Priming Tools

There are three primary types of priming tools currently used in handloading. Probably the most common are the press mounted units available for most single stage reloading presses. Primary advantages of these units are price and availability; many presses come equipped with these units right from the factory. Most are based on a movable arm that picks up a primer from the primer tube (also mounted on the press frame) when the ram is at the top of its stroke. This may be either during the sizing/decapping operation, or as a separate step done specifically for priming. On the downstroke, the arm is shifted into a slot cut into the center of the ram, aligning the primer with the hole in the center of the shell holder. The ram is then brought the rest of the way down, until the primer is inserted into the primer pocket. One of the biggest disadvantages to this system is the tremendous leverage the presses generate. While necessary for tough jobs like resizing and case forming, priming does not require anywhere near this much force. Primer seating is a delicate operation, which calls for a deft touch if the handloader is to feel the primer anvil bottoming in the primer pocket. The force that can be generated by a reloading press simply isn’t needed for this operation, and is a bit like trying to drive a thumbtack with a sledge hammer.

Priming is fast and easy with a remote bench mounted unit, like this RCBS priming tool.

The second type is the remote bench mounted priming units, such as those produced by Bonanza and RCBS. These are considerably more sensitive than the press mounted units, but still generate a great deal of leverage. Some are equipped with an automatic primer feed, and provide a good compromise between speed, sensitivity and convenience for most reloaders. The RCBS units use the same shell holders as the reloading press, while the Bonanza uses an independently adjustable, universal shell holder. 

Priming cases with a hand priming tool. The best models, such as this Sinclair tool, offer tremendous sen sitivity, allowing you to feel the primer bottom out in the pocket.

The last type is the hand held priming tools, typified by the Lee Auto-Prime. These tools are used extensively by benchrest shooters, as they allow the handloader to feel the primer bottom out in the primer pocket. Those with an attached primer tray, such as the Lee or RCBS Hand Priming Tool will speed up the priming process considerably by eliminating the need to handle each primer individually. On the high end of the hand priming tools are the benchrest grade tools, such as the Sinclair Priming Tool. These are considerably more expensive than the more common units, but are second to none where quality is concerned. Machined to much closer tolerances and made of stainless steel and aircraft grade aluminum, its smooth operation allows for an excellent feel in the seating operation.

The correct choice of priming tool will depend on the job at hand. Obviously, large quantities of ammunition to be loaded will call for one of the faster tools. Match grade ammunition, normally loaded in smaller lots, will call for a tool that emphasizes precision over speed. The beginning reloader and those on a tight budget or with limited space may choose to stick with the press mounted units. By carefully reviewing some of these options, a handloader should be able to select the equipment best suited to their personal needs.

Primer Pocket Swagers and Reamers

Most military ammunition intended for full-auto weapons use primers that are crimped in place to reduce the possibility of a backed-out primer jamming the action. Before these cases can be reloaded, the remains of this crimp must be removed. Failure to do so will result in difficulty repriming the case, damage to the new primer, accuracy and ignition problems. This is a onetime operation, and will not need to be repeated for subsequent reloadings.

There are two approaches to removing this crimp; swagging and reaming. Reaming involves using a specialized cutter to ream a slight radius around the mouth of the primer pocket. This should ease the edges enough to allow the new primer to be easily and properly seated. Although this can be done with a small-bladed knife or a deburring tool, we strongly recommend that only those reamers specifically designed for the task be used. The use of other cutting instruments may result in the removal of too much metal, rendering the case unsafe. Primer pocket reamers are available from Lyman, Forster, and others.

The preferred method of removing the crimp is to swage the primer pocket. Not only does this eliminate the possibility of removing an excessive amount of material from the case head, it produces a smooth, even radius around the primer pocket. Swagging also results in a slight degree of work hardening around the primer pocket. This in turn, may yield increased case life, and more consistent primer seating. Swagging tools vary considerably in operation, depending on their design. Some, like the RCBS swagging tool, are accessory units to be used on single stage presses. Others are separate tools dedicated solely to the task of swagging primer pockets. Some of the more advanced progressive presses, such as the Dillon RL1050, actually swage the primer pockets as a routine step in the reloading process.