by Darrell Holland
The Remington 700 rifle platform is very popular, with millions of rifles made. It’s also a versatile platform on which to build a custom rifle. I will explain different aspects you should consider when planning a custom build. Hopefully, you will be in a better position to decide what you really need for your own application or for your customer’s, and how to get the most from your investment, in terms of both time and money.
(This article first appeared here in 2013, but it generated so much interest I have repeated it for new subscribers –ed)
An important first step when planning your custom rifle is defining its purpose. Different applications require different features, such as barrels, stocks, triggers, or even caliber. Is the customer going to shoot at paper targets, steel plates, varmints, or big game? Even with big game, it can make a difference if one is going to hunt deer, elk, or antelope.
It’s also important for the gunsmith to be in tune with the customer’s wants and needs. This includes being able to offer advice when it’s warranted. For example, many customers demand the most powerful rifle they can get, whether or not it actually suits their purposes. This results in magnumitis, a “condition” where a shooter seeks out power while neglecting other considerations. Many shooters cannot handle the recoil from powerful rifles, such as the Ultra Mag. Despite their popularity, a very small percentage of shooters can actually make full use of the Ultra Mags’ potential. The result is a shooter who fears the rifle’s recoil, anticipates it, and flinches when firing, causing the bullet to miss its mark. Shot placement is a much stronger influence on the shooter’s success in the field than the raw power of the round being fired. A miss with a .375 H&H Magnum is far less desirable than a single, well-placed shot with a .308 Winchester.
Now I’ll move on to the actual custom work. I’ll start with a hunting rifle and finish with a competition rifle.
The Hunting Rifle
Let’s start with super tuning a factory Remington 700. The first thing we want to do is check the barrel. The barrel should be broken-in by cleaning it every two shots for the first 35-40 rounds. Developing good quality handloads can be very beneficial at this point. If you can tune a load that will shoot 5/8” at 100 yards out of the factory rifle, not much needs to be done. Re-crowning the muzzle would be the last step for the factory barrel.
Enhancing the trigger will be the next stage. Unfortunately, a lot of Remington 700s come from the factory with heavy, 5-8 pound trigger pulls. This makes it very difficult to shoot the rifle to its full potential, even in the hands of a seasoned shooter.
There are two options for improving the trigger: re-working the factory trigger or installing an aftermarket trigger. Re-working the factory trigger involves cleaning it up by using a little bit of stoning on the sear surfaces, adjusting the sear engagement properly, and setting the overtravel. It’s important to note that if you don’t understand how to set positive sear engagement, you shouldn’t work on the sear.
The other option is to use an aftermarket trigger. While there are several good aftermarket triggers available on the market, the best I’ve found for the Remington 700 is the Jewell trigger. It uses a three-lever design constructed from stainless steel.
Maintenance of the trigger is critical to its proper functioning. Excess oil and grease can accumulate grit and grime or thicken in real cold weather, causing the sear to freeze up. This is probably the most common cause of malfunctions experienced by shooters. At least once a year you should remove the trigger group, use a good cleaner (carburetor choke cleaner works well), scrub it with a tooth brush, and use a little compressed air to blow it out. There’s no need to use any special oil or grease in the trigger group.
Now let’s discuss upgrades. We’ll start with the stock, which is probably the most common upgrade that shooters will request. Factory synthetic stocks are often made from injection-molded plastic. The problem with these types of stocks is that the bedding compounds we use won’t bond properly to the plastic. If bedding is required, these stocks are just about worthless.
Replacement stocks come in a variety of styles and construction materials. Laminate stocks can work very well, depending on the circumstances. If you’re not in a wet or snowy environment, laminates are a good choice. They’re stiffer than fiberglass stocks, and they also fit and feel like wood.
However, for a good, stable shooting platform in a variety of conditions (wind, rain, sleet, snow, high heat), hand-laid fiberglass stocks are hard to beat. Producing a hand-laid fiberglass stock is fairly labor-intensive. First, a resin compound is applied to a mold. Then strips of fiberglass cloth (or S2 glass, or carbon fiber) are laid into the mold. The strips are saturated as each new layer is added. The result is a hollow shell. This shell is then split along the top and filled with fiberglass epoxy “mulch,” which is allowed to harden.
The actual fill material has a big influence on the performance characteristics of the stock. Very heavy recoiling rifles should use a solid glass fill. It will add weight, but it will also withstand severe recoil and remain serviceable for several years. At the other end of the spectrum is lightweight Canadian glass fill material or McMillan’s proprietary EDGE technology, which are useful in real light alpine guns. However, such lightweight stocks are not recommended for heavy-recoiling rifles or rifles that may see thousands of rounds being fired down range. I prefer Weatherby glass fill, which is a moderate weight material that is very stable for standard magnums, .270s, .308s, .30-06s, and similar rounds.
A good way to test the rigidity of a fiberglass stock is to twist it by grabbing the forearm with one hand and the pistol grip with the other. If there’s a lot of twist or it feels “springy,” then it’s not considered a rigid stock.
While we’re on the subject of stocks, I think this would be a good time to discuss bedding in more detail. If the rifle is shooting well, and the screws are torqued properly (60 inch-pounds, front and rear), we won’t need to worry about bedding. However, if the rifle is not shooting well and the point of impact seems to be shifting, bedding will need to be addressed.
I highly recommend that you bed the action on non-compressible columns. This is commonly referred to as “Pillar Bedding.” We use the 7075-T6 aluminum column that’s flat on the top and bottom. Some people promote pillars that are contoured to the bottom of the receiver. The problem with contoured columns is that it’s virtually impossible to get it perfectly matched to the receiver because of variances from the manufacturing process. The result is usually either a high spot or a low spot in that column, which allows the action to continually rock and shift when it’s bedded. On the other hand, if we use a flat column we have a single point-of-contact on the receiver, allowing the bedding compound to create the perfect footprint for that individual action. There isn’t really a one-size-fits-all solution. For bedding compound I recommend either Marine Tex or Devcon epoxy, but Marine Tex is a little bit easier to work with.
Part 2 of this article will appear here in the next couple of weeks!