Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Loading Up

Note: This post started off as just doing a costing on progressive reloading, but I decided to expand it into a comprehensive look at the costs and benefits of reloading.

So, the question has been asked, repeatedly by me in my own mind, and in comments; what's the value proposition of reloading; and further, what is the value proposition of a progressive press vs. loading with a single stage or turret press.

Most people who reload get into it, because they want to shoot more, and ammunition is expensive. Some people get into it because match grade ammo is REALLY expensive, and if you get very good at reloading you can make it better than the factories can by far. Some people just do it because they enjoy it; or they do it because they enjoy it, because ammo is expensive, and because they want better accuracy and precision (I'd be one of those folks).

Well, you can get all of that... though maybe not at the same time.

Let me just say up front, for most people, when you reload or handload, you probably won't save much money; you'll probably spend as much as you did before, but you'll shoot a LOT more, and at least a little better... (and that's justification enough on it's own as far as I'm concerned).

...Unless you're like me (or the guys way more hardcore than I am) who shoot hundreds of rounds a week that is. We shoot more, AND save money... mostly because at some point there's a limit to how much you can shoot; you run out of daylight, your hands get tired, your eyes get tired, and your shoulder gets sore.

I have five main goals in reloading.

1. To be able to make enough ammo, affordably, that I can shoot 'til I can't shoot no more, at least twice a month, and preferably every week; without running out of ammo, or having to buy some at the local WallyWorld or Sportsmans warehouse.

2. To be able to make ammo that each of my guns finds particularly accurate and precise; because all guns shoot differently.

3. To have huge quantities of generic ammo that shoots reasonably well on hand, as trade goods and in case of emergencies; without breaking the bank. It used to be you could depend on Mil-Surp for such things, but the prices these days are not much better than reloading, if you can even find it (there has been a major drought in 5.56 and 7.62x39 for the last three years, because of commodities price increases, and because of the GWOT)

4. To be as self sufficient as possible, for whatever reasons there may be; and being able to make my own ammunition is part of that.

5. To know and understand more about firearms, ammunition, and ballistics; and to have fun doing it.

Alright, those sounds like good goals, but how does that translate into real life costs, effort, and time?

I suppose the first question is, what are the direct costs of commercial ammunition, vs. the direct costs of reloading.

Man... ammo is expensive, and with the commodities crunch (copper and tin have been skyrocketing the last few years, and that's primarily what rounds are made from), and the war taking up excess production capacity, it's just getting worse.

For simplicities sake, lets stick with just one load, in one chambering. The most popular commercial round, as well as the most commonly reloaded round is by far .45acp (for many reasons), so let's stick with that (rifle loading can save a hell of a lot more money, but the costs are so highly variable it's difficult to quantify).

These days, a box of 50 230gr FMJ rounds in .45acp, with brass cases (staying away from steel or aluminum, for MANY reasons) runs between $13 and $16. This is up about $2-$3 a box from two years ago. If you buy it by the 20 box case, over the internet, you are looking at something on the order of $280 to $300 shipped.

Basically, an average of about $0.30 a round.

A box of premium defensive ammo like CCI Gold Dots or Hornady XTPs, will run you about $18 a box of $20, or maybe as little as $14 if you buy online. In 1000 round case lots you're talking about $450 to $550.

Call it $0.50 a round.

Working in 1000 round lots is convenient for reloading, because that's typically where the first real price break hits on components. Leaving aside the question of equipment (which we'll address later on in this article), let's look at the cost of those components:

1. Brass: Brass cost is the most highly variable portion of the equation. You have several options for acquiring you brass to reload.
  • New unfired brass in 1000 round lots can be had for anywhere from $0.12 to $0.20 per case. Typical prices would be somewhere around $0.13-$0.14 . 'Course that's not really re-loading, it's handloading.

  • Commercial once fired brass (just like it sounds, it's brass that has been fired once, then cleaned and resold to you) generally runs from $0.06 to $0.08 a round.

  • Bulk sorted fired brass (sorted by caliber not quality) can run as low as a penny a round, but more typical would be $0.025 to $0.05 per case. I typically buy this bulk brass, and pay about $0.025 per case. The only problem with that is, sometimes you get inconsistent quality, and you don't know how old or how many times the case have been fired. So I never load high pressure rounds from unknown brass. I only load +p loads from known once fired or known good brass; and I only load +p+ in new +p rated brass.

