Springfield 1903A4 replica sniper rifle part 5: last time (11/10), Coffield worked on the trigger guard and handguard. This time, he finishes the stock and gets the receiver drilled and tapped for the scope mount.
When I started this project, I planned on building a late-model 1903A4 replica using a M84 replica scope. I was able to order the M84 scope from the Numrich Gun Parts. I ordered a Redfield 1903A3 Springfield scope base from Brownells, along with rings and ring reducers for the M84 scope tube.
The regular Redfield rings are set up for a standard 1-inch diameter scope. Urifortunately the M84 replica scope, like the originals, has a 7/8" diameter tube and Redfield no longer makes 7/8" rings. Fortunately, Brownells offers Delrin ring reducers to allow for the use of the larger 1-inch rings. These synthetic ring liners work quite well in holding the smaller diameter scope securely and at the same time protecting the scope body from scratches and dings by the rings.
As always, the service from Brownells was fast and flawless. When you order something they'll immediately let you know if they've got it and if they do, you'll get it in a flash.
By the way, if you opt for the commercial Redfield rings, you'll want to bead blast 'em and then Parkerize 'em to give 'em a more authentic military look. That was what I planned initially.
While at the SHOT Show in January, I happened to speak with a supplier who had replica Military rings and bases for the Springfield 1903A4 when using the M84 scope. I thought that would make for a more authentic-looking replica so I ordered a set. Well, it's been several months, and the supplier still hasn't been able to ship the rings and base.
I certainly don't blame him. I've been in that end of the business, and I know things can happen with suppliers that are truly beyond your control which just play hell with your schedules and inventory. Believe me; no supplier wants to be out of essential products! Heck, they're in the business of selling products and if they can't get 'em, they sure as the devil can't make any money or even pay the rent and keep the lights on. It's a bad situation for everyone. With that said, I was still in need of a replica base and rings and couldn't get 'em.
Fortunately, I happen to be talking with Mark Hartman of James River Armory, an SGN advertiser, and mentioned my problem. He was very helpful and suggested a possible alternative, which was to utilize a M73 scope, for which he had replica rings readily available. This was one of the first scopes used on the 1903A4. It saw extensive use in World War II and limited use later in Korea. I am not aware of any recorded instances of the M73 being used in Vietnam. By the way, the scope used on the '03A4 in the film Saving Private Ryan was supposed to be a M73.
Mark also commented at the time that he was especially pleased with the M73 Hi-Lux replica scope. He has used a number of 'em on the very nice replica Springfields he builds. His comments were Very positive about the scope and he kindly offered to loan me one for this project.
I thought about it and decided to go ahead and set up the rifle with both scopes. The only difference will be the rings, as I plan on modifying the commercial Redfield base. Fortunately, the standard Redfield commercial base will accept both types of rings. I thought. it might give some readers a bit of help in learning more about the differences in the scopes and what was involved in mounting 'em.
By the way, I've heard a few complaints about some replica Springfield bases not being machined properly. That shouldn't be a problem with my commercial Redfield base. In all the years I've used them, I think I've only had one Redfield base that was defective. As I recall, one of the screw holes was not drilled properly. Considering all the hundreds of Redfield bases I've used over the years, that's not a bad record at all.
If you elect to use an M84 scope and Redfield rings, you'll probably need to use medium height rings for the scope to clear the bolt handle. That's what I had to use for my rifle when mounting the M84 replica scope. When using the earlier M73 replica scope, I used the rings from James River Armory and those were quite low, but still provided the necessary bolt clearance.
As I work on my replica, I continue to look for additional information on these unusual rifles. Just a few days ago I ran across some interesting serial number data on the 1903A4s. According to the source I found, '03A4s were primarily produced within three blocks of serial numbers.
The first and largest block of numbers extended from rifle #3407088 to #3427087. There was an additional block of numbers from #4992001 to #4997045. Finally, there was a small block of numbers using a "Z" prefix, #Z4000000 to #Z4002920.
Using these numbers, it would appear that 27,965 '03A4s were produced. However, it is quitelikely that not all these numbers were used and not that many sniper rifles produced. Still, it's helpful, and since my rifle has a serial number well outside this range, that's one more way to distinguish it as a replica rather than as an authentic '03A4. As always, my goal is to build a shootable replica, not a fake or counterfeit collectable.
