(11/26/2016 Edit: the following review is from about a year ago. Since then I’ve swaged over 25,000 cases (yes … 25,000!) … and the Dillon swager is still, to all intents and purposes, brand new. The original problem with the detent ball retaining screw has not returned and I’ve added all the adapters and have also set it up for .308 cases (which requires about 15 minutes the first time). Everything works as advertised and I am a satisfied customer. If you plunk down for this tool, I think you will be satisfied, too. I’ve also added an L.E. Wilson case trimmer (repeatability <.0005″)and have nothing but good to say about it, too. But that’s grist for another post.)
The problem this tool solves:
If you are a new reloader, as I am, then you’ve probably realized that you don’t know as much as you need to know about the difference between a .223 REM and a 5.56 NATO case. (The path to reloading is paved with many such (allegorical) land mines.)
Perhaps you are aware that you should not shoot factory-loaded 5.56 cartridges in chambers marked for .223 REM, but that both 5.56 and .223 REM cartridges are okay in a barrel marked either 5.56 or Wylde.
As long as you are shooting brand new ammunition, that’s all the more you need to know. Even Hillary could get this much right.
5.56 is a NATO designation. No matter where on the planet it came from, it’s made to the same military specifications. Military ammo lives a rough life and gets bounced around — a lot — and a loose primer could cause a malfunction. That leads to what is known as “the military crimp” on the base of military ammunition to hold the primer in place.
The military crimp whacks the brass next to the primer so as to displace a tiny bit of it and block the primer into the primer pocket. When I was a machinist, we called it “staking” … same idea, different terminology. The idea is to displace just enough metal to keep a screw from backing out or, as in this case, a friction-fit piece from shaking out.
All is good … the primer stays put, lights up when the firing pin whacks it and the bullet launches out the muzzle end in the general direction intended. If you are a Marine in a combat zone, the ammunition has completed its mission once the bullet stops moving.
But Marine riflemen don’t reload their empty brass.
That crimp makes punching out the old primer considerably more difficult … and inserting a new primer a lot more problematic because “x” number of the new primers are going to tear themselves apart trying to get past that displaced metal that held the old primers in oh-so-securely.
Some of the primers will make it. Most won’t. It is, at best, aggravating and a needless expense.
If you are using a progressive die, by the time you learn about the failure of the primer to seat, either there is powder all over the place or the cartridge is 1) complete and 2) of “iffy” quality and needs, in the interest of safety, to be taken apart and recycled.
For the most part, I am “self-taught”. So, if my house ever catches fire, stay away from the carpet in my “man cave” – particularly right in front of my reloading press (Dillon XL 650) – because it’s going to burn at roughly fifty feet per second. Zzzzzip!
You really need to stop thinking about “fudging” some way to work around those crimps … there is no out-smarting it: just get rid of that displaced material.
There are three ways to do this.
- Cut a chamfer at the lip of the primer pocket. Typically, this cuts off a fair amount of brass. It is easy and inexpensive to do, but, to my way of thinking, likely limits the overall lifespan of the case and invites over-cutting, particularly using tools such as chamfering tools or large center drills in hand-held drill motors. Using a manual chamfering tool on 5,000 cases is just begging for hand and wrist damage.
- Ream the pocket straight to the back, cutting off only the displaced material. This removes (theoretically) only material that was not actually contributing to the strength of the case. Eventually reamers get dull and dull reamers start cutting over-sized. But, to be honest, cartridge brass is actually of fairly low quality and is very soft … it will be a long time, if ever, before your reamer dulls enough to start making scrap all by itself. However, there will be tiny brass chips all over the place
- Swage the pocket, pushing the displaced material out of the way but removing nothing except the carbon on the primer pocket walls. Swaging typically is the most expensive option and I read enough negative reviews of the RCBS swager to convince me to look elsewhere. If I am going to part with perfectly good money for a tool, I want a perfectly good tool in exchange. Having already been impressed with the quality of my XL 650 press and not having found any negative reviews about their swager, I was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. While I am not “married” to Dillon blue, when the first tool I buy from someone is of good quality, I am willing to at least consider that other tools I buy from them are likely to be of similar quality. That said, I always hang on to the packaging until each new arrival proves its lineage.
