Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Dillon Precision 550B Reloader Review

Dillon Precision 550B Reloader Review

The Dillion 550B needs no introduction to those in the industry who already know the legacy of this top of the line reloaders, however I thought I would tell my story on how I ended up with one.

Over the last five years, there were some points in ammo outages where where if you were not reloading, you were not shooting. I broke my Lee Pro1000 somewhere in that time frame and had a bit of a wait for replacement parts. That breakage coupled with powder availability issues left me frustrated.  Through that shortage, I was still reloading and shooting through and eroding my component stockpiles after picking up a Dillon 550B.  I suddenly did not feel so stupid having 20,000 primers on hand, 200 lbs of bullets, but the power seemed to consistently be my limiting factor. Through it all, my then new Dillon 550B received a workout delivering thousands of rounds and probably hundreds of calibers swaps. It has been a reloading workhorse with zero downtime wrapped in a premium quality reloading machine.

The reloading process is pretty simple and the same with any reloading machine; knock out primer and resize brass, reprime, charge, and flare case mouth for bullet seating, seat bullet, crimp, and on some rounds taper crimp.  This process is a simple process when reloading one round at a time, however once you start to have more than one case being reloaded at a time on a progressive reloader, there is a lot to keep track of for the person behind the reloader. Add in automatic case feeding and indexing and things can go wrong quick if everything is not tuned perfectly. One little problem ends up being compounded as you realize that the last fifty rounds you reloaded did not have a primer due to primer feeding issues or that your powder was out. You begin to scream words like “drat”, and phrases like “darn it all to heck” or some other four letter words with different vowels and consonants.

This Dillon 550B is my third reloading press. I started with a single stage Lee Breech Lock Hand Press and then once I learned the basics graduated to a Lee Pro1000 Progressive Loader designed for pistol calibers which can in theory load up to .223 case sizes. It was a decision based more on the $250 price than performance. I wanted to achieve higher reloading volumes in less time, so I thought the next best idea was to jump into progressive reloading.  The Lee Pro1000 is not a bad or crappy reloader by any means, it is not not up to the volumes I produced. The end result was that I ended up pushing it too hard which resulted in the breakage.  I needed something stronger, beefier, and up to the task to take a beating.

I noticed that I lost a lot of control with the auto-feeding progressive reloaders. Handgun cartridges were fairly problem-free during the reloading process once I had the Lee Loader tweaked and tuned. On the other hand, the longer .223 rifle cases were problematic on the Lee. A jammed round caused a linkage breakage, so I started looking for a different reloader to dedicate to calibers requiring more reloading force, precision and control during the reloading process.

The other issues with the Lee was that swapping calibers was a total pain in the butt. You could pop out the toolhead and leave the dies in place, however the shell plate, and brass feeder were enormously painful to readjust, test, tweak, and re-adjust again to get working and feeding properly for each caliber. My decision was to just dedicate the Lee Pro1000 Loader for 9mm and go shopping for something to handle all the other calibers.

My FFL dealer swears by a used Dillon 550B he picked up in a gun trade which now has to be well over 10 years old. That used 550B takes a beating loading thousands of rounds per month. "My Dealer's" points were that it was one of the easiest loaders to swap calibers on, it delivered a very high degree of precision, and struck a great balance between control and speed during the reloading process. I flipped open the laptop and hit Dillon's site to build a reloading kit to fit my needs to reload .357/.38 Special, .223, and .308. I did go ahead and also order 9mm dies just in case my Lee reloader went offline again. The Dillon setup was not inexpensive. In fact I have around $1100 invested in this setup which includes toolheads for each die set and case gages for .223 and .308. I will easily drop another $500 for all the other toolhead and dies to swap to other calibers I would like to reload such as 10mm, .45ACP, ...etc.

Despite the sizable initial and planned investments, the Dillion 550B has easily paid for itself and I have not had one moment where I looked back and wished that I had made another decision. All the major and minor complaints about my Lee Pro1000 were addressed on the 550B. High quality, rapid caliber swaps, high production volumes, and a ton of control during the reloading process. The Dillion 550B is an outstanding investment for any shooter providing flexibility and reloading precision.

