Lee Loadmaster

In the “Which Progressive Reloading Press Should I Buy” quest, in this article I share what I’ve learned about the Lee Loadmaster and my opinions of it.

Either praise or denigrate the Lee Loadmaster on any online forum and you are sure to start a ‘Love it – Hate it’ free-for-all.

If you are thinking of buying a Loadmaster you should visit The Loadmaster Zone and watch/read everything there. It is a collection of videos, tutorials, and other material produced by independent Loadmaster owners with no connection to Lee Precision. More than any other press, you need to go into the purchase of the Loadmaster with your eyes wide open.

In my youth I drove a British sports car (Austin Healey). It was a great little car and brought much satisfaction – when it was running right.

My impression of the Loadmaster is akin to my memories of my Austin Healey: Lots of tinkering to keep it running well. Some people enjoy the tinkering and consider it part of the hobby. Some enjoy the tinkering so much that ‘requires tinkering’ is one of their purchase requirements. I confess that I suffer from this personality defect a little bit.

Others simply want the tool to work with little or no tinkering. Any tinkering required is the outwardly manifest symptom of a design defect. Anyone in this category would find no pleasure in constantly trying to keep dual SU carbs synchronized.

Loadmaster owners will be the first to admit that their presses require a little more TLC than the other brands. The first paragraph at The Loadmaster Zone says, “...they can be a little tricky to set up and have their quirks“. I suspect that when I hear these back-and-forths about Lee, what we are really hearing is whether-or-not the press’ owner is a tinkerer.

Coming from a long line of tinkerers (about 80-100 years ago my grandfather designed and built his own farm tractor from Ford Model T components. Much more recently than that, I built a 200mph airplane.) The Loadmaster speaks to me in a place deep down in my soul.  I want one, just to meet the challenge of making it run smoothly.

PROS

  1. The least expensive progressive press.  As I right this you can get one from MidwayUSA for $239.99.
  2. That price includes dies for one caliber, shellplate, and powder measure. You can take it out of the box and start reloading. No other manufacturer includes a set of dies and shellplate.
  3. Accessories are very inexpensive.
  4. It is a five station press. This means it can perform five operations simultaneously on five separate cases with a single pull of the handle. I won’t always use all five but having them gives me more flexibility than with a four-station press.
  5. With a little TLC it can produce ammunition with as much quality and speed as it’s competitors.
  6. The Loadmasters set up for pistol include a case feeder
  7. Refilling it with primers is faster than other manufacturers’ presses.  If you’ve been reloading for a while then you are familiar with those primer trays with the little grooves in the bottom. Dump the primers into the tray, shake it a bit, and the grooves case all the primers to orient themselves correctly.  Instead of using filler tubes like Dillon and Hornady, the Loadmaster uses such a tray.
  8. The fastest caliber changes of any progressive press. These two videos from UltimateReloader.com illustrate caliber changes:Loadmaster Caliber Change Part 1

    Loadmaster Caliber Change Part 2

CONS:

  1. The Loadmaster seems to require significantly more tinkering to get it setup and to keep it running smoothly.
  2. What Lee calls the ‘case feeder’ is not the same as what Dillon and Hornady call a ‘case feeder’.  For Lee, the case feeder is a vertical plastic tube full of cases connected at the bottom to a mechanism that inserts a case into the shellplate at the appropriate time.
  3. Other manufacturers’ case feeders include a hopper at the top of the tube that automatically inserts cases into the tube.  Instead lee has a ‘Collator’ that fits on the tube.  You dump a few cases into it and then manually shake it until the cases have all rattled their way into the tube. (Some people may view this manually approach as being in the ‘pro’ category as it keeps the press simple.
  4. The Collator has a tendency to dump cases into the tube upside down.
  5. You need to develop the much-talked-about ‘Lee Rhythm’. Unlike other manufacturers’ presses, the lee seems to like to be operated at a certain speed and with a certain rhythm.  For example, if you whip the case past the case sensor too fast, the priming system may not pick up a primer.
  6. There is a very inexpensive bullet feeder but – just as with the case feeder – there is no hopper at the top to keep it full of bullets. I can’t imagine I would put up with stopping and manually refilling the tube every couple dozen rounds.
  7. Watching the videos at The Loadmaster Zone, it seems like the press is not ‘industrial strength’ like the RCBS, Hornady, and Dillon. Lots of small parts, most breakable, too many are plastic.
  8. Did I mention that it takes some tinkering and TLC to get it running smoothly and keeping it that way?

That old Austin Healey was not my daily driver – I needed something that just ran. The constant tinkering was part of the experience of owning a British sports car. You had to enjoy the tinkering experience as much as the driving experience. So ask yourself, “Am I a tinkerer?” The answer to that will dictate whether or not you should consider the Lee Loadmaster.

There is a really good side-by-side comparison of the Lee vs Dillon 650 vs Hornady LnL AP here.

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Comments

  1. David Stiles says:

    You are absolutely right about the Lee Loadmaster. However, the base press is sturdy and reliable. All the plastic accessories are junk and worthless. So, I decided to make my own changes. I use the Hornady LNL case activated powder measure. I modified the primer mechanism with a brass insert that places the primer directly over the primer press. It works every time. I use the Hornady LNL Bullet feeder and the Hornady bullet feeding die. Finally I build a home-made case feeder, which was originally designed for the Hornady LNL auto-progressive press. It works great and feeds cases into the shell plate smoothly and with no mistakes. Now I have a great auto progressive that I was able to assemble for around $550 with all the attachments that really work, all day long.

    • traderpats says:

      David, that is very interesting! I agree 100% with your assessment of the base press too. I currently sold all my Lee equipment, except for the Classic Cast Breech Lock, and haven’t decided on a progressive press as of yet.

      If your mods, (they even sound interesting), are as reliable as you say I’d really like to see a full review of how this was all accomplished. It would be one of the better “tweaking my reloading press” posts out there. Is your work posted someplace by chance? Feel free to email. Thanks.

      PS – dbarnhart, thanks for the writeup. After researching over and over I was all set to join the growing numbers of LNL owners but just have to see what David actually did with the Lee before I make the purchase.

      • dbarnhart says:

        Some people hate Lee but I do not. Lee has made the strategic decision to serve a market that the others have not: People who cannot afford a Dillon, RCBS or Hornady progressive press. If you think of the Dillon presses akin to a Mercedes-Benz, then Lee is certainly not a Fiat 500 but also certainly less then a Mercedes-Benz. As long as buyers go in with that mindset then they’ll do just fine.

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