There’s a global community of reloaders who would attest that reloading bullets is one of the smartest choices a shooting enthusiast can make. Since you’re here, I know that you’re thinking about joining their ranks. Well, the path to reloading your own bullets starts with buying a reloading press.
Fortunately, this comprehensive guide covers all the essentials of buying a reloading press. In the first part of the article, we’ll walk you through our picks for the best reloading presses of 2018 across each category of reloading presses. In the section that follows the reviews, you’ll get all the information needed to choose the right product for your skill level and budget. So, let’s get cracking.
But, picking a reloading press is perhaps as complex as the process of reloading itself. The reason is that the reloading press is the single most expensive machine a reloader needs. The choice of machine affects everything else. So, if you don’t have a plan to identify and procure the best reloading press for your needs, you’ll make costly mistakes that will ultimately discourage you from following this incredible hobby.
|Hornady 095100 Lock N Load|
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|RCBS Rock Chucker 09356 Supreme Press||$$$$|
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|Single Stage||19.8 pounds||4.8/5|
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|Lee Precision II 90011 Shotshell|
(Best for the Money)
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|Lee Precision Classic 90064||$$$|
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The Hornady 095100 Lock-N-Load auto-progressive reloading press is a professional grade machine. It is the culmination of clever design thinking and precise engineering. While reloading bullets, people spend more time preparing the stroke than delivering it. Engineers at Hornady saw an opportunity here. They realized that optimizing the preparatory process could increase production speeds.
For instance, people shooting bullets of different calibers go through the grind of changing dies each time they reload bullets of a different caliber. So, the design team invented Quick Change Bushing Systems that reduce changeover time to less than five minutes.
The efficiency-driven theme extends across all other features, such as indexing, priming, powder drop, and ejection. Adding more complexity to an already complex equipment is a big challenge. However, Hornady pulled this off beautifully. That’s why it’s the best reloading press on the market right now.
Now, before you get all excited about buying this beauty, consider these things. First, the machine is designed to reload 500 bullets per hour. Next, the press requires advanced knowledge, well-developed skills, and a lot of patience to set up. But, I admit, it is easier to configure than many other progressive reloading presses. Lastly, the Hornady is expensive.
In the light of all these factors, I would recommend this reloading press to anyone who has worked their single stage press to death. But, if you’re new to reloading, go for a single stage press, or a turret press and return to this model when you’re Hornady ready.
Available in 12, 16, and 20 gauge calibers, the Lee Precision II 90011 Shotshell makes reloading shotgun guns shells economical. Not only that, the quality of shells reloaded in the 90011 is better than that of most factory-made shells.
If I had to isolate the reason for the success the product has enjoyed for over 40 years, it would be – precision. From the hopper dispensing shots to the primer catcher, every part of the machine performs its function flawlessly.
Functional features, such as convenient shell positioning, trouble-free and cost-effective gauge conversion, adjustable shell size, and fast production, come together to provide an incredible reloading experience.
But, the downside is obvious – the machine loads only shotgun shells. If you don’t own a shotgun or are not planning to buy one, strike this product off the list. Unfortunately for rifle or handgun owners, there aren’t any reliable budget-friendly progressive reloading presses. So, they may have to settle for a high-quality single stage or turret reloading press.
In summary, if you’re a shotgun enthusiast, I encourage you to reload your own shells and use the 90011 to do it. It’s the best reloading press for the money.
Our top pick from the exciting world of single stage reloading presses is the RCBS Rock Chucker 09356 Supreme Press. Durable build, precise construction, diversity of accessories, incredible reputation, and reliable performance are at the top of my long list of reasons to buy this machine.
The only reason that I can think of for not buying this machine relates to its price. Let’s face it – most beginners cannot accommodate the full complement of tools and accessories needed to get up and run with the Rock Chucker. So, their objections are valid. But let’s examine economy from another perspective.
I recommend buying a high-quality single stage reloading rig to buying a mediocre turret reloading press or a low-cost progressive reloading press. While it’s true that single stage presses have the lowest production rate among the three types of reloading presses, the quality of the reloaded bullets don’t vary at all. Unless you want to reload hundreds of bullets in a single sitting, a single stage reloading press will suit your needs just fine.
