Ammunition

Throwback Thursday: How to Build the Perfect Reloading Bench

ammo cartridge components on wood table

Let’s all be honest here. We wouldn’t be reloading if we weren’t (at least in part) thrifty. So we are never going to pay for the perfect reloading bench. But considering money is ALWAYS an object, there are better uses for your money than others.

For me, there are two primary components to the basic structure of a reloading bench.

  1. It needs to have adequate space to not be cramped when I work.
  2. It needs to be heavy and sturdy enough to handle the forces involved in reloading and potentially bullet swaging.
reloading bench
Having ample space for working is important.

Materials and Dimensions

I built my bench using 2×4’s, plywood, 2.5-inch sheetrock screws, construction adhesive, and a layer of poly on the top piece of plywood. The 2×4’s add strength and weight. The plywood adds rigidity and storage space. The poly coating makes for simpler cleaning of debris, spilled powder, and other incidentals.

My bench is 72-inches long by 20-inches deep and 36-inches high. It has two 14-inch deep shelves under the top. I use these to hold projectile boxes as well as ammo cans filled with dies and other tools. This provides me with plenty of access to commonly needed tools and bullets as well as room to store other things like reloading books. It also helps to increase stability by adding weight.

Behind my press is an industrial shelving unit filled with boxes of brass, less commonly used projectiles, and all sorts of other heavy things. My bench is bolted to this shelving for the extra stability created by its width and weight. You may choose to anchor your bench to a wall to create the same effect. It also provides a means of attaching a piece of luan board along the backside to help with lighting and organization.

ammo loading tools
Proper organization allows for the use of two reloading presses.

Construction

The bench itself is framed with 2×4’s. The tabletop has a double frame of 2×4’s that support a double layer of glued and screwed plywood for the top. The topmost layer of plywood (1/2-inch) is cut to allow flush-mounted aluminum U-rails. The lower layer of the top is 3/4-inch. This provides a solid anchoring surface for the U-rails. They take 5/16 hex bolts for mounting the stands I use for my presses and other tools. Using them allows me to easily rearrange the position of my press, powder measure, or other tools as is needed, without having to drill new holes into the table’s surface.

My common tools are all attached to either four-inch or 9 5/8” Inline Fabrication quick-change mount bases. Each tool or press has a quick-change top plate permanently attached, so I can switch items out very quickly. The tall (9 5/8”) mount also provides much stronger support and brings the working area up to a convenient level for working while standing or sitting in my bar stool. This height also makes for better ergonomics when pulling the extended lever.

I typically use the four-inch for my powder measure, as I run that while seated and a top-down look is better for checking powder fill level.

shelves
Shelving for ammo and other supplies is not only good for storage, it also helps increase the weight for added stability.

Key Features

The quick-change nature is important as I don’t switch out dies, I switch out presses, depending on the type of loading I am doing. For example, I have a Dillon Square Deal B set up for bulk runs of 9mm. When I have to change to another caliber, I have a second Square Deal B that I can set up for .38 Spl/.357 Mag, .40 S&W, or .45 ACP. Any other pistol rounds are in small enough volume for the Forster Co-Ax.

I have a Dillon 650 set up for 5.56 NATO bulk production. I can keep these presses in tune and ready to go for my most commonly shot calibers. With a simple removal and reinstallation of two thumbscrews, the presses swap out in less than two minutes. 

For other bulk rifle production, the 650 setup must be changed out to accommodate the caliber. I have spare components that simplify that process for  6.5 Creedmoor or .270 Win. I don’t shoot enough of anything else to make the changes worth the time. This means most everything else is run on the Forster Co-Ax.

Load testing and precision loading also fall to my Forster Co-Ax press. If I need more dramatic changes to the space, it takes about five minutes to remove the 5/16 bolts and the entire base assembly can be relocated along the track or removed completely. I keep the commonly used Square Deal B and the Forster Co-Ax presses on an Inline Fabrication double storage dock. This is mounted on the far end of the bench, up high.

I have a single storage dock for the Dillon 650. It is set so the height with the optional case feeder still fits under the ceiling, but the press is out of the way.

ammo reloading tools
The Dillon 650 provides for most of my reloading work.

