Reloading Safety: Powder Check Systems Overview

In my last post, I outlined some basic principles for reloading safety. One of the basic ways that you can ensure your safety while reloading is by using a quality powder check system- especially when loading with a progressive reloading press.

So next, I thought it would be a good idea to look at some of the popular powder check systems available today so that you can understand the features implemented by each “system”.

From left: Dillon XL-650/1050 Powder Check System, RCBS Powder Checker Die, RCBS Lock-Out Die, Hornady Powder Cop Die - Image Copyright 2010 Ultimate Reloader
From left: Dillon XL-650/1050 Powder Check System, RCBS Powder Checker Die, RCBS Lock-Out Die, Hornady Powder Cop Die - Image Copyright 2010 Ultimate Reloader

So let’s perform a quick overview of each of these systems. I’ll talk about these systems in more detail in subsequent posts.

Dillon XL-650 Powder Check System

This system is perhaps the most complicated system from a construction stand-point, and can only be used with the Dillon XL-650 and Super 1050 reloading presses. This powder system will sound an audible alarm if there is an undercharge or overcharge. The upper unit is “quick release” and utilizes the same lower die as the powder measure. You can setup the powder check on multiple toolheads.

RCBS Powder Checker Die

This die utilizes a center rod actuated by the powder in the case, and a separate rod off to the side which holds a white rubber O-Ring at a user adjustable height so that the level can be compared at the top of the ram stroke when reloading. This die is simple to setup and use, but requires the user to visually inspect the level for each round loaded.

RCBS Lock-Out Die

The Lock-Out die by RCBS is a unique contraption that intrigues the imagination. It is case activated, and will literally lock up the reloading press if there is an undercharge or overcharge. This means it’s perhaps the safest of any of the systems. On some presses, it does require the die to be removed if there is a variation in powder level in order to resume loading.

Hornady Powder Cop Die

The Hornady Powder cop die is very similar to the RCBS Powder Checker die system. The main difference is the fact that the RCBS system uses two rods, where the Hornady powder cop die uses only one, and the reference O-Ring is adjusted on the single rod. It essentially shares the same advantages and disadvantages as the RCBS Powder Checker die system.

All of these systems work, but some work better for certain applications than others. I’ll post some additional information about these systems so that you can better understand how they work and which system is better for you.

Did I miss anything here? Do you use a powder checking system I didn’t cover?


10 thoughts on “Reloading Safety: Powder Check Systems Overview”

  1. I have used Dillon powder measures for 25 years and have yet to have a problem throwing accurate powder charges that would cause me to want a check die. Further, some features that I would want would occupy those stations that such a check die would have to use.

    Another consideration is that the four station presses, the SDB and the 550, really do not have a station for a check die to be installed into (unless you want to combine seating and crimping functions on the 550).

    Therefore, I feel that this product has little to offer.

    1. DD in MA,
      I disagree to an extent and here is why. You say that you trust your Dillon powder measure for over 25 years and haven’t had a problem. Well, I trust mine on my 650 as well. But what I may not trust is the fact that a cartridge is clear of obstructions prior to a bullet being placed on top of it. How many times have we been reloading and there been a gravel in the case from range brass picked up at a match? Or those little rubber balls that cops shoot? Or corn cob media? Or etc. etc.etc. When you add powder and there is no room for it to go and then a bullet is placed on it, this definitely could change pressures on the high side and cause you issues, especially if you are running on the higher end of the spectrum on pressures to begin with. This can elimitate that issue. I personally do not currently use the Dillon powder check, but this is definitely a time when it would come in handy. As Rob says below, it is that 1 in a million that will get you and I totally agree with him.

  2. It’s that “1 in a million” that will get you.

    For pistol and .223, I run a progressive press. Having five stations, I will be adding the RCBS or Hornady as soon as I make up my mind.

    Thanks Gavin, you are doing a great job of staying unbiased in providing great reviews of a lot of products.

  3. The RCBS lock out die does look like it could be a nicer, much more safer addition to my lnl press. I may have to give it a try!

  4. I wont reload on a progressive press with out some way to positively insure there is powder in the case.
    Any hitch, drag or catch on any of the 5 stations results in some action on the powder drop.
    Since installing the RCBS Powder check die. I have not gotten a no charge case yet, But it did catch two over charged cases. Paid for it self for life just for those.
    Its reassuring to see the two white tabs line up.

    Now my next issue is. I really want to ad a RCBS bullet die. That would take the place of my powder check die. Not going to do it until I come up with a alternative.

  5. If you using an RCBS progressive press I was told to move the powder measure to the #2 position and use the drop tube to bell the case. Then place the RCBS Powder Check die or the RCBS Lockout die in the #3 (powder measure position). Adjust you Powder Measure to properly bell your case and then install your RCBS Bullet die in the #4 position

  6. One of the things I hate about my Lee Pro 1000 is that it’s only a 3 station set up, and you seat the bullet at the back of the press where you can’t look down into the case. It works, but since moving up to a Loadmaster I’ve retired the Pro1000 to loading black powder only as it nearly fills the case and is easy enough to see if you’ve got the rite charge or not. Again, it works, but I am not the trusting sort, even though I’ve loaded thousands of smokeless rounds on it.

    I wouldn’t mind a powder cop for my Loadmaster, but I originally got it to be able to use a FCD for auto loader ammo and with it I set the bullet into the case facing me and can easily look and see if the charge is correct, even with TItegroup and the 45 Colt. A LED light mounted to the frame helps too. The only real complaint I have is that the LM is not a true 5 station press and because of priming on the upstroke of the ram it precludes using a powder cop if you use a separate crimping station.

  7. I use the Dillon Powder Check Alarm and have never had any issue with it or any of the Dillon products especially the powder check alarm.

    Before I purchased my Dillon Press RL1050 I used the Hornady Lock-N-Load plant for reloading and I was happy with it. For anyone that is interested in the Hornady Lock-N-Load I am selling it to some one that will give it a nice home. Please feel free to contact me at

  8. RCBS Lockout Die. If you are using a progressive press for reloading either pistol or rifle ammo, the RCBS is really the way to go. For rounds like 223 and 308 which when reload we reload a bunch or pistol rounds the lockout die takes a element of mistakes away. On my RCBS press it doesn’t lock-it to the point you have to remove the die but it does lock-it to the point it will not complete the cycle. It sure gives added safety on reloading. Much better to spend the extra and pick one up that to reload a couple hundred rounds and find out your powder throwing device is not as accurate as you thought or some slipped during reloading. Do that once or twice and you toss a couple of hundred rounds away and you will wish you had one. I use one on my Auto indexing progressive RCBS presses. I don’t on my Dillon cause one it doesn’t have the extra station and two I measure everything it throws. I only load 270, 243 on the Dillon, I found it’s not desirable to load pistol rounds on it, as it is really not designed for progressive reloading. It a total right handed press, meaning it is just setup to be used with one hand the right. Insert the case from the right, put the bullet on with the right, and pull the handle with the right. While a RCBS allows you to put in a case with the right and bullet with the left, pull with the right. Much better design for loading lots of ammo.

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