Have your PAL and now your wander through the isles at Cad/Tire. “Humm” you say to yourself, “22lr is not so bad, looks like .08 cents a round on sale, not bad, not bad at all.” Then you come across a box of 303brit for that rifle you inherited from your grandfather. “$40.00 bucks for 20 rounds… Sugar Honey Ice-Tea!” Welcome to the world of expensive lead addiction!
From here you decide that you will make your own ammunition…
Lets get things straight. Unless you are grinding your own powder in a lab, or creating your own primer caps with spare tin and black powder, or casting your own lead shot, YOU ARE NOT MAKING AMMUNITION! You are simply assembling ammunition. Lets not get these two ideas mixed up.
Alright then, where do you start with “Assembling” your ammo. Well step one is to determine how much you plan to shoot, or you do shoot. Another serious question is, how much disposable income do you want to allocate to this endeavor. To be truthful, in Canada, reloading is really only going to save you a maximum 45% over the cost of factory loaded ammunition. That is the best, and it’s not even really factoring in the cost of all the equipment you will need to get this stuff assembled.
Say you wish to go to the range around twice a week and burn about 100-150 rounds of 9mm. 200-300 rounds a week, easy! Here is your equipment list:
Lee Classic Turret press, Franklin tumbler, 9mm gauge, tapper wall die, 9mm dies (3), powder through extension and powder measure, and a digital jeweler scale. This is the the bare bones, as little hassle as you can manage and still make 200-300 rounds an hour safely. This really is only the tip of the iceberg.
Now wait just a second before you hit that “Buy Now” button, it might help if you review all the other choices you have to get a better understanding of what your up against.
Single Hand Loader
You are a hunter and you really only go through about 10-20 rounds a year. Right around hunting season. A few practice shots, sighting in a scope or trying to figure out your harmonics with hand-loads.
Take your spent 30/06, seat it in the hand press, push out the burned primer, change dies to re-size the neck, seat the new primer, and funnel to add new powder. Change die to seating die, seat the new bullet, and pass it thorough a gauge to make sure it chambers. Your first attempt at this will result in a refurbished round. In just under 30 minutes!
Quite a number of shooters, who either don’t value their time, don’t really plan on shooting that much, or have a whole gun safe full of bolt action rifles in different calibers. Saying this, I must admit, I own a single breech press and I use it for exotic rounds like a 45/70 in 535gn. It does have it’s place like all the other types of presses listed here.
Redding, RCBS, Lee, Hornady, Rock Chucker… It really does not matter. As long as the seating area for the die does not flex when you pull the handle, your good.
You place the cleaned case in the seat, and screw on, clip in, the sizing die. Pull the handle and you not only resized the neck of the shell, you pushed out the spent primer. Flip over the primer arm, or place a new primer in the primer cup, (depending on the model you have) and then press the handle up to seat the new primer. Change the die to flair and, if your set up for it, powder feed. Or take the re-sized brass out and funnel in the new powder to measure. Place the filled brass back into the press and change the die to bullet seating die. Place the new bullet in the flared neck of the filled brass and pull the handle down to seat the new bullet and possibly give it a little crimp (depending on the die set you have). Your time here will be around 20-50 rounds per hour.
Manual or indexed. The difference being that the indexed one will rotate the dies when you pull the handle to advance the die set by one position. Manual means you just do it with your hand.
A turret press is set up so the brass you are reloading stays in one position and you can just simply move the dies around on a turret to set the round up for the next die without having to insert and set up the next die. With an indexed turret, like the one pictures above, you pull the handle and the turret advances mechanically to the next die. Round count is 100-250 per hour.
Lyman; not a big fan of the design that allows the flex of the seating position of the die.
RCBS; the old ones are rock solid, the new ones, same issue as the Lyman
Lee; the classic turret is by far the best you can get dollar for dollar. Without a doubt. This does not mean it comes without its own problems, but when you have all the bugs worked out, it will perform. All other Lee models in this category should be avoided, or slowly buried in the nearest cat litter box!
Redding; Seems solid, but still that design that allows flex in the die seat. Not a big fan of this type of design.
This is where you hear the word “Dillon” being talked about. This is the serious reloading system. Each pull of the handle produces a complete round, progressively.
Dillon 1050; You drive a Tesla because you care about the environment. You wear a Rolex because you don’t want to change watch batteries. You own a welded aluminum fishing boat with twin 350’s for the three days a year you go fishing. All you have to do, after you pay for someone to assemble it for you, is pull the handle. It does everything else! This is Money! Smooth, reliable, built in safety checks, redundancies, auto feeds everything! You don’t own this to save on ammunition cost, you own it because its the best there is and you want to easily make 500-800 rounds an hour! And if you have a problem, you want to be treated as if you are a prince of a foreign country by the Dillon support team. I don’t think I have seen one set up for a couple of calibers for less than 2K. This is not even their top Flag Ship. There is one better…. You just load it up, press a button and walk away.
