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LoadMaster Equipment Selection

There are a lot of questions when starting to reload, and for those who jump in with both feet and start with a progressive press, the learning curve can be steep.  None of it is rocket science, but there is a lot to learn, and it seems there are few sources of information to flatten the learning curve.  This article attempts to answer the most common questions and clear up the confusion concerning which equipment and accessories to buy after you've decided to purchase a Lee LoadMaster progressive press.

Few people buy a bare LoadMaster press and add accessories to make a functional reloading system.  Most people take advantage of bundled pricing and buy a complete LoadMaster kit for one caliber, including the dies, powder measure, shell plate and primer system.  Typical prices are about $225, or about $200 on sale from online retailers.

The new press needs to be assembled and adjusted, and this is a good time to learn about the various parts of the press and how they operate.  The instructions attempt to provide the information that's needed without adding so many details that those new to reloading become bored and stop reading.  As a result, there are a few areas where some information is implied, and more detail would be helpful.  The instructions are available on the Lee Website.  The same website also has setup videos which can help convey concepts that are difficult or tedious to explain in words.  There are also assembly, setup, adjustment, maintenance and usage instructions on YouTube that are easily found by searching for LoadMaster.

Is The LoadMaster Kit Really Complete?
Well, yes and no.  As advertised, the LoadMaster kit does come with all the equipment needed to reload for one caliber, but there are other items you'll need or want.