  • Buying commercial ammo, shooting it, and recovering the brass is the most expensive way of getting brass as a reloading component; but recovering OTHER people fired brass is free.. minus the back aches from bending over so much.
Oh and rifle brass, just so you know, is MUCH more expensive; anywhere from twice the price, to 10 times the price. Of course it's also a lot tougher, heavier, better made, etc...

Then you also have to take into account, brass is a re-usable component; you can't just look at it as a one time expendable cost. Pistol brass is good for anywhere from two to about 20 reloads Some people will reload a case more than that, but I start noticing thinning and defects after 4-6 reload cycles in some loadings, and personally I don’t think I want to take those chances. For estimation purposes I generally count a piece of brass as good for 10 loadings.

2. Powder: No powder, no boom. No boom, no fun. Buying powder by the pound isn't exactly the best way to get a good price, but it's convenient; because 1lb of most popular pistol powders, makes about 1000 rounds of .45acp. 1 pound powder prices run anywhere from around $11 to around $25, but typical is somewhere around $15.

You can save money buying powder in 8lb kegs, but you don't save all that much, and 8lbs of powder is a LOT, unless you're doing serious bulk loading (8lbs should load up something between 6,000 and 10,000rds of .45acp. that's more than most people shoot in a year, or even two or three years).

3. Primers: Conveniently, primers are sold in 1000ct cartons(with individually sealed 100ct. boxes inside), at anywhere from $15 to $25 per carton (if you buy 5 or 10 boxes you get bigger discounts). This is up by as much as 50% from three years ago. Right now, a typical 1000ct price for large pistol primers would be $20.

4. Bullets: Bullets swap places back and forth with brass for the most expensive part of the round; but of course bullets aren't reusable. They are also a HIGHLY variable cost.
  • If you want to cast your own bullets, you can get down into the $0.01 per bullet, or $10 per thousand range.

  • Commercial plain hardcast bullets run as low as $0.03 per bullet up to about $0.05 in thousand count lots, so somewhere between $30 and $50 per 1000. I typically pay about $45 per thousand.

  • Plated bullets are copper or cupro-nickel plated cast or swaged lead. They are "better" than plain cast lead bullets, but "not as good" as jacketed. I use scare quotes there, because realistically they aren't any better or worse, except that it takes a REALLY good plater to get consistent plated bullets. They leave less lead fouling than lead bullets, but more copper fouling than jacketed; and they are softer than jacketed, so they may not feed as well or stand up to dings as well etc... Anyway, they run from $0.06 to $0.10 per bullet, or $60-$90 per thousand, and I typically pay about $70 per thousand.

  • Bulk jacketed FMJ and bulk JHP bullets are pretty much the same as are used in commercial FMJ and JHP ammunition. In fact in some cases they may be the very same bullets from the same production line. They run from an absolute low of $0.09 per all the way up to $0.18 or so; but typical would be $0.11-$0.14each, for $110 to $140 per thousand. I usually pay $120 to $130.

  • Premium JHP components are available in the Speer Gold Dot, Hornady XTP, and Winchester Silvertip lines (among others); in case you want to make your own defensive or hunting ammo, or duplicate the commercial loadings on your own for practice purposes (which is what I do frequently). They run from about $0.13 each to $0.20 each, but typical would be about $0.16 each, or $160 per thousand.. note, this isn't much more expensive than the standard bulk FMJ.
Note, if you have a local caster (or other bullet manufacturer for that matter, though the discounts aren't as good as on cast lead), you can often get a MUCH better deal (as in half the price) buying in 10,000ct lots. Shipping costs on bullets are a major portion of their expense, and in larger lots the shipping and handling costs become prohibitive (10,000 230 grain bullets weighs 330lbs plus the weight of packaging, and lubricant).

So, totalling that up, you are talking about anywhere from about $50 per thousand, for making your own cast bullets, and reloading your range cases 10 times; to $215 per thousand for once fired brass and commercial bulk FMJ (but counting the reloading of the brass it's actually $160 per thousand); all the way up to about $330 per thousand for premium JHP in new premium brass (and again, if you amortize the brass cost it's $205 per thousand).

