A story about a good rifle ruined by a bad gunsmith...

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Feb 3, 2005
Upper East Tennessee
To begin this I want to explain the rifle this happened to...Its an FN made Winchester model 70 in 30-06, McMillan Supergrade stock, and before this had been wearing a Vortex Viper HS 4-16x44mm scope...I've spent 4 years and $2,350 putting this rifle together (rifle, scope, stock, stock bedding materials, etc.)...it was an absolute tack driver, bugholes at 100 yards, 1-1.5" groups at 300 yards, 4-5" groups at 600 yards (3 round groups)...It was almost perfect, for me...but the Vortex scope was just a little out of place on this rifle...I needed a scope designed for hunting...FWIW, there is a pretty good history of this gun on a few forums, complete with pictures.

So, a while back I bought a new scope for my rifle...the new scope is a Zeiss Conquest HD5 3-15x42mm, I also got some Talley lightweight rings/bases to put it in because the holes in one of the Warne steel bases I had been using were drilled a little off center, visibly off center...just enough to be able to see it...I put those Warne bases on there about 3 years ago, I used a drop of blue Loctite (242) on the screws, same as I have done dozens of times before on other rifles over the years...but this particular time, it stuck unusally hard...when I went to remove the Warne bases it broke the tip off the Torx bit...the screws woudn't budge!

After I broke the Torx bit in the one screw I brought out the heat gun...heated a different screw to 500 degrees (per the digital settings on my heat gun)...and broke another Torx bit, that screw wouldn't budge either! So I stopped, thought it over a bit, and decided to try a GraBit ( http://www.thegrabitstore.com/Pages/micrograbit4kit.aspx )...DON'T WASTE YOUR MONEY ON THESE, they are useless for seriously stuck fasteners, might work OK for something stuck in wood...anyway, that didn't work either...at this point I knew I was gonna need a gunsmith.

I knew what needed to be done, but I don't have the equipment (drill press, mill)...so I looked up a gunsmith, for what should have been such a simple job I didn't stress over it much, any gunsmith should be able to drill out stuck scope bases (that assumption was my first mistake)...I called ATL Outdoorsmen in Johnson City, TN...their website is still under construction (new store), but here is their Facebook page ( https://www.facebook.com/atl.outdoorsmen )...they said, "Sure, we'll get them out..bring it on over"...so I took it to them...as I was filling out the invoice, I mentioned that I'd like to speak to the gunsmith to ask him about some possible work in the future...I wanted to know if he could ream chambers, set back barrels, etc....you know, gunsmith stuff! When I mentioned that I'd like to speak the the gunsmith he (Andrew, guy behind the counter) completely disregarded the question...that was a BIG red flag to me...but then I reminded myself, its a simple task to drill out scope bases (I'm still kicking myself for that decision)...I let them "fix" it.

I called them back late the next day to ask how it was coming...they said to come get it around 11am the next day...I was there at 11 am sharp, it wasn't ready yet...so I went and done some other shopping in the area for a couple of hours...went back, this time it was done...he (Andrew, not the gunsmith) brought it out to me explaining how it was difficult to get the screws out, but he was able to save the threads in all 4 holes...I was happy...for about 10 seconds...happiness ended when I caught a glimpse of the threads in the rear base holes...there were no useable threads actually, the front hole was slightly oblong, enough to see with the naked eye! I was already thinking...OK...get it out of here, find a real gunsmith, and re-thread the holes to 8-40 thread, and accept it as my own damn fault for using the blue Loctite in the first place (I will use purple from now on...Loctite 222)...I looked the rifle over, noticed a few other things that were not there when I brought it to them...some rust on the underside, most likely from the gunsmith having to reblue the top of the action but I'm not sure...I figure it was caused by a combination of heat and solvent he used to clean it before blueing it...but thats only a guess...all I know for sure is that there was NO RUST anywhere on my rifle when I brought it in, I'm very anal about keeping my guns clean...they stay soaked in quality lubricant....I use CLP these days, but have used other things over the years...in 30 years I've NEVER had a gun rust...NONE!

Then there were the dings and scratches that he covered with the new coat of blueing...but I was willing to accept all this as my fault, for bringing it to them to begin with, for using the blue Loctite, and because these things could be fixed without much work or money....I was just gonna chalk it up to a lesson learned....

So I signed the invoice stating that the work was done to my satisfaction...I was anything but satisfied...but I just wanted this whole ordeal to be over and done with...they charged me $90 for all that.

I took the rifle home, cleaned it good to stop the rust, and was looking in the cracks and crevices with a flashlight to make sure everything got lubed when I noticed something that made me plumb sick....the light was shining through the end of the reciever, I was looking down at the action from the top...and could see light through the FRONT scope base hole, when you look through this hole on a controlled round feed model 70 action, you are supposed to see BARREL THREADS...for those that don't know (as this gunsmith obviosly didn't)...that hole does not go all the way through....it goes through the reciever, but not through the barrel tenon and into the chamber! He drilled it plumb through and into the chamber...he ruined the best rifle I've ever owned!

