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.
  • Quality
    • 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.
Lee Classic Cast

Lee Classic Cast

RCBS Rock Chucker Supreme with optional Auto Prime

RCBS Rock Chucker Supreme with optional Auto Prime

Redding Ultramag Press

Redding Ultramag Press

Forster Co-Ax Press

Forster Co-Ax Press


3 Responses to “What’s the Best Single Stage Press?”

  1. Monty Says:

    Great information. You point out things that I didn’t really consider before. I just bought a Forster Co-Ax off of Craigslist for $135. I’m very excited. I understand that since I’m getting the B2 model, there may be clearance issues with certain seater dies. Do you know if this is the case?

    Also, someone mentioned that if I purchase Forster brand seater dies that I can change the micrometer adjuster between different dies and only need to purchase one micrometer adjustment gauge. Do you know if this is true? Is that the case with all micrometer adjustment dies or only Forster?

    Thanks for any help

    1. squibloads Says:

      With some micrometer seaters (Redding) on some longer cases, the B-2 yoke will interfere with the die. My B-2 yoke works fine with .308 Redding dies, and I am told (but have not confirmed) that the B-2 yoke will work with Redding dies up to 30-06. Worst case, you can upgrade the yoke to B-3, ordering directly from the Forster website. AFIAK, Forster micrometer-head dies have always worked withthe B-2 yoke – you can contact Forster to confirm before buying dies.

      Regarding swapping micrometer heads, I have read that it can be done with Hornady dies (certainly the heads can be added to non-micrometer dies, so you should be able to swap them), but have no direct experience except with Redding – and I have never tried to swap heads with Redding dies. Part of the appeal of micrometer adjustments is speed, some of which you would lose by swapping heads. As always, it is a dollar vs convenience issue.

  2. Ted Feasel Says:

    I bought the latest forster coax press and if you get one you will not be disappointed. Combined with my Redding competition dies and even my hornady new dimensions (I have both in 308 and 22-250) you feel the bullet slide in like it’s on butter, no bind up at all, no misalignment, no clearance issues. All my pistol dies are hornady and I get such low run out that it’s almost not measurable. If you research it creation you’ll see why it’s is such a precision piece of machinery. I have Wilson inline chamber die also for my 308 and use a arbor press with it and I don’t get any better consistency from them than from my forster and Redding. Only advantage of my Wilson die setup is it is very portable.

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