Custom dies



  • I've been reloading with Whidden dies and frankly, I'm not impressed. The expanders have tool marks all over, I'm getting a ton of runnout, and I think its over working my brass.

    I'm reloading in three stages. Decap, size, expand on mandrel. Its slow and time consuming.

    I'm thinking about ordering new dies from forster and having them honed out in the hopes of ameliorating at least the last two problems.

    What is the correct method to specify the neck diameter? I've always been told to measure necks on loaded rounds, then subtract 4 thou.

    Eg; .308 lapua brass with a 175 SMK, has an outside neck diameter of .3385 (ave of 3 rounds) minus 4 thou should put me around .3345.

    The hope is this gives me flexibility to change brass lots if the need be or turn the necks to even them out.

    Sound right, or should I spec them larger?

    Thanks



  • @tackyp said:

    I've been reloading with Whidden dies and frankly, I'm not impressed. The expanders have tool marks all over, I'm getting a ton of runnout, and I think its over working my brass.

    I'm reloading in three stages. Decap, size, expand on mandrel. Its slow and time consuming.

    I'm thinking about ordering new dies from forster and having them honed out in the hopes of ameliorating at least the last two problems.

    What is the correct method to specify the neck diameter? I've always been told to measure necks on loaded rounds, then subtract 4 thou.

    Eg; .308 lapua brass with a 175 SMK, has an outside neck diameter of .3385 (ave of 3 rounds) minus 4 thou should put me around .3345.

    The hope is this gives me flexibility to change brass lots if the need be or turn the necks to even them out.

    Sound right, or should I spec them larger?

    Thanks
    That’s what I’ve been told as well but I’ve never done it so can’t say for sure. As for Whidden dies I’ve always had pretty good results with them until recently I order a standard none bushing 223 die set. It would only size Lapua brass with just under .001 neck tension with or without the expander ball in place. With LC brass the bullet would fall into the case. I called whidden and they had me send it back in to them and are sending me a new sizing die. I told them to just upgrade it to a bushing die even though I’d rather use a non bushing die. At least I can change the bushings out to make it work on various brand brass.



  • I am fixing to order a couple sets of dies and I am not real excited about whidden given their problems as of late. I really wish there was a better company out there selling custom Dies.



  • @tackyp

    "You are only as good as your tools."

    So does the cost of custom dies open up opportunities for dimensional validation? For reference, I tore down my Hornady match grade dies to familiarize myself with potential issues associated with tool marks, run out, and overworked brass.

    My gut tells me to follow the "expander" for the moment. That component would be hard to manufacture (e.g. on a lathe in your garage), and even harder to verify proper machining methods (turned versus ground) without a coordinate measuring machine.

    How does one know if the supplier (i.e. Whidden) didn't just inadvertently send you the wrong expander? My die set came with two (one is elliptical) expanders and I can see that they are different in terms of run out (concentricity) right out of the box. I plan to contact the supplier and inquire as a follow up.

    Tool marks are not acceptable on a precision component. The suppliers will have some internal measure for surface finish (at least at set up). Possibly your expander did not have enough finish stock from the roughing tool? Upon closer inspection of my non elliptical expander I did find a tool mark (step) as new, so thank you in advance for the thread (again, follow up required).

    Concentricity is difficult and expensive to measure. 100% dimensional inspection of this die component is not economical for the supplier.

    "No job too small, no price too high."

    In all likelihood the reloading suppliers are using "customer dissatisfaction" to improve their product. When you send them back your problem die, they measure the components and determine something as simple as what I have described (the most common one being wrong component).

    Given the machining tolerances and critical nature of our sport, I went on the Midway (2015 Malcolm Baldridge Award winner) site and sorted 1,101 available reloading die components by cost. The range of die set prices were from $400 to $40 dollars and I doubt that any of them come with 100% dimensional validation (again cost prohibitive). I sorted by "Hornady, custom, expander" and found 25 components. The number #5 and #6 differ by only .007 thousands of an inch. A mismatch there could feel like "overworked brass."

    I chose Hornady dies because they developed my cartridge (6.5 mm Creedmoor), made my casings, and my bullets. I'm committed to work with them to improve their products. They might even check the concentricity of a couple of expanders for me. I plan to conduct 100% inspection of my reloaded cartridges for concentricity. Why? Because I have their tools, their gauging, their attention, and my time (recently retired).

