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I'm currently looking into purchasing a .45-70 Handi-Rifle, and I will likely need to reload if I want to actually shoot it any appreciable amount. I'm on a pretty tight budget (college student, after all) but would like to get into reloading while I have still have some extra funds around.

Unfortunately, my Googling has revealed that reloading is a complex process (yes, I probably should have guessed that). Since I know there are some avid reloaders on these boards, maybe you'd like to help a kid out and explain how I get into this without busting the bank. Starter equipment, components, helpful tricks you wish someone had told you when you got started, that sort of thing.

As I said, my budget is pretty tight. I would like to eventually get set up to reload .45-70, .30-06, 5.56mm, and 9mm (12ga too, but Squidgie's blog has some tricks I'll be using). But for starters I'll probably just do 45-70 until I get a hang of things.
The standard internet answer, at this point, is:
"Buy a copy of The ABCs of Reloading. Read it. Read it again. Then read it some more."
But... I have never picked up a copy to browse through, let alone actually read the book. I do support the idea of spending $15-40 on a reloading manual, before sinking hundreds of dollars into equipment. But, I don't know what is actually in the 'ABCs'.
If you think reading about the process before buying your equipment might help you, I suggest you pick up one of the following manuals: Speer #14, Hornady 7th Edition, or Lee's Modern Reloading 2nd Edition (decent info, but you have to get past the arrogant tone and presentation of Lee's own products). The current Sierra manual also has some good information on the reloading process and topics, but it is not as current as the Speer or Hornady manuals.
If you do pick up one of those manuals, try to make it the one that corresponds to the bullet manufacturer you plan to use the most. (For Hornady bullets, get the Hornady manual; for Speer bullets, get the Speer manual; etc.)

Like most things in the firearms world, your intended purpose can help determine what equipment is best. However, I'm going to take a guess here, and assume you're interested in general plinking, paper punching, and maybe some hunting.

With that in mind, it's pretty easy to get started without breaking the bank. I am absolutely a believer in buying high quality gear once, rather than buying cheap over and over. But, Lee equipment (I consider it to be low quality and cheaply made) is a good way to get into the hobby, without blowing your life savings on an unknown. Once you get an idea of how to best suit your needs, you can upgrade the gear and let your process evolve.

If you have the room to mount a classic reloading press to a bench, get yourself a proper single-stage press.
If you can't, I recommend the Lee hand press. (Not the Lee Loader hand tool, that some people refer to the operation of as "hand pressing" ammo.) The Lee hand press works quite well in situations where a reloader needs to store all of their gear in bins, totes, or other small containers, and only get it out to put some ammo together.

The only other thing I consider to be critically important, is a reloading scale. Many people will suggest you simply use Lee dippers or a Lee powder measure (Perfect Powder Measure, or Auto Disk / Double Disk); but I don't like them. Without a scale, you have no idea what type of powder charge you're throwing.

I'll add more here, if I get the time.
Thanks for the info Squidgie. I'll get one of those manuals before I go any further. "ABCs" is only about $20, so if it'll help it's not a bad investment.

As far as equipment goes, I would definitely rather save up for a bit and buy a nice setup than a get a cheap starter. Whatever I buy will likely have to last me for a long time and I'd like to get one that could be expanded into a better setup latter, if future funds allow (and if that can be done without a massive starting investment).

I plan on using it to make rounds for plinking, hunting, and I'd like to get into some tactical stuff latter on (if only for the experience). I would think that loading for hunting would be pretty similar to loading for tactical use, but then I could easily be wrong.

I'm not sure how much space is needed for a bench setup, but I've got some space. Is this stuff need to be permanently mounted? And would a heavy-duty plastic table work, or do the stresses involved necessitate a sturdy metal or wooden workbench?
It's good to hear that you're considering quality equipment.

I permanently mount all of my presses, but many reloaders get away with C-clamps. (Or mounting the press to a board, and clamping that to a table/bench.)
For the cartridges you've listed, a temporary mount should be strong enough.

