Reloading .223/5.56 Basics

Published : July 2019

I started reloading at the beginning of 2019. I initially struggled to understand what I was supposed to be doing until I lucked onto some really excellent youtube channels with some great beginner content. Unfortunately youtube has started censoring a lot of that content, so I thought I could help keep what I learned alive by sharing some simple tutorials on my own site. .223 is probably the most common caliber in the most common platform today : the AR-15, so it seems like a good place to start.

Note : I haven't included powder load data here. It is very important to get this data from primary sources like the Hornady manual. Reloading is a hobby that requires serious attention to safety. Do it at your own risk.

The difference between .223 and 5.56

.223 and 5.56 use the same diameter barrel. The main difference is that 5.56 has a higher max pressure specification. This means that you never want to fire 5.56 loads in a .223 spec gun, but you will be fine firing .223 rounds in a 5.56 spec gun. Most modern firearms will be built to 5.56 specifications.

	-- Tools --
	[Tool Type] : [What I used]
	Press : Hornadyy classic single stage press
	Powder measure : Hornady
	Die Set : Hornady American .223 2 die set
	Cleaning : Horandy sonic cleaner
	Small Primer Pocker Reamer : Lyman hand tool
	Small Primer Pocket Uniformer : Lyman hand tool
	Chamfer/Deburrer : Hornady hand tool
	Case Trimmer : Hornady tool
	Priming Tool : Hornady hand primer
	Case Lube : Imperial Sizing Wax
	Gloves : I use disposable medical gloves
	Load Data : I use the Hornady 10th Edition Manual
	-- Components --
	[Component] : [What I used]
	Brass : Lake City 5.56 brass from xm855 rounds
	Primer : CCI 400 Small Rifle
	Powder : Hodgdon H335
	Bullet : Hornady 55 grain FMJ
Step 1 : Decap and Re-Size Brass

In this step we take our used brass and use the decapping/resizing die to remove the spent primer and resize the case. Its important to lube the case or it will get stuck in the die. Make sure to wear gloves for this part. The spent primers are dirty and contain lead compoounds.

	1. mount your decapping/sizing die in the press 
	2. apply a small amount of case lube to the case
	3. run the case through the press. This will remove the primer and resize it
resizing die

Hornady American Series .223 Resizing and Decapping die. This die has a steel pin that will punch out the spent primer and then the rest of the die will be resize the case as it is pressed into it.

case lube

I use the same hand to grab the empty case and apply the lube. A little goes a long way and the gloves make it easy to apply.


The Hornady press has a little collection tray for the primers. Make sure to have that little metal piece in or they will fall out the wrong side. This is the dirtiest part of the whole process.

Step 2 : Clean Brass

Now that the brass is deprimed it is time to clean it. There are a lot of options here but my personal preference at the moment is sonic cleaning. Sonic cleaning seems like a lot less of a mess/bother compared to traditional methods like tumbling with walnut or stainless steel media. There's not much to this step. I use the Hornady brass cleaning liquid with a small squirt of dish soap and put the cleaner on several 10 minute cycles. After it is done I rinse the brass with water in a colindaer and then shake it out and let it air dry. Sometimes I use a heat gun to accelerate drying.

sonic cleaner

The Hornady sonic cleaner.

Step 3 : Case Prep

This is my least favorite step currently. I really need to upgrade some of my hand tools to eletric tools. I usually have a pile of brass and just spend 30 minutes or so a day on it until its all done. You will end up with a lot of brass shavings on this step - so wear gloves and be prepared for some cleanup.

	1. remove primer pocket crimps with the reamer tool
	2. clean out any left over debris with the primer pocket uniformer tool 
	3. set your trimmer to about 1.755 inches and run everything through
	4. use the chamfer/deburrer tool to clean up and chamfer the case mouths

Lyman small primer pocket reamer, Lyman small primer pocket uniformer, and Hornady chamfer/deburrer tool.


The Hornady trimmer. I have a hard time adjusting it, but I'm probably doing it wrong. Once it is dialed in its pretty decent. The machining on it is very nice. Definitely a quality tool.

Step 4 : Priming

Congrats the worst is over. This step is pretty straightforward. If you are having trouble getting the primers seated you might still have some crimp that needs to be reamed out of the primer pocket. Don't force anything you could cause the primer to go off with enough force. Make sure to wear safety glasses just in case.

priming tool

The Hornady priming tool. The solid end of the primer should be down. Some of mine have flipped and need to be fixed.

Step 5 : Final Assembly and Quality Control

In this final stage we will assemble the primed brass, powder and bullet into a round of ammunition with the seating die. When setting up your die make sure to measure the OAL (over all length) of the resulting round and adjust the seating depth as necessary. Your load data for the bullet will include a suggested seating depth.

The press should not take a lot of pressure at this stage. If you feel a lot of resistance or see brass shavings you probably need a bit more of a chamfer on the casing. Too much seating pressure will deform the case or bullet.

	1. install seating die
	2. setup powder measure.
	3. grab a empty primed brass case 
	4. add powder with the powder measure 
	5. put the case with the bullet into the press
	6. smoothly run the press (you may need to hold the bullet until it hits the die)
	7. visually inspect and optionally check finished round with a case guage 
priming tool

Primed brass, powder throw, container of bullets, and Hornady press with a round ready to be ran through it.


Well thats about it. The stuff I didn't cover like how to setup the dies is specific to the brand/type that you choose. The ones I bought came with instructions but you will end up experimenting a bit to find the best settings for them. Reloading involves a lot of trial and error. Don't worry about screwing up a couple rounds, its totally normal.

This process should apply to other rifle calibers. Pistols are similar but you generally don't have to process the brass as much. Instead you have an extra die that you use to bell the case mouth so that the bullet will fit.

I hope this helped you out a bit, or was at least fun to read.

Have Fun!