Handloading or reloading is the process of loading firearm cartridges or shotgun shells by assembling the individual components (brass/shotshell, primer, powder, and bullet/shot), rather than purchasing completely-assembled, factory-loaded cartridges. Generally only Boxer-primed cases are reloaded.
Historically, handloading referred to the private manufacture of cartridges and shells using all newly-manufactured components, whereas reloading referred to the private manufacture of cartridges and shells using previously-fired cartridge brass and shells with new bullets, shot, primers, and powder. In modern usage, however, no distinction is made in these terms, and they are considered synonymous
The basic piece of equipment for handloading is the press. A press is a device that uses compound leverage to push the cases into the dies that perform the loading operations. Presses vary from simple, inexpensive single stage models, to complex progressive models that will eject a loaded cartridge with each pull of a lever, at rates of 10 rounds a minute.
Presses are often categorized by the letter of the alphabet that they most resemble: "O", "C", and "H". The sturdiest presses, suitable for bullet swaging functions as well as for normal reloading die usage, are of the "O" type. Heavy steel completely encloses the single die on these presses. Equally sturdy presses for all but bullet swaging use often resemble the letter "C". Both steel and aluminum construction are seen with "C" presses. Some users prefer "C" style presses over "O" presses, as there is more room to place bullets into cartridge mouths on "C" presses. Shotshell style presses, intended for non-batch use, for which each shotshell or cartridge is cycled through the dies before commencing onto the next shotshell or cartridge to be reloaded, commonly resemble the letter "H".
Dies are generally sold in sets of two or three dies, depending on the shape of the case. A three die set is needed for straight cases, while a two die set is used for bottlenecked cases. The first die of either set performs the sizing and decapping operation. The middle die in a three die set is used to expand the case mouth of straight cases, while in a two die set the entire neck is expanded as the case is extracted from the first die. The last die in the set seats the bullet and may apply a crimp. Special crimping dies are often used to apply a stronger crimp after the bullet is seated. Progressive presses sometimes use an additional "die" to meter powder into the case (though it is arguably not a real die as it does not shape the case).
A shellholder, generally sold separately, is needed to hold the case in place as it is forced into and out of the dies. The reason shellholders are sold separately is that many cartridges share the same base dimensions, and a single shellholder can service many different cases. Shellholders are also specialized, and will generally only fit a certain make of reloading press, while modern dies are standardized and will fit a wide variety of presses. Different shell holders than used for dies are also required for use with some hand priming tools (e.g., Lee Autoprime tool.)
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