Handloading, or reloading, is the practice of making your ammunition at home. With the right tools and components, patience, and proper care, it is a safe activity enjoyed by millions of Americans.
If you’re considering getting into reloading, always ensure you are in the right mindset because this activity involves handling gunpowder, attention to detail, and an abundance of caution. Every gun owner knows the importance of safety, and that goes double for handloaders.
Best Reloading Kits for Beginners
1. RCBS Rock Chucker Supreme Master Reloading Kit
One of the most popular reloading kits for beginners is undoubtedly the RCBS Rock Chucker Supreme Master.
At the core of this reloading kit is the RCBS Rock Chucker single-stage press, one of the most well-known and highly-regarded reloading presses. It is instantly recognizable, with its green cast iron O-frame and large lettering on the sides.
The Rock Chucker press alone provides excellent value for the money, offering superior accuracy for a reasonable price.
The latest version of this RCBS press was also lengthened to accommodate for taller cartridges and includes convenient features such as priming while on the press. As a bonus, it is also compatible with Lee dies.
The other tools in this kit include a mechanical scale, an RCBS Uniflow powder measure, a powder funnel, a hand priming tool, a kit for case lubing, and the Nosler Reloading Guide #7, featuring hundreds of full-color pages with accurate load data for many calibers.
This press will last you a lifetime, mainly if you are primarily interested in obtaining the most accuracy out of your handloaded cartridges. Also, all parts of this kit are 100% made in the United States.
2. Hornady Lock-N-Load Classic Deluxe Reloading Kit
This kit is the Deluxe version of the Lock-N-Load Classic by Hornady, which includes everything a beginner needs to start handloading as conveniently as possible.
The kit features the Hornady Lock-N-Load single-stage press. It is an O-frame press made of high-strength alloy, painted with the distinctive Hornady red.
By far, the most innovative feature of this press is the Lock-N-Load quick-change bushing system, which allows you to switch dies quickly and conveniently. This kit comes with three die bushings.
If you reload for multiple different cartridges, this system makes a difference and allows you to spend less time fiddling with the dies and more time loading more ammunition.
The angled design gives the handloader better visibility and accessibility of the case, allowing for easy and comfortable visual inspection of the powder level before seating a bullet.
All Hornady reloading kits come with the Hornady 10th Edition Reloading Handbook, featuring over 1,000 pages of load data and accurate, recent information.
This Deluxe kit includes many other extras. You will find a digital scale accurate to 0.1 grains, a can of One Shot case lube, a powder measure stand, a kinetic bullet puller for disassembling ammunition, and OAL gauges to ensure your bullets are seated to the correct depth.
3. Lee Precision Breech Lock Challenger Kit
Lee Precision is the leading manufacturer of reloading equipment in the United States, producing some of the most reliable and affordable presses. Lee dies are an industry standard, accepted by many other companies’ brands, and copied by many others.
For the beginner handloader on a budget, the Lee Precision Breech Lock Challenger Kit is an ideal starter set. It combines in a single package several high-quality Lee tools with the Lee Breech Lock Challenger Press, an aluminum O-frame single-stage press with a distinctive red paint and steel linkage.
The aluminum and steel construction of the press makes for a very durable product. It comes with a convenient primer catcher tube, allowing you to place a trash can underneath your workbench and instantly dispose of your spent primers while depriming your spent cases.
The Kit comes with a quick-change breech lock system, allowing you to switch dies with just 1/6 of a turn – the equivalent of a single twist of the wrist.
It also features the Lee Auto-Prime hand-held priming tool, a powder measure, eight of the most popular shell-holders (sizes 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 11, 12, and 19), and the Lee safety scale, one of the world’s most accurate mechanical powder scales, accurate to 0.05 grains.
Best of all, like most Lee products, it is very affordable without compromising on quality.
