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Springfield 1903A4 replica sniper rifle part 4: last time (10/10), Coffield inletted the barreled action into the stock. This time, he works on the trigger guard as well as the handguard and its many associated parts.

The basic idea behind replica or reproduction firearms is pretty simple; it's purely a function of supply and demand. The number of folks wanting a certain type of firearm exceeds the actual supply of those original or authentic historic firearms available.


It's nothing new. I think the large-scale production of historic replica firearms began in the late 1950s with Val Forgett and the introduction of Italian-made copies of Colt cap-and-ball revolvers. This was driven by the centennial of the Civil War and the demand for useable, affordable guns by recreational shooters, collectors, and reenactors. Turner Kirkland of Dixie Gunworks was also a prime mover at that time in this new branch of the firearms industry.

I well remember the gnashing of teeth and the moans and groans of traditional collectors as they complained that this "foreign junk" would ruin the market for collectable arms. How wrong they were! Not only did replica arms not dampen the market for original, authentic collectables, I think the case can be made that it actually helped to grow the market and increase the demand for and value of those original guns.

It just stands to reason. A guy might start off with a replica, use it and enjoy it. Eventually many of those same folks decide while this replica is great, an original would be even better. So, those folks save up their money and eventually buy a collectable. They still shoot and use their replica, but they also have an original to admire and cherish.




While the replica movement started with muzzle-loading firearms, it wasn't long until it moved over into cartridge firearms as well. When Western films and TV shows built demand for Colt single-action revolvers and Colt dropped it from production, Bill Ruger stepped in and built a firearms empire with his version of the classic single-action revolver.

When the demand for older Winchester lever-actions exceeded the demand and the price of shootable examples became prohibitive for most folks, Dixie Gun Works and Navy Arms were again delighted to become the source for countless variations of different Winchester lever guns. It has gotten to the point now that even the major arms companies such as Winchester. Browning, and Remington are producing copies of models they long ago dropped from production.

As I mentioned before and truly believe, replica arms in some ways are the best thing that has ever happened for collectable firearms. With replicas, folks can have a more affordable example of a rare and expensive firearm. They can also, with no danger or fear of ruining a valuable historic firearm, shoot the heck out of it. They can actually use and enjoy it. In fact, you could make the case that replicas have helped to ensure the survival of many antique and collectable arms.

I'm in the process of building my own replica of the Springfield 1903A4 sniper rifle that was used extensively during World War II, Korea, and even saw limited use in Vietnam. Originals are scarce and very, very expensive.

While it's possible to buy a nice commercial copy of the 1903A4 from outfits such as James River Armory and Gibbs Rifle Company, I wanted to build my own. Besides being a cheap old guy, I had a pot full of parts and pieces of '03 and '03A3 Springfields I'd collected during my 35+ years of gunsmithing. What minor items I was missing were easily picked up from the folks at Numrich Gun Parts. Numrich has an especially good selection of '03A3 parts if you need anything for this rifle. In addition, I had two of the most awful lookin', used and abused 1903A3 drill rifles I'd ever seen. The challenge of salvaging one of these poor ol' rifles was also a major factor in starting this project.

In Parts 1, 2, and 3 (8/10, 9/10, 10/10 issues), I disassembled the two drill rifles and set aside the parts I could use along with the receivers. Just about everything else was consigned to the trash. I then selected the best receiver of the two and installed an unused '03A3 barrel. Following that I fit a buttplate and the barreled action into a Boyds' semifinished replica of the Springfield "C" stock. The "C" stock was a target type stock with a full pistol grip used extensively by the military for competitive shooting and later for both '03 and '03A4 sniper rifles.

The Boyds' stock has lots of extra wood to allow fitting of the various components. One of the restrictions by the Civilian Marksmanship Program, which hosts vintage sniper rifle matches at the National Matches at Camp Perry, Ohio is the prohibition on any type of synthetic bedding material.

You can't glass-bed your receiver in the stock. This means it has to be hand-fitted the old-fashioned way. In Part 3, I went into detail about how I did this. It wasn't hard. It just took a lot of time, inletting black, and some wood scrapers.

With the receiver fully inletted, the next step is to fit the trigger guard assembly. I should point out some fit the trigger guard assembly first, but I believe it's best to go first with the barreled action. You need to have complete control over the positioning of the receiver and the barrel. You especially want to make sure the barrel is not binding against the inside of the barrel channel in the forearm. You can always later adjust the position of the trigger guard. If you inlet the trigger guard first, you may later find yourself in trouble with the position of the barreled action.

