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Dillon Square Deal B Review

Discussion in 'Handloading and Reloading' started by Jenrick, Jan 12, 2010.

  1. Jenrick

    Jenrick Well-Known Member

    So I just acquired a Dillon SDB yesterday in .45 ACP, and I figured I'd write up a quick review of it and update it as time goes on. Quick back ground on my reloading background, I've been doing it for about 3 years and started due to shooting High Power Service Rifle. I've been using a Lee Breech Lock Challenger single stage press, Lee perfect powder measure, Lee scale, etc. The only things not Lee on my bench until yesterday was an RCBS powder trickler, and some off brand loading block and powder funnel. Moving up to a Dillon was a big step in price, and I wouldn't have done it if not in trade for some other stuff I sold. I personally would have preferred the 550B for the ability to do rifle cases, but that wasn't in the cards. So on to the review.

    The Dillon Square Deal B is Dillon's cheapest and least capable (in terms of the caliber you can load) press. It retails off of Dillons website for approximately $350, with one set of dies. The press arrives from the factory setup to load one caliber and includes all the dies, the powder measure, etc. Also included is a pretty decent setup manual that includes several very useful exploded diagrams of the press and it's components.

    For those concerned that the SDB is not sturdy and made of plastic, don't be. The press body is metal (not sure what) and is quiet heavy, the tool head and shell plate are steel. Only parts that don't need the strength of steel are plastic, and and bearing or rotational surfaces have either derlin inserts are or made of it to ensure smooth function. The press handle is made of high impact plastic and can take all 220lbs of me pressing down on it without the slightest bend.

    Setup is a little more involved then setting up a single stage press, but now that I know where everything goes I could accomplish it in 15-30 minutes. Initially it took me about 90 minutes of double checking everything against the manual to ensure I had everything correct. There are no major surprises, just make sure to open all the parts bags, as the various hex keys and screws are in several different bags. I thought for sure I was short 2 screws when in fact they were just in a different bag then the hex key for them.

    The dies come pre-installed and adjusted. They also include one round that was produced (minus powder, and with an inert primer) on your press. If you're okay with the OAL of the round (and the bullet shape), all you need to do is set the powder measure and you're good to go. Otherwise adjusting the bullet seating depth is just a matter of tightening or loosening the die. You should have multiple bullet seating dies, each designed for a different type of bullet (HP/SWC, RN, WC). All of the dies are propriety to the SDB, to my knowledge no one else makes dies that fit the SDB besides Dillon.

    The only tricky part of the whole setup process is getting the expander die/powder drop die adjusted correctly. The powder measure is activated by the expander and needs to be set to activate correctly. You may end up with slightly more or less case mouth expansion then you want to get the powder measure to activate just right. I've found that there's a decent bit of leeway in the adjustment thought, before you start throwing powder all of the place. Checking you're powder adjustment is a bit of a pain as the powder measure is designed to cycle when there is a casing in the die. This requires using a casing to get the powder, rather then being able to dispense directly onto a scale. Not a big deal, but it can be annoying.

    Loading on the press is simple and easy. The SDB includes a low primer warning sensor, and you can purchase an optional lower powder sensor as well. The primer sensor works very well, and activates when there are 3-5 primers left in the magazine. The powder sensor according to Dillon activates when you have about 1000grs of powder left. With 4.9grs of W231, that means it start buzzing at me with 200 rounds left to load. Not particularly useful. The low powder sensor would be much more useful for the other presses when loading large capacity rifle cases.

    The press runs well, so long as you pay attention. It's possible to not get the casing in the shell plate deep enough, and to catch it on the edge of the resizing die. If you bring the ram back down, the shell plate starts to index forward without anything having occurred. Being careful, and paying attention to feel will let you realize what's occurring and nudge the offending casing into place. Keep a pair of needle nose pliers around as they make it much easier to remove the locator button if you need to access a case for whatever reason (check the powder weight being thrown, make sure a primer seated fully, etc.)

    Today I loaded 448 rounds (didn't want to crack open a fresh box of primers), in approximately 3.5 hrs. Not break neck speed at all, but MUCH faster then a single stage press. Compared to loading on a turret there's not a huge speed gain at my pace. However the ~125 rds/hr on the SDB was completely unhurried checking every case for powder, making sure every bullet was pretty well aligned before I seated it, etc. It also included the time to refill the primer magazine 5 times, which probably totaled 30 minutes or so.

