Copyright 2020 – Stephen Redgwell
I have used a lot of priming tools over the years, both cheap and expensive. When I was shooting competitively, I used an inexpensive Lee hand priming tool like the one shown below. So did many others. The reason? Equipment had to function properly. The little Lee worked.
But then there were reloaders who chased the rainbow. They were always buying high priced priming tools and other equipment to create what they thought would be the best ammunition on the planet – even if all they owned was an off the rack Savage 110 or a Marlin 336.
(left) Lee Ram Prime
There are a few reasons I believe they thought this way.
The first was the inverse proportion rule. Group size is inversely proportional to the amount of money spent. Put another way, some shooters figured their groups would get smaller if they spent more money. They didn’t realize that you could not buy bug holes.
(right) Old Lee priming tool (discontinued)
These days, folks point to top competitors and their high end equipment. If it was no good, why do they own it? Well, I didn’t say it was no good. The difference is, they know how to use it properly and can afford it. All are looking for an edge. Some have sponsors.
The second is “Keeping up with the Joneses”. It’s a form of social pressure. They read about others on websites who own $3000 rifle scopes or expensive dies and presses. They feel that they need these things too. Sadly, they are willing to put themselves into hock to accomplish this. Part of the ‘keeping up’ problem is tied to the glam factor. My take on it: Don’t buy what you don’t really need or can’t afford!
Top competitors also do things differently than casual shooters and hunters. They practice a lot, and know how to analyze and correct deficiencies. Some use coaches. All of them spend a lot of time shooting. It’s the time spent, and knowing how to practice that are important. Priming tools, rifle stocks and other things, while important, are secondary.
If you wish to follow the inverse proportion rule, consider that more time practising will make smaller groups.
Lastly, there are a few shooters who flat out lie about the equipment they own. These guys are too embarrassed to admit their reloading room is full of used equipment and inexpensive dies, or well worn rifles, so they, um, prevaricate.
Some shooters recover from this when they are older, but they are still a minority.
Well? What Do I Pick?
Over the years, I’ve tested several priming tools. I noticed a few things about all of them that was unrelated to the mechanics of priming. How does the tool fit in your hand or work on the bench? Everyone is different. We all have different sized hands and grip strength, varying amounts of usable bench space and a wide range of mechanical abilities. Some people are easily frustrated having to deal with equipment that they have difficulty preparing or using.
Here’s what I found about six different tools. These are personal impressions.
1. The old Lee hand priming tool with the round trays (discontinued) I got years of faithful service from them, and wore out three. It would have been perfect if the primer tray was square to fit the primer boxes.
This older tool is often spoken about with reverence, but had it’s share of problems. In addition to the round primer tray, the linkages failed. It was important to keep the mechanism lubed. These days, I hear from people looking for replacement parts. Except for the odd ebay find, parts are no longer made. Lee has moved on.
2. Lee Auto Prime II (left) – Good, but…It’s failings were the round tray and the plastic feeding chute. It had to be tapped, or the primers moved onto the seating ram with a pencil. It didn’t like to feed the last five to ten primers.
3. Forster bench priming tool – I tried this and the RCBS bench mounted priming tool, thinking that they were more expensive and therefore, better. Not so. They had their own idiosyncrasies. The big thing for me was loading the primer tubes. It took too long. I like the simplicity of dumping 100 primers into a square primer tray or onto a hand held unit. A few seconds to load and you are ready to go!
4. Lee Auto Bench Prime –This should never have hit the market before working out its problems. The biggest was the priming tray and feed chute. They finally made the primer tray square, but it was plagued by misfeeds and jams. There is no doubt that they got an earful from reloaders. It was a big pile of bad. My understanding is that they have since fixed the problems, but I have moved on.
Lee Auto Bench Prime
5. RCBS universal hand priming tool – This tool was okay. Because of the design, no shellholder was needed. I have two, and use the small primer tool the most. Wear has taken its toll however. Cases and primers have a tendency to jump off the tool, and land where they can’t be found. I recently redid my office floor and found a bunch of kamikaze primers hidden under the moulding and furniture. I think the RCBS hand priming tool that uses shellholders might be a better idea.
6. Lee Ram Prime – Sometimes, simple is best. After the troubles and inconvenience with other tools, I went back to basics and bought a Lee Ram Prime. It attaches to any press and doesn’t have many parts. Priming is done at the top of the press, where the case sits on a shellholder. Two primer posts (LR and SR) are included, as is a shellholder adapter that screws into the top of your press.
(left) Ram Prime
Lee shellholders are recommended. The Ram Prime is fed “one primer at a time” using your fingers. It costs $25 CDN dollars, or $15-$20 USD.
If it didn’t work, or broke, I wasn’t out a lot of money. I am happy to report that after several thousand 223 and 6×45mm loads, the tool works as well as the day I first used it.
I got fed up with all the broken parts and high prices of the various priming systems and decided to go back to basics.
Whether you use it as your primary or back tool, the Ram Prime works. It is inexpensive and the mechanism is uncomplicated.
One Last Thing – Primers
Years ago (a lot of years ago), I remember reading that you should never handle primers with your bare hands. It was possible that oil (or coffee, or snot) might contaminate them, resulting in misfires or duds (failures to fire, for you young uns). Well, that was a worry in the dim times, but hasn’t been for at least 50 years, and probably longer. Still, old habits die hard. Your hands can be dripping with gun oil, but nothing will reach the priming compound. Primers are sealed and protected from damage.
That was my journey with priming tools. After years of experimenting, I came full circle and rediscovered that simple was best.