Thursday, January 18, 2024

The 450 Rigby Part 2

I'll let D'Arcy pick this up again

The action work began with addressing the bolt. After indicating the part in the lathe, I began by opening the bolt face from the standard belted magnum diameter to the larger diameter of the 450 Rigby rim diameter plus .005”. With this operation complete, the bolt was removed from the lathe and transferred to the mill. Inverted vertically in a dedicated fixture, I carefully re-contoured the surfaces to allow the larger cartridge case rims to roll in under the extractor hook and into the bolt face as the bolt pushed the cartridges forward and out of the feed well. 

The FZH-supplied extractor was then modified with a few select needle files and reshaped to work in harmony with the bolt face and the provided Norma brass. The function of this operation alone is what gave the claw extractor system the street cred that it has had since day one. Done improperly, it either retards feeding, or worse, renders the entire system into a push-feed receiver. I allowed .005” to .007” of extractor tension applied between the hook and the extractor groove of the case, once I had everything correctly timed. The carefully contoured face of this extractor and the added clearance machined in the extractor slot side of the receiver allowed the bolt to be closed over a round dropped directly into the chamber and will give the shooter one additional round in total capacity.   

The OEM-supplied FZH bolt handle was removed and a new bolt knob that had been previously checkered and engraved was installed. Traditional big-bore aesthetics aside, I prefer to sweep the bolt handle to rear by about 15 degrees.  The client agreed.  “I think it looks better,” L.B. told me. “But, more importantly, it shortens the length from grip to bolt face which makes bolt operation easier, and much easier under stress. 15 [degrees] is about right for aesthetics and function.  Moving the bolt head any more to the rear risks bumping the strong hand trigger finger knuckle under recoil.”  

The notch for the modified bolt handle root or base was then machined into the correct position, angle and depth to allow the bolt body to align the recoil lugs into the required vertical 6 and 12 o’clock positions when engaged with the recoil seats within the front ring while in-battery.

Now, it was time to modify the receiver. As requested, the topside of the completely annealed receiver had been machined for a 375 H&H-length cartridge. This allowed me maximum flexibility since it’s far easier to remove steel than to add it back on—I never was much of a welder. 

Snaking rounds into a magazine as one is back peddling and trying to reload when a situation goes south is not as exciting as it sounds. It was necessary to create a system that was easy to load under stress, which meant opening the ejection port to the correct dimensions. The 450 Rigby cartridge is typically loaded to a 3.750” overall length, so the ejection port and rear bridge on this receiver were modified to allow a loaded round of this length to be loaded easily through the top of the port or the extended left side of the of the receiver. Almost 1/8” of material was removed from the rear bridge alone. I also wanted to remove the front square bridge to allow the rife to be carried with one hand and not suffer the pain of those four corners getting in the way.

     From the mill to the surface grinder 

     The receiver was then returned to the milling fixture with the bottom side facing up. If there was ever a time to measure five times and cut once, that moment had arrived.

    A longitudinal slot was machined through the feed well and into the bolt raceway that would soon be wide enough for the 450 Rigby round.

 To allow me to set the magazine assembly on the receiver, I had to cut the slot for the rear standing tab at the back of the mag box first. This tab centers the magazine box opening directly under the receiver’s feed well so cutting this cavity required attention to detail.

        Tooling was then selected to plunge through the bottom side of the receiver and into the bolt raceway. At this point, the phone gets placed in the car and the shop door is locked. With a variety of standard and ball end mills, the correct depths and tapers of the feed well, angles and radii were then established.

    With the slot cut to the correct depth and width, the assembly was able to sit flush on the receiver. With both guard screws finger-tight you could visually see and lay out with a scribe the edges of the inside of the magazine box. These edges were used as a reference to compare with the crib note diagrams that I may or may not have scribbled on a napkin.

    The magazine box was installed over the feed well one last time to make sure all the required steel had been removed. Only then was the receiver removed from the fixture. 

