The Ultimate Reloader

Spending more time on the loading press.  Thinking hard about a progressive, as this one step business grates.  The loading rates they talk about are of course totally wrong, as they don’t include the hours upon hours spent prepping cases before you can start “reloading” on your 600 rounds per hour progressive machine.  I once timed a guy with his new state-of-the-art case prep center on Youtube, and came up with eight hours per thousand, IIRC.

I once sat down and figured how much technology would be needed to take your spent brass from the range and go straight to the progressive with it.  There was a motorized cleaning station, an RF induction annealing die, followed by a water-cooled sizing die (the brass would come in hot, you see, and since you’ll have to run water through your annealing die there’ll already be a cooling system) plus trimming and chamfering stations.  Depending on the case and bullet type, there may be an “M” die station.  I think I once came up with twelve or thirteen stations in all, to really have it all, no matter what.  I don’t know– $20,000.00?  Thoughbeit a small one, I figure there’d be a market for it.

I was looking at the Hornady L&L, but I’m being told the Dillon 650 is a better bet.  It’s listed for something like 600 bucks, but looking at the required hardware for actually loading a few calibers it’s over a thousand for sure, and from there you spend a little more.  I’ll have to resign myself to prepping cases the old-fashioned way– one at a time.

You have to like it, considering it a hobby, because if you figure the value of your time I don’t see the numbers working out.  You do get a little bit of independence from it, though you still need a supply of consumables.  If you want near total independence you should have a flintlock, make your own black powder using nitrate from the stockyard (I’ve heard of it being done without sulphur. It’s less powerfull but it works. If you live near an active volcano you may be covered there) and cast your own lead from scrap.  Ah, but you still need a supply of flint.  Man, this deteriorated quickly.  Sharp sticks.  There you have it.

20 thoughts on “The Ultimate Reloader

  1. I’ve done extensive analysis on the market. I’ll take the LnL over a 550 (it’s both cheaper, and has a higher output; with jsut as good quality and jsut as good customer service) but the 650 blows the LnL out of the water on production rate.

    The 650 has two disadvantages:

    1. It’s WAY more expensive, particularly when taking chambering changes into account
    2. It’s a longer and more difficult process to change chamberings

    If you are mostly loading very large quantities of a small number of chamberings, you’re better off with the 650. If you are loading a smaller amount of a number of chamberings, the LnL is the way to go.

    I did an extensive series of blog posts on the LnL, and comparing it against the 550 and 650.

  2. Stay with the L&L. The add ons with Dillon are a killer. I reload 6,000-8,000 rounds a year, mostly using once fired military brass. Yes, case prep is time consuming, but this is where your accuracy will come from. By the way, Hornaday’s case prep center is a time saver, also. I do not work for Hornaday or receive bla. bla, bla.

  3. I wouldn’t recommend that anyone start out on a progressive press. You need to learn what is going on at each step before you jump in to a progressive press. Even a cheap Lee press is enough to get you started. There is too much going on at the same time on a progressive press for a beginner to pay attention to.

    Once you have a basic knowledge of reloading, a progressive press can save you lots of time.

    The 650 is a nice unit, and it has the advantage of an extra slot for a powder check die AND a taper crimp die, which is something that I wanted when I was starting out with progressive reloading. Nowadays, I don’t even notice the beeps from the powder check station, because I get so many false alarms that I question whether or not I really need it.

    Changing calibers is a pain in the neck: I do it once every six months or so, and don’t get familiar enough with the process to get comfortable with it. I still need to refer to the book every time. Luckily, I have enough brass that I can load up a years worth of ammo at one time.

    The system is expensive, especially when you add on all the bells and whistles, like the case feeder and all the different plates it needs. Each conversion kit costs the equivalent of a box or two of ammunition.

    All that being said, I save so much time using it that I can keep reloading. Without the progressive, I would be spending much more time per round to reload, and I would never get to leave the shop. I would need to handle each case five times to load them on a single stage press (size & de-prime, prime, bell, powder, seat&crimp). This would take at least five times longer that the progressive does, plus all the grit and grime associated with the cases works into my knuckles and they get dry and crack and bleed. With the progressive, I produce one round for each stroke, which also saves eighty percent of the wear and tear on my shoulder.

    With the 650, I can load up a hundred rounds in a leisurely twenty minutes (or less). I can spend an hour or two, now and then, and get all my cases loaded without stress.

    If I had it to do over, I would look closely at the Hornady LnL system, because there are fewer parts to buy, and it’s cheaper, and they usually have some sort of free bullet deal going on, which is a nice bonus.