Other Additions

There is also space below and beside the reloading bench to fit my two Lyman tumblers. One is used for preliminary cleaning. It has fairly used walnut shells that do a first clean. This is especially helpful when I buy lots of once used brass. Depending on the lot, it sometimes has quite a bit of dried mud along with the cases.

Then the cases are moved to the second tumbler with much newer walnut shells and one tablespoon of an automotive car-buffing compound. The compound helps to shine the cases and capture resulting dust.

My setup is not perfect, but it works very well for me. I have a 3,800 lumen overhead LED shop light directly over the bench. I prefer the color spectrum of LED and fluorescent lights play havoc with certain digital scales. 

ammo manufacturing tools
Keeping things up and out of the way helps with clutter and keeps you focused on the work at hand.

Final Thoughts

I realize my reloading bench setup is not typical. If for no other reason, I have more presses than your average reloader, but the basic principles are solid and easily adapted to anyone’s needs. Build it heavy and solid and you will have a much easier time loading. The use of raised mounts also adds strength and ergonomic advantage to the process. For me, the biggest upgrade from my last bench was the aluminum U-rails and the inherent adjustability they provide.

What is your perfect reloading bench setup? Let us know in the Comment section below!

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in March of 2021. It has been completely revamped and updated for accuracy and clarity.

About the Author:

John Bibby

John Bibby is an American gun writer who had the misfortune of being born in the occupied territory of New Jersey. His parents moved to the much freer state of Florida when he was 3. This allowed his father start teaching him about shooting prior to age 6. By age 8, he was regularly shooting with his father and parents of his friends. At age 12, despite the strong suggestions that he shouldn’t, he shot a neighbor’s “elephant rifle."

The rifle was a .375 H&H Magnum and, as such, precautions were taken. He had to shoot from prone. The recoil-induced, grass-stained shirt was a badge of honor. Shooting has been a constant in his life, as has cooking.

He is an (early) retired Executive Chef. Food is his other great passion. Currently, he is a semi-frequent 3-Gun competitor, with a solid weak spot on shotgun stages. When his business and travel schedule allow, you will often find him, ringing steel out well past 600 yards. In order to be consistent while going long, reloading is fairly mandatory. The 3-Gun matches work his progressive presses with volume work. Precision loading for long-range shooting and whitetail hunting keeps the single-stage presses from getting dusty.
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (18)

  1. Well I’m just starting to reload I intend to use an old military style desk I’m hoping this will work out
    It’s heavy being empty and I’m sure roomy enough since I have a Hornady 4 stage press. Wish me luck. Thanks

  2. Relative to the reloading bench article, I mounted strip magnets along the front of the bench adjacent to each press (Harbor Freight about $ 3.00). That lets one keep the immediate tools needed to work with the press, etc. Lots of light is important to me, as well. Have mounted a small shop vac on one leg of the bench for quick access and clean up. Good article.

  3. A very timely article, as I just bought all the wood to build my bench. It will be 72″ long x 30″ deep with 1-5/8″ thick work surface at 36″ height. My “backsplash/rear panel” will extend to a height (from the floor) of 60-72″, I haven’t decided yet. The back 12″ of the top will have cubbies and shelves for components and loading manuals, leaving about 18″ of working space. The center section will be a rifle/long gun cabinet probably about 2 feet wide and a foot deep. I have three presses that can be mounted using the Lee Bench Plates and an additional mounting plate under the “table” for a gun vise. The back panel will, on either side of the cabinet, be for displaying my handguns when not locked in the safe. Will try and post an update when it is completed.

  4. After almost 40 years of use, have one thing I would have changed on my bench. The doubled up 3/4″ plywood top should have had some type of Formica “topper” or a clear coat sealer on it. Have a number of different stains that are forever soaked into my bench. As to mounting a RCBS press or a Lyman bullet sizer, I used a metal plate, (scrap piece of steel), then heavy duty washers, to spread out the load. Even then, after a few years, had to re tighten everything.

