RELOADERS CORNER: Progressive Press Tips

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Progressive reloading presses are speedy and efficient ammo-creating machines, and here’s a few tips on getting the most from yours. READ MORE

Hornady AP

Glen Zediker

A “progressive” reloading press is a stellar invention. Originally conceived for use in commercial loading, the consumer segment latched onto them for the simple reason that those who consume mass quantities of ammo needed to take some of the time and tedium away from the necessary process of handloading. They were no doubt popularized with a lot of help from those involved in the (then) new sport of practical pistol shooting.

Clearly, if you think 1000 rounds is a reasonable expenditure in a day, you’ll probably be loading for your handgun on a progressive. However! They work for rifles too.

A question most have, or have had, is whether rifle ammo loaded on a progressive will shoot as well as that loaded up on a single-stage. If you have had that question, this article will help you answer “yes.” Some concerns using progressives revolve around overcoming some of the lack of control we can have using single-stage, stand-alone tools.

Hornady progressive press
Progressive presses are not just for straight-wall pistol cases. High-quality 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. I like Hornady, by the way, because of the tooling option flexibility.

The name “progressive” comes from the machine’s rotating shell plate that progressively moves a cartridge case from one step in the process to the next, from start to finish. Each pull of the press handle advances one case, another is added, and so on. A loaded round emerges at the end of the ride. Along the way each routine step in the reloading process gets done: decapping, sizing, priming, propellant dispensing, bullet seating. There are varying levels of automation, corresponding with varying levels of complexity, corresponding with varying levels of cost. Some require more or less user-supplied input (manual shell plate indexing, and so on) while others are near about hands-free, with case and bullet feeders and the like.

It’s a bench-mounted ammo assembly line.

As started on, each essential op is supplied by a toolhead that has four or more tool stations to correspond with the openings on the shell plate.

Most progressives I’ve seen arrive complete and ready to set up: all you need, all it needs. Take a look at what they’ve given you.

Get “good” dies. Most progressives will accept 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.

Hornady AP press
This’ll getcha done in a hurry! Hornady AP (“ammo plant”) with auto bullet and case feeding.

If it’s possible, upgrade the powder meter. This can often be done using a “conversion kit” if the press isn’t already outfitted with linkage that will cycle another powder meter operating handle. A good propellant dispenser always makes a difference!

Address primer pockets. The priming operation inherent in a progressive doesn’t provide the feel of a stand-alone tool. That’s not a problem at all if all primers are all seated fully. To help ensure that, I say it’s wise to run a primer pocket uniformer. That way, the pocket will be what it should be, so the priming operation should “automatically” result in a properly-seated primer. Sometimes adjustments to the mechanism are necessary, by the way.

Keep the press pieces clean and lubed. Most function issues come from neglect here. Remember that all ops revolve around the revolution of the shell plate so keep it clean and lubed appropriately. Pay attention especially to the priming mechanism.

And mount a progressive securely. There is a huge amount of pressure and stress involved especially on a “big” one. Think again about how many tasks are being processed each stroke, and consider those processes, and it’s clear that this big bad boy best be fastened down. It’s also noticeably easier to operate a progressive when it’s rigidly mounted. Press op feel greatly improves.

Reasons not to use a progressive? Not really, or none that really affect ammo quality. For me it’s primarily stepping up to the level of trust necessary. Single-stage? It’s all and each done one at a time. Chance for a mis-seated primer or short-charged case are more remote. Keep a close eye on results using a progressive. Don’t get either in too big a hurry or complacent. I check each round after the fact, looking mostly for high primers.

The more pre-progressive case prep you do (maybe) the better. Much of that depends on what you routinely do to or for cases. Trimming, for instance, primer pocket cleaning, primer pocket uniforming, and on down the list. The main reason I don’t use progressives more than I do is because I radically slow them down! All those ops are stand-alone station processes.

decapping die
Prior decapping is wise. I recommend this op prior to case cleaning (gets the primer pockets). But decapping prior to putting the cases on a progressive eliminates a huge amount of grit that otherwise will get onto and into the mechanism. Pay close attention to progressive priming parts: look out for any debris, which could conceivably detonate a primer; that can and has been catastrophic. And take care filling primer tubes! Know when to stop, know when they’re full.

