The Hornady Lock N Load AP Progressive Reloading Press – Part 2, by Wingfootjr

(Continued from Part 1. This concludes the article.)

There are five available stations on the Lock N Load AP. For my initial setup, I set up the press for loading .223/ 5.56 ammo, my most commonly used practice and pleasure shooting caliber. I wanted a high production press dedicated to this caliber, so I could produce it quickly if need be. For this caliber, I start with brass cases that have been fully processed and ready to load. Cases have been de-primed, resized, tumbled (to clean, polish, and remove the sizing lubricant), case length checked and trimmed if necessary, and the primer pocket swaged to have the primer crimp removed. (If you are new to handloading, I describe the preparation process in my previous SurvivalBlog article series, “The Handloader Never Wants for Ammo”, and you can read the whole process that I use there).

In the 1st station, I install a resizing die with the decapping pin removed, with the die set just shy (1/4 of a turn) of bottoming out on the shell plate. This is done to ensure the case is precisely centered in the shell plate on the press for the next operation, the installation of the new primer. The decapping pin is removed since that has already been done, and the die is backed off a bit because the case has already been re-sized, or pressed back into the Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturer’s Institute (SAAMI) standard cartridge tolerances.

On the downstroke of this operation, the lever on the press is pushed forward, and a new primer is pressed into the pocket of the casing. A firm push is required for a proper set and uniform seating. This is a critical operation the user must develop a “feel” for proper consistency, and if you have seated primers on other presses, is fairly easy to become accustomed to on this press. My procedure for cycling the press when all stations are filled with brass and operating is: 1) Push lever handle forward approximately 3/8” to Seat Primer- 2) Set bullet tip in the powder charged case mouth- 3) Set a prepped case in the empty holder of station #1-4) Activate lever handle (downstroke) to actuate all processes, and return the handle to upright position (upstroke) – 5- Repeat the process.

In station #2, the case is charged with powder by actuating the powder drop, which has been adjusted and set per directions, and checked at least 3 times with a precise scale. If no case is present in the shell plate, the measure will not dispense powder.

After the powder is charged and a new bullet is set in the case mouth, station 3 “sets” the bullet to the precise depth in the casing as previously adjusted during the die set up according to the die manufacturer’s instructions and the specified cartridge overall length (COL) in the user’s handloading manual. In this station, I use a Redding Competition seating die with a micrometer adjustment, which I have found to be very precise. I must point out here, to check and double-check COL as listed in loading reference books and die instructions, and particularly check in the magazines of the rifles you are using to ensure the cartridges are not too long to impede operation of the rifle and its loading system. It should also be checked frequently during operation as dies can become loose in the head of the press with use and may back out just a bit–making the overall cartridge too long for proper operation. I can’t stress quality over quantity enough here. Ammo that doesn’t work properly is useless and must be disassembled, wasting valuable time.

In station #4 I use a LEE Factory Crimp die to firmly crimp the case mouth around the bullet. A slight roll crimp can be done with a fine-tune setting of other manufacturer’s bullet seating dies, but it is not as firm as a LEE Factory Crimp die. A firm crimp produces more pressure consistency during firing and ensures no movement of the bullet in the case if fired from a semi-auto rifle when the bolt face impacts the cartridge to drive it into the chamber of the barrel. It also prevents bullets from moving forward in a case in a revolver chamber under heavy recoil of a hot magnum load, such as a .44 magnum or a .357 magnum loaded to maximum capacity. In these instances, a bullet can move forward out of the case and past the front of the revolver cylinder face, impeding the cylinder rotation for the next shot. Sierra and other manufacturers of both bullets and dies recommend the LEE Factory Crimp die as part of the operation. I heed their advice and it hasn’t failed me yet. Note that this die can be purchased individually if you own another manufacturer’s die set.

For my use currently, I have no need for the 5th station of the press, so it’s an empty space. My completed cartridge rises into the space, and is ejected to the completed cartridge bin on the downstroke. The bin holds approximately 40 or so completed cartridges.

So why does Hornady provide 5 holes in the press head? One option, if loading pistol rounds, is to mount a motorized electric case trimmer in the station prior to the powder drop to trim the case if necessary. Note that if this is performed, the trimmer unit must have vacuum applied to it to remove any case shavings so they aren’t mixed in the powder load. This is just one possible application I’ve seen as a possibility on Youtube, and there are others out there for your viewing pleasure and information. I suggest viewing several videos (prior to purchase) via the internet on any loading components considered for purchase, via manufacturer’s websites and other sites, for a full understanding of what tasks the equipment is capable of performing.

