Gear Guide: Essential Reloading Tools for Beginners

Reloading tools are a lot like kitchen appliances; there are a lot that make life easier, but only a few that are absolutely necessary.

My father got me started handloading when I was 13 years old, because he couldn't afford to feed my shooting habit. Ever since then, I've been reloading to support my practice, hunting and competitive shooting needs. In fact, though I hunted from the time I could keep both ends of a rifle aloft, I never shot a big game animal with a factory load until I was 29 years old.

Even with the increasing prices of copper, lead and gunpowder on today's market, it's possible to produce handloads for about a third the price of good factory ammo. Better yet, for 30 to 60 cents per shot, you can equal the performance of premium factory loads with top-shelf projectiles, rather than paying three dollars per cartridge. You can also tailor the loads to fit your particular rifle's sweet spot, potentially achieving better accuracy than other ammunition on the market.

For the first several years of my reloading career, I produced some top-notch ammo with a very basic setup. Doing so was slow, methodical and deliberate, but resulted in very consistent reloads and a good understanding of the process.


One thing I did right — or rather, my father did right — was to start with quality gear. It doesn't have to be expensive gear, but it shouldn't be cheap gear. Buying quality up front avoids frustration with sub-par tools and the eventual expense of buying again for better quality. You don't need every shiny gadget in the display case — get started with a minimum setup of solid tools, and then add to your setup as need and desire dictates.


Check out this list of very basic components needed to start reloading. With this setup, you'll be prepared to lube, size and prime fired cases, charge them with gunpowder and top them off with bullets — creating quality home-brewed cartridges.

Reloading Dies

Reloading dies are where the magic happens. You'll need a set of dies for each separate caliber that you want to handload. Most sets run 25 to 50 dollars, although match-grade rifle dies and carbide handgun dies — which eliminate the need to lube cases before sizing — can cost a bit more.

Excellent dies are available from RCBS, Lyman, Forster, Dillon Precision and Hornady (pictured here). RCBS also offers a list of dies for obsolete or very obscure cartridges, with makes life easy for vintage gun nuts like me.

Handheld Priming Tool

Many single-stage reloading presses come with a case-priming assembly, but in my experience they tend to be finicky and seat primers a little crooked. A good hand-held priming tool is well worth the expense, and will pay for itself in time saved.

Many single-stage reloading presses come with a case-priming assembly, but in my experience they tend to be finicky and seat primers a little crooked. A good hand-held priming tool is well worth the expense, and will pay for itself in time saved. Hornady makes one I personally use the most, but other manufacturers of reloading equipment offer quality tools as well. makes one I personally use the most, but other manufacturers of reloading equipment offer quality tools as well.

Reloading Manual

While you can find a lot of the information online, there's no substitute for a good reloading manual. It will have detailed instructions and vast amounts of data, helping you master the finer points of handloading. Very importantly, a good manual is your guide to safety procedures, and will help you keep your eyeballs intact and all the digits on your hands.

Most bullet manufacturers offer a loading manual, but they are typically specific to that manufacturer's projectiles. My favorite all-around manual is Lyman's 49th (current) Reloading Manual. It offers extensive data for a broad variety of projectiles and propellant types in a very easy-to-access format.

Powder Scale

Powder scales are used to measure and charge prepped cases with volumetric scoops. Some folks will tell you to start with an assortment of powder scoops, but I personally believe that's an antiquated and potentially dangerous method.

A good scale typically costs 70 to 120 dollars, enabling you to precisely measure gunpowder. Charging your empty cases by mass, is much more accurate than by volume. After you've referenced your loading manual and chosen a charge weight, simply trickle powder into the scale's pan until it reads as desired, then transfer the charge into an empty case. This process is safe and precise, while also producing super-consistent loads.

RCBS (pictured here), Hornady, Dillon Precision and Lyman make excellent-quality units.

Reloading Press

If reloading dies are where the magic happens, the reloading press is the cauldron in which it is brewed. The dies are screwed into the top of the press, and the shell holder attaches to the top of the ram. As you cycle the handle, the ram travels up and down, sliding the cartridge case in and out of the dies; where it will be resized, flared if needed and the bullet seated.

Single-stage presses are the most common type, and are most applicable to this discussion. They hold only one die at a time, and thus will perform only one action at a time. Available models vary from compact, handheld versions, up to massive high-torque presses — some designed specifically to handle the extra-large demands of cartridges such as the .50 BMG. Prices range from 60 dollars up to several hundred. RCBS (pictured here), Lyman and Hornady make my favorite single-stage presses. Any of their various models will serve well, but bigger presses offer more torque and are easier to cycle, especially when loading big magnum cases.

Powder Trickler

While I trickled gunpowder into the pan of my scale with a teaspoon for years, using a good trickler is far easier and much less trying on your patience. After dumping a charge just short of complete into the pan of your scale with a volumetric scoop or a spoon, just twist the knob on the powder trickler and drop a few grains of powder into the scale to complete the charge.

