Top 5 Ammunition Reloading Presses & Why

Top 5 Ammunition Reloading Presses & Why

If you are ready to get started in handloading or reloading your ammunition, or even if you’re a seasoned reloader who has been loading on a single-stage press and are considering “upgrading” to a turret or progressive press, we’ve got some recommendations for you to consider. In this article, we’re going to quickly go over the basic 3 relevant types of reloading presses and their pros and cons, and then share our picks for the top 5 presses depending on what type of handloading or reloading you plan to do.

(Note: If you’re looking for more general info about the basics of reloading and the tools you’ll need, please refer to our Reloading basics: tools, tips, and gear article.)

First, let’s talk about the three main categories of reloading presses.

Single-stage, turret, or fully progressive reloading press: What’s the difference, and which is right for you?

There are many different types of reloading presses and gadgets, and which one you choose will depend on your intended use, how much you enjoy tinkering with complicated machines (or don’t), and what types and amounts of ammunition you plan to load. There are really 5 or more categories of reloading presses if we include hand presses and commercial reloading machines, but the vast majority of people aren’t interested in going these routes. For most people, the three relevant types of reloading presses are: 1. Single-stage presses; 2. Turret presses; and 3. Fully progressive presses. Each bears a little further elaboration.

Single-stage presses hold one reloading die at a time (usually in the top section of the press), and perform one reloading action at a time (decapping, sizing, priming, case mouth flaring, bullet seating, crimping, etc.). On single-stage presses, most people choose to “batch load,” meaning you run 50, 100, or more cases through the decapping/sizing die, then prime those cases, then switch dies and run those cases through the case flaring die, and continue moving through the process. The advantages of single-stage presses are that they are generally more affordable than more complicated presses, and their simplicity of operation makes them a good choice for beginning reloaders or those who value extreme precision over reloading volume. The primary downside of a single-stage is they are very slow if you need to load a lot of ammunition.

Manually actuated turret presses are so named because they comprise a single-case ram and a rotating turret head that holds multiple dies, and the turret can be easily moved by the user to place whatever die is desired, without switching out dies for each process (as you need to with a single-stage press). This can save a lot of time. Using a turret press you can also choose not to “batch process,” but can size/deprime, insert a primer, move the turret to the next die, continue through the process and end up with one completed cartridge, then start the process over on the next case. It’s much slower than an auto-indexing turret (see below) or progressive press, but some people prefer to do it this way, and manual turret presses offer this option. Disadvantages of a manual turret include the increased weight and cost compared to single-stage presses, and you’re still going very slow compared to a full progressive.

Auto-indexing or “semi-progressive” turret presses like the Lee Classic Turret is a unique subset of the turret category, offering many of the advantages of manual turret presses, but with the capability for automatic indexing of the turret. This press still holds just one case at a time, but with the optional indexing rod inserted, the turret tool head rotates itself as you lower the ram, so you can load in a semi-progressive fashion (4 pulls of the handle produce one completed round). This is much faster than a manual turret press, but nowhere near as fast as a full progressive. The advantages of an auto-indexing turret (in addition to increased speed compared to manual turret presses) are low price, simplicity of operation, and extremely rapid caliber/primer changeovers compared to a full progressive. The disadvantages are a comparatively large amount of slop in the system compared to a solid-framed single stage or even a quality manual turret press, so you probably won’t be loading competitive match-grade long-range rifle cartridges on the LCT.

Fully progressive presses, sometimes called “full progressives” or just “progressives,” are the multi-station reloading presses that have large rams and rotating shell holders that hold between 3 and 10 cases at once, and rather than the “turret” moving as with turret presses, the shell holder on the ram is what rotates the cases around. Rather than one case being processed at a time as in the above presses, on a progressive press, multiple reloading steps are being performed at once (up to 10!) and you produce a completed, reloaded cartridge with each pull of the handle. Some progressive presses can load well in excess of 1,000 rounds an hour. This time-saving, high ammunition output per hour is the primary advantage of the progressive press. Disadvantages are a huge increase in complexity, the difficulty of use, lengthy caliber and primer changeovers, the high price of the press and accessories/caliber conversions, and potentially a little loss of absolute precision in your reloading processes due to the more flexible, rotating nature of the design and the looser tolerances required.

Now that you have a better understanding of the main types of reloading presses and some of their pros and cons, let’s dive into our picks for the top 5 reloading presses across several categories.

Best single-stage reloading press: RCBS Rock Chucker Supreme

RCBS ROCK CHUCKER SUPREMEPretty much every reloading press manufacturer offers a basic single-stage press, and many designs are very similar. Our preference for durability’s sake is what’s called an O-framed press, where the main outer frame of the press resembles a capital O, rather than being open on one side in so-called “C-shaped” presses. This also potentially increases the precision of your completed rounds, since there’s less flexing in a good O-press compared to some C-presses. There are a lot of choices, and prices vary from about $45 to nearly $400, but our favorite overall is the RCBS Rock Chucker Supreme. This fully cast-iron press is very strong, has a buttery-smooth operation, offers ambidextrous press handle options, allows loading of all but the longest “ultramag” rifle cases, and includes the option for using shotgun reloading dies if you wish. A fine press that will last you a lifetime, and if not, RCBS is known industry-wide for excellent customer service.