    Auto Indexing Progressive - learn how to work one of these flawlessly and you can load on most anything once you learn it's quirks.

    Easy to load on - if you pay attention to what you're doing so that you don't cause any user induced errors (forgetting to put a bullet in the case, etc.) it is a simple machine to use.

    Comes with dies, powder measure, etc. - if you've already got components you can start loading right out of the box almost. Just get it setup and you're off. I'd recommend getting a scale, calipers, and a few other necessities too though.

    It's a Dillon - Dillon is legendary about their costumer service. If it's blue and says Dillon on it, they'll take care of you. Original owner or bought it at a yard sale your good to go.

    Only does straight walled pistol cartridges - the SDB does NOT load any rifle or bottle neck pistol cartridges. If you only load in volume for straight wall pistol cases, this is a none issue however.

    Auto Indexing Progressive - This not the machine to learn on. There's a lot going on with each pull of the handle and if you do screw something up (like forgetting to put a bullet in the case) you need to know how the reloading sequence works and what is accomplished at each station to be able to fix it without making a bigger mess (primers and powder hither wither and yon). Also without a case feeder or a bullet feeder auto indexing isn't a huge time saver.

    SDB only dies - you're locked into Dillon for the dies, and you can't use other dies you may already have.

    It's a Dillon - the only thing cheap about Dillon's presses are it's catalogs. Everything else they make is pricey compared to a lot of other brands. It's quality, just expensive.

    Recommend accessories:

    Extra primer pickup tubes for the primer size you're loading. Load up all the primers your going to use in that session ahead of time before you get started loading. This will keep you in the rhythm of loading. To go along with this Dillons primer flipper tray, or another companies to get them all the correct side up (anvil down in this case). If you have a low bench (or are using a normal heigth table), the strong mount isn't a bad idea, same thing with the bullet tray. If you however have a normal of high bench then both are unessecary in my opinion.

    Overall: I'm very happy with the SDB. If I was going to put down the money I'd have bought a 550B for the extra $60 to be able to load all types of cartridges and use normal dies. However as I primarily shoot .45 ACP in pistol (and a lot of it), it certainly worked out. It makes loading a large volume of ammunition much easier, and much less work. Rather then rush to load 500 rds in a few days before a class, I can spend an afternoon and do the same without feeling hurried. If I really pushed my production speed i could probably get the 300 rds an hour Dillon listed.

    I don't have any other caliber kits yet so no comments on how fast or easy those are.

  2. jfrey

    jfrey Well-Known Member

    I have a pair of SDB's and they are great. One is set up for .45ACP with a conversion to .45LC. The other one is set up for 9mm. To swap over from ACP to LC takes about 10 minutes. I got two presses so I wouldn't have to change the primer assembly, which I understand can be a pain if you don't get it right. I set the first one up and was starting to load in a little over an hour, carefully reading the instructions. The second wasn't more than about 30 minutes or so. Both machines are mounted on the strong mount and I highly recommend it. There were a few quirks I had to work out at first but nothing serious at all. Once I learned the operation of the machine, all went well. I loaded over 10,000 rounds on the .45 machine last year and only messed up a small handfull of cases. Occassionally your expander die may work up some and the case mouths won't be expanded enough. When you try to seat a bullet it will run down the side of the case and ruin it.

    The SDB was my first press and it isn't impossible to learn on a progressive. One big plus to the SDB is that it is a lot harder to double charge a case on one since it auto indexes. The 550 you have to index yourself. I have a good friend who shoots a lot of competition and he used a SDB for quite a while. He recently changed to a 650 with all the bells and whistles simply because he couldn't keep with the supply of ammo he needed on the slower machine.

    I am very happy with both of my machines. I think the SDB is a highly under rated machine for the money. If I were going to do it all over again, I wouldn't change a thing.
  3. zxcvbob

    zxcvbob Well-Known Member

    Is there enough adjustment to the dies that you can do both .38 Special and .357's with the same dies? I see that dillon has different part numbers for the .38 setup and the .357. I load lots of different ctgs on a single stage presses and a LNL-AP, but my preacher is asking me about reloading for just one pistol (he bought a Security Six :)) so the proprietary dies would not be a problem for him like it would be for me.

    BTW, I think the way to learn on a progressive press is to just load one cartridge at a time in the shellplate so you can give it your full attention as it goes thru all the stages.

