For what? Reloading .50BMG (ideally done with a big, purpose-built ‘O’ press), or neck-sizing 6mm PPC (quite neatly done with a small, handy “C” press)?
In terms of general purpose presses that will do everything from small pistol rounds to large rifle rounds, the default choice is an “O” press.
Whether you settle on a “C” (e.g., Lee Reloader), “O” (e.g., Lee Classic Cast, RCBS Rockchucker Supreme), or “H” (e.g., Redding Ultramag, Forster Co-Ax) , here are the features I find important:
- Good Spent Primer Management
- I will only consider using presses with through-ram primer disposal – it’s that much better. Many presses send the primers to one side or the next on the ram and hope to catch them in a small cup or cups. Some don’t even have a cup. The Best system is through-ram primer disposal, because this keeps the gritty, nasty primer debris off of the bearing surface of the ram, and because the primers reliably go either into a jar or straight into a garbage can through a piece of tubing. The Redding UltraMag, Big Boss II, Lee Classic Cast, and Forster Co-Ax have this key feature.
- Die Management
- Being able to snap a die on and off of a press without tools is a great time saver, especially when you’re tweaking or doing short runs or replacing a bent decapping pin or … it’s just really handy. The Hornady Lock-N-Load Classic Loader, Lee Breech Lock and Forster Co-Ax have this feature.
- Tight Ram
- If the ram wobbles from side to side, it may not be flat on the base of the die / casing. A small amount is harmless and not uncommon, but visible wiggle and/or clunking means something is amiss. “Zero-lash” means that you can’t wiggle the ram – this is the ideal state.
- Easy Maintenance
- How easy is it to strip, clean / lube and reassemble? If it’s hard, you won’t do it, and everything will wear out that much faster.
- Easy Access
- Roomy makes everything easier – putting the case in, putting the bullet in, snapping shell holders in and out, and so on. Roomy also means, all else being equal, more flex – a press with generous dimensions must have bulky cross-sections surrounding the work area to limit flex. “C” presses are the easiest to access, followed by “O” and “H”. “C” presses are not generally suited to full-length resizing due to flex.
- Ram Travel – Bigger is Better?
- If you’re loading .50BMG, .338Lapua Magnum or other long shells – you need a large ram travel measurement. If you’re loading shorter rifle rounds like .223 or just handgun ammo, a large opening just makes for a slower experience because you’re moving the ram further than you need to. So Bigger isn’t Better, you just need Big Enough. You might get bigger than you need right now to future-proof – but are you really going to load big ammo for thousand-yard matches, or is this merely another pipe dream?
- Limited flex
- You set a die up to just touch the ram, then full-length resize your .338 Lapua Magnum and notice that the ram no longer touches the die – there’s a visible gap where before there was none. What happened? The press flexed under the force of resizing – so the ram no longer consistently goes to the same spot (your rounds will be non-uniform) and the shell may not enter the die far enough. You can turn the die down, but all else being equal, less flex is better. Look for beefy construction, rigid cross-sections, and smart placement of the die station – centred with the forces acting on it, so it won’t twist while under pressure.
- Good leverage
- The harder you have to work to resize a case, the less fun you’re having. There is no objective way to measure the leverage – you’ll just have to talk to people or try their presses.
- Get a better-built press if you can afford it. Breaking the handle or other components at the start of a long session is more than frustrating.
- Standards and Versatility
- The standard die thread size is 7/8 – 14, but you may someday have a task that requires the next size up at 1 1/4 – 12. Many presses can take both, using an insert to handle standard dies. All modern presses accept shell holders from any manufacturer – if you find one that doesn’t, pass. Note that the Forster Co-Ax does not need shell holders – it has a universal jaw – but can use standard shell holders with an inexpensive adapter plate.