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Old January 30, 2012, 09:08 AM   #1
Corona
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Curious about Lee Handloader...from a complete noob

And what I need to get started reloading 38 special.

I've been saving 38 spl brass, mostly Speer Lawman and Winchester, that I've been firing through a S&W model 10-5. I'm intrigued with Lee's Handloader but would be curious to know what else I'd have to add to it to start some very basic reloading. I don't imaging I'd be reloading any more than 100 at a time. This is basically for range shooting.

Maybe I'm being naive about a really inexpensive setup. I'd sure appreciate your thoughts. Thanks in advance.
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Old January 30, 2012, 09:13 AM   #2
amathis
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Many folks on this forum have loaded thousands of rounds with the Lee Handloader. It's a good tool especially if you are dealing with limited space.

If you ever think you may load a wider variety of calibers, you may want to look at a single stage press. You can find them on craigslist for cheap.

All in all, the Lee Handloader is an excellent way to get started!
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Old January 30, 2012, 09:17 AM   #3
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Old January 30, 2012, 09:37 AM   #4
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About all you would need in addition to the Lee Handloader kit is a PLASTIC mallet to drive cases in and out of the die. Using a steel hammer will eventually distort the cases and the tool's surfaces.

I started with one of those, loading mid-range .38 Special loads to shoot in a .357 Magnum revolver. So, there was no worry about "working-up" loads with small, well known increments in charge weight. The powder dipper that came with the Lee kit was fine; I just had to make sure that I used it with the powders that would produce appropriate pressures. Later, I added (and made my own) additional dippers. But, the first thing that I added was a beam-balance "scale" so that I could work-up to more powerful loads.

Perhaps the worst aspect of the Lee Handloader kit is the difficulty in crimping bullets really consistently. A single-stage press and a simple case trimmer were my next additions (along with a set of carbide dies) to address that issue.

Even today, with several types of presses at my bench, I often reach for some parts of the Lee Handloader kit to do a few repetitions of a certain tasks, such as knocking-out some primers. I also use the same TECHNIQUE as the Lee kit for starting my bullets straight into the cases, and the Lee seating punch is still part of that technique for my .38 and .357 loads. (For other calibers, I simply made similar seating punches, rather than buying them from Lee.)

So, I think that buying the Lee Handloader set cannot be a mistake, because it is such a cheap way to start, it is educational in its simple demonstration of what the more complex tools actually do, and several of the parts will probably be used even when better equipment is purchased.

So, buy one soon and join us.

[I have absolutely no commercial connection to Lee or any other manufacturer of gun-related equipment (darn-it).]

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Old January 30, 2012, 10:35 AM   #5
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I will have to take the opposite stance on whether or not you should start this way.

The tool is ingenious and was probably an amazing device 50-60 years ago. Today, it still does a terrific amount of work for a very small outlay of cash. Buy it as a curiosity.

However, if you truly have a desire to handload or reload your own cartridges, this device is outrageously labor intensive, it's not at all expandable, you can't "grow" with it, it's not nearly as capable as modern tools and outside of it's historical significance or as a curio, it's just not at all the way to begin proper handloading.

If handloading tools cost thousands of dollars and this item cost $20, you could make an argument for it.

I would liken it to being approached by your Grandmother who wanted to try to use the internet in her home, never having touched a computer in her life.

While you wouldn't buy her a $2,500 gaming tower, you also would not go shopping at an antique/flea market for an old 8088. You would drop a couple hundred on a re-furb desktop and she'd have more power than she'll likely ever need. Putting together an old IBM XT running DOS 3.3 might be able to give her an introduction to "home computers" but it would be a history lesson, not the proper answer to the question.
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Old January 30, 2012, 11:12 AM   #6
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Sevens: Good answer.

When I started 40 years ago, I bought Lee's Target Loader to load my new .243 Remington 600. (Lee Loader with a couple of extra bells and whistles...no longer made)

While I was extremely impressed with the 1/2" five shot groups I got firing my first 20 "hammer loads," my impatient nature wasn't encouraged enough by the slowness of the process to load the next 20............I bought a Rock Chucker kit, which properly set the hobby's hooks into me for life.

Most of us could lay off soft drinks and fast food for a month and afford such a kit.
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Old January 30, 2012, 11:51 AM   #7
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While I agree that the Lee "hammer loader" is slow, it is really not THAT slow. And, the much aclaimed Wilson reloading equipment is actually similar in function. You just use an arbor press instead of a hammer. For that matter, the Lee equipment could be used with an arbor press, too. But, the Lee Handloader kit is not such a precision tool set as what Wilson provides. I would rather buy a standard reloading press with screw-in dies than an arbor press to use with a Lee Handloader set.