Before getting into mounting the scope I still had a little bit of woodwork to do. I needed to slim down the Boyds stock just a hair. It was just a bit thick, especially in the area of the butt and forearm. I used my military butt-plate and the military bands as guides, along with an original "C" stock I've had for years on another rifle.
In slimming down the stock, you don't want to overdo it. Remember, this is a military rifle and the stocks are designed for rough use with lots of wood. The makers wanted the stock strong enough and massive enough to function as a club if necessary! Don't try to slim the stock down to the point where it looks and feels like a sporter.
This even extends to the shaping of the stock. While I used a straightedge to ensure I didn't have high or low spots when shaping the stock, I didn't attempt or even want to make it as perfect as you would with a sporter. Again, this is a military stock.
It's not uncommon to find the buttstock tapering a bit towards the buttplate on a military rifle. A small amount of taper here is acceptable, where with a good sporter it would be totally incorrect. Bottom line; don't try to make a military replica too nice or to custom sporter standards!
If you're not familiar with using' a straightedge or ruler to check for high and low spots, it's really simple. I use either a 12-inch metal ruler or a 6-inch section of a metal yardstick for my straightedge. I just place the edge of the ruler against the side of the stock or the area I'm working on.
If there's a low spot, I can easily see it by the light that'll be visible between the edge of the ruler and the surface of the stock. If there's a high spot, the straightedge will indicate that with light visible on either side of the point that's higher than the rest of the surface. I generally just mark the area that needs to be taken down with a pencil and then work on it a bit with a rasp or coarse cut file.
Working on rounded surfaces can be a bit trickier. Here I just run the tips of my fingers over the surface. If there's an edge or flat, I'll feel it. It's not rocket science! Rulers as well as your fingertips are about the only tools you really need to determine where wood should be removed.
Once the shaping was completed, I cut the slot for the shank of the turned down bolt handle. Standard '03A3 and '03 Springfield stocks didn't have a bolt handle slot. It wasn't needed, as the regular military bolt handle shank had a very large curve extending out over the side of the stock.
This was fine for iron sights but when a scope was installed, the shank of the regular bolt handle would not clear it. Consequently a modified forged handle with a much lower shank was required. In order for the modified bolt to close completely and lock up properly, a clearance slot had to be cut into the stock for the handle shank.
This was easily done by just coating the underside of the bolt handle shank with Prussian Blue inletting paste, lowering the handle on to the stock, and seeing where I had contact with the wood. These areas of contact were then carefully removed. In a matter of 15 or 20 minutes, I had a slot of the appropriate size in the side of the stock.
There are just a couple of points you'll want to keep in mind when dealing with the bolt handle slot. First, make sure you cut the slot deep enough for the bolt to rotate fully and lock up. Don't stop short with a slot that's too shallow, as it'll keep the bolt from fully locking. Now's definitely the time to make sure it's done right.
The other important thing to keep in mind is that you'll need clearance in the slot to the front and rear of the bolt handle shank. If you don't have this, the bolt could bind against the wood and, under recoil, crack or chip out the stock. That's not a good thing! Hike to have clearance of about .015" to .020" on either side of the bolt handle. It's enough for clearance, but not so much as to look sloppy.
Once the bolt handle slot was completed, I installed the trigger, reassembled the bolt and tested the rifle to make sure everything worked. Fortunately it did, and there were no surprises. With that task out of the way, I completely disassembled the rifle to prepare for sanding the stock and drilling and tapping the receiver for my scope base.
Just in case you're wondering, I'm well aware my bolt handle had been polished sometime in the past for a sporter application. That's not appropriate for a '03A4 military bolt. The originals were generally blued. Before this project is completed, I'll bead blast the handle and then apply a phosphate coating to Parkerize it. That'll give it a more appropriate military look, yet will not be copying the originals. It's one more point of difference between my replica and an original collectable '03A4.
I decided to tackle the stock first, as it was a darn nice day and I like to do my sanding outside the shop when possible. It helps to keep from making a mess with sanding dust and it's just a lot more pleasant to sit outside when working.
The actual sanding operation was fairly straight-forward. I started out with 60-grit sandpaper and worked my way up through successive finer grits to finish with 220-grit paper. In between each individual grit, I dampened the stock with a moist, clean shop rag and then dried it with a hot air gun. This raised the small fibers of wood left by the sandpaper on the stock.
