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How to get started in Reloading

Discussion in 'Reloading' started by Colorado4Wheel, Mar 27, 2009.

  1. Colorado4Wheel


    Nov 2, 2006
    Because the sticky has dead links I am making a thread specifically for a new reloader. The goal of this thread is to help you understand the minimum equipment needed to get started. That alone is a tough enough question to answer because everyone has a different opinion on what is the minimum equipment required. I am going to use my experience as a pistol reloader as my guide. This is not designed for the person looking to do precision rifle or precision pistol. However, the basic setups I suggest will produce better ammo then what you normally buy at Wal-Mart so it's still a great place to start. Because I make the assumption that you want to load in bulk I am going to only briefly discuss the single stage setup. A Single Stage may be a great way to start but most bulk pistol shooters want more speed. I personally didn't start with a single stage but to be fair, many people recommend a single stage as your first press. Even a progressive press can be run with one cartridge at a time till you get accustomed to the process. Only you can decide what is best for you. I want to avoid any type of press Wars in this thread. I will highlight some basic strengths and weakness's of each press, I am not going to shy away from recommending items I have personal experience with as a great option to start with as your first choice. I am going to try and not spend money foolishly but get items that I know work and have worked for most people based on their comments in this forum. You can always spend more but that is a slippery slope I will try and avoid.

    First let's start with non-press related items.

    Reloading Manuals.

    Get two preferably. Lyman has great manual. Many manuals are made by the Bullet manufactures so the data is geared towards their products. For a new reloader I recommend the Lyman as your first manual.

    Powder Scale.

    Get a good scale. Cheapest good scale I am willing to recommend is going to cost about $60. Most people buy a beam scale to start. I will recommend the Dillon Eliminator because it has a lifetime warranty, is made by Ohaus and is very well priced for its quality. Buy directly from Dillon and you get a Blue Press every month. Dillon, CED Pact and others all make good Electric Scales. I have tried some of the cheap electric scales and they are not worth the money. Expect to pay around $125 or more for a good electric scale. You will find many people have very different opinions about electric scales. I am not going to recommend one other then to say get a name brand and expect to pay about double the beam scale. Be sure you can plug it in and not rely only on batteries and that it has check weights.

    Dial Calipers.

    You will find a bunch of people sell Electric Dial Calipers that cost about $50. You will also find Harbour Freight sells what looks like the same thing for under $20. I got mine for under $20 at Harbour Freight and have been happy. You can get regular dial calipers cheaper but unless you are familiar with their use I am going to recommend the digital just to avoid user error.


    You are going to need a good strong bench. You can make your own or use a table. I have found it really helps to attach the bench to the wall to stabilize it. Also be sure to have excellent light on the press and the bench. You must be able to easily look in a case to see the powder and that requires good lighting. A good sitting height is 30-32 inch's, standing is about 36-42 inch's.

    Flip Tray.

    Dillon sells a nice one that I know works well. This item is not needed with the Lee Safety Prime used on the Lee Classic Turret. Midway USA has several options such as the Lyman, RCBS and MTM all have Primer Turning Tray's that are 1/3 the price of the Dillon.


    Dillon, Lee, and other all make good dies. Take my advice buy only one set of dies to start with and learn the process before you buy more later. You can use Lee Dies on Dillon/Hornady presses. Get the Lee Deluxe Die set for pistol if you choose the Lee. They are carbide dies and you want carbide dies. Dillon and other dies cost more but they have some nice additional features. Functionally they all will work just fine. So don't sweat it. I use Lee dies on my 550 and have one Dillon die. It' s just not that big a deal. You will find every Die maker sells their dies a little differently. Dillon Die Sets do not include the Powder die because that die is supplied with the press. Dillon includes a Sizing Die, Seating Die and Crimp Die. Lee 3 and 4 die sets both include a powder die that only works with the Lee Powder Measure (but can be used as a flaring die on the LnL). The Lee 3 die set does not include a Factory Crimp Die (FCD) or a dedicated crimp die. As with most 3 Die Sets the bullet seating die also crimps the case at the same time. Lee's 4 die set includes a Factory Crimp Die which is a crimping die that also does a final resize of the cartridge to insure everything is in spec. Hornady sells you a Sizer, Seating/Crimp (Like a Lee) and a flaring die. With any 3 Die Set I would recommend that you get a separate crimp die and avoid crimping and seating the bullet at the same time. For those that don't like the idea of resizing a completed round with the Lee 4 Die Set and the FCD, just get Lee's Deluxe 3 Die set and add the proper crimp die for your caliber from Lee or someone else.


