Zen and the Art of Reloading: the Lee Loader

posted on June 2, 2019

Way back in the ‘60s, I reloaded .22-250 ammo for the first rifle I ever owned. On a paper-route budget the rounds were pretty expensive, so I bought the most inexpensive loader I could find. The Lee Loader, made by Lee Precision since forever, is known throughout the reloading world for the same reasons I bought it: It is inexpensive, does the job and doesn’t require much more than a dining room table to do it. For many it was a gateway device that brought them into the world of reloading, where the humble Lee Loader costs less than many “must have” accessories.  

Its tiny size makes it the most light and portable of all reloading systems I've encountered—it fits in a trouser cargo pocket. You might buy a plastic/rubber hammer, but I was successful with a foot-long scrap of two-by-four, as well as a smaller one to protect the table I was reloading on. A large plastic margarine tub can hold the entire kit, a plastic zipper bag full of powder, another with primers and another with bullets.

My routine was to sit on the floor watching television and reload the bullets from my last shooting venture. You don’t buy used brass for the Lee because it doesn’t resize the cases (since your bullets fit your chambers, it doesn’t have to). If you start out with two boxes of factory rounds and aren’t shooting all the time, you might never run out.

The Lee Loader comes with complete instructions, and there are demonstrations on YouTube by accomplished reloaders to give you plenty of tips. For example, a cheap accessory you can buy or even make yourself is a tray with holes deep enough to keep your rounds upright. That’s important between the steps of putting the powder in the case and seating the bullet. If a bullet falls over, you have to empty it completely and add the powder again. Another accessory you might want is a pliers-style primer setter. It will also fit in your margarine tub, and may save you significant time.

Naturally, a loader this small and inexpensive has some limitations. The powder measure is a small measuring scoop, which is not a precision weighing or measuring device. Once it is full you can shake it a little, or scrape the back of a kitchen knife across it to level it off. I would shake the scoop for long powder grains and scrape it for finer grains. This is fine for most shooting, if you use the powder/bullet combinations Lee provides you. This loader is not designed for precision shooting. You already know that it doesn’t resize cases, and you shouldn’t use someone else’s brass. However, if you buy a box of new brass, it might chamber properly. If so, you can use it, but a purist would keep that batch separate. Finally, you buy one loader for every caliber. To me, this is an advantage, because other reloaders have to keep track of which die they are using, and sometimes mix them up with bad results.

The Lee Loader is also slower than most higher-end systems, and that’s where the Zen comes in. Whether you use the assembly-line system or the bullet-at-a-time system, going through the steps is a soothing and gratifying experience. The metal parts have a satisfying heft and coolness. The rhythm of assembly transforms case, primer, bullet and powder into dependable, functional and economical ammunition. Even putting the separate tools back into the Lee Loader box is satisfying. A whole box of ammo takes less than an hour, and if your head’s in the right place, it’s a great part of the day.

Lee Loaders are available in most rifle and pistol calibers.


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