Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Uganda 2017

Bob Bledsoe just returned from another sucessfull hunt to East Africa. His have gun will travel professional hunter John Oosthuizen ( arranged this Safari in Uganda with Bruce Martin operator of Lake Albert Safaris and it would appear the pair put their best efforts forward once again.

Bob hit the ground running with his veteran 375 H&H Classic and his 300 H&H Legend. 

I have yet to hear all the details but as they say, a pic is still worth a thousand words. Well done guys !

Monday, April 10, 2017

Face Lift, the Nip and Tuck Part 2

As I had mentioned in Part 1 I now had a potential buyer that was interested in acquiring the Hagn 510 Express. I sent pictures of the rifle and in short order was again contacted by the interested party. The sale was as good as completed when the buyer made one small request. He wanted all the original engraving removed and then requested it be re-engraved by his favorite engraver or the sale would fall through, I now know what Kissinger must have felt like at times.

I closed the screen on my MAC and pulled the rifle out of the safe. The majority of coverage was on the sides of the receiver and lever with minimal but elegant coverage on some the hardware. The lettering could not be removed without dishing the barrel in three major spots so that was out of the question. What the hell, why not, it wasn't the first time I've been requested to do so.  I fired off an e-mail and agreed to remove all the engraving with the exception of the lettering as it would have to stay and I detailed why it was to remain unaltered. The buyer understood completely and agreed to pay for the requested labor to carry out the task ahead.

I left it up to the buyer and the owner to settle on a price. Once the sale was completed I was given the go-ahead and I pulled the rifle apart for the 1st time in 25 years. The barrel was removed and the receiver was set up on my surface grinder's magnetic chuck and 98% of the scroll work was removed from both sides over the next hour, sad in a way as I knew the amount of care and effort that went into the original job. Then the receiver and under lever were carefully wrapped and sent to be annealed by a professional Heat Treating company.

In due course the parts returned, now soft and the file work began. Chad Tarbet was given all the hardware as well as the barrel and began to remove the engraving from the these parts while I worked on the receiver and lever. For the next day and a half the sound of files, stones and paper on steel kept us entertained.

I had agreed to refinish the stock as well which despite its time in the bush was in excellent condition.   The removal of material from the receiver sides and both the top and bottom tangs required the wood to be sanded close to but not level with the frame. Dents and scratches from honest wear were steamed and leveled. 800 grit sand paper began to add a rejuvinated life to the wood.

As the refinish was in progress Chad polished up all the remaining parts to a 400 finish in preparation for the new engraver. Once the stock was ready for the final coats of oil the action was touched up one last time.

The engraver chosen for this restoration project by the new owner was Lee Griffith and as luck would have it lives only 10 miles away. Lee had had been involved with the planning for this face lift from the beginning so now the ball was in his court. As the original surface hardness applied to the action and lever had been ideal for strength and to prevent galling between the moving parts it was not at all ideal for re-engraving these parts as a file would skip across the surface, hence the need to have at least these two major components annealed. I explained all this in depth to Lee and reminded him that both the receiver and lever would need to be idealy re-carburized or color case hardened so choose your final selection of materials and technique in application accordingly. Now in the hands of the engraver we went on to other work.

Within weeks of delivery the parts to Lee I received a call informing me that 9% of the parts had coverage, the Gold Inlays had just been completed and it was ready to be pick up in the morning.

                                                          Gold Inlays ?????

I gathered up my courage and drove north to Lee's. Each side of the action had be engraved with an exquisite African scene with the back ground depicting a sun rise or sunset, you take your pic, this effect enhanced by the inlaid gold. The work was stunning. Lee felt we should Carbonia Blue the receiver and lever then coin finish or grey the scenes.

Now I only had one tiny question, and that was how will those gold inlays hold up in a carburizing furnace ? I knew the answer from a previous experience with a H&W Mauser bolt knob that had been prematurely gold inlaid before the carburizing. The results were not at all pretty. As we had discussed the re hardening process that would be required prior to projects completion at length I was a bit confused. Lee just smiled and said "this is going into a museum and won't ever be fired again so we won't have to worry about it".

