Building a Custom Bolt Gun, M98 Action


January 19, 2013, 04:51 AM
I have a 1909 Argentine action built by DWM that is in excellent condition and I plan to build a custom bolt gun based on this action. I've decided on a caliber, 7x57 Mauser, which is well within the 1909's safety margins, but not a barrel manufacturer yet. It's a hard choice to make, mostly because there is a decent variety of outstanding barrel manufacturers these days.

Back during the 1990s I took a correspondence gunsmithing course (pre-internet days, so it really was correspondence) and I also took a year-long class in both hand and CNC lathe and mill. I didn't own the machine tools then, but I do now. Be that as it may, I don't own a barrel vice or action wrench so when the time comes to install the barrel, I will seek out the services of a local reputable gunsmith and have him install it, headspace it, etc.

I'll be replacing the bolt's military shroud and safety with a shroud with swing safety, or possibly a shroud with no safety if I go with a Timney trigger (or equivalent) that has a built-in safety. The bolt handle will also go and be replaced by a weld-on turn-down handle. Brownells has one I like in particular and the upside is it is fairly economical.

My main emphasis will be on the gunstock. I build custom guitars, so I see the fabrication of this gun's stock to be something of a challenge, but one well worth taking on. I suppose the wood will be walnut, but the wood will definitely be presentation grade. I may as well make this aspect of the build worth my while. I've always liked the looks of the Monte Carlo-style stocks, and that's what this one will be, but nothing radical. I also received a set of checkering tools as part of my gunsmithing course. I've practiced with these some on a few old gunstocks I have sitting around. It's not as easy as it looks, but if you take your time and don't rush things, the results are often worth it.

So that's the gist of things at least. If you've had the occasion to build your own bolt gun, care to share anything about the experience?

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January 19, 2013, 06:02 AM
I have some rifles built on M98 actions, one a 1909 Argentine. I, too, farmed out the barrel installation and did lots of the rest of the work myself. I did not make my own stock.

This will be a great fun project for you and a 'work of love'. Therefore, I'd suggest you use top notch parts, fit and finish it carefully, go slow and have fun. It will be an heirloom if you do.

My 1909 has a26" Shilen 25-06 barrel and shoots like a dream.

I also made a couple in .35 Whelen on other M98's that turned out well. Made one in a .270 Win. None of them required bolt face work and no magazine rail work and all function exactly as they should. Yours should too.

Good luck with your project.

(BTW, a good piece of well-seasoned walnut for the stock will be costly but worth it. As an alternative, my FIL had one built using a piece of wild cherry that his father had drying in a barn loft for about 50 years. BEAUTIFUL!)

January 19, 2013, 09:54 AM
If you have never made a gun stock before, try a practice one with a cheaper piece of wood. It is different than guitar making. You'll find out the tricks of inletting and shaping and you can experiment with dimensions till the fit is right.

Presentation grade walnut is expensive and you know what they say "wood like that doesn't just grow on trees"

And don't forget pics when done!

January 19, 2013, 01:46 PM
Thanks for the feedback, guys. Point well taken about maybe starting out with stock wood that isn't so expensive. I developed a different philosophy for guitar building. I began building with top-grade woods because I wanted to develop a feel for building with the best woods from the git-go. My first guitar did not win any beauty contests, but I tell you what, it sounds really good. :)

But I'm prepared to try out some cheaper grades. Regular walnut is not very expensive. Hey critter, thanks for the memory jog. I happen to have several board feet of cherry wood stashed away, one plank of which might be thick enough for a stock. I didn't really have any plans to build guitars out of it, so why not a gunstock?

Actually, I have four of these '09 Argentine actions, all of which are in very nice condition. And I do have some ideas for future calibers and stock designs. So this first rifle will be a learning experience, but still, I hope it to look nice enough so that it will be of heirloom quality.

I document all my builds and projects with plenty of pics. So once I get started, I will show pics. For starters, here is a pic of the actions:

And the Argentine crest on one of them:

January 19, 2013, 06:19 PM
That crest is in great shape. What are your plans for finishing the metal?

January 20, 2013, 02:30 PM
Isn't it nice? Good question. Actually, two of the actions' crests are quite faint, and I'm planning on polishing them out (and the rest of the receivers as well). But I want to keep the crests on the other two actions. However, if I try to polish out those actions, I will damage the crests. So, I'm thinking instead of going with a Parkerized sort of finish on those two.

BTW, I had a chance to dig through my hardwood stash and take a look at that plank of cherry. It's wide enough and long enough and 1.5" thick, so just barely thick enough for a more slender stock. I also have a very nice piece of mahogany that I can use. I've never seen a mahogany gunstock before so I googled the subject and got quite a few hits. Apparently it is acceptable. I'm thinking that, being an "open pore" wood (walnut is closed pore), mahogany probably will not take checkering very well unless its well-sealed first.

Both these planks are only 1.5" thick, though, and I'm thinking that this probably doesn't leave me enough margin to work with.

I ran across a .pdf of a really good book on the topic of making gunstocks from a guy who's been doing it for like 25 years:

In fact this appears to be just one module of an online gunsmithing course. The book is well written (I'm about 50 pages into it) and has given me a LOT to think about. Producing a good gunstock requires a lot of thought and planning -- much more than I would have thought before starting on this book.

