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2022 Blog Index

1 - The Sun Sets On The Saws

2- Straight-Hand Martini Cadet Pattern

3- Pattern Perceptions

4 - How Not To Prepare A Pattern (First Example)

5 - Covid 19 Announcement

6 - Vale - Brian "Barney" Websdale

7 - Diet. Make Fit. Improve Handling. Improve Style. Checker. Refinish.

8 - Resurrection of Unuseable Patterns (Two Examples): Correcting Delayed Warpage and Commonplace Errors

9 - Making An ACRS "Lee Enfield PH" Bespoke Pattern 

Scroll down to read entries.

The Sun Sets On The Saws

I've long known that trees with particular genetics produce the best walnut for stock blanks. Not any old walnut tree will do; not at ACRS. 

The soils and climate of certain areas also influence the end quality of the wood greatly. This ought to be considered when looking for trees to mill. Size, maturity, growth habit, disease and damage must also be assessed. Sadly, I've met very few people who knew anything worthwhile about this business. I've seen a lot of walnut trees milled by others that weren't worth milling, and a large number of good walnut trees completely wasted by poor milling and processing. A miller and/or blank cutter who really knows the job as it applies to producing gunstock blanks is vital. Without all those aspects thoroughly taken care of, the finest and most stable blanks just cannot be had with any reliability. Crew worth feeding, and who are mad enough to work with you, are essential during most of the work. Such folk are much harder to find than the best walnut trees, but I got very lucky there most of the time.

In the below photo, yet another run of milled walnut trees have been carefully racked out for short-term storage before the slabs are cut into blanks. The storage conditions, timing of cutting the slabs into blanks, and treatment thereafter are critical to the stability and working quality of those blanks. The process I carefully and laboriously refined was begat from a single goal - to achieve the best possible blanks from a stockers perspective, across all grades. 

Looking at it hard, there is not much I could realistically do to improve blank quality to any degree. I always cut for quality, not quantity and looked towards perfection, not profit. The reward for me has been the realisation that my own blanks equal the stability and workability of the very best "outside" blanks I ever worked - consistently and reliably. Such blanks have always been very difficult to buy. For me, the sea of lesser blanks from myriad suppliers are now in the past. I simply won't risk investment in time and effort on blanks that I know, from experience, might well give me grief.

I've decided 2022 will see the final few walnut trees milled by ACRS for stock blanks. 

That means more time for family, gun work, and hunting.

February 26, 2022

Straight-Hand Martini Cadet Pattern

The Martini Cadet is a popular and classic rifle, much revered in Australia. I recently completed a new stock pattern for the Cadet, which is shown above. It's hard to get a true perspective of scale from the photograph, but when combined with a matching forend it's a good basis for a relatively simple and sleek re-stock. To date, fans of Martini Cadets who have seen it in person have been sporting big smiles. 

The new pattern features a straight hand, and this allows the use of the standard factory lever, and it's original "catch plate" and screws. The new ACRS straight-hand stock is about as easy as a cadet re-stock can get and is much easier than doing a neat job of a pistol-grip lever conversion. A stock cut from this pattern has a Length Of Pull of 14 5/16", which can be cut down/changed to suit. The problem of standard cadet stocks being far too short for many adults can thus be solved.

The comb height and drop at heel is a sensible compromise, considering this is not a bespoke stock made to individual fit requirements.  The toe line of the stock is set by the position of a standard un-modified lever and it's catch plate, when the lever is closed. Without bending the lever to a lower (or higher) position when closed, that is.  The height of the comb will suit most shooters using iron sights quite well. In the case of a rifle being fitted with a low-mounted scope, the comb height will still be okay for most shooters, too - but not ideal. There is no cast at toe or heel on this pattern, provided the stock is installed squarely to the receiver socket, and the socket was machined squarely in the first place. The butt is ambidextrous. 
If interested, please enquire about left and right-handed cheek piece versions, with a bit of cast.

