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A .404 Jeffery Stalking Rifle by Dennis Daigger
Finishing the Stock Over the years I have tried different wood finishes on gunstocks and I like the sand-in type the best. It has proven to be durable in Alaska's challenging climatic conditions, is relatively easy to repair and provides a lustrous display of the stock's innate figure and character.
Wood surface preparation starts with sanding out all marks left by the tools that were used to shape the stock. Norton's No-Fil Adalox sand papers are aggressive and extraordinarily durable. They are simply the finest sand papers I have every used in cabinet making or stock making and it comes in a wide range of grits. I use these papers for nearly all my metal preparation also.
I start with the P150 paper and incrementally move through 240 and finish with 320. I have a number of small wood blocks and dowels that are used as paper backing to properly maintain the curves, the flat areas and the transition zones that are part of the stock profile.
Once the final sanding is done, I turn the water faucet on and dab and spread small amounts of very warm water over the entire stock surface using my fingers. The stock is then set aside to dry. The purpose of this step is to release the wood fiber that has been pressed into the wood pores during the final sanding. This wood fiber when wetted lifts out of the pores and dries above the sanded surface. If I have sun I put the stock in a window frame to dry and can sand the 'whiskers' off in several hours. If this is not possible, I let the stock set overnight to dry. When dry, I give the entire stock surface a light sanding with 320 grit paper to just remove the whisker. This process is then repeated and the stock is now ready for application of the finish.
I used Flecto's Varathane Plastic Oil and Sealer to good effect for a number of years and when it was no longer available I started using Pilkington's red-brown Classic Gun Stock Finish. It is relatively easy to use and it gives consistent results on the thin shelled walnut woods that I work. I apply the finish using the method described in the instruction sheet accompanying the finish. In a nutshell, the initial applications are diluted finish to allow for deep penetration into the pores. Applications between drying continue until a surface build up starts. The pores are now filled using wet and dry sand papers. Small pieces of the paper are dipped in finish and , again backed to maintain proper shapes, are used to just scuff the wood surface creating a slurry of wood dust particles and finish. This slurry is then worked into the pores and allowed to dry and then the process is repeated with finer grit papers until the pores are fully filled. I finish with 400 paper and then the stock is ready to checker.
After the checkering is completed a series of very thin applications of linseed oil completes the job.
Leather Covering a Pad While putting the finish in and on the stock is old hat, I have never done a leather covered pad. I purchased a piece of leather a number of years ago from Galazan that was advertised for this use. I bought it from them as it was the only place I could find leather specifically marketed for covering recoil pads and knew nothing about what was required. Because the leather is thick and the underlying soft part of the leather was inconsistent I had never used it. There is a locally owned leather store in my area that has a large selection of high quality pig and goat leather and I bought four large pieces from them. The pieces are considerably lower in price than the Galazan leather, three to four times as large and better quality so when I got ready to do the pad on this rifle I started with one of these pieces.
I picked a piece that had the least stretch thinking that the wetting before forming would give it the pliability needed to pull out the wrinkles. As you will recall, the butt of my rifle has a curve so my form also had to have the appropriate curve. I used a 5/8" thick piece of hardwood that was 3 1/2" wide by 6" long. I drilled screw holes in it and mounted the recoil pad on it. The form was then put in a vise to hold it firmly. The leather piece was soaked in luke warm water and laid on top of the pad. I started by stapling the leather onto one side of the form. Then I pulled the leather taut on the other side and stapled that tail onto the side of the form as well. I then did the heel and toe of the pad. With the four quadrants secure I started stretching and securing between each set of staples and when I had these four staples in I continued to work between the staples. I then put another series of staples in as high on the form as I could to pull the leather in under the pad.
I could not get all the wrinkles out at the toe of the pad and thought that they might go away when the leather dried. Not so. I abandoned this piece and reverted to the Galazan leather. This leather measured .037" and the other leather I had was around .025". I took the pad back to the disc sander and removed .015" all the way around. Had I not done this the pad would have been quite visibly proud of the butt stock. The repeat exercise with the Galazan leather went as planned and then it was dry I located and marked the pad screw location on the outside and removed it from the pad which I left mounted on the form.
