Below are my experience based comments regarding various brands of reloading dies and die sets. In some cases manufacturers offer a number of different “levels” of dies. All of my comments apply only to what I’ll call the standard die sets. So in the case of RCBS, my comments apply to their standard die sets as opposed to their Competition dies. In a similar manner, some companies such as Hornady offer lower cost/entry level dies (their American Series dies), and my comments don’t directly apply to those product offerings either.
Over twenty years ago I started reloading 38 Special with a then new set of RCBS Carbide Dies. Within a few years, I was loading 9mm, 45ACP, and 270 Winchester, all with RCBS dies. I unhesitatingly recommend RCBS dies and still use them today.
I especially like their Carbide pistol die sets, though I did have an issue with one of them. I had a 40S&W/10mm Carbide sizer that did not size one brand of brass enough to firmly grip an unfired bullet. I sent it back to RCBS and they promptly sent a replacement that worked just fine.
RCBS dies can be disassembled, a feature I strongly prefer. I like to periodically remove the dirt and debris that builds up inside the dies. The sizer typically accumulates some dirt and powder fouling residue. The case expanding die, likewise. The seating die also tends to accumulate some brass and copper particles, along with lead and bullet lube (when using lead bullets). All that is easily cleaned out if the dies can be disassembled for cleaning, as is the case with RCBS dies.
I first purchased a set of Hornady 223 Winchester dies shortly after they introduced their New Dimension dies. I was curious about the elliptical expander in the sizing die and the floating bushing in the seating die, features lacking in the RCBS dies I had used up until that time.
Hornady’s elliptical expander on the left,
compared to the typical expander on the right.
Both are 30 caliber.
At the left is Hornady’s seating die with floating
seating bushing. At the right is a typical seating
die that does not feature a floating bushing.
Both seating die are 30 caliber, but the floating
seating bushing has a smaller hole that aligns
the bullet into the case mouth before the
bullet is pressed into the case.
I can’t say I noticed much of a difference due to the elliptical expander, but I do prefer the floating bushing type seating die. It seems to make it easier to get the bullet started straight, and keep it straight, during the seating process. One drawback of the floating bushing type seating die is that it tends to take up more space in the opening of the press, something that could present problems on some progressive presses as well as small presses. However, I’ve had no such space problems when using my older Rockchucker RCII or a recent Lee Classic Turret press (when indexed manually).
Ever since purchasing that set of Hornady New Dimension rifle dies, I haven’t purchased another brand of rifle dies. I now load 223, 22 Hornet, 243, 7mm Mag, 30-30, 308, and 338 Mag using Hornady New Dimension dies or the more recent replacement, Hornady’s Custom Grade Dies. From what I can tell, the Custom Grade dies utilize the features first introduced on the New Dimension dies but have a somewhat finer finish, may have somewhat tighter clearances/tolernaces, and have a grooves on the de-capping spindle to better resist slipping.
Hornady’s New Dimension die box is pictured
on the left. The Custom Grade dies, which
replaced the New Dimension dies, is shown
on the right. The Custom Grade dies retain
the desirable features of the New Dimension
The Custom Grade sizing die (bottom) has
shallow grooves in the decapping spindle,
whereas the New Dimension die features a
smooth spindle. The shallow grooves reduce
the likelihood of the spindle slipping during
22 Hornet brass is thin and known to require extra care during the reloading process to prevent crushing or otherwise deforming cases beyond a usable condition. I’ve reloaded around 200 rounds of 22 Hornet and have yet to ruin a case using the Hornady Custom Grade dies. I’m not sure how much the elliptical expander helps, but I’m certain the floating seating die is preventing case damage during the bullet seating step.
Hornady’s Custom Grade pistol expander die appears to be a one piece design that cannot be disassembled. As a result I have yet to purchase one of those dies, or a set of dies containing that particular expander die. Hornady’s Cowboy Dies, however, feature a belling die that can be disassembled. I recently purchased a set of them in 44 Special (which I also use for 44 Magnum). They work just fine and I recommend them.
Hornady offers their pistol dies with a titanium carbide sizer ring (as to opposed to the carbide ring offered by most everyone else). I cannot really tell a difference between the two types of sizing ring materials in use.
I have used Lee pistol dies and still do on occasion, and they work just fine. My only complaint is the de-capping spindle collet they use tends to strip if you try to remove it. You don’t need to remove the collet to take out the de-capping spindle. Loosening it is enough to slide the spindle out. Therefore the sizer die can be cleaned sufficiently without completely removing the collet.
If you are on a budget and/or don’t plan on loading a large volume of ammo, Lee dies are probably a good choice. Unlike most other die brands, Lee does not offer a lifetime warranty on their dies.
I periodically use a Lee de-capping die to remove the primer from cases. It has worked just fine for that purpose. It does, however, utilize the same de-capping spindle and collet design as their sizing dies, so the same comments about disassembly for cleaning apply to the Lee de-capping die as well.
A decapping die is handy to have if you
just want to quickly remove spent primers.
Lee’s version is pictured above.
Lee also makes a nice Universal Case Expanding Die that I use to slightly bell the mouth of rifle cases when loading them with cast bullets. It covers essentially all calibers from 22 to 45, is low cost, and works great.
Lee’s Universal Case Expander die.
Bottle neck rifle die sets typically do not
include an expander die, and this Lee
die solves that problem for those
reloading cast bullets.
Redding and Lyman
I have never used Redding or Lyman dies so I can’t comment on them based on experience. Both brands have been used successfully by others and are often recommended. Redding offers a number of different premium dies for those looking for “premium” dies with special features.
Redding dies carry a lifetime warranty. I searched, but did not find, a warranty statement in Lyman’s catalog or on their website. So I’m unsure how Lyman’s their dies are warranted.