The Following was sent to me by Chris Wooldridge, a friend and prior classmate of mine. The story from here on is his to tell and is presented in his words. If you'd like to submit a gun story of your own, please see our Contact page for more information.
The “Georgia” Rifle
By Chris Wooldridge
Swamp Fox Custom Rifle Works and General Gunsmithing, LLC
Hephzibah, GA 706-414-6492
In July of 2015 I was starting my last year of a 28 year Army career. In May of that year my wife was gracious enough to say to me that I had earned the right to do what ever I wanted as a second career and whatever that was she would support. Well that second career would be gunsmithing! August of 2015 found me on Temporary Duty (TDY) at Fort Bragg, NC with no set “End of Mission” in sight. So, I invited my wife to come up from Fort Gordon (Augusta, GA) and visit over a weekend. Since I had to work that Saturday, my wife took that opportunity to spend the day with her Uncle “W” and Aunt “D”. Up to this point, I had never met Uncle “W”, but I had heard a lot about him. Uncle “W” is a retired U.S. Army and Fayetteville, NC Police Officer. After I got off duty that day I met my wife at Uncle “W”’s home and we hit it off immediately. When I told him I intended to retire and what I wanted to do after retirement, he told me that he wanted to be my first customer!
I retired on 1 Aug 2016 and started gunsmithing school 22 Aug 2016 (Piedmont Technical College, Greenwood, SC). That’s when Uncle “W” and I got serious about planning the rifle he wanted. As it turned out, he didn’t want a rifle for himself, instead, he wanted this gun for his granddaughter “Georgia”. We discussed everything from what brand of bolt action he wanted to stock material (i.e. wood, laminate, composite), and of course, this rifle’s purpose in life. Uncle “W”s intent was that this rifle was going to be a trainer and part time hunter, but he wanted it to be a work of art, an heirloom, that “Georgia” would be proud to own and pass down. We decided to go with a Remington action, Douglas Match Grade barrel, a laminate stock from Richards Microfit (www.rifle-stocks.com), a Timney Trigger, and a Nikon P-223 BDC scope. Much to both mine and Uncle “W”’s dismay, “Georgia” really liked the psychedelic colored laminates. Neither he nor I would have ever chosen that color scheme but what a 9-year-old granddaughter wants, a 9 -year- old granddaughter gets!
As a retired Army Officer, I am a planner. It’s engrained in my essence, it is who I am, so I sat down and planned the build, semester by semester, month by month. During the last part of first semester we ordered parts. We ordered the action, the barrel, and the stock. We ordered bottom metal, a recoil pad, and the trigger. During second semester I did all the machining. I started by facing the receiver. For those of you who have never worked with a stock Remington action, let me just say, facing the action is highly, highly recommended! Next, I turned, threaded, cut the bolt nose recess, and chambered the Douglass Match Grade barrel (#2 contour).
Luckily, chambering was accomplished flawlessly, as chasing headspace is an absolute nightmare whether it’s remedied quickly, or it becomes an exercise in what seems to be futility. I crowned the barrel with clean recess crown. This rifle was the third one I barreled during the second semester. The first rifle I barreled was a Remington 700 and the second was my Winchester Model 70. The first rifle was time consuming, the second went much faster, and this rifle only took five hours to set up the lathe, turn, thread, chamber, and crown. As the second semester ended, I coated the barrel and the action in Hold (www.brownells.com) to prevent rusting and stored the newly barreled action away until Fourth Semester when I would finally complete the build.
The stock arrived via UPS in May of 2017. I vividly remember opening the box and thinking “what the ----, this thing is ugly!” I told my wife that this stock belonged in an Austin Powers movie! The stock had all the psychedelic colors one would associate with the late ’60’s and early ‘70’s, but the colors were very dull. Up to this point, I had never worked with laminate stocks. I am the proud owner of a fine Ruger Gunsite Scout Rifle stocked in the green and black dealer exclusive laminate, so I understood the advantages of laminate, I had just never actually worked with it. As fourth semester started, I hurriedly worked through the prerequisite projects the school required be completed before I could begin working on any personal guns. I had my old Winchester Model 70, which I also planned to re-stock with a laminate stock so I decided to complete that build before finishing the “Georgia” project. I wanted to learn the nuances of laminate and I wanted to make any mistakes on my own gun before beginning work on a “customer” gun. I am glad I did because shaping, inletting, sanding, and finishing laminate is much different than working with Walnut or any other hardwood used for gunstocks.
Laminate gunstocks are made of thin veneers of soft wood, dyed assorted colors, glued together, and clamped tight until the adhesive has cured. The result is a gunstock that is very strong and impervious to the elements. I like laminate because you get the feel of wood, but like composite stocks, you can personalize your stock with a color scheme of your choice, and you get a stock that will not swell, shrink, or warp due to extreme environmental conditions. Laminates are, however, heavier than composite stocks. Because most laminate stocks are made of veneers of softwoods, they don’t carve like walnut. They tend to chip. Rasps and files tend to cut deeper on a laminate stock than they do on a walnut stock. When sanding, you get a much finer dust that will fill these deeper cuts. If you are not paying attention you will think you have sanded out all the file marks. You will quickly find that those marks were not sanded out after about the third coat of Tru-Oil. You must then re-sand the stock back down to the wood and work back through the grits (120 through 600), taking care to clean all dust off the stock before moving to the next grit. Careful cleaning between grits is the only way you can be sure ALL file and sanding marks have been removed. (Technical Note: Tru-Oil must be used on laminates because most other oils will break down the adhesives, destroying your stock.) I learned these lessons while working on my Winchester and applied what I learned to the “Georgia” project.
Final inletting of the action, barrel channel, shaping, and bedding took twenty-man hours. I finished the stock with twelve coats of Tru-Oil. Twelve coats were probably overkill, but I wanted to be sure that the stock was well sealed. The Tru-Oil brought out deep rich colors of red, pink, blue, purple, and aqua. The result was quite beautiful, much to my surprise. I cut the stock to 12 ¼” since this gun would be used by little girl going to the range with her Grandpa and installed a ½” recoil pad for a total length of pull of 12 ¾”. I polished the action, barrel, and bottom metal to 600 grit and hot salt blued for a total of 30 minutes. The result was a deep black that you could see your reflection in. To add a little “bling” to the gun I nitre blued the bolt shroud, cocking piece, and sling swivels to a blue/purple translucence that blended well with the deep rich colors of the stock.
Once the bluing was complete, and the final coat of Tru-Oil had dried, I installed the sling swivels, and applied a finishing wax that really made the stock shine. I then reassembled the gun, conducted a test fire, installed and bore-sighted the scope. I posted pictures of the completed project to my Facebook page (@swampfoxcrw) and the response was overwhelmingly positive! This little gun really had an appeal that I could never have anticipated!
The weekend of 20 Jan 2018 once again found me back where this project started, Fayetteville, NC sitting in Uncle “W” living room. This time I carried with me a black hard-shell rifle case protecting the little gun that had been conceived while sitting on the very chairs on which we now sat. This build had now come full circle, from conception to delivery. The look of satisfaction on Uncle “W”’s and “Georgia’s” face when that case was finally opened warmed me to the core and make every second I spent working on that little rifle worthwhile.
See pictures below for the finished rifle.
For another of Chris's works, check out his custom Model 70 in .35 Whelen