“Is reloading ammo safe?” That is one of the most common questions asked by new reloaders or those thinking about reloading. When I first started reloading I had similar concerns. My biggest worry was that I would blow myself up, and I even asked my friend who helped me get started how likely that was.
So, is reloading safe or dangerous? Well, it depends. Like driving, shooting a gun, using power tools, and grilling, whether or not reloading is safe or dangerous depends on the person doing it, their knowledge, and how careful they are.
If you exercise caution, educate yourself, and check your work, reloading ammo can be very safe. However, if you don’t do those things, you could easily injure or kill yourself as well as anyone else who uses your ammo. That being said, with a little knowledge and discipline, reloading ammo can be a fun and safe hobby. It will also give you another way to obtain ammo during a shortage.
Here are some general rules for how to reload ammo safely and avoid dangerous situations:
When is Reloading Ammo Dangerous?
Reloading ammo is dangerous under the following circumstances:
- The person reloading doesn’t know what they are doing. (Uneducated)
- A stupid person is reloading. (Darwin-award recipient)
- The reloader is careless. (Not paying attention)
Almost every dangerous situation that you could experience reloading ammunition can be traced directly back to those three things. So if you are an intelligent human being who knows what they are doing and are paying attention, your chances of reloading safely are pretty good.
Related: Is Reloading Ammo Worth It?
Reloading Ammo Is Safe When:
You Educate Yourself
Reloading ammunition is safe when you know what you are doing. Do some research and get help before you start. I learned the basics from a friend whom I met through work. You may be able to do the same, but if you can’t, you may be able to find an NRA Reloading Course near you.
Reloading manuals, like this one, are excellent sources of information for a beginner or experienced reloader. In addition to load data, many reloading manuals include safety tips and other helpful information. Youtube and forums are good sources of information as well, just don’t use them for load data.
You Pay Attention
Reloading ammo is safe when you pay attention to what you are doing. Avoiding distractions will reduce the chance of making a mistake. Watching TV and babysitting a screaming toddler are a couple of things that you shouldn’t do while reloading.
One of the most important things to pay attention to is the powder going into cases. First, you want to make sure you actually put powder into the case. This will prevent squibs, which are rounds that get lodged halfway down the barrel. When a squib round gets stuck in the barrel, the next round you fire will either bulge the barrel or make it blow up.
Also, make sure that you don’t put a double charge in the case. This will blow up a gun as well. This is more likely to occur with pistol calibers such as .38 Special but it can happen with others as well. In addition to paying attention, another good way to avoid double charges, or make them less likely, is to use a powder that fills up more of the case.
You Are Detail Oriented
Since reloading requires precision measurements, being detail-oriented is one of the best ways to make reloading safe. Before reloading, inspect your equipment to make sure it is calibrated properly. This is especially important in regards to your powder scale.
As you are reloading, check measurements such as cartridge overall length. To do this, you will need to use a good set of calipers. This will help ensure that your reloaded rounds will chamber in a firearm properly and avoid pressure problems caused by improper bullet seating depth.
Another good thing to keep an eye on is primer seating depth. The flat surface of a primer should never be above the surface of the case head. Primers should be set firmly against the bottom of the primer pocket for them to work safely and reliably.
Another, often overlooked, aspect of being a detail-oriented reloader is attention to case preparation. This includes cleaning your cases, trimming them to the proper length, discarding damaged cases, and cleaning primer pockets. A little extra attention during the case prep stage can prevent problems later on.
You Store Your Components Properly
Reloading ammo is safe when you store your components properly. Extreme heat, cold, humidity, and other environmental factors can, over time, change how powders and primers will work.
Since my reloading setup is in my garage, I don’t store my powder and primers with the rest of my equipment. I store them in the house in ammo cans. This prevents them from being exposed to temperature fluctuations and humidity.
Also, never store powder or primers anywhere near an open flame or heat source. Doing so could cause a fire or explosion, which is obviously very bad.
Reloading ammo is safe when you follow instructions. This includes load data as well as setup instructions that came with your equipment. Since reloading is an activity that requires precision, you should follow instructions exactly.
Many people have had accidents due to a failure to follow instructions. One of the most common examples of this is trying to “hotrod” a load to get greater velocity. Don’t try to push a load because you think your gun can “handle it”. Many .40 caliber Glocks have experienced kabooms because of that type of thinking.
Also, follow load data for the specific bullet you are working with. The reason for this is that not all bullets of the same weight and caliber are the same. A solid copper bullet will have different dimensions than a lead bullet with a jacket, even though they may weight the same thing. I like to have reloading manuals for each bullet manufacturer that I use.
