Ammunition

Reloading Basics: Pistol Dies

reloading handgun ammo, disassembled cartridge

Pistol dies are available in two types, steel and carbide. While some reloaders and handloaders will still use steel dies, carbide dies are used to a much greater extent because of ease and cost.

There are two basic dies needed in both types to complete the reloading process, the resizing/decapping die and the seating/crimping die.

Both are used in conjunction with each other to make sure your brass is shaped and sized correctly for a safe and successful shooting experience.

Let’s discuss each of them and the basics of how they work.

pistol dies
This is a complete die set for 9mm Luger cartridges.

Types of Reloading Dies

Steel Pistol Dies

Steel pistol dies are basically a thing of the past since the invention of carbide dies.

They are generally harder to find and will require the use of case lube to prevent stuck cases.

There are still steel pistol dies manufactured for cartridges like the .357 SIG and 7.62×25 Tokarev, which are both bottleneck cartridges.

Steel dies are cheaper, but they also wear out quicker than carbide dies and will need to be replaced on a more frequent basis.

Carbide Pistol Dies

Carbide dies utilize a ring of carbide, a very hard material with a very low coefficient of friction, at the base of the die.

This type of die does not require case lube, which saves time and money, but some reloaders may still use a small amount to extend die life.

Carbide dies will usually be restricted to straight-wall pistol calibers, although some custom dies can be found for bottleneck calibers.

Carbide dies are typically more expensive than steel dies, but they will save you more in the long run because they will last longer.

reloading pistol ammunition
With the proper tools, reloading ammunition can be safe and fun.

Resizing/Decapping Dies

Spent brass must be resized because when a cartridge is fired, the case expands to fit the chamber.

The resizing/decapping die resizes the case back to factory specs and will be the only die with the carbide ring in it.

This can also be referred to as a depriming die. This is important for reliable functioning.

This die will also remove the spent primer from the case so you can replace it with a fresh one.

Sizing die for .380 ACP
The sizing die for .380 ACP has a unique tip for depriming.

Seating/Crimping Dies

The seating/crimping die will seat the new bullet in the case and, if desired, will crimp the mouth of the case around the bullet for positive bullet hold.

Crimping is typically used in magnum cartridges to prevent bullet movement during heavy recoil.

This is also useful in semi-automatic firearms so the bullet will not move in the case during recoil and cycling.

This is good insurance to make sure your ammunition stays intact while firing.

Seating Pistol Die .40 S&W and 10mm
This is a .40 S&W/10mm Auto seating die.

Pistol Die Sets

Pistol dies are typically sold in sets. Many will include a third die, the expander die. This die will flare the mouth of the case for easier bullet insertion.

Some will hold a powder measure and dispense a powder charge when the case is run through it.

If you plan on loading a number of different handgun cartridges, finding a pistol die set with several caliber options is beneficial.

Expander die .45 ACP
This is an expander die for .45 ACP cartridges.

Conclusion: Pistol Dies

Reloading handgun ammunition is a great way to shoot more for less and to get the most accuracy out of your firearms.

Once you decide on the types of pistol dies you would like, you can begin loading your own ammunition.

Reloading can be an enjoyable experience, but it is important to get the right tools for the jobs for a safe and successful experience.

What type of pistol dies do you use for reloading or handloading? Let us know in the comments below!

About the Author:

Alex Cole

Alex is a relatively young firearms enthusiast who’s been shooting consistently for around seven years. Though he is fairly new to the industry, he loves consuming all information related to guns and is constantly trying to enhance his knowledge, understanding and use of firearms. Not a day goes by where he doesn’t do something firearms-related.

Alex tries to visit the range at least a couple of times a month to maintain and improve his shooting skills. He also enjoys disassembling and reassembling firearms to see how they work and to keep them properly cleaned and maintained. He installs most of the upgrades to his firearms himself, taking it as a chance to learn.

Additionally, he is very into buying, selling and trading guns to test different firearms and learn more about them. He is not only interested in modern handguns and rifles, he appreciates the classics for both historical value and real-world use.
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (9)

  1. Have been reloading for seven years now. Started with .380 acp. Moved on to 9mm, 9×18 mak, .38, .357 mag, and .45 acp. It was a great challenge to develop an easy recoiling round that was accurate in our handguns. An acquaintance suggested I move up to a progressive reloader like his. I only use a single stage reloader. Takes a while but I reload 200 to 300 rounds a week. Clean my brass, follow the rules for each stage, particularly powder measure, all by hand. This acquaintance asked me if I noticed a difference in recoil from shot to shot with my handloads. Apparently, his progressive was giving him uneven powder measures, resulting in noticeable recoil differences from differing pressures. My handloads are all completed with accurate powder measures resulting in similar, or very negligible, pressures differences. My wife, my sons, their wives and two grandchildren all love my handhold for the accuracy and low recoil. No one has complained of any differences in recoil from shot to shot.
    It takes a while to reload by hand, but I am well pleased with the results. After over 10,000 reloads, I will stick with my single stage reloader system. I attain a zen feeling as I go through the steps. Very relaxing.