After I got over the initial cussing fit...I called them and told them what had happened....they said "bring it up and let us take a look"...I took it back up there (this trip is 37 miles each way)...and it really went downhill from here.

Andrew looked it over for a minute, then tried to tell me Winchester told him that hole was supposed to be there, and all the way through on a controlled round feed Model 70...I knew better, anybody familiar with firearms knows there cannot be a hole in the chamber, brass is will not hold the pressure of firing a 30-06 round (appx. 60,000 psi)....after I had explained this fact to them enough that they figured out I wasn't ignorant of the physics of metallic cartridge operating pressures and brass strength they abandoned that argument...

It was then that I finally got to meet the gunsmith for the first time...he came out, looked it over, and plainly said that it took him forever to get that hole drilled, broke 3 bits doing it (keep this in mind for the rest of this story)...it took me a few minutes to explain to the gunsmith that this was a Model 70, not a Remington 700...and that hole was not supposed to go all the way through, but I did convince him (at least I believe I did), at which point he said...."I'll write that down in my notes...I didn't know".

From here on they were very defensive though...didn't matter what I said...they said I was wrong (I wasn't)...first the gunsmith spoke up and said "I can fix it...I'm a good gunsmith and I'm a good welder"....they tried to tell me it was OK to weld on a rifle barrel, he wanted to weld the barrel, at the chamber!...IN THE CHAMBER! I couldn't believe what I was hearing...I refused that fix quick, fast, and in a hurry!

Then they started looking at replacing the barrel...Winchester won't sell just barrels, or even barreled actions...they ended up deciding they'd get me a Douglas barrel as a replacement, but I was not about to let that gunsmith do any more work on any guns of mine...NONE!!!...who could blame me after what I had seen and heard? Then they offered just the barrel and I could get it hung on there wherever I wanted...I didn't like that solution.

I walked in there with a VERY accurate Winchester barrel...I believe I have the right to walk out with the same thing I walked in with...I didn't want a Douglas barrel, or any other barrel...I wanted a Winchester barrel, made by FN...some of the best factory barrels made, arguably better than a low grade custom barrel in many respects....or at least I believe they are, I have 3 of these guns....all very accurate, clean shooting, and consistent.

All I wanted was my barrel replaced or repaired to the same condition it was in when I walked in...I believe I was well within reason to expect that much and wasn't going to accept anything less.

The lies they told trying to convince me to let them fix it...
They were trying to tell me that FN uses Douglas barrels on model 70's...they DO NOT...its a well known fact that FN hammer forges their own barrels...nobody buys a several million dollar hammer forging machine then doesnt use it!

As I mentioned earlier...they tried telling me that hole was supposed to be there and all the way through to the chamber....NO, it isn't!!!! You cannot fire a rifle with a hole in the chamber...even the best brass (Lapua) won't hold 60,000 psi...if fired with a screw in that hole, the brass would flow into the hole and you'd have a VERY stuck case...if fired without a screw in that hole you darn well better have your shooting glasses on (or a welding helment) because gas is gonna come out that hole at VERY high pressure, and its going to be HOT...and just inches in front of your face!

And after the gunsmith had admitted that it took him forever and 3 broken bits to drill that hole (FN uses very good steel)....they tried to tell me that hole was already there!!!! It wasn't...they did it....and they knew it!

Over the course of several days they kept trying to get me to let them fix it...after all that had happened there was no way they were fixing anything for me because I didn't trust them to know how to do it right...and I didn't like the replacement barrel...I would have accepted a new FN barrel but FN doesn't sell just barrels...the only option was sending it to FN to be replaced and that was gonna be about $600...ATL Outdoorsmen wouldn't agree to that.

In the end I accepted $150 from them...and the only reason I did that was so it wouldn't be a total loss...my wife went and picked up the money order for $150 because I'm a truck driver and was back to work...she had to sign another paper saying the work was done to her satifaction to get the $150...the ONLY reason that was signed was to prevent a total loss of $600...NOTHING about this was done to my satisfaction...

So I was out $450 now...sold the action the for another $150, the barrel is good for nothing accept maybe a tomato stake...still lost $300...$390 if you count the $90 I paid them to do all this.

There are much better places around the Tri-Cities to buy guns from...and much better gunsmiths too, wish I had known this beforehand.
I would have insisted on my original $90 to be refunded, in addition to the $150 to fix their work.
And for the record...I don't feel good about telling this story...I really don't....but I'd feel worse if I found out that it happened to someone else because I didn't say anything.

