Rambling thoughts on inexpensive reloading equipment
by Greg Ritchie
You think you want to get into reloading, but are not sure and don't want to spend a lot of cash just to see if you like the hobby. Maybe you just don't have the extra cash to get started and need to be as frugal as possible. You can build a complete kit to get into reloading for well less than $200, and Lee Precision is the company that will allow you to do it. http://leeprecision.com/
But wait, why should you build a kit when you can buy a kit already put together? A check of one of my favorite vendors finds that you can buy a Lee Challenger kit for $130.99. That's a good kit, but that's not a complete kit. You still need dies, a case length gauge, shell holder, and a manual. That can easily exceed $50 or more. You can build a complete kit from Lee Precision from this same online vendor for $157.89 at today's prices. A kit that includes everything you need to load one caliber.
Let's look at what I think to be the ideal starter kit. It consists of the following Lee Precision components:
Improved powder measure kit
Safety powder scale
RGB die Set
Case length gauge
Chamfer and deburing tool
Primer pocket cleaner
The Reloader press is a small bench mounted "C" style press. Being a "C" press, it it equally suitable for left or right-handers. I have loaded cases as large as .280 Remington on it, but that's really about as large as you want to go. It simply does not have the length needed for anything larger. It is plenty strong for normal reloading duties and will handle some additional chores like case preparation and bullet sizing with ease. It is not, however, the press for case forming and other chores that can require excessive force. My biggest complaint with this press is the way it handles spent primers. The primers are directed into the hollow base of the press. Although it will hold quite a few spent primers, you will eventually have to unmount the press or devise some way to dispose of the spent primers, an issue I resolved by drilling a hole through the bench the press is mounted to and mounting a small jar under the bench to catch the primers. Simply unscrew the jar to empty the spent primers. My Reloader press requires you to screw in your dies, but the new version of the press is equipped with the Lee Breach Lock Bushing which makes changing out dies very easy and quick.
The Ram Prime is a simple press mounted priming tool. It consists of a head that screws into the press that holds a shell holder. The priming ram fits into the press ram where the shell holder normally goes. This tool has exceptional feel. The Ram Prime comes with primer punches for both large and small primers.
The Improved Powder Measure Kit is the much maligned Lee dipper kit. Most of the criticism I think comes from misuse of the dippers. First and foremost, they are dippers, not scoops. Push the dipper into the powder allowing the powder to flow over the sides of the dipper. Lift the dipper straight up and strike off the powder with a straight edge. Do not tap or shake the dipper as this can settle the powder. Use proper procedures and apply these procedures the same way each time, and you will most likely be impressed by the accuracy of the dippers.
The Safety Powder Scale is another often criticized piece of Lee equipment. Again, this is most likely due to a misunderstanding of the product. This is not the scale you need if you want to see how much an item weighs, and it is not intended to be. The Lee Safety scale is a "weigh to" scale. Zero the scale, set your desired powder weight and pour the powder in the pan. Trickle in powder until you reach your desired weight.
For the dies in my kit, I choose the "RGB" dies. RGB stands for "really great dies". It is Lee Precision's way of showing you can buy a "really great" set of dies for just a little bit of money. Lee Precision packages these dies like most other manufactures package theirs, just the sizing die and seating die, nothing else. They sell for just about half the price of their competitors dies. There is a feature of the Lee Dies that I really like, and another feature that is often criticized but should not be if you follow one simple rule. What I like is the expander mandrel / decapping rod. It is a one piece unit that is set in a collet. The great part about this is first, it all but eliminates broken decapping pins. Got a boxer primed case mixed in with your berdan primed cases? With most dies this just about guarantees a bent or broken decapping pin. Not with the Lee dies, the decapping rod simply slides up the collet. What if you get a case stuck in your die? Usually this means a trip to the manufacturer or a special tool. With the Lee dies, you simply remove the collet and with a plastic mallet tap out the case. All that's needed afterward in either case is to readjust the decapping rod. The often criticized part of the Lee Dies is the locking ring. It consists of an aluminum nut with a rubber grommet to hold adjustment. The complaint is that you have to adjust the dies each time you use them. This is simply not true. Adjust your dies and lock them down with the locking nut, then just never remove or install the dies using the die body, only turn the locking nut. The die will remain adjusted. The Reloader press is now available with the breech lock collet. You can choose to keep the one collet that comes with the press permanently installed and change out dies conventionally, or buy a collet for each of your dies. If you choose the later the point is moot anyway.
The case conditioning tools are not something that you will use every time you reload a round, some, like the primer pocket cleaner, you might not use at all. They are however useful to have and only add a few dollars to the cost of the kit. The trimmer and case length gauge are the most important. One tool that I did not list, but I highly recommend is a set of measuring calipers. Sure, you can adjust your dies using a factory round, and the Lee Case trimming tool is going to trim to a preset length, but I still like to confirm everything by measuring. A simple dial caliper can be had for as little as $10 and the price goes up from there. Another tool not listed in my kit, nor in the factory assembled kits is the loading block. It's a necessary tool and can be purchased rather inexpensively. The cheapest way to get one though, is to just use the plastic tray that comes with factory ammo. .380ACP trays fit any .223 head sized cases perfectly, .45ACP fits 30/06 head sized cases perfectly.
The Reloading Manual is the most important piece of equipment. Read it, twice, then read it again. Knowledge is good and will go a long way in keeping you and your reloads safe.
To be continued....