I was lucky enough to find an old 870 Wingmaster receiver for sale. Having been a Remington 870 aficionado since the mid-90s, I developed quite the collection of spare parts, and those parts needed an action.
Normally, if you customize a shotgun, you start with a complete gun and only add a few components. In this case, I am starting with a bunch of parts and putting them together. This approach only makes sense if you have a bunch of spare parts on hand, otherwise buying an used Remington 870 Express, Wingmaster, or Police trade-in would be a better move. When building on an old gun, I try to find the most beat up guns available. Often, you can pick them up for around $200-300 (2015) depending on the model (Police models call for a premium, Express models are least expensive). Occasionally, you can get one for under $200, but those guns will often require significant work.
Unlike building a precision rifle, shotgun builds are less machinery dependent, more forgiving, and can meet most budgets. I often recommend them as a first gunsmithing project.
While I had most of the required parts squirreled away, I did have to buy some- I paid $65 for the receiver from a dealer and $40 for the bolt on Ebay. The Trak-Lock II ghost ring sights from Wilson Combat (the most expensive part) range from $100-150 depending on the model. I used the tritium sights in this build, but they also offer a fiber optic front sight as well.
This “custom” shotgun will have a Cerakote finish, ghost ring sights, interchangeable choke tubes and porting. It will be configured as a general purpose gun shotgun (some might call a truck gun). This gun would be at home in a shotgun steel match (most places I shoot have a 5-round capacity pump division- if they don’t throw you in open because of the ports), for defensive use, or as a slug gun for deer (I’ll often hunt with a configuration similar to this in slug only areas for whitetail). If I want to hunt birds, or shoot clays, I can simply remove the rear sight and install a vent rib barrel.
A few caveats about how this shotgun will be configured. First, if a gun doesn’t already have a vent rib barrel, I like ghost ring sights. Vent rib sights with a fiber optic front sight are extremely popular in 3-gun matches (my current match set up), however, and this is especially relevant with slugs, you can’t adjust the zero on them. What works fine at a match, may be limiting in other applications. I personally like to zero my shotguns with slugs at 50 yards. My favorite ghost ring sights, are the Scattergun Technologies/Wilson Combat Trak-Lock II.
Second, if possible, I prefer having interchangeable choke tubes in a shotgun. While this isn’t a mandatory feature, I like the added utility. The barrel I am using in this build already had the choke tubes installed.
Finally, I am not a fan of porting on a shotgun. I do think it looks cool, however, cool looks come at the price of noise, which I don’t care for. I do a lot of shooting beneath overhead cover and every time I’ve shot a ported shotgun I had a mild headache at the end of the day. The barrel I am using has already been ported, so it looks cool, but it is going to be loud.
In addition to a milling machine, a media cabinet and curing oven, I’ll be using some specialized tools from Brownells on this project. While these items certainly make life easier, they are not essential to quality work. If you plan on working as a professional, or are a serious 870 fan, these tools are worth the investment. Just remember, there is always another way to do a given task. When the Scattergun Technologies sights were first introduced (before Wilson Combat bought the company), the manufacturer offered an installation fixture (long discontinued) for less than $20 that allowed you to use a hand held drill to install the rear sight. While I wouldn’t recommend a hand drill, a drill press would work fine. Similarly, my original blast cabinet cost me $80 and ran off of a pancake air compressor. It took about half a day to prep a shotgun receiver. I would spray Cerakote with an airbrush and cure it with a Milwaukee heat gun in an old sheet metal gun safe. A turkey thermometer was used to regulate temperature. Once, I installed choke tubes by turning the reamers by hand before I had a lathe. My point is, even if you don’t have some of the specialized tools, these tasks can be done and done well.
The barrel used in this project is equipped with an interchangeable choke tube system and has been ported. To see how I did this, take a look at Choke tube installation and Porting a shotgun barrel with a milling machine.
A schematic of a Remington 870 can be found here, if you need help identifying parts.
I ordered the following tools and supplies from Brownells:
- Shell latch staker
- Shell latch, left side
- #33 drill
- 6-40 tap
- Tapit tapping paste
- Tap handle, size 0-12
- Tap guide
- Cerakote graphite black
- HVLP spray gun
- TCE degreaser
- Handi clamp
- Baked on finish curing oven
- Loctite #248
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This is the pile of parts (above) I’ll be working with. The Remington 870 Wingmaster receiver came with a stock, but is missing the left shell latch. The bolt came from ebay and the sights from Wilson Combat- the rest of the stuff was languishing in a cardboard box.
First, I’ll begin by installing the rear ghost ring sight. The receiver is placed in a milling machine vise, and the front and center of the receiver are located.
