Hornady LNL Ammo Plant and Dillon 1050 with Mr. Bulletfeeder.
Cost: Advantage Hornady. The Hornady clocks in somewhere around 1100-1200 bucks with dies and the Dillon is about twice that as configured. From this it’s clear that as long as the Hornady works, the Dillon has to save a lot of time to be “worth” it unless you just like the finer things in life.
Packaging: The Dillon was packed like they really care about it; the Hornady like they were glad to be getting rid of it. The Hornady box, though, was covered with exciting graphics of a well ordered reloading space with a gleaming LNL waiting to make precision ammo – not misleading as in a Sea Monkeys ad but wildly optimistic.
Set Up: Dillon gets the nod overall. They claim to have set up the machine for the caliber you requested and include a couple of dummy rounds to prove it. Nice. Overall it was easy to get ammo moving through the machine fairly quickly after unboxing. Hornady isn’t terrible, per se, and at least they include a mounting template, but there are many many small parts to assemble.
General machine layout: The Dillon gets much praise for its many stations but that’s overblown. Other than the swaging station, you get no extra room for dies over the Hornady. Hornady has an advantage with the die bushings that allow you to quickly remove and replace dies without any wrench turning or resetting. That’s pretty sweet.
Hornady indexes half a step as the handle is pulled or raised rather than the whole step the Dillon does, which should make it smoother. However, the Hornady jerked a lot until I pounded in the balls on the shell plate and put grease everywhere so the balls did not seat so aggressively as they reached the detents.
The Dillon also has a ratchet system that prevents you from short stroking a pull. On the Dillon the toolhead comes to the shells whereas on the Hornady the shells are raised into the dies, like most reloaders.
In general, the Hornady has a clear advantage for caliber changes or messing with dies due to the bushing system and Dillon has an advantage of just being a generally overall more solid feeling machine, which it seems to me pays off in reliability.
From Start to Finish, Operation:
Case Collator: These seem very similar in operation. They both can be tweaked. So far, and this can be due to my lack of tweaking the Hornady, the Dillon seems more reliable in send the cases down in the correct orientation. The Hornady throws one upside down every once in a while, but due to the way the cases come to the shellplate, it is trivial to grab it and flip it.
Case Feeding: When the Hornady drops a case from the tube, it lands on a narrow metal strip where it is pushed onto the shellplate. This is a dangerous high wire balancing act straight from Ringling Bros. Sudden movements or friction can send the case off the side of the narrow path. Also, the case must pass over the spring that is used to retain the cases on other stations, and the case sometimes will topple here as well.
The Dillon however, cradles the case into the shellplate and is a much more reliable feeding system.
The Hornady uses a spring to retain the case, which allows you to pull the case out easily and reinsert it easily.
The Dillon uses a little plug that is easy to remove as well.
Sizing and depriming: Both presses do this task well. Advantage Hornady due to sending the spent primers down a tube to wherever you want them to go versus going into a cup on the Dillon that must be emptied every so often. The cup sounded a lot worse on the internet than it has proven to be in real life. It’s no issue to grab it, dump it, and put it back. Still, the tube rules.
Swaging: Advantage Dillon. If swaging is big to you, this is a big advantage.
Priming: Advantage Dillon. Both machines prime well. The Dillon comes with a low primer alarm which is nice and a rod for the tube that is not positioned to be splintered by the case collator if it sways a bit.
The big advantage is Dillon primes on the downstroke so you don’t have to worry about accomplishing this task by feel on the upstroke. This one thing makes operating the machine less a chore more than I thought it would.
Powder drop and case expander: They both drop the powder I use accurately by my needs. The Dillon is slightly dumb in that it has a bolt head to turn to adjust throw versus something you can do without a tool. Basically though they both work well and I’d call it a draw.
Bullet feeder: Advantage Mr. Bulletfeeder/Dillon rig. The Hornady bulletfeeder is one of the loudest devices to ever exist on planet earth. I can’t/won’t run the thing without hearing protection. I got past that by insulating inside and outside the bowl but it is unacceptably loud. Mr. Bulletfeeder makes very little noise. The Hornady operates until you turn it off whereas Mr. Bulletfeeder stops whenever there is a reasonable amount of bullets in the die feeder. Also, Mr. Bulletfeeder is adjustable for speed. The Hornady works well but again it is very very loud.
Overall Impressions with Use:
Hornady: Set up was some puzzle solving, and several internet tips were used to get the machine running well. But it does run well and can load ammo fairly rapidly. However, you have to keep your head on a swivel and deal with the occasional jam of various sorts. I’m sure it’s all my fault, but rare – very rare – would be the time where I could load 100 rounds without having to fix something (flipped or tipped case, dropped bullet, primer, whatever). The ball handle was very annoying and it was worth it to replace with a handler similar to the one that comes with the Dillon.
Dillon: Set up was easy. Mainly, it was just assembling the powder drop. The machine feels more stable than the Hornady and all around more precise in its operations. There is a reason why an automation market exists for this press and not the Hornady. It is so reliable that intervention during operation is not the issue as it is on the Hornady. Pulling the handle, the operation is smoother and steadier on the Dillon and you can certainly go faster with it, if that is a desire.
Net summary: the 1050 is worth it if you can afford it and not if you can’t. The Hornady will work, but the Dillon works better, more reliably and saves you time. If your time is worth something, that should enter into the equation. The exception to this is if you will load several different calibers in limited quantities; in this case the quick transition of the Hornady could overwhelm the gain the Dillon gives you after set up.
Short answer. Get the Dillon unless you are poor or only want to do modest quantities of ammo of several caliber types. The end.
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