The process of handloading is quite simple: the cartridge case must be resized, primed and trimmed to required length, then a measured powder charge is inserted into the case and the projectile seated.
The best way to accomplish this is with a reloading press and dies of the proper caliber. You will need the press, with a proper sized shell holder, the dies for the selected caliber, lubrication for the cases before sizing, a priming tool (either on the press or stand-alone), a case trimmer and measuring gauge for case length and a dependable, accurate powder scale.
One of your first purchases should be a handloading manual from either a bullet or powder manufacturer, such as Hornady, Nosler or Hodgdon, or a handloading equipment manufacturer, such as RCBS. Having a book you can reference on the bench (and it should be on the bench, every time you are handloading) is the smartest move you can make and the best guarantee for safety.
You will need a proper place to do your handloading, away from distractions and a place you can keep organized to store your equipment and components to cut down on the confusion factor. If you do sloppy work in a sloppy place, you will get sloppy handloads that could be dangerous. Be smart, be organized and be safe.
The key to good, safe handloads is having a place where you can dependably and with precision replicate each loaded cartridge. And, of paramount importance is keeping good records of your work. Start a load diary and keep it up to date, without fail, every time you hit the bench, and keep this diary on the bench when you are working; trust nothing to memory, check twice and do it right the first time.
Understanding the Process
Once setup is complete and you have inspected your cases for flaws, lubricate a case, being careful to keep the lubrication off of the shoulder of the case and out of the primer pocket; a bit of powdered graphite in the case mouth will ease the expander ball of the die into the case neck. Run the case into the sizing die completely, and if you are priming with a primer arm on the press, prime the case as you bring it out of the size die.
Wipe off the excess lubricant and measure the resized case with your case length gauge; trim if necessary, and if trimmed, chamfer the case mouth to accept the bullet.
Once your cases are sized and primed, you may switch dies and insert the bullet seating die into the press. Weigh a powder charge for the bullet/caliber you are loading (from the load manual) and charge the case. Set the bullet seater plug to the proper depth for the cartridge you are loading, either by using a properly loaded cartridge or by trial and error, easing the bullet down into the case mouth until you reach the depth you are looking for. Then lock the seater plug in place.
Place handloads in marked containers, showing the date loaded, component brands, powder charge and bullet weight.
Editor's note, this story originally appeared in the May 20, 2013 edition of Gun Digest the Magazine.
Recommended Reloading Resources
ABCs of Reloading, 9th Edition
Reloading for Handgunners