Lee Classic Turret Press Part I
Lee Equipment - It's not just for Kids
Joseph D'Alessandro Editor
Experienced handloaders recommend Lee products to
novice handloaders all of the time. The price is always right, the equipment is innovative in
design and frequently Lee is sold in all-in-one kits that make it
easy to get started. $69 will get you a complete single
stage reloading kit; add dies, cartridge components and you're ready
to roll. For another $20 you can get the same all inclusive kit,
only built around an auto indexing turret press. Lee Precision also
offers enhanced and automated products for production and commercial handloaders,
each supported with a long list of standard and specialized dies and
accessories. While more expensive than
entry level products, they are still an excellent value.
I have a retired RCBS Ammo Master Progressive that
had been in heavy use for a number of years. It was expensive to change
over to accommodate different
cartridges and the combination of heavy rotating mass of the steel shell
holders, and in-progress ammo, would frequently cause it to
overshoot indexed positions. I'd have to clear the jams and check
for double or missing powder charges, then work backward in the
cartridge sequence until everything was in sync again, then finish
by cleaning up
the spilled contents. These problems, and an
inability to easily work outside of the press' progressive sequence,
caused me to finally pack
it in and move to a manual RCBS Turret press, or Rock Chucker single
These work find when I am assembling a box or two of ammo, or doing
load development with lots of short runs, but both are too slow for production.
In review, the Lee Classic Turret Press seemed to combine the best of both worlds, auto indexing progressive
turret design in a very compact and sturdy package, so I bought one.
The Classic, like a standard Lee turret
press, but on steroids
If you are familiar with the standard 4 Hole Lee
Turret Press, there are some significant differences. Most of them
are obvious; the Classic model ram is 1.125" outside diameter, where
the standard model ram is roughly .825". The bearing surface within
the Classic base casting is 3/8" longer for greater support. The
base of the standard is a light die cast alloy, the Classic base is
heavy cast iron. The Standard press linkage is a steel stamping, by
comparison the steel linkage is stout; .170" and .400" respectively. The posts that support the die head on
the Classic are .630" in diameter and .560" on the standard. The
Classic has 4.5" of cartridge clearance, the standard has 3.5"
Does this mean the standard four holt turret is a
substandard product? Certainly not, it is a good production press
and certainly capable of holding up under hard use. It only means
that if you are evaluating brands of turret presses that are more
substantial than the standard Lee Precision model, or if you need
longer cartridge capacity or something you can lean on a little
heavier for case sizing or forming, the Classic is a solution within
the Lee Precision product line.
like the way machinery is put together, Lee Equipment is worth
looking at more closely. There are interesting design and
manufacturing approaches that are quite different from other brands.
Sometimes it's fun to try to guess the underlying logic. While the RCBS base is larger in area, the
arrow shaped base of the Lee unit with its perimeter rib makes for a
strong level but compliant surface. In addition, the far aft bolt anchors directly
against the primary force applied to the press.
Turret Construction and Mounting
This is just good engineering. The turret, or die
head, drops into the turret ring and is locked in by the locking
lugs on the turret and turret ring. The turret ring retains the
turret all the way around for full support against the vertical and
upward force of sizing cases, seating bullets, etc. A shaft driven
by the moving ram rotates the turret and dies in one station
increments with each actuation. Optionally, the shaft, or "square
index rod" can be popped out, a three second exercise, allowing the
press to be indexed manually.
The turret is a substantial piece of machined
aluminum that is heavy enough to withstand any pressure that might
be applied, but light enough to not overrun the detents and cause
misalignment between dies and cartridge.
Most turret presses mount the turret or die head like
an umbrella as illustrated by the RCBS turret press on the right. In
this design the turret head needs to be of a larger diameter to
allow for the center mount bolt and the six die positions located
around the outside. IN operation the distance from center will
multiply the ram force exerted on the turret center bolt, and on the
spring loaded ball that keeps the turret in horizontal alignment.
