Redding’s New NxGEN Carbide Dies set the standard

Reloading .44 Magnum for a rifle on a Dillon Precision Reloader

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Redding has been a long time innovator when it comes to reloading technology. Likewise, I’ve been a long-time fan and when a Henry lever action rifle (chambered in .44 Magnum) came into my life, I needed to start loading for it. My next step was to acquire a set of Redding’s new NxGEN Carbide dies. My plan was to integrate the dies with my Dillon Precision reloading system.

A Family Business

Before stepping into this review, an overview of Redding is in order.

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The family-owned company has been around since 1946 when it first operated out of a converted chicken coop. It’s come a long way from the chicken coop and today its products are exported around the world. What’s also appealing is that it’s still at heart, a mom and pop company rather than yet another firm that’s been scooped by a hedge fund.

I’ve used Redding’s Premium Die sets for my bullseye pistols and have rolled out ammo that’s given me some amazing groups. Obviously, the higher quality your rounds, the better chance you’re going to have to hit the X-ring.

New NxGEN Carbide Dies come in two main categories
The standard die series at left includes an expander and seating/crimper die. At right is the Pro series, designed for a Dillon progressive press.

I’m not always shooting accurized 1911s. For this story I wanted a die set that would allow me to produce .44 Magnum rounds for above mentioned Henry. The object was to make handgun ammo accurate enough to whack a 12” gong at 100 yards. Not quite the same as bullseye shooting, but nonetheless a challenge.

Enter the new NxGEN Carbide Die series

When it comes to innovation, incremental improvements over time can vastly enhance a product as much as a “revolutionary” design. I believe this applies to the NxGEN Carbide die series.

According to Robin Sharpless, the CEO of Redding, NXGen benefitted from advances in materials technologies “which have allowed us to design and produce longer conformal rings to create, not simply a case sized to one dimension, but to account for the real needs of chambering.”

The technical advantage comes down to using a single carbide ring rather than two rings which was a key factor in Redding’s previous design. With the new design, a case follows a single longer ring more easily than dual rings, thus sizing it in a more uniform, precise fashion.

Sharpless said the bottom line is that the new design works just as well as the earlier Titanium Carbide dies with less wear and tear on the case.  

NxGEN Pro Series Die Set is the newest of Redding's new Carbide die products
The NxGEN Pro Series Die Set atop the Dillon toolhead, includes a decapper/sizing die (left), the seating die (far right) and the crimp die (front right). (Rob Kay)

Die sets for specific applications

Redding makes three variations on the theme.

Their conventional model for a single stage press is a three-die set that includes the carbide sizing/decapper die (NX-C), the expander die (EXP) and the standard bullet seating die (ST) with built in crimp.

I really like using Redding’s expander die which does a much better job of creating a shelf for a bullet than the powder drop, which you’ll find on a progressive reloader. I use their expander die to load .45 ACP and .38 Special on my Dillon 550.

The caveat is that you’ll need to set up two separate tool heads. The first toolhead will have the decapper/sizer. After you decap, size and prime your cases, you’ll then run them through the second process to expand the case, drop the powder, seat the bullet and crimp the cases. I reload all my “competition” rounds using the “two-tool head” method. You can read about this in another piece I did on Redding’s Premium Die Set series.

The Pro Series is specifically for the progressive reloading presses.
If you have a progressive reloader like the Dillon 550B, you’ll want the Pro-series.

The NxGEN Pro Series Die Set (see above) is designed specifically for progressive machines. This includes their NxGEN carbide sizing die (NX-C) but does not include their expander die.

Why? As alluded to above you don’t really need it because progressive reloaders (as in the case of my Dillon 550) expand the case mouth at the powder drop station.

The Pro Series Die Set also offers a large entry radius seating die (PRO ST) and a crimp die (CR).

The third model to consider is the Competition Pro Series die set which includes the NxGEN Carbide Sizing Die (NX-C), Profile Crimp Die (CR) and the Competition Bullet Seating Die (COMP ST). This die set is also designed for progressive reloading machines and as the name suggests, is for competition shooters.

