Having been introduced to the components used in the reloading process, the next thing to consider is the equipment necessary to assemble them into a loaded cartridge. The following pages are by no means a complete listing of all the reloading equipment and tools available. Rather, it is merely an introduction to some of the more commonly used and useful tools available for basic reloading operations.
Perhaps the most basic piece of any reloader’s equipment is a good reloading manual, which should serve to answer questions and aid in component selection. Despite the best efforts of component manufacturers, Sierra included, it must be realized that reloading manuals are dated. Reloading is in a state of constant change. Components are added to product lines while older products are altered or deleted. New calibers appear, while others fade into obsolescence. Some appear and disappear so fast that they make their inclusion in a manual a practical impossibility. Undoubtedly, some of the cartridges that are listed in this edition of the Sierra manual will be long gone by the time our next edition is published. By the same token, there will be new developments, in cartridges, powders and bullets available for the next manual. The point; manuals change. For this reason alone, you should try to use the most up to date information available every time you reload. Sierra has chosen the three-ring binder format for our manuals, so they can be updated with new information as it becomes available. Should you have any questions regarding current information, please call our toll-free tech-line at (800) 223-8799. We welcome your questions, suggestions and comments, as they help us provide the best and most versatile reloading manuals available.
The reloading press serves as the platform from which almost all reloading operations are conducted. Reloading presses come in a bewildering variety of sizes, shapes and designs. Each design has certain advantages, and possibly some disadvantages, which must be carefully weighed before selecting a press for a specific task. Today, there are three main types in widespread use; the single stage, the turret, and the progressive.
Single stage models probably comprise the largest number of presses in use today. Most designs utilize either a cast iron or aluminum alloy “C” or “O” type frame. This, incidentally, refers to the shape of the frame, and is not a model designation. Presses are available from Redding, Lyman, RCBS, and most of the other major reloading tool manufacturers. Single stage presses range from lightweight units like the RCBS Partner or Lyman AccuPress, to the massive Redding Ultramag. Depending on the uses to which the press will be put, any of these will give satisfactory service. Lighter presses will handle standard reloading quite well, but are not well suited to heavy tasks like case reforming and large scale production. Since they cannot generate the incredible leverage of the larger framed units, they require more force to operate. On the other hand, their light weight makes them easily portable. This has made them quite popular with shooters who do their reloading and load development at the range. The true heavyweight presses like the Forster Co-Ax B-2 and Redding Ultramag, are well suited to the toughest reloading operations. Developing a tremendous amount of leverage, heavy-duty presses like these can perform the toughest full-length resizing chores with ease. Even heavy-duty case reforming and even case head swagging can be handled without difficulty. As the name implies, single stage presses use a single ram and a single die station. In using a single stage press, all cases are processed through one phase of the reloading operation. With that completed, the die is replaced with the next die required, and the next step is begun. This step by step process is followed from resizing, priming, powder charging, and bullet seating in turn, to produce a single loaded cartridge.
Turret presses are, in essence, a variation on the single stage press. The difference here is that this style of press is equipped with a rotating turret that holds six or more dies and is already adjusted for the cartridge being reloaded. This configuration allows for two or more die sets to be adjusted once, and then left in place for the next reloading session. When reloading on a turret press, the same procedure as a single stage press is used. Instead of removing the dies after an operation is completed, the tool head is merely rotated to the appropriate die for the next step, and the next phase is begun. Turret presses offer a moderate improvement in speed and convenience, but may lack the precision and rigid lock up of a single stage design.
Progressive presses were once the exclusive domain of commercial reloaders. In the past decade, largely through the efforts of Mike Dillon, progressive presses have taken a prominent place in the reloading tool market. With the surge in popularity of such high volume shooting sports as IPSC and handgun silhouette competition, progressive presses have become a commonplace tool for the average reloader. More than any other type of press, progressives vary widely in design, speed, function, and price. In general, progressive presses used by the average reloader start at around $200 (as of this writing), and go to a bit over $1,000 for top of the line models like the Dillon RL1050. Primary differences will include ease of operation, strength and durability, and of course, rate of production. Accessories such as automatic case feeders, self indexing shell plates, quick-change tool heads, etc., will determine both price range and production rates. Most of the basic progressive presses will turn out at least 300-400 rounds an hour, while the high end models are capable of producing 1,000 to 1,200 rounds an hour. Today, progressive presses are offered by Lee, RCBS, Dillon, and a host of others.
The next step up from this level are the fully automated commercial grade reloading machines, such as the Camdex or Ammo Load. These machines, and other comparable models, can produce as many as 5,000 rounds an hour. At around $10,000, they are used almost exclusively by commercial reloaders, police departments, and other extremely high volume users. These are mentioned only as a matter of interest as they are rarely, if ever, used by individual reloaders.
Selecting a reloading press is a very personal choice and one that should be based on the types of reloading operations being considered. Heavy usage such as high volume reloading or case reforming will call for a stronger, more rigid press. Occasional reloading of some hunting ammunition can be accomplished with a less expensive light duty singe stage model. For the beginning reloader, we would suggest one of the smaller single stage units to start with, and upgrading as needs and requirements increase. If chosen carefully and well maintained, a good reloading press is a long term investment that will give many years of service.