John Wooters Reloading Safety Tips




Exercise care and common sense at all times while reloading. Another way to put it would be: THINK! Think of what you're doing, and think of the possible consequences of your actions at each step of the process.


Pay attention to the business at hand while at the loading bench. Don't try to load while watching a TV football game. Don't invite a bunch of your buddies over and attempt to carry your end of a general bull session while stuffing ammo. Reloading is a fairly technical activity and mistakes can be serious. Don't permit distractions in the same room with your loading tools.


Never reload in haste. Loading in a hurry can mean an unnoticed wrong setting on a powder scale or even the wrong powder in the measure. At best, haste defeats the whole purpose of reloading, which is superior ammunition for your guns. At worst, haste can result in disaster.


Use equipment as the manufacturer intended and do not take shortcuts. Self-explanatory; jury-rigging is usually bad news.


Store powder in a cool dry place. Along with this, one should do the following: Store powder in small quantities in approved containers, away from such combustibles as solvents, inflammable gases, and of course, open flame. Furthermore, keep gunpowder away from children and vice versa.


Never use a powder unless you're positive of its identity. Repeat: never! Don't guess, and don't try to identify gunpowder by its physical appearance. Not even an expert can do it. The one and only acceptable identification of a powder is the label on its can, provided it is still in the factory container in which it was originally packaged.


Never smoke while handling powder. Surely this is too obvious to need comment.


Never mix gunpowders. Not in a cartridge case and not in a canister. If the latter happens as a result of violations of other safety rules, destroy the resultant mixture. Do not attempt to extrapolate a new burning rate for the mix and use it; relative quickness is not all that simple.


Never store small-arms primer in any kind of container except the factory packaging. Period. End of paragraph.


Observe all maximum load warnings in reloading manuals. Approach maximum loads only from 10 percent below.


Inspect all cases - rifle, pistol, or shotgun - for condition before loading, and discard any that are less than perfect. Trying to squeeze just one more shot out of weakened brass has spelled catastrophe for more than one reloader. It ain't worth it.


Watch for signs of high pressure while working up a handload. This means extraction difficulty (however slight), flattened primers, cratered primers, ironed-out headstamps, polished headstamps, ejector marks, case-head expansion, and excessive recoil and muzzle blast. And anything else whatever that strikes you as abnormal about the load.


Develop a routine in reloading to guard against mistakes, just in case your attention does occasionally wander. You'll form habits at the loading bench anyway; it's just as easy to establish well-thought-out habits for safety as slipshod ones that may permit it. This rule really applies as much to shooting your handloads as to making them up. For example, a personal rule of never having more than one ammunition box open on the shooting bench at one time may prevent your trying to fire the wrong cartridge in a rifle.


Safety in handloading goes, of course, further than just common sense, even though most of us are sensible enough to figure out what we should and should not be doing. Still, sometimes it's helpful to tune into the suggestions of those who serve as watchdogs of handloading, the Sporting  Arms and Ammunition Manufactures' Institute, or SAAMI. They have compiled the following list of do's and don'ts for the handloader. Some of their rules more or less repeat some those given above, but information of this sort can certainly bear repeating. After all, we're talking about avoiding some potentially serious accidents.









Follow only loading recommendations of a recognized current handloading guide. Better still, check two guides. Components and propellants change and old recommendations may be dangerous.


Don't use word-of-mouth loading data without checking a recognized current handloading guide.


Have the headspace of your firearm checked by a competent gunsmith at regular intervals, preferably by a factory-authorized repair station.


Examine fired cases for signs of excessive pressure, such as primer gas leaks, excessive primer flattening, loose primers, expanded heads or bodies, and side-wall stretching.


Investigate and determine the cause of any unusual or abnormal condition or appearance before continuing any operation.


Keep all components and loaded rounds positively identified.


Keep your work area and handloading bench scrupulously clean at all times. Immediately clean up any spillage of powder, primers, etc.


Do not chamber a round that resists easy closing of the bolt or action. The cartridge is too long or large in diameter and high pressure may develop.


Do not forget that a maximum load in your rifle may dangerous in another one of your rifles or in a friend's rifle even if it is the same make, model, caliber, etc.


Components suitable for lead-shot loads are not adaptable to steel-shot loads.


The interchange of steel shot for lead results in dangerously high pressures that may damage shotguns. Ball bearings or steel air rifle shot are not suitable for shotshell loads. They are much harder than steel shot.


Keep all components out of the reach of children.


Keep accurate, detailed records of all loads.


Don not load with charges that measure out to more than 10 percent below minimum recommendations.


Cartridge cases should be clean and dry before reloading and before firing. Oily cases greatly increase thrust against the bolt face.


Do not fireform factory cartridges in lengthened chambers. The excessive headspace is likely to be dangerous.


Be extremely careful to identify properly wildcat cases since the headstamp does not identify the new cartridge, which may have a larger diameter bullet than the original cartridge.


Do not use too much heat to dry cases to avoid softening the brass.


Do not use brass cases that have been in or near a fire.




    Bullets. Be sure that they are the recommended diameter and weight. Keep bullet calibers and weights in separate and accurately marked containers.