Just taking those two cases, as the best comparison against commercial ammunition the numbers break down like this:

TypeReloadAmortizedCommercialInitial savingsAmortized savings
Bulk FMJ per 1000$215$160$300$85$140
Premium JHP per 1000 (new brass)

And remember, that's doing very direct comparisons. If you use plated bullets instead of FMJ, you're talking about $50 less, for $165 per thousand, and $110 per thousand amortized. That's only $0.11 a round, about 1/3 the cost of commercial FMJ; for a savings of $190 per thousand. For bulk practice ammo, there is really no reason not to use the plated, excepting that it takes a few more minutes to clean your guns.

Switch to range brass, and you save another $0.35 per thousand. The cheapest you can get without actually casting your own bullets, is something like $105 per thousand rounds, and $85 amortized; or just 8.5 cents per round. Casting your own bullets drops you another $35 per thousand.

The biggest savings is definitely when you handload for premium loads. Even using the most expensive possible components, you are talking about a $300 savings per $1000. Switch to cheaper brass, or reload your premium brass more than ten times, and as I said above you drop your costs a LOT. The price difference between new premium brass, and range brass is $110 per thousand.

Of course, the direct cost of components is only one part of the equation, you still have to take into account the cost of equipment, and the time it takes.

Honestly, if you understand economics at all; the time is actually the far more important cost.

So, how much time does it take to reload?

Well, that's a complicated question, dependent on process and equipment, and just personal habit.

There are three primary equipment sets of loading large volumes of ammunition:
  • Single stage, single station press: This is a press which has one shell holder, which rams directly into one single working station with a die in it. They are the least expensive option, and generally the strongest, but they are also the slowest.

  • Single stage, turret press: This is a press with one shell holder, but multiple workstations. They are faster to load with, but a little more expensive, and not quite as strong as the single station presses

  • Progressive press: This is a press with a shell plate that holds multiple cases, and rams up into multiple dies simultaneously. The shell plate rotates with every pull of the lever (either manually or automatically) to advance each round

So, which should we use? Well that's a complex question too; and it's very strongly related to your process, and your budget, and what your time (and aggravation) is worth to you. In this case, your process and your equipment are very closely connected.

Single stage presses (turret or fixed) are cheaper, and simpler. Progressive presses are expensive and complicated, but they produce ammo a lot faster. In my case, even when I do pick up a progressive press, I’m going to keep my Lyman turret press running for small batches, load testing and development, and for precision reloading with individual weighed charges. Progressive presses aren't exactly conducive to small batches and such.

With a single stage singe station press, you have to change the dies between operations. This means you spend a lot of time re-adjusting things, and re-checking things. Even with batch processing (we'll get into that in a minute), you spend a lot of time, effort, and trouble just resetting things between operations. With a turret press though, you have up to seven workstations (with a Redding T-7. Most presses have 6 stations, some 4 or 5), and can easily and quickly move between operations without resetting anything.

Since we're talking primarily about volume loading here; to my mind the decision comes down to a turret press, or a progressive.

With just a quick glance at both types, you would think there would be no question; but you would be surprised at how much volume you can do with a good turret press (or even a single stage single station for that matter). The way you do this, is with batch processing; where you set up to run off a large batch of ammunition all at once.

Now, Dillon claims 500-600 rounds per hour with the RL550, and 800 to 1000 per hour with the XL650, and those aren't just made up numbers. Having used both presses before I'll tell you, if you're just straight crankin' you can really do it.

So really, how fast can you load with a turret press? Well, we need to go back to the process question.

The first question is, are we talking rifle or pistol? Because reloading for rifle involves several additional steps; and most of the steps that it shares in common with pistol loading generally take longer.

The slowest process are case prep, and dealing with powder.

Bottlenecked rounds (as most rifles use) require case lubrication for sizing. With straight walled rounds you can just use a carbide die straight with no lube (in fact lube could damage the brass). Then once the case has been sized and deprimed, you need to clean the lube off, to prepare for the next steps.

