Saturday, March 28, 2015

Lee loader : Reloading for economy and fun!

It seems as though every reloading company has some "eternal" product that carries on and on and sets the standard in its niche. As far as "intro to reloading" goes the Lee Loader fills that niche with honors. Its been made to reload just about any major shoulder fired cartridge case and hull you can imagine (short of 50bmg...but even then I'm sure there is somebody who has copied the Lee loader for the 50BMG). Here is a good place to start as a primer on lee loaders


The Lee loader is hands down the most economic way to load ammunition for your rifle, pistol or shotgun. Even if you are a veteran reloader you can not help not giving due credit to this overly simple and effective tool.

The Appeal- Say you purchase a rifle like the Savage Axis in 30/06....you don't shoot but maybe 80 rounds a year to hunt and keep in good shooting form with. You really dislike the $1 a shot and then some for the ammo you are seeing on the shelves. While looking at the reloading kits at one of the "worlds largest outfitter stores" you see this little "lee loader -30/06" you do some research and for under $30 you can be set up to load yourself ammo instead of what may have been a lot more for press, dies and all offending accessories.

A few caveats with this line of thinking, you also will need a good powder scale, primers, bullets and a hard rubber mallet DO NOT USE your claw hammer. Other than that you are set to go.

Pro tip- Even if you are loading on a STURDY bench you may still want to use a large steel block under your set up to absorb the pounding so items on said bench don't migrate off bench.

Today we'll be loading some .38 special since I've been shooting that caliber a lot lately. The pistol dies are a little different than the rifle dies but they all perform the same basic tasks and the same theory is behind both sets.

First we grab our decapping rod and decapping chamber and with our RUBBER mallet we drive the primer out. Decap all your cases first.

Pro tip- If you are handy and you have the material cutting a notch in your steel block (or dense wood?) so that the spent primer falls into a tray or other bin of sometype will speed up the process some. Having spent primers floating all around is not good.

Step 1 remove primer

Rubber mallet- Yes its an import but it goes with our affordability theme here....also my older plastic mallet kind of gave up the ghost.

Don't even think about using this!!!!!


Step 2: hammer case flush with die


Grab your priming base/bullet seater combination tool.

Place primer in hole

Set die with case facing down on top of priming tool

Lightly tap, get a feel for this step and go slow, check primer about halfway through to ensure its seated straight and true

A coffee mug is great for pouring powder into to scoop from, After your done loading pour powder back into original container. Never leave powder out when you are not loading ammo.


Now here is one area I get a little fussy with when it comes to the included scoop supplied with the lee loader. This scoop is the .5cc scoop, it is supposed to throw a 4.6gr charge of unique....ok well thats all fine and good but when I weighed the charge it did throw it came out to 3.9gr everysingle time. Still a safe minimum as per some load books however this is a good reason to have a powder scale on hand so you know what charge the scoop throws. DON'T TRUST WHAT THEY SAY IT SHOULD THROW.

PRO TIP- If you have a good powder measure you can take a fired case like a 9mm and wrap some medium weight wire arounds its base, now you can use this as a scoop and file the case shorter until you get the charge you are wanting, A coat of nail polish on the outside with a sharpie label can let you know what scoop is for what powder and exact charge it was made to throw. Cheap and effective!

In goes our powder
 Next we take our combination tool and adjust the bullet seater stem a little at a time and trial fit until we get the bullet seated to where we want it.
Adjusting the seater requires loosening the lock ring and running down the stem in the pistol set.
 We may or may not flare the case mouth at this point, I forgot to take a picture of that process but no biggie, next the bullet is dropped in and seater is situated on top.
Whack-a-mole that bullet into place (gently)

Pro tip- Again if you are handy I would highly suggest making a sort of tool rack for the rods, flare tool and bases. putting each tool back after each use and in the order you use them would make loading even faster. Also a scrap block of wood drilled with a spade bit can make a marvelous loading block on the cheap! And its good for the environment!?

And presto- We loaded a round of .38 special

If we wish to crimp our bullet we simply flip the die over to the side we poured the powder through and placing the bullet nose down tap lightly with our mallet a few times to get the desired crimp. It does not take much so check after a few taps and you will get the feel for it quickly.

