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Reloading Madness

One question that I get asked over and over is what type of reloading equipment gives you the best results.  That is a very hard question to answer.  Part of it is because it depends on what you are trying to accomplish.  I own all 4 basic types of equipment.  All have pros and cons when loading on them.  

The four types of presses are Single Stage, Turret, Progressive, and Arbor type.  All four have strengths and weaknesses.  Some are cheap to get into, but are extremely slow to load with.  Regardless of which type, you will still need some basic tools.  I’m not going to get into what type of bench you need, what powders, etc.  That’s a huge conversation in itself.  However, I’ve become extremely opinionated when it comes to the basic equipment for reloading.  My piece of advise is to spend the money on getting the best gear.  You are messing with something that if done incorrectly, will get you hurt.  Also, if the equipment doesn’t perform, you can also get hurt.  If you are trying to save money in reloading, I’ll tell you that in some cases, it will cost more to reload and even when you think you are saving money, you have to load so many rounds to offset the upfront equipment cost that it takes years to pay it back.  

So why reload?  First, I love the aspect of taking rifle and getting it to its top potential.  Today rifles and ammunition are manufactured far better than they ever have been.  However, rarely can I find a factory rifle and factory ammunition and make it shoot to a high enough stand that I want to hunt with it, or take it to a match.  The other aspect is that you may want a round that isn’t commercially made, or the combination of bullet and caliber is harder and harder to find.  Reloading is a great hobby and something you will get tons of enjoyment from, but invest in good equipment.  

The equipment list isn’t huge, but what I will recommend is a bit pricy.  I want to load precision ammunition, that takes precision equipment.  First, you need a set of calipers.  Digital is so good that there is no reason to look at a dial type.  The best I have found is Mitutoyo 500-196-30.  These will measure to .0001 and up to 6”.  That covers 99% of what is out there to reload.  Easy battery changes and easy functions top the reason why you need those calipers.  The jaws are hardened.  If you take care of them, they will last a long time.  I’ve had one pair for over 10 years with no issues at all.  If you buy cheaper calipers, I see them getting out of sync all the time.  You will be measuring your OAL and suddenly they get off by a few thousandths.  It’s frustrating.  

Second, you need an excellent set of scales.  In the past few years, I stepped up to a digital set.  For years I used a RCBS 10-10-10 manual type.  Great scales, but they are slower to use and can get off if they are moved or bumped hard.  Again, digital has just gotten too good.  The brand I go to is Ohaus.  The one you want to buy is the SPX123 Scout.  This measures to .01 of a grain and is extremely accurate.  They don’t get out very much if left on and are a solid unit.  As with all balances, or scales, be careful when moving them.  Also, as a tip, don’t place your scales on the same bench your press is on.  The press being used will change your results slightly.  Keep them on a separate table, or bench and make sure it’s a solid unit.  We are after the most accurate results possible.  Using a separate bench for the scales adds another level of precision.  

Those are the two big buys.  There will be more stuff you will need such as a powder trickle, debur tool, powder funnels, etc.  Those get into opinion more than practicality.  You’ll find what’s best for you there.  However, there is one other piece of equipment you need on your bench.  That’s a powder throw.  I’ve used everyone’s.  RCBS, Redding, Hornady, all the big brands.  Redding is a solid pick, but I want to find something that is easier for powder changes and gives a high level of precision.  For that, my go to is a Harrell Precision.  Look at their Premium Powder Measure.  That is my daily workhorse.  Throws are consistent, and the construction is excellent.  The other thing I like is that most 1-pound powder containers screw into the top of it.  When I’m working a load and having to go between multiple powders, this is a huge time saver.  If you purchase on, buy the stand that goes with it.  It puts it at a height that is much easier to use.  

These are the things that I’ve settled on after 30+ years of reloading.  The quality and accuracy are some of the best out there.  No one is paying me to say to use their products, but if you want some of the best, my recommendations are about as solid as anything else on the market.        

