Tips & Tools with Fred Stutzenberger – Part 5
Prepare your Stock Blank for Barrel Inletting
When Rick invited me to publish rifle-building information on his website, I considered it to be a two-fold opportunity: first, to provide encouragement to the beginning builder and second, to establish a fitting legacy to honor Tom Harbin, my longtime friend, mentor and builder of 147 muzzleloading rifles. Fred Stutzenberger.
To prepare your blank before inletting the barrel, it is best to remove some surplus wood. Tom and I always butt-shaped our blanks before inletting the barrel. That removed a lot of waste and made the stock lighter to handle. But we were working from blanks that had been shaped to plywood templates. No nasty surprises since we knew exactly what style we wanted and how to get there. If this is your first rifle from a blank, best to find/borrow a rifle that fits you to use as a template). A good way to determine if the rifle fits is to aim at a spot on the wall. Then take the rifle down, close your eyes and bring the rifle back up into the aiming position. Open your eyes. If you are close on target, the rifle fits. If not, try another rifle until you get one that brings you close to the target with your eyes closed. Although rifle fit is not as important as shotgun fit, a well-fitting rifle does improve marksmanship.
Place your template/rifle down on your blank to best advantage in terms of grain direction, figure and available wood (Fig. 1). Mark around your template allowing an extra 1/8” all around. Saw off the excess wood. Save the large pieces of that wood–it is not waste—you might need it later.
Plane the top of the blank the whole length of the fore end. That surface should be straight and square with the side since it will be your initial reference. With the breech plug installed, lay the barrel down on the right side of the blank to align the barrel with the planed reference surface. Make sure that the curvature of the barrel tang lies along the wrist of the blank (some bending will be needed there). Machined breech plugs are usually quite malleable and will bend easily. Cast plugs are harder and may require multiple heatings to get the right curvature. Attempts at cold bending a casting may result in a detachable tang.
Set your scribe to a depth 1/3 the diameter of the barrel (for swamped or tapered barrels, use 1/3 of the minor diameter). Run the scribe along your planed reference several times to indicate what will be the preliminary top of your barrel channel. You want deep scribe marks on both sides of the blank; if you are using a band saw, run a pencil along in the scribes to darken them and make them apparent even in the sawdust. Make a sloping cut at the breech end down to the line (refer back to Fig. 1, bottom barrel stock combination for a rough cut view). It is safer to saw the top wood off carefully using a wide-bladed carpenter’s saw (Fig.2). Saw an inch or two from one side, then saw from the other side to keep the cut from leading off. Band saws are notorious for leading off on the under side, particularly in hard wood with a dull blade.
Going back to Fig. 1, the lower barrel/stock combination is what Tom and I would have had after sawing off the excess from the barrel channel and inletting the barrel. Usually we would inlet the muzzle cap and mill the sides of the fore stock back close to the diameter of the cap (more about caps later). Be sure to save that nice slat of wood from the fore end. It might be good for a sliding wooden patchbox cover.
If you did a careful job of sawing, there won’t be much planning needed to bring your new reference surface back to straight and square. In Tips & Tools Part 6, we’ll get that barrel into the stock.