I started college in 2015 at Piedmont Technical College, one of the few in the United States that offered a dedicated gunsmithing program. One of the big projects in the program was that each student would build their own custom rifle from a Montana Rifle Company action, Green Mountain barrel, and hand-carved stock. It would be our first custom build for many of us, and was to be our resume to find work after graduating from the program. In practice, it took about 6 months to build.
We were to turn, thread, and chamber our own barrels using rifled barrel blanks supplied from Green Mountain Barrels. Before we worked on our live barrel (where mistakes could be costly or even dangerous), we started by drilling out a piece of bar stock and threading/ "chambering" it to learn the basics and get experience cutting a chamber so that a cartridge would headspace appropriately.
Once we passed the test and made it clear that we could do a safe and accurate machining job on a barrel stub, we were presented with our live barrels which we mated to the receivers. This was a great accomplishment and the first step of tangible progress towards completing our new custom rifles. We had been in school for two semesters, roughly 6 months, before we got to this step, and it was a very rewarding moment. The next step in the progress, however, would take an entire semester (months of work) of daily dedication to complete.
The action had been barreled and technically the mechanical components were complete. We test fired the barreled actions with a single shot, confirming the function of the firearm. Next, the barreled action had to be fitted to our supplied stock blanks.
The process was very slow, as we were going for a perfect 1:1 fitment of the action to the stock. The metal components were painted with a transfer dye material known as "inletting black". These components were then carefully dropped into the wood, and settled with one or two very light taps. The inletting black on the metal would mark the places where it made contact with wood. It was in these places that we worked, slowly, carefully, removing little scratches of metal at a time.
For heavier cuts, we used our swiss-made wood gouges, of which we had multiple profiles. These allowed the cutting (more like peeling) of larger amounts of wood in controlled action. As we got closer and closer to the dimension we needed, we started to transfer to wood scrapers. These tools would scrape away wood, little bit by little bit, to remove specifically where wood needed to be removed and leave a smooth finish.
This process continued for weeks at a time, until our actions fit perfectly into the stocks. At this point, they were pillar and glass bedded for accuracy and repeatability.
Once the action was fitted and bedded, it was time to finish the stock. We used rasps and planes to remove large patches of wood, removing the bulk and bringing it closer to final shape. We worked from stock templates and carefully cut features to fit us individually. I'm pretty short, shoot left handed, and have a very short length of pull. I made several significant changes on my stock to reflect this; reducing the size of the palm swell, lowering the comb for a better cheek weld, and cutting my stock to have a 14" length of pull with the recoil pad installed.
To finish the wood, I polished my stock smooth using a flat backer (to avoid sanding waves into the wood) and working my way up to 1000 grit sand paper. We applied layers of finish by hand, allowing 24 hours or more to dry completely between coats. My rifle took almost 10 coats to get to the finish I wanted.
The next part was to blue the metal (see my blog post about doing so here).
To me, the process of creating the rifle with attention and purpose was one of the most fulfilling things I have ever done, and I am thankful both for having done it and for having the opportunity to share it with any who read this.
I hope you enjoyed the insight and the process. Be sure to bookmark Potts Precision to see more projects (both mine and those of others). Also, follow the links at the bottom of the page to follow my YouTube and Instagram accounts to see more content on gunsmithing, shooting sports, and firearms technology.
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