Troubleshooting Excess Headspace

Messages
137
Reactions
226
Just getting into rifle reloading and having difficulty narrowing down why I can't get my headspace down. Not sure if it is operator or equipment. Here is my timeline of events:
-Resized 200 pieces of brass a using RCBS 223 FL dies with depth set to just touch the the Lee #4 shellholder using a Lee Hand Press while on a long road trip
-Received a second hand 223 Case gauge and noticed that all my brass were sitting proud of the top of the gauge
-Troubleshot the gauge by using factory ammo and those looked fine
-Troubleshot the press by using a bench mounted Lee Single Stage Press set again to just touch the shellholder, no improvement
-Lowered the die such that when loaded with a piece of brass the die and holder made contact. This seemed to have an improvement but still out of spec
-Measured the deck of the shellholder and got .124-.125, which seemed to be standard

So my running theory is that my second hand RCBS die is too long? Googling around, it sounds like that can happen. Seems a little farfetched, but I am out of ideas.
 

DizzyJ

Messages
4,393
Reactions
4,437
How far over are you? Do you have a comparator to measure the headspace?

Sometimes dies can be too long, but I'd verify everything else first.

A machinist can trim off a few thousandths of an inch from the bottom of the die if necessary.
 
Messages
167
Reactions
200
When a fired case is resized, the brass has to go somewhere. The brass stretches', gets longer. Second thought; are you lubricating the inside neck area of every 2nd, 3rd, or 4th case??? As you raise the handle of the press the die backs away from the case and the expander ball opens the neck to the correct diameter to seat a bullet. This will also lengthens the case if the expander ball has to grinds its way out of the case. Experience and feel will tell how often to lubricate the inside neck of a case. At some point the case has to be inspected, trimmed, or tossed into the round file.

With a resized case only................!!! Chamber that puppy and see if the bolt, action, etc., will close the same as a new factory round. Careful with that loaded round!!! This should help to determine some issues................and there are good gunsmiths to check the firearm.

Foreverlost,
 

Mikej

Messages
11,742
Reactions
23,700
Where are you in potland? I've been told.....A comparator is the only way to go. .002"-.003" can make a difference. Those case gauges "I" don't think are that accurate. I'm pretty new to loading rifle rounds myself but between a comparator, new factory ammo, unsized fired in your gun ammo, resized brass from your gun and your micrometer you can read down to the .001" difference. I'd be happy to assist you with my comparator and press with your dies, new and your fired brass. There's a chance you need to screw the sizing die down another 1/8-1/4 turn. Also, you have trimmed to spec?

When a fired case is resized, the brass has to go somewhere. The brass stretches', gets longer. Second thought; are you lubricating the inside neck area of every 2nd, 3rd, or 4th case??? As you raise the handle of the press the die backs away from the case and the expander ball opens the neck to the correct diameter to seat a bullet. This will also lengthens the case if the expander ball has to grinds its way out of the case. Experience and feel will tell how often to lubricate the inside neck of a case. At some point the case has to be inspected, trimmed, or tossed into the round file.
That's a valid concern. I use the comparator on some of the cases AFTER sizing. I didn't have that issue with my first 6.5 Swede and .30-06. I went ahead and got a dry lube for inside the neck after that anyway. It made the up-stroke was somewhat easier.
 

Dyjital

Messages
10,993
Reactions
21,978

I had an issue too when I did 5.56/.223 brass.
The issue was that you should bump shoulder back more than you are. Make sure die and shell plate come in contact with one another when sizing then give it another 1/4 turn on the die just for good measure.

I thought it was my gun, turns out it was my brass and not sizing down enough.

More specific:
 
OP
Enginerd
Messages
137
Reactions
226
@DizzyJ I don't have a comparator. This is just based off of visual and sweeping an edge across the face of the gauge and it getting caught up. Folks on the internet recommended laping the shell holder rather than trim the die. Which is something more in my wheelhouse.
@Eveskcige28 That is 100% based on my googling. So I am no expert.
@coachmatt They did chamber in both my 223 guns. Before I had the case gauge I made a batch of 50 relying on OAL to keep me out of trouble. I didn't see any damage to the brass after firing and my guns didnt blow up. But now that I have identified this potential problem I am trying to rectify it.
@User 1234 I am not really following maybe I am unfamiliar with proper terminology. After I resize I trim the cases to the trim-to-length then seat the bullet to spec.
@Foreverlost You might be on to something. If I am understanding you correctly you need to lube INSIDE the case? I did not do that at all, only the outside. If so that makes perfect sense that the case would be resized correctly then stretched back out by the expander ball.
@Mikej That is a hell of an offer, I think I will take you up on it. To answer your question, I have been trimming post sizing.
@Dyjital I have tried adjusting the die deeper and deeper so with full stroke the die is contacting the holder. No luck.
 

Reno

Messages
11,091
Reactions
24,264
So the only thing telling you that your headspace is off is a case gauge? All other specs, measurements with calibers are on?

Do you chamfer and debur cases after sizing! Just troubleshooting here, but that could cause a case to get caught up when placed into a case gauge. Thicker neck with seated bullet. A quick measurement of the neck areas with a set of calipers could determine if that’s the issue. Or if you are performing this step, then disregard.

If not a set of calipers can still measure diameters throughout the case. So you can compare a resized and loaded cartridge against a factory loaded round and see if anything is off. Which could lead to a better idea of the die is off.
 

Dyjital

Messages
10,993
Reactions
21,978
@Dyjital I have tried adjusting the die deeper and deeper so with full stroke the die is contacting the holder. No luck.
Guessing you aren't using Small Base die set either. I think I ended up going with one of those after my issues. Best suited for semi-auto if I recall correctly.

