This article will help new reloaders figure out which type of dies they would ultimately like to use on their bench.
If you are new, I would highly recommend looking into a die set instead of buying them separate. You will save a significant amount of money.
Full-length size die kits:
Lee Precision-Pacesetter Rifle Die Sets $27.99-42.99
This die set includes everything you'll need. it has three dies, the full-length resize die, bullet seating die, and the factory crimp die. It also has universal shell holder that fits most presses and a powder dipper.
What I like about the die set: Lee has always been one of many reloaders "first set-ups." While the prices are very low compared to others, it does get the job done and sends you on the way to the range. If you are looking for a super low budget set-up, Lee will be your friend. Also, the instructions included are very helpful for those who are just getting into reloading. It get's you set up super fast and also provides other insightful information. Lee also has a 2 year warranty and provides a shell holder for your press if you do not have one already (very important and almost always forgotten by new reloaders).
My thoughts: You get exactly what you pay for. As these are towards the cheaper side of dies, they do produce perfectly good ammo. However, like other dies, this one lacks a detent locking screw around the nut that would hold the die nice and tight into the press. Ultimately, if a die does not have a detent screw it can cause variation in lengths of your hand-loads by having the die loosen periodically . The other thing that Lee did a great job on was preserving the decapping pin by using a mechanism that would allow the decapping pin to rise if too much pressure was exerted, which would ultimately cause the pin not to brake. Moreover, this is a great design, but sometimes a pain in the butt if you don't properly tighten the locking nut around the decapping pin. Don't get me wrong, I've gone with Lee dies my whole life along with others and never had to adjust this for some calibers, but other's I had to scrap a few pins and tighten the locking nut several times. The other thing that most individuals do not like is if they have to take out the decapping pin for certain sizing applications. It is not as easy as other dies on the market, you won't be able to screw it off with your fingers. Hopefully, you'll have a bench vice. Overall, Lee dies are an awesome investment because they are cheap but provide you everything you'll need to get sent off to the range. Lee also has a very extensive line of "old" cartridges that most manufacturers do not provide.
RCBS- Full-Length Set $33.99-$299.99
The set will include dies that are made for bottleneck rifle and pistol cases. The two will allow you to full-length resize and seat your projectiles while providing very good accuracy. Moreover, the full-length die sizes the body of the case for next firing, uses an expander ball to pass through the neck of the brass that allows correct neck tension, and even allows you to bump the brass of the shoulder back if needed.
What I like about the die set: RCBS has put a locking screw on the side of the locking washer that won't allow your die to move. This way, their is no messing around or worrying if your die is moving as you work through your reloads. Another great option about these dies is that it eliminates the need for a crimping die by installing a built-in crimping system inside the seater die.
My thoughts: You can't ever go wrong with RCBS. At it's price point, it's only a few more bucks than lee in some cases and adds more benefits. This is the type of brand that you will be allowed to pass down to future generations without a problem. The only thing I wish it had was a sleeve like it’s competition line, that aligns projectiles for maximum consistency. Otherwise known as, concentricity.
Redding- Full-Length Die Sets $45.99-214.99
This set includes 2 dies which are the full-length sizing die and bullet seater. Very similar to the RCBS but has been known for it's top notch quality.
What I like about the die: For the hand-loader that wants more precision out of his hand-loads, these dies are great. With a lifetime warranty, they are made from alloy steel. Guaranteed to produce ammo that will fit to any (SAAMI) chamber, regardless of action type. The die themselves are also heat treated to maintain tolerances.
My thoughts: Redding makes a plethora of different die types and even offers them in calibers that most companies do not. The best part, the reloading box your die comes in is also a shell holder. Pretty fancy, right? Moreover, these dies have been compared to RCBS and Forster. When you purchase a pair the first thing you will notice is how nicely they are made. At the end of the day, they preform just like other dies in it's realm.
