In the never ending debate regarding who makes a better reloading press, most are argued by colour. The big three are the green machines of RBCS, Hornady’s red equipment and the focus of this installment of TPF, the blue of Dillon Precision. Do not let the title fool you as it is a reference to the detractors as well as the supporters of Dillon products, who would be adamant that you, “Do or do not drink the blue Kool-Aid.” Aka, using Dillon’s presses.
As the title and opening lines suggest, Dillon Precision Products are normally painted in a blue colour which sets them as a recognizable alternative to the other press manufacturers. TPF has had some experience with progressive presses from other manufacturers, and has loaded several tens of thousands of rounds on single stage presses, to turret presses, to progressive presses. This would be our first foray into “Blue”. We selected a Dillon XL650 progressive press, as it is considered to be the staple flagship of the Dillon progressive press line. We also decided initially to use .40 S&W as the loading calibre as it is the “bastardized” calibre that usually incorporates parts from both a 9mm and a .45ACP setup, and causes the most headaches for reloaders.
The setup for reviewing:
- Dillon XL650 progressive press (MSRP $589.95 USD)
- 1 primer system with large and small priming parts (appropriate size installed).
- 1 large and one small primer pick-up tube.
- low primer alarm
- 1 loaded cartridge bin
- 1 set of standard Allen wrenches
- 1 toolhead
- 1 powder measure with standard large and small powder bars (small bar installed).
- 1 powder die
- 1 caliber conversion kit – installed
- Dillon .40 S&W die set (MSRP $67.95 USD)
- Dillon Roller handle (MSRP $47.95 USD)
- Dillon Case feeder (large pistol casefeed plate) (MSRP $239.95USD)
- Dillon Powder check (MSRP $70.95 USD)
This time around we are going to change it up a bit and go right to the cons of the Dillon XL650. The reasoning is simple, the two biggest negatives that are outstanding are very important ones that would prevent someone from purchasing this press. We at TPF can sense the pro-Dillon group gnashing their teeth and cursing us for stating this right up front, but please bear with us. These reasons would prevent someone from being able to utilize a Dillon XL650 period, regardless if they wanted one, it is that important to understand.
The first thing that anyone needs to realize is that the Dillon is a large, tall press which towers roughly 81cm (32″) above the mounting surface. That is without the case feeder system feeding/mounting requirements and the optional strong mount component, which add in 16cm (6.5″) and 21cm (8.5″) respectively and with clearance requirements . Most benches and tables are 0.9m (36″) high, when you add in the additional 1.2m (47″) including assembly/disassembly clearance, you are just a 9mm case short of 2.1m (84″). For many basements in older homes this is a very tall press indeed. especially with ductwork and other stuff which can severely limit ceiling height. However as tested without the strong mount option, this XL650 measured 89cm(35″) above the mounting surface and TPF had no issues at the review location.
Other than the height of the unit, the main drawback of the Dillon XL 650 is the initial starting cost. Many people tend to overlook reloading press costs when talking about reloading, but not everyone will have the funds available to acquire a Dillon XL650 without some planning and budgeting. The base unit has a hefty price tag of nearly $590 USD at the time of this review. What if the reloader wants the ability to interchange calibres fast, have fast primer fillers, storage racks for tools and calibre set-ups, etc…? Dillon can provide the components and tools to make it happen, but for a price. When you add in the listed add-ons just solely for this review, the press costs adds up to in excess of $1000 USD. And that is not even the extent of the optional components and add-ones to enhance the XL650 to it’s fullest such as:
- Strong Mount (550/650) (MSRP $50.95 USD)
- Low Powder Sensor (MSRP $42.95 USD)*
- Bullet Tray (MSRP $44.95 USD)
- Toolholder w/Wrench Set (MSRP $30.95 USD)
- Dillon Pistol Three Die Set (MSRP $67.95 USD)*
- Additional Case Feed Plates (MSRP $39.95 USD)
- Machine Maintenance Kit (MSRP $41.95 USD)
- Spare Parts Kit (MSRP $27.95 USD)
- Dust Cover (MSRP $42.95USD)
- Toolhead Stand (MSRP $22.95)
- For additional calibres (*optional)
- Toolhead (MSRP $31.95 USD)
- Calibre Conversion Kit (MSRP $79.95 USD)
- Powder Die (MSRP $12.95 USD)
- Powder Measure (MSRP $84.95 USD)
If you wanted a fully kitted-out Dillon machine with two (2) complete calibres such as 9mm and .45 ACP, your total would be in excess of $1650 USD. That is some serious expenditure for the majority of casual firearms owners. If you are wanting Magnum rifle and exotic calibres, the prices are even higher for those component parts. Space claim, and cost. These are the TWO major obstacles that need to be overcome before acquiring a Dillon XL650 progressive press. That is it. So if you have the ability to fit and afford the Dillon please keep reading on.
