My Reloading Tool List: What I Use and Recommend
If you’re new to reloading, figuring out which reloading tools you need to get started can be overwhelming. If you’ve been doing it for a while, those tools have probably been replaced with something else.
Mine certainly have. I first pulled the handle on a reloading press around 25 years ago, loading up some 338 Win Mag ammo in my future father-in-law’s basement. A few years later I had my own setup, bought second-hand from a coworker who had lost interest in reloading.
While I was taking inventory to prepare for this article, I realized there wasn’t a single tool I started with still on my bench. I also realized that most of the reloading tools I’m using today have worked very well for a long time. For the most part, I’ve tailored my list of tools around the efficient reloading of long-range precision rifle ammo. My barrel logs show that we fired 5738 rounds in 2018 from four barrels. All of it was loaded with the equipment I’m about to list.
My intent is to share with you what works for me, and in some cases, why it works. I’m not going to tell you what you need to get started, or which tools you could skip altogether. I use all of it, all the time. I recommend everything I’m about to list and provide links to my reviews where applicable. I’m not trying to sell anything here, and I’m not compensated by anybody for recommending it.
Let’s get started with what I consider the most important tools on the reloading bench.
Almost every step in the reloading process is based on a measurement of some kind. Because of that, we’ll start with the tools I use to measure stuff every time I’m at the bench.
At the top of the list is a Mitutoyo 6” electronic caliper. The model number is CD-6” CSX. I’ve had mine for close to twenty years, and I consider it an essential reloading tool. I use it every time I set up a die, measure seating depth, or check dimensions on a case. It also gets used around the house and shop, measuring anything that has a thickness, length, or diameter.
I also use a Starrett 6” dial caliper, which I keep in the shop by my lathe. It works well but doesn’t allow me to zero it when using a comparator. A comparator and various inserts are also what I consider essential reloading tools.
I use Sinclair comparator bodies, bullet inserts, and their bump gage inserts. The caliber-specific bullet inserts are used to measure seating depth. They contact a bullet near the junction of the ogive and bearing surface. With two comparators, bullet bearing surfaces can be measured and compared. The Hornady Lock-N-Load OAL Gauge and modified case is my tool of choice for checking and adjusting CBTO measurements. For more on bullet seating depth, check out How to Measure Bullet Seating Depth.
Bump gage inserts are used to measure a case from the head to a specific point on the shoulder. This measurement is used to set up a sizing die to get optimal setback within a chamber’s headspace dimension. Full Length Sizing for Reliable Precision explains the process.
There are other measuring tools on my reloading bench that are nice to have, but probably not essential.
They include a Mitutoyo 0-1” micrometer and ball micrometer. I hardly ever use the standard micrometer, but I frequently measure case neck thicknesses with the ball micrometer.
To quickly check a batch of brass for case neck thickness runout, I use the Sinclair Case Neck Sorting Tool. It uses a caliber-specific pilot to hold a case neck under a dial indicator while you spin it, looking for the high and low spots.
If you feel the need and want to try neck turning, I can recommend the Sinclair NT-1500 kit.
To check concentricity, the Sinclair Concentricity Gauge has always done a fine job for me. Its operation is smoother than tools I’ve tried in the past.
I keep a lot of notes while I’m reloading, especially during load development for a new barrel. I also like to keep brass segregated and organized
Permanent load data is kept in composition notebooks, but my temporary notes are scattered all over the place. I keep lots of small spiral bound notebooks and Post-it pads on my benches, as well as in my packs, range box, and drag bags. The data I want to keep is then transferred to the permanent load book. This book also keeps my barrel logs and build specs.
I also record detailed load notes on my targets. These notes are often all I need to duplicate a load. Sometimes I take photos of chronograph data with my phone to record on paper later.
To store and segregate brass by the number of times fired, I use empty Costco cashew containers. The bins I use to hold brass while I’m working on it came from a yard sale and Wal Mart. Nothing fancy, but it all works well.
The reloading press I use most often is the Redding T-7 turret press. I also own an RCBS Rockchucker and a MEC Marksman.
The Redding T-7 is a wonderful piece of equipment. It’s stout, provides great access while seating bullets, and allows seven dies to stay set up at any given time. Although I haven’t, you can buy extra turrets if you need them. A lot of guys get hung up on the fact that the turret deflects a little when sizing cases. There are plenty of hacks to fix this posted on the internet, but I’ve never felt the need to try any of them. I’ve always been able to size cases and seat bullets with little to no runout on the press, so why bother? I’ve used the T-7 to load everything from 10MM pistol ammo, to 338 Edge +P rounds that measure 4.025” COAL. I consider it to be one of my best investments in reloading gear.