 Now a mandrel was screwed into the receiver and, with the mandrel held in the bench vise, I begin to use mold making stones on all of the machined surfaces blending and removing the machine marks and smoothing the transitions. 

At this point, it was time to install the barrel by indicating it in with a gimbal set up ala Hambly-Clark, Jr. This precise method has become the only one that I will use in my shop to thread, fit and chamber a barrel. I would be using this chambered barrel to set up the feeding while the bolt and receiver were still in their annealed state. The chamber was cut with the Henriksen reamer and intentionally run .008” to .010” deeper than required for the feeding process to be begin. Later, the barrel would be set back to establish the proper headspace after the heat-treating process of the bolt and receiver had been completed. 

With the barrel now installed hand-tight, I attached the bolt stop, the completely assembled magazine, the newly fabricated follower and a generic w-shaped magazine spring. I begin to run dummy 450 Rigby cartridges from the magazine into the chamber. The bullet ramp was addressed first using rotary carbide burs, then rotary stones followed by needle files and experience. Test feeding and fitting began with one cartridge at a time coming off the follower first, then two at a time, and continued until the entire loaded magazine would feed. During this exercise, I also determined the best magazine spring to use with this cartridge payload. Not all springs are the same-- not all of them collapse or shift forward and rearward the same and, using a large selection of springs, I tried and eventually found the best spring for this application. 

It is important to pay attention to how the cartridges leave the mag box, where the bullet nose first engages the bullet ramp as well as the path that the bullet takes as it travels up the ramp. If you begin this procedure with a spitzer or round nose and you believe you’ve got your mag box, feed well and rails just like you want them. It’s now time to make up a complement of flat-nose dummies and run these through your receiver group.This can be quite humbling on the first go round. I prefer to use the Barnes Flat Nose Solids as my dummy bullet standard.

If and only if, these flat-nose rounds behave and show no resistance when being run into the chamber at the same speed that you might use at the range, then it’s time to move onto the next phase. 

Next, the bolt body and receiver as well as the striker, safety wing and bolt shroud are hand polished to a 220-grit finish. These nicely polished parts were sent off to be surface hardened in a carburizing process. Only then, once all of the components are at their final hardness, do I dare run the bolt at speed to allow me to do the final feed work. This "at speed" test is ultimately separates the chickens from the pigs. In the words of one of my favorite bands "It's a long way to the top if you want to rock and roll" 

Wednesday, December 27, 2023

450 Rigby Classic

450 Rigby Project,  Dreaming Big

By Keith Wood 


Sometimes, the desire to own something can defy logic. This is the story of a special rifle, one built by hand to meet the dreams of a client. In today’s throwaway society, this rifle is a rare example of a complete commitment to quality. A rifle built to serve a purpose but built to be the best that it could be.  L.B. is an experienced big game hunter with several quality rifles at his disposal. He certainly didn’t “need” another rifle. There’s little fun to be had in practicality, though. L.B. knew what he wanted and he knew who he wanted to build it. 


“It started as a young kid, reading stories about Africa and professional hunters and dangerous game,” L.B. said. “I fell in love with classic Mauser's, open-sighted rifles and big cartridges. I always thought it would be kind of neat to have a professional hunter’s type gun of my own someday. But being lefty and young with limited resources, I didn’t think it would ever happen. Then, one day, after many years of hard work and good fortune I realized that I had the means to actually commission this type of rifle, so I got together with D’Arcy and talked him into building me one.”   

L.B.’s rifle would be a heavy bore, built to face potentially dangerous game. A functional work of art with classic lines, this left-handed Mauser would be chambered in the mighty yet esoteric 450 Rigby. Most importantly, this rifle was built to function. It had to feed, fire, extract and eject as if L.B.s’ life depended on it. Because, one day, it might.  

