready to reload. There are some other trivial steps here, but this is the big picture.

At this point a primer will be pressed into the now empty “primer pocket” of the case. There are several ways to do this and I will not try to describe it other than to say it is a relatively easy and simple process. Some systems are “stand alone” priming systems and some are integral to the press itself, each having their pros and cons.

Now that the primer is in you will need to load an ACCURATELY MEASURED amount of propellant into the case prior to inserting the bullet. This can be done in one of several ways, which like the primers can be integral to the press itself or stand alone powder loading systems.

Now you have a resized case with a new primer and powder in it. All you need is a bullet and that is what the second “die” is for. This one is called the “seater/crimper” die. It has a nose punch in the top of the die that is screw adjustable so that you can control how “deep” the bullet goes into the case. This die is also one that you need to hold your mouth right to get correct as there is some timing involved. It must be adjusted so that when the bullet reaches the proper depth, the tightest part of the die is reached at the same time so that the bullet is “crimped” in place in the case, at the right spot to hold it tight.

Well, that’s the over view and it isn’t hard to do. Most vendors have complete packages so that you can start reloading right away. Here is one below.


Reloading will require a little room but the room will be well worth the lower cost of ammo and therefore more practice with your firearms. Here is a fairly nominal “corner of the den” reloading bench and setup.


My first one was in a mobile home in the kitchen and consisted of a surplus old, wooden “teachers desk”.

Even though I show particular brands, the ones that I recommend are RCBS, Hornady and Lyman. Keep in mind that if you buy one particular brand, you may have to specifically buy other things of theirs to make stuff work. The dies ARE interchangeable among the different vendors. My brand of choice is RCBS for single stage presses. Also, you WILL get what you pay for. Don’t buy cheap stuff made in China and don’t buy anything that only has three letters in the name. As far as progressive presses, which I purposely left out, the only brand I recommend is Dillon. Learn single stage reloading first, THEN, go progressive if you can.

As far as good instruction, I’m a visual person and the Sierra video “Introduction to Handloading” is outstanding. You will need a load manual and the Speer “Reloading Manual #14” is good, along with the “Sierra 5th Edition Rifle Handgun Reloading Manual”, although if you could find earlier versions of this Sierra manual at gun shows or yard sales the earlier ones are superior. Another book is the “ABCs of Reloading”. Apparently there are MANY versions of this tome. The earlier ones by Dean Grennell are superior to the later versions. They can be found used on Amazon.

Just to give you an idea of the cost difference in the price of “store bought” ammo versus your reloads, here are the numbers. A box of 5.56mm Hornady, TAP FPD 75 gr., 20-count box, ammo costs $20, a dollar a round. If you have reloadable cases available to you, you can reload it for the following costs. Same projectile is 18.1 cents, the powder for that round is 5.7 cents and the primer costs 3 cents. So the total cost of the ammo that you reload, less your time, is 26.8 cents per round versus a dollar ($5.36 a box). If you’re shooting cheaper ammo the gain isn’t as great but it is still significant at a nominal price of about 35-40 cents a round for RELOADABLE ammo and a reload cost of about 18-20 cents a round. There is no way to compare it to NON-reloadable ammo, that’s not a useful metric.

Reloading can save you money in the long run and help provide you less expensive practice. It also allows you to customize ammo to your purposes. Again, get one on one instruction and use care in the processes of reloading and handling ammo and firearms. All use of this information is for philosophical discussion only and the reader assumes ALL responsibility for any use or consequences thereof. This information is not warranted to be the most up to date, best or safest. It is the users responsibility to ensure their own safety and appropriate uses of this information and topic. Survive well. Enjoy.


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