Posts Tagged ‘RCBS Lock-Out Die’

RCBS Lock-Out Die Part II: Setup and Maintenance

Tuesday, September 21st, 2010

In the first RCBS Lock-Out Die article, I discussed how the RCBS Lock-Out Die works. In this article, we’ll take a look at how to setup the die, and also how to disassemble and reassemble the die for cleaning and maintenance.

There are multiple ways to skin a cat, and likewise, there are multiple ways to setup the RCBS Lock-Out Die. You can either set it up on the bench, or on the press. I’ll demonstrate how to setup the die on the bench, and fine tune on the press. I feel this is the easiest and quickest way to get this die setup.

Here are the basic steps:

  1. Charge a case (with spent primer) and set it on your bench
  2. Install the correct foot on the RCBS Lock-Out die
  3. Place the die on top of the case and press down, note the level of the indicator line on the die detector rod
  4. Adjust as needed by rotating the ends of the die detector rod assembly (tighten or loosen) – the goal is to “split the line” where the top of the die body meets up with the die detector rod
  5. Install the die on the press – exact height is not critical, but instructions suggest bottom of die approximately 1/4″ from the shellplate
  6. Check the setting and fine tune by cycling the press with a charged case in the RCBS Lock-Out Die station, adjust die detector rod as needed
  7. Validate setting by cycling the press a few times with charged case in place

So those are the basic setup steps- but if you’re like me, you’d rather “see” the setup, so here’s an HD video showing setup of the RCBS Lock-Out die on the Dillon XL-650:

So now that you know how to setup the die, how about disassembly, cleaning, and re-assembly? Before we jump into this procedure, let’s review the parts that make up the die, this time in more detail (we covered conceptual part assemblies in the first RCBS Lock-Out Die article):


Top: Complete RCBS Lock-Out Die assembly, Bottom: Disassembled RCBS Lock-Out Die assembly - Image copyright 2010 Ultimate Reloader

Here, we see a complete die assembly, and a disassembled RCBS Lock-Out Die next to each other. In order to make sense of these parts and assemblies, I’ll show you the complete disassembly and assembly process by means of an HD video of course!

Now that we’ve covered the basic bases for the RCBS Lock-Out Die, you should be ready to claim “RCBS Armorer” status, or something like that.

Do you have tips and tricks that you’d like to share? Please submit your comments and join in on the discussion!

RCBS Lock-Out Die Part I: Theory of Operation

Sunday, September 19th, 2010


Most reloaders have heard of the RCBS Lock-Out Die. This device will allow the reloading press to cycle normally when there is a proper powder charge, but will “lock up” the press if there is too much powder in the charge, or not enough powder in the charge (including no powder – a “squib load”). The die also allows the press to cycle normally when there is no case in the station where the lock-out die is installed. If you are like me, you may have wondered- OK, so how does this thing work? A fascinating device it is for sure!

In this series of articles, we’ll dig into the theory of operation, understand the parts that make up the assembly, learn how to use and adjust the die, and also do a tear down so that you can learn how to clean and adjust or fix the die.

So before we do any more talking, let’s take a quick look at a simplified diagram of the RCBS Lock-Out Die which we can use to understand how it works.

Simplified diagram showing the components that make up the RCBS Lock-Out Die assembly - Image Copyright 2010 Ultimate Reloader

Simplified diagram showing the components that make up the RCBS Lock-Out Die assembly - Image Copyright 2010 Ultimate Reloader

Let’s talk about the function of each of these parts:

Die Detection Rod

This is the component which moves upward and downward with the cartridge and contacts the top surface of the powder load via a nylon “foot” which is interchangeable based on the diameter of the case neck for the cartridge being loaded. In the actual assembly, there are 3 parts that make up this component – the upper rod, the lower rod, and the foot. The overall length of the rod is adjustable by means of threads where the upper and lower rods screw together. This adjustment is used to dial in the RCBS Lock-Out Die based on the powder level being checked.

Die Body

The die body is similar to the die bodies on most conventional reloading dies. This body is knurled on the exterior, and features conventional 7/8″ x 14 TPI threads which allows this die to be used on most any conventional reloading press.

Ball Bearings

The ball bearings move inward towards the center of the die and outwards towards the outer surface of the reloading die as the die components move. It is the ball bearings (two of them total) which “lock up” the die if the powder level is not correct when a case is present.