    I would recommend a tumbler. I didn't start with one. I just wiped off each case by hand. It's a PITA to do it like that and does not get any crud out of the inside of the case. You can wash the cases with water/vinegar and some soap. Then let them dry a really long time. This actually works pretty well if you have time to wait for them to dry. You would want to be sure all the water was out of the case before loading. That's hard if the case is drying upside-down in a humid environment. I would plan on getting a tumbler sometime during your first year or less. Midway has a decent tumbler/shifter/bucket combo. I got the tumbler and just use a mesh laundry bag from Walmart to shift my scases out. Remember, the tumbler is the place with the most potential for lead exposure. Do all of these things outside.

    Press Design

    Let's briefly talk about what a station is on a press. You will hear me and others talk about Lee, vs Dillon vs Hornady. It's a 3,4 or 5 station press. First let's talk about what a press does to reload a typical pistol cartridge.

    1) Resizes and de-primes the case
    2) Primes case
    3) Flares the neck to allow easy bullet insertion
    4) Inserts powder in case
    5) Inserts bullet
    6) Crimps Bullet (removes flare is a better way to think about it).

    Most 4 station presses operate in the same way. 5 station presses can be configured a variety of ways. The primary reason for a 5 station press is a Powder Check Die to insure every case has powder. It's still important to look in every case even with the powder check die. Here is the standard process of a 4 station press:

    Station 1. Resize/de-prime case on the down stroke, prime case at the end of the upstroke
    Station 2. Flare the case and insert powder
    Station 3. Seat bullet
    Station 4. Crimp/Remove flare

    Some 5 station press will give you an extra station after the flaring/powder drop for a powder check die. The LnL does not come configured like this from the start but it's easy to set it up to work as a traditional 5 station press. For the record the Lee Load Master does not have room for a powder check die if you seat and crimp in separate stations.

    All right now the fun part. Let's talk about presses. I am only going to list the presses that most owners have expressed good results with on this forum. Sorry, if your favorite is not listed but that's the breaks. Doesn't mean it doesn't work. Simply means people have reported more problems than with these other presses based on my perception. There may be fixes etc. but that is not what this thread is about. This thread is meant to help you get into reloading with out a lot of hassle. I am trying to be objective but at the same time list the differences and issues so you can make a wise choice. I have personal experience with the Lee Classic Turret, Lee Load Master and the Dillon 550/650 and 1050 and Hornady LnL. I have owned the LCT, 550, 650 and LnL. That's it.

    Triming, Camfer and Primer Pocket Cleaning

    These things are not needed for most straight wall pistol calibers. Research things on your own if you are concerned. I know no one who does these things with 9mm, 40, .45.

    Single Stage Presses.
    Nearly everyone makes a good single stage. Hornady, Lyman, RCBS, Lee and Redding all have kits assembled with all the stuff you need to start reloading (reloading blocks, scales, etc). It's going to be a lot slower then using any of my other options. But it is a good way to start if you don't mind going slow. I do mind going slow so I went another way. If you are going to reload on a single stage I recommend you get the Lyman Reloading Manual. Read it and then choose your kit based on your needs. Keep in mind that most kits come with varying level of quality in the accessories that come with the kits. Most the scales for instance are not as good as the Dillon I recommended before. The Lee scale in my own experience is particularly frustrating. Consider avoiding the Lee Kit and buying the parts individually. Yes, I dislike their scale that much. I have used two of them and they both were very unpleasant to use compared to a good scale. Low volume rifle shooters should really consider the single stage as their first press.
    Last edited: Sep 8, 2015
    creophus likes this.
  2. Colorado4Wheel


    Nov 2, 2006
    Lee Classic Turret. (LCT)

    This is the press I started with and it is a great first press. It's considered an auto indexing turret press. You have to pull the handle 4 times to get one completed round. Lee is the only maker who does this type of press. It is a lot faster then a normal turret and cheaper on top of it all. You can expect to load about 150-200rds an hour once you get in the groove. You can get a nice LCT kit from Be aware that others sell a kit but the kit includes the dreaded Lee Scale. Avoid them. Kempf's kit includes:

    Lee Classic Turret Press

    Lee Deluxe 4-Die Set for the pistol caliber of your choice. (3 Die set in 380)

    Lee Auto Disk Powder Measure

    Lee Safety Prime System (Large or Small)

    Lee Auto Disk Riser (Required for the Safety Prime System)

