Headspace And Gauges

An understanding of headspace and gauges is critical to gunsmithing.

by RK Campbell

I recently had an ugly experience with excessive headspace when testing a handgun. Not only was the individual handgun unsafe, it seems the design itself was beyond any of the usual fixes. Understanding headspace and its consequences is critical. In this case, the maker did not understand headspace or somewhere in the manufacturing process something went wrong. It isn’t that uncommon.

For example, Lee-Enfield rifles fought in two world wars and are regarded as the most reliable military bolt actions, yet the action was loose enough that handloaders often complain of brass stretching and short case life. This intentional looseness was deemed an acceptable trade off when the rifle was designed and built but isn’t ideal for the enthusiastic handloader. Headspace on these rifles may be adjusted by use of a different bolt but that is a specific fix and we’re looking at the broad picture.

Headspace is the distance from the breechface to a finite point in the chamber. Different cartridges demand different points of measurement and need to be understood.

Read more in the April 2016 issue.

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