This is generally referred to as "whiskering" or "raising the grain" but it has little or nothing to do with the actual grain of the wood. The real benefit is that it helps to remove these stray fibers that later could absorb moisture, swell, and give the stock surface a rough, coarse look and feel. I've seen cases where when the fibers were not removed they actually lifted the finish on a stock! It's not a good thing at all and can easily be prevented. This is something you'll want to do no matter whether it's a military stock or a fine sporter.
When sanding, I made sure I always used a backer or sanding block for the sandpaper. This generally was a small piece of plywood on to which I had glued a piece of hard felt. Occasionally I would use a commercial rubber sanding block as well.
These sanding blocks help to keep the surface even and true, with no low spots or dips. If you just wrap the sandpaper around your fingers as so many do, you'll not get an even surface, as your fingers will follow the contour of the stock and cut away too much wood in any soft spots, leading to dips or depressions. Always, always use a sanding block. It'll also help keep edges or corners such as on the pistol grip nice and sharp.
Once the sanding was finished, I applied Birchwood Casey's water-based walnut stain to slightly darken the wood. One of the questions I'm often asked is how you apply a stain like this without getting overlaps or areas of too much stain. With a water-based stain, it's really easy to get an even coating.
I just apply the stain with a shoe polish applicator or wad of cleaning patches. After that, I then wipe down the stock with a damp cloth. This evens out the stain. Also, if I did accidentally apply too much stain and had a darker color than I wanted, this allows me to remove some of the stain and lighten the color. Oh yeah, be sure to wear rubber gloves unless you want to have walnut stained hands for a week or so!
I then followed this with an application of tung oil. Originally the military stocks were simply dipped in a vat of linseed oil. The tung oil gives the same effect and look, but dries quicker and is a slightly better barrier to moisture. I applied it with a disposable foam brush.
Once the wood was well coated, I wiped off the excess tung oil and set the stock in my drying cabinet. I left the stock there for 48 hours and then applied an additional coat of tung oil. The handguard was also treated in the same manner at the same time. Once the second coat was applied and allowed to dry, the woodwork was completed.
I didn't fill the pores of the wood in the stock or hand-guard with a filler as I would on a sporter stock. Those pores are still open, as they should be on a military stock. The Ordnance Department didn't specify stock filler on these rifles. It was just raw sanded wood, dipped in linseed oil. A completely filled stock would be no more appropriate or correct than one with a high gloss, polyurethane finish.
It's important to keep the stock finish simple and reasonably authentic. And yes, I admit my stock is sanded to a much higher degree than most military stocks. If you look closely at many military stocks you'll find sanding marks or scratches left on 'em. Again, I'm building a replica; I'm not attempting to fake a collectable. There's a big difference there.
One other, point is the importance of applying finish to the inletting or inside of the stock. Remember, the stocks were dipped in linseed oil. Every part of the stock was coated with the finish, so don't confine your finish application to just the outside of the stock. Apply it everywhere! It won't hurt and it will help to seal the wood from moisture and oil.
Mounting a scope on the '03A3 to convert it to a '03A4 is relatively simple. Note I said "simple" it's not necessarily easy! The scope base I used is basically the same one used on the original rifles. It's a one piece Redfield base held in place by two 8-40 screws. In addition, the rear of the base fits over the dovetail on which the '03A3 rear sight was mounted. This helps give the base a bit more support and strength.
The biggest problem in mounting this base comes from the fact that the receiver tends to be harder than woodpecker lips. My receiver is pretty typical. I cannot even begin to cut the surface of the receiver with a file. It's rock hard and will need to be spot annealed or softened before I can drill it.
Some folks would just drill it with a carbide bit. Yeah, that would let you punch a hole in the receiver but then how the heck would you tap it? It'd still be rock hard and you can't get a carbide tap. So, you gotta spot anneal it.
Spot annealing is just as the term implies; annealing or softening with heat just a very small area or spot. You are not attempting nor do you want to anneal a large area or portion of the receiver. To do so would possibly create a dangerous situation by compromising the strength and heat treat of the receiver.
My first step in this process was to locate the points on the receiver where the screws would be placed. I set the Redfield base on the receiver, which had Dykem machinist blue at the approximate screw locations. I used a scribe to reach down through the screw holes to mark the Dykem-coated surfaces.
