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Going Progressive

So I have decided that I am in need of a progressive press.  The main thing keeping me from practicing my shooting more is the fact that for guns other than .22LR, I’m either stuck paying in limbs for ammo, or spending hours at the reloading press.  I can reload about 50 to 60 rounds per hours with the single stage press.  What takes me an hour to load, I can shoot in 10 minutes.  This has to change, especially if I get into action shooting sports.

I know there will be myriads of folks who will say “You just need a Dillon.” but Dillons are expensive, and while I like the idea of a no-nonsense warranty, for all practical purposes, I’m not likely to need unusual warranty service.  I’ve had a reader who has graciously offered to send me his Lee Pro 1000 that he’s no longer using, and it’s a tempting offer, since I’m already using their stuff, and it’s working fine for me.  But if I choose Lee, and make an investment in caliber kits, I could be sinking money into something I might just decide to upgrade later.  Should I go whole hog, and just get a quality press?  If I go that route, I’m torn between the Hornady Lock-N-Load AP, and the Dillon XL 650

Here’s what I want to reload, in order of volume:

  1. .45ACP
  2. 9mm
  3. .44 Spl/Magnum
  4. .223 Remington
  5. 6.8 SPC Remington
  6. 30-06

Now if I have to do 6.8 and 30-06 on the single stage, I’m not going to be all that broken up.  Though, the 6.8 would be nice to do on the progressive, if only because I would shoot it more if reloading speed weren’t an issue.  I’ve been considering this review of all three progressive presses, which says good things about the LNL AP.  I’ve also been looking at Chris’ review, and also here and here, which is largely favorable to the Hornady.

What to do, what to do.

31 Responses to “Going Progressive”

  1. AughtSix says:

    I’ve got the Hornaday, and rather like it. I haven’t priced it or the Dillon out recently, but if you’re going to order the Hornaday, check grafs.com as they pay shipping, and tend to have pretty good prices. I got mine a couple years back for $315 (I think, might have been less) shipped. Hornaday was also doing a deal for free bullets–I got 1000 .45 bullets for the $20 shipping cost. They’ve done the deal since, but I don’t know if it’s going on now.

    If you can get a Lee really cheap, it might be worth trying–but I’ve heard bad things about their progressives. (To be fair, I’ve heard good things, too… but enough bad ones I probably wouldn’t recommend buying new) I think the caliber kits for the lee consist of dies, and maybe a shellplate. Like the Hornaday, changing calibers might be slower (or not, I haven’t used the Dillon), but you don’t need to buy a bunch of stuff)

    The Hornaday (and the Dillon, with proper kits) can handle up to the -06 on that list–sizing the -06 cases wasn’t a problem.

  2. Mopar says:

    If money’s tight, have you considered the Lee Classic Turret? Not as fast as a progressive, but faster then a single stage and a lot cheaper then a progressive. Pick up a few extra turret heads and you can leave all your dies set up for each caliber.

  3. DirtCrashr says:

    JimmyB got a Hornady but he hasn’t blogged in a while. I share your frustration at how time consuming it is, reloading mass-quantities on a single stage press. My own reloading has dropped off considerably and is poised between a similar choice going forward. My question is how much cheaper does it matter? One tipping point is that all my dies already are Hornady. And then I think of how much I spent on a Noveske upper…
    If Dillon made a single-stage press I might already be there with them, but Dillon’s product line is a bit intimidating and confusing to me. One model only loads for handguns, I like the 5-station one that does a separate powder-check because that’s the most seriously important thing you can ever do. Or does it matter when you can just stop the crank and take a look anyhow?

  4. Oldfart says:

    I use a Lee turret press… but I don’t shoot as much as you apparently do. If you have a chance at a cheap Lee Progressive, go for it! From what I’ve heard about them, they take a bit more TLC than most people are willing to give but the ammo they turn out is just as good as what the Dillon makes. If after a fair trial the Lee equipment isn’t working out you can always go to Dillon.

  5. Ninth Stage says:

    Try Dillon’s square deal for pistol reloading. At $340.00, it’s hard to beat.