Since you won’t be re-staking the primers, the swaging operation only has to happen once per case; otherwise the course of wisdom would be to simply discard used crimped cases due to the additional time required to load each and every one.
Being a recovering machinist and die-maker, I chose swaging because I don’t like removing metal that I might need later on. While the other two methods, done properly, reduce the strength of the case head only minimally, swaging, at least theoretically, reduces the strength not at all.
So, on to the Super Swage 600 review.
First of all, the damned thing is expensive. At $100.95, ($116.44 delivered to central North Carolina) you can ruin a lot of brass cases by reaming or chamfering before those methods cost as much as swaging. Many, particularly those anticipating lesser quantities of cases needing swaging, could quite reasonably postpone this investment indefinitely. I’m a “cry once” sort of tool freak, so I do the calculations differently than some, but cost is ALWAYS a consideration … buying the best quality that money can buy does not necessarily mean paying the most money possible … but sometimes that’s just the way things work out. This is NOT a cheap tool, by any of several definitions of the word “cheap”.
Some people have written reviews calling this tool a “knuckle buster”.
That’s because they are knuckle-heads.
Properly set up, there is no way to “bust” your knuckles with this tool. I have no compassion for guys who donate blood instead of flipping to the instruction page and following simple instructions. YMMV, but the instructions are clear as to how much clearance this thing needs to operate. (See the Important note at the bottom of page 14 of the instruction manual.)
If in doubt, refer to the photo above (-1 for Dillon’s photos … they remind me of old mimeograph illustrations in the “rainy afternoon gym-class sex ed” we got in high school … you could hurt yourself following those instructions!) for ONE way of mounting this tool. The tool is ambidextrous and could also easily be mounted with the large handle hanging off either end of the workbench, mounted vertically or along an edge (minimum mounting surface is 2″ x 8″ and it MUST be sturdy) or any other convenient angle so long as there is room for the knob to move at least 6″ below the mounting surface. That’s not rocket surgery, but some people still manage to get it wrong … thus, the busted knuckles.
Makes me wonder who sets up their press … I tremble for their family, neighbors and insurance agent.
The Super Swage 600 comes (basically) set up for .223 / 5.56 cases but also includes arbors and locater rods for a few other calibers as part of the basic purchase. Specialized arbors are available separately. You might want to pick up the 9mm arbor while placing your order IF you anticipate collecting enough crimped 9mm cases to matter. Ditto for the 40 S&W / 10 mm arbors. But that rounds out the accessories … with this handful, you can swage every military caliber in modern use.
A word about the additional arbors. Is it cheaper to just pitch 9mm and .223/5.56 NATO cases? Absolutely. But it is a PITA to have already picked them up, only to have to toss them.
So I don’t look any more … I treat them all the same and swage them all. The case volume difference is so trivial that, unless you are making National Match ammo from used cases, (WTF?) you will never notice it. seriously. If you routinely shoot past 700 yards, it MIGHT matter, but, if you are doing that, you are probably paying close to $2.00 a round and we have nothing to discus. The ammo I reload is for hunting, plinking and self-defense and it isn’t likely that I could even see a deer 700 yards away, but less responsibly shoot at it. If I ever claim “self-defense” at 700 yards I’ll have a lot of convincing to do unless there are mortar holes near where I was shooting from.
Not likely, no matter who gets elected.
Nearly everything I will ever in my life shoot at will be within 200 yards and the ammo I make with assorted range pickup cases is certainly up to that task. And more.
