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April - May 2003
Volume 38, Number 2
ISSN: 0017-7393
Number 222
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The Thompson/Center Encore .357 Maximum features a 15-inch Hi-Luster blue barrel with "Muzzle Tamer" and 2.5-7x T/C scope set in Duo-ring mounts. Photo by Stan Trzoniec.
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Product Tests

Lee Deluxe Pistol Die Set

Sometimes the introduction of something new is more about packaging than product. Lee Precision, Inc. has been doing a bit of that of late, repackaging already fine products together to facilitate sales, of course; but also to benefit those of us who reload ammunition. Such is the case with one of its latest, the Lee Deluxe Pistol Die Set. It is, as Lee’s catalog and advertising suggest, a combining of Lee’s three-die Carbide Pistol Die Set with a Lee Carbide Factory Crimp Die. It’s all packaged in a rectangular plastic box - Lee calls it the flat red box - along with a shellholder, a powder dipper and an instruction sheet that includes an impressive amount of load data.

While I have Lee Carbide Die Sets and Lee Factory Crimp Dies on hand, they aren’t in the same calibers. I also hardly ever seat bullets and crimp in the same operation. Putting these together, I decided this new Deluxe Pistol Die Set would be worth reviewing. Contacting Lee’s President John Lee, I requested and received a set for the .45 ACP. Caliber choice was deliberate as well. I already had .45 ACP dies on hand in a three-die set from another manufacturer, but a four-die set in this caliber would likely cut down on press time considerably. Finally, there was one more thing. Normally in testing a product, I end up with a hodgepodge of tools from assorted manufacturers: the tool being tested from one manufacturer, a press from another, dies from another, a shellholder from someone else and a powder measure from a fifth company. This is good, usually, as it probably reflects how most of us reload. On the other hand, here was an opportunity to test the Lee Deluxe Pistol Die Set with a Lee shellholder on a Lee 4-Hole Turret Press using a Lee Auto-Disk Powder Measure. All these things have been reviewed by me in Handloader at one time or another, but I’d never put them all together for a single review. I’ll cut to the bottom line: They left nothing to be desired.

The first die is the full-length sizer and decapper. A carbide ring inserted in the die mouth eliminates the need to lubricate cases. Unlike some carbide sizer dies that will leave a belt mark on the case if the operator isn’t careful with adjustment, Lee’s carbide ring has a beveled leading edge that eliminates the problem. The decapping pin is purported to be unbreakable, mostly because it is held in place by a collet. Too much pressure on the decapper (such as when we try to decap a Berdan-primed case we rescued from the range) and the stem will simply slip through the collet fingers. The price we pay for this is in disassembly for adjustment or cleaning. Lee recommends two wrenches, a 1/2 and a 3Ú4 inch. I’ve found it is easier with a vise holding the smaller collet nut and a wrench to grip the die body. On the other hand, no arrangement does a better job of centering the decapping stem.

The second die is a Lee original, the powder-through expander die. This die consists of three parts, not counting the lock ring: the die body; an internal hollow sleeve called the expander plug, which serves to funnel powder into the case and to expand the case neck to the proper diameter; and a funnel adapter that screws into the top of the die. This adapter can simply serve to guide the powder charge into the die when poured by hand, with or without a funnel, or can be replaced by a powder measure. Fortunately, the expander plug in this .45 ACP die was near ideal at .450 inch. However, one could easily turn it down by chucking it in a drill press or lathe and applying sandpaper or a stone. If a larger plug were needed, I’d contact Lee, as the company often does custom work.

The third die is the bullet seater. It also is comprised of three pieces: the die body; an internal, movable sleeve contoured on the bottom to mate with, or at least center, the bullet nose; and an adjustment knob that screws into the top of the die body and serves to control bullet seating depth. As originally part of the three-die set, this die has crimping capability, but it is not used in a four-die configuration. The die body is also beveled at the bottom. Unimportant when used with a single-stage or turret press, it is designed to function with the Lee Automatic Bullet Feeder when used with Lee’s progressive presses.

The fourth die is the Carbide Factory Crimp Die. In a typical factory crimp die for rifle cartridges, a sleeve slides up and down in the die body. The bottom of the sleeve extends below the die body and is activated by contact with the shellholder. The top portion of the sleeve functions as a collet and squeezes a crimp around the case mouth. For some handgun cartridges, a similar die is offered that contains a carbide insert in the die body. Crimp is controlled by an internal sleeve contoured to apply the proper crimp and a threaded knob that controls the sleeve depth. Two types of crimp are offered: a roll crimp for most revolver rounds and a taper crimp for most autoloading rounds, including the .45 ACP. The carbide sizer serves as a final check on cartridge diameter and helps to ensure proper chambering.

All dies are secured in the press by Lee’s hexagonal lock nuts that contain an O ring. There are no setscrews to contend with, and lock nuts move only when you want them to.

Putting the die set into use began with a procedure you are encouraged to follow: reading the instructions. This was followed by disassembling the dies, cleaning them, taking a good look at how they function and reassembling them. Reading the instructions is particularly important here for several reasons. Users of Lee carbide dies are instructed to bring the die in contact with the shellholder; for most other brands we’ve been instructed, or learned, to keep them away. Likewise, the bullet seater die must be adjusted not to crimp, and comments on compressed charges and custom seater plugs should be noted.

I mounted the dies on a turret to be used in the Lee 4-Hole Turret Press. Adjustment followed the instructions. One of the reasons for turret presses and, particularly, removable turrets is that once adjusted, the dies stay that way. Once mounted, though, the dies and turret wouldn’t fit back in the rectangular box the dies came in. I solved this by simply storing them in one of Lee’s round boxes, turret and all. Combining the powder-through expander die with the Auto-Disk Powder Measure on a turret press concerned me a bit. The measure was designed to be used on a single-stage press, a turret press operated in a single-stage manner or a progressive press where the dies and measure remain still and a shell plate carries the cases to the various stations. On a turret press with an auto-indexing feature as I was using here, the dies and measure would constantly move around as the turret rotated, and the case would remain still. All that movement could cause a continued packing of the powder in the  measure and increasingly heavier powder charges being thrown. I needn’t have worried. The measure is case-activated and each time the ram was raised and the case entered the die, the neck was expanded and a powder charge dropped. To check, I weighed the first, 10th, 25th and last thrown charge in a 50-round run. If there was any difference in charge weight, my mechanical measure was unable to detect it.

Crimping was flawless too, and the post sizing, as Lee calls it, where the round passes through a carbide sizing ring as the crimp is applied also worked without a hitch. Note that this carbide sizer is not the same internal dimension as that on the full-length sizer die or a loaded round couldn’t pass through it without damaging the bullet. This is simply a check against an oversized round. In most cases I felt nothing but the crimp being applied, but in a few cases I could feel a slight drag against the carbide ring. This die does get dirty easily, especially with cast bullets, and must be cleaned frequently. As a final check I removed the barrel from a Colt Government Model and checked each round to be certain it chambered and the case head matched up with the barrel extension. There were no failures nor were there any at the range as I emptied the cases.

All in all, The Lee Deluxe Pistol Die Set worked exactly as it should have. Combined with the other Lee products, I got a batch of well-made ammunition in a hurry. For more information, you can reach Lee Precision, Inc. at 4275 Highway U, Hartford WI 53027; or online at: - R.H. VanDenburg, Jr.

The Original Silver Bullet
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