Why I didn't go to court?

By the time you figure in my time off work (truck driver)...I would have to have won a settlement for at least $1,100 to make it worth my time...neither me or my lawyer felt that I had good odds of getting that much out of it.

And to be quite honest...its more about "doing the right thing" than it is about the money...to me anyway, maybe I'm old fashioned....they lost the opportunity to do the right thing very early on in this ordeal.
wow, thanks for the warning. that is pretty unbelievably dangerous; that they drilled a hole in the chamber, and then that they wanted to weld on the chamber.

i don't like the throw too much mud at people who are maybe trying hard to make a living in a tough business, but those guys are going to get somebody's face blown off. and for them to be so dodgy about it doesn't reflect well either.
Thats why I decided to tell the story...the fact that they'd rather me blow my face off than fix what they messed up...and it was only $600...they treated me like I was coming after them for $100,000!
Beautiful rifle. That's a shame, I'm really sorry to hear that. I've had bad gunsmiths in the past, but nothing, NOTHING like this. Word of mouth is the best thing you can do at this point. For what it's worth, you handled that with a lot of grace. I'd have been yelling all over the place.
I put those Warne bases on there about 3 years ago, I used a drop of blue Loctite (242) on the screws,

Whenever Loc-Tite of any flavor is involved, its wise to apply heat (~500F) before exerting enough force to break anything!
Question here for my own education, why can't you weld a filler in the hole and grind the surfaces on either side and reblue it?
Question here for my own education, why can't you weld a filler in the hole and grind the surfaces on either side and reblue it?

Because it went all the way through to the chamber...welding would change the heat treat, probably put residual stress in the barrel...and it'd be weak, dangerous, and inaccurate.
Whenever Loc-Tite of any flavor is involved, its wise to apply heat (~500F) before exerting enough force to break anything!

Not bad advice...but I've used blue Loctite for years and have never had it seize that hard....could always break it loose with just a wrench...this particular time, it wouldn't come loose even with heat.
Yep, me too.
Since 1960 something.

I have never EVER seen Blue # 242 set up like that.

It just don't, as that isn't what it's designed to do.

You don't even need heat to take small screws out easily.
It just keeps them from vibrating loose.

Something else going on here that does't meet the eye.

Ridgerunner665 - if the 500 degrees from the heat gun was insufficient to soften up the Loctite, did you consider a handheld propane torch? That would have been able to heat it up to 800-1100 degrees, depending on how long you kept the heat on it, or would that have been too much heat on the receiver? :confused:
The heat gun will go to 1,100+ degrees...I stopped at 575...it wasn't helping, the gunsmith also said he had to get it really hot to get them out...wondered myself if he got it too hot the process, but don't know...the person that bought it was informed of all this.

The only guess I have is that maybe it was a bad batch of Loctite...but that's only a guess.
I have never had a problem with locktite not breaking loose either, and I worked in a manufacturing plant where everything got either locktite or anti-sieze. I don't know that to say about that part of the issue.

The "gunsmith" issue though, that is another matter. I am very cautious about who works on my guns, it is either me, my gunsmith (who has been doing it longer than I have been alive), or a friend of mine who has extensive armourer knowledge of a few of my guns. If a screw was broken off in the hole it would be a trip to my gunsmith to get it drilled out. Both the gunsmith and my friend have very good insurance for the occasional issue with a customer firearm, and they stand behind their work. This shop apparently does not care, and probably will be out of business by the end of the year. I just hope no one gets hurt by something they work on.
Thank you for posting. It's a shame that the rifle got ruined, but reading about it will help all of us to be more aware of who we let do what to our most valuable possessions.

I spent the day today replacing the brake pads and rotors on my SUV. Every bolt had blue Loctite filling the threads. I was standing on a 24 inch breaker bar to get the big ones loose. That stuff works really well...
There are a lot of people out there who call themselves a gunsmith but aren't. If I could find a good one anywhere near Seattle I'd give them a lot of business.
what a loss

In use, that rifle was a part of you, a machine that you had rock solid confidence in. Not too many like that.
I'd have taken them to small claims court. Dont need a lawyer for it, representing yourself is easy with the proper documentation/evidence. Though losing money taking time off work sucks....one major reason so many people pay traffic tickets instead of contesting them, tickets cheaper than losing work.
Maybe they should have test fired it... Just happy you caught that before taking the rifle out.

I'd agree... Small claims court, I do not see why you wouldnt have a case. That is a HUGE safety issue, no some cosmetic or bluing issue.
Stories like this are why I NEVER use a gunsmith that I do not have previous experience with or is not enthusiastically recommended by someone I trust.

Blue Loctite is intended for fasteners larger than 1/4 inch. I generally use purple for the small screws on my my firearms.
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