    Is the SDB kit missing anything besides a scale, calipers, and a bullet puller?
  4. Oyeboten

    Oyeboten Well-Known Member

    I bought a Dillon Square Deal Press in the mid 1980s, and used the heck out of it with never a problem I can remember.

    I was shooting twice a week then, in leagues and practice, so I was going through a lot of ammunition.

    It got messed up in a flood, items which were in Stoarge, where it sat in slowly evaporating Water, which sort of oxidized various parts.

    One of these days I will dismantle it all and clean it and re-assamble, and put it to use again. Looks like nothing got ruined for the Water issues, but, just needs a good cleaning to be alright again.

    I remember being very prolific with that Press...a little while a couple evenings a week, and I had way-plenty of Ammo to shoot.
  5. velocette

    velocette Well-Known Member

    I've been using an SDB for over 25 years. I load .38 spl, 9mm luger, .40 S&W, & .45acp with it.
    It takes about 20 minutes to change calibers if you have the die head sets.
    It's probably the best value in the reloading market that exists.
    Mine has at least a million rounds through it. it went back to Dillon once for a rebuild (For Freeeee or course) about 8 years ago. Still going strong.

    Whats not to like.

  6. zxcvbob

    zxcvbob Well-Known Member

    But can you load .357 Magnums on it by readjusting the .38 Special head on it like you can with standard dies? Or do you have to buy a whole 'nother conversion kit?
  7. jmorris

    jmorris Well-Known Member

    I have had two of them for at least 24 years back then they used Delrin for the compound linkage. I sent them back over the years and at some point they switched to bronze bushings at that point, so you might double check. Edit: I have to add they did this for free and when I asked if they would swtich over the other one I had just like it, they sent me new arms with the bronze bushings already installed (again for free). FWIW the only charge I had to pay for the refurb was shipping to them.

    They are, as you point out, only for certain pistol rounds but they do work quiet well. I mostly use mine for working up loads these days but I just can’t see selling them as I loan them to others “breaking into” progressive reloading.

    Here is my "work up" rig, it has saved hundreds of hours.
  8. angus6

    angus6 Well-Known Member

    I'm going to go out on a limb here ,but I'm guess yes since there is only 1 part# for the caliber conversion kit
    I like mine a lot , 300hr is a nice pace steady , about what the Lee turret will do if you want , as to cost that depends, it can add right up .

    Have yet to have any problems with the expander like above. I really don't see why a person should have any problem starting out with one , to me I'd be more afraid of problems with a single stage
  9. rfwobbly

    rfwobbly Well-Known Member

    Call Dillon. I believe they replace those hurricane and flood units for the price of the factory rebuild. Such as that is why people brag about their Dillon. If it's blue and it's broken, then a phone call usually fixes it.
  10. jmorris

    jmorris Well-Known Member

    On my pre "b" SD's you can, I did have to do a little machining to load 45 gap with the acp setup.
  11. mahansm

    mahansm Well-Known Member

    You can reload both .357 Magnum and .38 special on the Dillon Square Deal B with the same dies. You must adjust the powder die, the seat die, and the crimp die to do this.

    An easy way is to use the depth setting on your calipers to measure the height of the die above the toolhead, add/subtract .125 inches, and adjust to the new setting. This will get you real close. You need a dummy round to get the adjustments exact and you can use the same method (using the necessary adjustment instead of .125) to get the second round perfect.
  12. zxcvbob

    zxcvbob Well-Known Member

    Thank you. I know how to adjust the dies on a "normal" press to go back and forth between .38 and .357, but I was afraid the SDB dies might be preset and not have enough adjustment.
  13. Red Cent

    Red Cent Well-Known Member

    "Auto Indexing Progressive - This not the machine to learn on. There's a lot going on with each pull of the handle and if you do screw something up (like forgetting to put a bullet in the case) you need to know how the reloading sequence works and what is accomplished at each station to be able to fix it without making a bigger mess (primers and powder hither wither and yon). Also without a case feeder or a bullet feeder auto indexing isn't a huge time saver."

    The SDB will dump powder IF there is a case present. How are you spilling powder? And I don't understand about the primers are everywhere. Owned one for a while. Not being contentious, just curious. Have three 650s now.

