First, let's talk about what type of presses you can get.
Single-stage, turret, and progressive are the three types of reloading presses you can choose from.
Which one is the best for me?
The one thing I learned from reloading is to get the press that fits your shooting style. So, if you are the type of person who shoots a few calibers, mostly for mid to long-range target shooting, PRS, or even hunting I would recommend a single-stage press if you are just planning on loading 50-100 rounds per session. Preferably, the Forster CO-AX because of its design. The Forster "keeps it simple while still delivering famous Forster precision. The Forster Co-Ax Loading Press comes with several unique features that help make it truly one of a kind. The Co-Ax features Snap-in and snap-out die changing. You can change from the sizer die to seater die in two seconds! A positive spent primer catcher system which passes all spent primers and dirty carbon through a tube and into a container. That helps keep all working parts free of dirt and abrasives. Dual floating guide rods to help ensure perfect alignment" (Forster Co-Ax press, 2018). This press is perfect for those who want something with minimal runout and super consistent hand-loads.
There are a plethora of other single stage presses on the market which are all identical. The one thing you should look for is a well-engineered press that keeps things perfectly aligned. Lee makes the most affordable. Lyman, RCBS, Frankford, and Hornady all make presses that are the best of both worlds when it comes to a single stage.
A turret press is the best of two worlds. With an auto-indexing turret press like the Lee Precision 4-hole Classic Press, this allows you to auto-index to the next die with a simple pull of the press lever. However, this also has the feature of manual-indexing but only allows up to four dies at a time. The Redding T-7, on the other hand, will allow you up to 7 dies at a time and require that you manually index your die holder to the next stage. To elaborate on all of this, you have 4-7 dies set up at once on a single stage press, essentially. Once you are done resizing your brass, you can take the tool head on top of the press and lift it over to the next stage, which would either be your powder or seating die depending on what you are loading. Whereas, a single-stage press, you can only use one die at a time, unscrew it when you are finished and install the next one. The turret presses are nice because you can buy multiple tool heads and forget about swapping dies in and out of presses.
A Progressive press is one of the most sought after for those who wish to make a lot of ammo. Those who shoot almost every other day, shoot 2 gun, or even like their ammo pile always full will most likely choose this option. With a progressive, it allows you to make a completed round with every pull of the lever. The shell plate allows you to have anywhere from 4 to 6 pieces of brass at a time allowing you to utilize all of your dies at once. For instance, the Dillon 550B will allow you to make up to 500 rounds in an hour in a perfect world. In actuality, depending on set up time, primer tube restocking, and the types of accessories you have-which will ultimately determine rounds per hour-you will see around 200-250 cartridges made. If you have the Dillon 650 XL with the brass, projectile, and primer feed accessories, some individuals have clocked in at 1000 rounds per hour and can vary upon how fast you go and your set up.
The biggest downfall of these Dillon presses is the priming system on the 650. The new 750 that has replaced the 650, now uses the old 550 priming system. End of the world for 650 guys? Ofcourse not. Their is some pretty easy fixes and 3rd party upgrades for these. On another note, the powder hoppers on these presses are not the most accurate. To elaborate, they have variation between .01-.02 off from your set amount every couple of rounds. Deal breaker? No. However, if you plan on using these presses for precision hand loading I recommend you read our other blog “Can I Reload Match Rounds on a Dillon?” We break down exactly how you can do it and field test different methods.
Some other great progressive presses that are more friendly on the wallet, is the Hornady Lock-N-Load. Some of " features include Lock-N-Load Powder Measure: The AP uses Hornady’s full-size powder measure which can change powder charges with the press of the button. Hornady utilizes a quick-change measure insert that can be stored with your reloading dies preset to the charge you desire. You’ll never have to adjust your measure back to that favorite load again " (Brownells, 2019). However, just like any press, there is always some problems. This press sometimes has alignment issues pertaining to the priming system. Luckily, we ran into a follower of ours that pointed out he made a super affordable quick fix for this if you currently have the press. Here's the link to get that priming system aligned correctly: https://www.bragginrightsprecisionreloading.com/product-page/primer-slide-alignment-tools-for-hornady-lock-n-load-ap-reloading-press. Nonetheless, this press is great and saves you money. Also, Hornady runs a program where if you purchase one of their products on the "Get Loaded" program you get "x" amount of bullets from them for free. Pretty sweet incentive if you ask me.
One other great progressive press is the RCBS Pro Chucker 5. They are pretty similar to other progressive presses, but the one thing I might add is that they also offer the Pro Chucker 7 if you feel the need to have 7 slots available for dies. Some guys like to run decappers, swagers, and other sorts of dies for brass prep or other reloading steps. So, if you have more than 5 dies that option might lean more in your favor. One of the cooler features of the Pro Chucker is "that the powder measure is fitted with Quick Change metering components that allow you to drain powder without removing the measure from the press." "You can also quickly swap out preset metering screws for dispensing the new powder" (Brownells, 2019).
