RELOADERS CORNER: Shop Setup Savvy

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Don’t overlook details when setting up shop. Here are a few ideas on dealing with a few tools and tasks to get set up to reload.

bolts and fasteners

Glen Zediker

Set-Up Tools
Time after time, point after point, I address the use of specific tools used in the process of loading ammunition. There are a few tools that never get near a cartridge case or bullet, though, that matter much to contentment. These are the “set-up” tools and appliances that when needed are indispensable. And, as with the loading tools themselves, making the better choices pays off. I joke with myself sometimes that I spend about as much time at auto parts and hardware stores as I do reloading industry outlets…

Get real wrenches for all the dies and tools you own. It’s worth the investment to buy a quality combo wrench at an auto-parts store rather than buggering up all your fasteners with a set of slip-lock pliers. But. You need those too. Everyone needs a slip-joint pliers, like Channellock-brand, but avoid using it whenever possible. Again, correctly-sized quality wrenches won’t muck up your die parts.

craftsman wrenches
Good quality wrenches are a necessity, in my mind. Craftsman fits that bill nicely.

A good quality set of allen wrenches, or hex-heads, likewise is a relative joy to use next to the el-cheapo versions that come with the tools. Get the ball-end kind for even easier use.

reloading bench
I’m sho no carpenter, but after working with handloading enough, a fellow will develop a few essential skills. A few tools to purchase: appropriate sized drill bits for starting screw holes (never don’t drill a hole beforehand); appropriate drill bits for press mounting, usually 1/4 inch, and the kind with a starter point are the bomb; a corded drill, not cordless, and preferably with a level indicator. And drill down straight! Even a tad amount of angle in a bored hole can make it muy difficult to get the fasteners to cooperate.

Press and Tool Mounting
Make an investment in at least “good” grade tools for drilling holes and measuring where to drill them, and then for installing the fasteners. It really makes a difference to have proper size drill bits and drivers.

The press is the base for the dies. It’s important. Of course it is. Mounting is key. I suggest a workbench that’s mounted to a wall, along with its legs fixed down to the floor. It’s the press upstroke, not the downstroke, that taxes the stability or solidness of the workbench.

If you’re building a workbench, consider carefully the overhang and bench-top underside construction, or at least dimensions. What you don’t want, and what I have had so I know, is a combination of press hole mounts that conflict with workbench construction. Like when there is a structural crosspiece right underneath where a hole has to bore through. That’s a mess to deal with, or it can be. Then you have to drill a hole big enough to give a window to install a washer and a nut, and then that nut won’t want to stay tight. Check first before you settle on your plans. 6 inches of overhang (free underside) mounts anything I’ve yet used.

nuts and bolts
Bolt goes down through the press mounting hole, preceded by a plain washer. A fender washer then goes against the bottom of the bench, followed by a nut, either plain preceded by a star washer or nylock. If it’s a star washer, the star points face the nut underside. Get good hardware. And use the fender washer!

Do a template for press mounting. That’s easy by doing the “rub trick” with a soft pencil on a piece of paper taped to the press underside; some manufacturers provide templates, and that’s a nice touch. Otherwise, use a centering tool to mark the holes, used through the mounting holes on the press. Even being a little bit off hurts wonders. And drill straight! Get a drill with a level-bubble. The thicker the bench-top, the more mess a small angle error makes.

A cool trick for drilling holes in laminate or wood is to put masking tape over the marks for the drill bit start marks before boring. This keeps the material from splintering. Never (ever) use the press holes themselves as a guide for the drill bit.

I strongly suggest backing up the underside bench nuts with washers. Otherwise there will be compression of the nut into the bench material, and ultimately result in loosening. This is actually very important… Use a fender (flat) washer next to the wood, and a star (locking) washer between the nut and the fender washer (stars face the nut underside), or use nuts with “nylock” inserts.

After mounting the press securely, keep it secure. Check all the fasteners especially after the first use. And, as just recommended, here’s where washers and locking fasteners help. As said, the washers help avoid the compression into a wooden benchtop that can otherwise ultimately lead to a lifetime of snugging down the bolts — they’re not tightening, they’re just pushing in deeper… The locking fasteners are resistant to stress-induced movement.

I have increasingly become a fan of using threaded retainers in place of nuts to screw the bolts to. This is a great means to secure things like case trimmers, powder meters, or anything else that might need to come on and then off the workbench area. Threaded inserts, such as t-nuts, remain in place on the bench top underside and the bolts are just run down into them. That makes it simple to mount and dismount with allenhead screws. Less benchtop clutter also.

t-nut and bolt
I’m a big fan of t-nuts for mounting accessories to a bench. When you need the tool — small press, case trimmer, or what-have-you, bring it out and snug it down with an allen-head bolt. Helps keep the benchtop less cluttered. I often mount the tool, like a case trimmer, to a piece of wood using t-nuts and then secure the whole thing to the bench top using a c-clamp.

