By: Larry Weeks
Building your own custom rifle has always seemed too far beyond the skills of the average Joe. But with a lot of patience, a little skill and some guidance from Brownells you'll learn how to build a custom Remington 700.
This is the first of four articles on how to build your own custom rifle. I’d been looking for an excuse to build a nice, easy handling, knockabout sporter rifle, so when the Remington 700 Short Actions arrived here at Brownells, I figured now was the best time to get going on the project.
Soon, what was going to be a simple sporter became another "test piece" for the products and processes we include in our catalog. The various sections of this article will tell you what parts and tools we used, and show how you can build your own Remington 700.
Part 1 will cover chambering, barrel crowning and assembly. In Part 2, we’ll head to the range, then bed the action to the stock, adjust the trigger and do some more shooting. For Part 3 we’ll accurize the action and, finally, head back to the range for another session with factory ammo and handloads in Part 4.
I enlisted the help of one of the shooters here, Marc D’Aguanno. Besides being an accomplished benchrest shooter, Marc’s also a darn good gunsmith and volunteered to give expert supervision as I assembled the barrel and action. So, let’s get started.
Choosing All The Right Pieces
If you haven’t decided what caliber rifle you’d like to build, be sure to check out the Remington Action page for all the specifics on the two actions and for links to the products you can use to build your own custom rifle. You might also want to check out the Remington Schematics.
For my custom rifle, I wanted to build something that would be a great, all-around rifle - a nice .243. So, I needed the Standard Receiver which uses the .308 bolt face. The choice was easy because the .308 Bolt Face is clean and simple, one of the reasons the Remington is a favorite for custom and tactical rifle builders. If your dream rifle is in the .222 family, check out the Small Receiver.
For a barrel, I chose a chrome moly, pre-threaded, short-chambered, Brownells/Shilen, .243, in a Remington, factory standard taper. Yes, I know, you’re supposed to get a big, stout tube that’ll shoot to the same spot all day long. But, you carry a gun more than you shoot it, so I overrode Marc’s objections and went with a lighter weight. The barrel came with an oversized recoil lug to help keep it located properly.
Note: This applies to all the products used in the article: Brownells carries a very large selection of barrels, rings and bases, stocks, etc., all of which do same job, but each do it a little differently. The differences in their features may make one brand suit your specific application better. We picked the pieces used here, sometimes for specific reasons, sometimes because either Marc or I just wanted to see how they worked.
For a scope base, we picked the Farrell Tactical because it features bedding grooves in the bottom. Since we’re planning to do a super tune on the gun, bedding the base to the action just makes sense.
Tactical Precision’s TSR Steel Scope Rings were the ring choice. With four screws holding each ring’s halves together, there’s plenty of clamping power.
The stock is from H.S. Precision. It’s reinforced with fiberglass, Kevlar, and graphite for strength and includes a built-in bedding block, which should help accuracy, even before we bed it. I bypassed the Remington, factory plastic ADL triggerguard and chose a factory steel triggerguard part. I also chose a Remington’s magazine, follower and spring. I didn’t buy a scope at this point. I borrowed a 4-14X x 50 I.O.R. Valdada from Marc.
When the crew had my order all picked, I was like a kid at Christmas. Now to put it all together!
Putting Action and Barrel Together
To put a barrel onto an action, you’ll need basic gunsmithing tools, plus a few specialized ones. We’ll cover the special tools at each step. First, you absolutely have to have a wrench to turn the action onto the barrel threads. Brownells makes a good one that uses a handle and interchangeable heads for darn near every commonly-worked-on action. The complete Action Wrench I ordered includes the handle and a two-piece head for the Remington 700. It's important to have a stout wrench so you won't bend or twist the action.
Our 700 Action in the Brownells Action Wrench. Note the screw in the
wrench head to help locate the action correctly, and the cutout for the Recoil Lug.
To make sure you don’t scratch the action, wrap it with masking tape before clamping it into the wrench. Position the action, and use the front action screw to hold it in place. We photographed the set-up without the tape so you could see everything.
The taped action, the wrench with Remington 700 head attached,
and the bolt, with firing pin, ejector and extractor removed.
Of course, you have to hold the barrel tightly as you turn the action on. You could sneak by with “V” vise jaws in your bench vise, but one slip and you’ll have a marked up barrel that will require polishing. I used Brownells Barrel Vise with the #10 bushing to match the barrel’s shank diameter. Before you crank the action onto the barrel, put a dab of Brownells Barrel Assembly Paste on the threads. It will make assembly easier, and keep any moisture that gets into the threads from causing rust. Place the recoil lug over the threaded shank of the barrel.
The action (top of photo) is almost completely screwed onto the barrel.
