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Thread: Enfield Headspace

  1. #1
    Boolit Master

    alamogunr's Avatar
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    Enfield Headspace

    I am expecting an Enfield No.4 Mk2 to be delivered today. This will be my second of this particular rifle. The one I am expecting today is "unissued" per Empire Arms. I want to shoot both rifles and reload cast bullets(boolits) but I have read in various places that headspace can vary to the extent that brass life is limited.

    Can someone educate me on these rifles and headspace?

    I understand that some Enfields were modified(?) by installing a new bolt face to correct headspace but I'm not sure that I should even be thinking about that.

    Any help will be appreciated.
    John
    W.TN

  2. #2
    Boolit Master
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    The .303 round headspaces on the rim of the cartridge. The easiest way to check it is to use a fired case and push the primer part way out, then chamber the case and close the bolt. It will push the primer back in and you will have the headspace by subtracting the measured length of the case before pushing the primer out and after chambering.

    I can't remember the exact numbers but it is around .066-.076 LOOK IT UP!!! I'm not sure !!! ACTUALLY .064-.074 Thanks Outpost

    There are different bolt faces available to correct if you are outside the numbers.

    Also when loading your cases "Neck Size" only as the shoulder gets moved forward a good bit when first fired to fill the chamber which is "generous". If you push it back by F/L sizing all it does is stretch the case and they will separate after 1 or 2 loadings. I would suggest a Lee Collet Neck Sizing Die for this operation.

    Randy
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  3. #3
    Boolit Master northmn's Avatar
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    I shot cast out of my Lee Enfields. Basically you have 3 choices. Shoot new brass and watch very closely for head separation, keep the brass separate for each rifle and neck size, or try to find new bolt faces. I neck sized, which helped the brass last longer. Some made cases out of 30-40 Krag cases as they have a slightly larger case.
    These rifles were designed to be a bit loose as the military ammo was not noted to be highly standardized and was only meant to be shot once. Also increased reliability in poor conditions.

    DEP

  4. #4
    Boolit Master




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    https://www.ammoland.com/2015/11/bri...#axzz53uIJf6o3
    here is a decent article on the Lee Enfield rifle to help you.
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  5. #5
    Boolit Master Jack Stanley's Avatar
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    I load for two different rifles as well and generally keep the brass separate . If for any reason I need to change that practice , my "full length" size die is set to partially size cases so they will fit either rifle . I set it so the bolt closes with slight resistance on the tighter chambered rifle . I do this because the diameter of one rifle is a little larger than the other and the shoulders are different .

    When firing ammo in a chamber that I know the shoulder is going to move a lot . I use a small "O" ring tight against the rim holding the case against the bolt face . You'll feel resistance as you close the bolt on this but it only needs to be done once . If you can find a better bolt head that's great too , personally I think it's better to either neck size or use a Redding bushing die and keep cases separate .

    Jack
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  6. #6
    Boolit Master Outpost75's Avatar
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    Normal .303 headspace measurements are (0.064" / 0.074") in British military specifications.

    A new No. 4 normally is fitted with a 0 (Zero) size bolt head, but if it has a size 1 that’s OK.

    After firing 3500-5000 rounds, continued firing compresses the locking lugs, bolt, and the bolt head, shortening the assembly and increasing headspace.

    Armourers then re-fit the next size "up" bolt head and you away you go again until the barrel is shot out. When the rifle goes Factory Through Repair a new bolt head the next size "up" is fitted with the new barrel. No. 4 Bolt heads were made in 4 sizes (0, 1, 2, & 3). Only a very few number size 4 were made for wartime use only.

    Normally if a number 3 does not correct headspace, a new bolt is tried with bolt head 0, 1, 2, or 3. If the headspace still cannot be corrected it means that the lug seats in the receiver were buggered, and such rifles would be scrapped.

    To confuse the issue further bolt head size 'numbers' are almost meaningless, due to tolerance stacking and overlap. You must use a headspace gage and try several bolt heads, because it is necessary to gage the headspace DIMENSION not simply change a bolt head SIZE.
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  7. #7
    Boolit Master
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    alamogunr,

    I reload for 20+ .303 SMLE rifles of various Numbers and Marks with LONG case life. First, I reload specifically for EACH individual rifle and put a loading slip with each box of ammo stating for which arm the ammo is for. The .303 headspaces on the rim, but the rifle also headspaces on the shoulder upon firing. Once is ok, but let the case shoulder stay where the rifle set it by NOT rolling it BACK to where is should not be if you Full Length resize. If you work with your SMLE, you will resize to get just a slight "Crunch" fit on the resized case by backing off the resizing die a turn or two and trying it in small down adjustments to just get it right. My .303 die box has a long list of individual rifles and a note of "-1/8 or -1/4 turn" from shell holder contact to accommodate specific rifles.

