If you have spent any decent amount of time at the gun range, more than likely you have felt a bit of a hit in your pocket book. Ammunition can be very expensive, and buying cheaper imported ammunition and buying in bulk can only go so far to reduce your cost. Fortunately, there is a way to greatly decrease your cost per round of just about any ammunition, and that is reloading. With a little upfront investment in components and equipment and a bit of free time, you can effectively cut your ammo bill in half! Furthermore, many people find reloading to be a fun and relaxing hobby, and enjoy making their own ammunition almost as much as shooting it. The benefits of reloading your own ammunition certainly don’t end at the cost savings either. In fact, reloaded ammo is better than commercially produced ammo in almost every aspect. The first step in getting started handloading is to purchase your equipment. This can certainly be a daunting task for a newcomer, but this article will help break down the different types of reloading presses and help you decide for yourself which one is best for you.
Short On Time? Here Is The Bullet List
- For The Mobile Reloader: Lee Precision Breech Lock Hand Press
Palmetto State | Optics Planet | Brownells | Amazon
- Budget Reloading: Lee Classic .308 Win Loader
Palmetto State | Optics Planet | Brownells | Amazon
- Single Stage Reloading Press: RCBS Rock Chucker
Palmetto State | Optics Planet | Brownells | Amazon
- Turret Reloading Press: Lee cast aluminum 4-hole turret press
Palmetto State | Optics Planet | Amazon
- Progressive Reloading Press: Hornady Lock N Load Progressive Press
Optics Planet | Brownells | Amazon
- Reloading For The AR-15: Dillon precision XL 650
Creedmoor | Amazon
- Best Reloading Press Kit (beginning reloaders): Lee Precision 50th-Anniversary Reloading Kit
Optics Planet | Amazon
**Below are our more detailed reviews. Click the links above to see current prices or read customer reviews on Amazon.
Looking For More Presses? Try Our Individual Type Buyers Guides
- Single Stage Reloading Press Buyers Guide
- Turret Reloading Press Buyers Guide
- Progressive Reloading Press Buyers Guide
- Reloading Press Kit Buyers Guide
How About Reloading Gear?
- Hand Priming Tool Buyers Guide
- Bullet Puller Buyers Guide
- Brass Tumbler Buyers Guide
- Powder Measure Buyers Guide
- Case Trimmer Buyers Guide
- Reloading Manual Buyers Guide
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Is Reloading For You?
Do you like saving money? Of course, you do! The cost savings involved with reloading your own ammunition is why most people get started handloading. These cost savings are amplified in “oddball” calibers or large rifle ammunition. For example, .300blk can be hand loaded for about 50 cents a round, while purchasing comparable ammunition at your local sporting goods store would cost you between 1 and 2 dollars a round. That may not seem like much at first glance, but if your typical range trip involves shooting 100 rounds (very easy to do with modern semi-automatic rifles) then your reloading press could save you anywhere between 50 and 150 dollars per trip to the range! It is very easy to see how the savings really add up, and your reloading press can pay for itself within no time.
Many people who are into long range precision shooting, or simply want better long range accuracy in their big game loads turn to hand loaded ammunition over factory ammunition. Hand loading allows you to achieve much higher accuracy and consistency with your loads. When ammunition is produced in a factory, they are focused on producing large quantities of ammunition. This often results in minute differences in powder charges, concentricity of bullets with the neck of the cartridge, and other minor defects that are unavoidable in bulk ammunition manufacturing. While the normal shooter probably won’t notice these minor differences from round to round, if you ever get really serious about accuracy it is easy to see that most ammunition simply doesn’t cut it.
Loading all your ammunition by hand is not nearly as fast as it is produced by the factory, and therefore gives you the chance to inspect each round for quality as you are loading it. Especially as a beginner with a single stage press, you will more than likely weigh each individual powder charge for accuracy and consistency. Some precision shooters even go so far as to weighing individual cases and bullets, and using dial indicator gauges to verify concentricity of the bullets with the neck of the case. While most of this is not necessary to produce your own quality ammunition, it is still an option you have when you reload your own ammo.