The first step in fitting the milled trigger guard and magazine box is the installation of' a hollow steel tube that functions as a spacer between the underside of the rear receiver tang and the rear tang of the trigger guard. This spacer fits inside the hole for the rear guard screw.

In one sense, it serves as a bedding pillar. It also helps ensure the trigger guard and receiver are properly positioned. You want to make sure you have a slight gap, maybe .030" or so, between the top of the magazine box and the bottom of the receiver. You don't want much more gap than that, as the magazine follower might catch in the opening and this could lead to feeding problems.

The spacer I had was an original military surplus part and of the proper length and diameter, which was .344". I was faced with a bit of a problem in installing it, as the guard screw hole in the stock was a bit too small. In order to open up the hole without drilling off to one side or the other, I first used a series of reamers, beginning with one that was .314" diameter.

I worked my way up in increments of just a few thousandths until I was able to start using some drills. The first drill I used was a fractional 21/64" drill and this was followed up with the letter drills Q and R. The last drill I used was an 11/32". The important thing here is to work your way up slowly in small increments. By the way, I turned the drills and reamers by hand and did not use any power equipment. I wanted to have total control as I opened up the hole in the stock.


Once the spacer was a nice snug fit. I installed it and made sure the top surface was just a few thousandths below the surface of the inletting under the receiver tang. That will theoretically allow for a bit of wood compression over time.





Unfortunately the bottom end of the spacer projected above the interior inletting surface for the rear of the trigger guard. That's not unusual. In fact, it was very common for military armorers simply to place one or two 5/16" washers around the end of the spacer to compensate for this. That's exactly what I did as well.

Next, I looked at the fit between the receiver and the front of the trigger guard. Here again the factory inletting on the Boyds' stock was a bit too deep. Not a lot, but just enough to allow for a gap between the underside of the front tang of the trigger guard and the wood.

I determined just how much distance I had by using a small ball of modeling clay. This was placed in the underside of the stock on the flat between the front guard screw hole and the magazine opening. The barreled receiver was installed, then the trigger guard. Both guard screws were tightened and then loosened. The trigger guard was then removed and the height of the clay measured.

It turns out the gap was about .060", which was a bit more than I expected. That was easily rectified by just cutting a shim of brass of the appropriate thickness and placing it in the stock. It was really no different than the old armorer's trick of installing washers around the rear guard screw stock spacer.

To keep the brass shim from falling out every time I removed the trigger guard, I drilled and countersunk it for a No. 6 wood screw. A 1/2" length No. 6 screw was used to hold it in place. You could certainly use a smaller screw and, in fact, that's what I would recommend.

Anytime you start putting screws or holes in the wood behind the recoil lug seat, there's a danger that it'll lead to a crack or split. By all means, be sure to drill a pilot hole for the screw before you turn it into place; that'll reduce the danger of damage to this area.

With the trigger guard in place, I installed the follower and follower spring and cycled a number of dummy rounds through the magazine and chamber to make sure the follower did not catch in the gap between the trigger guard and the bottom of the receiver.

This gap is important and very necessary. You don't want the receiver riding on the magazine box lips. If that happens, more than likely you'll have the receiver rocking back and forth when the rifle is fired. It definitely won't be firmly anchored in the stock and that's a disaster as far as accuracy is concerned. By the same token, you sure as the devil don't want too large a gap, as the follower could easily slip into it and cause a feeding problem. I've seen that very thing happen on several older sporterized Springlields.


The feeding test was fine, so I moved on to deal with the cutout on the left side of the stock for the magazine cutoff. This needed to be deepened and extended on either side of the cut made by Boyds. I used my Dremel tool with an oval wood cutter. To help guide my efforts, I penciled in the outline of the cutout. I definitely needed that to keep from cutting too much and making the cutout oversized.

It's always a good idea to pencil in guidelines when doing something like this. You can easily "erase" the pencil lines with your first sanding, so you'll not damage the stock. Most importantly, those lines will help to control and guide your cuts. It's so easy to cut away the wood but it's bell to put it back!

Once that was done, I moved back to the rear sling swivel base. There was a cutout for it, but it was smaller than my swivel base in both length and width. That was good, as you will find some slight variation in swivel base dimensions. Also, Boyds had located the slot just a hair to the left when viewed from the bottom of the stock. When inletting the swivel base. I was able to do almost all the work on the right side and thus reposition the sling swivel base without any problem.


