What is AK Headspacing?

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WHAT IS HEADSPACING?

As the AK platform rises in popularity, it's sure to bring up a few questions from shooters who may be new to the AK-47 rifle.

One of the most common questions regarding the AK-47 is "What is headspacing, and how can I know that mine is right?"

Here's our quick breakdown on what exactly headspacing is on your rifle and how to measure it.


HEADSPACING DEFINED

Headspacing is technically defined as "A distance between the bolt face and a datum on the chamber shoulder."

That distance is determined by institutions like SAAMI and NATO.

For ease of reference, consider headspacing as the safe threshold of breathing room that your rifle requires between the bolt and the chamber.

Do not think of headspacing as a straight line. It is more of an allowed area of space inside the chamber when a round is loaded and the bolt is closed.

To be clear: the exact measurement for proper headspacing will vary depending on the caliber, barrel and other factors involved in the specific rifle you are using.

For the sake of this conversation, let's focus solely on the AK Rifle platform and how headspacing applies to it.

PROPER HEADSPACING ON AN AK RIFLE

Headspacing on an AK Rifle

(PHOTO USED WITH PERMISSION FROM STEAM: WORLD OF GUNS)

The headspacing on an AK Rifle is measured in 1/1000 of an inch. The "safe space" measuring between 1/1000 and 11/1000 of an inch.

Less than that measurement AND MORE than that measurement is an unsafe amount of space.

HOW DO I MEASURE HEADSPACING ON MY RIFLE?

Headspacing can be easily measured through the use of Field Gauges designed to allow the shooter to quickly and effectively determine where the rifle's headspacing is on the safe shooting scale.

There are three gauges to be used for measurement: GO, NO-GO and FIELD.

GO GAUGE

A GO GAUGE is built to a length that ensures the chamber of your rifle meets the MINIMUM measurement allowed for safe headspacing.

A shooter will insert the GO GAUGE into the rifle's chamber and then slowly allow the bolt to move as far forward as possible. Once the bolt stops moving, the shooter will apply added pressure to see if the bolt will move the gauge forward and lock into the chamber. If it does, the rifle is good to go.

NO-GO GAUGE

A NO-GO Gauge is deceiving in its name.

A NO-GO Gauge does NOT mean a rifle is unsafe to fire.

If a rifle closes on a NO-GO Gauge it means that the headspacing of the rifle has moved beyond the minimum allowed space. It DOES NOT indicate that the rifle has moved beyond the maximum allowed amount of space. However, the rifle's headspacing should be tested with a Field Gauge as well.

Another way to say it form Colton the Engineer:

"A no-go is the upper limit for where a brand new rifle is set from the factory. When brand new, the headspace must be set between a go and a no-go. If it will close on a no-go, that is ok, it just indicates that the rifle doesn't meet the requirement of a brand new rifle. It could still be very safe to shoot. And that's where the field gauge comes in, to verify it ISN'T beyond a field gauge."

A rifle that closes on a NO-GO Gauge requires additional testing with a Field Gauge. Closing on a field guage means the rifle is unsafe to fire.

FIELD GAUGE

A FIELD GAUGE is what allows the shooter to determine if the rifle is unsafe to fire.

The Field Gauge is measured at a distance just beyond the maximum allowed length for safe headspacing.

If the rifle closes on a Field Gauge, the head spacing has opened up to an unsafe distance, and the rifle should be examined by a licensed gunsmith to help remedy the issue.



About Kris Vermillion

About Kris Vermillion

Kris Vermillion is a lifelong shooter who focuses his training on defensive shooting techniques and the shooter's mindset. Kris works with the Palmetto State Armory E-Commerce and Marketing teams.

Comments
TP
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Excellent explanation. Thank you.
John Berry
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What, even after 900 rounds, the bolt will not close on a "GO" gauge?
Kyle
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Make sure your chamber is clean before testing with your gauge. If you have made sure the chamber is clean and it is still not closing on a go gauge, you might want to consider bringing it to a gunsmith to figure out the cause, as it is not safe to shoot.
Tony Yang
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Best easy explanation to understand I've found so far.
Jason Davis
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Does PSA use CIP or SAAMI headspace gauges in their AKs they produce?
dakota jeffery
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My gf3 close on go an no go but I don't have a field ga to check with