Every once in a while, we see a rise in demand for a particular type of service in the gunsmithing work. This past month, one of the services that was most sought for was bedding rifles. So let’s talk a little bit about types of beddings, what are they good for and what types of rifles should be bedded – and let’s bust a few myths. Aluminum Stock Rifles First, the rifles that definitely do not need bedding are the ones that are built on an aluminum chassis, like Howa. We recently had a customer come in and ask if a bedding would resolve an issue he had with a screw that kept unscrewing from recoil, on his Howa 1500. With Howas, the forend must go around the barrel before attaching the forend to the chassis. Action screws can then be tightened. If for any reason a screw gets loose due to the recoil (which is a very rare thing that happens with firearms), it is either because the firearm has been disassembled and assembled improperly, or because the screw has been stripped. In which case, the solution would be an oversized screw and proper assembly. Aluminum chassis are designed to function without bedding. Apparently, someone posted an article and popularized this idea that aluminum chassis Howa’s work better if they are glass bedded. However, this information is not accurate. Both according to our expertise and to the expertise of the manufacturer (Howa), firearms that have an aluminum chassis are not to be bedded. In fact, if I may quote the lady from Howa, “I have never heard of the term “bedding” to be used in reference to our firearms, certainly not by our staff, nor from our customers. I don’t even know what that is, to be honest.” Howas are really nice rifles, btw. They’re easy to work on, the manufacturer is careful with the quality control. We work routinely on them (about 1-2 / month), we have never seen anything that, from a gunsmithing point of view, would be even slightly unsettling. Howas are the working man's Weatherby, with a changed bolt. At any rate, any stock with aluminum chassis is not supposed to be bedded. If a customer definitely wants to have it bedded, we can glass bed it, but we've never seen an aluminum chassis bedded, only synthetic and wood stocks. It might come to the point where the bedding will later be removed merely because it won’t fix the issues. Synthetic Stock Rifles Synthetic Stock Rifles are usually glass bedded. Our shop is doing a press fit in the action area, and the barrel is free floated.
Pillar bedding is not required for synthetic stocks, because the whole purpose of inserting aluminum pillars is to prolong the life of the stock, in the context in which affixing the action to the stock with screws that penetrate straight through the fabric of the stock can crush the fabric of the stock. Synthetic stocks cannot easily be crushed by over-tightening the screws, so a pillar bedding is an over-kill in that context.
Just a note regarding synthetic stocks: due to mass production and due to the current shortage on the market, AND due to the fact that each firearm patent might be just slightly different that the firearms that are produced under the previous pattern, some of these stocks are hard to match to your firearm if you don’t know enough about the firearm or its history.
The way to look for a synthetic stock is not only by make and model of the firearm, but also year of patent, caliber, and location of manufacture. If the firearm has had any modifications made – like, a barrel swap – then the contour of the barrel might not be the same as the contour of a factory made firearm, and a standard synthetic stock might not fit. This is something that we see often with the older models, that have been around long enough to go through a barrel swap.
If the synthetic stock fits the type and contour of your rifle, then the next step is to carefully check the machining on it. It might be that the stock got into the mills on a slight angle, rotated either to the left or to the right, or rotated against the axis of the barrel. In that case, the stock needs to be returned and refunded or replaced.
We’ve recently had a customer in, and he brought in a synthetic stock that simply wouldn’t fit his firearm. He just wanted a confirmation from a gunsmithing shop that the stock is not a match, because the seller was reassuring him that he has the right match. The match could have been right, if the barrel wouldn’t have been swapped many years ago and if the machining wouldn’t have been off the axis with just 1 degree. So we provided a letterhead statement, confirming that the stock will not fit that rifle and if there are no other stock options that would fit the customer’s particular barrel contour, a refund and a wooden stock would be the next option.
Wood Stock Rifles
There are two main reasons for bedding a rifle. First, bedding eliminates possible stress to barrel, bolt and action and second, a good press-fit bedding ensures there is no movement of the firearm's components in relation to each other as a result of recoil. If there is movement between the parts, the accuracy will be affected – and it cannot be relied upon to shot with consistent precision.
The main rule for fitting an action to a barrel is that the barrel needs to be inlet at 50% depth into the stock. If this doesn’t happen when you purchase a new stock, it is either because the wood inlet is not 100%, because the stock is slightly warped, or because it is not the right stock for the right model. At any rate, most reputable wood stock sellers will sell the stocks inlayed to about 90%-95%, because perfect wood fitting requires manual fitting. This is the greatest advantage for using all wood stocks: the lucrability of the material and the high level of precision that comes with manual fitting. (Of course, there is also the aesthetic advantage, but that comes without question.)
Match Rifles, M-1 Garand, M1A, Hunting rifles can benefit from pillar bedding, but it is not a must. Let’s take a look at the sketch below to understand the difference between the two:
While glass bedding allows for the wood to be crushed over time, if the screws are over-tightened in the action area, the pillar bedding is preventing that from happening by a simple solution: the action screw hole is over-sized from the inside-out and is fitted with epoxy and an aluminum cylinder with a ribbed exterior, through which the action screw tightens up the action to the wood. From exterior, the wood looks the same, from the inside, it is obvious that there is a pillar prohibiting the crushing. Glass bedding is still a good solution for those who don't intend to use a particular firearm too much, and there's not a whole lot of cleaning that a rifle needs to go through. The loving thing to do for rifles that see quite a bit of action is to go with a pillar bedding job. Regardless if you go with a glass bedding job or a pillar bedding job, if the floating of the barrel is not properly done, the areas where the wood and the metal touch will create the so-called “hot spots”, which might affect the accuracy of the rifle. Removing and re-mounting the action in the stock (assembly / disassembly) can also affect the bedding job if not done correctly.
There are many reasons why the accuracy of a rifle might not be reliable; a poor bedding is merely one of a myriad of reasons and it is one of the reasons that can be very easily checked by slipping a dollar bill under the barrel: if the bill fits just fine and it moves through the channel smoothly, the barrel is well floated.
The downside of using a wood stock is that… wood is actually… WOOD. Occasionally, there can be a factory stock made that get past quality control and is warping or is already warped. Even perfectly well dried wood stocks will do what wood does best: slight warping, shrinking, microscopic cracking, microscopic shifting of the fiber are not only likely to occur, but guaranteed. And just because a stock is well dried, it doesn’t mean that the organic character of the wood is eliminated; it can, at best, be managed, depending on the direction of the fiber on the stock. A good stock maker will know how to cut the wood in such a way that it will prevent the stock from aging in ways that will be detrimental to a firearm.
When we produce our custom stocks, all of the characteristics of the wood are carefully taken into account and any warping that might transpire is encouraged while there is still enough material left on the stock to accommodate the warp. This is a labor of love, that might sometimes be lost for the sake of mass production in the factory processes of manufacturing stocks.