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Old February 13, 2012, 12:38 AM   #1
Lost Sheep
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Budget Beginning Bench you will never outgrow, for the novice handloader.

Budget Beginning Bench you will never outgrow, for the novice handloader.

Bold subject line, eh? Let me qualify it down. I load for handgun only; 5 calibers, about 100-400 rounds per session and fewer than 5,000 rounds a year. I stow my gear in 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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Old February 13, 2012, 12:50 AM   #2
nate45
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Thats a pretty good list.

Below are the plans to a reloading bench that could be built for $150 or so. If one already has a few simple carpentry tools and a little know how.

The top section could be just shelves, or eliminated entirely, if one so chose.

Reloading Bench Plans
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Old February 13, 2012, 01:34 AM   #3
Scimmia
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Quote:
$30 Calipers I had none for 30 years. Now that I do, I find uses.
I certainly wouldn't put this in the optional/convenience category. When dealing with high pressure cartridges, getting the OAL wrong can be dangerous. How are you supposed to follow load data without some way of measuring your OAL?

$16 at Harbor Freight. Not an optional expenditure IMO.
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Old February 13, 2012, 01:57 AM   #4
Lost Sheep
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In my defense

Quote:
Originally Posted by Scimmia

Quote:
Originally Posted by Lost Sheep in the original post
$30 Calipers I had none for 30 years. Now that I do, I find uses.
I certainly wouldn't put this in the optional/convenience category. When dealing with high pressure cartridges, getting the OAL wrong can be dangerous. How are you supposed to follow load data without some way of measuring your OAL?

$16 at Harbor Freight. Not an optional expenditure IMO.
At the time (and even now, still) I was loading .357 Magnum at medium levels and crimping into the crimp groove. There were no rifle cartridges and no cartridges in my stable that were extreme high pressure or small volume. I added 9mm later and still don't have 40 S&W.

Even now, I find the length of my cartridges fall within SAAMI specs if seat to the crimping groove or below the start of the ogive in all the bullets I buy. I use the calipers more on diameters than lengths.

Thank you for proofreadinging my post, though. I will take your words into consideration. For as little as calipers cost, it would be a false economy if there is real danger to be avoided.

Lost Sheep
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Old February 13, 2012, 04:24 AM   #5
Scimmia
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Quote:
Even now, I find the length of my cartridges fall within SAAMI specs if seat to the crimping groove or below the start of the ogive in all the bullets I buy. I use the calipers more on diameters than lengths.
That's just it, though. Loading 9mmP, you can have load data that calls for a bullet to be seated at 1.130". If you use that same charge data but seat it at 1.080", you're significantly increasing the pressure, possibly to dangerous levels. Both are just fine from a length perspective, but the load data has to be tailored for a given OAL. Especially important for a new reloader who's still trying to understand everything and just following load data blindly.

Overall, I agree with most of the rest of your post, but my opinion doesn't mean much as you've been reloading longer than I've been alive. Only thing I would add is some way to trim cases for those wanting to reload for a rifle. The Lee setup is cheap and simple, but doesn't allow for flexibility so I'm not sure it fits the criteria of being something you won't outgrow.
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Old February 13, 2012, 10:16 AM   #6
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Very nice write up. That $700 total might scare off some of the novice. I know, like you do, it slowly creeps up with things being added and upgrades. For the price of a good gun you can have a lifetime hobby and enjoy the rewards. A VERY worthwhile investment.
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Old February 13, 2012, 12:01 PM   #7
serf 'rett
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Interesting post.

As a new player on the field, my setup is:
RCBS Rock Chucker Supreme Single kit – press, Uniflow powder measure, 5-0-5 scale, chamfer tool, hand primer, lube & pad, Speer Reloading Manual
Lee reloading manual
RCBS Carbide 3-Die Set 9mm Luger
RCBS Carbide 3-Die Set 40S&W
Frankford Arsenal Dial Caliper and Frankford Arsenal Digital Caliper
RCBS Pow'r Pull Impact Bullet Puller
Hornady Sure-Loc Die Locking Ring - 8 ea.
Hornady Lock-N-Load Press Bushing set
Lee Univ. Depriming/Decaping Die
RCBS Shellholder #27 and #16
Imperial Case Sizing Wax 2 oz
RCBS Decapping Pins Small
Lee Primer Pocket Cleaner
RCBS Powder baffle
RCBS powder trickler
Shipping
Kid’s Thumler Tumbler was “free” as was the Workmate “bench" however we'll kick in around $25 for the stainless steel pins.
Total cost is about $600.00 to load 2 calibers with a few bells and whistles included. What’s interesting to me is the initial $600.00 outlay can be recouped by the savings I gain in reloading less than 4,500 rounds of 9mm.
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Last edited by serf 'rett; February 13, 2012 at 12:59 PM.
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Old February 14, 2012, 01:21 AM   #8
Lost Sheep
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Scimmia
The Lee setup is cheap and simple, but doesn't allow for flexibility so I'm not sure it fits the criteria of being something you won't outgrow.
Flexibility? I beg to differ with you there. The Lee Classic Turret is probably the most flexible press ever. I recognize that the point does allow for disagreement, depending on your definition of "flexible". The LCT can act as a single stage in batch processing and the auto-indexing makes for relatively high volume continuous processing; very flexible. Many other presses can do a wider variety of cartridges or allow for a wider selection of dies, so if flexibility requires those features, then flexibility is indeed arguable.

