The $28 bullet feeder redux – it’s now $35

The Bottom Line: While inflation has made the cost go up, this old idea still provides a ton of value in helping speed up rounds per hour output.

All the way back in 2011 someone posted an idea on about taking a Hornady Bullet Feed Die and creating their own ammo plant system (original article here). While systems have been available on the market for a while to help you accomplish this, they are all well over $100. The magic of this great invention was it only cost $28 at the time. I didn’t come across this article until a year or so ago and while the general concept is discussed at length, there are some small yet important details that are missing. Combined with the the changes in price and source for materials I felt it was worth revisiting the $28 bullet feeder idea.

I am not going to cover why a bullet feed system is worth your while. That has been covered and argued over and over and I have nothing new to add regarding the subject. Instead I want to talk about the details I had to learn about the hard way along with the challenges I encountered.

First though, lets talk about what options are on the market today. 1st up is the Mr. Bullet Feeder option. This will cost you about $500 but its motorized and all you have to do is dump the box of bullets into the hopper and away you go. All the major press manufacturers offer a similar solution for about the same price. The major difference being the actual die used.
For those looking for a more economical option, you can buy just the die from Mr Bullet Feeder, Hornady, or RCBS. Mr Bullet Feeder sells theirs for about $60 each caliber. RCBS is around $30, but uses plastic internal parts that wear out quickly. Hornady you can get from $25 to $35 depending on the caliber, is made of all steel parts, and works reliably well.

The next thing I wanted to cover about this project is how to ensure your feed die behaves properly. It is no secret that if you search for reviews on the Hornady feed die you will find some complaining of inconsistency. When I 1st started using mine, I too had challenges that usually resulted in me throwing something across the garage. I was able to work through them and here is what I found:

  1. Case length matters – This makes sense since the case being run up into the die is what actuates the mechanism to release the bullet. If the case is too short it will not make contact with the collets. If the case it too long then it will end up getting crushed in the die. You don’t need to have all the cases be uniform length but no more than a couple thousandths of an inch.
  2. Chamfer the case mouth – At the very least it will help bullet seating. Obviously if there is a rough edge to the case it will impact performance, but otherwise I have not noticed a huge difference. This is more of a step to reduce as much potential for failure as possible.
  3. Case mouth expansion – This is probably the biggest one to pay attention to. Below is the chart from Hornady’s instructions on setting up the die. If the case mouth is not expanded enough the bullet will not drop from the die.

The next thing to figure out is how to feed the die with a continuous stream of bullets. This is also one of the details I struggled to find exact info on. In order to try and market their own products and increase margins, the top opening in the dies are not standard pipe sizes. the trick is finding a tube/pipe that is big enough to let the bullet pass through while being small enough to fit into the die opening. Hornady makes a metal tube for their dies, but its $35 for 3 tubes. This is on top of the cost of the die. $70 for a single caliber bullet feeder setup is pretty steep. Here is what you need to know before going shopping for supplies:

9mm feed die:
requires tube that is .360″ inside diameter, with an outside diameter of 15/32″. I was unable to find anything that met these dimensions exactly, so I bought the 7/16″ OD Lee’s Thin wall Rigid tube and put a couple wraps of electrical tape on the end that goes into the die for a snug fit. This is not as cheap as they once were but they are far less expensive than the ones from Hornady.

40 S&W/10mm feed die:
Requires a tube that is at least .405″ inside diameter, and has an outside diameter of X. Lee’s makes a tube for this size but it may not be cost effective. What I did was get a 3/4″ to 1/2″ reducing coupler for copper pipe from the hardware store. The 3/4″ end fit over the outside of the feed die perfectly, and 1/2″ PEX pipe fit perfectly into top of the coupler. A 5ft section of 1/2″ PEX is $2 which I cut in half so for $1 ea I am able to make feed tubes. Much better than the $10 each Hornady wants to charge!

The 3/4″ ID on the one side of the coupler will fit over the top of the feed die.

45ACP feed die:
This one is the easiest. All you need to do is go to Home Depot or Lowes and get some 1/2″ PEX pipe. Take some sand paper and sand it to fit but you should only need to take off a 1/64″ or so. The PEX pipe almost fits perfectly and is a thinner OD than standard PVC. If you also load 40/10mm then do yourself a favor and get a different color pipe for the 45ACP so you don’t get them confused.

You will also want to pick up some 1/4″ hitch pins so you can put a stop at the bottom of the tube. Just drill a small hole through both sides of the tube and insert the pin. This way you can put the tube into the die and not have to worry about the bullets spilling out.

  1. Die adjustment – This one is the least specific. The biggest mistake people make when setting up the die is they either tighten the top part too much or not enough. Unfortunately the only correct way to adjust is to feel when the top of the die makes contact with the collets. This requires you to be gentle and go slowly. When done correctly you should not feel that much tension in the top part of the die and should hear a slight rattle of the collets moving back and forth.
  2. Bullet weight – This one is also more of a feel adjustment instead of a physical measurement. If you have too much weight pushing down on the bullet in the collets ready to be placed in a case, the die may jam up. This is especially an issue for 45 ACP, and really not much of a problem with 115gr 9mm (at least in my experience). If you find that the die is skipping cases or intermittently feeding bullets with a full tube, try filling it up a little less next time and see if it helps.

Overall there will be some trial and error to be done. To be honest though that is why most of us reload ammo in the first place. Reloading is truly a tinker’s hobby naturally and with that comes the fun and frustration of experimentation. Adding a Hornady Bullet Feed die to your progressive setup is no exemption, but as with most things in life the reward for the effort is worth it.