Reloading Safety Tips for Beginners
Reloading is a great hobby for anyone to enjoy, and it can let you enjoy your firearms even more than before. But it also comes with certain risks. Let’s go over the best safety tips you should always practice when reloading your own ammunition.
First and foremost, it’s absolutely critical that you need to wear protection when reloading, even if you’re a veteran at this art. Reloading can be a dangerous process and expose you to several hazardous materials or compounds, including lead (more on that later). Thus, only reloading when you have the proper protective gear is essential.
At the same time, of course, you can’t exactly reload top-tier ammunition if you are covered in a hazmat suit and don’t have full range of motion for your fingers. So let’s go over the best protective gear you should need when reloading for maximum success.
What Kind of Protection Do You Need?
We’d recommend beginning with a set of safety glasses, similar to the type you would wear while on a gun range. If you have site issues and need to wear regular glasses already, you might be able to get some prescription defensive lenses from your optometrist.
Alternatively, you can get affordable safety glasses that are designed to be worn over your reading or seeing glasses. This allows you to maintain excellent vision while protecting your eyes from the shrapnel and other debris that can sometimes be ejected by your reloading tools. Shaving off brass material, specifically, can often produce sharp shrapnel that’s very dangerous to the eye!
You also want to protect your eyes because the unintended ignition of smokeless gun powder is rare… but it can happen!
Furthermore, it’s a good idea to get a pair of safety gloves you can use to protect your fingers and hands from the sharp services of your reloading tools, like your press or any other pinching tools. This also protects your hands from getting shrapnel in them or being easily burned by heated materials.
Finally, while not necessarily protective gear, we would also recommend that you wear clothes you don’t mind getting dirty or torn. Reloading can be a messy hobby.
Reloading Data Matters – Have It Ready Beforehand
When reloading, it’s essential that you use proper loading data published by component manufacturers with a good reputation. You can usually find such a manufacturer via the people who made your reloading kit components, like Hornady or Winchester.
In case you’re not aware, loading data tells you the types of powders and primers you should use with certain types of bullets and brass casings. These are pre-formulated and tested in a lab before being published, and it helps you reload ideal bullets that will work well in your chosen rifle or pistol.
Certain types of bullets make different pressures and velocities and are better suited for different types of weapons. Remember that you bear the ultimate responsibility for knowing how your firearm operates and its safety.
Thus, do not try to load your bullets with custom loads that you design yourself unless you have extensive experience in this field. You should also never use Internet-only loading programs that aren’t verified by a reputable manufacturer.
We’d also recommend that you start with a “starting load” and work up to the maximum load in increments. This prevents you from accidentally making a bullet with too much of a load that causes damage to your gun or danger to your body.
Don’t Be a Mad Scientist
We would not recommend experimenting with load data in any case, even if you are the most experienced gun reloader around. Published data is gathered from scientific experiments and is derived from professional results. It’s based on fact, not a starting point for your own wild experiments.
We also wouldn’t recommend mixing propellants; this is actually very dangerous and can produce significant risk for you and anyone near you at the gun range.
If you’re a beginner specifically, use moderate loads exactly as the guide tells you and do not rely on what your friend from the gun range tells you. If things don’t work out, consult your guide and lower your load until you can produce a workable bullet. You can find a load and build that works for your rifle without going off the books and without producing a significant risk.
Always Use a Reloading Scale!
Many beginning reloaders assume that all measurement scales are the same and will try to reload with a cooking or postage scale. This is completely unacceptable. Only reloading scales are calibrated and suitable for measuring gunpowder to the exact grain. This means you need to get your hands on a reloading scale before you attempt your first bullet.
Secondly, you should always check the zero of your scale before any powder weighing session. This means removing any dust from the scale and calibrating it properly, then zeroing the scale with the container on top of the weighing platform before you put any powder into place.
We’d recommend understanding how your skill works before using it regularly, so you know if there are any errors and fully understand how to manipulate its values.
Use a Powder Check Tool/System
There are two types of powder checking systems: visual and mechanical.
Visual powder check systems rely on you using your eyesight to measure the powder in the case. You’ll need to check if the powder fills the case more than halfway; if so, it may produce an overflow and a double charge. Visual systems don’t stop “squid” or no-powder loads if you forget to look at the case, if the visual powder system itself isn’t working properly, or it’s empty.
Mechanical powder check systems usually come in the form of various dies.
All in all, we’d readily recommend using a visual powder check system or tool if you are a beginner to this art. This helps you make absolutely sure that you don’t have a double powder charge and can prevent damage to the gun or injury to your person.