May want to verify on box dies came on for item #. RCBS Part # 11103

Let me know if you'd like to run my Small Base die through the paces. I am not sizing 5.56/.223 right now (for AR's) and could send your way, if it sizes down then you know where the issue is. Or I could swap you out the entire small base set for your regular set. I don't load for an AR anymore and have no plans to run .223 semi-auto so this die set just undersizes everything without purpose.
 
Last edited:

Reno

Messages
11,091
Reactions
24,264
Not sure who’s case gauge you’re using, but I tend to go with Sheridan gauges for the fact I can see the cartridge in the gauge.
 
OP
Enginerd
Messages
137
Reactions
226
@Reno Within the tools I have at my disposal, correct the case gauge is the only thing off. I have tried about 20 or so randomly selected of the 200 and all but one failed. Some where chamfer/deburred at that point. Is there any specific measurements I should be be looking for and what a typical tolerance would be?
@Dyjital I might take you up on that offer, but I will try some more troubleshooting before I hassle ya.
@Reno It is a lyman. Kind of just stumbled into it tbh. Beggars can't be choosers. Ill keep an eye out for sheridan in the future.

I really appreciate all the help here guys. In the process of trying to troubleshoot this specific issue I have inadvertently learned quite a few things that will help me down the road with reloading. This community really is something special.
 

Reno

Messages
11,091
Reactions
24,264
@Reno Within the tools I have at my disposal, correct the case gauge is the only thing off. I have tried about 20 or so randomly selected of the 200 and all but one failed. Some where chamfer/deburred at that point. Is there any specific measurements I should be be looking for and what a typical tolerance would be?
@Dyjital I might take you up on that offer, but I will try some more troubleshooting before I hassle ya.
@Reno It is a lyman. Kind of just stumbled into it tbh. Beggars can't be choosers. Ill keep an eye out for sheridan in the future.

I really appreciate all the help here guys. In the process of trying to troubleshoot this specific issue I have inadvertently learned quite a few things that will help me down the road with reloading. This community really is something special.
Without a comparator, your stuck with a set of calipers. Which can still measure the same things, just a bit differently. I’d take a failed round, per that gauge, and a factory loaded round and measure everything. See what differences you get.

I brought up brass prep as a case gauge measures many things. If the neck is too wide from not being prepped, it will not fit all the way. If the case is not trimmed, it won’t fit, if the shoulder isn’t bumped back enough, it won’t fit. Bullet seated too far out, hits throat, won’t fit. If the base is too wide it won’t fit.

You can take a blue sharpie to the entire thing and see where it rubs inside the case gauge too.

Sheridan case gauges are open, you can see where it is off...

1606341914822.jpeg
 
OP
Enginerd
Messages
137
Reactions
226
Update: As odd as it sounds, the cheap lee press appears to be the culprit. Dies worked just fine on a RCBS press. Would have figured it would be able to handle the small .223 case, but that is what troubleshooting has lead me to believe. If someone cares enough I could post my procedure that lead me to this conclusion. Running theory is that because hinge location is in front of the piston rather than off to either side the press does not preform the camming action required to make the necessary short hard pressure to bump the shoulder down. I could be wrong. Always figured I would upgrade this press eventually, just maybe after a couple thousand safely loaded rounds first.

Huge shoutout to @DizzyJ for tolerating this novice on the phone for a whole hour, I learned a ton.

Huge shoutout to @Mikej for inviting me over to test my dies on his gear and teaching me numerous things.
 

DizzyJ

Messages
4,393
Reactions
4,437
Glad you got it figured out. That's great Mike was able to use his equipment to help problem solve. It is surprising your press couldn't handle the .223 case.
 
OP
Enginerd
Messages
137
Reactions
226
I am with you. Tried my dies, my shell holder, his rcbs case lube pad, his redding dry neck lube, with him setting it up on fresh brass. Brass came out good. Repeated the above but with my press and the brass had too much headspace. I read through the lee press' manual and it didn't say anything about "only for pistol/straight wall cartridges", in fact it had a couple pictures of rifle cartridges on it. So I don't know. The only thing I will say is, the cases weren't that far out of spec. Yea they did not pass the gauge, but only by a couple thou. I would wager they would fire just fine, but I am already nervous enough shooting reloads.
 

UPCOMING EVENTS

Free Firearms Safety Course Webinar (I-1639 Compliant)
Virtual Webinar (Zoom). Registration Link in the course description.
Washington, USA
Rimfire Challenge Feb 13th @ DRRC
Douglas Ridge Rifle Club
27787 OR-224, Eagle Creek, OR 97022, USA
Project Appleseed
Douglas Ridge Rifle Club
27787 OR-224, Eagle Creek, OR 97022, USA
Albany Rifle & Pistol Club (ARPC) Gun Show
Linn County Expo Center
3700 Knox Butte Rd E, Albany, OR 97322, USA

LATEST RESOURCE REVIEWS

  • HighLine Firearms
    5.00 star(s)
    Great Vendor
    I have not been to the shop yet but have purchased from him online, and all I can say is PERFECT! You could not ask for a nicer, more helpful guy...
  • Paul A Martin Historical Guns
    5.00 star(s)
    Great shop, selection and atmosphere
    One of the better firearm shop experiences I’ve had, Paul is very patient and helpful. Definitely going to be a repeat customer even though it’s...
  • Adaptive Firing Solutions
    5.00 star(s)
    Great Service! A+
    Steve is a very nice guy and very easy to work with. I've done business with him a few times and will continue to.
  • Adaptive Firing Solutions
    5.00 star(s)
    Great guy!
    Steve is a great guy to deal with!
  • HighLine Firearms
    5.00 star(s)
    Nice Home Shop
    Had what I wanted at a good price. Messaged me when in stock.
Top Bottom