You really don't need any more room that it takes to mount the press, set up a scale, and hold a cartridge block.
My first "reloading bench" was an 18" wide space on top of a 42" high entertainment center.
Then I graduated to a bench that was 49" W x 30" D x 35" H.
And, I am now in the process of building a new bench, that is a three-piece design. It has two main work surfaces of 74" and 78", with substantial storage space above and below. And shelves that are purpose-built, and include a fold down shelf for my scale.
(I really need to get it finished. Almost every other project I am working on has come to a halt, due to that bench being unfinished ... and the wife isn't happy about not being able to park in the garage.)

For basic reloading, you don't need a super-strong surface. You just need something that can handle at least 50-60 lbs worth of torque, without excessive flex or any breakage (obviously). (Most reloading processes don't take much force, though. Even full-length resizing of most rifle cartridges only takes 15-20 lbs of force on the press handle of a single stage press.)

One of the most popular 'starter' reloading benches seems to be a Craftsman Workmate in what ever size is best for the space (portable jawhorse/sawhorse).
It sounds like my plastic table will work. It's a folding table, but pretty large and still around 1" of solid plastic at the thin spots. I could easily put some thick plywood that I have lying around over it to mount the press on. This would give me a pretty sturdy setup that could be stored away with relatively little break-down.

One of the things I am seeing that look interesting are the starter kits being sold by many of the major manufacturers. Any thoughts on these? And in your experience which of the companies are selling quality products and which are low quality stuff?
It sounds like that table would be just fine, especially if the press was mounted to plywood, then clamped to the table.

As you've probably seen, everyone has their own opinion about equipment. What one person considers 'junk', another considers the 'best value'.

For me, I rank the popular reloading companies as follows, for general quality level with metal tools: (plastic tools have no place in the reloading room, from nearly any company)
Smart Reloader (This stuff is absolute crap, and consists of extremely low quality Chinese copies of American products. Stay FAR away.)

Lee products are cheap, and get the job done. But, you will have to deal with more frustration (trying to get it to work), more breakage (too many plastic and/or 'pot metal' parts), unfinished designs (such as powder leakage from the "Perfect" Powder Measure), and limitations of the tool (such as the fixed cavities of the Auto-Disk powder measure).

Beyond Lee, it really becomes a matter of what you prefer for die features and adjustments. While I consider Redding dies to be some of the best overall, I very much prefer Hornady seating dies. And, while RCBS products make up the bulk of my reloading dies, because they have a design I like, at a price point I can afford; I am still a big fan of Lyman and Dillon dies. When I need a new tool, I buy the best I can afford.

I don't like Lee or Lyman reloading presses (Lyman presses have gotten quite sloppy, with their tolerances). I do like Hornady, RCBS, Redding, and Dillon reloading presses. CH4D's presses are great tools, but unnecessarily expensive to start out with. (Though the 444 H Press is a viable option for a new reloader.) A new manufacturer to consider for a press, is Skinner. The Skinner Press is built around a proven benchrest design, and is priced quite competitively. I'm sure it would be a fantastic press. (I would buy one right now, if I could justify having another single stage.) It is very similar to the CH4D 444H, but has only one station.

As far as kits are concerned, I definitely support the idea.
That's actually how I went from loading at some one else's house, to using my own equipment. I shopped around quite a bit, and decided it was a toss up between what would now equate to the RCBS RC Supreme starter kit or the Hornady LNL Classic kit. I ended up with the Rock Chucker, because I found it on sale locally (and I prefer the 5-0-5 scale). Today, though, two more press starter kits fall into the same category: the Redding Boss and Big Boss kits. Of those 4 kits, I would have a very hard time deciding which was best; but.... the Redding presses are still cast iron, where RCBS and Hornady are starting to use sintered parts. My vote would, eventually, end up going toward Redding (which is also the only 100% American made brand of the three).
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I forgot to cover scales, powder measures, and trimmers.
Here's a quick run-down:
Lyman 55 and Redding BR powder measures are some of the best available. (Without getting into really high end gear.)
Lee Powder measures are a joke. They work; but are extremely limited in their usefulness, and leak powder all over the place.
RCBS's Uniflow powder measure can cause a lot of frustration, unless you spend $35-75 to upgrade it. (which exceeds the cost of the already-superior Lymans and Reddings o_O )
Hornady's LNL powder measure is pretty decent, and could be considered better than the RCBS Uniflow (my opinion).

