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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.
By following a few basic steps you will obtain excellent results combining our scope rings with your firearm. Before we get started let's do some safety steps: Verify that the firearm is unloaded; remove any and all ammunition from the work area; and; remove the bolt from the firearm when possible. And remember, observe safe firearm handling practices at all times. Failure to do so may result in grievous bodily injury or death. Alaska Arms LLC shall not be responsible for injury, death or damage to property from misuse, improper installation or modification of this product.
The first step is to obtain the correct size rings based on the optics you plan to use. Keep in mind that the compact scopes tend to be too short for some of the long magnum actions so consider action length when selecting a scope. Leupold now offers fixed three power long tube scopes through its custom shop with a selection of reticles for around $300.00.
Once the optics have been selected, review our scope ring selection matrix (alaskaarmsllc.com) and select the correct ring set. The design of our rings allow them to be assembled in our shop with the levers on the right or left side. It is best to have the levers on the opposite side from loading and ejection ports and the last decision in the selection matrix will be the lever location. Generally you will want to choose levers on the left hand side of the firearm for right hand shooters/firearms and on the right hand side of the firearm for left hand shooters/firearms.
We will exchange a set of rings at no cost if you make an error when ordering, or if you would like to try a lower set. Rings are shipped USPS flat rate priority mail with tracking and arrive 5-7 days after ordering.
This is a good time to review the 'Alaska Arms LLC' YouTube video on installing the rings and download the Ruger ring installation PDF from the alaskaarmsllc.com website. After reviewing the PDF obtain any tools that you lack so that you can do a proper installation.
When the rings arrive verify that they are the correct height and finish, then review the installation instructions that are included with the rings. You will find the ring size engraved on the side of the rings. If your firearm requires a ring set whose rings are different heights determine the location of the high and low rings.
After you have verified that you have the correct ring set remove the top caps from the rings and place the screws and top caps in a secure location. If the screws are lost or misplaced, replacement screws are available from alaskaarmsllc.com. Now loosen the lock screw that is located on the front of the ring assembly. In a later step this screw will be torqued to 25 inch/lbs and it locks the cam screw in place. Back out the cam screw two turns. Position the front ring onto the front integral firearm ring base being careful to align the recoil tab on the bottom of the ring in the corresponding cutout in the receiver. While pressing down on the ring, push it towards the muzzle. Rotate the lever to the locked (3 O'clock or 9 O'clock) position and torque the cam screw to 25 inch/lbs. It is important you resist the temptation to rotate the cam levers to see how they feel until you have torqued the lock screw. Again, the lock screw is found on the front of the ring lower assembly and is tightened with the 3/32 hex key that is included. Now rotate the lever to the 12 O'clock position and press the ring towards the muzzle a second time. This assures that the rings will repeat precise positioning each time the scope is removed and reinstalled.
Repeat the above steps with the second ring lower assembly.
With both lower assemblies properly installed, apply the enclosed friction paper on the inner surfaces of the ring lower half and the top caps. Position the scope on lower ring halves, establish eye relief and plumb the crosshairs. I have found the Wheeler engineering crosshair leveling set to be indispensable for fast and accurate alignment. Install the top caps and torque the screws incrementally in a cross pattern and alternating between the front and rear screws. Be careful to maintain a even gap between the top caps and the lower ring halves.
The scope can now be replaced and removed repeating to within 1/4 MOA as long as the scope is pushed towards the muzzle as the levers are tightened. Prior to reinstalling the scope make certain that the ring/base mating surfaces are free of grit and any foreign material.
