Harrells Compact Reloading Press Review

Harrells Compact Reloading Press Review 4,1/5 8610 votes
  1. Reloading Press Review
  2. Harrell's Reloading Dies
Huntington compact reloading press

IMHO, the Harrel's press is a great device, it's a very pretty piece of machine work and very strong too. Works no better than a Lee Classic Cast tho. Anyone seriously wanting to argue against that appraisal needs to bring some specific info based on a concentricty gage from ammo produced by them both, strong opinions prove nothing.A reloading press is a VERY simple mechanical device, basically consisting of a one piece body and a few very slow moving parts. The only thing a press has to do is push a case into and then pull it out of a round hole. The quality of the ammo comes from the dies, components and proper loading methods so virtually any press can do as well as another. Ranger335v: 'Strong opinions that one press is just as good as another prove nothing either.

Why should only those that oppose your point of view have to provide proof?' Andy, It seems you agree with me; what part of my strong POV runs counter to yours? But, I'm perfectly willing to provide logic 'proof' of what I originally said.I do often have strong opinions that run counter to 'conventional wisdom', including my comments on the functional quality of presses of any price or external appearance. However, your own (correct) appraisal of what can be done on most any press sorta makes my point about presses. The value of good dies, methods, etc, apply equally across the range of presses regardless of type so, while what you say is true, it proves nothing about presses.First, no one would suggest any poorly made tool will work as good as a well made tool but the issue here is what constitutes a sufficiently well made tool for the purpose. And maybe how to appraise its quality, especially for something as simple as a press?

It was my use of concentricity gages and dial indicators that converted many of my previous tool brand/model certainties! Bottom line, I learned all that really matters is how well the parts of a press are aligned and the strength to do the required work, not how pretty it is to look at. Individual tools, press or die, can be less than pretty but none I have measured have been truly bad. I’ve found no average precision advantage consistently going to any maker based on the quality of manufacturing. ( But, I haven’t tested Harrell’s beautifully made turret press.

)Lee's Classic Cast is very strong and is bored/machined on modern CNC tooling so their alignment is equal to or better than anyone else’s. IMHO, NO turret/progressive can, by virtue of their rotating head design, precisely/consistantly index dies to the ram so I exclude turrets from my discussion.All presses I am aware of are much stronger than they need to be for common reloading chores. I've proven that with dial indicator tests while doing FL sizing in several presses across the price/brand spectrum. Much to my own surprise, Lee’s alum alloy presses are more rigid than iron presses I checked (Rock Chucker, Lyman)! Not stronger, just more rigid within the limits of their strength and rigid is good when we’re striving to make accurate ammo!

(Meaning Lee's very rigid 'cheep' alum presses may well be an advantage for making highly accurate ammo rifle!)Sure, dies, components and methods make a lot of difference but the question is a press. Equal quality dies and techniques appear to work as well in a little $30 Lee 'Reloader' as they do in a $300 (or more?) Harrells, etc. And, if the methods, components or dies are poor, the results will be equally poor, no matter the press.?BR shooters use very lightly built arbor type presses and un-threaded dies. Those set-ups are the ultimate in a 'loose' fit! Precision hand dies have no attachment to the press at all and the presses usually don't have the strength to FL size even small cases.

But is that 'poor quality'? Not in my opinion! In use, the small arbor presses and hand dies prove that massive, precise and 'tightly fitted' presses cannot be depended on to make better ammo than a 'loose' press. However, a tightly fitted press that's poorly aligned (and some big name makers often are) will certainly make less than perfect ammo. Mostly we sporting rifle reloaders, just like the BR crowd, can depend on a round case precisely entering a round die UNLESS a tight put poor fit prevents it and some very tight, strong big name presses do exactly that.I haven't seen it but I hear that some very serious BR shooters are using the small alum alloy frame RCBS 'Partner' presses for their FL sizing/shoulder bumping at the range. Important thing: Some of them are reported to lathe turn a few thou off the diameter of their rams, effectively inducing gross wear! That’s being done to insure sufficient slack in the ram to allow cases and dies to self align.