The barrel is clamped in the Barrel Vise (lower edge of photo). The barrel lug (center of photo)
covers the remaining exposed threads.
Turn the action onto the barrel threads. Once action and barrel are close, swing the recoil lug into the recess of the action wrench. Bump the action up against the shoulder and give it a little tweak with the wrench. You don’t need to lean on the wrench; snug will hold everything together very well.
Chambering By Hand
Chambering your rifle is probably something you thought could only be done by machine or professionals. It’s not as hard as you may think but it requires a patient hand. You’ve probably read things about chambering -- turn the reamer, remove, clean and check headspace until the bolt will just close on a "GO" gauge.
Well, while the process is that simple, this was my first time to actually do it, and let me tell you, it’s nerve wracking. You have a $200 barrel and a lot of work you will have to re-do, not to mention the embarrassment of having to admit you screwed up if you do it wrong. Not being a patient person, I gave myself a real talking to before I started. Instead of cranking away on the reamer until I went too deeply, I made a promise to go slowly, no matter how long it took.
The tools for chambering. Do-Drill, GO and NO GO headspace gauges,
a small brush for cleaning chips and the chambering reamer and extension.
It’s time for some more specialized tools. You’ll need a reamer and headspace gauges. These are specific for each caliber. We picked Manson brand products. Our .243 required a reamer, plus a GO Headspace Gauge and a NO GO Headspace Gauge. Brownells recommends using both the "GO" and the "NO GO" gauges. That way if you cut a bit past the "GO" gauge, the "NO GO" gauge will let you know if you're still within spec. The bolt should close on a "GO" gauge but not on a "NO GO" gauge.
Before you start working on the chambering, you’ll need to completely disassemble the bolt. Kleinendorst makes a Bolt Disassembly Tool that’s a big help. You’ll also need Brownells Bolt Ejector Tool to get the ejector out without spending a lot of time digging for the spring and plunger when they fly across the room. The extractor is sort of like an internal “C” clip. Once the ejector is out, use a scribe or tiny, flat screwdriver to rotate the extractor, clockwise, slightly in the bolt face, until the end of it moves into the access cut in the bolt face. When it sticks out far enough to get your scribe/screwdriver between the access cut and the extractor, push it, carefully, towards the center. Compress the extractor enough to pop it out of the bolt face.
The first step in actual chambering is to set the barreled action vertically in a vise. I left the assembly in the Barrel Vise and clamped the whole works into a bench vise. This makes sure (the best you can without a lathe) that the reamer will stay straight in the precut short chamber. It also makes it easy to flush chips out from the chamber as you stop to check headspace. You’ll need to put a pan or tray of some sort under the muzzle to catch the oil, chips and TCE that you flush out. To turn the reamer, you can buy a Clymer extension that fits the 3/8" square shaft or, you can use a long extension for a 3/8" socket set – the socket set extension method makes it a lot harder to get the reamer out of the chamber for cleaning, but you can do it. Either way, you have to have a big tap handle; I picked mine up at Northern Hydraulics. Get a good, high-grade cutting oil. My favorite is Brownells Do-Drill. It’s slimy, sticky and smells pretty horrendous, but works great! I’ve tried to cut things using motor oil, various gun oils, etc., but you really can feel the difference when you use a real cutting oil. Don’t skimp on this step.
The reamer, with extension in place, started into the barrel.
Slip the reamer into the extension and snug the set screw down against one of the reamer’s flats. Lube the reamer and its pilot thoroughly with Do-Drill, and slide it carefully into the chamber. For the first cut, I turned the reamer four revolutions, while pushing down firmly on the tap handle. To remove the reamer for cleaning and checking with the Headspace Gauge, relax the down-pressure, keep turning clockwise and pull it out of the chamber. NEVER turn a reamer counterclockwise! For any reason! You will dull it instantly.
Clean the reamer and chamber thoroughly with TCE.
Use a small brush to get rid of stubborn chips.
Clean all chips and Do-Drill off the reamer and flush the chamber to make certain there’s nothing to cause the GO gauge to give a false reading. I used Brownells TCE and ran a chamber mop and a bore mop through to make sure all chips were really out of there. Slip the GO gauge carefully into the chamber. Put the stripped bolt into the action; slide it down, gently until it contacts the GO gauge. Try to close the bolt handle. At this stage, it shouldn’t even come close to dropping into place.
After the initial four revolutions, I went to a remove, clean, and re-oil every two revolutions schedule. The progress of the reamer happens very slowly at first and when the chamber is close to full depth it moves very quickly. That's why it's important to check often. The first cuts will show chips only in the case body area of the reamer. Now’s the time to really keep being patient. It takes a lot of "cut-and-clean and re-oil" to get to the shoulder. After three cut-clean-and-check cycles you’ll be tempted to crank for several turns before checking the headspace. DON’T do it!
