How to Set Up Reloading Dies


Knowing how to properly set up your reloading dies is an important part of reloading. If you don’t set your reloading dies up properly, your ammo can be inaccurate, unreliable, and even dangerous.

Most reloading dies will come with instructions that show how to set them up properly. You should always follow the manufacturer’s instructions, especially when dealing with specialty dies that may require a special set up.

This article is mainly meant for those who received their dies second-hand, without instructions. This was the situation that I was in when I first started reloading. I inherited my reloading dies from my grandfather, and he misplaced the instructions sometime during the 15 or 20 years that he owned them. Below are instructions for how to set up reloading dies for pistol and rifle.

How to Set Up Reloading Dies

How to Set Up a Full-Length Sizing Die (Non-Carbide)

Types of Cartridges: Rifle and Pistol

The first step of the reloading process (after sorting and cleaning your brass) is to full-length size your brass. Full-length sizing is the preferred method for resizing most types of brass as it will return it to its original factory specifications. This helps it to chamber and cycle reliably, which is especially important when reloading for semi-automatic rifles and pistols.

Related: Reloading Ammo for AR-15 Rifles

A caliber-specific full-length sizing die will remove the spent primer from your case as well. The part of the die that does this is called a decapping pin. It is very important that this pin is protruding the proper distance. If it doesn’t protrude enough, it won’t remove the primer all the way. This could result in the case getting stuck in the shell holder.

If the decapping pin protrudes too far, it could break. Excessive protrusion could also result in deforming the primer pocket by pushing it from the inside out. This would make seating a primer impossible. Most advice suggests that the pin should stick out 1/8 to 3/16-in below the bottom of the die. I try to adjust mine so that they protrude just enough to knock out the old primer.

Proper Decapping Pin Depth on Sizing Die
This resizing die’s decapping pin is set at 3/16 of an inch.

When working with bottleneck cartridges, such as 30-06 and .223, the decapping rod contains an expander ball that spreads out the case neck as it travels into the case. Resizing dies for straight-wall cartridges do not have this feature. They require the use of a separate expander die to prepare the case to accept a new bullet.

Here are steps you can take to adjust your decapping pin and set up your full-length resizing die:

How to Adjust the Decapping Pin (Rod)

RCBS, Redding, and Lyman Dies

  • Loosen the round lock nut at the top of the die
  • Turn the screw to adjust the decapping pin up or down.
  • Tighten the lock nut.

Lee Resizing Dies

  • Insert the resizing die into your press.
  • Find a 3/4-inch and 1/2-inch box wrench.
  • Use the wrenches to loosen the decapping rod collet. The 3/4-inch wrench will go on the main body of the die. The 1/2-inch wrench will be used to rotate the decapping rod collet.
  • When you are attempting to loosen the collet you will need to use quite a bit of force.
  • Adjust the decapping pin’s depth while the collet is loose.
  • Tighten the collet, being careful to not lose your newly-adjusted decapping pin depth. Be sure to tighten the collet very tight. If you don’t, the pin will slip while decapping a case.

How to Set Up Resizing Dies on Your Reloading Press

  • Insert the proper shell holder into your press.
  • Raise the ram on your reloading press all the way to the top.
  • Loosen the large lock ring on the body of your die.
  • Turn the die into the press until it touches the top of the shell holder.
  • Lower the press’s ram.
  • Turn the die one more quarter turn into the press.
  • Lower the press’s ram again, allowing it to cam over this time.
  • Turn the lock ring until it touches the top of your press.
  • Tighten the lock ring’s set screw, it present, to set your adjustment.
  • Test your adjustment by raising the ram all the way. The shell holder should touch the bottom of the die before the press handle is all the way down. You should still be able to lower the handle all the way due to the press’s camming action.

How to Set Up Carbide Full-Length Sizing Dies for Reloading

Types of Cartridges: Mainly pistol, but some rifle as well

Carbide dies are made of a different material than regular reloading dies. They have a higher concentration of carbon, making them harder and slicker. This allows reloaders to resize cases without using case lube. They are mainly used when reloading straight-walled pistol cases, such as 9mm and 45 ACP.

