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This article about preparation of rifle barrel blanks to create an ovate rifle barrel for a Martini rifle project first appeared in the Spring 2015 edition of “Gunmaker-Journal of Custom Gunmaking” magazine. The American Custom Gunmakers Guild is a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving the art of fine custom gunmaking. Associate membership is available to anyone and professional membership is available to associate members that have achieved peer recognition for achieving the organization’s standards of finest gunmaking.
By Dennis Daigger
This is Part 1 of a 2-part article about the barrels for a multi-barrel Model 6 BSA takedown Martini rifle project. In Part 1 I describe what was required to get the barrel blanks ready for CNC profiling and in Part 2 the profiling process.
What began as a straight forward project just involving me to build a .17 HMR rifle on a BSA Model 6 Martini action took a turn to the complex when I met Morris Melani last year. I went to his Big Lake shop to buy a set of his quick detachable CZ style rings for a Satterlee actioned .404 Jeffery rifle that I was completing and in passing told him about the Martini project. I had the action and wood and a Lothar Walther profiled barrel was on order. I expected to have the project done in a few months.
Morris has been interested in creating ovate barrels with his HAAS CNC for some time and he offered to collaborate in the project by creating such a barrel for me from a full round blank if I got one. This would be the catalyst for his development of the Mastercam CAD/CAM solids, design and development of the CNC fixtures and the actual creation of an ovate barrel by CNC.
The action I have is a takedown and a multi-barrel rifle eventually evolved in our conversations. I acquired four barrel blanks, and an additional breach block (calibers include rimfire and centerfire) and then it turned into Morris’ show.
This article will chronicle the steps preparatory to the CNC milling. Full aspects of the project are chronicled at Morris’ web blog, http://www.alaskaarmsllc.com/blogs/news/94039105-ovate-barrels-part-1, for those interested in the entire project.
In addition to the .17 HMR I chose other chamberings of personal interest. Ballistic characteristics of these cartridges are quite different and I wanted a tailored sight configuration for each barrel. The Mastercam CAD/CAM produced solids would have slight variations to accommodate the following configurations:
|.17 HMR||6X Unertl Small Game Scope||None|
|.22 LR||BSA Peep sight, front globe||Scope bases|
|5.6X50R||10X Fecker Scope||Flip up front, standing rear|
|.25-20 WCF||Standing rear, Beach front||Scope bases|
My specifications were simply: 26” final barrel length; integral target bases; longitudinal front dovetail that would accommodate Recknagel blades; and; an integral bottom lug for attaching the forearm.
With the exception of the inordinately well finished Lothar Walther 17 caliber 1.250” diameter blank, the other blanks were very rough and needed a lot of work.
Two of the barrels had not been rough turned on the exterior and these not only had significant rust on them but the bores were noticeably off center in the full round blanks as was the third one which had been rough turned. All had bores that were remarkably straight so work on them proceeded.
Morris set the barrels up on the lathe on centers and carefully trued a section on each end of the blank to be concentric with the bore. Very precise tolerances were maintained for this operation. As each barrel was held between centers very light skim cuts were performed on it until the outside was trued to the axis of the bore.
Using the trued section on the breach end of each barrel as a reference point the overall length was brought to 26”.
Morris describes the process for standardizing the barrel length:
“After the shortest barrel had been faced and had centers cut on both ends, I stood it on end on the surface plate. The other three barrels were faced on one end and I stood each, one by one, next to the first and used a depth mic to determine the amount to shorten each to achieve a standard length. This resulted in all barrels being within .005” of the standard length.”
Each barrel was crowned at the breach and the muzzle. Again, Morris’ description:
“Total run out with the barrels chucked in the 4 jaw was .0002”. The ends of each blank were faced and a 60 degree center was cut in the end using a boring tool feeding the tool from the bore out to draw burrs out of the barrel. The barrels were next placed between centers with the tailstock pressure only and a 2” section was turned concentric with the bore. After this step it was possible to chuck one end of the barrel in the 4 jaw and indicate both ends of the barrel. A steady rest was then used to support the barrel and the entire outside was turned concentric with the bore.”
