I have had the Lee Load Master Press for over a year now and have successfully loaded nearly 2000 rounds of 9mm on it during that time. The Load Master has proved to be a very capable machine and my time using it has me believing I will never need another press to load handgun cartridges. It’s speed and ease of use have made it well worth the investment and although I currently only load 9mm with it, I have every intention of expanding the range of pistol calibers I load with it. I have this machine dialed in nearly to perfection and whether or not I can easily maintain that perfection when switching between calibers remains an unanswered question. It hasn’t been all butterfly’s and rainbows though. I have had some bumps in the road including blowing up a primer that necessitated the replacement of a couple of small parts involved in the priming process. Not an expensive fix, just an annoying one. Can’t say it was the fault of the press because I simply don’t know how or why it happened. I can say that it was an additional reinforcement on one of the most important lessons I have learned this past year using this press: pay attention to how each press of the handle feels.
Unusual resistance during any pull of the handle is cause to stop and check for issues. I have been able to anticipate just about every problem I have had just based on the feel of the handle during operation. Except for that blown primer of course. I pulled right on through that resistance. It may be valuable to note that the only operation that causes any meaningful resistance is the resizing and depriming of the cases in Station 1. All other operations: primer seating, powder drop and even bullet seating and crimping have little to no noticeable resistance. Once you have a feel for the resistance involved in the resizing operation than any deviation from that norm likely means something is amiss. This is somewhat challenging due to the fact that the resistance of resizing one case to another can vary somewhat. With time though you will get a sense of whats normal variation.
The second lesson I have learned is to keep an eye on both the primer trough and the case feeder at regular intervals. This may seem obvious but nothing is worse than continuing to run brass through the press when you are out of primers, or perhaps the primers in the tray have not fallen down into the trough. Either way it slows your progress tremendously. You will know it when a round drops into the finished bin and powder spills all over due to having no primer in the bottom. Similarly, running out of brass can be a bummer when you’re really getting into a rhythm.
If I was going to pick one thing about the Lee Load Master that has impressed me (and made my life easier) the most it would be the powder dispenser. The dispenser doesn’t allow for precision adjustment but it does drop a precise amount of powder each time. Due to my particular anal attentiveness and over cautiousness I still religiously check my powder weights on a much more frequent basis than is necessary. And I have not once adjusted or redone a charge. Not a single time in all the hundreds of rounds I have loaded. I would say the variation is no more than .1 grains which is frankly the error range of my scale and just as likely the source of the variation.
I did make one small change to my setup since my original post. I did away with the sizing die that I was using to promote proper alignment of the case in the priming stage. Why? Because it’s not needed. This may have something to do with an aftermarket priming system that I will talk more about later, but even before this upgraded primer system I found the priming system to work very well. I have experienced less than a handful of incidences involving primers not being seated correctly. All other primer problems I have encountered involved trying to prime a cartridge that was not decapped properly in the resizing and depriming stage. The added advantage of not having a die in the priming stage is that it allows the user to observe and check proper function of the priming system much more easily by looking down through the top of the press.
I knew shortly after setting the Load Master up that I was going to really try to make this press work for me. I did a considerable amount of research watching videos and reading articles on how to maximize the potential of the press. Early on I came across a website called Mike’s Reloading Bench. Mike has created several modifications that both improve the press’s reliability as well as the press’s consistency and precision. His modifications made sense, were relatively inexpensive and well reviewed.
Mike’s parts include: the Turret Stabilizer, a Custom Billet Turret, the Shake Brake and last but not least the Primer System Program. I will say a few words about each of these modifications but if you are interested in greater detail I would encourage you to visit Mike’s website and read the descriptions. The Turret Stabilizer is an inexpensive plate that helps to stabilize and align all of your dies. This added stabilization quite simply adds a greater level of precision and consistency to the machine. For $11 it seems a worthwhile investment. Mike’s custom billet turret also adds an additional level of precision to the machine but at a significantly greater cost. Out of all of Mike’s modifications, the custom turret is the least likely to demonstrate clear and obvious benefits. To some degree you have to take Mike’s word for it. I was willing to do just that and I believe the $60 it cost me has been worthwhile. The next modification from Mike’s Reloading Bench is the Shake Break. I absolutely love this add-on and for $10.75 it’s a no-brainer. After installing the Shake Brake I can’t imagine using a press without a similar brace. When I’m using my single stage RCBS press the flex in my reloading bench seems almost absurd in comparison. Whether or not this added support increases precision is debatable of course but it does insure that all the force on the press handle is focused solely on the operation of the machine. As I mentioned earlier, the feel of the resistance during each pull of the handle is an important aspect of the machine running smoothly and efficiently. By removing the variable of the bench flexing you can get a much better feel for proper and normal resistance during each operation. Using the Shake Plate does have some additional expense in that it must be attached to some sort of stiff leg for support. You can see in the picture to the right that I have used a telescoping cargo bar. In this configuration the press is absolutely rock solid.