About a round a minute is doable

I have shown how a single round of pistol ammunition can be loaded very cheaply, quickly and with minimal tools. I have a very extensive reloading set up with lots of fancy equipment however loading with the lee loader is as simple as you can get and very enjoyable. If a man was stuck in a cabin for awhile I would much rather load my ammo with one of these than the nicest progressive press out there. Its fun, its simple and relatively safe. The lee loader is perhaps all you might ever need to satisfy your ammunition consumption. OR it could be a great way to find out of reloading is something you want to dive deeper into. These kits are hands down great for the beginner who is learning on their own and has the time to do it right and read up on it.

The link below goes to the instructions for the Lee Loader in its pistol form.


http://leeprecision.com/cgi-data/instruct/RE1423.pdf

PAK-TOOL -A point of interest in reloading equipment


I came across this little hand press reloading tool called the "PAK-TOOL"  in an estate that was being liquidate. This tool is supposed to be a compact tool for the cabin, range bench or where ever you need a compact tool to load your ammo. It seems to have been offered in quite a few calibers. I won't be reloading any ammo with this tool but I thought I would post it here as a point of interest, not something you see very often and surely something I have never come across until now. The tool uses proprietary dies, shell holders and rods to perform all the steps necessary.  ALL the parts are proprietary, nothing translates over to other dies, presses or what have you. This particular tool was set up for 45-70 but also included shell holders for a few other calibers of which the dies were not present. Its an interesting idea but it didn't seem to take off. 

It looks more complicated than it actually is and the press itself is very well thought out.


Instructions

The instructions make it seem more complicated than it actually is as well.....the inventor could have benefited from a Kaizen mentor. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Winchester 94 1968 Bent carrier : or : Winchester breaks A John Browning design....

There are few things I hate more than a well designed gun, economized to the point the basic function of said firearm is jeopardized. From my readings there was a span in the mid-late 60's that Winchester not only changed the steel of their receivers to take some butt ugly looking bluing but they also used stamped carriers that more often than not BENT with little use of the gun. Luckily I was able to secure a machined carrier to replace in my '68 vintage 94 and we're back up and running. The 94 is such a simple design believe it or not and has a lot of features one may not realize existed, such as a built in firing pin safety in which when the lever is actuated it actually cams the firing pin back away from the breech face. John Browning designed it so you know its a solid design...well that and its over 110 years old now so for it to survive this long it had to be....  My particular gun is in 30-30 as most of these rifles were. Its a "beater" of sorts. The 40 year old firing pin also needs replaced so we are waiting on that part still....however looking at how simple the thing is and cost of replacements I may just make one really quick on the lathe with the use of a ball turning turret to ensure the correct taper is achieved.




A quick 15 minutes turned my 94 into a puzzle of parts.

Bent stamped carrier on top, machined carrier on bottom, NOTE bottom carrier is shorter, this made me think it was the wrong carrier but it is not!


Function proven with the use of snap caps, range test next....after the firing pin is replaced of course.


Monday, March 16, 2015

Williams FP-RU-77 sight installation on a Ruger 77/357 : or : NECG sight need not apply....wouldn't mind trying a Skinner though.


Most Ruger rifles leave something to be desired in sights, mostly their rear sights. It's the same with other "field" type rifles such as remington 700's and such. I've never been able to shoot well with the rear notch type sight as it does not offer the accuracy I am looking for. Now I can hit stuff with the notch sight but its not what I prefer....kind of like Tom selleck's character from Quigley down under...."I said I never had much use for one. Never said I didn't know how to use it". Anyways I went on a search for a rear sight for this 77/357 as the flip up notch rear wasted sight radius and does not allow for easy adjustment. Now NECG does make a "drop in" rear sight but they wanted too much for the dang thing and it looks butt ugly, and this is coming from a guy that thinks Mosin Nagants are beautiful. That and you give up your ability to mount a scope if you ever wanted to put one on for whatever reason without loosing your zero. Skinner sights makes a lovely replacement and is easily adjustable, you retain the factory sight radius though.  My solution was to find and install a FP-RU 77 rear sight on my receiver. FP=Foolproof...except these 77/357 receivers are not drilled from the factory so we'll have to do it ourselves. No worries, we have the technology!