Dillon 650; Auto indexed and very well designed. If this is where you start, its like getting your drivers license for the first time and someone handing you the keys to a Porsche 911 turbo. What might look like a good price in some catalogue you see at one time or another is really only half the story. The sale price you see is usually just for the press itself. Conversion kits, tool heads, tool head stands, primer tubes, case feeders, trimmers, lights, powder bars, powder measures, blah blah blah! Your $800.00 650 is now $1400.00 and you have yet to make a single round in 9mm! On the plus side, you are still treated like a prince from a foreign country by the Dillon support team.
Dillon 550; An older brother to the above 650, but you have to manually index the dies in the turret by moving the base plate into the next position. As seen bellow, its the silver cross you see on top of the base plate. Pull the handle and then turn the dial until the base plate snaps into the next position.
You can still find them for around $600.00. There are thousands of tips/tricks videos on how to get theses presses to perform as well if not better than their more expensive younger brothers.
I find it kinda funny when I see replacement parts for sale on the retailer sites. Very similar to when you vacation down in palm springs and you go grocery shopping at Jensen’s. In the parking lot you are surrounded by lemon trees. When you go into the produce section, you will see a bin of lemons for $1.49/pound. (Riiiiight!) If you have a part that wears out or breaks on a Dillon press, support will send you a new one, and even ask if there are any other parts that are getting close to calling it quits. I have a 550 that was made in the 90’s. In 2019, I had a problem with the small primer feeding bar. I gave Dillon my customer number and described the problem. Two weeks later, I received a new primer slide, slide plate, screws, spring, and indexing turn bar. “As the prince of Murtopia, I thank you for your assistance Mr. Dillon.” Their reputation for customer service is correct and well earned. Even for us guys up here in Canada.
Dillon Square D; if all you want to do is run n’ gun and enter every Black Badge event in IPSC/IDPA, this is the press for you! 9mm, 40, 10 and 45ACP. This press performs like a rock star with straight wall pistol rounds. NO RIFLE Round! This ammo factory is for pistol only! If you want to stay here and only do pistol rounds, this is your press in the Dillon family!
Hornady Lock N Load; you see these presses on the shelves in hunting supplies stores, but don’t really hear that much about them. Think of them as this. A press that performs like a 650, but priced like a used 550! You are not going to get the legendary customer service as you would with the Dillon family, but you are going to get a close second in performance at a much lower cost!
RCBS Chucker; no bells and whistles, basic and sturdy. Not fancy, but get the job done! Like a Ford F150 regular cab with manual wind up windows.
Lee Progressive; I like Lee because of their innovation. They have a long history of making tools and equipment for the re-loader. Price point is rock bottom, but for what you pay for, you do get good equipment. They are finicky, and require tuning up to stay running well. If something breaks, your better off to just go out and get another part. There is no shortage of parts anywhere for any of their products.
If you are on a very strict budget and have a tonne of patience, then this is the press for you. If you can save a few more bucks, I would suggest getting the Hornady.
So now you have an idea of what press you want to get into. Saved up your money and ready to click that “Buy Now” button. Wait just a second. Are there any other options?…. H… E… Double hockey sticks Yes! The old guy downs the street is getting on in years and is retiring from the range. He has a 20 year old press in his basement that has been faithful to him for all these years. He only wants what for it? Wow that is cheap. Should you get it?
Short answer, Yes! But that depends. An old Dillon 550 with a couple of conversion kits, three complete tool heads and feeders, a bunch of primer tubes and a bench stand? OMG! YES!
Higher end presses that show little wear are a great way to get into the art of reloading without completely emptying your wallet. Especially if they already have all the accessories to load right away. Lower end ones, umm not so much!
This is not a Buyers Guide for used equipment, but just a reminder that this option is one to consider before spending all your money. Sites like Kijiji, Castanet, Craigslist, and other classified sites are to be used with caution. My suggestion is to see the product in person and get a demo that it works!
What about used accessories? Well that depends on the accessories you are asking about and the cost difference between new and used. Now I do have an issue with die sets. Used die sets are not a great idea. Get them new, period. The only time I would waver on this one is if they were in front of me and I can see that there is little to no wear on them and they are 1/2 the price of new. A used trimmer, or swager, or other accessory item, depending on condition, why not?
Well looks like you have a set up in your garage, the press and all the accessories are assembled and ready to go. You still have questions about the process, powder, bullet weights, brass and so forth, but you have all this fancy equipment up and ready to go!
Read the Book!
When you buy a Lee Classic press, it usually comes with a Lee book on reloading. What ever your path in the art of reloading is, you must read the book on reloading. My suggestion is the Lyman one. This art, and I call it an art, as you will soon discover within your first 100 reloads, is in fact an ART! Trust the print, not the internet!
Mistakes and lack of understanding in this art can cost you more than just money. READ THE BOOK!
On another blog we can discuss the fine tune points of where to get the best deal on essential accessories and where in Canada can you find the best deal for all the parts you plan on assembling!