Making Room to Load
Date: Jun 01 2006
Don’t be discouraged by cramped living conditions. If you have enough room to swivel round a chair, you have enough to handload. A tiny space might not be as convenient as a full room, but handloading equipment can be made to work in surprisingly small areas, including kitchen tables, bathroom counters, even closets.
During a recent visit to Sportsman’s Warehouse in Boise, I saw a wood and metal reloading bench that couldn’t have been more than two feet deep and three feet wide. That’s plenty of space for handloading, but the price of the unit was more than $300. I know that would have been too rich for my wallet back when I was starting out, so if you’re in the same economic boat, don’t despair. You can rig up your own loading bench for almost nothing.
You’re biggest concern is a stable platform for a press. Considerable force is put into resizing brass and you need a solid platform to handle it. My solution has always been to add a square of 3⁄4-inch plywood and 2x4 legs to any substandard shelves or tables I might have. I once ran a Pacific press on a built-in desk of a mobile home, and you know how flimsy those plywood tornado magnets are! All I did was cut a slab of plywood to fit atop and stick out beyond the cheap desktop far enough to accommodate the press, which I reinforced underneath with a frame of 2x4s. All the pressure went down into the 2x4 legs. I piled bullets and bags of shot on the back of the plywood to hold it down. When I moved out, the desk looked good as ever, nary a hole in it.
With just a handsaw, drill and screws you can build a stand-alone platform in the shape of a box. Make it tall enough to work from as you prefer, sitting or standing. Let the top overhang the front or one side far enough so the press handle clears on the downstroke. Reinforce under the press with a horizontal 2x4 and one or two going down as “legs.” Add a series of shelves inside the box and you’ll have neat storage space for bullets, powder, dies, etc. Put rollers on the bottom and you can roll this rig in and out of a closet as needed. Or paint the outside pretty and use as a lamp or knick-knack counter.
Want a closet loading bench? Secure a fold-up plywood top to a back wall with hefty hinges. Hinge 2x4 legs to its front edge. Everything folds up and out of the way until you need to reload. Then just push the shirts and pants out of the way, fold down the shelf, mount the press and get to work.
It’s even possible, though not ideal, to do your handloading outside on a picnic table or rough bench made just for the purpose. You’ll need to store supplies in the house, of course, and break them out each time you load, but it beats sitting and wishing. Build small, wooden platform bases for your press, case trimmer, neck reamer and whatever else you need and clamp them to the picnic table with carpenter’s C clamps. Do your powder loading indoors where nothing will contaminate it and wind won’t mess with your scale. Fill a block of cases, then carry them out to the press for bullet seating.
Garages are natural and commonly used handloading rooms. Just don’t mix loading supplies with mechanic and auto supplies. Oil and powder don’t mix. If space is limited, dedicate a removable plywood counter top just for loading. Place this over your dirty, oily workbench before getting out primers and powders. A slab of Formica covered plywood from one of the home improvement stores makes an easily cleaned, smooth bench surface for reloading. Oh, if your garage gets hot in summer, don’t store primers or powder in it. Keep them someplace dry and cool.
A support for powder measure and scale can be a simple box of shelves designed to place the scale level with your eye. Make it wide enough to remain stable while operating the lever of a powder measure. Lower shelves can be used to store calipers, funnels, primer pocket cleaners, etc. I’ve made a number of these over the years, often out of scrap wood. Hey, it doesn’t have to be pretty. It just has to work.
Don’t worry about the perfect design for a press bench. You can always shore up bad designs with additional 2x4 legs or cross-member supports, even on the “feet” of your table’s legs (if it wants to tip forward on the downstroke, for instance). Get free lumber scraps at any building site. Just ask if you can pick through the scraps and you’ll find enough 2x4s, planks, boards and premature shelving to build nearly anything needed in a reloading room. Don’t be intimidated, don’t be shy, and don’t believe you don’t have the space to set up a handloading corner.