Progressive Press Tricks

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Progressive reloading presses are amazing and efficient ammo-creating machines, and they’re not just for pistols! Here’s a few tips on getting the most from yours. You can find the Hornady Lock-N-Load Progressive Press at Midsouth Shooters by Clicking Here!


Glen Zediker


A “progressive” press is a wondrous thing.

This is a machine (only word that fits) that progresses through loading operation stations via a rotating shell plate (well, most rotate, but some commercially-oriented units move straight-line). This plate incorporates a ratcheting mechanism that indexes a cartridge case into alignment with the next tool station with each cycle of the press handle (some require manual index-advancement of the plate, but most can be had as “automatic”). Another case is added with each stroke, as is another bullet at that station, so after the plate has been filled with cases, a loaded round is ejected and an empty case is added each cycle, with each stroke of the press handle.

It’s a compact-sized bench-mounted ammo assembly line.

hornady progressive
It’s not right at all to call a progressive an “automated turret.” Turrets have a head that moves; progressives have a shell-holding plate that moves. And, there are other operations embodied in a good progressive design that simply cannot be replicated with an auto-indexing turret.

In a progressive, each operation — case sizing, priming, propellant dispensing, bullet seating, and even more — is supplied by a toolhead that has four or more tool-containing bodies corresponding to the openings on the shell plate. Priming is accomplished via a primer dispenser, which is usually a tube containing primers coupled with an means to locate each primer such that it will be seated on the handle upstroke (shell plate coming down); almost always, this is coincidental with full-length sizing. The propellant dispenser form varies, but is another automated process that is linked (literally) to the press handle stroke.

Progressive loading machines are complex, but they can be well-conceived, well-made appliances that perform reliably. Results are largely up to the operator. More about that in a bit.

The cost and complexity of a progressive (related) primarily reflect its level of automation. A “basic” progressive requires the operator to manually position an empty case at the first station, manually advance the shell plate, and place a bullet in each case mouth. The more complex, and costly, machines have case and bullet feeders, and warning systems that give notice of diminishing components.

Keep a close watch on supply levels! The efficiency of a good progressive can warp time… Running one of the “big” progressives I am always surprised how quickly the primer supply and powder meter hopper empty.

Keep the machine clean and lubricated. This eliminates most function issues. Think about what’s going on here and it’s easy to see that a well-maintained machine will be a reliable and consistent machine. Remember that all operations revolve around the revolution of the shell plate. Keep it clean and lubed appropriately.

Mount a progressive securely on a rigid base. There is a lot (a lot) of pressure and stress involved in cycling a progressive, especially a “big” one. Again, think about what’s going on, how many duties are being processed each stroke, and consider those processes, and it’s clear that this big bad boy best be fastened down. It’s noticeably easier to operate a progressive when it’s mounted rigidly. Some progressives seat the primer on the press handle upstroke, some on the downstroke (most are on the upstroke). A rigidly-mounted press adds to the feel of this operation.

Get “good” dies. Most progressives, and certainly the popular machines, can accommodate any 7/8-14 threaded die. Feel free, and encouraged, to use the “better” sizing and seating dies, just as you might for a single-stage press.

Incorporate a good quality powder meter (something with a 7/8-14 attachment means). This can be done via a “conversion kit,” if the machine isn’t already outfitted with linkage that will cycle the powder meter operating handle. Makes a huge difference here, just as it does regardless of press type.

Address primer pockets. The priming operation inherent in a progressive doesn’t provide the feel of a bench-mounted or hand-operated tool. That’s not a problem at all if the primers are being seated fully using a progressive. To help ensure that they do, I think it’s wise to run a pocket uniformer. That way, the pocket will be what it should be, so the priming operation should likewise result in a well-seated primer. At the least, check each and every loaded round you get of a progressive for a high primer. Sometimes the machine needs to be adjusted, by the way, to seat primers fully.

Caveats? There are a few, not many.

