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Getting Started: First Reloading Press
So...You've been shooting and now you've decided to take that next step. Time to try rolling your own ammo, usually called reloading. People get started doing this for a number of reasons. Sometimes its to try to get better accuracy than factory loads are giving. Sometimes its to tailor make a load for a specific gun or create ammunition for a caliber that's obsolete. Pretty often its to try to save money and shoot more. Regardless or the reason, the first step is to get the equipment and then acquire the knowledge and skill to use it safely.
Without a doubt, the first and most expensive piece of equipment is the reloading press. For the beginner, this can seem like a daunting task. There are at least three different types of presses, made by at least six different companies and ranging in price from "not too bad" to "oh my word!" The following is a brief description of three main types of reloading presses generally available, as well as a short explanation of how each works and the advantages/disadvantages of each for the novice reloader.
First, let's look at the simplest and most inexpensive type of press - the single stage. Take a good look at the RCBS Rockchucker pictured above. Note that it has only one threaded hole in the top to accept a reloading die. In use, a die is screwed in and adjusted and a single operation (Resizing, for example) is preformed over and over until that lot of brass is finished, hence the name "single stage." Whit this type of press the operator complete one operation at a time, then moves on to the next. This is also sometimes called "batch loading."
For the new handloader, this press has some important advantages. First, you need concentrate on only one operation at a time. That makes it easier to avoid costly or dangerous mistakes. Next, it makes it easier to understand what happens at each stage. What happens in resizing? Is the primer properly seated? Did I use too much lube on the brass? Finally, any ammunition can be loaded on a single stage press. The better ones, like the Rockchucker pictured, may cost more than an entry lever, but the solid "O" frame give more than enough leverage to size and load any cartridge you wish.
The only disadvantage to the single stage press is speed. If your goal is to load large volumes of pistol or AR rounds for high volume shooting, you will likely be better served by one of the next two presses.
Next up is the turret press. Note the four dies in the turret on the top of the Lyman press above. With this type of press, the operator can mount and adjust all the dies necessary to load a particular cartridge. Then, by simply turning the turret, each operation can be completed in turn. The user has the option to load a complete round or batch process. Some turret presses, like this Lee are auto indexing, meaning the turret moves when the handle is pulled without the loader needing to move it by hand.
This type of press has many advantages over the single stage. First, it is faster, in some cases much faster. 200+ rounds of 9mm per hour is not difficult to reach with a little experience. Also, the loader can use this as a single stage to process small amounts of test loads or hunting loads. In addition, most turret presses have as much leverage as their single stage cousins, allowing a wide variety of ammunition to be loaded. Finally, since each operation happens separately, the novice loader can still keep a close eye on every operation.
Cost is the biggest disadvantage to the turret press. While an entry level like the Lee may start as low as $200.00, one may expect to pay double or even triple that price for SECO Reading, RCBS or Lyman heavy duty equipment.
Finally, we come to the progressive press. "The Ammo Factory" will produce one loaded round with each pull of the lever. Once the dies, shell plate, powder measure and other accessories are adjusted, one need only add a bullet at the proper stage and pull the lever. Brass at stage one is sized and decapped, while stage two flares the brass and drops a powder charge. Stage three seats a bullet, stage four crimps the bras and a new round is born. And there are other operations taking place as well, like seating a new primer and loading a fresh brass each time and...
Obviously, the biggest advantage on the progressive is speed. While this is, by far, the most complicated press for the new loader to master. One must watch all of the stages at once and it is not difficult to load rounds without powder or primers or crush brass. However, once the press is mastered, the shooter can realize 300 or more rounds per hour with some presses.
The two biggest disadvantages to the progressive press are cost and the complexity of operation. While Lee does offer an entry level progressive for under $200.00, the majority start near $500.00 and can run into the thousands. As for complexity, as mentioned above, the loader must remain constantly vigilant and understand the reloading process thoroughly to prevent or anticipate problems.
It is usually recommended that the new reloader start with either a single stage or a turret press. Whatever you choose, remember to read and follow all directions. If possible, seek out an experience loader in your area. Most are more than willing to help a "noob" along. Above all, stay safe.