The easy answer is to simply tell them to buy a single-stage press and leave it at that. The problem is that there are dozens of single-stage presses out there and each has its own advantages and disadvantages. Cost is, naturally, one of the major deciding factors when choosing a press. For that reason we wanted to take a close look at what is quite possibly one of the most versatile and inexpensive presses on the market: Lee Precision’s Breech Lock Hand Press.
Unlike most other single stage presses, the Breech Lock Hand Press does not mount to a bench. In fact, it doesn’t require a bench at all. As its name implies this press can be hand-operated nearly anywhere. Weighing in at a mere 28 ounces Lee Precision’s Hand Press is easily portable. In fact it’s so compact that the press, dies, bullets, brass, and all other accessories you need to load a cartridge can fit inside a .50 caliber ammo can. That’s actually what I use to store and carry my own Hand Press.
Experienced handloaders who have access to a range where they can set up a chronograph and spread out their accessories will love the convenience of the Hand Press. I don’t have access to my own personal range just outside my work shed, but I can tote Lee’s Hand Press down the road to a local private range and develop my loads right there on the spot. This makes the process of working up to your final load much quicker and easier than loading a variety of cartridges at home, firing them at the range, and then taking your notes home for further development. Many ranges will not allow handloads at all, much less permit shooters to load them site, so always check with the management first before you break out the powder and scale.
For someone who wants to start reloading on a budget, this tiny press is a boon. The Breech Lock Hand Press kit that Lee advertises has an MSRP of $68.00, but you can probably find it retailing for as low as $49.99. The total package includes a funnel, lube and a single Breech Lock Quick Change bushing. Additionally the kit comes with the Lee Ram Prime. Add in a reloading manual, some dies, a shell holder, clean brass, primers, bullets, powder, and a scale and you have all of the basics you need to begin handloading.
The Breech Lock Quick Change Bushing utilized on the Hand Press offers an advantage often only found on more expensive presses. Once you have your dies set at the proper depth and locked down, using the Quick Change Bushing there’s no need to ever have to reset them. Simply remove the bushing by pressing the round locking pin on the press and remove the busing and die as a single piece. With two more bushings, available as a set of 2 from Lee for only $9.98, you can have a complete 3-die set locked in at the proper setting.
Naturally, the Hand Press is not without its drawbacks. Leverage is incredibly important, particularly when resizing brass. Even when using clean and well lubed brass, it can take a significant amount of force to close the Hand Press. Bench mounted presses typically have long levers with a large round knob to reduce the amount of muscle power required for each operation. Because the Hand Press places a premium on size, this mechanical advantage is much reduced. After depriming and resizing 100 rounds of .44 Magnum brass I could definitely feel the burn in my bicep and shoulder. My wife, by comparison, was simply unable to close the press at all.
Given the fact that straight-walled ammunition like .44 magnum are much easier to resize, I have to conclude that using a full-length resizing die on rifle cartridges with prominent shoulders is probably not the best use of this press. It can surely be done as Lee Precision’s Hand Press will handle cartridges with an overall length of up to 3.65 inches, but unless you’re a powerful weight-lifter it’d likely wear out your arms in short order.
Are you ready to get started handloading your own ammunition without breaking the bank? Perhaps you’re an experienced reloader looking for something that is easily portable, or simply don’t have room in your apartment or loft to store a larger press. Whatever the reason, Lee Precision’s Breech Lock Hand Press is an inexpensive investment that will fit your basic needs.
Author’s Note: This article originally appeared in Western Shooting Journal.