When it comes to ammo, there’s a world of options available–including customizing your own ammunition. You don’t have to pay an arm and a leg for match-grade rounds, though!
Reloading or handloading your own ammo is a big investment that can lead to even bigger rewards.
It’s cheaper than buying factory ammo, it gives you better ammo overall, and it can be just plain fun in its own right.
Reloading is also kind of a pain in the butt. It can be slow, frustrating, and if you buy the wrong equipment, can end up costing you more money in the long run.
Thankfully, you can skip all that hassle and just reap the reloading rewards if you buy a quality reloading press that meets your needs.
Let’s take a look at how reloading presses work, how to choose, and which specific presses represent the best value in their class.
Quick Reloading Refresher
Reloading is a fairly simple process, but it’s a little bit equipment-intensive. The press is the most important part, and its what you use to resize your brass, seat your primers, and seat the actual bullet in the casing.
Reloading presses use various tools called dies to shape and size brass cases, and dies are available for every caliber under the sun.
Types of Reloading Presses
There are three basic types of reloading presses: single-stage, turret, and progressive. They’re each good for different things and different types of reloading.
Let’s talk about the differences, and what type of user each is best for.
Single Stage Presses: Best For the Casual Reloader
The simplest (and cheapest) of the reloading presses is the single stage press. This press requires you to swap out dies for each stage of the reloading process because it can only hold one die at a time, hence “single stage.”
The dies attach to the top of the press, and a shell holder is attached to the bottom of the press, called the ram, and grips the cartridge casing.
You push down on the lever, the die does its thing, and then you bring the lever back down. This is the procedure for sizing cases, you’ll usually have to prime your cases separately with a single stage press, but some models do have a primer attachment.
Because of their simple construction, single stage presses are by far the cheapest type of reloading press, but they’re also the slowest.
That being said, if you’re only looking to reload a few dozen rifle rounds every couple of months, a single stage press isn’t a bad way to go, but it’ll be a while before you make any money on your investment.
Single stage presses can also be great for the ultra-precision reloader. Because of their design, there’s less room for the components to flex, which could cause the round to be loaded slightly inconsistently.
This can be an issue with the other two types of presses, but really modern presses are all going to be capable of loading rounds precisely enough for 99.9999% of shooters on Earth.
If you just want to get your feet wet with reloading, maybe knock together a few rounds for your bolt-action rifle before hunting season, a good single stage press probably won’t be a bad investment.
If nothing else, learning about the process is fun, and knowing what’s going on with your ammo can make you a better shooter.
Best Single Stage Press: Hornady Lock-n-Load Classic
This simple single stage press from Hornady runs around $120 on sale, and for the money, you can’t beat it. If you’re looking for a cheap ticket into the world of reloading, this is what you should pony up your hard-earned money for.
Hornady Lock-n-Load Classic
- Simple operation
- One-year warranty
- Great starter kit
- Slow to use
It’s far from fancy, but its precise enough for precision rifle shooters, and while slow, it’ll do for low-volume pistol and MSR shooters as well.
Turret Presses: Best for the Enthusiast Reloader
A turret press is similar to a single stage press in that you only have one active cartridge being worked on at a time, but it can hold multiple dies at once, allowing the user to quickly align the appropriate die (which is called “indexing”), and then move on to the next stage of the process.
This means that while you still have to bring the lever down and then back up for each stage, you can quickly swap from one stage to another without having to do a whole run with one die and then switch to another and so on.
Instead, all you have to do is load all your dies, pull the lever, index the next die, and pull the lever again. Some turret presses can even auto-index and advance the dies automatically whenever you pull the lever.
Turret presses are best for those who want to get serious about reloading, like those who do a few competitions a year, or who practice regularly at the range. Pistol and semi-automatic rifle shooters will get a lot of benefit out of a turret press.
Overall, if you’re sure about reloading, start out with a turret press. A single stage press is going to be too slow for a lot of people, and it’s liable to be frustrating when you look up at the clock and see an hour has past and you only have a handful of rounds ready to go.
Turret presses are still relatively affordable, and they aren’t any more difficult to operate than a single stage, so this is where you should be looking if you’re committed to learning to reload, but you don’t shoot a whole lot (under 1k rounds a year).
Best Turret Press: RCBS Turret Press
Honestly, with the cost of faster progressive setups dropping all the time, turret presses have fallen somewhat out of fashion lately.
RCBS Turret Press
- Lots of accessories and upgrades available
- Slightly faster than single-stage for shooters who need to reload more.
- Durable for years of use.
- Slow for reloaders looking to reload lots of rounds
That said, the RCBS Turret Press is great for those who want to spend a little more to avoid using a single stage press, but who still aren’t sold on the idea of shelling out new-rifle-money for a full progressive setup.
RCBS is one of the oldest names in the reloading game, and they make a host of accessories for all their presses, which means you’ll be able to upgrade and add things as you grow as a shooter.
This RCBS press is a good middle ground between the barebones, cheap-as-dirt single stage units and the fancier progressive presses.
Progressive Reloading Press: Best for High-Volume Shooters
A progressive reloading press is different from a single stage or turret press in that it has multiple dies working on separate cases each time you pull the lever.
They are set up in a way so that after you work the first case through each individual stage, you’ll be shelling out a finished round each time you pull the lever. Pretty neat!
This allows you to put together a few hundred rounds an hour with the right setup, especially with bullet and powder feeders, case hoppers, and all the other goodies that you can get with a progressive press.
And if you’re using an auto-indexing press with pre-primed cases? Forget about it.
All this convenience and speed comes at a price though. There’s an old saying–if you want something good, fast, and cheap, pick two. That’s certainly true here, and while a good progressive press is certainly fast, it’s definitely not cheap.
This all combines to make progressive presses best for high volume shooters who are going through a few hundred pistol or rifle rounds a month, if not more.
These presses are designed with modern pistol and MSR shooters in mind, to allow these types of shooters to keep themselves in ammo for competition or training.
Of course, you don’t have to be a serious professional shooter to use one of these presses–far from it.
There’s certainly an argument to be made for getting the best available. Just be warned, these presses get pricey quick. A fully progressive, auto-indexing press with feeder attachments can easily run you over a grand.
But hey, if you’ve got the money, why not go for the best?
Best Progressive Press: Hornady Lock-n-Load AP
For a full-bore, do-it-all, press that can shell out a couple hundred rounds an hour without breaking a sweat (or causing you to throw it against the wall in frustration) the Hornady Lock-n-Load Auto-Progressive press is a great option (Full disclosure: this is what the author uses, and has used for a while.).
Hornady Lock-n-Load AP
- Fast, multi-stage reloading
- Quick to change calibers
- Plenty of upgrades and accessories available
The Lock-n-Load AP is one of the best presses on the market, and while it’s missing some accessories you’ll definitely want out of the box, Hornady is a juggernaut in the world of ammunition and reloading.
Rest assured you’ll be able to find all the case feeders, primer trays, and French coffee-making attachments your heart desires.
Though it’s over twice the price of our turret press recommendation, it’s still far less expensive than some progressive presses, and is accurate enough to put some single stage presses to shame.
For the money, this is the best value in reloading right now, and if you’ve got the cash, this should be your choice if you shoot a lot, or would like to.
Whether you go shooting every weekend, every day, or once a month, there’s a reloading press that can help you save money, and shoot better ammo.
These presses are perfect for people who are just starting out with reloading, or who want to upgrade their existing setup to get the most out of their investment.
What do you think of these reloading presses? Feel like getting started with reloading? Let us know in the comments below! Want to learn more about different ammo calibers? Check out our complete guide to calibers.