The meaning I intended with the "Not Outgrow" phrase was that you would not have to trade in primary tools as your loading style matures. Even that has its limits, though. A hobby shooter who loads 250 rounds a week who then picks up competitive shooting will certainly outgrow anything that sufficed for him when he began. Likewise, a pistol shooter who graduates to 1,000 yard benchrest competition will outgrow the LCT. But if I had an LCT in 1975, I STILL would not feel the need to change it, even though my shooting has increased five fold in calibers and quintupled in quantity. I did outgrow my single stage, but I will never outgrow my LCT. I believe the vast majority of readers of this thread will share that experience.

I recognize that there are always exceptions. I also appreciate your input. Thanks.

Lost Sheep

Last edited by Lost Sheep; February 14, 2012 at 01:32 AM.
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Old February 14, 2012, 02:05 AM   #9
Scimmia
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Lost Sheep, I'm sorry for not specifing. The statment you quoted refers to the previous sentence, I'm talking about the Lee case trimming setup. I agree completely that you should never outgrow the LCT, there will always be uses for a turret or single stage. I was just saying that the only thing missing from your setup to be able to load for rifles as well is some way of trimming cases, but I don't have a cheap solution for that that you won't outgrow.
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Old February 14, 2012, 07:57 PM   #10
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Wow about the only real frills I have on my bench are a gifted Hornady automatic powder dispenser. Though I did buy a flash hole deburring tool, and a case prep tool. I use the primer pocket reamer from the case prep tool for removing crimps in .223 brass.

Though I traded brass for a Lee Breach Lock Challenger 50th aniversary Kit. Even if I had paid for it in cash. It has paid for itself many times over, and then some. The stuff still works just fine. I use everything but the scale regularly. (Use the scale to check the others every once in a while.)
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Old February 14, 2012, 10:28 PM   #11
Lost Sheep
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Quote:
Originally Posted by m&p45acp10+1
Wow about the only real frills ...
"One man's ceiling is another man's floor." One man's frills are another's vital essential.

That crimp removing tool is important when you run across crimped primer pockets. With my minimal setup, I would have to just store such brass until I added the proper tool. Such it is within a budget. And now I have my new subject line. "Budget Beginning Bench you will never outgrow, but which can grow with you." Thanks for planting that seed in my thought process.

There is a virtually unlimited freedom of choice to fit everyone's preferences and everyone is right for his (or her) own self. See the exchanges between Scimmia and myself. It is is right if it works for you. And everyone can learn something from somebody. I know I am learning.

Lost Sheep
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Old March 10, 2012, 02:47 PM   #12
PPBart
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Quote:
Budget Beginning Bench you will never outgrow, for the novice handloader.
I've been thinking about maybe getting into reloading, so that list is a great help -- thanks!
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Old March 10, 2012, 02:58 PM   #13
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This list is great. Thanks to Lost Sheep for taking the time to help those of us looking to start reloading. This kind of no-nonsense advice is extremely helpful.
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Old March 10, 2012, 07:59 PM   #14
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more thanks

I, too, just want to say thanks for the helpful information. I really like the Reloading Bench Plans! Neat, but I'd probably skip the cabinet part and use shelves on the wall behind the bench. May bite the bullet soon and order the whole kit and start loading.
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Old March 10, 2012, 11:58 PM   #15
JR_Roosa
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I built one of those benches, and I didn't bother with the cabinet on top. I took a foot off the depth and a foot off the length to fit in my shop. It's an awesome bench. If I didn't have windows behind the bench and maybe if I had a wider shop, I'd have been more tempted to add in the cabinets.

It would be nice to have some kind of adjustable feet on the bottom to get it all squared up on my not-quite-even floor. When the feet are all firmly on the floor it's rock solid.

J.
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Old March 11, 2012, 07:52 AM   #16
sec92fs
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Dust in the workshop

I have a question regarding dust and dust accumulation in the workshop. What best practices are there for controlling dust and dust accumulation in the workshop or work area?

Besides all the equipment, IMO, choosing the location to perform the reloading operation is equally important. And, one of the more obvious factors would be dust contamination.

Would anyone care to comment on how they control this problem?

Thanks,
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Old March 11, 2012, 08:38 AM   #17
Nathan
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Thanks nate45 for the bench cabinet plans. Those are super!


As a side discussion...
Quote:
That's just it, though. Loading 9mmP, you can have load data that calls for a bullet to be seated at 1.130". If you use that same charge data but seat it at 1.080", you're significantly increasing the pressure, possibly to dangerous levels. Both are just fine from a length perspective, but the load data has to be tailored for a given OAL. Especially important for a new reloader who's still trying to understand everything and just following load data blindly.
Do you have data to back this up? The bullet will start moving at the same pressure which flattens the pressure curve. If the powder can burn faster than the bullet can move pressure will rise, but as you can see this has little to do with initial OAL. In addition, all loads should be backed off some.

I still believe calipers are absolutely critical. They tell us if our process is stable by checking consistency from one round to the next. This is key for reliability and safety when setting up.
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Old March 11, 2012, 08:54 AM   #18
Scimmia
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Quote:
Do you have data to back this up?
Absolutely. The easiest to read data I've seen was a test conducted by Speer:
http://le.atk.com/pdf/357_SIG_Setbac...s-Pressure.pdf

The dangers of bullet setback have been discussed many, many times. In cases that are already low volume like 9mmP, the effect is amplified. The importance of OAL should be discussed in most reloading manuals.
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Old March 11, 2012, 01:51 PM   #19
William T. Watts
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Thanks/reloading bench plans

Nate45 I've been looking for something like this for a while, I have a son who is a wizard building things, this is going to be one of his projects he just doesn't know it yet. This will be the interest he will be repaying for the free loaded ammunition I have been supplying! William
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