Muzzles of trued barrels
The action barrel tenon was cut on each barrel and this tenon was threaded using a 55-degree tool. The Martini uses 55 degrees Whitworth threads. The leading edge of the tool was rounded manually to produce the appropriate Whitworth thread profile.
“A 55-degree threading tool was ground on the surface grinder with a half thread width feed side that allowed the thread to be machined to the shoulder eliminating the relief cut and allowing threads to be turned to the shoulder adding strength to this critical area.”
Morris previously made a tool fixture for cutting the threading tools using the surface grinder. This is a very precise fixture that gives extraordinarily consistent tools. Because this one is set up for cutting a 60-degree angle a sine plate was needed to reduce the angle to the required 55 degrees.
Grinding fixture for thread cutting tools
Each barrel was then threaded to give a consistent snug turn-in to the action face. With this takedown system using four barrels, it is important to have precise tolerances from barrel to barrel.
Finally, each barrel was chambered using a floating reamer holder in the tailstock. Morris’ description:
“The chambers were cut to a feel on the go gauge +.001 shim stock. The chamber reamers were removed as soon as the dry chips emerged from flutes. The reamer was then withdrawn, cleaned and thoroughly oiled. Several dry patches were run through the bore. The reamer and copious amounts of oil were reinserted and the entire process restarted.”
Each barrel was screwed into the receiver with its appropriate breach block installed and firing tests were conducted to ensure primer ignition. Because the head diameters of the .22 LR and the .17 HMR are slightly different I had some concern about whether the rimfire block firing pin location set up for the .22 LR would detonate both the .22 LR and the .17 HMR cartridges. Both the rimfire and centerfire tests resulted in detonation and the conclusion is that no adjustment to the location of the rimfire firing pin is needed.
Centerfire and rimfire test results
Before the barrels can have ovate profiles cut for this project the takedown system groove through the lower part of the barrel threads needs to be cut on each barrel.
The BSA Martini takedown system consists of a tapered screw that passes through the action from left to right perpendicularly to the axis of the bore. The taper of the pin mates with the cut on the underside of the barrel threads and as the pin is screwed into the action the first thing that happens as the screw taper engages this barrel cut is that the barrel is rotated into the top dead center position until the screw surface and the barrel surface are fully mated. As the screw is fully tightened the barrel is pressed firmly upwards into the upper parts of the action threads ‘locking’ the barrel to the action. There is nothing particularly sophisticated about this system but having studied some of the other British takedown systems it is as svelte and reliable as anything I’ve seen.
The problems associated with implementing this system on a four barrel project were evident. First, how to use a common pin for all of the barrels. Multiple barrel-specific parts present a problem because if something is lost, the efficacy of the system is diminished. Two breach blocks and four extractors would be needed already and I did not want any more duplication of parts. I wanted to use a lever on the takedown pin that would index straight down when torqued in for each barrel. A lever would afford the luxury of not having to have a screw bit readily available for barrel change outs. Morris thought that EDM gave the best opportunity to control this part of the project precisely through four iterations.
The takedown screw was secured in the vise of an optical comparator and the taper of the pin was established as 4 degrees.
Takedown pin on optical comparator
I had rough turned takedown screw blanks out of O-1 tool steel and Morris brought two to near final dimensions on the lathe and threaded each. The taper would be ground with the surface grinder after the profiles had been cut.
Takedown Pin Blank
Graphite rods 5/16” in diameter were then secured in a Harig jig and dialed in. This set up was moved to a sine plate setup to give the appropriate 4 degree taper. Using the surface grinder, four EDM electrodes were cut that precisely duplicated the profile of the takedown screw.
Grinding EDM Electrode at 4 Degrees
To reduce the EDM time needed to cut the groove in the bottom of the barrel threads the barrels were placed on two V blocks and loosely secured. This setup was moved to the mill, the action was screwed to the barrel with the slightest snug up. The setup was then dialed in using the side of the action. The sides of the action had previously been precisely surface ground to the thickness of plus or minus .002”. Once dialed in and secured in the fixture a 3/16” end mill was centered in the takedown screw hole, the action was removed and a rough groove was cut through the threads.