123 blocks, hold downs and brass shims are used. Receiver only needs to be flat since we are drilling one hole at a time.

I'll be drilling the receiver on my Bridgeport mill, the cast stainless receiver is much softer than I anticipated. This made things a lot easier as far as tapping and drilling went. My first problem was finding a way to mount the receiver level in on the mill table, two 123 blocks were used under the receiver. A pair of hold downs and brass shims to keep the receiver from getting scratched were also utilized. The 77/357 receiver has a few high spots that you need to be aware of so you are sure the frame is level. The sharpie lines you can see are my guides as I free drill the 1st hole, making sure to not get into the bottom of the reciever just below the raceway. My goal was to be just a few thousandths above it and the first hole is drilled all the way through and tapped. I reversed the drill bit in the chuck while setting up so I got a accurate measurement as to where the hole needed to be.
Side view of set up.

Lots of magic tap is used while drilling the hole....I have to say I was a little nervous in drilling as I only had one chance to get it right. A #31 drill bit was used to tap the hole for the 6-48 threads.



First hole drilled, now since I don't have a fancy jig for hole spacing  I'll remove the receiver and tap the first hole. At that point I will install the sight, make sure it is level and then go off of that for the second hole using the tap installed in the chuck to make sure the base is where I want it for the second hole.



Tiny tap handle with tiny tap! 6-48 tap shown. A taper tap was used although a bottoming or plug tap is shown.


Here is where I messed up..as in I forgot to take pictures...through the magic of the internet I will just skip the the sight base installed with the stock already inletted (easily done). The stock needed trimmed down about 1/4" to allow the sight to sit as low as possible. The stock being solid in this area took the modification easily. Once both holes were drilled and tapped I cleaned them up with a file on the inside to break the hanging chips away and stoned the outside lightly after tapping it off so as not to scratch the receiver. This ensures the base will mount flush. When tapping it is important that the tap is square with the receiver, lots of tap magic is used again and chips are cleared away very often. After we are done with tapping we clean up the receiver with brake cleaner and a air hose, making sure all the chips are gone. Then we install the sight, oil up the parts that need it and we're ready for the range!




Sight installed, everything is level and ready for the range! I can still install a scope on the 2nd rear mounting area and have my irons as a back up! looks a lot better than I thought it would. 





Thursday, March 12, 2015

MiHec 360640 with options!


I'm a member over at castboolits.gunloads.com and to say we love our cast boolits is an understatement. Every once in a while we'll get together and commission custom molds. Below is one that is currently being produced (no additional order are being taken, buys close when the mold starts production). I'm looking forward to it for my 38/357 carbine/revolver combination. I've often heard how good the 125gr bullet is in the .357 Mag and this little pill should offer some good range sessions by the looks of it!  There were two options given to us, we could either go with a gas check or without. I went without  a check as bullets sized and lubed correctly (I love my carnuba red) should not lead. MiHec is the manufacturer of the molds, I have one other custom mold from him for my .500 S&W and its simply a work of art. 

I'm also waiting on 2 other custom molds, one heavier 38/357 mold and a additional mold for .375 H&H



Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Lee speed die 357 magnum 38 special picture comparison



As promised previously pictures of the .357 speed die and its parts (left parts) and .38 special speed die parts (right) in comparison. The die body has internal differences, also the carbide inserts are slightly different.  Obviously the decap/flare stem and seater stems are different.  




P.S. As spring approaches rather rapidly I hope to have at least two and at most three more book reviews up before I officially leave the reading room for the range for the season.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

.357 Magnum and .38 Special LEE Speed die update : Observations

In my .357 Magnum Speed die post  I pondered what made the .357 mag speed die specific to .357 magnum. I fathomed  that it was only the decap flare stem that made it .357 specific but alas I was wrong! In fact not only is the decap flare stem different, the die body itself has different INTERNAL dimensions...Looks like just over 1/8"  which is how much longer the .357 is to the .38 special. But the bullet seater stem is longer in the .38 special set as well, which makes sense since it would have to reach further down into the die to seat a bullet.