  6. Ninth Stage says:

    That should be Square Deal “B”.

  7. DJK says:

    Dillon RL550B. Period. Manually indexed.

  8. Ninth Stage says:

    I never liked manual indexing, makes me paranoid – “did I or didn’t I”.

  9. DJK says:

    Yeah, but it gives you the choice to change something or redo something. Of course, I’ve never used the 650 with auto index. But…either way…go Dillon.

  10. Firehand says:

    The only bad thing I can say about the Square Deal B is that it only uses Dillon dies made specifically for it. I lucked into one a guy was selling a couple of years ago with 9mm and .45acp dies, and it’s been great.

    The RL550 uses standard dies, you just have to advance the shellplate one step each time you cycle the handle. Haven’t used one myself, but the SDB sold me on their stuff. I want a 550, eventually.

    I’ll throw in, a press like this is one of those things I doubt you’ll ever regret spending the money for the best you can get hold of; it’ll last and be easier to use.

  11. Sebastian says:

    Someone will have to explain the difference between auto indexing and manual indexing :)

  12. DJK says:

    It means you have to either push the turret around once per pull of the handle or it does it on it’s own.

  13. Sebastian says:

    Ah, OK… I thought they all advanced the turret with the handle pull.

  14. Paul W says:

    You can look at reloading like shooting, as follows:

    Single-shot is a single-stage press;
    Semi-auto is a turret press;
    Full auto is a progressive.

    I had a single stage for about 10 years. It was good enough while ammo was cheap but, like you, I’ve grown tired of paying high prices for stuff that I can make for 50% or less than even the per round cost of ammo ordered by the case. Before about 3 years ago, I had hand-loaded rifle ammo for accuracy on my single-stage, and a few hundred rounds of handgun ammo (where accuracy wasn’t as important). It simply didn’t pay to do anything but hoard cases (and I also hoarded primers in the ’90s due to fear of an impending ban on reloading components). However, then the prices went up (and much more so in the last year), so I wanted/needed a way to load faster without paying a fortune.

    I ended up with a Turret Press, specifically a Lee 4-hole turret. This thing is bullet-proof (pun not intended) – it is VERY well made, and will definitely see use after I get planted. I got the press and all of the equipment for loading each caliber I own for about $175. I can now comfortably load 150-200 rounds of handgun ammo per hour, assuming that I have all of the cases, powder, primer & bullets ready. Rifle is different, depending on whether I’m loading for extreme accuracy or not. If so, I may load 30-60 per hour. If not, 150-200 is possible.

    The cost savings are terrific, but the turret is not so complex (as progressives can be) as to make me worry about the ammo. Unlike a progressive, with a turret one can still inspect each round before the bullet is inserted & crimped (which WILL slow things down…but I pride myself on never having produced a reload with either a double charge or no charge at all – and my eyes and other body parts are worth the extra time).

    Order through Midway, Wideners or Grafs via a C&R license if you can – you get nice discounts on already decent prices. Oh, and make sure to order LOTS of powder, bullets & primers, because you’ll go through them quickly.

  15. Mopar says:

    Expanding on what Paul said about the Lee turret. If you go that route, make sure you get the “Classic” turret press over the standard. Only a few bucks more, but way heavier duty. Depending on what you already have, prices range from $87 for the bare press at Midway, to the deluxe upgraded full kit with everything from Kempf for under $200. Either way get extra turrets at $10 each for easy caliber swaps.

  16. DJK says:

    No matter what you buy first….you’ll end up with a Dillon. You might as well start looking for one.

  17. Paul W says:

    What Mopar said about the Classic – that’s what I have, and it was/is well worth it.

    Oh, and DJK, I ain’t going to a Dillon. Nothing against them, but I’ve got what I need. I’d rather spend my money on new guns or components.