But, for a guy who is not sure that he wants to get into this hobby, I still think that a Lee Handloader set is a cheap way to find out if he really wants to start that (apparently never-ending) process of buying better equipment to make his ammo more rapidly and/or more accurate for an ever-expanding number of different cartridges.

Warning/Hint to Newbies: Most of us handloaders probably enjoy the handloading process so much that we are constantly buying new/better tools to do it, and negating any cost savings in the process. But, most of us like our ammo better than what we can buy in a store, and think it is money well spent. You will know when you have become a hopeless case when you actually need to schedule a trip to the range to shoot-out some already loaded brass so that you can try-out the next planned improvement to your handloading procedure.

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Old January 30, 2012, 02:22 PM   #8
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Quote:
Warning/Hint to Newbies: Most of us handloaders probably enjoy the handloading process so much that we are constantly buying new/better tools to do it, and negating any cost savings in the process. But, most of us like our ammo better than what we can buy in a store, and think it is money well spent. You will know when you have become a hopeless case when you actually need to schedule a trip to the range to shoot-out some already loaded brass so that you can try-out the next planned improvement to your handloading procedure.
Boy that's harsh! I thought I scared him enough already.

O.P. the best word to learn in reloading is "reciprocation" You figure out what you want to save up for and save up twice as much.....buy your wife what she wants..then reciprocate. If you're not married yet, get the expensive stuff before you do get married...THEN put her first.

Last edited by GWS; January 30, 2012 at 02:28 PM.
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Old January 30, 2012, 06:03 PM   #9
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Clarification, please

Corona,

You've blended the names of two Lee products, the Classic Lee Loader and the Lee Hand Tool. The former is what the guys are talking about. The latter is a small portable press that works with regular dies. It is much quicker, but you have to have both the tool with a primer seater (Lee sells these as a kit) a powder scoop (comes with Lee dies) and a set of dies.
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Old January 30, 2012, 09:41 PM   #10
Corona
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Thanks for the thoughts. No you haven't scared me off.

I added to the confusion because of the imprecision of my description. I was actually referring the the Lee Breech Lock Hand Press http://leeprecision.com/breech-lock-hand-press.html

I understand I would need additional dies, etc. simply looking for guidance on what I might need as a minimum to get started. One, to see if I liked it. Two, to see if I could save a few bucks.

I many ways it is the same when I started getting serious about golf. My game improved, and I started making my own clubs. So I approach the idea of hand loading from the same perspective. Improving my "game" to some degree. Plus it appeals to my curiosity of why the gun goes "bang" and how I can manipulate that in my favor.

Yeah, I'd like a big workspace and some good equipment. But I'd like to start small and basic to get a feel for it.

I appreciate all your comments. Honestly. I'm here to learn and not afraid to ask a basic question. Even a stupid one. I'll ask better questions as I learn more.

As to reciprocity, I've been married 31 years. To a very lovely, understanding, supportive and delightful woman. She doesn't golf and only occasionally rides the motorcycle with me and every now and then she'll go shooting with me. But she supports my passions without question. As I do hers.

Anyway, sorry about the ramble. Thanks, as always, for sharing your knowledge.
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Old January 30, 2012, 10:06 PM   #11
sob (sweet ole bill)
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Lee Classic Kits

Corona,
45 years with Lee kits (eight of them) threw away the hammer, got a bottle capper press (at a yard sale) 50,000 rounds, later the darn things still work. Have never replaced any parts.
They do limit you on full length re-sizing, so if you want to do rifle re-loads and utilize once fired (from another weapon) you will need to step up to at least a single stage press and die sets for whatever calibers you will work with.
Yes, this is a slow motion process,and labor intensive, but SAFE if you pay any attention to what you are doing. Loading small explosives.
Still have 10 fingers and both eyes = no accidents

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Old January 30, 2012, 10:13 PM   #12
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The handloading press will get you started fine. I've reloaded 9, 40, 45, 38, 357 just fine with it. I find I can make 50 rounds in about 40 minutes. Practical limit is about 100 rounds in one session. I've done 300 rounds in a weekend but hated it.

Trick is to deprime possibly prime at leisure, do the rest with that headstart later. Get a powder scale, or use only the lowest listed loads for a given powder that is listed to match a Lee dipper... for either 38 or 45, as these are low pressure rounds with large cases.

Even better if you're shooting 38s in a heavy 357, you have a wide margin there.