Dillon industries has been around for a while making the most durable and reliable reloading equipment available. The company is probably most well known for its booklet sized quarterly reloader and shooter's accessory catalog which always features a beautiful fresh faced lass tastefully posed on the front cover usually with a gun. Growing up, I loved to get my new catalog as a teenager.  Mrs. Pandemic lovely refers to it as the "Girls Next Door has a Gun Catalog"... I guess that is where my girl with a gun fantasy started and has never stopped. Dillon Precision was actually the first company to offer an affordable progressive reloader the RL-1000. The company has done very well for itself since its start in the early 1980s as a catalog driven manufacturing retailer, but today, their products can also be found at most sporting retailers around the globe.  

Dillon has also been on the forefront of reloader technology and innovation improvements in reloading since their  models were first introduced. Although Dillon claims this 550B can deliver 400+ round an hour volumes, their full auto feeding 650XL model is even faster and is noted to be one of the fastest home reloaders made. As a testament to the reliability of the Dillons, some people have added high torque motors and automation kits to the the 650XL to allow it to sit there and crank out rounds. In short, Dillon reloaders are known for their tank-like durability and reliability and if it ever does break, the have a lifetime warranty backing that claim up.

Where a Pro1000 Lee Loader is around $250 complete with your choice of handgun or small rifle caliber, the Dillon Precision 550B typically equipped runs around $750 for one caliber. Additional caliber dies and toolheads run about $100 per addition caliber.  That noted, there is such a chasm of quality between the two products I would hardly call it a comparison. Not that the Lee is junk, it just a budget targeted product. There is a pretty huge quality difference between the two loaders which look similar on paper to the beginner reloader. Structurally the Dillon is significantly stronger in nearly every aspect and part, the quality is higher, and the tolerances tighter. The quality on the Dillion it every bit as nice as the RCBS, Redding, and Hornady loaders I have seen. Where the Dillon excels over other brands is heavy duty durability, longevity, and consistent operation with parts designs a bit heavier, thicker, or tougher than other competing brands. All this durability provides a stiffer reloader which inherently delivers a higher tolerance, more accurate, and more reliable round of ammo.

The Dillon 550B is a 4-position progressive reloader with Station 1 handling the resize, deprime and prime functions, Station 2 dropping the powder and flaring the case, Station 4 reserved for bullet seating, and Station 4 case crimping. Of note, my Lee Pro1000 only had three stations which meant I still needed to run rifle or certain pistol calibers back through for a final taper crimp for increased accuracy or reliability. The Dillon 550B's four stations can handle it all in one pass. Every reloading machine manufacturer has their own combination of how the standard step by step reloading process should go, however many reloaders have noted that Dillon's process greatly increases reliability and according to some also safety. One of the main benefits of Dillon's, staging sequence on each station is that priming is pushed to the first station where an accidental primer ignition cannot ignite the powder delivery reservoir which is typically full of powder. Great idea!

Where some progressive reloaders, such as Dillon's own 650XL model, can support fully automated indexing, case delivery and bullet feeding, the 550B relies on your hands to load the brass, add a bullet, and manually index the shell plate to the next station. This gives the relaoder a best of both world capability with the control of a single stage or turret reloader and the speed of a progressive reloader. This hand indexing and hand feeding process may sound tedious compared to the specs of fully automated progressive reloaders, however I wanted this level of control to assure powder, bullet, seating, and crimping were all consistent.

With the automated indexing shell plates, if there is a problem, it can be problematic to remove the round or work around the shell plate indexing drive mechanism. If you are just turning the shell plate by hand you have much more control to reload cases like the .223 and 308 which have tapered necks. Hand indexing the shell plate also has one enormous benefit; there is no wacky linkages or drive mechanism to mess around with to change shell plates. All you need to do on the Dillon 550B is just unbolt the shell plate and screw on a different one. That swap can be done in about a minute.

