Fourteen Reloading Presses Compared: Single-Stage Shootout

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You could say this story is the culmination of the twelve years I’ve been working on Ultimate Reloader stories. It all started with the desire to share information about reloading presses, and it kind of got out of hand at some point. Now I feel like I’m realizing the dream that I had when I started my blog and YouTube channel- bringing people the “Ultimate” resource for information related to reloading gear.

In this article, I’ll compare fourteen different reloading presses. The goal is to provide you with all of the information, evaluation criteria, and insights to determine which press is right for you. Let’s get started!

Evaluation Criteria

Example Force Graph (click/tap to enlarge)

In order to give a “complete picture” of each single-stage reloading press tested, the following information will be supplied:

Specifications, Features, Pricing

  • Country of Origin
  • MSRP, Street Price
  • Frame Type
  • Die Retention (direct-thread, bushing, die block, slot)
  • Frame opening (usable, above shellholder)
  • Weight
  • Frame material
  • Ram stop (hard stop or cam-over)
  • On-press priming (type, availability)
  • Die and/or Shellholder float
  • Shellholder type
  • Noteables / pros / cons

Direct Press Evaluation Tests and Evaluation

  • Press precision metrics: ram to press frame fit (for conventional presses, carriage slop for non-conventional presses)
  • Press mechanical advantage and leverage evaluation: 6.5 Creedmoor resizing force graph

Ammunition Precision Tests and Evaluation

  • Ammunition precision for five 6.5 Creedmoor dummy cartridges:
    • Base to datum consistency (shoulder setback)
    • Base to ogive consistency (bullet seating)
    • Case neck concentricity (compared to case body)
    • Bullet runout (compared to case body) at ogive, and near bullet tip

Test Methodology: Ram to Press Frame Fit

For each press with a conventional ram, the ram-to-frame fit was evaluated with custom tooling created for this article/video.

This tooling consts of:

  1. A test rod which snaps in place like a shellholder, and is clamped down with a knurled nut.
  2. A test bushing which is threaded 7/8″ x 14 TPI and is installed where a reloading die normally screws in.
  3. A dial indicator holder which slips over the test bushing and can be rotated to take readings in different directions (primary test points are for “in-out” and “side-to-side” ram fit)
  4. A dial indicator which reads in 0.001″ graduations
Custom test instrumentation to measure ram to frame fit (click/tap to enlarge)

Notes about this test process:

  1. The “play” or “slop” was measured approximately where the ogive of a 308 or 6.5 Creedmoor bullet would be located in a bullet seating die.
  2. For presses without a conventional ram, the “play” or “slop” between the shellholder carriage and frame or guide rods was measured directly.
  3. The “Total Indicator Reading” (TIR) was measured for each press- the ram was “pulled” and “pushed” on with gentle finger pressure to get a total movement figure for “in-out” (towards and away from the operator when facing the press) and “side-to-side” (left/right when facing the press)
  4. The “mileage” on these presses (number of actuations/cyclings) varies widely- some have thousands of cyclings, where other presses were hardly used- this did not seem to affect the tests at all from what I can tell (Example: Redding Big Boss II is a well used press that showed very little slop)

Because of the differences between the above two types of testing, the results from conventional and non-conventional presses can’t be compared directly.

Measuring carriage-to-frame fit for FORSTER Co-Ax (Click/Tap to enlarge)

Test Methodology: Sizing Force Graphs

Capturing sizing force for 6.5 Creedmoor once-fired brass on the MEC Marksman (Click/Tap to enlarge)

In order to evaluate relative mechanical advantage and corresponding operational effort for each press, two or more pieces of once-fired 6.5 Creedmoor brass were sized and de-primed and force data captured during the process (both down-stroke and up-stroke). For this testing, a REED Instruments SD6100 data logging force gauge was used.