Picture of compared parts coming soon, If you are looking at getting one of these speed dies to load both 38 special and .357 mag I'm sorry but it will not work. The dies are very cartridge specific as the the case lengths are different .135" difference actually.  The whack a mole type lee loader will work for both .357 magnum as well as .38 Special as will most 3 or 4 die sets.  Would you rather have 2 dies to load 2 cartridges or 3 dies to load two cartridges when those 3 dies are still in production and widely available.

Sorry for any inconvenience I may have caused on this assumption of interchangeability. I myself would have liked to see one speed die be able to load both as that would have made a very handy on the range set up for testing. Stay safe out there.

Lee loader overview: or : possible reloading tools for beginners


As winter gives us here in Ohio another round of 10° highs and constant wind with sputtering precipitation I start to think more about long days spent out at the range.  Even though simple pleasures like ringing the steel gong at 200 yards is still weeks away I have (as some of you may have noticed with my recent trend of posts) been obsessing over the .38 special / .357 Magnum combination, range time with the new carbine has been exceedingly limited. But as I mentioned in this post about the 38/357 carbine teamed up with like chambered revolvers  I wanted simplicity and utility in a revolver/carbine package that would be hard to beat. For going on 2 years now some ammo like .22LR has been cost prohibitive for a lot of folks, myself included in fact. No, we are not hurting for ammo at the wonderwolf residence but we aren't acting like we're in a time of plenty either. The way I see it is its more important now than ever to make every shot count. If you're not learning something from every pull of the trigger (even in dry firing) then you're not bettering yourself as a rifleman.  Reloading as has been mentioned before can save money, time and resources are your limiting factor. Getting the most utility out of your chosen tools (be it sewing kit, firearm, lathe/mill, car) is important.  Simplicity when starting to reload is important so you understand the basics steps and learn what to look for. As you see your need grow you can determine if its worthwhile to put more resources into tooling. Start with a few select books on the subject if you are just starting out, here is a good place to start if you are not sure where to look .  

"Lee loaders" through the years, these 4 boxed sets show the various ways these tools have come packaged.
                          
Reloading equipment-
The most basic tool for reloading a complete round of ammunition be it metallic or a shot-shell cartridge is the "Lee Loader".  Economic and somewhat versatile the "LL" is designed to offer everything except the components to load ammunition. A note here however, these dies in the bottle neck cases ,30/06, 223, 30-30 etc only neck size. As you will find in the directions you are instructed to only use cases that have been fired in your gun. Which works out well if you think about it, save your brass for that Savage axis in 30/06 or Ruger American  and when you go to load it with this kit you'll only be neck sizing for your rifle, something that can aid in accuracy as well as brass life though your mileage may vary. Lee comments that cases fired in pump, semi or lever actions gun can not be reloaded with these kits. I imagine that this mostly applies to the bottle neck/tapered cases. However I would keep this in mind no matter what gun you are looking at reloading for.

Top left and top center kit are pistol kits, top right kit is 30/06 , bottom is .410 shotgun kit.
If you take a closer look you'll note 2 of the kits are missing parts, Common when it comes to used kits. Easy to fix though if you have a lathe. 

Pistol kits come with a flare tool as most pistol bullets have a very flat base and do not start as easy as rifle bullets with which boat tails or bevel bases are more common. If you find yourself wanting to flare your rifle cases I recommend being a little resourceful and look for a short punch at the hardware store that would give you a little flare...not much is needed however so beware. Lee makes a universal flare die for presses but that is outside the scope of this post.

A complete .38 special lee loader kit, Note this kit can also be used to load .357 Magnum as well.

The major parts of the .38 special set can be seen below, not much to it really. Midway currently sells the most if not all lee loader kits for $27.99.....How much is a box of 20 rounds for that 30/06 or .38 special again?