To complete the setup, while unbolted from the bench, first loosen the locking nut (far left and hidden beneath the beaver-tail) and then slide a case over the rod at the left (case is already in position in the photo above) and flip the case down to the horizontal with the beaver-tail. Then, turn the rod in or out so that the case just nicely slides past the black stripper plate. Lock it down with the included nut. There is no need to go crazy with the torque … just good and snug is fine. If you get it too loose, the tool will go out of adjustment and you’ll have to repeat this step … but that is the only penalty unless you are such a dufuss that you totally lose the nut. The threads are NF, so they can take a little extra torque … but why bother reefing on something when the only goal is to keep the from coming unscrewed? Snug it, then tap the wrench with a couple fingers. Done.
Next loosen the set screw (1/8″ hex key) on the side. There is only one, so you can’t get this wrong. With the set screw loose, press the case on the rod down while moving the large handle from the vertical to the horizontal. This will move the swaging pin on its cam into the primer pocket. Go ahead and press it all the way in and then leave the handle down while you tighten the set screw. This adjusts the height of the spring-loaded pillow block to account for the diameter of the cases.
Go ahead and bolt it down … you’re done. You might want to run a .260″ drill through the holes in the swager body all the way through the bench to allow a tiny bit of play when lining up with the holes in your bench.
To operate, slide a case over the rod and use the same hand to flip the beavertail forward to lower the rod (there are two spring loaded detents you’ll come to appreciate). Within a few minutes you’ll be a pro and doing this operation without even having to look.
When the case is settled on the pillow block, move the large handle with the knob on it to the horizontal with the other hand … and a little beyond until it bottoms out. If the handle resists movement before bottoming out, you may not have the pillow block set up correctly and the swage pin may be hitting the case head. If there is a dent near the primer pocket that wasn’t there before, loosen and reset the block. (Don’t ask me how I know this, okay?) Once you get the block properly set for a particular caliber, repeatability is excellent.
The handle and pivot points are ginormous … I don’t see any reason why they should ever EVER break. A million cases from now I expect that the aluminum the pins pass through will go egg-shaped. If I am still alive, I’ll probably consult the J&L Industrial catalog and get some hardened bushings to press in and keep on a-rockin’.
Or, if I’m feeling rich sooner, I may have that work done before the aluminum goes egg-shaped and know that my heirs will NEVER have to replace a worn-out swager.
There IS a design change I would like to see implemented.
There is a spring-loaded ball detent on the shaft the locater rod passes through. It is only accessible from below and, since the tool is meant to be bolted down, is a PITA to adjust when it comes loose … as it has done twice in ~500 cases.
For now, I wrapped some Teflon tape around the detent screw to see if I can keep it from walking out without having to find a second set screw to lock in the original. The tool is brand new … I should not have to modify it at all. I count this as a design screw up on Dillon’s part.
The second issue is that the pillow block set screw is too short. Spend another penny, maybe two, Dillon, and use a 3/4″ long set screw so it’s easier to find the hole with the hex key.
The complete tool could be profitably sold for $35 … so, at more than $100, I expect ZERO design and manufacturing errors. The price to fix these problems I’ve noted is trivial … I hope Dillon will read this review and fix them.
Even though I’m not thrilled with that ball detent screw, the swager is simple to set up and use and fairly quick to operate (~3-5 seconds per cycle). So far, I’ve done about 500 cases (I have almost 10,000 awaiting some swage love) and the primer pockets look mighty pretty. Using the Lee Auto Prime XR to test primer insertion I’m satisfied that the pockets are the correct diameter and depth, neither requiring too much force to seat nor pressing in too lightly. Primer depth is correct at just slightly (.003″-.005″ eyeballed) below flush. The firing pin will have no trouble whacking it, but it’s safe from the bolt face.
I’m pretty pleased with my purchase. Once you choke down the price of admission, I think you will be, too. Dillon Precision
Addendum: Since writing the above I’ve swaged another 500 or so cases and the Teflon tape seems to be holding the set screw in place. I’m glad that’s working, but it shouldn’t be up to the user to come up with a kludge for a brand new tool.