The next time saver for swapping calibers is Dillon's removable toolhead design. A removeable toolhead allows all your reloading dies to stay perfectly in place and perfectly adjusted in the removable toolhead. Although almost every major reloading machine manufacturer has some option for a removeable toolhead, Dillon's locking dovetail slip in design is probably the fastest and most secure I have worked with. All that is required to change dies for another caliber is lift the locking pin and slide out the toolhead.  The only other swap which may be required is to re-calibrate the powder drop for the new caliber. The beauty of the Dillon 550B design is that in under 5 minutes, you can be swapped over to a new caliber just by swapping the shell plate, toolhead, potentially changing the contents of the primer tube and recalibrating the powder. If you have dedicated a powder die or, better yet, a dedicated measure for each toolhead, then the entire conversion process is even quicker. By contrast, my Lee Loader takes about 30 minutes including re-calibration and tuning which sucks the big one.

Another big feature for me on the Dillon 550B was that is reloads nearly every pistol and rifle cartridge available without any modifications other than an XL powder die for the really huge calibers. Buy a 550B once and you can reload pretty much anything on it with the exception of .50 caliber rounds. By my count, Dillon offers dies for over 200 calibers for the 550B with more on the way.

I do have a love/hate relationship with the Dillon primer tubes. On one hand they are crazy reliable and I have had zero problems with them. On the other hand, the primer tubes are no where near as easy to reload as dumping a box of primers in my Lee primer tray and rattling them around until they are all upright. The Lee method is easy and fast, but delivers less than excellent reliability where the Dillon's primer tube configuration is slower to reload but delivers flawless reliability.  The primer tube does have a low primer warning which as a forgetful person I find rather convenient. Its a compromise I will accept.

The Dillon 550B hardly requires a review, but it deserves on. Functionally the Dillon 550B has been an awesome and reliable reloading machine. Do I still use my single stage press for reloading? Sure and even my Lee Pro1000 for 9mm, however the Dillon delivers a very flexible reloader which minimizes caliber change times and pretty high rates of ammo production.

The beauty of the Dillon 550B is that once you get the toolhead setup caliber swaps can literally take under five minutes with a dedicated powder measure. The 550B is also a best of both worlds reloading machine with the hand indexing feature it gives you the control of a single stage press with the reloading speed of a progressive multi-stage loader. Think of it as a turret loader which is progressive.

All in, all I am quite happy with the extremely great quality of the Dillon 550B and how flexible it has been reloading everything from .357 - to .308. Buy the 550B once and you will never need another reloader again.

4 station progressive loader
Station 1) resize/deprime/prime
Station 2) powder drop/flare
Station 3) seat
Station 4) crimp
The RL550B is able to load rifle as well as pistol cartridges The RL550B uses standard 7/8 by 14 thread per inch dies, as long as they deprime in the size die Manually indexed shellplate Manually fed cases and bullets Capable of loading 400 to 600 rounds per hour
Lifetime "No-B.S." Warranty
No dies are included with the RL550B. If you need to order dies, please click Here

Typical price as shown with optional accessories is $735.60

The basic 550 includes:
Machine with caliber conversion kit (shellplate, locator buttons, powder funnel) in the caliber of your choice.
Powder measure with standard large and small powder bars (small installed), Small bar throws from 2.1 to 15 grains of powder Large bar throws up to 55 to 60 grains of powder.
One prime system with large and small priming parts.
One large and one small pick up tube
Low Primer Alarm
One toolhead
One powder die
One loaded cartridge catch bin
One written instruction manual
One set of standard Allen wrenches
* No dies are included.
Machine height from bench is 21"
Cartridges marked with an "*" afterward require a separate XL Powder Die #21253 be purchased

