Based on recent enquiries, I've written the following background notes on the subject of fitting machined stocks. It is not a how-to article. That would require a book. The purpose of this entry is to give folk a bit of information to a complex FAQ:
I get asked a lot; How much work is required to fit up a machined stock from Australian Classic Rifle Stocks? And many more associated queries. It's a good question but the answer is often very hard to give. Normally it's inexperienced folk asking the question. If you are not experienced, the short answer is "I don't know......." followed by "lots of rabbit holes do go down - what sort of work do you intend doing, and to what quality?"
No crystal ball hereabouts. I don't know your skill set and aptitude for learning, your workspace setup - bench, tools et cetera ad infinitum. Ultimately, like anything, you won't know until you've tried, and tried again many times. How long it takes is strongly influenced by the quality of work that is to be done. Fine quality inletting takes considerable time to accomplish. It also varies greatly depending on the difficulty or complexity of the job (firearm design complexities and specifications vary significantly, particularly in custom work). How well the stock blank works affects things. Plus of course, the skill and experience of the stocker is a big factor. Oh - and is the metalwork properly prepared and ready for stocking up?
When it comes to machined stocks, the work that remains to be done also depends heavily on how close the machined stock is to allowing the metalwork of the firearm into it. Just how close that fit must be, where it really counts, and why it counts varies somewhat according to the quality desired. A quick, rough job might take an hour or so if the inlet is open enough for the metalwork to just "drop in" or be close to it. Plus the work required to glass bed it, pretty much essential with such loose inlets. I'll be polite - I do not regard that type of work as custom quality, or anything close to it. But they do serve a purpose and have a place for some. At the other end of the scale a fine, good quality job can take from a day right up to even a week or more, even from the best quality machining! Very fine quality jobs are a rarity, because they are difficult to accomplish, fewer people have the skills, and they also take time - lots of it. Some workers are quicker than others. I've noticed many of the quicker stockers cut corners on the inlet, where it is largely hidden from view, but do very good "outside work".
Many stocks sold by the various machined stock manufacturers are machined with some gap allowance, to make the actions go close to dropping in, or to be an "easy fit". Conversely, some suppliers machine with some excess of wood in the inlet (0.025") or so is common, leaving the customer with a lot of wood to remove internally. I've seen as much as 1/16". Such excess wood, a real stock maker ought to be able to handle pretty well, but the average punter thinks he's been left with a dugout canoe project. There is nowt wrong with either approach, so long as the appropriate one is selected. The drop-in-fit suppliers compromise between an easy fit, and gaps. Suppliers who provide an excess of wood in an inlet leave it up to the skill of the fitter to guarantee a perfect fit, every time.
Problems arise when expectations and/or skill sets don't match up with the product (assuming the product is good). Increasingly, folk expect a world-class custom stock to be spat out of a CNC, with drop in fit, no gaps, checkered, finished and at a bargain price. The dimensional tolerances that most classic and vintage actions were manufactured to largely prohibits this, and individual custom work complicates it further. Many of the modern "CNC'd" actions and aftermarket parts used in custom rifles are not so consistent, either.
I try and avoid both the above scenarios. Some years ago, I gravitated away from "easy fit" and near "drop-in-fit" stocks. They are far removed from my stock making interests. For a long time, I have had near ZERO interest in them. Ditto for those with a gross excess of wood left in the inlet. There are plenty of sources for machined stocks with such inlets. Instead, I have found it best to supply a machined stock which is a little different. I do this in three different ways. The first two ways give the customer some choices concerning inletting, and the third revolves around the outside shape.
The first category of machined stock service I offer is a dedicated pattern, 100% glassed in to the customers metalwork at extra cost to the customer. If you expect a "custom" level of Inlet Fit with "no gaps" and a minimum of excess wood in the inlet, this is the only way to go in my opinion. In my own custom work, one of my aims is to have the inletting so close (within reason) that it looks like the wood actually grew around the metal. I much prefer to glass in each firearms metalwork 100% for a mirror inlet, than machine the inlet grossly undersized and have to dig out another canoe (I've done enough of that). The end result is not a given - the stocker must still have a full skill set to do the fitting. With a custom job, and a dedicated pattern fitted to the customer, it works best for me. It's also the most demanding pattern making and stock machining I have found.