The author, Dale Storey, mentions that the most stable of all stocks -- even more stable than synthetic -- are laminates. Well, this got me to thinking. I have the tools where I can make a laminated stock. All one really needs is a bandsaw with a throat tall enough for resawing, a drum sander, and a lot of clamps -- all of which I have. So now I'm thinking about playing around with some of the woods I have around here. Or I can take a trip down to one of two local hardwoods warehouses and pick out some interesting woods of contrasting colors. And since I don't need to buy big thick planks of it, I can probably pick the pieces up for much fewer ducats than otherwise.

January 20, 2013, 08:22 PM
Well, you certainly have ambition and I applaud you for it. I have been doing this as a hobby for almost 40 years now. I'm assuming you want to make a stock from a blank, rather than a pre-inlet? If so you will appreciate the effort of doing it first on cheap wood for practice. I have found blueprints for gunstocks invaluable. I don't remember where I bought mine or I'd give the link...

I will tell you this. Making a stock from scratch is slow, painstaking work and frustrating and there's a reason why the custom pros get the money they do. If the goal is to learn to make a stock, have at it. If the goal is to make a beautiful, personalized rifle that you can shoot this year - go for a pre-inlet.

January 21, 2013, 02:56 AM
Good advice, I reckon. This will not be my first stock. But it will be my first from a blank.

Some years back, I ordered a "pre-inletted" stock from Richard's Microfit for my Remington 700BDL. Now, the 700BDL action is rather uncomplicated, being roughly tubular with the magazine attached. The M98 is more complex. But anyway, this allegedly "pre-inletted" stock was anything but. My 700BDL has a factory bull barrel, so I ordered a varmint stock from RM with a bull barrel channel. Not only did it take them forever to ship the stock to me, but it came inletted for a standard barrel, and was poorly inletted everywhere else. In short, there was absolutely noting "microfit" about it. It took several days of work inletting that stock and then smoothing and shaping a very rough exterior. But it was well worth it in the end, I think. I get a lot of compliments on this gun.
Remington 700BDL, .243 Win, factory heavy barrel, Burris Fullfield 6x18 scope, Leupold rings and mount, Richard's Microfit thumbhole varminter stock

So even though I've worked on a "pre-inletted" stock, I've had a pretty good taste for what will be involved, even on a blank.

As I mentioned in my first post, I build custom guitars. I have a milling machine -- designed for metal but I use it for wood all the time -- that provides me with precise control over several steps in the guitar building process that require a high degree of accuracy. So I really don't see why it will take all that long to inlet the stock using my milling machine. I can probably knock out the barrel channel in less than a half hour. I have an inletting tool and inletting scrapers that actually make surprisingly fast work out of cutting a barrel channel. Plus I have router bits that will pretty much do the same thing, which I can chuck up in my mill. And the area for the action shouldn't be too difficult. Just a matter of transferring depth measurements to depths of cut, then using chisels to trim away the radii left by the end mills/router bits. Plus, I own an FN Deluxe Commercial Mauser bolt gun with the same length action, so I should be able to take measurements directly from that gun's inletted area and transfer them over to the new one.

Something in the back of my head is telling me not to get too cocky, though. I'm about halfway figuring that something in the stock making process will rear up and bite me on the butt, and cause me to pull out the few remaining hairs I have left.

Oh, and Liberty, if you recall where you bought your blueprints, let me know, okay? I've been doing some internet searches on gunstock templates, etc., and so far have been coming up empty-handed.

Mauser lover
January 22, 2013, 03:38 PM
Know anywhere I can get some large ring Mauser actions like those? Those look really nice, and I hope you do well, and have fun.

I am doing something somewhat similar, but I will be doing the metalwork, and farming out the stock.

January 22, 2013, 09:25 PM
Honestly, I wish I knew where I could get more 1909 actions -- or even the Chilean ones, which were also good. 1912's I think? Heck, I'd settle for the CZ 24s.

I guess the way I need to look at it is I have these four actions that I can use to learn the ins and outs of building custom bolt guns. By the time I've put the last one in service, I guess it will be time to graduate to one of the various commercial ones available.

It's my understanding that the absurd importation ban that has ended up covering old milsurp bolt guns applies to barreled actions, but not actions alone, yes? So it seems to me that importers would still be interested in importing the actions alone. But I'm not finding any anywhere.

January 23, 2013, 06:42 AM
Many moons ago Flaig's of Milvale Pa. sold the 1909 Argentine actions,brand new ,in the white for $25.00 each.
The actions were beautifully made, featuring a hinged floor plate.
I personally own two customs built on the action one being a now non- heard of 7x61 Sharpe and Hart, one of the first 7MM Magnum offerings.
Good choice.

January 23, 2013, 06:58 PM
Wow, $25. Bet you wish you'd a bought a boat load back then, eh?

