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Metallic Reloading 101 - Part 2: Case Sizing

By Craig Maylam

Hopefully you have all read part 1 by now and you have decided that you would like to give reloading a try. some research will have revealed that to set yourself up for metallic reloading is not cheap. It will offer no consolation to you to know that prices on equipment have changed little in the past few years.


Consider that you are making a long term investment not a short term investment and that you will be beyond the situation where a favorite load is no longer available or for whatever reason you have a hankering for something different.


I started reloading when I was 16 years old (31 odd years ago) for pure economy, I had a 22 hornet and the ammo was $1 per shot and I couldn’t afford it. I purchased a lee press and dies and a set of Lyman powder scales and got reloading.


Craig says that full length die sets (FL) are the most useful for hunting grade ammo.


I reloaded that ammo for about 16 cents per round. I look around the shelves at gun shops and see ammo that costs $75 per packet and upwards of that and can see more than ever that the plunge to make the capital purchase making more sense than ever before. You could also team up with a couple of your hunting mates and split the costs.


To carry on and start reloading you will need to purchase at least a press some dies of the correct caliber, the correct shell holder, case resizing lubricant, powder scales and a 150mm Vernier caliper as the bare minimum. Trimmers and the various extra accessories can be bought later as needed.


I reloaded for years without a case trimmer and neck turning gear mostly my mates did these jobs for me in exchange for beer. 



There are many presses on the market. Features I look for are:

  • Cast iron or steel frame that is wide enough so that finger access is easy
  • A frame that is long enough to accommodate the case you are reloading i.e. 50 BMG requires an extra long frame
  • Bushing in the top so you can use either 7/8 x 14 threaded dies or the larger and less common 1 1/4 x 12
  • Priming arms for both small and large rifle primers
  • Handle able to be changed to suit left or right hand operators
  • High mechanical advantage
  • A positive stop when the ram gets to its uppermost travel



Confusion always begins here, there are many types of sizing as it is called. The process of resizing involves returning the fired cartridge case dimensions to a state where the neck of the fired cartridge will hold a projectile and the loaded round can be chambered in a rifle to be fired.


The real test of how good your sizing is - take a case fresh out of the press and chamber it in your rifle if the bolt closes with no effort and easily extracts then that case is entirely fit for purpose.


“Consider that you are making a long term investment not a short term investment and that you will be beyond the situation where a favorite load is no longer available or for whatever reason you have a hankering for something different.


Generally speaking the dies are bought caliber specific when dealing with bottle neck cartridges. Pistol caliber and the various straight wall case die sets can usually reload more than one caliber - a good example is .38 Special and .357 magnum will share a die set because a .357 is just a lengthened .38 special. If you are in doubt the manufacturers will always state this on the packaging.



This method will return the neck of the cartridge to the correct dimensions to hold a projectile. The neck sizing dies will also bump back the shoulder to ensure the headspace is correct. You will not have to apply much lube to the case to neck size and your press can be limited in its strength and still accomplish the job.


An example of this is the lee hand tools and the Lyman tong tools which both will neck size cases easily. The downsides to neck sizing are that only cases fired in your rifle can be reloaded as the neck sizing dies will not work the body of the case. I have heard that more accuracy can be obtained if you neck size only.


CLOCKWISE FROM LEFT: A Redding decap shaft showing the carbide expander miking up at .276 inch - correct for 270 Win; markings on a .270 Win. die made by Redding. The FL means its a full length die; the correct protrusion of the decap pin.


I have experimented with this quite heavily and cannot say I found this to be entirely true. With the equipment I used I found that neck sizing can lead to the neck being created in an off center state. The reason for this is that the die only works the neck and you have no guarantee that the neck will be created dead center because the die touches no other part of the case.


That being said if you need to create or reload some cartridges you will have no option other than neck sizing so it is a great arrow to have in your quiver. Neck sizing also works the brass less and you will get longer case life.



These dies are created for competition shooters who use arbor presses to reload ammunition. When the cases grow in length a bump die is used to push the shoulder back in a conventional reloading press. A body only die will resize the body and also bump the shoulder back.


These dies are primarily used so the effort in clambering a loaded round is lessened. Not really dies that a hunter will probably ever need.


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My favorite reloading die. This die will resize both the neck and body of the fired case to factory specs and also at the same time push the shoulder back into the position for correct headspace. The die can be adjusted as per the factory recommendations or it can be backed off the shell holder a little and behave more like a neck sizing tool.


The full length die is arguably the best die for general use and is what I would recommend you buy first.


A full length sizing die stripped to show the decap stem, decapping pin and the expander ball.


These dies are primarily for the shooters of semi-automatic rifles. These dies are full length sizing dies that will bring the base size of the case down to minimum sizes so the round will function in anything no question. A great investment if you own an AR15 or one of the various military caliber semi-autos.


These dies are almost mandatory if you obtain some fired military cases and would like to reload them for use in your bolt action.



Reloading dies are made from heat treated steel so generally it takes a world of neglect to destroy them. I have dies that have seen upwards of 20,000 rounds through them and they still function fine. Before using dies it will not hurt to take them apart and clean any preservative off them and inspect the internals for straightness.


