My New Pet
I don’t know whether you have noticed it or not, but good gunsmiths, like virtuous women and honest politicians, are getting harder and harder to find. I am not talking about people who can swap a few parts around or put in a new trigger, but the kind of machinist/technician/blacksmith who can take your gun to a lathe for a new crown, hand-make a no longer available part, or fit a new barrel to your action and get the headspace exactly right.
Good gunsmiths are still out there, but you won’t find one in every other little hamlet and village, as there was when those of my generation and those before us were growing up. If you want a new custom gun or if you need some fairly technical work done on one of your pets, you are forced to look long and hard for someone who is qualified to do that work. For instance, it is at least a half-day’s drive from where I live to the nearest gunsmith whom I trust to do such technical work.
Not long ago I began to feel the need to have a new barrel put on my old .243 Winchester Model 70. I didn’t just want another .243 barrel screwed in. I wanted a barrel in .243 Ackley Improved, along with all the accuracy work that should go with such an improvement.
If you aren’t familiar with it, the headspace on an Ackley Improved cartridge is a tricky thing to get right. It has to be a slightly crush fit on the original cartridge, so you don’t get case head separation when you fire-form the brass. There must be just enough pressure that the bolt is a little stiff when closing over the cartridge, but not enough to keep the bolt from closing on the pre-fire-formed round. A matter of a couple of ten-thousandths of an inch can mean the difference between a fine rifle and a ruined and wasted barrel.
In addition to the stringent metal work, fitting the barrel into the stock and doing the necessary pillar bedding and glassing of the stress points is equally important and can mean the difference between a so-so rifle and one that can put all the bullets into one hole at a hundred yards.
I wanted the rifle done right, so I looked all over the country for a gunsmith who had the qualifications I wanted. Also, I wanted one who wasn’t so far behind that it would take three years to complete the project. You see, truly good gunsmiths are usually in such demand that they really are that busy.
In the course of my search I finally made contact with Ted Borg of Ted’s Custom Shop, in Weatherford, Oklahoma (email: [email protected], 580-774-8726) Ted came highly recommended by people I trust. A few emails and a couple of phone calls convinced me that Ted had the qualifications and specialized knowledge I was looking for. So I packed up my old Winchester and sent it off.
Then I left on a lengthy trip across the Mountain West. I wanted to visit my eldest daughter and her husband in Washington State and to escape the hellish temperatures of late summer in Southwest Texas. I was gone for about two months, and when I returned Ted had the gun ready.
A week later I had my new .243 Ackley Improved in my sweaty hands. It had a new Hart barrel 26 inches long, was pillar bedded and glassed in all the right places. I couldn’t wait to shoot it, but first I had to do all the fire-forming and barrel break-in that comes with a new barrel in a wildcat caliber.
Since the gun was precisely chambered, fire-forming was simple. I loaded some new Hornady brass with some old 100-grain bullets I had lying around over a fairly stiff charge of IMR4350. When I shot the loads, the brass came out of the chamber perfectly formed into .243 AI dimensions. I would shoot five rounds then clean the barrel until there was no sign of metal fouling, then shoot five more. It was a bit tedious, but necessary if I wanted the barrel to produce the ultimate in accuracy.
After I had the barrel properly broken in, I neck-sized the now re-formed brass, loaded some 87-grain Hornady V-Max bullets, and headed to the range for some accuracy testing. The first three rounds went into a half-inch at 100 yards, and it just keeps getting better.
To put it as succinctly as possible, the gun shoots better than I do. Thanks primarily to the 40-degree shoulder, brass does not seem to stretch or run, so trimming does not have to be performed every time the brass is reloaded. At this time I am still using the original 50 rounds of brass I first fire-formed.
Besides the excellent accuracy (it really does average around a half-inch), velocity is about 150 to 200 feet per second higher than I got from my original .243 Winchester. So, let’s see, now: I get higher velocity, better accuracy, and longer case life. I see no down side, other than the slight added work of fire-forming. Yep, I’m a happy camper.
If you need any gunsmithing done, especially any that is of a technical nature, I highly recommend Ted Borg. He is a fine gunsmith and a pleasure to work with.
Contact Steve LaMascus at