There are several steps when reloading ammunition. In simple terms, the last stages are bullet seating and case crimping. While many sets of reloading dies come with a bullet seating die capable of performing both operations ‘simultaneously,’ it is often seen as advantageous to seat and crimp in two, separate steps. While most seating dies are capable of being used in such a way that seating and crimping can be done as two, individually unique operations, it does make life somewhat easier to simply purchase a separate crimp die. For 9mm Luger, having this ‘4th’ die gives you a certain flexibility that you might not otherwise have and helps ensure greater uniformity in your ammunition; uniformity being critical to consistency and accuracy. It can also be crucial to the proper functioning of the predominantly semi-automatic firearms which utilize the 9mm Luger cartridge. For my money, there doesn’t exist a much better option than the Redding 9mm Luger Taper Crimp Die.
There are several reasons why you would want to use a taper crimp die when reloading 9mm Luger. The first item on the list is usually the rationale that this round headspaces off the case mouth. What exactly does that mean? Headspace is the term used to designate the area between the firearm’s bolt face (which contains the firing pin) and the base (head) of the cartridge. When a round is placed in the chamber of the firearm, there is often a recess at the rear of the chamber especially cut to allow the rim at the cartridge’s base to rest away from the bolt face. When working with cartridges that are ‘rimless,’ such as the 9mm Luger, the headspace is created when the mouth of the case rests against the front end of the chamber and sufficient room is left to safely separate the cartridge base from the bolt face. If too little room is left, either due to a short chamber or too long a case, the round may not feed properly, causing too much pressure that can damage the bolt, or you may end up with premature ignition; i.e., the firing pin automatically hitting the primer with each cycle. Too much headspace and you face potentially dangerous pressures which, at best, will shorten the life of your brass and could immediately/eventually cause damage to your firearm or your person.
Most, though not all, cartridge crimps are either ‘roll’ or ‘taper.’ The more common is the roll crimp. This is where the case mouth is ‘rolled’ or ‘folded’ (crimped) in toward the bullet. This helps the case more securely hold the bullet. However, when working with a caliber such as the 9mm Luger that headspaces off the case mouth, a roll crimp which folds the case mouth inward can cause obvious issues. Remember, for this round, headspace is based on the case mouth resting against the front end of the chamber. Rolling the case mouth shortens the cartridge and, thus, causes issues with accurate/proper headspacing.
A taper crimp compresses the walls of the case against the bullet in a taper rather than rolling the edge of the case mouth. This compression maintains the proper case length while providing enough pressure to keep the bullet from being pushed down into the case as the cartridge seats against the front of the chamber. For the 9mm, this compression also smoothes out the ‘bell’ at the case mouth commonly created when seating the bullet; once again, helping insure proper headspacing and feeding.
As a point of reference, Hornady’s 7th Edition Handbook of Cartridge Reloading (2007), as regards the 9mm Luger, states the following: “Use little or no crimp when reloading the 9mm since it headspaces on the mouth of the case.” (p. 795) The 49th Edition of the Lyman Reloading Handbook (2008) is a bit more enlightening and specific:
“This cartridge headspaces from the mouth and therefore case trimming must be uniform and accurate. Do not reduce cases below the trim-to length. Additionally do not roll crimp bullets as this will prevent the case properly headspacing on its mouth. A modest taper crimp may be employed if found necessary.“ (p. 340)
Note the caveat of “if found necessary.” There are those who argue that crimping is not necessary. In fact, there are some who will argue, with some justification, that crimping actually hurts accuracy. For instance, I personally do not crimp my .30-06 hunting handloads; achieving sub 1” groups at 100 yards from an out-of-the-box bolt action with a relatively inexpensive scope. (Of course, I also use a Classic Lee Loader [see link below], weigh all my cases and bullets, etc.) However, when reloading for semi-auto firearms, I always crimp my cases. Remember, the feeding action is a violent one; with cartridges being slammed home in the chamber – not to mention what happens to those left in the magazine. Simply put, you do not want ‘loose’ bullets. I also find that the ‘smoothing out’ of the case ‘bell’ which occurs with the 9mm makes for more reliable feeding in my pistol.
