Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Handloading: Priming Tools

If you handload your own ammo*, one of the things you have to do is seat a new primer in the case.** There are a number of tools for the purpose, and I'd like to provide a short primer (sorry) on them.

We will start with the nomenclature of a cartridge case:

And in the base, the primer pocket:
The hole in the center is the flash hole: the flash from the primer goes through there to ignite the propellant.

The most basic tool is an arm that fits into a loading press:
  1. You put a primer in the cup
  2. Lower the lever to raise the ram
  3. Swing the arm into place
  4. Raise the lever to lower the ram and seat the primer into the primer pocket. 
The advantage with the press lever is that you have lots of leverage. The disadvantage is that it's slow.

Then you have a fitting that screws into the press like a die, a piece that fits into the ram like a shell holder, and two primer holders, one for large and one for small.
  1. Put the shell holder for the cartridge you're priming in the die
  2. Insert cartridge case
  3. Put a primer in the rod (the end is a spring-loaded cup; when it reaches the case, the cup sides slide back out of the way so the ram can seat the primer)
  4. Lower the lever and seat the primer.
You could also get a dedicated priming tool:
  1. Put the shell holder in the top
  2. Insert a plastic strip loaded with primers
  3. Work lever
  4. Repeat.

Then there are hand tools, like these from Hornady and Lee.
  1. You put the primers into the tray
  2. Put on the cover
  3. Insert a cartridge into the shell holder at the bottom
  4. Squeeze the lever to push the primer into the pocket.
 They're easy to load and use, and you can prime cases as fast as you can put them into the holder and squeeze the lever or at least until your hand gives out.

Which is the problem for some people with these hand-held tools: if you've got arthritis or some other problem, it can make using one difficult, especially if you've got a bunch of cases to prime. Which brings us to this new one from Lee:

It mounts on your bench.
  1.  Load the tray with primers
  2. Put in the proper shell holder
  3. Place a case in the holder
  4. Pull the lever back
  5. Raise it
  6. Change cases.

Personal Experience
I've been using one of the Hornady tools for years, until it actually started wearing out. Then I picked up a Lee; it works, but the lever (notice it hinges at the opposite end from this Hornady) gives my hands trouble at times (health, not mechanical issues). So when I saw the ad for the bench-mounted Lee tool, I wanted one. I finally found one, mounted it on a board so it could be clamped to the bench and removed as needed, and gave it a try. 

So far, I like it a lot; it's definitely easier on the hands than the squeeze-type tools, and has no more problems (primers getting tipped, things like that; they're machines, you can always have problems) than the others.

I've been told match shooters prefer the press-mounted or dedicated tool because it gives them more feel of when the primer is fully seated. The hand-held types are faster, and you can sit anywhere while you prime cases. If you know people who handload, you might try out their priming tool(s) and see which you like before you buy.

*For those who are new, this means taking a fired cartridge case, cleaning and prepping it, and then building a new cartridge on it.

**The primer fits into the base of the case, and is what the firing pin strikes to ignite the propellant and give you a bang.

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