Reloading 101: Safety First

By its very nature, reloading ammunition involves working with dangerous materials, specifically gunpowder and primers. If approached with common sense and discipline, not unlike any other part of shooting, the dangers are minimal and can be handled by anyone. As well as these tips, reloading press manuals will generally have specific safety advice, and of course this takes priority over any general advice given here.

Most reloading reference books also cover safety procedures and this is also a good source of advice.

So here’s my nanny session on reloading safety issues.  These are not in any particular order.

No Smoking Smoking and other Open Flames  

You wouldn’t think I’d need to mention this, but I’m going to do it anyway. Any form of open flame is an ignition source, and is completely incompatible with reloading. So no smoking or open flames anywhere in the reloading area, or the storage area of your reloading components.

It is also a good idea to have a fire extinguisher close by, just in case. The dry chemical ones are ideal, and generally cost about $30, which is cheap insurance.

Safety Glasses Eye Protection 

Always wear a good set of safety glasses whilst reloading, just as you do on the range. If, like me, you are long sighted and need reading glasses for up close work, get a set of safety glasses that you can wear over your reading glasses.

Under normal conditions, the unintended ignition of standard smokeless gunpowder is extremely unlikely. If it happens, it should not explode but will burn fiercely, so a good set of safety glasses is a must.

Primers, on the other hand, can explode if mishandled. I read an article recently which described an incident in which a single primer ignited in a progressive press, presumably this was the one in the primer punch. This set off a chain reaction in which all primers in the primer feed plate and feed tube ignited, causing some damage to both the press and the roof of the room. Fortunately the design of the press and its inherent safety features contained the damage, and the only apparent injury to the operator was the color of his underwear.

I’m not sure how this could occur, but my first reaction is to suspect loose gunpowder around the primer feed plate, or excess oil may have assisted the chain reaction. In any case, the lesson here would seem to be, keep your press clean, free from contaminants, and wear safety glasses just in case.

This was the only incident I have heard of, but it does highlight the potential for accidents, and the need for common safety discipline.

Oil Can Maintenance and Cleaning of The Reloading Press  

Each type of reloading press may be different, but will come with a manual. Please – RTFM. Maintenance generally involves cleaning and light lubrication of moving parts. It is always good practice to follow your specific manual’s lubrication instructions.

A smooth, well-lubricated press will make life easier for you and minimize the potential for bad loads, in particular “squib” loads, which are loads with a primer and no (or very little) powder. I’ll talk about avoiding “squib” loads in a later article.

As far as cleanliness is concerned, keep the press clear of spilled powder, which can occur particularly with progressive presses. A small ½in paint brush kept handy will do the job nicely. Larger powder spills should be cleaned up immediately and the spilled powder disposed of. Reusing spilled powder is not recommended as you never know what contaminants may have been picked up during the spill.

SafeStorage of Ammunition Components  

Reloading components, specifically powder and primers, are explosive items and are generally marked as such.  There may be specific local legal requirements for the storage of powder and/or primers (not to mention loaded ammunition), so it is a good idea to check with the local authorities. There may also be specific limits on the amount of loaded ammunition, powder and primers you can legally store. Your local law enforcement agency or fire department are good places to start. Your local gun shop may also be able to point you in the correct direction.

Here are my general storage tips, which of course are subordinate to any local legal requirements.

  1. In the absence of specific storage requirements for reloading components, treat them as you would loaded ammunition, i.e. physically secured in a safe location away from potential ignition sources.
  2. Store powder and primers separately and away from loaded ammunition.
  3. Store powder and primers in a cool, dry location
  4. Keep powder in its original container, with the cap tightly secured to keep out moisture.
  5. Keep primers in their original packaging until ready to use them.

ClockTime Management

We all live busy lives, and it’s often hard to focus on one activity. Ringing phones, family interruptions, etc., are all  part of our daily life and, under normal circumstances, not a major issue. However, even a brief interruption during reloading could lead to a serious situation, e.g., missing a powder charge and producing a “squib” load. Ideally, leaving the cell phone elsewhere and locking the door may seem the best solution, but lets face it—probably not happening. In the interest of safety first, here are my suggestions on how to manage your reloading time.

  1. If at all possible, allocate a specific time to do your reloading when interruptions are less likely to occur.  Kids asleep, wife playing tennis, etc.
  2. Ask the rest of the household to give you some time to work uninterrupted.  Deal with phone calls, etc.
  3. Turn off or leave the cell phone elsewhere!  You can do it for a movie; surely a safety critical activity like reloading ammunition rates the same consideration.
  4. If you are interrupted, identify every round of ammunition that is incomplete from the time the interruption occurred, and double check them to make sure that everything is OK.  In particular, powder loads.  If in doubt, pull out the projectile and start again.

Next Article

In the next article I want to take a slight side step and talk about reloading and range etiquette.

Disclaimer: To reiterate the sentiment mentioned throughout the article: The Arms Guide is not a source of legal counsel. If you have any questions about the legislation governing production of ammo and the storage of reloading components in your locality, contact a legal professional.

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