To make sure I wasn't off to one side or the other, I then set up my Forster Sight Fixture and checked to make sure my scribed circles were. centered. Those new points were also marked and actually matched my initial points reasonably well. The barreled receiver was removed from the Forster Fixture and 1 used a small carbide burr to dimple or remove just a bit of metal at those two marked screw locations. Since the receiver was so hard, a center punch was not really practical until that was done.
When placing the Redfield base on the receiver, there's a natural tendency to center it on the rear receiver'ring. After all, if you have equal amounts of the rear ring showing on either side of the base, it ought to be centered, right? Wrong!
There's a relief cut on the left side of the rear ring for the magazine cutoff/bolt release. This cuts into the portion of the ring where the military rear sight was located. If you center the Redfield base on the ring without taking this into consideration, you'll have the mount too far to the right.
It's easy to do, and I'd bet a good portion of the '03A3s drilled and tapped over the years for this base are not properly centered. The Forster Fixture helps tremendously in centering the base and makes it almost impossible to get it wrong. If you have one of these fine tools or can borrow one for this project, by all means do so. It's not impossible to center the base without a Forster Fixture but it sure makes the project easier and the positioning of the base more accurate.
I got out My old oxy-acetylene welding outfit and set the torch up with a very small tip. Again, I wanted maximum control of the heat, as well as where it would contact the receiver. The rear ring of the receiver where the rear screw was located was not as critical in this respect.
The front ring was a horse of a different color. There I definitely didn't want to overheat it or heat too much of it. If I were to do either, it could make this critical area of the receiver too soft and weak. The heat had to be applied quickly and precisely.
By the way, while most folks worry more about the front ring, since that's where you have the chamber and the locking lug recesses for the bolt, you'll probably find you'll actually have more trouble drilling and tapping the rear ring! That's because the rear ring is much thinner and tends to be hardened all the way through. The front ring, on the other hand, tends to have a hard outer shell with the steel inside fairly soft and easily drilled and tapped.
Now before anyone gets their knickers in a bundle about annealing, keep in mind thousands of '03s, 03A3s and Mausers have been drilled and tapped using this technique with no problems. Gunsmiths have been doing this since the 1920s, if not earlier. Again, any problems that arise are caused by excessive or prolonged heating.
If you keep this in mind and watch what you're doing, you shouldn't have a problem. On the other hand, if you are not comfortable with spot annealing; don't do it! Take your rifle to a knowledgeable, competent gunsmith and have him drill and tap the receiver for you. Let him deal with this issue.
Once the receiver was drilled and tapped, I installed the scope base. As I expected, the Redfield base fit quite well. But, as always, there are a couple of things to keep in mind with this base. First, this receiver was not initially designed for a scope base. Because of that, the tolerances relative to the height of the front and rear ring were not that critical during manufacturing, since only iron sights were to be used. A few thousandths more or less on the height of the front ring was no big deal. It just didn't matter. Once a scope was installed, it mattered!
Don't be at all surprised if you have to place a shim under the front of the scope base. It was frequently done when these rifles were built by the Army. There was just too much variation in the height of the front ring. I won't have to deal with that until I assemble the rifle and install the scope, but it's something you and I will want to be aware of with this project. My guess is that I'll have to shim it.
The other point to consider is the shape of the heads of the scope base screws as well as the ring screws if you're using the commercial Redfield rings. These screws have modern Torx heads rather than the traditional slotted heads used on the original rings and base. The Torx heads have some advantages relative to ease of use and resistance to damage. However, they're strictly a modern innovation. To my knowledge, they didn't even exist in the early 1940s.
As with some other aspects of this project, I'm deliberately not swapping out the screws or making up traditional 8-40 slotted head screws for my rifle. As I mentioned before, this is a replica. It'll have the overall appearance of an authentic rifle but there'll be a number of details like this that should, in years to come, alert any future owner to the fact that this is not a "real" '03A4.
With the receiver drilled and tapped, that about wraps up the work for this part of the project. I'll bead blast the receiver, the bolt, and some of the components next time. Following that, I'll Parkerize those items using a Brownells kit and then assemble the rifle and mount the scope.
Once that's done, it'll be time to go to the range! I'm really anxious to see just how this rifle shoots. Will it be one of the really good accurate '03A4s or will it be one of those that wasn't so good? We should find out next time we get together.
Until next time, good luck and good gunsmithing!