My .400 Whelen rifle project

My .400 Whelen rifle project

Posted by Morris Melani on 19th Feb 2014

Having paid little attention to American gunmakers' work on the 1903 Springfield, I'm overwhelmed looking at the many fine 1903 Springfield rifles in Michael Petrov's collection. It will take more visits for the details of individual rifles and individual gunmakers to emerge and begin to form the details of a rifle I'd like to build. This will be a .400 Whelen rifle project incorporating features I like most from a number of the rifles.

The first step would be finding a 1903 Springfield action. Michael pointed me to a rifle that was listed on a gun sale website and the price was right so I bought it. The rifle has a Rock Island Arsenal action, a very nice early Lyman 48 receiver sight, an early Redfield banded front ramp and a steel Winchester Model 70 buttplate. Only the action and the sights will be used for this project.


The barrel was removed from the action and the action was disassembled for clean up. An action modification I'd seen on several of Michael's rifles that I liked was a contoured tang. The rearmost width of the tang forms the base width of the new contour and this carries forward about 3/4". From this point an arc of a large circle transitions to a point about 3/8" rearward of the left side of the rear action ring.

The top of the tang was smoothed with a fine pillar file and then coated with Dykem. Using a circle template, the contour was scribed and files were used to remove metal to the scribe line. A slight taper was worked into the tang by directing the file point slightly down and this will help get a good fit as the barreled action is inletted into a stock.

Here is the final of this reshape.


Here is the final action polished and ready for the barrel installation.


Nearly all of Michael's rifles are stocked in thin shelled walnut and that is my preference. I found a blank at a reasonable price that has good layout. The last major component that I needed to get was the barrel.

The thin shell California walnut blank


A barrel length of 24" is the standard for Michael's rifles, this probably a result of many using the original military barrel. The main chambering is the .30/06 Springfield, again a result of using the stock barrel. The other classic cartridges are the .35 Whelen and the .400 Whelen. This rifle will be a .400 Whelen.

Michael's rifle barrel profiles vary widely and the noteworthy distinction is the area directly in front of the action. Most modern barrels have a cylindrical section extending forward a short distance in front of the action. Michael's rifles show a range of artistic treatment of barrel profiles. Some have a short cylindrical section just forward of the action. Depending on the gun maker this cylindrical section is followed by a short radius or a long radius. The muzzle end of the radius connected to some point forward where a straight taper was applied thence to the muzzle. To remove evidence of the rear sight spline, some of the barrels were turned just forward of the action and a collar was fitted that snugged up flush with the straight front ring of the action.

The Surkamer rifle is among my favorites both for the barrel profile and the stock profile. The Surkamer barrel is 1.130" at the action, .829" at 7" and .606" at the muzzle for a taper rate of .013" per inch of step down. Michael's .400 Whelen G&H has a muzzle diameter of .675". The front banded ramp I got with my rifle is an early finely crafted Redfield that has an I.D. of .660" which is close enough to the G&H to accomplish the profile of a very early rifle in this chambering that also allows the use of the Redfield banded ramp that came with the rifle.

Michael's Surkamer Rifle


Some weeks ago I measured the barrel diameters at one inch intervals of Michael's .30-06 Surkamer and his .400 Whelen G&H with the idea that I would use a profile for my .400 that was somewhat in keeping with an original rifle. I think these early profiles were a bit more robust than what is typically used today.

Morris Melani created two profiles in MasterCam from which templates would be machined on his HAAS CNC machine. The first template was a true recreation of the Surmaker .30-06 and the second a modified Surkamer for the .400 Whelen that would be sent to the barrel maker for tracing on the new barrel.

Morris creating the template solid in Master Cam.


This is the 24" long bar of steel from which the template will be cut.


Here are the templates:


Documentation was engraved on each of the 23.25" steel bar stock templates


The templates consist of a dial-in ledge set back from the profile and the template will be affixed to a tracer attached to a lathe and the profile will be cut into the barrel blank.

I'm was working with Dan Pedersen of Classic Barrel and Gun Works to make the barrel but repeated unanswered calls and emails to him to get the barrel done failed to get his attention and I went to Kreiger Barrels. The template work was a waste of Morris' time and Pedersen still has the templates.