The NX-C with the new "one ring" carbide design is the heart and soul of  Redding's new NxGEN Carbide die series
The NX-C with the new “one ring” carbide design is the heart and soul of the new die set. The one ring innovation insures even sizing along the length of the case. (Rob Kay)

The main difference between the Competition Pro Series and the Pro Series is that the (COMP ST) seating die has a bullet seating micrometer. I like this innovation quite bit.

Can you use an expander die with this series? Sure, but per my earlier comments, you’ll need an extra toolhead and make your loading a two-step process.

The bottom line is that if you own a Dillon reloader you’re going to want either the Pro or the Competition Pro die set. Prices for the die sets start as low as $135 for the Pro Series and around $200 for the Competition series.

Rifles can be fussy about bullets

If you are loading for a rifle, one of the first things is to verify that your bullet of choice will function optimally in your lever action rifle or Ruger 44 Carbine. Not all rifles are equal. The length of the cartridge and the shape of the bullet are important. For example a SWC or a “Keith” design, which work great in a revolver may not function in a rifle.

In short you’ll need to sort the bullet size/shape from the get-go.

The Remington factory round illustrates the proper crimp roll which can be achieved by Redding's new carbide dies
The Remington factory round (on the right) clearly illustrates what a proper roll crimp looks like. Note that the Pro series uses a taper crimp. (Rob Kay)

For example, the Hornady manual stipulates “when loading the 44 caliber 225 grain FTX® bullet the case must be trimmed extra short to allow room for the longer ogive of the FTX® bullet.”

Don’t expect the firearms manufacturers to be of much help. For liability reasons they prefer you use factory ammo.

Note that the most load manuals have chapters that specify load data for rifles and handguns. Generally the data is often identical. However, it does vary. The manuals I looked at—Lyman, Hornady, Nosler and Speer often have slight discrepancies between handgun and rifle loads.

Jay also recommends making a few dummy rounds when loading for a rifle. You can use them to safely cycle through the your rifle without fear of an accidental discharge. Why cycle the dummy rounds? You want to be absolutely sure that your cases are going to smoothly traverse the journey from the magazine into the chamber and out the ejection port.

The specs on the factory rounds will differ from what you see in the loading manual
Using the Remington round as a “standard” it’s easy to get your bearings when reloading. Note that the unfired round will have a slightly smaller diameter than the specs featured in the manual. Not to worry… (Rob Kay)

He also suggests using a factory round as a working model. With the factory round you can be certain you’re on the right track by checking by using it to make sure your work is in spec. In my case I use a Remington ammo as my model.

Ditch the Range Brass

One of the tips I’ve learned over the years is the value of sticking with one brand of brass. In other words, if you have any notion of making consistently accurate rounds, even if it’s just for plinking, you need to ditch the range brass. Even if you’re simply whacking a metal plate, the goal is to hit the target. Your chances of doing so are much better if your rounds are in spec. Using the brass with the same headstamp will give you a leg up.

Start with new cases from a quality manufacturer such as Starline.

Preparing unfired Brass

In most cases (no pun intended) you’re going to have to prepare new brass prior to reloading. This is especially true if you’re loading plated or lead bullets.

Starline offers excellent quality and works well with the NxGEN carbide die series
Using one brand of brass vastly improves the consistency of your loads. My favorite is Starline. (Rob Kay)

Why, you ask?

The case mouth on new brass may have a jagged rim that can actually stick in the powder drop funnel. This means instead of a smoothly operating cycle; you’ll have to add extra pressure on the handle’s up stroke to pry the funnel from the case mouth. When the brass is freed, the whole platform abruptly pops up and shudders, usually resulting in powder spilling out from the case and lord knows what else gets thrown out of whack.

In addition, if you’re loading plated or cast bullets the jagged edge may cause the plated bullet to adhere to the side of the shell during the seating process. That can result in a dinged bullet and/or a crushed shell casing. (I found loading new .45 ACP brass to be the most problematic but have also had issues with new 10mm and 9mm cases).

