Reloading Bench: “Progressing” Forward (or Not)

For a number of years, I’ve been reloading off and on (more off than on) using an RCBS Rockchucker single stage press similar to the one shown above.  My father and I started reloading centerfire rifle cartridges for varmint shooting around 23 years ago with an RCBS  Partner press kit (which I still have as well), and picked up the Rockchucker a couple years into the process.  The Rockchucker is a very solid, strong, smooth, and capable single stage press, perfect for reloading precision ammunition for taking out prairie dogs with bolt guns and single shots.  Other pieces of equipment were added along the way as well, such as an RCBS Uniflow powder measure, Forster case trimmer, and misc. odds and ends.

The reloading equipment sat largely dormant from the late 90’s – a few years ago.  I wasn’t shooting in enough volume to warrant reloading, and simply didn’t have the time to dedicate to making my own ammunition.  At one point though, I started shooting more .38 special and realized the box of 50 I used to find at Wal-Mart for $8.00 was now going for $16.00.  That was enough incentive to drag out the old green RCBS press and get it humming again.

The dies I picked up for reloading .38 Special were the Lee Deluxe Carbide 4-Die set for pistols.  These are very economical; you can easily find the set online for less than $40.  The expanding die allows you to mount a Lee powder measure and flow the powder through the die (although I don’t own one yet… but keep reading).  The 4th die is what they call a “factory crimp” die.  It checks the case size to ensure it’s at factory specs and crimps as well.  It’s a nice die to have the they have worked well on my RCBS press, with one exception (not the die’s fault):  reloading is slow.  Reloading pistol ammunition in four stages on a single stage press is a very time consuming proposition.

I primarily reload for the economic reasons.  Yes, some people enjoy reloading for the customization of loads, and for rifles I’m in that class.  But, for handguns, I usually shoot any old ammo I can get my hands on, and I want it to be cheap.  I’ve been shooting a fair amount of 9mm lately (as you can tell from my other posts), but I’ve never reloaded for it since I can get factory 9mm for right around $10 box/50, and adding up the components from most retailers doesn’t show a cost savings.  Well, I was recently turned on to places like Powder Valley where reloading supplies are much cheaper than many other places, and I am now computing a cost of reloading plated 9mm rounds at around $5.80 – $6.00 box/50.  That’s enough to get me thinking of rolling my own.  But, I do not have the time to sit and batch-load a block of cartridges at the speed of a single stage press.  Yet, I do not want to drop $400 on a Dillon progressive as it will take me forever to recoup that cost.  In shopping online, I came across a Lee Precision progressive press that can be had, with dies, for around $150:  the Lee Pro 1000.

It looks like a real machine, and it loads three cartridges at once.  With an automatic priming tool, automatic powder measure, case feed tubes, and auto ejection, it seemed like it would be “the thing.”  And, for $150, how could you beat it?  Sure, it only has stations for three dies but heck, for that price I could live with it.  A thorough search of forums and reviews of this machine led me to believe one thing:  it works well when it works, which is not nearly all of the time.  I read reviews, watched YouTube videos, and determined that the Lee Pro 1000 has too much propensity for jamming than I’d like.  The basic theme I’ve found is that if you want to “tinker,” adjust it, spend time working on it, etc., it can be made to roll out the ammo.  But if you’re not willing, and even if you are, you still have to keep a close eye on the primer feed mechanism.  If you don’t, you could end up with non-primed cases and powder spilling all over the press which requires disassembling and cleaning the entire arrangement.  Sorry Lee Pro 1000, but everyone tells me you’re too high maintenance of a relationship for me.

With the Pro 1000 off the list, I did more searching.  Again, Dillon and Hornady have progressive presses that get high marks from users, but $200 is my limit, not $400.  Hmmm… what’s this about Lee turret presses?  Feedback and information from online searches revealed that a high number of users are gushing about the Lee Classic Turret press (not to be confused with the standard Lee 3 or 4-hole turret press).  While it’s not as fast as a progressive, people who own this press say it works well, is very reliable, allows the user more “feel” and control over each step than with a true progressive, and it auto indexes (i.e. rotates) the dies so that that user only has to keep pulling the lever.  It can take the “Lee Safety Prime” primer feed system that, while not automatic, is quickly operated by hand.  Plus, it can use the Lee Pro Auto Disk powder measure with Lee flow-through expander dies.  People are consistently getting 200 rounds/hour reloaded with this press, which is plenty for me.  Plus, the press is around $100 in cost (slightly higher or lower depending on exact merchant).  Add in the Safety Prime system, Pro Auto Disk Powder Measure, the Auto Disk Riser (required to allow the measure to clear the prime system in rotation), and a Lee Deluxe Carbide 9mm 4-Die set and I can get this for right around $200 delivered to my door.  Yes, it’s more expensive than the Pro 1000 progressive but supposedly it works reliably and can chunk out the cartridges at a much higher rate than what I’m experiencing today.  There is another 4-hole auto indexing press offered by Lee that can be had even less cost than the Classic Turret press, but reviewers consistently say the Classic Turret press is stronger, smoother, and disposes of spent primers in a cleaner manner.

Here’s some pics of the Classic Turret press:

Press on its own:

Classic Turret with dies, primer system, and powder measure:

Bottom line:  I’ll be placing my order for the Classic Turret press very soon (exact retailer TBD as I’m awaiting discounted pricing approval after submitting my C&R license to several merchants… I will write more about the C&R license in a later post).

While the allure of a progressive press for $150 is still very strong and I’m still tempted to try it out, I know that I will kick myself and be VERY upset if it doesn’t work reliably.  So, I will be sticking with the Classic Turret and will post a review once it is in, up, and running.

Note:  here is a link to an excellent review of the Classic Turret press.  Other information can be found via Google searches and on YouTube.


About martowski

Garden-variety professional with one too many hobbies.
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