Types of Reloading Presses

Types of Reloading Presses

With so many different brands and types of presses available to the modern reloader, figuring out which one is right for you can be a daunting task.  In this article we’ll be taking a look at the three main types of presses and the pro’s and con’s of each, including features, production and cost.

Single Stage

Easily the best known and longest-serving design, single stage presses are a perfect marriage of reliability and value for dollar.  Built like tanks, this press type comes in either a ‘C’ or ‘O’ frame configuration, with ‘O’ being the strongest.  The single stage works by employing a single die to perform one operation on one cartridge at a time.  This makes them an excellent choice for new or extreme precision reloaders as they can concentrate on the task at hand without worrying about complex series of operations.  Another major pro of single stage presses is their size and portability.  With a small footprint, fast setups/caliber changes and relatively few moving parts, it’s easy to move them from one location to another.  This is especially convenient for folks with limited workspace such as those living in apartments, cottages or trailers where leaving equipment set up simply isn’t an option.  Single stage presses are also extremely versatile; the overwhelming majority are capable of loading both pistol and rifle cartridges, and can accept a wide array of accessories for tasks such as sizing cast bullets, trimming brass, or even swaging jackets.  Lastly, for those on a budget, nothing beats the affordability of a single stage press.  Naturally prices will vary from place to place, but generally speaking, these presses can be had for around 1/4 the price of a progressive.

The only real con to the single stage is, of course, production.  Speeds vary dramatically depending on whether the user is working with pistol or rifle cases, how many operations they’re performing, and the type of powder measure and weighing accessories at hand.  Generally speaking though, a skilled reloader can expect to load between 50-100 cartridges per hour.  While that may not sound too bad, the reality is it’s a fraction of what can be achieved with a turret or progressive press.


Like the single stage, turret presses work on a single cartridge at a time, however the similarities end there.  Whereas the single stage holds only one die, the turret can support an entire set (or more).  This allows the user to load a completed cartridge from start to finish, without having to change dies or casings in-between.  As you can imagine, this presents a number of major advantages.  While not quite as versatile as their single stage cousins, most turret presses can still load both pistol and rifle cartridges.  They’re also fairly simple to master, with quick setups, and unmatched ease and speed of caliber changes.  Though modest compared to progressive models, turret presses also offer a very respectable production rate of roughly 200 or more cartridges per hour, putting them well ahead of single stage models.  Similar to single stage presses, turret are also fairly affordable, costing about half the price of a progressive.


Progressive presses are basically the Cadillac’s of the reloading world; large, luxurious and expensive.  Unlike the previous two press types, the progressive employs an entire set of dies to perform multiple operations on multiple casings, simultaneously; every pull of the lever yields a fully completed cartridge.  This productivity, coupled with the plethora of accessories available for progressives such as case, bullet, and primer feeders, trimmers, primer pocket swagers and powder checks enables them to reach unparalleled levels of productivity.  High-end progressives can easily top 600 or more cartridges per hour.

It probably goes without saying that this level of performance comes at a cost, and with progressive presses, that means price.  Even an entry level progressive will cost the reloader as much as four times the price of a single stage press, with fully decked out models topping $1,000 or more.  In addition to sticker shock, new reloaders face a tough learning curve; progressive presses host a number of moving parts and can be challenging to monitor with so many operations taking place at once.  Depending on the configuration and level of accuracy desired, setups can exceed several hours, with caliber changes ranging from the tedious to the torturous.  Lastly, being heavily specialized devices designed to focus on speed, progressive presses sacrifice a substantial degree of versatility to achieve this end.  Many progressives can only be used to load rifle or pistol cartridges, require special dies that are incompatible with other brands, or even different models within the same brand.  Similarly, many progressive press accessories are built specifically for one particular press model, caliber, or both.  This serves to further increase both the price, setup/conversion times, and complexity of operation.  As a result of these unique requirements, purchasing a progressive press requires a great deal of research and planning to ensure you get exactly what you need, without having to remortgage the house.


At the end of the day, no matter what style of press you choose to purchase, it’s going to load good ammunition so long as you take the time to configure and use it properly.  Some of the greatest marksmen and women in history loaded their own ammunition 100 years before this article was written, using little more than hand tools and components that were a far cry from today’s production values.  When deciding what to buy, take some time to educate yourself on the options available, and determine which of them best addresses your unique needs and objectives.  Each style has both pro’s and con’s, and ultimately what works well for one reloader may not necessarily be the best solution for another.


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