I’ve looked at so many reloading kits. They all promise to be a complete solution for under $500, but I don’t know a single reloader who is still using the kit they bought when they started. The box reloading kits come with mostly cheap parts that require so much work to be done by hand that you won’t want to reload ever again.
Mark my words: Buy the kit in the store, and you’ll end up paying much more when you end up replacing everything in it over the next year. Reloading can be cheaper than buying factory ammo, but it won’t be if you buy all your reloading gear twice.
I know you’re tempted to skip that last bolded paragraph and just pick up a reloading kit from Hornady, RCBS, etc. Just remember, I warned you.
Best Beginner/Intermediate Kit for Under $900
Honestly, this is what I’d recommend for most people. It doesn’t come all in one kit, but if you buy these pieces, you’ll have exactly what you need to reload quality ammunition.
Also, I honestly apologize for having so much Frankford Arsenal gear recommended here. I am not sponsored by them at all. I truly just went through all my reloading gear and realized that over time, I’ve replaced a ton of gear from the other brands that broke or didn’t do what I want, and I seemed to have ended up with a lot of Frankford Arsenal.
- Reloading Manual: Hornady 11th Edition
- Press: M-Press by Frankford Arsenal (Link is to Amazon)
- Dies: RCBS dies (less expensive and good) or Redding Micrometer dies (better but pricey)
- Powder Measure: Intellidropper
- Tumbler: Frankford Arsenal Rotary Tumbler and a bag of steel media
- Priming Tool: Platinum series
- Trimmer: Platinum case trim and prep
- Lubricant: Imperial Sizing Die Wax
- Funnel: Lyman E-Zee Powder Funnel
- Calipers: Frankford Arsenal
Total price of this whole kit: About $895
What I’d Add To the Kit for Improvement Over Time
If you buy what’s on the list above, you’ll be totally set to start reloading. If you have a little extra budget, the following items will be very nice to have, but not completely necessary. You could buy these over the next few months as you seek to improve your process.
- Chronometer (You don’t need a chronometer in order to make ammo just as good as factory ammo, but as soon as you want to make something BETTER than factory, it’ll be nearly impossible without a reliable chronometer. I have the Labradar but the Magneto Speed is much less expensive.)
- These Calipers on Amazon (I know, a second set of calipers. It’s a luxury so you don’t have to keep switching out comparators)
- Media Separator (Saves you time of separating the pins from the brass by hand)
- Scott Shop Towels (Everything is nasty when reloading. You’ll want to have these handy)
- Lyman Reloading tray (Holds your brass as you work. Pretty much necessary to have 2-3 of these)
- Hornady OAL Gauge (Will help measure your chamber to make more accurate ammo)
- Hornady Modified Case (Has to be for the specific cartridge you’ll reload. To be used in conjunction with the OAL Gauge)
- Hornady Headspace Gauge kit (Again, more measuring. This will help you measure shoulder bump.)
- Decapping pins (You’re bound to break some, so be prepared. Buy small for small primer pocket, large for large)
- Ammo box (for taking the finished ammo to the range)
Let’s Talk About the Press
There are a lot of great presses on the market right now, and this is usually the piece that new reloaders obsess over. Then, you start reloading and realize that you SHOULD have obsessed over that chronometer purchase or which set of calipers was best.
In this post, I recommended the Frankford Arsenal M-Press. It’s a cost-effective press with the features of some presses that cost far more. It was released in 2019 with cast-iron construction and a co-axial design which means it has two rods for improved strength and concentricity.
But, to me, the killer feature of the Frankford Arsenal is that you never need to buy another shell holder. Angels sing and liberals come to their senses every time you buy a press that doesn’t require a shell holder. It makes it so you don’t have to search around for that tiny little piece every time you want to switch between calibers that you’re reloading for.
If you want to go big, the coolest press right now is probably the Zero Press from Area 419, which costs just about 6x more than the Frankford Arsenal. Another very popular press is the Forster Coax, which is 3x the price. Both of those are awesome presses, but you’ll have no problem making ammo much more accurate than factory, and save a ton of money by using the Frankford Arsenal M-Press that I recommend here.
Let’s Talk About Powder Measures/Droppers/Tricklers
You can save a lot of money if you buy a scale and a simple hand trickler in order to measure your powder. It’ll work for making very small batches of ammo, but eventually, I know you’re going to buy one of these automated tricklers.