But the ultimate point is that you always want to check how much powder you have a case before adding a primer and moving on any other part of the reloading process. Filling up your casings too much or too little will ruin the entire point of reloading your custom ammunition and can seriously throw off your efforts. Even worse, it can cause pain or damage to your rifle or those around you.
Take Your Time When Reloading
Reloading is a craft that is best undertaken when you have plenty of time to devote to the entire process. Set up, measurement of your various components and powders, putting everything together, and checking every individual round for any flaws takes a lot of time. Failing to do any step of the process correctly and with regular due diligence can result in serious accidents or personal injury.
Thus, you’ll only ever want to take up the reloading hobby if you have plenty of time to devote to its perfection. This isn’t to say that you need to make perfect bullets every time. But you need to have enough time to observe proper safety precautions (like the kind that we are already discussing) and correct anything before inserting a bullet in your gun.
This means not trying to do any part of the reloading process on a time crunch. If you only have 20 minutes and then you have to pick up your kids from school or go to work, don’t start reloading. Save it for later after you have at least an hour of free time for you to devote to this craft.
This prevents you from making easy mistakes and from forgetting where you left off, which can lead to issues like double charging or improperly seating your bullets. All in all, reloading takes a lot of precise work and measurement. Treat it with the respect it deserves.
Don’t Be Distracted
Similarly, you need to not be distracted while reloading regardless of what step of the process you’re on. This means you need a little peace and quiet and should set up your reloading kit in a place where you won’t be frequently disturbed.
For many guys, this means setting up shop in your garage or in your den. These places should be off-limits to your kids and anyone in your family should understand that you want to devote your full attention to reloading for a short amount of time.
Distractions can lead to improper bullet creation, bad powder measurement, improper press use, and more. All of these can then spiral into further issues or safety hazards once you load the bullet into your rifle and give it a spin on the gun range.
Again, if you don’t have a lot of time or if the kids are just too rowdy at the moment, don’t try to get a little reloading in. This hobby isn’t as easy to pick up and put down as video gaming. Wait until you have some time to focus like a professional before you try to do some reloading.
Store Equipment Safely
Next, we’d recommend that you store your equipment as safely as you can whenever it’s not in use. Different equipment needs to be stored in different areas. For instance, your reloading press and other mechanical components can be put into a cabinet or left on a shelf, provided that the heavier stuff isn’t near the edge and can’t easily be tripped over.
You’ll want to store your powder in airtight containers and in cool areas where the powder can’t be affected by humidity.
Similarly, your brass casings need to be protected from ambient humidity by storing them in airtight containers and in cool areas. You can store your casings and powder in the same big container so long as both components are separated from one another by smaller containers inside.
Here are a few good general rules of thumb:
- treat any components like you would live ammunition
- keep powder and primer separate from one another and away from loaded ammunition
- keep primers in their original packaging until you are ready to use them
- keep the powder in its original container with the cap tightly sealed to keep moisture out
Don’t Store Primers in Bulk
Storing any of your primers in bulk is asking for trouble. As a beginner, you should know that primers are the chemical component that is responsible for igniting the gunpowder in the bullet. It’s what propels the bullet from your weapon and gives it its lethal power. As a result, primers are arguably the most dangerous part of the entire reloading kit and should be dealt with accordingly.
Primers that are stored in bulk can easily mass detonate if one of them is ignited. As you can imagine, if a few hundred handgun bullet primers ignite simultaneously, it’s essentially the same thing as a hand grenade exploding in your cabinet or garage. This means you need to keep your primers separate so that even if a single box goes up, all of them won’t.
We’d also recommend that you don’t force primers under any circumstance once you actually begin the reloading process. You don’t want to accidentally upset the chemical components and make them ignite when they aren’t being fired from your weapon.
A good idea is to keep your primers and their factory packaging until you decide to use them.
Discard Primers If You Lose Their Identities
We have another tip about primer storage safety just because these components are so potentially dangerous. We would recommend not using any primers if you lose their identities. For instance, if the primers accidentally come out of their factory packaging and spill all over the floor, don’t try to guess what their type is or what bullet they are meant for.
Making a wrong guess when reloading can result in a bullet that explodes incorrectly as soon as the primer is struck. This can make it damage your gun or cause harm to you or anyone nearby. Primers that are unidentifiable just need to be tossed out you should purchase new ones. Most primer manufacturers have safe disposal instructions you can peruse as you require.