                                       I'm not sure if I blinked, but I don't think so  

The only response that came to my mind was "It has my name on it, it will be hardened to make it completely operational and safe to fire, and this you can bank on". Lee blinked, twice.

On my way home I pulled into to Central Valley Machine as they regularly employ a variety of heat treating processes and for the next couple of hours Bret Wursten and I discussed a number of options. We called a few contacts in the industry and asked for their advise and expertise. The issue was the temperatures and process required to harden the receiver's surfaces and not melt or in any way damage the gold inlays. In the end analysis the only option was to send the receiver to Turnbull's and have the receiver and lever Color Case hardened as the process is done at lower temperatures. Not exactly what he had originally discussed but sometimes you need to change horses, sometimes in the middle of the stream, sometimes in a flood.

The Color Case procedure will certainly harden the surfaces of the lever and the receiver and not unduly effect the gold inlays. I'm not at all sure how Carboina blue will look when applied over polished case colors but everyone loves a challenge now and then.

                                                           To be continued.


Monday, March 27, 2017

Sometimes a face lift is required Part 1

Recently a long time client and good friend of mine requested some assistance in selling a couple of Classic rifles I had built for him in the late 80's and early 90's. One of these was a very memorable project and over the years has made quite a few cameo appearances in print, a few stints on television and has traveled to Africa and back adding a few more dings and nicks to its character.

The client had always been very keen to own a rifle chambered for the 500 Nitro 3". In the early 80's finding one wasn't much of an issue as British doubles could be found easily, however finding ammunition was like looking for Atlantis. At that time having a barrel cut for that bore diameter was possible, getting a reamer ground was simple enough but obtaining any new brass or bullets for that cartridge was close to impossible. Until Bob walked through my shop door in Ft Collins the largest caliber rifle that I had built to date was a 375 H&H, all this was about to change, like a Louisiana politician he pulled up a chair and began his pitch.

Bob had just returned from South Africa and had taken his 1st Cape Buffalo with a C-Sharps Arms reproduction Big 50 (50-100).  While that rifle and cartridge combination had served him very well he now wanted to up the ante. Elephant was now on his mind.

As Bob described what he was thinking of I must have succumbed to the whole idea much like a frog in a slowly heated frying pan. I was toast before I even knew it. Apparently his machine shop was involved with a C-Sharp Arms in Big Timber Montana and the 50 3-1/4" Sharps cases were readily available as were .510 diameter barrels and bullets so why couldn't we use the Sharps 3-1/4" brass and to build an American version of the 500 Nitro using smokeless powder ? I pushed some walnut dust around on the floor with my shoe and said why not use the 50-100 case as it was almost identical to the 500 Nitro in case length ? "Nope I already have one of those" Clearly reason, like Elvis had left the building.

Undeterred Bob continued and I had to admit he had a pretty good idea and answers to all my questions as to what he wanted and was no doubt looking for someone to build it. Bob was no tire kicker this was evident. By the end of the afternoon we had a vague "game plan" and the rest as they say was history. He left a deposit check on my bench and walked out the door with a smile on his face, I scratched my head, clearly now there was no turning back.

Ultimately we choose one of Martin Hagn single shot actions. At that time Martin didn't make a larger action for such case dimensions as he does today. The 50 3-1/4 rim was a little to large but I widened and lowered the loading gate and with the help of a good Tig welder and a lot enthusiasm solved the square peg round hole issue. In hind sight we had a few set backs such as when we test fired the rifle the 1st time and sheared the fore-end screw block completely off the barrel with a 700gr bullet seated on a case full of IMR 4831. Somehow Bob managed to hold onto both the rifle and the now detached fore-end and as he came to his senses he said" Christ all mighty all I can see is stars, give me a hand D " needless to say we never tried that load again. The sheared block had been both screwed and soldered to the barrel. Generation 2 two found the new block dovetailed, screwed and soldered to the barrel. Knock on wood it never budged again.