Balance beams scales:
The Lee Safety Scale is as sensitive as they advertise it to be. ...which is its biggest problem. It can be difficult to keep the thing under control, and readable.
The Redding and RCBS (maybe a new Lyman, too) entry-level scales are not worth the cost. They are made of ABS plastic and/or PVC, and do not belong on a reloading bench. (If you want a scale at that price point, the Lee is a better option.)
Pretty much anything else will serve you well.
My personal preference is for the RCBS 5-0-5, but that's mostly because I grew up with one, and used a similar scale (made by the same company) while I was in the military. I like its adjustments and readability better than anything else in the price range.

Digital scales:
This is where things get ugly, and you can lose money really quickly.
Absolutely, do NOT buy a digital scale, unless it specifically says it is a "reloading" scale. Due to the way the electronics work in some digital scales, they are not appropriate for use with powder. (They'll give you false readings - generally on the low side, which is the worst thing they could do.)

I need to take care of a few things, but I'll finish this post in a little while.
If one is not sure if they will pursue reloading but want to test the waters to see how it goes. Others mileage may vary, but my suggestion is: Buy the Lee Classic whackem reloader for less than 30 bucks, every thing to reload comes in a little box.. It is simplicity unto itself, slow, but if done right it will produce very good ammunition.

For boolits one can buy different Lee molds for tumble lube boolits for around 20 dollars at Midway, the cast boolits will only need to be put into a zip lock bag with a little Lee liquid Alox. (note: do not use with black powder) Massage and shake the bag a little, remove the boolits, spread out, allow to dry and they are ready to shoot One can start casting very cheap, any sufficient source of heat to melt the lead alloy like an old hotplate, a steel or iron container, a lead dipper. (Lee-5 bucks) For cutting sprues, a plastic or wood mallet, or short length of any hefty piece of wood like an old hammer handle. The most common lead alloy that works very good for cast boolits is the clip on wheel weights which cast a pretty hard boolit. For .45-70 if not loaded hot, a softer boolit works good , this can be gotten by just mixing in some pure soft lead into the melt. (note beware of zinc WW, they will create all kinds of casting problems, for the most part all the stick on WW are almost pure soft lead)

One can get the Lee double cavity molds for under $20.00:


I know of several people tumble lubing the Lee 457-340-F and 457-405-F cast boolits and getting good results with no leading,

Powders can get a bit confusing for the beginner and proper care should be undertaken to understand the differences in powders. For the .45-70 I like real black powder, but some find the firearm clean up after shooting a bit much. But it is relatively easy, I use plain unadulterated water, it is has always been the best black powder fouling solvent there is, it worked in the day of yore, works just as good today and is always available.

Trail Boss powder is great for almost all cartridges, it was designed for the Cowboy shooting crowd, but is now used by many reloaders, of which I am one. It is a light, fluffy and bulky powder where if directions are followed is almost fool proof when it comes to double charging etc. Hogdon's directions for reloading with it are so simple, even a cave man could do it.

If you don't have a powder scale for weighing, get the Lee dipper set with slide charge card for around 15 bucks and good to go for many many different powders. I often use the Lee dippers for a limited run of reloads for different cartridge so don't have to set up powder measure several times and they work great.

Primers, most any of the standard Large Rifle primers will work fine.
I note a little Lee slaming going on here. So just remember, opinions about most anything are akin to a certain bodily orifice, everyone has one.