4. Lee Classic 4 Hole Turret Press Deluxe Kit
If you’re a beginner looking to reload for pistol-caliber cartridges, or if you simply want a little more volume than what a single-stage press can offer, the Lee Classic 4-Hole Turret Press Deluxe Kit is the answer.
This kit has nearly everything you need to get started immediately; all you need are dies and components, and both pistol-caliber and rifle-caliber Lee dies are available. With practice, it is possible to load up to 250 rounds per hour with this kit!
The heart of this kit is the Classic Turret Press, an auto-indexing turret press capable of holding up to four different dies, making changing calibers easy and convenient.
With over four inches of clearance, you can comfortably reload anything from .32 S&W to .300 Winchester Magnum as long as you have the right dies.
You will also find the 2019 edition of the Modern Reloading Guidebook, which includes over 38,000 loads over 178 different calibers in a new and improved large-size format. This manual is a treasure trove of information for handloaders of all levels.
Also included in this kit are case conditioning tools such as lubricant, a chamfering tool, primer pocket cleaner, and more. These tools are ideals for cleaning and preparing spent casings before loading.
5. Hornady 3-in-1 Lock-N-Load Ammo Plant Kit
If you don’t want to wait or practice with a single-stage or need the high volume of ammunition that a progressive press affords, look no further than the Hornady 3-in-1 Ammo Plant Kit.
The excellent Lock-N-Load Professional-Grade Progressive Press is a five-stage, auto-indexing progressive press that can help you load up to 500 rounds per hour.
Like the Classic Deluxe, this press features the same five-stage Lock-N-Load quick-change bushing system, as well as an auto-ejection feature of completed cartridges, saving time and letting you reload more quickly and efficiently.
With the included Case Feeder and Pistol Bullet Feeder and the high-capacity powder measure, gathering your components is easy, quick, and convenient, simplifying and speeding many of the processes that would otherwise consume time and effort.
Also included in this kit is the Hornady Powder Cop, a case-activated device designed to check whether a case has been loaded with an excessive amount of powder.
Although it does not replace proper attention and careful checking, the Powder Cop is a useful spot-check device to have on a progressive press, where hundreds of rounds per hour are the norm.
Why Do Gun Owners Handload?
There are two main reasons for handloading: cost-saving and performance tuning.
The cost-saving benefits of handloading are not immediately apparent for a newcomer. After all, handloading equipment is not cheap. However, making ammunition yourself costs less in individual materials than buying equivalent pre-made factory ammunition. You pay only for the parts, saving money on the labor by assembling them yourself.
Many argue that the cost-saving elements of handloading are negated if you simply spend the same amount of money to buy more components. In practice, it’s certainly possible, but that depends entirely on your ammunition consumption.
If you shoot a fixed amount of rounds per month, handloading costs less per round than buying factory ammo. If you don’t, you may simply find yourself shooting more, which can be an advantage.
The second, and perhaps the most crucial reason for handloading, is performance tuning. Having control over each of the components used to make your ammunition means you can select parts and tune powder charges to your exacting specifications.
With time and experience, you can find the right combination of components, powder charge, and bullet weights that allow your firearms to shoot more accurately.
Just as many car enthusiasts get into automotive tuning to improve their vehicle’s performance, many shooters go down the route of handloading to tinker with their ammunition and improve their accuracy.
Anatomy of a Cartridge
If you’re interested in making ammunition at home, using proper terminology is essential to avoid confusion and know what components to look for.
Many people call a complete round of ammunition a bullet, but this is incorrect. The proper term is cartridge, although round is also common.
A typical round of pistol or rifle ammunition comprises four elements: Primer, powder, case, and projectile.
- The case or casing is essentially a tube, usually made of brass. It holds all the other components together and is what remains after a round has been fired. Casings are reusable (to an extent), and collecting new or previously-fired casings is the first step to begin reloading.
- The powder is found inside of the case. The exact type and quantity of powder vary depending on the caliber and the intended use.
