After much thought and consideration, I’ve decided that there are really only two defensible reasons to start reloading. The first, and easily the most popular, is cost. No matter how you slice it, shooting guns is a great way to turn money into noise. There’s a pretty linear relationship between the amount of noise and the amount of money required to make that noise happen, but at a certain point, it becomes more affordable to roll your own.
The other reason is customization. In my mind, that’s the more realistic of the two, and the one that drove me to take up the
all consuming time suck hobby. Part of what started my journey was American Gunsmithing Institute’s “Reloading from A-Z”.
I wasn’t a complete newbie on the topic, as I’d worked on the reloading process under the watchful eye of a good friend. I had certainly researched a lot of things online related to the topic, and even gone so far as to purchase components for usage at the aforementioned friend’s house. If you lack (reloading) friends, or have succumbed to analysis paralysis, AGI sure would like it if you checked out their DVD series.
“Reloading from A-Z” is, in a word, comprehensive. In another words, long. Really long. The four-disk series, led by Fred Zeglin, runs a shade under eight hours including potty breaks and disk swaps. Over the course of four disks Fred covers the following:
- History of reloading
- Reloading safety
- Choosing Components
- Introduction to Reloading Tools
- What is really happening to the brass case
- How to make a load plan for safe, accurate loads
- Introduction to a wide range of reloading resources
- Use of the Lee loader
- Portable Reloading tools
- Basic Case preparation
- Case trimming Advanced case preparation
- Case lubrication
- Step-by-Step reloading of rifle cases – single stage press
- Step-by-Step reloading of pistol cases on a single stage press
- Priming tools and correct seating of primers
- To crimp or not to crimp – dies and bullets
- Use of multi-stage presses
- Manual and Electronic powder meters
- Powder Scales
- Introduction to Progressive Reloading
- Advanced reloading tools
- Introduction to bullet casting
- Alloying and Casting Lead Ingots
- Hardness Testing cast bullets
- Sizing and lubing cast bullets
- Step-by-step bullet casting single/multi cavity molds
- Additional resources and suppliers
- Advanced reloading techniques by Darrell Holland
Generally speaking, I’m not much of an audio and or visual guy. I learned that fact pretty early on while making a valiant effort at being an engineering student. Lectures not punctuated by hands-on labs were good for about ten minutes of my attention span before it quickly turned into a scene from Peanuts.
My experience has been that I learn best when I have a book for the strategy portion, and a demonstration for the lab. I point all this out to say that A/V has never been the best way for me to learn, so my opinion on AGI’s method may be skewed.
At 133 minutes long, the first disk is made up of entirely of the theory side of reloading. Starting at the very beginning, Fred discusses the advances in firearms that led to the first metallic cartridges, and the original rationale for reloading (carry the raw materials and make cartridges as it suits you). It’s thoroughly informative, though Fred is a bit of a talker, and I think the salient points could probably be distilled to less than an hour.
If you’re the type who enjoys a conversational type of learning environment, and by that I mean a guy talks to you from the TV and you yell back or laugh at his jokes, then I think you’ll have a good time. The information was good, but I felt myself drifting off at times.
At 124 minutes, the second disk goes into the practical side of things, starting with building a load plan, putting a heavy emphasis on strategy throughout the entire disk. Fred starts with an overview of the loading kit. He starts with the barest of bare essentials, and steps things up to more luxurious standards. There’s not much of a discussion from Fred on why a reloader might spend more on various items other than “they’re nice” which was a bit of a disappointment. It is something I’ve spent a lot of time pondering while I’ve been heating up the ole Visa building out my reloading setup.
Forty minutes into DVD #2, and Fred finally gets to reloading. The rest of the DVD goes into overviews of the brass prep process, and while there’s a fairly good primer (get it?) on full length vs. neck sizing brass, there’s still a big emphasis on the how and not the why. More advanced reloaders will be sad to hear that Fred doesn’t cover much about trimming or neck turning until much later.
Once he gets his brass prepped, Fred gives an overview on the various priming tools available and how one would go about seating primers. After that part is done, he gets on to the powder filling part with a pretty solid discussion on the various ways in which you can accurately measure powder into your freshly sized, cleaned, chamfered, deburred, and primed cases. But wait, DVD #3 is where he actually puts powder in cases.
In DVD #3, Fred gets to actually filling cases, and gets into a pretty solid rhythm of discussing safe powder measurement and management techniques. One of his tips that I’ve implemented and find useful is to store your powder in a different part of the shop than the area where you load. Bring one jug of powder over, use it, put back whatever you didn’t use, and move the can back. Simple stuff that the less experienced reloader might not know to do is sprinkled liberally throughout. He also demonstrates several of the various powder measures out there, including their setup and usage. Again, so real help on why you might pick a balance beam and trickler over an automagic electronic dispenser/scale combo.
With the cases charged, he shifts into a discussion of seating methods including crimping vs. not crimping, and the usage of a three die set vs a two die set. Its all fairly informative stuff, and follows in the vein of the prior two DVDs. Conversational to the point of being chatty, with plenty of information conveyed on the how, but not the why.
The last part of the third DVD, and really the only part that felt rushed, was the section on “advanced” brass prep. Most of this focused on neck turning, primer pocket uniforming, and annealing. Again, there’s meat to what Fred is saying, but I found myself wondering why a reloader might pursue these particular activities. There’s a discussion of how annealing can extend brass life, but I never got the information on how much it would extend brass life, and if that’s worth it. In fact, in an effort to learn more about the process, I took to the internet and did a lot of reading to find that the annealing technique Fred teaches is one of the least precise ways to go about it.
There’s a fourth DVD in the series, and it is taught by a different instructor. The entirety of the DVD is devoted to casting bullets, the peak of gunny perfection. While I appreciate that the material exits, I couldn’t bring myself to sit and watch it. I don’t see myself casting my own bullets anytime soon, and I think that when I do get to that point, I’ll probably find an old timer with a couple thousand pounds of wheel weights to show me the way.
I have no doubt he has a tremendous amount of reloading knowledge. But for a DVD series that advertises solving not just the “how” but the “why” of reloading, I came away a little disappointed. The three DVDs that I watched were packed with information, most of it useful, but very rarely did I gain an understanding backed by objective study on why I would choose say… a beam scale over an electronic unit. That’s the sort of thing I won’t begrudge a free or cheap publication from omitting, but at $500, AGIs course has to be damn near perfect, and I feel like it fell short.
Specifications: AGI’s Reloading from A-Z
- Format: DVD
- Run Time: 7 hours 44 Minutes
- Price: $497
Ratings (out of five stars):
Overall Rating * * *
If you’re the audio/visual type, and you’ve got the extra scratch laying around, you won’t be worse off owning this DVD. In fact, I truly believe that if you do what Fred says, you’ll make good quality, consistent ammo. But I also think I would choose to spend $500 differently.