Are you new to reloading, or just simply want a cheap, no-frills, and simple way to produce your own ammunition? If so, a single stage reloading press may just be perfect for you. It doesn’t matter if you are totally new to reloading, or have been doing it for 20 years, a good single stage reloading press is a valuable addition to any reloading bench, and will serve you well for a lifetime. Single stage presses are cheap, easy to learn and use, durable, and come in a variety of configurations with a variety of features to best suit your needs. If you want to learn more about the most popular style of reloading press and find the best one for you, then keep reading!
Short On Time? Here Is The Bullet List
- Single Stage Reloading Press for Accuracy: RCBS Rock Chucker Supreme
- Most Durable Single Stage Press: Redding Big Boss 2
- Middle Ground Single Stage Press: Hornady Lock n' Load Classic
- Single Stage Reloading Press For The Money: Lee Breech Lock Challenger
- Easiest Single Stage Press To Use: Forster Co-Ax
- Portable Reloading Press: Lee Precision Cast Iron Hand Press
**Below are our more detailed reviews. Click the links above to see current prices or read customer reviews on Amazon.
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Reloading with a Single Stage Press
Case Prep and Re-sizing
Reloading with a single stage press is often tedious and time-consuming, but also very rewarding. A single stage press can only perform a single function on a single die each time the lever is pulled. As such, most reloading on a single stage press is done in batches. When I reload on my Lee classic press, I typically start with between 100 and 200 empty, once fired brass cases. First, I lubricate the cases and push each one into the resizing/decapping die. This step performs 2 main functions: it resizes the case to the proper specs and pushes out the empty primer. I most often take a break after this step, as it’s now time to clean and reprime the cases.
Case Cleaning And Primer Seating
I use a vibratory case tumbler with walnut media in order to clean my cases, which gives them a good shine and cleans them up nicely. After this, I seat the new primers in the empty, cleaned cases. This can be done a multitude of different ways, but I choose to use the priming arm on my press (this is also a good feature to look for when it comes to purchasing your own press). After the primers have been seated, I switch out for my bullet seating die.
Powder Charging and Bullet Seating
The next (and one of the most important) step in reloading is to charge the case and seat the bullet. This is where a single stage press has its advantages. The already slow process of reloading on a single stage press allows you to individually weigh each powder charge before you drop it into the case. This goes a long way to increase the accuracy and overall quality of your completed rounds. Once the case has been charged, it’s time to place the case back in the press and seat the bullet by pressing it into the bullet seating die.
The final step to making your completed rounds is optional but more important for some rounds than others. Crimping can have an effect on chamber pressures and overall accuracy, but most of the time will not affect the functionality of the ammo. Crimping is most easily done by inserting the crimping die into the press and pressing the completed round up into the die. The die forces the brass closed at the neck, tightening it around the bullet.
Single Stage Press Comparisons
Single Stage vs. Turret
Single stage presses and turret presses are similar in the fact that they both perform a single function per pull of the lever. This means that the number of lever pulls per round is the same on both a single stage and turret press. The difference, however, is that a turret press has a “tool head,” or a rotating plate at the top of the press that contains all the dies you need to complete the reloading process. This allows the entire process to be completed without removing the cartridge from the press. Turret presses are typically slightly faster than single stage presses.
Single stage presses have no rotating tool head, and instead, have a single threaded hole at the top of the press that holds a single die. This requires the dies to be changed before the next step can be performed. While this does slow you down significantly if you are only loading a handful of rounds, doing your reloading in large batches helps decrease the time loss. Doing several hundred rounds at a time can actually make your round output fairly close to that of a turret press.
Since single stage presses have no rotating tool head or fancy indexing features, they are much easier to produce. As such, they are obviously significantly cheaper. You can get a much higher quality single stage press for the same money you would spend on a cheap turret press. The simpler design also vastly decreases maintenance and breakage of parts. There is almost nothing to worry about breaking on a single stage press!
Single Stage vs. Progressive
While the advantages of a turret press over a single stage are slim, it gets much trickier when it comes to comparing progressive presses. Progressive presses produce a completed round with every pull of the lever. It accomplishes this by using the same concept as a turret press, but with more shell holders. Instead of having one shell casing go into one of the several dies during the reloading process, a progressive press works by having one casing going into every die each time the lever is pulled. The main downside to this type of press is that they are much more prone to jamming and breakage, and are also much more expensive. They are also much more complicated to use, especially for somebody new to the hobby of reloading.
How to Choose a Single Stage Reloading Press
When it comes to choosing your single stage reloading press, the construction material should play a factor. Most high-quality single stage presses are going to be made from cast iron, which is a very durable material. You may want to opt for a lighter-weight press if you are designing a more portable reloading setup, and a press made from cast aluminum or even a durable polymer may be more suitable there. Overall, any press that you buy is going to be fairly durable, and you will have to decide for yourself which style of material will best suit your needs.
Style Of Press
Going almost hand in hand with the construction material is the style of press. An O frame press is a single stage press that completely encases (forms the letter O) the ram and die providing ample support on both the front and back of the die. This provides a much more sturdy frame for the press to work in. If you elect to go with an O frame press, then the construction material may not be as important.