While there are a few little quirks and stickling points regarding the press and its usage, they are not reasons for avoiding the Dillon.
Looking at the initial design and the quality, fit and finish of the press when assembled, it is nearly flawless. The main press frame components are cast clean with no flash and a beautiful, even powder coated blue finish. The alloy cast parts are neat and clean as well with minimal parting lines displayed and no burrs or sharp edges anywhere that can be touched. Machined portions are excellent with good surface finished and minimal tooling marks visible. The entire design uses hex head bolts, or hex head cap screws when threaded components are required, the remainder is attached and assembled with E-Clips and various snap rings. A very well engineered design, with good hardware control. Items which are not powder coated, or aluminum are plated to minimize corrosion, which is another added plus. Which brings us to another item. Dillon’s “No BS Warranty!” Every single option and add-on is as well made as the press assembly itself and Dillon stands behind it’s mechanical components for life. Yes for life. You have something break, bend, or otherwise get mauled? Call Dillon, get it replaced.
The instruction/installation manual is extensive and includes all Dillon options for mounting and installation. Loaded with visual images and clear precise methods, the manual includes full part lists and detailed component breakdowns. Bolting and mounting is as simple as can be expected for a progressive press. Set-up of the press is clear and pretty much straight forward thank to the illustrative and comprehensive instruction manual. The manual progresses through the setup of any calibre in an orderly fashion, starting with the re-sizing and decapping, moving on to the primer feed system and powder measure and finally with the seating and crimping portion of the press.
The usage of retaining pins for case keeping at the five (5) indexed positions are very accessible and allow for a simple method of removing/reinserting cases in the middle of the reloading process. A very simple and smart idea. The finished bullet chute works extremely well at delivering the completed round to whatever size of tray you wish to use for the final catch basin.
The slider bar powder system is a tried and true design that has been used for many decades in powder dispensing systems. In the case of the Dillon, the bar has an adjustable orifice which allows for the volumetric control of powder to be dispensed on each operation. With this come the first little quirk as setting your desired volume of powder is a very touchy operation due to the simple hex head bolt system. There are numerous aftermarket components or replacements to this adjustment bolt that allow for a finer control over the orifice size. That being said; once the system is setup, it stays consistent and never shifted during our testing.
With the system setup, TPF churned out over one thousand rounds of ammo in a little under three (3) hours. Please remember that this was our initial setup and test run of this press and we observed all aspects of the press to determine the function and traits of the press. Our biggest bottleneck in reloading? Filling primer tubes. Once we had gotten the system all setup TPF decided to try the quick change aspect of the system and acquired a Calibre Conversion kit, dies, toolhead, etc… for 9mm. Here is where the strength of the Dillon truly shines with the ease of swapping full calibre arrangements back and forth, in under 15 minutes with pre-set toolheads. The new tool head had the powder measure, dies already setup and locked in place, with the only requirements being to remove a few set screws, change the brass plate holder and the pins and VIOLA! The press is ready to go, only for a different calibre. Except for the bending of an Allen-key trying to remove a very secure factory installed insert, the changeover worked very well. We are assuming that this issue will not give us any issues in the future as anti-seize compound was added to the offending thread during the calibre conversion. As long as the primer size remains the same, this is an extremely easy method for swapping calibres.
With the new 9mm setup, we quickly produced in excess of 1500 completed rounds of ammunition. By quickly we should mention that it was in the same timeframe as previously, three (3) hours.
