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Reloading ... in small quarters.

Having always enjoyed the luxury of having a well stocked 4x8 foot reloading table located in the basement or more recently in a spare bedroom, I was seriously challenged recently when preparing our house for sale. The spare bedroom, a.k.a. "the shop," was converted back into a true bedroom, and I and my reloading gear were politely banished to the garage.

The new reloading quarters worked fine for a couple of months, then our sweltering Arizona summer arrived with a vengeance. With night temperatures running in the 80s and day temperatures in the triple digits, the garage turned out to be a 104-degree steam bath.

There had to a better solution. And there was.

Using tools that are readily available to us today, I was able to downsize my reloading area to a small corner of our home office. In a workspace measuring exactly 3x4 feet, I now have two presses, a powder measure, trimmers, priming tool, table space for powder, primers and loading blocks, and even space for a chair.

If you ever have to downsize, or have to accommodate to temporary living conditions, or if you don't have space for a traditional reloading bench, here are a few ideas for reloading in small quarters gleaned from my experience.

Since it was summer and I was focused on varmint and fall hunting rifles, the first challenge was to find a way to mount my full size RCBS Rock Chucker and Bonanza Co-Ax presses. About this time, someone will make the observation that I could have transitioned to hand presses and solved the problem forthwith.

Indeed I could have. Lee Precision offers a hand press. Lyman is once again manufacturing their 310 tool. In fact, I own the Cadillac of hand presses, Huntington's "Compac" press, but I really wanted to be able to work with my bench presses, They're faster, more powerful and easier to use, and all my dies were already adjusted for them.

A Starting Point

The answer was found in Midway's reloading catalog in the form of the Frankford Arsenal Portable Reloading Bench, produced under the Battenfeld label. This unique, modern looking bench has been listed in the Midway catalog for years so it must be popular.

The bench has two main parts--a central pedestal consisting of a 1 3/4-inch chrome plated metal column attached to a 17-inch circular, black plastic base and a 9-inch square, hard plastic top. In addition, the bench comes with two accessory bins that clip onto the sides of the top. The bins are so handy to hold sized and unsized cases, deburring tools, hand trimmers and primer pocket uniformers that I would suggest one order two more. The top will accommodate all four bins.

Since the top simply lifts on and off the pedestal column, one could also order more than one top for additional tooling. Another possibility would be to bolt a Thompson Tool Mount base plate to the top, and merely snap on and off a variety of presses. As supplied, the top comes with a drilling template that indicates the precise location of the mounting holes for the most popular Lee, RCBS, Lyman, Dillon, Hornady, Forster and Redding presses plus a list of required mounting hardware for each press.

The template was simple to use. Taping it to the plastic top, I spotted in the holes with a center drill chucked in hand drill and then drilled them to size. The hole locations established by the template were dead on. The presses fit the top perfectly. A trip to the 'hardware store to pick up the specified mounting bolts, nuts and washers completed the job.

Having formerly worked on a solid wooden reloading bench that weighs in excess of 150 pounds, I was truly a bit skeptical about the stability of this lightweight, mostly plastic bench when resizing large cases. I shouldn't have been. It's perfectly stable for routine work; however, when full length resizing magnum size cases and large straight walled cases like the 45-70, I found that by placing one hand on the press body while working the handle you can absolutely eliminate any undesirable movement.

Additional endearing qualities of the Frankford Arsenal Portable Bench are that it breaks down in seconds for compact storage, can be hand carried from one location to another, and can be shoved into the closet when company arrives. Given its modern styling and black and chrome finish, it's actually a good-looking piece of furniture.

Powder Problem Solved

Having solved the press problem, the next issue I had to address was the location of and type of powder measure I was going to use. Normally, I work with bench mounted B&M. RCBS and Redding measures when reloading rifle cartridges. I could have used one side of the new bench top for a measure, but I had already decided I wanted two working presses in place. I could also have purchased another bench top and used that for mounting two or more measures, or I could have used a turret head or progressive press that incorporates a powder measure. I chose the alternative of installing Lyman's incredible, new, programmable 1200 Digital Powder System on top of an adjacent filing cabinet.

Lyman's 1200 DPS system is state-of-the-art. In one integrated unit, it combines a fast powder dispenser and a scale. Frankly, I was glad I had waited before buying into an automated electronic measure. Like computers and digital cameras, electronic dispensing/scale technology just gets more sophisticated and cheaper with every passing year.