Supply Items+
Shop rags work better than anything, and that’s why they’re used in shops. Sometimes the obvious is true. Get them at an auto parts store.

Invest in some good rust preventative and then use it. A lot of the tools we use don’t have any or adequate protective finishes on them, so give them a wipe-down after use. Local climate has a whopping lot to do with the need and frequency for this. Plus, there’s always going to be unforeseen times you’ll need to free a stuck fastener. Kroil-brand penetrating oil is the best I’ve used. Tip: Always grease contact points between steel and aluminum. If you don’t it will “freeze.”

Light is an asset, and, especially as eyes get older (dang I hate to say that, so let’s say the more and more someone needs bifocals and won’t get them) some magnification is a help too at times. It’s easy to find one of the clamp-on arm-style magnifying lights at most office supply stores, and even easier to locate a pair of reading glasses.

The preceding was adapted from Glen’s newest book, Top-Grade Ammo, available here at Midsouth. For more information on this book, and others, plus articles and information for download, visit ZedikerPublishing.com

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7 thoughts on “RELOADERS CORNER: Shop Setup Savvy”

  1. All of those custom made loading benches are sure pretty and compact, but there is an alternative.
    At local thrift stores you can usually find one of those office tables that are heavy, have metal framing underneath and legs that are adjustable for height to level. Only down side is they usually take up more room and have metal structrial pieces underneath. Just mount a press on the corner or a heavy piece of plywood or metal and then to the bench.
    Wyle you are at the thrift store get an office chair with rollers.
    As I get older it sure is nice to sit comfortably and load.
    Oh and all of those nooks, shelves and drawers that you see on benches, just put shelves on the wall above the bench or mount cabnets.
    I keep powder and primers in separate plastic coolers on the floor underneath the bench.

  2. I purchased 2 Craftsman tool chests with 5 roller bearing drawers on each. Then attached a piece of kitchen counter top to them, leaving a 42″ space between. With the weight of the cabinets plus dies, bullets, etc in the drawers no floor mounting is required. Plenty of space for storing scales, trimmers, etc on the counter, Also doubles as desk.

  3. One thing I have learned is I mount ALL my items on platforms and the platforms are all mounted the same way with three bolts to the bench , no fumbling around with holes, or things in the way.

  4. I love reloading almost as much as hunting , but not near as much as fishing. On that note I went out looking for a bench or plans to build one. As luck would have it at a used furniture store I found just the right thing, an old bath cabinet that had a 40″ wide top and was 26″ front to back. On the very best extreme positive side was the toe board was set back about 11” making the cabinet deeper at the top than the bottom … bonus “plenty of leg / toe / knee room” it included two shelves with doors, and magnetic latches. After mounting the lights I thought I needed on an individual shelf over the top of the bench, I secured it to the wall and floor and went about setting up the top. First a mounting board a 2×12 securely mounted and everything else mounted to it using lag bolts and the occasional “had to drill and use washers and nut”.
    I even had room for a small vice “2” wide but it suits it’s purpose along with slots to park the calipers in a vertical position. Marking the outline of the ” powder measure, each press ” I have 4″ including an OLD RCBS Rock Chucker “original” a place for my scale and just enough room for small plastic boxes holding Bullets and another for primed shells. Now that is “My loading bench”, and I can see the edge of the pond from my seat, and every time I look the water surface quivers at the anticipation of my arrival.

  5. Built-in dedicated reloading benches are great until you move to a new house. Since 1974 my RCBS single stage press has been mounted on a 5 foot 2×6. During that time, I cannot count the times I have moved , including from state to state, living at times in appartments or in a home. The 2×6 has followed me everywhere, I just sit it over the edge of a table, accross two bar stools, or even the tailgate of a pick-up truck, then weight it down with something heavy, such as a couple 25 lb bags of shot or a 45 lb dumbell, and I am ready to reload. I have even taken it with me to the deer woods and the firing range.

    I must admit, that from time to time I have envied those who have a dedicated reloading bench, but when it comes time to move, I was happy that all I had to do was to throw my 2×6 mounted press in the back of my truck and take off.

    Oh yes, I did like the article and there were a lot of good ideas on setting up a reloading bench.

    Good-luck, and God bless.

  6. Since I was moving again (this time to Florida for for the last time I hope), I decide to give up my heavy dedicated bench. Instead I have the heavy duty (600 lbs per shelf) wire shelving that can be bought almost any where. You can configure it in several ways. I have set it up with a shelf the spans two of the frames and nothing underneath. The height is set to what works best for me.
    My presses are mounted with T-nuts onto commercial 1 1/2 inch plywood cut to fit the shelf. MEC shot shell loaders are mounted 2 up and reversed to keep the working area simple. The 12 gauge is paired with the 28 and the 16 and 20 gaugesshare another plank. I store the loader planks on the other shelves when not in use. I also have 2 RCBS Summit presses mounted on another plank for reloading metallic cartridges.
    All in all, it is a very strong, stable, and flexible set up.

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