I also made a couple of new forend patterns, longer than normal at 9.375" OAL and with a schnabel forend tip. They are relatively slender. One is inlet for a Sportco Cadet, the other for the factory .310 barrel. These can be cut shorter and finished in a more traditional fashion if desired. I also offer other forend styles for cadet rifles and there will likely be one suitable for most customers.

Fitting is required - these are not a drop-in proposition. Socket dimensions vary somewhat. Catch plate dimensions and draft angles vary slightly, too. The catch plate used for the pattern was (by a small margin) the smallest and most symmetrical I could find. Because dimensions vary I do not generally cut the catch plate draft angle on the inlet (minimum dimension). This allows for hand fitting of the parts with scant gaps (most probably nil gaps if done well). With the socket nose of the butt scraped-in squarely and the draw-bolt tight, the catch plate can be aligned and it's position marked, then final inletting of the plate can be undertaken. This must be done with care, to allow for a slight interference fit on the lever, such that it snaps home with light resistance yet be positively retained. There will be minor variations in the position of the lever catch itself, they are not all bent the same. If you inlet the catch plate slightly too far to the front or rear, or have a "rogue lever", they are easily bent into correct alignment. I'm sure the factories did the same, as a matter of course, during fitting. Timing screws is a learned art, which applies to the catch plate. I don't offer new screws at this stage, but would consider supplying them.

As well as the straight-hand pattern, I made a new American Classic pattern for the cadet. A lot of work.

March 3, 2022

Pattern Perceptions

A good pattern is an absolute must, if a good stock is to be machined. Exactly what goes into a quality stock pattern is poorly understood by most customers, no matter their background. The making of really good patterns is somewhat different to the making of really good custom stocks, and the reasons are many and quite complex. 

Without completion of a significant amount of all aspects of the work, including the machining of stocks from multiple patterns they have made, forming opinions about patterns and duplication based on everything other than long experience doing the actual work, is pretty shaky!

In the past, I have made in-house entirely, or made significant contributions to the design, development, manufacture, repair and adjustment of patterns for other makers. The work is very time consuming and many of the jobs have been quite testing. I've learned a lot from it on multiple levels and my skills have been significantly extended after thousands of hours doing such. It's hard be too fussy getting a pattern "spot-on".  Good materials are also vital. One of the fascinating aspects is that there seems to be no end to the opportunities to further learning and improvement in this work.

The stocks duplicated by me in the below galleries date to a little before ACRS was formed, but are a good example of significant co-development of a pattern for another maker, one I'd previously completed a fair bit of work for. 

The scope and specifications of this job grew as the makers project ideas evolved. Making one pattern turned into two; one duplicating job turned into three creating a lot of extra work. The second pattern I'd sent to the maker for glass bedding and outside shape tweaks was returned with a bedding job that was askew, and a several new problems with outside (a)symmetry. Some visible, others hidden to most eyes. Some were just minor cosmetic issues easily sorted when finishing the duplicated stock. Other flaws were vital to the "accuracy outcome" of the machine job, which now made the pattern unsuitable for duplication to my standards. Frustrating, but nothing new when dealing with anyone who hasn't actually undertaken my end of the work. By this stage, the job had stretched me far beyond my schedule and rate of pay, but in order for a good job to be done I had to rectify these issues.

It's important to identify such problems and correct them as is necessary, or they will affect the quality of the duplicated stock. It takes experience backed up by decent metrology skills and equipment to identify and correct important issues. I'll note that when errors appear in a duplicated stock, most people assume it to be the fault of the duplicator operator, rather than an unstable "outside" blank, patterns being mussed-up, and/or less than decent fitting/bedding skills. Some makers adopt a sensible approach to correcting such flaws happily, working towards a common goal of getting the job done as well as possible, together. Some have personalities that get in the way of that outcome. 

I was asked to supply the blanks for these jobs. Very fine, ultra-lightweight blanks went into these Remington 40X BR stocks. The first copy would be machined from a one piece blank. The second two would feature laminated forend "wings" to get the blank wide enough to cut the stock from.

