Reloading Basics - Equipment Upgrades
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- Last updated: 01/11/2022
When you first start reloading, the choice of equipment can be overwhelming and balancing what is available with what you can afford is the way most people go. Once you get into reloading and learn more about the equipment, you will, of course, feel the need to upgrade, and there is certainly a lot of apparatus to choose from. So, when upgrading and spending more money on equipment, where do you start?
There are a huge number of presses available, from simple single-stage presses like the Lee Precision Breech Lock Reloader Press at around £60, to the Ponsness Warren Metallic II semiprogressive press at £640, and they are all of decent quality. If like most people, you start reloading with a single-stage press, it doesn’t take long to realise that this type of press is a bit slow and a lot of folks feel the need to speed things up a bit to increase their output. Some single-stage presses have a breech lock system, to speed up die change-overs and make the reloading process a bit quicker, but for a real increase in output, you are going to need to upgrade your press.
If you invest in a turret press, then you instantly have all of the dies installed in the press at once, with no need to keep switching them over like on a singlestage press. Available almost exclusively now with the capacity for four dies, a turret press can hold a full set of dies, plus any additional die you might choose to use, such as a factory crimp die.
This type of press will auto-index, advancing the turret to the next die with each pull of the lever, allowing you to make a full round of ammunition with three or four pulls. However, when reloading rifle ammunition, it is often easier to remove the index and turn it manually as required. You can do things in whatever order suits you and if you do parts of the process off-press (cleaning, priming, adding powder etc.), the convenience of being able to turn the turret to whichever die you need to use really does speed things up.
All of the die brands available in the UK produce a ‘standard’ set of dies that will get you producing quality rifle ammunition, but you can also get upgraded, higher quality, ‘specialist’ dies for different applications.
RCBS manufacture a range of competition dies that offer several features not found on their more basic die sets. They are set to SAAMI minimum dimensions, meaning they will produce ammunition to fit all guns in the calibre. They also feature a micrometre for accurate bullet seating as well as a window in the side to improve bullet loading and alignment. The last two features are actually really practical, with the micrometre adjustment on the seater die being particularly useful if you reload with more than one bullet and have to frequently switch between different cartridge overall lengths.
If you reload lead bullets in calibres like .45-70 Winchester and are having issues seating the bullets or getting the crimp right, there are specialist dies like the RCBS Cowboy Dies that have been specifically introduced to overcome this type of problem. I switched to these dies and they certainly work. They resize and then expand the cases ‘differently’ to the standard dies and the soft lead bullets seat so much better. Exactly what RCBS have done in order to achieve this will be down to very small changes to the dimensions of the resizer die and the expander plug, but whatever it is, they have addressed and resolved a specific problem with a purpose-made set of dies.
The die ‘upgrades’ discussed above provide solutions and make reloading a bit easier and quicker but at a cost. Another option is to upgrade a single die, instead of the whole set. This saves money and allows you to just change the one die that might not be performing as you want it.
Ponsness Warren sells a bullet seating die on its own, with the bullet loading window and the option to crimp your bullet in place, which you can substitute for your current seating die at a relatively low cost. Lee Precision produce a large range of single dies, including decapping dies, universal case expanding dies and factory crimp dies, which can be substituted into your current die set to solve a specific issue without the expense of switching to a completely new set of dies.
If your die set includes a full-length resizing die, then switching to a neck-only sizing die is a worthwhile investment, as it can be quicker and easier to use. There is no need to lubricate the brass and there is less stress-related wear and tear on it, which means your cases will last longer and so save you money. If you are only using the cases in the same gun as they were fired in, then neck-only sizing is the way to go.
Equipment upgrades are an inevitable part of developing your reloading skills and there are plenty of opportunities to add or substitute equipment in your setup. If you have a particular issue with one part of your reloading, then a single die, either in addition to or instead of one of your existing dies, maybe the cheapest solution. Full sets of dies are expensive but they can help you produce better ammunition quicker. Replacing your press is something we all do at some point and going auto-index is the best route, keeping your single-stage press for specific jobs like depriming or bullet sizing.
Lee Precision and Ponsness Warren Reloading Equipment – Henry Krank - www.henrykrank.com
RCBS Reloading Equipment – GMK Ltd - www.gmk.co.uk