If you have spent any length of time reloading used cartridges, then you know exactly how important a case trimmer is. And if you are new to reloading, then it won’t be long until you find out. Every time you fire a cartridge, the brass expands ever so slightly to perfectly fill the chamber. When you resize the brass in your sizing die, this extra expansion becomes extra length, as the cartridge gets every so slightly longer. Granted, this is only several thousandths of an inch, but over time this adds up, until the point when your cartridges will no longer fit in the chamber! Simply put, if you plan on reloading your cases several times, you have no choice but to buy a case trimmer. Thankfully, the market is flush with excellent options for every budget. If you want to find the best case trimmer in 2020 for you, then keep reading!
Short On Time? Here Is The Bullet List
- Automatic: Frankford Arsenal Platinum Series Case Prep System
- General Use: Hornady 50140 Cam-Lock Case Trimmer
- Universal: Lyman Universal Trimmer
- Bench Mount: RCBS Trim Pro-2 Kit
- Reloading Press: Lee Deluxe QK Trim
- Budget: Lee Precision Cutter and Lock Stud
**Below are our more detailed reviews. Click the links above to see current prices or read customer reviews on Amazon.
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Benefits Of Using A Case Trimmer
The main benefit of using a case trimmer is going to be an increase in your accuracy. While you are going to be required to trim your cases every few uses, using it every time you reload a case will increase the accuracy and consistency of your rounds. Believe it or not, there is no such thing as a “perfect” way to reload your own ammo. In fact, you don’t need “perfect” ammunition to achieve stellar accuracy. You need consistent ammo. That means that every round has to be exactly the same. Even a few extra thousandths on the neck of the case can be enough to throw the round off several MOA, and when you’re shooting at long distances, even a fraction of an MOA can translate into a complete miss of your target!
If you think that it is time to get serious about your reloading and want to shoot the best groups that you possibly can, then it’s time to get a good case trimmer. The process can be tedious, and it may be frustrating to add yet another step to your reloading process, but I can guarantee that you will see an improvement in your accuracy and consistency.
Easier On Your Brass And Rifle
Consistently trimming your cases is also much easier on your brass. When all of your rounds are exactly the same size every time, it makes the chambering and extraction process much easier. Throw in a round that is just a touch longer, and you have a much higher probability of creating a malfunction, particularly in semi-automatic rifles. If you are going to go through all the trouble of reloading your own ammunition, then you might as well take the extra time to make sure it will be consistent and reliable. Whether you are hunting coyotes or shooting an important 3-gun match, the last thing you want is to have to clear a malfunction. Trimming your brass to a consistent length is a good way to help keep jams to a minimum.
Higher Quality Finished Product
The final benefit of using a case trimmer is that you just have an outright better-finished product. Consistently trimming your cases to the proper length makes a more accurate, consistent round that feeds and extracts much better than a case that hasn’t been trimmed. If you’re fine shooting low-quality ammunition that may or may not cycle in your semi-automatic, then you can get away with minimal use of a case trimmer. If you buy expensive, brand new brass to use every time instead of reloading fired cases, then you may not even need a case trimmer. But if you want to reload cases into premium, match grade ammunition every time, then there is no way around it. You will have to get a case trimmer.
What To Look For In A Case Trimmer
Now that you’ve decided that you need a case trimmer, there are few good things to look for when it comes to finding the perfect trimmer for you. The cutter material, usually high-speed steel or carbide, will depend on your usage requirements. You can also get trimmers that are electric, which can reduce fatigue if you plan on trimming a lot of cases in one sitting. You will also need to consider the overall quality, and make sure you purchase a brand that will fit your usage requirements. Extra features are always nice, but often times they come at a cost. You will also need to find something that fits your budget.
The cutter material is going to be a big factor in what case trimmer you choose. A few case trimmers will have a basic steel cutter, which may get the job done, but it won’t work the best. A high-speed steel cutter is a good compromise. Since brass isn’t very hard and is relatively easy to cut, high-speed steel will work just fine and still last a long time. If you are a high volume reloader and plan on trimming thousands of cases in a sitting, you may want to consider a carbide cutter. Carbide is a much harder material that will stay sharp much longer than high-speed steel.
Along with the cutter material, you will want to consider ease of replacement. Many of the higher quality case trimmers have easily replaceable cutters. If you plan on trimming a lot of cases, buying a new cutter is significantly cheaper than replacing the entire trimmer, and can be done quite easily.