Featherweight blanks that are relatively fine-pored and comparatively firm in texture are not easy to find. They are rarities, and I had a lot of time and effort invested in these blanks. The investment was worth it - they machined like a dream, and were wonderfully stable. To machine them into a stock duplicated from anything but a decent pattern would be a great shame.

As the above gallery shows, machined stocks can look pretty plain in the dry, "as-machined" state. A coat of turps gives a better indication of what can be had from them if the finish work is up to snuff. The intense fiddle-back and boldly contrasting colours of orange, deep honey and jet black are much more striking in person. Tricky walnut to finish, without causing the colour contrast and figure to be unduly subdued, but nothing that a good stock maker cannot handle with relative ease.

The following gallery shows two more duplicates machined after I laminated the extra-wide forend "wings". Finding the wood to do so was not easy. To be honest, I blew so much time and effort on the jobs that I only had time to arrange for photos showing the last two stocks with only dry walnut. It's hard to see the nice figure and contrast in both stocks, but they were beauties. The stocks are shown straight off the duplicator. No filing up, sanding etc to make them presentable - just a good clean machine job, in good stable walnut. An ideal start to a custom stock job, and easy as it gets from here methinks.

March 29, 2022

How Not To Prepare A Pattern

(First Example)

A poor quality pattern often begins with minor modification of a factory stock for use as a pattern, where the goal is to replicate it in really fancy walnut, perhaps with some spiffy checkering. I don't see how that can be called a custom effort. There are always exceptions, such as restoration of a classic/historic firearm to original specification. Most often, however, the main objective is a fancy looking rifle with the least expenditure of money, time and effort. What follows, then, is that the pattern preparation/modification is also done as quickly and easily as possible, rather than with a focus on quality.

For illustration purposes, photos are attached of such a job. A "custom" pattern which the Maker supplied, being a factory stock, lightly modified with the bare minimum of time and cheap, nasty materials that lumped me with problems I had long learned to avoid. It's a great example, because I'd already taken pains to explain repeatedly to the customer over the years of machining stocks for him what NOT to send me, and WHY. I'd also made it very clear to the maker that I would not accept further jobs with the same old issues, but the jobs just kept rolling up  - in the end without prior arrangement. I've posted an explanation below to explain my viewpoint, to newer customers.

The biggest problem with the job stemmed around the continued use of automotive body filler in an entirely unfit way - so much so that during freight the poorly prepared and bonded filler had come adrift from the pattern in several areas, despite the packaging being in good condition.  The job is a good example to demonstrate why the use of automotive body filler is a poor choice for most pattern work:

Most of the automotive body fillers (I call the stuff "bog") comprise of a 2-part Polyester Resin, into which a predetermined ratio of hardener is mixed. Silica, micro-balloons, fibre glass, carbon fibre and the like are added in various formulations to provide strength and/or volume and they are mostly very abrasive. That equals stylus (follower) wear. A set of followers used to "trace" the pattern stock are precision-machined items here at ACRS, and with proper pattern preparation they will last hundreds - if not thousands - of jobs. Experience tells me that auto putty is so abrasive that I can nearly always see visible wear after just one or a few jobs run over raw bog! 

Further to that, dust not cleaned from patterns risks chopping out the duplicators linear motion bearing and way seals, and then working it's way into linear motion bearings. Rough operators are welcome to expose their machines to premature wear - but not on my machine! A good clean down and well sealed in with a hard varnish, and it can be useable for one or two copies - but then it's still not a good job - and below is why:

In thin sections, this stuff is too brittle for pattern use in my opinion - it will chip eventually. It is also not able to expand and contract with seasonal movement in a wood pattern, and will often eventually crack and come adrift. Perhaps not too badly in a very stable (dry) climate, but where I live it's a major issue.

These polyester resin fillers normally cure quite quickly, and generate quite a bit of heat. Slapping the stuff on in great thick wads generates a lot of heat. This can temporarily or permanently warp the wood underneath, which isn't acceptable on a pattern. I've seen subsequent warping more than once, and I can only assume the person sending the pattern didn't pick the problem, or it occurred during transit to me. Some of the cases have involved quite alarming wood movement around very thick areas of bog, such as several add-on cheek-pieces that have caused warping of the grip and butt.

