Budget Beginning Bench You Will Never Outgrow for the Novice Handloader


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Lost Sheep
January 15, 2013, 01:30 AM
Budget Beginning Bench You Will Never Outgrow for the Novice Handloader

I noticed a couple of threads started recently from a couple of members and I thought reviving this thread would be worthwhile. Originally I posted it on RugerForum.net.

You can start with $150 and be minimally equipped for one caliber, and can expand from there as you have the money and feel the need for more tools. But you will have spent nothing on items you will later discard.

$204 will get you up to a really nice setup for one caliber. $287 and you have a really good setup.

$422 and you have just about everything you need to load one caliber, 100 rounds per hour at an easy pace or up to 200 if you are faster than me (and I am slow) on a continuous basis for as long as you want.

(NOTE: These dollar figures are from June/July 2010, but you should still be able to match them if you shop carefully.)

Budget another $100 for miscellaneous small tools plus $50 per additional caliber.

Bold subject line, eh? Let me qualify it down. I load for handgun only; 5 calibers, about 100-400 rounds per session and about 5,000 rounds a year. I stow my gear in 3 medium size toolboxes when not in use. If this comes close to describing your situation, you might like to read on.

35 years after starting, I found I outgrew some gear and overbought elsewhere. So, I cleaned house. I emptied my bench and populated it with the best equipment I could find precisely fitting my loading needs. I could have saved a lot of experimentation and waste if I had known back then what I know now (about handloading and about myself).

Informed by my experience reconstituting my loading bench, I compiled a list of the barest essentials that would allow a novice loader to load well and which would still be gratifying in 30 years. (In my opinion and somewhat matching my style of shooting and loading.)

I think it makes an ideal shopping list for the handloader just starting out. I hope you do, too.

Press, scale, dies, a way to measure powder and a work surface are all you need, really. Everything else just makes it easier or faster.

$17 ABC's of Reloading. Ok, it's not really equipment, but tools without knowledge is just dead weight, right?
$10 Loading Data. The "One book/One Caliber" pamphlets are $10 each and are LOADED (get it?) with loading data.
$0 Loading manuals. They cost, but I didn't want to skew the budget; you do need at least a couple. Check the local library if money is tight.
$0 Eye protection. No cost, because you DO already have a pair of shootingglasses, DON'T YOU!?
$85 Press, Lee Classic Turret (Chosen because Lee makes the only turret presses that auto-advances at the discretion of the operator and the Classic is superior to the Deluxe for several features.)
$33 Dies, carbide. Lee because it includes a shell holder, a plastic dipper for powder and the "powder through" design.
$5 Work surface. Mount your press on a plank of scrap 2x8 and secure it to a (padded) coffee table.
$0 Dropcloth to catch any spilled powder or lost primers (dead or live). Use an old sheet. Quieter than plastic, less static and drapes better.
$150 plus shipping At this point, you can reload, but are limited in flexibility and speed.
$8 Lee Scoops/Dippers. Cheaper than any powder dispenser/measure and repeatability/cosistency is excellent.
$3 Powder funnel. Lee's funnel fits right in the their "powder through" die.
$161 plus shipping At this point, you are minimally equipped to load well. Not too convenient, but not handicapped to the point of terminal frustration, either.
$22 Lee Safety Prime. You can use your fingers, but this is so much better. Fits on the Lee Press.
$21 Scale, any brand. Lee's, at $21 is cheapest. You can do without, with the full set of Lee Dippers, but better to weigh. For peace of mind if nothing else.
$204 plus shipping At this level of investment, you are decently equipped
$33 Lee Auto-Disk powder dispenser/measure. It mounts atop Lee's "Powder through" die. With this, you may not need the funnel or dippers.
$50 Loading Bench. A folding workbench works fine for me. You can get a kit or build your own, too.
$287 plus shipping Now you are well-equipped as most reloaders, except for convenience accessories or tools you will use only occasionally.

Other stuff:
$20 Bullet puller I never used one for my first 20 years of loading.
$30 Calipers I had none for 30 years. Now that I do, I find uses.
$50 Tumbler Never had one. Got one now. My brass is prettier. Shoots the same.
$10 Loading blocks ($5, if you use, use two). For batch loading. Buy, or make with a plank and a drill.
$25 Powder Trickler - handy if you weigh each powder charge.

$34 misc accessories & tools, (e.g. chamfer tool)
$60 Difference to get a more user-friendly scale than the Lee
$0 Turret and Dies for 38/357 (included with basic setup)
$46 Turret and Dies for 45/454
$46 Turret and Dies for 44
$46 Turret and Dies for 45 ACP
$46 Turret and Dies for 9mm
$700 plus shipping To duplicate my entire current loading bench with all new stuff, misc accessories and tools and I would not be in the least inconvenienced in my loading endeavors.

There are many accessories that add convenience of functionality, but are so highly optional they do not belong on this "essentials" list, or belong down near the end. Besides, if I included them all, the list would be endless.

I chose a turret instead of a progressive because I am more comfortable with performing and monitoring one operation at a time and changing calibers is dead simple. I chose a turret instead of a single stage because it facilitates processing in a "pass-through" mode (much like a progressive) rather than the batch mode of the single stage. But I still do have the option of operating as a single stage in batch mode if I choose.

You could build this list using any mix of brands. I chose Lee's brand because the Auto-indexing is not available on any other press and the Auto-Disk powder measure is the most convenient I have seen, in combination with the Lee "Powder through the Die" design. The Auto-Disk is not convenient to adjust powder quantity, but it is light and compact.

Lost Sheep

P.S.
Thanks to Sue Kempf at Kempf's Gun Shop, and Mark and the guys at Factory Direct Sales and the technicians in Customer Support at Lee Precision.

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Reefinmike
January 15, 2013, 02:20 AM
Great post!

here is what I started with minus components

lee turret press(the cheapo one) value kit from midway- $114
lee modern reloading manual, 2nd edition- $14.99 on sale
lee 4 die 38/357 die set $36.99(I think... on sale maybe?)
lee safety prime priming system- $22
lee auto disk riser -$7

I started for about 200+ shipping. I bought a couple thousand primers and some lead cast boolits from the fun show and was ready to roll.... my own...

then I bought a tumbler
then calipers
then dies for 380
then a lead pot, and molds for 38 and 380
then 223 dies
then 45 dies and 6 banger boolit mold
it keeps going on and on and on... get out while you can!

as for savings, and more importantly, availability right about now, I can load up any pistol caliber I shoot now for between $1.45 and $1.75/box. I took my brother out shooting with me this past weekend and we shot 6 or 7 boxes. he knows im reloading everything and asked how much the trip cost. About $10 or so I figured. then I got to thinking... I added it up, and If... IF I were able to actually find and purchase that ammo for fair retail price, that would have been $135 that we blew away in a few hours. Its a lot of fun for a little coin and a little time

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