What is a Reloading Press and What Are the Components Used?
There are a variety of reasons to reload your own ammunition. Cost is certainly a common factor, specifically for high-volume shooters, but there’s certainly more to it than that. Availability has become an issue in recent years; when you reload, you don’t have to worry about whether or not your local gun store will have your caliber in stock or if there’s a box limit. And then there’s quality. Many competitive shooters reload because it gives them the power to tweak things such as velocity; in fact, reloading can improve your grouping, too. But you don’t have to be a competitor or a pro to reload, you just need to do your research, and keep a few things in mind.
First and foremost is safety. When it comes to reloading, you can’t do anything halfway. There’s a reason there are specific sets of guidelines for what a particular cartridge can and cannot take. If you believe specifications set forth by organizations like SAAMI (Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers Institute) are being dumbed down and are simply “suggestions,” you need to adjust your mindset. Maximum loads are not a game, and reloaders must exercise care throughout the process for their own safety.
The Components of a Reloading Press
Some understandably refer to the main piece of equipment as an ammo press or bullet press, but they’re more accurately called reloading presses. A reloading press is the backbone of your setup; it’s the machine used to literally press the components into an empty cartridge. The components of a round are, from the bottom up, the case, primer, propellant, and bullet. In reloading, brass cases are used, and those whose manufacturers used boxer primer are most easily reloaded. Bi-metal, steel, and aluminum cases are not ideal for reloading.
- Reloading manual: These contain data and load tables to ensure your measurements and process are precise. Having more than one is wise both to compare and to cover all your bases.
- Shellholder or shellplate: These hold the cartridge cases in place in the reloading press.
- Dies: These are cylinders that attach to the press and play a vital role in preparing cartridges for reloading.
- Powder measure and funnel: These are exactly what they sound like. Some die sets come with a measure and some do not.
- Powder scale: These ensure you use the right amount of powder, which is measured in grains, as in “147 grain.”
- Dial calipers: These enable you to take precise – and necessary – measurements, and must measure to 0.001”.
- Loading blocks: These keep your cartridge cases upright and organized and are most important if you’re using a single stage press.
- Case lubricant: Extends the life of your press, but not necessary with nitride or carbide dies for straight-walled cases.
- Case trimmer and deburring tool: These two items are mostly needed for rifle cartridges because those can lengthen when fired.
- Optional tools: There are a variety of other tools on the market to make the reloading process smoother, including case neck brushes, primer flip trays, case tumblers, and bullet pullers, the last of which makes disassembling an incorrectly made cartridge possible.
The Types of Reloading Presses
The backbone of the operation is the reloading press. Choosing the best reloading press starts with deciding which type you want to buy. There are three main types: single stage, turret, and progressive.
- The single stage press is often a good choice for beginners, requiring a pull of the lever for each stage. They hold one die at a time, and although that slows the process, it also simplifies it.
- The turret press has some similarities to the single stage in that it allows you to use one die at a time, however, it can hold multiple dies simultaneously, allowing for quicker changes between dies.
- Finally, there’s the progressive press, which produces a finished round with one pull of the lever. Speed is the biggest factor, with the single stage being slowest and the progressive being fastest.
- Single stage is also the most affordable, with progressive being the priciest. So where does the turret fall on this scale? It’s a nice choice if you want greater control but more speed than a single stage and are loading primarily rifle rounds. Research, read some reloading press reviews, and ask experienced reloaders their opinion; when it comes down to it, the final choice is yours.
When you break down the reloading process into its most basic steps, there are approximately two dozen steps. If you have access to someone who is an experienced reloader it’s an excellent plan to ask if they can demonstrate the process for you and supervise your initial attempts. But if you don’t, there is a wealth of knowledge available both online and in print. Never assume you know something, always look it up. Work in a clean space where you’re free of distractions, focus on the task at hand, and before you know it, you won’t just be reloading ammunition like a pro, you’ll be one.