Now, you may be wondering, “What’s so special about this RCBS Supreme Press?” Here’s the thing – with the RCBS Piggyback 4 conversion kit, you can turn this single stage press into a progressive reloading press. So, its upgradability is what makes this the best single stage reloading press out there.
Among the three kinds of reloading presses, the single stage reloading press is the entry-level type. The RCBS Supreme Press is the premium machine in this category. But, the Lee Precision Breech 90588 is the ideal “entry-level” entry-level reloading press.
The Precision Breech Challenger press costs only half as much as the RCBS Rock Chucker. The cost difference leaves you with enough money to buy all the accessories needed to begin reloading your own bullets.
Although this reloading press cannot be upgraded, the total investment on the machine is relatively low. So, when you’re ready for a progressive reloading press, you can buy it and use the 90588 as a standby or secondary tool.
Even though this is a low-cost solution, it isn’t a low-quality machine. The durable “O” frame and steel-linked lever, and other precision crafted components prolong the machine’s life. Features, such as the Lee Lever Prime System, Quick Change die system, and built-in primer catcher, makes reloading bullets as easy as a single stage press can.
If you cannot afford the RCBS Rock Chucker, then the Precision Breech Challenger is the machine for you. Overall, it’s a fantastic choice for anyone who has never owned a reloading press before.
A lot of people hit a wall when faced with choosing between a single stage press like the RCBS Rock Chucker and a turret press like the Lyman T-Mag II. So, I’ll break down the decision for you so that you choose wisely.
The Lyman T-Mag II has a manual indexing turret that can accommodate six dies. Since the turret is removable, you can pre-configure the different turrets to reload bullets of multiple caliber. For instance, you can have one turret setup for your 9 mm and another for your 0.44 Magnum.
In the above scenario, buying a turret press makes more sense than buying a single-stage press. However, if you’re pressing bullets of only one caliber, you can settle for a single-stage press. The production rate on both machines is comparable.
Now, if you are buying a turret press, the Lyman T-Mag II is the best of its kind on the market. The frame, columns, turret, linkages, ram, and lever are durable and well-assembled. The machine operates smoothly. The dies and accessories fit snugly into their slots. Overall, this is a very high-quality machine. However, it’s slightly on the expensive side. That’s perhaps the only fault I can find with the T-Mag II.
The Lee Precision Classic is a budget-friendly alternative to the Lyman T-Mag II. Unlike the Lyman, which has a manual indexing turret, the Lee Precision Classic’s turret has manual and automatic indexing mode. However, the Lee has only four die slots, as opposed to the Lyman’s six slots.
The build quality of both machines is similar. All parts are well made and the assembly is tight. But, the Lyman operates a little smoother than the Lee does. However, the Precision Classic’s list price is about 44 percent less than the Lyman’s. So, which one should you go for?
From an economic point of view, purchasing the Lee Precision Classic makes better sense. However, the T-Mag II’s turret has two holes more than the Precision Classic’s turret and the operation is smoother. So, using and configuring the Lyman is easier.
When I weigh economy against ease-of-use, convenience wins. So, unless you’re paying full-price, the Lyman is a better choice. At the same time, the Lyman isn’t as good as the Lee for reloading rifle bullets. The Lyman is better suited for handguns. For this reason, the selection also comes down to the guns you own.
People have issues shopping for a reloading press because they are unable to make up their minds on what type of reloading press is best for them. Even when they know what type to get, they don’t have a clear understanding of the qualities of a good reloading press. This section of the article will clear the haze by giving you the information needed to make a sound purchase. So, let’s begin with the first question you should ask yourself:
Many people believe that buying a reloading press will save them money. I don’t disagree. At the same time, you still have to pay the price in effort and time. Is the cost advantage significant enough to merit the initial high investment followed by a lifetime of labor? Well, it depends on your commitment, the kind of rounds you shoot, and how often you shoot.
You see, you will save more money on reloading expensive high-caliber rifle bullets than on reloading cheap low-caliber handgun bullets. Also, the number of bullets you shoot per session and the frequency of the sessions determine the rate at which you recover the cost of the reloading press and associated accessories.
