The Lee Loader: Thinking Out of the Box

Copyright 2001 – Stephen Redgwell

It’s time to re-examine the Lee Loader and use it in a whole new way. Used in conjunction with a bench press, your loads will be more accurate, easier and faster to assemble and that means more time for shooting!

I’d like to start by looking briefly at its history.

Forty odd years ago, a new tool appeared on many reloading benches. It was a cardboard box that contained a basic set of reloading tools, user instructions and a list of powder data. Add a wooden or nylon tipped hammer and some cartridge components and you were ready to start using this small kit.

Using the Lee Loader is simple.

1. Deprime the spent case using the decapper and decapping chamber
2. Tap the case into the sizing die with a wooden hammer and tap it out with the priming rod.
3. Place a primer on the priming chamber, put the resized case directly over it, and, using the priming rod inserted into the case, gently tap it down onto the primer.
4. Add a scoop of powder
5. Seat a bullet using the opposite end of the sizing die.

The kit was inexpensive and easy to store. The truth be told, it introduced many people to the hobby of reloading – including yours truly.

The kit appeared when few people outside of the benchrest community knew the difference between full length and neck resizing. (The Lee Loader neck sizes only.)

As late as the 1970s, the average hobbyist didn’t have bushing dies, hand priming tools, progressive presses or any case preparation tools. Many of these were handmade and owned by experimenters.

The Lee Loader was at its best with cartridges fired from bolt action or single shot rifles. Since it only resized the neck, it didn’t always work in other actions. The body of the case was left untouched, and this made chambering difficult or impossible.

Sometime in the 1980s (by my estimate), the Lee Loader started into decline. Many new companies and products appeared on the scene, pushing Richard Lee’s little box into the junk drawer.

It was at this time when I began accumulating more and more equipment, modified my reloading technique and started producing even better reloads. You can do this too, because the Lee Loader is a serious piece of gear for many hunters and shooters.

What? Did you say “serious gear”? I’ll bet you’re thinking I must be nuts. Nobody wants a Lee Loader, what with all the new equipment around! After all, the system is slow and priming is dangerous. Imagine. Tapping the case onto the primer! Crazy!

Okay, say what you want, but hear me out. It’s time for you to “think out of the box”. If you reload for a bolt action or single shot rifle, you’ve got an opportunity to improve your groups cheaply, reload faster and have a neat little tool kit for the range.

Most rifle shooters use a single stage press. If you’re only full length resizing your cases, but want to try out neck sizing to better your accuracy, get a Lee Loader and experiment. It’s available in these rifle calibres.

22 Hornet
223 Remington
243 Winchester
6.5 x 55
270 Winchester
7 x 57 Mauser
7mm Rem Mag
7.62 x 54 Russian
30 MI Carbine
30/30 Win
308 Winchester
30/06 Springfield
303 British
45/70 Government

You’ve got to get over the idea that Lee Loaders are quaint, old fashioned and slow pieces of reloading history. I want you to consider a new way to use it. Call it a modified method.

Here’s why. Look at your die set. See the resizing die? That’s the one that does a lot of damage to your brass, has to be swapped out for a seating die and is one of the main causes for wear in less expensive (aluminum) presses. You must reduce its use.


A conventional die squishes, pushes, pulls and drags on a case. On the upstroke, the body is reduced in size, the shoulder is pushed down and the neck diameter is reduced.

The neck is actually sized down too much! On the downstroke, the expander is pulled through the neck to expand it out to the proper size needed to hold a bullet.

Brass squeezed in, brass pushed out.

With a conventional ball type expander, there’s a lot of scraping and tugging – even with a cleaned and lubed neck. For less brass abuse, a tapered expander, like the one in the picture below, is better.

Your cases are exposed to unnecessary stresses which will reduce their useful life. The flexing and tugging causes brass to become harder – brittle, if you will – and can cause cracks and splits.

The Lee Loader has no expander ball, and is basically a tube that reduces the neck down just enough to grip the bullet and no more. There’s also no need to lube the cases and then remove the excess later. They only need to be wiped clean to keep any dirt from scraping the inside wall of the die.

This cuts down on time by eliminating case lubing and clean up.

It saves wear and tear on your press too. By not forcing cases up into the die every time you resize, it dramatically reduces the number of times you put pressure on the linkage and frame. This force is wearing.

Wear can cause loose, sloppy press/die alignment. Too much play in a press affects bullet seating as well.

It doesn’t matter whether you’ve got a cast iron press, a great warranty and confidence in the manufacturer. Not everyone has a Boss or Rockchucker press. Some people cannot afford one. And a great warranty doesn’t help when you can’t use your equipment – it’s still downtime!


The Lee Loader’s sizing die is easier on brass because:

it neck sizes only and leaves the rest of the case untouched
(like any neck sized case, this usually results in better accuracy and longer case life)
it reduces the neck diameter only enough to grip the bullet and no more
it has no expander ball
the cases do not need to be lubed, they only need to be cleaned

Now, let’s compare the conventional method of resizing to my Lee Loader modified technique. We’ll assume that you’re using some kind of hand held priming tool.


1. Clean & lube cases
2. Install the sizing die, deprime & resize the cases
3. Remove the lube from the cases
4. Remove the sizing die – install the seating die
5. Prime the cases
6. Add powder
7. Seat the bullets
My Method

1. Wipe off the cases
2. Deprime cases
3. Resize the cases. Tap in, tap out.
4. Install the seating die in press
5. Prime the cases
6. Add powder
7. Seat the bullets

The number of steps is the same, but the time is less with my method. I have a cheap “C” press with a universal decapping die permanently installed. I do not use the decapping rod used with the kit and do not prime using the priming chamber. It’s much faster (and safer!) using a handheld priming tool.

I seat the bullets with a conventional die and Redding press.

When I have reloading clinics, I get the attention of other instructors when discussing this method. I take 10 fired cases and give 10 fired cases to another instructor. The demonstration is simple. Get these cases resized and ready to prime. We both start at the same time. In most cases, I have the cases cleaned and resized before the other fellow has his cleaned and lubed.

Now, the answers to inputs from other reloaders.

What about using the Lee Collet Die?

Yes, you can use a collet die and neck resize. That’s fine. It also eliminates the lubing. Sometimes, I bring my Lee Loader to the range. Is your press that portable?

Why not use more than one press?

Sure, you can use two or three presses and mount different dies in each. Some people don’t have the room or the money for other presses though. The Lee Loader is an affordable option.

What about a progressive press?

You can use a progressive or turret press. Some people can’t afford to get one or don’t want to buy another press.

The bottom line is this: For about $30 you can experiment with neck sizing and have a handy little tool that can be packed anywhere. Heck, if you can borrow one from a friend that doesn’t use Lee Loader anymore, so much the better!

You can sit down in front of the TV and resize your cases. There’s no danger of doing something out of sequence or working with primers or powder in the living room. You shouldn’t be there with this stuff anyway!

It’s not rocket science. It’s not benchrest. It is simple to do however, and gives you options.