Good hunting, Morris Melani
Installing Ruger factory Rings
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 5-Final Stock Shaping A .404 Jeffery Stalking Rifle by Dennis DaiggerConsiderations The foundation of my desired stock dimensions had been incorporated into the pattern but the final adjustments would come out of the roughly 1/4" excess that had been left on all surfaces from the grip rearward. The specific dimensions to come from these adjustments were: cast off 1/4" toe out 1/4" pitch approx. 2" length of pull 14" comb height appropriate for iron sight alignment In additional to the recoil pad, a horn inlay in the bottom of the grip and the rear sling screw would need to be installed at some point. The Tools cabinet pattern maker's rasp hand plane scrapers Grobet 1/2 round vulcanite file chain saw files Preliminary Shaping Some preliminary shaping was necessary to get the stock to a point that the standing leaf could be sighted in for 50 yards. Since the rifle stock would be optimally proportioned for use of the open sights, this 50 yard sight plane would fix the height of comb and then the comb height will be used as reference for all other dimensions of the butt. The comb created during shaping of the pattern had been set at a height that the bottom of the bolt cocking piece would just clear so this is where I was starting with the machined stock. An aluminum shotgun cleaning rod was wrapped at two locations with masking tape for a snug fit in the bore of the rifle. The part of the rod extending over the butt of the stock gave me a good centerline which was marked in pencil the length of the butt. Next, the length of pull was marked. The pattern had been left at 13 1/2" so another 1/2" would be removed. I would be fitting a 1" Pachmayr Decelerator pad and wanted a curved profile so the center of the curve was marked at 13". I wanted about 1 1/2" of negative pitch so the rifle was placed inverted on the bench and the muzzle was blocked up with a 1 1/2" spacer. A square was then used to mark a line on the butt that was perpendicular to the plane of the bench, this line intersecting the 13" length of pull mark. Because I was going to put a curve in the butt I did the initial squaring cut with a Japanese Dozuki saw. This aggressive saw cuts fast, leaves an ultra smooth cut and doesn't tend to wander. For a flat recoil pad installation requiring a perfectly flat cut a table saw or a miter saw would have been used for this cut. I have a VL&D Francotte shotgun with a pleasing curved buttplate and I traced and transferred this curve to my stock. I don't have a drum sander to create the profile of this curve so it was roughed in with the cabinet pattern maker's rasp by hand. Then a belt sander finished the job using the leading edge of the belt as it came off the front roller to smooth the curve. From the centerline mark on the comb where it met the butt, 1/4" was measure to the right. This point on the butt was extended to the action tang and this is the centerline that would give me the castoff that I wanted. The rifle was inverted on the bench and using a square this line was extended through the butt end top to bottom. The toe end of this line was used as a reference and another mark 1/4" to the right was made. This would give me the toe out that I wanted. Extending this line to the offset line on the comb would be the centerline for installing the recoil pad. I was using a medium Pachmayr pad and wanted to keep it near full size so needed to spot its location fairly accurately. The inverted rifle was placed on the bench balanced on the bridges and a drop at heel mark was located 1 1/2" up from the bench surface to the pad centerline located earlier. This would be the location for the top of the pad. The screw holes were then marked from this reference and drilled. Then the pad was installed. Load Development By this time I had my dies and reloading components on hand. I use Reloader 15 in my .450/400 Jeffery Ruger No. 1 loaded to 2,090 fps and this velocity in the .404 is approximately the original specification. Most of the loads found on the internet are significantly faster for the .404 than I want to shoot but I did find a RL-15 load that gave me a starting point. I had little of this powder so also loaded some Varget. Loading three-grain spread RE-15 test loads I found that 73 grains with Hornady's DGX gave me 2,150 fps. The Varget loads ranging from 68-71 grains gave me velocities of 2,100 to 2,150 with more visible brass stress than the RE-15. With 15 rounds of the RE-15 load in hand I returned to the range the next day and cut the rear blade in to dead on at 50 yards. Final Shaping The comb was now lowered and reduced in thickness so that upon opening my eyes after mounting the rifle I had near perfect sight alignment with the merest head movement. The centerline of the bottom of the butt was drawn through the grip and the grip was reduced in circumference evenly from this line until it had a comfortable fit in the hand. The top of the barrel-action channel was sanded flat to the half barrel diameter depth. Two layers of masking tape were applied to the bottom metal exposed surfaces and to the action tang and these wood levels were brought down to where the tape was just scuffed. The rest of the shaping is simply slow, steady grunt work using the tools listed above. The most useful tool I have found for shaping and profiling is the Grobet 1/2 round vulcanite file. It is round on one side, flat on the other. It is double ended, each end being tapered. One end is fine cut, the other rough. This is an aggressive file and leaves a smooth finish. This is what I used to shape the grip, the flutes in the comb and nearly the entire cheek pad as well as the horn fore end tip. The wider parts of Henry groove in the horn fore end tip was done with the Grobet file and the finer ends of the groove were done with the chain saw files. The horn grip inlay was shaped by hand and the cut in the grip was done with the vertical mill using a 1/2" end mill. The inlay was then glued in place using cyanoacrylate glue. Next-Part 6 Putting the Finish On and Leather Covering a Recoil Pad
Part 4-Inletting the Gunstock A .404 Jeffery Stalking Rifle by Dennis Daigger
Scrutinizing the Gunstock The stock duplicated from my blank using my pattern arrived in early April. The blank had a flaw on the right side of the butt section that penetrated about 3/16" that was avoided, as expected, with good machine set up. When evaluating a gunstock blank the two most important considerations for me are grain and figure. Regardless the firearm being stocked, the grain is the most important of these two needs.
