The question “To reload or not to reload?” lingers for many shooters. For those whom have not yet taken the plunge, we need to examine some of the intricacies involved in reloading. Particulars that not only affect your wallet, but also the amount of time you will invest into the act of reloading ammunition. While these “intricacies” could fill a fair sized textbook, let’s first start small and examine the anatomy of the bullet.
To avoid confusion, let’s address the item by its official name: the cartridge. A modern, centerfire cartridge (rimfire cannot be reloaded) consists of four components. Always–never more or less. Those four components are the casing, the primer, the powder and the projectile (which we will now call the “bullet” for the purposes of this article).
The casing of a modern, centerfire cartridge is essentially the container that keeps the other three components in place until the trigger is pulled. Most commonly made of brass, nickel, steel, aluminum or some mixes thereof, the casing will always be your starting point of reloading. What you want in a casing for reloading is a relatively soft metal (brass, nickel) that can endure repeated resizing of the mouth. It’s for this reason that steel and aluminum are not good for reloading. The inability to “give” during the reloading process results in split casings or cracks in the mouth. Casings can generally be reloaded about 5-7 times and each should be carefully inspected for damage before each load.
A primer is a tiny cylindrical explosive device that you see centered in the back of a centerfire cartridge. It sits flush with the rim of the casing and is the place that your gun’s firing pin will hit once the trigger is pulled. This hit will result in a little explosion and ignite into the center of the casing through a little opening called a “flash hole.” This ignition is what starts the powder to burn.
Smokeless gunpowder has the job of getting burnt. This burning within the tight and sealed confines of the cartridge causes a rapid expansion of hot gasses and creates enormous pressures. The chamber of the firearm keeps everything restricted and in place so that the gasses can force outward in only one direction, which is the path of least resistance, where the bullet is fitted into the casing.
While still most commonly made of lead (or with a lead core in copper jacketed bullets), the bullet conducts the business of the firearm despite the fact that its job does not even come into play until well after it has left your employment and is seeking work elsewhere. Having been forcibly ejected by the hot gasses of the burning powder, it is remembered only by what it has done in the recent past (“Where the heck did it hit?”).
And there, fine readers is what your modern cartridges are made of. Oh, you already knew all that? Not sure why you’re being told again? Because, now if you consider reloading your own cartridges, you’ll have to figure out which casings work best for you, which primers give you the least amount of trouble while having the fewest misfires, what kind and how much powder gives you the optimum load and what weight, size, shape and configuration of bullet results in your particular firearm placing it where you want it to go. See the job ahead of you now?
Modern reloading – another reason you should have stayed in school.