My reloading setup: the dies I actually use daily.

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Someone emailed and asked me to detail my reloading die setups. With pleasure!

For handgun rounds, my setup for .38 Special is typical (and, not surprisingly, my most-used.) The sizing die is a Lee carbide, which I’ve had for decades. I would prefer an RCBS die in this spot, primarily for the better decapping pin system and easier handling of it’s knurled body, but the Lee is perfectly serviceable (and I’m too cheap to spring for the new die.) For certain other calibers I have RCBS or DIllon carbide dies, and as I mentioned last time I find them all acceptable – but my favorite remains RCBS.

The next station on the press carries a Lyman “M” expander die. The Hornady powder measure, like other progressive press measures, has an integral case expander, but I still prefer to expand using the Lyman die. It expands in a unique manner that reduces lead shaving and promotes straighter bullet seating, and it works as advertised. (I do reload a number of calibers for which I don’t have “M” dies; for those I rely on the expander in the powder measure, which works perfectly well – the “M” die is just in a class by itself.)

The bullet seating die for all calibers is the Hornady with the sliding bullet alignment collar. It is, hands down, the best seating die I’ve used. That sliding collar definitely helps bullet alignment, especially if the bullet tips a bit on the way up into the die. The bullet seating depth is precisely adjustable via a convenient knurled knob, and they have a micrometer seating adjustment available as an accessory. Absolutely “best in class” in terms of features.

I never crimp in the seating die. I know, most people do, but I’ve found that crimping separately results in significantly better ammunition. In .38, I use the superb Redding crimp die. This die is unique, in that it applies a slight taper crimp first, then a roll crimp. It produces the best .38 ammo I’ve ever made, and would not be without it for any cartridge where I want to squeeze out that last little bit of accuracy.

For all other pistol calibers, I use the Lee Factory Crimp Die. It is different than any other crimp die: it has a carbide sizing ring that sizes all the way to the base of the case, which is difficult to do in the initial size/decap process. Then it applies a taper or roll crimp (depending on the cartridge.) The neat part about the crimp stage is that it is adjustable via a knurled knob, making it a cinch to get exactly the right amount of crimp. The combination of to-the-base resizing and perfect crimping make the FCD (as it’s known in reloading circles) great for all calibers, but an absolute must for rounds going into autoloading pistols. If you’re having trouble getting your reloads to feed, the FCD will solve the problem. (If you’re using a Dillon sizing die, which doesn’t size are far down the case as others, the FCD is especially useful.)

For rifle rounds I’ve taken then same mix-and-match approach. (For those who don’t reload bottleneck rifle cases, there are two approaches to resizing: full-length and neck only. Cases going into autoloading or lever-action repeating rifles must be full-length sized for proper feeding. For a bolt-action or single-shot rifle, you can get away with just resizing the neck of the case itself. This results in much improved brass life and simplified reloading, as lubrication isn’t needed.)

As mentioned last time, my preferred sizing dies are Redding and RCBS, for a combination of finish, smoothness, and decapping pin arrangement. In full length dies I’ve decided to limit my choices to RCBS and Redding, mainly because I haven’t been all that happy with Lee’s internal finish. If neck sizing only, Lee’s Collet Dies are actually quite nice – I’ve had pretty good luck with them, though I still prefer Redding or RCBS because of Lee’s decapping pin design.

When I’m reloading for rifles, I use the same technique that I do for pistol rounds: I don’t seat and crimp in the same operation, as most rifle reloaders do. As I mentioned before, I’ve found that seating and crimping separately results in better quality ammunition, with more consistent seating depth and crimp tension.

Again, the seating die of choice is Hornady – their alignment collar is just as important for rifles as for handguns, and works just as well. I adjust the die body so that the crimping ring never touches the mouth of the case, thereby using just the seating function. I buy a separate seating die to do the crimping, and simply remove or adjust the seating stem so that it never touches the bullet. I’ve found – again – the RCBS and Redding seating dies are the best in terms of crimp quality. They don’t shave brass from (or deform) the case lips when they’re adding a heavy crimp, which both Hornady and Lee seating dies do. (This isn’t important for a single-shot rifle, but for a tube-fed lever action it sure is!)

Sharp-eyed readers will note that I mentioned Lyman only once. This is because I have very little experience with their products other than the “M” die. Their external finish seems to be a notch below RCBS and a couple below Redding, though as mentioned I am impressed with the performance of the “M” die. Readers with more extensive Lyman experience are encouraged to comment on their other offerings.

As you can see, there is no one maker of dies that has everything I want; I’m forced to pick and choose the best for my needs and desires. It’s taken me a long time (and no small amount of money) to get to this point, but I’m quite happy with the results!

-=[ Grant ]=-


About the Author:

Grant Cunningham is a renowned author and teacher in the fields of self defense, defensive shooting education and personal safety. He’s written several popular books on handguns and defensive shooting, including "The Book of the Revolver", "Shooter’s Guide To Handguns", "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals", "Defensive Pistol Fundamentals", and "Practice Strategies for Defensive Shooting" (Fall 2015.) Grant has also written articles on shooting, self defense, training and teaching for many magazines and shooting websites, including Concealed Carry Magazine, Gun Digest Magazine, the Association of Defensive Shooting Instructors ADSI) and the popular Personal Defense Network training website. He’s produced a DVD in the National Rifle Association’s Personal Firearm Defense series titled "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals" and teaches defensive shooting and personal safety courses all over the United States.
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