September 23, 2010
By Reid Coffield
If you've been following along with this project or have been building a sporter of your own, you're probably as anxious as I am to get this puppy finished and out to the range. It's been a lot of fun and has certainly brought back a lot of memories of the 1960s when it seemed everyone was building sporting rifles out of military Mausers, Springfields, and Enfields. If you check some of the early issues of Shooting Times, you'll find lots of articles about conversions like this one. As part of the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of ST, this project is in many ways a look back at those early years.
One of the last steps prior to assembling the rifle was to smooth the finish by polishing it with rottenstone. The high-gloss finish was popular in the '50s and '60s, and it highlights the natural beauty of the walnut stock.
In the last installment, I blued the metal components with a simple hot water process using a product called Belgian Blue. Unlike hot caustic salts or hot bluing, this process is definitely one that you can do at home with minimal equipment. Also, if you end up with a thin spot or a place where you need to touch up the finish, you can easily add additional coats at any time in the future without having to remove the finish and start all over. It's just about an ideal bluing process for the hobbyist.
With the bluing completed, the next step was to finish up the stock. While doing the metal work, I was also adding coats of Tru-Oil to the Boyd's walnut stock to build up a deep, glossy finish. High-gloss finishes were very popular in the '60s using products such as Tru-Oil. While these finishes do tend to reflect light and scratches are definitely more visible, a high-gloss finish does showcase the grain and color of the wood. In the case of this Boyd's stock, there's some nice figure in the buttstock and the Tru-Oil finish definitely draws attention to it.
I applied a few more coats, one each day, and then went over the stock with 0000 (four ought) steel wool to remove any stray dust nibs and minor imperfections. Once that was done, the stock was rubbed down with rottenstone for a nice high-gloss finish typical of the '50s and early '60s. That finished up the stock. It was now ready for the metal components.
The Mauser sporter looks good and shoots well to boot.
I had left the recoil pad in place as the stock was sanded and finished. By doing this I made sure that the pad was a nice fit to the stock and that the lines of the toe and heel were smooth and even. Any Tru-Oil that accumulated on the sides of the pad was easily removed with an alcohol-soaked cleaning patch.
With projects like this back in the '60s, most stocks were seldom checkered simply because the average person couldn't, or wouldn't, checker them. It's really not all that hard, and at some point in the future I'll devote a column or two to checkering this stock and show how you can do it as well.
When reassembling the rifle I took time to polish up several parts, such as the bolt and the extractor. My bolt had some light pitting. Because of that I was not able to polish it to as high a gloss as I would have liked. The bolt was polished with progressive grits of abrasive up to 320 grit. It's not a mirror finish, but it still looks darn nice. You may be tempted to blue the bolt body, but I'll try to talk you out of that. Bluing on a bolt will invariably scratch and wear in short order. It's best to just leave it "in the white." Besides, a polished bolt is attractive, very traditional, and much slicker and easier to manipulate.
While I did drill my rifle for a scope base, I also installed open sights, including a Williams fiber-optic front sight with a protective see-through hood. In addition, I installed a Lyman 57 SME receiver peep sight. Yep, I have backup for my backup sights! Actually I find that with age and bifocals, a receiver sight is very effective, and I plan on using that sight for most of my shooting. When I do install a scope, I'll have the open sights on the barrel as a backup.
At 50 yards, it put five shots in one ragged hole. The wide sixth shot was the result of a flinch and anticipating recoil.
The caliber I've chosen for this rifle is .35 Whelen. It was pretty popular among riflemen in the '60s just as it is today. If you're a fan of heavy, large-diameter bullets, the .35 Whelen is hard to beat. For years it was a well-known and popular wildcat cartridge, but that's changed. You can now obtain factory-loaded ammo from Remington, Nosler, and Federal. And if you want to reload, like I do, .35 Whelen cases are easily made by just expanding the necks of standard .30-06 cases. As a buddy once put it, "It was a wildcat cartridge for shooters who didn't like wildcats."
The first thing I did upon getting to the range was to bore sight my rifle at 50 yards. I did this by securing the rifle on my shooting rest and removing the bolt. I then aligned the rifle so that the target was centered in the bore. Then without moving the rifle, I adjusted my Lyman receiver sight so the target was properly aligned with the sights. That's all there was too it. Simple and quick.
The first six-shot group was very impressive. I got five shots in a nice, tight cluster that measured only 1 inch center to center. The sixth shot was about 1.25 inches out from that group. It wasn't the rifle; I flinched. The recoil on the .35 Whelen was more than what I was used to, and I obviously reacted to it. Also, the ammo I was using was pretty hot. I had loaded a few extra rounds using data from my Lyman #48 Reloading Manual. My starting load was 49.5 grains of H4895 with a Sierra 225-grain spitzer boattail bullet. It wasn't as fast as my commercial ammo, but it was a lot more pleasant to shoot.
At 100 yards, it delivered a five-shot group that measured less than 1.50 inches
, which isn't bad considering it was fired with just iron sights.
The next target was set up at 100 yards. I only had to make a slight elevation adjustment to compensate for the longer range. Once that was done, I settled in for some serious shooting to see just how my new rifle would perform. With the commercial ammo, I was able to get groups that ran about 1.5 inches for five shots. My lighter handloads gave me a five-shot group of 1.56. Not bad at all for an old guy with iron sights. With more experimentation with handloads, I'm sure I can cut these groups down.
Later I set up the rear open sight. All I had to do was insert the rear blade and align the blade notch between the receiver sight and the front sight. Instant sight-in! Once that was done, I marked the location of the rear blade on the rear sight base so I could take it off and later place it back at the same spot. A small mark with a scribe was all that was needed.
There's still some minor tuning and adjustments I'll make to my rifle. Like a lot of guys, I tend to constantly tinker with my rifles in one way or another. That's just part of the fun and enjoyment of gunsmithing.
I hope you've enjoyed this project as much as I have. While prices for guns aren't as low as they were in the '60s when Shooting Times started out, there're still lots of noncollectable military bolt guns out there that are ideal for building sporters. It's fun, and it's a great way to learn.
Until next time, good luck and good gunsmithing!