Pistol kit parts, Decapping chamber,  capping rod, priming base & bullet seater, flare tool, die body, decap rod & powder measure appropriate to caliber. All that is needed to convert to .357 mag would be a different powder measure (or scale) and load data.


Rifle set has a lot in common with the pistol set, die body is a 2 part die however, adjustable for bullet seating depth.
Incomplete 30/06 die set (missing decap stem, something I'll make on the lathe later), Note the die body on this set has a little more to it, the bullet seating depth is adjusted by adjusting the die body instead of a knurled knob on the bullet seater as can be seen with the pistol set. 


Although Lee no longer makes the shotgun shell loaders as pictured below they can still be readily found online for sale in various places as well as at gun shows. I have been told that it was a different "LEE" company that produced the shot-shell loaders. They probably went through some restructuring at some point and came out a new company. I'm not sure on this but LEE does not support the shot-shell loaders any longer.
.410 Shotshell kit, Powder & shot dippers, skive tool decap rod, priming rod, wad/crimp tamp and die body.


That gets most of the information out of the way I wanted to get out there before I started reviewing the individual dies, the end product they make and their accuracy. As time and weather permits I will post tests and results, for accuracy I'll be using the 30/06 dies out of a bolt action scoped rifle I have handy. 

I'll also make mention at this point that as I believe I said in my review of the "LEE LOAD MANUAL" the instructions for most all of their products are in the manual (load book) if you are curious about starting to reload this book is a good one to have besides "The ABC's of reloading". And as always if you don't know if you want to put money out yet for books.....check your local library! Stay safe out there.

Cost of reloading: or : 22LR in stock ?

 This post is meant for folks who reload or thinking about starting to reload, to everybody else you may be bored by the following. In preparation for the aforementioned lee loader review I wanted to share a fun fact I discovered a few months ago while talking about the availability of .22 LR with some other shooting folks. It seems to me that some people in the firearms culture are static when it comes to ammo availability. They obsess over what they can't get instead of seeing the opportunity to see what they can get in order to prepare for the next "paradigm" shift we will experience in this crazy world. IE.....primers are widely available right now, remember in 2007/8 or so when primers were none existent on shelves? AR mags were kind of the same thing there for awhile as well. Now .22 LR has seemed to have held on the longest to being absent from the shelves.

 Now, that isn't the fun fact I discovered....the fact is reloading (small center fire pistol) is now cheaper than buying .22LR ammunition (even cheaper if you are REALLY lucky and get it for shelf price of  $27) but it seems like everybody has it (2nd hand) at $60 per 550 round bulk packs. This isn't a new fact really for those of us who have reloaded for awhile, but it wasn't until now when I actually looked at the cost and was kind of pleased to see what it was(n't) costing me to shoot as often as I like.

Lets take a look at the numbers really quick, these are prices I have paid within the last 3 months. Store shelf purchased, no special deals here. Though I will admit availability in your area will vary. obviously reloading equipment is not factored in.

1lb of Bullseye powder- $19
1,000 small pistol primers $30
Lead is for the taking really, you just have to know where to look.
Brass...you've been saving your brass haven't you? I have only traded or picked up all the pistol brass I have with few exceptions.


Now on that 1lb of Bullseye, if  I'm throwing a common 2.7gr charge it will give me 2592 charges, that is less than 7/10 of a penny per round. Let that sink in for a moment and at the same time remember .22LR is selling between $.05 and $.11 per round....with some brands going for more. The proof is in the math however, start multiplying and we quickly see that in 500 rounds of .38 special we've only used $3.66 worth of powder. Primers??? $15 for that same 500 rounds. That's $18.66 for 500 rounds of ammo.....

You can get well into reloading for under $100, you really don't need much in fact the most expensive thing is going to be a good powder scale. Even if you use a lee loader you will want a good powder scale to double check your charges. Used lee loaders are everywhere and affordable. Even if you want to get into die sets you can still do it for under $100 with a press. My point is be dynamic to the situation, learn to be resourceful as well as frugal as time permits (and resources). If you're not happy with the availability of one commodity like .22 rimfire, don't focus on it especially while the price is so high. Instead look elsewhere for the things you need.