For a decade or more I've rarely accepted a stock pattern with any automotive fillers, for the above reasons. I quit using them myself fairly early on, once I discovered their downsides. If you want my thoughts on how to do the job much better, call me.

The final frustration on this job was the stock blank itself. An outside-supplied blank of local walnut, it moved so much during the resting phase of manufacture (after machining oversize) that I could not quite recover the full pattern. That is despite two such phases, where the job was machined far more oversized than I do with my own wood, and allowed to rest much longer. The pattern and blank issues added up to significant loss of time here at ACRS.

June 30, 2022


Please be advised that as of 04/07/22 I tested positive for CV19. 

Being a sole trader, and in strict isolation, I am unable to conduct mail/freight deliveries or in-person business until my term of isolation has formally ended. I have also been, and am still too ill to work. My wife and one of my children also recently tested positive, and I must care for them as much as possible. I apologise to customers who have had their work delayed - expect further delays due to CV19. I will respond to enquiries/orders as I am able, hopefully by the end of next week. 

Kind Regards, 

Gordon Cusens 

Australian Classic Rifle Stocks / Australian Classic Rifles

8 July 2022


Brian "Barney" Websdale

A salute to Brian Websdale of Dargo, who passed away July 19, at nearly 85 years of age. 

My heartfelt condolences to Brian's family.

Barney enjoyed a remarkable and full life, which he shared wonderfully with family and friends.

His iconic personality, gentlemanly ways and bush wisdom will be proudly remembered. His kindness, loyalty and genuine friendship, always cherished. My sincere thanks to Lesley and Murray for informing me.

Barney's significant and steadfast involvement in walnut blank production is held in the highest regard, and will not be forgotten. Barney is pictured below, next to a lovely Dargo walnut tree. This tree was one of the final pair of walnut trees that he recovered for stock blanks.

5 August 2022

Diet. Make Fit. Improve Handling. Improve Style. Checker. Refinish.

The owner of this stock was quite happy with the barrelled action of his 416, but asked me to attend to the stock as best I could. It being another makers work, it was far from a job I wanted or needed but the owner also needed a rifle tailored for his demanding employment. A discussion revealed the following needed sorting out:

- Finish soft, wears quickly and stains clothing.

- Finish appeared to subdue the natural colours, contrast and figure of the wood, which the owner thought could be improved upon.

- Recoil pad too hard for owner; replace.

- Adjust Length Of Pull to suit owner.

- Adjust comb height to suit owner, for iron sight use.

- Factory stock very hefty, affects handling, needs slimming up.

- Reshape cheek piece to be more graceful, it being very deep yet very shallow.

- Re-cut laser checkering; currently not sharp enough, and cannot see colours through the "toasted" walnut.

- Overall result to be sympathetic to makers style.

The butt-stock was very large indeed and during re-shaping a surprising amount of walnut was removed. I reduced the drop to allow better use of the open sights, and the butt was so wide that I finished up with a cheek piece of realistic depth, yet the butt was still suitably wide for a .416. The owner also gained some useful cast-off as a result of this. The grip was re-worked, though the factory grip cap prevented me taking it down to what I'd have preferred to see. In those few areas where I could not remove much wood, the factory stain remained in the walnut. This was stubborn but it was removed such that any stain remaining in the wood is barely noticeable, if at all. These areas comprised only the top and bottom "decks" of the stock, and the bottom 3/8" or so of the grip where it met the grip cap. To have removed wood here would have ruined the fit of the stock, leaving metal proud. The rest of the outside shape was re-struck to fresh wood, much of it heavily. Along the way, there were also other issues to make the best of. The end result was something of a compromise, but the stock was now drastically improved and about a good as I could accomplish, all things considered.

