August 12th, 2008
These are my thoughts on the subject. I'm no expert, but this is from a noob's standpoint and a summary of what ended up working out really well for me. As with any information over the internet, YMMV - your mileage may vary, and reload at your own risk!
> How I got my start reloading.
I got tangled up shooting USPSA at a weekly local match, and am now dragging to the weekend matches. Add to that the weekly pin and steel shoots and well, that's a lot of ammo!
> Assessing needs.
Because of a tight schedule I needed to reload rounds quickly for two calibers. I shoot 40s&w, and my fiance shoots 9x19mm. I would like to sit down once a week and load 300-400 rounds for each caliber in 2 or 3 hours. This mandated the use of a multi-station progressive press that would allow me to do everything on the press.
> Shopping selections.
After talking with a bunch of people who already reload, it seemed like the two most popular (amongst those in my area) were the Lee Precision machines and the Dillon machines. Both camps generally agreed that the Lee machines were more like good ol' pickup trucks while the Dillons were the high end luxury like pieces.
Since I'm only starting out and price was a concern, I looked up the Lee Load-Master. It had five stations, so it could do everything on the press along with the factory crimp die. Complete with dies for one caliber, it was about $215 online brand new... The Dillon, with similar features, was about twice as much used. Someone offered me a used Dillon 650 for $750, ouch! I went with the Lee.
$50 Lyman pro 1200 brass tumbler
$30 RCBS enclosed media sifter
$6 bottle of nu-finish car polish
$4 big bag of corn cob litter for bird cages
$215 Load Master in 40s&w
$12 spare 5 station turret (for 9mm dies)
$25 Lee deluxe carbide set in 9mm
$20 pair (2x) of Lee adjustable charge bars
$20 lee safety powder balance beam scale
$15 dial calipers for measuring OAL
$10 40sw cartridge max gage
$10 9mm cartridge max gage
$12 Impact bullet puller
$15 Lee modern reloading book
$20 in assorted MTM plastic ammo carriers
$5 clamp set for plank
$3 plank of wood to mount the press
$3 three 1/4" by 4" bolts to mount press
TOTAL COST = approximately $475 for everything brand new; does not include bullets, powder, and primers.
No, reloading isn't cheap to start out. But then again, I bought everything new. If you can wait, look for used deals. Seriously. A month after I started, someone was selling a tumbler, dillon square deal press set up for 40sw, digital scale, and misc tools for only $350!!! dangit!
> How it worked out.
The things people told me about the Lee were pretty dead on. It took an evening to get it up and running smooth. Had to lube it here and there on pretty much anything that moved or slided around, then adjust the dies as per Lee's instructions, and now the press works like a charm. I also dragged a dryer sheet through the powder measure and the disks, that helped a lot with powder and static electricity, and with powder sticking to the walls instead of falling down. That tip wasn't in the manual. I also got one of those automotive oil squirt cans, the kind that operates like a Windex bottle but dispenses oil out a fixed metal tube. Makes lubing the machine way easier for $2 from harbor freight.
The Lyman tumbler works great. Only thing is, with the top doubling as a sieve, I place a plastic grocery bag over the unit's bowl to help keep dust inside the thing. The RCBS tumbler does a good job of removing the media from the brass without kicking dust everywhere. The four dollar, ten pound bag of corn cob media beats the 7 bucks i see for one pound of treated stuff at the shows. For four dollars, my brass gets nice and shiny. I added a couple capfuls of nu-finish car polish at the suggestion of a few people and like I already said, the brass comes out super shiny.
The Lee safety powder scale... I used a friend's Dillon digital scale for the first few days and I would verify it against the Lee's balance beam mechanism. That works dead on too. I have to give the digital scale back, I'll get my own later. You can't beat the convenience of it... But the balance beam works just fine, since you're really only needing it to find your load, and what disk measure or charge bar position to use.