I modified the lever extension then added a quarter rib to give the rifle more overall weight,  installed a trap grip cap to hold replacement sight blades and a tool to aid in the blade swap. The slab sawn piece of California thin shell was dense and cut well. I leather covered the recoil pad with a piece of Elephant hide which added some additional class to the overall effect. 

Originally the rifle was built for iron sight use only. During the sight regulation phase Bob made a couple more tiny request " Now D how are you going to get a scope on this rib as I'm having more trouble than I thought I would using these irons ?" I suggested new Glasses and reminded him that most elephants are pretty large and were shot at less than 50 yards. He just chuckled about the same way he chuckled when he mentioned we'd need to Mag-Na-Port the muzzle to reduce the muzzle jump, seems it kicked more than he imagined it would to. 

Note to self for future work: change orders should cost more when the horse has left the barn. 

Bob Wanted to call this a 500 Echols when it was time to letter the barrel, I dug in my heels, he finally relented to calling it the 510 Nitro Express.

During the final construction lap Mitch Moschetti engraved the actions frame and added highlights to other small parts as well as expertly lettered what was required. Shortly there after most of the parts were being blue, the stock checkered and one afternoon I finally snugged the last screw in place.

I do remember at some point of the rifle construction I had to re-think a couple of early ideas, shift time and space, recreate matter, then sacrifice a goat or two but when it was all said and done I had to admit when complete that rifle came alive in your hands. 

This rifle has always had a genuine soul all its own. Without any question it has always been one of my favorite projects.

It was now time to use it. Smarter now, Bob finally settled on a load of H-4895 under a cork wad and topped off with 600gr Barnes bullets. That load turned that barrel into a drill and gave the same velocities as the original 500 Nitro.

The first head of game to fall in front of the 510 was an overly large Desert Land and Livestock Bison Bull, an animal that Bob had always wanted to shoot with a big single shot.

Then professional hunter John Oosthuizen gave it a go on the same ranch a few months later while visiting the states before an SCI convention. A damn bitterly cold day that one, I was along on both Bison encounters and was impressed with how both Bison Bulls just seemed to absorbed a number of those large 600gr slugs without so much as a shutter until they finally ran out of hydraulic fluid.

Then Bob booked a hunt with John in one of Zimbabwe's Matetsi units to hunt Cape Buffalo with the 510. As luck would have it the two hunters were charged by an Un-wounded and Un-provoke Bull. The 510 and John's 505 Gibbs turned the charge at their ankles and killed the bull moments after the punch up had started. When the game scout had finally cleaned out his shorts and returned to the scene he told John he would allow Mr. Bob to shoot another buffalo if he so desired as it was not what they would have generally considered a trophy and was shot in self defense.

Bob replied that that was plenty of trophy for him thank you very much and he wasn't sure if he wanted to face another charge that week. As the rifle had been fitted with a set of Burgess detachable rings I asked Bob on his return if he had time to remove the scope when the charge began ? "Are you kidding ? I barely had time to shoot and saw plenty of Buffalo to aim at through the scope thank you very much". Sadly Bob never got to hunt elephant with the 510 and his days in the field are now behind him so he felt it was time to liquidate some assets. His request was "find it a good home".

I found a new owner for the 510 on the first attempt at marketing the rifle. There was however one small caveat required for the sale.

 To be continued 

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Stephen Grant's Best

The bulk of my stock duplication these days is almost solely devoted to double shotguns or rifles. Born in the houses of Purdey, Sauer, Watson or Boss to name a few with the vast majority being much older than I am. When one comes through my door for duplication the stock is beyond use for reasons of damage beyond repair or is being restocked to fit a new owner. In a classic case of modern recycling the old is being made new again.