The ONE stickling point…
The primer system…. This is the only truly detraction that the XL650 has regarding it’s operation. Primers are ejected from the De-Capping die into a small removable tray and occasionally the primers will bounce out of the tray and onto the floor, regardless on the manufacture and design of the de-capping pin. So keep a broom handy and watch your step if you hear the primers fall out and empty your spent primer collection tray on a regular basis. The real issue is when installing new primers into cases. Specifically if there is no case to install a primer into… The primer feed system is a positive indexing system so it feeds a new primer with every pull of the handle and if it doesn’t use the primer, well… When the primer loading system cycles and fails to install a primer into a case due to the absences of the case, that primer continues on it’s way around in the primer carousel until it gets dropped. This occurs before the next primer tries to take up the same space. That unused primer then takes a trip off what is known as the Dillon Ski-Ramp. TPF installed the 9mm conversion kit and then heard something hitting the wall with nearly every press for a couple pulls of the handle. Turns out to have been live primers launching themselves off a small sloped path located at the front underside of the main ram platform. This shallow, low ridged ramp, actually managed to stop 1 in 5 live primers during our setup of the 9mm, so if you are doing any setup, do it with an empty primer system.
The Options: As reviewed
- Roller Handle – Very well made, and more comfortable to use that the original handle, but not a requirement for an efficient XL650 setup.
- Powder Check – An excellent and simple design. Easy to use and to move from one calibre set-up to another. A good addition.
- Case Feeder – The unit itself is quiet, very quiet. The low and high speed options are excellent and the steel guide panel is an excellent choice to adjust for the feed wheel edge. Be aware that these case feeders are not meant to hold more than a couple hundred cases at a time due to mass, the motor/clutch can be overloaded. A necessity for any volume reloading.
These last couple items are more of a general commentary on what Dillon can du to improve their product, or at least include to make their customers even more satisfied.
- Primer de-cap tray and the ‘Ski Jump’ – add in a small piece of foam in the de-capped collection tray or increase it’s depth to prevent bounce outs. Change the design of the ski-ramp to have larger walls or into a removable barrier that stops unused primers from launching across the room. There are already aftermarket option out here for this.
- A small tube of lubrication- The greased ramps work well, if a bit messy as if you need to adjust you will come into contact with at least one of these sliding surfaces. That way Dillon can indicate what types of grease to you and frequency of re-application.
- Locator arrow – Station #1 should have an arrow on the locator as it can go in backwards, where it will not work. Ask TPF how they know this…
- The ratchet system – Another company builds a bearing drop-in system that makes the ratchet action as smooth as silk.
- Mounting hardware – It’s $1 worth of bolts, washers, and nuts. Include it with the basic set.
- Spare parts kit – Have some of the more commonly broken, smaller items included as spares, such as plastic nuts, pins, etc…
We have drank the Blue Kool-Aid and have found it a very satisfying… Expensive and not perfect, but a very capable machine for those reloaders who want to maximize their rate of loading with the ability to have multi-calibre stations available to change on a whim. For the shooter who only reloads for one single calibre, there may be other brands which will preform the same for a more affordable price point. However! if you load for two or more (2+) calibres and value your time for setting up a press and appreciate the convenience of fully setup, easily swappable calibre conversions, the Dillon XL650 may be indeed the best flavour of kool-aid for you!
With a base MSRP of $589.95 USD, Dillon Precision’s XL650 reloading press is a solid addition to a reloader’s repertoire of equipment, albeit not inexpensive. Dillon Precision products are available online as well as at physical stores such as the Montreal Firearms Recreation Centre (CRAFM), in Lachine, Quebec. As always, to readers of TPF, the final decision of this product is up to you. Do you think that it falls under the category of Tactical, Practical, or Fantastical?
Some additional images:
Many people ask a common question, over and over. Is it worth it to reload your own ammunition? To those questioning individuals the proper response is, “That depends…”
That depends on a few factors:
- Do you shoot center-fire ammunition?
- How much do you actually save?
- What sort of annual ammunition expenditures do you have?
- How much is your free time worth?
Do you shoot center-fire ammunition?
