The Howa 1500 action offers a lot of potential for the precision rifle shooter. While appearing externally similar to the Remington 700, further inspection finds many differences including a flat bottom receiver, M16 type extractor and different action screw placement.
Howa actions are imported to the US by Legacy Sports International and sold by Brownells. To learn more about how the Howa 1500 compares to the Remington 700, please take a look at my Howa 1500 review here.
I decided to build a custom Howa 1500, let’s take a look at what that entails- but first, a look at the disclaimer!
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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.
For this project, I ordered the following from Brownells:
- Howa 1500 barreled action
- Timney Trigger for HOWA
- Shilen #7 select match barrel
- Ops R3E2C Brake
- Brownells barrel vise
- Brownells Remington 700 action wrench (it works with a Howa 1500, see below)
- Brownells rosin
- Manson reamer
- Manson floating reamer holder
- Do-Drill cutting oil
Removing the barrel from a Howa 1500
Yes, you are going to need to remove the barrel from the factory Howa 1500 action. For some reason the Internet views this task as nearly impossible. I wasn’t sure where this rumor started, but I decided to head straight to the importer and called Legacy Sports International. I asked their smith how he pulled the tubes, if it was difficult and asked for any advice. I was told it wasn’t a big deal. Armed with that knowledge I adapted a Brownells barrel wrench from a Remington 700.
This is what I came up with: use half of the 700 wrench. Since the receiver is the same nominal diameter (~1.350″) as the 700, I simply used that half of the wrench to engage the top of the receiver while resting the flat bottom on the wrench flat.
This is a view from the front. Fits surprisingly well. I grabbed the barrel shank in a Brownells’ barrel vise with 1.175″ aluminum shims and some rosin. Worked like a champ.
So here is the barrel shank of a Howa 1500 (left) next to a Remington 700 (right). You’ll note the thread on the Howa is smaller, it is also metric, M26mmx1.5. On my sample the major diameter of the threads was 1.018″. The tenon was .706″ long and the counter bore was .142″ deep and .708″ in diameter. Note the chamfer at the end of the Howa tenon, this is far more pronounced than the one on the 700.
Another view of the barrel tenons. This time the 700 is on the left and the Howa 1500 is on the right.
I’m going to be spinning up a Shilen #7 Select Match barrel. I begin by dialing it in. In this case I’m using a set-true 3-jaw chuck on my lathe. Alternatively, I could have used a spider or four jaw chuck; all work equally well. Note the range rod in the bore of the barrel running against the test indicator.
With the bore dialed in I can face the barrel and turn the tenon to the correct diameter.
The end of the tenon is chamfered prior to the threading process and the tenon is coated in Dykem.
Time to cut some metric threads! Depending on your lathe, this is either super easy or a complete pain in the butt. In my case, it was the latter. My lathe requires the installation of change gears to cut metric threads, this also renders the thread dial unusable. In this case, I engage the half nut, run the tool to the tenon, stop the lathe, then run it in reverse to back it off the piece before repeating the process at a deeper depth. Seems very primitive when you are doing it, but, it works.
A look at my M26x1.5 threads, not too shabby!.
A quick test fit of the Howa 1500 action shows everything is alright.
Next, I’ll need to cut the counterbore for the bolt nose. This can either be done with a form tool or a boring bar. I selected to use a high-speed steel insert boring bar.
Then with counterbore cut, the action can be screwed all the way in and the bolt handle will close.
Next I need to cut the chamber. I’ve cut chambers in every conceivable fashion over the years and always seem to change how I do it. In this case I’m running a Manson reamer in a Manson floating reamer holder. I’m not using a reamer stop, simply keeping track of my depth of cut via the graduations on the tailstock’s quill feed.
To see how deep the chamber needs to be cut, I use a go gauge and screw the action in with the bolt closed. The space between the front of the receiver and the barrel tenon can be measured with a set of feeler gauges.
When the handle closes on go and stays open on no go, I am in the right spot.
At this time I’m going to remove the barrel from the lathe and polish it up on the belt grinder using a barrel spinner. The barrel spinner holds the freshly chambered barrel between two centers and allow the barrel to rotate with the grinder to prevent flat spots.
I’ll be installing the OPS INC brake on the rifle. It is a directional brake. I’ve found the easiest way to install these is with the action in place. So I place the barrel in a vise and torque the action home. The barrel is then run through the headstock with the muzzle in our work space.
The muzzle end is dialed in, just like the chamber end was.
The tenon is cut for the brake.
And the threads are cut at 24 teeth per inch.
The brake can now be indexed to match the receiver. This is done by slowly cutting the shoulder of the tenon back a few thousandths at a time. To calculate how much you need to cut is slightly more complicated. You start by dividing 1″ by the thread pitch, in this case 24 (1″/24=.0416″). This means for every .0416 the shoulder is moved back, the muzzle brake will rotate one full revolution. If you need to rotate the brake 180 degrees, or halfway around, simply cut this value in half and you know how much you’ll need to remove (.0416″/2= .0208″).
Next up I decided that an oversized bolt handle was in order. Went ahead and chucked up a bolt handle fixture in the lathe and lined everything up.
I began by center-drilling the end of the knob. This will allow the tailstock to support the handle through the machining process without it shifting.
Next I turned the tenon to diameter. I cut from the check towards the tailstock. This prevents the bolt from shifting in the fixture.
Finally I cut some threads on the tenon with a single point tool. The die I had for this operation broke. Typically I’ll just run that up the tenon in a die holder, it is a little faster, however, single point threads are way nicer.
At this point the rifle is ready for final assembly; well, here it is…
I selected a MDT ESS chassis for this custom rig. The ESS is a solid performer that was designed with the PRS competitor in mind.
You’ll note the rifle is topped with a Zeiss 5-30x50mm Conquest V6 scope in a Spuhr mount. The Zeiss V6 Conquest is a great offering if you are in the market for an optic that is geared more towards the hunting crowd. It offers the functionality of a long range scope with the compact profile of a hunting optic.
I’ll let you know how it shoots!
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