By Max Archer
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
– Lee Loader .38 Special
– Pictorial Instruction Manual
– Recipe card for some basic .38 Special Loads