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Headset too tight when top cap is tightened, but has play when bars turn freely
I recently tried to overhaul my headset, but there's something wrong. After putting all the parts back together, like this (I think it's correct):

So they stack up like this

There is some play in the headset. I follow the tutorial on how to adjust a threadless headset (loosen the stem, tighten the top cap until there is no play, then undo 1/4 turn). When I do this, the stem becomes too tight for the bars to turn. By the time I've loosened the top cap enough so I can turn the bars, it has play in it again. Do i need a new headset?

Could it be something to do with the cage not filling the cup? I replaced the bearings with exactly the same size?
Could you do it properly with the old bearings?

If so I think your headset has probably died. Mine behaved exactly as you described when they were on their last legs.
Yes, before the 'overhaul'. There was some very faint grinding before. Both old and new bearings behave the same now (the old ones definitely needed replacing though, as they were pitted).

I'm using Red Devil grease ... is that the correct lube to use?
the bearings look too small to me, they should fill the cup, research the head set or bike makers site if you can find it and confirm the correct size.
I think I've found the problem...and it's embarrassing. I cross posted to bikeradar - and somebody pointed out that I had the bearings the wrong way....
dont be embarrassed, your blunder may save someone else from the same mistake. thanx ffor postingyour findings.
Get on your bad pedalscooter and ride!
Well at least you know for next time eh!

We've all done stupid stuff like that at times. I myself performed a full service on my fork, and upon reassembly wondered where the disc brake mount was, then realised I'd installed the stanction-crown-steerer unit the wrong way round. I had to dismantle the entire fork and try again.
yup, it happens to the best of us! i could write a book (or 2, maybe 3) about mistakes. there used to be a commercial on tv that said we all do dumb things. i look over my shoulder a lot too make sure noone sees me screw up!Smile
Get on your bad pedalscooter and ride!

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