Reloading - Setting up the Bench
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- Last updated: 19/02/2019
Having purchased your equipment, the next step is to set it up and get reloading. The individual pieces of equipment, press, powder measure etc. will come with their own instructions on how to assemble and fix them in place, but the layout of your reloading bench is not something that those instructions will address. It is important to get your set up right and there are a number of factors to consider before you bolt the press down.
Wherever you decide to fix your press, there are a few things that you need to consider. Firstly, your reloading bench ideally needs to be a permanent installation, rather than a temporary set up that has to be removed and re-fixed each time you use it. If you are struggling for space, then you may be tempted to clamp your press to the edge of the kitchen worktop and work like that, but this is far from ideal. Reloading needs to be done in isolation, without distractions or the risk of your scales being inadvertently knocked out of adjustment. Also, using propellants on food preparation surfaces is not safe. While still not ideal, rather than use the kitchen worktop, you are better using a purpose-made reloading stand, like the one made by Lee.
Once you have a location, you need to turn your attention to the bench top itself. Operating a press does put a fair bit of pressure on the surface it is fixed to, particularly when sizing cases. This pressure is applied in both directions, up and down, so the bench needs to be able to resist an upward pulling action, as well as the more obvious downward force. The bench top needs to be thick enough to resist these forces and be well and truly attached to the structure of the bench. A worktop of at least 40mm thickness is ideal and it needs to be well fixed down, otherwise the vibration that occurs when you are sizing particularly sticky cases will send all your components bouncing all over the place. Also, avoid using a worktop with a rounded edge, as this will make it harder to get a secure fixing, because some presses have fixing points right at the front.
Another thing to avoid, is having drawers or cupboards directly below where the press will be sited. The press will undoubtedly block access to these and may well also impinge on any handles that stick out.
In terms of height, most people reload standing up, so the top of your workbench should be set at a level which accommodates your size. This is something that you must get right, as you need to be comfortable when reloading; so, it is worth experimenting with various heights. Temporarily clamp the press to the bench and cycle it a few times, to ensure that you can move the handle through its full range of travel, without having to stoop at the end of the down-stroke. Having the press at the correct height will also make it easier to watch what is happening on the press and spot any malfunctions.
The press is the centre of the reloading operation, so it should be sited in the middle of the available area, allowing you to set out the other items around it. If you are feeding cases and bullets manually, lay them out so that they easily come to hand. Lining them up in rows before you start makes feeding them much easier and quicker than fumbling in a box for each one. Primers should be laid out in a purpose-made tray, which will also allow you to flip them all right way up before you start. Do not be tempted to just tip them out on the workbench, otherwise you risk losing one on the floor and spending ages trying to find it.
If you are using an on-press powder measure, fill the hopper and put the tub of powder back where you store it, just to be safe. If you are using separate equipment to measure out your powder, then you should site it within easy reach, so that you do not have to move each time you need a charge of powder; if you are left-handed, set up your powder measuring equipment to the left of the press and vice versa. Some form of rubber mat will help to isolate your scale from any vibration caused by operating the press and so protect it from moving out of adjustment.
If you are short of space and use more than one reloading tool that needs to be fixed down to operate it, the Lee Bench Plate is a useful piece of kit. This device uses a clamping system, which is fixed permanently to the bench, and a secondary plate which is fixed to the press. The secondary plate slides into the clamping system, which is then tightened down to hold the press very securely in place. With one of the secondary plates fixed to each press or other reloading tool, you can swap them over in just a couple of minutes. If you want to save a few pounds, you can make your own secondary plate using three-quarter inch plywood and the template generously supplied by Lee with the bench plate kit instructions.
Before you start drilling holes in your workbench, it is important to consider the layout of your set up and make sure that it is going to function well. If you give consideration to the factors mentioned above, it will help you avoid some of the potential pitfalls and make sure you get it right first time. When the bench is correctly laid out, the reloading process will flow and actually be very therapeutic and relaxing. Once you are set up and ready to start producing ammunition, all you need is some peace and quiet!
Henry Kranks & Co. henrykrank.com
Norman Clark Gunsmiths. normanclarkgunsmith.co.uk
JMS Arms. jmsarms.com
1967 Spud Reloading Supplies. 1967spud.com
Hannam’s Reloading Ltd. hannamsreloading.com
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