What Press Should I Buy?

Every reloading forum you visit will undoubtedly have 2 – 3 posts visible at all times asking this question or a variation of it.  Here’s the two part answer:  ‘I don’t know’ & ‘it depends’.  Seriously.  Every situation is a little different; budgets vary as much as shooting habits.  I’ll just share what I did.

I did a LOT of research before jumping into reloading (all of it from either books or on the internet; I didn’t have a mentor or anyone I knew close to me who was reloading at the time).  My research led me to a single stage RCBS Rockchucker press.  That press suited my needs for well over 10,000 rounds and it still sees action.  I don’t know with any certainty whether RCBS presses are qualitatively better than other brands; I know it works well for me.

A lot of people are trying to decide whether or not to jump head first into a progressive press before getting any experience.  You can do that… but it can also be a recipe for mistakes.  My advice (take it or leave it) is to start with a single stage press for two reasons:

  1. You will learn the basics in a way that also minimizes the opportunity to make mistakes.
  2. You will always have tasks for a single stage press, even if you primarily run a progressive.

After a little more than 2 years of experience on my single stage press, taking multiple press strokes to create each round and doing everything in batches, I started to research progressive presses.  The standing mantra is “Dillon – Buy Once Cry Once”.  You’ll see this repeated over and over in any reloading forum.  I’ve never run a Dillon press.  I’ve read fantastic things about them, know they have a HUGE following and probably would have bought one myself…  except I fell into a smoking deal on an RCBS Pro 2000 Auto-Indexing press.  It was brand new in the box, owned by someone who’d either received it as a gift or won it as a prize and he was never going to use it.  I came across the deal in the private sales section of the NevadaShooters.com forum and snatched it up that very moment.  The price was definitely right.

Remember, I said I’ve never run a Dillon.  I’ve helped a friend do some basic setup on a Hornady, but don’t have any real experience with those either.  And, I don’t have any experience with a Lee progressive.  So no, I can’t tell you definitively that the RCBS is “better”. But, there are some key features that it very, very appealing (…compared to some of the problems I’ve read about with other presses).

  • It is ROCK SOLID!
  • The APS priming system RCBS uses is efficient and safe.  I’ve read of priming tube explosions with other designs; that’s a practical impossibility with the APS system.  And, you can buy primers that are pre-loaded in APS strips (well… when you can find primers to buy).  If you don’t buy the strips loaded, the press comes with a handy tool to put loose primers into APS strips.  That’s fast too.
  • It’s a simple design with very few moving parts.  Compared to what I’ve seen of Dillon, there is very little that can go wrong with the RCBS design.
  • Caliber changes are fast.  I can switch between calibers in approximately 10 minutes (max).  Swap the shell holder plate (one allen bolt), swap the die holder (two pins), swap the primer plug if warranted (easy access; one bolt) and swap powder.  The Uniflow has a finely threaded micrometer style adjustment, so you can dial in your known settings, verify weight and move on.  Very simple.
  • 5 holes for die positions.  This adds a lot of flexibility over some presses.  I run a lockout die when I’m loading for pistol; that added hole is nice to have for that (or for separate bullet seating / crimping).
  • RCBS customer service.  Dillon gets lots of praise for it’s “No BS” warranty.  In my experience, the RCBS service is completely identical.  I’ve made mistakes where I’ve broken something (i.e. bent decap rod).  One call to RCBS, with me explaining it was my fault and offering to pay for the part, and they simply sent me a new piece at no charge.  I’ve been very satisfied with every interaction I’ve had with RCBS.

So your next question is… “If this RCBS Pro 2000 is so fantastic, why aren’t the forums littered with glowing reports of praise from happy owners?”  My opinion – RCBS doesn’t do a very good job marketing.  I can’t explain why they don’t, but I think that if they did better marketing, they’d dominate.  Another highly respected RCBS Pro 2000 owner (“GWhis” on several forums) has another view that also makes sense… (paraphrasing from memory) RCBS’ stuff is so simple that workarounds and a lot of banter about how to make something work better isn’t required. It just works. Since most of what you read about on forums starts with a problem, you’re unlikely to read much about RCBS.

I’ve now made another 12,000+ rounds using the RCBS Pro 2000.  Simple, effective and only minimal maintenance is required (occasionally clean out under the shell plate / priming system).  Is it as fast as a Dillon?  I don’t know – I’ve never run one.  I run a sustained 250 – 275 rounds per hour at a comfortable pace.  I’m not trying to set records for speed (harder to do that & stay safe).  I read about high productivity rates with other presses and have to wonder whether that’s a sustained number or just a peak that doesn’t include adding primers, adding powder, etc.  All I can share is my personal experience, and I’m extremely happy with my press.

One additional down side to the Pro 2000 is a limited number of accessories (i.e. automatic bullet feeders, case feeders, etc).  I haven’t yet felt the need to accessorize my press.  But, if you’re interested in knowing more about some of the possibilities, search out posts by ‘GWhis’ and you’ll see some very creative modifications that he’s implemented to make the RCBS press even better than it already is.

So, I ended up with my RCBS single stage press (which I use for precision rifle loads, and some decapping) and with the Pro 2000 for most chores.  Then I added a Lee Classic Cast single stage press.  Why?  Bullet swaging.  That will be explained soon in that section of the site, but the short answer to the longer story is that I wanted to dedicate a press for that task and the die maker I chose had a very strong opinion favoring that particular Lee press (and he makes specific accessories I wanted).

Like all things related to shooting & reloading, it never ends.  I could frankly be very effective with just the items I originally purchased.  Instead, I saw a glimpse of what was possible with other tools and threw more coin into the pot.  That’s another part of that ‘saving money reloading’ equation.  This stuff rarely breaks, but yet you’ll spend lots of extra money over time searching for the benefits of from all of the other tools you read about.

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