I doubt those guys are fools so the idea of a tightly fitted ram for high quality work gets blown away! Even so, most reloaders are totally convinced that a really tight ram must automatically produce better ammo! In fact, I read that some guys toss out older presses with loose rams as being 'worn-out' when they might actually be capable of doing better work than when new!Now, what's the real value of 'high quality' external frills? Surely we can agree it makes exactly NO difference to the ammo if the toggle link arms are rusty cast iron, hammer forged aluminum or beautifully machined steel, nor if the lever's knob is rough wood, injected cheap plastic or precisely machined from costly titanium. ONLY the things that actually impact the cartridge has any real value except the owners self image.

Smooth or precisely cast or machined externals of any loading tool makes no difference in the ammo it can produce, perhaps especially so for a press!. Meaning the things some people value as increased 'quality' adds nothing to how well the press works and it takes no concentricity gage to 'prove' any of this, it's clear on it's face.Everyone should buy whatever press he wants and can afford without others sneering at it as inferior simply based on form and price rather than effectiveness of function. We should agree that high cost tools (like the Harrells presses) are being acquired to feed ‘‘feel good’’appetites. That's not a bad thing and I'm not putting anyone down, it's just a self evident evaluation; I shouldn't have to prove it any more than I have to prove that gravity works! So anyone arguing that, with other things being equal, any press at any price can instantly and of itself insure better ammo than another (including Lee's Classic Cast). Does seem to call for supportable justification.

And, at least to me, that means improved measurements of the finished product.How easily a tool is to use is a personal thing, nor a valid measurement of it's quality or effectiveness in producing good ammo. MANY people love the Forster Co-Ax press and say it makes 'the best' ammo, partly because of it's totally floating die holding system. Maybe so, but I find its ergonomics difficult to live with. That is no condemnation of the press at all, just saying it doesn't work well for me and I don't like the difficulty in adjusting a sizer as I want it. But those are only my personal things, the Co-Ax IS a very good press. But is it measurably better than others?

Not really, or many more people would be using them, what we LIKE or DON'T LIKE isn't a valid way to measure quality.If I'm wrong, how? And what press can, of itself, make reloading more difficult?? Ranger,As I said before, a skilled reloader, with sufficient effort and good dies, can use almost any decent press to make accurate ammunition. I've also seen some master cabinet makers make some awesomely intricate cabinetry with nothing but hand tools. That's not the point. A good quality press with a superior design will make it easier to assemble accurate ammunition than a poorer quality press or one of lesser design.You brought up hand dies and arbor presses, so let's go with that. Hand dies provide the accurate alignment and straight line motion in the way the dies parts fit together during use.

So a 'loose' arbor press works great with them, because it does not have to provide any alignment. With screw-in dies, the press must provide that alignment throughout the stroke.

Some presses are better at that than others.In the absence of lateral forces, a round cartridge will self-center in a round die, eventually. By absence of lateral forces, I mean that the press must not apply a misaligning lateral force to the cartridge as it is advanced into or withdrawn from the die. The motion should be well-aligned with (parallel with the axis of) the die, and must be in a straight line into and out of the die. Some presses feature guide rods and or linkage/pivot designs that do a better job than others. By 'eventually' I mean that, when the cartridge is fully advanced into the die, it will be centered.

But what about when it is 3/4 into the die? What happens when the case neck enters the neck portion of the die, but the base is still loose in the die, and void of any support or centering action provided by the die?

Will that thin, brass neck force the rest of the cartridge to line up with the rest of the die? But, as long as it gets aligned eventually, we're ok, right? Well, except for a little thing called brass spring-back, or 'memory'. Even if at the end of the stroke, the cartridge is fully inserted and centered in the die, as the cartridge is withdrawn, the neck that was bent off-center earlier will spring back to some extent, and be crooked.So what we need, for screw-in dies, is a press system that moves the cartridge in a straight line (or as straight as possible), while also allowing the cartridge to align with the die (or die to align with the cartridge, or both) with as little lateral force as possible.

