Saturday, June 23, 2007

Totaling up the costs for red vs. blue

So, in my previous posts about the Lock-n-Load press, I'd noted that the reason I bought the thing instead of the Dillon XL650 I'd been planning on, was the price. I got it for something like a 30% discount off list at purchase, plus an additional $180 rebate.

I figured I'd share the numbers here to give y'all a better idea of what a complete progressive setup costs; and the true cost comparison between red and blue.

First, my costs for the Lock-n-Load press, including all the accoutrement (except dies, which I already have) necessary to load all my major chamberings (and if anyone knows how to make blogger not screw up table rendering, I'd love to know):

Itemqty. List
Price (ea)
Lock-n-load press 1$437.19$319.99
Lock-n-Load case feeder 1$326.84$264.99
Lock-n-Load bushing, 10pk 2$43.67$31.92
Lock-n-Load case feeder plate - small pistol 1$35.21$25.99
Lock-n-Load case feeder plate - large pistol 1$35.21$25.99
Lock-n-Load case feeder plate - small rifle 1$35.21$25.99
Lock-n-Load case feeder plate - large rifle 1$35.21$25.99
Lock-n-Load shell plate #1 (.45acp, .308, .30-06) 1$37.65$25.99
Lock-n-Load shell plate #6 (.38/.357, 7.62x39) 1$37.65$25.99
Lock-n-Load shell plate #8 (9mm) 1$37.65$25.99
Lock-n-Load shell plate #10 (.40S&W, 10MM) 1$37.65$25.99
Lock-n-Load shell plate #16 (.380acp, .223) 1$37.65$25.99
Hornady "Get Loaded" rebate 00($180)
Total 13$1180.48
That's a lot of money. Any way you slice it; that's a lot. Even after what is effectively a $480 discount; it's about 2200 rounds of Winchester white box.45acp for one thing; or 300 rounds and a new Glock 21 to fire them in (or more to my liking, a used SIG P220, or 1911 - in fact I just bought a used 1911 for $699 a few weeks ago).

But... you're getting a lot too. For my money, I've added the capability to load, at a minimum, 650 rounds per hour of 10 different chamberings. In fact, to load for all of the major chamberings I shoot (of the chamberings I shoot currently I'm only missing .303 british and 7.62x54r, neither of which I have dies for).

Presuming I save 60% of the price of each round by reloading (which is typical of my reloading. A box of 50 wwb .45acp is $13 to $16 these days depending on market fluctuations; and it costs me less than $5 to reload. The savings are greater on rifle, and greater still on my match loads, which typically save me 75% or more over commercial pricing) and my average price for round of commercial ammo is $0.35 (which is pretty close depending on what deals I get at a given time); I'm saving about $0.22 a round.

Thing is.. for me 2700 rounds of .45 is between 5 and 10 days shooting.... even less if I get back into IDPA and USPSA (which I've been thinking about). In a good year, thats about six weeks; in a bad year it's 3 months; so I'm doing that much between 4 and 8 times a year.

In 2006, Mel and I together, shot just about 15,000 rounds of ammo of every chambering; (including just 1000 rounds of.22 which is a record low for me). By far the greatest proporition of that was .45acp (about 40%); and almost none of it reloaded, because my bench wasn't set up for most of the year. Another fairly large amount went into .380 (because Mel and I both have .380 pocket guns), and .38 or .357 (because Mels main revolver, and lever gun are both .357).

Very little of what we shot last year was (much more expensive) rifle ammo, because my .308 and 5.56 rifles were stolen last March, so I'd only been able to put about 2500 rounds through them in the year; along with about 500 rounds of .30-06, and a random few hundred rounds of other rifle and shotgun.

We did save some money make some large bulk buys on ammo at the gun shows. All in all, we figure that in an average month we spend between $200 and $400 on ammunition; and last year we spent $3411.42 total on ammo; but that doesn't include the cost of the ammo we'd bought the previous year and shot last year (which was a fair bit).

15,000 rounds, $3400, at a 60% (or more) savings... that $2040 right there.

So, it can't be disputed; given the amount I shoot, although $700 seems like a lot of money; it's actually a relative bargain.

Of course I could have just kept using the press I was already using, and not have sunk that $700. I've mentioned before, I've got about $400 into my loading setup; a fair bit of difference between the turret and progressive presses. The problem there is time.

I've done a lot of measurement of the time it takes me to load; and including ALL steps and processes and hitches and starts etc... When I'm really cranking smoothly, everything goes fine, and I've got everything easy to hand, I can pull 250 rounds per hour; but I average 170 rounds per hour through my turret press.