- The primer is a small circular device seated inside the case head. Primers contain a small charge of shock-sensitive compound, designed to ignite when the firing pin strikes it. Upon firing, the primer ignites, in turn igniting the powder, providing sufficient energy to propel a projectile down the barrel and out the barrel.
- The projectile or bullet is what leaves the barrel and eventually strikes the target. There are different sizes, types, and weights, each suitable for various applications.
Shotgun shells usually include a fifth component, a wad, used to contain one or multiple projectiles. Shotgun shells may be loaded with various projectiles: different sizes of shot pellets, many types of slugs, and exotic projectiles.
Reloading shotshells involves many extra steps and should not be attempted by beginners until they have experience with handloading in general.
Some argue that the terms “handloading” and “reloading” are not entirely interchangeable, referring to reloading as specifically the practice of reusing previously-fired cases to make new ammunition with, which requires extra steps.
However, the basic principles are the same whether you use new cases or previously-fired cases.
Safety must be at the forefront of your mind at all times while reloading. Most reloading manuals and manufacturers strongly recommend against the practice while ill, impaired, tired, or otherwise incapable of normal concentration levels.
Carelessness or inattention may result in the destruction of your equipment, severe injuries, or death.
To get started with reloading, you need a suitable reloading kit with all the tools necessary to manipulate the materials, an appropriate amount of working space, and a recent reloading manual that provides load data and information for various calibers you choose to reload.
The ideal working space is a dedicated workbench called a reloading bench, where you will install your reloading kit and equipment. Your reloading bench must be stable, with no play or wobble. Preferably, do not use the workbench for anything else. Avoiding clutter and staying organized is essential.
Sorting containers, such as Akro bins and cabinets, are handy for keeping your components sorted and labeled. In a pinch, Tupperware boxes also work well.
What to Look For in a Reloading Kit
A reloading kit typically consists of a loading press, a loading block, powder dippers, a powder scale, a powder trickler, a powder funnel, case trimming and priming tools, and sets of dies.
Although you can purchase these tools separately and create your own kit, beginners should initially buy a ready-made kit, then add or replace elements over time as skill and experience grow.
The core of all reloading setups is the press. A press is a device that holds cases in place using dedicated dies while going through the loading process. There are three main types of reloading press: single-stage, turret, and progressive.
Make sure to select your reloading press according to your other needs and not solely on the cost.
- Single-stage presses: A single-stage press has a large, rigid frame that can hold only one die, allowing you to manipulate only one round at a time. These presses are the least expensive and the simplest to operate, but also the slowest. It is often recommended for beginners, as it allows one to pay close attention to each round as they load them. Confirmed handloaders enjoy single-stage presses as well, as it allows for loading with the utmost precision and accuracy.
- Turret presses: A turret press is overall similar to a turret press but possesses a rotating die-holding ring called a turret, which holds multiple dies at once (usually four, five, or six). Specific models require you to turn and index the turret manually, while others are auto-indexing. Turret presses are ideal if you are reloading multiple cartridges simultaneously, providing a good compromise between volume and accurate loads.
- Progressive presses: A progressive press is the most complex type but the best for producing large volumes of ammunition. Functionally, they are similar to turret presses in that they can hold multiple dies at once. However, they also feature many extra components, such as a powder measure, a case feeder, and the ability to kick completed rounds out of the shell-holder.
Many reloading kits include a mechanical scale for the measurement of powder charges. These scales can be a little difficult for beginners to use without an online tutorial.
If you find mechanical scales to be a hassle, you can separately purchase a digital scale to complete your kit.
The Take-home Message
Although all reloading press types are suitable for reloading most pistol and rifle cartridges, remember that each type – single-stage, turret, and progressive – may be best suited for different uses and applications.
If you find yourself bitten by the reloading bug, you may find yourself buying additional accessories, a different type of press, or even a whole new kit in the future. All starter kits can be complemented with additional tools and equipment as your ability improves.