Keep Things Out of Reach of Kids
Finally, when it comes to storage, we would always recommend keeping things out of the hands of kids if at all possible. Kids have a tendency to get into places they really shouldn’t, including your reloading supplies and cabinets.
Consider how tall your kids are and how smart they are. Kids that are short and who can’t operate ladders or stools can usually be kept safe by placing all of your reloading components up high on shelves. But even if your kids are short, they might be smart enough to use a ladder and get your reloading equipment if you don’t properly teach them about the values of gun equipment safety.
You can take extra steps, such as using a safe to keep your reloading equipment out of your kids’ hands (just remember to keep your primers separate as we noted above). Or you can come up with more creative solutions and hide your reloading equipment.
But ultimately, we think it’s probably more than fine to educate your kids about what they can and cannot touch and just make it so that they can’t accidentally get into your stuff when they are playing in your garage.
Maintain a Clean Workspace
Our next safety tips concern maintaining a clean workspace at all times. Having a clean workbench and other working surfaces for your reloading efforts is key not only to produce excellent ammunition but also to maintain user safety.
Workbenches that aren’t clean may have components lying around. This can easily lead to primers being misplaced, to powder scattering across the garage, and to smaller components being taken by kids by accident. Furthermore, placing powder near your primer is a recipe for disaster.
Keep your workbench as clean as possible by thoroughly wiping it down and re-organizing your components at least once per week.
You’ll also want to specifically clean your reloading press and maintain it regularly. This involves cleaning and lightly lubricating any moving parts. This makes it easier for you to use the press in the first place and minimizes the possibility that you’ll produce a bad load.
If you ever spill any powder, clean it up immediately and don’t try to reuse spilled powder under any circumstance. Even if the powder looks relatively uniform in color and texture, it probably picked up contaminants that can affect the quality and propulsion of any load you would make with it.
Watch Out for Lead Exposure
One of the biggest safety issues with reloading concerns lead exposure. Anyone exposed to lead in high quantities can have serious medical problems. Lead accumulates in the body over time (it’s difficult to filter out) and can cause damage to your nervous system, eventually resulting in physical impairment and other injuries.
However, plenty of reloading components contain lead or lead compounds; the most often components containing it are primers and many bullet heads. Thus, anyone who reloads has a chance of being exposed to lead over time.
Observing good hygiene and simple safety precautions can ensure that you don’t ingest or absorb excess amounts of lead even if you reload frequently. We would recommend:
- washing your hands thoroughly with warm water and soap after any shooting or reloading activity
- never eating or drinking during a reloading session. The residue from various components can get into your mouth, even if you swap from glove to bare hand every time
- cleaning your workstation regularly to eliminate residual dust lead that might accumulate over time. Using a damp cloth or mop to clean the floor underneath your workbench is also recommended so that lead doesn’t get into the air. Never place your workbench on top of a carpet, as the fibers can easily absorb lead dust
- make sure that your breathing is protected against any dust in your reloading area. For instance, we’d recommend wearing a dust mask if you ever pour out dry cleaning media from your brass casing tumbler
We think this safety tip seems obvious, but we’ll mention it for thoroughness. Any open flame can be a potential ignition source for either your reloading powder or your primers. Absolutely do not smoke in any capacity near your reloading materials are workbench. You should also avoid smoking near the storage areas for your reloading components.
Along the same lines, it’s a good idea to have a fire extinguisher handy in the event of an accidental ignition.
Here’s a checklist you can run through whenever you’re reloading; copy it down and use it as a handy guide near your workbench so you’re never without your rules!
- Always wear protection when reloading. This includes wearing safety glasses at a minimum and oftentimes safety gloves
- Always use accurately published reloading data from a reputable manufacturer when calculating bullet loads and combining powder and primer
- Always use a reloading scale so your powder loads are appropriate. Other types of scales are not good enough
- Always use a powder check system, either visual or manual, to make sure your bullets are not double charged or under-charged
- When reloading, take your time and don’t try to rush through any part of the process. Avoid distractions or don’t reload when distractions are likely to come to you
- Always store your equipment safely. This includes storing powder and casings in cool, dry areas
- Store your primers separately and always discard them if they lose their identities
- Don’t keep your reloading components within the reach of children
- Always maintain a clean workspace
- Wear protective gear and take safety precautions to avoid lead exposure and ingestion/absorption
- Never smoke anywhere near your reloading equipment
All in all, reloading is as safe as you make it. If you follow the tips above, you’ll have a great experience and avoid harm or malfunctions for you and your equipment. Best of luck!