The walnut this stock was made from was of fairly firm texture and of suitable density. Compared to what I normally work, it was brittle and I found it crumbly in texture. This made shaping very tedious and the ability of the walnut to hold a fine edge and other detail was less than what I find satisfactory. Pores were large, and it was time consuming sealing them off. Finish is hand rubbed all the way, including the pore fill. I could have done it quicker, but not to the same effect. Checkering was not easy due to the texture of the walnut, and the nature of the job. In a scant few areas, remnant of the original checkering pattern remained, so I was pretty much forced to re-instate the original design. This fitted in with the owners wishes, and it just had to be done that way. As a result, the job features a couple of design elements I'd otherwise never do.

In the end, a stunningly beautiful piece of walnut was revealed, with the owner being very pleased with the improved gun fit, handling and appearance of the stock. For the most part I enjoyed the work, though I'm not sure I'd do another one of these. Too many unexpected, unseen issues slowed down the work and made it much more difficult to get a nice result compared to working with better-textured walnut. The reality is it took much of the time required to make a new stock. The gallery below shows the completed job, followed by the owners "before" images:

5 December 2022

Resurrection Of Unuseable Patterns (Two Examples):

Correcting Delayed Warpage and Commonplace Errors

Patterns made for the purpose of duplicating gun and rifle stocks sometimes wind up malaligned, bent, kinked, twisted and/or bowed. In the past I have assessed unuseable patterns and rebuilt them at the askance of several other makers. I feel that most of these situations ought not have occurred. That is a good reason to discuss some of the problems below, whilst also detailing two examples. 

The first and also very common issue is that of a warped pattern, which is most often the result of poorly cut and/or seasoned (unstable) wood being used to make the pattern stock. Poor storage can also cause a completed pattern to warp, no matter how stable the blank. Secondly, errors in workmanship during the layout, inletting and shaping of a pattern are also commonplace - whether the wood used to make the pattern is stable or not. Combine both issues and it becomes a real mess, most particularly if a stock is duplicated from such a pattern. Misalignment of an inlet respective to the outside shape may be the result of error(s) in making the pattern, or error(s) in the duplication process, or both. Pains must be taken to eliminate or reduce errors at every stage in the process if a precision job is to be had. Only then might the many advantages of making a stock by duplication (as opposed to "from the block") be realised.

Restoration of patterns is not at all easy. After rebuilding far too many patterns made by various other makers, I can tell you that doing it right the first time is the only way to go. 

Attached are images of two of Geoff Slee's patterns. Geoff was a masterful stocker to be sure, and by using these examples I intend no disrespect to my old mentor. Early on he purchased many "pattern grade" blanks from suppliers  whose walnut proved to have stability issues. Woe, to say the least. Later on, as his illness progressed some patterns were also made that were understandably not the best. During a compelling discussion shortly before his passing, Geoff told me he'd be honoured if I'd rebuild as many as I could. Doing so has been an epic saga, to say the least.

The image above shows his BRNO 600 pattern. Note that the front tang of the bottom metal is nothing like aligned with the inlet. The bottom metal used was previously verified as "true" (tangs not bent etc). The blank purchased in good faith to make the pattern was ultimately not stable and it had warped substantially over the years. The pattern as originally made was quite okay - I've held the rifle Geoff first stocked off this very pattern and compared that first stock right alongside the pattern. The walnut used for the custom stock proved very stable - but the pattern turned into something more like a boomerang. Other than the vagaries of finding another barrelled action in suitable condition, rebuilding patterns has involved the development of techniques I'd never expected to need. Yet those skills have proved so vital. The major problem with this pattern was warpage, though the inlet also received my full attention, and I feel it's fair to say it's better now than it ever was - at great expense of time and effort.

The below photos show a different Slee pattern being rebuilt, this one inlet for a large ring, standard length M98 with the standard 84mm mag box. This M98 pattern was multitudes worse than the BRNO 600 pattern mentioned previously. As received, the M98 patterns grip displayed significant misalignment to the inlet, butt and forend. This was due to delayed major warpage (years after the pattern was made) and also misalignment issues. The forend, butt and grip shapes lacked symmetry and the inlet was skewed and rotated. Like the BRNO 600 pattern, I knew from Geoff's marks on it that it had not only been bought in good faith as a seasoned blank, but from where, when and for how much. In short, it was a wreck and could not be used. Identifying each of these errors and determining how to correct them (and in what sequence of operations) is involved to say the least, and the labour to complete such a resurrection is epic.

