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Hornady's Lock-N-Load Auto Progressive

Hornady has just introduced a case feeder that makes its top-selling Lock-N-Load Auto Progressive press faster and easier to use.

Lock-N-Load sleeves installed onto the dies and press make changing dies quick work.

It's the time of year to be thinking about varminting. Prairie dogs are starting to spend more time outside their dens. The prolific sod poodles have produced new crops of hole-makers and grass-eaters, and these young ones are growing up. If not controlled, they can ruin pasturelands practically overnight. In some areas jackrabbit populations have exploded. And in other regions, it could be groundhogs, sage rats, crows, or nutria. All these pests can create a "target rich environment." Whether you're shooting prairie dogs with a .22-250, crows with a .223, or nutria with your .45 ACP you may want to load ammo in quantity and get the job done fast. Progressive handloading tools have become increasingly popular in recent years, and they've become more reliable and more foolproof.

Hornady's Lock-N-Load Auto Progressive is a top-selling tool, and the firm has just introduced a case feeder to make it faster and easier to use. The neat thing about the case feeder and the Lock-N-Load Auto Progressive is that the combination is capable of feeding and loading practically any cartridge--rifle or handgun.

The basic progressive tool was introduced several years ago, and the Lock-N-Load setup makes quick work of die changing. The Lock-N-Load feature consists of two sleeves: one that threads onto a conventional die body (to become the male sleeve) and another one that threads into the press frame (the female). The press and dies can be left with the sleeves attached. Then, with this setup, a die can be installed in the press frame simply by inserting it, pressing down, and rotating the die body a quarter-inch in a clockwise direction. To remove the die, just press down and rotate it a quarter-inch counterclockwise. It eliminates the multiple rotations of a die body that were previously necessary to install a conventional die in a press.

The latest version of the Lock-N-Load press has grease fittings so it can be properly and easily lubricated.

With the Lock-N-Load feature and the new case feeder, you can load practically any caliber on the progressive tool, and you can convert and adjust the entire press to load any caliber in about 15 minutes or less. This would be the worst case scenario when you're changing from a big, belted magnum rifle cartridge with a large primer, for example, to a little pistol round with a small primer.

How The Auto Press Works
The basic Auto Progressive press has an aluminum alloy frame with a two-inch-diameter ram. A central shaft inside the ram drives the shellplate. Pawls on the toggle or compound linkage rotate an index wheel at the lower end of the ram to turn the central shaft.

The Case Feeder attaches to the press via a new and improved sub plate. A plastic bin catches loaded rounds as they drop off the press frame.

With upward ram travel, cases are aligned with dies in the top of the press frame. When the handle is raised, the ram is lowered. The handle is then pushed forward and a primer is seated at the bottom of the ram stroke.


There are five die stations in the press. In normal loading, station one sizes and deprimes a case. Station two bells the case mouth (used only with straight-walled cases). Station three drops a powder charge. Station four seats a bullet and, if necessary, crimps. Station five adds a taper or roll crimp, if desired.

Once everything is adjusted, the loading operation goes like this: 1. Place an empty case into station one. (With the case feeder installed it will do it for you.) 2. Insert a bullet into the powder-charged case at station four. 3. Lower the handle to raise the ram. The rising ram causes the powder measure to be activated at station three so that a powder charge drops. At the same time, a case is sized, a case mouth is belled, a bullet is seated, and a case mouth is crimped. 4. Raise the handle to lower the ram and seat a new primer in the deprimed case that has now moved to station two. 5. At the same time, a reloaded case is automatically ejected at station five. There is a cartridge bin attached to a plate for catching loaded rounds.

When loading bottleneck rifle cartridges, two of the five die stations remain vacant because a separate case mouth belling station and case mouth crimping station are not needed.