Mounting the press, I took an inch thick piece of hardwood, and clamped it to the desk. The overhang is here I mounted the press, and I just use a pair of cheap clamps to hold it to the desk. Works great, and I didn't have to tear up my desk to mount the press. Another good thing about doing it this way is you can move the press around to suit your needs. I've changed its position a couple times already as I began learning my preferences while loading.
Harbor freight has this little plastic bin kit for like $15 which is totally worth it. It comes with about 25 of those little plastic bins that's great for holding bullets to be used, or 'oops' cartridges to be disassembled, and sorting the loaded bullets.
> Lessons learned for the second time around...
1. Talk to everyone you know about reloading, you'll get a lot of tips and tricks. Plus, you may get information relative to the way you shoot. The IPSC guys usually go Dillon with their high volume of reloading... The pins and steel folks use Lees because of lower cost and they don't reload as much as the IPSC guys do. Some even use just the basic turret style press, which is fine if you just want to load a hundred or so rounds a week. Rifle guys, hell they use a plain ol' single stage like the Lee breech lock challenger or RCBS rock chucker press and buy lots of different rifle case prep tools to get the best accuracy they can. Depending on what you do, the group of guys you shoot with may be able to give you the best advice for what you may need to continue shooting and reloading with them.
2. Buy a digital scale with a balance beam, and check the two against each other. Usually I'll take the average of ten drops, three times to verify that the powder measure is dropping consistently. When using a progressive press, make sure you LOOK down into the case to make sure the powder is visually where it should be. Once in a while I'll get one that looks a little low, and I would remove it, dump the powder in the hopper, and set it aside for the end. Don't deprime a live primered round, it could go off.
3. Get a tumbler with a closed top. the dust isn't bad, but I bet it's sure as hell toxic. Do that crap in the garage, not your loading room. Getting small, 2 gallon sized sterilite containers works good for sorting brass. A bin for dirty, and a bin for cleaned for each caliber. I also bring gallon freezer bags to the range to collect our spent brass.
4. You don't really need three or four reloading manuals, just get one in case the internet is broke and immediate bench reference, and use google for the rest. The powder manufacturers, and many reloaders themselves post their load data. Of course, always use your head when picking what data to use.
5. If you shoot in volume, you probably want to stick to whatever load works for everyone else. Then if truly necessary, adjust to your needs. Don't get fancy. People have been reloading for decades and chances are, you're not going to find anything new. I bought a bunch of different bullet weights and styles for the 40s&w, and I ended up shooting what most other major power factor IPSC guys use: plain 180 grain flat points on top of 5.2 grains of titegroup with a CCI small pistol primer. If I just did that from the beginning, I coulda saved some money and time from looking at other fancy loads lol.
6. Don't set up your bench on carpet, you'll work powder into it and primers can get lost. Don't bother vacuuming. If you suck up a dropped primer, the vacuum will ignite it and all that powder dust will follow suit. If you only have carpet and are feeling lucky, then use a huge plastic office chair mat. But don't say the internet didn't warn you lol.
7. Get an assorted color pack of sharpies. You'll want to mark your brass NOW before you even buy a press. Many people do single red, black, or blue stripe across the back of their brass. I do a two-color "plus" sign on the back. I use purple and pink on mine, and double pink on my fiance's. I use pink because I don't think I'll ever come across anyone marking their brass with pink, lol. Yeah, I get jabbed for it, but at least I know it's my brass - and nobody else seems to want to be seen with pink brass either lol.
May 11, 2009
Approaching 10k rounds on my Load-master.
Primer pin: I had a problem where a tipped primer screwed some things up. When loading 40 cal I started using an EGW undersize die in the priming station. Had a piece of brass that wasn't centered right because the arm that keeps the brass in place wasn't so tight. Crushed the case, and crushed the primer, and it put a dent in the face of the priming pin. With more patience I probably could've squared off the face again, but ended up jkust getting a $6 replacement pin. I feel it's more my fault of not making sure the arms were tight and centering brass.
