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Dillon's new RL550.

I have some basic philosophies, and one is, "if it works, don't fix it." Fortunately, Mike Dillon forgot that one when he literally overran his super RL450 and 450B loading machines with the new RL550. There's no moss on Mike Dillon. Somehow he just keeps making great things better.

I bought the first model Dillon semi-automatic production machine, the RL300, several years ago. It seemed like the answer to my reloading prayers because it was a machine that would produce a loaded round every time I pulled the handle. Unlike most other progressive loaders, though, it was versatile. It would let me change from one caliber to another with relative ease, and it would even load rifle ammunition. A lof of machines have come and gone since. But the basic concept of a powerful reloading press, pushing a ram that contains a rotary shell holder that works under four dies at a time, making reliable ammunition fast, is still a part of the Dillon RL series.

If you want to shoot well, there just isn't any substitute for shooting a lot, and unless you're blessed with independent wealth or have an uncle in the ammunition business, you're going to have to reload.

There are certain benefits a gunwriter has that outweigh salary and not having to work for a living. Chief among these benefits is being on the list of people who get to unbox the first Dillon 550 machines.

The outstanding feature of the 550, something that I haven't seen on any other reloader, is the ability to convert from one cartridge to another, quickly. The top of the machine, where the holes for the dies are, is a removable block. The tool head is held in the press by two steel dowels and is removed by hand. Lift out the two dowels, slide the block out to the left (it fits in grooves in the press) and slide in a new block. Importantly, when we change blocks we also change sets of perfectly adjusted loading dies. If we change calibers with the same case head (such as the .30-06 and the .45 ACP), a complete changeover to reload the new cartridge takes about 5 seconds!

The tool head holds a four die set and a powder measure. Each set of dies is adjusted and locked into its own tool head. When you change heads, the dies are replaced in perfect adjustment. The heads cost $25 for three, so you can buy a whole flock of them, adjust each set of dies once and forget them forever.

The rest of the "quick change" 550 is the sme as the proven RL450B. If you need to change cartridges with different case heads, there is a neatly boxed set for calibe conversion. It has a shell holder and three brass locater pins (they hold the cases in the right relationship to the shell holder) and a powder funnel.

The powder funnel is the functional heart of the new automatic powder measure on the 550. It rides inside the No. 2 die in the shell head, following the resizing/decapping die. Actually, the precision-steel powder "funnel" doesn't resemble a funnel at all. It is actually a hollow expander/mouth belling die in the pistol calibers and a sleeve that fits over the neck of the case in bottleneck cases. The powder measure itself clamps on top of the No. 2 die. When the loader's lever is pulled and the case under the powder measure die contacts the expander/funnel, the whole powder measure is lifted, activating a cam lever that moves the powder bar inside the measure and dumps the pre-set amount of powder into the case. It does this automatically every time you pull the lever, so unlike the old 450s, you don't have to worry about forgetting to dump powder.

The 550 powder measure comes with a large and small powder slide that will cover a range from a few grains of bullseye up to about 65 grains of slow rifle powders. Each bar is adjustable by turning a screw on the end of the bar.

If I have a complaint about the Dillon machine, it is this powder bar adjustment. It works beautifully and is extremely accurate, but the only way to make adjustments is by the "cut-and-try" method. The adjustment is a standard machine bolt held by friction washers. You turn it one way for more powder and another for less, but it lacks any increments for measurement or reference.

While we are dealing with the powder measure, there are a couple more thoughts that are important concerning its compatibility with certain powders. First, the "Lincoln log" IMR and other stick powders must be approached with caution. They don't like any powder measure. The Dillon throws very accurate charges of these powders, but the "bridging" of the sticks in calibers under .30 can lead to trouble. These big chunks just don't want to fall through a small hole, and if they hang up, you can get an extra dose in the next case. Dillon also cautions that the very fine ball pistol powders like WW 296 or H110 are just the right size to fit into the working tolerances of his measure and gum up the works. The worst difficulty I experienced was an occasional sticky return of the powder slide. The slide's return is powered by two fine coil springs. I added a third and haven't had a hint of trouble since.

The next major advance found on the 550 is automatic priming. Each pull of the hadle activates the primer slide, picks up a primer and automatically places it under the resized/decaped case for repriming on the up stroke of the handle.

Okay, here we go. To get started, you have an unadjusted set of dies. To get them right, adjust hem one at a time. With the primer tube full (the 550 comes with super primer pick-up tubes that get a primer every time) and powder in the measure hopper, you put a case in the shell holder under the resizing die. A little adjustable spring holds it tight against the holder. Raise it to decap and size just like normal dies, and reprime on the bottom of the stroke. Next, click the case under the powder measure die. Here you can test the amount of powder thrown by the measure under an actual loading cycle, after it has been preset by manual dumping into your scale pan. At the same time, you turn down the measure die until you get a proper bell in the case mouth, for a straight wall case, or turn it down until a rifle case pushes the powder slide to the full length of its normal travel. Now click the same powdered case under the bullet seating die for adjustment. If you are reloading rifles, you are finished here when the proper seating depth is found. With a pistol, push the bullet in to the right depth and click to the No. 4 station.

Now another Dillon feature appears. It really acts like a five station press, because the powder and expander are in the same die. The No. 4 station is for crimping, either taper or roll. The roll crimp is essential with the magnums to get the powder to light properly, and a taper crimp for the auto pistol rounds is mandatory to get them to run flawlessly. Both types of crimps are usually done best in a separate operation, and taper crimping on bullets without crimp grooves must always be done separately.

The Dillon concept includes dies. They hvae a good understanding of the dies that are needed to make a progressive machine run right. Pistol calibers need special attention. Carbide sizers in the correct diameter, with a taper to let in the case mouth without a fuss and not leave a "beltc at the base after sizing, are essential. Loading cast bullets leaves excess bullet lube in the seating die. Unless this lube has somewhere to go, it gradually changes the bullet seating depth. Dillon seaters have a vent hole the full length of the seating stem, and the excess lube is forced out the top of the die where it can't cause trouble. The crimp and seating dies also have funneled mouths to help align bullets and rounds, so each bullet or round hits the hole every time. These Dillon pistol dies are available in .38/.357, .45 ACP, 9mm and .44 Mag.

Finally, Dillon is a very personal company. The only way you can buy a machine is direct from Dillon. This keeps the price down by eliminating middlemen. This practice has ruffled a lot of feathers in our industry, but the results are remarkable.

The Dillon manual has in big print on the cover "Don't Suffer In Silence," followed by a toll free number. This is a company in the shooting industry that wants you to call and contact them about your trouble. Actually, they just want you to be a happy customer. They keep changing, refining and improving because they talk to people who reload ammunition.

Now there are about 50,000 of you out there who bought Dillon RL450s who are saying, "thanks a whole bloody lot for waiting until we bought our machines to make the great one." Relax. Dillon is a people company, and they didn't forget the owners of 450s. Forty dollars will buy you both automatic primer and powder systems, and if you want to turn your RL450 into a full blown 550, another $45 will buy a replacement frame to take the interchangeable tool heads. So with an $85 charge, your old 450 becomes the latest state-of-the-art RL550.

Dollar for dollar, combined with their customer service, the Dillon RL550 is the greatest loading machine on the face of the earth. I can't wait to see what they come up with next. The RL550 is $224.50, less dies. Contact Dillon, 7442 E. Butherus Dr., Dept. GA, Scottsdale, AZ 85250 (800-421-7632) for more information.
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Title Annotation:evaluation; gun loader
Author:Seyfried, Ross
Publication:Guns & Ammo
Date:Sep 1, 1985
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