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Manners composite stocks road trip: we poke about behind closed doors.

In order to be truly great at something, you need to be passionate about it. It's this love which allows some to go above and beyond the norm. For Thomas Manners, It's building high quality rifle stocks.

While Manners has long been a competitive shooter, he hasn't always been In the firearms Industry. He actually made a name for himself in the popcorn trade.

At one time he had 600 employees, and did so well he was paid to stay out of the industry after his company was purchased.

So how did he get into building rifle stocks? Good question; and to find out I visited him at his shop in Kansas City. On a beautiful September day I drove a couple hours east on 1-70 and made my way to where his company is located.

I arrived at the same time Jason Morton of CZ-USA did and we entered together to meet with Manners and his general manager, Matt Walker. Manners told me how he enjoyed competing in a variety of shooting disciplines, including NRA High Power, F-Class, .50 caliber 1000-yard bench-rest and Handgun Silhouette. He shot Dan Wesson revolvers in Silhouette and was good enough to be ranked in the top 10 in the country.

Fate reared its head though when he, Skip Talbot and some others approached McMillan about building a stock for them. Manners took the answer as a bit rude and so decided to build a .50 cal. 1000-yard bench-rest stock himself. He not only succeeded in his endeavor but soon had other people requesting stocks. So he began making stocks on the side at his home as a hobby.

He did this for two years while working fulltime in the popcorn industry. After his company was purchased, it was time to find work elsewhere. At about this time his hobby was starting to snowball and grow in size. He took on his first employee and began to expand. The MOST (Manners Composite Stock) was his first one, and to this day remains one the most popular stocks he sells.

He built stocks at his home for about five years. Eventually, though, he realized he should try to make a go of it. So he spoke with his wife about turning stock-making into a full-fledged business. She agreed but only if he didn't borrow any money to do it-. In order to take things to the next level, something was going to have to go.

That something was a 427 Cobra replica. The car of dreams paid for a mill and compressor along with rent at a new shop for an entire year. Manners hit the ground running and hasn't looked back since.

Since he quit working at his home, his business has grown by 30-40% every year. Within five years he had outgrown his original shop and moved to a larger facility. This required the laborious work of moving his mills. These were moved on a Saturday and they were back up running by Monday. His growth has continued, and when I met with him he had just added another 4,000 square-foot building. Today he has 37 employees and runs two shifts trying to keep up with orders.

Over the years his offerings have steadily grown and expanded. In the early years he was approached by George Gardner (G.A. Precision) and Marty Bordsen (Badger Ordnance) about building stocks for tactical rifles. He agreed and his MCS-GAT stock was the first piece to be torture tested.

To see just how rugged it was, he put it on the arms of a chair and stood on it (USMC stock test) to try to break it. The stock shrugged off the abuse, so he used it to drive softballs, then ran it over with a truck. When this failed to harm it, he put angle iron under it and ran it over again. Despite all the abuse, it never failed and in doing so the MCS-GAT caught people's attention.

I asked him just what went into making one of his stocks and he took me down through the entire process. Every stock starts with a concept. This is perhaps the most important part of the entire process. It begins by finding out what shooters want. "You have to listen to the consumer and while you can't please everyone, you need to listen to what they want," Manners said to me. Then you need to take the concept and develop it to fit most people."

Once you have the concept, then a plug is produced. This is the prototype or master. The plug is tweaked and massaged until it fits properly. Molds then can be made using it.

The stock begins with an outer gel coat. Each piece of material (carbon fiber or fiberglass) Is then carefully hand laid into place. Different materials are weaved in a certain way to make a strong and stiff foundation. They carefully utilize the material's strengths to its advantage by how they weave it in this process.

Different materials and weaves are used for different applications. Not only that, but different areas of the stock get different weaves and material. The end result is two clamshell halves that are put together, forming a hollow shell.

While you wouldn't think so, the hollow shell ends up surprisingly robust. It actually becomes the backbone of the stock and provides the strength. So, on a Manners stock the strength is in the shell and not the fill.

Manners offers three different fill weights classed as lightweight, standard and heavy. These will dictate how heavy the stock is. Other options, including lead, can be added to balance a rifle. If weight, but not cost, is of primary importance, 100% carbon fiber may be utilized.

Next the stocks head to machining. Here they are machined for the action, barrel and bottom metal. 1032 machined studs are installed with steel t-nuts in the fore-end. They are installed in the butt using an aluminum block with a stainless steel helicoil.

Buttpads are ground by hand, with top-of-the-line Pachmayr Decelerators being offered. With everything installed they go to finish, where they are carefully checked and QC'd before being logged out. Holding one of his stocks Manners commented, "I might sell you a stock, but it's always my stock, my name's on it. They come with a 100% lifetime guarantee; I always stand behind my stocks."

Interested in how CZ-USA became involved with Manners Composite Stocks I asked Jason Morton about the connection. He replied, "We are putting out some of the best rifles available and we wanted to have high-grade options. As far as I'm concerned Manners is putting out the best stocks available. Our first rifle to wear a Manners stock was the CZ Precision Trainer 455 .22LR. It sold shockingly well and really showed the market for a Manners stock."

CZ-USA will be offering a number of different models fitted with Manners stocks. The 455 .22 Long Rifle will be receiving a new stock with molded camouflage this year. The hard-hitting .338 Lapua HET II will be fitted with a Manners stock featuring an adjustable cheek-piece and molded-in Midnight camouflage.

The 550 Western Series will receive a 100% carbon fiber stock to reduce weight. This will be painted olive and weigh approximately 27-28 ounces. The 557 Sporter will receive a 100% carbon fiber stock. Weighing only 25-26 ounces, it will be painted tan.

Personally I like Manners Composite Stocks. The highest score I've shot in competition to date, 20015X, was fired using a Manners stock: So it was an interesting afternoon having a chance to meet Thomas Manners and his crew. I think CZ-USA made a wise move selecting Manners out of the stock crowd, and look forward to what the future brings.


Manners Composite Stocks

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Author:Fortier, David
Publication:Shotgun News
Date:May 20, 2014
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