What Type of Press?
The heart of your reloading bench is your press. The press you purchase is going to largely dicate the quality and speed of your reloads. I am not going to go into great detail on how each one works exactly just yet. This page is intended to help you make a decision based on a few factors. Those being: budget, time constraints, and desired volume of reloads. These are important to remember when making a decision. Especially the price factor. Generally reloading will help you to shoot more for the same money. The size of your initial investment is going to dictate when that actually starts to happen.
There are essentially five or six steps that each cartridge has to go through once it is at the press, depending on the type of press that you are using. (There are few other things as far as prepping cases that we will get into later). Those steps or stages are:
- Deprime and reshape case (Done at the same time)
- Flare the case mouth
- Insert a new primer
- Drop the powder charge
- Seat the bullet
- Crimp the case around the bullet
These steps are done with every press and some presses and setups allow you to combine stages to be more efficient. Each step (or pair of steps) is completed by what is referred to as a die. A die is like a socket that the case goes into and manipulates the case depending on the current stage. There are usually 3 or 4 dies depending on what set you buy.
- Decapping die (Takes dents out of the case and removes the spent primer.)
- Powder through expanding die (Also just called an expanding die. Flares the mouth of the case.)
- Bullet Seating die (Can be used to crimp also, removing the need for the last die in this list.)
- Factory crimp die
These dies are inserted into the press and the press is operated by pulling an arm down, to raise a ram on which the case is placed, into the die. The die modifies the case in its intended way and then the arm on the press is raised to take the case out. Each type of press handles this in a different way but they all have the arm and ram setup to a degree.
There are three main types of presses that are usually purchased:
- Single Stage Press
- Turret Press
- Progressive Press
Single Stage Press
Single stage presses are by far the cheapest but also the slowest. Doing any kind of volume with a take single stage is a fairly large time commitment. Even if you are pretty quick at changing cases and take every measure possible to be fast, don't expect more than about 50 loads per 50 minutes. And that is going pretty fast. As the name implies, you can only do one stage at a time. Each die is screwed into place and each case has to be inserted and removed for each step. The cases can be primed on the press usually on the upstroke but some prefer to use a hand primer. The powder is usually dropped into the case via a powder measure. You can see how this becomes tedious very quickly.
There are some advantages to using a single stage press though. They can be more accurate simply because you, the operator, are doing pretty much everything. This is especially true with charging the case (putting the powder in). Because of that, they are good to use for reloading high power rifle loads where accuracy over distance is the goal. A single stage allows you to take an approach that pays much more attention to detail than the other types. The trade-off is speed.
They are inherently easier to set up than the other two types. Especially true when compared to progressive presses. This may or may not be a huge selling point to you as far as wanting to buy one.
- Cheap initial investment
- More precise loads
- Easier to setup
- Very Slow
- So slow
- Oh my gosh it is slow
A turret press is the happy medium of the three types with single stage being on one extreme and progressive being on the other. A turret press will greatly increase the volume of loads that you can pump out. Instead of placing and removing a case for every step of the process, you place a case and it stays in the press until it is complete. Each actuation of the arm by you performs the current stage and then on the upstroke, turns the turret to the next stage. It also combines some steps. The expanding die has a powder measure mounted to the top and is actuated by the case as it enters the die, dropping a measured charge through the die and into the case (hence the name powder through). This greatly speeds up the process as there is no need to remove the case to charge it.
This allows you to produce many more cartridges, with less effort, in the same amount of time when compared to a single stage. This is the type of press that I would recommend to someone who wants to get into loading and doesn't mind a slightly larger initial investment, but who is still on a budget.
- Fairly cheap initial investment
- Much higher volume
- Greater speed and less fatigue
- Auto powder measures can have a margin of error
- A little pricier
- Still not as fast as a progressive
A progressive press is some serious reloading business. Most reloaders that shoot a high volume will typically end up investing in a progressive press. Much like a turret press, all the dies are set into a turret. The difference is that each actuation of the arm starts the process for a new case. After a few pulls, each upstroke is completing a cartridge. This allows an unprecedented volume of reloads to be completed. Somewhere in the realm of 100 finished cartridges per 5-7 minutes.
This seems like a no brainer BUT here's the kicker: The initial investment is around 3-4 times that of a turret press and up to 5 times that of a single stage. Where a single stage setup can be had for around $200 and a turret press setup for about $300-$350, a progressive is going to be about $1000-$1500 depending on the extras that you may want to put on it.
There are even ways to automate it so that there is little to no interaction from you as the reloader. You simply turn it on and watch the rounds pour out.
- Extremely fast
- Easier to operate
- Can be fully automated
- Extremely expensive
- Very long breakeven period
- Still not as accurate in charging cases
The press that you start out with is obviously up to you. You just need to weigh the factors that I went over in the beginning and see which type would be a good fit for your situation.
If you are having trouble deciding, my personal recommendation is to go with the turret press. I started with a single stage and quickly realized that the volume I wanted to do for .45 acp was not feasible (okay, more so just not fun) with a single stage. If you are on the fence between single and turret, definitely go turret.
If money is no object and you just want to shoot as much as possible, a progressive is for you.
If you are looking for precision loads for a long range rifle, or just reeeeeally strapped for cash, single stage is your best bet.