I don't like plugs in leather covered pads so using a sharp xacto blade I cut a longitudinal slit in the leather about 3/16" long at each of the screw locations. I everted the leather and applied a thin, even coat of 3M spray contact cement to it. Then contact cement was applied to the pad also and after the coated surfaces became tacky the leather was carefully repositioned on the pad.
The shank of a small diameter Philips driver was lightly coated with a gel type lubricant used on double gun hinge pins and the pad was removed from the form without backing the screws out. The leather that would be attached to the bottom of the pad was trimmed and wedges were removed to allow it to lie flat. Using a brush-on contact cement the leather was glued down to the bottom surface of the pad. Once again lubricating the screw bit, the pad was installed on the stock.Next-Part 7-Engraving, Rust Bluing and Nitre Bluing
Part 2-The Metal Work A .404 Jeffery Stalking Rifle by Dennis Daigger
I now had all the parts in hand to build a rifle and I got regular updates from Stuart Satterlee about progress on my action. Slowly it evolved into a complete action. The correct barrel had arrived in his shop from Lothar Walther while the action was being made and it was threaded and chambered as soon as the action was ready. I received the barreled action in December 2012.
First Reactions The early .404 Jeffery rifles were built on standard length actions that required careful modifications to accommodate the large .404 Jeffery cartridge. It appears, however, that all the Continental and British makers moved to the larger action as soon as Mauser started production of the magnum length offering. Having never owned nor handled a large Mauser action it took a while to get comfortable with the size of the Satterlee Arms action. I had just completed a 9.3x62 on a Persian Mauser which is a standard size action and the size difference is not a subtlety.
Fit and Finish The metal work on the action is first class. Flat surfaces are dead flat, round surfaces are smooth parts of circles and the concave cuts are appropriate parts of arcs. No machine tool marks are evident anywhere on the action or action component parts. It appears that the final hand polishing was done with a 400 grit abrasive and very well done. A quick matting with a scour pad or a carding brush and the action would be ready to rust blue just as it was. Stuart had delivered on his representation that the action would not require a lot of hand work to prepare for bluing.
The finish on the barrel was excellent as well. I don't know anything of the final finish process that these Lothar Walther barrels receive on the exterior but it is as good as I've seen.
Action Component Modifications The trigger had a flat tip profile and the interior arc consisted of two bevel cuts. I thought the trigger could have a more pleasing profile and I rounded the tip and smoothed the bevels at their intersection into a rounded surface. The trigger was very hard and abrasive stones were required to do this task. I also checkered the bolt release tab. The bridges were the only other part of the action that would be modified and that will be described later.
Installing The Iron Sights The Recknagel rear sight band was a tight fit on the part of the barrel that had been turned for it. It could be gently tapped into place but could not be slid on. I have a small lathe, barely adequate for what I was contemplating, and limited experience with turning metal work. The rear shoulder of the barrel shank for fitting this band needed just a touch of truing and this was done with trepidation creating a slight undercut so that a modest seating crush from the band would give a minimally visible joint. A 1018 steel cylinder was also turned so that the rear sight band could be affixed on it by using archer's ferrule cement. This then was centered in the lathe and the rear of the band was trued.
I used the low temperature version of the Force 44 solder to attach the band on the barrel. The barreled action was leveled in a bench vise using the flat bottom of the action for reference. The shank of the barrel and the interior of the band were tinned and then the band was tapped into place as heat was applied. I used a hammer against a 1/2" piece of hardwood held against the lug on the bottom of the band to drive it into place. Then the band had to be tap-rotated into the correct alignment on the barrel. This process was tedious and frustrating as I over rotated several times and had to reheat and try again. Keeping the temperature of the metal as close to the melting point of the solder as possible left a very short working time to make adjustments. Additionally, the limited flat surface of the band top for setting a level contributed to the difficulty.
Eventually I got it done but there was one other problem that needed solved. The sight band was 2.2" long. The shank on the barrel for some unknown reason was 2.7" long. Stuart had warned me about this so I knew it would have to be fixed as the extending portion of the shank beyond the extent of the band did not look good. Using the barrel taper rate, I calculated the diameter at three distances along the 1/2" section of the shank that had to be tapered and then using a cutoff tool on the lathe did plunge cuts at these three locations. This established the correct diameter to extend the taper properly to the front of the ring. I then used these plunge cuts as a reference to hand file to full depth along the section.