As you inlet a swivel base, don't make the mistake 1 made on an 1891 Argentine Mauser carbine stock some time back. I did a great job of inletting that swivel base. It was a super fit. In fact, it was too darn tight. Sure, there were no gaps along the sides, but in pulling it out one time I had some wood chip off the edge.



It was awful, but fortunately I had enough wood to allow me to take the stock down and remove that blemish. You can bet I opened up the inletting for that base before I put it back in place.

I made darn sure I didn't make the same mistake again. I want my inletting to be close with no unsightly gaps but on a military stock like this, you're not looking for a "custom gun" fit for the furniture. By the way, "furniture" is a term many folks use for items other than the barrel and receiver that are attached to the stock. It dates back to blackpowder muzzleloading firearms. If you're not sure what is "acceptable", just look over some original military stocked '03 and '03A3 Springfields. You'll see exactly what I mean.

As you inlet the sling swivel base, you'll want to use inletting black or Prussian Blue to determine just where you have contact with the stock. As the base sinks into the stock, you'll probably use a small plastic-tipped hammer to tap it in and seat it. That's fine and that's the way I do it as well. One word of caution; don't tap the sling loop. If you do, you'll probably bend it. Instead, pivot the loop out of the way and tap the swivel base.

Also, if you opt to use an '03A3 swivel base that's made of two pieces of steel welded together, be sure to always position the base the same way each time you put it into the stock. My base had "RP" stamped on one side of the top of the base so I used that as a guide to make sure I always had it going into the stock in the same way. The '03A3 bases are not always uniform. On mine, the top sheet of steel extended over the end of the bottom piece at the back of the base and was short on the front of the base. If you don't keep the positioning consistent, you'll end up with the inletting oversize.


Once the base was fully seated. I drilled two pilot holes for the base 'screws. A No. 23 drill was used for this, followed by a No. 4 drill to countersink the top of the hole slightly for the unthreaded portion of the top of the screw shank. As always, I used some beeswax to help lubricate the screw threads the first time the screws were turned into the stock. This helps the threads cut into the wood.

Fitting the handguard was the next item on the agenda. The handguard sits on top of the stock ahead of the receiver. The rear of the handguard has a small lip that fits into a stamped metal handguard ring. The ring, in turn, fits around the front of the receiver. I had a couple of handguard rings and measured them both. One was a bit larger in diameter than the other, so I opted to use it. This gave me a few thousandths of an inch of extra height for the handguard, which fits into the ring.

A word of caution is in order. I've seen one stock split when the fellow fitting an '03A3 barreled action failed to provide clearance for the handguard ring. The young man had done a fine job of inletting the receiver, but failed to do anything for the handguard ring. When he installed it and then tightened the guard screws, the stock split around the receiver! So ... make darn sure you have clearance for the ring both on the sides and under the receiver.

When fitting the handguard, make sure the barreled action is secured in the stock with the trigger guard in place and both guard screws tightened. You want to be able to determine if and how the handguard contacts the barrel. Having the barreled action firmly secured allows you to do this. If it's floating around and moving each time you install the handguard, you'll never be able accurately to determine where you have contact and where you don't.

If you have to have contact with the barrel. I would definitely opt for either straight upward pressure from the stock or a bit of downward pressure from the handguard. What you certainly want to avoid is pressure on either side of the barrel. Of course, the ideal is a free-floating barrel with no contact from the stock or handguard. If you later determine your rifle responds to a little pressure in a specific direction, you can always add a shim as needed in the appropriate spot.

Once the handguard has been fitted, the next step is to install the front sling swivel band. Because the Boyds' stock has extra wood, I had to use a very fine flat rasp, a coarse flat metal file and sandpaper to take wood off the stock forearm.

The band itself provides an excellent guide as to how much and where to remove excess wood. Just start sliding it back from the front of the stock. Whenever you get contact preventing movement of the band, that's where you need to remove wood. Just go slow and be cautious as you take off the wood.

Once the band is seated against the shoulder on the forearm, you're there! By the way, when fitting the various bands, make sure they're set up so the screw heads are on the right side of the stock. All the screwheads will then be on the same side, and it'll look nice when viewing the rifle.

When working with the sling swivel band, I used a small tool I made from an offset screwdriver. This tool is very helpful in removing barrel bands on military rifles without damage to the wood or the band. Over the years I've seen lots of rifles with all sorts of scratches and gouges from folks using screwdrivers and punches to force barrel bands off the stocks.



