March 04, 2013
Every reloader has a wish list, and typically that list is whittled down purchase-by-slowly-earned purchase; critical equipment first, followed by luxuries. But what would you buy if you were starting from scratch with an unlimited budget? What equipment is so refined that you'd buy it with glee no matter the cost, or so useful that you'd never be without it, however inexpensive? What's the best reloading press?
Eight individual products will never cover all the items that would earn their way into such a buying spree. But aside from the mundane necessities such as case lube, cartridge blocks and so on, you'll have some gotta-haves and some can't-live-withouts. I know I would.
Dillon Precision 550B
Back when I thought I was going to be the next world champion cowboy action shooter, I used to crank out a legitimate 500 rounds of .44-40 ammo per hour. The Dillon Precision
550B is simple enough that your average bear can set it up and keep it running — and just complex enough to load massive quantities of cartridges with a minimum of effort. There are shooters who will argue that the Dillon 650 press will load even more ammo with even less effort, but I've found that the low-maintenance character of the 550B keeps me cranking the handle more consistently. In addition to mass-loading handgun ammo for weekend shoots, I've loaded rifle ammo that consistently groups under an inch in my accurate old .270 Winchester.
Redding T-7 Turret Press
If I were a gentleman in the Victorian era, the Redding
T-7 is the press my valet would use to handload my ammunition. It is sophisticated, ergonomic, versatile and as tough as the neighbor's bulldog. Made of cast iron with a 4.75-inch press opening and 3.80 inches of ram travel, it will handle the biggest and baddest cartridges — short of .50 BMG — but its real advantage is in the seven die positions in the turret plate. You can mount and use dies for up to three calibers without having to remove, change or adjust between stages or calibers. Not only is it powerful and durable, it's precise: In 2003, Kyle Brown used ammo loaded on his T-7 to set a new 1,000 yard benchrest world record.
Hornady Lock-N-Load Quick Trickle
Being unnecessarily fanatical about weighing powder charges for rifle cartridges — and at the same time paranoid about potential electronic equipment failure — Hornady's
Lock-N-Load Quick Trickle is one of my favorite recently developed reloading tools. A high-speed knob dumps powder fast; a slow trickle knob finishes the charge off. While not quite as fast as a good electronic automatic charger, it is still pretty speedy, and with a little practice, just as accurate. You could load precision cartridges on the tail of a buckboard wagon without a power socket in sight. Couple it with a nice balance-beam scale for non-powered precision propellant measuring.
RCBS 10-10 Scale
There are balance scales and there are balance scales. RCBS's
old battle-axe 10-10 is — in the immortal words of Chris LeDoux — tougher than the rest, and weighs powder charges and other objects up to 1,010 grains, double that of the typical 505-grain capacity that most balance scales offer. I occasionally like to dabble with classic blackpowder cartridges as well as the occasional .50 BMG, so the extra measuring capacity of the 10-10 is a significant advantage. It's accurate to one-tenth grain, and comes with a protective hard cover.
After using most of the electronic powder dispensers on the market, I've concluded that — though they are good tools as a whole — they tend to be as finicky and high maintenance as a high-school cheerleader. They're hard to clean, too. When constructing objects that could potentially blow me — or worse, one of my vintage Winchesters
— up if I bodge the loading process, minor annoyances are the last thing I want. The RCBS
Chargemaster has become my go-to charger. It always turns on, calibrates and throws charges without fuss, and it's easy to empty and clean.
RCBS Universal Case Prep Center
Very few all-in-one systems work as advertised — I've always leaned toward tools that do one job beautifully rather than half a dozen jobs in a so-so manner. However, RCBS's
new Universal Case Prep Center performs its primary function — power trimming cases precisely to length — perfectly, while offering a nice array of minor prep functions. The trim function accepts case head diameters from .250- to .625-inch, and from .720 to 3.375 inches in length, and is micrometer adjustable. Six stations are provided for mounting primer pocket brushes, chamfer tools and so on. The unit is powered by a stout 24-VDC motor.
Lyman 49th Reloading Handbook
I don't remember what edition it was, but as a grade schooler, I used to memorize cartridges and their characteristics from my father's tattered Lyman
Reloading Handbook. To this day, it's one of my favorite reloading references because it's not connected to any specific component manufacturer — thus, it's very objective and complete. It also offers a splendid amount of data for cast bullets, an area completely overlooked by most reloading manuals.
This latest edition includes most of the popular recent cartridges, as well as data for a wide selection of powder and projectile manufacturers and types.
Price: $28 (softcover)
Lyman 2200 Auto-Flo Case Tumbler
There's nothing like the comforting purr of a quality tumbler polishing your cases, and this new unit from Lyman
is as good as they get. The 1.5-gallon bowl is constructed of a high-durability, extra-thick material designed for longevity under a lifetime of hard use. It will hold up to 750 .38 Special cases, and progress is easily monitored through the clear, see-through lid. When the cases are clean, just pull the drain plug and let the tumbler's vibrating motion separate the cases from the polishing media. Drain pan included.
It ain't cheap, but your grandkids will still be using it when your personal case has gone to that great tumbler in the sky.