Pros: Strong for its size; Useful for most standard calibers
Cons: Leverage can be an issue
Is the RCBS Partner Press my only reloading press? No. Has it been 'retired' to part-time, emeritus status; serving for a quick box or as a decapping or bullet seating stage? Yep. Is it the one I rely on if I'm looking to chunk out a 'belt' of rounds? Not anymore. Is it worth the money? Well...
To put it in a nutshell, if you're simply looking for an inexpensive press for single stage operations, there are more cost effective options. If you're looking for a good 'starter' press or are only looking to occasionally load up a few rounds of standard calibers, the RCBS Partner Press is a good journeyman's tool. It has served me faithfully for roughly two decades in these roles.
What It Is
At an MSRP of $82.95, RCBS lists the Partner Press thus:
"Just starting out? The Partner Press is easy to use and incredibly durable. Our least expensive press offers big performance in a compact package. It's also perfect as a second press for different operations or a portable press for use at the range."
This reloading press has been around for over twenty years; which is a testament to the design. Originally, the thing retailed for $20 - $24 depending on your retailer; which struck me as a bit expensive at the time. This put it in direct, price point competition with the Lee Precision 'Reloader' Press (which still retails today for only $35); one of the more ubiquitously available "beginner" presses at the time. However, unlike the Lee's "C-frame" design, the RCBS Partner Press has a much stronger "O-frame."
My Partner has loaded uncounted (though well into the thousands) rounds of .45 ACP, .44 Magnum, .223, 30-30, and 30-06. It has decapped even more cases. It's been moved from table to table. In short, it's seen some very real use. Even so, it has required little maintenance and is still in almost pristine condition; though there has been a little 'loosening' of the arm.
The Partner accepts all the standard RCBS shell holders. I have used RCBS Group A (full-length) and Lee Precision Carbide 3-Die Sets from the beginning (i.e., 7/8" x 14 dies). In addition, I have used the RCBS Primer Pocket Swager Combo (though I don't recommend regular use with the Partner) and their Decapping Die.
The Partner is now shown with a plastic, spent primer catcher. Mine didn't come with one, so I improvised using a plastic light switch box bolted to the right of the press with a 6" long piece of cardboard acting as a backstop. It has always worked and I only have the occasional spent primer to pick up off the floor.
I've never used, or even installed, the priming arm. There are a couple reasons. First, I don't consider the priming arm on a press to be sensitive enough for my 'touch.' Second, I prefer to do my reloading in stages; especially since, when I sit down to load, I usually don't do less than 50 rounds at a time. Therefore, I've happily used the RCBS Automatic Priming Tool from the start.
Something To Bear In Mind
According to the RCBS website, there is a Limited Lifetime Warranty. A couple of sections to take note of...
"Your reloading press...is warranted to be free from defects in material or workmanship for as long as the original owner owns it. This warranty is extended only to the original consumer purchaser...All RCBS products are intended for non-commercial use by hobbyists. Any other use of these products will void the warranty. Should you believe that your reloading press...is defective in material or workmanship, you must return the reloading press...to Ammunition Accessories Inc. through its Oroville [California] operation (hereinafter "Oroville Operations") postage paid for evaluation. If defective, the product will be repaired or replaced at Oroville Operations' option, at no charge. "
I've never had to deal with RCBS insofar as warranty issues. There again, the majority of reloaders I'm familiar with use RCBS presses and I've only known one who returned his press to RCBS for some 'work.' (Though I do seem to remember hearing about some issues with the arm when the Partner Press first came out, I also have the impression that it had something to do with using the press 'too hard;' i.e., trying to load magnum calibers.) It was dealt with quickly; but, that was almost two decades ago. Thus, bear in mind, I cannot speak to their customer service now. However, just the fact that I've never personally had to avail myself of it might suggest something.
What It Is Not
The Partner Press is not what I'd term a 'heavy-duty' tool. It is strong and durable - especially for its size. But, it simply does not have the leverage for large calibers. It can be a bit of a struggle with cases that are too lightly lubed. Full-length resizing gives one an excellent workout even with standard calibers. Some calibers have 'issues' even with carbide dies.
Yes. It is designed with a 'compound leverage system.' Yes. It connects to your 'table' or 'bench' with three bolts. But, this is not a particularly large or heavy press. (Sorry. I'm not going to unbolt it from the bench to measure/weigh it.) Magnum calibers are not really an option. In fact, 30-06 is probably about as large as you regularly want to attempt; both in terms of the opening and leverage. (We're not talking about absolute opening size, which can be misleading and/or a marketing gimmick. I'm assuming 'average' size hands in conjunction with necessary leverage.)
(By the way, this is really a 'right-hand' design; although, I suppose, it can be awkwardly used either way.)
While the Partner is available in "kit" form (MSRP $210), you are really better off getting the press by itself and then assembling a good selection of tools based on individual preferences/style. Why? Eventually, if you're serious about reloading, you will end up with a better press (two single stage presses which come to mind are - the RCBS Rock Chucker, one of the most popular all-around and the Forster/Bonanza Co-Ax® Press: It May Be, The Best Single Stage Press Available). You will also find that as your style develops, different manufacturers have unique advantages insofar as the plethora of reloading tools. Finally, you'll save money in the long run by purchasing the 'best' up front, rather than taking the 'basic' tools incorporated into the 'kits' to make them affordable.
This last thought, buying the 'best,' is probably the Partner Press' single, biggest advantage. It is a very good starter or occasional use press; probably the 'best' in that niche. (An appellation you do pay for.) It will serve the needs of most, beginning reloaders vis a vis the 'standard' calibers until they are ready to make the commitment to something like the $180 (MSRP) RCBS Rock Chucker Supreme ($120 at Cabela's) or the $240 (Cabela's) Forster Co-Ax. After that, it becomes a very strong tool which will continue to serve you well as a second press for small jobs such as decapping or bullet seating.
In that sense, you'll get your money's worth over time. Remember, I'm using mine after twenty years of honorable service. Let's see... At the price I paid... That works out to just about $1 a year...
You know. Maybe it wasn't that expensive after all.