I have been using Lee products since 1964. I started reloading with the little Lee Classic whackem reloader, today I have dillons and other presses. IMO, the Lee Classic Cast Iron press is the finest single stage press there is, bar none.

It is easy for a beginning reloader to get overwhelmed when from all sides others are weighing in with their likes, dislikes and opinions.

My advice for one about to jump in without sufficent knowledge, unless careful, they are apt to find themselves in over their heads.

My free advice, is worth what you pay for it, but that advice is, when just starting blind on any venture, use the KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) rule.
I'd never seen something like that Lee Classic. I may start with that, if it works it will be a great value. Since I'm starting with 45-70, it should handle the amount of ammo I'll be making.
I note a little Lee slaming going on here. So just remember, opinions about most anything are akin to a certain bodily orifice, everyone has one.
As you pointed out, everything I have said about Lee has been my opinion. But... I only comment on Lee tools I have actually used. (And you may have noticed I did point out a few Lee tools are superior to the 'other' brands.) It's not Lee bashing. It's just too many bad experiences with certain cheaply made tools.
There are several other tools listed above, that I said to avoid, or listed significant faults with, too.

Lee Classic ordered, along with a RCBS 505 scale and a Lee Ergo hand primer. Should be a decent start.
Those should treat you well.
Let us know how you like the Ergo Prime, when you get around to using it. It's a new tool for 2012, and I haven't seen or heard any real feedback on it.
I suspect you will tire of that Lee Classic wackem reloader pretty fast. I think your $30 bucks would have been better spent of the Lee Hand press. However, different stokes for different folks. I still use the hand press and Lee scoopers for mobile reloading purposes. The first manual I goto is the Lyman, and I originally found a copy in the local library back in the day. Although I still use the Lee Hand press I actually got started into reloading back in my college days with a Lyman Tong Tool loading 6mm Remington and 9mm Luger. I still use the Tong Tool primer Seating die to seat primers when I use the Lee Hand press.
I suspect you will tire of that Lee Classic wackem reloader pretty fast. I think your $30 bucks would have been better spent of the Lee Hand press. However, different stokes for different folks. I still use the hand press and Lee scoopers for mobile reloading purposes. The first manual I goto is the Lyman, and I originally found a copy in the local library back in the day. Although I still use the Lee Hand press I actually got started into reloading back in my college days with a Lyman Tong Tool loading 6mm Remington and 9mm Luger. I still use the Tong Tool primer Seating die to seat primers when I use the Lee Hand press.

I first started using the Lee Whackem as we didn't have much disposable income at the time, think a set then was around 8 or 9 bucks. I was in a millwright apprenticeship program in Chicago and we were apartment dwellers. I used the whackem's for about 3 years but wasn't doing a lot of shooting as was 50 miles to the rifle range out in Elgin. We later lived just around the corner from Chicago Gun Center on Armitage Ave, which was a big gun shop where they had a pistol range in the basement. I haunted the place and became pretty good friends with the shop operator and was allowed to reload using their presses etc and free use of the pistol range. Even at that time handgun sales were banned in the city, but some customers let me shoot their handguns if I would reload for them, so was a dream deal for me.

Wife still uses a Lee Hand press she bought years ago, she likes it as she can deprime and size her .380 cases, then prime with the Lee hand primer as she watches the tube.
To clarify, I got the Lee Classic wackem. I could have gotten the hand press, but to start I think it'll do fine. I will be loading few loads and the mobile aspect is attractive. I'll be sure to post my opinions of it when I use it, along with the Ergo. Thank you all for the input, it was terrific and did a lot for helping me understand this stuff.
I finally got around to loading some .45-70. 350gr LRN over 42gr of IMR 4198. The wackem is a bit slow but makes it very difficult to make catastrophic mistakes. The ergo primer was a dream to use.

Hopefully I'll get to shoot my new rounds soon.

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