Optimus Prime: The Priming Step of Reloading

Simple and inexpensive priming tools: a primer flipping tray and two hand priming tools with shell holders. Note the "comfort" enhancements of duct tape and/or thousands of rubber bands.

Simple and inexpensive priming tools: a primer flipping tray and two hand priming tools with shell holders. Note the “comfort” enhancements of duct tape and/or thousands of rubber bands.

Last time we talked about about ways to resize brass like a boss. This week, let’s look at some different approaches to the re-priming step.

We’ll cover this from a “getting started” point of view. If you own something like a Dillon Precision Super 1050 progressive reloading press, you’ve spent somewhere approaching $2,000 and are auto-priming like there’s no tomorrow. Rock on!

On the other hand, if you’re thinking about getting into reloading, or have just started, we’ll help narrow the approaches by looking a few different methods. To keep things simple, let’s consider three different methods: hand priming, single-stage reloading press priming, and progressive reloading press priming.

Pro Tip: Don’t hammer primers into place with a mallet, as that generally results in lost fingers and your quick enrollment onto the terrorist watch list. (Tweet This)

Hand priming tools

This RCBS priming tool is built for comfort. Note the contoured grip!

This RCBS priming tool is built for comfort. Note the contoured grip!

The thought process behind hand priming tools is that you can easily, and cheaply, prime hundreds and hundreds of cartridge cases per hour. Better yet, you can do this from the comfort of just about anywhere. “Hand priming tool” is a literal definition and most of them are small, light, and portable. Want to camp out in the family room? No problem, bring a box of cases, your priming tool, and an empty box for your completed cases.

There’s another benefit of hand priming tools. You can control the pressure and depth of priming fairly well as you are pressing the new primer into place with a hand tool, not a hydraulic machine. After a couple hundred, you’ll develop a feel that tells you primers are seated correctly.

Here’s how they work. First you clean, decap (remove the spent primer), and resize your brass. Most hand primers have a tray that’s large enough to hold a box of 100 primers. Holding your opened box of primers, turn the hand priming tool tray upside-down over the primer packaging tray, then flip the whole assembly. If done correctly, you’ve now got all 100 primers in the hand primer tool tray. You’ll notice the tray is ridged or textured. That allows you to gently shake the tray until all the primers are facing upwards, so they will insert correctly. When all the primers are oriented correctly, put the cover over the tray to prevent primers from spilling and flipping.

Many hand priming tools use removable shell holders to hold the case still while a primer is pressed into place. The shell holders are sized to caliber. Once you’ve got the right shell holder in place, primers loaded and cover in place, you’re ready to prime. It’s a simple process. Insert a shell, squeeze the hand tool, and drive the primer into place. You’ll quickly learn the ideal angle at which to operate your hand primer so that the next-in-line primer falls into place by gravity.

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Review: Lee Steel 3 Die Set .357 Sig

The Good
  • Low price. Generally works.
The Bad
  • Decapping pin has a tendency to slip upwards.
The Ugly
  • Very susceptible to case scoring.
Our Rating
3 Nuns One Nun
Lee Steel 3 Die Set - .357 Sig

Lee Steel 3 Die Set - .357 Sig

Lee Steel 3 Die Set .357 Sig

Approximate Price: $35.98 suggested retail, less online.


I’ve got  number of sets of Lee reloading dies in various calibers and generally have pretty good success with them. Not so much with the .357 Sig 3 die set though. While the Lee .357 Sig die set is reasonably priced, usually about $25 online, the real value is somewhat questionable. While they work, there are a few issues to be aware of.

Like other Lee die sets, I appreciate the inclusion of the ‘extras’ not usually included in other, more expensive, die sets. The .357 Sig set includes a resizing and decapping die, a powder-through expander die, and a bullet seating / crimp die. The set also includes a shellholder, a plastic powder measure scoop, and a reasonably detailed load data table. While I have yet to use the powder measure, I do frequently use the supplied load data. Very handy to have on hand!

The Lee dies don’t include a locking mechanism on the locking rings, but once adjusted, I have not had trouble with die

movement in single reloading sessions. They tend to stay put longer than I can during a reloading session.

Lee Resizing Die Decapping Pin

Lee advertises their expander die as a minimal flare dimension, which is supposed to negate the need for a separate taper crimp step and I have found this to be true. Proper setting of the expander die, combined with the included bullet seating and crimp die yields a rock solid bullet-to-case fit, which is necessary for the relatively high-recoil .357 round. I have to confess that I did order a separate Lee Factory Crimp Die along with this set but I’ve found that it’s simply not necessary.

Being that .357 Sig has a bottlenecked case, the resizing die is steel only, which is no big deal. An extra step of case lube and all is good to go. To eliminate the need for cleaning lube from cases, I just fill a large Ziploc with cases and spray some Hornady One Shot in there and give a shake.

There are two noteworthy problems I’ve had with this set.

Lee Die Case Scratching

First, the decapping pin is held in position by tension alone using a locking nut against the smooth rod surface. Even when tightening the locking nut with all of my impressive strength, it will come loose after a hundred resizes or so. If you’re using a single stage press, this is not a big deal as its relatively easy to spot. However, I use a Hornady Lock N Load progressive press, and often times I don’t catch on to slippage of the decapping pin until I’ve made a dozen or so shiny new cartridges complete with old and used primers still in place. This causes turmoil in the house as I have to resort to pulling bullets and this makes me cranky.

Second, the resizing die seems to be unusually prone to scratching cases. I’m aware of the causes and remedy’s for case scratching during sizing, but for some reason, certain dies are far more prone to the problem. I sent one resizing die back for replacement and almost immediately experienced the problem again. Yes, I can polish out the galling and take steps to minimize risk of more scratching, but it’s just not worth the trouble, especially since I don’t have the problem with other brands of .357 Sig dies. While this does not impact the function of the die or resulting rounds, it does cause me to manufacture ugly cartridges. And this makes me cranky.

All things considered, I have to give the Lee Steel 3 Die Set in .357 Sig One Nun. Even considering the low price, there are better options out there for a little more money. I’ve had great success with Lee dies in 9mm, .380 ACP, and numerous rifle cartridges – just not the .357 Sig variety.

He said She said
Problems aside, I’ve loaded somewhere north of 2.500 rounds with this set. Excepting the noted troubles with the sizing die, the set works. It’s kept me in my man cave for hours and hours of reloading fun. This probably annoys ‘her’ so ‘her’ take on time spent in the man cave may be a little different than mine. I love it when he spends time in the man cave as it keeps my house clean.P.S. Somehow or another, this stuff makes bullets that shoot out of my gun.

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