When you fire a bottlenecked round, the brass "grows" just a bit, making the case slightly longer. After a few firings (or sometimes just one), you have to trim each case neck, then deburr and chamfer the case mouth. Some people also turn the case neck so it has a consistent inside and outside diameter and thickness (which improves the consistency of each round).

If you're reloading military brass (common for 5.56, 7.62n, and .30-06 - the three most commonly reloaded rifle chamberings in this country, with .30-30 as the fourth and .270 as the fifth), you have to swage out the crimp put into the primer pocket. You may want to normalize the primer pockets with a primer pocket and flash hole reamer and deburring tool.

Then finally you need to clean the primer pocket, flash hole, and case neck.

Only then will you be ready to load the empty cases; whereas with pistol rounds, to reach the same stage you just need to deprime and size (though some folks do the primer pocket normalization with pistol rounds as well).

Sounds complicated right? Well, it is, but it's not as bad as it sounds if you have the right tools; or if you aren't trying to go for maximum accuracy. RCBS makes three tools that combined do all of the additional steps above, in just a few seconds each case; but those seconds add up.

De-capping (another word for de-priming) and sizing a pistol round takes about 5 seconds from bin to bin; and in most cases it's the only case prep you do other than cleaning (overnight in a tumbler, so theres not a lot of manual time involved). The case prep for a rifle round takes between 30 seconds and a minute, even without turning the neck or swaging the primer pocket.

On the powder side, unless you are loading bulk .223 practice ammo, you are probably going to want to weigh each charge individually; to improve accuracy, and to insure against squibs and overpressure loads.

With a pistol, charge weight consistency down to 2/10th grain is sufficient (excepting max pressure loads); and is easily achievable (with periodic consistency checks) with a good powder measure like the RCBS uniflow; presuming the right powders anyway (some powders won't measure consistently in a volumetric measure no matter what). It is somewhat more difficult to maintain such consistency from a measure with the much larger charge weights most rifle cartridges use; and rifles are significantly more sensitive to charge weight variations when loading for accuracy.

Just for an example of what I'm talking about, the popular 6mm family of benchrest cartridges have charge weights in the 30-40grain range, behind 60-130gr bullets. With a 30gr charge behind a 70gr bullet, 2/10th grain variation is only 1/2200th of an ounce, and less than .7% of the charge weight; but can throw a loads groups off by 1/4 minute of angle or more at 100 yards; and far more at the ranges used in competitive benchrest shooting (up to 1000 yards in formal competition, more in informal). 1/4 minute of angle doesn't sound like very much, it's about 1/4" at 100 yards; but it's 2.5" at 1000 yards, in a competition where the winning group size may be 1.8"

Finally, again unless you are producing bulk practice .223 or something similar, you generally aren't going to loading the same volume of rifle ammo as you would be pistol. In a range trip where I may shoot 500rds of just .45acp, plus all my other pistol shooting; I'll typically only shoot 20 to 200 rounds from various rifles... excepting ARs in .223/5.56 which as I've repeatedly referred to above, is a little bit different (unless I'm loading match ammo I treat it much like pistol), and where I'll easily go through 10 or 15 20 or 30rd magazines.

Given these factors, I would generally load rifles in a slower, more focused, and more quality and consistency oriented process, with a lot more individual checks; so I'm not really too concerned with the speed of reloading rifle rounds, except to note that it typically takes at least twice, and maybe as much as three or four times as long as to load the same amount of pistol ammo.

Honestly, I figure most other reloaders are the same way. They reload pistol for speed (and economy) and rifle for accuracy (and economy). Unless as I've said you're loading large bulk loads of .223, in which case you treat it like pistol ammo; or unless you're a competitive benchrest shooter, or high power competitor. Of course if you are either of those, 1. you're insane (but in a fun way) and 2. you're going to be spending the individual time and effort more appropriate to a swiss watch on every cartridge anyway, even if you ARE making 500 of them at once.

Given all of that; I don't see any real advantage to a progressive press over a turret press.

So, for the purposes of this discussion, lets focus on pistols. How fast can you load for pistols using a turret press?

You get a wide variety of answers on this one, seemingly a different answer from every reloader you ask; but on the low side it's about 100 rounds per hour, and on the high side, it's about 200. Honestly, I'm not sure how you could manage 200, you'd have to be incredibly fast and efficient, but you can get pretty close.

