For many experienced hunters and sports shooters, reloading your own ammunition is really the only way to go. While it does take quite a bit of time and requires both the knowledge and patience to do it safely and properly, being able to reload your own bullets provides a great many advantages compared to simply buying your ammo.
It also requires investing in the necessary equipment, of which a high-quality reloading press is an absolute essential. This guide will cover everything you need to know about choosing the best reloading press for your needs. We'll look at the different types of presses and what each is best for. We'll also go over the benefits that reloading can provide.
The 5 Best Reloading Presses
Benefits of Using a Reloading Press
Although there are a number of different types of reloading presses, all of them work in the same way to allow you to reload empty cartridges. Even though it does require that you put in a sizable initial investment for the reloading press, priming tools and other necessary equipment, the benefits of reloading make it well worth the time and money.
1. Save Money
One obvious benefit is the cost savings. Reloading your bullets has always been much cheaper than buying ammunition, but this is becoming even truer in these times of rapidly rising prices and limited availability. In fact, the difference in price per bullet is so significant that your reloading equipment will easily pay for itself after only a few uses.
2. Quality Control
Another major benefit is in terms of quality control. As long as you are careful and pay attention to what you're doing (and actually know what you're doing), you should be able to ensure your bullets are of a high enough quality to prevent jams, misfires and other problems common to improperly loaded ammunition.
In addition, reloading also gives you the ability to precisely fine-tune the ballistics of your ammo by adjusting the amount of powder or making minor adjustments to the shape of the cartridge. All of these factors make reloading an obvious choice for anyone who is truly serious about their hunting. However, it is still important that you know a little bit about each type of reloading press in order to choose the one that is right for your needs.
Types of Reloading Presses
*Best Choice For: Affordability and ease of use; ideal for beginners
The simplest type of reloading press is a single stage press. The fact that these presses are so simple to set up and easy to use makes them an ideal choice for beginners. A single stage press doesn't quite offer the same amount of features as some of the more complicated presses, but this is also reflected in the fact that single stage presses are by far the cheapest type of reloading press.
Still, these presses aren't always an ideal choice for those who plan on doing a lot of reloading. Single stage presses are slower to use and thus produce fewer bullets per hour. The problem is that with this type of press, you'll have to manually change between each of the different reloading dies on every single bullet you load. Depending on the type of cartridge you're reloading and your specific needs, you will end up using three or four different dies, which can end up taking quite a bit of time.
In most cases, even if the brass is already prepped and you're only using a few dies, you'll still only be able to load anywhere from 20 to 80 bullets an hour.
*Best Choice For: Balance between price and speed; faster than a single stage and cheaper than a progressive press
Like a single stage press, turret presses produce one bullet at a time. However, they still allow you to load more bullets per hour as the turret head holds each of the necessary reloading dies to ensure you don't have to waste time manually changing them out between each stage of reloading.
Each time you turn the handle, the turret head rotates to switch to the next reloading die. This can save you a huge amount of time compared to using a single stage press, but it's still quite a bit slower than using a progressive reloading press. Depending on the type of cartridge, a turret press is generally capable of loading somewhere between 100 and 200 bullets an hour.
*Best Choice For: Professionals and anyone for whom speed is the most important factor
In terms of speed, you simply can't beat a progressive press as these are easily capable of producing up to 500 rounds an hour. The reason is that a progressive press works on multiple cartridges at once. Each turn of the handle advances each cartridge to the next stage and in line with the next reloading die. Many of the best progressive reloading dies even have an auto-eject function to spit the cartridges out once finished.
As well, progressive presses typically have a container of gunpowder, which automatically fills up the cartridge with the exact amount to further speed up the process and make it more precise. Of course, the improved speed and functioning means that the best progressive reloading press typically costs four or five times as much as the best turret reloading press.
*Best Choice For: Range reloading; anyone limited on space, such as those who live in apartments
In addition to all of the above 'automatic' reloading presses, some manufacturers also make smaller handheld reloading presses. As the name suggests, these hand presses are designed to be used by hand (compared to standard presses that must be secured to a bench or work table).
In essence, a hand press is simply a smaller version of a single stage press, meaning they're definitely not the best choice when speed is important. However, they are an ideal choice for people who don't have the space to set up a whole reloading station.
Nonetheless, the biggest advantage of a hand press is that it allows you to reload right at the shooting range. This allows you to make minor ballistics adjustments at the range, meaning you can experiment with different amounts of powder to determine exactly what works best for your specific requirements. Reloading often requires quite a bit of trial and error to create the perfect bullet, but a hand press can speed up this process by allowing you to make adjustments to your ammo in between rounds of shooting.
A Quick Note about Reloading Kits
If you're new to reloading, you'll soon realize that you could end up spending several hundred or even over a thousand dollars on all of the tools and equipment you'll need. In this case, many manufacturers also sell complete reloading kits, which include the reloading press (usually a single stage press), case cutter, primer cleaner, sizing lube, gunpowder scale, funnel and almost every other tool you could need.
These cuts are an ideal choice for beginners, as they are a much more convenient and usually cheaper way of getting everything you need to get started. However, it is important to note that you will still need to purchase a separate set of reloading dies for each caliber you plan on reloading. If you plan on reloading many different types of shells, this could still cost you a few hundred so it's important to keep this in mind.
