How to Choose a Reloading Press

There comes a point in every shooter’s life where they contemplate reloading. Whether it’s at the store buying $30 boxes of rifle rounds (like me) and you know someone who loads the same round for cheaper. Or it’s when you’re at the store and Obama has just been on the news talking about gun control and there simply isn’t any ammunition to buy. It may be when you’re at the range with your friend and his groups are half the size of yours and he’s gloating about it (like my friends :P). I’m not an experienced reloader by any means, but I’m not inexperienced either. I get asked quite often what equipment to buy when first starting out in the wonderful world of reloading. There are a couple of things to consider.

The first question you need to ask yourself is: why are you reloading in the first place? Are you trying to save money? Do you want better accuracy? Are you looking to stockpile components in case there is another ammunition shortage? Other questions you need to ask yourself have to do with budget and time. How much equipment can you afford? How much time do you have to invest in reloading? The answers to these questions will determine what equipment you should buy.

There are a couple basic items you’ll need to begin reloading. The first is the press. This is where most of your budget will be allotted for equipment. The most basic type is a single stage press. The Lee Classic was my first press.

Lee Single Stage Press
Lee Single Stage Press-Photo Credit

It’s very simple to use and very cost effective. The downside to the single stage press is that it is slow. This press is best for someone looking to save money and doesn’t care about the time investment. A single stage press is also preferable for me when I am loading highly accurate rifle rounds. I feel like I have better control over the process than with the other types of presses. This is not for those of you looking to do volume. Forget about reloading pistol rounds. Just go buy them.

The next type of press is a turret press. The benefit of a turret press is that the top of it rotates so that every time you pull the lever it rotates a new die into place. This replaces having to change the dies for each stage of the process.

RCBS Turret Press-Photo Credit
RCBS Turret Press-Photo Credit

The number of stations you have, the number of pulls it takes to reload a complete cartridge. This speeds up the process immensely. Pull the lever it sizes the die. Pull it again and it dispenses the powder. Pull it again and it seats the bullet. The downside is of course cost. A turret press costs more than a single stage but can be a happy medium for those looking to save money and reload in volume. A good turret press won’t break the bank.

You can even buy accouterments for a turret press like automatic powder dispensers and bullet feeders to speed up the process. You can still have the feel and control of the single stage but can produce significantly more. Everything you automate though will include a margin for error. That automatic powder dispenser isn’t going to be as accurate as you hand weighing charges.

The big daddy of presses is a progressive. This is for the volume shooter. The difference with a progressive press is that it holds all of the dies for the process but when you pull the lever it moves the cases around to each station. So every pull of the lever completes a cartridge. Watch a video of how a progressive press works:

Dillon 550 Progressive Press-Photo Credit
Dillon 550 Progressive Press-Photo Credit

The downside of a good progressive press? You guessed it, again it’s cost. The Dillon 550 seen here will set you back $440 before any of the additions to make it truly fast like the trays and the powder thrower. It takes a lot of reloading to recoup that kind of costs. Typically with a progressive you’re going to be reloading something like pistol rounds in volume where the costs savings isn’t very much, on the order of about 10-20 cents a round. For the average shooter I don’t recommend something like this. If you’re looking to get into a progressive without tons of dough, Lee offers a value priced progressive press. I’ve heard mixed reviews on the quality of the press but for the price it could be worth it.

I’ve had my share of experiences with all three types of presses. For my needs I currently use a turret press. I feel like I still have control over the quality of the ammunition but I can certainly pump out some volume when I need to. Reloading 9mm isn’t a chore like it is on a single stage, but there’s times I definitely dream of that Dillon. If you need any tips or advice, or have any tips or advice please feel free to contact me. I’m always looking for a trick or two.


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