Many people get into reloading their own ammo because they enjoy it. There is something almost therapeutic about sitting down at your workbench and watching piles of separate components come together to make your own ammunition. Some people even enjoy reloading the ammo as much or even more than shooting it! Reloading is one of those “easy to learn, difficult to master” hobbies that people find so intriguing. You can get started loading your own ammo very easily and cheaply, but to become an expert takes years of experience and practice, and lots of expensive equipment. Whether you are wanting to use the cheapest equipment to make the cheapest ammo possible, or you want to run a full-scale operation making thousands of rounds per hour, there is a reloading press out there to fit your needs and budget.
Components You Need to Begin Reloading
When you start reloading, you are going to need to purchase your consumable components first. These are the parts of the round that are used up when you fire it. This consists of the primer, powder, and bullet. You will also need some empty cases in the caliber that you are wanting to reload. These can be either brand new cases, or cases that have already been used. If you elect to go with the used case route, be sure and inspect each case for cracks, dents, or other defects before reloading. Cases in less than ideal condition should be thrown into the trash or a scrap bucket, as they can cause dangerous malfunctions if they fail.
Powder can be a tricky subject, as the powder that you will need varies widely depending on your caliber, firearm, bullet weight and barrel length. It is best to consult a reloading manual to find out which powders are going to be best for the type of cartridge you are wanting to reload. This is very important because the burn rates of different powders have a huge effect on your chamber pressures. Using a fast burning pistol powder in a magnum rifle cartridge could easily cause pressure spikes that may result in a catastrophic failure. The safest thing to do is consult a reloading manual that will give you a range of powder varieties and charge weights for you to try.
Bullets are a slightly easier matter. Often, if your bullet is the correct caliber you will be able to find a load for it. To get a general idea of what bullet weights you should be looking for, it isn’t a bad idea to consult your reloading manual again. You will need to match your powder charge and bullet weight together to avoid dangerous chamber pressure spikes. If you stick to the recommended loads found in your manual, you won’t have to worry.
Primers are by far the easiest component to buy. There are only a handful of different primer types, and if you match the primer type to the cartridge you are loading you will be fine. If you are reloading for extreme accuracy, it is best to find a brand of primer that works best and stick with it. Changing up brands of primers can have an effect on accuracy, albeit a small one.
Dies are a non-consumable reloading component, but they are caliber specific. You will need one set of dies for each caliber you are wanting to reload. The dies are responsible for re-forming the fired case back into the correct size, removing the old primer, seating the new bullet into the charged case, and sometimes crimping the bullet into the case as well. Some die sets will also include a case trimmer die which acts as a jig to shorten the case length. Most dies are purchased in a set that includes anywhere between two and four dies, depending on the functions you are wanting to achieve.
Your most expensive portion of your reloading supplies is going to be your press, and there are quite a few different options when it comes to presses. There are many kinds of presses, each with their own unique advantages and price ranges. As a new reloader, it is recommended to start out with a basic single stage press. There are both cheaper and much more expensive options that will be discussed, but I can speak from experience when I say that a basic single stage press is a good, solid investment and an excellent starting point from which to build your skills.
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What to Look for in a Reloading Press
A single stage press is one of the slowest methods of reloading. This type of press can only perform one operation at a time, and the casing must be removed after every operation. Since the press only holds one die, the die must be changed each time you need to switch operations. When reloading on a single stage press, it is best to perform your operations in batches.
I will typically de-prime and resize all my cases, then tumble them all (an optional step to clean your cases) then seat the new primers, charge the cases and seat the bullets. This is a labor-intensive and time-consuming process that I typically will spread out over several days. This does allow you to achieve better accuracy with cheaper equipment, as I will individually weigh each powder charge and adjust as necessary to make the load as accurate as possible.
