Going Progressive — A final assessment

I just finished up my last major session with the Hornady Lock n Load Auto-Progressive before turning to my deer hunting loads. I thought I would give y’all an update. My goal over the summer was to start with 9mm to get my feet wet, switch to 357 Magnum and then finish off with 223 REM if everything else went well. This is not a formal review of the Hornady LNL AP. I am not nearly that presumptuous. Rather, I figured you would like to hear about my adventures with the LNL AP.

Let me begin by saying that most, if not all my problems ended were wrapped up in my goal of using cast bullets. More specifically, it was the use of tumble-lubed bullets. My original goal was to find a super-cheap way to shoot 9mm using the Lee 358-125-RF bullet. I had been tumble-lubing for a couple of years using a 45/45/10 mix of Liquid Alox, Johnson’s Paste Wax and Mineral Spirits. It worked fine previously, but in the quantities I was loading, the lube kept accumulating in the seating die. About every 50 rounds or so, I had to stop to clean the seating plug and then reset it for proper depth. The bottom line is that the thinest possible coat of tumble lube works. I was being overly generous. Before I try cast bullets again in the LNL AP, I plan on examining other lubing alternatives.

The other hitch was the adjustment of the PTX die. Some find this feature of the LNL AP impossible. I found it tricky. The Hornady LNL AP allows for 5 stations. Station 1 is always going to be Size and De-prime. #2 is Powder. #3 I used for the Powder Cop. #4 was bullet seat. #5 was Factory Crimp. The problem is where do you put the case expander die? Hornady sells Powder Through Expander inserts (PTX) so that case mouth expansion can happen as you are loading the powder. There are plenty of Youtubes already out there. I am not going to explain how to set a PTX properly.   My advice is to read and follow the Hornady manual to the letter and it works.

Changeover to 357 Magnum

Changeover from 9mm to 357 Magnum was not all that hard, and most of it was all first-time stuff. I ordered a pack of 10 Hornady LNL bushings and I spent a good deal of time getting the dies installed, but changing back a second time will be simple. Remember that if you use Lee Dies to keep a set of Hornady Lock Rings around. You need the extra bite, because Lee rings sacrifice a thread or two for the O-ring. Lee dies sit low in the Hornady bushings. I did not need to change out the lock rings with the RCBS 357 Magnum dies.

As I mentioned earlier, the big bugaboo with both the 9mm and 357 Magnum was the tumble-lubed bullets. Before I switched over, I loaded some 9mm with some Berry Hollow Base plated bullets. Those went through the press without a hitch. Ditto for the 357 Magnum. I had some commercial 158 grain hard-cast LSWC’s laying about. They had a nice blue lube ring around each bullet. They slid in just fine. I am not saying stay away from home-cast bullets. I’m not saying to stay away from tumble-lubed bullets. It’s just that for a beginning project, my tumble-lubed Lee 358-125-RF made things more difficult. With commercial bullets, I was finally able to achieve a 200 round-per-hour rate here and there.

When things go horribly wrong:

Every press has its idiosyncracies. The LNL AP is no exception. I had loaded about 500 rounds when things started to go bad. Before passing judgement on the LNL AP, remember this is a new press and a newbie operator.

The first sign of trouble for me was a couple of cases getting crushed by the PTX die. Next it was the primers not seating properly. It took quite a while to diagnose. It turned out the indexing pawls needed adjustment. There are these two little thinguses under the bottom of the press that control how far the shellplate travels in the downstroke and upstroke. These are not supposed to need adjustment. However, in my case, they did. Again, the manual is your friend. If you read what it says, it tells you exactly what to do. The problem for me was not fully understanding the problem. Along the way, I made some mistakes and at one point everything siezed up. I did not know what the problem was and I forced it a bit too much. The left pawl sheared. I guess this happens a lot, because Hornady gives you a spare pawl. My suggestion is that as soon as you break one, call Hornady and get one in the mail. The press has a lifetime guarantee. I didn’t call the first time and I regretted it. More on that later.

A nagging problem that I had with the press from the get-go was a flake or two of powder coming out of the case as it traveled between Stations 2 and 4. It wasn’t enough to effect the load. It just happened here or there. I was using Hodgdon Universal Clays, which is a light flake powder, a twin to Alliant’s Unique. The problem was that this powder accumulated and found its way under the shellplate. This problem came back to bite me later. My admonition is as follows.

1) The shellplate is held on by a large retainer bolt that needs to be tightened down just a hair beyond finger tight. It does come loose and needs to be watched. The normal reaction is to tighten it down more. Don’t.
2) Whenever there is a break in the action, it is fairly easy to remove the shellplate and inspect and clean underneath. Do so.
3) If you double-charge or have another reason to spill powder, get in under the shellplate and clean it out. Pay particular attention to the channel in which the primer slide operates.

I will also mention this little bit of powder slop is normal in all progressives and is more prevalent with flake powders. I tried Tightgroup, and it was a bit less so. With ball powder it was non-existant.

Changeover to 223 REM

Now for the second changeover– going from 357 Mag to 223 Rem. My goal here was to try and load 200 rounds of blasting ammo for our Mini-14’s. The changeover went smoothly overall. For this load I changed around stations #4 and #5. At #4, I put a Hornady Universal Expander Die set to put just a hint of a bell into the case mouth. I put the bullet seater at #5. My reason for the expander die was that I had small flat-based bullets, specifically 55 grain Hornady SP’s to load. I did not want the bullet to fall off, and I knew from loading on a single-staged press that boat-tailled bullet had a better chance of hanging on for the ride into the die. This was not the kind of expansion that you do with lead bullets. It is barely perceptible.