  • Lee Factory Crimp Die - This die is almost essential to producing high quality and reliable pistol ammunition.  Accuracy will probably improve, the entire straight walled pistol case will be post sized to ensure it will feed in any chamber made to the SAAMI specified dimensions for that caliber, and the bullet will be firmly crimped in place to survive rough handling.  The factory crimp die should be used for all semi-auto ammunition to prevent bullet set-back or other problems as the rounds are stripped off the magazine and chambered automatically.  The rifle version of the factory crimp die is a collet crimp die with no post sizing.  Both the pistol and rifle factory crimp dies allow the bullet seater to seat the bullet to the proper depth without crimping, and the factory crimp occurs after bullet seating.  Many reloaders update from the Lee Pro-1000 to the LoadMaster to have a station for the factory crimp die.
  • You should have a good reloading manual.  Modern Reloading Second Edition by Richard Lee is composed of two parts.  The first 200 pages explain reloading concepts.  In addition to covering all the basics, many of the topics covered are advanced subjects with information not found elsewhere.  The writing style is conversational, and easy to read.  The last 500 pages consist of load tables, which are essentially recipes for reloading ammunition.
  • Powder Scales - There are a number of good powder scales specifically made for reloading, and a couple of lousy ones.  For general progressive reloading, the best value is probably a digital scale purchased on eBay.  Be sure to buy a scale that can read accurately to within .1 grain, with a capacity of at least 200 grains and probably more than 500 grains.  NEVA makes a good scale that can usually be purchased for about $25 including shipping.  Make certain the scale includes a calibration weight and check the calibration often.  If you know you will be doing a significant amount of precise rifle reloading, you should probably skip the low cost scale and instead get a PACT electronic scale with auxiliary powder dispenser to automatically dispense programmed powder weights.  A less expensive scale can measure with sufficient accuracy but manually dispensing each powder charge will probably be too slow.  Balance beam scales can also be very accurate but are too slow.  You will use the scale often, verifying all powder charges each time the bushings are changed in a powder measure, and intermittently while reloading.  It'll also be used to weigh cast bullets, sort brass cases by weight for greatest accuracy, etc.
  • Calipers - Calipers are used for most reloading measurements, including measuring the trimmed brass length, overall length of reloaded ammo, bullet diameter, and ammunition diameter.  It's possible to get by with low priced calipers, but some of the measurements directly relate to safety, and being off a few thousandths can be dangerous.  It's possible to buy a good caliper without going broke.  Mitutoyo dial calipers are about $70, and their digital calipers are about $100.  Midway sells nice looking digital calipers for about $35.
  • Vibratory Bowl Cleaner - Most reloaders use a vibratory bowl and crushed walnut shell or crushed corncob to clean brass before reloading it, typically with an ounce of brass polish or Nu Finish car wax added to the cleaning media.  The cleaning process usually takes a few hours.  Removing the primer (aka "decapping") before the vibratory cleaning process will clean the primer pocket and flash hole, but can result in cleaning media lodging in the primer pocket.  This is particularly true of corn cob media.  The decapping pin in station one of the LoadMaster will usually dislodge any trapped cleaning media, but not always.  Cases must be separated by caliber before placing them in the vibratory bowl, otherwise all the 9mm cases will be inserted into the .40 S&W cases, and those will be wedged inside the .45 ACP cases.  Cleaning cases is actually optional.  As long as there is no gritty dirt on the cases, they can be reloaded without cleaning.  Other options include chemical cleaning solutions and using a ScotchBrite pad to clean cases as they are spun on a Zip Trim and Three Jaw Chuck.  The Zip Trim approach works particularly well for rifle cases being spun on the Zip Trim to trim them to length.  The ScotchBrite cleaning and polishing adds very little to the time or effort.
  • Bullet Puller - If a mistake is made, ammunition must be unloaded to recover the components.  A kinetic bullet puller is a good option for pulling pistol bullets.  The cartridge is loaded into a hollow hammer head and the rim is secured in a collet.  The kinetic bullet puller is hammered against a block of wood until the inertia of the bullet eventually pulls the bullet out of the case.  The bullet and powder are then trapped inside the hollow head of the bullet puller until the end is unscrewed and the components are retrieved.  Kinetic bullet pullers probably won't work with lighter bullets or bullets that are sealed to the case.  A 50 grain .223 bullet won't have enough inertia to be unseated from the case, and that's even more true if it's imported military surplus ammunition with asphalt used to seal the bullet to the case neck.  Firm neck crimps are also challenging for the kinetic puller.  The noise from the hammering is annoying, too.  The other option is a collet style bullet puller.  The correct collet is loaded into the collet assembly, which is then threaded into a single stage press.  Collet pullers do not work with progressive presses such as the LoadMaster.  The bullet is raised up into the collet, the collet is tightened by rotating a handle until it grabs the bullet, and the case is lowered to remove the bullet.  In addition to the need for a single stage press, the collets are about $7 per caliber, and the setup time to use a collet style puller is a bit more than the kinetic bullet puller.
  • Primer Pocket Tools - There are two diameters of primers, large and small.  Sometimes, you need to be able to clean out a primer pocket because it may have some burned residue inside the primer pocket that could prevent a new primer from seating properly.  For pistol ammo, this is rare.  The spent pistol primer can usually be left in place, pressed out in station one and a new primer inserted in station two.  The Lee Primer Pocket Cleaner is a good inexpensive tool for cleaning primer pockets.  If there is a slight crimp or burr on the primer pocket, a chamfering tool might be able to remove it and put a slight bevel on the primer pocket so it will accept a new primer.  A good tool to clean the primer pocket and simultaneously bevel the edge of the pocket while removing the crimp is the Hornady Primer Pocket Reamer, in small and large sizes.  Each will also require the Hornady Universal Accessory Handle.  Another option to remove the military primer crimp is a primer pocket swager, which reforms the brass rather than removing the crimp by removing the brass.  The swager will require a single stage press and can't be used on the progressive LoadMaster.
  • Case Trimmer - The Lee Cutter With Ball Grip is used with caliber specific length trim gages, sold separately.  The trim gage is fitted inside the case and through the primer flash hole, where it bottoms out on the lock stud or chuck.  The lock stud is sold with a cutter, which isn't needed because there's a cutter in the much better Cutter With Ball Grip.  The lock stud uses the special shell holder sold with the length gage to lock the head of the case to the lock stud.  The lock stud is then chucked into a drill to spin it while the ball grip cutter with case length gage is pressed against the neck to trim to the proper length.  The universal Three Jaw Chuck attached to a Zip Trim is faster, easier and produces more uniform results than a handheld battery powered drill and the lock stud.
  • Chamfer Tool - The Lee Chamfer Tool is used to chamfer the inside and outside of the case neck after trimming the case to length.
  • Spare Parts - A few small and inexpensive repair items should be kept on hand.  At a minimum, for the LoadMaster you should have at last one of each of the following.  IndexerSmall Primer Slider (assuming you have the small primer feeder), Large Primer Slider (assuming you have the large primer feeder).