    Six MTM 50 round Plastic Ammo Boxes

    I recommend you upgrade the kit to the Pro Auto Disc Powder Measure. Not only does it give you the better powder measure but you also get the Large and Small primer setup. It’s worth it for the powder measure alone. With this kit you do not need a primer turning tray, as that is included in the priming system. However, the Auto Disc powder measure does not have the ability to adjust powder to very small increments like most measures. You simply change the discs with different size holes to get the charge you want. This gets you pretty close and it works fine. You can add an adjustable charge bar but it does not work very well with small charges of some powders. I stopped using mine with TiteGroup and 9mm. Loading larger charges of powder in a .44mag may have been fine. I don’t know, never tried. People say it works better with larger volume charges. Lee even warns you about this on their instructions. The priming system is workable. Some people have had to add a washer under the primer mounting location to get it 100% dialed in. Most people don’t have any trouble doing this slight mod. The LCT is a great, low cost, relatively quick entry into reloading. Once you get it dialed in it’s amazing how much ammo it can make. Caliber changes are so easy it’s unbelievable. You can also easily disable the auto-indexing and convert it to a single stage press. It’s brilliant in its simplicity and function.

    Recommended Setup:

    Kempfs LCT kit with the Pro Powder measure, Lee 4 Die set, scale, dial calipers and Tumbler.

    Square Deal B/550/650

    For a great overview of Dillon products go to

    Square Deal B (SDB) only loads pistol. It is an auto indexing 4 station press. It uses special non-upgradeable Dillon dies. It comes with Dies and is preset from the factory ready to go. Just add Powder, Primers and components. It’s a good press. If you will never want to load rifle then you should consider it. Caliber Conversion Cost more then the 550 so be aware and price it out as you will eventually want it set up to get a real price comparison. The tool-head/shell-plate is smaller so it’s a little harder to manipulate. You can not use any other dies so if you need a different sizing die (for instance) you are out of luck.

    Dillon 550. The Dillon 550 was my third press. The 550 is a 4 station manually indexing press. It is sold with out dies but with the proper caliber conversion for one caliber which includes the shell-plate, locator buttons and powder funnel. It also comes with the Powder Die for the Powder Measure. All you do is add dies of your choice for your caliber. I highly recommend you order from He will make sure you get the right stuff when you order. Dillon sells a lot of upgrades for the 550/650. Avoid them to start with, Christmas is always less then a year away and you can treat yourself later. I am also going to suggest only getting one caliber to start with even if you have multiple calibers to load. Just buy it for your most common caliber. Learn and then get the other parts later. The back of the manual has all the info about caliber conversions. You can also learn about caliber conversion on Brian Enos’s excellent website. Go read and learn. When you need to change calibers you will need a combination of these parts; shell plate, locator buttons and powder funnel. You will also want a new toolhead and powder die. All you do is swap your Powder measure over from one toolhead to the next. If you are going to load sitting you do not want the Strong Mount. Standing you will want it depending on the bench height. I would get the Strong Mount for standing, but it’s personal preference (same goes for the 650 and the strong mount). The 550’s strengths are its simplicity, reliability and reasonable speed (about 400rds a hour). For a Dillon the caliber conversions are reasonably priced. Because it doesn’t auto-index it’s easier to clear problems and do caliber conversions. Like the 650 it comes with a low primer sensor and has a ton of options. Dillon’s No BS warranty is one of the best. Some people don’t like that it does not auto-index. You need to be sure to index the press every time you pull the handle. It’s a little slower as a result. You index the press while your right hand is grabbing a new case so it’s not really that big a deal. You also may want to seat the bullet in station #2. Then you simply can not double charge the case if you always seat the bullet right after looking in the case because the bullet is in the way. All the Dillon’s have a excellent Fail-Safe System to help prevent short stroking and double charges as a result of short stroking the press.

    Dillon 650. This is a 5 station auto-indexing press. Because it’s a 5 station press it has room for a Powder Check Die. Besides that it’s a typical Dillon. It’s sold just like the 550 with out dies but with the caliber conversion parts you need for your chosen caliber. Caliber conversions take a little more time and are more expensive than the 550. If you shoot a lot you won’t care because you will buy a casefeeder and really crank out the ammo. Strength are it’s 5 stations, auto-indexing for added speed. Caliber conversion costs more and takes more time to accomplish than a 550.

    Options I would probably buy with any Dillon from the start are:

    1) Toolholder/Wrench Set $26. Has a set of Ball Head Allen Wrenchs and a Bench Wrench.

    2) Dillon Lock rings if you use the Lee dies (550/650 only)

    3) Spare Parts kit. This avoids any downtime if you break anything.