If you have the extra dollars, get Hornady's Lock-N-Load Quick Trickle, which has a good-size powder reservoir and dual-speed knob — enabling complete, fast trickling straight from the trickler.

Case Die Lube

Before sizing-down expanded cartridge cases, you'll need to lube them so the cases don't stick in the sizing die. You can apply lube by hand; or by rolling cases on a pad impregnated with lube, or by spraying them down with lube suspended in a carrier of alcohol. I use them all, and some application methods are better for some cartridges than others. If I had to pick just one, I'd use a spray lube.

Just line up the cases on a cookie sheet or a sheet of cardboard, and spray them lightly. Then roll the cases a half-turn and spray again. As soon as the carrier has evaporated, the cases are ready to size.

Who makes the best case lube? Right now, I use Royal Case Die Lube most frequently. It's not available at most gunshops; you'll likely have to order it online.

Shell Holder

Easily the most overlooked, yet absolutely necessary bit of reloading equipment, the shell holder is a small, 5-dollar tool that fits into the top of your reloading press's ram and holds the base of the cartridge as it runs in and out of the various dies.

Like reloading dies, shell holders are cartridge specific — to an extent. However, many cartridges share the same parent case, so in several instances one shell holder will work for numerous calibers. For example, the shell holder for .30-06 cases works for .25-06 Rem., .270 Win., .308 Rem., .243 Win. and a whole slew of others — even including the .45 Auto.

Reloading die manufacturers list and sell appropriate shell holders for the various calibers. If possible, I like to use shell holders made by the same company that made my dies, but that's not critical — shell holders are machined to exacting tolerances shared by all manufacturers.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Hornady 6MM Creedmoor

Hornady 6MM Creedmoor

Tom Beckstrand and Neal Emery of Hornady highlight the 6MM Creedmoor ammo.

The Glock 21

The Glock 21

Frank and Tony from Gallery of Guns spice up the Glock test using their non-dominant hands.

Skills Drills: 3-Second Headshot

Skills Drills: 3-Second Headshot

James Tarr runs through the 3-Second Headshot drill.

Black Hills Evolution of Rifle Cartridge: .308 Win. 175 Gr. Match

Black Hills Evolution of Rifle Cartridge: .308 Win. 175 Gr. Match

David Fortier talks with Jeff Hoffman of Black Hills Ammunition about the evolution of the .308 Win. 175 Gr. Match bullet.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

Harvey A. Donaldson may be best known for his .219 Donaldson Wasp wildcat cartridge, but during his lifetime he was popularly called the “pioneer benchrester.”  Gunsmithing

Harvey Donaldson: Pioneer Benchrester

Joel J. Hutchcroft - May 07, 2019

Harvey A. Donaldson may be best known for his .219 Donaldson Wasp wildcat cartridge, but...

The new striker-fired STR-9 9mm semiautomatic pistol from Stoeger Industries is reliable, ergonomic, accurate, and priced right. Handguns

Stoeger STR-9 Review

Joel J. Hutchcroft - May 17, 2019

The new striker-fired STR-9 9mm semiautomatic pistol from Stoeger Industries is reliable,...

Like situational ethics, standards of accuracy vary according to circumstances. How-To

Accuracy: It's All Relative

Terry Wieland - May 09, 2019

Like situational ethics, standards of accuracy vary according to circumstances.

The joys of handloading are many, and one of them is sharing the experience with a novice. Reloading

Share the Handloading Experience

Lane Pearce - May 19, 2019

The joys of handloading are many, and one of them is sharing the experience with a novice.

See More Trending Articles

More Reloading

The bottleneck 7.62x25 Tokarev is a fun cartridge, and handloading it increases the round's versatility. Reloading

Handloading the 7.62x25 Tokarev

Brad Miller, PhD - April 03, 2020

The bottleneck 7.62x25 Tokarev is a fun cartridge, and handloading it increases the round's...

Where too little pressure can cause as much trouble as too much pressure, the short .44 Russian and .45 Schofield cases offer a compelling benefit. Reloading

.44 Russian, .45 Schofield Case Capacity

Allan Jones - September 09, 2019

Where too little pressure can cause as much trouble as too much pressure, the short .44...

Because case prep is the most time-consuming step in the handloading process, we say any tool that makes it easier is a bargain. Reloading

Case Prep Made Easy

Lane Pearce - May 29, 2020

Because case prep is the most time-consuming step in the handloading process, we say any tool...

With the help of two longtime reloading mentors and one R&D manager, Lane Pearce clears up the murky situation of Ackley Improved cartridge headspacing. Reloading

Ackley Improved Cartridge Headspace

Lane Pearce - April 23, 2020

With the help of two longtime reloading mentors and one R&D manager, Lane Pearce clears up the...

See More Reloading

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get Digital Access.

All Shooting Times subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now