    My apologies for the long dissertation, but this has been good therapy for me given 40 years of experience in manufacturing. I'll bet you a coffee it's the expander. Good luck.

    "See you at the range."



  • Thus far I have not experienced a die maker that gets it right even most of the time. More faulty dies than completely right ones, that is. Yet the target market is well satisfied by most.

    This is to say, it's only when exploring the absolute upper point of precision that you discover the dies being a huge gaping hole in the industry.

    The good news is that whidden will keep swapping dies for you until you're happy. (so long as you're a bit competent)

    The bad news is that I know of no die manufacturer I can plant my flag on and guarantee a high probability of first-time happiness.

    I've thought of trying to start up a die business for this reason. However, it would be almost impossible to produce the best die, because the best aspects are not present in one design, but rather spread across a few. Forster dies represent the most technically sound design. If one could replicate that but taking great care to ensure the correct tolerances... you'd have a winner. Yet I see no way of producing a great die without running afoul of several patents.

    This is why you see smiths offering die services with their rifles. This isn't a new problem.



  • @orkan said:

    Thus far I have not experienced a die maker that gets it right even most of the time. More faulty dies than completely right ones, that is. Yet the target market is well satisfied by most.

    This is to say, it's only when exploring the absolute upper point of precision that you discover the dies being a huge gaping hole in the industry.

    The good news is that whidden will keep swapping dies for you until you're happy. (so long as you're a bit competent)

    The bad news is that I know of no die manufacturer I can plant my flag on and guarantee a high probability of first-time happiness.

    I've thought of trying to start up a die business for this reason. However, it would be almost impossible to produce the best die, because the best aspects are not present in one design, but rather spread across a few. Forster dies represent the most technically sound design. If one could replicate that but taking great care to ensure the correct tolerances... you'd have a winner. Yet I see no way of producing a great die without running afoul of several patents.

    This is why you see smiths offering die services with their rifles. This isn't a new problem.

    Can you give us a list of things to measure and look for as far as tolerances so that those of us newer in reloading know what to look for in terms of inspecting and/or measuring our die sets. I'd hate for my dies to be the weak link in the weapons systems I've invested in.

    I went with your recommendations regarding dies but it would be nice to know what to look for based on the above comments.

    Maybe an article for Primal Rights if you are so inclined.

    Thx.



  • As previously mentioned, I could talk about it ad nauseum... and it wouldn't change the fact that almost no one has the equipment or skillset to inspect dies.

    You buy a die, you load ammo with it, and you measure runout along the way using a quality concentricity gauge. If it's bad, you send it back until one shows up that's right. That's it.



  • @orkan

    I have the skill set. The trade I learned as a youngster was gauge and layout. That being said, concentricity is expensive to measure precisely. I'm smiling because I sold all of my inspection tools (e.g. Swiss made micrometers, indicators, etc., etc.) after being promoted into engineering to put a down payment on the first house. Live and learn.



  • There’s a lot going on here. Lots to think about. Suffice to say my mind has been blown.

    That said I’m fairly certain that I’ve identified my problem as the die neck itself.
    Brass comes out of the chamber more or less round at the neck. Gets decapped then annealed and goes into the whidden sizing die. It comes out with runout in the neck usually in the range of 1-3 thousands.
    I’m using a coax so I don’t think it’s an issue of misalignment and there’s not really any run out on the body.

    Then the brass gets passed over a mandrel to open it to diameter, also in the coax, which sometimes corrects some run out, sometimes makes it worse and sometimes doesn’t change it at all.

    Someone correct me if I’m off base here, but that’s what I think I figured out by spinning the cases for concentricity.



  • said:

    Gets decapped then annealed and goes into the whidden sizing die. It comes out with runout in the neck usually in the range of 1-3 thousands.

    I have seen this many times with whidden dies. At least a half dozen in the last year. Send it back, have them send you a new one until they get it right. One thousandth is acceptable. Maybe even .0015 due to material thickness... but much over that is not ok. You can easily see if the brass is the problem by mic'ing the neck wall around the circumference.

    Once you start getting above .002 runout on the case neck... your targets will truly suffer.



  • @orkan

    What concentricy gauge do you recommend? I had Hornady and it had 0.003” slop in it so it couldn’t tell you anything.



  • I have a 21st century and like it well enough.



