Building a Custom Bolt Action .223 Rifle with a Blackheart International Action

The 28" heavy barrel makes this gun kick like a 22!

The 28″ heavy barrel makes this gun kick like a .22!

Building a precision rifle on a custom action can offer a number of advantages.  In addition to custom features such as heavier tangs, specialized extractors, one piece bolts and upgraded bolt stops, there can be a significant labor savings. Starting with a custom made action, the gunsmith can focus on chambering and threading the barrel, without having to worry about blueprinting the action.

For this project we will be using a custom stainless steel action made by Blackheart International (BHI), supplied by Brownells.  Our example is a short action with a .223 bolt face, but, it is available in long action with standard, magnum and Lapua bolt faces.

The Blackheart International action has the following specifications:

  • CNC machined from 416R stainless steel and hardened to 41 Rockwell
  • bolt bore raceway is wire EDM’ed with the rails to ensure exact tolerances are held
  • rails have an anti-bind rail for smooth operation when cycling across ejection port cut out
  • bolt is spiral fluted and clearance through bolt bore is held to .004 -.006
  • bolt handle is straight with a black knurled tactical knob and black bolt shroud
  • action has a standard Remington 700 magazine cut out
  • includes one-piece 20 MOA Picatinny rail with four 8-40 mounting screws and two 1/8 dowel pins to ensure rigid mounting
  • recoil lug is surface ground and pinned
  • front and rear of action is the same diameter to provide for greater rigidity
  • the .223 uses a Sako style extractor, .308 and larger use an M-16 style extractor
  • bolt stop is on non firing side above stock line

When discussing caliber selection, we initially thought about chambering it in .223 Ackley Improved  but later decided against it.  Settling on .223 Remington since we were considering competing in some mid-range F-class matches in the target rifle division which only allows rifles chambered in .223 and .308.

It is worth noting that this build moved along significantly faster then those we have completed on a factory 700.  The ability to move straight into threading and chambering the barrel is a huge time saver.  If you are looking at building a precision rifle, the price tag associated with a custom action may cause you to initially look away.  However, if you factor in the cost of the tooling and the parts needed to end up with a similar end result from a standard Remington 700 action, you will find that the price isn’t too far off the mark.

We ordered the following supplies from Brownells to complete this project:

  1. Blackheart International custom bolt action receiver
  2. Bartlein 22 caliber heavy varmint barrel blank 1:8 twist
  3. Manson .223 live pilot finish reamer
  4. 3/8″ High-speed steel turning kit
  5. 1/2″ High-speed steel threading tool
  6. Starrett dial indicator
  7. 60 degree center gauge
  8. .223 Remington “go” and “no go” gauge set 
  9. Accuracy International 2.0 AICS folding stock
  10. Accuracy International AICS .223 magazines
  11. Spuhr Unimount scope mount
  12. Nightforce NXS 5.5-22x56mm rifle scope

All lathe work is conducted on a Grizzly 4003G lathe with a Bald Eagle spider attached to the faceplate.

The following documents the process we used to build our custom .223 bolt action rifle, it is for informational purposes only and should not be considered instructional advise.  If you haven’t chambered a barrel before, make sure an experienced gunsmith checks your work.

The BHI 223 custom short action- it's pretty cool looking- isn't it?

The BHI 223 custom short action- it’s pretty cool looking- isn’t it?

The bolt body is constructed of one piece of stainless steel and is helically fluted.

The bolt body is one piece of stainless steel and is helically fluted.

The BHI action uses a Sako extrator with a plunger ejector.

The BHI action uses a Sako extractor with a plunger ejector.

For this rifle we selected a Bartlein heavy varmint profile barrel blank.

For this rifle we selected a Bartlein  barrel blank with a heavy varmint profile.

The barrel is run through the lathe's headstock and secured with spiders on both ends.  A PTG grizzly rod, with the appropriately sized bushing is placed into the bore.

The barrel is run through the lathe’s headstock and secured with spiders on both ends. A Pacific Tool and Gauge (PTG) grizzly rod, with the appropriately sized bushing is placed into the bore.

The bore is dialed, initially using the .001" dial indicator, and followed with the .0001" indicator.  Our TIR was less then .0001" in this case.

The bore is dialed, initially using the .001″ dial indicator, and followed with the .0001″ indicator. Our total indicator runout (TIR) was less then .0001″ in this case.  Note the set up we use.  The plumb bob pretensions the grizzly rod.

Using high speed steel insert cutters, the tenon shoulder is cut to accept the recoil lub provided with the action.

Using high-speed steel insert cutters, the tenon shoulder is cut to accept the recoil lug provided with the action.

The barrel tenon is coated with layout fluid and then the end of the tenon is chamfered, a stop cut is made for the threads, and the inside corner of the tenon's shoulder is undercut so the recoil lug sits flush.

