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Reloading Equipment & Supplies

Vertical Reloading Bench Saves Space

The image above shows the vertical reloading bench, filled with reloading supplies and equipment.  This brief article takes it a shelf at a time and, as quickly as possible, discusses what everything is.  You certainly don't need all this stuff to reload quality ammo, but there are certainly a lot of serious reloaders with a lot more stuff.

Top Row:
Ten .308 fifty round ammo boxes.  These are handy to transport precision bolt action rifle ammo that may not have a firm crimp on the bullet, but the plastic ammo boxes are also a convenient way to keep track of developmental loads.  It's a good idea to start at a lower powder level and work your way up, usually with ten rounds of each.  Shoot them in that order and record the chronograph data, and note the accuracy and shooting characteristics such as felt recoil and how reliably it cycles in semi-automatic firearms.  You can use custom paper labels that have spaces for all the data to remind you to record the data while you still remember it.  The paper labels are temporary, just long enough to get to the range and back.  All that data can be permanently recorded on a reloading spreadsheet on your PC.

The turrets for the Lee LoadMaster progressive press are in the middle, with one turret per caliber - in this case 9mm, .40 S&W, 10mm, .223, and .308.  The turret holders are labeled by caliber.  The 10mm turret is missing because it's currently installed on the press.  You can set up your favorite loads on each and quickly change between them.  If you constantly develop new loads in each caliber, you still need to adjust the powder measure and often the bullet seating die, but it's still a lot faster than swapping out die sets without interchangeable turrets.  Most changeovers also require swapping the shell plate, which is a five station disk that holds the head of the brass case and moves the case from station to station in the progressive press.  If the primer size changes between large or small, you will need to swap out the primer feeder as well, and when reloading a lot of pistol ammo you will want to use the case feeder, so you'll probably need to swap it too, or at least adjust it for a taller or shorter case.  These are all quick change items.

At the right of the top shelf are what's left of ten .223 ammo boxes.  There are a total of 20 plastic ammo boxes used for 9mm (loose fit), .40 S&W and 10mm, but they aren't shown because they're loaded with various test ammo and in the range bag.

Second Row:
Eight different varieties of gunpowder.  The original goal was to stock one powder (probably Hodgdon Universal) for all pistols and shotgun loads, and one powder (probably Varget) for all rifle loads.  Some experimenting complicated matters, but it is possible to keep it a lot simpler.  The current powder inventory includes Universal, Power Pistol, Winchester 296, Blue Dot, HS-7, Longshot, Winchester 748 and Varget.  There are small printed labels to put in the powder measure hopper when reloading.  There shouldn't be any confusion about which powder is in the hopper, but there are interruptions and life can get messy.  You should have a very meticulous method that ensures that you never confuse powders or put powder back into the wrong container.  Pistol powder loaded into a rifle is one of the most common reloading mistakes that causes kabooms and injuries.  It's worth a pound of prevention to avoid a hazard like that.

Third Row:
Lee Safety Scale - It's a slow balance beam scale, but it's inexpensive and accurate, and almost foolproof.  It can be used as an independent check for the digital scale that's used on a regular basis, in addition to frequent digital scale calibration.

Various chemicals - Tubes of Lee case lube, molybdenum disulfide, mica, RemOil, and an air duster compressed gas can to blow debris out of the press.  Be careful not to aerosolize the yellow primer dust and inhale it because it's a toxic lead compound.

Primers of all sizes - Small pistol, large pistol, small rifle, benchrest small rifle, large rifle.

Modern Reloading, 2nd Edition by Richard Lee - A reloading bible.  The first part of the book is a good introduction to reloading with several topics covered in depth.  The back of the book is filled with load data, and it's handy to have all the loads in one place to compare and quickly find the one you want.

Other documents - Free load booklets from powder manufacturers, user manual and setup sheets for the presses, dies and other equipment.

Fourth Row:
Bins to recycle lead and brass.

A bin full of all sorts of labels used to identify powder (mentioned above), and three different sizes of ammo box labels.

Two bins full of parts for the Auto Disk Powder Measures - mostly the auto disks, but also a micro adjustable auto disk cavity, and various powder measuring parts.

Pistol and rifle case trimmers - Clever system where the head of the brass is held in a fixture mounted in a handheld electric drill or a Lee Zip Trim (preferred).  The case is spun and a length gage with a ball grip cutter head is inserted to automatically trim the cases to the proper length.  The case mouth is then chamfered inside and outside, and the case can then be cleaned with a ScotchBrite pad.  The large and small primer pocket tools from Hornady not only clean out the primer pocket, they also have a beveled cutter that chamfers the entry to the primer pocket to make it easier to seat new primers, and also removes any military primer pocket crimp.

