By Jim Duke
Thanks to the high prices and crappy availability of ammo these days, I’ve been hand loading most of the .38/.357 ammo I shoot. I started out using the LEE handloading kit. Even though I generally like the press, one thing I’ve had a problem with is all the dang hammering involved. Since I never could get the knack of hammering quietly, my wife and kids hated to see me break out my reloading stuff. I can’t really blame them since I usually felt the need to put some ear plugs in myself. Also, all that banging “allegedly” played a part in the demise of our coffee table but that has yet to be proven . . .
Since I don’t have the desire or space to own a big, expensive loading press I was pretty happy when I saw the LEE Hand Loading Press online. After some searching I found one for about $45 that came with an attachment for priming my brass. I saw one that didn’t come with the primer for about $10 less. I’m not really sure why anyone would go for that one. I happily paid for my new press and headed home to play.
Right out of the box I noticed two things about the LEE press. The first is that it’s very lightweight. That made me happy because I had every intention of sitting in my chair in front of the TV for much of my reloading activities. The second thing I noticed was how well made it felt despite being so light. I felt confident that it would last far longer than my interest in hand loading. Nothing about the press feels cheap.
My press came with a tube of case lube, a funnel, and the aforementioned case primer. The primer can be set up for both large and small primers and assembles in seconds. I have primed several hundred cases with it so far and it works great. It may not be as fast as some case primers out there but if you are doing it to a smaller scale as I am, it’s more than adequate. It’s definitely better than banging them into the case with the other kit.
LEE dies can be installed and swapped in seconds with no tools needed. For noobs like me, Lee includes some fairly thorough instructions that do a good job of demonstrating the proper use of the dies. At every stage of the hand loading process, the LEE Hand Press operated smoothly and once I got the hang of it, I was producing rounds that looked almost as good as factory loads. Of course my wife likes it because she doesn’t have to listen to a bunch of racket every time I want to load some ammo.
The overall design of the press offers good leverage which allows lazy people like me to use the least amount of force possible and still get great results. I’ve loaded a few hundred rounds with this press and have never had to press very hard, even when crimping. I’d say that even my eleven year old son could easily use it with no problem.
The beauty of the LEE Hand Press is that it doesn’t need to be mounted to work. That means I can load ammo almost anywhere. I usually like to pop in a movie, sit in my recliner and take my time loading a hundred rounds or so. Also, since I travel for work, I can put everything I need for loading into a box and take my whole setup with me out of town. Since I’m currently working in Wyoming, which is a shooter’s paradise, this is great since I spend most of my free time goofing around out in the badlands.
If there’s a negative about the LEE Hand Press it would have to be that in gaining portability, you give up economy of movement. The press is by no means hard to use, but if a guy had to load a thousand rounds, he’d likely be better off with one of the mounted setups. By the time I get finished loading a hundred rounds or so, I’m pretty sick of doing it. I don’t really see that as a bad thing since small scale loading is what it’s made for and it does a great job.
Here’s a decent down and dirty demo of the LEE press by GunsKnivesSurvival:
I can’t help but recommend the LEE Hand Press. It’s an outstanding value for the price (MSRP $68.00) and a good way for beginners to get into hand loading. It’s also a good tool for more experienced loaders who might have a need for a portable press from time to time. With the LEE Hand Loading Press and the right dies, you can get everything you need to start loading for just over $100 – or about half the price of the full size presses I’ve seen.
A version of this review appeared at Jim’s blog, Unsolicited Biased Opinion and is reprinted here with permission.