A second mill cut was done while the barrel was secured in this setup. A 3/4” x 1 1/2” section of the barrel about 4” forward of the action was milled. This flat on the left side is 90 degrees left of top dead center for the barrel and will be used for verifying the dial-in in the CNC barrel set up and later in dialing in the barrel in the CNC fixture.
Dialing in EDM setup
A reliable method of controlling the depth of the EDM cut needed to be established and this was done by screwing the original takedown screw tightly into the action. The action was then set up on the surface grinder and the head of the screw was ground flat. The original BSA barrel from the action was then screwed in, the takedown pin was screwed in and brought up tight and then backed out ½ turn. The width of the action from the right side to the top of the screw head on the left was measured and this would become the desired depth for the EDM cut.
The barrel still secured in the V block fixture was then moved to the EDM where the tapered electrode was installed. The side of the action was dialed in and the mill-cut flat on the barrel (can be seen in this photo) was used for a cross check verification.
Dialing In Barrel at EDM Mill
The setup was then secured, rechecked and then the takedown pin hole was positioned under the electrode. The electrode was lowered so that it could be brought into contact with the threaded portion of the barrel and by alternately touching off in the X and then the Y axis the center position was established for the center of the pin.
The action was unscrewed from the barrel and the EDM process was sequentially completed for all four barrels.
Checks were made periodically to gauge depth progress by raising the electrode, screwing the action into the barrel, screwing the takedown pin in and finally measuring the width from the top of the pin head to the opposite side of the action. The final result looks very good and is quite repeatable to ensure tight tolerances from barrel to barrel. Light hand stoning removed the hard surface material deposited during EDM machining.
Part 2 will describe the CNC milling fixture, the setup and the results from running the Mastercam program.
While waiting for arrival of the full round .17 caliber barrel I did some preliminary work on the action as well as some of the preparations for the stocking. I made a fixture for lapping the faces of the breach blocks. This is a simple threaded stub (14 t.p.i. .750″ threads) that has a bore of .375″ to accommodate a drill rod lap. I started with 320 grit lapping compound dabbed on the end of the lap which was slowly rotated with a hand drill. This created shallow ‘ruts’ so I used contact cement to attach 600 grit wet or dry paper on the tip and adding a drop of oil a smooth finish was achieved.
To convert the second rimfire breach block I planned to follow the method used on a Hoffman Arms #12 Martini that I have. It has a simple dovetail cut across the breach face from side to side through the existing firing pin hole. A dovetailed blank was then secured in the cut. The firing pin was then ground from the striker, the striker was replaced in the block and the new centerfire pin location was drilled in its new location through the block face and into the striker face. A new firing pin was then fashioned and soldered into the striker. This new location is just below the center of the striker axis.
This arrangement works well but Morris devised an alternative. He completed the first part of the conversion by threading the existing rimmed firing pin hole in the breach face with a 4-40 tap. A screw was then turned into the threaded hole, cut nearly to the face of the breach and TIG welded around this screw protrusion on the breach face. The face was then surface ground and finally lapped. The new firing pin hole will be drilled with a 1/16″ twist drill and a new pin will be fashioned from 1/16″ drill blank stock and soldered into the striker. The striker axis is not perpendicular to the face of the breach block so care will be needed when clamping the block properly for this operation.
The small BSA Martini actions have a heavy, thick through bolt and I wanted to replace this with a smaller 1/4″ one. I started by mading an insert that was threaded on the outside to fit the screw hole in the back of the action and that was center drilled and threaded for 1/4″ 20. A new bolt was then made that had a head diameter of 5/8″.
In Part 1 the issue of a small size of the butt stock blank as well as a bit of sap wood was discussed. The entry and exit holes for the through bolt were located so that the dimensions of the Hoffman Arms Martini could be nearly duplicated for this new rifle.