The qualities I came to appreciate in the 1200 DPS is its dispensing speed, its programmable memory that stores 20 different loads and its consistent 1/10th of a grain accuracy. As with all high tech tools, there's a bit of a learning curve involved. Lyman's manual proved to be a good tutor, and if you haven't seen it, Lyman's 48th Edition Reloading Handbook is the finest they've ever released.

I did learn a thing or two about dispensing speeds. I began by throwing a charge of 39.0-grains of IMR 3031 for my standard low pressure .45-70/405-grain jacketed load. Hitting "enter," the 1200 DPS dispensed the load in 24 seconds. To drastically reduce dispensing time, you can place a charge a bit lighter than desired in the pan, hit "enter" and let the system bring the charge up to 39.0 grains. That's what I did.

I poured some 3031 into a glass. Then, referring to Lee's slide rule that is packaged with every set of LEE dipping measures, I selected an appropriate dipper (in this case, the 2.8cc unit = 36.7 grains), placed the dipped charge of 3031 into the pan, hit "enter" and within eight seconds, the 1200 DPS produced an exact 39.0-grain charge.

That's fast enough for me since I have traditionally weighed every rifle charge to a tenth of a grain, and it takes me longer to manually dribble a charge than it takes the Lyman 1200. Stored in the 1200's memory, this 39.0-grain charge plus 19 others can be recalled immediately; however, I do measure each new charge on a separate powder scale as a positive check against the automatic system's memory.

This would be a slow process for most handgun and shotshell reloading, but for those catridges I will be using a progressive or turret-mounted powder measure anyway. I've already ordered another top for that eventuality.

Another Lyman innovation this year is their "Powder Pal Funnel Pan." This little plastic gem combines a powder funnel with a powder pan. It can be used with any electronic measure because its weight can be zeroed out when calibrating the measure. In short, you no longer need a powder funnel. You simply dump the charge directly from the pan's spout. It's one of those "why didn't I think of it" tools. I highly recommend it.

Easy Trim And Prime

To trim cases I adopted the Lee hand system that uses a simple cutter head attached to a spindle that passes through the flash hole and indexes the trimmed case length. Lee has even speeded this process up with the introduction of their Zip Trim tool featuring a universal three-jaw chuck.

Priming is carried out using the RCBS Prime Guard band priming tool. Lee offers a similar unit under the name, Auto Prime. It is nay experience that I can prime cases faster and with more control using an automatic feed, hand priming tool than by any other method. If you've never used one, try one.

I like the RCBS model because it physically separates the seating operation from the primer supply, thereby eliminating the chance of a tray detonation. If you reload, these are indispensable tools.

While we're addressing the priming process, I deprime as a separate step using a Lee Universal Decapping die chucked in the press I'm not loading on. I follow this protocol because it gives me an early warning of a loose primer pocket, permitting me to reject brass before I discover the same problem sometime later in the reloading process while seating a new primer.

Primer pockets are cut uniform and cleaned using a handheld reamer by Sinclair. I also use Sinclair's universal flash hole deburring tool on new brass.

I tried positioning my RCBS Trim Mate Case Prep Center to the left of the Lyman 1200 on top of the filing cabinet, but it crowded the workspace a bit too much, so I'm holding it in storage until I can again return to my real reloading bench.

While I'm on the subject of the filing cabinet, it is a standard letter size, two drawer model. Measuring 29 inches high, it places its 15x27-inch top exactly at an ideal working level. In addition. I use its spacious drawers to store my cases, bullets, loading dies, powder, and miscellaneous tolling and supplies. The filing cabinet really turned out to be an ideal asset for general reloading in tight quarters.

In short, compressing my reloading room into a 3x4 loot floor space was much easier than I had anticipated. Seeking out the right tools like Midway's Portable Reloading Bench and Lyman's 1200 DPS system was actually a pleasant challenge, and the continuing challenge is to come up with additional ideas for space saving techniques. The point is we really don't need much space to have a complete reloading set up. It was a revelation to me, but it's true.


Lee Precision

[262] 673-3075

Lyman Products Corp.

[800] 22-Lyman

Midway USA

[800] 243-3220


[800] 533-5000

Sinclair International

[260] 493-1858

Thompson Tool Mount

[805] 934-1281
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Article Details
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Author:Bodinson, Holt
Publication:Guns Magazine
Date:Dec 1, 2003
Previous Article:Bullet casting.
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