Thursday, June 25, 2015

An 8 Bore Mortimer gets a face lift

I was recently contacted by Stephen Alexander, the restoration and gun smithing talent for Lewis Drake and Associates ( Without a doubt Steve is one of the most talented gunsmiths that I have had the pleasure of knowing. He called to inquire into my work load to schedule some pantograph  time for a project he had at hand. I always enjoy getting projects from Steve as you just never know what will show up. Typically he supplies an original stock to use as a pattern but I've had a few patterns show up made from standard construction grade 2x4's glued together with the Head End glassed for a particular receiver with Bondo or some similar epoxy and nothing more. No butt, no comb, no grip just a glassed impression of the receiver, lock work and trigger plate on a plank. At first glance to the novice this would appear quite non professional. This couldn't be further from the truth. Steve's methods are direct and extremely simple, with no time is wasted on pattern construction.

What showed up this time was an 8 Bore double flintlock rifle stock made by H.W, Mortimer and assembled sometime in the 1800's. The stock resembled a jungle dugout. With it's massive side by side barrel channels, lock panels, straight grip, steel butt plate, and patch box cavities it is a relic from the days in India when men hunted on the backs of Elephants.

What he had failed to emphasise was the French Walnut blank to be turned was the very same width as the pattern. Not  sort of close, but the very same width as the two apposing lock plate panels! Normally you hope for a 1/4" of an inch of extra wood per side. In this case I had nothing extra, zero, zip, nada. I called Steve and asked if he had a thicker blank we could use. "Nope that's the one we have to use, should be a piece of cake for you" was his reply. I think I heard him laughing as he hung up the phone. I was trying to think as to how I had just gotten so lucky as not only was the blank the same width, but also wracked and had a 1/16" bow in it. No problem !

The challenge now was the exact placement of the head and tail stock centers on the pattern and the blank so the lock area on both sides of the stock would wind up with an equal amount of wood on either side as I had ZERO width to spare. This was accomplished by moving the location of the centers and placing the stock blank back in the machine many times before I felt I had the center of the blank centered with the pattern. At one point I walked outside to consider a new profession. 

This aspect of the job took hours before I was ready to begin the machining process. The width of the fore-end that supported these massive barrels was so wide that I could not use both my rotary steady rest. Only the rear rest could be employed. Note to self: remove the Alexanders from the Christmas card list. 

Then the French walnut blank was machined to within +.125 of the original stock profile to remove most of the excess wood. The over sized stock was then removed from the machine and allowed to hang for 48 hours to warp, bend or twist. This means of stabilization is one of the main reasons I prefer stocking with a pantograph. If the stock is going to walk around it will do it now in the pre machined state before the final inletting or shaping has begun. Its pretty hard to dispute that a blank can sometimes radically move if you have a large enough truly flat surface, a pair of 123 blocks and some indicators. While the stock shown below is for a magazine rifle the means of measurement holds true for any stock. You don't believe me, I've never known an indicators to lie. The worst movement I've ever detected was almost 1/8" on a straight grip shotgun blank during this phase. 

Then the Mortimer stock was placed back in the Hoenig and a rotary steady rest was attached and independently zeroed on the pattern and the walnut blank. Once both the stock and pattern were as vibration free as possible the final inletting was begun by using progressively smaller stylist for what ever cutter was required. The sensitivity and accuracy of good machine is amazing but you need to be on your toes at all times while running one. While a precision machine is nice you also need to have a well prepared pattern that lacks any voids, issues or problems, sharp cutters with matched stylist and then an operator that has more than a few hours at the helm. Lack one of these and the finished job might not be in showroom condition when finished. Not all wood cuts the same, with some blanks being real nightmares to machine to prevent wood chips the size of match heads from flying off into space. Some stocks are wonderful to cut while others will make you want to leave the shop early that day. 

Once all the inletting is completed the OD of the stock is machined to within +.030 of the original patterns surface with the steady rest still in place. As with the inletting the rotary rest will dampen the vibration, flex and cutter bounce to insure a smooth exterior surface on the walnut. Lastly the steady rest is removed and the minimal area of exterior wood under the steady rest is now machined to match the final surface of the stock. Laps time to set up and complete the machine work for this stock was 10 hours. And yes the stock was correctly positioned and cut dead center within the narrow blank. Once again proving that skill and daring can overcome fear and uncertainty, at least some of the time. 

Steve tells me the inlet went great and the finish work is coming along nicely. I'll post a pic of this beast when Steve has one available. 

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Eastern Cape

Ben Skinner just returned from the Eastern Cape of South Africa having spent the last 7 days with Professional Hunter John Oosthuizen of Hunters and Guides ( This was Ben's first trip overseas to hunt and like most of my clientele he went well prepared and fueled with enthusiasm. Hunters and Guides had arranged for Ben to hunt out of the Lukhanyo Lodge Reserve not far from Grahamstown. While rain hampered the first and second day of his hunt they made up for lost time for the remainder of his trip.

