One of the finer examples of a reloading press comes from Hornady Mfg. Co., a firm in Grand Island, Nebraska. Hornady has been producing quality bullets, cases and ammunition for nearly 60 years, and they are the closest thing to a “one-stop shop” for handloaders: besides providing the bullets and cases, they make all of the tools and accessories necessary for reloading. All the handloader needs to add is gunpowder and primers.
I have had the opportunity to test the LNL AP for almost a year now, loading several cartridges ranging from the diminutive 9mm Luger through the full-length Weatherby .300 magnum. The LNL performed proficiently with all these cartridges, proving to be quite a versatile tool for handloading.
It is assumed that the reader is somewhat familiar with basic reloading procedures and terminology. Those who wish an overview may refer to the article Handloading For the Beginner.
What Is A Progressive Press?
Reloading presses can be grouped into two categories: single-station and progressive. A single-station press will perform only one or two of the reloading process at a time. The handloader performs one step on a batch of work, then re-configures the press for the next task.
A progressive press will perform several of the steps at the same time. Single-station presses are simpler, more compact and less expensive than progressive presses. Progressive presses are, however, faster. MUCH faster. Once set up for operation, a progressive press can perform all of the handloading steps in just a little more time than doing just one step on a single-station press. For serious shooters that want to crank out a lot of ammunition (where “a lot” is defined as more than you probably intend to use in a single session of shooting), the progressive press is a major time saver.
Features Of The Hornady Lock-N-Load AP
Five work stations
While I’ve never needed to use more than four of them, the LNL AP gives the user the flexibility to set up his workflow however he sees fit. All handloading steps (except for case trimming) can be performed simultaneously on the LNL AP.
Indexing refers to the process of moving the work from station to station. In some presses, this must be performed manually. The LNL AP, however, features auto-indexing, which means that the stroke of the press’s lever not only performs the desired work, but then moves the work-in-process to the next station. While I have never used a progressive press without this automatic indexing, it seems a rather hard feature to do without.
In the LNL AP, the tools (dies) are installed into the top of the press, and the reloading materials are fed in at the bottom. Pulling a large lever causes a small table upon which the “work” is held to rise up and meet the dies, where they perform their various functions. As the lever is returned to its original position, the indexing occurs to rotate the work to its next station.
By using a quick-release bushing system, the user of the LNL AP may remove and replace dies in a matter of seconds (literally!) with no tools.
This photograph shows a die bushing on the left, and a powder drop die on the right. The powder drop die (or any die, for that matter) screws into the bushing (down to the desired height) and is held tight by the retaining nut. The die/bushing assembly is then inserted into the press, given about a 1/4 clockwise turn to lock the assembly into the press. Installation and removal is then truly a no-tools operation.
Modular powder measure
The LNL AP powder drop features inserts that can be removed with the push of a button and replaced. You can pre-set the inserts for a desired amount of powder and keep the inserts with their respective dies, eliminating the need to adjust the powder measure before loading a new cartridge.
Case-activated powder drop
Occasionally while using a progressive press, it’s necessary to remove a case from the press, creating a “gap” in the stream of work going through the press. In some presses, the powder drop will activate even without a case to catch the powder. This is messy and potentially dangerous.
The LNL AP, on the other hand, will only drop powder when a case is present to catch it. This is a clever bit of engineering that eliminates a potential headache during the handloading process.
Station 1: sizing and decapping
Station 1 on the press is used for sizing and decapping. The sizing/decapping die will return the brass to the proper shape, and a decapper pin will knock out the old primer cup on the upstroke. The removed primer cup disappears down a tube that can be placed over a small trash can.
It should be pointed out that some cases require lubrication before this step. Straight-walled brass (commonly found in handgun cartridges) can eliminate this step by using a die with a carbide liner to prevent the case from sticking in the die. “Bottle-neck” shaped cases, usually found in rifle ammunition, will always require some lubrication. This can be done in batch before the actual reloading begins.
I found station 1 to work beautifully with all the cartridges I tested.
Station 1.5: priming
In between stations 1 and 2, the loader can press a new primer into the case. The LNL AP automates the positioning of the new primer so that the primer needn’t be handled at any time during this step. This is nice on two grounds: first, the less handling of a primer, the better, to keep it as clean as possible, and two, reloaders with less-than-perfect eyesight should appreciate the automation of a step involving such a small component.
Station 1.5 reduces a tricky task to a very simple function.
Station 2: powder loading
Station 2 performs the task of loading the case with the appropriate amount of gunpowder. As the case is driven upward into the powder drop, a cam-activated arm releases a pre-set amount of powder down into the case. A really neat feature of this is that the arm won’t move ( and the powder won’t drop) unless a case is actually present. This results in far less spilled powder.
This station on the LNL AP is made very convenient with the use of separate powder measures and powder dies for each set of reloading dies the user wishes to use. Without separate components, it is necessary to make adjustments to the powder drop prior to use.
Station 3: case expansion
Station 3 is used for the expander die, which flares the rim of the case just slightly, to make it easier to fit the bullet into the case for seating. This step is generally only done for handgun ammunition.
I am happy to report that station 3 has performed without incident for me during all of my testing.
Station 4: bullet seating and crimping
As mentioned above, bullet seating is the process of pushing the bullet into the case until the desired COAL is reached. This is the only step in the reloading that requires the operator to actually touch any of the work in process, as he must manually place a bullet into the rim of the case. With this in mind, I appreciated that Hornady put this station out in front, where it can easily be accessed for this purpose.
For handguns, crimping also takes place at this station. Handgun cartridge dies will squeeze the case around the bullet at the same time the bullet is being pressed into the case. The result is a bullet that is securely locked into the case.
Station 5: rifle cartridge crimping
Some die sets feature a separate die for bullet seating and crimping. Station 5 is reserved for these die sets. I did not have an opportunity to test with any die sets that required this station.
After station 5, the complete cartridge is expelled into a bin located just below the press.
The Hornady LNL AP press is a marvelous piece of engineering, and a terrific time-saver. Is it perfect? Of course not…no product is. But my list of complaints is minor and brief:
- many of the components are made out of a high-carbon steel that is subject to surface oxidation. It’s purely a cosmetic issue, but I would prefer to see these pieces either given a protective coating or made out of a stainless steel.
- case ejection didn’t work well on 9mm cartridges. More often than not, I had to help them along. I think this is because the shorter, lighter cases can get cocked sideways on their way out of the shell plate. 9mm was the smallest cartridge that I loaded, and case ejection worked well with all the other cartridges I worked with.
- finally…the darn thing is RED, which is appalling to a dyed-in-the-wool Cal Bears fan. (Just kidding, guys…sort of.)
Despite these imperfections, I am still quite impressed with the effectiveness, quality and convenience of the Hornady LNL AP. It is now a fixture on my workbench, and I look forward to using it for many years.