Actually, that's pretty darn good. Most folks don't get quite that much.

On the Lock-n-Load, on my very first try, I managed 450 rounds per hour without using a case feeder, with no bullet tray (I'm going to have to make one), and without even having established a rhythm or having become used to the press. I'm sure and certain that I can make it to 650 rounds per hour (I'm pretty sure it'll be a lot more), once I get the case feeder in place, and my process down.

At 170 rounds per hour, it would take me 90 hours of loading to hit that 15,000 mark. At 650 rounds per hour it would take me just 23 hours.

67 hours is a lot of time... time that I'd rather be spending with my family; and time that is quite frankly, valuable to me financially as well.

My deepest discounted "shop rate" is $75 an hour (long term W2 contract for an established customer, no travel or out of pocket expenses required). Presuming I value my time at $75 an hour minus taxes etc... (it works out to about $52 an hour net after all deductions and expenses are taken into account), that 67 hours is worth about $3500 to me in cash value, nevermind the intangibles.

Honestly, the time it takes is the main reason most high volume shooters who aren't reloaders (and there's a suprising number); aren't reloaders.

As far as I'm concerned, that $700 purchase is giving me a $2800 return on investment, and that's just this year; it should last for decades.

Of course I've already been through the numbers between progressive and non; and reloaded vs. commercial before... a lot.... So, enough evangelizing about reloading; let's assume you've already decided to make the plunge; or you're already in the game and looking to upgrade.

If you're like me, you've probably been planning on buying a Dillon. Probably either the RL550 or XL650 depending on how far up the chain you're looking to go. HOnestly, they're great presses, with the best warranty and service in the business, and you can't go wrong choosing a Dillon.

There's only one thing that holds most folks back from the purchase: They are EXPENSIVE. Not just in purchase price, but also in the caliber change costs (actually calibers changes will probably cost you more than the machine).

I say flat out; you aren't getting any more capability with an XL650 than with the Hornady Lock-n-Load, except MAYBE an additional 100 rounds per hour in theoretical speed. What you're getting is Dillons customer service (Hornadys is excellent, but Dillons is just plain the best); and their massive product line of supporting items and accessories (as well as third party accessories).

So, you're paying a premium price for a premium product... and that's OK; I don't know very many Dillon owners who are unsatisfied with that bargain; but just how much of a premium are you paying?

Let's do a comparison of all three presses; first for just the press, case feeder, and materials necessary to load one chambering (.45acp - the most commonly reloaded round on the planet, and the driving force for most people who go progressive), and then the costs to load all the chamberings above, as I've put together for my press.

First the Hornady:

Itemqty. List
Price (ea)
Lock-n-load press 1$437.19$319.99
Lock-n-Load case feeder 1$326.84$264.99
Lock-n-Load case feeder plate - large pistol 1$35.21$25.99
Lock-n-Load shell plate #1 (.45acp, .308, .30-06) 1$37.65$25.99
Hornady "Get Loaded" rebate 0$0($180)
Total 13$836.89
Now, it's not exactly fair comparing full retail to a rebated price; so you can take the rebate out of the picture if you like (for a total of $636.96); but is what I actually got for my money, and so will you; at least until the end of this year when the rebate offer expires. Take it out or leave it in as you like it.

Next we'll do the Dillon RL550 (with the case feeder option and strong mount, but no roller handle or bullet tray - to keep it comparable):

Itemqty.Price (ea)
Dillon RL550B press w/ .45acp kit
RL550b case feeder, large pistol
Auto eject system
Strong mount
Case feeder caliber kit for .45acp 1$19.95
Total 5
Huh... even with the rebate taken out of the picture, the Dillon is $60 more expensive...

Now, there really is no point in picking up the RL550 with the case feeder. You can see it increases the cost of the press by a huge amount; and since the 550 isn't auto indexing, doesn't do a lot for your speed. If you need a case feeder you should be going for the XL650; however the case feeder makes it more comparable to the Hornady in terms of capability. This is also why I included the auto eject kit (which requires the strong mount).

If you take the case feeders out of play for both presses, that brings the Dillon to $450 ready to go cost, and the Hornady to $345.98 without the rebate; and $165.98 with it. Now the difference is $105 (or $285).

Now, you'll note that I include both a list price, and an actual price for the Hornady, but not for the Dillon. That's because Dillon only sells for list from authorized retailers. The only way you'll get it for less is used, or MAYBE on eBay.

If we were comparing list prices, this would put the Hornadys ready to go price as $135 more than the RL550, or if both are bought without the case feeder etc... about $75 more than the RL550; but the Hornady streets for far less than list, while the Dillon does not.