For many years before the T-7, I used an RCBS Rockchucker II. I handloaded some of the best ammo I’ve ever shot with this iconic press. The Rockchucker is a classic O-ring press that’s built like a tank and can handle rounds like the 338 Edge +P.
My newest press is the MEC Marksman. Mayville Engineering Company (MEC) is well known among the scattergun crowd, but they also build a nice metallic reloading press. It’s hands down the smoothest press I’ve ever used, with a ton of leverage and a wide-open work area. With my son, Jake, taking on his own reloading duties, the Marksman is the press I set up for him. Check out this detailed video review of the Marksman for more info.
I use and recommend the Redding Type S FL bushing die for everything they build dies for. I also prefer the Redding Competition seating die for seating bullets.
Other than a custom die set reamed for my 260 Terminator, they’re all I use now. I’ve consistently found them to be accurate and easy to use. The full-length sizing die flat out works well and offers the flexibility of a bushing for sizing the neck as little as possible. I keep them clean, and always polish the body cavity and expander in the sizing die before the first use. I also install Hornady lock rings on every one of my Redding dies.
I’ve tried the titanium nitride bushings and don’t think they justify the extra cost. All I use are the steel bushings now. For info on how to select bushings, check out Redding Bushing Dies: How to Select the Proper Bushing.
I started using the Redding Competition seating die more for its convenience than any perceived shortcomings from my standard seating dies. The micrometer adjustment is accurate, as long as seating tension isn’t too high, and I’m less likely to get a bullet cocked in the case mouth when I start the round into the die.
In case you’re wondering how I think the Type S FL bushing die stacks up to Redding’s full competition set, check out Redding Reloading Dies: Sizing Them Up.
I use standard shellholders from RCBS and Redding. I tried the Redding Competition Shellholder set twice and found them to be an unnecessary and expensive gimmick. They don’t accomplish anything that can’t be done with a twist of the sizing die.
Some specialty dies I use include ones that only expand necks, and a couple that push out spent primers.
I don’t think I’ve ever loaded a piece of new brass that I didn’t have to expand the neck on first. Whether it’s because the necks are dented or are simply too tight, they’ve all needed attention. I use a Sinclair Expander Die and expander mandrels for this job. The expander mandrels come .001” smaller than the bullet diameter of whatever caliber I’m working on. They can also be used to size up a neck to a different caliber altogether.
For depriming fired cases, I use the RCBS Universal Decapping Die and Sinclair Decapping Die. They both work very well. The Sinclair model comes with pins for small and large flash holes. The RCBS die pins are designed for large flash holes only. I’ve seen reports of guys grinding those pins down for use with small flash hole brass, but I’ve never tried it.
I use the RCBS Automatic Priming Tool for seating primers. This bench-mounted beauty is the cat’s meow for priming large batches of brass quickly.
I can clean small batches of fired brass by hand, but large batches are more easily done with a machine. Before lubing cases for sizing, I run them through one of my vibratory tumblers.
I’m still using a Frankford Arsenal tumbler I bought a couple of decades ago. I don’t remember how much I paid for it, but I’m quite certain it was a good investment. I’ve cleaned tens of thousands of pieces of brass in it without a single problem. To increase capacity, I added an RCBS Vibratory Tumbler. It’s also been trouble-free and holds roughly twice as many cases as the old Frankford Arsenal model. Here’s my video review of that tumbler.
I use untreated corn cob media in both tumblers, with a little polishing additive thrown in when changing out the media. Frankford Arsenal media, which can be bought in bulk or a couple pounds at a time, works just fine.
Whether it’s a single piece of brass or a large batch of cases, I use Hornady One Shot aerosol case lube to size cases. I prefer the small cans over the large ones.
I also keep a container of Imperial Application Media with dry neck lube on the bench. It gets used when all I want to do is expand necks. It sits on top of a tin of Imperial Sizing Die Wax that I don’t use anymore. One Shot works as well and is easier to use.
I use fine steel wool and bronze bore brushes to clean case necks. If I feel the need to uniform primer pockets and deburr flash holes, both of my tools for the job came from Possum Hollow.
For speed and ease of use, nothing beats an electronic scale and powder dispenser for high-volume reloading. I use an RCBS Chargemaster 1500 and Chargemaster Lite.