Manual Or Powered
Another thing to consider when purchasing a case trimmer is how the cutter is powered. Most case trimmers have a simple hand crank that turns the cutter, but some of them feature an electric motor that powers it. These are going to be much easier to use, but also much more expensive, and louder than a normal case trimmer. A powered case trimmer is not going to be inherently higher quality or more accurate than a powered one, so I would caution you to stay away from a powered case trimmer unless you plan on doing incredibly high volume case prep. In most instances, a manually powered cutter will be more than adequate and come in at a much cheaper price point and overall higher quality as well.
As with most reloading equipment, you will find that the higher quality, more expensive brands will produce the higher quality, more expensive case trimmers. Hornady, Lyman, and RCBS will produce some of the better case trimmers, but prepare to spend a lot more money on these. If you are looking for a good case trimmer on a budget, you may want to start with the Lee brand of trimmers. Just like all of their reloading equipment, Lee produces no-frills supplies on a pretty strict budget. If you are simply looking for the cheapest way to get the job done, then this is a good place to start.
Extra features can be pretty important when it comes to a case trimmer. While every case trimmer will do a good job of trimming cases, some will do a lot more than that. You can find tools that will not only trim your cases but also do many other case preparation actions as well. Another great feature to look for is a replaceable cutter. If you are going to be spending a lot of money on a good, high-quality case trimmer, then you do not want to have to purchase a new one every time the cutter wears out. A good, replaceable cutter should be top on your list of nice features to look for.
The final thing to consider when purchasing a case trimmer is going to be the price. Obviously, you are going to have to stay within your budget. Thankfully, there are a plethora of options out there, so that staying within your budget should be a pretty easy task. Keep in mind here, that more expensive does not always equal a better product. Many times, some of the more expensive trimmers will simply have a few more features. This is not always a bad thing, but if all you want to do is trim cases, then it would be better to spend your money on a case trimmer that only trims cases.
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Best Case Trimmers on the Market in 2020
Best Automatic Case Trimmer:
If you are looking to prep large volumes of multiple different calibers, then you may want to consider getting this case trim and prep system from Frankford Arsenal. This prep center has a motorized high-speed steel cutter, as well as 3 extra output shafts that can be used for chamfering, deburring, and primer pocket cleaning. One of the areas where this trimmer really shines is the adjustable collet system, which allows you to very accurately trim cases with no need for a shell holder! Couple this with the ease of trimming length adjustment, and you have a quick and easy way to switch calibers.
While this is a great case trimmer, it is not without its downsides. For starters, the motorized cutter will produce far more noise than a hand powered trimmer. While this is far from a deal breaker, it can get a bit annoying. The adjustable collet system also requires cases with a shoulder in order to properly index, which means that it is not able to trim straight-walled cartridges (such as many common pistol rounds) as easily. While this is one of the most expensive options available, it is not the highest quality. This case trimmer focuses on ease of use, speed, and extra features. If you are looking for a case trimmer that will do almost all of your case prep work quickly and efficiently, then this is a good place to start. If you are thinking about getting a progressive press with speed and the number of rounds you can make is really important than this would be worth the investment. One of the top brands in reloading accessories this is a product you should definitely take a look at along with their brass tumbler.
- Lots of accessories
- Easy to use
- Can’t easily trim straight wall cases
Best General Use Case Trimmer:
If you are a no-frills kinda guy and looking for a solid, accurate bench mount case trimmer, then this may be a good option for you. It’s made by Hornady, which means that you can expect this to be a pretty high-quality piece of equipment, which it is. This is a newer model case trimmer from Hornady and they added a few more features from the older model. This trimmer includes a handy cam lock mechanism, which consistently secures your shells in the holder for trimming. They also re-designed the handle to be much more ergonomic and raised up the frame to give your hand more clearance. Finally, they added a micro-adjustable cutting head to give you some of the best accuracies for the price.
This particular case trimmer does require the use of shell holders, which can be a bit of a downside, especially when it comes to switching calibers. The good news though, is that this allows them to produce a much higher quality product for the same price. This is one of the cheaper bench mount case trimmers that can still run with the big dogs as far as quality goes. If you are looking for one of the best case trimmers you can get for under a hundred bucks, then this would be a good place to start. It is recommended to those individuals who just need a classy manual case trimmer and while you are at it you can pick up Hornady’s matching and highly recommended powder measure.
- Quality Hornady product
- Requires a shell holder
- Must be mounted on a bench
Best Universal Case Trimmer:
If the thought of dealing with specific shell holders repulses you, and you just want quick, easy, accurate case trimming, then you may want to check out this universal case trimmer from Lyman. Lyman produces many high-quality reloading products, so you know that this is going to be a quality, accurate piece of equipment. The main selling point on this model is the universal chuckhead, which can easily hold cases as small as .17 caliber, and as large as .458, all with no collets or shell holders! Another great feature on this trimmer is the coarse and fine adjustments on the cutter. This allows you to quickly move large distances with the coarse adjustment, and then fine tune it down to the thousandth of an inch with the fine adjustment.