Two gun drill type tools were made from O-1 drill rod, the smaller 5/16″ in diameter and the second had a 5/8″ end section soldered in place, and they were then hardened. The smaller drill was chucked in my metal lathe, the blank was pinioned between centers and the drill was inserted about 4″ from each end. Because the flutes of this drill don’t clear chips well, slow steady pressure was needed and the drill had to be withdrawn frequently to remove the chips. The blank was then secured in a bench vise and the final drilling was done with a 3/8″ chucked hand drill. When I broke through near the center of the blank to the hole from the opposite end there was only the slightest resistance felt so this gave a very straight hole.
Using the second drill with the 5/8″ head that has a short section of the 5/16″ rod protruding from its face to act as a pilot, the 5/8″ section of the hole was drilled. This was a very slow process and required that the drill be removed frequently to clear the chips. This resulted in a clean cut and concentric hole. The final step was to make a 1/8″ thick washer that was .625″ in diameter which was set in its permanent position at the bottom of the 5/8″ section of the hole.
The butt stock was then inletted into the rear of the action.
Each barrel will have its own fore arm and the blanks that I had were difficult for me to picture the best layout. I turned each to a full round on the lathe and this made the task much easier. A 15mm tenon was turned on the front of each blank, a Forstners 15mm bit was used to drill a hole 3/4″ deep in the end of each of the horn tip blanks that I had and then they were attached with cyanoacrylate glue. Each was then roughed to shape and will be inletted when the barrel profiling is done.
The lever was heated and forged to shape and then inletted into the butt stock. Lever tip treatment will be done at a later date. Final dimensions for the butt stock will be established after one of the barrels is completed.
The action surfaces had a uniform roughness generally described as patina. I’d call it very fine surface corrosion. Morris surface ground the sides and the face of the action and I did the preliminary finish to 220 grit by hand.
This is the joint effort of Morris Melani, owner and operator of Alaska Arms LLC and Dennis Daigger an amateur custom gunmaker.
First the concept.
A workmate living in Southeast Alaska hunted ptarmigan with me near Cantwell in April several years ago and he was preoccupied with his favorite hunting that would begin soon. He is a diehard spring sooty grouse (formerly called blue grouse) hunter and he was looking for a flatter shooting rifle than his current .22 LR for these hunts.
Hunting the sooties is done during the mating season when the males are ‘hooting’ and can be aurally located. The rest is inordinately precise shooting for heads that are no more than 3/4″ across. His .22 LR limitations were evident for shots out around 60 yards where the bullet’s arching trajectory is significant. Small errors in range estimations would result in misses. He asked if I had any experience with the .17 HMR. I had purchased a used CZ 452 some months earlier and although the rifle was superbly accurate I like better design and finer workmanship than can be had with such a rifle and had been looking for a replacement. The conversations with Frank set me to thinking about a high quality custom .17 HMR again.
I found a Model 6 takedown BSA Martini action locally for the project and got a profiled 26″ Lothar Walther barrel. A Pacific Tool and Gauge chamber reamer and headspace gauges had recently arrived. I was ready to proceed with the project when I met Morris Melani from Big Lake Alaska. Morris is the owner of Alaska Arms LLC that produces top notch quick detach scope ring sets for CZ and Ruger rifles. In the course of conversations with him I mentioned this project and he steered the discussion to ovate barrels. The concept of the rifle expanded and by the time it gelled it was a three-barreled set with .17 HMR, .22LR and 5.6x50R Mag chamberings.
Morris is an outspoken advocate for cut rifled barrels and suggested I contact Dan Pedersen of Classic Barrel and Gun Works for the two .22 caliber barrels and the order was filled in less than two months. Now the major parts were in hand to start the project. These barrels are 27″ long and 1 3/8″ diameter full round blanks and when they arrived the person at the Post Office asked, “WHAT IS IN THIS!!?”.