The barrel tenon is coated with layout fluid and then the end of the tenon is chamfered, a stop cut is made for the threads, and the inside corner of the tenon’s shoulder is undercut so the recoil lug sits flush.

A 60 degree center gauge is used to align the HSS threading tool.   The compound is set to 29.5 degrees and the lathe is set to cut 16 teeth per inch.

A 60 degree center gauge is used to align the HSS threading tool. The compound is set to 29.5 degrees and the lathe is set to cut 16 teeth per inch.

After a light pass is made with the threading tool, a thread gauge is used to ensure the threads are cut at the right pitch.

After a light pass is made with the threading tool, a thread gauge is used to ensure the threads are cut at the right pitch.

The threads are then cut to depth on the lathe.

The threads are then cut to depth on the lathe.

The BHI action requires a .720 diameter bolt nose recess (we normally cut a .705" on a standard Remington action).  The recess is cut with a high speed steel boring bar.

The BHI action requires a .720 diameter bolt nose recess (we normally cut a .705″ on a standard Remington action). The recess is cut with a high- speed steel boring bar.

With a little bot of anti seize on the barrel threads (you don't want two stainless steel parts sticking together), the recoil lug, action and bolt are test fit.  Note: the recoil lug pin is not need at this point, since the relative alignment of the lug does not matter right now.

With a little bit of anti seize compound on the barrel threads (you don’t want two stainless steel parts sticking together), the recoil lug, action and bolt are test fit. The we remove the ejector and firing pin from the bolt prior to test fitting.  Note: the recoil lug pin is not needed at this point, since the relative alignment of the lug does not matter right now.

A Manson, .223 Remington live pilot finish reamer will be used to chamber this barrel.  Unlike other manufacurers, who seccure pilots with a set screw, Manson uses an E-clip.  We find this method preferable.  A Lambeth-Kiff reamer stop is attached to the base of the reamer and the "go" gauge is held next to it.  The stop is set to limit the chamber depth short of final depth of cut.

A Manson, .223 Remington live pilot finish reamer will be used to chamber this barrel. Unlike other manufacturers, who secure pilots with a set screw, Manson uses an E-clip. We find this method preferable. A Lambeth-Kiff reamer stop is attached to the base of the reamer and the “go” gauge is held next to it. The stop is set to limit the chamber depth short of final depth of cut.

The reamer is secured in a floating reamer holder.  The reamer is coated in a liberal amount of Viper's Venom cutting oil and slowing advanced .025" into the barrel.  The lathe is then stopped, the reamer retracted, cleaned, lubricated, and reinserted a few thoussandths short of the previous cut.  This process is repeated until the reamer stop hits the end of the barrel blank.

The reamer is secured in a floating reamer holder. The reamer is coated in a generous amount of Viper’s Venom cutting oil and is slowing advanced .025″ into the barrel. The lathe is then stopped, the reamer retracted, cleaned, lubricated, and reinserted a few thousandths short of the previous cut. This process is repeated until the reamer stop hits the end of the barrel blank.

A action, lug and bolt are screwed into placed with the .223 Remington "go'" gauge in place.  A feeler gauge is used to measure the remaining space along the tenon. The reamer stop is then retracted half of this dimension. and the process repeated until action can be screwed all the way in with the "go" gauge in place.

An action, lug and bolt are screwed into placed with the .223 Remington “go'” gauge in place. A feeler gauge is used to measure the remaining space along the tenon. The reamer stop is then retracted half of this dimension. and the process repeated until the action can be screwed all the way in with the “go” gauge in place.

 

With the action secured, the handle should fall on the "go" gauge.

With the action secured, the handle should fall on the “go” gauge.

The handle should not close with the "no go" gauge in place.

The handle should not close with the “no-go” gauge in place.

The barrel is cut to length and dialed-in in the lathe.  A boring bar is used to cut a recessed crown.

The barrel is cut to length and dialed-in on the lathe. A boring bar is used to cut a recessed crown.

The barrel is secured in a barrel vise.  A Surgeon action wrench held in a torque wrench tightens the action into place.  Note: A small amount of anti seize is placed in the threads prior to final assembly to prevent galling of stainless steel parts.

The barrel is secured in a barrel vise. A Surgeon action wrench, held in a torque wrench, tightens the action into place. Note: A small amount of anti-seize compound is placed on the threads prior to final assembly to prevent galling of stainless steel parts. Headspace is verified once this is completed.

Using a guide we stamp the caliber into the side of the barrel.

Using a guide we stamp the caliber into the side of the barrel.

For the stock selection, an Accuracy International AICS 2.0 chassis system was selected.  The AICS has an aluminum chassis surrounded by plastic skins.   The advantage of this system is that it eliminates variables with stock bedding or inletting.  The receiver sits in a V shaped bed, secured by the action screws.  Additionally, the wide barrel channel allows the user to easily remove the barrel as needed.  This would be a good choice for a switch barrel application.

