Let’s face it, trying to reload for an antique that has been out of official service where it was created for over 100 years (circa), is not the easiest. Nor is is easy or inexpensive to acquire ammunition for it. If you have a Martini-Henry that is indeed safe to shoot, it feels like a shame not to do so.
Today, we are going to be taking an in-depth look at a product Lee Precision puts out: 577/450 Martini-Henry 1 1/4″-12 reloading dies (MSRP $125 but found on Amazon for around $110 Lee M-H Dies). Unfortunately, I did not find out how much it cost to load for the Martini-Henry until after I purchased an “untouched” one from the Nepal Cache sold via IMA. That is another topic for another day but loading this 140 plus year old cartridge is a bit of a challenge but it is a rewarding one. To me, loading one in the breech, pulling the trigger and feeling circa 85 grains of black powder ignite for the first time in possibly 100 years is a feeling of being as one with history as possible. These Lee dies and X-Ring Services made that happen for me. I believe if you have a M-H, you should be able to enjoy it. This is, in my opinion, one of the most economical way.
These dies are indeed massive compared to the regular 7/8″ dies. Here is a shot of the 7.62x54R (for the Mosin-Nagant) dies compared to the 577/450 dies:
Obviously, the Martini-Henry, with a .577 base necked up to .450 presents a fairly big challenge. This larger challenge apparently comes with a larger die set requirement. Please note, you will need a press such as the Lee Classic Cast single stage press (non Breech-loading) or a RCBS Rock Chucker, etc, that has a bushing that you can remove to accept these monster-sized 1 1/4″ dies. To review these, I did indeed have to get another press (I chose the Lee Cast Classic…ranges from $110 to $150 or so). These dies are steel, well-made and affordable compared to the other options. However, I am told X-Ring Services and maybe CH4D have dies for the M-H that will fit in a standard 7/8″ press.
Surprisingly to me, these were not nearly as difficult to work with as I imagined. Now, mind you, I got some pre-formed brass from X-Ring but I did test these dies on the brass and it fully sized them well. On occasion, it was a bit difficult to deprime them on the press but in order to load in economic fashion, we have to use 24 gauge re-formed shotshells (about $2 a shell pre-formed or you can pay $6 per manufactured case from places like Grafs). I opted to go the most economical route. Since these are steel dies, these do require lube. I used some Lee lube (I am just familiar with it as it came with the set I first purchased) and it worked very well to get out a couple dents in the shoulder I formed via my rough chamber…it needed to be cleaned and I did not realize it.
The expanding die (powder expanding) was easy and simple to work with as it makes it super simple to open up the mouth large enough to paper patch a projectile (different topic for another day but inherently interesting). I used a Lee mold; 405 grain and .459 that drops at around .462 for me. I’ve made up a round to test it without paper patching because I want to see how it does. I slugged my barrel and found that, after the throat, it is .464. I’m not sure if I got a Mark IV barrel on my Mark II or what but it is usually .468 for a Mark II Martini-Henry, from my research.
The seating die was simple, effective and nice. I really enjoyed being able to use an official die for the Martini after trying to use a set of Ruger 480 dies (there is absolutely a work-around for this but I am not patient enough for it). It seated the projectile perfectly…a lot is up to the reloader but the die did it’s job and it did it well.
Also an important note, the shell holder was indeed included with this set. This is important because RCBS ones are around $24 for just the shell holder. Here it is in its glory:
For any of you in need of the shell holder because you are using the Ruger 480 dies, the Lee ones are around $10 on eBay, etc. It is shell holder #22.
I plan on doing a review for some other antique reloading and hope to acquire a sample of the dies X-Ring Services has made, especially for them, as they fit in a nice, “regular” sized press and I’ve read great things about them. I’ll also be doing some reviews on casting for the Martini-Henry as I believe RCBS, X-Ring, Accurate and a few other places have some great molds.
Overall, these are outstanding and I highly recommend them!!
if you need to buy brass for the Martini-Henry and some other hard-to-acquire calibers, I highly recommend X-Ring Services. You can contact them at: X-Ring Services
***Note*** I am not being paid by Lee or any of the above companies listed nor are any of the links above affiliate links. I linked and recommended the items and services above because being on a tight budget is something I am familiar with and my goal is to help some others save some money; as I found out…after a bit of trial, error and a lot of research!!