A 2 cavity mold would cost you somewhere around $20 or so from lee, smelting pots can be found cheap at garage sales or flea markets (plumbers pots as well).

This is also a good argument for staying with common calibers like 40 S&W and 9mm.....I don't think I will ever have a want for 9mm brass for all the range pick up I have, same with 40 S&W....and .223 rem in fact. Now obviously there are lots of exceptions, if you have a 50bmg or a 5.7x28 or any other cost not a factor type gun and you don't reload and have not won the lottery or are otherwise well off then reloading is a way for you to shoot that firearm more. Nobody is a master of a safe queen, practice practice practice. May be time to look at options that would allow you more range time, true you may have to buy a gun in a different caliber....but last I checked not a single one of us ever complained about that. Just remember to clean/lube that .22LR gun before you put it up for awhile, this foolishness with the .22 ammo may go on for some time.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Practical Dope On The BIG BORES- By Fred C. Ness

As we continue to skim the bookshelves of home and the library another promising volume comes up packed with information....some obsolete and some useful. "Practical Dope on The BIG BORES" By Ness is a 300+ page reference work on everything from where his book on the .22's left off. In fact this book goes all the way up to the .50 cal cartridges including the .50 BMG. If you have read "PD on .22's" then you would quickly gather  that Ness loves to hunt varmints and do most of his testing on them. "PD on The BB's" starts of course with some smaller big bores in the 25 caliber range and their use on varmints and the like, in fact all the way through the book Ness discuses a good many varmint loads for the various big bore rifles excluding the very large ones however. The book printed after WWII of course has a lot of obsolete load data with obsolete components, however one would be surprised at how much still remains today with some calibers, the bullets they use and powder still in use....proven load combinations that have stood the test of time. The book covers some very obscure cartridges and is packed with great ballistic data as well, great for those interested in the progression of precision performance hunting rifles post WWII. I found a great wealth of knowledge covering America's favorite center fire hunting cartridge the 30/06 as well...Ness dedicates a large number of pages to various loads for the famous '06 including yes....varmint loads sporting pulled 93gr .30 cal luger bullets. Brown bear as well as moose loads with 220gr bullets are also talked about and everything in between that and those little 93gr pills. The book as stated before is older but we find it still has a lot of  great information on design, ballistics and challenges overcome by what was then cutting edge technology.....or desperation for needed performance out of what was at hand.

"Practical Dope On The BIG BORES" By Ness is a great book to add to your library and read if you are the kind of person that is interested in attaining a more intimate understanding of the performance requirements of rifle, cartridge, powder and bullet of choice for either target work or deep woods hunting. You might not agree with everything contained in the 300 some odd pages but a lot of good information is covered all of which gets a body (novice or advanced) thinking about the physics of bullet performance. 

The copy used in this review was obtained through my local library loan program but I sure will be on the lookout for a copy for myself as I learned a great deal and desire a permanent copy for future reference. Like Ness' previous book  this one was a copy of a special 1500 edition run. 

Saturday, January 31, 2015

The Lee Speed die in .357 Magnum : Can one die replace 3?



Continuing with the Lee products reviews here is one that did not survive for long and was discontinued some time ago. The "Lee Speed Die" was Lee's answer to try and replace a 3 die set with one single die, or was it? Lets take a look at a .357 Magnum Carbide Speed die and see how well this was thought out.


The Lee speed die ad line is as follows "One die replaces three. The first significant pistol die breakthrough since the carbide die. When used in any single station press, the Lee Speed Die reloads faster than three die sets because you don't have to change dies between operations. Carbide Speed Die, shellholder, powder measure and loading data included."

My particular die set is missing the powder dipper...no worries I have a full set under the bench if I wished to utilize the dippers, everything is present and clean though does show use prior to it coming into my hands.
Seems like Lee was more interested in selling the die as a "faster" option than having to swap out individual dies. Hence "Speed die" I believe they marketed the wrong attribute of the die here. For one I don't believe that hand-loaders as a group really look for any quick way to change out dies really, we'll just go to a turret or progressive press. Correct me if I'm wrong but we don't mind swapping out dies. So what does that mean for the Speed die? can it be the "jack of all trades" and really replace your 3 die set? Lets take a look at how the die is put together.