Start Low and Work Your Way Up
Reloading ammo is safe when you start low and work your way up. Never start at your reloading manual’s maximum load. This can be dangerous, and many times isn’t necessary. The safest way to develop new loads is to start at the minimum load and work your way up.
To do this, load 3-5 cases with the minimum load, and then repeat the process with increasingly higher loads. However, do not go above the maximum load listed in your reloading manual. As you are testing the loads, watch out for pressure signs such as pierced primers and bent case rims.
Keep Records in your Manuals and on Boxes
Once you find a load that works safely in your gun and produces the accuracy you desire, you want to record it to make sure you don’t forget it. I always write my favorite loads in my reloading manuals next to the load data it came from.
I also record the recipe that I used on my ammunition boxes. Most plastic reloading boxes will include stickers that you can use for this purpose.
You Inspect Your Brass
Reloading ammo is safe when you keep an eye on your loads by inspecting your brass after you shoot. You should look for pressure signs and damaged brass. Given, finding your brass is easier with bolt guns and revolvers than it is with semi-automatic firearms. However, being able to inspect your brass will let you know if there are problems with your loads.
Inspect your brass after developing new loads and after shooting existing loads at different times of the year. Some loads that may be safe in the winter may exhibit warning signs when the temperature is hotter.
Another way to make reloading as safe as possible is to wear gloves. Ammunition contains all sorts of chemicals, some of which can be absorbed through your skin. Many of them are carcinogenic or cause other health problems.
To prevent health problems, I always wear Nitrile gloves while reloading or handling reloading equipment. Gloves such as these block harmful substances from coming into contact with my skin but don’t get in the way when I am trying to work.
Wear a Mask When Tumbling
One of the most potentially hazardous stages of the reloading process is tumbling cases. When a case is being cleaned in a tumbler, all of the residue from the outside of the case is being scrubbed off. When it leaves the case, its dust can become airborne when you are separating the cases from the tumbling media. One of the most dangerous components of this dust is lead.
Lead has been proven to cause numerous health problems. The big issue with lead is that its dust particulates are small enough to go through many masks, including N95’s. Because of this, it is a good idea to get a half-face respirator to wear whenever you are using your case tumbler or removing media. To block lead particulates, your mask’s filters should be rated at least N100.
Safely Reload by Understanding What Can Go Wrong
One of the best ways to ensure that you are reloading safely is to understand what not to do. If are aware of what can hurt you, then just don’t do it. Here are some of the dangerous situations that may arise from improper reloading techniques and how to avoid them.
Primers are Explosive
Primers are probably the most dangerous reloading component that you will use. While powders are considered “propellants”, primers actually contain small amounts of explosives. Because of this, use caution when seating primers.
If a primer does not go into a case easily, stop to see what the problem is. If you try to force it into place, you may detonate the primer, along with all of the other primers that are around it. When using a hand primer, keep it away from and don’t point it near your face.
Improper Bullet Seating Depth Can Be Dangerous
When seating bullets, it is very important to stay within the specifications listed in your reloading manual. Not following those specifications will result in excessive pressure, which could damage the firearm and cause injury. These excessive pressures can result when the bullet is seated too far into the case as well as when it isn’t seated far enough.
Case head separation
Reusing brass cases too many times can cause problems. One of the worst of these is case head separation. When this happens, the case head separates from the rest of the case, allowing hot gases to escape into areas of the firearm not designed to contain them. This could result in damage to the firearm and serious injury to the user.
Don’t Use the Wrong Powder
Using the wrong powder while reloading is extremely dangerous. Different types of cartridges require different types of powder. For example, small pistol cartridges will use a faster burning powder, while large rifle cartridges will use a slower burning powder. If you fill a large rifle case with pistol powder, you will blow up the rifle. It will also very likely severely injure or kill you.
To make sure that I use the right powder, I never keep any powder on my reloading bench other than the one I am using. I also open my reloading manual to the page with the correct recipe and keep the powder’s canister on my bench. This prevents accidents and helps me know for certain that I am using the correct powder.
Don’t Mix Powders
While this issue isn’t as common as accidentally using the wrong powder, never mix powders. This usually happens when a reloader fails to remove all of the old powder from a powder hopper or trickler. Be sure that you remove all powder from such equipment before filling it with new powder.
Although there are things that can go wrong while reloading ammo, it is no more dangerous than many things that we do every day. You just need to learn what to do, what not to do, and have the discipline to act on that information.