Reloading Press for the Backyardsman

Last time I talked about getting started with reloading. This time I’m going to talk about how to pick the right press.

I guess in theory you could reload ammunition with a rock, a punch, and a flat surface, but I wouldn’t want to try it. Things just work out better for me when I use the right tools. For reloading, that means a solid bench, a reloading press, and a good set of dies. Getting a good reloading press is easy since so many companies make good quality presses. Picking the right one for you can be confusing though because there are so many choices. Ultimate Reloader for example shows presses from 10 different makers on their page. They left out some. Some companies make more than one reloading press. Lee has 5 different single stage presses, 2 turret presses, and 3 progressives. RCBS has 7 different models. Lyman and Hornady also have several choices. So which one to get?

What do you want to do?

The difference between single stage, turret, and progressive reloading presses are speed, cost, and complexity. A single stage press is the simplest and cheapest, but also the slowest. Every round you load will be handled 5-7 times as you go through the steps, and at least 3 pulls on the handle. A turret press speeds things up a little because you only handle each round twice going through the steps. It still takes 3 pulls on the handle though. The fastest is a progressive. Each round is only handles once, and once you get going every pull of the handle makes a completed round.

I tend to work slow and careful. On a single stage press, I can make about 80 rounds of handgun ammo per hour. On my Hornady LnL-AP I can make about 350 rounds per hour. I won’t have a turret press until next month, so I’ll have to update when I get it.

What’s the best reloading press?

Once you decide how fast you need to load you need to think about quality and features. It doesn’t pay in the long run to buy the cheapest available, so buy the best you can afford. For example, Lee makes 5 different single stage presses. Their best one by far is the Lee Classic Cast. It’s a solid, cast iron, O-frame press with solid linkage. It’s just as good as most other single stage presses, including some that cost a lot more than the Lee. It also has the best spent primer handling of any single stage press on the market. In fact I’d take it over the RCBS Rock Chucker because of the primer handling. On the other hand, I wouldn’t bother with the cheaper Lee single stage presses. They’re made from aluminum instead of iron, and the linkage isn’t as solid.

For a progressive press, I’d stick with a Diilon 550 or a Hornady LnL-AP. Both Dillon and Hornady have great customer service, and both presses are very popular with lots of info available if you run into problems. Personally I’d avoid other brands of progressive presses. I read a lot about people having problems with the Lee progressives, esp. the Auto Breech Lock Pro. RCBS and Lyman also make progressives, but I have no experience with them. Given my good experiences with the LnL-AP and Dillon 550, I don’t have a reason to switch.

I don’t have a turret press yet, so I can’t really comment on those. I’ve read really good things about the Lee Classic Turret, and I have one on the way. So hopefully soon I’ll be able to give a report on that.

As for specialty presses, there are a bunch. One you might read about is the Forster Co-Ax. I have a friend who has one and it’s a really nice press. It was designed for long range precision shooters though, and priced accordingly. For the average Backyardsman it’s probably overkill.


Inline Fabrication makes some really nice accessories for reloaders. I’m pretty much a minimalist but some of their stuff is worth getting. I have their Ultramount with a quick change mounting system. It gets the press up off the bench nicely, and the quick change feature is really nice if you have more than one press. I also have their Skylight LED setup for my Hornady LnL-AP. It really helps when I’m loading in the evening (my loading room isn’t lit very well).

As much as I like the Inline Fabrication bling, the only necessary accessory for your reloading press is a solid, stable bench to mount it on. Some reloading steps take a lot of pressure on the handle, so the bench has to be heavy and solid enough to stay stable. Also, the top needs to be stiff so it doesn’t flex. My first bench had a 3/4″ plywood top (5 ply) that flexed too much until I added a 12″ square, 1/4″ aluminum pad under the mounting flange. My current bench has a 1-1/4″ thick butcher block top and works fine.

Hope you find this information useful. If you have any questions, post a comment. Next time I’ll talk a little about reloading dies. Until then…

Peace out,

update: I was looking for something I’d read about the Lee Classic Turret press, found it today. I have one of these on the way, hope to do a review in the next month or so.

