The Virtues of a Single Stage Press
by Kirk Lawson
Single Stage hand-loading presses are often considered slow, inefficient, limited in scope of capabilities, and mostly the purview of those new to hand-loading who are unwilling yet or unable to invest the greater costs associated with multi-stage or Progressive presses. Nevertheless, experienced and well invested hand-loaders often have more than one Single Stage press and snatch them up from the used market whenever they can to use in specialized tasks. However, the Single Stage press has many virtues which make it ideal for a not only a new hand-loader, but any hand-loader who is not overly constrained by time or who values the advantages offered by a Single Stage press more than time.
While I agree that a Single Stage press takes a great deal longer to perform all the steps, and that a Progressive or some other type of multi-stage press would certainly cut time, a Single Stage seems to have a few things going for it, mostly in enforcing quality control and making it harder to make mistakes due to inattention.
For example, the process of reloading 9mm rounds. Yes, it feels like it takes forever. However, at each and every stage the process is inspected before moving on to the next. Store the cases in a marked container or with an index card describing the contents step completed at the end of each step.
- After washing and tumbling the brass, resize and deprime. The user places one piece of brass, by hand, into the press. Look at it before it goes in to make sure there are no obstructions inside and that it has a single flash-hole. Work the press lever and take the brass out, observe it to see if the primer was removed and there are no cracks or flaws. Repeat for the entire batch.
- Clean flash-holes, one at a time. Visually inspect each piece.
- Seat new primer and bell. The user places one piece of brass, by hand, into the press. Look at it before it goes in to make sure there are no obstructions inside and that it has actually been deprimed and meets the standards for cleaning. The lever strokes down, seating a primer, the strokes up belling the mouth. Remove the brass and visually inspect that the primer is flush and the proper amount of belling is visible. Repeat for the entire batch.
- Powder and seat the bullet. Adjust the powder measure (or use the proper dipper). Take a single piece of brass and visually inspect it to ensure the primer is seated and the proper belling is observable. Fill that single piece of primed/belled brass and look inside the case to visually check the powder fill. Place the brass in the press, set the bullet into the mouth, work the press lever to seat the bullet and apply the proper crimp. Remove the completed cartridge and visually inspect that the cartridge has the bullet seated to proper depth and the proper amount of crimp was applied. Set the bullet in the "Finished" tray. Repeat for the entire batch.
There are four distinct, separate, steps and the cartridge case gets inspected twice for each; once on the way in and once on the way out of that step.
Done this way, there's no way that a primer not fully seated gets missed. There's no way possible to double-charge or squib charge a cartridge. Powder it, look inside, slip it into the shell holder to seat & crimp, every step double-checked.
The same for rifle cartridges or, indeed, any other cartridge. Using a Single Stage enforces that the cartridge case gets deliberately handled, and therefore inspected, at each step. ...twice.
It may take 5 times longer to build a single cartridge (OK, definitely!) but the results are soooo very consistent if one just follows exactly the same, very simple, steps each time. Quality Control is so much inherently built in that I'm struggling to see how one could screw up without deliberately choosing to ignore steps. However, don't become complacent. As one experienced hand-loader put it, "beware Murphy! He has a way of sneaking in there."
A Single Stage press is DEFINITELY the right choice for a new hand-loader or those obsessed with quality control and minimizing errors. It is probably the safest way to reload and the least expensive way for the thrifty to get started.