There are lots of good reasons to load your own ammunition. But if you’re going to spend many thousands of dollars on reloading equipment, at least in the first few years, cost savings isn’t one of them. Of course, you don’t have to spend that much. Buying everything new, you can get away with a good single stage press and everything you need for around $1,000.
Or you can spend a whole lot less with the Lee Breech Lock Hand Press Kit.
There are a couple huge advantages to the Lee hand press.
It’s incredibly inexpensive. As an experiment, I ordered all new parts for reloading. That includes the Lee Breech Lock Hand Press Kit, dipper set, four die set for .45 Colt, and a bullet mold. Total cost? About $150, including shipping. I didn’t set out to buy all Lee Precision branded products, it just worked out that way.
Reduce that by $25 if you don’t want to cast your own bullets…but then take into account the cost of buying bullets. If you don’t have a cheap supply of lead (the ground of my own home range is a pretty good supply) then you’ll want to buy lead or hard cast bullets. They are very inexpensive. Of course, for more cost you can also purchase jacketed bullets and they work even better for many applications.
You’ll need some powder, too, and what you spend will depend on what powder you need and how much you buy. Take a look at the Hodgdon and Alliant reloading data websites to get a good idea on what powder or powders work best for you.
You’ll need cases. I don’t scrimp on cases, choosing Peterson or Starline whenever I can. When it comes to .38 SPL and .45 Colt starting loads for fun or competition and target practice, I just load to the crimp groove. For these loads, Starline cases will last dozens of reloads with no significant stretching. However, it again depends on what you want to do.
I’ve had fine success using all brands of cases I’ve found on the ground, sometimes years after they were dropped there, after some simple hand cleaning. I don’t polish brass. Shiny reloaded brass is an abomination. Chocolate brass is earned and deserves to show its scars.
Finally, you may or may not need calipers. Seating cases to the crimp groove suffices for a great number of bullets and applications. It just depends on what you need your gun and bullet to do. Case length may be an issue, maybe not. Again, it depends.
If you want to reload for precision, you’ll need a scale. I don’t use an electronic powder scale and thrower, but the modern ones work great. You can also get by with the Lee dipper set, and if you are using black powder or are just loading for one recipe with one bullet and one powder and charge, you don’t need either.
I would also highly recommend you purchase a reloading manual, one that describes the entire process. I prefer the Lyman Reloading Manual for this. Read and follow the whole book. Read and follow all of the instructions on your reloading dies. Read and follow all the instructions on your press. Read and follow all the instructions on your components. It’s all important information.
All of the above equipment and components are pretty easy to come by, even in today’s seller’s market. I purchased the items above online without much searching at all. The problem right now, and unfortunately I don’t see a whole lot of light at the end of this tunnel, is primers. Find them where you can, and I wish you good luck.
I purchased everything new, just for this article, but you don’t have to. My single stage presses are on their 3rd generation. There’s nothing wrong with buying used and you can get some fantastic deals. At a garage sale I once bought a milk crate full of Lee and RCBS loading dies for a total of $25.
Beyond its inexpensive nature, the Lee hand press has another great feature. It’s extremely portable. Everything I needed to reload for .45 Colt fits inside a shoebox. A simple toolbox or tacklebox is more than enough space. Not only is this great for people living in apartments, RVs, campers, or in a van down by the river, but you could probably wander south Chicago with this kit in a book bag and pick up enough random cases and lead to do all your reloading under the nearest bridge.
The downside? It’s not fast.If you’re going with commercial bullets and you’ve figured out what you need to do beforehand, expect to produce about 40 rounds in an hour, including prep time. I was interested in my own cast “boolits” and black powder loading. Not including the time it took me to heat the lead, I was able to make just 15 complete rounds in one hour.
The process is very simple.
If you’re going to make your own bullets, I highly recommend the Lyman Cast Bullet Handbook. In a nutshell, you’re going to need to heat lead and pour it into your mold. There are a few tricks to this, and I cut my teeth on casting round balls for flintlocks at mountain man rendezvous.
You need no specialized tools to melt and pour lead. An electric melting pot is nice, but people have been casting lead over coals for hundreds of years, and that method still works just fine.
Again, buying lead bullets is pretty cheap. You’ll pay between $25-50 for 500 pistol bullets. Buying superior copper jacketed commercial bullets is often 10 times that cost, and depending on what you need them to do, may very well be worth it. Sometimes and for some calibers, finding any bullets at all, of any materials, can be a challenge. A mold for these bullets is a very sound investment. The good news…you can always mix and match.
Clean your cases with a wire or nylon bore brush and a cloth. Then very lightly lubricate the case mouth with case lube. There are lots of case lubricants, but a good amount comes with the Lee Breech Lock Hand Press Kit. Again, a little goes a long way.