You'll need digital calipers about $30 for sure. Get the Lee Autoprime. And the Lee book on reloading.

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Old January 30, 2012, 10:20 PM   #13
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I should add that I did start with the Lee "hammer" kit and that sucked. I'll use it again if I find myself in a situation like "The Road"... by comparison the hand press is a Cadillac. That said, using lightest listed dipper loads for the .38 and if I recall, no digital caliper to measure OAL, only 1/50 rounds came out "spicy"... but as I was shooting them from a Ruger GP100 not an issue.

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Old January 31, 2012, 12:49 AM   #14
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Interesting Posts! I too started my handloading life with a Lee loader..a 12 ga. kit given to me by my grandfather..this must have been an early one..the dipper handles are wood..red for powder..black for shot.
There is a more modern "straight-line" type loading outfit out there you don't here too much about..the Wilson. This tool is light years ahead of any Lee as far as accuracy is concerened. They were the original "bushing" type neck-sizer dies & their precision made straight-line seaters are used by the bench-rest set. I have a Sinclair micrometer top for my .22 Hornet & .222 Rem. Wilson seaters. I can seat bullets with palm of hand.
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Old January 31, 2012, 06:47 AM   #15
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The absolute cheapest I would go is the Hand Press, which I've used for thousands of reloads. Enough that I have a callous on my left hand.

They recently made an 'ergonomic' hand primer, why can't they revise the Hand Press too? Jeez.
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Old January 31, 2012, 11:58 AM   #16
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Corona,

The plus to the hand press is it will always be useful even after you get a bench mounted press. It's a good second operation tool, like for separate decapping before cleaning cases. More specifically, you can easily include it with your range equipment. I have a plastic toolbox I dedicated to range load development with its own tools and spare chronograph batteries and whatnot, and my hand tool lives there. I'd say the thing it does most often is seat bullets into cases I already primed charged at home. That way I can meter out load work-up charges, but by seating the bullets as I work up, if I get a pressure sign I can just stop and dump the higher charges into a powder jar, and never have to pull bullets, as I would if I'd seated the bullets at home.

For .38 Special, you can get the Lee #90180 hand press kit ($37.98 + S&H at Lee Factory Sales, which usually has among the best prices unless you find a sale somewhere), which comes with the breech lock hand tool, one breech lock bushing, a priming tool, a powder funnel, and a tube of case lube. You will need the lube only for steel dies, though it does make even a carbide pistol sizing die run smoother. Instructions for the press are here and you should read before you buy.

You may want to get extra breech lock bushings so you can leave them on the dies once they are adjusted to take advantage of the quick-change aspect of the breech lock system. Otherwise you will have to set up each die separately in each loading session by screwing it separately into the one bushing that comes with the kit. It's not a big deal, but rather is a question of time saving. You may prefer the practice of setting the dies up initially. Your call. The #90600 spare bushings are like the one that comes in the kit, at 2 for $6.48 or you can spend extra for the #90063 with integral locking collar at 2 for $9.98 at Factory Sales. I prefer the latter type for the better grip the lock collar provides, but it's extra money and certainly not required.

Next, to minimize expense you want a Lee die set because they come with a shell holder and a powder scoop and a charge table of powders you can use with the scoop. This saves you having to buy a shell holder and a powder scale and powder measure (or scoop set) at the outset, as you would have to do buying other brands of dies. Though the scoop and table method of measuring powder reduces your initial investment, it is not flexible and will not let you produce maximum loads; just conservative ones. When you get to the point you want to play with different weights of a wider selection of powders, you'll want a powder measure to speed up dispensing and a scale to check the measure and help you adjust it. You just don't have to have that to start.

To complicate matters, there are two Lee die sets available for .38 Special at two prices. A 3-die #90510 set at $27.30 from that source, and a 4-die #90964 set with separate Lee Carbide Factory Crimp die at $33.28 from that source. Both have carbide sizing dies, so you won't have to lube cases, which saves time (though it remains an option to reduce sizing effort). So, which one should you get? The four die approach is easier to set up, is a little more idiot proof for that reason, and most match shooters find that having a separate crimp die produces more slightly more accurate ammunition. The carbide ring on the crimp die ensures that rounds will fit all chambers, even if you use a slightly oversize bullet or crimp a little too enthusiastically.

