Die Maintenance

Dave Campbell doesn't want to seem repetitive, but recent developments have convinced him it's time to discuss reloading die maintenance.

Well I hate to seem repetitive, but we need to discuss reloading die maintenance. A couple of weeks ago I offered some thoughts on gun maintenance, and while most agree that guns need to be cleaned every once in a while, many seem to hold on the notion that reloading dies are maintenance free. A fellow handloader stopped by yesterday just as I had finished turning out some handloads for an upcoming cowboy match, and he caught me taking the seating die apart. “I’ve never cleaned a reloading die in 20 years,” he mentioned matter-of-factly, as if I was some neurotic moron with a Macbeth fetish.

I asked him whether he shoots cast bullets, and he affirmed that he did. Then I asked him what he does with accumulated bullet lube buildup. “Doesn’t happen,” he said. I told him he might want to check on that. He was nonplussed and went on his merry way.

Any tool—or in this case die—used outside of an electronics clean room is going to pick up junk as it is used. Some may do it more than others, but all reloading dies could use a rinse down and some rust protection occasionally. In the case of the bullet-seating die used with cast bullets, excess bullet lube will transfer from the bullets to the die. You may first see the evidence of this by noting that the bullets seem to be seating deeper in the cartridge than when you first set it up. Screw the seating plug out of the die. If the buildup has been in there a long time it will probably have congealed and hardened up a bit, making it difficult to remove the plug. A toothpick—do not use anything metal that could leave a scrape in the die—will remove a lot of it. Once the plug is out of the die use some brake cleaner to soften the junk. Nearly all of it can be removed with a gun cleaning patch. Once it is clean, a little bit of gun oil will keep it from rusting.

Even sizing dies can benefit from some regular cleaning. Sizing lubricant can congeal, and it usually sucks some harmful grit into it as it hardens. I almost always clean my dies after a handloading session, unless it’s a very short one and I know I’ll be using the same dies in the near future.

The image at the top is the seating plug out of my .38 Spl./.357 Magnum dies after loading 100 rounds. Within the cup of that plug is some gunk, primarily bullet lube. I cleaned it out with nothing more than a Q-tip. By the way, if you look closely you’ll see the year of manufacture of that die—1976. I’ll bet that I’ve loaded more than 50,000 rounds of .38 Spl. and .357 Magnum ammo with this die set, and it’s as good as new. A big part of that longevity is maintaining one’s tools.

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1 Response to Die Maintenance

Ron deRosett wrote:
August 08, 2013

I agree with you on keeping dies clean,i try to get as much accuracy as i can,every little bit helps.Thanks for your tips,keep them comming.