Recently I have decided I would buy a rifle and at my age I decided I would not settle for just ANY rifle, it would have to be exactly what I wanted but that creates a bit of a problem-what I want cost's $1000 or more and I can't justify that kind of $$.
What I REALLY WANT: Back in the day my father had a Mannlicher Schoenauer in .30-06. It is the classic European hunting rifle style that originated in Austria. That rifle was more ART than firearm. The stock was beautiful european walnut with an amazing finish, the metal work was perfect and the blueing was a deep glossy blue/black-it looked like it was wet. Here's an example similar to my fathers rifle:
I only shot that rifle a few times and it was sold when my father died. These sell for several thousand dollars in excellent condition. They are really too collectable to use regularly or drag around the mountains.
What's available these days: Remington, Ruger and CZ sell full stock models. The Ruger has a reputation of spotty performance, it seems to be about 50/50 on if it will shoot well or not-poor odds for my money. The Remingtons and CZ rifles shoot well, are well finished but cost close to $1000. There were other full stocked rifles made in the recent past by other mfg's on the used market but they are hard to find. I COULD commission a gunsmith to make me something like this:
but that rifle cost about $3000!!! The stock alone was nearly $1000!! As beautiful as it is that's not going to happen. That leaves two options, #1-buy something that is OK but NOT what I really want, or #2-BUILD what I really want. Those of you that have been through my car pages can easily figure out which way I decided to go.
The plan: I will build an updated, modern version of the traditional European hunting rifle.
I began looking for a barreled action to base my rifle on but began running into problems. An old military Mauser 98 action can be had for about $100 but the gunsmithing work to make it useable for this project would run over $400 not counting a new barrel. I found new CZ actions without a barrel for $550-still too much. I finally found a source for new Remington model 798 (imported commercial Mauser 98) barreled actions for less than $450-now that would work BUT just days before I was ready to order one, Remington decided to discontinue sales of the barreled actions. I kept looking and stumbled onto Howa rifles. They are used by Weatherby to make their Vanguard rifles and the Howa distributor in the U.S., Legacy Sports International lists barreled actions on their web site for $422. They have a good reputation so I started making calls to their dealers, none I talked to stocked or would order a barreled action. One dealer told me to call Legacy and talk directly to them. I spoke with Emmit at Legacy, he was very good to deal with and he told me that they have only one dealer they sell barreled actions to but he directed me to a dealer local to me that was "like family" and he would sell me a barreled action through him. Here's what I ordered:
I chose the blue finish in .308 Winchester caliber with a 22" barrel.
I began searching for a suitable stock which turned out to be more difficult than expected. I settled on Richards Microfit Gunstocks Inc. to supply me with one of these:
Imagine that stock pulled out to the end of the barrel - with the barrel a couple inches shorter than in this picture-got the idea? This stock differs from the traditional European style with the more sculpted grip and the high cheek piece. The higher cheek piece is a direct result of the common use of optical sights (scopes) which require your eye level to be much higher than required for the open sights most commonly used in pre-WWII Europe. I will likely remove some of the "flare" at the bottom of the pistol grip and mount a blued metal grip cap instead of the fancy rosewood shown in the picture. The forend will receive the traditional metal cap at the barrel tip. The wood shown in the picture is very fancy with a nice figure but that cost's much more and serves no real function. I will go with a nice straight grained black walnut or since this is a modern version maybe a laminated stock in gray/black like this:
Laminated stocks are very strong and dimensionally stable due to the gluing of multiple layers as opposed to one piece of wood that could be affected by humidity and temperature.
Richards Microfit stocks are manufactured using CNC machinery, are fully shaped, 99% inleted (cut out to fit the rifle action and barrel) and ready to sand and finish.
I estimate the cost of this project at just over $600 without a scope or scope mounts. With the action properly bedded in epoxy and the barrel bore lapped it should be able to put 3 shots inside 1" at 100 yards and inside 2" at 200 yards-maybe even better. We'll see how it works out.
Update #1: The barreled action is on the way. I will place an order for a stock in the next few days. After handling a few "off the shelf" rifles I have come to the conclusion that I HAVE to build my own rifle. It seems that the standard length of pull (distance from trigger to the butt) on modern rifles is 13 5/8" to 13 3/4" and I'm a big guy with long arms that require a length of pull about 14 3/4" long-unless I'm wearing a parka and I go out of my way to avoid having to wear a parka! I have also decided on the wood for the stock, I'll go with the solid black walnut.
