Choosing A Budget Press For A Beginning Reloader
I know choosing a pistol and rifle press is a holy war conversation like semi-auto or revolver, 1911 or Glock …. I’m not trying to fan those flames. That said, with the constraints of Budget and Beginning, I felt and still do that my obvious choice was a Lee single stage unit.
I pretty much went all Lee with the exception of some Hornady primer pocket reamers and L.E. Wilson case gauges. But that said, I looked long and hard at the Hornady Iron Press; there’s a lot to like in the Hornady lineup.
Aside from the Breechlock Hand Reloader and the 50BMG press, Lee has three single stage Press Kits currently listed on their website, all have the wholly adequate Lee Safety Powder Scale and case trimmer (but not caliper specific length gauges), needed for ‘reloading’; precision ‘handloading’ is a different animal in my opinion. One can go as far down that equipment rabbit hole as they wish and can afford.
- The 50th Anniversary Breechlock Challenger for $190
- The Breechlock Challenger with hand priming for $199
- The Breechlock Deluxe with benchtop priming and upgraded powder measure for $299
Regardless of what press system you go with, take a look around Amazon using The Reloaders Network affiliate link to help support the network. The links below go to the items on Amazon using the affiliate link.
I chose the Breechlock Challenger Kit at MidwayUSA as they had the better price at the time. Most of the local stores were stocking Hornady and RCBS at the time. I chose the Challenger kit over the 50th Anniversary kit because I didn’t want to handle each and every primer by hand using the on-press prime tool. My fingers are short, fat and calloused; manipulating small delicate items is not my strong suit.
Then I had to pick dies. At the time I had a couple .380 pistols, a couple 9mm pistols and an AR15. I had joined a local outdoor range during their Open House day. They had swap meet tables set up and a guy had a set of .380 dies mounted on a Lee turret plate for $3. Really! I gave them a look over, didn’t see any scratches or rust and put some money in his hand. I didn’t even own a press at the time, and have not used them yet.
I bought the 9mm 4-piece die set with the factory crimp die and the .223 4-piece Ultimate Die Set with factory crimp die and a Universal Decapping Die. They are currently $62 and $65 on Lee’s website; prices vary across the internet and locally, so shop around. I recall I paid around $37 for the 9mm 4-piece set and around $45 for the .223 Ultimate set.
I splurged and went with the QuickTrim adapters and Power QuickTrim tools; I have been really disappointed with them. Regardless of how clean and dry my .223 cases are they spin in the adapter and trim length is inconsistent. Maybe I got frustrated too quickly before I quit trying to make it work. I later bought the budget choice case length gauge and power adapter. They just work every time, dead consistent.
I got a couple sets of Breechlock bushings to complete my dies, the same holds true for Hornady’s Lock-N-Load system. A few reloading trays picked up locally, a colander picked up at a dollar store, and some wire mesh desk organizers are handy for drying brass in the oven. There’s my starting out press setup. I’m already getting wanton for a Redding T-7 turret press, not that I ‘need’ one, but watching Johnny’s Reloading Bench and The Reloader Dude using T-7s has me ‘green’ with envy. They are solid machines and would allow me to handle a piece of brass one time from prime to crimp, instead of batching like I currently do.
My original plan, so to speak, was that I would step up to either a turret or progressive in due time, still utilizing my existing dies, powder handling and trimming accessories from the Lee kit. If/When I start trying real precision reloads I may get better seating dies. Redding has some really slick micrometer adjustable seating dies.
Regardless, a single stage press is always handy to have around for universal depriming, case sizing, boolit sizing, gas check seating, even primer pocket swaging. So nothing is really wasted in my estimation by starting with a single stage press kit and moving up later.
So there’s where I am at the moment. Share your budget beginner press setup.
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I owned a Marlin 60 since 1987, but never really got ‘into’ guns until 2011 when I bought my first 9mm pistol. That was soon followed by a .380 and a 12 guage pump, and I was all in. I had done some 20 guage reloading growing up, and threw myself into 9mm and .223 reloading in 2017, .380 in 2019 and 7.62×39 in 2020. It is so satisfying to go to the range and string together ever improving groups with ammo I loaded myself; it doesn’t hurt that I’m a little OCD about technical things, the tangible/visible rewards are really gratifying.
I have a nagging but as yet unattained ‘want’ for a .358 Yeti unloader, it just looks like a really cool caliber. My next learning curve, space permitting, is casting and coating.