REED Instruments SD6100 Data Logging Force Gauge (100KG / 210 lb range) Click/Tap to enlarge

Here’s the results from an early test run I conducted using military 308 brass for sizing:

First test graph using SD6100 Force Gauge (click-tap to enlarge)

You can see in the above graph:

  • The test results vary from one piece of brass to the next (and slight variations in sizing speed from one test run to another)
  • Overall, test results are repeatable

Test Methodology: 6.5 Creedmoor Test Cartridges

6.5 Creedmoor test cartridges (Click/Tap to enlarge)

For each press, five test cartridges were loaded (without primers or powder) in order to evaluate critical precision metrics. After some testing and evaluation, I decided to use a FORSTER 6.5 Creedmoor full-length sizing die, and a Redding 6.5 Creedmoor Competition Seating Die (tested well with the Hornady 123 grain 6.5mm A-Max bullets used in the testing).

Here’s the specifications and details for the test cartridges:

Cartridge

6.5 Creedmoor

Case

Hornady 1x Fired

Bullet

123 gr A-Max

Bump

-0.00200

Sizer

FORSTER FL

Seater

Redding Comp

Shellholder

Redding #1

COL

2.698″

The first measurements were for base-to-datum (shoulder setback) and base-to-ogive (bullet seating depth). Hornady comparator gauges were used for test tests with iGaging Origincal Smart Wireless Bluetooth 0-6″ digital calipers (0.0005″ resolution).

Measuring base-to-datum for a test cartridge (Click/Tap to enlarge)

Following these measurements, the cartridges were evaluated for concentricity and runout using a Wilson case holder (the type used with the Wilson Case Trimmer) which I had chucked and aligned in the lathe within 0.0002″ concentricity (measured at both ends of case holder). Using the case mouth as a datum point, the cartridges were measured at the same distances using the lathe DRO to get exact distances as shown on my notes sheet here:

I decided to use Hornady 6.5 Creedmoor brass for these tests because it had case neck thickness consistency of ~0.0002″, and 6.5 Creedmoor bullets have a long protrusion from the case which helps get more accurate bullet seating concentricity values. All 6.5 Creedmoor brass was fired once in my Ruger Precision Rifle prior to testing. This resulted in sizing of both the case body and neck (yielding more real-world concentricity numbers for case neck and bullet runout).

Here’s an example of the raw data collected (LEE Classic Cast Iron data shown here)

Special Notes About Data

During the collection of data for the evaluation of these reloading presses, I was very careful to make sure the data I collected was as accurate and meaningful as possible. Even with this attention to detail, the data is not perfect. With variations in each piece of brass, random errors, and some measurement error, I can’t guarantee your results would be the same (or even my own results if I were to test all presses again). You therefore need to read the results with these factors in mind. I believe the data is very helpful when evaluating the relative quality and precision of each press, but some interpretation and acknowledgement of the variability in this data must be applied.

On to the specifications, results, and data for each press! The ordering is alphabetic based on manufacturer.

Here’s quick links to the sections in this document:

Press Overviews:

FORSTER Co-Ax
Frankford Arsenal M-Press
Hornady Lock-N-Load Classic
Hornady Lock-N-Load Iron
LEE Challenger Breech Lock
LEE Classic Cast 50 BMG and LEE Classic Cast Iron
Lyman Brass Smith Ideal
Lyman Brass Smith Victory
MEC Marksman
RCBS Rock Chucker Supreme
RCBS Summit
Redding Big Boss II
Turban CNC Präzipress

Conclusion:

Data Summaries and Conclusion

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26 thoughts on “Fourteen Reloading Presses Compared: Single-Stage Shootout”

  1. Well done Gavin this is the most comprehensive test in existence. For a data junkie like me it was well worth the read. I cannot imagine the work that went into this. Thank you

  2. Interesting stuff and thank you for going to all that effort. I must admit to a little confusion on the loaded round TIR readings – some of the compounding error from neck-ogive-tip must be due to variability in actual projectile run-out. Otherwise, it seems counter-intuitive that one press would produce lower TIR at the ogive than other presses, then higher TIR at the tip than other presses..?

    1. What you are missing here is the that the cases and bullets were not marked (timed or clocked). Therefore the runout for the neck and the runout for the projectile may be out of timing, thus the runout may be additive or substractive. These are relative results only, as the sample size was small. 100 cases per press would be needed to generate real objective results, and I am sure Gavin does not have the time to do 1400 samples.

