December 23, 2021
By Joseph von Benedikt
Reloading dies are not all created equal. Basic dies are of adequate quality and offer simple, serviceable capability at an affordable price. Premium dies provide higher quality and advanced features such as interchangeable neck bushings and micrometer-adjustable seating depth. And then there are Lyman’s new Pro reloading dies. A cut above, they are designed to provide handloaders the ability to load match-quality ammo in high volume, with a minimum of maintenance.
While the Pro reloading dies are suitable for use with all single-stage and turret-type reloading presses, the first characteristic that sets them apart is that they are also optimized for use with high-volume progressive reloading presses. Plus, several advanced features are isolated and given task-specific dies should the reloader wish to apply, for example, a very precise crimp in a particular way.
Pro sizing dies feature highly polished tungsten carbide rings, which the company says will provide reduced sizing force as well as superior wear resistance. Now, carbide dies have been around for a long time. Typically, they cost plenty, are low maintenance and ease the task of mass-quantity reloading because when sizing straight-wall cartridges—which are what carbide dies are most commonly available for—they don’t need sizing lube.
Traditionally, carbide dies are limited to straight-wall cartridges, usually for use in handguns. However, Lyman saw fit to include carbide dies for four rifle cartridges that are often used in high-volume shooting.
They are .223 Rem., 6.5 Creedmoor, .300 BLK and .308 Win. Not only are the sizing surfaces carbide, the expander button is made of highly polished carbide, which eases case withdrawal and minimizes neck stretch. Lyman does recommend using a light coat of lube when sizing bottleneck rifle cases.
Another intriguing feature Lyman engineered into the Pro series sizing dies is a spring-loaded decapping rod. Designed to keep reluctant primers from hanging up in the system, it ejects them with gusto into whatever collection container your press employs.
Rifle die sets feature Lyman’s M-designated neck expander die, with a tried-and-true two-step expander plug. Now, I don’t usually use any sort of neck expander when loading bottlenecked rifle cartridges, but for high-volume work, this die can make a tremendous difference. It expands the case mouth just enough to receive the incoming bullet’s base nice and square, resulting in straighter seating and more concentric cartridges.
New cases and once-fired cases from factory ammo usually have crisp inside edges on the case mouths, which can shave bullet jacket material if not chamfered. However, the stepped neck expander die eliminates the need to chamfer before loading. The exception is when a significant burr is left inside the case mouths after performing a sizeable trim-to-length on a batch of cases.
For the pistol-caliber carbine shooters among RifleShooter’s readers, it’s worth noting that the pistol die sets include Lyman’s flare-type expander die, made to optimize square seating of broad-based projectiles.
Lyman chose to manufacture all Pro dies of stainless steel. Ever had your standard dies get rusty? Won’t happen with these. Stainless is more difficult to machine perfectly because—if I understand correctly—the sulphur content in the steel makes it a bit rubbery under the cutter. This means the process must be slowed down, so the machines and cutters have time to work without galling the steel. Time is money, so the price goes up, but it’s a worthy increase to gain corrosion resistance.
To provide flawless case entry, each die’s mouth is generously beveled with a larger funnel shape than the average die.
Naturally, like all premium die sets, Lyman's Pro reloading dies include a nice micrometer-equipped seating die. A floating seating punch helps keep the bullet centered for concentric seating, and the dial up top, which is marked in .001-inch increments, makes it easy to fine-tune cartridge seating depth to perfection.
If the ammo you’re loading is to be fed through a semiautomatic rifle action or through a high-capacity box-type magazine of the type used by most PRS competitors—or both—a crimp is often called for. When loading ammo for ARs in particular, I like to apply a careful crimp—assuming the projectile I’m loading has a cannelure or crimping groove.
A careful crimp is key. Too little, and it doesn’t serve any purpose. Too much, and you distort the case neck and/or projectile jacket. Lyman’s Pro series micrometer taper crimp die is as good as it gets for careful crimping because, well, it’s micrometer-adjustable. It’s unequivocally the best crimp die I’ve ever used.
So what’s the price for all this high-volume, match-consistent goodness? It’s right at $250, suggested retail. While that may seem like a lot, when you break it down by features, it’s actually quite reasonable.
It’s also worth pointing out that additional specialty dies are available individually. Pro trim dies thread atop your progressive press for use with Lyman’s power trimmer or a competing brands’ trimmer. The pistol case flare dies discussed earlier may be purchased singly.
A universal hold-down die optimizes primer pocket swaging operations, and a universal spring-loaded decapping die is also available. Each of these listed retails at $40. Purchased singly, the carbide sizing dies range from $100 to $190, and the micrometer crimp and seating dies run $100 each.
To put Lyman’s new Pro reloading dies to the test, I loaded a batch of nickel-plated 6.5 Creedmoor cases. Nickel is tarnish-proof and naturally lubricious, so it plays well with the carbide sizing die, but it’s also less resilient and malleable than non-plated brass, so nickel cases are my least preferred for reloading.
Not to worry. Lyman’s Pro dies swallowed them comfortably and spit them out perfectly sized and expanded. Charged with Hodgdon’s H4350 and topped with Barnes 127-grain LRX bullets—which I chose because I wanted to crimp in the provided cannelure—they emerged concentric and as nearly perfect as humans and top equipment can make them.