As mentioned, most seating/crimp dies can seat and crimp in one operation. One of the issues in doing so, however, is that if you are using unjacketed, lead bullets (commonly used for target practice and competition), the pushing of the case walls inward can strip shards from the bullet as it is being simultaneously pushed into the case. That could be a real problem. Then there’s the issue of not all die sets coming with a seating/crimp die which can create a proper taper crimp; i.e., simply ‘smoothing’ things out isn’t, by definition, a taper crimp. In fact, most reloading die manufacturers make a point of specifically citing which type of crimp their die creates or is best for.
Finally, there is the convenience factor. Typically, you can use a single die to create two, unique seating and crimping steps. While this may sound more convenient than adding yet another step which requires changing dies on a single stage press, it ain’t necessarily so. Having to readjust your die each time you do a group of rounds can be a major pain; first seat, adjust for crimp, then rerun, then readjust to just seat for the next time… repeat. While some may see this adjustment as no more bothersome than removing/inserting dies, for my time, I’d much rather simply unscrew/remove one, screw/insert another than loosen the locking ring of the die every time I go to make the adjustment, either way, and having to consistently reset it. (While I don’t use a progressive and have never really been desirous of doing so, even when actively shooting competition, I can imagine the convenience of simply having this extra die is even more pronounced.)
A ‘taper crimp die’ and a ‘factory crimp die’ are not synonymous. A factory crimp die (FCD) is actually something of a cross between a sizing and crimping die. You’ll note that Lee Precision actually sells ‘taper crimp’ and ‘factory crimp’ dies. Their Factory Crimp Die is described in their catalog thus:
“A carbide sizer sizes the cartridge while it is being crimped so every round will positively chamber freely with factory like dependability. The adjusting screw quickly and easily sets the desired amount of crimp. It is impossible to buckle the case as with a conventional bullet seating die. Trim length is not critical so this extra operation takes less time than it would if cases were trimmed and chamfered. Revolver dies roll crimp with no limit as to the amount. A perfect taper crimp is applied to auto-loader rounds. The crimper cannot be misadjusted to make a case mouth too small to properly head-space. A firm crimp is essential for dependable and accurate ammunition. It eliminates the problems of poor ignition of slow burning magnum powders.”
While this sounds reasonable and many, many reloaders favor the Factory Crimp Die, there are others who claim that it is unnecessary. First, each time you ‘work’ the brass of your case, you shorten the lifespan. Thus, the more you work the brass, as with sizing, the less longevity your cases are going to have. Second, some claim that Lee’s ‘perfect taper crimp’ is not a true taper crimp; it just creates tension between the bullet and case. I’m not going to argue over that one given the definition of a taper crimp provided above; I’ll just say that arguing over degrees of ‘tension’ can take hours. Others respond that the FCD’s will solve and have solved feeding problems – Lee’s ‘factory like dependability.’ Still others retort that if you always use the cases in the same firearm, then the case is already ‘formed’ to that chamber and should ‘fit’ accordingly. Then there’s the discussion of what effect such additional ‘sizing’ has on the already seated bullet…
Whatever your predispositions in these discussions, the point here is that there is a difference in function and purpose between a ‘taper crimp’ and a ‘factory crimp’ die.