With some of the older dies check the tightening of the decapping pin collet. I spray my dies with WD40 or CRC 5.56 when I have finished with them to protect them from corrosion and this need removing. Full length sizing dies will generally have a small vent hole in them drilled into the shoulder portion of the die.


“Reloading dies are made from heat treated steel so generally it takes a world of neglect to destroy them. I have dies that have seen upwards of 20,000 rounds through them and they still function fine.


This is no mistake by the manufacturer it is an air bleed hole to stop dents forming on the body of the resized case. If your dies don’t have a vent hole you will need to be sparing with your case lubricant and if dents appear in the shoulders of the cases then stop and clean the inside of the die with paper towels before you recommence reloading.


Sometimes when resizing you will notice a scratch line appear on your cases, stop and clean the dies you may have a small particle of dirt somewhere in the die that requires cleaning. A lack of lubrication will also cause scratching. The scratches are formed by brass adhesion to the inside of the die. Only careful cleaning with a Scotch-Bride pad will remove this.



Many types of case lube are available. I have heard of many things used as case lube and I have no doubt that they all work however I stick to commercial brands.


There are 3 methods of applying case lube:

Lube pad: This is like an ink pad where the lube is impregnated into a fabric cloth and the cases are rolled on the pad. This is a great method but I find it messy and when I eventually got a lube pad I had been applying lube by hand for years and preferred it. The upside to this method is it is near impossible to get lube on the neck
of the case.


Aerosol lube: Hornady market the one shot lube which I hear is a fantastic product however is near impossible to get here.


Hand applied wax/lube: At least 3 manufacturers manufacture lube of this type. For many years I used the lee offering which has the bonus of being water soluble and better when it has dried out. Recently I have started using imperial case lube and now use this exclusively. The product must be used sparingly and is fantastic. The small tin lasts a long time and it is easily cleaned from the cases. Hornady also market a lube of this type and it is equally good.


Two types of case lube - the Imperial wax is an excellent product.



The connection between the press and the cartridge is the shell holder. If the shell holder does not fit properly then the rim will pull off the cartridge and you are in trouble!


If you are in doubt as to which is the correct shell holder then check the end of the die box. It does not hurt to get a shell holder for each die set you get.


All brands of shell holder I have measured have .125 inches between the top and the bottom of the shell slot so all should give the same result. Each manufacturer has their own numbering system for shell holders so if you can stick with the same brand of die and shell holder wherever you can this will avoid the confusion.


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The center stem in the die set performs 2 important tasks. The first task it performs is that it carries a small pin that removes the spent primer as long as it is of the boxer type. The second task the decapping stem performs is that it will expand the case neck to the correct diameter to correctly grip the projectile by means of a small button or ball threaded onto the shaft itself.


The usual amount of difference is 1 to 1.5 thousands of an inch. This means for our .270 loads the expander ball should mike up at .276 inches. Without the difference the case will not adequately grip the projectile, this can be a problem if you open the bolt quickly then the projectile will come out of the case.


You will find that you will attain very poor accuracy if you have insufficient neck tension. Depriming pins come in 2 different sizes and it does no harm to have a couple of each size on hand for accidents.


“The usual amount of difference is 1 to 1.5 thousands of an inch. This means for our .270 loads the expander ball should mike up at .276 inches.


Expander balls come in several forms a straight ball, an elliptical expander and finally a tapered expander. You don’t need an expander ball you can do the neck expanding with an expander die in fact this is exactly how straight cases are expanded.


Some die sets come with 2 expander balls and a prime example is 7.62x39 depending upon which diameter of projectile you want to use you have to select the appropriate expander ball.



Not a difficult component to set correctly. The pin must protrude beyond the bottom surface of the die by no more than 3mm. If the pin protrudes too far then you run the risk of the decapping stem hitting the inside of the base of the cartridge case and bending.


Fully tighten both threaded bushes and then turn the die set over and ensure the pin is central in the die. If the pin assembly is off center then loosen the small top nut and slightly rotate the stem until it rests in the center when tight.


Lyman tong tools and dies.



Mount the press securely onto a stout bench! Anything of a flimsy nature will be destroyed. The repeat pressure applied by the narrow press foot print will crack and wreck timber. If possible mount the press on a steel sub plate which can be bolted to a sturdy bench.


Make the plate big enough to include other accessories or possibly another press. The sub plate can be G Clamped to a sturdy table as a stop gap measure or if your needs are very low volume.


Select the appropriate die and before you do anything else back out the lock ring all the way up to the limit of the threads. Next, screw the die into the thread in the top of the frame and then clip a shell holder in the slot in the top of the ram.


A .270 Winchester case entering the sizing die.


Pull the handle down all the way to the positive stop and then screw the sizing die down until it firmly touches the shell holder and then lower the ram and screw the sizing die 1/4 of a turn more and them lock up the lock ring as tight as you can.


Lubricate the outside of your cartridge case ensuring you keep the lube away from the shoulder. Then with a cotton bud apply a small amount of graphite to the inside of the neck. Following this clip the case into the shell holder then lower the press handle As far as it will go.


Lift the handle back up and take the case off the shell holder. Clean all traces of lube off the case then try the case into the chamber of your rifle it should now fit; if it does you have done the job correctly.


In the next article we will look at priming and selecting propellants.


Safe shooting!




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