I was now ready to move on to the front band. The barrel muzzle diameter was .725". The closest band interior undersize diameter available was .710" diameter. This is not an insignificant difference. I would have to turn the muzzle end of the barrel or expand the diameter of the band. My lathe skills are simply not adequate for this so I turned a piece of 1018 steel with four steps. It started at .710" and went to .720". I polished the face of a ball peen hammer to mirror finish so as not to transfer marks to the band and then peened the band up to the .720" diameter. These bands are soft steel and by very precise application of light hammer strikes over the entire band surface the end result was a band with a snug fit on the .720" section that looked very good on the outside.
I wanted the band set back farther than is typical for American banded ramps but not as far back as some of the British gunmakers. I tinned the barrel muzzle and the interior of the band and then using the method described earlier for the rear band, drove the ramp on leaving 3/8" of the muzzle end of the barrel protruding beyond the front of the ramp.
Cutting The Scope Ring Bases The last of the metal work on the barreled action was cutting the bridges to the CZ profile. Between the time that I first talked to Morris Melani, owner of Alaska Arms LLC, and the time that I had the sights on the rifle, a friendship had developed and Morris did this part of the project for me. He is an extraordinary machinist and with my barreled action mounted on a jig that I fashioned from a piece of square stock steel he completed the metalwork on the action. As an aside, the precision of Stuart Satterlee's machining was evident as the action was set up for making the cuts. The tolerances over the entire action were very good, consistently holding under a few thousandths in all dimensions.
Profiling The Scope Rings The final metal work was applying some profile changes to the Alaska Arms LLC quick detachable scope rings. I started by removing all the finish with toilet bowl cleaner. The rings have a three-facet profile and I smoothed these to a continuous rounded profile. The ends of the levers are square and these were rounded and the lever ends shaped to a tear drop, thinned a bit and then checkered on the top. All parts were then polished with 320 grit paper and brushed to a matte finish preparatory to rust bluing and nitre bluing.
Next-Part 3, Stockmaking The Hard Way
A .404 Jeffery Stalking Rifle by Dennis Daigger
FROM THE BEGINNING Having had a longstanding interest in owning a .404 Jeffery, I finally got serious about finding one two years ago.
Most of the rifles available are used British made and by well know makers. The prices were exorbitant. I did find one Walter Locke that appeared to be original (I don't like cobbled guns) and before initiating negotiations with the seller on price I considered what I would have if I purchased the rifle.
It is a rifle that is somewhere around 100 years old. The drop at heel is excessive. The barrel interior dimensions are unknown and sellers are seldom willing to slug a bore. Chamber dimensions at that point in history were hardly standardized and some jerry rigging might be necessary for handloading. An alternative was to build the rifle I wanted.
The Bottom Line-$6,500 The price of the Locke was posted at $6,500 so that was the dollar amount I used to total component prices against.
GATHERING THE PARTS I would need: action, estimated $3,500 barrel, estimated $300 scope rings, estimated $150 scope, estimated $500 front sight ramp, estimated $150 rear sight base, estimated $75 rear sight, estimated $75
I had: Turkish walnut blank, purchased from Hunterbid some years ago at $540 Pachmayr pad, $28 leather for pad, $15 3/4" sling hardware, $30
labor: threading and chambering a barrel, estimated $350 engraving, estimated $750
Since the stockmaking and metal finishing would be done my me these costs were not included in the total estimate. From this exercise of pricing components it seemed feasible to build a rifle to my exact specifications for the cost of the lowest priced .404 Jeffery available that I might be happy with and that is the direction I took.
The Action-Final cost $3,450 The action seemed to be the hardest component to find. Although I'm not a commercial gunmaker I don't build guns for myself anymore without an eye to a sale down the road. I wanted an iron sighted stalking rifle but a rifle built for iron sights has a wider appeal if it accommodates a scope even if the scope is a secondary sighting method. I wanted to price a modern production action and narrowed the search to a double square bridge of some type to allow scope mounting. As an aside, worldwide there are few makers of such actions.