Fifth Row:
Red boxes of equipment used by the Lee Classic Cast Press directly below, including a Lee Lead Hardness Tester to measure the hardness of cast lead bullets, a Lee Universal Decapping Die to remove the spent primers from rifle brass, a Hornady collet bullet puller, and the Lee Bullet Resizing Dies for the cast lead bullets to make sure they're all within the maximum diameter.

Two bins with spare parts for both presses.
The Lee Auto Prime, used to insert primers into cases by hand, which is unused because the progressive press has loaded all primers so far, even the short runs of five to ten rounds when developing a new load.  Manually inserting primers will be desirable when the focus changes to more accurate hand made rifle ammo.

Red boxes full of large and small primer feeders and lots of spare parts for them.  The primer feeder is the weak link in the Lee progressive presses.  It works, but it isn't indestructible.  Spare parts are good.

Bin with priming tools, including some long nose forceps used to pick up primers and other small items, tools to replace the shell plates on the press, primer trays, etc.

Sixth Row:
Classic Cast Press - Large and heavy duty single stage press, used for things the progressive press can't do or doesn't do well, including lead hardness testing, depriming brass, sizing cast lead bullets, etc.  It would also be very good as a single stage press to load precision ammo, including .50 BMG ammo.

Round red bin to collect cast lead bullets as they're resized (behind the Classic Cast press).

Black bin with the bullets that are currently being loaded.  This bin is secured to the back of the bench with a stiff wire bail so the bin doesn't move around as it becomes empty, yet it can be removed by simply lifting up on the bin.

Blue handled impact bullet puller - Back of shelf, used to disassemble ammo to reuse the components, typically when a mistake is made.  An impact puller works by inserting a cartridge into a device that looks like a hollow headed hammer and beating on a wooden block.  The inertia of the bullet causes it to pull out of the case under impact loads.  Not useful for light bullets such as .223 bullets, or heavily crimped bullets.  The collet bullet puller for the Classic Cast press will pull any bullet, but the setup takes a little bit longer.

Lee LoadMaster progressive press - The workhorse press that cranks out 400 rounds of pistol ammo an hour while still taking enough time to assure quality.

Shell plates, behind the LoadMaster press.

Four red Hornady load blocks.  These are very nice universal load blocks that don't fit all ammo, but fit the most common rifle and pistol ammo.  Load blocks can be used to hold rifle brass as it's sprayed with case lube.  Load blocks are most often used when loading bench rest precision rifle ammo in the single stage press, one step at a time.

Digital powder scale - On top of load blocks.  $22 on eBay, including shipping.  A Chinese import, but very nice.  Get the Neva brand if possible.  It's well built, has a .1 grain precision, and seems to be accurate to .1 grains too.

2 ounce styrene portion cups - used to weigh powder.  They can be reused almost indefinitely.  They can be purchased in huge quantities at Sam's Club, but you can probably swipe a few off a salad bar somewhere.

Lee Powder Funnel, on the wall on the right rear.  Used to make sure all the measured powder makes it into the case when loading by hand.  Helpful even for progressive loading, because sometimes a powder charge will be dumped out of a case, verified, and needs to be dumped back in.

Lee Zip Trim - Gray device with the pull cord string on the right front of the shelf.  Sort of a manually powered mini lathe, used to trim brass, chamfer it and clean it.  It seems to work fairly well so far but hasn't been used much.  So far, it's faster and more precise than trimming rifle brass with a cordless drill.

Seventh Row:
Bullets - 3000 .223 M193 pulls (Hi-Tech Ammo) for plinking (was 3 cents each mil-surp, no longer available with new de-mil contracts), 250 Hornady 50 gr V-Max boat tail bullets for precision long range shooting, 1000 .223 M855 steel penetrator "green tip" pulls, 1000 9mm 115 gr copper plated Ranier bullets, 100 Hornady 90 gr JHP 9mm, 500 9mm 115 gr FMJ, and 100 9mm 124 gr FMJ.

Large black bins with about 45 pounds of 10mm 171 gr cast lead bullets and 9mm 128 gr cast lead bullets.  Cast lead bullets shoot accurately, they're inexpensive even buying lead alloy on eBay for a dollar a pound delivered, and they're very cheap when the lead is recycled using a custom bullet trap that is also a target holder with spring loaded steel plate target.

When reloading, the light on the left of the picture is bent down to point at the open mouth of a powder filled case on the LoadMaster press to visually inspect every powder charge.  It's also helpful for working on the press when changing calibers, etc.

The 155mm howitzer shell storage tube on the right is used to store stuff.  On top of the green tube is a bottle of spray-on case lube.  Click HERE for the recipe.  The plastic container shown next to the spray bottle holds straight wall pistol brass as it's misted with a little case lube.  Swirl it around to coat it.  Lightly lubing pistol brass makes handgun loading much easier, even if your dies are carbide and theoretically need no lubrication.


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