    2. I think it comes down to the bullet being “tipped” slightly in the case. It can have good ogive TIR and bad tip TIR, or vice-versa 🙂

      1. Not sure if you were one shotting or spinning the case during seating, but I think that plays pretty heavy in the tip TIR. I usually seat in 3 short strokes turning the bullet between 1/3s to give the seating stem the best opportunity to true out any cant I created when setting the bullet in the case.

  3. Thanks Gavin you have gone to a lot of work. It is a very interesting subject. I own two of these presses, I was wondering if the press with the best neck and ojive concentricy does not have the best tip concentricy? I think it is because of non uniformity of the bullet. It would take a standard “bullet” to try to eliminate this situation

    1. I thought about that as well- I think it comes down to the bullet being “tipped” slightly in the case. It can have good ogive TIR and bad tip TIR, or vice-versa 🙂

  4. I like the Tip TIR tables especially. They show that the best TIRs are not turned in by the highest price presses. The RCBS ones turn in the most consistent TIRs. Careful comparison of all 14 tables will indicate that TIR is controlled by the uniformity of the brass cases more than any of the presses or dies.

  5. I think to get an accurate test you would need to do an average of 10 or so of each press. Checking one of each press doesn’t tell you very much. Each press would need to be new out of the box at time of testing.

  6. Very good test. It would be interesting to see just how much effect the precision has. Taking your most accurate rifle/scope combination with the load that has proven most accurate in it I wonder how much difference there is between ammo loaded on the most precise and least precise press.

  7. I loved the whole test but I wished you had tested the Redding Ultramag. This is a really unique press where the linkage arms are mounted to the top of the press and not the bottom. I’m extremely curious to see how this would come out in the leverage test.

  8. Excellent work, including a surprisingly entertaining video. It could have been very dry, but you made it work.

    Is there any chance you will release your raw data, as a downloadable Excel file or copied into Google Sheets? If not, can you please make your Summary tables downloadable? I would like to be able to sort the data differently for my own comparison.

    Thank you!

  9. Great work. Labor of love shown here or love of labor. Lol
    Gavin, If you where a long range competitive shooter, which of these would you take to the range to operate out of the back of your truck? The details thats required for loading that has the most important details for low SD, and extream spread. How would you say that these would compare to Wilsons hydo press and sizing and bullet seating system?
    The Summit press is standing out in my mind, your thoughts ?

    1. You have to read the data and decide for yourself. 🙂 That’s why I did the article. Take a look at the ORANGE and GREEN highlights on the last page to get best/worst scores for each category. Ultimately it depends on your budget, requirements, and workflow.

  10. This is truly some great work. I’ve seldom seen this attention to detail and comprehensive testing. I know you probably had to stop short of directly ranking the presses but I wanted to see for myself so I did. Have a peek at this spreadsheet. I entered your data and ranked the data. Added the rankings for a “score” for each press. Then compared score X price. Since a lower score is good and a lower price is good the number is somewhat representative of cost vs. quality.
    https://drive.google.com/file/d/1YkOSU_IJishytqqDYNnwVQMq2GvSFB-5/view?usp=sharing

  11. Very thorough project! I love lots of data rather than conjecture and rumor about which press a person should select. I did not have this information (no fault of yours, Gavin) when I recently got into reloading. I spent two months doing my own research and finally selected one. I am happy with my choice, but this info can be VERY valuable to a someone starting out on a very satisfying hobby. Well done!

    Forgive me for suggesting a similar ‘project’ for Progressive Presses (and variants). 🙂

  12. I have become a fan, and appreciate what you do.

    I’m not complaining, and I hope you don’t mind if I share a thought. I perceive flex in your bench top when you cycle the presses. It really doesn’t matter because you show that it works for you, but I figure solid can’t be half bad. Don’t mind me, and for what it’s worth, I do patronize a few of your sponsors.

  13. Thanks Gavin for this experiment and your time & effort! Exactly the kind of info i’m interested in being a press hoarder and data fetishist myself.

    One of my favorite single stage presses is missing though, the Harrell’s BR. (Hint hint) 😉

    Kind rgds from the Netherlands,
    RG

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