Primer pin return spring - replaced that once. Not sure what happened, but I kinked it bad. I just noticed the pin wasn't returning properly every time.
Primer slider - replaced it a couple times, because a tipped primer from dirtiness or misplaced case would do something funky, and the primer pin would eat the slider. Good thing they're a buck!
The screw that locks the tool head in place: put a drop of weak loc-tite on it. It can back out on its own. :shrug: I think the return chain rubs on it and can make it come undone.
The case feeder-pusher thing. I put a small 2" c-clamp on it to increase clamping force so that the sliding device has more friction against the case feeder bar, since the screws couldn't go any tighter on the thing.
I started running into a lot of priming problems at about 8k, and rough running. I broke it down to bits and cleaned the heck out of it. Ran awesome and perfect after that! I lubed up with 5w30 motor oil, nothing special.
Noticed that with some powders (Clays, American Select, those disc-shaped ones) that the adjustable powder bar can be inconsistent by a small amount. I will stick to the fixed discs... Perhaps even use an extra fine sanding flap wheel to slightly enlarge some of the holes when I need a small bump.
I'm able to keep OAL within 1.125-1.135, not the most consistent but I am saving up for a competition seating die to help deal with that. I think the Lee seating die just has a lot of slop in it. When using fixed discs, powder drops are dead-nuts consistent.
I got my money's worth out of this press. After a thorough cleaning, it feels liek it's running like brand new again. Just gota remember to have a couple parts on hand in case I chew up a primer pin or slider again the night before a match.
I may upgrade to a Dillon 650 with a casefeeder - I loaded on a Dillon before for fun and it's a nice machine... But at $800+ it's not worth it to upgrade unless my Lee turns to junk first. That's a lot of ammo or reloading supplies! I will definitely hold off the upgrade as the Lee LM does what I need it to do.
Summary: Two thumbs up. Don't let anyone tell you Lee is junk. Takes a while to set up, runs loose like a jimmy rigged soap box derby racer, but objectively it works great for the amateur sport shooter and makes good ammo.
Maybe I'll post an update later this year at 20k... That is, if being married doesn't slam the brakes on shooting.
January 23rd, 2010
UPDATE @ 14k rounds...
Well, in '09 I got married, then bought a new house, and job situation got tough. I didn't shoot much else other than indoor matches and a handful of outdoor and level 2 matches in '09. Round counts were lower, but my spent primer supply indicates i've done about 14k rounds.
The main thing I've been focused on since the last update is making my 40 cal reloads more precisely as I moved into a better race gun, and making the press run tighter with greater precision.
My current problems were slop in the press and inconsistent results from the ammo. The slop was caused by my old press mounting system. My old mounting system (plank across the desk front to back with clamps) was good and cheap, but the plank would get worn out every so often resulting in slop. The inconsistent ammo, was a result of varying amounts of bulge in 40 cal brass. sometimes I have a difficult round that would prevent me from bottoming out the stroke, resulting in a round that doesn't pass case gage and another round that has too long of an OAL and another round with inconsistent crimp. This was not as big a bother with the inconsistent OAL since I was loading to 1.135" and my mags could take up to 1.160" without hanging... But the new race gun has a max OAL of 1.175"ish, and the chamber asks for 1.170". So, the OAL needed to be very precise so that the bullet comes just about to the rifling lands yet still feeds well in the magazine. As for the crimp, well, yeah I would occasionally get a "dang I had the perfect sight picture but it totally missed" moment. So, I looked around to see what I could do to solve these issues.
To solve the slop in the press, I got a 1 square foot plate of 1/4" steel from home depot for about $30. I built a new bench in the new house using kitchen cabinets and countertop reinforced by 2x12 under the countertop and 2x6 planks around the cabinets to help hold up the top. It doesn't move. What this did is I now have a better feel for the press. I can positively feel the bottom of every stroke, and the press runs smoother with no jerking. The steel plate really made a night and day difference. This is recommended for anyone loading with a lee and has a dedicated bench that they can drill it in to.