Here’s a comprehensive review I did on the RCBS Chargemaster Lite when it first came out. I get quite a few emails and comments on the video asking if I still like it. Yes, I still like it, and it’s still working perfectly. For most of this year, it’s been our dedicated H4350 dispenser, throwing over 4000 powder charges since the review.
The Chargemaster Lite syncs up nicely with the older RCBS Chargemaster 1500 parked on my other bench. I’ve tested them against each other for consistency and accuracy quite a bit. If you ask me which one to get, I’d say pick one and be happy!
I did spend a lot of years weighing powder charges with an RCBS 10-10 beam scale, dispensed from a Redding 3-BR powder measure. Then I would trickle in the kernels required to hit the exact charge I wanted with an old 338 Win Mag case. It was accurate and effective, but it was slow. I can’t imagine weighing out 400 charges of H4350 every week like that. On the other hand, ball powder like TAC or H335 flows accurately enough from the measure to directly charge cases. For that reason, I keep the old 3-BR on standby.
The electronic scales are also handy for weight-sorting and comparing bullets and cases. My only regret when it comes to electronic scales and dispensers is that I didn’t get them sooner.
I use 50 round poly Sinclair loading blocks to hold cases ready for powder. To pour charges of powder into them, the aluminum powder funnels from Precision Hardcore Gear are the best I’ve used.
If you fire and size a case enough times, you’ll eventually have to trim its overall length. Trimming brass is one of the least enjoyable steps in the reloading process. I could use an improvement in my gear, but it does the job for now.
I’ve used a few different case trimmers over the last 20 years. The first one was a Forster collet trimmer. I once trimmed 8000 pieces of 223 Remington brass with it over the course of a winter. It was dumb, and I’ll never do it again.
Now I’m using an L.E. Wilson trimmer and a couple of Little Crow Gunworks WFTs (World’s Finest Trimmer). The trimmer is upgraded and sold by Sinclair as the Wilson/Sinclair Ultimate Trimmer. It’s truly a fine tool that cuts necks perfectly square to the case body. It also accepts a variety of cutting tools that ream necks, deburr, and chamfer case necks.
I use the Little Crow Gunworks WFTs to trim 260 Terminator and 260 Remington cases. Chucked up in my lathe and spinning at 200 rpm, they make short work of a pile of cases.
To deburr and chamfer case mouths after trimming, I’ve been using the RCBS Brass Boss. Before the Brass Boss landed on my bench, I used standard chamfer/deburring tools from RCBS and Wilson, as well as a Sinclair VLD chamfering tool. I don’t think it makes a difference which angle you chamfer the inside of the neck to, but the VLD cut seems to be easier to make.
On my wish list is the Giraud trimmer, which trims, chamfers, and deburrs all in one step. I should have bought one the winter I trimmed the 8000 pieces of 223!
Occasionally, I get asked to recommend reloading books and videos. It seems odd considering the amount of information available for free online. Having said that, my reloading education began before the internet, so I do have a small library on the shelf.
My first pick would be current edition reloading manuals from several different bullet manufacturers. I don’t think it matters which manufacturers but pick more than one. I don’t think the load data is better than what can be found online. In fact, I think it’s the other way around!
What I like about them is what’s in their front sections, before the load data. There is a wealth of information in these books, covering just about every step of the reloading process. The cartridge descriptions and drawings are great references as well. My favorites are Any Shot You Want, by A-Square, and the reloading manuals published by Hornady and Sierra.
Precision Shooting magazine articles are a good resource if you can find them. Glen Zediker’s books on reloading and Highpower competition are interesting, too.
My friend, Shawn Carlock of Defensive Edge produced some DVDs on reloading and long range shooting several years ago. They are a great resource from a guy with a ton of experience.
The final two pieces of reloading gear I’ll mention are my Bench-Source case annealer and MagnetoSpeed chronograph.
I’ve tried annealing brass through various methods with mixed results. Investing in the Bench-Source made the mixed results disappear, and efficiency shot through the roof. Depending on the brand and condition of the brass you’re using, you may never need to anneal. If you do, invest in a machine and learn how to use it. Here’s a video on how I use mine.
Muzzle velocity is as important to a reloader as group size. I tried a cheap one 20 years ago, but quickly returned it after the first range trip. I did without one until I could afford an Oehler 35. The Oehler is a great chronograph, but it’s collecting dust in the shop now.
The V2 MagnetoSpeed is as accurate as the Oehler, and can be used in all conditions from any position. I had to replace the bayonet strap this summer, but other than that, it’s been solid despite years of heavy use.