Right away, I was having trouble getting the primers to seat. At first I thought it was the pawls that needed adjusting again. No– wrong bunnyhole. It turned out that there were two things at play, but I trashed another pawl and a primer slide finding out. For one thing, the 223 cases were a fresh batch of once-fired brass I’d bought for the occasion. They were not military brass, but they had headstamps that I had never seen. Fix #1 was a matter of sizing and decapping on the Rockchucker and then running them through again using RCBS military crimp remover die to uniform the primer pocket.

Fix #2 was related to my admonition regarding not letting stuff accumulate in the channel that holds the primer slide. Gunk accumulates in that channel and it all gets pushed up to the end. Eventually enough gunk forms to keep the slide from moving all the way forward and this keeps the primer seater punch from coming up properly. There is a fine line here between rough working and catastrophe. Had a couple rough seatings and then the primer punch caught enough of the slide to make it shatter on the next down stroke. It does not take a whole lot of force to do it either. I also broke a pawl on that stroke. This was on a Sunday afternoon, so it was a matter of waiting until the next business day and calling the 800 number. No problems. An operator found me in the system and I had a package in the mailbox by mid-week. To reload is to break things. I’ve broken parts on Lee, RCBS, and now Hornady. The Customer Service folks are all three very gracious and generous. Hornady was the first to know me before my first call, and it comes from the online warranty registration.

So should I have listened to all the voices that said I was a dolt for not buying a Dillon? I’ve got less than 2000 rounds through the LNL AP. None of the problems were due to cheap plastic parts or shoddy workmanship. Most of the problems were due to the connection between the stool and the operating handle, and frankly I’ve known that was going since I turned 50. I just hope I can get a few more decades out of it.

So there I was, new parts in hand, and 200 rounds of 223 Rem waiting for me. I once had a fiance that told me life was perverse. It can be beautiful, but it won’t. She said that about a month before running off with my best friend. I had originally planned on using H4895 which is a stick powder. I cannot say the Hornady powder measure had “problems” with the sticks. However, I did sense there was quite a bit of cutting going on. I switched to BL(C)-2 and the ball powder cycled much more smoothly. Second, even with all the brass had been run through the military de-crimper, I was still getting rough primer seating.

1) Hornady should include a toothbrush in their list of required tools. I had cleaned out the channel during changeovers, but I had not cleaned it well enough. I finally used a little brake cleaner and a toothbrush to really give the end of the channel a good scrubbing. What I found was the first cleaning had failed to loosen an accumulation of dry lubricant, powder, and bullet lube that had impacted and solidified. I will now add this to my PM list at every changeover.
2) I used my RCBS reamer/deburrer to ream the primer pocket of the brass just a wee bit. I’ve had to do this before with mil-crimped brass. The RCBS de-crimper gets it almost all the way there, but it takes an extra .0001 or two to make the primers slide in.

The next 200 rounds did not exactly fly by. I was reaming the primer pocket of each round individually before I inserted it. However, the press functioned flawlessly. By the time I was done, I felt I had really seen the press do what it was designed to do. I was satisfied I had made a good choice.

My next step is to break it all down and store the Hornady LNL AP until the end of deer season. I am going to put the Rockchucker back on the bench and start loading deer rounds.

1) Yes, I could leave the LNL AP on the bench, but I designed the new bench specifically so I could interchange presses as needed.
2) Yes, the Rockchucker can be mounted right next to the LNL AP on my bench. In fact, I tested that out when I had to put the Rockchucker up for the 223 REM brass that needed the primer pockets uniformed.
3) Yes, I could do almost all my deer rounds for the coming year with the LNL if I bought the #1 shellplate. It handles 30-06, 308 Win, 25-06 and a bunch of others. However, when you’re loading batches of 20-50 rounds, a good single-stage press is still preferrable, at least the way I load.

 

Final  Thoughts

Did I make the right choice? Look, the Hornady LNL AP was a good hundred dollars less than a Dillon 550 and it has auto-indexing more like the 650. My buddy, SuperCore, runs a 650 and his big beef with it is that it takes forever to do a changeover. I have to say changeovers were not all that painful with the LNL AP. In fact, if you were to factor out all the one-time setup and all the newbie mistakes, I think you could probably get the LNL AP changed over in less than an hour. I plan to test that this winter. Is the Dillon better? Head to head with all the bells and whistles, the Dillon might be the better choice for someone who is planning on cranking out vast quantities of ammo at high speed. Without the brass feeder and the bullet feeder, I can do 200 rounds in an hour if all is setup beforehand. That is about all I wanted it for. So I would have to say that the Hornady LNL AP represents at very least a middle ground between a turret press and a high-volume reloader. It covers that middle ground at a lower price and the overall experience was not nearly as frightful as some of the horror stories I’ve read online about bottom-end progressives.

Price: I got my press mailorder from Grafs.com in the spring for $450 and it included a stool, free shipping, and 500 rounds of Hornady bullets. I saw the LNL AP on sale at Cabelas last weekend for $389, sans stool, with the same 500 bullet offer. I would have had to pay 6.5% sales tax on that and I do like my stool. The bottom line is the Hornady LNL AP is a good deal and a great deal if you shop. It does the job of a press costing much much more. I’m happy as a clam.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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