Ben carried a Legend he has hunted with for 15 years that is chambered for 300 Winchester Magnum and loaded with 180gr Nosler AccuBond bullets. When given the opportunity he did his best to make his shots count. He did have a few closing comments as he pulled into his driveway to reunite with his wife and kids "The trip was much more enjoyable that I had ever expected it would be, John, Chris and the team were just amazing to be with" and "the Legend as always, worked flawlessly"

The hunt was over way to soon and he left the Cape with a hat full memories and an appreciation for the hunters, trackers and game he encountered while under the Southern Cross. Congratulations Ben

Monday, June 8, 2015

Snake Bit

It was easy to tell the that all was not well by the tone of voice on the other end of the line. It would seem that a 7mm Bore Snake was stuck vault tight inside the barrel of a 7mm Legend. A kink in the Snake was observed making the corner at the ejection port as the cord was being pull through the muzzle. When the kink slipped into the chamber the Snake came to an abrupt halt.

Undeterred the owner now applied more tension on the cord hanging out of the muzzle, nothing moved. Things now get a bit vague and I'm not exactly sure just what happened over the next couple hours. An accomplice to this event graciously offered assistance, 4 hands came into play, I think a come-along was suggested and perhaps a mule got involved. At some point in the struggle the forward end of the Snake parted just behind the bronze brush section of the Snake. Now no sign of the Snake was visible from the muzzle end, and a flashlight revealed just a faint vestige of the Snake in the chamber. Things had just gone South.

The team re-grouped, put their heads together again and devised a plan that apparently involved a wooden dowel and a screw mounted on the dowel that was inserted through the receiver and into the chamber end of the barrel in a last ditch attempt to snag the Snake. I think some alcohol was involved but I can't confirm this.

It was after the last attempt that I got the first phone call. The rifle was eventually packaged up and sent my way. This gave me time to think about a solution to this problem, I admit the options looked pretty bleak.

Now I personally like the Bore Snake for keeping the chamber and barrel clean on my hunts. If hunting in particularly bad weather I will generally pull the Snake through the bore before I start the day and after I return at dark no matter how tired I am. Like my knife, it's part of my field gear and I have yet to have one jam in the bore. Was the kink in the cord the contributing factor? was it the correct caliber Snake used to begin with ? While waiting for the rifle to arrive I began to experiment with different solvents that might aid in breaking down the nylon fibers on a spare Snake I had in the shop. Of the 5 liquids I tried only Lacquer Thinner seemed to make the nylon fibers at least more supple and slippery. The Net didn't offer up any incite worth bookmarking. This was going to be interesting to say the least.

The rifle arrived and the barrel removed from the receiver. The breech end of the Snake could be seen in the neck section of the chamber. The chamber was too narrow for pliers, hemostats, or any other tool I might have at my disposal to reach the end of the snake. I decided to pour some lacquer thinner in the chamber end as the barrel stood vertical in my trash can. Frankly I was at a loss as to what to do next other than fit a flat brass jag to a Dewey rod and give the Lacquer soaked Snake a push from the muzzle end. Nothing Moved, the Snake was dug in like a tick.

While at lunch I mentioned the situation to my wife as she was building a sandwich and she suggested an idea that I immediately turned 180 degrees to form a different approach from her original idea. I never finished lunch, I headed straight back to the shop. I located a 12" piece of 3/16" O-1 Drill Rod, chucked it up in the lathe and turned an ogive shape onto the end of the O-1 rod. I polished the ogive section of the O-1 with fine Wet or Dry paper, hit it with some Scotch-Brite and then heated the ogive area of the rod to a dull red color with my torch. As gently and as accurately as I could I pushed the red hot rod into the center of the nylon Snake visible in the chamber neck. The rod melted into the nylon about a 1/4 " before coming to a halt. I let the rod cool for about 10 minutes and then gently pulled on the O-1 rod. Out slid the Bore Snake just easy as you please. The nylon had indeed fused itself to the red hot end of the O-1 as I had hoped.

Perhaps the displacement of the fibers via the heat transfer had eliminated or reduced the size of the kink, perhaps the Lacquer thinner lubricated the Snake enough to reduce the friction in the bore even  more. I will never really know completely.

Feeling like I just snatched this disaster from the jaws of death I cleaned the barrel to insure all the  nylon residue was removed from the chamber and throat area before screwing the barrel back into the receiver. Then to further confirm that all was "happy Christmas" I dug out the Bore Scope to visually inspect and confirm the barrel was clear and ready to test fire.

What I saw next through the lens of the Bore Scope curled my toes. The entire shoulder, neck and lead area of the chamber was trashed beyond any repair from the attempt to retrieve the Snake with the wooden dowel and wood screw. There was nothing at this stage that was going to save this barrel to shoot another day. Unfortunate as this barrel had only been shot enough to work up a good accurate TTSX load just before the incident.

Time of death was called at 5:17 pm. Saturday afternoon.

Sometimes even your best attempts are just not enough.