I can usually punch out 100-150 an hour on my turret press. If I were to really batch up and just crank I could probably do about 170-180; but that would be non-stop continuous press action. Personally, I don’t feel like making my arms that sore.

First thing, what equipment am I using currently (I've been over this before, but lets get it out here again just for the purposes of this discussion), and how much does it cost? :

1. Lyman Spar-t turret press
2. RCBS carbide dies
3. Lee auto-prime
4. RCBS Uniflow powder measure
5. Lee Safety scale ( I REALLY need to buy a better scale)
6. Various loading blocks (MTM, RCBS, cartridge box inserts, drilled blocks etc...)
7. Lyman dial caliper
8. Frankford arsenal vibratory case cleaner (with corncob media)
9. Cheap media separator (I'm thinking about the Dillon one)
10. Reloading manuals from Lyman, Speer, Hodgdon and others

The total price for all of the above, if I'd had to pay for the press and dies (which I didn't); would have been about $400.

Now, with how much it costs out of the way; how much ammo can you make, how fast, with a setup like that?

Well, like I said, the way to do this quickly and efficiently is with batching. Each step is done en mass with as much brass as you feel like running through at once, to keep the operations flowing.

Second, what's the process of reloading? What are those operations and how do they work?

From the outside, reloading looks like complicated black magic, but really it's very simple. Very precise, but very simple.

The most important things in reloading are precision, consistency, and safety. Do the same thing, the same way, each time, every time; and you'll produce good ammo. Don't do that, and you'll make bad ammo, or even blow yourself up. Dire warnings aside, precision and consistency help you make ammo faster, more accurate, and cheaper.

The actual process is very linear, and easy to understand and break down into steps, as follows:

1. Clean and inspect your brass: While it's not necessary to get brass all shiny and new looking (though most reloaders I know of LIKE to anyway), the brass needs to be clean, free of grit on the outside, and free of excessive powder fouling on the inside. The best way to do this is with a vibratory or rotating case cleaner, with corncob or walnut media, and possibly some case cleaning additive.

All you do is dump your collected fired cases into a sieve to screen out loose dirt, then dump them into the case cleaner with the cleaning media; and turn it on. A few hours later, and your brass is cleaned, and ready to be sieved out again to get the media off. They make rotating tumblers that make quick work of this.

Once you've cleaned them out, you give each case a quick inspection; looking for splits, burrs, large dents etc.. Anything that cant be immediately and easily corrected, or would indicate a structural weakness, means that case is discarded (preferably crushing it first so it isn't accidentally re-used)

2. Size and de-prime: This process is very simple. You place a round into the shell holder, and pull the lever, to force the cartridge up into the sizing/decapping die. This die has a hardened ring which forces the brass down to the proper size; and a hardened pin in the middle which pops the primer out of the flash hole.

3. Prime: In this stage you insert the primer into the primer pocket in the head of the case. Some people do this with an attachment on their press, or as part of the progressive process; but I personally prefer to use a manual priming tool because it gives you better control and feel. You simply place the primers inside up into the tray, insert the shell into the shell holder, and squeeze.

3. Expand: In this stage, you switch dies to the expander die, which "bells" the mouth of the case, in order to make it easier to insert a bullet. Some expander dies are hollow and allow you to charge the powder through them in this step.

4. Charge: In this stage you measure the powder out, and pour it into the case. You can do this with a scale and a funnel, with a dipper, or with a variable cavity powder measure. BE VERY CAREFUL HERE. This is where a screwup can blow guns up the easiest.

5. Insert a bullet into the case mouth: Once you've place the powder into the case, you want to cover it with a bullet as quickly as possible to avoid contamination, or spillage.

6. Seat and crimp: Insert the case with a bullet on top, the powder charge inside, and the primer on the bottom; into the shell holder. Pull the lever to ram the cartridge up into the seating die. The seating stem will push the bullet into the case the correct depth, and then the die will squeeze the mouth of the case down onto the bullet, locking it into place with friction (or with some dies and some bullets, with a mechanical fit of the case mouth into a groove on the bullet called a cannelure).