    Do not mix or interchange bullets from various manufacturers  in the same reloading formula.

    Don't substitute calibers, use only that which your gun is chambered for exactly, e.g., .300 Winchester Magnum is not a .300 Savage.


    Primers. Inspect for presence of anvils before seating. Store only in original manufacturers' package. Keep a minimum amount on your loading bench. Remove unused primers from your loading tool after each session and return to the original package for storage.

    Keep out of reach of children.

    Store in a cool dry place.

    Do not store primers in bulk. Mass detonation may occur. Use only the brand of primers specified in the loading recommendations.


    Cases. Do not mix brands - case volume may be different affecting loading density and pressure. Inspect for cracks, splits, stretch marks, separations, etc. after firing and before reloading. Do not load damaged or defective cases. Do not ream or enlarge primer flash holes.

    Examine fired shotshells for head damage, tube splits, pinholes, and location of basewad before reloading. Discard defective cases. Discard cases that show leakage around the primer or battery cup.

    Do not mix shells with high and low basewads.

    Do not mix brands of cases - volumes may be different.


    Powder. Store in a cool, dry place in the original container in an approved storage cabinet. Keep container closed except when pouring.

    Keep powder out of reach of children

    Have only one type and speed on your bench at one time to avoid mixing types.

    Keep a minimum amount of powder in the loading area.

    Never mix powders.

    Don't use any powder when you are unsure of its identity. do not use any powder that appears discolored or is giving off fumes.


    Wads. Use only the specific type listed in the recommendations.

    Do not mix or interchange types as pressure levels can be affected.

    Don't mix powders of the type designation made by different companies. IMR 4350 is not the same as Hodgdon's H 4350.


Shot. Check weight of charge thrown by your measure or bar to be sure it conforms to the recommendations.





    Avoid distractions while performing any of the loading operations.

    Keep all matches and smoking materials out of the loading area.

    Do not smoke in the loading area because of primer residue or powder that might ignite.


    Decapping. Use proper decapping pin to avoid distorting or enlarging the flash hole. Examine flash holes for roundness, burrs and enlargement before repriming. Do not remove live primers by driving out of the case with a sharp hammer blow. Decap in press slowly.


    Resizing. Lubricate sparingly to avoid oil dents in the shoulder area of the case. Some lubricant must be used to prevent scratches from dirt on the cases and in the dies.

    Check overall case length and trim the mouth when case elongates beyond recommended length. Check neck wall thickness and ream or turn to original thickness to assure adequate clearance between case neck and chamber.


    Priming. Inspect pockets and clean before inserting new primers

    Seat primers slowly with a punch that conforms to the profile of the primer to flush or slightly below the case head. Do not prime cases with a hammer or mallet. It is dangerous practice. The object is to seat the legs of the primer anvil on the bottom of the primer pocket. Case should be held by the rim or on a vented punch because a primer may fire accidentally.

    Discard cases in which the primer is loose in the pocket.

    After each loading session wipe base of the tool with a slightly oily rag to pick up any primer mixture dust.

    Do not use pistol primers for rifle cartridges or rifle primers in pistol or revolver cartridges. The thicker primer cup of rifle primers may cause misfires in pistols, while the thinner cup of pistol primers may pierce or blank at the higher pressure levels of rifle cartridges.

    Do not use pistol or revolver or rifle primers in shotshell. The priming charge is inadequate for proper ignition of the powder. A transparent shield of lucite or equivalent is recommended between the loading machine and the operator.

    Use only a well-designed and constructed tool.

    Seating of primers with a hammer and punch is dangerous.


    Powder Charging. Inspect the inside of all cases for foreign objects before dropping a charge into the case.

    If a powder measure is used, the first five charges thrown by the measure should be weighed on a reliable scale and checked against the recommendations. Periodic checks for weight should be made to be sure that uniform weights are being thrown.

    Examine charged cases to be sure that no gross errors in charging have been made, i.e., double charges or empties. A simple powder height gauge is recommended.

    Start with the minimum charge recommended and watch for pressure signs on the fired cases from your firearm before increasing.

    Do not load more than one charge per case.


    Bullet Seating. Seat bullets to the length recommendations only. Pressures are affected by cartridges that are either too long or too short.

    If cartridges are to be used in either box or tubular magazines, a mouth crimp is recommended to prevent lengthening or shortening due to recoil.

    Be sure bullets are tight in the neck to be sure that the bullet will not pull out if a loaded round is extracted.

    Do not load by changing bullets in loaded rounds even if the weights are the same.

    After loading shotshells, the crimps should be inspected for uniform depth. Excessive length variation may indicate a loading error that could be dangerous.

    Do not seal the crimp with tape.




    Reloading centerfire ammunition ranks far below children's toys as a source of accidental injury. Overall, it's a remarkably safe pastime, especially considering the volatile nature of some of the components being handled. The potential for accidents is inherent in the man and not in the hobby, equipment, or materials. By the same token, you are your own margin of safety - and mine, if I happen to be shooting on the next bench at the rifle range. And, since I happen to value both readers and my scalp very dearly, I trust you'll heed these safety rules.

    See you at the range.


John Wooters

"The Complete Handloader"





Dark Canyon Home Page