Handloading and Reloading
Individual shooters may handload or reload their own ammunition, using hand tools to perform the tasks done by machines in commercial ammunition factories.
The process is nearly equivalent:
- Handloading is the process of assembling ammunition from components, typically for personal use.
- Reloading is the process of assembling ammunition using previously fired cartridge cases as well as some new components: propellants, projectiles, and primers.
There are several reasons to handload or reload ammunition:
- Economy - over the counter ammunition is more expensive.
- Enhanced accuracy - the accuracy of handloaded or reloaded ammunition precisely loaded by a hobbyist typically exceeds industry standards.
- Customized loadings - the variety of combinations of bullet and powder loads specific to the needs of the shooter and the firearm are much greater than the limited offerings of commercial loadings.
- Obsolete cartridge types - commercially available ammunition for obsolete or historical firearms is limited.
The essential ammunition components for reloading are:
- Smokeless powder appropriate for reloading (handgun, rifle, shotgun)
- Primers of the appropriate size and type
- Projectiles for the type of ammunition
- Cartridge cases manufactured for Boxer primers (used cases if reloading)
The first three are typically new, unless the loader is casting new lead bullets. Cartridge cases may be acquired new or used. Used cartridge cases have undergone dimensional changes as a result of the effects of exposure to internal pressures and obturation.
Used cartridge cases must be
- compressed to original factory specifications using a resizing die,
- trimmed lengthwise at the mouth to meet specifications,
- expanded at the mouth to fit the bullet to be inserted.
The reloading process is similar for handgun and rifle ammunition with minor exceptions:
- Removing the old primer using a decapping die (depriming)
- Cleaning the cases using soap and hot water or a commercial case cleaner
- Optional polishing using a cleaning medium in a tumbler or vibrating cleaner
- Inspecting cases to ensure physical integrity
- Lubricating the cases prior to resizing in a cartridge case resizing die
- Resizing the cases
- Trimming the case to length, if necessary
- Priming the cases (swaging used military cases)
- Charging the case with the correct amount of powder
- Seating the bullet using a bullet seating die
- Crimping the cartridge case mouth into a bullet cannelure used as a crimping groove
- Inspecting the result for physical flaws
- Testing the ammunition for accuracy
Reloading equipment provides a mechanical advantage and the dies to form the cases and assemble the components. The basic tool is the single-stage press, which produces one completed cartridge at a time. More advanced reloading machines have multiple die stations set up on a rotating base allowing several operations to be performed with a single stroke of a lever.
These operations include the following:
- Expanding the case neck
- Seating the primer
- Charging with powder
- Seating and crimping the bullet
The dies and tools used in these operations can leave unique, identifiable toolmarks on the ammunition produced. Firearms/toolmarks examiners and crime scene personnel should realize the implications for associating fired or unfired ammunition with reloading equipment.
Potentially identifiable striated or impression-type marks on cartridge cases may be produced by
- the cartridge case holding tool, which secures the base of a cartridge case in the reloading press,
- resizing dies used for returning expanded cartridge cases to their original dimensions,
- crimping tools used at the mouth of some types of cartridge cases.
Reloading marks on bullets may result from bullet-seating dies and may be in the surface of a bullet, especially the nose.
Shotshell ammunition reloading is similar to handgun and rifle ammunition reloading using either a single-stage press or a semiautomated operation. However, fewer potential toolmarks are left by the equipment. The toolmarks of interest would be on the brass base of most shotshells made by a resizing die.
The Selected Bibliography is a list of the writings that have been used in the assemblage of the training program and is not a complete record of all the works and sources consulted. It is a compilation of the substance and range of readings and extensive experience of the subject matter experts.
- American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers' Institute (SAAMI). 1993. Centerfire Pistol & Revolver Voluntary Performance Standards. Wilton: Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers Institute.
- American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers' Institute (SAAMI). 1992. Centerfire Rifle Voluntary Performance Standards. Wilton: Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers Institute.
- American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers' Institute (SAAMI). 1992. Rimfire Voluntary Performance Standards. Wilton: Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers Institute.
- American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers' Institute (SAAMI). 1992. Shotshell Voluntary Performance Standards. Wilton: Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers Institute.
- Barnes, Frank. 1997. Cartridges of the World . Northbrook: DBI Books, Inc.
- Biasotti, A.A. 1981. Rifling methods A review and assessment of the individual characteristics produced. AFTE J 13 (3): 34-61.
- Brown, C, and W. Bryant. 1995. Consecutively rifled gun barrels present in most crime labs. AFTE J 27 (3): 254-258.
- Brundage, D. 1998. The identification of consecutively rifled gun barrels. AFTE J 30 (3): 438-444.
- Coffman, B. 2003. Computer numerical control (CNC) production tooling and repeatable characteristics on 10 Remington Model 870 production run breech bolts. AFTE J 35 (1): 49-54.
- Davis, T.L. 1972. The Chemistry of Powder and Explosives . Las Vegas: Angriff Press.
- DeFrance, C., and M. Van Arsdale. 2003. Validation study of electrochemical rifling. AFTE J 35 (1): 35-37.
- Frost, G.E. 1990. Ammunition Making, An Insiders Story . Fairfax: National Rifle Association.
- Hackley, F.W., W.H. Woodin., and E.L. Scranton. 1967. History of Modern U.S. Military Small Arms Ammunition . New York: Macmillan.
- Hatcher, J.S. 1947. Hatchers Notebook. Harrisburg: Military Service Publishing Co.
- Lopez, L., and S. Grew. 2000. Consecutive machined Ruger bolt faces. AFTE J 32 (1): 19-24.
- Lutz, M. Consecutive revolver barrels. AFTE Newsletter August 1970.
- Matty, W., and T. Johnson. 1984. A comparison of manufacturing marks on Smith & Wesson firing pins. AFTE J 16 (3): 51-56.
- Matty, W. 1985. A comparison of three individual barrels produced from one button rifled barrel blank. AFTE J 17 (3): 64-69.
- Matty, W. 1999. Lorcin L9MM and L380 pistol breechface toolmark patterns. AFTE J 31 (2): 134-137.
- Rosati, C. 2000. Examination of four consecutively manufactured bunter tools. AFTE J 32 (1): 49-50.
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