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LEE Rifle Dies: In-Depth Overview and Setup

If you’re in the market for a new set of rifle dies, the sheer number of options and types of dies can be a bit overwhelming! Lee rifle dies have a great reputation for value and performance, but there are a total of seven die set types available from Lee (in almost every conceivable chambering), literally a die set for most applications and budgets. In this post I’ll give a complete overview of the rifle dies and die sets that Lee sells to help simplify this “buyer’s problem domain”. Hopefully this helps you determine which set of Lee dies would be best for your needs!

Let’s take a quick look at each of the types of Lee rifle dies, then the sets that Lee offers. All Lee rifle dies use standard 7/8″ x 14 TPI threading, except the large-series dies which use 1 1/4″ x 12 TPI die threading. I’ve used Lee dies on single-stage presses, turrets, and progressive presses with great results (see notes in later section about progressive presses).

LEE Rifle Full-Length Sizer/De-Primer

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The Lee full-length sizer/de-primer die is a steel die (no carbide sizing features) that is a good all-around sizing die for use with both bolt-action rifles, lever-action rifles, and semi-auto rifles. These dies feature a solid de-priming rod (no removable de-capping pin) with a built-in safety feature: the collet-type clamp at the top of the die. If a priming issue is encountered, the de-priming rod will be pushed upward in the collet rather than bending/breaking. This feature works just like the de-cappers on Lee pistol dies, except the fact that rifle dies include an integrated neck expander ball (although it’s not really a ball). For all bottle-neck brass sizing with full-length dies you’ll want to make sure you’re using a good case lube to prevent stuck cases and to prolong the life of the sizer die. One feature unique to the Lee full-length sizer/de-priming die is the fact that you can remove stuck cases by loosening the collet clamp and pounding on the top of the de-capping rod with a drift punch. Look for an up-coming feature on Ultimate Reloader showing this technique!

LEE Rifle Neck-Only Collet Sizer/De-Primer

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The Lee collet neck-only sizer uses a unique mandrel-forming mechanism to perform neck-only sizing for precision rifle reloading. In fact, Lee is so confident in the effectiveness of this precision die that they have a guarantee: “Smallest group size or your money back”. These dies require lubrication, and are not recommended for use with lever action or semi-automatic rifles.

LEE Rifle Dead-Length Seater

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The Lee dead-length seater die is easy to setup, and easy to adjust thanks to the design of the depth adjustment stem. These dies are optimized for consistent seating depth and minimal bullet runout.

LEE Rifle Seater/Crimper

The Lee rifle seater/crimper is a specialty die, and is the same (in general) as the dead-length seater with the addition of a crimping feature that is adjusted (and optional) based on the die height in the press. See chart below for relevant applications.

LEE Rifle Factory Crimp Die

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The Lee rifle factory crimp die is a collet-type crimp die that is great for applications where bullet crimp is critical, and for lever-action and semi-automatic rifle applications. Like the pistol Factory Crimp Die, these rifle crimp dies are very popular because they are affordable, easy to setup, and work great. You can use these crimp dies with cannelured bullets and with non-cannelured bullets, but you have to be careful with crimp depth on the latter to avoid bullet deformation.

LEE Rifle Dies Quick-Reference Chart

Lee sells a lot of different die sets for a variety of different applications. To make these options clear in one view, I’ve put together the following chart that shows each die type that Lee makes (columns) beside each die set that Lee sells (rows).

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Notes:

  • The Lee seater/crimper die is included in the Pacesetter 2-die set (specialty calibers only), but is also included with 3-die press kits in rifle calibers, an example is the Lee Pro-1000 press kit in .223 Remington.
  • The powder-through expander dies (Example: 577-450 Martini-Henry 3-die set) included with large-series 3-die sets are specifically designed for use with lead bullets, much the same as when pistol expander dies are used with hard-cast revolver bullets (expander helps eliminate lead shaving when seating).

Next, let’s see what’s included in each type of die set.

RGB 2-Die Set

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The RGB 2-die set is Lee’s most affordable and simple die set. Included are a full-length sizer/de-primer, a dead-length seater, and instruction sheet. If you don’t need a shellholder or powder dipper, this is a great rifle die set.