Now, as to how long this whole process takes, well, I’ve timed all this; because I’m a little too anal.

I like to pre-clean overnight and then sort, inspect, de-cap, and size my brass in large lots. I usually do several hundred at a time, and I can do about 500-600 cases an hour. This operation tends to be pretty mindless, and I just start cranking until I’m done.

...Yeah, those times my arm ends up a little sore. I did 1500 in one go once; and MAN I was sore the next day. Three hours of nothing but the same motion, with a non-trivial effort (I use an older press, without the compound leverage ram that newer presses use. It takes a lot more effort to de-prime and resize those cases)

From there, I hand prime all the cases for the run using my Lee auto prime, and stage them into loading blocks. I can do between 900 and 1200 an hour if I'm really going at it. The most I’ve done at once was 500, and it took me a little less than half an hour. A more relaxed "typical" speed would be something like 500-600 an hour. I did 250 last night while watching "the Dresden Files" and it took me about half an hour.

I like to do the priming step watching TV or somesuch. Something where I'm not exactly distracted, but my mind is occupied, so I don't get hypnotized by the process. You actually make less mistakes that way, than with absolutely no distractions. I stage the brass primer side up into loading blocks, so I can easily verify by sight and touch that each case has an evenly and properly seated primer.

Then I expand all the mouths, and stage back into the blocks which also goes at between 900 and 1200 an hour. Again, the most I’ve done at once was 500, and it took a little less than half an hour; and at a more relaxed pace I can do 500-600 an hour.

Next, I throw the charges into each case in the loading blocks. I can do 50 in just over a minute; but then I need to stop to verify the charge throw (never go more than 50 charges without verifying), which takes about 30 seconds or a minute. Let’s call it 100 every three minutes, or about 2000 per hour. I never do more than about 200 at a time without resting though; this is something you really don’t want to screw up on. After a couple minutes of doing something else, I go back and throw another 200. So again for a more relaxed pace call it 1200 an hour.

The good thing about loading into the blocks like that, is that you can verify the charge levels visually very easy.

Once the charges are verified, I place bullets into each case in the blocks; and I can do about 900-1200 an hour, even at a relaxed pace. It really only takes 2 seconds to put a bullet on the case mouth, and you just pop them on row by row.

Finally, I seat, crimp, and box the rounds; at about 900 rounds per hour.

So, let’s presume 500 rounds, batched, total production time.

1. Inspect, decap and size: one hour, to 90 minutes
2. Prime: 30 minutes to one hour
3. Expand: 30 minutes
4. Charge: 15 to 20 minutes
5. Insert bullet: 15 minutes
6. Seat, crimp, and box: 30-45 minutes

So, at full speed, I can probably do 500 rounds, in three hours; for about 170 rounds per hour. Of course if I did I’d be sore and exhausted afterwards. At a more relaxed pace it would take about four hours, for a total of 125 rounds an hour.

Personally, other than de-capping and sizing (which as I said, I like to do several hundred at a time), I really don’t like doing more than about 250-300 rounds at once; and at a more relaxed pace I can do that in a little less than 2 hours.

Now, if I had an RL550, I could do at least 3 times that level of production at my FASTEST pace, and maybe 4-5 times that with an XL650; and I wouldn’t be near as sore or tired.

...But, it would be expensive, and rather fiddly.

Just looking at new pricing, here’s what an xl650 setup, just for .45, would run me:

1. XL650 press, with .45acp caliber kit - $489.95
2. Case feeder with large pistol plate - $194.95
3. Powdercheck - $63.95
4. Powder sensor - $39.95
5. Roller handle - $32.95
6. Strong mount - 39.95
7. Bullet tray - 35.95

It totals out at just under $900, plus tax because I live in AZ (Dillon is in North Scottsdale, I'm in south Scottsdale).

The RL550 is a LOT less, though it loads at half the rate or so of the 650:

1. RL550 press, with .45acp caliber kit - $379.95
2. Powder sensor - $39.95 (dunno if I’d bother)
3. Roller handle - $32.95
4. Strong mount - $39.95
5. Bullet tray - $35.95
6. Case feeder - $229.95 (again, dunno if I’d bother)

Totals out at about $530, or $760 with a case feeder. I never really thought there was a point to having a case feeder with a manual indexing press, but we're trying to compare like with like here; and to my mind, there's not much point to an auto indexing press without one.

