The more you reload, the more odds and ends you’ll find yourself acquiring. Here are seven items that, while not mandatory to get started, are items that you should think about getting fairly soon after you start handloading on the regular. This list isn’t exhaustive by any means, but by adding the items to your list, you could happily handload for the rest of your life without spending another dime on equipment.
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1. Reloading Trays
The good news is that with the exception of the case tumbler, everything on the optional list is quite inexpensive. Reloading trays give you an area to rest your cartridge cases between reloading steps. Typically with single-stage presses you will do 50 rounds at a time. You’ll run all 50 pieces of brass through the case re-sizing die, and then you’ll re-prime all 50 sized cases. After that you’ll expand all 50 case mouths, and so on. A reloading tray keeps your brass upright and secure between reloading steps. Most trays have four opening sizes to accommodate almost any size cartridge you are reloading.
2. Case Mouth Prep
A case mouth preparation tool is basically an inside and an outside chamfering tool. It gets rid of burrs on the case mouth. This is important to do before you load newly manufactured brass. You will rarely need to use it with previously fired brass.
3. Primer Pocket Tools
Primer pocket tools scrape carbon off the bottom of the cartridge’s primer pocket. A heavy buildup of carbon can keep primers from fully seating in the pocket. Once again, this isn’t a tool you will use every time you reload, but when you need it you’ll be glad it is in your kit.
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4. Case Trimmer
If you are reloading straight-sided handgun cartridges, like .38 Special or .45 ACP, you may never need a case trimmer. But if you are loading bottlenecked rifle rounds, like .223 or .308, a case trimmer will move from the optional list to the mandatory list after you have reloaded and fired the same brass a few times. The brass on these rounds will stretch, and if it gets out of spec you will have rounds that won’t chamber or that won’t extract after firing. Trimmers can be had in a variety of configurations. Some are very inexpensive trimmers made expressly for a single cartridge, while others use interchangeable guides and length controls to adapt to any cartridge you need to trim.
5. Powder Tricklers
Powder tricklers are devices that dole out powder a single flake at a time. They are important if you want to build precise ammunition. Most powder measures can vary by plus or minus 0.1 grains of powder per throw. So, if you have carefully set up your powder measure to throw 7 grains of Blue Dot powder on any given throw, if you weighed the charge on your scale it could be anywhere from 6.9 grains of powder to 7.1 grains of powder. That won’t affect practical accuracy enough to bother you for most shooting, especially off-hand shooting. But for really precise shooting, like long-range, high-power rifle competitions or handgun bullseye shooting matches, you want the most accurate loads you can get.
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You use a trickler in combination with your powder measure and scale to dispense exact amounts of powder for each cartridge. I use a trickler whenever I am developing a new load, because I want to test the accuracy of the load, not the consistency of my powder measure. What I’ll do is set my powder measure to throw 0.3 grains less than the powder charge I’m testing. I’ll throw a load from the powder measure on to my scale. Then I’ll use the trickler to dispense a flake of powder at a time until the scale reads exactly the powder charge I want.
Typically, I’ll use the trickler to load 25 cartridges of each load I want to test. I’ll bench shoot them at the range and select the load that does the best. Once that load is standardized I’ll set the powder measure to throw it. And I’ll reload my general production cartridges for that load without using the trickler again.
6. Case Tumblers
A case tumbler vibrates fired, dirty brass cartridge cases in a bath of mildly abrasive media, like ground corncobs or ground walnut shells. A few hours in the tumbler returns the brass to shiny, like-new condition. Tumbling cases certainly is aesthetically pleasing, but there are practical benefits as well. Clean cases don’t wear your reloading dies as quickly. And flaws like splits are much easier to see on a polished case than on a dirty one. Most people don’t rush right out to buy a tumbler when they start reloading, but I don’t know a single experienced reloader who doesn’t own one. I own two myself.
7. Bullet Pullers
Last but not least is an inertia bullet puller. We all make mistakes. A bullet puller lets you break your mistakes down into components and, at a minimum, re-use the brass. They are a good investment.
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This article was originally published in the SURVIVOR’S EDGE™ Winter 2016 edition. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.