As far as making match grade 40 cal ammo, I changed the way I processed brass. At first I used a "U" die I got a long time ago. It helped, but it was not a complete solution. Recently, I borrowed a push-through die sizer (third attached picture) that shoves 40 cal brass through an undersize die. This completely sizes the case top to bottom into proper spec. The push-through sizer was the hot ticket I needed. Now when I load ammo, there are no more 'difficult to size' rounds. I just run all my freshly tumbled brass through a lube bag, then through the push-through sizer, then it goes into the processed brass bin next to the press.
For the crimping problem, I really could get a case trimmer. However, I have been happy with what's coming out since the slop and OAL problem has been fixed. I have separated the bullet seat and crimp operation. I backed out the seat/crimp die so it only performs a seating operation in the 4th station. In the 5th station I still use the FCD to perform the final crimp. Out of 50 rounds, I tested for crimp strength by trying to push the bullet in. I then removed 20 of them and found that the crimp on the bullet was good. For my purposes, I found the crimps to leave the hairline we usually look for.
Notes about the Load-Master itself:
I tore down the press completely in fall of '09, and it took out a lot of gunk and grime. I gave it a fresh lube and it ran like new. I really should do that more often.
I found I used to tear up a few of the little primer sliders. I paid more attention to keeping the primer feed system cleaner and it hasn't come back. The other thing that would kill it, was the slop in the press. Sometimes jerking the handle on tough-to-size rounds would shake it a bit to where a primer flips sideways and jams the system, or flips it upside down. Right now I have an 'oops' primed brass every now and then, which is fine to me. Since my brass is range picked up off the floor, sometimes there's just crap in there, or the primer pocket is a little beat as I found in one case recently.
The case feeding system - I had a problem where I couldn't get enough tension in the feed system to pus the brass all the way into the shell plate. So, I installed a 3" c-clamp on the tensioner as shown in the second attached pic. I can now adjust the proper amount of tension needed to feed cases better than the original piece. The only thing is that with the increased tension, I now have to run a little grease on the slider rod to keep it sliding smooth. However, the casefeeder now runs bulletproof compared to before. It's a little funny looking, but hey - function before form makes me happy.
Tightening up the turret makes a difference in press consistency. When you install dies into the turret and insert the turret into the press, there's a lock knob on the side. I put a little blue loctite on it and tightened it down. I found that the chain from the powder feed reset rubs on this knob and can loosen it, along with any jerk motion form the press. The loctite keeps it in there. When it's tightened up against hte turret, the turret doesn't move.
Now my OAL improved dramatically after all these changes. I loaded a batch of 88 rounds and kept 85 of them at exactly 1.168". The last three, since nothing was being sized, were OAL'd short at 1.164". I compared these notes with a "blue machine" guy and I found them to be on par no problem with the best of 'em. I have a second sharpie mark now on my seating die that indicates where to turn my adjustment knob to keep the last three at 1.168"ish. So at the end of a run, I can make the last three about 1.168" OAL.
In summary, I'd happy with my $215 investment. It took a little experience and fiddling to get the press running and getting my match grade ammo going, but that's the same with just about any setup you get out there. Heck, I paid less for this press than what some people pay for an electric case feeder. Once you get into the swing of things, I don't see how anyone could really be dissatisfied with a Lee Load-Master in the long run.
I hope my original story and updates help some folks out. It's tough figuring things out for the first time, and hopefully I've provided some good insight.
Not sure if I have any more updates in the future, but I'm sure I'll come up with other things to yap about with regards to this setup.
I'm not an expert, nor am I claiming to be one. But these are my experiences that I've dealt with, and I've represented them as honestly as I can. As with everything else in life, your mileage may vary.
burningsquirrels wrote:Allow me to explain my brass processing method and elaborate on my path to the push-through sizer. There is something else I need to say about the reliability of the priming system on the Load Master.
