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.