Getting Accustomed

During initial operation after the setup of the press it took me 300 rounds or so to become used to it. The main part I focused on was the sliding primer feed plate. The surfaces of the plate and the part of the press it slides on are VERY square and polished — you can almost say the edges are sharp. The set screw that holds the primer plate apparatus in place has to be “just right” – not too loose and not too tight. After 150 rounds or so, I removed the primer plate and polished the edges with emery cloth, and sprayed all surfaces with silicone spray. This eliminated the plate from hanging up occasionally and not feeding a primer. Another nice feature of the press is an outer tube that acts as a second shield around the primer tube to prevent injury in the event of a very rare primer detonation, and a plastic indicator rod that rests on top of the primer stack in the tube.

The height of the indicator rod shows at a glance how many primers are left in the tube. I marked the rod with a sharpie where approximately 2 primers remain. Should you run the primer tube empty, the indicator rod drops into the primer void in the sliding plate, holding it in the “open” position, which is a visual indicator during operation that more primers are needed in the drop tube. The capacity of the drop tube is 100 primers. I also later purchased 2 extra primer pickup tubes for both large and small primers. This allows me to have 300 primers total ready for a loading session if desired. The press comes with spring-loaded interchangeable priming seats for both large and small primers, depending on the size required by caliber.

During operation, I found the powder drop adjustment would loosen ever so slightly, and the powder quantity would increase by 0.2 grains or so, requiring a slight re-tightening to bring it back to proper setting. The tension on the adjustment is held by compression of a neoprene “O” ring. I found that over time, the adjustment “wore in” and the tension setting moved less. Nevertheless, I check the charge every 100 rounds or so.

During initial setup, the timing (precise positioning) of the rotating shell plate is accomplished by two adjustment screws on the underside of the press. It is important to read the directions and understand these adjustments as they are critical to the positioning of the plate on both the downstroke and the upstroke of the press ram. If the shell plate isn’t precise in position of operation, damage to the cartridges will result. If you aren’t sure of the adjustment, factory instructional videos on YouTube or calling a factory technician at Hornady will help make these adjustments crystal clear. I read the directions 3 times while stroking the unloaded press and watching the shell plate turn. My press did require one minute adjustment of one of the screws during initial setup, and it hasn’t moved since.

The press has the capability to accept an automatic, motorized case feeder and a gravity-fed bullet drop feed tube which enables the automatic operation of the press with no “hand setting” of cases and bullet tips, for at least 100 rounds of operation or so. This greatly increases the production capacity of the press to 600 rounds an hour or so. I opted to not purchase these items, as they add approximately $650 to the initial cost of the press. I also wanted to run a minimum of 6,000 rounds or so through the press before even considering this level of production, to ensure that every round produced was perfect. Again, QUALITY over QUANTITY.

During operation of my initial 1,500 round run, I found I could average a rate of 350 rounds an hour, which allows the user to easily load 1,000 rounds plus a day. But I didn’t push for that speed, as I was constantly checking primer insertion, powder quantities, overall cartridge length etc., until I was completely comfortable with all of the operations to ensure they were precise, EVERY TIME. And for the first 400 rounds or so, adjustments needed tweaking. But after that, adjustments held tighter and longer.

After the 600 round mark or so, my rate increased due to an increased level of comfort with use and operation. I learned how much powder to put in the powder hopper for 100 rounds and tried to load 100 rounds every evening 4 or 5 nights a week, spending a half hour loading each evening, which I find relaxing. Using this process, I found it easy to hit 6 rounds a minute which slightly exceeds the rate of 350 rounds an hour. After a few weeks, I was through my initial run, requiring numerous Repack Boxes for storage. To see stacked boxes of product ready for use and practice brings me great satisfaction!

I’m happy to report I’m completely satisfied with my purchase of the Hornady Lock N Load AP. For the price level I paid, I feel I received adequate results in production quality and quantity. An added bonus with having this press dedicated to one caliber, it opens up my other equipment for different caliber uses as needed for other short-term loading operations and requirements. As I said it’s nice to have options. I’m not discounting other manufacturers, as I have not encountered any major reloading equipment manufacturer that did not provide excellent technical support over the phone and stand behind their product. I’ve never had a warranty issue with any manufacturer, even if the warranty period was over.

I hope this review helps other hand loaders consider the purchase of a progressive press to add to their arsenal of equipment. I have found the jump to the next level to be satisfying and the return of time saved and increased production capability was well worth the investment!