  • @orkan

    Will do. Thanks

    Is the issue likely the neck diameter being wrong, or is the whole die out of spec?



  • I'll not speculate the cause... I'll simply say that I've seen more than a couple whidden FL sizers cause runout during sizing.

    Really frustrating. I'd gladly pay $500 for a good custom FL sizer and micrometer seater combo that was certified and guaranteed to be in spec. Though I suspect I'd be in the minority. I'd pay that much, but I'd want a guarantee that if their die was faulty... they would owe me a new correct die, as well as reimbursement for all the reloading components I wasted discovering the problem.



  • @orkan

    And reimbursement for barrel life.



  • I’m going to ask another naive question, you’ve been warned.

    Why don’t you just measure a new set of premium dies before you waste time and money using them?

    For instance, we always measure premium barrels before we thread them, you always lap your lugs and square the receivers, not one of us would not sort our bullets so why not chuck up dies and measure runout and dimensions?



  • It is not easy to dial in a die on both ends, and then be able to reach inside from one side to the other, with a tool that is precise enough to actually take a reading.

    Not easy or cheap, at all, for the average consumer. I don't even have that kind of stuff.



  • Well update on my .223 die from Whidden that was messed up. I sent the die in last Tuesday and still haven’t received the new one, so I called them a few minutes ago and was informed that they have been to busy to look at it. I made them check it while I was on the phone with them and they said it was in spec, I find that hard to believe when the bullet would fall through the case mouth on full lenght sized brass with unturned necks. They are sending me a bushing die instead but charged me for the bushing which kinda pissed me off considering the circumstances. Makes you not want to do business with company later like that. I’m with you @orkan id gladly pay $500 bucks for a set of dies with a guarantee like you described



  • This thread has me thinking that you could buy and test several sets of Redding Competition dies then keep a set that meets your expectations and be much less frustrated by the absence of quality assurance employed by specialty manufacturers who over-promise and under-deliver.



  • What do you propose wildcatters that need custom dies do?



  • The sizing dies I have been using are the Forster FL die or a combination of the Redding body die and the Lee collet neck sizer.
    The dies all have a #17 oring attached to the threaded portion below the adjustable clamping ring that allows a certain amount of float to the dies.
    The combo set gives me .0015 and less runout on full length sized cases repeatedly. The Forster FL does well but not as consistently.
    The runout is anally checked multiple times on a RCBS case master; not the best of tools but it works.
    The Forster FL die is now used for bulk batches for the AR and for my .223 and .308 I use the time consuming 2 dies for my most concentric ammo.



  • @orkan

    It got mentioned in passing above, but what about the possibility of having your gunsmith do a custom die when they chamber a rifle?

    Or is setting that up impractical?

    I’ll tag @tscustoms on this question too.



  • If TS Customs did this, I'd list ALL of my dies for sale immediately. lol

    Whether TS Customs did it, or I did it... we'd both run afoul of patents... unless we invent a completely new type of die.



  • This thread will definitely get me measuring run out on my 308 and my 6.5. I was neck sizing with a Lee collet on my .308 until I was advised to go Forster FL.



  • I could get behind a die body made with the same reamer and a Lee collet for sizing the neck.



  • What about @tscustoms using other companies die blanks to cut custom dies?

    Something like this

    http://www.newlonprecision.com/

    I have two sets of dies I'm gonna need soon and would much rather buy something I have confidence in than something that 50-50 might be ok, might waste 1/2 my barrel sorting out problems only to find out it is not right.



  • @orkan

    I’d even be happy with a die body cut with the proper reamer. If the die is giving me sized brass with minimal run out, I wouldn’t have a problem with expanding on a mandrel.



  • $69 - Newlon sizing die blank
    $240 - resizing die reamer.
    $300 - cut sizing die with resize reamer(same process as cutting the chamber in the barrel)
    $129 - Newlon seating die blank
    $300 - cut seating die with chamber reamer
    $??? - proper heat treat and hardening
    $??? - post harden, polish and inspection

    Hoping the harden and heat treat doesn't warp the die and have to start all over again -- PRICELESS!!!

    No thanks.



  • ... and there you have it.



  • I'm still wading in.

    I checked 60 cartridges of factory ammo (Hornady 6.5 mm 129 gr. SST) and the run out measured .001 - .007 inches as purchased. With my Hornady concentricity tool I brought them all within .001 inch.

