Once you’ve been shooting a rifle for a while, there will eventually come a time when you feel the urge to have a custom rifle built. If you’ve never done this before, you might be intimidated at first. Where do you start? What do you need to think about? How do you go about it? Don’t be put off by these questions! Their answers can lead you to the perfect tool for the job you expect your rifle to do. This article will give you some things to consider before you start your custom rifle build.
What is the rifle’s Purpose?
This is the most important question you need to ask yourself. As the saying goes, “Form Follows Function”, so the job you want the rifle to do will determine what shape it takes. For example, a dedicated benchrest rifle wouldn’t perform very well as a hunting gun. It would be too heavy, the stock would be the wrong shape, and it wouldn’t handle very well when you take a quick snap shot in the woods. Conversely, a hunting rifle wouldn’t perform very well as a benchrest piece. The barrel profile is too thin and is easily affected by heat, the stock is the wrong shape, and it isn’t heavy enough for the needed stability of benchrest shooting.
Rifles are tools. Sure, they can be absolute pieces of art. (I invite anyone who doubts this to take a trip to the JM Davis Museum in Claremore, OK or the NRA Museum in the Bass Pro Shop in Springfield, MO. Really, you don’t even have to do that much- just look at the pictures here on the WOOX website!) Like any other tool, a rifle works best when you use it for the job it was designed to do. Hammers, after all, make pretty lousy wrenches- but when you must drive a nail, wrenches make lousy hammers.
What Caliber should I use?
Now that you’ve decided what job you want the rifle to do, you need to figure out which caliber will be the best one to accomplish the task. Some calibers pack a heavy punch at long ranges. They might not have the accuracy you want in a target gun, but they will get the job done on large game. Other calibers are capable of tiny groups on paper at 800 yards but lack sufficient energy to take that game. You need to think about bullet weight, ballistic coefficient, and a myriad of other factors when it comes to selecting the right caliber for your anticipated use.
Next up is action style. Do you want a semiauto? A break-open single shot? How about a bolt action single shot, or a bolt action repeater? Do you want a fixed magazine or detachable magazine? If you choose a bolt action design, your action length is going to be determined by your caliber choice, since a longer length caliber can’t be used in a short action.
Now is the time to start thinking about parts availability. Some action designs are more popular than others, with the result being that you will have a MUCH easier time finding parts for your build, not to mention gunsmiths who are familiar with it (the Remington 700 action comes to mind here).
Now that you know what you want the rifle to do, what caliber you want to use, and which action style you are going to use, you need to pick a barrel. Given that the barrel is what interacts the most with your projectile, this is an important choice.
Decide what length barrel you want. This should be dictated by the caliber, bullet weight, bullet shape, and intended use of the rifle, among other things.
Next, pick what kind of rifling you want. How many grooves? What twist rate? Button rifled? Hammer forged? Does the bore need to be chrome lined, or will unlined do a better job? Again, these choices are going to be determined by the rifle’s purpose and the ammunition you want to use.
What profile do you want for the barrel? Do you want a heavy bull barrel? Do you want a hunting profile? Would you like a fluted barrel to save weight? Do you plan to use a muzzle device like a brake or flash hider? Certain profiles might make this more difficult.
Stock and Bottom Metal
I’ve combined what are really two separate pieces here since they relate so closely to each other, and the choice of one can effect the need for the other.
The stock is the piece that you hold onto. It’s the part that you place your cheek against, and it cradles the rifle’s action, barrel, and trigger group. It interacts with the shooter, and it interacts with the rifle’s mechanism. If it sounds kind of important, well, that’s because it is!
The bottom metal contains your rifle’s trigger guard. In models with a fixed magazine, it also acts as the magazine floorplate and houses the follower. In detachable magazine models it contains the magazine well and release. You can also get bottom metals that will convert a fixed magazine rifle to a detachable magazine type. If you get certain rifle chassis the bottom metal is included as a part of the stock.
Along with the stock, you need to decide if you’re going to bed the action and/or barrel. You then need to make sure the stock you pick will accommodate this.
Now you want to decide on a trigger. You can get a stock trigger for your rifle. There are also a plethora of aftermarket designs that are for target shooting, hunting, tactical situations, and just about anything in between. You can get triggers that let you adjust take up, overtravel, trigger weight, and just about everything else. Single stage, two stage, and fire on release triggers are available. If you’re building an AR or AK design, you can get binary triggers that fire on both the pull and release of the trigger. You can even get triggers that you can fire with your thumb!
As you can see, there are a lot of decisions that go into building your custom rifle. You must choose your purpose, caliber, action, barrel, stock, bedding, and trigger. It can be daunting, but with a little research and planning it can be done.
What do YOU think about when you’re planning to build a rifle? Let me know in the comments!