Update #2: I ordered the stock today but the delivery time is 12 weeks!! I was hoping to take my daughter to the range when she gets back from basic training in 6 weeks and let her shoot a REAL rifle. She will shoot a M16 soon but I would like her to experience something more traditional. I will talk to Richards Microfit and see what they have in stock at a reasonable price so we can get to the range before the custom stock shows up.
Cost so far:
Barreled action $367
Custom stock $235
I still need the forend cap, grip cap, sling swivels, wood finishing kit, and epoxy to bed the action- about another $60 or so. Scope bases and rings will go for about $75 and a reasonably good scope is about $150-You can spend a ton more on a scope but that makes no sense to me. I will also likely buy some wood checkering tools to cut a nice pattern on the grip and forend but I won't include the price of tools in the build.
Update #3: I ordered a second stock so I could get the rifle together before my daughter returns in a month and I figured I should try this project on a less expensive chunk of wood. I needed something quickly so I checked Richards MicroFit inventory list of returns to see what was available for the Howa barreled actions. I settled on this:
I cut the forend at a 45* angle to facilitate the installation of a black walnut forend cap. In these next pics you can see how the stock is CNC cut for the action. There is just a little bit of trimming to do and it should slide right in.
Since I took those pics I have glued on the forend cap and a matching grip cap. I have also begun sanding the stock in preparation for the final finishing. It takes MUCH more sanding than I thought it would. I have also done some minor modifications to the shape of the stock like thinning the forend some and reshaping the grip to fit my big hands better.
Update #4: I received the barreled action a week ago. I've spent the past week fitting the action to the stock, reshaping the stock a little and applying finish to the stock.
Fitting the action required more work than I expected. The stock was too deep between the action and the trigger guard/floor plate so I had to "let" the trigger guard/floor plate assembly about 1/4" deeper into the stock and then remove the excess material to bring the wood back to the level of the trigger guard/floor plate assembly. I had to sand the barrel channel quite a bit to ensure the barrel did not touch the wood anywhere-this is called "free floating the barrel" and helps with accuracy because the wood can actually apply pressure to the barrel which degrades accuracy.
I had to lower the front of the comb (the upper part of the stock where your cheek rests) about 1/4" because the bolt hit the wood when fully open. I thinned the front of the grip so my hand wrapped around it more naturally. I removed some wood at the top of the right hand palm swell so my thumb could wrap across the top more naturally. The black walnut grip cap gives my large paw a little more substance to grab on to so it serves a useful purpose, the walnut forend is just cosmetic but adds a nice touch.
Overall it was just a few minor changes that made the stock fit me much better. This stock has the normal 13 3/4" length of pull which is too short for me but this is pretty much just a practice exercise to learn how to fit a barreled action to a stock before my much more expensive full length stock arrives. I have to say I'm pretty satisfied with the results so far and if I didn't have my heart set on a full length stock this would be totally OK and fully functional for my purposes.
So here's the Kengineering Rifle V1.0
It still need scope bases, rings and a scope. I'm pretty much set on a Leopold one piece base with Leopold quick detachable rings and a Nikon Prostaff 3x9 scope. Those will be ordered soon. Once they are installed I'll have to hit the range and see if I can make this sucker shoot!
I may need to find a purpose for this stock when Rifle V2.0 is done-maybe I'll buy a .223 barreled action for it so I can shoot more economically or maybe a 20" light weight barreled action in .308 with open sights for a light weight "scout rifle".
Update #5: I've looked at that pic above a few times and and comparing it to the pictures of completed rifles at the top of the page. It seemed to be grossly lacking something. It took me a little to figure it out It's too "square", the sides are slabs and the bottom of the forend is flat. I like it from the grip back but the front 2/3rds SUCKS. I've took it apart and reworked it on the drum sander at work. I thinned the top and bottom of the sides for more of a "barrel" shape as seen in the upper two rifles with full length stocks and rounded the forend as well as reduced it's profile some more. So now I have another week of sanding and finishing to see what it will look like. Stay tuned for more pics. And some of you thought this page wouldn't be updated for a while!!
Update #6: Here's V1.1:
I like this version much better and it's MUCH nicer to handle. The stock is finished in Tru-Oil and buffed with 0000 steel wool for a satin finish which I like more than the gloss on V1.0. The camera flash washes out the color some, the laminated part is slightly darker than the pictures show and the walnut is much darker. Next step is to mount the scope.
Update #7: The scope arrived today, it's a Nikon Prostaff with BDC reticle. It retails for $228 but is readily available from Cabela's for $170. I paid $120 on ebay, new-in-box delivered. The scope base mounts are Leopold Standard two piece that are designed for the Remington 700 series rifles and cost $27 at the local gun shop. The rings are Leopold Standard 1" to match the bases and were $30 through Midway USA.