The Lee Turret is supported all around the outside by
the turret ring, the dies are located directly over the ram and
close to the retaining turret ring. With no center mounting bolt,
the dies can be located closer together which contributes to the
overall compact design.
The RCBS press is beefy and will no doubt hold down
more paper than the Lee unit, but little of that weight goes to
strength, it mostly goes to making up for a less optimal design. The
shipping weight for the RCBS is 20 lbs, the Lee Turret 13.4.
The Lee Turret has lots of capacity. That is a
358-378RG wildcat in the shell holder, a slightly necked down full
length 378 Weatherby Magnum case. Due to its 3.75" length, I had to
remove the index rod that drives auto indexing and index the turret
manually. This is an exceptional length for a cartridge. By
comparison, cartridges like a 3.300" 7 mm Remington Magnum and
shorter WSM series can be processed in auto index mode. Lee makes
the comment on their web site that the press, by removing the
indexing rod, can handle cases as long as the .50 BMG round. The
comment has led many people to believe the press has a conversion
kit available for the 50 BMG, however, it does not as the turret
head is limited to 7/8" thread capacity and not the 1ľ" required for
50 BMG. Perhaps Lee might consider removing the "50 BMG" reference
to avoid confusion as it has no relevance to the use of the press.
Straight wall cases require an expander step to open
the mouth to the correct size, so most sets are three dies. Add a
factory crimp die as would be common practice and you're out of
turret stations with no room for a powder measure. Three dies sets
from Lee incorporate a "powder through" expander die that allows
powder to enter the case through the top of the die. When used with
a press mounted Auto-Disk Powder measure, the upstroke of the
case into the expander die actuates the powder measure. Lee also
produces an adapter to install in the press to trigger powder
dispensing when 2 die rifle sets are installed, however, I am
assuming this feature is limited to small capacity rifle cases.
Primers and Drivers
The index clamp is fixed to the ram. The index rod
runs through the clamp and it is keyed into the turret at the top.
When the ram is raised, the clamp is forced up the twisted portion
of the index rod, forcing the rod to rotate and index the turret to
the next position. Neato. For manual operation of the turret the
index rod is removed.
This is what the LPS Primer Arm looks like out of the
press. A large and small primer version are included and just drop
into place before the shell holder is installed. It is a very simple
and reliable system of priming on the press that will be covered in
the operational check out part of this short series, hopefully,
along with a more automated Lee Safety Prime System optional
accessory for this press. I don't care for handling individual
primers, it is too easy to contaminate the material.
I decided I would check out the operation of the
press and quality of output with several dies sets; 17-357RG which
has numerous case forming steps, the 358-378RG with heavy charges
and heavy bullets and the 45 Colt.
The first two are custom die sets from CH4D, the
third is a Deluxe pistol die set made by Lee. The 45 Colt die set is
comprised of a sizer/decapper, an expander, a bullet seater, a
factory crimp die, a shell holder and a small powder measure. I am
eager to see how this set sizes 45 Colt brass as most other brands
size well under and excessively work the brass I wanted a couple of
dimensional extremes and one typical case to test the press and
Conclusions So Far
So far I am pretty impressed with the Lee Classic
Turret Press. It is a solid and well thought out piece of equipment
that seems to have integrated well into my mixed equipment shop. It
has a small footprint, handles long brass and works with any of the
die sets I have in house. I did run a couple of rounds through it
just to verify how things worked and, so far, no disappointments. In
fact, I am looking forward to cranking out some production right
along side of the RCBS Turret press to see how the output compares.
I will hold off any further comment until I have a sufficient amount
of operating experience.
The Lee Classic Turret Press sells for $79 at major
online retailers. The Colt Deluxe Pistol Die Set that includes a
factory crimp doe runs about $28. By comparison, the RCBS press is
$167 similarly equipped from the same sources.
For more related information:
Lee Classic Turret Press Part I - Lee
Equipment - It's not just for Kids
Lee Classic Turret Press Part II -
Form Follows Function - A closer Look
Lee Classic Turret Press Part III
- It's Pretty, But Does it Make Good Ammo?