The one thing we like about the RCBS Pro Chucker 5 is the fact of how the tool-head works. To elaborate, the tool head itself on the Dillon slides into the machine and is just secured with two pins. This can cause problems with concentricity unless you have some pretty nice dies that align bullets to minimize runout. With the RCBS, the die head itself screws into the press and locks, then is secured by two screws. Very minimal movement in our opinion. If you are a new reloader reading this, the less moving parts you have is ideal for making consistent hand-loads. However, we did a test on the Dillon with concentricity and the ability to make match rounds and it is possible to achieve low SD and ES with the proper dies and set up...but I digress.
The most affordable progressive press on the market to date is pretty much anything Lee. The Lee Precision loadmaster, for the price, really gives you a lot to work with and is a pretty darn good deal for the money. It includes: "full-length sizing die, powder through expanding die, bullet seating die, turret, shell plate, Auto-Drum Powder Measure, case feeder and primer feed. The Load-Master Progressive Press Only does not include Case feeder, Dies, Shell Plate, Primer Feed or Powder measure. These items must be purchased separately" (Brownells, 2019). We will certainly get some flack for saying this, but hey, we don't want to ever mislead you. These presses are always reporting to have problems. To talk about what problems it has, the priming system is just bad. Primers flip over constantly and you won't notice them until you prime a casing and notice it's upside down. If you do notice the primer is flipped upside down, you'll have to disassemble the whole priming system to fix it. Another thing we didn't really like on this press was the fact you have to unscrew the retaining system for a casing if you want to check the powder charge-which is a necessity- and screw it back in when done. Most systems just have a pin you pop in and out. Not a deal-breaker, just an unnecessary step in my opinion. Overall, with some tinkering, you can get this machine up and running. For the price point and what you get, it's a solid deal. However, keep in mind you are not going to be making the most concentric ammo with this press.
If you are the type that wants to reload anywhere he feels like, wants a very minimalist set up that doesn't sacrifice quality or precision, and has only a few calibers to shoot, I recommend the Sinclair/LE Wilson hand die kit with micrometer top. But before I tell you what this can do, I'll tell you why I love this setup.
Whenever I go to the range and bring a ladder test, you never know what is going to happen. So let's say I have a great group but want to get everything perfected, I can just go to the back of my car and get to work with the hand die kit. If you were to go with any other type of press, you'd most likely have to drive back home and hit the bench again. Unless you have some elaborate portable reloading bench in the back of your car. On the other hand, let's say you have the worse range day of your life and take horrible shots, you just wasted a trip to the range, your time, and a ladder test. Point being, if you don't have a set up like this that is transportable, things can happen. Don't get me wrong, I have a Forster, a Dillon 550, a hand die kit, some single stage presses and more. But, just like those in the community have different types of firearms for different applications, you might need a different press for each scenario you might be in. Sinclair/LE Wilson hand die kit with micrometer top
Now that you have a concept of why I love this set up so much, the best way to describe the hand die kit is by taking Forster Co-Ax reliability and precision and shrinking it into a transportable means of hand-loading while saving an unreal amount of money. It is the "best buy for the money if you begin reloading with hand dies. This ultra-compact reloading set-up enables the user to reload for extreme accuracy as well as being mobile for competition use or load development at the range. The Sinclair/Wilson Hand Die Kit includes a Wilson Neck Die, Wilson Straight Line Bullet Seater, Sinclair Micrometer Seater Top, Sinclair Arbor Press, and Sinclair Arbor Press Base. Wilson Neck Die Bushings will need to be ordered separately" (Sinclair/LE Wilson hand die kit with micrometer top, 2018).
So what does this hand die kit do differently than a single stage?
Just how a single stage would work, but with a twist. You are provided with a die that acts like the press itself, eliminating the need for bulkier reloading presses that you manually screw your die into. However, the Sinclair Arbor Press that is included in the kit is for you to push down the straight line bullet seater for consistency and perfect concentricity when seating your projectiles. Theoretically, you can use a rubber mallet and just the hand die.
Another hand die kit, if you are in the market, is the Lee Breech Lock. It's very compact like Wilson hand dies and works great for sitting on your couch and decapping brass or even bringing it along with you to the range. Is it of even quality? Not close. But, will serve its purpose and get your range ammo loaded up and have you shooting great groups.
Closing thoughts: while these are just our recommendations for brand-specific presses, there are tons of options that you may be able to go with. We use some of these and like them a lot, but they are not the one press that every reloader must-have. Considering budgets, you may be able to go with some more expensive or less expensive. NO press is perfect, they all have their flaws. However, some are just flat out better engineered.
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As always, be safe, shoot straight, happy reloading!
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