    That being said, I do like my Dillon, and I LOVE the automatic case feeder. I generally do a hundred cases at a time, because the primer tube holds that many, and that way I get a break to check the powder level and cartridge OAL and other details before I have too many mistakes to un-do. I have had it for ten years, and reloaded thousands and thousands of rounds, and it is still going strong. I have only broken two parts in that time (One was my fault, and the other has been epoxied back together and is stronger than new), and replacements were available in the parts kit I bought along with it.

    I probably have a thousand bucks (or more) invested in the contraption, but I am pretty much satisfied with the purchase. You don’t have to spend it all at once, and some of the widgets can be on your Christmas list, and they make MUCH better presents than the tie you were going to get.

  4. FWIW I know a couple of commercial reloaders and both use the 650 or 1050 exclusively. One guy must have at least 15 of the darn things in different calibers.
    Personally I’ll always regret passing on the fully automatic reloader when I had the chance. ‘Course the asking price was $12,000, so I did have a leeetle bit of an excuse…

  5. Hornady L&L AP

    Grab the zip lock full of tumbled pistol brass.

    Run them through the press. Size/Deprime, prime, bell case mouth, powder, seat bullet, crimp.

    I can go really fast with this. Not 600 per hour but more like 200-300/hr, but I’m sure with either a bullet or case feeder (or both) those speeds are achievable.

    Rifle brass takes longer.

    I am very very happy with it compared to my old lee press

  6. I have a RL550B, and I have used the Hornady. Get the hornady. Similar quality, but the Hornady uses the same die sequence as eveyone else but Dillon. You have far more flexibility if you skip the Dillon.

    Btw, including the time put into prepping is only relevant to overall cost if you could have spent that time earning money.

    While buying it outright would not cost much more, buying 147 grain 9mm, loaded to minor power factor, and tuned to my gun would cost a lot. But if you don’t enjoy making it, it’s definitely not worth it.

  7. I have two presses, a Dillon Square Deal B for pistol (.38 Super, .40, .45 at present) and a Dillon RL-450 – the predecessor to the 550, which lacks the interchangeable tool head. I find I use the 450 mostly as a single-stage, though I do use its progressive capability when loading .45LC.

    As you note, by far the most time-consuming task is brass prep. This is true of rifle brass, but not necessarily handgun brass. I buy prepped, trimmed & sized .223 brass so all I have to do is seat a primer, dump a powder charge and seat a bullet. Pretty quick, and it costs me less than half of milsurp for what is effectively premium ammo. Right now I’m working my way through a case of 1,000 pieces of Lake City 7.62×51. The primer crimp has been removed, but I have to trim them all and dress the case mouth before sizing in an RCBS small-base sizer so they’ll fit my M14.

    Yeah, I see it as a hobby, but it really is one that saves me money. If I wasn’t loading I’d be reading or blogging, and those don’t save me any money at all.

  8. I have a Square Deal B for loading pistol cartridges (my first press), and I like it a lot. As a practical matter, I can load up ~300 rounds an hour of pretty good quality stuff, and their “no BS warranty” has been good a time or two. Their customer support has been first rate when I’ve had to call them. There is a somewhat limited selection of calibers for it, but among those, it works great. I do mostly 10mm, 41 mag, 44 mag, 357 mag, 38 spl, 40 S&W. I do large batches (a few thousand), then change dies. It has been next to no problem, and I’d strongly recommend it for pistol only reloading.

    I also have a 650. Once set up, it’s a good press, and you can crank through a LOT of ammo. Set-up is a bit finicky, but once there it’s pretty good. If you are going for a lot of calibers and planning on doing a quick-change for each, yes, it’s expensive. If you are going for just a couple, and planning on doing a lot of each, you can save a lot of money for a modest amount of time. I have loaded everything from .25-20 to .375 H&H, so size-wise it’ll do a pretty good range of cartridges. I’m ambivalent about recommending it, because it’s expensive, I’ve not used any other rifle reloading presses, and I have had some issues from time to time getting it properly set up (my fault, not the press’s, as near as I can tell).

    Case prep for pistol brass is pretty minimal (basically run it through the polisher), so that’s not a lot of time invested. Rifle brass prep is more intensive, but for lower-pressure rounds (like 6.5×55) is mostly one-time, then check length every few reloads to see if you need to trim it. Things like primer pocket prep, flash-hole deburring, chamfering the neck, etc, need only be done once, so the time involved there is mostly up front.

  9. I think that anyone who says that they are reloading to practice being independent for when the ammo supply is interrupted has too much time on their hands and isn’t spending enough of it thinking things through.

    My wife & I just got back from a 2 day trip to Colonial Williamsburg. We spent about an hour in the gunsmith’s shop. While talking & answering questions the gunsmith said that the primary responsibility of a 18th century colonial gunsmith was not to make guns but to make parts to repair guns. Part of that business included purchasing such things as, for example, broken brass shoe buckles to melt down to make parts with. Gun powder was not manufactured on the coast in that era. Remember that the fighting that broke out in Mass. was over who was going to keep the gunpowder in that was in storage.

