Lee Loader Review— The Cheapest Way to Start Reloading Your Own Ammo

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A small $40 reloading kit that fits in your pocket

A small $40 reloading kit that fits in your pocket

By Max Archer
Lee Precision
http://leeprecision.com/

With the scarcity of ammo still unresolved, many are thinking about getting into reloading. However, it can require a big investment to try, especially these days with limited availability of components like powder, bullets and primers. And the equipment needed can be prohibitively expensive. So where should you start? Is there an easy and inexpensive way to try your hand at the art of reloading without taking out a second mortgage? There is: the Lee Reloader.

As background for those who are just getting started with reloading, a “round” of ammunition is composed of the case, typically called “brass” and usually made of reloadable brass; an appropriately sized and powered replaceable centerfire primer; the powder and the bullet. The whole process of a detonating round is simple: the hammer in the gun hits the firing pin, which hits the primer, which detonates and ignites the powder. In turn, the burning powder builds pressure inside the round in the chamber and pushes the bullet down the barrel.

At the most basic level, like in a survival situation, reloading can be quite simple. Just knock the primer out of the case, replace it with a new primer, add powder and seat a new projectile. However, additional steps deliver a higher quality, more accurate and consistent round. To create a round safely, you follow a recipe for the proper powder and bullet weight, and use some interesting-looking tools dedicated to specific calibers.

Everything you need to create high-quality reloads

Everything you need to create high-quality reloads

The Lee Loader is basically a brilliantly designed pocket-sized, single-stage press that can produce accurate and consistent rounds. The only downside is its fairly slow pace. Available for $30 in a broad array of mainstream calibers, it is the only practical option for a packable, pocket-sized basic reloader. The Lee Loader is also a great reloading option for tailgate load development.

FIT, FEEL, FINISH & FEATURES
Lee has made a name for itself as a quality reloading tool company that delivers big value. Where many other companies’ base reloading progressive reloaders, bench-top set-ups that incorporate some assembly line features into home reloading, start at over $500-$1000, Lee’s bench-top model is less than $200. Not only does Lee offer “the” value option for progressive reloaders, it also offers some unique reloading tools that no other manufacturers offer, including a hand press and this pocket sized kit.

From the outside, the Lee Loader is packaged in the same red case as any of Lee’s dies, but it has everything you need in that little package. It contains tools to knock out the primer, resize the brass case, insert a new primer, flare the case to accept a bullet, add powder, seat a bullet and crimp the case. It is all there in a durable, all-steel, parkerized and chromed tool set that should last a lifetime or two of use.

The Lee Loader is packaged in the same red case as any of Lee’s dies

The Lee Loader is packaged in the same red case as any of Lee’s dies

FUNCTIONS

The simple reloading process of the Lee Loader

The simple reloading process of the Lee Loader

How the Lee Loader works is a bit brilliant because it utilizes several-double sided tools, although occasionally that double-sided function can get a bit confusing. These tools include:
• the main hard-chromed, double-ended sizer/crimper;
• a double-sided de-primer/shell holder;
• combined priming base/flat base\bullet seater;
• a flaring tool;
• de-priming punch;
• priming/knockout rod;
• and a powder scoop.
By combining and flipping the dual sided tools, you can accomplish the entire reloading process with a limited number of dies and tools.

Even though I am an experienced reloader, making my first round was like working through one of those tortuous story problems from my school days. The perfectly clear, step-by-step illustrations helped me understand when to flip this and knock that out, and they put me into a pace where I could easily load two rounds per minute in a pretty efficient manner. See the process in detail of reloading a round with a Lee Loader in the  video.

 

Of note, making a round is like making a cake. You cannot just toss whatever amount of powder in the case, top it with whatever bullet weight and type you want and expect everything to go well. Most retailers sell what are in essence recipe books for reloading with tried and tested recipes showing recommended minimum and maximum loads with this specific powder and this or that specific bullet. You need to follow a “recipe.” Disastrous consequences could occur if you just wing it.

Lee Loader reloaded .357 Ammo off my tailgate.

Lee Loader reloaded .357 Ammo off my tailgate.

For this .357/.38 Special Load, I have standardized on a cast 158 grain semi-wadcutter based on a Lee casting mold and Hodgdon Clays powder. Start at a low power and build up the charges safely.

FINAL THOUGHTS
The Lee Loader is actually the lowest-cost reloading option to start reloading on any tailgate, stump, rock or work table. At a paltry $30, I think all gun owners should have one in every caliber of firearm they own.

Another advantage of the Lee Loader is that it helps with one-off load development at the range, using it just to make a couple of test rounds, and it does it all for only $30 Street, $39.99 MSRP.