Collet 2-Die Set

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The Lee Collet 2-die set is a premium rifle die set aimed at precision bolt guns. With Lee’s collet neck-only sizer and a dead-length seater you have everything you need to load precision match-grade ammunition for your bolt-action rifle. Extras here include a complete instruction sheet with load data, a powder dipper, and a shell holder that will work in most turret or single-stage presses.

Pacesetter 3-Die Set

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The Lee Pacesetter 3-die set is what I could consider to be the sweet spot for Lee rifle die sets assuming you don’t need neck-only sizing capabilities. You get a full-length sizer/de-primer, a dead-length seater, and a factory crimp die. Extras include full instructions with load data, a powder dipper, and a shell holder. Lee Pacesetter 2-die sets are available for specialty calibers, and subsitute a seater/crimper die in place of the separate dead-length seater and factory crimp dies that are included in the Pacesetter 3-die sets.

Ultimate 4-Die Set

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The Ultimate 4-die set is Lee’s premium rifle reloading die set. Included are the full-length sizer/de-primer, the collet neck-only sizer/de-primer, the dead-length seater, and the factory crimp die. Extras include full instructions with load data, a powder dipper, and a shell holder. If you want to buy a single Lee die set that will give you most flexibility and options, this is the one to get!

Large-Series Die Sets

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Lee Large-Series die sets are for the “big gun rifles” like 50 BMG. These die sets are available in 2-die sets (like the 50 BMG die set), and 3-die sets which include a powder-through expander for use with lead bullets. These dies offer a great value (less than $100. street price for a 2-die set) and work very well even for demanding long-range shooting applications. Note that you can get Lee large-series dies as a 2-die set with collet neck sizer (2-die set pictured here includes full-length sizer) and dead-length seater. A factory crimp die is also available for 50 BMG.

Lee Rifle Dies on Progressive Presses

For progressive presses, I’ve personally tested Lee rifle dies on the Lee Loadmaster, Hornady Lock-N-Load AP, Dillon XL-650, Dillon RL-550, RCBS Pro-2000, and RCBS Pro-Chucker 5 & 7 presses. These Lee rifle dies work on all of the presses mentioned here, but there are a couple of notes worth mentioning:

  • Because of the particulars of the die bushing system on the Hornady Lock-N-Load AP, the dies will be “bottomed out” pretty low in the bushings, and in some rare cases you may prefer using “low-profile” rings to accommodate this “stretch” in die depth.
  • Some Dillon presses have very “close” die spacing (such as the XL-650). Because of the larger diameter of Lee lock rings, you may need to use smaller-profile Dillon lock rings in order to have enough clearance between dies with installed on the Dillon toolhead.
  • If you don’t have the appropriate parts to charge rifle cases with your powder measure, you can easily use the Lee Auto-Disk or Lee Auto-Drum powder measures, but you’ll need a Lee Rifle Charging Die. You may also need the appropriate powder measure riser depending on the arrangement of your dies on the press.

Conclusion

Lee rifle dies have a long legacy, and have become a staple item on most seasoned realoaders’ benches. Lee offers a LOT of options (as you read about in this article) for a variety of rifle reloading applications. What’s nice about all these options is that you only need to pay for what you need, and you get a lot of value (and extras in most cases) with these dies. If you have notes about Lee dies that you’d like to share, please leave a comment. I’m off to go load some rifle ammunition!

Thanks,
Gavin

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4 thoughts on “LEE Rifle Dies: In-Depth Overview and Setup”

  1. Excellent Video. While I don’t use Lee reloading dies for resizing I do like their bullet seating dies and of course the famous “factory crimp” die, which doesn’t have an equal in the industry. I switch between the Lyman turret press and the Lee classic turret press with the auto-indexing. I think this press represents the greatest value on the market. I have switched over to Lee Auto-Drum powder measures, having gotten rid of all my other brands of powder measures. The Lee Auto Drum powder measure is a model of simplicity, accuracy, and value. I have put together a PowerPoint deck of “The Best Products from Lee” if anyone is interested. I showed it to the folks at Lee and they really liked it.

  2. General question. What’s your opinion for using a factory round to do the initial seating die setting? Meaning, insert a factory round that has the same bullet type you are going to load. Run the ram up, and then screw the seating die down until it just touches the bullet. Obliviously you would still check after a round is loaded, but this seems to me a quick way to get really close.
    Your video’s got me hooked on reloading!

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