Reloading on the Cheap

50th Kit

50th Anniversary Kit

Shooting is a fun hobby, but it isn’t the cheapest thing you can do with your time.  After buying a gun, you have to spend money on range fees, targets and ammunition.  One of the traditional methods of economizing the shooting pastime is to reload your own ammo.

Handgun and rifle cartridges are made from four basic components: the bullet, the case, the primer and the powder.  Each time you pull the trigger, you lose three of the components, but the brass case stays with you.  That brass case can be reloaded with a new primer, fresh powder and a new bullet to make a ready-to-fire cartridge.

All of the components will cost money to acquire, but the brass case is typically the most expensive part, meaning that you can normally reload used cases for a fraction of the cost of buying new ammo.

Long time reloaders will have a plethora of special tools for maximizing accuracy and efficiency in their reloads.  The starting reloader can get going with just a few basic tools that are relatively inexpensive.  The press is central to the reloading process and is usually one of the more expensive tools the hand loader will buy.

For inexpensive, yet very functional reloading presses, I like the products made by Lee Precision.  Lee presses and dies tend to be a very good bargain and suit the needs of a great many reloaders.

Lee Challenger Press

For the starting reloader, it is hard to beat the single stage Challenger Press.  The press is a cast aluminum press in an “O” frame form.  It is strong enough to handle all pistol and most rifle cartridges.  The press can be found for less than $60.

The Challenger Press also comes in another package called the 50th Anniversary Kit.  The kit includes other Lee tools including a powder measure, scale, hand priming tools and more.  This kit can be found for about $100 online.

A recent update to the Challenger Press is the addition of the “breech lock” connections for the dies.  With a standard press, you would screw the die into the press, making small adjustments until the proper die depth was set.  Each time you removed the die, you would have to carefully go through the adjustment process again to make sure you got the die back to its desired location.

With the breech lock, the dies are adjusted one time and then can be swapped in and out at will without the need for readjustment.  To make this work, the die is screwed into a sleeve, which then twists into the press in about a 1/6th of a turn.  The die depth is set in the sleeve so the die can be removed and returned to the press without the need for readjustment.  This is a huge time saver.

Lee Hand Press

Lee Hand Press

If workspace is a concern, Lee makes a hand press kit, which takes a full size press and converts it into a handheld device.  All of the normal things you can do on a press you can do with the hand press.  The hand press is now made to use the breech lock bushing system, making it even easier to use.

I’ve used the Lee hand press to reload pistol cartridges.  The system works.  It is not nearly as convenient as a normal press mounted to a workbench, but it will do the job.  If you are living in a small apartment or otherwise cannot set up a normal press, the Lee hand press may be a good option for you.  The hand press kit will run you about $40 online, while the press alone is closer to $30.

Lee Loader


If money and space are really at a premium, Lee also makes kits called the Lee Loader. Available for around $25, each kit has the tools to reload a single caliber without the use of a press. 

To reload a cartridge, you simply use a hammer plus the kit to replicate all of the normal functions performed on a press. Though the system appears crude, it works very well and can make very accurate ammunition. 

One of the great things about the Lee Loader is it is very portable. In addition to loading on the garage workbench or front step, you can carry it with you to the range or into the field to hand load a few rounds if you desire. 

If you only need one to load for one caliber, and space is tight, the Lee Loader may be right for you.

Final Thoughts

Lee is but one company offering a wide range of reloading tools. Other manufacturers offer great quality products, but for sheer value it is hard to beat some of the Lee presses.

If you have the space, I highly suggest getting the Challenger Press instead of one of the hand press or Lee Loader. The Challenger Press will be easier and more efficient to work on.  However, if tight spaces preclude the larger press, both of the other Lee options can work for you.