Ammo Reloading Presses for Beginners

Photo credit: www.UltimateReloader.comThe Approaching Day Prepper – by Phil Hovatter

As I indicated in my last blog, I’ve decided to join the ranks of the reloaders and start making my own ammo. Since I’m starting from scratch, that means shopping for the equipment that I’ll need to get started. I’ve done a lot of research to learn which of the many options will work best for a beginner like me.

Reloading presses come in three basic configurations — single-stage, turret, and progressive. They vary in purpose, complexity, and price. The place to begin with the purchasing decision is to evaluate your needs, budget, and skill level. There’s a press that’s right for everyone, but what’s best for me might not be best for you. Here’s the rundown on each type:  

This single-stage press uses one die at a time to work with one cartridge at a time

This single-stage press uses one die and works with one cartridge at a time  ->

Single-stage — A single-stage press, like the RCBS Rock Chucker Supreme shown here, holds only one ammo case and one die at a time. Dies do the work of removing (decapping) the old primer from the case, installing a new one, resizing and shaping the case, and seating and crimping the bullet. To make handgun ammo, most reloaders use three or four dies to complete the process. With a single-stage press, since it only uses one die at a time, you would batch process your ammo; that is, you would load the first die on each case, change dies and run each case through the press to complete the second die’s function, and so on, until you complete the final stage of crimping the bullet in your cartridge. You have to pull the handle on your press four times for every round that you manufacture.

Because they only do one function at a time to only one cartridge, single-stage presses are inherently slow, but they give you the highest degree of control over the reloading process. They have traditionally been the recommended entry point for new reloaders because a single-stage press gives a beginner the opportunity to closely observe and understand what is happening with the ammo manufacturing process every step of the way. Besides beginners, single-stage presses are also a good choice for those who mainly reload rifle ammo, especially hunters. They don’t blow through as many rounds as handgunners do, so they don’t require a high output reloading press. For them, it’s more about quality than quantity of ammo. They have the luxury of taking their time to craft a small number of highly accurate rounds. Single-stage presses are also the best option for those on a low budget, with some models starting at around $100.

This Redding turret press allows you to have as many as seven dies installed at once

<- This Redding turret press allows you to have seven dies installed at once

Turret — The next type of press is a turret press. It also works with only one round of ammo at a time, but it can have multiple dies installed, which eliminates the need to switch and reconfigure dies after each stage of the reloading process. You can do all of the stages of reloading a cartridge without removing the cartridge until it’s finished. Place the cartridge in the press and pull the handle to perform the function of the first die. To do the next step, rotate the turret to move the second die into position, then pull the handle again. Repeat the process with all of the dies until you have a completed round of ammo. You still have to pull the handle four times for every round, but you don’t have to swap out every round of ammo multiple times, and you don’t have to install and configure each die repeatedly when you move from one stage to the next. Set it and forget it.

Some turret presses accommodate as few as three dies, while others, such as the Redding T-7 shown here, can have as many as seven installed at once. With a seven-hole turret, you can have the dies for two different calibers installed and ready to go. This can be a real time saver if you typically reload two particular calibers. Skilled turret press operators can turn out up to 200 rounds of handgun ammo per hour. And you always have the option of batch processing your ammo (doing the first step on all of your rounds, then doing the second step on each of the rounds, etc.) and running your turret like a single-stage press if you so desire.

There's a lot going on with this Dillon progressive press

There’s a lot going on with this Dillon progressive press ->

Progressive — Progressive ammo presses are the real production machines of the reloading world. Instead of working with just one round of ammo at a time, progressive presses work with four or five cartridges simultaneously. Set a case on the shell plate in the press and pull the handle for it to work with the first die. The shell plate is then rotated for you to insert the next case onto it. If the press has the capability to automatically rotate the shell plate from one stage to the next (and most progressives do), it’s called “auto-indexing.” Pulling the handle engages the newly placed case with the first die and the first case that you placed with the second die.

As you continue to pull the handle and add cases, you soon have a cartridge in every position on the shell plate and every pull of the handle performs engages all of the cases with the dies above them, so you’re working with four of five rounds of ammo simultaneously. When a cartridge has made it through all the stages and is complete, it gets dumped out into a storage bin to make room for a new case to be inserted. After the first four or five pulls of the handle to get the shell plate fully loaded, you’re spitting out a completed round with each subsequent pull of the handle.