If you’re loading jacketed bullets there most likely won’t be the same kinds of issues with potential damage to the case or bullet.

Is there anything you can do to avoid damaging your round?

I’ve found using an old fashioned chamfer and deburring tool (see below) from L.E. Wilson to be very helpful. Frankly it’s a bit tedious to tweak every case but it’s necessary.

So is there a work-around for chamfer/deburr routine?

The NxGen Carbide dies are only part of the equation. The deburr tool from LE Wilson) is useful to avoid damaging the case and the bullet.
If you plan to load cast or plated bullets you’re going to have to deburr (with the above tool from LE Wilson) every one of your new cases or risk damaging the case and the bullet. (Rob Kay)

In lieu of the chamfer/deburr drill, Hunter Pliant, Starline’s Process Manager and Chief Ballistician, suggests treating the bullets with lubrication or running the brand new brass in a tumbler with ‘used’ medium. The detritus from the tumbled brass will actually lube the new brass.

Says Pliant, “I don’t generally deburr straight wall pistol cases since they should already be flared. If you are seating and crimping in the same step I can see where a burr could cause some shaving on any bullet type as the bullet is seating. I try to always do it in separate steps, so I don’t ever run into that problem.”

He also suggests adding an expander die in place of the sizing die if you want to avoid a sticky powder drop. This will get your case expanded with a solid expander. In order to do this you’ll need to first run them through a sizing die on a separate tool head. Following this procedure you can then set up a toolhead with an expander die on the first stage followed by the powder drop, then the seating and the crimp die.

Pliant notes that if you wish to send him your powder drop, Starline will offer free modifications to the powder funnel to remedy the sticking funnel in new brass.

Adjusting the Crimp Die

Setting the proper crimp is important.

Jay Davis at Redding says to screw the body of die down until you contact the case. At that point you’ll want to add a little bit of tension. He suggests using a “dummy round” to experiment with. After seating the bullet you can place the business end of round on the bench and put some pressure on it. If it slides inward, you’ll need to crimp it down a bit more. To check to see if you’ve over-crimped, you can try and twist the bullet. If it’s loose you’ve “over-crimped” you’ll have to back off.

As alluded to above the (CR) crimp die on the Pro Series has a taper style crimp whereas the (ST) die on the conventional set provides a roll crimp. “Uniform case length,” says Davis, “will be a factor into making the crimps identical”, whatever crimp die you use.

Be sure and align the case mouth with the cannelure, the topmost groove.
If your bullet doesn’t appear in a loading manual, such as this bullet from Missouri Bullet Company, simply align the case mouth with the cannelure and you’ll have the proper OAL. (Rob Kay)

Loading to the Cannelure

Obviously you’re going to want to load to the specifications that you find in the various loading manuals. However, what if your bullet is not listed? What OAL should you use? I happened to be loading the “Smasher” from Missouri Bullet Company which came recommended by a member of the Henry Lever Gun Forum. They weren’t in the loading manual but no problem.

Jay says simply seat the bullet so that the case mouth crimps the cannelure, uppermost groove. That will be the correct OAL.

I liked the Hi-Tek Bullet Coating, a sort of shiny Teflon like compound on the surface on the MBC bullets because I didn’t get “coated” with lead. If you are loading with cast bullets, this is the way to go.

NxGEN helped me produce a .44 Magnum with Starline brass toped with 240 grain Missouri "Smasher" bullet
Voila! The final .44 Magnum, Starline brass toped with 240 grain Missouri “Smasher” bullet is a sight to behold. Note the shiny “Hi-Tek” coating on the bullet. (Rob Kay)

Conclusion

After loading many rounds of .44 Magnum I can say conclusively that working with the NxGEN dies offers a smooth, consistent reloading experience.

There were no hiccups or snafus on this review and the decapper/sizing die functioned flawlessly with the new brass.

The next step of course will be to see what kind of group I can print! Stay tuned for the next chapter…

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