This one from Frankford Arsenal (link in the package at the top of the post) is relatively inexpensive, very accurate, faster than the RCBS option, and has worked reliably for me (unlike the RCBS).
As handy as this little machine is, I still wish it were even faster. In fact, many reloaders go to a system where they have two powder dispensers so they can switch back and forth. One is trickling while you’re loading the powder charge from the other machine into a cartridge, then you switch. Powder trickling is currently the slowest part of my setup, so that’s something I’m considering moving to in the future.
Let’s Talk About the Priming Tool
There are a lot of options out there for a hand priming tool. In the end, I really like the Frankford Arsenal. I know, it’s disgusting how much Frankford Arsenal gear I’ve recommended in this post, but it’s because they tend to cater to the not-gucci-but-not-crappy reloading crowd, and that’s exactly where I consider myself. To balance things out, I put a Lyman shell holder underneath it in the picture 🙂
This thing works perfectly. I just don’t have anything to complain about. It’s very solid metal, it’s easy to use, and I’ve had no issues.
Basically, you dump your primers in the top plastic tray. You take the clear lid off and you lightly shake it back and forth until all the primers flip to the right side. It has a genius little pattern of bumps on it that make the primers magically all face the same way.
Then, you put your brass in there, squeeze all the way tight, and boom! You have a primed piece of brass.
Let’s Talk About the Case Trim and Prep Center
After you fire your cartridge, the brass has to be trimmed, chamfered, and deburred before it can be loaded again.
I’m using the case trim and prep center mentioned in the list at the start of this post, but there are many good options out there. I frankly don’t think anyone has totally solved this problem. Most reloaders hate trimming and prepping brass more than any other part of the process, and I agree.
Basically, what this does is you take your cleaned brass and measure it. If it’s too long, you stick the neck of the case into this machine to trim it slightly. If brass is left too long, it can create a dangerous condition by crimping the neck of the case onto the bullet and increase the pressure in the chamber.
Your reloading manual will say how long you should trim the brass to, and what the max trim length is. Stick to those numbers every time. You won’t always need to trim the brass. Often you’ll measure it and still be within spec, but every 2-3 firings, you’ll need to trim.
Although you don’t need to trim every time, you will need to chamfer and debur. Basically that just means slightly cutting the edges of the neck so it doesn’t have any burs or edges that could alter the neck tension. You just hold the neck of the brass against the spinning bits and it’ll cut it slightly. Takes about 6 seconds total per piece of brass to chamfer and debur. I usually hold each piece of brass on each tool for about 2 seconds.
Let’s Talk About Dies
Frankly, you’re probably going to buy inexpensive RCBS dies at first, and then eventually step up to a Redding die. This whole blog post has been about finding a setup that WON’T require you to step up over time. Buy once, cry once.
However, I think it’s probably best in this case that you buy an inexpensive set of RCBS dies first. You’ll scratch them when you haven’t properly cleaned the case. You’ll gum them up when you use too much imperial sizing wax. You’ll drop them. You’ll get a case stuck when you don’t believe me that you need to lube them and go to try it without any lube (I may have learned this the hard way, LOL). You’ll figure out what cartridges you really want to get serious about reloading.
I can assure you that the cheap RCBS dies will be perfectly capable of producing ammo better and more accurate than factory ammo if you learn to use them right. Then, once you have your system in place and you’ve figured out your kit, stepping up to some Redding micrometer dies will be a nice luxury, and they’ll last you for a long, long time.
You just need two dies. First, a full-length resizing die with decapping pin. That will resize the case after being shot, and punch the old primer out for you. The second die you’ll need is a bullet seating die. It just smashes the new bullet into the case as the last step of reloading. You may also hear about neck sizing dies. They leave most of the cartridge dimensions alone, and only resize the neck.
Reloaders will debate for eternity whether you should full-length resize or just neck size. For me, I look to benchrest and f-class world champions who full-length size every time. Plus, it’s easier and will produce more reliable reloads. There are loads of people who also have extremely good success neck sizing. That’s great too. To each, his own. But for a new reloader, I’d just full-length resize. So you really only need a two-die set. If you get a three die set, cool. That works too and you can try neck sizing if you prefer it.