Friday, June 22, 2007

Lock-N-Load report #2 - The first 150 rounds

So, I loaded the first 150 rounds on the L-n-L today; using up the last of my federal large pistol primers (I prefer CCI; I grabbed the Federal as a stopgap when my local was out of CCI). That pic there is of the first hundred.

I timed it, noting any errors or hitches etc... The first fifty went through without a problem, and took a few seconds under 7 minutes.

I had a single failure in the second fifty; a stuck primer after 22 rounds. It caused a one minute delay in fixing the problem; and the second fifty took 2 seconds under 8 minutes (including the repair).

When the primer tube ran out, I noted that I really needed some kind of primer status indicator; so I made one.

Oh, it wasn't absolutely necessary (I knew I had 100 cases in the hopper to load, and could also tell from the feel of the upstroke - though honestly, I still prefer hand priming with a Lee auto prime, because the feel is far better - whether I had primers or not); but I wanted some approximation of the current level of primers in the tube while I was loading, so I could be ready with another tube of primers etc... if I wasn't counting cases.

What I did was, I took a plain piece of steel wire (a coat hangar actually, that I'd straightened thoroughly), cleaned it up, and scuffed up the top 2" of it (yes, technically there is a very tiny chance of sparking. When I get a chance I'll make one out of brass rod). Then I grabbed a couple of small split washers, tapped them into the primer pocket on an empty .38 case, and sautered them in place with a larger washer over the top of them, and into the position on the wire (plugging the small amount of space left between the wire and the washers).

Then I took a stack of washers that fit relatively tightly into the .38 case, topped them with a nut, and sweated the whole stack with solder. I should have brazed them, but I'm out of brazing rod.

Finally I checked the wire for true; buffed the whole thing (including the wire), slipped it in to the tube, trimmed it to a length that would lock up the primer slide when the tube was empty, and buffed the tip smooth.

Here it is, in place above, and in detail showing the resting position when the tube is empty. Next time I fill it up I'm going to mark off the depth for each 10 primers so I always know where I am in the stack.

Unfortunately, I didn't need the rod to lock up the primer slide. While I was testing the new primer check, the slide locked itself up even when the rod wasn't in place.

Not good.

Thankfully, after I broke the priming system down, cleaned it, and re-lubricated it; all was smooth and functional.

It was a bit of a pain to tear down the priming system and reinstall it (though not as much as on an XL650) ... actually rehooking the slide return spring was the hardest part... Thankfully you don't need to completely break it down to change the primer size; you just pull the slide out, put the other size slide in, and unscrew one size piston (which is mounted in a 7/16 nut) replacing it with the other.

After I fixed the primer system, the final fifty went through again without a hitch; and completed in just over 7 minutes.

So the total was 22 minutes for 150 rounds; or just under 450 rounds per hour.

Considering that 450 rounds per hour is without a case feeder, and that I was going fairly slowly, and never really established a rhythm; I'm reasonably certain I could get at least 50% faster without the feeder, and may be able to double that speed (to 900 rounds per hour) with the feeder. I figure at worst I'm looking at 650 per hour with the feeder.

Compare that to the 150-250 rounds per hour I was able to do at my FASTEST using a turret press... wow.

Honestly, the difference in workload and effort here is amazing. With the feeder in place, I would have been able to load a full range days worth (usually about 250 rounds of .45 acp if I've got other guns with me) in a little more than 20 minutes; and even without the feeder it would only have been a bit more than half an hour.

Basically, loading large batches isn't the wearying task that it has been.

So... Is this thing going to save me money?

In theory yes, but in reality I'm probably just going to shoot more... It IS going to save me time; a hell of a lot in fact; and time is far more important than money.

I only have one point of dissatisfaction with the L-n-L so far; and that is the shell locating. Dillon uses locator buttons on the base plate specific to each caliber; which hold the cases rigidly and properly aligned in the shell plate. That means less fiddling with the cases, and fewer hitches in loading. I did have some issues with cases that had a bit more stretch at the mouth needing to be realigned on sizing.

Of course the retention system the L-n-L uses (a retention spring) allows you to easily pull cartridges out from any station; something you can't do as easily with the Dillon, and which allows a lot of versatility and flexibility. Really the best thing about it is it makes it easier to fix your screwups (the L-n-L bushings help greatly there as well).

Oh wait, actually two points: This thing desperately needs a bullet tray; but theres no good place to mount one without modifying the frame of the press (drilling and tapping a mount), which might lead to cracks. Seriously though, a well placed bullet tray would have taken at least 2 seconds off every pull.

Now I just have to get the case feeder, the four feeder plates (small and large pistol, small and large rifle) and the rest of the shell plates I need (9mm, .223, .38/.357)... and I s'pose a few more bushings and powder measure inserts (for quick changes)... and a few more die sets for that matter. I have dies for all my pistol calibers, .223, and 7.62x39; but I don't have dies for my .303, .30-06, or 7.62x54r rifles.

Now, here's the thing. Totalling it all up (and counting the $180 rebate); the press, the case feeder, all the feed plates and shell plates; and all the bushing for all the calibers I'll be loading; it's still less than the XL650 with case feeder and one caliber set.

More once the case feeder get here (next Friday probably).