Die Case Lock Sleeve

The die case lock sleeve is actuated (moved vertically) by the case mouth. This part also acts as a carrier for the ball bearings via holes drilled in the side.

Parts not covered in this diagram

In addition to the primary components represented in this diagram, the following are also a part of the RCBS Lock-Out Die assembly:

  1. Spring clip – secures the die detection rod in the die body
  2. Circlip – keeps the die case lock sleeve from falling out the bottom of the die body\
  3. Compression spring – keeps the die case lock sleeve under spring pressure (downward) to assist in reset
  4. Die lock ring with set screw  – used to lock die into place and retain setting when removed/replaced in the press

So now that we’ve taken a look at the components that make up the die, we can now talk about how this mechanism works. The basic theory of operation can be summed up as this: When there’s a case present, an “alignment of the planets” is needed for the press to cycle and not be locked up. What are the so-called planets here? These components are the die detection rod, the die body, the ball bearings, and the die case lock sleeve. If these components align, the ball bearings can move inward into the cutaway on the die detection rod, and that allows the die case lock sleeve to move upward in the die body. That’s it- if the die case lock sleeve can move upward with a case present, the press will cycle. If the die detection rod is not in the proper vertical position when the powder level actuates the rod, the ball bearings cannot move inward, and this will prevent the die case lock sleeve from moving upward.

The following diagram illustrates proper and improper powder levels, and how that translates to component alignment:

Left: correct charge level, Center: overcharge, Right: undercharge - Image Copyright 2010 Ultimate Reloader

Left: correct charge level, Center: overcharge, Right: undercharge - Image Copyright 2010 Ultimate Reloader

Let’s take a quick look at these scenarios from left to right:

Correct Powder Level

At far left, we see the correct powder level detected, and the die case lock sleeve has moved upwards inside the die body. This is possible because the ball bearings are “retracted” into the recess on the die detection rod.


The middle diagram depicts what happens when an overcharge is detected. The die detection rod is “too high” and this misalignment causes the ball bearings to interfere with the die body meaning that the die case lock sleeve can not move upward, and the press therefore locks up (powder is compressed by the foot).


The right-most diagram depicts an undercharge (or squib load if no powder is present). Much like the overcharge, the die detection rod recess is not aligned with the holes in the die case lock sleeve, and this prevents the upward motion of the die case lock sleeve.

So you might be thinking- what about when no case is present? In that case the die detection rod moves up when it contacts the press, and since the die case lock sleeve is not actuated, the press can cycle (die detection rod just moves up, then down).

There you have it- mysteries of the RCBS Lock-Out Die revlealed!

Next in this series, I’ll cover setup, operation and disassembly for this die.

Reloading Safety: Powder Check Systems Overview

Thursday, September 2nd, 2010

In my last post, I outlined some basic principles for reloading safety. One of the basic ways that you can ensure your safety while reloading is by using a quality powder check system- especially when loading with a progressive reloading press.

So next, I thought it would be a good idea to look at some of the popular powder check systems available today so that you can understand the features implemented by each “system”.

From left: Dillon XL-650/1050 Powder Check System, RCBS Powder Checker Die, RCBS Lock-Out Die, Hornady Powder Cop Die - Image Copyright 2010 Ultimate Reloader

From left: Dillon XL-650/1050 Powder Check System, RCBS Powder Checker Die, RCBS Lock-Out Die, Hornady Powder Cop Die - Image Copyright 2010 Ultimate Reloader

So let’s perform a quick overview of each of these systems. I’ll talk about these systems in more detail in subsequent posts.

Dillon XL-650 Powder Check System

This system is perhaps the most complicated system from a construction stand-point, and can only be used with the Dillon XL-650 and Super 1050 reloading presses. This powder system will sound an audible alarm if there is an undercharge or overcharge. The upper unit is “quick release” and utilizes the same lower die as the powder measure. You can setup the powder check on multiple toolheads.

RCBS Powder Checker Die

This die utilizes a center rod actuated by the powder in the case, and a separate rod off to the side which holds a white rubber O-Ring at a user adjustable height so that the level can be compared at the top of the ram stroke when reloading. This die is simple to setup and use, but requires the user to visually inspect the level for each round loaded.