The reason why I bought the four actions was because the importer who was advertizing them stated that the 1909 Argentines were the preferred actions for custom 'smiths. And since at the time I was taking a correspondence gunsmithing course, I bought as many as I could afford. Since then I have independently confirmed repeatedly that, indeed, the 1909 Argentines were most desirable for custom 'smiths, and apparently it was mostly because of that hinged floor plate.

I wish I could recall what I paid for them, but knowing how cheap I am, it was probably not more than $100 each, and most probably less than that. But I had an FFL back then also, so I was probably buying wholesale.

I have a copy of the 7th edition of Cartridges of the World (need to get a more recent edition), by the legendary Frank C. Barnes, and on page 47 he discusses the 7x61mm S&H (aka 7mm S&H Super). He has a lot of respect for the cartridge, and looking at its ballistics, I can see why. Even with a 150 grain bullet, it's still achieving a muzzle velocity of 3100 fps. Which, with equivalent bullet weights, surpasses the much vaunted 7mm Rem Mag by 100 fps!

At first blush, it looks a lot like the 7mm Rem Mag, but upon closer comparison, is noticeably smaller. Still, it must be a very efficient design to manage that sort of velocity.

The book states that, at the time of the 7th Edition which has a copyright date of 1993, Norma was loading for the 7mm S&H again. I just did a google search. Doesn't look like they still are, but there's at least one custom ammo mfgr that is -- Conley Precision Cartridge. However, there's lots of reloading data available for it, so it would seem to be still a very viable round.

Right now, I'm leaning most heavily toward chambering this rifle in 7x57mm Ackley Improved. A lot of benefits to the AI and no drawbacks that I can find. With a 150 grain pill, it's roughly the equivalent of the 7mm Rem Mag. Not too shabby. I'll most likely load mild though. I used to own a 7mm Rem Mag bolt gun, and it had a lot of recoil, plus I finally realized that there were very few instances I would ever likely see where I would need that sort of round. It's overkill for deer around these parts and bighorn sheep at 400 meters are not in my future, immediate, distant, or otherwise. :cool: So I sold that gun and honestly, I don't miss it.

Y'all correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems to me that, if a guy is gonna go to the trouble to build a custom bolt gun, then it seems to me that it deserves a non-run-of-the-mill cartridge. 7x57mm is borderline between exotic and commonplace, but 7x57mm AI tips it toward the exotic, which is where a custom rifle should be, IMO.

4v50 Gary
January 23, 2013, 09:19 PM
Last semester I turned a barrel blank on a lathe and cut the shank to fit a Mauser 98k receiver. A taper was put on the barrel up to the cylinder. The entire thing was hand polished starting with 80 grip and then up to 320 grit paper. I will be turning another barrel for another receiver. I just faced it last night. Today I forged the bolt handle down. We could have made new ones and then welded them on, but I wanted to see what could be done with an ugly military bolt handle.

Suggest you take a couple of weeks of the NRA Summer School. Trinidad (Colorado so it's close to Texas) has a two week inletting course and followed by two weeks of stock carving. Consider enrolling.

January 24, 2013, 10:09 AM
Hey Gary, thanks for the tip. I'll check into it. But honestly I probably wouldn't have the funds to take those classes without selling something I own that I'd just as soon hang onto.

I've watched a couple of videos on forging bolt handles and I'm quite fascinated by what can be accomplished. I'm gonna have to give this a try on at least one of my actions. I also want to give welding on a new handle a try too, though. For my first build, I'm leaning toward the weld-on handle.

Jim Watson
January 24, 2013, 12:15 PM
Once upon a time, the fashion was to barrel a good 98 action in .280 Rem.
It required none of the bolt face or magazine work that a 7mm mag-numb would, leaving more time and money for refinements to fit and finish.

There were the adventurous sorts who said it could be made to equal the 7mm RM with bullets up to 154 grains. Some found it worth their while to reform Winchester brand .270 Win brass because it was harder than Remington and disguised the symptoms of their overloads.

There was also a school of thought that said the 1909 was "soft" and should not be chambered in a high intensity cartridge. Maybe the same folks overloading the .280 versions, huh?

January 25, 2013, 01:51 AM
I have done a fair amount of searching for info as to max chamber pressures for the 1909 Argentine. I finally found one source that cited 50,000 psi. Which is a bit on the low side for many modern cartridges. But I've also found plenty of threads where people have built up guns with the Argies that throw some very beefy slugs -- even the .458 Winchester! -- or smaller ones at very high velocities.

These actions I have are in excellent condition -- no signs of structural fatigue or corrosion -- but I think that chambering an Argentine in .458 Win, or say, 7mm Remington Ultra Mag (probably too long for the action anyway), might just be asking for trouble. :uhoh:

I feel reasonably confident that 7x57mm AI is a load that the Argentine can handle, besides I don't plan on loading to the max, anyway. And for the other actions I do plan to keep their age in mind when it comes time to select a cartridge. Although the other projects are way down the road yet, I've at least tentatively decided on general caliber ranges for the other three. One will be a varminter with a heavy barrel, probably in 22-250, which is a personal favorite. Another will be a .30 caliber gun -- maybe 30-06 AI, and the remaining one will be a .35 caliber. For this one, I'm fairly certain that I want to go with a 35 Whelen, but once again the AI flavor.

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