Reloading Ammunition with Only Hand Loaders

David argues why a small hand loader may be a better fit for low-volume ammunition reloaders.

Reloading Ammunition with Only Hand Loaders
Reloading Ammunition with Only Hand Loaders

If you ask an experienced reloader what equipment they use to hand-load their ammunition, you’re liable to get a different answer for every person you ask.

I once knew a guy who would not even let anything that wasn’t marked with RCBS in his home, and he had what I would almost describe as nearly an industrial operation. He had dozens of calibers he would reload for and must have had almost a hundred different sets of dies for what he used. [sounds a lot like AmmoLand author Bob Shell] Not saying that’s a bad thing, but the average and beginning reloader not only might not be that dedicated but can’t afford all of the top-of-the-line equipment that requires that much space to reload ammunition.

So what of the apartment dweller or someone who only has a small space to reload their ammunition? Or someone who wants to load one caliber,  or wishes to save money, They might be turned off if all they see are expensive presses and equipment, especially if they only want to load a box at a time, here and there.

I started off with all the equipment like I thought I needed, and I loaded a lot of ammunition on an RCBS Rock Chucker I bought second hand, then when I moved into a new place, I replaced it with a Lee Challenger. I know some people are thinking I might have been crazy, but I liked the Lee a lot more and loaded more rounds faster and the quality was just as good as anything that came from the RCBS. I even replaced the dies with Lee dies later on.

Hand Held Ammunition Reloading

After I got hurt a few years back and could no longer sit for long periods at a time, I needed something else. I soon found that I could load my ammo without the need for a bench or much of the equipment I once had.

I also found that reloading with smaller, portable equipment not only saved me a lot of space but it also let me tailor my loads a little better. I can tell you I compared some of my loads in the same guns at one time. Some from a bench press and some built with the hand presses, including different makes and varieties. I got rounds that were just as accurate or more so with the hand tools. As I see it, the only reason one really needs a large bench press or turret press is if you want to load a lot of rounds at one time, or go through a lot of ammunition.

For someone looking to just load a box of shells every once in a while, a small outfit is all that you need to bother with.

Lee Loader

Lee Loader for Rifle CartridgesLee Loader for Rifle Cartridges
Lee Loader for Rifle Cartridges

One of the most popular and time honored pieces of reloading equipment is the old Lee Hand Loader which allows the shooter to load one caliber with essentially a simple set of dies. The shooter provides all the work of the press in the form of a hammer that isn’t included. You also don’t get a scale, but the scoop that comes with the kit is adequate for what you’re doing. My Grandfather had a Lee Loader in .308 for decades and never had any issues, however I can tell you that if you have a wife or girlfriend she might not be OK with the hammering needed for each and every round, and in an apartment with neighbors close by, they might not be either. I tried my hand at loading with a Lee Loader but found myself wanting something different because I liked to load my ammo after work late at night when my wife was asleep.

Still the Lee Loader is great for one caliber, and for less than $40 for a new kit and you can find used ones for much less. At one time Lee made these in every caliber imaginable but has cut back to the most popular calibers offered.


Lyman 310

After I tried the Lee Loader, I found one of the most popular hand-loading tools ever designed, the old Lyman 310.

Lyman 310Lyman 310
Lyman 310

The Lyman 310 started not a few years ago, but in the last century. Originally made by the Ideal Tool Company, the old 310 tool was first made in the 1880s; prior to that, the gun makers themselves, like Winchester, made their own tools, but they were designed for one caliber only. The 310 was a small set of tongs that allowed you to change dies and load for a variety of calibers, and that has been the case ever since. Lyman purchased Ideal sometime around the 1920’s and simply kept right on making the 310. The only drawback is that depending on the caliber, you need either a small set or large set of tongs. Also, the Lyman dies are smaller and those that fit the 310 won’t work in your standard press at home. Because there are so many of them out there, once you find out what size handles you need, pick a 310 tool up used. The last one I had, an Ideal marked version, with .357 Magnum dies only cost me about $40 used, and I loaded a few thousand rounds with it. One of the other things before getting a 310 tool is that the cases are only neck-sized with the older dies, so if you want to reload for more than one gun in the same caliber, you need to try something else.

Lee Precision Breech Lock Hand Press

Lee Precision Breech Lock Hand Press in RedLee Precision Breech Lock Hand Press in Red
Lee Precision Breech Lock Hand Press in Red

That brings me to my third and what I think is by far the best choice out there, and that’s the Lee Precision Breech Lock Hand Press. This in my opinion is the epitome of what being able to reload port-ably and efficiently is. The Hand Press takes standard size reloading dies so if you want to load more than one caliber you simply swap them out, just like you would with a bench mounted press. It comes with priming rams for both large and small primers so that you don’t need a separate priming tool. The Lee Hand Press is quiet, no banging of a hammer like you have to do with the Lee Loader. The Hand Press is light, and is only eleven inches long when folded up, so it takes up almost no room when you need to store it. How the Lee Precision Breech Lock Hand Press works is simple. The user provides all of the power that the bench press does only without being mounted to anything. This allows you to reload your ammunition at the range, at a kitchen table, in camp during hunting season, wherever you like to go. The Lee Hand Press is not much more expensive then the Lee Loader, usually cost about $50 with a few bucks either way.

RCBS 750 Rangemaster Scale

RCBS 750 Rangemaster ScaleRCBS 750 Rangemaster Scale
RCBS 750 Rangemaster Scale

As to how I weigh my charges, I have owned the same RCBS 2000 Rangemaster scale now for better than ten years and have loaded thousands of rounds with it without a problem. What’s nice about it, is that you can either use the AC adapter for when you’re home, or it runs on a 9V batter that lets you take it to the range. If you don’t want to spend the money on a digital scale or have to worry about electricity, you can get several balance scales with the cheapest being the Lee Safety Scale.

A word of warning having owned a Lee Safety Scale, they work, but you need to read the instructions very thoroughly and you can’t rush through with it because it does take time. Loading twenty rounds or so won’t be too bad but don’t plan on getting a lot of ammunition loaded using that scale or most balance scales.

Loading your own ammunition is not only a great way to save money, but if you have a gun in a not so common caliber, just trying to find factory ammunition can be difficult and expensive. I can tell you that over the years I have saved more than a few dollars by reloading my own rounds and back a few years ago when some calibers simply couldn’t be found, I was putting them together at home without having to worry that I wouldn’t be able to go shooting.

Something else to think of in these politically charged times when one wrong statement or proposed bill could send gun owners scrambling for ammunition whether they need it or not.

Reloading your own ammunition shouldn’t be a budget-breaking experience because if it costs too much to reload your own ammo, then it becomes cost-prohibitive. However, being able to reload your ammunition away from a fixed bench gives the apartment dweller or someone at the range the ability to make good quality ammunition without being tied down. Give it a try, once you do, you’ll wonder why you ever bothered with having a bench mounted press in the first place.

About David LaPell

David LaPell has been a Corrections Officer with the local Sheriff’s Department for thirteen years. A collector of antique and vintage firearms for over twenty years and an avid hunter. David has been writing articles about firearms, hunting and western history for ten years. In addition to having a passion for vintage guns, he is also a fan of old trucks and has written articles on those as well.

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