The industry has two terms for the same activity but there is a difference between handloading and reloading. The key difference is about intention and philosophy: a “Reloader” could be thought of as someone who has the aim of making their own lower cost ammunition by re-using spent cartridges, whereas a “handloader” tends to be looking to make better ammunition than factory loads. Handloaders shoot more accurately and reliably from their own rifle giving tighter groups at distance.
While either term can be used for the same activity, the handloader goes to extreme lengths for precision that the Reloader does not. Making bespoke ammunition is a time-consuming process in addition to the regular reloading process. The custom handloader is much less likely to save money as that is not their goal. Not only do they need more expensive equipment and tools, but they tend to buy more expensive components like brass and primers of match quality, which is the opposite of the Reloader using spent cases from the range.
Darrell Holland, Holland Reloading School
Handloading refers to the process of putting all the parts together yourself, often using machines and tools like presses to assemble the parts and has a long history.
Back in the old days, people would form their own projectiles (bullets) and make their own ammunition in the field as they had the components and could be traveling for months or years without being able to access store bought ammunition.
Handloading is also often thought of as a more “advanced” technique related to building ammunition versus the simpler and less precise ways to do so. In other words, if you are a handloader you are striving for the perfect cartridge and the most consistent batch of ammunition whereas a “Reloader” is someone without that same obsession, using lower standards and costs in their build process. These names are not really that important, what counts is picking the amount of time and money for the results you need.
“A handloader is a dedicated individual, one who is striving for perfection in everything that he does. He's weighing and sorting his bullets making sure that they weigh exactly the same, they're not plus or minus a tenth of a grain. He's weighing his brass. He's weighing and sorting his primers. He's measuring the powder charge to the granule. And to some of you that may sound extreme, but it takes that type of dedication and perfection if you want to stand on the podium and spray champagne on everybody below you.”
Darrell Holland, Holland Reloading School
Reloading is a term that refers to taking already shot cartridge cases and reusing them.
Handloading and reloading both tend to go together as brass cases can be reused many times (Most brass cases can be reloaded 5 to 20 times, depending upon the cartridge and powder charge and also the quality you are looking for in the finished product) before they become unusable. This is a big benefit as brass is expensive (usually over 50% of the total cost of the cartridge), so if you can recycle it, you can save money (in theory). Obviously, the other parts of a cartridge are consumed each time: the primer and powder are burned, and the projectile is damaged beyond reuse. The Reloader is a recycler.
All that’s required to handload other than common sense and a safety bias is a reloading manual (that has all recipe needed for the cartridge) and the component parts and tools.
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There is no qualification or certifications required to build your own ammunition.
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