L-R Carbide sizing ring, die body, decapper/flare stem and seater stem.

The die is basically made up of 4 major components, the carbide sizer ring, die body, decap/flare stem and seater stem. The carbide sizer ring screws into the bottom of the body  and the two stems are placed into the top as needed. This die is well thought out from a engineering stand point I believe. The decap stem is from what I can tell the only thing that makes this a .357 Magnum die set in that the decap stem has a set length from where it would bottom out in the case and the upper stem where it gives a VERY slight flare to the bell the case mouth NOT TRUE, read here to see what I've learned about their differences . OK, so those are the parts let us see this dog can hunt.

Provided instruction sheet- a link to the PDF version of this is provided at the bottom of this post
Following the provided instructions we set up the stripped down die body in the reloading press as instructed making sure the case mouth slightly touches the die.

Next we install the carbide sizer ring and we FL size all of our brass, in this abbreviated test I am sizing 15 pieces of various .357 Mag brass all range pick up that are all various sizes. After sizing the brass I measure the OD of them and compare with my other 3 die sets...exact same OD on both, in fact with the way the carbide sizing die ring is set up it seemed like it sized further down on the case even. On other die sets the carbide ring is recessed a little to protect the carbide, so failure of this component is a concern if die is not set up correctly. 

After our 15 pieces of brass are sized we remove the carbide ring (with die body still in place) this is what makes it a "speed die" remember!? We move on to decap/flaring.


Next in following the directions we drop in the decapper and secure with the bullet seater

Bullet seater threaded on top holds decapper in place. Position is not critical

From here we decap/flare our 15 pieces of brass. Some Lee fans out there might know that the Lee loader (whack a mole type) for the .357 and .38 use all the same components in the kit EXCEPT for the load data and powder dipper (whack a mole review coming soon).  This kind of utility is a boon to the minimalist, so I started thinking "what makes this speed die a .357 mag specific set and it dawned on me The decap/flare stem is the only caliber specific component for this die, a body could make another decap/flare stem and be set for .38 special as well....in theory. I'll report back later on this....NOT TRUE! click here to read what I have learned about their differences


Basically what I'm saying at least in theory as I have not had a chance to compare it with the .38spl speed die I also acquired, is that all you need to make your .357 magnum speed die into a .38spl speed die is the appropriate proportioned decap/flare stem.....something to think about.

Sorry, got sidetracked, lets finish up this batch of 15 rounds, we have sized, decapped and flared our brass, now we need to prime it. For this I will use the Lee Ram Prime tool which forces us to change out the die...they want you to use a Lee Auto-prime in the instructions but I only have a fancy RCBS priming unit and it takes more time to mount it on the bench than setting up the lee ram prime so the lee prime it is. If you are interested in the Lee primer unit there is a review one post down from this review. 




After we have primed our cases with appropriate primers we are ready to weigh out powder charges, charge the cases and seat the bullets. I am seating 125gr jacketed bullets on top of a healthy charge of 16.8gr of 2400, this has proven to be a pretty good flame thrower load out of my guns and is fun to shoot towards the end of range sessions. The bullet seater is easy to adjust however as mentioned in the instructions you must turn the die body in 1/4 for light crimping and 1/2 turn for heavy crimping which is usually suggested with light bullets on top of slower powders that take up a lot of case space. 




A note on seating, A page on lee's website mentions the die is not to be used with cast bullets. I find this somewhat odd as I don't really see why that would be a issue. The only thing I can come up with is the decapper/flare stem does not bell the case an appreciable amount needed for cast bullets. In fact it is just barely enough for the jacketed bullets I was using and some care must be taken to insure the bullet is started correctly or you run a risk of ruining the case.  I see no reason why you couldn't flare the case a little more and seat cast bullets with this die set....er this die. Maybe we're starting to see exactly why this particular line of reloading equipment was discontinued. It's is great for the minimalist wanting a step up from the lee loader whack a mole type dies but not wanting to have to mess with 3 dies, say a guy who has a S&W 686 that needs 100 rounds a month for matches and or plinking and is loading on his coffee table. I am not sure what the original MSRP was on the speed die compared to other 3 die (or 4 die sets) of the same manufacture. I'm willing to guess it was at least half or 3/4 of the cost of a full die set. But say you wanted to add on a lee universal flare die so you could load cast bullets with this die.....at that point you might as well start looking at the regular carbide 3 die sets.

