Reloading is a fun and rewarding hobby. The 5.56mm is an incredibly common round to reload due to the popularity of the AR 15 rifle. When reloading, it’s critical you select a set of dies dedicated to your particular rifle since semi-auto rifles have different demands than bolt-action ones. You also need a good set of tough dies; you don’t want anything that will just give out on you in the middle of reloading 1,000 rounds.
(For the sake of simplicity, you can use 5.56mm reloading dies for ..223 as well and vice versa. The two rounds have different pressure loadings, but for the dies themselves, they’re interchangeable. See this article for more explanation.)
The best dies come from American companies, and I have 4 of the best 5.56 reloading dies below.
Hornady Custom Grade Reloading Dies
If you are looking to keep things nice and simple, but still want a quality set of dies it is hard to beat this set from Hornady. Hornady is one of the world’s most well known ammunition manufacturers. They produce a wide variety of ammo, including custom match ammunition that is a direct reflection of Hornady quality. This simple die set is designed for mass reloading. These are for the type who shoots a semi-automatic rifle and likes to press out a thousand of so rounds at a time. They are affordable, easy to use, and do the job.
While they are affordable and a bit plain, they are far from cheap. Cheap in my mind means crap, and nothing I’ve ever seen from Hornady has ever been crap. Hornady does offer a lifetime warranty and a guarantee that these dies will never break or even wear from reloading 5.56mm and ..223 ammunition.
Again these are plain dies, but they do feature Hornady’s Zip spindle. The Zip spindle is a somewhat new to the Hornady dies, and keeps you from smashing your hand while trying to tighten the spindle lock. It also keeps the spindle from slipping, which makes spindle adjustments much easier. Resize, reload, recrimp and get ready to go, preferably in a safe manner. These Plain Jane dies just might be the best 5.56 reloading dies you can buy.
RCBS Small Base (SB) Die Set .223/5.56
RCBS doesn’t have the ammunition production claim to fame that Hornady has, but they do have a claim to fame when it comes to reloading supplies. They’ve been doing it for about 60 years, which means they have a good handle on what they are doing.
The RCBS kit we have here for the 5.56 and .223 are specifically designed for AR shooters. This makes sense; the AR probably eats more .223 and 5.56 ammunition than any other weapon in the world. The RCBS dies are designed for the progressive reloader who is trying to pump out a large amount of ammunition in a shorter period of time.
With this set of dies you get a full length, small base sizing die and a taper crimp seating die. This set of dies is guaranteed to size the brass consistently to ensure chambering performance and accuracy. The taper crimp seating die is designed to give you a little leeway in a safe manner but to give you that wiggle room when crimping cases that may be a little shorter or a little longer.
This die set is also very affordable, and can be had for under 40 bucks. At that price you are getting a very tough set of dies, backed by a very nice warranty. These dies are designed to be long lasting though, and used thousands and thousands of times.
Lyman Deluxe Rifle Set
Typically, when it comes to reloading 5.56 rounds, you only need 2 dies. But “need” and “nice to have” are two very big categories. We live in a market where the support exists that we can easily find and afford nice to have. So the third die in the Lyman Deluxe rifle set is certainly nice to have.
Lyman is another well known reloading company that builds pretty much everything related to reloading. Lyman is one of the oldest American reloading companies in the country, and they are well proven to produce quality goods.
This deluxe rifle set (see full specs) is for any .223 and 5.56 rifle, and is for shooters looking to maximize their case life. This set of three includes some standard dies with some nice extra features. The first is the full length resizing die that is capped with a decapping stem. Next you have your neck expanding button, as well as the bullet seating die. You also get the third die, a neck sizing die with a carbide expander.
This third die is what shooter need when they invest into their brass. Using standard Federal brass or Lake City is nice and cheap; using nickel-plated, weather-resistant brass is completely different. You want to preserve this pricier brass as long as possible, and these dies prevent excessive sizing and greatly expand case life. This set is certainly not the cheapest, but it is an effective investment for the reloader. Without a doubt, these are among the best 5.56 reloading dies for the money.
Lee Precision Reloading Ultimate 5.56 Die Set
Lee Precision is where the vast majority of shooters and reloaders learn to reload. Lee produces a wide variety of different reloading presses, including one of the best single stage presses out there. Most reloaders pick a certain caliber to learn and it’s often either 5.56 or 9mm. For 5.56 shooters, Lee Precision presents the Ultimate 5.56 die set. This set is everything you could possibly need to begin reloading 5.56 and .223 rounds.
The Lee Precision Ultimate die set (see full specs) contains four different pieces. The full length sizer is designed mostly for semi auto rifles. These rounds will work with other rifles, but chamber best is semi-auto designs like the AR 15. You also get a collet neck sizer that is designed for bolt action and single shot rifles. Third, the bullet-seating die will ensure accurate placement of the projectiles in the case and make it easier to crimp the case. Finally, the crimp die is then used to swoop in and keep the bullet in place.
The Lee Precision set doesn’t end at the dies. You also get a powder measurer to guarantee a safe, but consistent amount of powder to maximize performance. You also get a small guide from Lee precision that gives you the load date for all the popular cartridges out there. With this affordable set you will be reloading in no time.
Reloading is one of the best ways to save money. A high volume shooter can make their money back extremely quickly just from reloading their own ammunition. A set of the best 5.56 reloading dies is critical in guaranteeing safe, accurate and consistent loading. Once you choose a good set, it is best to keep with that set. Good luck!