Die Issues When Bumping Shoulders

Here’s a word to the wise — not all full-length sizing dies are properly dimensioned to carry out the important task of “bumping” shoulders back on fired cases. With some dies the task may simply be impossible (without die modification). In fact, you may find that your attempt to bump the shoulder may actually INCREASE the dimension from base of case to shoulder datum!

shoulder bump gauge Harrell'sWe recently had some four-times fired 6mmBR Lapua brass. Using a Harrell’s collar that indexes off the shoulder, we measured the length from base of case to top of collar at 1.570″ (with primer removed). We noticed a little more resistance to bolt closure compared to fresh brass, so we decided to bump the shoulders back two thousandths. As a point of reference, we measured the same dimension (base of case to top of Harrell’s collar, primer out) as 1.5675″ on once-fired Lapua 6mmBR brass.

Reloading Measuring Shoulder BumpThis Can’t Be Right …
To bump our shoulders we had an RCBS Gold Medal bushing full-length sizing die. Per the manufacturer’s instructions, we started with the die backed off 1/2 turn from contact with the shell-holder with the press ram at full height. We lubed and sized one case and then measured it. The shoulder had not moved. OK, no problem, we screwed the die down to contact the shell-holder (at full ram height) and tried again. This time the measured dimension was actually longer by a couple thousandths. The brass which measured (with collar) 01.570″ before sizing now measured 01.572″ — we were going in the wrong direction!

“Bumped” Shoulder Grew .003″
Frustrated, we screwed the RCBS die in 1/8th turn past touching to allow “cam-over” which is necessary with some presses to actually push the shoulder back. We sized the case again, and this time the dimension had grown another .001″, to a total length of 1.573″! Wondering if there was something wrong with our calipers, we took the full-length sized brass (which previously had chambered just fine) to our 6BR rifle and tried to chamber it. Sure enough, the headspace had been lengthened by .003″ and the brass would not chamber at all.

RCBS Gold Medal DieDie Too Long Inside to Bump Shoulders Properly
What was going on? Here’s the explanation: the interior cavity of the die was too long so the shoulder surface inside the die was never actually making contact with the shoulder of the brass — and the die could not be screwed down any further. As the RCBS die, which was fairly tight in the bottom half, reduced the diameter of the brass, the case actually grew in length. While the brass was sized at the bottom it grew upwards because the “shoulder” section on the inside of the die was too high. As we “squeezed” the brass at the bottom it simply flowed upwards, increasing headspace.

With this RCBS die, in its current configuration, there was no way we could bump the shoulder back, even by .001″. The die might work better if we ground a few thousandths off the bottom, but this is not the way a die should work.

Lesson Learned: If your full-length die can’t bump your brass even when it is screwed down all the way (to cam-over if necessary), then you need a different die or you need to modify your die. As proof of this, we took out my trusty Redding 6mmBR full-length sizing die. This was set up (from experience), one-half turn off contact with the shell-holder. In that position, the Redding die easily bumped the shoulder of a fired case .002″ with no trouble whatsoever. We started at 1.570″ and ended up 1.568″ — right where we wanted to be. The task that couldn’t be done with the RCBS Gold Medal FL Die was accomplished easily with the Redding die. After lubing the case, we simply raised the ram to full height, and this moved the shoulder back .002″ as measured with the Harrell’s collar positioned on the shoulder.