Years ago I purchased a used Ideal 310
reloading setup for 30/06 only because it was cheap and someday might wish
to reload while traveling in my RV. It came in the orange cardboard box
indicating it was made by Lyman Gun Sight Corporation after they purchased
the Ideal Reloading Tool Company. The handles are steel with mottled blues
and purples from hardening. The original instruction sheet was still in
the bottom of the box, as were all of the original dies, one replacement,
several extra dies and one handmade powder scoop. The tools were cleaned,
inspected, oiled and put back in their box. If time is not a major
concern, they work well and can make very serviceable ammo.
The Lyman 310 Tool is actually very
convenient to use in the following manner as long as a group of cases are
processed one step at a time. Here is what works best for me:
chamber is screwed into the handles. By adjusting the chamber and
de-capping rod depth, you can vary how close the handles close for your
best grip strength or reach. This is the replacement die of the set and it
came with three extra de-capping pins. The first time a crimp primed
military case was de-capped, I knew why. They are very hard to push out
and the flash holes are not necessarily in the center of the primer
pocket. After the military crimp is removed or with commercial cases,
de-capping was easily done with light finger pressure. A hook on the
handles extracts the case after each operation.
The neck-sizing die is then installed.
The die is screwed into the handle until you have the length of neck
resized you require. Some care is required as you can seat the die deep
enough to begin pushing your case shoulders into the neck sizer section.
This works best if you only resized the neck as far down as you need to
hold the bullet in place. This set had two dies. One remains as
manufactured and it resizes the inside of the necks to 0.304 inches. The
other die has been enlarged and polished to reduce the neck to 0.307
neck-expanding die is installed. The chamber and the plug are both
adjustable to allow the action to take place at the desired amount of
closing of the handles. There were two plugs, one marked “308” and one
marked “311”. While they are both accurately marked, case neck springback
brings the finished neck size one or two thousandths of an inch smaller.
The plugs also have a tapered shoulder that will bell the case mouths to
ease bullet seating. I use the enlarged sizing die and the “311” marked
plug for cast bullets. It slides in easily and bells the case mouth.
The priming chamber is installed. It is
a threaded shell older with a sliding pined punch. It is fast, easy to use
and has excellent feel. The deeper the die is screwed into the handles,
the farther the punch rises. It is easy to adjust for a thousandth of an
inch of primer depth change.
the seating die is installed. This “double adjustable chamber” is meant to
seat the bullet and crimp the case, if desired. The set contains two nose
punches, one for a spitzer bullet and one for a round nosed bullet.
Holding the tool with the chamber vertical, a powder charged case with a
bullet balanced in the neck is inserted into the chamber. The opposite
handle is swung up and squeezed to complete the operation. With practice,
you can train the hands and fingers to complete this without dropping very
many cases, but it may take a while. The die is designed to not control
the case body as it rises into the die. The bullet stops against the nose
punch with no radial support. The case slides up over the bullet
With a modern press, where the ram is
in line with the die, this seating action may not be an issue. However,
with the swinging handle not only pushing the case up but also sideways,
case runout can become a big problem very quickly. Here the light bulb
flashed on in my head! That is why the carefully made sizer and two sizes
of expander were made. Reducing neck tension reduces the force required to
seat the bullet and lessens run out. It helps to only have the die body
screwed into the tool the minimum amount required.
Picture #1 shows the steel
handles and the following dies, left to right. First is the
de-capping die, which is universal as it just serves to hold
the de-capping pin. Next is the neck resizer. Third is the
priming punch die that fits specific case head sizes. Forth is
the neck expander, also just about universal for caliber. Last
is the seating / crimping die.
Picture #2 shows the handles
with the priming chamber seated and shows the extractor hook
for case withdrawal. Adjuncts include a homemade powder
measure, fitted screwdriver, extra seating plug for spitzer
bullets and extra case neck expander.
Here are some more helpful hints. Clean
the tool and dies well. They were shipped with very clinging grease that
picks up and holds lots of dirt and dust. The original owners must have
never cleaned them because every set I look at is hard to work with and
are filthy. The most effective way for me to clean them is with carburetor
cleaner and a brush. A light coat of thin oil is then applied. Find or
make a proper screwdriver for the lock ring set screws. These miniature
screws only have to be set occasionally, but a knife tip isn’t the right
tool. If you are reloading for revolvers, you need to keep the brass
separate between pistols. These also only neck size pistol cases, so if a
fired cases from one gun will not freely chamber in another, it will not
fit after reloading. The new style, well within the last 50 years,
aluminum handles require a bushing be used on the handle opposite the side
with the adjustable hook extractor. This allows a wider choice of dies be
used with a large or small handle set. The older steel sets were case head
size specific, that is 30/06, 45-70, 38 S&W Special, etc.