One very desirable feature of the Lock-N-Load is that the powder measure is case activated. If no case is under the measure, no powder falls. The press uses a conventional powder measure adjusted in a conventional manner. No cavity inserts are required. The measure is available with a standard metering unit or one with a fine adjustment. With the standard unit and the cavity plunger adjusted all the way in, the powder charge is near zero. One revolution of the plunger moves the plunger .05 inch. With it all the way out, roughly 20 turns or one inch, it is approximately 100 grains. This allows a lot of latitude in powder charge weight, and these numbers give you some idea of the amount of adjustment necessary for a given powder charge. The metering unit with the fine adjustment has an additional setting that is approximately 7.5 grains in 10 turns, or .75 grain per revolution.

You can reverse the direction of shellplate rotation if need be, as long as you aren't working with long cases, by raising the ram part way. This is possible primarily with cases of .223 Remington length and shorter. Normally, you would not want to reverse the clockwise direction of shellplate rotation.

Cartridge cases are held in place by a coil spring and can be easily removed at any station.

You can quickly and easily remove a cartridge case from any die station simply by slipping it out. A coil spring wraps around the perimeter of the entire shellplate to retain cartridge cases, allowing easy removal when necessary.

I find the latter two features to be

very important in a progressive tool for correcting problems when they arise. It's not that the press causes problems, but there is always user error. What if you forget to insert a bullet or cartridge case? What if you forget to fill the powder measure hopper? What if you're simply adjusting dies in a trial-and-error process? Whatever the situation, the Hornady tool allows the user some latitude in this area. If there is a problem, you can correct it without ruining several rounds of ammo.

The priming system magazine retains primers in a vertical stack inside an aluminum-alloy tube surrounded by a steel tube. A third tube that is aluminum alloy is used to pick up primers that have been oriented anvil down by a primer flipper. The primer pickup tube is aligned with the tube in the press and a pin is pulled to allow primers to drop from the pickup tube into the primer magazine. In the event of a primer detonation, the surrounding steel sleeve directs the force straight up, away from the user.

Installing The Auto Progressive Case Feeder
To install the Lock-N-Load Auto Progressive Case Feeder on an existing press, you need to first unbolt your press from the bench and replace the entire sub plate. The sub plate for the case feeder has the mechanism for dropping cases and transferring them into position built into it.

At the top rotation of the case feeder plate, cases drop past the sliding door and out the bottom of the bowl (B). The door can be adjusted to accommodate the size of the cases (T).

The new sub plate also has a new priming system that is an improvement over the existing one, or at least it is an improvement over the one I have on my old press. The old press had a plastic hold-down for the primer magazine that was prone to break. This has been eliminated on the new setup. The main advantage with the new system, from a user standpoint, is that you do not have to remove the primer shield or magazine from the press in order to fill it. Separate priming tubes are used for this.

Both the priming transfer and case transfer system work in a similar manner. They transfer cases or primers from a vertical tube magazine laterally to the loading station by means of a transfer bar. The lateral transfer is activated by steel rods bent in the proper shape so that vertical movement of the ram causes the bent rod to engage a camming surface and push the transfer bar in the desired direction with the primer or case. The priming transfer is on a spring return while the case transfer works totally on the camming action of the bent steel rod. All this is not particularly important to grasp. It's simply to give you a basic idea about how the systems work.

You also need to add brackets to the press frame for the square tubing that holds the case collator when you add the case feeder. Once everything is attached to the press, you can adjust it for your specific cartridge case. I won't go into detail on setting it up and adjusting everything because you will get it all in the instructions. I will say that adding a case feeder to your existing press is a pretty simple operation.

The New Case Feeder In Operation
When you're using the press with the new case feeder installed, you simply have to insert bullets, pull the operating handle, and make certain that the case, primer, and powder hoppers are filled.

The case feeder is electric. Once it is adjusted, just dump cases into the hopper, turn it on, and the feeder inserts cases in the drop tube/case magazine right side up. It shuts off when the tube magazine is full. Cartridge cases are then moved into position each time the operating handle is cycled.

There are four different plates for the case feeder or collator: one each for small and large rifle and one each for small and large pistol. In addition to the case feeder plate, there is an additional adjustment in the opening in the case collator bowl where cases drop from the feeder plate through the bottom of the collator bowl into the tube magazine. This door or gate can be slid open or closed by degree, depending on the size of the cases being used.

