Barrel Work


May 2, 2013

In 2006 I purchased a Remington 700 in 204 Ruger with a 24" barrel. Extremely accurate but I hate a 24" barrel in the field. The guy I bought my shop from had a huge lathe and we had planned for him to cut down the barrel for me. Then he up and decides that the Arizona climate would suit him better so he sold everything and moved. I bid on his lathe to my predetermined "max" and quit. So I did not get it purchased.

In January I purchased a used 12x36 machine lathe. Haven't used one since 1978 or 79 (High School shop class) so it would be a learning experience to say the least.

I've only wanted one for 10 or 12 years and actually bought a table top Craftsman 109 a couple of years ago. It was missing enough pieces that buy the time I purchased them I could get a bigger/more useable lathe for not much more money. So it's still sitting in the basement collecting dust.

I got the "new" lathe set up in it's new digs and started playing with it. Bought a couple of books and have been going through the Read/Play program for a while now. Bought a pile of aluminum rod stock in a variety of diameters and one of my customers brought me some steel scrap to play with.

The lathe came with a 3 jaw and a 4 jaw chuck. It didn't take long to discover that the 4 jaw would be more accurate but harder to "center" stock in.

After playing with the lathe and making mountains of metal chips I was ready to attempt the project of cutting the barrel. Originally the plan was to simply put the barrel through the headstock with the receiver still attached. While that might work perfectly fine (I don't know) it seemed like it would be a better idea to separate the barrel from the receiver and work on it that way.

I purchased a barrel vise and action wrench from Midway and was anxious for them to arrive. Both pieces are larger than I expected but having never seen any such I really didn't know what I was getting into.

Following the mounting instructions for the vise, it now resides on the corner of my loading bench. Not really in the way but I can remove it if need be. My reloading bench top is made of 2 layers of 3/4" plywood so it pretty much stays put when you try moving it or pounding on it.

Larry Potterfield of Midway has a youtube video about using the 2 tools. In the video he instructs you to place Rosin in the barrel vise blocks to protect the finish on the barrel and help keep the barrel from twisting in the vise.

By the time I got the vise tight enough to keep the barrel from turning, the oak blocks had crushed down so much that they may end up being a one time use item. But the rosin cleaned off the barrel and left no marks or indication that the barrel had ever been off the receiver.

The action wrench was rough on the area that would contact the receiver so I hit it a few licks with some emery cloth. It retrospect, I should have spent a lot more time with the emery cloth. The top of the receiver now wears marks from the wrench. Not horrible but it could have been avoided. Midway could have spent 19 cents extra and had it polished as far as that goes.

Cutting and Crowning

I still don't completely understand parting bits for the the lathe. I bought a new bit and had used it prior to working on the barrel so it likely wasn't very sharp. I tried sharpening the bit during the cutting process but I don't understand how to do that either, yet. Finally I was able to chew through the barrel.

Back in 2006 or 2007 when this thought process started, the intention was to chronograph a load, cut off an inch of barrel and chronograph the same load again. Repeating the process and watching accuracy until I got down to around a 20 inch barrel. Obviously time fly's so I cut to the chase, pun intended, and set the lathe to cut the barrel at just over 20 inches. I did actually run a round across the chronograph a couple of weeks before cutting the barrel and if memory serves me (because I didn't write it down) it clocked around 3600 fps.

Yea, I know, you're thinking I should have kept better notes blah blah blah. And while you may be right, in the big scheme of things, I really don't care where it ends up as long as it shoots. And during the process of picking a barrel vise and action wrench it occurred to me that worst case scenario I could always buy a 17 cal barrel and build me a 17 Fireball, 17 Remington or a 22 cal barrel and go with 222 Remington or 222 Mag. etc.

I crowned the barrel with just kind of a generic "target crown" using a facing bit on the lathe. Put the rifle back together on April 30th and shot it on May 1st. Still have all my fingers and nothing broke. I have to admit that not having ever done anything like this it was tough not to flinch or close my eyes when pulling the trigger the 1st time.

The cold barrel (not clean) 1st shot landed 3 or 4 inches high and stayed there for the 2nd shot but then walked right in with scope adjustment. I figure it's like starting all over now and will re-work the load development and then chronograph when I'm happy with the groups.

While I can't say that this is a project for the weak hearted or those that normally can't operate a screwdriver, it's wasn't that complex. Read, ask questions, watch videos, read some more.

There were a couple of other challenges involved in the process that were un-expected but nothing major. I will elaborate more on them and put some pictures on here when I get a few minutes. But for the time being, I'm thrilled with the rifle and the way this project turned out. The gun handles and feels completely different now and I'm anxious to spend some more time throwing lead with it.

The additional challenges
Before taking my barrel off I had looked around gun broker for barrels just to see what was out there and what prices looked like on used barrels. One picture showed the recoil lug still on the barrel. So I got the bright idea that if I were to take a center punch and just put a ding in the lug and the receiver adjacent that it would help line things up when I put it back together. Wrong, the lug spins freely on the barrel and slides off. Putting a ding on the barrel in line with the 1st 2 marks would have worked perfect.

As it were though lining up the lug ding and receiver ding assured me that if nothing else the receiver would sit in the stock properly.

The threads
It only made sense that the internal threads on the receiver and the external threads on the barrel should be cleaned before re-assembling it. So I soaked the threads down with Kroil for a couple of days and then gently dug the crud out of them with a dental pick and brush.

In some of the reading I noted that the barrel "does not have to go on super tight" just good and snug. A buddy with experience suggested using some anti-seize of some sort. Of course I couldn't find the tube I was looking for in my mountain of junk and ended up using a very small amount of pipe compound with teflon in it.

Re -installing the barrel
I threaded the barrel into the receiver by hand quite a ways before my hands ran out of torque. Then I put the whole mess back in the barrel vise with more rosin. Clamped the barrel down and remounted the action wrench to the action.
Step 2 tighten the vise and turn the receiver.
Repeat step 2
Repeat step 2
Repeat step 2
Finally you might have the vise tight enough to "snug the barrel"
Step 3 Align the lug
Step 4 Go Shoot

Bill


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