Dillon 550B: America's Loading Machine


by Jeff Quinn

photography by Jeff Quinn


Mike Dillon and the fine folks that work for him in Scottsdale, Arizona have been in the business of making quality ammunition loading equipment for about twenty years. Dillon's line of equipment has grown extensively over the years, and they have an ammunition loading machine to cover just about any need that a shooter may have.

I became familiar with Dillon products in 1987. I was working  on the Gulf coast at the time, in Biloxi, Mississippi at the Keesler Air Force Base. There was a lot of organized shooting activity in the area, and I got involved in the sport of bowling pin shooting. It was a real hoot watching grown men stand on their hind legs and completely miss bowling pins at a distance of 25 feet. Anyway, I was burning up lots of ammo in practice, and reloading the cases was becoming very time-consuming.  I would usually shoot four boxes of .45 ACP every afternoon, then reload the empties every night on an old RCBS Jr. press. It was a good press, but the time it took to load 200 rounds every night was getting to be less enjoyable each time.

I was shooting a lot with a friend named Ed Guthrie who was an Airman at the base, and he knew a guy who had just purchased a new progressive press from Dillon Precision. It was decided that we should have a look at his new loader. The Dillon was like no press that I'd ever seen, and seemed to convert empty cases into loaded rounds almost as fast as our .45s would spit them out. I had to have one.

After the press arrived, shooting suddenly became much more fun, as the anticipation of getting to reload the cases became an incentive to shoot more. Reloading was no longer a time-consuming chore, but a real fun part of the shooting experience.

Those were fun times. Ed and myself became the ones to beat at our local pin shoots. He was younger than me, and a better shot, but sometimes I would still beat him, just to keep him humble. Had we not had the progressive press to load our ammo, we could not have practiced enough to reach the level that we did. It was a good investment. The press was a Dillon model 550B, and I still load all of my rifle and handgun ammo on that same press today.

The Dillon 550B is their most popular loading machine. In fact, the 550B is the most popular progressive loading machine in the world, and for good reason. The versatility of the machine is unsurpassed by any other progressive machine. The 550B can load just about any centerfire metallic cartridge in existence. Dillon's literature says over 120 different cartridges. I won't argue with that.

The reason that I favor the 550B over Dillon's other machines is that it is so versatile and easy to use. It can be used as a single stage press for careful load development, allowing me to stop and weigh each powder charge, adjust the bullet seating depth, and regulate the crimp, all without advancing the shell plate. When all adjustments have been made, the 550B can then spit out loaded rounds at a rate approaching 600 rounds per hour. It can be done, as I have been timed doing so. However, what really endears this press to me, is that I can load just  five or ten rounds for testing just as simply as on my old RCBS single stage. The Dillon 550B has an easy learning curve, allowing an individual to load at whatever pace he chooses, without sacrificing ammo quality.

While on the subject of ammo quality, I know of several custom and premium ammunition companies that use the Dillon 550B to manufacture the finest factory ammo available. These people need a machine that will load a few hundred rounds of one caliber, and quickly change over to load another, and do this every day without fail. The Dillon delivers.

The 550B has interchangeable tool heads that hold the dies in adjustment when changing calibers. These tool heads take standard 7/8 inch loading dies, and changing tool heads takes about ten seconds, if you're slow.  Some shooters start out using one tool head and change the dies each time, but sooner or later the advantage of having a tool head for each set of dies becomes apparent. It just makes life so much better.

The Dillon 550B also has interchangeable shell plates to fit different size cartridge heads. The shell plates, which perform the same function as single-stage shell holders, can be changed in less than a minute from one caliber to the next. Many cartridges use the same plate, however, so it is not always necessary to change the shell plate when switching to load another caliber.

The Dillon comes with both large and small primer systems, which can be switched in about five minutes. Dillon's primer system is as smooth and trouble-free as an automatic priming system can be. It is easy to feel the primer seat into the case with the Dillon, so if you let the primer tube run out, you can instantly feel that a primer was not seated. Dillon also sells a really neat warning buzzer to let you know when the primers are getting low.

The most impressive thing about the 550B is the sense of quality and durability built into the press. The main ram is a full one and one-half inch diameter steel bar. The main frame of the press is massive. Every part on the 550B seems over-built. Some other brands on the market use cheaper alloys and weaker parts than the Dillon.

There are other well-built progressive presses available to the reloader, but none with the long-term track record of the 550B. Dillon also makes other loading machines, but none with the versatility of the 550B. If I were loading thousands of rounds of one caliber, I would choose their Super 1050, for unmatched speed of loading, or even their excellent XL 650, but for my needs, and those of the majority of shooters, the 550B can't be beat. For versatility, quality, value, and ease-of-use, nothing else comes close.

Another intangible item included with every Dillon loading machine is their lifetime, "No B.S." warranty. If it breaks, they will fix it. I have no personal experience with their warranty department, as my 550B, after 14 years of hard use, has never failed me. I am confident, however, after talking to others who have used Dillon's warranty service, that they definitely stand behind their products.

Check out the 550B and other Dillon products online at:  www.dillonprecision.com or call 1-800-223-4570 and request their catalog, "The Blue Press". It is filled with fine products and informative articles.

When you realize that you need a better, faster loader than a single-stage press, look at the 550B. It is readily apparent why it has become.......... America's loading machine.

Jeff Quinn

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The Dillon 550B is the author's favorite progressive loading machine, with unmatched strength, speed and versatility.



Dillon's powder measure unit is simple, accurate and reliable.



Dies are mounted on interchangeable tool heads, allowing quick caliber changes with no adjustments necessary. Author keeps a ready stock of tool heads in his favorite calibers for maximum speed and versatility.



Dillon builds their presses for strength and durability, as evidenced by the 1-1/2" diameter main ram and massive frame.



Author prefers the 550B over Dillon's faster XL 650 and Super 1050 because the stations of the 550B do not auto index. While this may cost a bit of speed, it allows the user to weigh powder charges and adjust bullet seating depth without turning the shell plate.



The four stations of the Dillon 550B: resizing / decapping / re-priming, expanding / powder charging, bullet seating, and final crimp. 



The Dillon 550B will produce a perfect cartridge with every throw of the lever if the operator does his part. Speed, accuracy, strength and reliability converge in the design of the 550B.



Call 1-800-223-4570 to order Dillon's Blue Press. More than just a catalog, the Blue Press is a mini gun magazine, with useful articles as well as products from Dillon and other manufacturers of quality gun-related products. Best of all, it's free!