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Getting Started

Is it worth it?

The first question that the shooter must ask is "Is it worth it?" For the occasional shooter who is not really interested in ballistics, or simply wants to evaluate commercial ammunition for defensive purposes, the answer may be it isn't. I do not wish to lecture those who are not interested in loading, and such a discussion is beyond the scope of this writing. However, those who wish to maximize the potential of the Makarov should seriously consider reloading their own ammunition for it.


Assuming that we have decided to take the plunge and reload for the Makarov, the equipment selection is the next consideration. I assume that the reader is already somewhat familiar with reloading metallic cartridges, but I have included much of the basic practice information. There are a number of good publications on this subject, including reloading manuals written by the manufacturers of reloading components, e.g. Hornady, Speer, Winchester. The beginning reloader should not think of this work as a substitute for a comprehensive reloading manual.

Reloading Press

Most reloaders already have a favorite press, or at least one they are comfortable with. At a minimum, the press should be able to accommodate the industry standard 7/8" x 14 thread reloading dies. Notable exceptions are the Dillon Square Deal B and the Dillon 450 Jr. These are fine presses, but they only accept non-standard dies for progressive reloading.

Veteran reloaders often tell rookies to purchase single stage presses until they develop good reloading practices. This has advantages and disadvantages. The biggest advantage is cost. One can purchase an entire Lee reloading kit and everything needed to reload for well under $200. I first reloaded the 9x18 Makarov on a Lee Challenger press included with the Anniversary kits that we carry at The results were quite acceptable, and teaches the steps of reloading very well. A single stage press always comses in handy for future reloading endeavors, so it is almost never a waste of money. For example, if one pursues bullet casting, the single-stage press is essential for the bullet resizing process.

On the other hand, progressive presses have the advantage of speed and convenience. With each pull of the lever, a loaded round is produced. This requires a much larger initial set up expense and recognition of what is happening at every step to avoid dangerous situations like cocked primers, powder overcharges (e.g. double charges) or improperly seated bullets.

These instructions for reloading are written from the standpoint of both single- stage and progressive reloading presses, but favor the progressive presses.

Dillon RL550B reloading press(picture)

Shell Plates and Caliber Conversion Kits

Shell plates hold the brass cases to the bottom of the reloading platform during the reloading process. Reloading press manufacturers usually have their own systems for holding the cases in the press. Lee and Lyman use inserts for single stage and turret presses; progressive reloading presses use a shell plate. Dillon caliber conversion kits (picture) include a shell plate and a belling die insert. Check with the manufacturer of your reloading press to see if they have shell plates or a conversion kit for the 9x18 Makarov. Makarov brass comes in two base sizes: 1) 9mm Parabellum brass trimmed to 18 mm and Starline brand brass, and 2) Chinese Norinco and "real" European Makarov brass. If you plan to reload only trimmed 9mm Parabellum or Starline brass, and would like to reload 9mm Parabellum as well, a 9mm Parabellum shell plate will work quite well.

Reloading Dies

A number of reloading supply manufacturers have added 9x18 Makarov reloading dies to their product line. Lee, Lyman, Dillon, Hornady (picture), Speer, Redding all have acceptable dies. Veteran reloaders typically have a favorite brand already.

As with other pistol calibers, I recommend splurging for carbide dies. They reduce the amount of lubricant you need for resizing, and will probably last much longer. Pistol dies typically come as a 3-die set: 1) decapper/resizer, 2) belling, and 3) bullet seater/crimper. Some have the belling die integrated with the powder charge step. Some have a separate seating and crimping die. Separate crimping dies are also available. I will discuss the implications in detail later, but in general, a separate bullet seating and crimping die is preferable to a combined seating/crimping die.

Ken Shackelford reports the following about early RCBS 9x18 Makarov dies:
"I had to return my RCBS cabide dies due to the fact that they were sizing the brass down to 9mm para. dimensions. This resulted in a very noticeable bulge after seating the .363 bullets. They seemed to work OK, but it obviously wasn't right either. Anyway, after almost two months in their custom die shop, they were returned with a note stating that they had installed a new carbide sizer ring. I was never able to get a good answer about whether this was an aberration or a basic design flaw in their 9mm Mak. sizer die. From the time it took to fix, one might think they had never seen this before. But then again, they may have a bit of a backlog of work. It would be interesting to see what others with RCBS carbide dies are seeing with regards to resized brass."

If you have RCBS dies, you may want to double check that they are resizing properly. I have no personal experience with RCBS customer service, but typically the reloading industry is good about returning defective parts.