Another style of single stage press is the C frame. This only provides support for the die in the shape of a C, meaning that both the front and back are not supported. If you elect to go with a C frame press, then the construction material and design is much more important, especially if you are going to be loading magnum rifle rounds.
In my personal experience, I have found that an O frame cast iron press gives me the best results. While this may seem like overkill for loading small pistol rounds, I am very thankful to have the beefier press when it comes time to load magnum rifle rounds. I have loaded clear up to .338 Lapua magnum on my press with ease, thanks in part to the solid construction and quality materials.
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Brand and Warranty
While often times the final decision on which press to buy comes down to brand loyalty, there are slight differences between presses from each manufacturer. You will find that almost every main brand of reloading equipment has a loyal following, but each brand does have its own general advantages and disadvantages.
Entry Level Reloading Brand
Lee reloading equipment is often seen as the entry-level workhorse of the reloading industry. Lee equipment is typically cheap, decent quality, and will simply get the job done. Lee has a wide variety of options, including single stage, turret, and progressive presses, as well as a wide range of equipment and accessories. While I do not consider myself loyal to the Lee brand, I do enjoy their equipment, and still use my Lee single stage press to this day. Is there better equipment out there? Sure. Is there better equipment out there at a better price? Absolutely not. If you need reloading equipment that has both quality and affordability, then Lee is a good brand to consider.
Middle Ground Reloading Brand
Hornady and RCBS are two other brands that both produce quality reloading equipment at a slight step up from Lee, both in overall quality and price. These are both good brands that have offerings in single stage, turret, and progressive presses as well a plethora of extra equipment and features. These two brands are often regarded as “middle of the road” brands, as they have equipment that comes in at a higher price point, but also higher quality.
Highest Quality Reloading Brand
If money's no object and you have to have the most premium brand that there is, then you should look no further than Dillon reloading equipment. Dillon produces some of the highest quality equipment and accessories but is also by far the highest priced. Not only do they produce some of the best equipment, but they also have the best warranty and customer service in the business. Dillon equipment is expensive, but you aren’t shelling out all that cash for nothing. If you simply have to have the best that there is, then Dillon is the way to go.
Accessories and Features
Priming On The Press
Priming on the press is a feature that you may or may not want. Many single stage presses come equipped with a priming arm that hinges off of the ram that is used to seat the primer on the downstroke. If your press is equipped with one of these, it allows you to insert the empty case into the shell holder and a new primer into the priming arm. You can then resize and deprime on the upstroke, and seat the new primer on the downstroke.
This may not be a very important feature to you if you like to get your primer pockets really clean (I do). I still prime on the press, but I elect to resize and deprime first, then remove the cases from the press for cleaning. After I have tumbled them for a while, I place the cases back into the press in order to seat the new primers. If you elect to go this route, there are also special tools that allow you to prime the empty, cleaned cases without inserting them into the press, which would reduce your need for a priming on the press feature.
Quick Change Dies
On a single stage reloading press, quick change dies are a very important feature. Most manufacturers have their own version of a quick change die system, and all of them are more or less the same. A quick change die system allows you to remove the die from the press by twisting it a quarter turn to disengage the threads, and then simply pull it out. This also keeps the die in the exact same position for the next time, meaning you won’t have to reset it to the proper depth.
Without a quick change die system, you have to physically screw each die in and out to the proper depth. Especially on smaller calibers, this can mean you are screwing each die in and out an inch or more! While this may not seem like much, it can be time-consuming and frustrating when you are ready to move on to the next step, but yet have to spend several minutes removing the old die, inserting the new one, and then setting it up to the proper depth.
Best Single Stage Reloading Presses on the Market in 2020
Best Single Stage Reloading Press for Accuracy:
If you are looking to achieve outstanding bench rest accuracy with a high-quality press, then you may want to look into the Rock Chucker Supreme from RCBS. RCBS produces high-quality reloading equipment that is rugged, durable, and effective. This is an O frame press and is also made of cast iron for outstanding durability and accuracy. The new model of this press has been slightly lengthened to accommodate larger cartridges, and the beefy lever and comfortable ball handle make it easy to work on those longer cartridges.
This press does include a priming on the press feature, which most users will find handy. It does fall slightly short when it comes to the quick change die feature, though. While this press does include a quick change die feature, many users opt to upgrade to the Hornady Lock n Load system, which they find to be much more efficient. Overall, the Rock Chucker Supreme is one of the best single stage presses out on the market today, but all of that quality does come at a price. If you are reloading specifically to obtain bench rest level accuracy, or plan on reforming brass for wildcat rounds, then this press may be a worthwhile investment.
- Heavy duty
- O frame press
- Cast iron construction
- Sub-par quick change die system
Most Durable Single Stage Press:
If you are reforming large cartridges or usually loading magnum rifle loads, you may want to consider the Big Boss 2 from Redding. When it comes to durability, it is hard to beat this press. It is a solid cast iron O frame press with a 1-inch diameter ram. The frame is offset by 36 degrees, which is a nice feature as it allows for increased visibility and greater ease of use, especially with larger cases. The usable ram stroke is 3.8 inches, which is among the longest in single stage presses. This means that you can work on much larger cases with ease.
