The first item on your list needs to be a reloading press, which is the backbone of your reloading setup. Many different styles of presses are available, but there are two main categories: single stage and progressive.
A single stage press performs one operation with the pull of the handle. There are a few advantages to using a single stage press, such as:
- The capability to reload practically every cartridge available depending on press size
- Affordability, at only $100 – $150
- Availability of specialized attachments for performing additional tasks
- Ease of use
- Low maintenance requirements
The main downside to using a single stage reloading press is speed. With this type of press, the best you can hope for is about fifty rounds of ammo loaded per hour.
Progressive presses will give you better speed and allow you to load up to 150 rounds per hour. These presses are faster because they perform multiple operations on different cases each time you pull the handle, often producing a newly loaded cartridge with each pull. However, progressive presses are more expensive, require more maintenance, and take longer to learn to use than a single stage press.
Most beginners start with a single stage press. This gives you a shorter learning curve, lower start-up cost, and lets you see if reloading really works for you before you upgrade.
The next thing you need are die sets, which usually cost $30 and up. Dies fit in the press and do the work on the cases. Die sets are specific to the ammo cartridge, but some sets will do two or more similar cartridges. For example, a .38 special die set can also be used to load .357 rounds.
A die set will usually consist of two dies for bottleneck cartridges and three for straight walled cartridges. In a set of two dies, the first removes the primer, resizes the case and expands the throat, while the second seats the new bullet and crimps it in place. You will need to use lube during resizing to keep it from seizing the die.
In sets of three dies, the first resizes the case and removes the primer. The second die expands the case in preparation for the new bullet and the third die seats the bullet and crimps it into place.
Most dies will work in any press, but some presses are brand specific. Die sets are usually available in steel, carbide or titanium nitride. Titanium nitride and carbide dies do not require lube like the steel sets do, but they cost a little more.
The third item you need for your reloading setup is the shell plate or shell holder, which goes in the press to hold cartridges in place. For a single stage press, you can get a universal shell holder. However, progressive presses usually require brand specific shell plates. Shell plates cost more than shell holders, which only cost about $7 or $8 each. These items are cartridge specific, but they will typically work with multiple cartridges.
You also need a device to measure and dispense the powder. On the low end, you can go with a set of calibrated scoops. A progressive press usually comes with a hopper powder measure that you can adjust to accommodate the charge weight. Powder measure attachments are also available to fit some single stage presses. A powder measure costs from $25 to $120.
Finally, you need reloading data. These are your reloading recipes that tell you how much of each ingredient you need per load. Reloading manuals are available from the various bullet manufacturers, but the best source is from the powder manufacturers’ websites or in-store pamphlets.
As you reload, you will find a few other pieces of equipment that are nice to have, especially as you do more reloading, such as:
- Dial caliper
- Case trimmer
- Case tumbler/vibrator
- Primer flip tray
- Loading blocks
- Bullet puller
Specialty tools are also available. These tools perform a job that some of the already listed tools do, just more accurately. You may not need any of these tools, but they do come in handy, such as:
- Specialty dies, including a universal decapper die, lube die, factory crimp die and small base dies
- Hand priming tool
- Powder trickler
- Digital scale/powder dispensing combo
- Primer pocket cleaning tool
The ideal setup would include a combination of the basic required equipment along with a few choice items from the other lists as well. If you stay with the hobby, you will build a nice reloading setup over time.
The equipment you purchase depends greatly on your budget. Some manufacturers offer starter kits that contain most of the required items. Most kits feature a single stage press, but progressive press kits are available. However, most kits do not include a shell holder or dies.