To do this, we need a mechanism that, assuming straight line vertical motion is already provided, allows the die and/or cartridge to float, laterally, not angularly, with as little resistance as possible, so that minimal alignment force is transmitted through the brass itself in order to achieve alignment between cartridge and die.Consistency of pressure/position is also critical with a reloading press. A press that has a lot of spring to it will size to different amounts based on the amount of force required, which varies with brass condition, strength, and a lot of other variable factors. As you correctly pointed out, rigidity is not just about materials used. It is also about about the geometry of the press.

I would include the linkages, and where they are anchored on the press frame relative to the die, into the rigidity of the press.So, what press or presses provide some or all of these features, better than others? You mentioned some BR reloaders use light-weight, presses with lots of play in them for resizing with screw-in dies. I would submit that far more BR reloaders use a Forster Co-Ax for that task. Let's look at how it provides the features noted above.First, the design of the Co-Ax cuts lateral displacement of the ram during the stroke to practically zero, regardless of how much pressure is applied to the handle. The co-ax 'ram' is supported both above and below the cartridge in the bearings in the frame. A conventional press ram is supported only below the cartridge, and that support gets further away from the cartridge is advanced into the die, and alignment gets more critical.

Furthermore, a conventional press's linkage is applied at the opposite end of the ram, on the opposite side of the bearing. A typical conventional press bearing is about the same length as the stroke of the press. The effective length of the bearing(s) on the co-ax is almost 8', or twice that of conventional presses. Given equivalent amounts of play in the bearings (necessary for motion) between the two designs, the co-ax results in less than half the lateral motion at the the cartridge. But the co-ax linkage and bearing design also ensures that the ram stays on one side of that play for the entire stroke, reversing only when the stroke reverses, while pressure on the cartridge is zero, and as a result friction forces resisting re-alignment of cartridge and die are negligible.Compare that with a conventional press with compound linkage (i.e. The toggle at the bottom of the ram).

When the toggle inverts (the linkage and ram pivots on the toggle pass horizontal) during the middle of the stroke, the lateral force on the bottom of the ram also reverses. This reversal of lateral force causes the ram to shift fore and aft, also in mid-stroke, while force is still being applied to the cartridge and die, thus the friction forces resisting re-alignment between them are anything but negligible.

Many reloaders know and use a trick of pausing and rotating a cartridge being seated during the middle of the stroke, perhaps several times. I would submit that it is not the rotating of the cartridge, but the pause, and subsequent release of pressure, that allows the cartridge to re-align with the die more easily, which contributes to the increased accuracy from this technique. I suppose if you had poor quality seating dies, the rotating part might help too.So, the Co-Ax design provides for a straighter path into and out of the die, but what about allowing lateral float for re-alignment? As shown above, the lateral float in the ram of a conventional press cannot be counted on for re-alignment, since it also imposes its own lateral forces on the cartridge during the stroke. Also in a conventional press, screw in dies are sometimes left slightly loose to allow them to float for re-alignment. However, when a threaded die floats laterally in a threaded hole, it also imposes an angular tilt on the die, given that the die threads are not of the ACME square profile, but of the triangular profile of standard threads. This coupling of lateral float and corresponding angular tilt keeps the die from self aligning with the cartridge completely.

Comparatively, the Co-Ax die retention system, coupled with a cross-bolt lock ring, does not float the die in the press threads, but floats the die and its cross-bolt lock ring in a horizontal slot, for pure lateral alignment motion, with no corresponding tilt applied. Unlike a set-screw lock ring, the cross-bolt design locks squarely on the die body when tightened.The co-ax provides ample rigidity by virtue of the proximity of the linkage anchors to the die. The co-ax linkages are anchored to the 'ram' right at the shell holder, which is all part of a large, rigid iron casting. The other end of the linkages (part of the handle yoke) are anchored a the top of the press very near the die, also in a rigid iron casting. This arrangement provides maximum rigidity without a massive frame, because the majority of the frame is not subject to the forces of advancing and withdrawing the cartridge into and out of the die.But not only is the Co-Ax an accurate press to use, it is also a very convenient press to use. The floating die retention system also allows snap-in/out die changes, with no QC bushings to buy for the dies.