  2. Titanium Nitride (TiN) coated dies are a good alternative to carbide. Hornady stands out as a good die set using TIN in the resizing die. The die set also has a follower in the seating die that really helps people like me who don’t bell the case mouth with an expander. I resize the brass, then use the reamer to knock the sharp edge off the inside of the case mouth. I’ve been reloading since the early 90’s an this is the method I’ve evolved to. Also I second Grumpy 49 for cleaning the dies. They do get lots of crud in them over time. I’ve reloaded 10mm, 40 s/w, 9mm, 357 sig, 45 and 380.

  3. I started with steel dies, but as soon as I discovered carbide, I was sold. I always tumbled my brass so it was as clean as could be when I started the process. I hated case lube so much, I would wash and dry my brass as an additional step to remove excess lube.
    So, here I sit, with an old Rockchucker Jr,. some powder, bullets, and no primers. That is a problem.

  4. Bo- I too am sorry for your loss as my wife and I are Angel Parents who survived the loss of our youngest son and his fiancée to a three time convicted twice deported illegal INFECTUM PRAEBUERNT DORSUM low life dirt bag felon. I cannot understand how or why elected officials are fine with encouraging these vermin to enter the U.S. then denying our own citizenry the right and ability to defend themselves by proclamation!

    What was most tragic this occurred in a LIEberally mandated gun free zone where my son “obeyed the law” and paid for it with his and his fiancée’s lives. I make it a point to NEVER be in a “gun free zone” as I carry no matter if I am in a mandated gun free zone and no one is the wiser.

    I see red whenever I hear a “bleeding-heart LIEberal” cry about injustice of “poor law abiding migrants” treated like the scum they are!!! Or how effective disarming law abiding citizens save lives. NONE of them have walked a mile in my shoes

    It is said that time heals all wounds, To that I say time doesn’t heal these it doesn’t even attempt to gloss those kinds of wounds over!!!

    Our only solace was when justice was served when this dirt bag tried to rob an off duty cop who wasted that POS. This was one of the most gratifying days of my life

  5. It’s been over 40 years from my reloading days.
    My older brother & I would load up 900-1000 varied
    Rounds of .38, .357 & 9mm during a couple nights
    During the week. Then spend a couple hours at the
    range on Saturday dispensing our toils. This made
    Shooting that quantity relatively inexpensive. Even
    Had my 7 year old daughter on the assembly line
    Doing depriming & priming.

  6. Alex,
    That is a great article. I used to reload for my .44 Magnum many years ago. Then, I had a stroke and that changed much in my life. We moved and the reloader was one of the things that had to go. When you say “Reloading can be an enjoyable experience…” you have hit the mark on that, but it can also be therapeutic for the reloader.

    In 1989, my wife and I buried a son, and for a while, our life was hell. Reloading was very therapeutic for me because it was something that required a degree of attention that took my mind off the things with which I was having trouble dealing. I needed that time to have my thoughts focused on something other than our situation. I got through that eventually with God’s help, but the reloading was just the thing that took my mind off me and my sorrow until I could ask God to help me and not be angry at Him.

    Back then, I would load somewhere between two hundred and two hundred fifty rounds a week all during the hours when I was not at work. On my days off, I was at the range, shooting what I had reloaded the previous week. Those were activities which kept my mind from going places I did not dare go.

    For the record, my wife and I beat the odds. Some sources say sixty per cent of parents who lose a child will be divorced within five years. This coming May, we will celebrate our forty first anniversary. The amazing thing is we still like and love each other. There is a God, and He is good!

    1. So sorry for your loss, Bo, and thank you for sharing your story. I’m glad you enjoyed the article and that you and your wife are staying strong.

      God bless,
      Daniel

  7. After 45_ years of reloading, have a few comments:
    1. Carbide Dies are great. When using for the first time, or after cleaning, lube the first 10 cases. For the balance of the remaining 50 cases, lube every 5th case. Until you clean the dies, lube every 10th case. Still using my first set of Carbide Dies, and never had a problem. Overkill???
    2.) Clean your Dies! Surprising how much crud builds up in your dies. Forgot to clean a .223 Sizing Die, and had to replace it when I stuck a case. Once a year should be OK for most folks.
    3.) Clean your Brass. Clean Brass means your Dies will last a lifetime. Recently swapped to using a rotary tumbler, and can see how much easier it is to size my brass. Went cheap (HF two drum tumbler and #18 wire brads) but still better than my LYMAN 1200.
    4.) Reloading means I have ammo when there is nothing on the shelves.

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