Early cuts will produce chips well back in the body area of the chamber.
When you see chips develop in the shoulder area, it’s time to slow down. One turn, clean and check, isn’t out of line here. You don’t want to have to force the bolt handle down, and you don’t want it to fall into place. You want it to "close" on the GO gauge with just firm pressure.
The chips are now very close to the shoulder. BE CAREFUL, GO SLOWLY.
It’s a slow process. I spent roughly 45 minutes cutting, cleaning and checking until the bolt finally closed properly on the GO headspace gauge. I followed with a thorough cleaning of the chamber and bore to get rid of any remaining chips and cutting fluid.
Crowning the Muzzle
Custom barrels have usually been located between centers on a lathe during manufacture. That means the first portion of each end of the bore could be slightly damaged. Chambering took care of cleaning up the breech end. It’s up to you to fix the muzzle end. Most makers suggest you cut off the first 1” of the barrel to get rid of any tooling nicks. You can cut off more for a shorter barrel, but you do have to cut off that first inch. Marc and I marked the cut with a pencil at several places around the barrel diameter. I’ve always found it easier to get a straight hacksaw cut on a round, tapered object by connecting the pencil marks with shallow cuts. That means rotating the barrel periodically and slowly deepening the cuts until you’re all the way through.
When you have a fresh cut to smooth and square up, Brownells Muzzle Facing and Chamfering cutters can help get a professional job. You can square and finish the muzzle with a good, flat file, sandpaper and a micrometer eyeball, but I’ve never had much luck doing it that way. A 90° Facing Cutter and Steel Pilot for the .243, plus a 3/4” diameter, 79° Crowning Cutter were the special tools needed for this part of the project.
To do the crowning, lock the barrel firmly in a horizontal position in Brownells aluminum V-Grove Vise Jaws. Screw the handle onto the cutter, slip the pilot into the cutter and tighten the setscrew. Get out the Do-Drill and generously coat both cutter and pilot. Insert the pilot into the bore and make a few clockwise revolutions. Pull the cutter back and check your progress. Before you put the pilot back in, clean the face, cutter and pilot with TCE. Make sure no chips have gotten into the bore. If any have, clean them out. Re-oil the cutter and pilot and continue cutting until all saw marks are gone.
The idea of a crown is to set the rifling at the muzzle back, just slightly, to protect the rifling from handling dings. Damaged rifling at the muzzle can seriously affect accuracy. The 11° target crown (90° - 11° = 79°) is one of the more popular angles. Brownells also has a 45° Chamfer Cutter if you prefer a deeper recess. The chamfering process is the same as the facing process; cut, inspect, clean, re-oil and cut some more.
The 79° cutter in position to make the crowning cut.
Marc didn’t take the chamfer cut all the way out to the full diameter of the muzzle. By stopping just short, he left a small, 90° ring for a neat, finished look. The final step is to lightly sand the sharp edge where muzzle and outside contour meet.
The finished muzzle crown and chamfer.
Mounting the Scope Base
This is pretty easy. Mount the barreled action horizontally in a stable bench vise horizontally. Dead-level doesn't matter here. Put a tiny drop of Loctite #242, #532-000-009, into the base screw holes in the receiver, set the scope base in place, insert and tighten the screws.
The TSR rings positioned on the Farrell base.
Putting the Action into the Stock
Another easy task, for someone who’s just chambered a barrel. Slip the Remington magazine box into the stock recess, add the magazine spring and follower and set the action into place in the stock. Hold stock and action together, turn them over and set the triggerguard into place. Drop in the screws Center Guard Screw Hex, Front and Rear and snug them down.
Mount the Scope in the Rings
Many tactical rings, like the TSR's, are made with the top and bottom halves machined together for a perfect fit. Don’t switch the tops from side to side or try to mount one top half to a different bottom half. Scribe marks on the inside of both halves to help make sure nothing gets mixed up. Take off the top halves of the rings and set them off to the side. Lay the scope in the lower ring halves, shoulder the gun and check for proper eye relief. Slide the scope as needed and/or move the rings to different slots to get the correct eye relief. The multiple cross slots on tactical bases, like the Farrell, simplify the process.
Finish up by reinstalling the ring top halves and snugging the screws down evenly. Since this is the “bolt together” phase of the build up, Marc and I didn’t bed the base, lap the rings, or use a torque wrench on any of the fasteners.
NEXT MONTH - We go shooting. A quick preview, shooting from a wobbly picnic table, with a heavy trigger and commercial reloads, we had some solid, 1”, 5-shot groups.
How To Build Your Own Remington 700 - Part II