What Supplies Are Needed To Reload?
  • Brass - Probably the best source of brass is the brass from the commercial ammo you shoot.  You can reload range pickup brass, but you never know what type of load was shot in that brass.  Many people reload an assortment of whatever brass they can find.  Reloading brass from different manufacturers adds a considerable amount of variation to the progressive reloading process.  Primers may not insert into some primer pockets, and that causes a big mess when there are primer jams and the press must be unloaded to fix the problem.  Some brass is harder than others or shot in slightly larger chambers, and that will result in more force being required to resize it, and that can cause variation in the bullet seating depth in station four, etc.  If possible, try to reload brass from the same manufacturer.
  • Primers - Lee recommends CCI primers as being a bit safer than the others, and they warn against using Federal.  Winchester and CCI primers seem to feed well.  A good online source of primers is http://www.hi-techammo.com.
  • Powder - When starting out, try to use one type of powder if possible.  Universal or Unique are both reasonably good and economical choices for most pistol calibers.  Later, you can experiment with different loads using different powders, but the initial effort should be devoted to learning reloading basics.  It is very important that the powder charge is the correct weight and the correct powder type.  Be very careful not to load a rifle case with pistol powder, which can happen easily if a powder hopper is emptied back into the wrong bottle.
  • Bullets - Common choices include full metal jacket (FMJ), jacketed hollow point (JHP), copper plated, and cast lead.  Be sure to follow load data for the type of bullet you have.  The type of bullet matters a great deal, so it isn't just a matter of using the correct bullet weight.  A couple of good sources for inexpensive military surplus pulled bullets are Hi-Tech Ammo and GI Brass.  You can learn about casting your own lead bullets here.

What Equipment Is Needed To Reload Another Caliber?

  • Primer Feeder - There are only two sizes of primer feeders.  Once you have both, you won't need to buy any others.  Large pistol and large rifle primers use the same large primer feeder.  Small pistol and small rifle primers use the same small primer feeder.
  • Shell Plate - A new caliber may require a new shell plate.  Calibers with similar sized case heads and rims share a common shell plate.  9mm and .40 S&W use the same shell plate, and many rifle cartridges are based on the .223 case, so as long as the head and rim are the same, these calibers would use the same shell plate.
  • Dies - Each caliber requires a set of dies, with a few exceptions. 10mm and .40 S&W use the same dies.  It's less expensive to buy the four die set for pistol calibers, including the resizing die with decapping pin, powder charging neck expanding die, bullet seating die, and factory crimp die.
  • Turret - The LoadMaster Turret accepts all the dies for one caliber, creating a caliber quick change kit.  The die adjustments are all maintained, and the entire turret is swapped when changing calibers.
  • Pro Auto Disk Powder Measure (optional) - It's not very difficult to swap one Pro Auto Disk Powder Measure between all calibers.  If you experiment a lot with different loads, you'll have the powder measure apart at every caliber change anyway, so there isn't much time to be saved if you have a separate powder measure for each caliber.  If you don't experiment much and want to quickly switch between calibers with only one standard load per caliber, then dedicating a powder measure to each turret can save a little setup time.  You won't need to move a powder measure to another turret or swap powder bushing disks.  Always verify the powder charge weight at the start of each loading session, and periodically while reloading, even when you know the powder measure hasn't changed since the last time you used it.
  • Double Disk Kit - When adding a rifle caliber to a LoadMaster configured for a pistol, you will probably need a Lee Double Disk Kit which allows two powder bushing disks to be stacked on top of each other to increase the powder volume of the Pro Auto Disk Powder Measure.  For larger caliber rifles, even the Double Disk Kit will not provide enough powder, and you'll probably need to use the Perfect Powder Measure.
  • Rifle Charging Die - Lee rifle die sets come in a few different combinations, but none of them include a charging die.  The die sets assume that rifle ammo will be loaded manually instead of loading it on a progressive press.  To activate either the Pro Auto Disk Powder Measure or Perfect Powder Measure on a progressive press requires the Lee Rifle Charging Die.

Pistol vs. Rifle
Progressive presses are best suited to high volume pistol ammunition.  It's possible to reload good rifle ammo on a progressive press, but it's a bit more involved.  Bottle neck rifle brass tends to stretch more than pistol brass, so case trimming is more important.  The order of the rifle reloading steps is not conducive to progressive reloading.  The case should be full length resized and deprimed.  This normally occurs in station one of the LoadMaster press.  But next, the brass should be trimmed to length and the case neck should be chamfered inside and outside.  Case trimming and chamfering do not happen on the press.  It may not be necessary to trim the case every time it's reloaded, and the times the case does not need to be trimmed the ammunition could be loaded in a fully progressive manner with no interruptions, but it is critical that the case does not exceed the maximum trim length.  Long cases can pinch the bullet in the front of the chamber, resulting in a dangerously high chamber pressure.

Which Set Of Rifle Dies?
RGB Rifle Die Set - Full length case sizer, bullet seater
Deluxe Rifle Die Set - Full length case sizer, collet neck sizer, bullet seater
Pacesetter Rifle Die Set - Full length case sizer, bullet seater, factory crimp

The RGB Rifle Die Set is just the basic two die set.  It's intended to be the absolutely lowest cost set of quality rifle dies.  It'd be good for reloading a few rounds of rifle ammo, possibly using a hand held press.  RGB is an acronym for Really Great Buy.