The offset screwdriver is just one of those inexpensive little "Z" shaped tools you can pick up at just about any hardware store. I modified it by grinding down the blade that sets at 900 to the shaft and making it a stepped taper.

In removing the band from the Springfield stock, I'll start by using a large nylon rod to tap the band away from the shoulder on the stock. Once it is clear of the shoulder by a few thousandths, I'll insert the lip of the blade of my modified offset screwdriver behind the band.

I then use a small plastic-tipped Brownell hammer to tap the rear side of the blade and gradually drive the band forward and off the stock. Fm careful to switch sides and varying the location of my tool so the band moves evenly and doesn't dig into the stock. This requires a gentle touch; no need for a lot of force. If you work on a lot of older military rifles, this is definitely a simple little tool that can be really handy to have around.

The next band to be fit is the upper barrel band. The procedure is pretty much the same as for any other band. On my Boyds' stock there was quite a bit of wood under the barrel and some of that had to be taken out. However, don't make the mistake of removing all of it. As I've mentioned before, if there's to be pressure on the barrel, you normally want it coming up from the bottom at 6 o'clock. That extra wood is ideal for that pressure pad. So be very careful when taking it down. You definitely don't want to take 30 much off that you have to use a shim, though that is an option.




The upper barrel band is held in place by a transverse screw through the stock. Don't drill the stock for this screw until you have completed the installation and fitting of the stacking swivel assembly. The reason is that until the stacking swivel assembly is in place you won't know exactly where the screw hole location will be, as the exact location of the upper barrel band can vary a bit.

Drilling the hole for the upper band retaining screw has to be done with precision. If the hole is too big and sloppy, the band will tend to move forward under recoil. You want the hole just big enough for the screw to pass through the stock easily. Most importantly, the hole has to line up perfectly between the two holes in the band.

This isn't as hard to accomplish as you might think. First, install the band and make sure it's located properly. Next, use a thin sharp scribe to go through the screw holes in the band and mark the stock. Now remove the band. You should have two distinct marks on either side of the stock. The trick will be to connect those marks with a hole!

That's actually easy to do. You begin by inserting a #24 drill in your drill press chuck. A small tapered steel rod is placed in a drill press vise and located so the point of this rod matches exactly the point of the #24 drill. The stock is then positioned with one of the marks for the band hole resting on the tip of the steel rod in the drill press vise. The other mark on the opposite side of the stock is positioned so it is under the point of the drill. Now its just a matter of turning on the drill press, holding the stock securely, and lowering the drill until it almost meets the point of the steel rod.

I stop about 1/4" or so from the point of the rod, reverse the stock and finish the hole. My hole in the stock is now exactly where I need it to be. Occasionally I'll need to clean up the hole just a tad due to small drills like this "wandering" a bit because of the grain of the wood. If that's necessary, a small needle file type rasp will do the trick.


The next item to be addressed is the installation of two small metal clips used to reinforce and strengthen the forward portion of the handguard. These are located 1 inch and 5 1/8 inches back from the band shoulder at the front of the handguard. Theoretically you could probably get by without 'em, but the replica would not be as complete and they do help to strengthen the handguard.

The inletting for these clips was relatively simple. All you're basically doing is making sure you have recesses for the tabs on the outside of the handguard. There's not much more to it than that. If you've done all the inletting required thus far in this project, this will be duck soup!

The last item to be dealt with is the lower band retaining spring. One note of caution when drilling the hole for the band spring stud; be sure to measure the stud diameter of the spring you're using, I've collected a number of these springs and it's just amazing how much variation there is in the studs. I ended up using a #38 drill for mine, but you might need to use some other drill size. Again, measure your spring stud to determine the appropriate drill size.

To locate the point where you'll drill the stud hole, install the lower band and use it as a reference point. Turn the spring upside down and place the band stop shoulder against the front edge of the band with the spring lying along the stock. Now you can determine and mark the location of the hole for the spring stud.

After drilling the hole, you can then open up the slot for the spring and make sure it'll move and flex properly. If the spring will not catch or lock the band in place, you can always file back the surface of the band stop shoulder on the spring and then touch it up with some cold blue.

That completes the inletting and fitting of all the stock furniture. The next time we get together I'll lit the trigger assembly, make the cutout for the bolt handle, and do a bit of final stock shaping and sanding. I'll also apply a suitable finish to the Boyds' stock. If my scope base comes in on time, I'll also drill and tap the receiver.

Until then, good luck and good gunsmithing!
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Author:Coffield, Reid
Publication:Shotgun News
Date:Nov 10, 2012
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