The final modification done by Mike is what he calls the: Primer System Program. At the time of writing this article I can’t seem to find the page on Mike’s website with the details of this primer system so I will list them here. His modifications involves both the shellplate carrier and the primer system itself and include:
- Carrier with adjustment screw installed for setting the primer pin resting height. Milled shellplate support webs. Ground and squared primer pin rocker arm equipped with a primer pin spring eliminator.
- Primer pins ground and squared to allow for perfect resting height adjustment (via the screw in the carrier) and maximum primer support.
- Modified primer troughs with graphite coated primer and slider channel. Graphite coated trough cover. Custom made Delrin slider that fully surrounds the primer and a couple of extra rubber bands.
- One spare slider for each trough.
- Custom stainless steel MRB Wedge bar.
The cost of the custom priming system is $64.00 for both small and large pistol cartridges and I think worth every penny. It isn’t that Mike’s program reinvents the wheel in regards to the Load Master’s priming system, instead it smooths out the rough edges, reduces the complexity by a degree and increases reliability. Some may argue, and rightly so, that this the review is not truly representative of the machine out of the box due to these modifications and add-ons. Furthermore the cost of these modifications, nearly $150, makes the Lee Load Master nearly as expensive as more highly regarded presses. While that may be true I believe from my research that all of these presses suffer some weaknesses in one form or another. If all it took was a relatively small additional investment to make this press rock solid efficient and reliable than it was worth the money.
One of the greatest additions I have made to the press is lighting. Inline Fabrications makes a very reasonably priced lighting kit for the Lee Load Master. At just $39 dollars it includes a spotlight that fits neatly in the center of the press’s turret, lighting up the entire shellplate. Additionally it comes with a LED strip that further lights up the work space. A plug in adapter, a 48″ cord, an on/off switch, anchors and zip ties round out the package. My workbench is fairy well lit but when these lights from Inline aren’t on I feel like I’m working in the dark. The lights are particularly useful at insuring that every cartridge has powder in it. As I’m placing each bullet I can effortlessly see whether powder has been dropped and whether it appears to be at an unusual level.
A couple of additional notes and closing thoughts. The case feeder has worked flawlessly and I generally give it little thought. I did add the Case Collator to the case feed tubes and appreciate the added stability it provides to the tubes. It does however not work particularly well with the 9mm cartridges. Occasional rounds do end up feeding into the tubes upside down. This is frankly more trouble than it’s worth. If I get a case in there upside down then I either have to empty the tube and start over or wait for the offending cartridge to make it to the bottom. That is a distraction I don’t need. This apparently is a known issue for 9mm cartridges in particular and there is a fix floating around the web somewhere that I have not bothered to explore.
I have also played around with the Lee Precision Bullet Feeder. Frankly it worked, sometimes. And I suspect that with some fine tuning that I could get it working most of the time. I finally decided though that I just didn’t need it. It’s a somewhat complicated little addition and frankly I don’t think I gained anything with this added complexity. As I mentioned before I make a point of visually checking each cartridge before placing the bullets to be seated. The bullet feeder actually makes this visual inspection more difficult and reaching for the next bullet while simultaneously working the handle of the press is trivial and no more time consuming.
As I think my review makes clear, I am a big fan of the Lee Load Master Press. Time will continue to tell whether it holds up after tens of thousands of rounds and years of use but I don’t see why it wouldn’t. It’s inevitable that I will eventually load other calibers with this press and when that time comes perhaps another post will be in order. Until then I’ll be happily loading more 9mm ammo than I have time to shoot.