Let’s begin with the chambering. Though he’d initially intended the rifle to be chambered in .416 Rigby, L.B. ultimately decided on the London firm’s larger creation, the .450 because it fit his idea of a specialized, open sighted dangerous game rifle just a bit better. The .450 Rigby is a relatively new cartridge by big bore standards, developed in 1994 by John Rigby & Company. The .450 is, essentially, a .416 Rigby necked up to accept a .458 bullet. This cartridge bests the .458 Lott by 200 feet per second of muzzle velocity and does so without a belt. In short, a  stopping rifle, ideal for Africa’s heaviest game. 


One of L.B.’s stylistic inspirations for this project was the .416 Rigby carried by Professional Hunter Harry Selby. This iconic rifle wore only iron sights, which was the arrangement that L.B. wanted, but with a slight twist;  L.B. wanted a ghost-ring rear sight instead of express leaf.  Many experiences hunters/shooters are convinced an appropriately designed rear aperture is superior to an open sight in nearly all respects, so that route was chosen. “D’Arcy’s ghost-ring peeps are just so elegant and nicely done, it had to have one.” 


Like Selby, L.B. is left-handed. Unlike Selby, he wanted his to be a true left-handed rifle – thinking that, had one been available in his time, Selby might have used one himself. Even now, the number of makers making a left-handed Mauser M98 is a short one. After conferring with D’Arcy, L.B. settled on a German-made FZH. D’Arcy being D’Arcy, took things a bit further.  “I had the chance to examine a right-hand FZH before I began the 450 project, and since this would likely be the last Left-Hand Magnum 98 that I will ever assemble I wanted to use the best Left-Handed receiver available”. “I called FZH and inquired whether I could get a receiver with a solid bottom like the older Mauser and FN target receivers.” A solid-bottomed receiver would allow D’Arcy to set up and machine the feeding geometry to his own specifications, taking the .450 Rigby’s dimensions specifically into account. “They [FZH] said no, which did not surprise me. I then called Ralf Martini as I knew he ordered these receivers in small lots and he got me exactly what I wanted. At Ralfs one odd request FZH had an idea the receiver would be going to me and didn't want the action being modified by an unqualified buffoon. Ralf assured them that I had more than one ball peen hammer and knew how to use them.”

The receiver arrived just as requested, in an annealed state and very nicely machined. German firearms engineering at its finest.

L.B. had several other stylistic and functional goals for the rifle, the most important of which was the design of the stock. “I really wanted it to handle like a shotgun,” he said. “I've done a fair amount of shotgun shooting, mainly trap and sporting clays. When you're shooting a shotgun, gun fit is so important because your dominant eye is essentially your rear sight. I wanted to take some of those [custom shotgun] ideas and put it into my heavy rifle and that's what we did.”

L.B. loved the classic lines of D’Arcy’s stocks but with a few important tweaks. He wanted a larger fore-end and also requested a palm swell added to the grip layout and a functional thumb flute on the left side of the comb. The stock blank selected was a piece of California French Walnut that was purchased from Scott Wineland at one of the SCI conventions. This blank was well laid out, dense and very attractive.

During the planning process, L.B. examined numerous classic express rifles and came away determined to borrow some of their design cues, paying homage to a proud gun making tradition. “I loved the way the front bridge of the old Rigby’s were scrolled with the logo on it,” he said. “I also liked all the lettering and badging that was on a lot of those original Mauser's and I wanted to replicate that on my gun. This is going to sound a little hokey but my vision was that this would be bit of a tribute gun for PHs all over the world. I also wanted to give credit to Mauser and what they've done and even Rigby. The old Rigby London guns were so classically and tastefully put together.”

The Planning of this rifle took some time, as did the acquiring all of the appropriate components. D'Arcy had two Magnum magazine assembly blanks left over in inventory from the construction of a pair of 505 Gibbs rifles. The exterior of the assemblies were 70% machined with the exception of the release latch slot and the actual release. Magazine material was made from 4130 chrome-moly steel that had a Rockwell hardness of 30-C to prevent the front and rear wall of the magazine to be damaged during recoil. The no one-size-fits-all approach that Echols is known for would apply here- this magazine would be made specifically for the 45O Rigby cartridge to insure absolute reliability. To that end, the geometry of the inside of the magazine was determined. An EDM wire internally cut the required taper inside the magazine boxes well as the relief pockets along the sidewalls to reduce friction between the cases and the sides of the magazine wall as the rounds rose out of the magazine.