  5. Years ago I built one out of 2x12x36 for the top with 4×4 for legs 2×4 for cross brace and used 2×4 on the underside of table top. Used an RCBS reloaded. Reloaded for 45-70, 308 norma Magnum, 45 acp, 45 long Colt and 22-250. But that’s to be at least 45 yrs ago. Back when primers where $1 for a 100, powder was around $5 a pound and the bullets were anywhere from $5 or $6 dollars for a,100 depending on the caliber. But I guess it costs more now to reload and if you can find the stuff to reload

  6. Harbor Freight has a pretty nice wooden bench I have been using for 10 years. I covered the top with 3/4″plywood top. With a dove tail panel that has my Summit press mounted on it that I can slide out and replace with a blank panel which allows me use of most of the top for work on rifles and other things

  7. “Let’s all be honest here. We wouldn’t be reloading if we weren’t (at least in part) thrifty.” Once I calmed down from being envious, I am wondering how long it took your “thrifty” to pay for itself, if it in fact, has yet. LOL

    Lot of good ideas presented here. Next you may want to include a printer for labels to attache to each container of reloads, with pertinent information, to be able to repeat the next time.

    Good article, however I hope those thinking about getting into reloading aren’t of the opinion your system is where they need to start, and get scared off. Nothing wrong with starting with a single station press, to gain confidence and understanding of the whole process. Maybe an article on introduction to beginner reloads would be nice.

  8. I built mine 96L x 24D x 36H out of 2×4’s and 2×6’s, shelves and 3 sets of doors across the front all topped with 3/4 inch plywood. Cut pieces of 3/8″ steel plate to use as base plates to mount my presses to. Built 45 years ago and still as strong as the day it was built.

  9. Similar to another poster, I started with a hand-built cabinet frame of 2×4’s, then slapped a surplus solid core door on top, screwed to the frame with #12 wood screws. I have a Lee Classic Turret Press permanently installed. I have 2 RCBS presses, one a Rock Chucker and the other a lighter duty one, bolted to large pieces of oak which I can temporarily clamp to the work surface using Vice-grips, then remove to have an open work space. Very versatile!

  10. When we remodeled our kitchen I took the old formica counter top that was an L shape and mounted it to a bench that I built for it and it gave me a great smooth service to work from and lots of room. I cut it off at the sink and it fit in the corner of my workshop/gunshop. My 3 presses fit fine and still left plenty of room for working on guns. I put shelves above for bullets and stuff and I keep powder and reloads in one of my safes that is climate controlled. I use 3 led shop light for lighting and all in all It seems to work for me.

  11. My wife found a salvaged bowling lane, rock maple 2.25 thick. I made a reloading bench out of it, 72 X 23 X 35 high. I drove a pair of 3/8 X 10 inch power lags on either side of the press for additional strength. I hung a shelving unit on the cement block wall over but not touching the bench. I cantilevered a separate shelf from the wall for the electronic scales to prevent issues with vibration. The legs are 4 X 4 with cross lap joints. The bench is also bolted to the wall. Solid as a rock!

  12. Nice to have space available for such and elaborate setup. I must stow everything between re-loading sessions, and have virtually no available powder storage space. All I can do is drool.

  13. Instead of using automotive poling compound use diatamaous earth. this is a filter media you can get at any swimming pool dealer, it’s used as a water filter.

  14. I have never seen the stands your presses are mounted on . Would like information on those please. Thanks for your article.

  15. As to the lights. Light sources are rated in Lumens for amount of light given off. The thing that bothers some folks is the light temperature. Lower numbers produce a yellowish light like the old incandescent bulbs. Higher temps simulate sunlight. Most light sources today have a color temperature rating usually on the bulb itself. In most Lowe’s stores for instance the temp color will be stated on the the information label on the shelf. You can research this online to get more information on the common temp ranges available.

  16. 2nd comment – Forgot to mention that when bolting my press in place, I used Fender Washers to help spread the load so the wood won’t get compressed after several years of use. This worked for me for the past 35+ years. (Didn’t have the slide fixtures back then.)

  17. Love it! Only suggestion is to be sure to modify size to fit where you are going to put your bench and add a power strip for electronic scales, etc. Did find that when I glued up two pieces of plywood that they shifted slightly. I used weights to hold the two sheets together, didn’t think to use screws instead. On mine, I added moulding strips around the bench top to restrain any spills, leaving a small gap to where I can sweep out those spills. Cheap 3/4 round moulding was ideal, and can be stained to match bench top. Note – I used two pieces of 3/4″ plywood, because I got one free cut when I bought a full sheet of plywood.

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