Building a custom Tikka T3/T3X precision rifle
The Tikka T3 and T3X have developed a strong following in the US rifle market. Known for its short throw two-lug bolt and crisp trigger, the Tikka offers shooters a strong entry level option. In this post, we’ll build a custom T3 in a chassis.
The base gun is a T3 hunting rifle with a sporter stock chambered in 22-250, it was literally the least expensive Tikka model I could find when I went shopping. The newer model, the T3X includes a modular stock, improved grip, improved recoil pad, quieter stock, redesigned ejection port, additional screw holes on the receiver, metal bolt shroud and a steel recoil lug. Of these improvements, I believe the metal bolt shroud and steel (instead of aluminum) recoil lug are the most beneficial. Since we are building a custom rifle and stripping off most of the parts, for our purposes the difference in features between the T3 and T3X are negligible.
In this post I’ll do the following to the T3:
- remove the factory barrel
- remove the radius from the front edge of the receiver
- thread and chamber a new barrel
- thread and chamber the barrel for a muzzle brake
- lower the ejection port
- install a chassis
This will leave us with a custom Tikka T3 that looks way cooler than the rifle we started with!
I’ll be using the following tools and parts from Brownells:
- Shilen #7 6mm 1:8″ select match barrel
- Modular Driven Technologies ESS chassis system
- Ops R3E2C muzzle brake
- Sightron 6-24x50mm SIII scope
- Universal action wrench
- Brownells barrel vise with shims
This rifle is chambered in 6mm BR (above, left), a proven little cartridge that you’ll typically encounter in match rifles. In this case, I’ll be feeding it from a chassis system, and I’ll address those concerns in a separate post (in the case of this rifle, I need to use a modified AICS style magazine with a shorter follower, rear spacer and different spring). For purposes of this post, building this rifle as a 6.5 Creedmoor(3rd from right), 6.5×47 Lapua(4th from right), 308 Winchester(right), 6 Creedmoor(4th from left) and 6×47 Lapua(3rd from left) would be effectively the same.
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All lathe work was conducted on a Grizzly 4003G lathe.
The first step is to remove the factory barrel. After stripping the barreled action off of the donor gun, I coat the shank in rosin and secure it in a barrel vise. I’m using aluminum Remington sporter contour jaws to hold the barrel in place. The rosin helps to prevent the barrel from slipping. The action wrench is made by Brownells. I’m using it with the universal head. I simply engaged one of the receiver flats with it. Removal of the barrel was fairly straight forward.
Here is a close up view of a Tikka T3/T3X shank (above, top) and factory Remington 700 shank (above, bottom). Note the T3/T3x has a longer shank and thinner major diameter (nominally 1″ v. 1.062″). Both barrels have a thread pitch of 16 threads per inch.
A look at the breech end of the Tikka barrel. Note Tikka stamps the breech end of the barrel, this isn’t something I’ve seen on other rifles. Also note the T3/T3X does not use a bolt nose recess like the Remington 700.
The front edge of the Tikka T3 has a radius where it meets the barrel. This prevents a large barrel shank from mating against it. I’m going to machine this radius off on the lathe. To begin dialing in the action, I secure it in a four-jaw chuck and screw the factory barrel back into place temporarily, this gives me a starting point to dial the action. Some smiths will even install a Remington/Savage style recoil lug on a Tikka to replace the factory floating lug assembly.
I take a series of light passes across the receiver face. This will allow me to use a thicker shanked barrel.
Finally I use a high-speed steel boring bar to cut the internal thread back a few thousandths from the edge of the receiver. This should help everything mate up nice and tight.
I’m also going to lower the ejection port on the receiver. The T3X has a lower port than the T3, some scope mounts (such as the Spuhr direct mount) interfere with ejection from a T3 action. To proactively avoid any problems, I ran a 3/8″ 4-flute solid carbide end mill in the milling machine to drop the ejection port approximately .200″.
Next I have to prep the barrel prior to threading and chambering. The shank on this Shilen #7 select match barrel has an outside diameter of 1.250″, which is larger than the diameter of the action. I mount the barrel between centers so I can turn down the outside diameter to 1.190″.
Before I start cutting the barrel tenon, I need to take some measurements with a depth micrometer. I can measure the receiver to determine my tenon length and headspace dimensions.
With the barrel prepped I can dial it in. In this case I am using a set-tru three-jaw chuck. This kind of chuck allows adjustments similar to a four-jaw by adjustment of opposing screws inside the chuck’s mounting plate. I’m using a range rod and test indicator to make sure the barrel is gimbaled concentrically on the lathe.
The lathe is now set up for threading. I’m using a carbide tool, however, a high-speed steel insert tool works just as well. The surfaces are coated in Dykem, and a light pass is made.
Next I cut the threads at 16 teeth-per-inch. I’m taking light passes and running a spindle speed of 220 RPM.
A quick test fit shows everything lines up great.
To cut the chamber I am using a Manson free-floating reamer holder with a PTG stop collar. I often change the methods I use to chamber barrels, I’m of the opinion that they all work well when done correctly.
I coat the reamer in Do-Drill cutting oil and take very light passes with firm pressure. Before I remove the reamer for cleaning, I stop the lathe and retract it once the barrel stops spinning. You don’t want to roll a chip in the chamber and mess up your chamber job.
Another method is to screw the action and bolt onto the barrel with the go gauge in place. In this case a feeler gauge is used to measure the gap in between the action face and barrel shoulder.
When the action is threaded on the barrel and bolt closes on go and stays open on the no go gauge, the chamber is correctly head spaced. This tenon is almost finished.
The final step of threading and chambering this Tikka barrel is to radius the edge of the chamber. This will aide in feeding and prevent the brass cartridge cases from being scratched. This can be done with a boring bar, scraper, or abrasive cloth. All methods work equally well.
At this point I’ll reinstall the barrel. Since this rifle with have a muzzle brake that requires being indexed, it is helpful to have the action installed in its final position when machining the brake.
I face the muzzle and turn the tenon to the correct diameter.
Then the tenon is threaded. In this case, 5/8″-24.
Finally I test fit the brake. This is an OPS brake from Brownells, Model R3E2C. It is directional and requires indexing upon installation. This is accomplished by cutting back the shoulder in small increments until it lines up perfectly.
Well, that is pretty much it. I didn’t coat this rifle yet, but it still looks great. Take a look at it in the MDT ESS chassis.
Plus, it shoots the 107 SMK very well!
I’ll be posting some more information about this rifle and how it shoots in future posts.
To learn more about gunsmithing, visit Brownells.