.22 Jet Revolver 20165
.30 Mauser/.30 Luger 20175
.32 S&W/.32 H&R Mag/.327 Mag 20146
.32 ACP/.32 Short Colt 20160
.380 ACP 20133
9 X 18 Makarov 21656
9mm 20127
9 X 25 Dillon/.357 SIG 21526
.38 AMU 20278
.38 S&W 20159
.38 Super 20127
.38 LC/.38 Sp./.357/Mag./Max. 20132
40 S&W/10MM 20179
.40 Super/.400 CorBon 20129
.41 Magnum 20135
.44 Colt/.44 Russian 20136
.44 Special/Magnum 20136
.45 ACP/.45 GAP 20126
.45 Auto Rim 20158
.45 S&W Schofield 20137
.455 Webley 20137
.45 Colt/.454 Casull 20137
.45 Winchester Magnum 20221
.460 S&W 20888 $10.00 Additional Charge
.475 Linebaugh/.480 Ruger * 20116 $10.00 Additional Charge
.50 Action Express * 21428 $10.00 Additional Charge
.500 S&W Magnum * 20121 $10.00 Additional Charge
.17 remington 20203 $10.00 Additional Charge
.204 Ruger 20307
.218 Bee 20151
.219 Zipper/.219 Donaldson Wasp 20180
.22 BR 20145
.22 PPC 20182
.220 Swift 20154 $10.00 Additional Charge
.221 Remington Fireball 20128
.222 Remington/Magnum 20128
.22-250 20145
.223 Remington 20128
.223 WSSM * 20676 $10.00 Additional Charge
.224 Weatherby Magnum 20235
.225 Winchester 20154
.22 Hornet 20150
.22 savage Hi-Power 20180
.240 Weatherby Magnum 20192
.243 WSSM * 20316 $10.00 Additional Charge
.243 Winchester/6mm Remington 20192
6mm BR 20276 $10.00 Additional Charge
6mm PPC 20265 $10.00 Additional Charge
6mm TCU 20252 $10.00 Additional Charge
.25 WSSM * 20315 $10.00 Additional Charge
.250 Savage 20147
.25-06 20147
.25-20 Winchester 20176
.25-35 Winchester 20197
.256 Winchester Magnum 20215
.257 Roberts/.257 Ackley Imp. 20147
.257 Weatherby Magnum 20199
.25 Remington 20233
.260 Remington 20207
6.5 X 52 Carcano 20208
6.5 X 54 Mannlicher Schoenauer 20208
6.5 X 55 Swedish/6.5-06 20207
6.5 X 68S 20267
6.5 X 57R 20269
6.5 X 284 20207
6.5 Arisaka 20209
6.5 Grendel 20894 $10.00 Additional Charge
6.5 Remington Magnum 20210
.264 Winchester Magnum 20210
6.8 SPC 20323
.270 Winchester 20142
.270 WSM/7 WSM/7 RSAUM * 20122 $10.00 Additional Charge
.270 Weatherby Magnum 20140
7mm-08 20142
7 X 57 Mauser 20142
7 X 57 R 20268
7 X 64 Brenneke 20142
7mm Benchrest 20216
7mm Dakota 20682 $10.00 Additional Charge
7mm Express 20142
7mm International/Rim 20223
7mm Merrill 20230
7mm Rem./Wby. Mag./STW 20140
7mm Rem. Ultra Mag. * 20682 $10.00 Additional Charge
7mm TCU 20141 $10.00 Additional Charge
7-30 Waters 20223
.280 Remington/.284 Winchester 20142
7.5 X 55 Swiss 20432
.30 M1 Carbine 20131
.30 Herrett 20214
.30 Merrill 20231
.30 Remington 20184
.30R Blaser 20270
.308/.30-06 20130
.300 H&H 20188
.300 Savage 20190
.300 Weatherby Magnum 20188
.300 AAC Blackout/Whisper 20236
.300 WSM * 20243 $10.00 Additional Charge
.300 Winchester Magnum 20188
.300 Remington SA Ultra Mag. * 20243 $10.00 Additional Charge
.300 Remington Ultra Mag./300 Dakota * 20239 $10.00 Additional Charge
.30-30 Winchester 20139
.30-338 Winchester 20188
.30-378 Wby* 20249 $10.00 Additional Charge
.30-40 Krag 20185
.303 British 20183
.307 Winchester 20237
.308 Norma Magnum 20188
7.62 X 39 Russian 20213
7.62 X 53 Mauser 20130
7.62 X 54 Russian 20346
7.7 Arisaka 20130
.32-20 Winchester 20177
.32-40 Winchester 20139
.32 Remington 20184
.32 Winchester Special 20139
8 X 57 Mauser 20201
8 X 57 JRS 20271
8 X 68S 20272
8mm Remington Magnum 20155
.325 WSM * 20891 $10.00 Additional Charge
.33 Winchester 20202
.338 Lapua * 20257 $10.00 Additional Charge
.338 Winchester 20156
.338 Winchester 20156
.338 Remington Ultra Mag/330 Dakota * 20258 $10.00 Additional Charge
.340 Weatherby Magnum 20156
.348 Winchester 20217
.350 Remington Magnum 20167
.356 Winchester 20238
.357 Herrett 20172
.358 Winchester 20170
.358 Norma Magnum 20167
.35 Remington 20166
.35 Winchester 20168
.35 Whelen 20170
9.3 X 62 20273
9.3 X 64/9.3 X 74R 20274
.375-38/55 Winchester 20226 $10.00 Additional Charge
.375 H&H Magnum 20204
.375 Super Magnum 20226
.375 Remington Ultra Magnum * 20261 $10.00 Additional Charge
.375 Ruger 20497
.375 Weatherby Magnum 20204
.376 Steyr 20260
.378 Weatherby Magnum * 21665 $10.00 Additional Charge
.38-40 Winchester 20178
.38-55 Winchester 20226 $10.00 Additional Charge
.40-65 Winchester 20264 $10.00 Additional Charge
.416 Remington Magnum 20771 $10.00 Additional Charge
.416 Rigby/Weatherby/.404 Jeffries * 20262 $10.00 Additional Charge
.444 Marlin 20164
.44-40 Winchester 20206
.45-70 Gov't 20143
.450 Dakota * 14261 $10.00 Additional Charge
.458 Winchester Magnum 20161
.460 Weatherby Magnum * 21664 $10.00 Additional Charge
Lazzeroni Cartridges * 14261
.50 Beowulf * 20467 $10.00 Additional Charge