Forster- Full-Length Sizing and Bench Rest Seater Die Set $80.99-$109.99
Forster Bench Rest Reloading Dies are the cream of the crop. While being very high quality and providing the reloader with the ability to produce concentric rounds, each die is made from steel and machined to very tight tolerances. The die itself has a mechanism that uses a cross bolt die locking ring that will ultimately tighten the two ends of the split ring instead of a tightening a screw directly into the threads of the die.
What I like about the die: The die itself is super nice quality and has always surprised me of how consistent it is. Most importantly, the die is very easy to set up and their is no hassle adjusting it either. It also has a elevated expander which makes sizing a whole lot easier. Also, this die set, like most competition die set has a “sleeve” that will align your bullet among seating. This is called concentricity. Ultimately, this will lower your SD and ES and give you a match quality round...or as I call it, tack drivers.
I will say that most every line of company, has an “upgraded version” usually called competition dies that have the sleeve mechanism, mentioned previously. Some don’t though.
My thoughts: While being more expansive then your average dies, these are a great purchase. Very well machined, tight tolerances, no hassle setting up or adjusting, and reliability. Can't beat that.
Lyman has introduced a premium carbide expander assembly and a neck sizing die which ultimately eliminates "over-working" the brass, which in return extends your case life. The whole set includes a deluxe carbide expander assembly, neck sizing die, standard full-length sizing die, and a bullet seating die.
What I like about the die: The set is pretty cool considering that you receive a full-length sizing die and a neck sizing die which most sets do not include. It's usually one or the other. Highly necessary? in my opinion, no. Most individuals choose one or the other.
My thoughts: Lyman has produced some great reloading equipment and their dies are no exception. For the price point and custom-ability to buy separate decapping rod assemblies, this is a very unique and awesome choice if you decide to go with these.
Hornady- American Series Rifle Dies $27.99-29.99
This set only covers the 243 Win, 270 Win, 308 Win, 30-06, and .223. While Hornady includes 2 dies in the set, they are made from premium steel that is hardened to exact specifications and then polished. The seating die sizes straight to SAAMI specifications. Reloading data and two extra decapping pins are also included.
What I like about the die: competitive pricing, warranty against material defects for life, internal spindles, expanders, and seating stems are interchangeable with other components which makes it a very unique option.
My thoughts: With the warranty you can run the hell out of these dies. You get two extra decapping pins and the option to customize the die on top of it. For the price point, this is one hell of an option.
Precision, precision, precision. That's all I think of when I lay my hands on and use L.E. Wilson components. With this kit, you get a full-length resizing die, a seater hand die, and a case-length headspace gauge. With the bushing type full-length size die, you can size the body of your case while sizing the neck to the exact tension you desire for the projectile you plan on using. With the hand seating die, you can adjust it using the micrometer for fine, quick adjustments that gives you very accurate results. You can adjust by .001" increments. Next, the case gauge is a huge plus because no other die set on the market includes one. You can use this to compare resized cases against the minimum SAAMI chamber dimensions so you can make sure that your finished rounds are within specifications for case length and headspace minimum and maximum.
What I like: The die set is simply amazing. The quality, the performance, and the reliability are superb. While like nontraditional die sets, the bullet seating die is designed to be used with a mallet or an arbor press, eliminating the need for an actual press or a shell holder. As a result, you can load ladder tests at your own range if you'd like!
My thoughts: If you don't want any B.S. to happen and no hassle, go with these. At a higher price point, you simply can't go wrong cause you get exactly what you pay for. Reliability, performance, consistency, well made, and dependability.
On a closing note, you would be amazed of all the competition, micro-meter, and other types of die sets that are out there. Some companies can literally make 5-6 different types for just one cartridge. This will help you determine which die set is perfect for your first set. If you just want to plink and not worry about too much, go with a standard die set that we have mentioned. If you want super consistent, accurate ammo, go with a competition style set like we have also listed. Pick any brand you want, we love them all. Most importantly, every brand meets a different reloaders needs.
However, I highly recommend you look at plenty of reviews and watch some YouTube videos to make sure that the set you choose is the right one for you.
I will be writing another blog to continue on about the various other types of dies you can get.
As always, be safe, shoot straight, and happy reloading!
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