Geoff had also used the duplicator to mark off the checkering pattern border points. I never worry about such myself, and a rubbing to transfer would be my own choice if I were to do it - but I went to pains to re-instate that feature right down to the last original detail, as best I could. Some of the photos below show this process, including during the building-up and re-shaping of the tang areas to accommodate standard M98 tangs. The tangs of the action the pattern was made for, had been very heavily filed to give the head of the grip a much more petite profile. Not many makers do this for various reasons, and the feature really limited the use the pattern could be put to. Hence the area being built up.

A couple of the photos show an important correction being made towards the end of the rebuild of this pattern. The "top deck" (the upper surface of the stocks receiver/barrel inlet area) was all over the place. It should be flat and even, or very nearly so - some makers deliberately swoop the forend tip area upwards but only slightly so. Via very careful metrology I established "airy points" to support the stock in correct alignment to several planes at once. These being that the top decks ought to run parallel to the centre line of the bore, and therefore the receiver bottom flat in the case of a 98. Also, both top decks ought to be the same distance above the action flats. Etcetera. Or very nearly so - each is never absolutely perfect and the errors must be quantified then considered and the best compromise made. The pattern top deck was made flat by application of a very low shrinkage, tough and slick epoxy resin mixed with a filler material I have found to be the very best. If the weights (which are nothing special) are very carefully placed, and the heel of the butt supported via a finely adjustable jack, the stock rests only on the Airy Points with effectively zero distortion. The viscosity of the epoxy used to fill the gaps is varied according to the gap to be filled. After curing, the epoxy is painstakingly struck back and scraped to fit, including any further re-bedding work. Done right, near perfection results. The job is monitored with gauges for deflection to ensure all is as it should be. The epoxy dust is quite toxic, and very fine. Exposure to the skin and mucous membranes is most definitely not advised, yet it is difficult to avoid entirely due to it's very fine particle size. The finest particles are the hardest to catch, and yet probably do the most harm. Despite being ultra careful, I've no doubt had huge exposure to the stuff, and nowadays each time I do more of this work I feel ill for some days following it. I've done a lot of this sort of work and it is another weighty reason to spend the time to do the job thoroughly in the first place! It's also a large part of the reason why I will no longer rework other peoples patterns for them, with very rare exceptions.

Whether in photos or when handling the patterns in person, the outward appearance of many of the patterns I've rebuilt belies the true extent of the time and skills involved. Myriad techniques have been evolved and they have always been applied according to which suits each job best. All have worked well, but I'm still learning and refining them. Most people will pick up the obvious. I won't go into further details about many of the techniques used. To do so would require a small book be written. 

Much of this work could have been avoided, if only all gunstock blank suppliers knew how to produce a stable blank. Geoff's painful experiences with unstable blanks strongly reinforced my own early findings and both were the flux for the continual development of refined techniques that produced reliable blanks. Continued experience machining blanks from myriad outside suppliers,  where stability was also quantified, has strongly reinforced my opinions. Sometimes, as in the case of these two patterns, it can take many years for tension in blanks to be released and for the warping event to occur. Geoff and I eventually traced that back to what we both considered was caused by certain key aspects of the suppliers blank-cutting and storage techniques/methodology. We proved to ourselves beyond all doubt, through our own work. Blank stability is considerably more complex than some arbitrary method of drying and storage over a minimum period of time. I've personally observed wild variations in the stability of blanks from outside suppliers. Laminated patterns can work, but a reliance on glue-lines does not necessarily counteract unstable material in the first place. Yes, I've seen laminations move! Laminated patterns can be wonderful, but the wood used must be inherently stable, and otherwise suitable - and the laminating must be well done. I can say honestly and with great relief that my own blanks have proved as stable as any, and far superior to most. The methods employed are rare anywhere today, and probably unique. All of the sage old blank cutters that taught me anything worthwhile, they are all deceased, and I now understand why they passed on knowledge to so few. Tell a competitor, and often they'll add that to their sales pitch whether they do it, or not. I've found too many people expect me to share every little tip and trick for nought - yet I rarely see much of a hollow worn under their vice. 