While the price of this unit is far from outlandish, it is slightly more expensive than the other options. However, the quality and features of this trimmer can easily make the few extra bucks worth it. In fact, you can also purchase a power adapter in case you want to upgrade to a powered trimmer at a later date. If you don’t mind shelling out a few more bucks up front, this can be a good case trimmer that will last you a lifetime!
- Universal chuck head does not require shell holders
- Coarse and fine trim length adjustments
- Optional power adapter
- Slightly more expensive than other options
- Should be mounted on a bench
Best Bench Mount Case Trimmer:
If you are a “buy once, cry once” kind of guy, then you will probably want to check out the Trim pro 2 kit from RCBS. If you have spent any length of time reloading, you will know that RCBS produces some of the highest quality reloading equipment available, and this is no exception. The spring-loaded shell holder will quickly and securely hold almost any case, so there are no specific shell holders required. This kit works with all standard pilots and includes 9 of the most common. The ergonomic cutting handle and extended lever make operating this trimmer a breeze.
Of course, there is the issue of the price. But let’s face it, you knew from the beginning that if it’s RCBS, it isn’t going to be cheap. This is one of the most expensive manual bench mount case trimmers. That high price is certainly justified though, as you will be getting one of the best tools out there. One thing is for certain, if you buy this tool you will only cry once. If you simply have to have the best that there is, then this would be a good option to choose.
- Universal shell holder
- Ergonomic and easy to use
- Must be mounted on a bench
Best Reloading Press Case Trimmer:
If you don’t get in a hurry and are wanting a cheap, accurate way to trim your brass, then the QK Trim from Lee may be a great option. This is a cheap and effective tool, that works using your reloading press and a quick trim die. Many times, the die will come already included in your die set. The empty, resized case is inserted into the bottom of the die, just as with any other process. Then the cutter is placed in the top of the die and cranked by hand until it bottoms out. This is a slow and far from an ideal process, but it works and it is cheap.
You also have access to adjustments in order to set the final trimmed length shorter or longer. These adjustments are going to be far less accurate, and have a much shorter range than an actual bench mount trimmer though. As with all Lee components, this is not the most high quality and effective case trimmer you can get. But it will trim cases, and it is cheap. If that is all that you want, then this is a great option.
- Will accurately trim cases
- Not as good as a bench mount trimmer
- Can be finicky and difficult to use
- Requires the use of a special die and reloading press
Budget Case Trimmer:
If the only thing you want to do is make your cases shorter than when you started while spending the least amount of money possible, then you will want to check out this cutting system from Lee. This kit includes a cutter and lock stud and still requires the purchase of a case length gauge and shell holder (which are priced about the same as the cutter and lock stud, and are caliber specific.) With this setup, you chuck the lock stud in a power drill, screw on the shell holder, and then use the cutter and gauge to trim the case to length.
This is far from a perfect system. It takes quite a long time and can be a bit finicky. But this is by far the absolute cheapest way to get your cases trimmed to the correct length. As an added bonus, you have the option to use a power drill, which also makes this the cheapest powered case trimmer! If you have recognized the fact that you need a case trimmer, but want the absolute cheapest way to get the job done, then this will be a good option to consider.
- Can use a power drill
- No length adjustments
- Hard to use
Best Case Trimmer Final Thoughts
Let’s face it: if you want to reload your cases multiple times, eventually you are going to have to trim your brass. If you want the best case trimmer for you, it is going to have to be high quality, easy to use, accurate, and have lots of features, all while being within your budget. While all of the case trimmers listed will fit the bill for some of you, I think that the best overall choice is the Cam-Lock Trimmer from Hornady. This product will get the job done efficiently and accurately and is far from the most expensive option. This trimmer from Hornady would be the best place to start for almost anybody. Since reloading is an essentially dangerous hobby you should invest in one or more of our recommended reloading books.
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Dan is an avid outdoorsman and shooter who developed a passion for firearms at an early age. When you can’t find him in the field chasing birds or big game, you can find him at the range shooting various competitions such as 3-gun, IPSC, and IDPA. He also enjoys manufacturing his own ammunition, as well as both working on, and building his own firearms. Dan has many years of firearms experience, and enjoys helping people find the right gear and sharing his extensive firearms knowledge.