 Speed dies were discontinued in the late 90's.
The Speed die does everything a 3-die set does by combining some steps, and by providing a removable carbide-sizing ring. When used in a single stage press, the Speed die is faster because one doesn't need to keep changing die bodies to perform different tasks. Simply swapping internal components accomplishes the same thing. The speed dies can only be used for jacketed bullets, can't be used for cast bullets.
Cartridges that were available at one time:
  • 9mm Luger
  • 38 Special
  • 357 Mag
  • 44 Mag
  • 45 ACP
Conclusion- The Lee Speed die I'm sure was met with some trepidation at its unveiling to the reloading public. Replacing 3 dies with one for the sake of speed was not the pitch I would have used to sell this product. The fact it was offered in probably the 5 highest selling calibers should have helped but it still was discontinued most likely to people not really sure the best way to use this die, or perhaps expected too much from it. These dies sell around $30 or so when found I have seen, so obviously some people have found a way to utilize the die. I myself will keep mine under the bench to go along with my hand press when I head to the range with plans to load test ammo on site. The 15 rounds we loaded all look very consistent, in fact with the way the decap/flare stem works its impossible to over bell the case mouths so brass should last a little longer. The crimps are consistent and the bullets all seated at the same depths....I'm very happy with the results.I would in fact say that yes 1 die CAN replace 3 however this one die does not have the versatility that 3 can provide...now for the weather to clear up and some range time to take place. The bullets I used in these loads were pulled bullets so it wont be fair to measure accuracy on target and compare results with like loads from 3 or 4 die sets as some of their noses were slightly deformed from being pulled down.  If you are a minimalist and wish to not accumulate a great many dies and accessories I believe it may be worth your while to try to track down a Lee Speed die if you are looking to reload for only one caliber (and hopefully its one of the 5 calibers they made). Stay safe out there!



Lee Ram Prime : or : The easiest priming unit I've tried


Lee Precision has some very simple and easy to use tools that I seem to always be pulling out to use. Their powder dipper sets are always utilized when I'm running small batches of test ammo, they allow me to get to within 5% of the intended load and trickle powder into my measure until I get the desired charge. Another one of their handy items is their "Lee Ram Prime" unit.  

The Lee Ram prime is a 2 part tool, the shell holder and ram adapter.
                                    
  This is not a priming unit for doing massive runs of ammo and you are forced to handle the primers one at a time....something a few reloaders really dislike doing. I have a nice RCBS priming unit that does not have a dedicated spot on my table, it uses pickup tubes and though its easy to use  I dislike setting it up to only load 15 rounds or so. Which is where the Lee Ram Prime comes in.

Shell holder installed.
The Priming unit is quick and easy, The shell holder...er holder...screws into the top of your press in place of your reloading die. The ram adapter goes where the shell holder normally would and you are ready to prime!
The priming unit does come with two sizes of "piston and collar" assemblies for the two sizes of primers you will be using. I even use this set up with a special 12ga shell holder to prime magtech all brass hulls for black-powder loads in my coach gun.



I always leave the press handle down and load a new primer in from this position. No real need to drop the ram all the way down to try and fumble a primer in there.

Primer in place

Case being primed
The lee ram prime is also really handy with the Lee hand press. For a small reloading set up it is a really convienent way to prime your cases. Now I know some will point out the fact my Rockchucker HAS a priming station on it, however for various reasons I've never been satisfied with the way the press mounted unit performed, I feel a lot of people have that same feeling as you see the units in junk reloading boxes often. Lee sells the tool for under $15 or so depending on where you get it from. I believe it is a worthwhile tool if you do small batch reloading and don't worry so much about production.