Completing a round of ammo with each pull of the handle makes a progressive reloading press a real speed demon. Optional attachments are available for most progressive presses that will automate the process of placing a case on the shell plate and placing a bullet on the mouth of the case just before seating it in the brass. Many reloaders say that they can turn out 500 rounds per hour with one of these tricked-out machines. That makes them ideal for high-volume handgun shooters or for anyone who has more money than time. But because they perform every stage of the reloading process to a different cartridge at the same time, they generally aren’t recommended for first-time reloading users. Obviously, a progress press is much more complex mechanically and can require some troubleshooting and tinkering to keep it running properly. If you are “mechanically challenged” a progressive might not be your best option.

So as with most things in life, there’s different strokes for different folks. You may want to jump right to a progressive, but it will cost a lot more than a single-stage or a turret, especially if you get add an automatic case feeder and bullet feeder. Changing calibers on some progressives can be expensive and complicated, too. But if you’ve got the money, need a high-volume manufacturing capacity, have a decent amount of mechanical aptitude, and are a skilled multi-tasker, why not go for it? If that doesn’t describe you, a single-stage or turret press is a better entry point.

In my next blog I’ll reveal which press I’ve decided to start with and why.

10 thoughts on “Ammo Reloading Presses for Beginners

  1. I try to use only Hornady equipment. I find it easier to learn and easier to master. I have some RCBS dies. I dont care for RCBS pistol dies. Crimping is tough to learn on RCBS. I finally got my Hornady pistol dies in (except fot the 9mm, good luck finding that one). I am doing great with my rifle reloads and new rounds. pistols, I am still perfecting. I reload some, but right now my focus is on building high powered heavy duty ammo. (we all know why) It wasnt cheap to get all of the equipment the I needed to start, but it is worth it. I found some 225 grain .308. I plan to test those out and see how they do against heavy duty glass and other things. It is hard to find powder/primers right now. Luckily I bought ahead of the weapon/ammo crunch, so I am doing pretty good.

  2. I use only Lee dies. I’ve used them for over fifteen years and still have the same ones because they work and are cheap. One thing to think about is the reloader.Every brand makes at least one loader someone will like.I’ve used Lee, RCBS, Dillon and others and they are all good in their own ways. The two i still have is the RCBS rock chucker and two Lee hand loaders. The Lee’s will fit in my bob and they are light. Taking all the stuff to reload isn’t practical but if you pre place food and such then these items could be placed also. The hand loaders are much slower but they are small,light and still get the job done.


      At full swing how many rounds can you load in an hour with your set up? I have zero experience with reloading, just wondering how long it takes.

      1. Mark,
        I use a hand loader. It is slower, but I am working on quality control right now. I have a stock of ammo already, so I am taking my time. I still charge each round by hand and weigh each charge individually. I am still not trusting enough in the auto charger. If I set up everything and tell the family to leave me alone, I am guessing that I can get from a stack of brass to complete brand new rounds about 20-30/hour. Home made ammo is so much more accurate than the store bought stuff. It is a good feeling knowing that you can build an awsome accurate and deadly round. Once you start it is an addiction.

  3. Mark
    It depends on the rounds. Rifle rounds take a little longer, maybe 50 per hour. The pistol rounds about 100 per hour. You don’t have to lube pistol rounds like you have to with rifle. You can make that happen as long as you have a automatic power measure. Without one it burns a lot of time to measure every powder charge. Even when you use a powder measure it is wise to check your charge every five rounds to be sure the charge is within specs. If you need more just call me and i’ll explane it or we can get together and i’ll show you.

    1. Redhorse,
      What FPS do you load your .223 at. I have been doing 2900 fps. I havent went passed that yet. I want to try some at 3100. I am loading 55 gr. v-max for my .223.

  4. By the way Bulldog is right in that if you want an accurate round you must measure the powder charge for each round. This is the only way to have all the rounds you reload come out the same.

  5. Bulldog
    For a .223 i have gone to a 65grn round because i find that even with a small wind the smaller grn rounds are not that accurate. Probably because i’m old and can’t hold as well as i used to.but i’m getting right at 2700 fps with that bullet and it also has more punch. It also has more arc so you have to adjust for that. I used to load 40grn balistic tips but the wind would move them as much as 10 inches at 100 yards even at 3100fps so i went to a 65grn.I still use 55grn at 2900 fps and they work good for me.

  6. Thanks for finding this article, #1 Hatr.

    I want to start producing ammo, or at least start acquiring the equipment before it’s banned, and I know so very little about it.

    (and the comments were helpful, too)

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