Brent said...

This was a very helpful review. I am currently researching a Dillion 550B I would like to reload 38/357 9mm 45acp and 223/5.56. I also have many other sets of dies that I am currently using on my single stage RCBS.. How hard is it to switch the dies to do a different caliber. I assume you will need a shell plate for each one.

Major Pandemic said...

separate shell plates are recommended, but you can do the re-setup on the same plate each time, but that is really defeating the design of the quick swap shell plate design on the 550. With separate shell plates, all you need to do is swap the shell plate and swap a complete setup head and you are in business.

Unknown said...

I just purchased a Dillon RL550 B for 308, 223, 44 Magnum calibers Love this Machine buy one for a test drive you won'the be discused. Tony Escondido Ca

Unknown said...

I just purchased a Dillon RL550 B for 308, 223, 44 Magnum calibers Love this Machine buy one for a test drive you won'the be discused. Tony Escondido Ca

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Unknown said...

What mount are you using for the bin?

Major Pandemic said...

The bin mount was from the Dillon standard kit.

Unknown said...


Badmoose said...

Thanks for a great review. I also have been using Lee equipment due to the initial low price. I have a cast steel single press that works very well, no complaints. However, I bought a used Loadmaster and that one needs significant tweaking. I just gave it to my son since my intention wasn't to spend more time tweaking than loading shells. Now I'm looking for a used Dillon and I guess I'll go for the 550B. I don't really need huge throughput. A good, reliable, easy to setup progressive should do just fine. Still shopping.

I'm curious about 40 S&W and 357 Sig. Does that take anything except a die swap?

Interesting time to be talking with Major Pandemic. I think the current Coronavirus madness may not really be worthy of the pandemic label. Seems we are very short on real data and numbers, as well as toilet paper.

Thanks again for a great, informative review.

Best regards,

AW Miller