Thoughts on 6 Lee hand-loading systems
by Greg Ritchie
The Lee Classic Loaders: Add a non-marring hammer and components and you have all you need to load one caliber. Once upon a time they were available for shotshells, and a plethora of rifle and pistol calibers, now they are only offered in a few rifle calibers and even fewer handgun calibers. A look at the Lee Precision Web page shows six pistol calibers and eleven rifle calibers available at this time. A good way for a beginning reloader to try the hobby at a reasonable cost to see if they like it. Also touted as a good tool for peppers and a bug out bag, but I feel the need to bring all the components along somewhat negates that option. The Lee Loaders will load ammunition every bit as accurate as more expensive presses. They have the drawback of not being recommended for semi automatic actions as they only neck size, it is advised to load for the firearm the case was first fired in, and they can be somewhat noisy to use. The Lee Loaders work well in a mini arbor press and this will eliminate the noise issue, but the cost of an arbor press somewhat negates the advantage of low cost.
The Lee hand press: In my opinion, this is the press to use if portability is your goal. It's also perfect for those who have limited space for reloading equipment. All you need can fit in a container just about the size of a shoe box. For about twice the cost of a Lee Loader you can purchase everything you need to load one caliber, including the dies and a ram prime priming tool. Matter of fact the ram prime tool mounted in the hand press is one of my favorite ways to prime. I like the feel when priming on this press. Another set of dies and you are good to go for another caliber. This is one of the best presses to use for load development at the range.
The Lee Reloader press: This was my first bench mounted Lee press, and I'm still using it today. It is also a very compact press. If mounted on a board, it can be clamped onto a table or countertop, giving more stability than is possible with the hand press. It also only takes a little more space to store away. This is the press I recommend to those who want to try reloading, but are not sure if they are going to like the hobby. They generally sell used for about what you pay for them new. And if they like the hobby, it's an excellent accessory press. It is a "C" type press that gives good hand clearance, no reaching around posts to seat a bullet. I seldom use mine for actual reloading anymore, but it gets lots of use sizing bullets and seating gas checks, swaging primer pockets and case preparation. It does not handle spent primers very well. While it catches most of the primers, it stores them in the base of the press. You have to devise a way to remove them or un-bolt the press from the bench to remove them. My solution is to drill a hole in the bench under the press and mount a small jar under the bench for the spent primers to fall into.
The Lee 3 hole manual advance turret press: This is my press that gets the most use. Most of my die sets are 2 and 3 die sets, so a fourth hole is only wasted movement. This press also does not handle spent primers well. Like the Reloader press it stores spent primers under the base of the press. Unlike the Reloader press, it only catches a few of the spent primers, most of them end up on the floor. I found a collection system on line that does a great job of catching primers. It is a plastic funnel that sits in the base of the press and directs primers into a tube that can be routed straight to the refuse can. It also has a plastic barrier that snaps between the posts of the press and directs spent primers into the funnel. Regardless, I seldom decap or prime on the press, preferring to prime off the press. Lee no longer markets their 3 hole manual press. Instead they sell a 4 hole Deluxe turret press with auto index. They also sell at 4 hole auto index kit to convert the older 3rd hole presses to the current model. I'll most likely leave my press as it is.
The Lee Classic Cast Turret press: This is the finest press i own and the press that I recommend to a new reloader that is sure he wants to get into the hobby. This is a solid press that handles spent primers very well. It has a hollow ram with a tube connected to the bottom of the ram that directs the spent primers directly to a waste receptacle. The ram is very large so there is no fear of it being weak due to being hollow. I use this press to form my 300 blackout from 223/5.56. Four holes will accommodate the Lee 4 die sets. They also accommodate the rifle charging dies for those who want to charge their rifle cases on the press. It is my absolute favorite press to load the 7.62x39 with cast bullets on. I set it up with a expanding die, charging die, seating die and crimping die. Sizing, case preparation and priming is done off press.
The Lee Load All II: I really didn't expect much out of this press. Boy was I wrong! I keep this press mounted on my bench, and the press that cost over 4 times as much is stored under my bench. The first shell I loaded came out good, there was no set up needed. I just bolted it to the bench selected and installed a powder and shot bushing and started loading. The press is aluminum and plastic, the only steel part being the sizing ring. I have only had this press a short while, so I can not speak for longevity, but I see no reason why it won't last my lifetime. I am not a heavy shot shell shooter, probably no more than 500 to 700 shells per year. It does load a good shell.