Dillon's caliber conversions include the pieces you need to setup quick caliber changes. For RL550s, they run $40 or $50 depending on caliber; and some calibers use the same pieces as others. The 650s conversions are generally $40 more than the 550s. Spare tool heads are about $15 or $20 and spare powder dies are $9 to complete a quickchange setup (you can add an individual powder measure for each caliber for an extra $60, but it's not necessary). You may also need to change the case feeder plate depending on case size (there are five:small and large pistol, small and large rifle, and magnum rifle), for another $35.

It takes 10-20 minutes to change calibers on a Dillon, including re-adjusting the dies. If you have a full quickchange, with the powder measure set etc.. it takes a bit more than 5 minutes; mostly verifying settings.

Of course Dillon isn't the only press manufacturer out there.

A Hornady LnL AP with a case feeder runs $665, shell plates are $35, plus the tool head bushings (the LnL press uses a fixed tool head with changeable bushings)for $15, and case feeder plate for $35.

An RCBS pro 2000 runs $445, again without a caliber conversion at about $60 (shell plate, die plate, bushings and inserts); and there's no case feeder (I thought there was one available for it, but its not on their web site).

Although I love a lot of Lee products, I don’t think any of the Lee progressives are suitable for the kind of volume I want to do. Also, I’m not looking for a commercial press or any of the “unusual” brands.

Honestly, given my experience with Dillon, all the accessories for them, their support etc.. and the fact that they're 15 miles from my house, I’m not seeing any advantage to going with anybody else. I’m willing to be convinced, but I haven’t seen anything especially convincing.

The real question for me, is whether the extra $140 or $370, plus the more expensive caliber kits, are worth the extra 300-500 rounds per hour.

I’m thinking it is. I think the price difference would probably make itself up in a year or two.

Now as to whether a progressive reloading setup is worth it to a new reloader, well, my kit as it stands would be about $400. With an RL550, and no case feeder, it would be about $300 more. Add in the case feeder and it's more like $550 more. Step up to the 650 and its about $700 more.

So is it worth it?

Well, how much do you shoot?

In a good year, I shoot something like 25,000 rounds (I had a 150k round year once. That was fun, but it wasn’t my money). In a bad year, it’s more like 10-15,000. I don’t have $10,000 a year for ammo. As it is I probably spend $3-5k a year on shooting, not including new guns.

Although I’ve been shooting less often this past year or so; typical for me would be two range trips a month, and at least 500 rounds per range trip; half of that .45acp. And that’s not including what my wife shoots (usually another 100 or so per trip, sometimes 200).

As I said in my other post, even cheap whitebox stuff is up to $0.30 a round now. That’s at least 3 grand in just ammo, and may hit $4500 never mind other supplies, new guns etc… and that's at a REDUCED level of shooting.

As I broke down above, loading for maximum economy with plate bullets, I can get under $0.11 a round. Thats only 1/3 the cost of commercial ammunition. Even assuming I average out to $0.15 a round, that's half the cost.

So, reloading in general saves me $1500 to $2500 a year...

Or it would if I reloaded all my ammo, which I don't because it's honestly a hassle. Yes, it's something I enjoy, but it's time consuming, and there's a fair bit of effort involved; especially when you're doing production line loading for a couple thousand rounds a month.

Presuming I DID reload everything I shot, that would be 10-20 hours a month just cranking the lever, never mind load development, adjustments, etc... on top of all the other shooting related stuff, and all the other pursuits in my life.

On a progressive press, that time could be cut by 2/3, maybe 3/4. I could load up all the ammo for my range trips the night before, in an hour or two, and be done with it; leaving more time for the fun parts of reloading like load development, and of course for the rest of my life.

So, is getting those 10 or 15 hours a month back worth it?

To me, absolutely.

Is it worth $300 more, $550 more, $700 more?

Well, if I only value my time at $6 an hour, and only presume one year of using the press, that's 120 hours.. $720.

I dunno about you, but I value my time a lot higher than $6 an hour. I'd rather spend that time with my wife, doing more interesting and productive things.

(woof, 6300 words)