SPECS
Lee Loader
Delivers de-priming, resizing the brass case, inserting a new primer, flaring the case to accept a bullet, adding powder, seating a bullet, and crimping the case to finish the round.

Includes:
– Lee Loader .38 Special
– Pictorial Instruction Manual
– Recipe card for some basic .38 Special Loads

{ 20 comments… add one }
  • Dittohd March 31, 2017, 5:50 am

    I have Lee Loaders in 9mm, 38 spl, and 357 mag. I may buy 223 but not sure I want to bother with that. I rent a room in a house and have my motorcycle in the garage along with the owners furniture. These are great for what i need as I pull my bike out, set up a card table with some boards on top and choose which caliber I will make. This is slow but I am not running any contest. Sure a progressive press would be great but I don’t have the money or place to set up any kind of bench mounted press. I think I have less than $90 in the 3 sets (may have only paid $22-25 for 2 of them). Yes there is a lot of hammering and noise so I have to do this when others are not home but I have more brass than I have time to get to but I also have several thousand rounds of store bought ammo. I am glad I had a good bit of 22 ammo a couple years ago when it was not available. Now it is too expensive but I still have a good bit of it. I shoot more 22lr than other ammo except since I started reloading a couple months ago. I have been trying out my loads and trying to find the lowest powder load that will operate my guns reliably. I plan to load my 38 and 357 low to reduce recoil and save money on powder but have to find the best load as yet. This is so much cheaper than buying even a single stage press and works about the same other than using a hammer rather than a press but lots cheaper than a progressive press so those 2 are not comparable. If you can afford a progressive press and have a place to set it us, these could still be a good deal to use for test loads or at a range or much more. you get everything for $20-30. Hard to go wrong.

  • Richard September 7, 2016, 7:59 pm

    I’ve started using a Lee Loader for .38 Special and couldn’t be happier. It’s not fast, but it’s economical and precise. I use an electronic scale rather than the dipper, since I’m making up 148 grain wadcutters for target shooting with an old K38, using a small charge of powder (2.7 grains). The resulting ammunition is very accurate. I’m not all that handy with tools, but I putter along carefully and enjoy working with this one.

  • Mike January 3, 2016, 10:38 pm

    I own a Dillon 650 and have used it for about 7 years. A friend wanted to get a progressive reloader that was a tad cheaper and went with the Hornady Lock and Load. I was called to his house and I could not figure the thing out.
    The Dillon has a DVD that explains every detail of assembly and use. I’m not sure he ever got it working.
    I like a lot of Hornady’s stuff and use other LNL products but I would not buy their progressive press…sorry.
    At the very least talk to some one who has one. Dillon has a wide installed base and can always be reached by phone.
    I have every feature on my 650 and load 2 pistol and 2 rifle calibers.

  • Sixfalls December 1, 2015, 5:05 pm

    I still use a lee loader 38. I will buy a box of lead ammo and reload the brass till I have gone threw the 300 rounds that come in a Hornady box. Then I buy another box of ammo and 300 more Hornady HBWC and start all over. It keeps shooting affordable. Every now and again, I’ll buy LSWCHP, and make up a dozen FBI loads, or 125gr HP +P.

  • Boo1 March 28, 2014, 6:39 am

    I have lee loaders in like 18 calibers and 3 different gauge shotgun shells. They cover almost every new and old factory caliber ammunition out their and some lee loader kits can be more technical then others. Sure they are slow but get a system down and do each step on a number of pieces of brass to be reloaded say like deprime all you shells at once then do each step on all like an assembly line and its not so bad. Great for back packing just throw a few Lee Loader kits in the you bag with some powder and a few molds, primers and lead plus calipers then your set. Truth is in camp time is one thing you have to much of so a slow system burns time. These are best with handgun rounds but work with any type as long as you keep to your reloading rules. These are a cowboys best friend and no different then what my great grandfather had on the Texas range when moving cattle or at home on the farm. Plus they are inexpensive which is great as it takes at least 300 or more to set up a single stage press these days once you add all the little extras in. The average gun owner cannot shot several hundred rounds on the range any more so these are your best value to reload a box or two of rounds at a time.

  • Rich March 26, 2014, 6:12 am

    The reloader is great and cheap if you only shoot a few hard to find rounds per year.
    After my experience with the lee loadmaster progressive I will
    Never buy another Lee product. Biggest piece of garbage on the planet. Dont
    waste your money unless you prefer repairing and constantly buying parts. If youre planning to go to a progressive I highly recommend the Hornady lock n load or the Dillon 650. Before screwing around with the reloader spend a 100 bucks for a used RCBS rockchucker single stage.