MSRP is $209.99 but places like Midsouth Shooters Supply currently sell the Rock Chucker Supreme for around $170, and you can also get the Rock Chucker Master Reloading Kit for $479 (which we’d strongly recommend for first-time reloaders) that gives you everything you need to get started, other than components, a set of dies in the caliber of your choice, and a shell holder.

Best manual turret press: Redding T-7

REDDING T-7 TURRET PRESSThe front-runners in this category are the Lyman All-American 8 ($365 MSRP, $270 street price), Redding T-7 ($609 MSRP, $389 street), and RCBS turret presses ($344 MSRP, $314 street). All are usable, but our overall favorite is the Redding. (Their website is terrible; don’t bother. Buy from a local shop or an online retailer like Midsouth or MidwayUSA.)

The T-7 is built like a tank and is a bit more pricey than the others, especially since the primer slide bar system is an extra $63 add-on, but it makes very precise, match-quality ammo and we’ve never found the need for 8 dies on a turret press. Seven is enough, and in fact you can really load two calibers per turret if you use all 7 spots.

Best top-of-the-line progressive reloading press: Mark 7 Apex 10

MARK 7 APEX 10For a beginning or low-round-count reloader, these premium progressive presses might be considered crazy-expensive, super-complicated overkill. But for competitive shooters who load and shoot 50,000 to 100,000 rounds a year (or well-heeled shooters who want the most ammo loaded in the least amount of time), a top-of-the-line progressive press can make a lot of sense. Furthermore, some reloaders just really like the mechanical nature of a multi-function progressive reloading press, and they might even enjoy reloading more than actually shooting.

In this tier we’re talking about presses like Dillon’s RL1100 ($2,200 plus dies and a bullet feeder if you want one), Dillion Super 1050 ($2,495 plus up to $400 for each additional caliber you want to load) and Mark 7 Reloading’s Apex 10 ($3,484 with one set of dies +$519 for a bullet feeder). All are excellent and have their dedicated fans. Each of these presses is capable of loading up to 1,200 rounds per hour when properly set up, and much more when equipped with an electric auto-drive system, bullet feeders, etc. At that point they are approaching the capabilities of commercial reloading machines.

Dillon’s products and service are extremely good, and the vast majority of people in this market would be perfectly happy with an RL1100, so why do we prefer the Mark 7? At this price level, we don’t want to compromise, and the effectively 9-station Apex 10 has a distinct advantage over the effectively 7- or 8-station (depending on how you count) Dillon in that it allows you to run a powder check die, a bullet feeder, and still have room for separate seating and crimping dies. Plus the build quality of the Mark 7 is phenomenal and the action is buttery smooth. Mark 7 had some spotty customer service in its first couple of years, but lately, they’ve been absolutely stellar. If money is no object, you’ll love the Apex 10.

Best “real world” fully progressive press: Hornady Lock-N-Load AP and Dillon XL750 (tie)

DILLON XL750Lots of people want to load progressive but don’t want to spend well north of 2 grand to get started. In this “best progressive for most people” category, the RCBS Pro Chucker 5 ($736) and Pro Chucker 7 ($1,017), the Dillon XL750 ($939 set up for one pistol caliber, or $1,277 with a case collator/feeder), and Hornady Lock-N-Load AP ($567 set up for one pistol caliber, or $1,052 with a case collator/feeder) are the front-runners, and all are excellent progressive presses. For many years, the main competitors in this market have been Hornady and Dillon, and reloaders often joke that they “bleed red” or “bleed blue” depending on their preference.

HORNADY LOCK-N-LOADWe like Hornady’s unique shell holder indexing system where it indexes halfway on the upstroke and halfway on the downstroke since it can result in less powder spillage and bullet tipping compared to other progressives with a quick “snap” to index the shell holder at the bottom of the downstroke. With fluffy powders and larger charges in straight-walled handgun cases, this can be a huge plus. However, in our experience, Dillion’s new slide-bar priming system is superior to the Hornady setup out of the box, as the Hornady can sometimes be a little fiddly and require some tweaking.

Dillon’s new XL750 has a much-improved priming system compared to the old XL650, which required a complicated and lengthy process for switching between primer sizes from large to small or vice versa. In fact, we know several Dillon fans who simply sidestepped the entire issue and bought two XL650s, one with a large primer setup and one for small.