The closer your starting point (sizing a clean case) is to your ending point (seating a bullet) the better a progressive will reward you.

Last: Keep a close watch on supply levels! The efficiency of a good progressive creates a time warp for me. I am always surprised how quickly primer and propellant supply empty. Warning buzzers are most welcome!

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Glen’s books, Handloading For Competition and Top-Grade Ammo, are available at Midsouth HERE. For more information about other books by Glen, visit ZedikerPublishing.com and check out more articles and a brand new book on AR15s! HERE.

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4 thoughts on “RELOADERS CORNER: Progressive Press Tips”

  1. if your goal is to load a bunch of ammo quickly at a lower cost than you can buy these progressive presses are great.
    if your goal is to load ammo that is better than anything you can buy at any cost you are using the wrong equipment for the task you are attempting to complete.
    the huge flaw in these progressives,all brands,is the powder measure. i have used every brand measure on the market and they all have the same problem. some are better than others but the problem is they drop powder by volume not weight. no matter how careful you are you can be off your target weight by .1grain +or- . if your charge weight is 6 grains and 1 round is 5.9 the next 6.1 then you get a 6 this will cause problems if you are trying to win a match or put every shot in the same hole. most powder measures out there wont even be this consistent.
    i know most people dont think this is enough to stop using the progressives and that is fine. i choose to weigh every charge and create ammo that you cant purchase at any price.
    lastly if you just want ammo to blast away with i dont know why you bother to reload anyway as you would be hard pressed to reload ammo cheaper than $9.00 a box of 50 9mm that is readily available in many stores.
    the electronic scale/powder measures have the same problem, they just dont weigh to a close enough tolerance for me.

  2. The biggest problems of all brands of progressives are priming, powder measure, primer pocket uniforming on military brass and the lack of fully cycling the press. If you short stroke it, you will mess up at least three of the five stations. Progressives are not for everyone and so many buy them, find they do not do what they though they would and then sell them. We use progressives in our business and they have their place, but not for everything. You will be far better served with a turret press if you are loading bottleneck rifle ammo for hunting. One of the best turret presses, IMHO, is the Lee Classic turret press. It indexes each pull of the handle, you don’t have to manually rotate it to the next station. It can also me manually rotated by removing the indexing bar. We have used it to load thousand and thousands of rounds of rifle ammo with no problems. Easy to check each round for powder also. But back to the progressives, sorry Glen, they are great for 9, 38, 357, 10 and on and on. If you load longer cartridges like the 445 SM and the 460, they will cause problems. They definitely have their place for volume shooters, and with the correct powder they measure will measure awful close. Don’t expect it to be a great deal though if you don’t have the patience to run it.

    1. I completely agree. With all of the detailed processes I perform in order to get tolerances to a thousandth or less so that can get tiny incremental accuracy improvements, I’m not about to accept plus or minus 0.1 to 0.2 variances in the powder charge which is one of the most important factors in precision handloading.

      If my needs were such that I had to make thousands of pistol rounds at a time, I would consider a progressive but until then I’ll stick with my LCT and Redding T-7 presses.

  3. I have been using my LnL AP for ten years. It loads everything from .45 ACP to several rifle calibers, case forming for wildcats, all in quantities from a few to thousands. I’ve tried turret presses, single stage presses of several types, and other progressives. Didn’t like most of them for various reasons. I can turn out precision loads for all of my rifle calibers with very little extra effort, despite what a lot of people say about the LnL. I don’t shoot as much as I used to, and a single stage would be plenty as far as volume goes, but I wouldn’t get rid of the LnL for anything.

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