I have long and often said that the big reason I don’t use a progressive for all my ammunition is because I really never get to see one run. By that I mean the increased ease and speed potential of a progressive is wasted on me because of my loading habits. It all stops, dead in its tracks, with case preparation steps, which includes the steps themselves and maybe even more the order in which I do them. Once I get my case prep work done, actually loading each round comes down to dispensing a propellant charge, putting a bullet into the case mouth, and running it up into a bullet seating die. I can do that rapidly. However! And here’s the hold up, before I get a cartridge case to that point, I have to do all the sizing operations on it. A bigger-scale progressive would give me the means to size each case fully, which is body, neck, and then neck inside, so there’s an extra operation (the inside neck sizing). Again, if there’s a threaded hole for a die and a station point underneath that, it could work for me. But if I have to do the sizing and then, say, trimming, everything breaks down, and slows down.

I’ve been most wrongfully accused of knocking progressives. Not even a little bit am I doing that. The closer your starting point (sizing a clean case) is to your ending point (seating a bullet) the better a progressive will reward you. That’s all’s I’m saying.

Hornady Progressive Press
Progressive reloading presses are not at all just for straight-wall pistol cases. High-quality, precisely-constructed ammo can be produced on a progressive. Just need the right tooling and the right approaches. A “big” progressive, like this Hornady, can handle virtually any cartridge.

You will find, and it will be a natural evolution of your approach, that there is larger volume preparation work done for progressives. All I intend to suggest in that is that, as round-count volume increases, so too will round-count preparation. When I use a progressive I tend to “save up” empties and run bigger batches. Ways you might find to improve handling larger quantities is to split up bench sessions for decapping, cleaning, trimming, applying lube (even though I don’t think they work all that well, the spray-on lubes work easiest for prepping large quantities of cases), or whatever else you do prior to announcing a case is fit for a reload. I really think you should decap cases prior to running them on a progressive. Keep the press as clean as you can. Primer grit residue doesn’t help. Pay special attention to the keeping the priming station area clean.

decapping die
I strongly recommend using a decapping die prior to placing the cases on the shellplate. There’s a lot of grit otherwise that’s getting onto the mechanism. Pay particular attention to progressive priming parts: be watchful for any debris that could conceivably detonate a primer; that could be catastrophic.

The preceding was adapted from Glen Zediker’s newest book, Top-Grade Ammo, now available! Visit ZedkerPublishing.com or BuyZedikerBooks.com for more information. 

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4 thoughts on “Progressive Press Tricks”

  1. Good points. I just got a Lee “progressive” and depriming and making the primer hole “uniform” that is what I am going to do. Luring a batch of cases is still a work in progress for me. Thanks for the tips.

  2. Every time I start to push my LNL AP press , that is, try to hurry the process, it comes back and bites me. (Four operations are occurring with each cycle.) Then I have to stop and redo something. With my basic press ( no auto feeders ) the normal routine is to observe all operations with each half cycle. I do not deprime /size or prime on the press, although I have used this press to do both operations separately. I watch powder drop, powder cop, bullet seat, and bullet crimps ,each carefully, before proceeding to the next cycle. The additional setup time necessary with the progressive vs the turret press does dictate larger lots for processing.

  3. Using a separate decapping process is great advice, for progressive press owners. Lots of spent primer debris, and or tumbler media gets everywhere if your not careful.

    A second tip is to get a dedicated decapping die that is stout. Lee makes a great universal depriming die that I simply have not been able to break after 2000+ 556 brass and hundreds of 7.62.

  4. I’ve reloaded since the 80’s, single stage. I bought a Hornady LNL AP several years ago, before taking time to think thru the process of using one. Turns out, I’ve never really used it because it doesn’t match my reloading thought process and style – even for pistol rounds, which are measurably simpler with no necks or shoulders, and rare length trimming needs.

    Preferring to load with clean cases (including prepped primer pockets), means my progressive press may never really be used to its potential.

    But at least I got a bunch of ‘free’ bullets out of the deal. Or maybe I paid for the bullets and the press was free…

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