How To Use The Lyman Tong Tool
The Tong Tool has a history that goes
back to the days of Indian fights and buffalo hunters. It started out as
an offering of the Ideal (now Lyman) company, and older specimens
frequently include a bullet mold on the handles, which had built in dies
for only one single shell - of the same caliber as the mold. It wasn’t
very versatile, or very precise, but it didn’t have much competition, and
it got the job done well enough to handle both outlaws and buffalo.
As time went on, the basic design was
revised and reworked to keep pace with the changing expectations of
shooters, who tended to lean increasingly toward paper targets, owing to
the growing scarcity of buffalo. The mold was removed and given a set of
handles of its own.
The built in dies
were removed, and the handles were threaded to accept interchangeable
dies, albeit of a smaller diameter than most of us are used to using. In
time, the handles were threaded all the way through, and inserts that
could be changed to let you load different sized cases were added.
Now the guys who collect antique
reloading tools will laugh at the simplicity of this brief introduction,
but the idea was to let you see that the Tong Tool has served well and
long, and can still do so today. And let me also note that Lyman also
offered exactly the same dies to be used in a small press under the name
“True Line”, except that the True Line die sets did not include the
priming tool, as the press used a different setup for primers.
When you buy a tong tool set, you will
find you have a set of handles that look much like a set of holiday
nutcrackers: Fairly long, and joined only at one end. In fact, this
resemblance is so pronounced that they have long been known fondly as
“Nutcracker” tools. One handle will have a cylindrical projection about an
inch or so from the hinged end. Inspection will reveal that the projection
is hollow and threaded.
Opening the handles, you will see that
the threaded hole is counter-bored slightly on the inside, and has a screw
adjustable hook projecting into it from the opposite handle. The reason
for the counter-ore is to provide a stop shoulder for the case insert,
which should be threaded into the handle (from the inside) as far as
possible, and stopping with the groove in the case insert aligned with the
hook. In use, this hook will drop into the recess and snag on the case
rim, and pull it out when the handles are opened. Use the adjustment screw
to assure it is set properly for your type of ammo.
Now examine your dies. The one with a
small pin projecting from the bottom is the sizing die. It will be the
first one you need to use. Back the de-capping screw down into the die,
and screw it into the handles. Drop a fired case into the insert, and
squeeze the handles shut by hand pressure. Now pull them apart and examine
the case. The neck of the case should show polish marks all the way down
to the shoulder. If it doesn’t, adjust the die accordingly. Once the die
will size the neck fully (and no further), screw the de-capping pin back
up in small adjustments until the fired primer is ejected when you squeeze
the handles. Use the lock nuts to keep these settings.
One of the dies will have a white steel
plug through the top, and an apparently oversized button will be visible
inside it. This is the expander die, a most useful accessory whether you
are loading jacketed or cast bullets. I have Tong Tool expanders for every
caliber you can imagine, and use a 7/8x14 bushing to add them to every set
of conventional dies I buy. But just start threading yours into the handle
of your tong tool, and drop an empty neck sized case in the bushing side.
Ideally, it should drop down below level, or nearly so. Adjust the die and
the expander so that the empty case is about 1/4 or 3/8 inch above flush
with the handles, and squeeze them shut. Now open the handles to extract
the case, and try to insert a bullet (sized and lubed if you are using
cast) in the mouth of the case. It should not go in at this point, at
least with most cases. Now replace the case, and squeeze and release the
handles. Screw the die or expander button in a bit further and squeeze the
handles again. Repeat until you feel a very slight ‘pop’ when the handles
are squeezed. This signals the expansion of the mouth of the case, and
this operation is generally referred to as ‘belling’ the case.
Remove the case and try your bullet
again. The case should allow it to enter the mouth a short distance with
little or no resistance. Ideally, the bullet should enter the case neck
far enough to orient it reasonably straight to the neck.
