As part of an upcoming series of articles on reloading, Carteach dialed up Lee Precision on the confusatron and ordered up a bunch of gear that any new hand loader might set themselves up with. Plunking down my hard earned Plasti-cash, a great big pile-o-goodies was purchased.
Lee Precision has been in the business of supplying gear to hand loaders for a long... long... LONG... time. My own adventures in reloading began at the tender age of 13 with a Lee Loader, a big mallet, and a part of the barn my Dad didn't mind me blowing up. That Lee Loader was the only way a poor kid could shoot a lot. Dad would supply lots of .22 for rodent control, but anything else was on my dime.
To this day, the Carteach reloading bench (Okay... it's more like a shop) still has it's fair share of Lee reloading gear in use. It's not just for beginners. There may be better quality hand loading tools in some cases, but there probably isn't a better value out there. Once the tool can do the job, everything else is just shine and convenience.
It's with that in mind that I unboxed a new Lee Ergo-prime this morning. It's the latest and greatest hand priming tool offered by Lee, and may take the place of my venerable Lee Auto prime. Shown here side by side, whats not plain is just how many shell cases have been primed on my beloved Auto-Prime. Conservatively.... tens of thousands of cases have found their way onto this gadget. At a guess, perhaps three thousand a year for the last twenty years or so. Everything that didn't get primed on the Progressive, was done by hand on the old Lee unit.
Now, Lee has updated and upgraded their old standby. They still offer the Auto Prime, and it's as popular as ever. Still, there was room for improvement in both safety and ease of use. Lee made those changes and called it 'The Ergo-Prime'. The older Auto Prime was not supposed to be used with all makes of primer, most notably leaving Federal's offering by the wayside. Supposedly there was a danger in using the Federal primers on the Auto Prime. In addition, there are specific limits to the number of other brand primers which should loaded into the Auto Prime, according to Lee.
The new Ergo-Prime has none of those limitations. Through an interesting design, the actual priming operation is done on a different 'plane' than the primer tray. With each hand motion, a primer is seated into the case while another is 'elevated' to the primer ram feed for the next case. This can make for an occasional miss, with a second (no pressure) squeeze being needed to feed the next primer (This may smooth out with use).
The Auto Prime had another limitation.... it's ergonomics. The primer is seated with thumb pressure on that unit, and after a few hundred primers even Superman's thumbs would get tired. The Ergo-Prime uses the entire hand in a natural squeezing motion to seat the primer, a powerful and easy operation.
In use, primers are laid into the feed tray right from the primer box. If needed, the primer tray is a 'flip-tray', and shaking the primers gently will turn them over into the proper orientation. I'll say, in all honestly, that Lee's take on a flip-tray here is not nearly as smooth and easy to use as RCBS's. It works, just not as fast, nor without a small amount of fiddly poking at recalcitrant primers. There is a learning curve, as a slower smoother motion in working the flip-tray makes it work better.
Seating primers with the Ergo-Prime is... nice. There is a very high amount of 'feel' to the operation, letting the user judge both seating pressure and depth easily. This takes a slight bit of getting used to, as the design presents quite a lot of leverage and power to the user. As I was priming Lake City military brass today, there were a few 'crimp' issues to overcome. Most of the brass had the military crimp swaged out, but not always to perfection. Some cases took extra effort to seat primers into. In a few cases, the $#@!&%$ crimp must have been missed, as the primer seating operation literally shaved away the crimp, damaging the primer at the same time. Out of the 450 once fired Lake City military cases primed in the course of roughly 45 minutes, 10 were lost to tight pocket/crimping issues. In Carteach's experience, this is not bad at all.
Does the tool work? Yes, without a doubt. Is it worth the asking price? Once again, yes, even when taking into account that a set of special shell holders must also be purchased. Will it replace the Fat Man's beloved Auto Prime? That remains to be seen. Let me load ten or twenty thousand rounds with it first, and we shall see.