Stock Maker Stephen Dalzell ( recently sent in a typical butt stock that needed to be replaced. I became a participant by evil association. Very few of the stocks I machine are to be completely duplicated rather the head of the stock is cut and the butt is left in the block. A lot of time can be saved for the stock maker in machining the head if the head is in good enough condition to do so. Consequently the craftsman can devote more time to the shaping and finish work while still keeping the project within budget. A win, win situation for both the client and the craftsman.

The quality of the original walnut used to stock this Grant was excellent to say the least, real old world Pre War lumber. Made with Cast On for a cross threaded shooter and stocked in the old traditional manner I'm sure it gave the original owner a sense of confidence and pride when both were put to the test. I can only imagine the Red Grouse that may have careened across its muzzle traveling with a tail wind at just under mach 1.

Sadly at some point in changed hands and was subject to a less than expert butt extension which looked as out of place as an elephant in a canoe. It then fell victim to series of blows and abuse that eventually took a toll, it was now time for resurrection.

Mr. Dalzell expertly repaired and prepared the stock for duplication as I could clearly see it had been broken through the grip with all four horns cracked and now carefully glassed back into position. Not an easy exercise on a side lock where you have a small amount of wood and metal contact mated together seamlessly to keep the whole intact. Surprisingly the upper frame, trigger plate and lock work inletting was still clean and crisp, no apprentice ever put a chisel to this stock.

Stephen's instructions were simple "Cut as close as you dare, the center line lay-out is scribed, allow for Cast Off and do not machine beyond the end of the trigger plate". The wood supplied was as good as the original in every regard being both dense and hard with bold mineral marks, loud actually and it was not necessary to apply mineral spirits or alcohol to convince me this makeover was being done proper. The transplanted Scotsman in Maine was given good canvas.

I first degreased the face of the original stock as best as possible then screwed and epoxied a center onto the head of both the original and the replacement stock.

Then a block embossed with drive spur pattern was also screwed and epoxied to the end of the pattern butt stock and the drive spur pattern stamped into the stock to be cut. Care was taken to position each spur to allow for enough wood for cast off, drop and length as requested.

Care in operating the machine is now paramount as every job regardless of its pedigree is given the same amount of attention to detail.

For the next 4 hours I machined the stock closer and closer to its final dimensions by progressively  changing the size of the stylist for each individual cutter. Wood was selectively left in certain areas to allow for  the metal to be properly be fit by hand. From the rear of the tangs the replacement blank was left in the block to allow the stock maker to shape the stock as required to fit the new owner.

The final results will now hang on the skill of the stocker and a keen edge on his tools. I can only  hope this Grant will soon be in the hands of man that hunts Ruffs and Timber Doodle's with a cunning and determined Short Hair.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Coming to a receiver near you

I have just returned from the SCI convention in Las Vegas. I met with some old clients and many old friends as well and met a few new clients. The dramatic change in temperatures from Cache Valley to Las Vegas was worth the trip alone. Campbell Smith brought his usual South African humor that kept everyone within ear shot rolling in laughter for hours. We did acquire a bottle of Blue Sapphire, some tonic and I seem to recall some limes that got flown in from Colorado. 

Tia Shoemaker picked up her 416 and then spent the rest of the convention trying to explain to everyone why it had head lights. With a 12.5" Length of pull and 8 pounds and an ounce or two fully loaded with 5 rounds you don't have to eject an empty to know its gone off. Together the pair should make a formidable force to deal with in a punch up as the lady is now packing some serious heat.

During the week I spent some time looking over what the optics companies have in store for us in 2017. There is noticeable trend a foot and I must admit I'm a bit puzzled by it. The number of Precision Rifle shooters in this country seems to be increasing every year. I think this is partially due to the lack of anyone being able to draw any tags in the west anymore and I'm told this shooting discipline is a lot of fun. The sport requires practiced skill and dedication and this has spawned a need for ever evolving kit with optics being front and center.

It would appear that we, the shooting public, have requested our rifles scopes to be Biggie Sized once again to allow for that currently fashionable 1138 yard shot onto the next ridge line, or over the county line or perhaps into the next time zone. To do so we now apparently "need" larger scope tube diameters to better fill this need. The new darlings of the game come with 34mm tubes but hang on folks a 36mm line is now plowing ground into the market as I type.  Allowing enough reticle movement in the come up turret to almost insure a hit on a target at the edge of your horizon. Be still my beating heart.  

