Reloading Basics: Handgun/Pistol Dies – The Shooter’s Log


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!

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