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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.
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