Buying Reloading Dies


BY Gary Chang

Originally Published 2/2011


A mainstay on gun show tables are reloading dies. After three decades of purchasing and using many die sets, here are some words of caution. Although this discussion is primarily concerned with pistol calibers, it also provides insight into rifle calibers.

  1. Verify dies correspond with the box label. Read the caliber designation stamped on each die’s head as sellers sometimes mistakenly mismatch the dies in the box.
  2. Make sure the die set includes provisions for each reloading step. Even with the same manufacturer (RCBS, for example), one die set might feature the depriming operation in the sizer die while another set might have that same step built into the expander die. Visualize the reloading process when examining the dies. This is especially critical if you are using a progressive press.
  3. In acquiring a set for either the.38Special/.357Magnum or .44Special/.44Magnum, buy either the set marked .38 Special or .44 Special or the die set with the dual Special/Magnum designation. Do NOT buy a die set marked solely .357 Magnum or .44 Magnum; the expander die may not be able to screw down far enough to bell the case, and the bullet seater may not be able to seat/crimp bullets in the shorter case.
  4. Unless you own a firearm with earlier, looser tolerances, search for dies made after 1985. Although I am not absolutely certain all dies have proper specifications after that date, those I’ve bought have performed satisfactorily. Date of manufacture is normally stamped on the die’s head, next to caliber designation. Small Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers Institute (SAAMI) specifications have changed (generally tightened) over the years, particularly in “oldtimers” such as the .45 Colt, .38-55 Winchester, and .22 Hornet.

I hope these tips will save you from making an unsatisfactory purchase. If it seems like a lot of precautions, isn’t this why we spend hours perusing the array of tables at the Gun Shows? Good luck, and see you at the Blaisdell in March!

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