    That’s it. I know there are a lot more but start simple and cheap (at least for a Dillon). For instance I used to think having a bunch of primer tubes was important. Now I like the change in pace that I get from loading 100rds, taking a break to load a primer tube and loading another 100rds, repeat. So I don’t use my extra primer tubes any longer. Spare parts kit avoids any downtime. Dillon will replace the parts that wear out.

    Recommended Setup:

    550/650, comes with proper powder die, buttons, powder funnel. Add either Dillon Dies or the Lee 3 or 4 dieset (if you use the three die set get the crimp die as well), Scale, Dial Calipers, Tumbler. Add the Dillon 1 inch lock rings if you use the Lee Dies. Spare parts kit, Toolholder.

    Hornady Lock N Load (LnL)

    The LnL is like a 650 with some minor but important differences. It is a 5 station auto-indexing press. It does not use a toolhead but instead mounts each die in its own individual bushing. So you don’t change a toolhead you just change out the dies one at a time in their bushings. They don’t loose their adjustment. As a result you don’t have to swap over the Powder Measure when you do caliber conversions. Some people really like the setup as it makes some things easier. The LnL is a 5 station press but as it ships from the factory it uses all its available stations because it does not flare and drop powder at the same time. So unlike the Dillon the LnL does not come standard with a Powder Measure/die that flares the case and throws the powder charge all at the same time. It uses a separate die to flare the case mouth and that die takes up the extra station it has over the 550. Hornady sells the proper dies for flaring or you can use a Lee Powder die with the powder funnel installed to hold the expander in place. You can convert the LnL to flare and throw the powder all at the same time. It’s called the Powder Through Expander(PTX). The PTX has not received good reviews from some people. You only need it if you are going to add a powder check die. It works fine for most people who don’t use lead bullets. Even some people have success with it and lead bullets. I hear it is getting redesigned to flare better and that would really solve its only drawback. Hornady does not offer as many calibers with the PTX setup check to be sure your desired calibers have the proper insert. The Press does not come with a shell plate. Get the proper shell plate when you order the press. One other difference with the LnL over the 550/650 is you load both the bullet and case on the left side of the press. 550/650 you load the bullet on the left and the case on the right. Besides that the LnL is much like the 650 and it’s a lot less expensive. Hornady recently has been working hard to improve this press (new ejection system). They have a lifetime warranty on the press as well. Once dialed in it’s a fast, inexpensive press especially if Hornady is offering Free Bullets like it normally does. It does seem to require a little more time/effort to setup then the Dillon because the instructions are not as good. Many of the Dillon accessories can be adapted to work on the LnL. If you are willing to spend the time to learn it’s setup then this press is a great press. Many claim it’s Powder Measure is better then the Dillon. It even indexes in ½ steps which is unique and smoother. The powder measure has some great options that Dillon does not offer. It does not come with a Low Primer Warning system. You can adapt the RCBS/Dillon system to the LnL.

    Recommended Setup.

    LnL, Shellplate, Hornandy Custom Grade New Dimension Dies, add a crimping die of your choice (Lee Dies can work fine), Scale, Dial Calipers, Tumbler. Add a RCBS low primer sensor as well. PTX die if you are going to want a powder check die. An aftermarket PTX die insert is available at I have heard good things about this PTX option.

    Rifle Shooters.

    The 5 station press comes in handy when you are loading bottle neck cartridges because of the powder check die. It is difficult to look through the small neck of the .223. A powder check die really helps in these situations. Many people reload .223 on a LCT and 550 so don’t let that hold you back from buying either machine.

    Choosing your press.

    So how do you choose? Well, I can’t answer that easily and frankly there is no right answer. I will say the LCT is a great first press. It’s inexpensive and easy to learn. It makes some acceptable tradeoffs in the name of price. 550 is simple for a progressive; (one pull of handle gives you one cartridge). It’s probably the easiest to setup and use for a newbie. It does everything it tries to do well but does not try to do everything. Simplicity and reliability are its strengths. LnL is a tough press to classify. It’s cheaper than the 550. It’s on par with the 650 in some ways and some will argue its better than the 650 in others. Once you set it up as a real 5 station press it’s a smoking good deal for the money. But people have had issues with that PTX die so be aware it may not function as well as a 5 Station Press. It too has a lifetime warranty. People are loyal to Dillon and continue to pay a premium for Dillon products. More USPSA shooters use Dillon Presses by a HUGE margin but Hornady is gaining ground. These are tough calls. You can’t go wrong with any of the above listed presses. Wise people have said “A press is a lifetime investment. Cost should not be a huge factor” Good luck and enjoy your new hobby.