A single stage press is one of the cheaper options when it comes to reloading your own ammo, and is by far the best option for the beginner or low volume shooter. It requires much more involvement by the individual and requires you to focus much more so than a progressive press, and really helps you learn the basics and fundamentals of reloading your own cartridges.
A turret press is similar to the single stage press in that it only performs one operation per pull of the lever. Where it differs is how it holds your dies. A turret press has a rotating cylinder at the top that holds all the dies that you need to load your rounds. This allows you to forgo loading in batches and removing the case from the press after every step. To reload on a turret press, you simply pull the lever to perform the operation, then index the turret to bring around the die for the next step. This allows you to go from empty case to fully loaded round with just a few simple pulls of the lever. Some models of turret presses even have an auto-indexing feature so that all you have to do is pull the lever!
A turret press is a good compromise between the single stage and progressive press. They are much faster than a single stage, but also more expensive. They are also a bit slower than a progressive, but also much cheaper. If you are a medium volume shooter, or simply can’t justify the expense of a progressive press, then you may want to consider a turret press.
A progressive press is by far the most efficient, but also the most expensive reloading press. With enough practice and the right equipment, some people can load 1,000 rounds in an hour with a progressive press! This type of press can achieve these speeds by performing multiple operations at once. Much like the turret press, the progressive holds all of your dies at the top of the press. The difference is that the progressive press has multiple shell holders, and performs every operation of the reloading process at the same time.
To reload on a progressive press, all you have to do is fill it up with components, get it set the way you want it to, and start pulling the lever. Many progressive presses come with automatic feeders which will insert your cases, primers, powder, and bullets into the process when needed. With a setup like this, each pull of the lever causes a loaded round to pop out of the press and into the discharge bucket. It is easy to see how a setup like this is both efficient and expensive.
Due to the high cost, a progressive press is not recommended for the beginner or low volume shooter. There is much more experience required to efficiently operate a progressive press and requires a much deeper understanding of the reloading process, as well as much more expensive and accurate equipment. Because the initial purchase cost is so high, it will take much longer for you to realize a return on your investment with a progressive press. This type of press is only recommended for the experienced reloader or professional shooter.
Hand Held Press
Another much less common form of press is the hand-held press. This operates in almost the exact same way as the single stage press, however, it is not able to be mounted to a bench. This requires the use of 2 hands throughout the entire loading process, which further slows down your ability to produce loaded cartridges. The advantage to this type of press is that it is both slightly cheaper, and portable. If you foresee yourself taking your reloading operation on the road, or simply don’t have a place to set up a bench mounted press, then you may want to consider a hand-held press.
The absolute cheapest, least efficient reloading press is…. No press at all! Some companies make die sets that are designed to work with only simple hand tools. These sets are slightly more expensive than regular die sets and are caliber specific, but they do not require the use of a press. This makes them much more portable and requires less space. The tradeoff is that they are incredibly slow and difficult to use.
To reload cartridges in this manner, all you will need is your basic components, the die kit, and a hammer. The kit utilizes the hammer to pound the empty casing into the die to resize, then a punch to pound it back out. This is a very time-consuming process and takes several minutes just to load a single round. There is also a lot of pounding involved, so those with neighbors in close proximity will probably want a quieter option. If you are a very low volume shooter who only reloads one specific caliber for hunting purposes, then this may be a good option for you to consider.
Best Reloading Press on the Market in 2020
Best Mobile Reloader:
If you frequently find yourself needing to reload while you are away from your house, or simply don’t want a bulky press that ties you down to a specific location, then you may want to consider this hand-held press from Lee. Lee manufactures fair quality, entry-level reloading equipment and is a very popular brand among hobby reloaders and those on a budget. This press is made of cast iron and is quite durable, and comes with the breech lock quick change bushing, which allows you to keep your individual dies set up how you need and change them out quickly.
You are limited on shell size, and will only be able to reload cases with a maximum overall length of 3.650 inches. You may also find it uncomfortable to hold, especially if you have larger hands. If you frequently find yourself wishing that you could reload at the range, sitting on the couch, or anywhere else that it is inconvenient or even impossible to use a bench mounted press, then you may want to consider this hand reloading press from Lee.