After researching what is available I called Satterlee Arms. Following a lengthy phone conversation with Stuart Satterlee I had a much better idea about what I wanted for an action. He explained that his actions are hand finished to high tolerances so that there was little to no final polishing I would have to do. The amount of time needed to finish custom actions seemed to be a consist complaint by professional gunmakers on forums and not being able to find critiques of Stuart's work, I would have to take him at his word.
At the time I talked to Stuart he had nothing available so I was still looking. About a week later he called to say that he was starting a production run of actions suited to the .404 and one was available if I wanted it. Be aware that these actions, no matter who makes them, are not cheap and they are not on-the-shelf, immediately available products either. My 50% deposit for a $3,450 action was sent in Nov 2011 with an estimated deliver time of eight months. This was to be his standard large ring magnum action. I specified a Winchester Model 70 style trigger and a standard magazine box as I do not like drop boxes on anything. The logic continues to elude me about needing five to six rounds in a magazine rifle when the reputed king of dangerous game rifles is a double rifle. I wanted the most svelte rifle possible and the standard box would allow for a nice profile for comfortable carry and reduced weight. I planned to load to the original cartridge specifications so didn't fuss about the rifle being too light.
The Barrel-Final cost $267.75 Although the .404 bore is no longer the rarity it once was for barrel makers, it is simply not available from everyone. Additionally, I wasn't sure what I wanted for a contour. A final barrel length of 26" was about the only specific I had when I started the search. I had ordered a contoured short-chambered 9.3x62 barrel from Lothar Walther earlier and its finish was extraordinary. Looking through their profiled barrel list I ran into the #5130 "Mauser Type E" 26" listing and I looked no farther. A check for the barrel and shipping was sent in Oct 2011 and it was to be drop shipped to Satterlee Arms for fitting when the action was ready.
However, that was not to be the end of the barrel story. I got a call from Stuart a month after the barrel was ordered, saying that he had received the barrel but that it was a .416 barrel. I had no interest in a .416 Rigby so the barrel was returned. It would be months before Lothar Walther resolved issues with ATF and got the correct barrel to Stuart.
The Scope Rings-Final cost $129.99 Does it get any better than the claw mounting system for a scope? Probably not, but there is a system that I found that is so close that the additional issues with getting the setup right with claw mounting is hardly worth it and it is an excellent cost effective solution compared to the claw mounting system. These rings feature a 1/4 turn on and and a 1/4 turn off setup, they are high precision and they are truly quick detachable.
I have a set of Len Brownell quick detachable rings I installed on a pre-war Model 70 in 1976. While they can be reliably removed and installed without moving the impact point, they are tedious to remove and install because of the rotations required of the levers and the need to engage the teeth properly and in the same place. All the other quick detachables currently available that I could find suffer the lever rotation handicap except Alaska Arms LLC rings. These are modeled after a Burgess design and simply require 1/4 of a rotation to install or remove and are made with the CZ base dimensions which is ideally suited to installation on action bridges. This setup is truly fast to install or remove. Additionally, they are nicely profiled and I could visualize my hand profiling that would adapt these to a highest quality custom firearm. A set of CZ low rings was ordered from the webstore www.alaskaarmsllc.com and arrived soon thereafter. The CZ base dimensions would be cut into the bridges when the action arrived.
The Scope-Final cost $374.98 The original plan was to use a 1.5-5 Leupold scope on the rifle but the trend to shorter and shorter scopes leaves long action applications like these on the edge. I like my rings solidly centered on the bases which stubby scopes make difficult. A friend told me that the Leupold custom shop was again making the 3x long tube scope. I ordered one with a German #1 reticle and the 3x20 Big Bore scope arrived a month after placing the order.
The Sight Bases-Final cost $285 Recknagel components are the mainstay of custom gunmakers needing accessories and the Lothar Walther barrel was profiled for the sweat-on Recknagel rear base band. NECG did not stock that specific item I needed nor the front ramp that I wanted. The front ramp is the one that is straight on the front and has a level ramp. These were ordered and it took about three months to get. The front ramp had to wait for the next scheduled production run. A one-standing and one-folding leaf rear sight, the front bead and the sling hardware was in NECG stock and arrived quickly.I now had everything ordered and when the barreled action arrived I'd be ready to get started. Next--Part 2 THE METAL WORK