Next we’ll start really using the hand press. Place the appropriate shell holder for your cartridge in the slot of the column. There’s only one place it fits. If you got a Lee kit, the shell holder is included. Otherwise, you’ll need to purchase one separately. Each set says which shell holder it needs.
Each kit comes with one of the Breech Lock Quick Change bushings. They are inexpensive and I see no reason to buy any others. You just need one to thread a die in to make the kit work. Multiple Quick Change bushings allow you to set a particular die in them, and then quickly change them in and out, with no adjustments necessary after the first time.
If you are mentally impaired, this will save you as much as a minute of time. If you have the faculties to be reloading in the first place, much less. If you are buying them in order to improve consistency for precision loading, you are really wasting time and money, as you’ll need to measure and verify the COAL each time you set up anyway.
Screw the sizing and de-priming die into the top of the bushing in accordance with the instructions that came with your die. If you don’t have instructions, look them up. Note, I said your die, not the press. They are usually the same, but there are exceptions.
As with most things, there’s an easy way and a hard way. If you want to struggle for no apparent reason, place the shell into the shell holder with the ram all the way down, grab both handles in front of you and squeeze them together, running the shell up into the die.
Alternatively, place the press on your non-dominant thigh, lower the ram only far enough to emplace the shell with the mouth of the shell holder facing up, and gently press down with your dominant hand on the handle into your thigh until the handle stops. The shell will stay still, the mouth won’t bang the die on the way in, and you’ll be able to efficiently move throughout the process.
If you are loading a straight-walled case, now you’ll need to expand the mouth of the case to fit your bullet. Follow the directions that came with your die set. You don’t want to work your brass more than you need to, and you don’t want bulged cases. Expand the mouth only enough to fit the base of the bullet flat into the case, not most of the bullet. The seater die and the lubed interior of the case will do the rest. Don’t rush this.
I don’t know what you did to find your primers (and I don’t want to know). The first rule of Fight Club is operative here. Now you get to put it to work.
The kit comes with a handy priming tool. I’m probably the only person in the world who doesn’t like a stand-alone hand primer, since they don’t provide consistent enough results. In my own experimentation I’ve found primer position to make a real difference in consistent velocity. This one works well, just follow the directions included with the kit, not whatever videos you might find on YouTube.
It is possible to switch the last two steps with the Lee pour-through dies. That is, prime then bell the mouth. I am not a fan of that order as I find that some powders like to stick in the die during the pour.
At this point, you now have a case that will go “pop” when you bang it. Yay. Remove the case from the press. Fill that case with whatever powder you’re using and go from a pop to bang. Yay!
For this review, I’m building black powder rounds. I find black powder much more dangerous for the new reloader. Read the Lyman Black Powder Handbook and Loading Manual.
Once you’re done loading the powder, you’re ready to top it with a bullet. Some dies seat and crimp, but I much prefer to do this in two separate steps, assuming I need to roll crimp. For a taper crimp, I find one die works just fine. Your cartridge and application will determine what kind of crimp you need.
Once the seater die is in, put your now-powered case back into the shell holder in the ram. If you are using lead bullets, lube the bullet liberally, filling any grooves completely (you can use the same lube that came with the kit) and set it in the case mouth. Raise the bullet-topped case up. You’ll need to play with the die seating depth to get the right bullet seating depth. Again, take it slow. This is really not the time to be in a hurry.
If you don’t need to crimp, voila! You’re done. In this case, I do, so I’ll just repeat the process again, swapping out the seating die for the crimp die to provide a firm crimp in the crimp groove.
Now you’re dangerous.
For anyone who’s used a bench-mounted single stage press, all of that was extremely familiar. The Lee Breech Lock Hand Press Kit really just replaces a bench-mounted press with something that you can carry anywhere.
For you folks who are new to reloading, or anyone who wants the portability this kit provides, the Lee Breech Lock Hand Press kit is a fantastic tool set. Except for the demands of F-Class shooting, there’s nothing you can do with a single stage bench mounted press that you can’t do with this one. It’s just slower.
The Lee hand press is very well built, and considering simple time limitations, I find it highly unlikely a shooter would be able to wear it out during a lifetime of use. I already had the hand press by itself that I purchased long prior to this review. Now I have two, and I’ve bought kits for a few people for Christmas.
Specifications: Lee Breech Lock Hand Press Kit
Dimensions: 11 1/2″ X 4 1/2″ X 1 1/4″
MSRP: $78 ($53.99 at Brownells)
Rating (out of five stars):
Overall * * * * *
What a great piece of kit.