At first I found the standard sizing die in station 1 to be inadequate for handling bulged 40 cal brass. So, I got a hold of an EGW "U" die. The "U" is for undersize. Basically, it's a Lee FCD that has been cut down at the base to allow a case to slide further in.
NOTE: Reliability of the priming system increased when I put the U-die in station 2, over the priming system. I believe that is because it centered the brass perfectly while the priming took place. I believe there's posts here that suggest to use a universal decap in station 1, and to put the lee sizing die in station 2. I strongly believe that this is a must for this press to separate the decap operation and have a sizing only die in station 2 for the best alignment for seating a primer.
Back to the U-die.... It helped out a lot dealing with difficult to size brass. However, it was still not perfect enough. I still had one or two, sometimes more, per 88 that wouldn't pass case gage. Every time I got a round that didn't pass case gage, I realized that there would be 3 other rounds that were out of spec, because I couldn't throw the press' lever to full extension. I would have rounds that were too long, or under crimped.
I fell back to running ammo twice through the press. First pass, I would size, then undersize/prime, then powder drop, then add bullet. Then I would seat the bullet long (with the crimp backed out all the way) and have the FCD off the press. On a second pass, I would insert loaded ammo into station 4, and set the seat perfectly to OAL. The FCD was replaced back into station 5, and I would seat to OAL and factory crimp the finished ammo. Of course, this didn't last long. I was shooting a major match in a few days and it was a BEAR to load 500 rounds by pulling the lever more than 1000 times. Not to mention how time consuming it was. It DID however make perfect OAL and crimp. What it DIDN'T do, was eliminate the rounds that didn't pass case gage.
Enter: push-through sizing dies.
The ultimate solution to buldged brass is roll sizing, using a unit like the CasePro. The CasePro is the absolute way to make perfect brass from range pick-ups. However, I have a strict budget. I needed the next best thing for making brass good. The answer was to use a push-through die. Basically, the concept is this: The 40 cal is a non-tapered, straight wall cartridge. Pass it through a sizer completely, and no part of the brass will be any larger diameter than the sizer it passes through.
Redding makes the GR-X, and there's also the Gizmo push-through die. If you google them, they will come up. The Gizmo is what I have in the third picture. Basically you mount it into a single stage press, and it has a slot you place a piece of brass in. Then, when you throw the lever, it shoves the brass completely through a Lee FCD, and out the top. No part of the brass at that point is larger than the hole in the FCD. No more case bulge.
After I did this to a batch of brass, I ran them through the load master. Lo and behold! Not a single difficult piece of brass! The amount of lever pressure from round to round is far more consistent. Combined with the new table, I'm positively feeling the bottom of every stroke, and my ammo is coming out back to back within 0.001" at least 97% of the time or better.
To anyone that reloads 40 cal brass for match purposes, push-through sizing is a must.
One final word on this big red machine:
Believe me, when I started researching how to reload, I thought "Hey I'll save money, it's just a $215 press with dies, and add a couple accessories like a tumbler, sale, and misc stuff." Wrong! While I saved a TON of money on ammo, and also saved as opposed to a blue, green, or orange and black machine.... I learned that the trials and tribulations of reloading in general apply regardless of your machine color. Get a press, any press, and each color press will have it's unique abilities and quirks. I've done my best in the past few posts to describe what I went through with the Load Master. I'm thoroughly satisfied. I learned things as well about reloading in general. Like any other hobby, it requires effort to make it work. People told me Lee Machines work great with a lot of fiddling... Well, I'm here to say ALL machines require gobs of fiddling. After setting up friends' gun rooms with both blue, red, and green machines I can tell you they're just like cars. Lots of different brands that all objectively get you to work and to the grocery, but it's still up to the driver to learn the subjective differences and abilities that each manufacturer has to offer.
I recommend the Load Master as press that's able to produce quality match ammo and run like a top when you get everything mounted and tuned. There's no easy answer to reloading, but the Lee Load Master is definitely one of the answers that work.