Shopping for a new hunting rifle is always a blast. While an off the shelf .270 Winchester, .308 Winchester, 30-06 Springfield, or 7mm Remington Magnum will serve you well, building a custom rifle offers a infinite number of options. Any imaginable cartridge, barrel length and stock combination are now available. If you decide to build a rifle, or have one built, you’ll need to buy (or select) an action, barrel and stock. Normally, shooters buy the action first.
Before you select an action, you need to decide what cartridge the rifle will be chambered in. This is an important first step, because it will help determine action length and bolt face needed for your build.
I decided on chambering this rifle in 338-06 A-Square. The 338-06 is an excellent cartridge that was introduced to SAMMI by Art Alphin’s now defunct A-Square rifle company in 1998. Weatherby later built factory rifles chambered for this hard hitting cartridge. While this cartridge is a less than mainstream, the techniques and procedures shown in this post would be the same for the majority of other hunting cartridges available.
The 338-06 A-Sqaure uses a 30-06 Springfield case with the neck expanded to .338 caliber. Note: 35 Whelen (30-06 necked up to .358) is a similar cartridge that the 338-06 is typically compared too, but I selected the 338-06 because of a greater selection of bullets available. While it may be a bit on the heavy side for whitetail deer, it is a great cartridge for medium and large game.
338-06 A-Square, utilizing the 30-06 Springfield as a parent case, requires a long action receiver. I selected a Remington 700 long action with a standard (30-06) bolt face for the heart of this build. I’ve owned, shot and hunted with many other actions and I like Remington 700 the most. I often shoot Remington 700s and 700 clones in competition, so I am well accustomed to how they work. Plus, aftermarket parts are plentiful and easily available.
Shilen makes great barrels. I understand they had a bad reputation a few years back with the benchrest crowd, but I never had one that wasn’t accurate. I selected a #3 sporter contour with a 1:10 twist in stainless steel.
H-S Precision makes fiberglass stocks with aluminum bedding blocks that are normally in stock at most retailers. While they are a little heavier than comparable stocks from McMillan and Manners, they cost quite a bit less and don’t require a lengthy delivery time. For these reasons I selected a Pro-Series Sporter (PSS010) for this rifle. The stock comes inletted for a standard long action BDL hinged floorplate.
For this project, I ordered the following from Brownells:
- Shilen .338 stainless steel barrel blank, #3 sporter contour, 1:10 twist
- Remington 700 long action receiver
- Timney 510 trigger
- HS Precision Pro-Series Sporter stock
- High-speed steel turning kit
- High-speed steel 35 degree profile turning kit
- Manson Rem 700 false bolt center
- Manson 338-06 reamer
- Holland’s recoil lug
- Manson receiver accurizing kit
- Manson receiver ring facing tool
- Manson bolt face truing block
- Manson carbide bolt face cutting burr
- Brownells bolt lapping fixture
- Lapping compound
- India stones
All lathe work is conducted on a Grizzly gunsmith’s lathe.
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Any modifications made to a firearm should be made by a licensed gunsmith. Failure to do so may void warranties and result in an unsafe firearm and may cause injury or death.
Modifications to a firearm may result in personal injury or death, cause the firearm to not function properly, or malfunction, and cause the firearm to become unsafe.
The gunsmithing starts with truing the bolt and receiver.
Factory new actions that haven’t been broken in can have some sharp edges. I like to take a few minutes to deburr a new action before working on it. I’ve found india stones work the best.
I tried a different technique to true up this bolt than I normally use. In this case, I’ll be turning the bolt between centers. To do this, I will place a false center (above, right) into the rear of the bolt.
The center allows the bolt to be turned between centers.
The false center is dialed in on the lathe. The live center is aligned against the bolts firing pin hole.
A high-speed steel profile tool is used to clean up the rear faces of the bolt lugs. This will ensure the lugs are perpendicular to the bolt.
I switch to a right hand high-speed steel insert profile tool to trim the front of the bolt nose and the front of the bolt lugs. These cuts are mostly cosmetic. The bolt nose cut needs to be made carefully, the front of the nose retains the extractor, remove too much and the extractor can fail.
GTR Tooling makes a bolt collar that holds the bolt over the bolt lugs. This can be used on combination with the lathe’s steady rest to true the bolt face. My lathe’s steady rest is too small for this method, so I will use a Manson tool to true the bolt face later.
A view of the front of the bolt when it comes off the lathe.
To blueprint or true the receiver, I like to use the Manson Receiver Accurzing kit (above). The kit includes a tap (above, top), two tapered bushings (above, middle) and a reamer (above, bottom). I’ve trued receiver’s on the lathe as well, but prefer using the kit.
The action is held in a Brownells action wrench, a wrap of tape protects the finish. The receiver reamer is guided by the tapered bushings in the bolt raceway, turning the tap cuts the minor diameter of the threads and squares the front of the receiver lugs.
