For those new to reloading, nearly all presses need to be mounted to a workbench or sturdy table to work. That's fine if you have a basement, garage or workshop, a bench and the space needed for one. But there are a lot of folks who don't have that kind of space.
And then there are many who want a 'mobile' option for reloading. Something they can take on the road, to the range or on a run for the hills. A hand press-based reloading kit can easily fit in an ammo can, shoe box or small bag, and give you all the tools needed to roll your own ammunition.
The portable Lee Hand Press fills that niche - giving the reloader the flexibility to reload ammo wherever they may roam.
And, perhaps a bit surprisingly, it works really pretty well.
Using the Hand Press
The Lee Hand Press is a single stage - one action performed at a time - and you're never going to break any speed records with one. You'll want to perform each stage of reloading in batches - so size/deprime a lot of cases, then flare, then prime, then charge with powder, then seat and crimp the bullets.
You'll be swapping out dies as you go - screwing and unscrewing them as you move a lot of cases through one process to the next.
Get into a rhythm and you can move fairly quickly. Once your dies are adjusted properly, a rate of 50 to 100 rounds in an hour is not unreasonable.
For 'survival' purposes, that's plenty of speed. For the occasional shooter, it's adequate, too. A traditional bench mounted single stage press will be a little bit faster, but not by much.
For every day reloading, one advantage that a hand press has over other single stage presses is that it allows you to bring your reloading to the comfort of your favorite recliner or sofa. Several stages of reloading require only moderate amounts of attention (e.g., sizing/depriming, flaring the case mouth - not charging with powder!), so throw on an 80s action flick and enjoy.
This way, it's easy to whip through hundreds of cases in an afternoon.
Or, in a TEOTWAWKI-type situation, these reloading steps could easily be handled by a mildly competent 8-year old. Get hand presses for all the kiddos and you've got a post-apocalyptic ammo-making sweatshop in the making!
Compared to a traditional press, you do have less leverage with the hand press, and leverage is most important in re-sizing your fired cases.
To this point, I've used the Hand Press for reloading pistol. I've been using Hornady dies (very nice, btw, and with the free bullet offer, come out to similar or cheaper than Lee dies) and spraying the cases down with One Shot case lube prior to sizing. With this combo, the brass sizes very easily. The case lube is really not needed for pistol.
Many have used the Hand Press for rifle brass - .223, .308, .30-30, .30-06, 7.62x54R, even .45-70 and .300 Win Mag - so it's certainly not limited to pistol cartridges. It takes standard dies, so you're really only going to be limited by the clearance of the brass with the dies.
So - yes, sizing with the hand press may require a bit more muscle-power than a traditional bench press. Is it the best tool for the job? No. But it will get the job done.
Case mouth flaring and seating bullets are both very smooth and easy - hardly any effort needed.
Ergonomic? Not really. There appears to be no 'right' way to hold the hand press - I've found that I hold the press differently based on if I'm sitting/standing and what stage I'm performing. Resizing, I hold the press differently than flaring, and I hold it differently when seating bullets. It is not entirely comfortable to use, but for short reloading sessions, it's not a big deal.
Sturdy? It's made of cast metal and there's really not a whole lot to break. I suppose you could bend/shear the linkages to the ram, but you'd have to be putting a lot of pressure on the thing.
One nuance about the Lee press versus a traditional single stage: you'll need to pay more attention to the alignment of the case going into the dies. That's always important, but because you're likely using the Hand Press at an angle, there will be more shifting of the cases (darn that gravity!). This is easily fixed by verifying that the case is lined up when going into the die - if not, give it a little nudge with a finger to get it on track.
Buying the Lee Hand Press
Like all Lee products, the Hand Press is quite affordable. $40 shipped is the asking price these days. Even just to keep one around as a backup option, $40 is pretty darn affordable. I got mine on Amazon.
The Hand Press is sold as a standalone or in a kit. The kit is usually around $10-15 more, and includes a funnel, tube of case lube and the Lee Ram Prime, which allows you to seat primers one at a time. The kit is sold out on Amazon, but in stock at Midway
The Ram Prime is slow and requires you to individually handle each primer - it works, but it's not the best method for priming - a hand primer like the Lee or RCBS is preferable. I have an old Lee hand primer that I've used for my reloads. Pretty quick and good 'feel' for seating the primers.
The only really compelling virtue of the Ram Prime is that it is small and inexpensive. If your portable reloading kit was very size constrained, that might be important to you. Otherwise, skip the kit and just buy the standalone press.
Viability for Survival/Crap hit the fan use
Since this is a survival-type blog, there's the inevitable questions: is a Lee Hand Press something that I would carry in a bug out bag? Nope. Too heavy, needs components to work, etc. I'd just carry already loaded ammo in a bag, thank you very much.
But - is this something that I would take in a vehicle? Have cached at a cabin in the woods? Bring with me for a temporary relocation? Sure. An ammo can sized kit with a hand press, dies, supporting tools, bullet molds, powder and primers could keep a survivor in ammo for a long time.
I've got a workbench and space for a traditional reloading press - but up until recently, that hadn't been the case. We've moved around many times, lived in apartments and condos and so on. For those in similar circumstances or those who just want a reloading kit they can use on the move, the Lee Hand Press is a great option.
Yes, it's inexpensive, but don't let that scare you away. It's sturdy and works well.
For $40, it's an easy recommendation to make. On Amazon or Midway.