The Redding Taper Crimp Die
Redding Reloading Equipment has long been viewed as producing some of the absolute best, American made reloading equipment; a reputation that they have, in fact, achieved with some justification. I’m not going to argue the merits of ‘bang for the buck’ by comparing attributes. I have or have used dies from RCBS, Lyman, Redding, Lee, and Forster. In fact, for 9mm, I use both Lee Precision and RCBS 3 die, carbide sets; the former in the ‘range’ kit and the latter at home. All have their attractions and all have their perceived market niche. However, when it comes to price vs. quality vs. perceived need, a taper crimp die is something you can ‘splurge’ on without too much second guessing. Why? Let’s compare some prices for 9mm Taper Crimp dies…
The Redding Taper Crimp Die for 9mm Luger falls in their Series “A” die sets. MSRP for Series “A” taper crimp dies is $33.90. However, MidwayUSA lists them for $21.49. Meanwhile, a Lyman 9mm Taper Crimp die lists for $18.79 at MidwayUSA; with an MSRP of $20.95. Hornady’s Taper Crimp Die for 9mm runs $19.29 at MidwayUSA; with an MSRP of $23.21. And so it goes. What all this means is that the difference between suggested retail and actual street price is most significant with the Redding Die when it comes to actual dollars. Some of this can be attributed to ‘paying for the name.’ However, viewed another way, you’re only actually paying, literally, a couple dollars more for the Redding than either the Lyman or Hornady. While all three are decent dies, for an extra couple of dollars, why not buy the ‘best?’ (Bear in mind that there is a significant difference in the pricing of Redding die sets, presses, etc. and those of competitors. I’ll be more than happy to talk “bang for the buck” in that context… Just be aware that the recent market shortages in terms of ammunition, reloading components, reloading tools, etc. has also had an impact on pricing; particularly as regards specific manufacturers. Thus, it not only pays to shop around, it also pays to note that 9mm Luger is an extremely popular cartridge; with all the availability/price issues coming together egregiously. Sources tell me that things are starting to ‘loosen up’ a bit. All the same, I remain in the ‘wait and see, but get what you can when you can when you find a deal’ camp.)
Threaded for the standard 7/8 – 14, the Redding Taper Crimp 9mm Die will work in most standard presses. (I currently do most of my 9mm loads using my Lee Precision Hand Press – see link below.) The locking ring utilizes an hex screw to set. According to the instructions:
“To adjust your die for the desired crimp, start with die adjusted 2 – 3 turns away from the shellholder. Adjust the die downward while constantly moving handle of press with the ram in the uppermost position… Resistance will be felt as case makes contact with the die. Continue adjusting the die slowly until you get the desired crimp. Adjust the lock ring and tighten… DO NOT OVER CRIMP… REMEMBER, to get a uniform crimp from case to case, your brass must all be trimmed to the same length.”
Fair enough. The amount of adjustment you’ll need is going to be dependent upon your needs, firearm, and proclivities. Just remember that you’re looking to ‘smooth things out’ a bit and create a tension between case and bullet. It doesn’t take much. In addition, I am not a big fan of hex screws for lock rings. I don't like the way they screw directly into the die threads, potentially damaging them if you over tighten. I’ve actually switched all my rifle dies over to the Forster Cross-Bolt Lock Rings. But, given the $22 I paid for this and the $5 price tag for the Forster rings, I’ll stick with the factory, hex screw for now.
Another issue, also addressed in the instructions, is the use of lubricant. I can hear the screams now – “But you’re using carbide dies for sizing and ‘seating’ dies don’t require lube!!!!” Sure. But, even carbide dies, sometimes, get along better with a little lube. In addition, the Redding Taper Crimp die is NOT carbide. Finally, as noted by Redding: “…it is advisable on taper crimp dies…because there is sliding action at the taper.” While the instructions go on to recommend applying a little lube near the case mouth every few rounds, I’ve found that it don’t take much and I often don’t use any at all. If you decide it is necessary to do so, make sure you thoroughly clean off the excess before you go shooting.
That’s it. By spending an extra $23 or so, you’ve added an extra step to the process of reloading 9mm ammo; but, you’ve also solved a host of issues and made your life a bit simpler. In addition, you’ve given yourself a bit more control over the process of seating and crimping. Given the cost of reloading equipment, that’s a pretty cheap investment; especially since Redding Dies are recognized as some of the best on the market. Are there cheaper options? Marginally, yes. Are there ‘better’ options in terms of quality? No – period. Well… at least not for my money.
Additional Reviews Cited In Text
The Classic Lee Loader: Nearly As Useful As The .30-06 Itself For Tyro Or Pro
Lee Precision's Hand Press: It Is What It Is... And That Ain't Bad
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