Removing the tap and looking into the front of the receiver, you can see the tapered bushing as well as the newly cut receiver lugs.
The receiver tap recuts the receiver threads. This is an important step, especially in older receivers, most older Remington 700 receivers were heat treated after machining and the treating process would sometimes warp the receiver. Running the tap cuts these threads straight and true to the centerline of the receiver.
The end of the tap also serves as a guide for the receiver ring facing tool (above, left). This tool uses three carbide teeth to cut the front of the receiver square. Note the the cut surfaces on the lower right part of the receiver indicating the front of this receiver wasn’t square to the centerline of the bore.
The receiver facing tool leaves a nice surface.
The bolt face still needs to be squared. This could have been done on the lathe, however, I’ll be doing it using a Manson tooling block and carbide facing burr (above).
The tooling block screws into the front of the receiver. The bolt is closed in the locked position with the carbide burr under the extractor, a drill is used to drive the burr and cut the front of the bolt face.
A bolt lapping tool is placed on the front of the receiver, this tool places rearward pressure on the bolt. I use some 320 grit abrasive to lap the lugs into place. Since all of the surfaces are newly cut and square, this only takes a few lifts of the bolt handle.
The front of the receiver and bolt look great once all the surfaces are cut.
The Hollands Gunsmithing .250″ recoil lug needs to be pinned in place. The receiver is mounted into a pinning fixture and a plug is used to align the recoil lug.
The fixture is mounted into the milling machine vise and the pin hole is drilled.
External bolt stops offer a custom touch on a Remington 700 rifle. I’ll be installing one on this rifle. To do this, I leave the action in the same fixture used to drill the recoil lug pin. A 1/4″ solid carbide 4-flute end mill is used to machine the recess for the external bolt stop.
I always test fit parts before I remove the part from the fixture.
A 1/16″solid carbide end mill is used to spot the receiver for the bolt stop pin.
A 1/16 drill bit completes the bolt stop pin hole.
Another test fit of the external bolt stop ensure everything will function properly.
Note: This rifle build has been a work in progress, I’ve been working on it a long time. The lathe work shown here occurred three years ago, if you read a lot of my posts, you’ll notice I currently use different techniques when I machine barrels.
Prior to doing any barrel work, I need to determine a few key measurements; tenon length, headspace and the depth of the bolt nose recess. These measurements will vary from action to action depending on manufacturing tolerances and how much material was removed when the parts were trued. I always measure twice before I begin working.
The barrel is mounted through the headstock of the lathe. To ensure the barrel tenon is threaded concentric with the bore of the barrel, it needs to be “dialed in”. I use a dial indicator and a Grizzly type rod. The rod has sized bushings that match the diameter of the bore. In the bottom of the photograph above, you’ll notice a string on the rod near the chuck. This is used to preload the rod into the same position while it is indicated.
The muzzle of the barrel passes through a spider on the rear of the headstock. This is dialed in as well.
With the bore of the barrel concentric with the lathe, I use a high-speed steel insert tool to face the end of the barrel.
Next I cut the tenon to match the diameter of the recoil lug and threads (the same in this case). I make a groove .245″ from the tenon shoulder (recoil lug thickness, .250″-.005″) so I know where to stop my threads. Unfortunately, I had some chatter on a few operations with this barrel- machinists will note some tool chatter marks on the plunge cut by the tenon shoulder and the chamfer at the end of the tenon. While it doesn’t look as nice as most of my work, it will still be functional.
The recoil lug sits neatly against the shoulder.
I use a high-speed steel threading tool to cut the threads at 16 teeth/inch. I coat the threads in anti-seize when I test fit the receiver to make sure it doesn’t gall and get stuck on.
With the lug in place, the receiver can be hand tightened with no spaces between any of the parts.
On Remington 700s, the barrel tenon requires a bolt nose recess. This can either be cut with a piloted from tool or a boring bar. A form tool, shown above, is faster and easier to use. The tool has a pilot sized to match the bore of the barrel, this ensures it is centered. A Remington 700 bolt nose typically measures around .700″. I use a .705″ form tool for .0025″ of clearance around the bolt. I’ve seen some guys recommend a slightly larger bolt nose of .708″ and up. I’m sure it works, but I prefer to keep my tolerances tight (I’ve read some literature that suggest the smaller clearances are safer in the event of a cartridge case failure).
The completed bolt nose recess cut.
The bolt nose recess, allows the bolt nose to mate to the barrel tenon. This is part of the “3 rings of steel” that Remington advertises in the sale of 700 rifles. The bolt nose, barrel tenon and action, all surround the rear of the cartridge.
A quick test to make sure everything fits together when installed.
I’m using a Manson reamer, my preferred brand, to chamber this barrel. The reamer is equipped with a PTG stop collar to determine the depth of cut. This collar can be set in .001″ intervals to adjust headspace. The reamer is held in a Manson floating reamer holder. Spindle speed is 70 RPM and the ream is coated in Do-Drill cutting oil.