Again, lock these die settings for
One of the dies will look like half of
it has been cut away, and this will have a recess that fits the base of
the case you are loading. It will also have the large end of a spring
loaded plunger on the other end. This is the primer seating die. Screw the
plunger end into the handles until closing them will press the small end
of the plunger just past flush with the case cutaway, and lock the die in
Pick up a fresh primer and place it on
the small end of the plunger, with the anvil forward, and the smooth end
of the primer touching the plunger. Place a sized, de-primed case in the
recess, and squeeze the handles. This will cause the plunger to press the
fresh primer into the primer pocket. Check your settings by standing the
primed case on a flat sheet of glass. It should stand firmly, with no
tendency to rock or wobble. If it does wobble, you either have a burr on
the casing, or the primer isn’t deep enough, and the die needs to be
readjusted. This is a fairly slow priming process, but very well designed:
The primer is seated gently and slowly, with no danger of igniting it by
impact, as there is in the Lee Loader. I can’t say it’s impossible, but
I’ve used the Tong Tool for decades, and never experienced one, even when
I encountered very obviously defective cases with primer pockets so
shallow that a primer couldn’t be seated at all. With a little practice,
the process becomes automatic: I’ve spent untold hours watching television
while I primed cases by feel: The feel of both primers and cases are quite
distinctive, and this allows them to be handled with assurance.
Unfortunately, the Tong Tool has no
provision for charging gunpowder. The Lee volumetric scoops work fairly
well (See the note on technique in the Lee Loader section), but you will
find that a more conventional adjustable powder measure will provide the
Once the sized and re-primed case has
been belled and charged, it is time to seat the bullet of your choice.
There is but one die left, and it’s the bullet seating die. It’s also
readily recognized by the threaded stem in its center.
Thread it into the handles until it
begins to push an empty case above flush. Then back it out several turns
and lock the setting. Now back the threaded stem out as far as it will go.
Holding the handles so that the seating die is tilted upwards, insert a
case (sized, primed and charged with both powder and a bullet) as far as
it will go. It should go past the flush position to indicate that the
bullet has not been seated at all. Close the handles and begin screwing
the center post down until it is stopped by contacting the bullet. Hold
the handles loosely while you screw the center post a bit further, then
squeeze the handles tightly. This should seat the bullet into the case
mouth by the distance you moved the center post. Note the distance that
remains to seat the bullet where you want it, and approach that point in
small steps. Once the settings are producing the results you want, lock
them in with the usual locknut.
One seldom seen accessory for the tong
tool was called a sizing chamber. No, it didn’t size the case, it sized
cast bullets. It was a threaded sleeve that was bored out for a loose slip
fit that enabled a cast bullet to drop down to the very end. At the end,
it was stopped by a constriction sort of like the choke in a shotgun
barrel. This constriction could be ordered in a variety of diameters, and
determined the size of the bullet that was forced through it by a push rod
that was powered by compressing the handles.
Ideally, the bullet was forced through
base first to prevent fins from forming because of out-of-round bullets
from less than ideal molds.
I sure pushed a lot of lead through
these sizers, but they had to be lubed first. They were a real pain at
times, because the excess lube would be scraped off and get everywhere.
Some of it got on the base of the next slug to be pushed through, and
forced you to wipe the base on a bit of cloth before loading it. And some
of it got squeezed back along the push rod, making it harder to remove for
the next bullet unless it was cleaned out periodically. I still have a few
of these sizing chambers, but it’s been many a year since they were used.
The Tong Tool is a very versatile tool, particularly useful on camping
trips or at the range, where a normal press setup would be awkward at
best. Some remarkably small groups have been fired using ammo that it
It has three weaknesses in my
First, it is still relatively slow to
use, though much faster than some other hand-held reloading tools.
Secondly, it is dependent on some sort
of external powder measurement equipment, though that is easily remedied.
Third, it is still a neck size only
operation, which means case expansion will sooner or later cause
chambering problems. There are claims for full sizing of some straight
walled cases like the .38 Special, but they are not quite true: MOST of
the case is sized, which is a big improvement over the usual 3/8 to ½ inch
‘neck sizing’, but the case near the base web will not be fully sized.
However, this is where the brass begins to thicken too, so if your loads
are moderate, the problem is at least moderated.
Lyman used to sell a full length sizing
die that operated by forcing a lubricated case into it in a vise, then
pounding it out with a hammer and rod. It worked, but the least said about
production rates, the better.