by Glen Zediker
First, I want to thank everyone who’s reading “Reloaders Corner,” and especially those who take the time to post comments and questions. That’s the fun of the web for me: it’s a closer connection to my readers and fellow shooters. Judging from a few responses to the last couple of articles on case sizing, I’d like to offer a little more detail to ensure there’s been no misunderstandings or misinterpretations.
I don’t have a lot of space here to cover all the smaller but often important peripherals associated with any larger topic. In the few hundred words I have available, it has to be a more specific treatment of a more specific thing, and that’s why I’ve been doing some of this material as series installments. There are a number of folks who claim neck-only sizing is necessary for best accuracy, and, in effect, that full-length sizing is a compromise, favoring function over accuracy. I want to use this space here this time to clarify a few potential confusions. And I’m not even really disagreeing with anyone.
To review, neck-only sizing is when only the case neck, all or some portion of it, is sized to adequately retain a bullet for another firing. The case body is not touched by the die interior, and the case shoulder may or may not be set back; that depends on the die design and operator preference. The idea is to better preserve the fired case dimensions; that is, make the case more closely mirror the rifle chamber’s dimensions. One advantage of neck-only sizing comes to those who expect dozens of loadings from a case. This tactic does, indeed, minimize case stretching on subsequent firings.
Mostly, do not get the impression that full-length sizing — essentially following the steps and methods I suggested in the past two articles — is short-circuiting on-target accuracy. It’s not. Not if tooling is what it should be and the operator makes the investments in money and time to gauge influential dimensions.
There are some who maintain that they only get good groups from neck-only sizing, and, moreover, that they get gatherings rather than groupings when they full-length resize, or when they use factory ammo. There can be some reasons for that, and they may have something to do with rifle-chamber dimensions.
A lot of factory-produced bolt-actions have fairly generous chambers; they are a little larger diameter and usually favor toward the longer end in headspace (but with all numbers within SAAMI tolerance). A rifle produced for across-the-counter sale needs to accept virtually any commercially available ammunition. If someone measures as many representatives of factory ammo as I have, it’s pretty clear that there are dimensional differences, significant differences. Additionally, it’s common to find some slightly oval chambers in factory guns. That has a lot to do with the freshness of the tooling when that barrel was reamed.
So, let’s construct a circumstance where we have a chamber that’s a tad amount big and a cartridge case that’s been manufactured on the smaller end of SAAMI blueprints. And this rifle has an ejector. As soon as the bolt closes, the ejector is bearing against the case, and it’s bearing well off-center.
For more clarity: rifles have extractors and ejectors. The extractor is the “claw” that rides in the case rim groove. It’s there to pull the case from the chamber. The ejector is a small, cylindrical piece that’s spring-loaded; its job is to lean or tilt the case toward the ejection-side of the action as the case is withdrawn from the chamber. It’s not commonly possible to encounter a bolt-action that doesn’t have an ejector (custom Benchrest actions and some Long Range Rifle specialty actions don’t).
Back to the reason I said anything about ejectors in the first place. It makes a banana out of a case. This is unavoidable. The pressure steadily being put against the case base by the ejector warps the case under fire. It’s going to happen on each and every case fired. The bigger the dimensional differences, the greater the warp. Of course, as the uses and reuses add up, the nature of expansion changes. A case can warp one way, and then another way, and then another. Brass has a “memory,” by the way, and we’re always fighting that. Cases tend to follow the same expansion pattern regardless of orientation in the chamber.
There are some, and I’m among them, who think case-body sizing is a good thing to help allay the effects of warped cases, when they return to a correctly-dimensioned chamber. If a rifle chamber is on the larger side, then I honestly think that neck-only sizing may be doing a better job working around it, or working with it, and that’s the primary source of accuracy improvement. I also know that little bit there will get pounced upon.
I’m shooting custom-chambered custom-made barrels in my rifles. I do not request “tight” chambers (in any dimension), but they sure aren’t oversized. I like to have headspace set to closely accommodate the case brand I plan to use; doing that minimizes case stretch from the get-go.
Using a concentricity fixture that’s designed to allow isolation of points of measurement along the cartridge, it’s easy to see the warp. Spin a new case, spin a fired case. Some experiment with marking the “high” (or low) point and reinserting the round in the same orientation each time. That’s tedious but possible using a single-shot approach to firing. The point is, that after full-length sizing, I see less runout. I have also seen additional body sizing improve the accuracy of rounds destined for use in rifles with smallish chambers, and that’s one of the first steps many competitive Benchrest shooters take when they’re losing the gilt-edge on groups. For that, they use a die that doesn’t touch anything but the case body.
If a case becomes a banana, it should be a smaller banana rather than a bigger banana. More technically, it’s a question of if the chambered round can sit in the center of the rifle chamber.
When David Tubb designed the sizing die for his 6XC cartridge, he added an additional 0.0005 inches downsizing right at the case head area. He maintains that is a key to good accuracy at long distance. He’s also setting the case shoulders back 0.002 and running a little more “neck tension” than you might imagine (difference between sized case neck inside diameter and bullet diameter). Tubb maintains that the consistency of case expansion has been an overlooked element in accuracy. Believe me, he’s tried everything, including neck-only sizing, to improve scores at 1000 yards.
If you’re running a factory bolt-action rifle, by all means try neck-only sizing. If you want to compare results to full-length sizing, just make sure you’re doing that second operation correctly.