What to Look for in a Reloading Press
Price and speed are the two most important determining factors when deciding which type of reloading press to buy. It is also about trying to strike a balance between how much money you're willing to spend on reloading equipment and how much time you're willing to spend doing the actual reloading. This leads many people to choose a turret-style press since it basically provides the best of both worlds.
However, no matter what style of press you end up settling on, it is still important that you pay attention to the overall quality. Any good press will obviously be made from steel or other metals for strength and durability. As well, it should feature a fairly long handle as this will provide the added leverage needed to prevent you from having to exert too much effort.
Luckily, finding a high-quality reloading press isn't all that difficult as long as you restrict your choices to one of the top brands. In this sense, RCBS, Lee, Hornady and Dillon are the names you'll want to look out for. While there are definitely decent presses produced by other manufacturers, these four companies are generally considered to produce the best reloading equipment. While there are definitely differences between each of the models produced by these brands, you can almost always be assured of quality when you choose any of these four names.
Reloading Press Reviews: Choosing the Top Models in Each Style
Best Single Stage Reloading Press:
Hands-down the strongest, most durable single stage reloading press on the market, the RCBS Rock Chucker Supreme is truly a beast. Although most presses are made from solid, heavy-duty steel, this one takes things much further than most. The frame itself is much bigger and heavier than most other single stage presses. In fact, it's about five times heavier than our #2 choice, the Lee Precision, which makes it much less prone to breaking and ensures it should last for decades.
While the lighter weight presses may be fine for smaller caliber cartridges, reloading higher caliber and especially magnum cartridges requires the use of much more force. Unfortunately, many of the smaller presses simply can't handle that amount of torque and are more likely to break under these conditions. Typically it is the handle that ends up giving way, but the thick steel handle on the Rock Chucker ensures that this isn't a problem.
Although this definitely isn't the cheapest single stage press, the added strength makes it more than worth the added price as it is highly unlikely that you'll ever need to buy a replacement. Nonetheless, if you plan on mostly reloading smaller caliber shells, you can definitely get away with something a bit lighter weight.
Honorable Mention: Lee Precision Breech Lock Challenger Press
This press fits the bill in terms of both affordability and durability, even if it's not quite up to the same standards as the RCBS press. Due to the simplicity of the design, there's not really much else to separate different presses except for in terms of strength and price.
Nonetheless, Lee still found another way by including the unique breech-lock quick change feature. Although it requires the purchase of extra breech locks, this feature allows you to change between reloading dies in a matter of seconds and without the need for tools. In this way, this press can offer faster reloading speeds than virtually any other single stage press.
Best Turret Reloading Press:
Made out of sturdy, heavy-duty cast aluminum that's capable of handling anything from the smallest caliber up to high-powered magnum cases, this Lee turret press is an outstanding choice in terms of speed, price and convenience. One issue with some turret presses is that it can be difficult to get the turret head to line up properly, but Lee has eliminated this problem with the auto-indexing feature. With each pull of the handle, the turret head automatically advances to the next die and lines it up precisely with the cartridge.
Another advantage of this press is that the turret head can also be changed out. This means that by purchasing a few additional turret presses, you can preload each one with the dies for a specific caliber to save you from having to change the dies out each time you want to switch to loading a new caliber. For this reason, this Lee press just edges out the competitors to earn the title of best turret press.
Best Progressive Reloading Press:
The choice of most professionals and serious reloaders, the Hornady Lock N Load is high-tech reloading at its finest. Like the Lee Breech Lock Press, this one features five bushings that enable you to quickly switch between dies to enable you to load multiple types of cartridges in minutes.
The system features five total stages, and each pull of the handle automatically advances the cartridge to the next stage using an auto-indexing feature. At the end, EZject feature spits out the cartridge so you can quickly put the next one in its place. Unfortunately, this doesn't always work quite as its supposed to, but this is really more of a tiny annoyance than anything else.
The built-in priming system saves you even more time, while the large capacity of the gunpowder hopper means you can go longer without stopping to refill it. In addition, the case-activated powder drop helps to eliminate messes and wasted gunpowder.
With this press, you can reload thousands of rounds in just a few rounds, no matter whether you're making .223 shells or .45 magnums. However, many people don't find that the added speed and convenience it provides is worth shelling out over $400. Nonetheless, if money is no obstacle then you really can't get any better than this.
Best Hand Reloading Press:
If you're looking to do a bit of reloading while out at the range or don't have the space to set up a reloading workbench, this Lee hand press is your best option. It's also great for those times when you simply can't be bothered dragging out all of your equipment, as this handy kit contains most of what you'll need in one small case.
This includes the hand press, as well as the powder funnel, cartridge lube and a ram prime. In addition, it also comes with one quick-change bushing to allow you to change between dies faster and more efficiently.
No hand press is really going to be sufficient for loading magnum cases, but this press should still be plenty strong enough for all of your other needs. Of course, you should be prepared for your hand to hurt a little after reloading even a few cases, but that is to be expected from any hand reloading press.
The Final Word on Reloading Presses
As you can see, you have a huge range of different options when it comes to reloading. Although this can make the prospect of trying to choose the best reloading press seem daunting, the truth is that you'll generally get decent results out of virtually any press as long as you remember to choose one made by a reputable manufacturer. While you might be able to save a few dollars on some unknown Chinese brand, you never know what you're going to get, which is why it's always best to go with what you know.