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Old June 16, 2012, 12:06 AM   #1
JKilbreth
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3-die vs. 4-die sets

Im new to reloading, but I've been looking into getting a turret press soon, but I would need to be able to switch quickly from reloading from one caliber to another. So, I figured I would inevitably have to purchase an additional die set.

My question is this: do 3-die sets do everything a 4-die set does, just in fewer steps? Or would I need to purchase the 4th die in addition to the other three? Or is the fourth die's function superfluous?

Forgive my limited knowledge, and thanks for the advice in advance!
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Old June 16, 2012, 12:20 AM   #2
rg1
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Most 4 die sets I'm familiar with have the 4th die as a separate crimping die. This is best as you can seat the bullet with the seater and transfer the round to the crimp die to crimp. If you don't have the crimp die you have to seat all rounds and then readjust the seater die to crimp. Doing this you lose all your settings. You can seat and crimp in one operation by properly adjusting the seater die but I don't like to seat and crimp at the same time. The 4th crimp die is especially useful for pistol rounds and in particular pistol rounds that are taper crimped like 9mm, 45acp and others. I originally purchased several 3 die sets and later purchased separate crimp dies and added to the set.
Some rifle 3 die sets have one sizer die that full length sizes the case and the 3rd die is a neck sizing die. You need to search for exactly what dies come in your 4 die set. If you don't want a rifle die that neck sizes cases used only for bolt action rifles then you will only need the 2 die set.
Like I said, I like to have a separate crimp die and have bought separate seating dies and adjust them for crimping only.
edited to say rifle dies are usually 2 dies and the 3rd die is usually a neck sizer only die. I originally said 4 die rifle die sets??

Last edited by rg1; June 16, 2012 at 06:35 PM.
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Old June 16, 2012, 12:47 AM   #3
Lost Sheep
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All my comments refer to straight-walled pistol dies. The dedicated crimp die for bottlenecked cases are diffferent.

Some of the 4th dies (like Lee's pistol so-called Factory Crimp Die) do an extra function not performed by any 3-die set. Post-sizing.

Other crimping dies, like Redding's Profile Crimp may or may not do post-sizing (I have not investigated that feature).

Some people believe the post sizing is unnecessary or even detrimental to the ammunition loaded with them. Some of those people get heated in their posts. Some also believe that the post-sizing is a sign of a flaw in your loading process or even a sign of weak moral character. Don't pay any attention.

What the separation of crimping and seating does, as rg1 pointed out, is to make die adjusting simpler. If taking advantage of that suggests I am lazy, incompetent or of low character, I can take the hit because I know it isn't true.

If you choose to seat and crimp in the same die in a single step, once you have your die adjusted it is easy. I don't understand (or, if I do understand, I don't agree with) rg1's statement, "If you don't have the crimp die you have to seat all rounds and then readjust the seater die to crimp." If you want to apply a VERY strong crimp, it might be necessary, but I have not found it so.

So, the other controversy, the post-sizing. Lee says it is for guaranteeing the ammunition will be not larger than SAAMI specifications.

It sizes the case down after all the loading steps are done the same way the initial sizing die does, but not as much. Just enough to ensure the cases are SAAMI dimensions.

If you have oversized bullets (particularly lead) and thick-walled brass, this can, indeed, be a detriment to your ammunition. You have to use your judgement.

If you, in applying too heavy a crimp perhaps, buckled your case, the post-sizing can (maybe) straighten out the buckling. But your case still has been bent and worked more than necessary and may have been compromised.

Some of the people who object to the post-sizing take a punch and knock the post-sizing ring out of the die. Others request the maker enlarge the ring (which I understand Lee will do for free if you request it on purchase, but I cannot testify to this first-hand or even second hand).

Thanks for asking such a good question.

Lost Sheep

Last edited by Lost Sheep; June 16, 2012 at 12:56 AM.
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Old June 16, 2012, 09:47 AM   #4
moxie
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Inevitably comes the reply from one of the "some people" referred to by lost sheep above.

Without becoming heated or casting aspersions on anyone's morals, I do opine that all you need for straight-wall pistol cases is 3 dies. Set them right and you will have perfect ammo. At least I do. Why add a 4th step if you can do the job in 3? For what it's worth, I use RCBS 3-die sets. (Note that many rifle sets are only 2 dies.) They work just fine. I've been doing it this way for well over 20 years and have had no need to add a 4th step.

Notice I have said nothing about the Lee FCD. (If you can't say something good..., per Mother's advice).

Let us know later what camp you join, and why.

Good luck and welcome to reloading!
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Old June 16, 2012, 09:57 AM   #5
David Bachelder
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For pistols, I prefer RCBS three piece carbide die sets.

For rifles, I prefer RCBS two die sets.

I'm sure Redding, Hornady and Dillon make fine dies, however I prefer the RCBS.

LEE also makes dies, from what I've seen they are not the same quality as the others.
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Old June 16, 2012, 10:17 AM   #6
rebs
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I also use rcbs 3 die sets
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Old June 16, 2012, 01:30 PM   #7
Lost Sheep
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Thanks for the recognition, Moxie.