You begged for bigger and the Industry has listened. All this is well and good for the practiced Long Range Shooter/Hunter but the trend I now see is the morphing over of these specialized optical marvels into a line of scopes now marketed as a "standard" hunting rifle scope. No, I'm not kidding, I wish I were. 

In one booth I was being shown such a scope and the Rep was doing his absolute level best with a straight face I might add to convince me his companies newest model, engineered around a 34mm tube was without any question the finest general purpose hunting scope on the market and would insure me precise shot placement from off the muzzle to beyond a 1000 yards. 

             I swirled the ice in my $18 G&T and asked him if he'd ever seen me shoot ? 

Confused by my question he pulled up short for a reply. I'm sure when he saw my eyes begin to glaze over that he decided to help out a more likely prospect that had just entered the booth. 

Look carefully at the 2 pictures below, seems far fetched doesn't it ? A 77mm, many pound Hubble sitting atop my daughters hunting rifle conjures up an image of a Buck Rogers taking on Martians that have over stepped their boundary. 

                                           No way you say, it will never happen!!

As the M-16 has evolved into what is now termed by many as the "Modern Hunting Rifle" so may a rifle scope such as in my mock up become a standard on many deer rifles in the future. Can you imagine the balance and dynamics of this sweet combo ? Gives me goose bumps just thinking about it.

I fully understand the internal space required to add an additional 1/2 mile come up to your turret column but are we beginning to not only loose sight of the forest through the trees or have we lost sight of the whole damn forest ? 

                                    Time will tell, anyone want to take some odds ? 

No 77mm Leica's were harmed during the filming of this picture

Sunday, January 8, 2017

2016 is over, and 2017 is a wide open gate

I'm not all that sure where all of 2016 went. Before I knew it all 365 days had clocked out. What was accomplished ?? Quite a lot thank you very much.

For one thing a long over due trip to visit McMillan Fiberglass can be logged in as a major plus. I flew to Phoenix to sort out some ideas with Team McMillan. I was given a solid day to plead my case, toss out some ideas and vent. They listened hard, express their own ideas and they vented while I listened in turn. We cut stocks, we altered a mold, we got shit done. I flew home at the end of the day a very happy camper. The results have begun to trickle in the door and the results are as anticipated. Jeff, Mike and Kelly many, many thanks.

On a sad note Dick Davis, part of the backbone at McMillan for all these years passed away. I for one will miss Dick and considered him a wealth of information and a good friend.

A Frogman washed up, Keith Wood stopped by to try some new skill sets, my 83 year old mother swanned in to stay and the annual float trip on the Teton was great as usual.

The work load in 2016 was diverse and very satisfying. A lot of rounds went down range and a lot of feed back came in from the field as the year progressed. I spent much of this year on R&D, mostly at night and over the weekends. I believe it was effort well spent and long over due. Central Valley Machine put up with my constant intrusions as usual and offered me a cot in early fall to save me from having to go home every night. Thanks Bret as always!

Now time will tell if the use of all that  midnight oil is going to bare fruit. If you don't evolve, you rust. Bathing in WD-40 can only help for so long.

A number of great projects were completed and there are some dandies in the works now. I have another Echols & Co. Lid in the works and should be ready to test drive soon. Artist and Illustrator Dan Burr is finishing up the Art Work for the Logo patch as I type this .

I need to send Kevin Dilley Kudos for his consistent photographic skills and ability to work with a mad man. Kev, you da man !!!!

Soon I'll be heading to the SCI convention and getting out of this ice box for a week. I'm sure I'll see a lot of old friends and clients hopefully make a few new ones.

And to think the Turkey season is just around the corner

                   In the words of Timbuc-3            The Futures So Bright I Gotta Wear Shades

See you all in Vegas