Quick change bushings
- More difficult to use
- Takes longer than a traditional press
- Has the potential to smash fingers
Best Budget Reloader:
If you are on a shoestring budget or only have a desire to load one specific cartridge, then the Lee classic loader may be a good option to consider. While these are more expensive than the comparable die set, they do not require the use of a reloading press to manufacture completed ammunition. The process is tedious and time-consuming but if you simply can’t justify the initial startup cost of the press and related equipment, this is a good way to test the waters of reloading without a large commitment.
While the one listed is in .308 Win, they come in a variety of different calibers to fit your needs. This is also a very portable reloading setup and makes it possible to load complete ammunition at the range, or anywhere else where you couldn’t take a large press. The kit is compact and comes in a small box as well, which aids in the portability. This kit allows you to achieve the cost savings and increased accuracy of handloading without the initial investment of a complete press. If you are only looking to load a handful of rounds every year, such as big game hunters, this kit is worth looking into.
- Cheapest option available
- Still produces quality ammunition
- Not good for loading a wide range of calibers
- Time-consuming process
- Much noisier loading process
Best Single Stage Reloading Press:
If you are looking for one of the highest quality single stage presses that you can find, then the rock chucker from RCBS should be on your radar. This is an O frame press built out of high-quality materials, which gives you much more strength and rigidity than the cheaper C frame presses. This press also features four inches of ram-bearing surface to ensure that everything stays plump and concentric during the loading process. The solid steel handle not only has a comfortable ball grip on the end, but is also ambidextrous, and can be switched around for right or left handed reloaders.
All this quality does come at a price, however. The rock chucker is one of the most expensive single stage presses, and beginners might be hesitant to shell out that much money just to get their feet wet in reloading. The RCBS rock chucker also comes in a weight just shy of 20 pounds, which makes it one of the heavier presses on the market as well. While this may not matter much to you if you have it mounted to a stationary bench, if you are wanting to build a portable reloading station this is a factor to consider. If you know for sure that you are wanting to stick with a single stage press for a long time, or simply just want some of the best quality you can find, then you may want to consider the rock chucker single stage press from RCBS.
- High quality
- Ambidextrous and comfortable
Best Budget Turret Reloading Press:
If you are looking for a step up from the single stage press without spending a bunch of money, then you may want to look at this cast aluminum 4-hole turret press from Lee. This press has 4 holes to fit all the dies you will need for you reloading process, and even has an auto-indexing feature that allows you to simply keep on pulling the lever to keep advancing to the next die! The locking lugs for the auto indexing turret are on the circumference of the ring, which provides a much more stable turret and eliminates tipping. This press also has incredible ergonomics, with a longer stroke that decreases effort, a comfortable grip, and more hand clearance than other presses.
One thing to consider when you are looking at this press is the quality. This press is made of cast aluminum, while some of the higher quality presses are made of steel or cast iron. This does allow it to come in at a much cheaper price point, and the difference in quality will more than likely not be noticed by the average reloader. Another thing to think about is the size of your cartridges. To use the auto indexing feature, cartridges must have a smaller overall length than 2.313 inches. While this does eliminate some of the very large magnum rifle cartridges, it will be fine for smaller rifle and handgun cartridges. If you are a novice reloader who is looking to get into a turret press on a budget, then this may be something to look at.
- Lower quality
- Made of cast aluminum
- Can’t load larger cartridges
Best Budget Progressive Reloading Press:
If you know you are wanting a quality progressive press, and are hoping to find one on a budget, then you may want to look at the Lock N Load auto-progressive press from Hornady. This press has a good balance of both quality and affordability and offers you a lot of features that are normally found on much more expensive presses. With this setup, you will be able to load about 500 rounds per hour, and with its 5-station bushing system, you can easily change calibers in just a few minutes. This model comes equipped with the EZject system, which prevents jamming when ejecting cartridges, a problem that was more common with the earlier models of this press.