    One Final Thing
    I want to thank RustyFN and bhawkeye for previewing this article. However, For better or worse the opinions expressed are completely my own.

    For some discussion on LCT Kits and other less expensive choices read this thread.
    Last edited: Sep 8, 2015

  3. gconan


    May 1, 2000
    What does it take to do Precision Pistol, 45acp? Or rather what press would be best for that catagory? Thank you!
  4. Hydraulicman


    May 21, 2007
    the precision is in the load development. the LnL or the dillon or singlestage would be good for precision .45 auto
  5. Colorado4Wheel


    Nov 2, 2006
    My statement was that this THREAD was not designed to help you do Precision Rifle or Pistol. To do that follow all the instructions in the Lyman manual. Triming, etc. It won;t make much difference unless you pistol is really good. Press won't make much difference either. All the presses will do a better then needed job if you do your part.
  6. RustyFN


    Sep 29, 2006
    West Virginia
    Looks good C4W.
  7. buckhunter3987


    Nov 2, 2004
    **I hereby nominate for Sticky!!**

    any seconds?
  8. Fire_Medic

    Fire_Medic Polymer Butcher CLM

    May 19, 2008
    The Gunshine State
    Second the Motion on the Floor! :wavey:
  9. vote Republican

    vote Republican White and nerdy Moderator

    Aug 23, 2002
    OAF Mecca, MD
    it's sticky now.

    Don't worry, the OP thought of it first though :supergrin:
  10. Short Bus

    Short Bus

    Jan 11, 2008
    Western NC
    Very good read for a noob...which I am to all of this. Thanks.
  11. Colorado4Wheel


    Nov 2, 2006
    Thanks, that was the intention.
  12. GlockerJeff


    Nov 23, 2007
    Where would be a good places to look for used equipment?
  13. IndyGunFreak


    Jan 26, 2001
    Same places you look for used anything else..

    Ebay, Gunbroker, Craigs List, etc..

  14. buckhunter3987


    Nov 2, 2004
    Be careful though, these days I see things sell on ebay for more than you could by them new from mfg. or in the store.:faint:

    Im new too and have been using my dads stuff while I get my own. I am almost there thanks to the Lee Classic Turret Kit. But to my dismay, the Lee scale lived up to all its bad reviews. So I was looking on ebay for a decent beam scale. I got out bid several times and they always ended up paying atleast $5 more after shipping than you could get at cabelas or midway. Finally got one for around $40 after shipping.
  15. Landric

    Landric Supervisor?

    Yeah, a couple of months ago I decided to sell some used RCBS .40/10mm dies since I don't handload for either anymore. I didn't know how crazy ebay had gotten with handloading stuff, the last time I bought something for handloading there I got a great deal and no one was bidding on the stuff.

    Anyway, I put the dies with a start of .01 and a $26 Buy it Now. They ended up selling for about $48 plus shipping. At the time they sold Midway had them for about $38 plus shipping new (and they were in stock). There are several auctions on there right now for die sets I have seen in stock at various online vendors that are bid up higher than the online vendors are selling them for. Ebay is no longer a place to get a deal on handloading stuff unless one gets lucky or needs something that most folks don't.
  16. Messenger

    Messenger American Made

    Mar 1, 2009
    Kernersville, NC
    I have been reloading for less than a year. I have a LNL Hornady single stage. I am wanting to get an AP press. The Dillons are really sweet but since most of my equipment is already Hornady, the 1000 bullet rebate, and the price is very appealing. What is the gerneral concenses on Hornady AP presses? Thanks for any input............Bill
  17. Colorado4wheel..
    Thanks for your excellent write up on getting started reloading..
    I am a reloader wanta be so I was wondering if you would hold a show and tell about thisd.. I see you are in Colorado and so am I.. I live in Conifer which is in the foothills above Denver..
    A few explinations in person would go a long way toward making this newbie feel lots better..
    Thanks in advance for your help!
    Ron Husak
  18. IndyGunFreak


    Jan 26, 2001
    Am I missing something here? The Load Master uses 1 Station for Case Flare/Powder drop, and has a 5 station Turret, why could it not accomodate a powder check die?

    Edit: Nevermind, I forgot about how priming is done on the LM.

    Last edited: Jun 8, 2009


    Jul 5, 2008
    Thanks for the informative post Colorado4wheel. I'm clicks away from placing my order for a LCT setup.
  20. Cobra64

    Cobra64 Deals in Facts

    These are excellent threads, but you might want to break up the looooonnng paragraphs for ease of reading. Just a thought... :)