  18. James Nelson says:

    I loaded for many years on single stage equipment, in order to speed up my loading I went to a couple of the Lee 1000s. They are very finicky and keeping them running was way too much effort and the powder and priming systems truly suck. I went back to single stage and the bought the Hornady L-N-L AP early this year. If you are going to do multiple calibers, it is way less expensive than the Dillon and the 1000 free bullets don’t hurt either. There is a lot of info on the net about this machine, which is good because the manual sucks. The customer service is very good though. The priming system is still tricky on this thing and there is a learning curve that can be a bit steep. I have done about 15,000 rounds on mine and the purchase has been worth it.

  19. DJK says:

    I got my Dillon from a friend in pieces. I figured it all out in about 45 minutes and had made my first few rounds in another 45 minutes after getting the powder measure right and the primer tube filled. Very easy to use, not finicky at all. Just put a case in, add a bullet, pull the lever and boom, done. you can get 200-400 rounds per hour out of it depending on your process. Add the bullet and case feeders and she’ll run as fast as you can pull the handle.

  20. Ninth Stage says:

    Dillon’s Square Deal “B” is an autoindexer and the price includes a set of carbide dies in the caliber you choose. The downside with the SDB is that it uses special dies only available from Dillon.

  21. DirtCrashr says:

    The Square Deal “B” is only for pistol cartridges – you have to get an RL 550B to do both rifle and pistol – but at least it uses standard dies. You have to manually index advance it – but then you can check for powder-droppage.
    Right so far?
    The XL 650 is auto-indexing and it does a powder check for you – but you have to buy the Dillon-specific dies and multiple “toolheads” to contain each die-set – right?
    I’m just trying to figure this out too.

  22. emdfl says:

    Thing to remember is that the additional heads for the 650 are waaay more expensive then the same part for the 550.

  23. DJK says:

    Yup, the 550 is the way to go.

  24. Joe says:

    I load up to 20k rounds a year on a Dillon 550B. I load everything from 9mm through 300 win mag, but mostly 45acp. No upgrades. I bought it about 1987, Its been back to Dillon 2x to be rebuilt on their nickle. The 650 is outstanding if you only load 1 caliber. If you want to load small quantities (say 1k or less) of multiple calibers the 650 is too much of a pain to change calibers on and get setup again.

  25. rkh says:

    Once you get that progressive set up, you’re not going to want to swap calibers.

    Unless you shoot one caliber a heck of a lot more than the others, you’re in the same boat as I am. I repeat my suggestion of a turret press.

  26. Chris Byrne says:

    Three reasons to buy the LnL over the Dillon

    1. Its a HELL of a lot cheaper and just as good
    2. Caliber changes are FAR cheaper
    3. Caliber changes are FAR faster.

    Oh and I have about a dozen articles in that same section on reloading, comparing costs, choosing the specific press etc… Not just the couple mentioned.

  27. Sebastian says:

    Thanks Chris. In the end I might take this guy up on his Lee offer, because it’s hard to beat free. Might run with that for a while and see how it goes.

  28. AughtSix says:

    Yeah, go with free. If it works for you, awesome. If not, you’re no worse off. Or, if you get the other, leave the Lee set up for one of the other cartridges. It’s really nice to not have to mess with changing dies. (Though the LNL handles that nicely)

  29. Brian says:

    Dillon 550B is the way to go… You will spend an extra hundred on top of the Square Deal B to get the 550 but it works great.

  30. DirtCrashr says:

    You guys are starting to convince me about the L&L.

  31. WPZ says:

    In the end, if you’re going to shoot more than a modest amount, Dillon’s the answer.
    Over the span of several years, the Dillon will be the cheapest.
    The debate is over the small, one-caliber SDB or the more flexible 550. If you can only have one, the 550’s it. If you can work out getting a second, the SDB for the .45 is just plain the answer.
    I got an SDB a couple of years ago and have done at least 20,000 .45s on it since. The parts replacement kit, an overhaul of wear parts, is cheap and complete. I do mine over once a year and it’s not a big deal.
    I have two 550s, and the .38 Special one gets worked hard. The other does everything else, from .380 to .303.
    I did buy a Lee 1000 progressive once. After a thousand 9mms, I tossed it in the trash.
    There’s a reason Dillon owns the silhouette-shooters business. You’ll see.

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