    My next step is to cipher out how to set up the press so that the centerline of the casing head (located by the shell holder) is concentric with the centerline of the die. This will minimize run out between the head and the neck after resizing. If the centerlines are not concentric then the brass (e.g. in the neck area) will simply follow the die and size the neck off center from the head.

    Two things that immediately come to mind would be a worn/defective shell holder and a shimming scheme to tweak that set up. Clocking the casing (with a sharpie) during press set up might give insight on better alignment methods.

    In the interim I can say that the concentricity tool works for me. I remember straightening Ford tractor PTO shafts after heat treat back in '86 in pretty much the same manner. They were about 36 inches long and we used to bend them back in within .010 inch. Time is money and there is no substitution for precision.

    I will follow up with Hornady with questions relative to tolerancing of their dies as manufactured. So it's 100% concentricity check (along with applicable rework) to bring all cartridges to within .001 inch between the head and neck until further notice.





  • @mamalukino The comments to the article were most enlightening. More than one way to skin a cat. Sure seems more practical than trying to stack tolerances to offset one another.



  • @rr2241tx
    This method works very well for me.
    I have the dies indexed and once they are set they hold their measurement.
    In conjunction with the 2 die fl resizing method I use, the runout is very minimal.



  • @tscustoms said:

    $69 - Newlon sizing die blank
    $240 - resizing die reamer.
    $300 - cut sizing die with resize reamer(same process as cutting the chamber in the barrel)
    $129 - Newlon seating die blank
    $300 - cut seating die with chamber reamer
    $??? - proper heat treat and hardening
    $??? - post harden, polish and inspection

    Hoping the harden and heat treat doesn't warp the die and have to start all over again -- PRICELESS!!!

    No thanks.

    Just curious, if you are already reaming the barrel, is it a lot of setup to drill 2 dies?



  • @martino1 said:

    @tscustoms said:

    $69 - Newlon sizing die blank
    $240 - resizing die reamer.
    $300 - cut sizing die with resize reamer(same process as cutting the chamber in the barrel)
    $129 - Newlon seating die blank
    $300 - cut seating die with chamber reamer
    $??? - proper heat treat and hardening
    $??? - post harden, polish and inspection

    Hoping the harden and heat treat doesn't warp the die and have to start all over again -- PRICELESS!!!

    No thanks.

    Just curious, if you are already reaming the barrel, is it a lot of setup to drill 2 dies?

    To do it correctly, each die blank would need to be indicated into the center of the lathe spindle just as the barrel is. A lot of setup, no. Same setup/indicating procedure, drilling, boring, and chambering process as the barrel - yes - hence the same cost.

    It's just not as simple as slap a reamer in the turret, chuck up the blank, and smash GO.



  • said:

    It's just not as simple as slap a reamer in the turret, chuck up the blank, and smash GO.

    Most things are thought to be simple, until someone has to do it themselves. ;)



  • @tscustoms said:

    @martino1 said:

    @tscustoms said:

    $69 - Newlon sizing die blank
    $240 - resizing die reamer.
    $300 - cut sizing die with resize reamer(same process as cutting the chamber in the barrel)
    $129 - Newlon seating die blank
    $300 - cut seating die with chamber reamer
    $??? - proper heat treat and hardening
    $??? - post harden, polish and inspection

    Hoping the harden and heat treat doesn't warp the die and have to start all over again -- PRICELESS!!!

    No thanks.

    Just curious, if you are already reaming the barrel, is it a lot of setup to drill 2 dies?

    To do it correctly, each die blank would need to be indicated into the center of the lathe spindle just as the barrel is. A lot of setup, no. Same setup/indicating procedure, drilling, boring, and chambering process as the barrel - yes - hence the same cost.

    It's just not as simple as slap a reamer in the turret, chuck up the blank, and smash GO.

    Do the dies not need HT or at least CH when the machining is done?



  • @flyinphill said:

    @tscustoms said:

    @martino1 said:

    @tscustoms said:

    $69 - Newlon sizing die blank
    $240 - resizing die reamer.
    $300 - cut sizing die with resize reamer(same process as cutting the chamber in the barrel)
    $129 - Newlon seating die blank
    $300 - cut seating die with chamber reamer
    $??? - proper heat treat and hardening
    $??? - post harden, polish and inspection

    Hoping the harden and heat treat doesn't warp the die and have to start all over again -- PRICELESS!!!

    No thanks.