Unfortunately, the lug supplied with the action is too long for the AICS stock we plan on using. Notice the action is rocking on the lug and won't sit in the chassis.  We have noticed this with Holland lugs on AICS stocks as well.  In the past we have cut the lugs, this time we decided to increase the depth of the lug cut in the AICS chassis.

Unfortunately, the lug supplied with the action is too long for the AICS stock we plan on using. Notice that the action is rocking on the lug and won’t sit in the chassis. We have encountered this with Holland lugs on AICS stocks as well. In the past, we have cut the lugs, this time we decided to increase the depth of the lug cut in the AICS chassis.

The chassis is squared up in the milling machine vise.

The chassis is squared up in the milling machine vise.

A 1/4" end mill and a little bit of aluminum cutting fluid make short work of deepening the lug cut.

A 1/4″ end mill and a little bit of aluminum cutting fluid make short work of deepening the lug cut.

Note the lug no longer contacts the bottom of the lug cut.

Note the lug no longer contacts the bottom of the lug cut.

The trigger needs to be installed on the action. We have a Timney on back order, so we installed a Remington factory trigger for the time being.   The bolt release on the trigger can be removed since it is no longer needed.  Since this is only temporarily on this rifle, we left it on.

The trigger needs to be installed on the action. We have a Timney on back order, so we installed a Remington factory trigger for the time being. The bolt release on the trigger can be removed since it is no longer needed. Since this is only temporarily on this rifle, we left it on.

The barreled action is secured with two action screws.  We use a torque driver to ensure they are properly secured.

The barreled action is secured with two action screws. We use a torque driver to ensure they are properly secured.

 

The side panels of the AICS stocks are reattached.

The side panels of the AICS stocks are reattached.

The scope base of is held on with two dowel pins as well as 4 8-40 screws.

The scope base is held on with two dowel pins as well as 4, 8-40 screws.

Here is a close up view of one of the two pins.  These pins are pressed into the action and base, providing additional strength.

Here is a close up view of one of the two pins. These pins are pressed into the action and base, providing additional strength.

We selected Spuhr rings to mount our optic.  The Spuhr system uses a once piece design, that has 6 mils of elevation built into it.

We selected Spuhr rings to mount our optic. The Spuhr system uses a once piece design, that has 6 mils of elevation built into it.

Spuhr includes a scope leveling wedge with thier rings.  The wedge slips into a mating surface on the mount.

Spuhr includes a scope leveling wedge with their rings. The wedge slips into a mating surface on the mount.

The wedge then runs against the bottom of the scope, guaranteeing the scope is perfectly level.

The wedge then runs against the bottom of the scope, ensuring that the scope is perfectly level.

With a Nightforce NXS 5.5-22×56 scope mounted, we headed to the range for the rifle’s debut.  All shooting was done from the prone position, with a Harris bi-pod and a rear bag.  Ammunition consisted of factory Federal Gold Medal 69 grain HP and Asym 75 grain OTM.

The straight bolt handle and helical flutes give this rifle a slick appearance.

The straight bolt handle and helical flutes give this rifle a slick appearance.

The 28" barrel is quite long, velocity of Federal 69 grain Gold Medal was 2920 fps and Asym 75 was 2887 fps.

The 28″ barrel is quite long, velocity of Federal 69 grain Gold Medal was 2920 fps and Asym 75 was 2887 fps.

Off to a good start with factory Federal 69 grain Gold Medal.

Off to a good start with factory Federal 69 grain Gold Medal.

 

The rifle shot well.  The selection of heavy parts resulted in a heavy rifle with almost no perceived recoil.  It felt like shooting a 22.  Initial accuracy results seemed promising, with both factory loads shooting well below 1 MOA.  The bolt cycled and function well.  Unfortunately, the .223 AICS magazines we ordered still haven’t arrived and we are stuck loading single rounds.

Moving forward, the barrel will likely be cut and crowned to a shorter configuration; primarily because, the overall length of the rifle prevents its easy storage in our safe.

Federal Gold Medal 69 OTM.  .451" at 100 yards.

Federal Gold Medal 69 OTM. .451″ at 100 yards.

Federal Gold Medal 69 OTM. .387" at 100 yards.

Federal Gold Medal 69 OTM. .387″ at 100 yards.

Update: July 8, 2013: We cut and crowned the barrel to 24″.  Fired six groups of Federal Gold Medal 69 SMK.  Range conditions were 95F, with 15 MPH half value winds.  Groups were .461, .631, .387, .422, .648 and .410″ respectively from a bipod and rear bag.  Average group size was .493″.

 

Rifleshooter.com has partnered with The “Camp-Site” Sport Shop for all its firearm transfer and shipping needs.  Camp-Site is committed to advancing the shooting sports by educating sportsman and promoting the shooting sports.  Check out their website or visit their Guns America online store for quality new and used pieces.