Their hardness also makes them more brittle than regular steel dies. Because of this, they must be adjusted differently. When operating a press, you must not allow the shell holder to contact the die. If the shell holder touches the die and the press handle cams over, the pressure could cause the die to crack or break.

Although the dies themselves are installed in a press differently, the decapping pins are adjusted on carbide dies the same way that they would be on regular steel dies.

How to Set Up a Carbide Resizing Die on Your Reloading Press

  • Insert the proper shell holder into your press.
  • Raise the ram on your reloading press all the way to the top.
  • Loosen the large lock ring on the body of your die.
  • Turn the die into the press until it touches the top of the shell holder.
  • Reverse the die one quarter turn out of the press.
  • Turn the lock ring until it touches the top of your press.
  • Tighten the lock ring’s set screw to set your adjustment.
  • Test your adjustment by raising the ram all the way. The shell holder should not touch the bottom of the die. It should be just slightly below the bottom of the die to prevent damage.

How to Set Up Expander Reloading Dies

Types of Cartridges: Straight-wall pistol and rifle (9mm, 45 ACP, 45-70 Govt)

Expander dies are used on straight-wall cartridges. Most of these are pistol calibers, but some rifle cartridges, such as 45-70 Govt use them as well. After a brass case is run through the resizing die, the case mouth is too narrow to accept a new bullet. The bullet may go into the case, but the jacket will probably get shaved in the process.

An expander die bells the end of the case slightly, which allows a reloader to set a bullet much easier. It is important that you don’t set up your expander die so that it expands the case excessively. If this happens, you run the risk of splitting your case, which would make it unusable. Expanding a case mouth too much will also reduce the number of times that you can reload the case.

The case should be belled only enough to allow a bullet to seat without the jacket being shaved. Most expander dies can be set up using the first set of instructions. The Lee Powder Through Expanding Die is has a different design, so it has its own set of instructions.

Expander Reloading Die
When properly expanded, the case mouth will be able to accept a new bullet.

 

Here is how to set up most expander dies:

  • Install the proper shell holder in your press.
  • Raise the ram all the way to the top.
  • Screw the expander die into the press until it touches the shell holder.
  • Tighten the lock ring.
  • Lower the ram and install a resized case into the shell holder.
  • Raise the ram all the way, allowing the case to go into the expander die.
  • Lower the ram and attempt to place a bullet in the case mouth. (The bullet shouldn’t go all the way in, but it should be far enough in the case to not have to worry about the case shaving it.)
  • If the case isn’t belled enough, screw the expander plug slightly further into the die.
  • If the case is belled too much, back the expander plug out of the die slightly.

Here is how to set up a Lee Powder Through Expander Die

  • Install the proper shell holder into your reloading press.
  • Raise the press’s ram all the way to the top.
  • Screw the powder through expander die in until it touches the shell holder.
  • Reverse the die back out one full turn. (For magnum cases, reverse it 2 3/4 turns.)
  • Finger tighten the lock ring.
  • Run a sized case into the die.
  • If the case isn’t belled enough, screw the expander die slightly further into the press.
  • If the case is belled too much, back the expander plug out of the press slightly.

A Note About Crimping

Before we go over how to set up bullet seating reloading dies, its a good idea to talk a little bit about crimping. Crimping is the act of deforming a case’s mouth in order to have a better hold on the bullet.

*Important: Only bullets with a cannelure (a channel running around the diameter of the bullet) should be crimped. The only exception to this is the taper crimp performed on semi-automatic pistol rounds such as 9mm and 45 ACP.

The first type of crimp is a roll crimp. It is most commonly used on straight-wall revolver cartridges and is meant to keep bullets in place while firing. Heavy recoil can cause bullets to “walk” out of their case. If a bullet walks out too far, this can cause the revolver to freeze up. A roll crimp is added by adjusting the seating die.

How to Set a Roll Crimp
This 38 Special Round has been roll crimped. Notice how the case mouth rolls into the bullet’s cannelure.

