There are many fine tools available to the reloader. I use the ones below and offer my thoughts on them.
RCBS Rock Chucker Press
The RCBS Rock Chucker single stage press has been around a long time. Mine is one of the older RCII versions which is a little smaller than the current version (called Rock Chucker Supreme). I’ve loaded thousands of rounds on the RCII and it still works great.
The only complaint I have with the Rock Chucker presses is the spent primer disposal system. With both the older RCII and current Rock Chucker Supreme, the spent primers are directed (most of the time) to a plastic tray. If only the spent primers were directed to the tray all the time. As it is, you have to deal with spent primers occasionally bouncing off the press and onto the floor or loading bench. The occasional errant primers are more of an annoyance than a real issue, but other presses are better in that regard.
Lee Classic Turret Press
After loading with the Rock Chucker press for many years, I decided to purchase a turret press. I liked the idea of not having to thread dies in and out for each reloading step, something the turret press eliminates. Looking at turret presses, it was obvious that they tended to be somewhat weaker than the O-frame single stage presses like the Rock Chucker. However, I thought I would continue to do the sizing on the Rock Chucker and utilize the turret press for the belling, seating, and crimping operations which require much less force from the press.
I purchased the Lee Classic Turret press and it has worked great for my intended use. I disabled the linkage that rotated the turret with each pull of the handle, and just manually rotate the turret as needed. Typically I still perform each step on a batch of brass like I did with a single stage press. But when it’s time to move to the next step, I can simply rotate the turret to the next die instead of having to thread one die out and the next die in.
Another nice feature of the Classic Turret press is the spent primer catch system. The ram is hollow, so the spent primers fall through the ram and out the bottom. Lee supplies a removable length of tubing that will fill with spent primers, or you can just place a bucket under the press to catch them. It’s not perfect; some of the spent primers manage to bounce out of an opening in the ram, but I still find it better than the error prone Rock Chucker tray system. With the hollow ram, the Lee Classic Turret also keeps most of the spent primer debris off the outside of the ram. Occasionally I use the Classic Turret press to de-prime only. I chase spent primers less and it keeps the spent primer residue off my Rock Chucker.
Lastly, extra turrets for the Classic Turret are very economical. I currently have three or four of them with the dies set in place and ready to go. Turrets are swapped out very easily by rotating them about half way between stations and lifting up (removal), or pressing down (installation).
Lee Hand Priming Tool
I used a Lee Auto-Prime on the first handloads I assembled, and have never looked back. I found it easy to use and was always satisfied with the way it seated primers in cases, regardless of the primer or case brand.
Several years ago, Lee updated the Auto-Prime with additional safety features and called it the Lee Auto-Prime XL. I’ve been using the new Auto-Prime XL for a few years now. I do find the XL somewhat harder on the thumb than the original Auto Prime, but I feel the tradeoff is worth the extra safety the XL brings should a primer detonate. My thumb might put up more of an argument if I were to prime cases in higher volumes. As it is, I rarely prime more than 100 cases at a time.
There is one minor disadvantage to the Lee hand priming tools above. They require the use of special shellholders that are used only with the Lee Auto-Prime or Auto-Prime XL. So in the same manner as different shellholders are used with reloading presses to load different cartridges, the Lee Auto-Prime requires different shellholders for various cartridges. Both a regular shellholder and a Lee Auto-Prime shellholder are shown with a Lee Auto-Prime XL in the picture above. The Lee Auto Prime shellholder is on the left.
The only powder measure I’ve used is the standard RCBS Uniflow. Two different capacity rotors are available for it, but I use only the small one that covers the approximate range of 0.5 to 50 grains. I find it does a good job of consistently dispensing most powders.
Occasionally, I load large rifle calibers that require more than 50 grains of powder. If in those instances the case is nearly full with the desired charge, I’ll set the powder measure to drop half the desired charge with each stroke and drop two strokes into the case. I only do this if the desired charge nearly fills the case and I can easily verify the proper charge visually through the case mouth. A strict requirement for this short cut is that I can easily verify (visually) that each charge is not a half charge (only one stroke of the powder measure) or an over-charge (three strokes of the powder measure). Only if an undercharge (one stroke) is not easily visible inside the case, a proper charge (two strokes) nearly fills the case, and an overcharge (three strokes) will overflow the case, will I consider using this short cut.
The above short cut is much safer in instances where each charge is being weighed. In those cases I set up the powder measure to drop a little less than half the charge with each stroke and drop two strokes into the powder scale pan. Then I trickle in the remaining powder to the desired weight, and pour the powder into the primed case through a powder funnel.
Hornady, Lyman, Redding, and Lee all have similar powder measures, but I’ve not used any of them and therefore cannot comment on them based on personal experience.
Everyone who handloads needs a set of calipers. I prefer the dial type, one-rotation-per .1”. They are inexpensive, reasonably accurate, and reliable. Many folks like the digital style. They are fine as well. If you choose them, keep an extra set of batteries handy. Otherwise you may find yourself looking at a glorified and delicate crescent wrench with buttons.