21 December 2022

Making An ACRS "Lee Enfield PH" Bespoke Pattern

This post offers insight on a Lee Enfield "PH" butt-stock pattern taking shape. I chose a decent XXX grade walnut blank to make the pattern from, seasoned such that I will always have confidence in it's stability. The walnut is firm in texture and will prove hard wearing under the stylus/followers of the duplicator. It is one of a fair few SMLE/MLE etc patterns I have made to date.

For me, the first stage in making a stock like this is a technical design drawing, which lays out all the nitty-gritty. Essentially, it's a blue-print of the design. 

This pattern was to be made to the customers bespoke order. The customer was heavily involved in the early design phases, with the goal being a pattern created specifically for their requirements as to stock fit, balance and style. Naturally this added to the time/expense of the job - but then what is the point of a stock if it doesn't fit well? One major advantage of such a pattern is that the customer has the opportunity to handle the job, and any adjustments can be made such that the pattern is "just so". That is money well spent. So many customers concentrate one a general style and are fixated on the beauty of the blank chosen - rather than the fit and balance of the completed stock/rifle/gun.

Once the specifications and drawing was completed, and with the metalwork ready to stock, the following stages of  work (in brief) were as follows:

The stock blank was band-sawed to profile, but somewhat oversized. Then it was inlet, which is quick to write but no small feat. In the case of the Lee Enfield butt stock, the labour included the deep-hole drilling and counter-boring for the draw-bolt (through-bolt or stock bolt). The draw-bolt was carefully checked for run-out of the threads c.f. it's main axis - most are nothing like true. This was the long No1 type bolt. In my opinion, the common short ones are not really suitable for most sporting stocks. The wood in the grip is often very thin in critical areas if the short bolt is used. Crooked draw bolts are only suitable for those who want to muss up. They push the stock around in a cork-screw fashion as the stock is tightened. We want it to be true, for a number of reasons that should be pretty obvious. When required, a replacement which is concentric can be made, or a good one found (increasingly rare). The standard draw bolt limits the cast somewhat, though a new draw bolt can be made to sneak some more cast in. The above photograph was taken after the blank had been fully inlet, but not shaped. Once the socket inlet was completed, the draw-bolt used for this job could be screwed fully home and tightened, with the new butt pattern showed no movement at all while doing this. One good trick is to machine up a concentric mandrel that screws into the draw bolt hole, that is the same outside diameter as the clearance hole in the stock, less a few thousandths. This allows a really true inlet to be had, with almost zero wiggle when inserting or withdrawing the blank from the socket. Not vital, but a really grand idea when working "from the block" or with a stock cut from a dedicated pattern. The variability of the original socket machining versus a machined stocks socket can make such a slave bolt more problematic if there is much of a difference. My own experience is that I've personally never had an issue fitting such jobs up, but my strong experience is that many others find it tough and I've seen some badly botched jobs. I've also seen some superb ones - it all comes down to aptitude, skill, experience and patience.

I ought to state that depending on the job, some pattern stocks are inlet by hand work alone, and sometimes fully or partly with a duplicated inlet. Duplicated inlets can be a trap, and in short I nearly always one I've done from the block, with rare exceptions. If I've already done a nice inlet on an earlier pattern, I can save maybe half to one days labour by duplicating the inlet and going on from there.  It all depends on the job. In the case of the pattern this article is devoted to, the inlet was duplicated from the pattern I'd previously cut from the block for famous PH Matt Graham (RIP) of Hunt Australia. The inlet has to be spot-on, as close to perfection as possible. 