I will keep this short (unlike my usual posts, and the one above).

3 dies will work perfectly almost all the time. Seating and crimping can definitely be done in one operation. A dedicated crimping die is usually a convenience. 99%

The only reason (that I know of) to actually NEED a dedicated crimping die is if the shape of the crimp and the shape of the crimping groove are such that the case mouth digs into the side of the bullet while the crimp/seat operation is taking place, shaving bullet material or providing so much resistance that you buckle a case. This condition is extremely rare and usually cured by better adjusting of your dies.

Or separating the seating and crimping operations.

The post-sizing I already talked about.

Thanks for reading.

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Old June 16, 2012, 01:51 PM   #8
jmortimer
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If you use a revolver and shoot hot loads, you best get a die for crimping. I am for sure on the Lee Precision band wagon and really like the FCD. Example, last year a guy in Alaska was attacked by a grizzly bear and he got off a couple rounds from his Ruger .454 Alaskan when one of the rounds jumped crimp and jammed the gun. Fortunately, that was enough to kill the bear, but if he needed another shot....
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Old June 16, 2012, 02:20 PM   #9
dacaur
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Quote:
Why add a 4th step if you can do the job in 3?
That might be valid if using a single stage press, but on a turret press, its just one more stroke of the handle after seating, so why not? Notice I say it might be valid....

I like to use a FCD for all my pistol rounds, if for no other reason than the post sizing ring. Some time ago, for kicks, I made up 100 9mm rounds without using the FCD, and then checked them all using my max cartridge gage. (I check all my 9mm round with the gage) 98 of them went in the gage no problem, but two didnt, both had the same headstamp, so I dont know what was going on, and I didnt think to actualy measure them at the time.... Those two still "plunked" just fine in my ruger p89 barrel, so they would have worked, but they did NOT plunk in my PF-9 barrel, so they likley would not have worked in that gun. After running those two through the FCD, they too went in the gage (and PF-9) no problem.

Few chambers are actualy cut to minimum sammi specs, probably for that very reason. If you have NEVER had a problem with reloaded ammo, I suspect its due to the generous chambers in all your guns. The above mentioned kel-tec PF-9 had lots of trouble with reloaded ammo bought at gun shows (before I started reloading myself) None of my other 9mm's had a bit of trouble with it, just the PF-9. Upon measuring, its chamber was just barly above sammi minimum. I saved some of the ammo that gave it fits, and when I started reloading, I check it in my max cartridge gage. It didnt fit....

You have to remember that all guns are NOT created exactly the same. 9mm luger chambers that fall within a relatively large range of .3913"-.3953" diameter are all within sammi specs. If YOUR guns chamber is at the upper spec measuring at .395", and you are producing ammo thats .393" in diameter, It will still run fine in YOUR gun, despite being .002" ABOVE sammi max diameter of .384"-.391" for ammo. But it would NOT run fine in a gun cut at minimum chamber diameter. Just because YOUR guns dont require a Factory Crimp Die, doesnt mean it wont be beneficial to ANYONE'S guns.... (*note that the above measurements are all at the head, in reality the 9mm round is taperd, and it is the measurements more toward the mouth of the case that would be more likley to cause problems, I just used the head measurement for illustration and ease....)

So yes I always buy 4 die pistol sets with a FCD when possible, and purchase it separately when its not possible.... Probably more than 90% of guns would not benefit functionally from a FCD, but there ARE some that would out there....

As for rifle sets, also remember that not all 3 die sets are the same. Some will come with a full length sizing die, a neck sizing die, and a seating die, and some will come with a full length sizing die, a seating die, and a FCD. If loading for a levergun or autoloader, The set that comes with the FCD is all you need, but if loading for a bolt gun, you can extend brass life and accuracy by neck sizing, so you would want to buy the set that includes both full length and neck sizer, and then add a FCD separately.... (FCD not required, but doesnt hurt either)
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Old June 16, 2012, 04:14 PM   #10
moxie
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jmortimer,
An RCBS seater/crimper die will put as much much crimp as you like on a case.

I believe you are talking about the Greg Brush incident in Aug., 2009. It was covered at length here on TFL. Brush bought the ammo from "a local supplier." Whether it was commercial or reloads, it is the responsibility of the shooter to make sure that ammo works in his gun by firing enough rounds to make sure. It's unclear whether Brush ever did that. You have to shoot heavy-recoiling revolvers repeatedly to make sure the ammo isn't jumping crimp. This applies to factory ammo and reloads. This applies equally to a .454 Alaskan or an LCR .357.