However, if you don't have either problem and want to save the extra $6, you can either set the seating die up to seat and crimp simultaneously, the old way, which has the drawback of tending to shave a little lead, or you can use the seating die in two steps to gain the same accuracy advantage the separate crimp die has. To do this, in step one the die body is turned out too far to crimp but close enough to remove the flare from the expander die, and the seater stem is turned in to seat bullets to correct length. In the second step, the seater is backed out far enough not to touch the bullet or is actually removed altogether, while the seating die body is adjusted to crimp the cases on the previously seated bullets. Obviously the two-step approach does not allow for quick-change of the seating die. If you have the separate crimping die, you can leave the seater permanently set up in its own bushing as described in step one, while the separate crimping die remains set up in its own bushing, ready to pop in. Again, your call on the importance of time saving vs. money saving. Also, the fourth die, if you want to use the quick change feature, will require you to buy four spare bushings, since they come in two's, leaving you with one extra.

Usually, low pressure pistol brass like .38 Special needs no trimming for safety purposes. However, if you measure your cases with calipers and find they are different lengths, for best accuracy you may want to trim them all even so the crimps have even force on them. That requires a trimming tool and a chamfering and deburring tool. I would try without trimming first. You can also use a caliper to simply sort cases into groups by length (within a couple or three thousandths), then just use one same-length set for awhile for your best accuracy loads.

I think a digital caliper is a good investment if you don't have one already. It is useful for things other than reloading and makes it easier to check lengths and diameters. A 6" digital will run you under $20 on sale these days and is the size many accessories are made for, like case and bullet gages, and so is the size I would get if I had to have just one.
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Old January 31, 2012, 12:27 PM   #17
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Nothing more to add...all the best advice is handled already. Helps when Uncle takes you under his wing....left nothing out.

Glad you have one of the good ones like me. (wives) I used to play a lot of golf too. (probably not as much as you, since I shoot, reload and still work too) The problem with golf, is the time spent/enjoyment ratio. Having changed my priorities a bit, I spend more time with my grand kids at the range, and I'm not wore out every Saturday afternoon having just walked 18 holes. WCIS, at 62 you learn to ration.

This change also allowed me to get more involved in the community....became an officer in the local NRA affiliated gun club (we do a lot of nearly free community shoots). Also I have time to shoot trap and clays on weekends too. Guns are fun! (and addictive)
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Old January 31, 2012, 08:30 PM   #18
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UncleNick....I've read your post three times and I'm still gleaning info from it. Thanks for sharing your depth of knowledge and the detail you've included.

Thanks to all for your thoughts and guidance. Lots to think about...and lots of useful info to plan. Kinda fun gathering info and formulating the plan. Also, I have a local shop that sells reloading supplies and will check to see if they offer instructional classes.

GWS...I don't play too much golf anymore. I understand the time/fun ratio very well. Used to play in the high 70s...now happy to break 90. Too little time, too many other fun things to do. In fact, the perfect Saturday morning is a motorcycle ride to the range, shooting and later on cleaning the guns. Then on to the chores!

Thanks, friends, for all your advice. It's well received and appreciated.
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Old February 1, 2012, 09:28 AM   #19
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I would like to recomed a Lee BreachLock Challenger single stage press. (The kit runs for around $100 and includes quite a bit. All you would have to add is a manual,and a dial caliper. A better scale would be helpful, but not a necessity.) It is not that much more than the hand press, and will cut the amount of work in sizing considerably. I have one that I have been using for over 2 years. I have processed well over 150 thousand pieces of brass on it. Everthing from .223 Rem to .475 Wildey Mag. It still works. My hands will not hold up to etended use of the hand press.

The hardest step in using the hand held press is resizing, as far as effort goes. For .38 spcl it should not be that bad. If you are just loading up a hundred or so. It will do the job.

For the extras I would higly recomend a Lee Auto Prime XR, and shell holders. Both will run under $40 and serve you for many years to come. It makes priming a breeze, and a whole lot faster. The other thing would be some kind of a scale. The Lee Safty Scale while very simple, and straight forward in use, however it is not friendly to the eyes, and can be a chore to use correctly. I use a digital, and it is conistant enough for my purpouses. The other thing would be a Lee Perfect Powder Measure. You can attach it to a piece of 2x4 and clamp it to a table, or counter once you get it dialed in with your powder of choice you will get more consitant results than the dipper can give with a good metering powder.

Oh and as a side note. The 4 die Deluxe set for the .38 spcl. is worth the few extra dollars, especialy if you are loading with cast lead. It saves a lot of time not having to adjust the seating die to seat, then change it to remove the flare of the case. I get shaved lead if I try to do both in the same step with LSWC.

I usd the seating die to seat, and remove most of the case flare. The FCD will remove the rest of the flare, and post size the case to assure that it will chamber in my cylinder with ease. Best yet there is no shaved lead.
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