This is the BDC reticle. With the .308 sighted in for "0" at 100yds, the lower rings account for elevation at longer distances.
So this version cost:
$367 Barreled action
$114 Laminated stock
$57 Scope mounts
Not bad for a custom rifle, I'm really looking forward to receiving the full length stock and starting Rifle Project V2.0.
Update #8: After several months of waiting for the Mannlicher stock to be built it finally arrived this week. It looks pretty good but seems to have much more hand work done on it as compared to the other stock I bought. It will take a LOT more work than the first stock. The barrel channel is not fully cut through to the end, this will require purchasing special tools to do this work.
You can see the length of pull is 1" longer and the stock fits me much better.
You can also see where I have already started marking the stock up with a Sharpie where it will need more shaping to suit me. You can't see the wood grain very well in this pic but I think it will finish out quite nicely and be a very good looking piece.
Update #9: Well, this update isn't what I had expected to write-not by a long shot...
Several things have happened with this project in the past few months. I have had it to the range in the original laminated stock twice and put about 225 rounds of various ammunition through it including early 90's English military surplus, late '90s German military surplus, current Winchester and Seller & Bellot match. I achieved some really good groups of less than 1 MOA (minute of angle) and some that just plain sucked, it didn't seem to matter which ammunition I was using either. I suspected the inconsistencies were from the stock and my rookie inleting and after some investigation I'm sure that was the cause.
I began work on the new stock and after many hours of work I realized it had a problem with the way the CNC machine cut in the action hole and drilled the screw holes, it was just slightly off center so when I got the barrel to fit into the wood it was about 1/8" off to one side at the very front and there was an uncorrectable gap on the other side. I would NOT be able to make my dream rifle with this stock. The next step was to shorten up the stock to a normal sporter rifle length and work with that for more practice inleting the rest of the action.
After some more thought I decided I wanted a really good shooting rifle NOW and not in a year or two so I put the wood stocks on hold and began looking at off the shelf composite stocks. I liked the Bell & Carlson straight comb stock with a cheek piece but I really wanted a full aluminum action bedding block and their only stock for the Howa with the aluminum bedding is a Weatherby style and not what I wanted. I ended up buying a Houge composite stock. Legacy Sports International originally sold the Howa 1500 rifles stocked in a cheesy plastic stock but eventually switched to Houge composite stocks. So it appears I have a normal current design Howa 1500 rifle as it would normally be sold but that's not QUITE true. Houge makes two versions, one with aluminum pillar bedding blocks, this is the version Legacy Sports International uses on their new rifles. The second is more expensive but has a full aluminum action bedding block CNC machined out of 6061 stock. This should make the rifle more accurate and consistent than the less rigid pillar blocks.
Houge stocks are a typical composite stock but "overlayed" with the rubber material they developed for their pistol grips. I'm not fond of the rubber coating at all. I did find that a good scrubbing with soap and hot water helped the sticky feeling of the stock, I guess they don't clean the mold release off when they mfg them.
In a month or so when the range dries out a little I'll get it back out there, and put some more ammunition through it and update this with some targets. I'm expecting it to shoot very well.
Here's a shot of the Kengineering rifle V1.5:
Oh yeah, I've added a couple new accessories like the bi pod, a magazine extension-holds 7 rounds now instead of the 4 previously as well as an elastic sleeve that goes over the stock and holds 9 rounds and the cloth keeps my cheek from sticking to the stock.
It may appear I have conceded defeat with regards to the Mannlicher style stock and for the next couple years that's true however when I retire I WILL try again using a different stock MFG this time. I WILL have the rifle of my dreams (eventually) but for now I will settle for a rifle that is more function than art - which is ok because I'm usually MUCH more focused on function than art. I'll update that picture with a better one soon.
I was poking around the internet looking at cheap ammo and was considering building another Howa in .223 because the ammo is much cheaper. I was on the Legacy Sports International web site checking current barreled action prices when I stumbled on to a new product, a box magazine conversion set up!! I promptly ordered the kit with a 5 round box mag. They have 10 round mags available and I will pick up 2 of those soon. Here's a quick picture of the conversion in place:
This is the Kengineering Rifle V1.55
I did not like the bipod on the forearm, it just added weight with little value. The mag extesion was not consistent feeding rounds at the range. The spring pressure of the stock spring in the longer mag box was insufficient. I loaded up 5 rounds in this new removable box mag and cycled them through the chamber with out a flaw-this is a really great addition and only took a couple minutes to install. This is how I will carry it with the two 10 round mags handy if I need them.
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