    How can you identify people seeking complete independence from all others: they’ll be the people practicing defending their hardwood trees with firehardend sharp sticks. Everyone else will be developing trading/mercantile relationships. Think Rendezvous & SCA reenactors as groups of people that will probably be better able to handle “TEOTWAWKI” then most “prepers” because as a group they have been developing skills and especially organizations that are already in place.

    I’ve always figured that reloading pays off when you want something in a round a ammunition that you just can’t buy – control of the result. Over the years I’ve seen many “estimates” of savings from reloading. I just don’t see that the average reloader can purchase brass, powder, lead/copper at savings better than Olin/Winchester does over the long term. On the other hand I can see that people can enjoy the process of creating their own rounds of ammunition because it is satisfying to use your own creations. That makes sense. Saving money over bulk ammo purchases or even WWB just doesn’t to me.

  10. I spent hours this weekend reloading .38 Specials with my Lee one step at a time press.
    I am pretty efficient and after having a “pop” instead of a “bang” during one range session and having to visit my friendly gun smith to remove the bullet from barrel, a primer does NOT push it all the way through!!
    My QA is extensive looking carefully into each case.
    I would like to upgrade and have been “shopping” looking at various presses and talking with others whom reload.

    But my reloading setup works well and I have a resurrected Sony Viao with Ubuntu on it for mainly watching Crackle or Hulu…
    Oh and I am 300 .38 (125 grain bullets with 3.7 grns of Bullseye behind it) rounds ahead and ready for a session this weekend weather permitting…

  11. Michael –
    A Square Deal press in 10mm and a primer flip tray costs about $400.
    The cheapest 10mm ammo costs about .60 per round, most of it is over a dollar.
    A thousand pieces of 10mm brass is about $300, and can be used at least 10 times – call it .03 per use.
    A thousand decent bullets cost about $200 (.20 per shot)
    A thousand primers is about $30 (.03 per shot)
    Powder is about $20 per pound (about .04 per shot)
    To load your own good 10mm ammo costs about $.30 per shot, vs, $60 for cheap stuff or $1.00 or more for good stuff. SO, I’d save at LEAST $.30 per round. The press pays for itself in 1200 rounds or less, about 4 hours of reloading. The savings for .41 mag are a bit more, for 9mm a bit less (last time I cranked the numbers if was about 2200 rounds). If I go with a cheaper (Rainer Ballistics) bullet, the savings rack up faster, but full power 10mm loads and cheap plated bullets don’t mix well.

  12. I recently loaded 2000 rounds of 9mm. I figure I’m paying myself about $4.00 an hour with the money saved. Definitely a hobby.

  13. I just got a 650 after taking about 10 years off from reloading with my Lee classic. So far I’ve only run 45ACP but I love it, The only real prep for pistol brass is to throw it in the tumbler. The only really tedious ting is loading primer tubes. If you get the 650 you’ll need the case feeder, just an FYI.

    Brian Enos has a good FAQ on his site about the different Dillon machines, you might want to check that out. I’ve gotten a couple caliber conversions on other stuff from him and he’s very helpful as well.

    If money was no object OR I was planning on loading a lot of 5.56/223 I’d go for the Super 1050 as it includes a swageing station. Caliber conversions are pretty pricey but you can easily get a mr bulletfeeder for it and you’re ready to rock and roll.

  14. “RF induction heater die? Can you give more info?”

    Mr. Chubbins; Just google induction heating and you’ll find lots of info. We used an induction “furnace” for heat treating small parts at the University of Idaho. The business end is a loop of copper tube with water running though it to keep it cool. You stick something metalic inside the loop and pull the trigger. High current at a high frequency runs through the loop, causing “eddy currents” in the object to be heated, in turn causing rapid heating of the specific part that’s inside the loop. It’s extremely fast and efficient, plus nothing gets hot but what’s inside the coil. They’re also used in foundries for melting, but heat treating I think is the main application. There’s currently no such thing, so far as I know, built specifically for annealing cartridge cases, but it’s certainly very doable. I have seen some pretty elaborate setups using multiple gas torches and a case feeding system, but those are all home built.

    I was just reloading some 9 mm cases of mixed origins and use, and the difference in temper from case to case was tremendous. The harder cases took a lot of effort to size, whereas some of them felt like they weren’t even there. It meant the sizing, belling, seating and crimping all turned out a little differently depending on the hardness of each case. The only way to get them to come out consistent would be to anneal them. If you’re using lead bullets, this is even more critical.

    Next I loaded some 10 mm using all new brass, and it was all shockingly consistent– less than a thousandth of an inch variance anywhere. Night and day. That’s why I brought up annealing.

