Reloading kit vs DIY

Originally posted:

Let the flames begin :slight_smile:

More late night random thoughts! I keep seeing, especially in a couple of Facebook groups I am a member of, people asking the same question over and over again. Should I buy a reloading kit; or buy reloading equipment separately? That got me thinking… How would I answer this question? Hold on to your hats!

Why would someone ask this question in the first place? Probably, impulse without background understanding of the process? Inherently, someone didn’t bother doing their own research. It’s okay, we all do it…

So, how would I answer this question? I’d say, do you know what tools you need in the first place?

A little bit of a tangent here, but rest assured, my eclectic thought process eventually gets back on point. YouTube is not a substitute. Don’t get me wrong, I learn from videos all the time, but I know what I am looking for and I have enough experience to smell bullshit. YouTube content is unmoderated, it’s not peer reviewed and it’s biased to a specific mindset, creator’s budget or target audience (yes, it’s all about the clicks!). A book however, is usually reviewed, edited and updated over time. There is at least some cursory review process that happens with a printed textbook.

There are a few very good books that cover reloading and in great detail, from tool selection to understanding powder burn rates. All topics you need to have at least some understanding of, before you start reloading. What bullet do I pick? Why do I pick this weight and not something else, what powder, why not matchheads? Why would I use this die over that die, etc. A good textbook is a concentrated guide to answer all of these questions.

Asking someone for advice is not exactly the best thing either (and not the same as being shown). What if they say DIY, have you considered that they may have purchased their equipment decades ago and prices were low; or kits just didn’t exist? What if they say, buy a kit? Have you considered that they may not be as detailed as you are; or not as interested as you are? Perhaps it’s a vanity answer, to seem like they are helping.

Perhaps, a better question to ask could be: what is a good reloading textbook, that I should buy. There is usually a consensus on this topic and a clear winner will emerge.

After reading a textbook and gaining some understand what the process is, what the tools do, when you need what and why, you can answer your own question with trivial cost benefit analysis .

  • What comes in a kit vs.
  • What I know I need;
  • What I know I won’t use;
  • What I buy separately, of better quality.

There are a few gotchas that only become apparent through ‘doing’, by no means this is an exhaustive list, but probably up there on the budget radar.

Don’t take this as a negative, as if I am trying to argue against a kit. I am not. In fact, I am not presenting an argument at all. I am suggesting that this decision should be made by you, after you understand what you need, rather than relying on others who have their own methods, approach, maybe different firearm types, and financial situation.

How do I know what I need?

Ha! Exactly, best thing to do, ask a friend to walk you through a reloading process. Me, I didn’t know anyone, I started asking questions online and someone invited me to their home (it’s a good thing that we both ended up being axe murderers and it all cancelled each other out, we hung out instead), to give me a lesson in how not to hurt myself. An hour of hands-on education and I certainly didn’t come out an expert, but I learnt what I didn’t want and some tools that I preferred over others. You’d be surprised how useful this lesson is and one day you’ll pay it forward.

The Press

Yep, what are you actually planning to load? In some cases, you may need bigger reloading dies with different threads. Can the kit press be adjusted to accomodate all reloading die thread types or just one?

The Book

Kits usually include a book, you should buy a good book (unless that’s the book included in the kit, often it’s not) – so remove $30+ from the price. A textbook you will read and load data you will get from manufacturer’s websites. It’s useful to have a printed load manual, you’ll certainly accumulate a few, but it’s not worth buying a kit with a book chosen for you.

The Scales

Budge and speed! It’s all about the budget and speed here. Can you afford something and could you afford something if you DIY. A lot of cheap-to-midrange kits come with the cheapest set of scales known to the universe (not always, but usually). And scales is what you need! After measuring a charge 100 times over, you will yell at the wall and replace them with something better (maybe). Personally, I prefer digital reloading scales – they are a lot faster to work with, but YMMV. Either way, you will want a decent set of reloading scales and yes, they are expensive. Does the kit come with a good set? Do you want to get a different model? Do you want it now or later? And can you afford them, if you were to buy everything separately and shop around. Also, depends on how much you shoot…

I started with a reloading kit. My rational was that, if I buy one now, I will get into reloading. Because I will feel guilty about wasting all that money if I don’t. We all have different reasons. Would I do it again? Maybe. However, with the benefit of hindsight – I would pay a very close attention to what’s included in the kit, how much it is to buy separately and what components in the kit I wouldn’t use or replace at the first opportunity.


I think I would recommend the kit route. It gets you started and like you said you learn so much from just doing. Also a lot of people want to get something different from reloading than the next guy or you. I bought a kit to start with and dont regret it. Even if I have replaced a lot of the stuff some of it more than once as you gradually increase your wants from the finished product. Some of the replacements didnt live up to the advertising or reviews in some ways they were bigger regrets. A lot of the things we do in reloading can only be learned from personal experience because there is not a one size fits all. If you accept from the beginning that you are going to spend some money on unnecessary or wanted stuff it softens the blow.

Likewise I have bought some gun accessories that look good on a website have good reviews only to find that they are cheap plastic bits of crap that just have no practical or ergonomic use.

1 Like

All the kits have good and bad bits. If you go the Lee route, bank on binning the scales. I like RCBS or Redding. Good luck!

1 Like

I keep hearing split info on the Lee beam scales. Some say they are terrible. Others say they are great, just not as fast as a good digital scale.

If I were to get a Lee kit and wanted to replace the scales with a digital option, how much would I have to spend for something considered “good”.

I know cheap digital scales are a pain.

1 Like

I have rarely relied on digital scales. I have both beam RCBS 505 ($200+) and Lyman 1500 digital ($150+) The RCBS keep the Lyman honest though. I predominately use the RCBS when throwing powder. I think both RCBS and Redding make good beam scales. If your starting out, I would recommend beam scales.

1 Like

So what does a RCBS beam scale have over the Lee?

The Lee scales are not great. My first upgrade was to a $60 set of Chinese scales off ebay. Really they were very good an order of magnitude or two better than the Lee.They did have some hysteresis in them and a small sensitivty/ resolution issue. I am talking about 0.02 grains. Then I upgraded to an A&D scale which is repeatable to 0.001 gram. A unit much smaller than all but the truly anal reloader needs.

I would recommend the $60 scales to anyone starting out. If you like you could borrow them to get a feel of what you are after.

1 Like

Purely build quality, the graduations are not very positive. Just very crappy looking. Put them side by side, then you will know what I mean. The look like they could fall apart any minute…

1 Like

Any chance you could post a picture of them?

I dont have a photo on the computer to post, i will have to get them out of the storage box. Should be able to muster up enough motivation to take one. :grinning:

No rush. Just whenever you get around to it.