Dies choices for .308 semi-auto rifle handloading


March 12, 2008, 10:51 PM
What sort of dies are good for reloading for a .308-chambered AK, Saiga?

I am guessing for starters, I need a carbide 2-die set from Lee or RCBS, plus the factory crimp from Lee. But what about some extras such as small-base? X-sizer dies from RCBS (1 or 2 per set)? Any others?

What are the typical issues with the semi-auto necked calibers?

I am not looking for competition-quality out to 1000 yards, only reliably feeding and 2-3 MOA, while trying to keep the costs down.

Many thanks for any tips.


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March 13, 2008, 12:45 AM
I am guessing for starters, I need a carbide 2-die set from Lee or RCBS

I doubt very much that anybody is buying carbide 2 die sets for the .308 Win cartridge from either Lee or RCBS. The only carbide dies for .308 Win I know of or have ever heard of that are readily available are from Dillon. The Dillon dies are intended to resist wear in a high production environment and do require case lubrication as do substantially all other bottle neck dies that size the full case in one pass. Even if I am mistaken and both Lee and RCBS offer carbide dies for bottlenecked cases including .308 Winchester the line of steel dies will do as good a job for a fine long time.

Shoot some factory and look at the cases. Most likely any maker's conventional dies will work just fine. You may choose to use the RCBS X-Die but you won't need them. You will need tools to measure case length and eventually a way to trim cases that are too long - even with the X-Die trimming to precise length is mostly necessary even if only once. It is very seldom that cases from factory loads, or equivalent, fired for the first time in your rifle will need a small base die or any other special equipment.

The more general issue is using a medium burning rate powder and avoiding extremes. That is semi-automatic rifles do best with average or typical loads. Heavy charges of slow - for the cartridge - powders to magnumize the cartridge with heavy bullets will often give problems and the lightest loads with light bullets such as the Speer plinker will also give problems.

Making military cases work will require a way to deal with crimped primer pockets and because the cases were originally fired in another rifle or machine gun are more likely to need a small base die but may not.

March 13, 2008, 01:49 AM
Before buying any die sets, get yourself a couple books on reloading and learn a bit more. There's a sticky for new reloaders at the top of the page that can help you with selecting those books.


March 13, 2008, 09:13 AM
Take it from a slow learner, its easy to spend money the wrong way if you don't take time to study.

Lesson two is that cheap price is not always the best value.


March 13, 2008, 07:08 PM
The RCBS sizing dies I really like. The Lee seating dies I really like, as I do the FCD. I find the RCBS sizing dies easy to clean. The Lee seating die is easier to adjust for seating depth, and it is still rather inexpensive.

March 13, 2008, 07:53 PM
Before buying any die sets, get yourself a couple books on reloading and learn a bit more.

Outstanding advice, and well worth following.

Still I am going to offer my opinion.

I use small base dies because I absolutely want the cartridge to be smaller than the chamber. I do not want any delay or resistance to bolt closure.

While Lee Dies are cheap, produce ammo with good runout, they don't make a small base die. Lee Dies also have a virtually indestructible decapping pin. “Virtual” because I have busted a few. But it takes a lot of effort.

RCBS makes a small base die with a stout decapping pin and that is what I use. Later I changed out the decapping spindle with a Hornady product that has a carbide expander button.

My advice for loading for gas guns:

Set up your sizing dies with a cartridge headspace gage. Size to gage minimum.

Trim cases. For 308, a trim length of 2.000” is easy to remember.

I recommend reaming primer pockets to depth.

Always seat all primers with a hand tool (I use the Lee) and inspect each and every primer to determine that it is below the case head.

I do not recommend Federal primers, they are extremely sensitive and gained a reputation for slamfires in M1’s and M1a’s. I like CCI #34’s for gas guns, they require a good wack to ignite.

Dump your favorite powder. For gas guns, anything in the 4895 burn rate will do well.

Seat bullets less than magazine length.

March 13, 2008, 10:49 PM
Thanks for the tips.

Yes, ClarkEMyers is right unfortunately, those Lee and RCBS 2-die sets for 308 aren't carbide - I wrongly assumed they were based on my experience with the pistol variety. Still, are these good choices or I must have for something more expensive necessarily (following the suggestion that cheaper isn't better - what exactly is better though?)

I do indeed I have 5 or 6 manuals (including the ABC of reloading, Lee, Lyman and a few others), but I have never reloaded for semi-autos.

What about crimping - any special tips for semi-autos?

As far as powders go, I had 3031, 4895 and 4064 in mind...

Thanks again for any suggestions,


March 14, 2008, 09:31 AM
What about crimping - any special tips for semi-autos?

I don't crimp. I crimped match bullets with a Lee Crimp die, followed directions, et al. Later dissassembled some rounds. Found the match bullets resembled coke bottles with wasp waists. That is when I quit crimping.