The second category of machined stocks I supply, are aimed at the small percentage of professionals and amateurs who aspire to achieve a "semi-custom" level of Inlet Fit, which involves a lot more skill and time. I machine the inlets out as far as is practical, after talking to the customer about his/her expectations and experience level. I can vary the amount of wood left in the inlet, and on the outside, to suit. There is a risk of fine gaps if I machine a true 1:1 inlet, because metalwork tolerances vary, but such an inlet is a nice compromise all the same because any gaps left are normally very fine and far better than a factory inlet (and many of the "custom" jobs I see out there). For the die-hards I can leave a slight excess of wood and the amount left to be removed. The amount nominated depends upon just how much the tolerances vary in each manufacturers model - and the customers skills, experience and expectations it's hard to match aftermarket barrel profiles, and sometimes the best option is to leave a flat-top forend (no barrel inlet) or more often, and undersized one. Very occasionally, I'll allow my arm to be twisted and provide a more open inlet. Be warned, if you expect me to do this on a special blank, you'll get a negative response - rare blanks deserve a much better destiny!
The third option I offer in a machined stock relates to it's shape, more particularly how it fits the individual. Other than various stock designs, I offer a range of options that tailor the fit of the stock to the shooter. From a simple Length of Pull change, with or without a change of drop and/or cast etc - right up to a bespoke pattern built to fit the customer. After all, what point is there in making a stock for a gun or rifle, when it does not fit? When a pattern becomes a try-stock, we can suddenly get an extra and great advantage - even if the fitting is only static (no live firing). This can be combined with either of the two categories of inletting.
There are not too many folk doing fitting and finishing work to a high standard. Such work remains a rarity. If you wish to begin learning these skills, I suggest purchasing the following reference material and working hard at it:
- Professional Stockmaking by Dave Wesbrook
- Checkering & Carving of Gunstocks by Monte Kennedy
- The Final Touch - A complete course in gunstock checkering by Joel Shaefer.
- Gunstock Checkering With Joe Balickie (possibly no longer available)
At this point (and also when ordering/purchasing ACRS machined stocks or products), I'll assume you have read and digested Professional Stockmaking as a minimum, and feel comfortable with the information, skills and processes within it - or are committed to learning them. Like any writing, it doesn't cover everything - but it is a very good resource.
One thing I'll mention that is not commonly realised in my experience: Fitting machined stocks requires a slightly different approach and modified skill set compared to stocking from the block, particularly when inletting. When stocking from the block, the stock is first inlet, and then shaped. The job is thus relatively rigid because the outside shape is more or less, a "block". With a machined stock the outside is shaped before inletting is finalised. The more dainty the stock, well the more flexible it is, particularly one-piece rifle stocks. Extra finesse is required to ensure the machined stock is not bent or twisted when fitting the metalwork.
For example, if the stock is bent out of true when inletting, the witness marks left my the smoke or blue will be a false indication of the fit that actually exists between the two parts. If wood is removed from "prints" left by a false "smoking" - you WILL GET GAPS!!! Occasionally I see folk blame the machined stock, the machinist, or the accuracy potential of the duplicating machine. Yet I can often tell from their work and talking to them that they don't even realise they are flexing the stock - often an alarming amount. Often the metalwork was distorted, too! I've seen a few guys holding their stocks in a vise with a death grip around the inletting when attempting to get a smoke print. When the stock is removed from the vise jaws, the stock springs out. The witness marks are false in such a case and removing them can cause gaps, Machining patterns made or prepped by others can sometimes be eye-opening, and if a job is copied from a pattern that is not right, debate will follow as to where the error began. It pays to be very thorough.
For what it's worth, I believe the same finesse results in a far better job inletting from the block, but nothing teaches it like working with machined stocks. It's easy enough to demonstrate this: Place a correctly mounted dial gauge or indicator on your next job, whether machined or from the block. Then touch it progressively harder and note the indicated deflection. Try different positions and directions of deflection. Then, do the same with the metalwork. If you have not ever done this, I suggest it's a great idea to do so - and learn from it. If you want to chase inletting as fine as a layer of smoke, and don't understand the above and false smoke-prints, or have the will to learn about them, well good luck with that. The best machined stock in the world won't help you much if the person doing the fitting isn't capable. If you are a frustrated bang-it-and-bodge-it type, maybe just hit it a bit harder and keep on swearing. If it ain't right then, hit it again! Grin.
Inletting, or "inside work" is as demanding as you want to make it. I don't work for the "drop in fit" crowd.
Folk often call or email me with myriad queries about stock work. I am happy to provide a realistic level of after-sales service for ACRS products. Be aware that there is a limit to what I can be expected to provide free of charge. If questions do not relate to a firm order or purchase from ACRS, please consider that anticipating or expecting a business to provide a charitable donation of time and knowledge might be somewhat offensive. A prime example of this would be the numerous calls and emails I've received from entities asking for help in setting up in the business of machining stocks and/or stock making in general as a business. If a person or business seeks such contact, have the manners to ask me if I'd consider helping - and if the time spent is anything but brief and general also expect to pay for my time, knowledge and experience because it has been very, very hard won. People with professional aspirations who cannot show licensing, and demonstrate commitment, accomplishment and ability that is impressive to me, are wasting my time.
Understand your respective govt. laws and regulations for this work.