The second type of crimp is a taper crimp. It is most commonly used on semi-automatic pistol cartridges, such as 9mm and 45 ACP. The taper crimp helps ensure that rounds will cycle reliably in a firearm and ensures proper headspacing. A taper crimp can be added using a taper crimp seating die or a separate taper crimping die.

The third type of crimp is a variation of a roll crimp and is found on bottleneck cartridges. When using the Lee Factory Crimp Die, a collet presses in the sides of the case mouth. The round has been properly crimped when there are four split marks around the case mouth. It is primarily used for ammunition that will be fired from a semi-automatic rifle.

How to Set Up Bullet Seating Reloading Dies for Bottleneck Cartridges

Types of Cartridges: Bottleneck Rifle (ex. 30-06) and Bottleneck Pistol (5.7x28mm)

When reloading ammo, properly seating a bullet is crucial. If not done correctly, your ammunition may not chamber or be able to hit the broad side of a barn,  In some situations, improper bullet seating depth could cause your ammo to have excessive pressure. This excessive pressure could result in damage to your firearm and personal injury.

Because of this, have a set of calipers to ensure that your cartridge overall cartridge length (COAL) is within specification. To do this, refer to load data provided by the bullet’s manufacturer as well as the maximum overall length specifications of your caliber.

Here is how to set up an RCBS bullet seating die for bottleneck cartridges:

  • Install the proper shell holder into your reloading press.
  • Place a sized case into the shell holder and raise the ram all the way to the top.
  • Turn the seating die into the press until it touches the case.
  • Back the die out one turn.
  • Secure the lock ring.
  • Loosen the locknut and unscrew the seater plug enough to ensure your first bullet won’t be seated too deep into the case.
  • Place a sized and primed case with the proper amount of powder into the shell holder.
  • Place a bullet on top of the case and raise the ram all the way.
  • Check the overall length with your calipers.
  • Alternate between measuring the overall length with your calipers and adjusting the seater plug until you reach the desired seating depth and cartridge overall length.
  • Tighten the lock ring to prevent the seater plug from moving.

Here is how to set up a Lee Easy Adjust Dead Length Bullet Seating Die for bottleneck cartridges:

  • Install the proper shell holder into your reloading press.
  • Raise the ram all the way to the top.
  • Install the die into your press and turn it until it touches the shell holder.
  • Lower the ram slightly.
  • Turn the die into the press and additional 1/4 turn.
  • Secure the lock ring.
  • Turn the adjusting screw out to ensure your first bullet isn’t seated too far into the case.
  • Insert a sized and primed case with the proper amount of powder into the shell holder.
  • Place a bullet on top of the case and raise the ram all the way.
  • Check the overall length with your calipers.
  • Alternate between measuring the overall length with your calipers and adjusting the seater plug until you reach the desired seating depth and cartridge overall length.

How to Set Up Bullet Seating Reloading Dies for Straight-Wall Cartridges with a Roll Crimp

Types of Cartridges: Straight-Wall Revolver (ex. 38 Special)

As stated above, most revolver cartridges benefit from having a roll crimp added while the bullet is being seated. Doing this will prevent the bullet from walking in or out of the case while firing. Here is how you set up a bullet seating die with a roll crimp for revolvers:

  • Install the proper shell holder into your reloading press.
  • Place a sized case into the shell holder and raise the ram all the way to the top.
  • Turn the seating die into the press until it touches the case.
  • Back the die out one turn.
  • Secure the lock ring.
  • Loosen the locknut and unscrew the seater plug enough to ensure your first bullet won’t be seated too deep into the case.
  • Place a sized and primed case with the proper amount of powder into the shell holder.
  • Place a bullet on top of the case and raise the ram all the way.
  • Inspect the bullet’s seating depth and adjust it until the case mouth is in the middle of the bullet’s cannelure.
  • After the proper seating depth has been achieved, back the seater plug out several turns. (Keep the ram at the top of its stroke.)
  • Loosen the lock ring and turn the die into the press until it touches the case.
  • Lower the ram and turn the die 1/8th of a turn.
  • Raise the ram to the top with the round in the shell holder.
  • Lower the ram and check the crimp. Make adjustments as necessary, but don’t crimp too much.
  • When you are happy with the crimp, tighten the lock ring.
  • Raise the ram to insert the round into the die again. Then, lower the seater plug until it touches the top of the bullet. This will reset your seating depth.
  • If present, tighten the lock nut to prevent the seating depth from changing accidentally.