March 14, 2008, 10:28 AM
I load for both .308 for my LR308 and .223 for an AR15 and have never crimped and have never had any problems.

March 14, 2008, 10:58 AM
Assuming mixed brass, non-competition, 100 to 200 yard.

Using unprimed/uncharged cartridges:

1) Size the cases so you get a tight fit and the seated bullet is firm when pushed against the edge of the table.

2) Measure the length of several cartridges, load them in the mag and manually cycle rounds into the chamber.

3) Measure the length to see if feeding has shortened the cartridge. If not, bullets are tight enough. - maybe tighter than they really need to be. If length has shortened go to #4.

4) Pull the bullets over OAL using a puller or kinetic hammer. Re-seat the bullets and follow the die manufacturer's instruction for adding crimp. Back the crimp die off to the minimum setting and re-try 1~3. Increase crimp as necessary.

I used way too much crimp when I started reloading .223. After receiving friendly come-uppins from fellow loaders - I learned that the less crimp I use the more accurate my loads.

Hope this helps.

March 14, 2008, 12:33 PM
As to crimping, in the late 80s/early 90s I got immersed in a project to determine the effect of crimp in the .223 Rem. Using three different rifles-Remington BDL w/bull barrel, Winchester Model 70, and an AR-15 (scoped)-I burned through approximately 4,000 rounds using Speer 55 grain soft points w/cannelure. I used a variety of propellants, charges, and seating depths. While it took a long time to complete the experiment, almost 100% of the time uncrimped bullets shot tighter groups than crimped bullets using the same powder, charge, and seating depth. Only in a couple of instances did I get slightly tighter groups with a crimp, once in the Model 70 and once in the AR. I had similar results in a much smaller experiment using two different rifles chambered in .308 Win. As a result, I never crimp anything unless I am loading for a tubular magazine. These are of course MY results using two of my firearms (the model 70 was borrowed). It makes me wonder where Richard Lee is getting his data, but his hype seems to help him sell a boat load of factory crimp dies. Again, these were my personal results. I would concede that someone else might come up with an entirely different conclusion if they were to try a similar experiment.

March 14, 2008, 11:48 PM
Thanks guys.

How about neck sizing vs. fully sizing for a semi-auto (such as Saiga)? I am guessing full-sizing is better, has anyone had experience otherwise?



March 15, 2008, 12:24 AM

Go back and read those manuals you own. They'll answer most of these simple types of questions and a bunch you haven't thought to ask yet. Understand, I'm not trying to be mean here, I'm just seeing by the questions you're asking you've not done the studying you really need to do before you start reloading. A reloading forum isn't the place to get your knowledge base from. A reloading forum is a good place to learn where to get basic knowledge and to answer questions once you've done your studying. We simply cannot answer enough questions to protect you from yourself. That comes with studying the manuals.

Reloading can be quite dangerous and those books will show you how to avoid a lot of pain and headaches.

To answer your question, you need to full length resize when you're loading for a semi automatic. But you would know that, had you been doing your studying.



January 11, 2010, 03:09 PM
I know this thread is kind of old, but I thought I'd ask hereÖ
I recently upgraded from my old 30.06 to a Springfield M1A (.308). I had been reloading for years for my .06 but havenít purchase dies in quite some time. As Iím doing my research, there are a lot of new tings on the market today!!!
I see some guys really believe in the small base dies for auto loadersÖ. I never used one for my Remington 742 Semi but maybe someone can tell me that itís more important on the M1A??? For the present Iím planning on reloading once fired factory brass, (from this gun) so Iím not sure if the small base dies are necessary. I sure would like to hear your opinions on that one.
Iím leaning towards a 2 die set of RCBS Competition dies, including a full length sizer and the seater with the micrometer adjustment. (Screwing down and trying to lock the standard type depth adjuster is just too big of a pain). My question isÖ Has anyone got anything (bad or good) to say about the side window for inserting the bullet prior to seating? Thatís just something I have never seen and am wondering if it causes any problems?

January 11, 2010, 03:14 PM
Excellent newer thread here. Click Link (http://www.thehighroad.org/showthread.php?p=6172560#post6172560)

Welcome to THR

January 11, 2010, 03:23 PM
I'd say the small base question will be decided by the rifle - in your case likely not at all necessary but surely handy for folks who process machine gun brass. One of the makers offers match dies which are just a tad undersize by design
•National Match 308 Winchester sizes the brass to minimum chamber dimensions, as Match rifles have chambers cut to minimum dimensions rather than the middle of the allowable range for size.

- if you need them you'll likely find out soon.

The Vickerman style dies with a window are handy for loading with the short throw load at the range presses often used for benchrest and othe precision applications - beyond that I know of no advantage or they would have swept the field - but equally I know of no disadvantages - some of the sliding pieces dies are designed to allow sleeves and such to interchange among different cartridges more than other dies allow.

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