There was one appropriate floor plate left over from the Gibbs projects and it was carefully fit to the magazine assembly, the release lever fit and pinned and then the floor-plate pivot hole drilled and reamed. Then the final shape of the bow was contoured with a series of hand files and many years of acquired skill. 

With magazine complete a follower was made next from bar stock. 

Hugh Henriksen was tasked to making the 450 Rigby reamer and gauges and, soon enough, that tooling arrived. A 1-14 twist was ordered from Krieger but later on LB requested a 1-12 Twist. The presses stopped as Krieger went back to work. 

With a mental blueprint and enough parts, it was time to stop agonizing over details and make something. In the next installment, we will follow D’Arcy through the process of turning L.B.’s dream into a reality. 

Saturday, December 16, 2023

Dispatches from the field

I received this picture from Tanzania recently of this old Eland Bull taken with a 375 H&H Classic built on the only CorBon Model-1 that I have mentioned in an earlier post. The owner is an ardent African hunter and devoted double rifle fan preferring to get as close as possible before attempting any shot. So this 375 H&H has seen little actual use since its completion but has always been in tow. Always the brides-maid but never the bride until now. This 375 is astonishingly accurate. 


Terry took yet another great Oregon Blacktail Buck with his Legend chambered for 300 H&H. This rifle has seen more field use than many Willys Jeeps. Well done Nieg !

Klein made it back to Africa and put his Legend 375 H&H to good use 

Tom used his Classic Ruger Number-1 25-06 that I built for him in 1984 to take another Elk at age 80 ! I only hope I know where and who I am at age 80. Another notch on the 25!

G travels back to the ram pastures of middle Asian and takes another excellent Marco Polo Ram with his Legend 300 Winchester 

Gran and Glenda still getting after it with a Classic I built for Gran in 1983. It's now on its 3rd barrel. If this rifle could talk it would have a lot to say about where it's been and what it's gathered from the field 

Monday, December 11, 2023

News from the field.

Chet and Leslie have been in the bush quite a bit this year. March found them in Zimbabwe on an elephant hunt. Taking one a trophy bull and the other management Bull as well as a crocodile that had been making off with local village goats and donkeys. 

For this trip Chet was armed with a Burgess/Echols 3UE Classic 416 Remington Magnum and a  Echols/Simillion Legend Model-70 458 Lott, both assembled quite a few years ago and both undergoing some collaborative re-vamps at the clients request. The 416 is headed back to Zim this coming year on a Buffalo-Lion hunt.

This barreled action was originally set up with a set of Burgess vertically split detachable 1'' rings. Which worked very well with 1" scopes like the Leupold 3X, 4X and 1.5-5X Leupold variables. Chet has the same history that I have and tends to break scopes at an alarming rate. The only set of 30mm Burgess detachable rings that Tom ever made were for me and they failed to hold a Heavy 30mm Zeiss 1.5-6 from sliding in recoil on a Classic 375 H&H. Chet really wanted to use a current Schmidt and Bender on this 416 3UE and somehow talked me into fitting a set of LX 30mm rings onto this rifle. I still don't know how he pulled that off. That scope now isn't moving anywhere. 

This fall Chet was lucky enough to draw a coveted Wyoming Bighorn permit and both he and Les rode into the high country to poke around in the scree fields and Ram pastures of the Absaroka Range.

The rifle on this hunt is a LX-1 chambered for 30-06 and has been a Beta Test Bed for this LX project from the start. 

After a quick change of laundry it was off to Kyrgyzstan to hunt Ibex for a 2nd time with the LX and it proved it's worth once again with a fine billy.