RCBS Bench Mounted Priming Tool
APS Bench-Mounted Priming Tool
Automatic Priming Tool
We all have indulgences - and for some these turn into addictions; for me, one of those addictions is tools and, specifically, reloading tools.
In the world of priming tools RCBS has the biggest range. Priming a case is one of the easier parts of the reloading process but if done incorrectly it can make your reloads perform below expectation; and while the basic tools that come with some presses will suffice, there are advantages to having a standalone priming tool.
The first advantage is speed - most handheld and bench-mounted tools have a primer feed system which eliminates the need for handling a primer and manually putting it in the seating cup. This is also a secondary benefit as every time a primer is handled it’s an opportunity to contaminate it with whatever is on your fingers; in the reloading room this can often be case lube, which is not what you want in your primers. The final reason is feel; primer pockets expand with use and this can happen over a long time or, if running hot loads, with only one or two firings. If a primer slides into the pocket with little resistance then the seal that holds 50,000-plus PSI in place is compromised; some press-mounted priming tools don’t give you a good feel for this though, and this is where the dedicated units come into play.
Sportways Distributors who are the New Zealand RCBS agents have sent me 2 bench-mounted priming tools to evaluate; one uses the APS strip loading system while the other uses a more traditional tube to feed the primers.
The APS bench-mounted machine is the more hi-tech and expensive, but it’s clearly one of the slickest priming tools available. It uses the APS strip loading system that was first seen on the RCBS Pro 2000 progressive press; this system uses plastic strips to hold the primers and they are automatically fed through the priming tool with each activation of the handle. The strips hold 25 primers and they are able to be joined together for high-volume work. They can be hand loaded but this defeats the purpose somewhat, so you are best to use the APS strip loader tool; this simple tool presses 25 primers at a time into the strips. The handle on the APS bench tool is adjustable to suit how you want to position it on the bench and to give you a good level of feel when inserting the primer. It uses standard shell holders, as opposed to some tools that require you to use a separate priming shell holder. The APS machine has separate primer seating plugs for small and larger primers and “slip in” bushes that fit into the shell holders to align the primer as it’s seated into the primer pocket.
Left: An RCBS strip loading tool is required to gain maximum benefit from the APS strip loading system
Right: The Automatic priming tool uses a more conventional tube to feed the primers into the insertion cup.
The Automatic priming tool is also bench-mounted but it uses a more conventional tube to feed the primers into the insertion cup. To load the tube the primers are flipped to be base up and then the top of the tube, which has a nylon primer pickup, is pushed over each primer, trapping it in the tube; this is continued until you have the required number of primers in the tube - up to a maximum of 100. The tube is inserted into the tool and the safety pin removed, which allows the primers to drop into the primer feed arm. When the handle is pressed down the tube and arm are flipped forward and a primer drops into the ram cup, a case is the put into the shell holder, the lever is pressed again and the primer is inserted. Seating feel was good: while loading some older 6.5 x 55 cases it became clear that the primer pockets on these cases had become loose. While it’s not quite as fast as the APS version it’s a quick and efficient system to use.
Using the two systems back-to-back it became clear that both were well thought-out and well engineered. My main reservation with the APS was the plastic bushes that fitted into the shell holder of the unit, and I did manage to damage one - but I have to say it was my fault.
As mentioned in some of my earlier reloading articles I like to maximise my time shooting and hunting as opposed to being in my reloading room; I therefore appreciate speed but I’m reluctant to give up any precision to achieve that speed. I didn’t have to compromise anything with either of these tools as they both proved to be reliable and easy to use, and they both offered reasonable levels of feel when seating the primers. When shooting my old Lee Enfield in Service Rifle competitions I use WWII DIZ Canadian brass which is actually very good brass but has quite tight primer pockets; the automatic tool had enough leverage to seat primers easily, something my older handheld primer tool struggles with.
For testing I used the RCBS Accessory base plate. This allows you to mount a variety of RCBS presses and tools quickly and securely and they can be swapped over easily - quite a handy setup, especially if you’re limited in the amount of room you have on your bench. I tried the APS system first and while it wasn’t difficult to use I would say that if you are a “Sausage Fingers” person with low mechanical sympathy then this may not be the setup for you. The loading of the APS strips requires a bit of finesse, but when mastered is quite easy and very quick. The operation of the tool itself was simple but do read the manual as its makes a few not-so-obvious points easier to understand, correct fitting of the “slip in” bushes being one of the most important. I was able to whiz through a bunch of 300 AAC Blackout cases and only one case, that still had some crimp in the primer pocket, gave me any issues.
The Automatic tool was slightly easier to use as the tube loading of the primers is slightly simpler than the APS system, even though it’s slower. You’ll need a primer flip tray to set the primers ‘bottom-up’ for quick loading of the tube. In operation the Automatic system wasn’t as fast as the APS unit as you have to move the handle twice for each primer insertion: once to drop the primer from the tube to the cup, and once to insert it into the case. It is however still a quick system and it offered a bit more sensitivity than the APS when it came to seating feel.
Both systems worked as advertised and I would use them happily over some of the less-expensive hand tools. The APS unit is probably aimed at the high volume reloader who needs to prime a lot of cases in a short period of time, whereas the Automatic tool for me was probably the better all-rounder; the tube system is a little bit easier to load than the APS strips and it offers a bit more feel when seating the primers.