The rear sight requires drilling and tapping two holes, the first is a through hole 5.885″ from the front of the receiver. The second hole is a blind hole .375″ deep, 7.335″ from the front of the receiver. I use a spotting drill to locate each hole. Since my milling machine is equipped with a Digital Read Out (DRO), I spot both holes, before changing to the drill, and so forth. If I were using a drill press, I would spot, drill and tap the first hole before starting the second one. This would ensure the receiver is properly aligned for each of the operations.
A #33 drill is used to drill the tap holes.
The holes need to be threaded 6-40. I use a tap guide (a little over $10 and worth every cent) in the milling machine to guide the tap handle and tap straight into the receiver. Tapping paste is used to lubricate the tool. I prefer high-speed steel taps, however, if you are only doing a few holes, carbon steel taps cost less and will work as well. I am careful not to apply too much force to the tap, I take a slight cut and back the tap off to clear the chips and prevent the tool from binding.
This is a good time to test fit the rear sight. So far, so good.
The front sight doesn’t require any further prep on this barrel. The barrel started life on my brother’s 20″ rifle sight 870 Express from Walmart. In the pre machine days, I cut and crowned it to 18.5″ and shaped what was left of the front sight ramp into a tenon that would fit the Trak-Lock front sight. As my skill set increased, I ended up buying him a new barrel to replace it (you can see the area around the tenon is a little chewed up). This barrel served as my practice barrel for a number of projects, including Choke tube installation and Porting a shotgun barrel with a milling machine (you’ll notice it-the green barrel).
The receiver was missing the left side shell latch (on the bench block next to the receiver in the photo above). This is an important piece that needs to be present for the gun to work. It is staked in place with a specialized tool.
The shell latch fits into a recess inside of the receiver. Prior to fitting I inspected the recess to insure that there were no burrs present to prevent it from seating. Note the front of the shell latch is underneath the magazine tube. This is critical.
The front trigger plate pin is placed into the receiver and used to align the shell stop. A Handi Clamp is used to make sure it stays in place.
There are a few different staking tools on the market; some, like the Brownells model shown here are hit with a hammer, others use a series of screws to stake the latch in place.
The receiver is placed against the back of a multi-vise. The staking tool is set on the recessed staking area inside the receiver. A solid hit with a hammer in each recess and the latch is staked in place.
All the parts are ready for coating. The first step it to degrease them.
I always degrease my parts prior to coating (heating them prior to degreasing is a good idea as well- it brings any trapped oils to the surface of the metal). Degreasing prior to blasting prevents abrasive from sticking to any oil on the parts as well as prevents the abrasive from becoming contaminated. I degrease my parts outside in the open air. I hang them on soft iron wire. I prefer Brownells spray TCE degreaser to clean the parts. I spray the parts until the TCE runs clear from the bottom. Make sure you collect any over spray in a bucket, you don’t want it going into the ground.
The parts are placed into the blast cabinet. I use rubber stoppers to plug the magazine tube and the barrel. The parts are then blasted with Aluminum Oxide abrasive.
When the parts come out they look as good a new. Care must be taken not to touch them with bare hands, only with gloves. The oil on a person’s hands can contaminate the surfaces.
The parts are cured in a curing oven (not shown- click on the link to the left if you want to see what the oven looks like) and ready to assemble. The color is graphite black, I think it looks great on most firearms. Time to reassemble the gun and install the front sight.
Looks much better than it did before! The shiny spots on the receiver are from oil on my hands, the finish looks great.
The area surrounding the front sight is masked off to make cleaning up the epoxy used to attach the sight easier to remove. Wilson recommends soaking the muzzle in a solvent to remove any oils, since I degreased and refinished the barrel, I simply wipe the area with a solvent.
Wilson Combat supplies epoxy separated in a mixing bag. The two parts are are mixed together.
The epoxy is placed into the bottom of the front sight.
The front sight is clamped in place and the excess epoxy is cleaned up. The epoxy is allowed to set for 24 hours. After it cures the sight can be used as is, or, optionally, it can be cross pinned with a 1/16″ roll pin for added piece of mind. Both methods work well.
I’ve talked about the durability of this sight mounting method elsewhere on the Rifleshooter.com, but it bears repeating. The epoxy works well on the front sight. I have an original Scattergun Technologies shotgun I ordered back in 1994, that has had zero issues. In fact, recently, when I removed the cross pin (optional for installations) from the sight and hit the front sight repeatedly with a dead blow mallet, the sight was unaffected. This was after nearly twenty years of continuous use!
The rear sight screws are coated in loctite to ensure they won’t back out.
A light coat of oil on the moving parts and the gun is ready for the range. I didn’t refinish the wood because I envision hard use in this shotgun’s future.
Not to bad for a used receiver, ebay bolt, and a pile of left over parts! Shotgun builds are a lot of fun, if you’ve never done one, I would suggest giving it a try.
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Check out Wilson Combat for shotgun parts as well as shotgun gunsmithing services. If you have an old 870 you want to have rebuilt, they will do a great job for you.
Check out Brownells for all your gunsmithing parts and tools.