    Just curious, if you are already reaming the barrel, is it a lot of setup to drill 2 dies?

    To do it correctly, each die blank would need to be indicated into the center of the lathe spindle just as the barrel is. A lot of setup, no. Same setup/indicating procedure, drilling, boring, and chambering process as the barrel - yes - hence the same cost.

    It's just not as simple as slap a reamer in the turret, chuck up the blank, and smash GO.

    Do the dies not need HT or at least CH when the machining is done?

    ??? - see above posts

    A seater would not need heat treat or hardening but it would be a must on a sizer or you'd be losing dimension very quickly.



  • Thanks to this thread and after really thinking/learning what goes into making a die, it makes you wonder how does any company make any money producing dies now? Lee and RCBS dies are under $50 for a set. I feel like I got a hell of a deal paying $80 for a set of Forster dies.



  • This post is deleted!


  • @norcal_in_az said:

    Thanks to this thread and after really thinking/learning what goes into making a die, it makes you wonder how does any company make any money producing dies now? Lee and RCBS dies are under $50 for a set. I feel like I got a hell of a deal paying $80 for a set of Forster dies.

    Just one more thing you can thank computerized robotic milling equipment for. ;-)



  • @norcal_in_az said:

    I feel like I got a hell of a deal paying $80 for a set of Forster dies.

    ... and you did. Forster is my favorite die set to get, if they have what I need. Some polish and they usually turn out ok.



  • Before I go further what sort of material thickness variation is acceptable in fired brass?

    I ask because I’m starting to spin some other brass (same gun) I have and I’m seeing 1.25 or so run out.

    I thought firing pushed the inconsistency inside the neck so a just fired piece of brass should have almost no run out.

    Run out at this stage indicates to me a chamber issue, correct?

    Thanks



  • This is very complex. The brass has springback. Also, during ejection, the mouth can and often is damaged/bent.

    Typically if the neck wall thickness is within .0007 or so, it won't cause too much of a problem. If it's over that, then the runout can creep up quickly. At .0007, that gives you almost .0015 of runout in a perfect situation. Most often, each op such as sizing and bullet seating can hurt, or help runout. It's generally accepted that a loaded cartridge with over .003 runout halfway between the nose of the bullet and the land contact point on the bullet is within an acceptable range for most shooters. Yet some hardcore benchresters would claim anything over .001 is an abomination.

    So its really about what each shooters goals are and what kind of work they are happy doing.



  • @orkan

    Thank you for the reply.

    At this point I’m still trying to learn what is the normal condition for brass/guns/reloading and the best way to go about all this.

    Ultimately I just want the “quality” stuff I thought I was paying for to function as designed.



  • So my Whidden die is off getting redone or whatever Whidden is doing to it.

    My Forster dies are off getting honed out by Forster in the hopes that I can reduce working the neck as much and prevent runout.

    So while working on some 223 today, I found my old (like early 2000) RCBS .308 FL die and thought “what the hell.” Put a lock ring on it and slapped it in the coax, and was able to get a very consistent shoulder bump of 1.5 thou very quickly.
    More importantly however, is that it was working the case necks less than either the Whidden or Forster die (.010; still overworking but better) and was giving me near zero run out.

    I realize this isn’t scientific, and the 10 cases I sized aren’t large enough for a good sample, but I thought I would share what I found. I m going to try this against the new Whidden and Forster when they come back and see what happens.



  • @tackyp what did your results yield? Any luck with Whidden? My Whidden 6.5 creedmoor full length is giving me a ridiculous amount of runout (.005 - .006).



  • I haven’t tried the whidden since I got it back.

    Forster only took a week to get their die honed out and back to me. I polished it up and got it dialed in for 1.5 thou bump and now I’m only seeing about half a thousandth of runout and usually less.

    I’ve found I’m actually introducing more runout with my separate expanding process, so I’m going to have to experiment with that.

    After this whole ordeal and how easy (and cheap) the Forster fix was I don’t forsee ordering another whidden die unless I need a wildcat or something.



  • Just got off the phone with a nice lady over at Whidden. She wants me to send it 4 fires cases as well as the dies that are causing issues. I mentioned to her that I would like a reamed die with a 6.5 match remear instead of single point. Her response was “Sorry, we don’t exchange items that way. If you want a full price on a custom I can help you with that”

    I guess I send this off to see what they think...


 

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