I think the grain integrity of the grip needs to extend rearward well into the butt and forward through the forearm to provide the strength needed to minimize breakage possibilities. You can imagine the basis of a good gunstock by visualizing a long 2" diameter straight-grained dowel that is centered through the grip, running the length fore and aft through the entire gunstock. The rest of the stock is just wood cast in supporting roles that contributes little to the overall strength of this core.
Regarding evaluation of the figure visible in the blank it is not unlike looking at a pretty overdressed woman and trying to visualize what lies below. The blank's figure merely teases and hints at the gunstock's possibilities.
The grain was relatively easy to evaluate with my blank and I had traced my desired location of the final gunstock on it with a wide marker. The figure that would emerge from this layout was left to chance. The pattern had the Henry fore end tip shaped and colored with marker for the duplicator operator's reference. The pattern butt stock had been left 1/2" long for wiggle room when I created the final dimensions.
What I got back is a gunstock that I am quite happy with. The entire forearm is straight-grained, the grain running parallel to the barrel channel. The grain through the wrist connects nicely with the action section and carries through the butt. The core is solid and continuous from stem to stern. It was apparent that I had more wood both inside and outside than I expected from the duplication but that is a solvable problem.
Getting Started My small austere 'shop' is marginal for the kinds of work I perform here. A top-mounted swivel bench vise with rubber jaws and a 10" side-mounted woodworking vise were used to hold the gunstock as I worked on it. The action screw holes in the gunstock were precisely 1/4" and my guide screws made to use on the pattern would again be employed. I was ready to get started but had to plan out one of the gunstock fixtures.
I had a piece of Asian buffalo horn for the fore end tip which at some point would have to get installed. The Ruger No. 1 that I completed last year also had a horn tip but I had attached that using two 1/4" dowels of 1018 steel that had been scored on the lathe. I wanted to use a larger diameter wood dowel and was looking for a better solution.
A 15mm Forstner bit used in a cabinet making project last summer was used to experiment with drilling holes in horn end grain. I was quite surprised to see paper thin white sheets of waste emerge when drilling like that. The resulting hole was clean and smooth. I put the horn tip in the mill vise and using an end mill squared the face in my bench mill. I then chucked up the bit and drilled a hole about 1" deep in my tip blank. I had no way to turn an integral dowel on the fore end of my gunstock so I squared it at the correct location with a miter saw intending to drill a hole later. The tip would be affixed as the inletting progressed.
Finishing the Job The final stages of the inletting process described in Part 3 were repeated to bring the bottom metal to full depth and then the stock was turned and inletting of the the barreled action proceeded. A small amount of gouge work was needed to widen and deepen the barrel and action channel but scraping accounted for most of the time spent on this chore.
When I was about 3/16" from my final depth for the barreled action, I located the center of the squared fore end for attaching the tip and using a hand drill and the Forstner bit drilled a hole about 1 1/2" deep into the gunstock. While the resulting hole was less precise than the hole drilled earlier in the horn tip with the mill, it was totally satisfactory. A 3" long dowel was turned from a dense piece of thin shelled walnut and I was now ready to glue it in place.
I had some Black Max cyanoacrylate in the refrigerator that I intended to use on the fore end tip. Unfortunately, past its shelf life, it had turned into a thick and unusable mass. After thoroughly cleaning the dowel, the horn tip and hole in the gunstock with acetone I used the cyano glue I had on the bench to glue the parts together. Moderate holding pressure was applied with a long woodworking clamp and this all was left to set up overnight.
Scrapers are an effective and efficiency way to remove horn waste and the barrel channel was extended through the horn tip from the stock barrel channel. Inletting was then finished with careful scrapping to full depth and the action screws were timed short about 1/8 revolution.
I had proud surfaces that now needed to be brought to near metal surface level. A few paper thicknesses would be adequate to allow the final finish application to bring them even.Next-Part 5 Final Shaping of the Stock