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Tracing the history of home reloading

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By Don Lewis
Friday, Feb. 23, 2007

In the late 1940s, when home reloading was generating a small amount of interest among hunters and shooters, the equipment was pretty basic.

I've mentioned that most of us had a reloading press, powder measure, deburring tool and scale. Other equipment such as a primer pocket cleaner was homemade. It depended on the ingenuity of the handloader to make some of the more elementary tools.

The reloading press was the catalyst of all equipment. It was the tool most of us thought was the paramount piece of equipment to turn out quality reloads. For the most part, the reloading press of those days was relatively simple -- a heavy cast iron frame, long handle and heavy duty ram. The more the press weighed, the better it was -- at least that's what we thought.

The basic "C" frame type was the most popular and offered enough to strength to full-length resize a case without the press "springing." Springing actual means buckling. Some of the aluminum lightweight presses would "give" or "spring" when a case was being completely resized.

Not all presses were designed for full-length resizing. One that comes to mind is the old Lyman Tru-Line Jr. This was a quality press, but it simply didn't have the strength for full-length resizing or case swaging.

For years, I used a Herter's Turret Press that was both strong and heavy. Herter's claimed it was a progressive press, but it was a far cry from being progressive. The turret held six dies, which means that three different cartridges (two dies per cartridge) could be installed in the press. If all the cartridges had the same shell-head diameter, changing from one cartridge to another was simply turning the turret to the correct die set.

After using it as a progressive press for a month or two, I gave up on that idea and used the massive press as a single station press. It is more than 40 years old and has loaded thousands of shells, but it's still in superb condition.

Many of Herter's products fell a bit short of the advertising claims, but Herter's presses were super strong and well below the list price of many competitor's presses. With all the hype put out by the company, Herter's is responsible for starting tens of thousands of new home reloaders.

Today's reloading press is close to being automatic. For some years, shotshell presses have enjoyed that status, but the progressive metallic press still required feeding the cases by hand and placing the bullet by hand on top of the charged case.

Several rifle presses on the market, such as the Dillon XL650 and Lee Loadmaster, have case feeders, but seating the bullet on the case mouth is a manual operation. However, Lee Precision Company is offering their Pro-1000 metallic reloading press that includes both a case feeder and an optional bullet feeder. I'm waiting for Lee to send more data and specifications on this press. I'll report my findings in a later column.

Automatic bullet feeding has been a challenge for rifle and pistol presses for a number of years. In fact, several "full automatic" reloading presses were introduced but have ridden into the sunset. I can't recall the names of these presses, but a friend had one that he used for several months before returning it to the manufacturer for a refund.

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