With SMLE's and their brethren; the actual angle which the socket and draw-bolts' threaded hole is machined at - one or both will often be found to vary from the norm (compared to the bolt/barrel axis). If making a pattern the receiver ought to be made to a carefully assayed receiver known to be very close to "true", and the variability must be known and the ramifications of these various errors contended with. Assumptions will kick you pretty hard, eventually, if you want to do good work. So assume nothing and learn to measure everything -that is no small undertaking. For a dedicated pattern, or when stocking "from the block", this doesn't matter as the pattern must suit only the metalwork for that job.

Back to this Lee Enfield pattern: 

With the butt-blank installed on the socket of the barrelled action, critical dimensions from the drawing are carefully measured, marked off and lightly scribed. For the benefit of readers, my very light scribe lines were inked over to better show what is going on in the photographs. The actual lines I work to are much, much finer. 

Next the profile was cut slightly oversize on the band saw, then made out precisely to the scribe lines. From here facets were marked-out and cut, which starts taking the corners off the stock. Once the primary corners are cut away, from then on, each facets corners are re-marked such that the excess wood is divided and progressively recut, leaving only the mid-line that forms an actual countour line in the stock. Each time this is done, the facet numbers double and they halve in dimension. Eventually they become almost non-existent, and the stock can be carefully smoothed. The latter-stage photos of this pattern stock depict the facets not quite half way there, but the stock is clearly taking shape. Taper angles and lines (straight or curved) are critical, and allow wonderful bilateral symmetry to be maintained if the stocker has appropriate skills. This method is quite a different approach and skill set, compared to free-form carving of the shape. Both are particular skills, the latter being very difficult to attain good bilateral symmetry in a stock - but which is a vital skill in rebuilding patterns (such as in my previous post). Both methods are very difficult to approach perfection. A stock struck out to near perfection is one of the hallmarks of best quality workmanship.

Various gauges, templates etc make some of the layout and shaping work a little quicker, and easier to aquire symmetry and repeatability.

It's true that this adds to the labour and expense of a custom stock. I've got no problems at all knocking them out of the block, and foregoing the pattern and duplicator - but I rarely do it on an actual job except to indulge in sentimentality. Those stick-in-the-mud types that proclaim a duplicator is a shortcut, I'd contest that if they actually learned to set up and run a duplicator, properly prepare patterns, they'd find quite a monumental extension to their skill sets is required. That, and it takes some mettle to run a cutter into decades-old blank that is worth thousands. Even a cheaper blank is a great loss to stockmaking if it's a quality, properly seasoned bit of tree. So, why do it then? For pairs, trios etc, it's a no-brainer, but that is but a small part of the full weight of my reasoning:

A bespoke pattern stock allows the customer a unique opportunity to benefit from the opportunity of highly refined stock fit, and the ACRS stock machining methods allow for the very best to be had from each blank when it comes to colour, grain flow and stability as discussed elsewhere on this site. A manual machine gives feedback to the operator, lots of it, and depth of cut, feed and rpm can be chosen for best results. Work demanding of fine tolerances on complex shapes and inlets is very, very demanding machining indeed. I think it's well worth the extra labour.

Do enough of the above, and a maker can end up with an awful lot of patterns if they have the ability to work in a broad array of action inlets and styles. That might be the beginnings of a unique stock duplication service when combined with a large excess of seasoned blanks.

Sadly, it is commonly assumed that a stock duplication/pantograph service is nothing more than a "cookie cutter" business - often one that does not offer a truly good pattern making service. Granted, this is most often the case and there is a fair place for it if it's done well and fairly. The patterns are the Achilles' Heel of most makers, and the volume of work I've done for other makers patterns supports this (immense undertaking). Other than that, a few of us set up to do this work to extend our skills and services, not to make up for a lack of them or to just machine cookie-cutter-customs that are all alike. Most gunsmiths and duplicator owners don't fully understand pattern and duplicating work except for the most basic aspects. That combined with generally very poor journalism has hampered those makers who offer so much more. I've always looked up to denizens of the work such as Hoenig, Echols, Anderson and other legendary makers. It's to that level of accomplishment I aspire - though I'm not sure I'll ever get there.

23 December 2022

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