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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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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