Any seater/crimper will provide adequate crimp if used properly.
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Old June 16, 2012, 04:37 PM   #11
jmortimer
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Good points - I was just pointing out that there are times you need a real good crimp and the RCBS die will do just that as you noted. Seems like it was just yesterday....
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Old June 16, 2012, 04:40 PM   #12
Lost Sheep
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jmortimer
(edited for brevity) Example, last year a guy in Alaska was attacked by a grizzly bear and he got off a couple rounds from his Ruger .454 Alaskan when one of the rounds jumped crimp and jammed the gun. Fortunately, that was enough to kill the bear, but if he needed another shot....
August 2009, Soldotna, AK

Actually, he actually had to call his wife on his cell phone to bring him another gun for the mercy kill shot.

http://www.peninsulaclarion.com/stor...78669517.shtml

http://www.adn.com/news/alaska/wildl...ry/897940.html

and for a direct quote from the surviving party with pictures

http://www.go2gbo.com/forums/index.p...,179994.0.html

In the interest of accuracy.

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Old June 16, 2012, 05:14 PM   #13
henry-ctc
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I used to be a 3 die set guy. But I like to try many loads and different bullets. Just for convenience I bought a .38-9mm Dillon seater die for the only reason that all of my crimping setting for each caliber are the same. So all my 9mm and 357/38 third dies have become the fourth one.
Yeah, I know I,ve gotta set the seater everytime I change the bullet but it´s easy and not so time consuming.
The exception to this rule is when I load 38 wc. Then I use my third Lyman die for the only reason that the seater plug designed for this bullet shape is just perfect. When loading 38 wc I only use 3 dies.
I never change the crimp. Straight cased calibers allways deserve a light roll crimp and tapered ones need a taper crimp that just removes the flare.
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Old June 16, 2012, 05:57 PM   #14
tkglazie
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If you like (or think you will like) to load lots of different types of bullets in small batches (1-2 boxes at a time) then a 4th die is a big help. With the crimping being done at station 4, that leaves you free set the seating die to just remove the bellmouth and nothing more.

If you like to load one bullet all the time, or plan to load huge batches of a given bullet all in a big run, any advantage that a 4th die would give you is eliminated.

I happen to like loading 4-5 different bullets at a sitting. Today for example I loaded 9mm- 3 boxes of 124gr Berrys HBFP, 2 boxes of 147gr LFP, 1 box of 124gr FMJ RN and 1 box of 124gr Berrys RN. All I touched on the 4 dies was the bullet seating stem at station 3.

Is it necessary to load cartridges this way? Certainly not. But if you think you would like to load the way I just mentioned, you might was well get the 4 die set.
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Old June 16, 2012, 06:53 PM   #15
rg1
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I have two single stage presses side by side and use both presses with sizer in one, expander in another and switch to seater in one press and a separate seater crimp die in the other. Similiar to having a turret press with all dies inserted. All die lock rings stay adjusted. Like I said, it makes it easier for me to have the extra 4th crimper die for pistols and a separate 3rd seater-crimper die for my second press for rifle cartridge reloading. Just for my convenience and is not necessary and you will spend some extra money buying a few separate seater-crimper dies.
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Old June 17, 2012, 09:33 AM   #16
billcarey
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I reload only straight wall pistol and use 3 die sets. Lyman are my preference dies. In 25 yrs my reloads have never had a problem with the crimp/seating in one operation. Setting up a crimp/seat die is no more difficult than doing it on seperate dies...yes, I've reloaded both ways. Regardless, if you are a 01%r that finds a malfunctioning gun due to using a dual stage crimp/seat die then try the 4th. Otherwise I think it's more hype than necessity for most of us.

bc
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Old June 17, 2012, 01:20 PM   #17
dacaur
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Quote:
Otherwise I think it's more hype than necessity for most of us.
That may be true, with a newly cleaned gun, but anyone who has shot LOTS of rounds between cleanings knows that a dirty gun jams more, and who is to say that isnt due to slightly oversize ammo that works fine in a clean chamber, but starts to hang up when things get dirty?

In any case I always live my life by the "better safe than sorry" rule (as should all gun owners)... the $20 a FCD costs me factored out over thousands of rounds amounts to an infinitesimally small amount of $$. OTOH, a jam due to oversize ammo combined with a dirty chamber when I am out plinking and get jumped by a rabid coyote at the end of the session, is not good....
Of course the chances are infinitesimally small, but thats what "better safe than sorry" is all about.....
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Old June 17, 2012, 08:32 PM   #18
Lost Sheep
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A couple of prior threads worth reviewing.

Not necessary 99% of the time, but convenient.

Lee Precision's thoughts on the matter can be found in these threads:

One thread contains a lively discussion of the FCD and the function of the post-sizing carbide ring in the FCD. The phrase "9mm" is in the thread title, but don't let that dissuade you. It contains responses direct from Lee Precision, too. Read the whole thing. It is worth it.
http://thefiringline.com/forums/showthread.php?t=465091

this thread contains a poll

http://thefiringline.com/forums/showthread.php?t=465603

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Old June 18, 2012, 03:38 PM   #19
dickttx
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If you are getting the Lee Classic Turret, just buy the Lee 4-die sets. You will have to make the stroke anyway, so you might as well use the third die to seat and the fourth to crimp. Unless you are going to be using only one bullet, it is much easier to just have to adjust the seating die.
The cost difference between the 3/4 die sets is negligible.
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