There are two types of reloaders. The first loves the technical challenge of making the best ammunition possible for a specific weapon, relishing the process of reloading itself. Shooting seems to be a means to an end for them, only serving to verify their latest formula. Then there’s the second group, where I belong: Shooters looking to squeeze every last ounce of performance out of their guns.
The first type works like a mad scientist in their dedicated reloading laboratory. This person is surrounded by equipment that costs thousands of dollars. They tinker their way through hundreds of bullets, powders, and cases in the quest for the next greatest load. The second group does some research, asks their Type 1 reloader friend what they need, and gets their reloading done ASAP so they can go back to what they like most: shooting.
As I said before, I am a Type 2 reloader; I reload only when I need to. I don’t mean to imply that Type 2 reloaders such as myself are not proficient in their ammo black magic. Simply put, we balance time, cost, and a host of other factors, such as the availability of commercial ammo, to get the most performance bang for our buck.
Modular Reloading Bench, Take 1
My first modular reloading bench was constructed as a way to organize my reloading presses when I moved to my house in Nevada some 20 years ago. Until then, I had been working with hasty installations, moving my equipment from one table to the other. I felt it was time to have a proper reloading bench.
By that time, I had already learned how to reload benchrest-quality ammo. To do so, I needed a fair amount of equipment and machines. This was not as simple as setting up a press and pumping through rounds. Therefore, I knew that not having dedicated bench space was going to be a problem.
In 1998, the internet was slow and we had no Google. Never the less, I was able to dial up the AltaVista search engine and research how to install movable machinery on a work bench. I found a solution that looked promising, using keyed inserts made of wood that you could attach tools to and move from one preset location to the next when you needed to. This allowed you to add much-needed flexibility to the work bench, not only for reloading but for general fabrication and garage work too.
The inserts were built using a 10- by 10-inch top layer and a 6- by 8-inch top layer joined together using waterproof wood glue. The two-layer insert assembly slides into a recess cut to shape in the table top. The design proved to be sound and stable, even when high-torque reloading presses with large handles were used. I built my first modular reloading bench with this simple process.
Ditch The MDF
There were a couple important lessons learned on my past century´s modular bench build. The first was that MDF, also known as medium density fiberboard, does not hold up in the long-term. At the time, it was the new and modern wonder material. It was heavy, supposedly stable, and very tough. After some years, I found out that the MDF panels had absorbed moisture and grew, even when painted. The top and bottom surfaces that comprised the female recess was not a problem, but the male insert grew one millimeter in thickness, which made insertion and removal very difficult. The solution was simple: Go back to the tried and proven, good old-fashioned, marine plywood. It was more expensive, and looked lighter and less rugged, but proved to be more stable and durable in the long haul.
The Man Cave
The man cave is in fashion nowadays, as if men need to have a personal space that should not be shared by women. In my humble opinion, if it’s not worth sharing then we should not be there in the first place. But, these often-dingy hiding places do provide a home for tasks best not accomplished at the dinner table, like reloading. Absent this dedicated space, many reloaders rely on C-clamps and folding tables. In the interest of domestic tranquility, many end up in the darkest recesses of their basement.
Those of you that shoot fifties know the amount of equipment needed to keep them fed. An eight pound jug of H50BMG powder is only good for 228 rounds! I am sure you also know that every step in the reloading process is more expensive, more equipment intensive, and more time consuming. If you plan on shooting a .50, get ready for more hours in your cave.
The first year I shot the Fifty Caliber Shooters Association (FCSA) World Championship at the NRA Whittington Center in Raton, New Mexico it came to me as a surprise that reloading was a communal affair. On top of wheeled tables in a sunny area, friends shared in the job while they talked guns in a fun and social atmosphere. When a process required an absolute attention to detail, the team pushed the table to the corner only to come back to the meeting after they were done. It was a real shock to see that another way of reloading was possible, that there was no obligation to be alone in the dark, tucked away in an isolated corner.
The Mobile Modular Reloading Bench
After that event, it was clear to me that the focus should be on mobility. The solution came to me by observing how airports are arranged, utilizing mobile jet-bridges to maximize airplane parking positions. This was the last piece of the puzzle, and suddenly I knew how to make it happen. The mobile modular reloading bench was born by applying my efficient insert design in a 360-degree layout around the island-type bench and adding wheels.
Large-caliber rifle reloading presses need a lot of leverage to resize the outsized cases, so having a bench that is firmly attached to the ground is paramount. To make my system mobile and still functional when sizing the big fifty cases, I needed it to be heavy and have lockable wheels.
The most cost-effective solution came from a Swedish home improvement giant in the form of its shelves. Using two of them facing each other gave me the versatility of utilizing its modular 13-inch x 13-inch storage solutions, which include all kinds of containers and drawers. This system was developed for the heavy weight of books, so it is fairly rugged. I only needed to place the shelves over a heavy wood surface, creating a center space and then add my three-layer plug system on top.
Connecting The Dots
After my experience with my now 20-year-old MDF bench, I settled on marine plywood to prevent moisture-induced swelling. I drew the rectangular bench outline with dimensions of 47 by 30 inches that could house up to eight inserts around the perimeter. When placed against a wall, you could still use four positions, or three if placed in a corner, or all eight if moved to the center of the room.
Now I could have my family reload with me in the sun, prepping brass and handling non-critical tasks. The first tests were a huge success! I found that with their help, we could clean brass, prep it, and have it ready for loading in a social environment that was actually fun for all. I could also take care of the critical steps myself, alone and with full-concentration, but in a non-depressing sunny area where it was a pleasure to work.
The Assembly Process
After I assembled the two commercially-available book shelves, I screwed and glued them to a cut-to-size plywood bottom panel, creating a void in between them. That area would become the bullet shelves on one side and a storage area for presses and brass on the other. These two storage areas will eventually have doors. The rear will also house a power strip for AC-powered reloading accessories and LED lights. When it came time to construct the top, I used the actual inserts as templates. I laid them out on the precut pieces and cut 10- by 10-inch recesses in the middle piece and then the 8- by 6-inch recesses in the top. Glue and a few screws joined it all.
Beauty Or The Beast
If aesthetics aren’t your thing, feel free to skip this section. But if enjoy good-looking furniture, even in a workshop environment, you can dress your bench up a bit. The wood grain can be accentuated with water-based stain. When that dries, coat it with marine varnish to increase the depth of the grain even further, and add longevity to your work surface.
Now I have a beautiful piece of furniture that serves as a mobile reloading bench and doubles as a platform for gun work or cleaning. It was not very hard to build, nor was it too time consuming. Now I can get out the shadows of my man cave and do some of my gun work in the sun. Being from Spain, working in a clear and sunny area is important to me, making reloading more fun and my rounds more accurate, or so I would like to think. Call it the power of positivity.
This article was originally published in “The Complete Book of Reloading” 2018. To order a copy, visit outdoorgroupstore.com.