  • Rich March 26, 2014, 6:11 am

    The reloader is great and cheap if you only shoot a few hard to find rounds per year.
    After my experience with the lee loadmaster progressive I will
    Never buy another Lee product. Biggest piece of garbage on the planet. Dont
    waste your money unless you prefer repairing and constantly buying parts. If youre planning to go to a progressive I highly recommend the Hornady lock n load or the Dillon 650. Before screwing around with the reloader spend a 100 bucks for a used RCBS rockchucker single stage.

  • rick173 March 25, 2014, 9:44 pm

    I got involved in reloading for the following two reasons. One was after retiring from a career as a carpenter who was always proud of keeping all my digits I did a favor for a buddy and trimmed my trigger finger in a shaper bit. Couldn’t use my revolver anymore because of the long trigger pull and the nerve damage in my finger. So I got me a S and W 1911. Should have done that 50 years ago. Well this all took place right when all the ammo prices went crazy and I knew some serious work was in order with my new toy. Two I needed a lot of 45acp to get comfortable, So here we are. I spent a couple months looking at every reloader on the market. Decided the Blue ones cost way too much. Also knew I wanted ammo and not the Zen experience of the reloading hobby. No offense meant to those who do. So I went the cheap fast way. Lee Loadmaster. Five things happen every time you pull the handle and I get all the ammo I can shoot and or store. With a scale, bullet extractor, lead pot, six cavity mold, factory crimp die, I was in for under $350.00. Given the buying climate at the time I bought 2000 45 casings, 4000 primers and 8 lbs. powder. That cost a little more. Bottom line, 2500 rounds reloaded and sent down range I am a happy camper. I think my Lee equipment is many thousands of rounds away from needing replacement and I’m starting to feel a little Zen. The only negative I would cite is this. We all know you get what you pay for. That said I don’t have $1500.00 tied up in equipment. So with that in mind, as I work I watch. Maybe a little closer than I would the blue machine, and every few hundred rounds I may have to tinker a little. I think it’s a good trade off. Lee equipment gets the job done.

  • Brett March 24, 2014, 10:00 pm

    This is how I too, started in the 80’s, .357 and 44. I was traveling light and didn’t have anywhere to mount a press. Even a single stage press is easier and faster, as long as you’re loading more than a couple rounds. The capability to set up anywhere and then pick up and go is the only advantage to the Lee Loaders. Never had a primer ignite, but using a hammer to load keeps you a little on edge.

  • Roger March 24, 2014, 9:15 pm

    Oh I also have resized .223/5.56 cases into .300 Blackout and loaded them utilizing the Lee Hand Press
    Effort was very minimal and this tool is nearly silent compared to all the banging and pounding required by the Lee Loader kits.
    My only complaint about Lee reloading tools is that they are not made by RCBS, which has the most fantastic customer service policy of any company I have ever encountered.. RCBS has replaced missing/broken reloading components even for tools I have purchased second-hand.

    • Ben February 21, 2016, 7:56 pm

      Hi Roger. I jus bought a 300 blackout AR. I went to leepercision.com for a reloader kit but didn’t see one for 300 blackout. I went to Cabela’s and they didn’t know if any of their reloaders would work for 300 blackout. Could you tell me what to buy so I can start loading my own 300 blackout rounds and resize 223 and 556 brass for 300 blackout?

  • Roger March 24, 2014, 8:55 pm

    I used these Lee Loaders back in the ’80s and still have them, although mine were packaged in ardboard/styrofoam. I bought my 1st couple to reload my first centerfire rifles, a surplus 1888 Mauser Commision Rifle (8X57), and a 1894 Winchester 30-30. They are laborious to use and you WILL set off the occasional primer while seating them, which is a little startling but the priming rod does not fly, merely jumps in your hand. Maybe magnum primers were used by those who report greater effects. Even after I had my own reloading press and bench I purchased one to reload my bother’s deer rifle in 7mm Mag and another for my dad’s 257 Roberts. This is because they were considerably cheaper than die sets IIRC and I intended to use them for a couple of boxes of ammo a year at most. I also purchased one in 12 guage to reload plastic shotshells to hunt dove and quail but this was not as satisfactory as a good heat sealed crimp was not possible, forcing me to use various methods like glue, wax, etc to seal. Unless the shotshell crimp method is better in the newer versions I cannot recommend these except in a survival situation. Expect to encounter occasional wimp loads and/or shot running down your barrel when muzzle is tilted down,
    In my opinion a better option which if the prices stated in the article are correct, is the Lee Hand Press Mine was about $45 ordered online. With this (and an RCBS Universal Hand Primer) I can sit at the coffee table in front of the TV and load great ammo in all my pistol and rifle calibers for which I have dies while sill providing company to the wife. The speed is comparable to a single stage bench press. In rifle calibers I have only loaded 30 Carbine and .223 (several thousand) so far, expecting more effort resizing larger caliber rifle cases ofc. Even if I have to resort to the bench mounted press for the resizing operation for larger bottle-necked cases, I expect to do the bulk of my reloading using thistool in the future.