Getting Started With Reloading

Reloading is a great activity for the Backyardsman who’s into shooting. It’s one outdoor related activity you can do without getting to the great outdoors. Getting started with reloading is easy, but it can be confusing. There are lots of choices in equipment and lots of bad advice.  A lot of “reviews” are nothing more than sales pitches. This will be a multi-part series because there’s too much info to fit into one post. I’ll start out by clearing up THE most common misconception about reloading. After that I’ll give an overview of what you need to know. Future posts will get more into specifics.

The biggest reloading misconception:

The biggest misconception about reloading is that it will save you a lot of money. If you shoot a lot, or shoot a gun that takes expensive ammo, reloading can save you money. That doesn’t mean it will save you money. Take 9mm for example. You can buy 9mm ammo for 16.5¢ per round. Assuming free brass, the cheapest I’ve seen anyone claim they can reload 9mm for is 7¢ per round, saving 9.5¢ per round. The cheapest reloading kit I can find right now is about $130. Add another $40 for a set of dies and figure $170 total to get started.

Saving 9.5¢ per round means you’d break even at 1800 loaded rounds. If you don’t shoot much, that’s a lot of rounds. And those 1800 rounds will be loaded on a single stage press (slow), so figure about 20 – 30 hours of time, too. Of course you could get a faster press. The one in the lead picture is a Dillon 1050. Auto indexing with case collator/feeder and bullet feeder. It could easily knock out 1800 rounds in 2 hours. It also costs around $2000 as pictured. So you’ll break even after loading about 21000 rounds of 9mm…

Getting started with reloading:

Even if you don’t save money, I think reloading your own ammo is a really good idea. I find it very relaxing. It lets you make ammo specifically tailored for your guns. And when you get into premium ammo, the costs savings per round are better than they are with cheap 9mm plinking ammo.

Getting started with reloading is easy. Especially if you’re loading pistol ammo, all you need is:

  • A bench. You need this to mount your press. The bench needs to be stable and have a solid top so it doesn’t flex while you’re operating the press.
  • Reloading press. This could be a single stage, turret, or progressive press. Single stage is usually cheapest but it’s also the slowest. A good turret press costs more than most single stage presses, but less than a good progressive. It’s also faster than a single stage but not as fast as a progressive. The fastest reloading press will be a progressive, but they’re also the most expensive. I’ll go into more detail on presses in my next post.
  • Powder measure. This is what dispenses the powder. If you’re running a single stage press, most likely the powder goes into a little pan. You then weigh it and dump it into the cases.
  • Powder scale. If you don’t put enough powder in your ammo, you’ll have a squib load which can result in the gun blowing up in your hand. If you put in too much powder, over pressure can result in the gun blowing up in your hand. Powder is measured by weight, not volume, so you’ll need a good powder scale to help make sure your gun doesn’t blow up in your hand.
  • Die set. Reloading dies are what do the work of sizing the brass, seating the bullet, and maybe applying a crimp. Buy the best dies you can afford. If you use carbide dies and you’re loading straight wall cases you don’t need to use case lube when sizing. I use carbide rifle dies as well. They need case lube but they seem to run smoother than non-carbide dies.
  • Case cleaner. You need to clean your cases before you load them. If you’re starting with brand new clean brass, you might get away with not cleaning it through a couple loadings, but eventually it’s going to get grungy. Grungy brass gets stuck in chambers, causes FTFs, and can damage your dies. So just clean your brass.
  • Case prep. If you’re shooting bottle neck cartridges, they stretch over repeated firings. Because of that, you’ll need some way to measure case length as well as a case trimmer.
  • Components. Bullets, powder, and primers.
  • Misc. If you’re reloading rifle cartridges (or pistol with non-carbide dies) you’ll need case lube. Military surplus brass will need a tool to fix the primer pockets. If you’re shooting precision rifle, you’ll need… lots of stuff that I won’t get into in this series…

And that’s pretty much it.

OK, so now what?

I’m not making any specific recommendations this time. Generally, it’s almost never a good idea to buy the cheapest gear you can find. That doesn’t mean you need to buy the most expensive though. Stick with well known brands with good customer service reputations. It’s OK to mix and match different brands. Unless you shoot a lot, a single stage or turret press probably makes more sense than a progressive.

Next time I’ll talk about reloading presses. I’ll also start talking about dies and other things you’ll need, but go into detail on presses with specific recommendations. Until next time…

Peace out,