  15. Lyle,

    They have a large one over at WSU as well, of the 5kHz-30kHz and 75kW variety. The PhD grad student I was working for frankly scared the hell out of me. The furnace is down right impressive, though I wonder how much extra RF was given off outside the coil. The furnace itself was a water cooled metal cylinder. One time during testing under vacuum we didn’t flush the system with Ar and we got plasma surrounding the crucible. If you’re heating up something non conductive what is done a ceramic crucible with metal particulates is added. The crucible itself is what heats up melting anything contained within.

    Back to the grad students, most I worked with were not that bright. I have plenty of stories about how he almost killed everyone in the lab numerous times. That is not a joke or exaggeration, vaporized selenium, cadmium, and arsenic (thankfully I wasn’t around for this one) is not healthy. This grad student also didn’t understand the reason for a lock out/tag out when working on the RF unit. He wanted to be able to go throw the breaker when he wanted. I was never so glad to be done working some place and have a new job someplace else. The overall lack of thought provided to safety frankly scared the hell out of me. It was this and my power lab experience that cemented my decision to avoid grad school. I felt that a much more responsible action for my health and self-preservation.

    So in closing, RF furnaces are awesome and scary in what they can do, especially when the guy in charge of the lab doesn’t understand the safety culture or mindset.

  16. I really like my L&L AP press, but so far I’ve only loaded pistol. I can get an honest 400-500 in about 90 minutes. This is going slow, taking my time to mic the first few and a few more out of every 100, and usually having to fix a hiccup or two with the case feeder. About an hour of actually loading, the other half-hour is reloading the primer tubes and cleaning off (removing sizing lube) and boxing the resulting rounds, and refilling the case feeder from the tumbler.

  17. I’ve been reloading on a Hornady LNL press for a year now. I reload 45 and 9mm only, so far. I have seriously got into competitive pistol shooting in the last 2 years. I shoot a couple hundred rounds a week. Everyone I know who shoots more than one match a month reloads. It’s just part of the hobby if you want to be a serious gun gamer.

    My startup costs for press, brass tumblers, scale, etc. was about $1,000. By my calculations, the reloading setup started paying for itself after I loaded about 5,000 rounds.

    I loaded just under 15,000 rounds in 2011.

    My .45 ACP costs is about 13 cents per round. My 9mm cost is about 9 cents per round. I am a big fan of the Precision moly-coated bullets. I know people that use plated or jacketed bullets and spend a little more (Precision Delta jacketed bullets are very economical). I know people who use lead, track down the mysterious Bear Creek bullets, or even cast and pay less.

    The quality control on my ammo is better than anything you can buy except match ammo. Every round is made by hand and visually inspected by me. I have not had a squib or fat case since my first weeks of reloading. I load 200 gr 45 that just makes major and is very nice to shoot. I load various 9mm that just make minor and have virtually no recoil.

    My case prep is minimal – I tumble in walnut for 3 hours. I do no other case prep other than look at every piece of brass before I stick it in the shell plate – discarding small primer 45 (but you can load that later) and weird looking 9mm brass. That’s it. I tried all sorts of different methods, ultrasonic cleaning, polish, all sorts of stuff, and finally realized that walnut alone works best.

    Very importantly, I check each round I make in a chamber checker gauge. With my 45, less than 1% are rejects. In 9mm, it’s probably 1%. I don’t pull my rejects, it is not cost effective, I tried that. I dispose of them at my club in the live ammo disposal.

    In my first 2 months or so, I broke lots of parts and had lots of hiccups. Now I just crank it out. I haven’t broken anything or had any major hiccups in a long time. I can do about 400 rounds an hour.

    I do not use case lube or anything. I use and old toothbrush and brake cleaner to clean my press. I used to spend money on case lube but it’s not necessary. All that “prep time” goes away once you get it wired – it just becomes second nature. I’ve got my brass roller and bucket for the range, I’ve got the brass sorters I use right when I get home, and then brass goes right in the tumbler. I’ve got thousands of pieces of clean brass, and hundreds of dirty brass, at all times.

    I enjoy reloading and I’ve learned a lot – I know all sorts of stuff about ballistics I never knew before, and I learn new things all the time. I speak a language I never spoke before. Also in the long run it saves me a fortune. In the evening or weekend hours when I reload, I’d probably just be watching TV anyway. My wife is happy to control the TV without me for a few hours. I listen to audiobooks while I reload.

    If you don’t shoot 1000 rounds a month, it’s probably not worthwhile. But since I started reloading, I went from shooting 1 or 2 matches a month to 3 or 4 matches. And I never have to worry about ordering ammo. I buy bullets and primers by the thousands, and powder by the pound. I always have at least 1,000 loaded rounds of each caliber on hand.

    LNL vs Dillon? Small primer 45 brass going in on accident is no big deal in the LNL. After a year, I can change calibers in 5 minutes or so.

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