How to Set Up Bullet Seating Reloading Dies for Straight-Wall Cartridges with a Taper Crimp

Types of Cartridges: Straight-Wall Pistol (ex. 9mm and 45 ACP)

The process for setting up a taper crimp bullet seating die is similar to the one for setting up a roll crimp die, with a couple of minor exceptions. It is important to note that taper crimping seating dies are designed differently than those that add roll crimps. Many times, they are labeled as taper crimp dies on the die body or instructions.

  • Install the proper shell holder into your reloading press.
  • Place a sized case into the shell holder and raise the ram all the way to the top.
  • Turn the seating die into the press until it touches the case.
  • Back the die out one turn.
  • Secure the lock ring.
  • Loosen the locknut and reverse the seater plug enough to ensure your first bullet won’t be seated too deep into the case.
  • Place a sized and primed case with the proper amount of powder into the shell holder.
  • Place a bullet on top of the case and raise the ram all the way.
  • Adjust the seating depth the desired cartridge overall length is reached. Use calipers to check this.
  • After the proper seating depth has been achieved, back the seater plug out several turns. (Keep the ram at the top of its stroke.)
  • Loosen the lock ring and turn the die into the press until it touches the case.
  • Lower the ram and turn the die 1/8th of a turn.
  • Raise the ram to the top to insert the round into the die.
  • Lower the ram and check the crimp. Make adjustments as necessary by turning the die in for more crimp or backing it out for less.
  • When you are happy with the crimp, tighten the lock ring.
  • Raise the ram to insert the round into the die again. Then, lower the seater plug until it touches the top of the bullet. This will reset your seating depth.
  • If present, tighten the lock nut to prevent the seating depth from changing accidentally.

How to Set Up a Lee Factory Crimp Die

Types of Cartridges: Bottleneck rifle and pistol cartridges

Some Lee dies for bottleneck cartridges are not designed to perform a crimping action, such as the one that came with my .223 Pacesetter set. To add a crimp, Lee includes what they call their “Factory Crimp Die”. It is called this because it adds a crimp to the case mouth similar to some factory-produced ammunition. Here is how you set up a Lee Factory Crimp Die:

  • Install the proper shell holder into your reloading press.
  • Raise the press ram all the way to the top.
  • Screw the Factory Crimp Die into the press until it touches the shell holder.
  • Lower the press ram.
  • Screw the Factory Crimp Die one more half turn into the press.
  • Place a completed cartridge into the shell holder and raise the ram all the way.
  • Lower the ram and inspect the cartridge.
  • If the crimp is too little, screw the Factory Crimp Die a little further into the press.
  • If the crimp is too much, back the Factory Crimp Die out of the press slightly.
  • Once the desired crimp is reached, tighten the lock ring.

How to Set Up a Lee Carbide Factory Crimp Die

Types of Cartridges: Straight-wall pistol cartridges that require a taper crimp (ex. 9mm)

The Lee Carbide Factory Crimp Die is different than the regular Factory Crimp Die. It crimps differently and is made of different materials. The Carbide Factory Crimp Die is similar to a sizing die and it helps ensure that your reloaded rounds will fit in even the tightest chamber. Here is how you set up a Lee Carbide Factory Crimp Die:

  • Install the proper shell holder in your reloading press.
  • Insert a completed cartridge into the shell holder.
  • Raise the ram all the way to the top.
  • Back out the adjusting screw on the die.
  • Screw the Carbide Factory Crimp Die into the press until it barely makes contact with the shell holder.
  • Turn the adjusting screw until it touches the case mouth.
  • Lower the press ram.
  • For a light crimp, rotate the adjustment screw an additional half turn.
  • For a heavy crimp, rotate the adjustment screw an additional full turn.

Conclusion

I hope that this article has helped you learn how to set up your reloading dies. If you found this article useful, click below to check out my other reloading articles:

For additional information, check out the following links:

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