To cut a chamber, I coat the reamer in oil, feed the reamer slowly, turn off the lathe retract the reamer, clean the reamer and repeat.
After the reamer stop hits the end of the barrel tenon, the chamber area is cleaned. A go gauge is inserted into the end of the barrel and the recoil lug, action and bolt are threaded on. Once the action stops because the bolt hits the gauge, a feeler gauge is inserted into the space between the action and lug. This dimension is how much further the chamber needs to be cut. I set the reamer stop to half of this measurement and make another cut, repeating this process until the bolt handle closes on the go gauge.
The bolt handle closes on the go gauge. This chamber has been cut deep enough.
The handle will not close on the no-go gauge. The chamber is not over cut.
The inside edge of the chamber and counter bore need a slight radius. This helps in feeding and prevents the brass from being scratched.
The barrel is reversed in the lathe and dialed in. A crowing tool is used to cut the end of the barrel.
The completed barrel crown.
The action is tightened to the barrel with the barrel secured in a barrel vise. I like to torque my barrels to 75 foot/pounds. Barrel installed, I can use 1/8″ steel stamps to mark the caliber on the left edge of the barrel.
It is now time to fit the barreled action into the stock.
The oversized Hollands lug does not fit into the inlet on the H-S Precision stock that I am using. I mount the stock in the mill and use a 2 flute 1.4″ end mill to open up the lug slot cut. Note the plumbers tape on the side of the stock protecting its finish.
The oversized lug now fits.
The barrel channel needs minor fitting to match the Shilen #3 contour barrel. I do this with some 80 grit sandpaper wrapped around a dowel.
Prior to taping the lug and barrel, I degrease the barreled action’s surfaces. This allows the tape to stick to the metal. The sides of the lug are taped with 3M fine line tape. This 1/4″ wide product is used in the automotive industry and excels at this task. A piece of painters tape covers the front of the lug and 20mil plumbers tape covers the barrel. This is a good time to test fit the barrel into the stock to make sure everything will go together when the bedding compound is present. Too much tape and the parts won’t fit. You don’t want to figure this out when you are covered in epoxy.
The metal is coated with a release agent. You can use a few different products and they all work. I prefer the Acra-Release aerosol spray from Brownells. Modeling clay is forced into openings on the action. Excess clay is trimmed and the release agent is reapplied. It is important to apply the release agent before you pack voids with the clay, otherwise it is much more difficult to remove. A second application after the clay has been trimmed ensures that any surfaces that had the agent accidentally removed, won’t stick to the epoxy.
The stock is degreased. This is especially important on the mating surfaces that need to adhere to the bedding compound. Oil or misplaced release agent will not allow the bedding material to stick to the stock. I place painters tape around the stock to make clean up easier. The bottom metal, which had been coated in release agent, is held in the bottom of the stock with a piece of tape. A small clay snake, forward of the recoil lug, prevents the bedding compound from getting into the barrel channel.
I mix up some Marine-Tex (my preferred bedding compound) and place it on the mating surfaces.
The action is dropped into the stock and the action screws are installed. I use gentle pressure to tighten the screws until everything is aligned. Epoxy oozes out the sides of the stock. This is cleaned with cotton swabs and razor blades.
I secure the barrel in a padded vise and allow the stock to cure a full day.
Once cured, the screws are backed out of the stock and the action and bottom metal are removed. Note the excess compound in the action screw holes and around the inlet.
The stock is squared up in the mill and the excess compound is removed. The action screw holes are chased with a chucking reamer (not shown).
The bedding job looks pretty good once it is finished.
I sent the bolt to Kampfeld Custom for a helical fluting treatment. Karl Feldkamp is a well respected smith known for his outstanding work. He machined 6 flutes into the bolt, further enhancing the custom look of this rifle. Karl can perform this work on a rifle that is already in service, simply send him your bolt and he will flute it, coat it, and send it back.
At this point the metal and stock work on the rifle are complete. It is time to finish the parts and assemble them one last time. Before I finish my rifles, I like to test fire them, so I headed to the range with some 215 grain Sierra GameKings (#2610) over Winchester 760.
This is a 3 shot group at 100 yards, under 3/4 MOA. I clocked it at 2817 feet/second with an SD of 20. Not bad for a new rifle and unfamiliar cartridge. When you are accustomed to a heavy barrel match rifle in light recoiling cartridges, the recoil of a 338-06 in a light gun certainly wakes you up!
While I do the majority of my own paint work, I have a very talented friend who is far better at it than me. I asked him to coat the metal in Cerakote Graphite black and stock in Duracoat Olive Drab. When he returned the parts they looked great, I assembled them and this is what the final rifle looks like.
I’ll post more pictures once I get the optic back mounted on the rifle.
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