Whan to check headspace?


February 16, 2007, 09:26 AM
I've done some reading about rifles and headspace for rimmed and rimless cartridges. I guess it's time to ask, when would you check headspace, or when would you feel it wise to do so?

I'm asking in the context of buying pretty much milsurp type rifles.
#1) I was given a Mauser K98 as a gift, which was purchased from Mitchell's Mausers. (I know, maybe not the best place to order one from, but I appreciate the gift nontheless). I promptly went out, bought some eastbloc 8mm Mauser surplus, and went through 100 or 200 rounds. Only this week did my internet reading teach me about checking headspace and what can happen if there's too little or too much. My Mauser is a 1939 one that appears to have been moderately used. Had you been given this rifle, would you have paid the $30 for a smith to check the headspace, or would you have paid the ~$60 for a field and a go headspace gauge? The Mauser K98 btw has vent holes in the bolt just in case of cartridge failure, so maybe this is one you could get away with if the rifle appeared worn out and maybe too much headspace.

#2) I was also given a Chinese Norinco SKS that was brought into the US something like 20 years ago but never fired. Likewise, as soon as I got the cosmoline cleaned out of it, I went and shot off a bunch of "golden tiger" Russian ammo I bought. No problems at all and works like a champ. Would you check headspace on an SKS or pay someone to do it? And, can headspace gauges be used in semi-auto rifles? From reading I understand the idea of using a go/no-go gauge in a bolt rifle, either the bolt closes or it doesn't. I don't know if I could tell if the SKS bolt was actually shut all the way on a no-go gauge though. What's your thinking on this?

#3) I'm considering buying a couple of additional Yugo SKS rifles and probably at least one Mosin-Nagent 91/30 or an M38/M44. Would you be concerned about headspace on a rifle bought from a dealer over the internet? At least the dealers I've looked at don't specify this issue, a couple say to let them know of "serious" problems asap and I would think that a headspace issue would be "serious", who knows how they look at it?

One last thought or question about checking headspace oneself or having it done: seems to me that for bolt action rifles, if I might be collecting several of the same kind, I ought to buy a field and a go gauge at least for what I plan to get, e.g. 7.62x54R. Less sure about the SKS 7.62x39 for the above reason. Or, is headspace important enough that you'd recommend paying a pro $30 to do it, just to be sure? What are your 'alls thoughts?

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Dr. Dickie
February 16, 2007, 09:34 AM
When you buy a rifle from a reputable source (some do not consider Mitchell's reputable, but that is another thread--already done to death), they will have checked the headspace, and tell you that it is okay. If you shoot it, and there are no bulges in the case (near the rim) then the headspace is likely fine.
If you are like me, you check the headspace just because it helps to understand the operation of the rifle better, and when you buy used from an individual (especially off the internet), you just feel better knowing the headspace is safe (that usually means a field gauge).
If you plan on getting a few rifles of the same caliber, then I would go ahead and get some headspace gauges (this is provided that you are mechanically inclined enough to do the check yourself). If you are just going to have a couple of rifles, and not get more, then just pay someone to check it for you. Or even better, find someone at the range that will check it for you for free.

February 16, 2007, 11:14 AM
Ah, ok then. Would excessive headspace cause bulges in steel cased ammo, too? I've been shooting the eastbloc non-reloadable steel case stuff and haven't seen any bulges or whatnot on spent casings, on either the K98 or my SKS. Thanks for the advice and perspective.

Dr. Dickie
February 16, 2007, 11:25 AM
The case would bulge regardless of composition (else you would not need a chamber). Now, non-bulges do not absolutely mean that the headspace is good, just likely that it is okay; however, if you have been shooting the rifles and not had any problems, I would not really lose any sleep over it.
For a new (to you) rifle that is old and of unknown usage, I would want to check the headspace before I shoot it, but I am cautious and into checking things out.
Course, keep in mind, I am still a rookie at all of this here stuff, so if someone more knowledgeable comes along and says I am full of it, I would not rule it out.

February 16, 2007, 12:34 PM
I'm with the good Doctor here. If you're into mil-surp, get the headspace checked! Could save your fingers or eyes one day.

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