Do not laugh at the question. People, in their need to make things both cheaper and with their own hands have learned various methods for manufacturing rim-fire rounds. That being said however, rim-fire ammunition in itself is not-re-loadable to 99.99999% of those who shoot it. Center-fire metallic cartridges, used primarily in rifles and handguns have four (4) components; the primer, case, powder, the bullet. Modern shotgun ammunition has five (5) components; the primer, hull, powder, wad, and the load. For this report, only Boxer primer styles are being considered.
- Primer: The source of ignition for ammunition. A small diameter cup which contains a chemical compound which is activated by a percussive force. The activation of this compound results in the ignition of a cartridge’s powder charge in an assembled cartridge.
- Case: Metallic cylinder which houses the primer, powder and bullet. Usually constructed of brass and can be nickel-plated as well and manufactured from alternate alloys. Brass however is the material most used and reloaded.
- Hull: Similar to a Case, but normally has a metallic base, with the sides being constructed with a polymer based material. Some hulls are completely metallic.
- Powder: The high rate burning compound which when enclosed in a case and ignited by the primer, combusts. The resultant gases created from this combustion (pressure) are what propel the bullet or wad/load down the barrel of the firearm.
- Wad: A compressible plastic piece which has two purposes. First to create a seal in order to allow pressure to develop under powder ignition. Secondly, the compression of the wad allows for a larger perssure to be developed before the kinetic transfer of energy to the load (slug or pellets). It is launched out of the firearm, but the lighter mass and design have it fall away soon after discharge.
- Bullet: The projectile launched out of the end of the firearm.
- Load: This can be a single projectile (slug) or multiple ones (shot) which is launched out of the end of the firearm.
How much can you save?
This is an important factor as it can severely affect the decision for reloading. Why? It has to do with a factory cost baseline of ammunition, and we’ll use cheap factory ammunition.
- Shotgun: 12ga 2-3/4″, #7.5 lead shot. Prices are $8 per box of 25, or $0.32 per round.
- Rifle: .223 Remington 55gr FMJ, Prices are $12 per box of 20, or $0.60 per round.
- Rifle: .300 Winchester Magnum, 180gr SP. Prices are $30 per box of 20, or $1.50 per round.
- Handgun: 9x19mm Parabellum, 124gr RN. Prices are $18 per box of 50, or $0.36 per round.
Lets go right to reloading costs. DISCLAIMER! The author does NOT reload for shotgun and therefore cannot comment on the direct costs associated to reloading that particular genre of shooting. Plus all prices are approximate, there may be certain brands/sales where factory ammunition is indeed cheaper than reloading, but those are few and far between in TPF’s experience…
- Primers are about $0.04 apiece and with moderate loads all brass can be reused for 6 reloads, with many smaller cases lasting 10, 15 or more reloads.
- Brass costs per reload for .223/.300/9mm, assuming 6 reloads from spent factory ammunition is $0.10/0.30/0.06 respectively.
- Powder costs approximately $40 per pound, which is 7000 grains of powder. Case capacity for moderate loads of .223/.300/9mm equate to 25/75/5 grains of powder per respective load or a per round cost of $0.15/0.45/0.03.
- Bullets are the area where costs can be significantly reduced. Typical replacement bullet costs are wholly dependent on mass and construction. in the case of the .223 Remington, 55gr FMJ bullets can be obtained for as low as $0.15 each, and for the .300 WM; aftermarket hunting bullets are roughly $35 per 100 pieces. Plated bullets for the 9mm can be found for $0.11 each.
- Adding up the totals for reloading. .223 Remington can be reloaded for $0.44, or a savings of $0.16 per round. .300WM for $1.14 each or a savings of $0.36 per round. With 9mm, reloading at $0.25 saves $0.11 per factory round.
These numbers are the BASIC savings, as factory ammunition quality/brand increases so do the costs per round. As an example, a high performance .300WM box of ammunition can reach $45+ per box. That jumps the costs per factory round to $2.25 each, and reloading would increase the bullet cost to closer to $0.66 each or $1.45 per reload for a resultant $0.80 saving per round…
So now that we see how much actual savings that can be had with reloading, we get into usage?
How much center-fire ammunition do you shoot annually?
