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- Last updated: 17/09/2023
This month, Mark Underwood considers some of the issues associated with upgrading to an automated press
Although most people start reloading with a single-stage press, which allows close monitoring of each and every step in the reloading process, the temptation to upgrade to a press with some level of automation is often too strong to resist. This will significantly increase the amount of ammunition you can produce during a reloading session, but there are several factors other than speed that you need to consider.
A turret press is the simplest type of automated press, with a central indexing rod that turns a turret holding the dies each time you lower the lever. After each step is completed, and the ram is lowered, the next die is moved into place so that when you raise it again, the case is presented to that die. This type of press is easy to monitor because only one process happens at a time, right in front of you where you can see it.
As the name suggests, this type of press is far more ‘progressive’ and it produces ammunition at a much faster rate. They are commonly used by shooters of pistol-calibre ammunition to make the large number of rounds they use in competition. Instead of moving the dies in a rotating turret, a progressive press holds all of the dies in fixed positions and it is the cases that are moved around as they progress through the reloading process. Depending on the make and model, the press holds between 4-6 cases, and they are all raised at the same time, one under each die. Typically, this means that one case is deprimed, one is flared, one is charged with powder, one has a bullet seated, and one is crimped etc. All simultaneously.
A turret press or a progressive press will increase your output considerably and allow you to make many more rounds per hour. This is a big advantage if you have a limited amount of time to do your reloading, and it means that you can maybe produce a month’s-worth of ammunition at once and stockpile it (remembering of course to not make more ammunition than you are permitted to possess on your FAC). Before the handgun ban, practical pistol shooters would often shoot 100s of rounds per week, so a progressive press was more a necessity than a luxury.
As previously mentioned, progressive presses achieve a much higher output than single-stage presses by carrying out several operations at once, each time the lever is operated. All of the different stages are ‘pressure sensitive’ and the performance of the finished ammunition depends on the consistent and correct application of that pressure. On a single-stage press, you can feel a case neck expanding, a bullet entering a case mouth, or a crimp being applied. On a progressive press, it is impossible to feel those individual processes going on, and all you feel is the overall pressure of the cases being presented to the various dies.
As well as not being able to feel the different stages going on, with a progressive press you cannot watch everything that is happening all at once. Ensuring a powder charge has been put into every case is, of course, very important, and a primed case with no powder can result in a blocked barrel. With a single-stage press, you can see each powder charge fall and be confident that every case is charged. On a progressive press, you need to keep an eye on your powder measure and ensure that it moves and functions each time. Marking a graduated scale on the powder measure is a good way of monitoring powder flow and case charging. Some reloaders also position small torches and even mirrors on the press to allow them to see into each case before a bullet is seated.
You also lose the ‘feel’ for a primer being seated, even if it is done on the down-stroke of the press, due to the size and weight of the carrier. When you first start to use a progressive press, you should check the primer is seated correctly in every completed round and try to be consistent with the down-stroke each time.
Some progressive presses allow you to add case and bullet feeders, so you do not have to insert each one by hand, and these do speed things up. However, if the feed system fails you might not notice. If a bullet has not been placed on a case, it will still be moved onto the crimping die, where it will be crimped without a bullet. Next, it will be ejected from the press, causing the powder to be spilt everywhere. Sometimes too much automation is not the best option.
If you need to speed up your reloading, then automation is the way to go. However, you must consider all of the above issues. A turret press increases the speed at which you reload and it also only does one thing at a time, so you can control and monitor all aspects of the process to ensure consistency. If you go to a progressive press, you gain even more speed, but lose a lot of control, plus you have to rely on everything working correctly at the same time.
Everyone who reloads has to decide on the compromise between speed and consistency when choosing a press, then gear up accordingly. The fastest way is not always the best way when it comes to reloading.