Brad Elder and I used the Hornady Lock-N-Load Auto Progressive loader with the case feeder in my shop and found it to work very well. We used it to feed .45 ACP, .223 Remington, .270 Winchester, and .300 Winchester Magnum cases.

Changing Calibers Is Quick & Easy
It doesn't take long to change calibers, particularly if you're changing from one large rifle cartridge to another. Worst case scenario, if you have to change everything, say from .300 Winchester Magnum to 9mm, it takes perhaps 10 minutes to do the part changing. It will take perhaps another five or 10 minutes to adjust everything for the new cartridge, including powder measure and dies.

To make such a change where all variables must be swapped out, you need to remove the shellplate by removing the bolt at the top center of it. You also need to change dies. With the Lock-N-Load feature already on your dies, this is very fast. Next, replace the V-block that pushes cases from the tube magazine into the shellplate. Do this by loosening a socket head cap screw. Be certain to insert the proper V-block for the cartridge (there are six V-blocks). Replace the cartridge case drop tube funnel and bushing inside their housing by using an Allen wrench to remove a bolt. Replace the main clear plastic drop tube extending down from the case feeder. The case feeder/collator plastic hopper or bowl lifts straight up so that the clear plastic magazine tube can be removed. Replace the feeder plate in the bowl by simply lifting it out. Replace the primer tube or magazine from large to small by loosening a socket head cap screw so that the tube can be lifted out. Replace the priming slide by removing a small spring.

The V-block mates with the cartridge body and pushes it from the case magazine to the die station in the shellplate. The Lock-N-Load comes with six V-blocks to handle various cartridge sizes.

As for adjustments, besides the powder measure and dies you need to adjust the case feed bowl door at the top of the collator bowl. You also need to adjust the tube funnel drop. The instructions say there should be .060 inch clearance above the case so that the case in the cam block clears the tube funnel drop. It is adjusted by loosening simple lock nuts as on a loading die and then turning the tube in its threads. The longest time will be spent adjusting the gate or door at the top rim of the collator bowl. Adjusting the size of the opening to get it to work perfectly is a trial-and-error process. It should be open approximately 3/4 the length of the cartridge case. You do not need to use the case feed bowl door for pistol cartridges. It can be left wide open. If the door is not adjusted properly for each rifle cartridge, cases will fall into the tube ups

ide down.

Once the tool is set up and running, you can load ammo as fast as you cycle the handle and insert bullets. As with any handloading operation, give it your full, undivided attention. Operate the handle deliberately and uniformly and keep watch on the processes as well as the appearance of finished ammo. Make certain the tool has components coming and you'll be assembling ammunition as good as you ever have--but you'll be doing it a whole lot faster and easier.

Just because you load ammunition fast doesn't mean that it isn't also very good. After setting up the new Hornady Lock-N-Load and new case feeder, I grabbed some Hodgdon H335 off the shelf. As with any progressive tool, it's best to use a Ball or spherical propellant, and H335 is a known performer in the .223 Remington. I decided to keep things simple and looked on the face of the container for a .223 load using a 50-grain bullet. I intended to load the Hornady 50-grain V-Max. The load was listed as maximum at 26.0 grains with case and primer unspecified.

Using an IMI case with a WSR primer, I first reduced the powder charge by six percent, as suggested on the powder container's label, and then progressed a half-grain at a time until I was confident that the test rifle would safely digest the top 26.0-grain charge. Then I adjusted the measure in the Lock-N-Load progressive press and proceeded to load a batch of ammo. I then pulled 10 rounds from the batch at random and proceeded to fire a 10-shot group at 200 yards, using a Wiseman barrel with a Remington Model 700 action in my machine rest. The wind was gusting from about eight to 16 mph, and by simply watching the digital wind meter readout and pressing the trigger when it read 12 mph, I fired a 10-shot group that measured 1.4 inches. That translates to less than 0.7 inch for 10 shots at 100 yards.

Hornady's Lock-N-Load Progressive tool with the new case feeder works.

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