The universal, automatic shell holder jaws grip the rim more securely than conventional shell holders, while also allowing lateral float, and for many different cartridges, you do not have to change them. Should you stick a cartridge in a die, the shell holder jaws will more likely extract the stubborn cartridge than tear the rim off of it.The co-ax spent primer handling is second to none in routing all the spent primers and abrasive debris securely into a catch bottle, and kept well away from the press bearings.Can a careful, experienced and talented reloader produce accurate ammunition with other presses? Sure, just like those cabinetmakers I mentioned. I've used the BR Harrell press works great for loading at the range and I'm not sure about the other two sizes they make. I think they came up with a good idea on their press with three sizes instead of one size fits all and their more of a portable type press vs one that you mount to a bench.I'll take nothing away from Bob Frey 1000yd record he shot in 1993. I'd seen the pictures that Lee used to promote their products and I'm not for sponors either giving or paying someone to use their products.

Andy, all of your analysis of the 'lateral', off-axis, forces are correct. Also, in the practical sense, irrelivant to the work. Your consideratons could be significate IF the off-axis forces were great BUT they are not.

No off-axis force can have any deteremential effect on the ram until the case is in firm, full diameter contact with the die but, at that point, the fulcrums of the toggle and link arms are so very nearly ON-axis with the ram that, even with great force on the lever, the angular forces are so small the direction of force IS virtually straight up so far as the ram is concerned - that's part of the engineering of any press linkage, especially a compound.Your analysis demands the case to be weak but it isn't; brass is mallable but it's not Silly Putty! The body strength of a case is easily stiff enough to negate/ignore the tiny bending laterals remaining at the top of the ram stroke. So the last bit of entry into the die WILL be straight UNLESS poor press alignment prevents it. Even then, the necks physically can't enter the die at a radical enough angle to put very much of a 'bend' in them, thus there can be precious little case tilt for the necks to 'remember' even if it occurs!All this suggests an engineering classroom analysis of the physical forces in sizing can be fun but, if carried too far, it gets passed any logical or real world application.Even IF the Co-Ax is or could be perfect, it's just another tool. As with cabinet makers, a shop full of pro-grade wood working machines and hand tools doesn't make the owner a furniture grade craftsman. Few of today's wood workers can equal the quality of work that was common 300 years ago; skill counts far more than tools.A loose ram in a conventional press accomplishes exactly what Forster's 'floating' die arrangement accomplishes; allowing the case to self center as it enters the die. (Those who believe, as many do, that dies work best if they are firmly wrench tightened into the press are wrong, that helps nothing and may even be harmful to accuracy.)The Redding's Ultra-Mag seems to address the lateral force issues quite effectively by using longer swinging-link arms that attach at the head instead of the midpoint; that makes it much less springy too.

Question is, how much of that vast strength is used on common reloading chores? Ten, twenty percent?Lee's use of a hard, rigid alum casting alloy for their inexpensive press bodies insures they are strong and have very little spring. Lee machines and bores their bodies, alum and iron, with CNC tooling so the alignment is as near perfect as production processes allow. What else does a reloader need from a press?The Co-Ax has a small but vocal band of followers. But if anyone could prove it actually makes better ammo it would donimate the reloading market; it doesn't.

YOU like to use the Co-Ax. I don't, I don't care for the 'straight out' lever operation, but that's no more than an individual taste. Both of us have personal preferences so we are both right.but only for ourselves. I never attempt to sell a noob on my prefered press as being 'higher quality' based on my personal preference for some combination of user features that really may not appeal to them.So, which company makes the 'best' presses? Well, IF the loader has the needed skill he can, as you point out, work well with virtually any press.

Reloading Press Review

On the other hand, no one can buy a costly enough press to make great ammo if he doesn't know what he's about.Bottom line, the cost, color or shape of the press isn't the determining factor of the quality of work that can be done with it. That was the basis of my original comment and it remains so.?? I have a press with a misaligned ram. Not sure by how much, but the cases have to be pushed firmly back in the shellholder or they hang up.Cause problems?

At least not with most of my die sets. I believe that the tolerance in the shellholders lets the case center itself in the die. One particular resizing die will let necks run out 0.004' but that is because it is drilled out of line with the rest of the die. Fiddling with the expander brought it back to 0.002' out of line and that is good enough for what that rifle needs to be.Granted, I don't shoot bench rest, but some of my rifles will shoot MOA for 3 or 5 shots and I think that's not too bad for a sporter.If the base if the shellholder was not perpendicular to the ram travel, it seems that would be a cause for greater concern.