    The SDBis a rock solid, pistol loading machine. Like anything else, practice, practice, practice.......................
  14. Palehorseman

    Palehorseman Well-Known Member

    Bought my Square Deal when first came out, in ,45 acp. Many, many, thousands of rounds later, it stil cranks them out good as ever.
  15. sledhead76

    sledhead76 Well-Known Member

    I picked up a SDB in 38/357 on a hot deal from one of my dads co-workers. I still need to get it set up and find some .40S&W dies for it. I'd like to thank Jenrick for the informative and detailed review. Also, jmorris, that's a nice setup, mounting it to the hitch receiver is a brilliant idea!
  16. jmorris

    jmorris Well-Known Member

    Sorry ZX don't know what I thought I read

    May not be the best but I know folks that have. I just tell them to put one round in the shell plate at a time untill they have the hang of it.
    Last edited: Sep 13, 2010
  17. zxcvbob

    zxcvbob Well-Known Member

    :confused: Is it because I said "thank you"?
  18. Jenrick

    Jenrick Well-Known Member

    Red Cent: The biggest thing with the SQDB is that if you have primers in the magazine it will ALWAYS try to load a primer, regardless of if there's a casing there or not. Powder isn't usually to big of an issue unless you pull the case that just had powder dropped to weight it and forget to put the powder back in (operator error entirely). It's not that it's a bad or confusing system. Just a lot going on if you're not familiar with the reloading sequence. Don't get me wrong I love mine.

  19. wrangler5

    wrangler5 Well-Known Member

    IME, if there's no case in place above the primer, the primer carrier simply pulls it back into the frame and waits for the next cycle of the ram. I got the SDB after using a Lee Loadmaster for 20+ years. On the Loadmaster, a primer is not "staged" into the press unless a case is present, so I was a bit concerned about how the SDB would work in this regard. I was pleased to find that although the primer will show up under an empty slot in the shell plate, if it doesn't get shoved into a case it just gets pulled back into the frame and gets pushed out next time.

    I bought my SDB to do 9mm, the round I load more than all others combined (now.) Compared to the Loadmaster it is slightly slower due to needing to insert each case by hand. But my Loadmaster case feeder has not been fully reliable for years, so while it will drop a case into the pusher every time, I end up having to push each case into the shell plate. It's still faster than having to pick up a case and feed it in, because everything is aligned and all you do is flick the case pusher with a finger.

    Also, I have come to prefer Dillon's primer tube feed system over the Lee, even though it's slower to load the tubes than to drop primers into the Lee feed tray. (+1 on the extra primer tubes, though - it really helps to keep the proper rhythm once you're running.) But the Dillon will feed the last primer just as reliably as any other, whereas the Lee requires me to use a flexible wire "pusher" to get the last 8-10 primers to feed. (If you're doing many hundreds of rounds, you just refill the Lee tray when you get below about 20 primers left - you can see this through the feed trough - and it will keep running fine, but it's the last few that take extra work. It's easy, but annoying.)

    I have my SDB mounted on a steel plate (not a Strong Mount) with brackets that hold a bin of cases on the right and bullets on the left. This makes for very convenient loading, as long as everything (powder, primers, case and bullet bins) stay reasonably full.
  20. Skip_a_roo

    Skip_a_roo Well-Known Member

    I am just packaging up my 2nd SDB to give away. I have 3, kinda ;), and have had no issues with any of them. Oh, sure, some of thing things have broken or wore out. I bought them all used, less than $500 for all three! With the Dillon guarantee, just a phone call gets you anything you need, except a frame!

    I had one of my presses that was giving different OALs when only one case went through the press over a fully loaded press. I got to looking and found that one of the ears on the frame was cracked. When I got this press, the guy had told me it had a new handle because he had broken it. A little prodding and I found out he had put all of his weight on it, much more than your 220lbs, because he couldn't get it to work right! I never did find out what he did to it, I just sent it back and it came back with all of the upgrades and a new frame, cost $40 because I had them give it a tune up too.

    There isn't a better press made for straight walled pistol cartridges. Last I checked too, most folks that shoot competition shoot one of those type of calibers. When they were my only progressives, I left one set up for 40S&W, one for anything with small primers and one for anything with large primers.

    Now I am migrating everything over to the XL650. Just about there. Once I get there, I will probably sell my last SDB and get a LnL. Leave one set up for rifle calibers and the other for handgun.

    Here is how I adjust my dies. I write the settings on the inside of the caliber change box. The 38spl box has both settings for it and the 357Mag.


    Here is another invention I made for the primers. Took a 1/8" NPT tap and inserted a hose barb in the primer hole. I took a countersink to it too so that there was no chance for a spent primer to "hang up" on a lip I created.

    A 3lb coffee can holds a lot of spent primers! ;)


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