    Unfortunately, some die makers say to crank the resizing die down to the shell holder and "go another half turn." Doing so ensures SHORT .303 case life. Take your pick. I hope this helps.

    Adam

  8. #8
    Boolit Master

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    I would say that if the rifle is unissued/new your concern is premature. It may be just fine. Since you intend to shoot cast bullets in it, and assuming the reasonable loads that go with cast bullets, I doubt if you'll ever experience a headspace problem. But, for long-lived brass I'd suggest that you reuse the same brass in the same chamber, and neck size only.

  9. #9
    Boolit Master Reverend Al's Avatar
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    I form the brass to the chamber of the individual rifle (I have a few .303's ...). I neck expand to oversized (8mm or even to .35 calibre) then slowly adjust the sizer down until the newly formed shoulder JUST allows the bolt to close. Fire-form and then neck size only. Works for me ...
    I may have passed my "Best Before" date, but I haven't reached my "Expiry" date!

  10. #10
    Boolit Master

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    Thanks to all. I've already bookmarked a couple of threads on the Enfield and will add the article link provided by Bruce Drake. With 2 rifles, I think that I will probably just use different headstamp brass with each rifle. Somehow I have ended up with 100 pcs of new Remington brass and a small sack full of other brass.

    One of the threads I bookmarked deals with using the O-ring and only needs to be done for the first shot with new brass and thereafter only neck size as Jack Stanley posted. I hope I understood that correctly.

    Again, thanks. BTW, I've been at home all afternoon and somehow the UPS driver managed to sneak up to the door and post a non-delivery form on the door. I knew that delivery required a signiture and my hearing is not impaired so he didn't make any noise sticking that note on the door. I guess I will have to sit on the steps tomorrow in order not to miss him.
    John
    W.TN

  11. #11
    Boolit Master
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    A new rifle should not need o rings......in fact forcing the bolt closed continuously may cause excessive lug wear.......fitting a bolt head to close "tight" will surely cause excess lug wear........anyway,if you load cast,the case neck will need to be sized to take .313/4" dia bullets,the only cheap way of sizing for this dimension is the Lee collet die.......otherwise you will need custom made necksizing dies.......the Lee collet isnt perfect,as it leaves lines on the neck,especially when set large.But brass life is greatly increased.

  12. #12
    Boolit Master
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    The Brits don't seem to have had a good standard for their chambers.
    The US SAAMI and the European CIP standards are very close and the chamber and ammo dimensions match.
    The British chambers are way too long to the shoulder. The Brit chambers do not match the die sold in the US. Brit chambers also vary a lot from each other.
    The best way to extend case life is to start with new PPU BRASS.
    Install an O ring in front of the rim.
    Wrap a single wrap of Scotch tape around the head in front of the rim.
    Fire form the case with a moderate load. Then neck size and use moderate loads for the life of the brass.
    Most other combinations will result in rapid case head separations.
    The Brits did not care about reloading. Their lack of chamber to ammo dimensional control makes you wonder about their small arms engineering. I guess that is why most of their sporting rifles originated in Europe.
    EDG

  13. #13
    Boolit Master
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    I think that the military wanted loose chambers so that corroded and dirty ammo would still work even if the gun was dirty and fouled too. Since they didn't reload, then saving the brass for reloading is not needed.

  14. #14
    Boolit Master
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    I went through all of this with my No.4 MK1 Enfield. I managed to find a specimen of each of the various bolt sizes but none of them really fixed my headspace problem. The one marked "0" was actually shorter than the one marked "2". Bolt heads number "1" and "3" were the same length so I tried the longest one I could find. (I found them for sale on Ebay) The longest ones; "1" and "3" gave to much resistance upon closing the bolt with the particular brass I was using.