Hornady’s case-insertion system can sometimes be a little iffy out of the box as well (once you add a case feeder), so keep that in mind if you’re choosing between Dillon blue and Hornady red for your progressive. Either of these presses will serve you well, but the lower price of buy-in and new caliber packages on the Hornady is definitely a factor for some people. If you don’t mind manually feeding cases and bullets, you can be loading for one handgun caliber on a full 5-station Hornady progressive for under $600, which is really quite a bargain considering the Lock-N-Load’s overall quality and capabilities. If you choose to “drink the blue Kool-aid” and buy the Dillon, you’ll spend almost twice as much to buy in, and caliber conversions are pricier, but you may have to do less fiddling, tweaking, and adjusting than you might with the Hornady, and Dillon’s customer service and lifetime warranty are legendary. Either way, you’re likely to be very happy with either of these excellent progressive presses.

Best budget progressive reloading press: 2023 Lee Pro 1000

LEE PRO 1000This choice might surprise some people, but hear us out. Lee has long been known as THE “bang for your buck” reloading company, and at an almost unbelievable $350 MSRP (including a set of dies and case collator/feeder), the 2023 update to the Pro 1000 is an incredible value if you want to load popular handgun calibers (or .223 Remington) and you only need spaces for three dies. At this price, you can potentially buy a separate, complete Pro 1000 press in every caliber you want to load for the price of one caliber changeover kit for a Dillon.

Three die stations may seem pathetic when compared to the top-end progressives with up to 10 stations, but for basic pistol reloading, if you seat and crimp in the same operation (as many people do, even when using single-stage presses), and you expand your cases and drop powder in one station (using Lee’s excellent powder-through expanding die), you only really need three stations. For rifle reloading, many people only actually use two stations—sizing/decapping and bullet seating—once all the required case prep, and often priming and case charging, is done separately off the press. So if you are on a budget or you just favor the simplest setup and aren’t super-picky, the Pro 1000 might be great for you.

The “legacy” iteration of the Pro 1000 used a removable tool head, and the older model also just dumped spent primers into its hollow base, which meant you had to remove your press from your reloading bench occasionally to get those grungy primers out of there or vacuum them out through the top opening, which was a pain. The older slide/gravity-fed priming system was also fiddly and unreliable, causing a lot of mashed primers, stoppages, and cursing.

The 2023 updated version of Lee’s “entry-level progressive” Pro 1000 has been improved with a solid tool head and quick-change die bushings (similar to the Hornady “breech-lock” bushings) for improved die rigidity and flexibility. The priming system has been improved for reliability and works with all brands of primers, though it’s still the sliding ramp/gravity-fed design. Automatic indexing is improved, with no adjustments required as before. Case ejection has been improved with a new toolless, and universal setup, and spent primers now drop through the ram and out into a plastic catch tube. And a completed cartridge bin is now included in the $350 suggested retail price.

Lee also recently released their updated Auto Breech Lock Pro/Pro 4000 press with the same Breech Lock quick-change die system and space for a 4th die, so you can seat and crimp separately, or use a bullet feeder in station 3 and seat/crimp in station 4. This press is also an amazing value at $355 MSRP including a set of dies and a case collator/feeder, but the Lee Safety Prime system on this one is a key difference compared to the Pro 1000. If you like the Safety Prime/manual primer insertion system, this is a good way to go. If you want hands-off gravity-fed priming (that might potentially be a little more fiddly), go with the updated Pro 1000 if you’re in the market for the most bang-for-the-least-bucks in a progressive reloader.

BONUS PICK: Most versatile, easiest-to-use reloading press: Lee Classic Turret

LEE CLASSIC TURRET PRESSIf you want a low-cost reloading press that’s easy to use, easy to change calibers and is much faster than a manual turret or single stage, the Lee Classic Turret press is in a class of its own. The “auto-indexing” feature is unique to the LCT, and if you’re efficient with your motions it’s possible to load up to 300 rounds per hour. It’s not as fast as a progressive, but it’s MUCH less complicated to learn to use, caliber/primer changes are a snap, and it’s much faster to load a lot of ammo than using either a single-stage or manual turret press. You can also load rifle cartridges up to .30-06 in length, which is better than some full progressives.

The LCT is available in a complete kit for around $240 (just add dies in the caliber of your choice), which includes a Lee Auto Drum powder measure and riser, powder scale, large and small Safety Prime mechanisms, Lee’s case prep tools including the trimmer/cutter, lock stud, chamfer tool, and small and large primer pocket cleaner, and a tube of Lee case sizing lube, as well as a copy of Lee’s Modern Reloading Manual, Second Edition. Pretty slick!

So there you have it… our top SIX reloading presses for any budget and preference. Have fun loading and shooting safely!

Store your ammo safely, and choose Liberty Safe

If you want to learn how to store your loaded ammunition safely, please see our complete article. Regardless of whether you choose to store your ammo in your safe or somewhere else, it’s a great idea to keep your firearms securely locked in a quality safe to protect them from theft, unauthorized access, humidity, and fire damage. Check out Liberty’s complete online catalog of USA-made gun safes, or use our dealer locator to find a showroom near you.


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