Are you a hunter and if you are lucky shoot a 20-25 rounds of ammunition in a single year? Do you target shoot for fun and use up 100-200 rounds a year or do you compete and throw thousands of rounds downrange every year? This is one of the most important factors to consider if determining to get into reloading. It is a part of the return on investment, ROI, of reloading equipment. As we have already discussed the basic savings per round of reloading, you can determine your ROI. Reloading equipment is not free and what would work best for a re-loader depends on how much shooting is actually done. There are several types of reloading presses and equipment available, every single one can do what it was meant to do. Reload ammunition with the necessary components.
- Portable re-loader kit: A small self-contained reloading kit. Runs about $40-$75. Experienced reloading rate of about 20+ rounds per hour. Can be transported easily. Examples include Lee Loader, Lee hand press, etc…
- Single Stage Press: Only allows for single reloading die to be utilized at a time, therefore only one cartridge receives the associated operation at a time. Base prices range from $100 to $250. Experienced reloading rate of about 40-80+ rounds per hour. Examples include RCBS Rockchucker, Hornady LNL Classic, etc…
- Turret Press: Allows for multiple dies to be installed, decreasing down time and allowing for a complete round to be manufactured by indexing the dies in sequence. Faster than a single stage due to less die change outs. Base prices range from $150 to $500. Experienced reloading rate of about 60-120+ rounds per hour. Examples include Redding T-7, RCBS Turret, Lee 4-Hole Turret, etc…
- Progressive press: Multiple dies, multiple cases at a time. A progressive press combines multiple shell die stations with a multiple case indexing device. Much greater speeds and complexity. Base prices range from $250 to $700. Experienced reloading rate of about 150-400+ rounds per hour. Examples include Dillon 650XL, Hornady LNL-AP, Lee Load Master, RCBS Pro 2000, etc…
Now that you have basics to compare, you can see that what volume you shoot will have an impact on what type of reloading press you might be interested in. If you shoot 100 rounds a year, are you willing to spend $500 on a press. Even saving $0.80 per reload, this scenario would equate to over 6 years before seeing any actual savings… Yet a Lee Loader kit would have an ROI in just over 9 months. Shoot 10,000 rounds? Saving $0.11 a round adds up fast every year!
How much is your free time worth?
You have an idea of reload rates from the basic numbers given above, and even those are flexible depending on what additional options you decide on. Case feeders, electronic scales, case preparation tools, tumblers, even bullet feeders and motorized press drive units. All can contribute to changing your reloading rates. However, the next question is how much is your free time worth? Do you as a re-loader want to spend 1/2/4/8/more hours a week/month/year reloading? Is reloading a chore or a form of meditation? If time equals money, or a lack of time is the issue, one can decide that a higher production volume is worth the extra financial expenditure in the beginning. If you reload for multiple calibres, do you want multiple pre-setup presses, or just the components to interchange on a single press? These are questions you need to answer long before you even decide on the type of press you would like… However, if your time is plentiful and considered free, the author can guarantee that the majority of re-loaders want you over to help them reload…
The true appreciation of reloading has several levels. One of those appreciations comes with shooting a less costly ammunition with expected results. Another is the fact that via reloading, an individual can “tune” a reload to function superbly in their firearm, by recoil, accuracy, and general performance. Tuning is not fast and can involved myriads of combinations and can be regulated down to the finest detail including brass weights and concentrically of bullets. The difference of a 100mm (4.0″) group at 100m (110 yds), versus a 12mm (0.5″) is moot to some and extremely satisfying to others. One of the final and most overlooked appreciations of reloading is the fact that you are shooting something that YOU made. Self-satisfaction of a job well done is evident when the bullet hits the target that was aimed at.
There is one small detail worth mentioning however. As most re-loaders will inform those who ask about saving money; Yes, reloading allows an individual to save money when doing a factory to reloaded round cost comparison, but reloading usually makes it likely that you will shoot MORE ammunition! “I used to shoot 1000 rounds of 9mm ammo annually prior to reloading and I saved $0.10 a round by reloading, but now I shoot 2000 rounds a year… I spend more now…”
TPF is proud to be able to present this basic reloading checklist for prospective re-loaders. However, TPF does not endorse any one reloading company, as we would hope that readers can make their own informed decisions with some research and knowing what they require. Should you decide to take the reloading plunge, Congratulations!