LEE Pistol Dies: Overview and Setup

My very first set of reloading dies were LEE 44 Magnum pistol dies that came with the LEE Pro-1000 press that I started out with. Since then, I’ve acquired many more sets of LEE dies ranging from 30-06 to 9mm to 45 ACP to 357 SIG and quite a few in between. LEE Pistol Dies (technically handgun dies, but I’ll use the term “pistol” to cover both autoloader and revolver here) are some of the most popular dies because of their combination of features and value. In this post, I’ll cover the different die sets that LEE offers, compare features, and I’ll even show a demonstration of setting up some dies on a progressive reloading press!

We’ll start with the video:

As you saw in the video, LEE pistol dies come in a 4-slot case with room for the included shellholder and dipper. The lid will lock shut when closed, or can be “slipped on” without locking if you rotate the lid 180 degrees.

lee-dies-in-boxes-2000

As seen in the picture above, the included instruction sheet (which is quite comprehensive) has the cartridge specification on the end-flap that hangs down so that you can see which die set is which when they are stacked on your shelf- a nice touch. Here’s a detailed view showing the fully-featured LEE Deluxe 4-die set, and which dies are included:

lee-deluxe-die-set-labels-2-crop

LEE offers three basic types of die sets: the LEE 3 Die Steel Pistol Die Set, the LEE 3 Die Carbide Pistol Die Set, and the LEE Deluxe 4 Die Pistol Die Set.

This diagram illustrates the features and cost associated with each set: (all dies in list use standard 7/8″ x 14 TPI threading)

lee-die-comparison-chart

Note: if you look around, you’ll find deals on LEE pistol dies that are well below the MSRP prices listed above!

All of the LEE pistol die sets include:

  • Hard case with clear lid
  • Instruction sheet
  • Dies (see chart above)
  • Powder dipper
  • Shellholder

So you might be wondering: will LEE pistol dies work on my press? The answer is: most likely yes! Here’s some considerations:

  • Your press needs have 7/8″ x 14TPI threading- most do, with the Dillon Square Deal B being the notable exception.
  • You’ll need at least 4 stations to use the 4-die set, and three stations to use the 3-die set.
  • If you are not using a LEE powder measure (examples would include the Auto-Disk and Auto Drum measures) you’ll need to make sure the powder-through expander has the funnel adapter screwed all the way in (providing a solid stop for expanding case mouths, no powder-through in this case) and that you have an extra station for the powder measure (4 stations for a 3-die set, and 5 stations for a 4-die set).

There are other minor things to consider like clearance between the factory crimp die and your ejector wire (bottom of die can hit your ejector wire), but those issues are rare. Another consideration is the diameter of the lock rings. As an example, on the Dillon XL-650 5-station progressive press the die spacing is very close, so you may need to use smaller lock rings (such as the Dillon lock rings which are affordable).

LEE pistol dies are great, and in many setups I use I mix and match dies. For example, it’s nice to have extra seating/crimping dies so that you can separate your seating and crimping (or just buy a 4-die set!). I also like the chamfer on the inside of the LEE carbide sizing die because it can center case necks better in some situations. In the end, die setups are a personal thing, and you’ll have to experiment to see what works best for you. If you choose to experiment with LEE dies, the good news is you don’t need to spend as much is most other die sets!

Do you use LEE pistol dies? I’d love to hear your setups, your experiences, and any tips/tricks that you’d like to share. Please leave a comment!

Thanks,
Gavin

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8 thoughts on “LEE Pistol Dies: Overview and Setup”

  1. I use the Lee 4-die set for .45acp & 9mm. There’s a lot of controversy surrounding the use of the FCD which I use. What is your opinion of using it versus the taper crimp die? I’ve never had a problem with it and I like the extra case sizing that it provides.

  2. Use Lee dies for my progressive Dillon 1050 and they work very well. When I purchased each of my reloaders I immediately changed out the stock dies for lee sets.
    If you do pistol competition I would recommend the Lee U-Dies for sizing, they are slightly undersized and allow better reliability for competition use.

  3. i have used and still do use almost every brand of dies that have been made over the last 60 or so years. my favorites are still my old hollywood and texan dies. the fit and finish on them is outstanding and even after loading thousands of rounds with them they are still like new. as to lee dies i have heard a lot of people talk bad about them over the years but have never had a bad die from lee. one thing i have found is years after lee comes out with something new or different the other die manufacturers will copy them. i now use the lee factory crimp dies on all rifle rounds i load in every caliber that is available. it adds a step but i really like the finished product. only thing about lee dies i dislike is their use of alloy instead of steel in some parts.i know this doesnt effect the quality of the die or rounds,i just dont like the feel. i also wish all die companies would switch to the hornady die box with the extra room for parts and dies.

  4. Great overview and tutorial as always, thank you. However, you should make it clear that the seating die in both sets can also be used as a crimp die. I agree that the FCD does a great job, so much so that I use them as the fourth station in my Dillon RL-550B along with the Dillon dies, but if you’re just starting out and on a budget, the 3-die set will do everything you need. I also started loading using Lee dies with the .44 Mag, and loaded many hundreds of rounds using the seat/crimp die in a single operation and they turned out fine.

    You mentioned the FCD a half-dozen times, and it’s great to have, especially if you are using mixed head stamp range brass, but it isn’t necessary to make rounds with the Lee product, and you kind of implied that. I just back the crimp out of the seating die and use the FCD instead in a separate pass on my Lee Classic Cast.

    You did mention in your written comments about buying an extra seat/crimp die for each station in a progressive, which is a cool idea, but if I were going to do that I’d just get the FCD for a few bucks more.

    Thanks again for a good video.

  5. Funny, in that I just bought a Deluxe 4 die set for 38/357 on the 2nd of October, and you come out with this hat offer on the 3rd!! ARRRGGG…………!!

    I own and use multiple sets of Lee dies which I have used in my Lee Classic Turret press. Over 8000 rounds and climbing. Love them, recommend them, hands down. Love my FCD in that I shoot mixed headstamp all the time, and have never had problems with my reloaded rounds.

    I have a set of dies already dialed in for .38 special, and did not want to re-adjust them when I do .357 so the set I just ordered was another 38/357 Deluxe to dial in for .357. They are inexpensive enough to be able to do that with!

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