I occasionally look through the wood inventories of a group of dealers that I have isolated over the years and my search for a blank for this project ended at Old Tree Gun Blanks. Gordon had a nice California thin shell walnut blank that was too small for about anything but this type of gun which can use a short blank. It was a lot of wood for the money but the proof of the pudding is in the tasting and it is a long way from being in the action with the right dimensions. The blank has some sap wood at the butt that will take some careful maneuvering to avoid. Gordon sent three well figured and matching forends without extra charge with the blank.
I wanted to put a vintage scope of some type on this rifle and after watching eBay for several months to gauge the market for makers, models and prices available, a 6X Unertl Small Game Scope showed up that was in the condition I wanted. This scope was at the top end of what I wanted to pay. It will, however, compliment the rifle nicely without having to have any reconditioning work done to it.
The Model 6 Martini is a rimfire action and I would need a solution for a centerfire chambering. Numrich Gun Parts lists a number of parts for the Cadet size actions and I ordered a breach block and striker. Unfortunately, Numrich sells an intermediate sized breach block as a Cadet block and after long and heated discussions I gave up on them and placed wanted ads on web forums. Curt Hardcastle sold me a bare rimfire block which would have to be converted to centerfire.
I have been told of a conversion technique where a second detent was created on the bottom of a Cadet breach block to accommodate the ears of the finger lever. The detent that the ears of the lever mate with line up the striker with the proper position for its fall on the rim of the case. A second detent would allow the finger lever to be repositioned. One detent positioned the striker fall for rimfire and the other for the centerfire fall. This simply wasn’t an appealing idea. So a second breach block will be part of this Martini’s ‘kit’ requiring a breach block change when the barrels are changed between rimfire and centerfire.
I have an extraordinary #12 Martini rifle that Hoffman Arms built and it is chambered for the .25-20 WCF. It is a classic rifle and the only small-actioned Martini I have ever seen that was visually appealing from stem to stern. After restudying the rifle I decided the centerfire chambering for this project would be the .25-20 WCF. I ordered another barrel from Classic Barrel and Gun Works in .257 caliber.
I now had two full round barrels and a .17 light sporter profiled blank. In discussions with Morris we concluded that a full round .17 would be more appropriate for the project. Very few .17 caliber barrels are being made but Lothar Walther sells a full round (1.250″) blank and that was ordered.
And the barrel design.
Some time ago I was reading through a copy of a Jeffery 1910-1911 catalog and came across a ovate barrel offered on a Jeffery small bore. This rifle was a 1906 model single shot and was an eye catcher. Having done a number of integral rib barrels I am always on the lookout for sleek looking barrels with integral ribs. The low rib design that flows smoothly into the tangent point of the barrel sides is one of the most intriguing profiles I have seen. Being both sleek and elegant, it is perfectly suited for a light barrel with lines that will not dominate a stock.
The most significant part of being able to establish a small-owned gun part manufacturing business with world-wide marketing in a small community in Alaska is machinery that allows efficient and effective production. I have a HAAS VF2 vertical CNC mill and write production computer programs that allow me to create CAD solids and CAM programs using Mastercam 3D surfacing. These are precisely the capabilities that make it possible to design and machine ovate barrels accurately and economically with all mathematical calculations and tool paths done within Mastercam.
The most appealing element of ovate barrels is the low profile of the rib with a top flat very near the barrel diameter. A low sleek rib perfectly suites this style of barrel for a Hoffman style Martini. How low the rib can be made remains to be seen. I have designed a low profile front sight base that sits on the rib with lines that neatly allows for slightly more front sight height without overwhelming the lines of the barrel. This may not be needed if the rib taper ends up high enough to accommodate the front sight. The deciding factor on the front sight base will be determined by the scope mounting blocks required by the Unertl scope and the rib dimensions needed to accommodate them.
With a muzzle diameter of .525″ and a breech diameter of 1.000″ over the chamber the Hoffman’s most intriguing feature of the barrel is the transition from .750″ to 1.000″ in front of the chamber reinforcement area. This transition takes place over .750″ with a perfect arc. This 22″ Hoffman profile transferred to 26″ barrels will add to the sleek appearance. Preserving these barrel lines while adding a ovate profile will be a challenge well worth undertaking.