Attention all Dillon Reloading Machine Users

I have two Dillon XL 650 reloading machines. One is permanently set up for ‘Large’ primers (either rifle or pistol), the second permanently set up for ‘Small’ primers. That isn’t my real news, but it is certainly nice and handy. Changing the primer system from one size to the other is the single worst thing to do with a Dillon 650. (I have no idea how it is to do on other Dillon machines.)

I load for about fifteen calibers right now. To make the Dillon system work, one requires a ‘tool head’ for each caliber. One can simply switch the tool heads to change dies sets. The convenient part is that a die, once adjusted in a tool head, never needs re-setting. That is a bit misleading, as dies can move out of adjustment due to machine vibration, use over time and so forth. However. This system beats the heck out of removing dies from the machine when done and storing them until the next reloading session of that particular caliber. It seriously beats out a turret press for ease of use and speed of change over.

Naked XL 650 tool head, top view.

Naked XL 650 tool head, top view.

Naked XL 650 tool head, three-quarter view.

Naked XL 650 tool head, three-quarter view.

Naked XL 650 tool head, exposed end.

Naked XL 650 tool head, exposed end. Label Caliber on this end – either metal stamps or marker pen.


One tool head, with dies, setting in cut out on shelf.

One tool head, with dies, setting in cut out on shelf.

Oh, yes. My first act of ‘organizing’ the tool heads was to mark the exposed end of the tool head with the caliber. One can use a marking pen. An alpha-numeric stamp set makes a rather permanent label.

Once the tool head is switched, one must also change various parts to fit the cartridge case as well. Obviously, a .22 Hornet needs a different shell head holder AND ‘guide system’ from the feeder to the loading process; they are significantly different sizes. To this end, Dillon makes a plethora of specific parts, each designed to do a particular bit of the semi-automated process.

Dillon makes change over kits containing all the other bits and pieces one needs to change from this caliber to that caliber. (Other than the reloading dies, that is.)

The most obvious ‘other bit’ than the tool head that must be changed is the ‘shell plate’. This takes the place of the ‘shell head holder’ on conventional reloading machines/devices. How many different shell plates does Dillon manufacture? About as many as other companies make ‘shell head holders’.

Some of the shell plates will serve for more than one caliber. As most of you who reload know, the rifle calibers .30-06, .308 Winchester, all the wildcats and now factory calibers who were parented by those cartridges, 8mm Mauser, the pistol caliber .45 ACP (and a couple others, I think) are all the same size (within manufacturing tolerances) dimensionally for the ‘head’. (The ‘head’ being the end of the case with the primer and rim or extractor groove; opposite the ‘mouth’ where the bullet fits.) As most shooters know, the .38 Special and .357 Magnum have the same size ‘heads’ (rim and body dimensions.) One that surprised me is the close similarity between .32 ACP and .30 Carbine. There are others, I use these examples to explain my first discovery.

First, changing from this caliber to that caliber requires about ten (10) different components in addition to the tool head with dies. The good news is, many of those other components are not all distinct.

I am currently equipped to load about eighteen (18) different calibers on my Dillon machines. The smallest is .32 ACP, the largest is .35 Whelen. So I made up a chart, showing what components are required for each caliber. (The chart is currently still based on the Microsoft Excel spreadsheet. I’m now using a Mac Airbook, so I have to convert the chart in order to make changes.) The overlap in use of machine parts is amazing.

First Discovery: One does not require a separate change over kit for every caliber one possesses. Many of you probably already figured this out. A chart based on a spreadsheet is kept in a page protector and lives on the wall in my reloading room. If I decide to branch out into another cartridge, I’ll have to buy dies for that caliber, and a tool head and such. However, I can quickly determine if I have all or most of the small parts for the machine, and what parts I have to acquire.

One other quick bit about the tool head. Since the decapping pin is exposed on the bottom of the tool head, placing a ‘loaded’ (with dies) tool head on the bench can damage the decapping pin. And it takes up a bit of space. And they can be bumped or jostled and it takes forever to find the specific unit sought.

As I said, I load for about eighteen calibers. So I have eighteen tool heads and small components for the Dillon machines. Dillon sells a ‘stand’ which sets on the work bench and holds both the tool head in question AND all the little pieces (I mean little, the ‘Retaining Pins’ – three required – are the size of the collar button on a man’s shirt) in a convenient place for changing calibers.

The drawback with the tool head stand is the amount of space required on the loading or storage bench. The tool head stand’s foot print is roughly twenty-four square inches (the photo makes it look about four by six inches). And they’re $20.95 each (in orders of three or more they’re $18.95 each). Being a cheap – I mean frugal (yeah, that’s it, ‘frugal‘) I really hate spending that sort of money. Actually, the device itself looks like the price is justified in terms of manufacturing costs. It just doesn’t suit my way of thinking. For one or two calibers, I’d probably just stick with the stands. With eighteen, too much space used.

My initial storage solution was to leave the loaded tool heads on one end of my bench. I was careful, but as I mentioned, some of the decapping pins were injured in the process. By the way, always buy replacement decapping pins in quantity. I promise, no decapping pin will break at a convenient time. The ‘other small parts’ were kept in a plastic storage device; the kind with movable partitions found at most hardware stores. (Probably the proper size tackle box would serve. I’m not a fisherman and don’t know enough about the availability.)

Parts sorting box, available at hardware store.

Parts sorting box, available at hardware store.

I had a brilliant and cunning plan for a wall mounted ‘cupboard’. The interior was built with pigeon holes that would allow storage of the tool heads with little ridges or slots to suspend the tool heads without the decapping pins being molested. All the other small pieces (including primer tubes) would go in small plastic boxes in the door, featuring handy shelves for such. Alas, my cabinet making skills are not quite cunning enough.

This leads to the second ‘discovery’. Shelving. I really like whoever invented instant shelves. One simply hangs the vertical support units to wall studs (use a level and screws), then hangs the appropriate number of shelf supports on the vertical support units. The shelves need only be about six inches deep. One determines how many units are to be stored and cuts out the shelves to simply insert the tool heads. Use hardwood; soft wood tends to break more.DSC00908 The shelves are not mounted at a slant. My head is slightly off true. Just pretend the photo is ‘square’, okay?

Note. I got fancy and tried to cut out the ‘slots’ to match the tool head shapes. After some difficulty and thought (not to mention some words I’d rather my Mother not hear from my lips) I realized a square shape with rounded corners would have done as well and been less problem.

The other small parts are mostly kept on a section of hardwood plank with doweling of appropriate size. I set the bits on the dowels and they don’t fall off, but are easily visible when changing calibers.

Other small parts mass storage.  Hardwood with dowelling.

Other small parts mass storage. Hardwood with dowelling.

Some small parts are best stored in boxes. Following are some random photos of bits and pieces.

Plastic box with dividers storing "Retaining Pins"

Plastic box with dividers storing “Retaining Pins”

Linear storage for shell plates.  Not happy, but working on concept.

Linear storage for shell plates. Not happy, but working on concept.

So those are the discoveries or ideas I have developed. It is my wish the reader should benefit by my thought processes – or even come up with refinements exceeding my ideas. If any one has patents pending on these ideas – or ideas disturbingly similar – please let me know. I’ve been working these ideas for several years now. Please feel free to produce your own systems – at least as far as I’m concerned.

Who knows, perhaps Dillon will want to adopt some variation of these ideas. They seem to be interested in making life easier for their customers and the reloading community. (Gee, that sounded horribly stuffed shirt!)

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