One of the things to consider when purchasing a progressive press is that your non-consumable component cost will be higher. Since there are five stations operating simultaneously, you will need a special shell plate along with the shell holders. You will also need to purchase dies that are designed for a progressive press, as the powder charge drops at one of the 5 stations instead of off the press like in a single stage. You will also need to realize that a progressive press is much more complicated than a single stage or turret press, and there will be much more opportunity for things to go wrong, jam up, or break. However, if you are an experienced reloader who is really looking to increase your output, upgrading to a progressive press may be a good option.
- Quality construction
- High round output
- Good extra features
- More expensive than other presses
- More moving parts that could break
- More prone to jams and malfunctions
Best Progressive Reloading Press (lots of ammo, think AR-15):
If you are a high volume or competitive shooter with an AR-15 and are looking for a way to load a lot of ammo in a hurry, then you may want to consider the Dillon 650 press. This model includes the conversion kit for .223, so all you will need to add is the dies. When it comes to progressive presses, Dillon is commonly considered the gold standard. They have outstanding customer service and sell very high quality (albeit expensive) products. This press does offer a slightly higher round output, with the capability to load between 500 and 800 rounds per hour.
The only downside to Dillon products is the price. They come in at some of the most expensive presses on the market, but you truly do get what you pay for. For the novice or hobby reloader, you may want to look elsewhere for a more affordable product. But for the professional reloader or high volume shooter, you can’t get much better. If you are looking for the best press that money can buy, you should really consider the Dillon XL 650.
- High quality
- High round output
- Excellent customer service
- Much more expensive than other options
Best Reloading Press Kit (for beginning reloaders):
If you are a novice reloader who is looking for a good place to start, then you may want to give this kit from Lee a chance. This is a decent quality, affordable kit that is a great place to start. It comes with a strong O frame press which is more than adequate to load almost any round (I regularly use mine to load .338 Lapua Magnum rounds) and is also comfortable to use. The press mounts easily and securely to the edge of a workbench with 3 bolts. This kit also includes everything you need to get started reloading (minus the dies and components). You will find that the kit includes the tools you need to weigh your powder charges, charge the cases, prime the cases, seat the bullets and crimp bullets.
While this is an excellent starter kit, you will be very limited as to what you can do with it. The powder measure leaves quite a bit to be desired, and drops will be more or less within SAMII spec, but far from benchrest accuracy. The balance beam type scale is also rather difficult to use and can be quite the pain if you are verifying every powder drop. There is certainly nothing premium about this kit, but if you are new to reloading and looking to get your feet wet, then I highly recommend the Lee precision 50th anniversary reloading kit.
- Contains everything you need to get started reloading
- Convenient and easy to learn on
- Lower quality accessories
- Reloading is slow and tedious
Best Reloading Press Final Thoughts
Let’s face it: If you expect to shoot with extreme accuracy and not shell out hundreds of dollars every time you go to the range, you need to reload your own ammo. If you are just getting started reloading, you are going to need a kit that is easy, convenient, affordable, and gets the job done. You have just finished reading about several different reloading presses, and every one mentioned would be a great option for your reloading room. While every press fills a niche in the market and is the best one for somebody, there is one press that stands above the rest to get you started reloading your own ammo, and that is the Lee 50th anniversary reloading kit. This reloading press is perfect to get you started reloading your own ammo without breaking the bank. This is both the reloading press that I personally used to get started, and even continue to use to this day. One thing is for sure, you can’t go wrong with the 50th-anniversary reloading kit from Lee!
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Dan is an avid outdoorsman and shooter who developed a passion for firearms at an early age. When you can’t find him in the field chasing birds or big game, you can find him at the range shooting various competitions such as 3-gun, IPSC, and IDPA. He also enjoys manufacturing his own ammunition, as well as both working on, and building his own firearms. Dan has many years of firearms experience, and enjoys helping people find the right gear and sharing his extensive firearms knowledge.