Primer Pocket Cleaning Tool
I like to clean the primer pockets of fired brass before re-priming them. My preferred tool is the Primer Pocket Cleaner Kit from Hornady. It has a nice sized knurled handle and accepts threaded cleaners (either large or small primer size) that can be replaced as they become dull.
The one from Lee is OK too. It has a small primer pocket cleaner on one end and a large one on the other end. It’s a little small, harder to control, and the pocket cleaners are not replaceable. So it’s a throwaway when it becomes dull, which isn’t a big deal because it’s also inexpensive.
Everyone reloading needs a scale. I started reloading with an RCBS 1010 balance beam scale. It is a very nice scale and mine still works great after many years. But now I typically reach for a digital scale, in my case an inexpensive one from Frankford Arsenal. I never liked the time required to zero a balance beam scale, and with a digital scales zeroing is a simple as a touch of the tare button. I do find the digital scales a bit finicky and find myself zeroing them often, but it seems a small price to pay for their convenience.
The picture above shows a Frankford Arsenal digital powder scale along with a powder trickler and powder funnel.
The digital scales are especially nice and fast when culling/sorting brass cases or cast bullets. With a balance beam, you need to carefully place the brass case or bullet in the scale pan and wait for things to stop wiggling and settle down. With the digital scale you just place the case or bullet on the scale and read the weight.
Even though I use my digital scale almost exclusively, it’s a good idea to have a balance beam scale as a backup, and to check the digital scale’s accuracy against something other than the 500 grain weight often included with a digital scale. And, digital scales use batteries that die.
About the only issue with funnels is the size of the hole in the neck. More than one size is often available, and in some cases a funnel set is sold containing different neck hole sizes. A funnel with a small opening (say 22 caliber) can be used for most size cases, but the extruded powders can sometimes hang up a little trying to get through the small 22 caliber hole. In those instances a larger funnel opening is more convenient. I do almost all my loading with a 22 caliber funnel.
When you use a funnel with a hole size too large, not all the powder goes into the case and powder ends up scattered on the bench. I won’t bother with the details on how I came to discover this.
Powder funnels also come in handy when dumping powder from powder measure back into the powder canister. By the way, powder should be emptied from the powder measure back into the original powder canister when finished with a loading session. It’s easy to forget what powder is in the powder measure after a few weeks, or even a few days. Plus, powder left in the powder measure is not well sealed.
Though it has no positive effect on a handload’s performance, I like to load shiny brass. In my case, that means I use a vibratory tumbler. I’ve used both Thumler’s Tumbler and Frankford Arsenal tumblers with good success. I found the Thumler’s Tumbler noticably quieter.
Corncob media and Lyman polish give me results I’m happy with. When I tumble cases after depriming, I inspect all primer pockets and remove any tumbling media that is stuck in the flash hole. Some say a little corncob in the primer pocket doesn’t matter and that it is simply forced out when the new primer goes off. And some have even deliberately loaded rounds with corncob stuck in the flash hole, and fired them with no apparent ill effects. I prefer to remove any media from primer flash holes since it obviously doesn’t belong.
Impact Bullet Puller
If you load very many rounds, you’ll appreciate the benefit of a Impact Bullet Puller. Whether it’s loads that are too hot, bullets seated too deeply, the desire to change powder, harvesting bullets from damaged cases, or a few other things, eventually you’ll want to disassemble some of your handloads.
Unless the bullets are heavily crimped, an impact bullet puller can be used to disassemble loaded rounds. I’ve used one many times over the years to successfully break down assembled rounds. If done carefully, you can salvage every component of the ammunition.
The finished ammunition is loaded into the bullet puller (which looks like a hammer) and is struck against a hard wood surface (like a hammer driving a nail). After a few, or perhaps several, whacks, the bullet will exit the brass case along with the powder. At that point you can disassemble the bullet puller and harvest all the components of the loaded round for reuse as desired.
Loading blocks are especially useful when loading in steps as when using a single stage press. They facilitate keeping track of where you are within each step and keep the cases upright which reduces powder spillage.
Most loading blocks have spaces for 50 cartridges, which on the surface makes sense because most ammo boxes hold between 20 and 50 rounds of finished ammunition. However, I prefer a loading block that holds 70 to 80 cartridges when loading say, 50 rounds of handgun ammo. The extra 10 to 20 spaces provide additional rows, which allow the ammo to be placed in a different row as the reloading step is completed on each round. This makes it easier to keep rounds that have completed the current reloading step apart from rounds still awaiting completion of the current step. An alternative to a 70 or 80 round block is to have two 50 round loading blocks, where you move rounds from one block to the other block as you complete that reloading step on each round.
Reloading blocks are available in a variety of materials including wood, hard plastic, and nylon. I have used all and have no preference. Some of the hard plastic ones, like the grey one shown in the picture, have multiple sizes of holes. That makes them somewhat more adaptable to different sized of cartridges.