As I said though; the RL550 really isn't comparable to the Lock-n-Load. The better comparison is with the XL650 (with the strong mount; which is required for the case catcher):

Itemqty.Price (ea)
Dillon XL650 press w/ .45acp kit 1$489.95
XL650 case feeder, large pistol 1$194.95
Strong mount 1$39.95
Total 3
Once again, even without the rebate in play, the Hornady is significantly cheaper; though again it is a matter of list price vs. actual sale price. The Hornady (at $440) lists for just a bit under the XL650; plus the case feeder is over $130 more expensive list; and requires a feeder plate and shell plate at $35 list each, whereas the 650 comes with one of each.

If bought entirely at retail list price, with no rebate; the Hornady fully kitted out for one caliber, would run just about $840, to the Dillons $725. Unfortunately for the Dillon, the actual sale price of the Hornady parts is about $200 under list price.... and of course there's that rebate.

You'll also note, the XL650 with the case feeder and necessaries, is actually only $30 more than the 550 with the case feeder and necessary accessories. This is because the 550 was designed to be a manual indexing press with no casefeeder. The case feeder it was grafted on later (MUCH later actually) as an add on; and as such it requires more complexity, and more expense.

Of course the 650s caliber change kits are more expensive; but that is offset by the fact that the 550 case feeder requires its own caliber change kits at $20 each; making them almost as expensive as the change kits for an XL650.. and that it only supports pistol rounds (and only a few selected chamberings at that).

Now, here's the kicker... the change kits. This is where the math really hurts the Dillons. Honestly I didn't believe myself until I ran the numbers; just how much more expensive the Dillons can be with all the caliber change costs.

Let's start with the RL550, with case feeder:

Each Dillon case feeder comes with one feeder plate; and there are three more you need to buy to match the kitted out Hornadu; at $36.95 each for a total of $110.85.

Each rl550 caliber change, to reach the same capability as the L-n-L requires
  • Caliber change kit - $39.96
  • Toolhead - $16.95
  • Powder die - $8.95
  • Casefeed conversion - $19.94
For a total of $85.80 per chambering. Excluding the one chambering that comes with the press as purchased, that's 9 caliber change sets; plus the three feeder plates for a grand total of $883.05... welll... actually, it would be less; because the RL case feeder doesn't support rifle calibers; so it would actually be $80 less (four rifle calbers times $20 less in parts); or $803.

that's on top of the cost of the press, case feeder etc... As I mentioned above, the caliber change kits combined actually total more than the press and all other accessories combined... and that's not even including dies.

Again, taking the case feeder out of the question reduces the costs significantly, from $8o3.05 to $512.74....; but it also reduces the Hornadys caliber conversion costs to $233.91

Just so we're clear; the cost for all of the caliber kits, plus the press and other accessories necessary to match the L-n-L with a Dillion RL550 is $1500.80. Even taking the case feed out of the picture entirely, we are still talking about $1042.74 for the Dillon setup.

The cost of the Hornady Lock-n-load and all the same necessaries, is $880... and then there's that $180 rebate. Without the case feeder the Hornady is only $580... and again, there's that $180 rebate.

For the XL650, the picture is just as bad. The 650 still has the $111 for the case feed plates, but now each caliber kit is $70 (though they do have the case feed adapter parts in them already).

Nine times 70 is $630, plus the $111 for $741... Actually significantly LESS expensive than the 550s conversion kits.

Combined with the price of the press, you're looking at $1465 for the XL650 and caliber kits ($35 less than for th RL550 similarly configured).

This is exactly the math that moved me to buy the L-n-L over the Dillon in the first place by the way. It wasn't about the cost of the machine itself, it was the cost of all the STUFF you need to make it do what you want.

The bottom line is, an XL650 is going to cost you $1465 to do the same things that a Lock-n-Load will do for $880 (without the rebate). That's a $585 price difference, for a marginal (if any) increase in performance; and every chambering you add to the mix increases that disparity by $35.

XL650 caliber changes cost $70 and Lock-n-Load caliber changes cost $35 (including bushings); and if you load more than a few calibers, that makes a HUGE difference. In fact; because of the cost of the caliber kits, the XL650 is actually more expensive than the Lock-n-load even at list price.

I still like the XL650. I think it's an excellent product, and I still recommend it if you don't mind the extra money; but honestly, I'd rather buy the L-n-L and a few thousand rounds worth of components.

... as a matter of fact, that's exactly what I did... how 'bout that.