Other Reloading Tools

The reloader should consider purchasing several other items that will make reloading the 9x18 Makarov safer and more consistent. A micrometer measures case length, cartridge overall length, bullet diameter, etc. A reloading scale, graduated in tenths of a grain, measures powder charges and bullet weights. Single stage reloading press users should consider purchasing a hand-held priming system such as the Lee Autoprime.

Reloading Supplies

Brass Cases

Reloaders can obtain brass 9x18 Makarov cases by three different methods: 1) picking up spent shells at the shooting range, 2) buying new cases, or 3) trimming 9mm Parabellum cases. Any combination of these methods is fine, but there are some caveats.

Range Pick-Ups

Buying loaded ammunition and reloading the used cases is certainly not the most economical way of obtaining brass. However, if one shoots commercially loaded ammunition with reloadable brass cases, the cases should be taken home. If your range allows it, pick up all the brass you can for reloading.

When you unpack your brass from the shooting range, you should examine each case carefully. Check for Berdan-primed cases and discard them. Berdan primers have two flash holes and a central anvil that is part of the case, not the primer. Most military surplus ammunition has this type of primer. The decapping pin on your decapper/resizer die may bend or break if you attempt to force a Berdan primer out of its case in this fashion. Special Berdan depriming tools are available, but unless you can buy Berdan primers, it is not worth the trouble.

Make sure it is a reloadable case; not all cases are brass. Aluminum cases, such as CCI Blazers, should not be reloaded. Steel cases are very tough on reloading dies. Unless you have a very hard time obtaining brass cases, these should be discarded.

Check the caliber and case length. 9mm Kurz (.380 ACP), 9x18 Makarov, and 9mm Parabellum cases appear to be very much the same; check the head stamp. In addition, some 9mm Parabellum cases are actually trimmed to a case length of 18 mm (desirable for our purposes, but not for 9mm Parabellum reloaders). Use a micrometer or case length gauge to check the actual case length.

We sell a case length gauge specifically for Makarov reloaders. It has 17, 18, 19, and 20 mm slots to check brass length. Click on the graphic for a bigger picture:
Custom-made case gauge

Purchasing New Brass

A number of manufacturers now produce top quality 9x18 Makarov brass. Starline brass was first on the market and works quite nicely. As stated in the section on shell plates, be sure that your reloading press is set up for the brass you are purchasing.

Trimming 9mm Parabellum Brass

When the Makarov pistols first became available, those itching to load their own ammunition found it difficult to obtain brass. One solution was to trim 9mm Parabellum brass to a case length of 18 mm.

Trimming 9mm Parabellum brass is not difficult, but brass crafted in this fashion should be used carefully. The head stamp will no longer match the actual case, therefore be very careful when you examine range pick-ups. The case mouth is initially sized much smaller than the .363" bullet requires, so case belling is critical. After it is fired for the first time, the case will expand to fill the Makarov chamber. The metal near the case mouth is then spread thinner than a true 9mm Makarov case because of the larger 9.2 mm bullet. Check the case mouth for cracks and splits after firing.

9x18 Makarov case trimmers are generally not available from the reloading manufacturers. However, one can easily fashion one from 9mm Parabellum trimmers. The Lee case trimmer is a simple, inexpensive tool that uses a conventional power drill and an hand-held trimming blade. The case trimming tool consists of a shell holder with drill insert and a blade/case length gauge. Using a very hard, e.g. carbide grinder, the case length gauge can be shortened by 1 mm so that it will produce 18 mm cases from 9mm Parabellum cases. When grinding the case length gauge, err on the side of cutting off too little. Trim a few cases and measure them with a micrometer. You can always cut the case length gauge a bit shorter if the cases turn out too long.
For safety and sorting ease, mark the trimmed case heads with a permanent marker. Enough of this ink will be left on the case after it is fired and tumbled clean to see that it is different from all other cases.

Homemade 9x18M case trimmer (picture)


The 9x18 Makarov uses a special 9.2 mm (.363") bullet. Under no circumstances should a 9 mm Parabellum or 9 mm Kurz (.380 ACP) .356" diameter bullet be used in reloading the Makarov. Not only will this give terrible accuracy results, it is also potentially dangerous.

Quite a few manufacturers make the special 9.2 mm bullet. Look for "9x18 M" or "9 mm Makarov" bullets in catalogs. Fortunately, even the smaller reloading companies are getting into it these days. Liberty Shooting Supply was kind enough to send me a sample of their .364" 100-grain round-nose bullets. I haven't had a chance to load them up, but they look like top quality cast bullets. Hornady (picture), Speer, and Sierra (home page) carry jacketed .363" bullets; Midway, Dillon, National Bullet (picture) all have .363" cast lead or copper-washed bullets.
Just for comparison, here's a picture of pulled Norinco bullet and a cutaway of a Russian steel-core bullet.


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