The powder measure is one of the most important components integral to any reloading press setup. A good powder measure can make for smooth reloading room workflow, help to produce consistent and accurate ammunition, and also help to ensure your safety when shooting your handloaded ammunition. LEE Precision has recently released a new product who’s goal is to offer easy setup and configuration, consistency in charge weights, and safety as well. What’s truly unique about the LEE Auto-Drum powder measure is the price: it’s the most affordable case-activated drum-style powder measure period. This post will be the first in a short series where I’ll examine the features and attributes of this new powder measure, and put it through it’s paces with both rifle and pistol reloading. Sounds fun to me!
I was curious about the design goals and development process for this new powder measure, and got the story from John Lee (President, LEE Precision) himself! Here’s some insights from John:
The Auto–drum powder measure was designed to fill the gap that the Auto Disk powder measure does not handle with out the addition of special accessory items. Specifically extremely small charges for example the 380 auto and larger charges for rifle cases.
The basic design and many of the features was actually the last project my Dad Richard Lee was able to participate in. The patent for this powder measure was granted to my Dad late 2009. If you’re curious the Patent number is US 7624665 B1.
The Auto–Drum was an interesting project as it was the first design that we were able to in house prototype all the parts on a 3 D printer. When we received the first production parts it was a delight that that they worked with little or no modification required. Releasing for production a project of this complexity is a very stressful process. One has to invest in many tens of thousands of dollars in tooling to produce our designs. Even small changes to the design after the tooling is built are very expensive. Lee designs use all of the modern high production manufacturing methods like die casting, plastic injection molding, powdered metal and metal stamping.
Lee Precision spends the money up front on the manufacturing tooling and this allows us to produce a highly engineered product that is frequently a fraction of the cost of competitive tools and usually offers features unavailable elsewhere at any price.
The Auto–Drum has become so popular in the short time it has been on the market that we have already have plans of including this measure in our press kits over the Auto-Disk. In the alternative we may begin selling our kits without a powder measure so that the consumer can make the choice on which powder measure best suits their loading style. The Auto-disk is perfect for those that appreciate the speed and convenience the fixed capacity measure provides. The Auto–Drum appeals to those that case activation and infinite adjustability is a must.
John Lee, President
It has been interesting to talk with John over the years to get more context on the products that LEE engineers and sells. Now that we’ve gotten some background knowledge on this powder measure let’s move on to unboxing and pistol loading!
The LEE Auto-Drum powder measure comes with everything you’ll need to charge rifle or pistol ammunition except the charge dies that come with pistol sets or are available individually for charging rifle cartridges. Here’s the contents of the box:
Here’s what’s shown in the picture above:
- Instruction manual
- Powder hopper (with turn-off feature)
- Return chain
- Powder measure body with linkage and small drum for pistol charges
- Large (rifle) drum
The LEE Auto drum powder measure is engineered to work with LEE charging dies in the same way that the LEE Auto-Disk powder measure interfaces with them. These charging dies are included with LEE pistol die sets, and you can both charge and expand case mouths with them in a single operation. For rifle charging, you’ll need a LEE rifle charging die.
Here’s an example pistol charging die (44 special / 44 magnum shown) along side a LEE rifle charging die setup for .22 caliber charging:
These dies allow the insert to slide up and down which provides a mechanical “linkage” between the case and the Auto-Drum powder measure.
The LEE Auto-Drum powder measure is similar in proportions to the Auto-Disk that many of you are familiar with, but more “thin and tall”, which means it will fit in different presses better than the Auto-Disk does.
Here’s a picture showing the Auto-Drum (foreground) next to two Auto-Disk measures (background), one with a single disk configuration, and one with a double-disk configuration:
I thought I would try the Auto-Drum powder measure on the Dillon XL-650 first for three reasons:
- I’ve found the Dillon sliding-bar measure to be less accurate than rotating drum measures – could the Auto-Drum provide a more consistent alternative?
- I don’t care for the procedure involved in changing the Dillon measure from large to small bars and vice-versa. Perhaps the Auto-Drum could help with this issue as well? (The Dillon answer is to buy toolheads and powder measures for each cartridge you load – not an option for anyone on a budget).
- The Dillon XL-650 has the primer drop tube assembly oriented VERY close to station #2 where the powder measure sits. If any popular press would be a challenge from a fit perspective, it would be the Dillon XL-650 (it also features a more compact die station layout where there’s less space between stations).
In the end, I was able to get the Auto-Drum to work great with the Dillon XL-650, with the note about the zip tie fix taken into account (see video).
The LEE Auto-Disk is a great addition to the Dillon XL-650, and should work great on a variety of reloading presses. In my non-scientific initial tests, I found CFE Pistol to charge in the +/- .05 grain range. It will be interesting to see how this powder measure performs with a variety of powders (more on that later).
Next, I’ll take a look at charging and loading rifle cartridges with the Auto-Drum. Make sure you’re subscribed!
5 thoughts on “LEE Auto-Drum Powder Measure: From Unboxing to Loading Pistol”
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Nick, I think the scope of Gavin’s review is “A really good, accurate, drum type powder measure that works on a variety of presses for a reasonable sum.” In that case, having used many drum powder measures from RCBS, Lyman, Hornady, and Redding, the Lee Auto Drum powder measure represents great value. It is well constructed, easy to set up, accurate, adaptable, and at $35 bucks, a great way for typical hand-loaders (average or budget minded) to have several good drum powder measures on either separate turrets or progressive die holders all set up and ready to go. This makes caliber changes a snap. If we want to do precision rifle reloading for long range shooting we might want to use a digital powder measure that can dispense single grains of powder for absolutely precise powder measurement. But, that’s not the subject of this review.
I have used drum powder measures from Hornady, Redding, and RCBS. They do a fine job but are expensive. I have used the Lee Auto-Disk powder measure for years and it did an OK job. Recently I purchased three Lee Auto-Drum (AD)powder measures. A few thoughts: 1. The price was compelling, it represents great overall Value. 2. The Lee AD was very easy to set up and adjust. 3. The construction is very good and the nylon strip (elastomeric) seems to work flawlessly. 4. I have done several tests of charging 5 pistol and rifle cartridges and getting an average charge that was well within the expected or predicted range. 5. The Lee AD seems to load both stick, flake, and spherical powders well with minimal leakage. 6. I am quite impressed with the Lee AD powder measure and consider it one of Lee’s best products. I sold all my other Powder measures and just use the Lee AD Powder Measure. The only factor left to measure is durability. Let’s see how long they last. But, even if they wear out in a few years, at $35 I can afford to just get a new one.
When using the Lee expander die without a powder measure attached to it, you can control the amount of expansion by adjusting the die in or out since the expander insert butts up against the funnel adapter.
However, when using the AD, the instructions specifically tell you to configure it such that the internal plunger does not bottom out when the ram is at its highest point. So it seems that the amount of case expansion is controlled purely by the tension of the AD spring pushing down against the expander insert as the ram raises the case into the die. Am I missing something with that or is that pretty much what happens? Thanks.
MoreCowbell, that’s pretty much how it works. You don’t have much control over the expansion. However, you can always do expansion separately in another station and use the short rifle charging die (Lee #90668) to dispense without expanding, provided your case is at least 0.86″ long (45 ACP is long enough, 9 mm Luger is not). I also have the Hornady powder measure with case-activated linkage kit (same essentially as the RCBS setup), and it does give you fine control over expansion.