This article is for informational purposes only. Suthenboy is not a credentialed expert. Do not attempt any of these activities without first consulting an expert or a manual published by accredited experts or manufacturers.
Last time I hit the high points of beginning reloading and briefly discussed the different style of presses and other equipment. The presses are useless without dies specific to the cartridge that you intend to reload. Let’s talk about dies.
There are two basic style cartridges: straight walled cases and cases with shoulders on them. Because of the different shape, properties of brass and steel we end up with two different kinds of dies: tool steel and carbide steel.
Carbide steel is extremely hard making it prohibitively expensive to machine a cavity in the die to fit shouldered cases. You can get such a critter but when you see the price tag you will be purchasing tool steel dies. Because tool steel is not nearly as hard and kind of rubbery lubrication is requied to avoid having a brass case stick inside the die. These can be very difficult to remove and the die may be damaged in the process. This adds two extra steps to the reloading process: lubrication and subsequent cleaning of the cases.
Dies for straight walled cases are usually fitted with a carbide steel liner. Because they are so hard and highly polished straight walled brass cases do not stick and slide right out with a polished surface. This greatly adds to the convinience of sizing spent cases back to size specifications. Always get carbide dies for straight walled cases.
Of the manufacturers I prefer Lee Precision dies. Dies are full length threaded on the outside in 7/8×14 so that it screws into the press. This is pretty universal. There is a lock ring that rides on the outside of the die to set it firmly in the press. Lee is the only manufacturer that uses an easily replacable rubber O-ring to tension that lock ring. The other manufacturers use a set screw in the lock ring. That tiny set screw can become frozen and difficult to remove. It also sets against the 7/8×14 threads on the outside of the die and can damage them. Also, Lee dies are of high quality, low cost and combine several operations in single dies. Because some people prefer other brand dies but want the Lee style lock ring Lee will happily sell you as many of their lock rings as you wish to buy.
All of the manufacturers produce high quality dies and I own at least one set from all of them. There is one more type of die worth noting. These are high-precision dies aimed at the long range rifle shooter. These allow for more precise sizing and seating of bullets, something we will discuss in a later article. The stand-outs are the Redding and Forster dies.
If you are getting into benchrest shooting you would definitely want to shell out the bucks for some of these. I don’t have any because the dies I already have make ammunition that is more accurate than I can shoot anyway.
This is a highly technical, tedious subject that is impossible to write about with inspiration. I will try to include as many tips and tricks I have learned over the years that you can’t find in any book so that those who intend to start reloading will be saved the time and trouble of learning on their own. I hope there are enough gun nerds around here that some will slog their way through and any other reloaders out there please add your tips in the comments.