In addition to the mathematics of return on investment, you must consider the time that goes into studying the process of reloading bullets. The process requires a lot of tweaking and experimenting before you get it right. Do you have the time to clean, resize, prime, charge, and seat bullets yourself? Or, would you rather leave that to the factory?
If you don’t mind spending money for convenience, buying factory bullets is the better option for you. But, if you are ready for the challenge and satisfaction of reloading your own bullets, then the next thing you must figure out is the type of reloading press you need.
People with years of experience using a reloading press usually own all three types of reloading machines. The reason is that they begin with the simplest type of reloading press and work their way up to more complex types. If you are new to reloading, I suggest you take the same approach.
The single stage reloading press is the simplest type of reloading press. It is the slowest of the three types, but it’s also the easiest to master. The single stage reloading press executes only one step of the reloading process at a time. Performing each step requires the appropriate die. This calls for frequent die changes, thereby increasing time and decreasing productivity.
The turret reloading press is the next type of reloading press. This press allows you to mount multiple dies on its turret. This eliminates the time and effort involved in swapping the dies. But, like the single stage press, a turret press executes only one step of the process at a time.
The progressive reloading press is the last and the most complex type of reloading press. Like the turret press, the progressive reloading press also allows you to mount all the dies on its turret. But, unlike the other two types, the progressive reloading press can execute multiple steps simultaneously. The mechanism works like an assembly line. Owing to the complexity of the machine, it’s the hardest to master. But, once you do, you can reload bullets at an astonishing pace.
If you’re a beginner, buy the single stage reloading press. It’s the cheapest of the three types and it’s the ideal platform to practice and master the basics of reloading. An expert can reload 60 to 100 bullets on a single stage press. Once you reach this limit, you can upgrade your reloading press. But, irrespective of the type of reloading press you buy, there are certain factors that you must analyze before making the purchase. Let’s see what those factors are.
A good reloading press has the following characteristics:
Yes, I want to share a few mistakes that first-time buyers make. The most common mistake is shooting directly for a progressive reloading press. The reloading press must match your skills level and production requirement.
The next mistake to avoid is rushing the purchase. Some people buy a reloading press thinking it’s all they need. Once the machine arrives, they realize they can’t use it because they don’t have the right accessories. So, take the time to study each step of the reloading process and make sure you don’t miss anything.
While you’re studying the products, keep an eye out for details. A small thing like the primer not being flush with the back of the bullet can cause serious hazards on or off the range. So, don’t take anything lightly. Lastly, don’t cheap out on your purchase. If you’re short of money, either save until you can buy a high-quality product or buy the best quality press in a lower category.
Dillon, Lee, Hornady, and RCBS are the top manufacturers of reloading presses. We have included a few of their products on our list. But, these companies offer a much broader range of products than we could cover here. So, if you want to expand your options, check out reloading presses from these manufacturers.
From the reviews of reloading presses and the critical factors to consider, here are a few important observations. For a person with no experience in reloading bullets, a single stage press is the best choice. It’s relatively inexpensive and easy to configure and use. In this category, the RCBS Rock Chucker Supreme Press and the Lee Precision Breech Challenger are the best options.
However, single stage reloaders can hold only one die at a time. To avoid the grind of frequent die changes, you can buy a turret press. A turret press works best for intermediate and advanced reloaders. The Lyman T-Mag II and the Lee Precision Classic are two exceptional products in this category.
Lastly, there’s the progressive reloading press. This is what the professionals use. They are much more expensive than the other two types. But, they offer three to five times greater production speed. The Hornady Lock-N-Load AP and the Lee Precision Shotshell are the best products in this category.
Reloading presses have been around for a long time. Over the years, these machines have become increasingly easier to use. The costs have come down too. Today, it’s possible for people to buy a high-quality reloading press at a reasonable price.
However, the amount of thinking that goes into buying one overwhelms many people. But, a clear understanding of the fundamentals will give you a head start in figuring out the right reloading press for you. And, I hope this guide has helped you achieve that clarity.
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