Reloading, Where To Begin

I didn’t, but hear my story.

My first reloader was a Dillon Square Deal B, a progressive with auto-indexing bought used at a carport sale. It worked well but the restriction to Dillon-only dies bothered me. I didn’t like having no freedom to choose parts from other vendors.

So, I upgraded to a progressive that accepts standard dies and, again, auto-indexing. Some would say I went “all the way” because I walked into the Dillon Precision store in Scottsdale AZ and bought a 650 with all the bells, whistles, buzzers and feed options. I dropped a lot of cash on Dillon that day.

I then spent many days installing all the pieces, adjusting the shell shover (pushes the shell into position #1), OAL, crimp and learning what happens where and when on that machine before the first reloaded 45 ACP round came out.

A couple of years later, that 650 is my main workhorse. I have a mix of standard-size dies including Dillons for most of the stations but also the Lee Factory Crimp in the last stage when I’m making 45 ACP, my most common reload. And I recently added an additional tool head with a Lee Universal Decapper to use on dirty brass, both 45 and 38, before cleaning. For volume work, that machine with the shell feeder is very hard to beat.

With all that hoopla, however, it’d be easy to overlook those two single-stage presses in the picture. They’re mounted on planks I clamp to the bench when in use but are stored as you see, hanging on hooks high on the wall. The orange one is a Lyman and the green press is an RCBS. I don’t know the model name of either – they were purchased used, the Lyman at a carport sale for $20 and the RCBS at a small town gun store for $50 along with some miscellaneous reloading parts and tools. Both are in perfectly workable condition after minor cleanups and lubing. These things are built to last.

And while I spend most of my time on the 650 cranking out thousands of 45 ACP reloads for Bullseye, I often find those single-stages useful for odd jobs like when I need 20 rounds with 3.8 grains of Clays, 20 with 4.0 and another 20 with 4.2. Sure, I could make these on the 650 but by the time I have everything adjusted, I could’ve hand-trickled and finished them on the single-stage.

And I would have more fun doing it that way, too because, frankly, the 650 is boring. Watch this, watch that, listen for this or that sound, keep it smooth and feel the primers seat but ultimately, it’s just the same drudgery over and over, round after round, bucket after bucket, hour after hour. [Yawn!]

A single-stage press, used to make a small amount of ammo, has variety. It keeps me entertained. It holds my attention. When I’m making 20 rounds, just about the time my attention is ready to drift from the seating of primers, I’m done with the 20 and need to start measuring and dumping propellant. And when that’s done, it’s time to set the OAL and seat 20 bullets. Then it’s change dies and crimp time. Before I have time to get bored, it’s time to do something different.

For small runs, the single-stage is more efficient and, frankly, it’s more fun.

If you reload you will, over time, accumulate equipment. You will end up with more than one reloader because each type has its pros and cons.

So, start with the single-stage that you’re going to get eventually anyway. The brand and model matter, but not much. They all do the same basic operation. And with a single-stage, you’ll find it’s better for learning - you’ll learn the how and why for each step. And it costs less than a progressive. (A lot less!) And years from now, you’re still going to have the single-stage and you will still be using it for those odd jobs and small runs.

The pricey volume monster with auto-indexing, shell feeder and three different alarms and alerts can wait.

And who knows what you might find at a neighborhood garage sale?

History debuted in 2023, and includes content from the author’s previous website ( redirects here).
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