Still working out what the best reloading equipment is for you? In my last two articles I covered single stage and turret presses, but in this article I’ll focus on the most sophisticated type of reloading press, the progressive press.
In a turret press, a single case is held in a case (shell) holder and the various dies are rotated over the case on a revolving turret or tool head. The turret press is limited in that only one case can be handled at a time.
The progressive press improves on the turret press by keeping the die holder (tool head) fixed, and holding the cases in a rotating case holder disk, which holds the same number of cases as there are dies in the tool head. That is, the number of tool head stations and the number of cases held in the case holder disk are the same, and each time the handle is pulled a number of simultaneous tasks (equal to the number of stations) are performed. Thus the average reloading rate will be significantly higher than for single stage or turret presses. Three typical progressive presses are shown in Figures 1 (Lee Precision press), 2 (RCBS press) and 3 (Dillon Precision press).
Different progressive presses have a varying number of stations just as turret presses do—typically 3, 4 or 5, but may be as high as 8. The larger the number of stations, the more simultaneous tasks that can be performed, and thus the higher the cyclic reloading rate, which may be as high as 1000-1200 per hour. The average reloading rate will depend on the specific press configuration, such as the installation of a case feeder etc..
In operation, cases are fed one at a time into the case holder disk. Each time the progressive press handle is pulled, every case on the case holder disk has a single task performed on it. Then, the case holder disk is rotated by one station, either automatically (auto-indexing) or manually. At the first station, a new case is input, either manually or, ideally, from an automatic case feeder. At the final station, the completed round falls out into a bin. At each intermediate station, the various other tasks (primer removal, resizing, primer replacement, powder replacement, projectile seating, crimping, etc.) are completed with a single lever action.
The most sophisticated of these presses may also do ancillary tasks such as primer pocket swaging and case length trimming.
With the basic 3 station press, it is usually necessary to combine projectile seating and crimping into a single operation, which means a combined seating/crimping die. This may limit your options for crimping, etc.. Adding the extra 4th station allows for more flexibility in that either separate seating and crimping dies, or a combined die can be used.
Presses with a 5th station add the additional flexibility of a powder checking die, which I’ve previously highlighted as cheap insurance against “squib” loads.
For most of us, a 4 or 5 station progressive press will do all the tasks necessary to reload large quantities of either pistol or rifle ammunition. These 4 or 5 station presses cost between $300-1000, depending on whether optional primer and case feeders are fitted. The “gold plated” 8 station solutions can cost as much as $1800, but generally include all the bells and whistles.
Die sets suitable for progressive presses will vary by press manufacturer and the number of stations on the press. Some swapping of dies between press and die manufacturers may be possible, e.g., it is possible to use some Lee Precision dies in Dillon Precision presses, etc.. I actually use a Lee seating die in a Dillon press for a particular .357 target load as the equivalent Dillon die doesn’t quite do what I need it to do.
As previously mentioned, the industry “standard” die size employs a 7/8”-14 TPI thread. If you stick to presses and dies which use this standard, you maximize the flexibility in your reloading options. The beauty of progressive presses is often the ability to configure a number of interchangeable tool heads which facilitate quick changes between calibers and pistol/rifle reloading. Once adjusted, dies can be left relatively untouched and configuration changes made by simply swapping tool heads as well as other caliber specific components, such as case holder discs.
With such a wide range of complexity and cost, how do you make a decision on what is the most appropriate press configuration for your reloading task? There is no simple, single answer to this question. Hopefully the three articles on the various types of presses (single stage, turret & progressive) have at least given you a starting point from which to ask the questions which will lead you to the correct personal decision.
To help you make an informed decision, if you haven’t already read my earlier article Reloading 101: The Economics of Reloading on reloading costs, it might be a good time to do that before reading my next article.
Over the next couple of articles I will attempt to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the various types of presses, and the potential options which I consider best cover a number of typical reloading scenarios.
Featured Image Courtesy of www.dillonprecision.com