RCBS Lock-Out Die

The Lock-Out die by RCBS is a unique contraption that intrigues the imagination. It is case activated, and will literally lock up the reloading press if there is an undercharge or overcharge. This means it’s perhaps the safest of any of the systems. On some presses, it does require the die to be removed if there is a variation in powder level in order to resume loading.

Hornady Powder Cop Die

The Hornady Powder cop die is very similar to the RCBS Powder Checker die system. The main difference is the fact that the RCBS system uses two rods, where the Hornady powder cop die uses only one, and the reference O-Ring is adjusted on the single rod. It essentially shares the same advantages and disadvantages as the RCBS Powder Checker die system.

All of these systems work, but some work better for certain applications than others. I’ll post some additional information about these systems so that you can better understand how they work and which system is better for you.

Did I miss anything here? Do you use a powder checking system I didn’t cover?


Reloading Safety – A basic primer

Monday, August 30th, 2010

If you are like me, the thought of playing with gunpowder and bullets is inherently interesting. It goes without saying that it is also very dangerous. I personally feel lucky to have all of my fingers, toes, and other appendages intact (thinking back to 4th of July as a kid). I’d be happy to keep the use of my eyes, ears, and hands for the rest of my life!

While reloading can be dangerous, it doesn’t have to be. If you observe some basic rules of safety the chances of a reloading room or shooting range mishap are greatly diminished. So let’s take a look at some basic methods for avoiding safety issues.

Image Copyright 2010 Ultimate Reloader

The RCBS Lock-Out Die - cheap insurance! - Image Copyright 2010 Ultimate Reloader

Rule #1: Be sure of your reloading data, work up loads

It is very important to be absolutely sure of the load data you are using. If the wrong components or measures/quantities are used, the results can be catastrophic! If for instance you used load data for one powder (say, H-110 for pistol) with the wrong powder (say W-231) you could blow up your gun, and your face. With careful load selection based on the capabilities of your gun and cross-referencing, you can avoid these dangers. If you are loading for a Smith and Wesson 38 special revolver from the early 1900’s, you may want to stick with lighter bullets and softer loads. If you have a Ruger Super Redhawk .44 magnum, you don’t have to worry about any “factory listed” loads since this gun is “overbuilt”.

Here’s what I do:

  1. Select the components you want to use and the intended use for the load
  2. Start with online load data from the manufacturer or load data from a reloading manual
  3. Check online data submitted by users (as a cross-reference) – sometimes you can get some great accuracy tips this way
  4. Double check your loading manual or online manufacturer’s data (feel free to triple or quadruple check, you can’t be too careful!)
  5. Keep careful and detailed records of load data

Rule #2: Wear eye protection while loading

A simple rule to follow is to always use eye protection while loading in case you have a primer explosion. I personally use prescription wrap-around safety glasses as they are not much different than wearing my “normal” glasses.

Rule #3: Keep a clean bench

When I load, I typically clean the bench before-hand. I also am sure to keep only one canister of powder on the bench, and type of primers on the bench as well. I also have labeled “remnant” containers for extra primers (old plastic bullet boxes work well). This precaution will ensure that you don’t mix components accidentally.

Rule #4: Don’t be in a hurry

Just like when you’re backing a trailer, if you are patient and take your time, you can help to avoid disaster. Taking your time applies to planning, setup, each stroke of the press, labeling your ammo, and cleanup. It’s not worth it to be in a hurry! I also find that I enjoy myself much more in the reloading room when I’m not in a hurry.

Rule #5: Use a powder check system

There are really two types of powder check systems- mechanical, and visual. Mechanical powder check systems come in the various forms of powder check die systems (I’ll cover each in detail in subsequent blog posts). The visual powder check system is only reliable if you use a powder that fills the case more than half way, which will result in an overflow if there is a double charge. Note that the visual system will not prevent squib loads (no powder) if you happen to forget to look in a case when the powder system is not working or empty. Personally, I advocate powder check systems for all reloading when practical, especially on progressive reloading presses. It’s the best money you’ll spend on your reloading gear! In addition to using a powder check system, read the instructions for your reloading gear and be careful to observe the proper operating procedures.

There we go- five rules to keep your guns, body, and house safe. These rules are really just a starting point to ensure safe reloading. Do you have other important safety tips? Please share.