The Deluxe Rifle Die Set would be useful if you had a semi-auto rifle and therefore wanted the full length sizing and factory crimp, but also wanted to shoot the same caliber in a bolt action rifle for maximum accuracy and wanted to avoid full length sizing and factory crimping and instead use a collet neck sizer on fire formed brass to be fired only in the rifle that fire formed the brass the last time. You should still buy the Factory Crimp die for use with the semi-auto ammunition.  Lee markets the Deluxe Rifle Die Set as being useful to reloaders who already have a lot of brass that was fired in some other rifle that needs to be full length resized.  After that, the brass will be fire formed to the chamber of a particular rifle and can be neck sized only with the collet die, which avoids messy case lubricating and prolongs the life of the brass about ten times compared to full length resizing.  It can also reduce the need for case length trimming.  The Deluxe Rifle Die Set would be a good choice if you have a lot of used brass you want to resize before dedicating it to one rifle and neck sizing it only.  It'd also be a good choice if you had a bolt action and a semi-automatic rifle in the same caliber and you wanted to reload for both, but you should probably add a Factory Crimp die for the semi-automatic ammunition.

The Pacesetter Rifle Die Set is the best choice if you only reload for a semi-automatic rifle in that caliber.  It includes the Factory Crimp die.  If you decide to shoot a bolt action for best accuracy in that caliber, you can buy the collet neck sizing die separately later.

None of the three Lee rifle die sets includes the rifle charging die, which is needed to load progressively using the Pro Auto Disk powder measure.  Lee seems to assume that a lot of people would use the powder scoops to manually load the cases, or would load rifle ammo in a single stage press where the cases are charged by hand.  With a powder dispensing system, (electronic scales with an attached powder dispenser that meters very precise charge weights automatically), you could probably reload accurate rifle ammo on the LoadMaster progressive press by simply dropping the weighed powder charge manually each time.  For best accuracy and still fairly fast reloading, the LoadMaster press could be operated in turret press mode, with each stage occurring sequentially instead of all stages occurring in parallel as it does in progressive press mode.

Avoiding Start-Up Problems
Setting up a LoadMaster press isn't difficult.  Watch the videos, read the instructions, and take your time.  Plan on two or three hours to set it up and debug it before starting to load any ammunition, and plan on operating slowly for the first thousand rounds as you learn the subtle details.  Those who expect to crank out 650 rounds an hour, five minutes after receiving their LoadMaster are usually disappointed or frustrated.

  • Time invested up front pays big long term dividends.  Time spent learning about the press will save a lot more time later, and will prevent a lot of needless frustration.
  • If it doesn't want to go, don't force it.  Remove the shell plate if needed and unload the press to clear the jam.  Understand what went wrong and fix it.
  • Do not allow the primer trough to run low.  This is the #1 cause of primer feed problems.  The LoadMaster Primer Feeder is a gravity fed device that relies on the weight of a stack of primers in the primer trough for reliable feeding.  When the round primer tray feeds its last primer, reload five more rounds to empty the upper inch of the primer feed trough, remove the primer tray, refill it and reinstall it.
  • Do not allow the powder hopper to run low or the cases will have low charge weights and will need to be disassembled and reloaded.
  • When reloading military surplus brass, make sure the primer pockets are not crimped.  Crimped primer pockets will cause primer jams.
  • Reload the first thousand rounds at half speed using the LoadMaster as an auto-indexing turret press.  This will allow the press to be broken-in and all of the adjustments can be made for reliable operation while sequentially loading a single round through all of the stations.  If there is a problem, you will only have one station to unload and only one round of partially assembled ammo.  Check each round as it's ejected to make sure the bullet and primer are seated properly.  Then, progress to two-at-a-time reloading, where a new case is started when the last case receives a bullet.  When that's gone well for a few hundred rounds, you're ready to move up to full progressive reloading.

The Lee LoadMaster is a relatively inexpensive progressive reloading press with a lot of capabilities and the potential to reload accurate and high quality ammunition if you do your part, and that means taking the time to learn the process and the equipment.  Reloading your own ammunition can greatly enhance your shooting experience.  Most reloaders consider reloading to be a hobby that equals or even exceeds their recreational shooting.  It may be too hot, too cold, or too rainy to shoot, but you can always enjoy reloading.


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