While this press does not have a quick change bushing, it does have a bushing that allows for the use of different size dies. This is a very handy feature if you are wanting to load larger cartridges that require the use of bigger dies. Everything about this press is rugged and durable, but it does come at a price. This press is well worth it for somebody who is going to need it to load large magnum rounds, but if you are just wanting to load smaller rifle and handgun loads your money may be better spent elsewhere.
- Cast iron
- Long ram stroke
- Lack of quick change die system
Best Middle Ground Single Stage Press:
If you are looking for a press that is good quality, without the price tag of the premium brands, then you may want to consider the Lock n Load Classic single stage press from Hornady. If you have spent much time at all in the shooting world, you know that the Hornady name is synonymous with quality components and good customer service, and this press is certainly not the exception. This press has a very sturdy O frame, cast iron construction to ensure accuracy and durability.
This press does have a priming on the press feature that works great, and the Hornady Lock n Load quick change bushing is one of the best in the business. If you are planning on switching out your dies a lot, then this is certainly an excellent feature. Overall, this is a good, solid, entry-level press that will serve you well for years to come, all at an affordable price. If you are looking for a step up from your old equipment without spending a bunch of money, then this press from Hornady may be a good choice for you.
- Quick change die bushings
- Sturdy construction
- Priming on the press
- More expensive than the entry level presses
Best Single Stage Reloading Press For The Money:
If you are a first-time reloader looking to get started in the hobby or are just looking for a press that will get the job done without breaking the bank, then look no further than the Breech Lock Challenger from Lee. This press is made of cast aluminum, but also boasts the sturdy O frame design. This not only saves on cost but on weight as well. This press also has a priming on the press feature, which works very well and is quite handy. Another excellent feature of this press is the spent primer collecting system. This is a system that can be quite finicky on other presses, but the Lee press handles it very well. So well, in fact, that many people elect to have one of these presses just to deprime cases before cleaning!
This press also has a breech lock quick change bushing, which works quite well and is very handy if you will be frequently changing out dies. This was the very first press that I purchased for myself, and I still frequently use it to this day! Overall, this is a good quality press at a price that almost anybody can afford. My time spent with this press has been enjoyable, and I have been very impressed with it.
- Efficient spent primer collector
- Not as sturdy as a cast iron press
Easiest Single Stage Press To Use:
If you have some trouble operating other single stage presses or are not strong enough to provide the force necessary to resize larger cases, you may want to consider the Co-Ax from Forster. One of the main selling points of this press is that it provides up to 3 times the mechanical advantage of other presses, and makes resizing so easy it can be done with one finger! Another big bonus is the snap in/snap out quick change die system, which can reduce the time needed to change dies down to as little as 2 seconds.
This press is unique in that it doesn’t fit the standard O frame or C frame press design, but it is still very sturdy and constructed primarily of steel and cast iron, with 2 floating guide rods to ensure perfect alignment and consistent results. All of these nice features do come at a price, however. The Co-Ax is one of the most expensive presses reviewed here. While most people may not need all the nice features that this press comes with, if you enjoy unique items or have physical limitations that prevent you from reloading, you may want to look at this press.
- Extra mechanical advantage
- Unique design
- Many nice features
- Not a standard press design
Best Portable Reloading Press:
If you are looking for a press that is small, compact, and portable, you may want to consider this cast iron hand press from Lee. Not only is this one of the cheapest single stage presses available, it is also portable! It requires no mounting of any kind, which makes it great for taking out to the range to develop loads. Many people elect to have one of these just for depriming so that they can deprime cases while watching TV, or anywhere else it would be impractical to place a reloading bench.
This press does include a breech lock quick change bushing, which makes changing dies quick and easy. It is a C frame press, but it is constructed of cast iron to increase the durability. Obviously, there is no priming on the press feature with this, so you will need to find another method of priming your cartridges if you elect to go with this press. This hand press from Lee may not be good for your only press, but it can certainly be a valuable addition to any reloading setup.
- No mounting system required
- Not very much leverage
- Can’t work on large cartridges
- C frame design
Best Single Stage Reloading Press Final Thoughts
Let’s face it: if you are wanting to get into the hobby of reloading, the best place to start is with a decent quality, affordable, single stage reloading press. If you want the best reloading press for you, then you are going to need one that is sturdy, reliable, has plenty of features, and most of all are affordable. There is a lot of equipment to buy when you are first getting started reloading your own ammo, so getting a press that will get the job done at a price point you can afford is paramount. While all of the presses listed above are excellent options, only one provides decent quality at a price that anybody can afford. The Lee Breech Lock Challenger press has quality, durability, and dependability, as well as a wealth of handy features, all at a decent price. Now you have all the information to purchase the best single stage reloading press in 2020 to fit your needs, so go out and buy today!
Keep in mind that reloading can be dangerous if done incorrectly so you should pick up a few reloading books to ensure your safety in the fun hobby.
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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.