A Look At Progressive Presses

Progressive reloading presses offer shooters speed and efficiency when producing custom loads. However, there is a wide array of products and options to consider. In this episode, the 6.5 Guys meet with Gavin Gear of Ultimate Reloader to get an expert’s overview of progressive presses available and key considerations particularly for precision rifle shooters.

If you’re contemplating the purchase of reloading gear you need to check out Gavin’s site. In Gavin’s words, “Ultimate Reloader is all about providing the best information available pertaining to ammunition reloading, ammunition reloading presses and equipment, load development, shooting, and guns. I started Ultimate Reloader because I agonized for literally months when I was trying to figure out which reloading press to buy.”

Besides producing match quality ammo, progressives are also a terrific option for the high volume rifle and pistol shooter. Many of you are familiar with our journey toward progressive reloading from our article and video Precision from a Progressive Reloader where we discuss our use and configuration of the Dillon 550 to produce match quality ammo. But there are other options available, each with benefits of drawbacks. Let’s explore:

Lee Precision

Photo courtesy of Lee

Lee has a loyal following in certain categories, but in the progressive market they are focused on the value minded pistol shooter. Gavin started with the Pro 1000 because it was a three station press. It’s not really intended for rifle ammo.

Jumping up you have the Lee Load Master which is a 5 station press, but Gavin points out that it’s actually a four station press because you have to have the sizing die in station two to get the right priming alignment. A lot of folks report success using the Load Master for .223/5.56 ammo and Gavin himself has had success. However, it’s really not aimed at the precision minded reloader.

The priming system is susceptible to explosion given the way primers are lined up next to one another. Lee does sell an explosion shield.

Dillon

(L to R) Dillon RL 550B, Dillon XL 650, Dillon Super 1050. Photo courtesy of Dillon.

Dillon is considered by many the industry standard for progressive presses. Gavin calls them “tried and true.” Of the many presses available, the RL 550B, XL 650 and Super 1050 are best suited for precision rifle ammunition. They run smoothly and their designs have remained consistent for over 20 years. There is very good after market support as evidenced by purveyors such as Inline Fabrication.

The RL 550B is a good general purpose press. It doesn’t auto index which can be considered a benefit by some or a drawback by others. Since it doesn’t auto index, it gives you more flexibility with longer rifle cartridges and it can be used as a single stage press. It also has a small shell plate which results in less flexing. It only has four stations which could be limiting in certain circumstances. The primer system feeds “on demand” in contrast to the XL 650. It also isolates the primers significantly reducing the chance of primer tube explosions. Changing primer sizes is relatively easy.

The XL 650 is a good press if you’re going to load a lot of .223/5.56. With 5 stations you can add case and bullet feeders. The auto indexing is also a help if you’re focused on volume. There have been reports of primer tube explosions with the XL 650 given the close proximity of primers on a “telephone dial” feeder. The primer system is not “on demand” so it will continue to feed primers every time you cycle the press. Switching primer sizes can be cumbersome to the degree that some folks have dedicated machines for small and large primers. It has a very nice audible powder check system, but it doesn’t stop the press.

While Gavin doesn’t own a Super 1050, he has experience with them. It’s a commercial grade seven station machine. One significant drawback is the fact that it primes on top of the stroke limiting feel, something that the precision minded reloader might have difficulty accepting.

Dillon’s encourages their customers to configure dedicated tool heads for each cartridge. This is extremely convenient when switching between cartridges but it does incur an additional expense. Gavin has also observed that the Dillon sliding bar powder measures are not as consistent as drum type powder measures. The bars are also pain to change out when moving from a small to large cavity bar.

Hornady

Hornady Lock-N-Load AP. Photo courtesy of Hornady.

The Hornady Lock-N-Load is a five station press and the successor to the Pro-Jector. One nice feature is the Hornady Die Bushings which provide a degree of die float – something we accomplish on other presses through the use of o-rings. The die bushings also provide a lot of flexibility when it comes to adding and removing dies and other accessories. You can even get a bushing conversion kit for your other presses. The Lock-N-Load does not have a removable tool head like the Dillon – you remove each die or accessory individually.

A slide bar on-demand priming system is used and it is very easy to change over from one primer size to another. From Gavin’s experience it works with all brands of primers. Gavin would give the edge in consistency to the Hornady powder measure. Gavin recommends getting two powder measures – one set up with a pistol rotor and one set up with a rifle rotor.

In Gavin’s experience the case feeder is not as smooth as the Dillon. It’s louder and cases tend to get stuck or bounce off the transfer bar. However this doesn’t happen that often with .223 or .308 – two staple cartridges of the precision reloader. The rifle bullet feeder is excellent in Gavin’s opinion.

RCBS

Pro Chucker 5 (L) and Pro Chucker 7 (R). Photo courtesy of RCBS.

Gavin started out with the RCBS Pro 2000 which was their older 5 station press. It used the APS priming system which has since been discontinued by RCBS. The APS priming system is very convenient when you purchase CCI primers that already come in the APS strips. For other brands of primers, RCBS has a tool to insert the primers into the strips but it isn’t much faster than loading a primer tube. It’s one of those things that looked good on paper but didn’t catch on.

The Pro Chucker 5 and Pro Chucker 7 are the current progressive presses offered by RCBS. They use the same frame and you can actually convert a Pro Chucker 5 to a Pro Chucker 7. The Pro Chucker 7 really is compelling as you will quickly find a use for seven stations. They have done away with the APS priming system in favor of a conventional tube and transfer bar. RCBS has had some issues with the priming system and Gavin has been working with them on a resolution.

They use a rotating drum powder measure that operates much like the Hornady. However, the powder measure differs in that the pistol measure is an insert that goes into the rifle drum so you only need one powder measure.

RCBS does not have a case feeder but they are working on one. This might be an issue for a pistol reloader but Gavin doesn’t believe it presents much of an issue for the precision rifle reloader.

Summary

Gavin does not endorse one press over the other. Whichever press you choose, recognize that you are buying into a system. Determine whether you want manual or auto indexing as strong arguments could be made for either (it’s almost like the revolver v.s. auto debate). Determine whether you will be loading pistol along with your precision rifle loads. Is a case feeder important to you? Is the availability of after market accessories important? Etc.

Keep checking back with Ultimate Reloader as Gavin will be producing a progressive buyers guide. As we mentioned earlier, be sure to check out some of Gavin’s videos.

Editor: Ed Mobley (ed@65guys.com)

 

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