Also, a 'C' style press could have more potential for the die to get out of line as the press flexes, but any iron or steel press of an 'O' frame variety should not be drastically affected by force on the ram. That is the only argument I can see toward one type of press or another.

I do have a 'C' style press but all I use it for is decapping, anyway.Food for thought. Ranger,I'm glad you brought this up, since this is yet another source of lateral force on the ram of a conventional press that I had neglected to mention. I was referring only to the reversal of lateral forces that occurs when the toggle inverts (near mid-stroke, not near the top of the ram stroke).Let's think about this: In a conventional compound leverage press, what resists the lateral force on the handle when the ram is nearing the top of its stroke?Not the linkage arms, since they are nearly vertical, and free to pivot at the other end.The only other thing fastened to the toggle and handle is the ram. Only the ram is there to resist all of the lateral force you are applying to the handle. And since most single stage press handles are at least 45 degrees below horizontal at that point, at least half of the force you apply to the handle is lateral, not vertical.So, do you really think your thin brass cartridge neck is going to stand up to at least half the force you are putting on the handle?Andy. Think about this; During sizing, the case necks aren't having to resist any side force at all!The point of swinging link arms ia to move the fulcum of the toggle inline with the ram's center line and improve the ratio of lever force to upward force on the ram as the sizing resistance increases. As the ram lifts, the pins (fulcrums) of the toggle become almost vertical before any real resistance to travel from pushing the case into the die occurs.

Initial ram lift has the lagest off-axis toggle force but that occurs well before the case contacts the die. Toggle fulcrum alignment constantly improves as it rotates. The already small front side force rapidly decreases as the toggle lifts the ram so that, at full travel, the angular force vectors on the ram are virtually nil. All meaning any operating 'side forces' we apply to the lever/toggle itself is irrelivant to the case due to the hinge pins in the toggle block; it's hard to apply much lever-to-ram side force through a couple of loose hinges!Cam-over means one thing only; the rotating toggle block has passed TDC (Top-Dead-Center); that's it. So 'camming over' simply means the ram has gone as far up as it can go and is starting back down. At the point of cam-over the ram and toggle support pins go through vertical and there's no effective side force being exerted on the ram/case at that point. Even if there were such side forces they would be very well resisted by the web and lower case, not depending on the neck.

There is simply no way a neck can be misaligned/bent because of forces from the press, nor could it ever be so with the case jam fitted into the die; there is too little slack in the lower case-to-die fit for that!Bent necks can only occur during sizing if the die itself is poorly bored in two non-aligned steps. To the best of my knowedge that old two step die reaming method hasn't been used for decades! What does bend necks during sizing is the expanding step, not the sizing itself. It happens when the expander ball drags through under-size necks. But neither of those 'neck bending' problems have anything to do with the press and exactly the same thing will occur in any press if a bad die or a conventional expander ball is used in the die. 'Ummm, people Robert Frey set a 1000 yard bench rest record using the flimsy little lee hand press and Lee collet dies.' Good point; amazing, ain't it!

You have any idea how many 'you get what you pay for' guys have heart palpations after hearing about that?One can also load benchrest ammo without the use of a press at all. Remember there was a 7+ year record using a lee loader. People just like to think because they pay more for something it will load ammo better. If you read through old books you will find that people used to make loading tools from old worn out gun barrels, and even formed cases with them (i suspect that's where the idea for the original Lee loaders came from) and got superb accuracy.

This press from Harrell's Precision essentially combines the best features of a compact 7/8-14 press with an arbor press all in one small and portable package. This press features a dual ram design that allows you to size using a 7/8-14 style die from any manufacturer and seat bullets using a straight line Wilson type seater. Perfect for the reloader who loads at the range or has limited bench space at home.Features:. Lightweight 6.75 lbs. Lots of ram stroke (2.5') to accomodate up to 30-06 length cases. Removable C-clamp for mounting.

Harrell's Reloading Dies

Small size (10.5' x 7' x 2.5') when C-clamp removed.