    In the end I re-barreled my Enfield and used a SAMI sized reamer to re-chamber. Since this was the first re-barreling job I'd ever done and my lathe skills were dreadfully lacking, I used the "Savage Barrel-Nut" method to re-barrel my gun. That gave me the option of using anyone of the bolt-heads I had on hand. I simply inserted the Go-Gauge into the chamber and then screwed the barrel into the receiver with the bolt locked down into batter until the Go-Gauge bumped up against the bolt-face. At that point when I snugged the barrel-nut down, the torque it imparted then pulled the Go-Gauge and the Bolt-Face just far enough apart to give me the perfect headspace.

    I do neck size only but, ever since that re-barrel job I've been using the same brass for about four or five years with no signs of stretching or case head separation. I don't get out to shot my Enfield as often as I used to so the four or five years realistically more like two years of actual shooting.

    HollowPoint

  15. #15
    Boolit Man
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    If you shoot it a lot you might want to purchase a case extractor from brownells. It always goes with me when I am shooting my SMLE's.

  16. #16
    Boolit Master
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    If you have a case head separation and you don't have a broken case extractor just use a fired case.
    Jam the fired case inside the broken case and pull the bolt back.
    The wedged case will pull the broken case out without any issues.
    Ihave done this more than a few times.
    EDG

  17. #17
    Boolit Master
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    I tend to agree with you yet other countries fought WWI without super sloppy chambers.. The US fought WWII with normal chambers in autoloading rifles. Veterans will tell you that malfunctioning Garand rifles were almost non-existant.

    Quote Originally Posted by Earlwb View Post
    I think that the military wanted loose chambers so that corroded and dirty ammo would still work even if the gun was dirty and fouled too. Since they didn't reload, then saving the brass for reloading is not needed.
    EDG

  18. #18
    Boolit Master

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    Thanks to all for the discussion. I'm learning all that I didn't know about Enfields which was just about everything. Not sure that my new rifle will be delivered today. We have about 4" of snow over sleet or freezing rain(don't know the difference). Last nite about 10 PM it was 57º and raining. This morning it was 24º and sleet turning to snow. Not a big deal to a lot of you but here in W. TN it is a big deal. I don't know if it is a big deal to UPS or not. We'll see.
    John
    W.TN

  19. #19
    Boolit Master

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    You can segregate the brass between rifles and then size to just bump the shoulder back, A simple gage can be made to measure this from a nut or piece of steel. You only want to "bump" the shoulder back .002" - .003", this makes a fitted case that chambers easily and is sized the minimum amount needed. Like a belted magnum sized like this case life is extended, accuracy is usually improved and brass isn't as over worked.

    If your rifles cases measure close enough then one die setting may work and cases may interchange.

    The above mentioned gage use a 1" nut or piece of flat stock ( 1/2" X 3/4" X 3/4" or slightly bigger) On center line 1?2" X 3/4" or center of flat on the nut drill a hole .010 bigger than loaded neck dia. drill this thru the block or both flats on a nut. lightly chamfer the hole with a center drill of chamfer tool which ever is close to shoulder angle. Or a rib can be frmed by drilling a step +.100 over loaded round dia X .100-.125 deep and another at .010 over shoulder dia and .050 deep. this leaves a ring to register the shoulder at mid point of the angle. You wont get an actual measurement but a comparison measurement, measure the fired cases ie fired case 2.655 and size to 2.653 measured with the gage and your calipers. This leaves only .002 clearance on the shoulder a light sizing of the body and full neck sizing. Measuring cases from both rifles will tell you the difference. A simple way is to measure them and set die to shortest one then make a shim for the second to achieve the desired result

  20. #20
    PAPERPATCH MASTER


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    Quote Originally Posted by EDG View Post
    If you have a case head separation and you don't have a broken case extractor just use a fired case.
    Jam the fired case inside the broken case and pull the bolt back.
    The wedged case will pull the broken case out without any issues.
    Ihave done this more than a few times.
    I run a cleaning rod with a 35 cal brass brush on it and pull it backwards pulling the seperated case back into the action.Robert

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Abbreviations used in Reloading

BP Bronze Point IMR Improved Military Rifle PTD Pointed
BR Bench Rest M Magnum RN Round Nose
BT Boat Tail PL Power-Lokt SP Soft Point
C Compressed Charge PR Primer SPCL Soft Point "Core-Lokt"
HP Hollow Point PSPCL Pointed Soft Point "Core Lokt" C.O.L. Cartridge Overall Length
PSP Pointed Soft Point Spz Spitzer Point SBT Spitzer Boat Tail
LRN Lead Round Nose LWC Lead Wad Cutter LSWC Lead Semi Wad Cutter
GC Gas Check