The loading presses all depend on what I’m trying to accomplish.  First thing you have to ask is “What are are my goals?”  If you are just wanting to make ammunition for plinking and sticking to one or two calibers, then I recommend a progressive.  My go-to for that is a Dillon Precision press.  There are different ones depending on the level you want to go with, but the idea is all the same.  You set up the press one time and it can either load new or fired rounds.  It just depends on how you set up the press.  The biggest advantage to this is the speed at which you can load.  I load all my pistol rounds on a Dillon.  You have to crimp those rounds.  It saves a ton of time.  The accuracy of the powder throw is ok.  This is a do it all type.  You put in cases, add your powder, place a bullet in the case mouth, and assuming you’ve set it all up correctly, out comes a finished round.  You can get good ammunition on this type of press and is great for volume, but if precision is what you are after, there’s a better way.  

A setup in accuracy is using a turret-style press.  The difference in this type over a progressive is that the cases are placed at the bottom of the press and the head rotates over it.  Consistency can be excellent with this type.  You can put multiple dies on the head of the press.  This allows you to do everything you can on a progressive, but you are moving the head by hand around the case, the case isn’t moving from different stations to the next die.  I have loaded on a Redding T-7 for years and we still use those in our lab on a daily basis.  You want multiple calibers, you just buy different heads.  I never advocate for moving dies around unless it’s on a single-stage press.  Turret and Progressive style presses all have change-over kits and multiple heads for setting up multiple calibers.  Buy different heads and set them up caliber-specific.  It costs more, but in the long run, that is the largest advantage.  It saves so much time in setup when loading multiple calibers.  

The single-stage press is just that.  It’s one station, one die, one stock, one thing being accomplished on the round.  I use these for case prep exclusively.  You can get more force for larger calibers.  This is especially useful when loading 338 lap, or other large magnums.  You can get great results on this style of press.  I’m a firm believer when it comes to RCBS on this press.  One of their latest presses is the Summit.  This one is different in design from other single-stage presses.  Instead of the case being raised up to the die, the die is brought down to the case.  This is also the way commercial loading equipment works.  On the Summit, RCBS did something completely different and it’s brilliant.  They put “play” into the die head.  The system isn’t completely rigid.  When you use match dies, the results I’ve gotten are outstanding.  It allows the case to align itself with the die.  It makes the alignment from the tip of the bullet to the base of the case much more concentric.  In short, it makes your ammunition a little more accurate.  With all single stages, every time you want to do a different operation, you have to change the die and run all the cases through again.  It’s much slower, but if you want precision ammunition, this is a good way to get it.  Throw your powder a little short, weigh every charge, seat every bullet, and crimp if needed.  You are really starting to get to a precision level here.  

There is still one more type that is a little better and that’s using an arbor press and die system.  It consists of three pieces, the die body, steaming steam, and die base.  Now, there are some limitations here.  First, you can’t resize your brass.  It’s a press and only a press.  What I mean is that it only goes one direction, not two.  There is nothing holding the bottom of the case, so nothing to allow sizing.  Even when you use this, you still will need a single stage to work the brass.  So you ask “Why use this type?”  Accuracy is why.  The case is held in a die that is cut just like a rifle chamber.  The case is perfectly straight.  At the top of the die is an opening that is reamed just large enough to drop a bullet through.  It’s so tight the bullet falls slowly into it as it’s displacing the air.  Then you take a bullet seating steam and place of top of the die.  The case should be on the die base at this point and you have an assembled die with a bullet not seated.  You go to your arbor press and push until the bottom of the bullet seating steam comes in contact with your die body.  Because of how these are made the cartridge case, bullet and seating is all held together and cant’ move out of the center line of axis much at all.  When you are trying to load the tightest ammunition possible for match accuracy, this will get you there.  Wilson Tool and Die makes these.  Everything they make is excellent.  The case trimmers, dies, and case gauges are some of the best in the industry.  While you can’t crimp with this setup, it will lead to the best accuracy. 

There are so many other things that come to mind you will need from shell holders to hand primers, the world of reloading is a vast and huge hobby.  I’ve seem to made a career out of this, but there is still so much to learn.  Arm yourself with a good loading manual, exercise some caution, and enjoy it.  I hope this helps give you some ideas on what direction you need to take.  From plinking to precision, there is an application here for everyone to enjoy this sport.