  • EHD March 24, 2014, 7:31 pm

    I learned to reload on a Lee Loader Kit back in the early 80’s. I must have produced thousands of rounds of .45ACP, which I also shot competitions with and learned how to cast with wheel weights and tin additives/ratios. It’s too bad they didn’t expand the line, because ammo is so expensive to buy now, it would be a pleasure to sit around watching TV or out on the patio watching the sunset and knocking off a few dozen rounds of 357 Sig…

  • Kirk March 24, 2014, 11:57 am

    I started using the Lee Loader in the late 70s and I still have some, they are great if you need to reload in a disaster or in the field if you have some supplies, I have also used the handpress and the Lee Loaders are best if you only need one or two Calibers at most in a bug out kit.

  • David March 24, 2014, 11:25 am

    I bought my first Lee loader in 6.5 Japanese, when the price of Norma ammunition took a jump in about 1972. Shortly after that, I got one in .303 British, and one in .38 spl. In the course of using them over a ten year period, I inadvertently set off a few primers, but they never had enough power to even make my hand slip, holding the driving rod. In the ensuing years, I used those loaders for well over a thousand rounds – enough to shoot out a 38 Arisaka barrel, and have to replace it, but that’s another story. Getting the old barrel off was a major trip.)

    Trying to load .38 spl with Hercules Bullseye was a little bit of a hassle, though, because of the small quantities of powder recommended with the projectiles I was using. (4 grains, if memory serves)

    So my second purchase was an Ohaus 1010 scale. There’s another good buy for the money. I have used that scale for everything from weighing out powder to weighing out chemicals to mix when plating small parts. I am no longer reloading, as my vision is not what it used to be, but the scale sits on the corner of my clock repair bench.

    In 2012, I gave my Lee loaders to a kid who is just starting in the reloading business. Before I did, I miked the dies, and found no measureable wear.

  • Stewart March 24, 2014, 9:50 am

    This is how I got started in reloading in the 80’s. I reloaded .44 mag and was an economical way to reload ammo. The on problem I discovered was there was a burr on the primer seating die which was raised just enough that it cause one primer to discharge while I was loading. This caused the rod in the case to shoot up toward the ceiling. Fortunately, other than my nerves being a little rattled, I was unharmed. I did go back and file the burr down and had no further issues. When using this for the first time, make sure to inspect all the components for irregularities. Other than the one issue the reloader worked great. Mind you it is slow as all get up, but being the amount of 44 mag I was shooting, that wasn’t too much of an issue. My main challenge today is finding powder. I order other supplies on line in bulk, but the powder is another issue as the hazardous material shipping cost often exceeds the cost of the powder. I am sitting on 500 rounds of primed 300 blackout brass waiting on powder to show up at my local sporting goods store.

  • Bert March 24, 2014, 9:37 am

    I suffered with a lee loader for loading shot shells when I was young, dumb and stupid.

    If you have the resources to reload, buy at least a used real press. You’ll be A LOT happier. The dies sets aren’t much more than a lee loader and you can even buy them used as well. That’s the nice thing about quality reloading gear, it doesn’t wear out.

  • Cyrus March 24, 2014, 9:18 am

    I started reloading in the 1960’s with the Lee Loader. After I bought my Herter’s turret press in the late sixties I thought I would never use the Lee Loader again. I was wrong. I moved from Louisiana to Ft. Ord California and couldn’t bring my big press so I had to start using the Lee Loader again. They are handy to have around if you want to modify your loads and only need 1 to 5 shots loaded to test ballistics. It is a great starter for young people as well. They’ll be around for some time yet, I bet.
    Cyrus

  • Gary March 24, 2014, 5:02 am

    The Lee loaders have two downsides…

    First is that they are THE slowest method for reloading. I would agree that as a survival tool, backup, or as the article suggests for someone getting their feet wet into reloading, it can be a useful way to go. However for someone who likes to go shooting a lot, reloading by this method gets old pretty fast.

    Second is that these Lee Loaders don’t begin to cover all the possible calibers. They do however seem to cover most of the really popular ones and a few milsurp calibers as well like .303 British and 7.62 x 54R.

    As the article suggests though, good luck even getting the primers and powder these days!

    • sargintrock March 24, 2014, 6:47 pm

      Zactly! That’s why I stick with Black Powder as a backup. It’s still available!!

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