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2022 Blog Index


1 - The Sun Sets On The Saws


2- Straight-Hand Martini Cadet Pattern


3- Pattern Perceptions


4 - How Not To Prepare A Pattern (First Example)


5 - Covid 19 Announcement


6 - Vale - Brian "Barney" Websdale


7 - Diet. Make Fit. Improve Handling. Improve Style. Checker. Refinish.



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The Sun Sets On The Saws

I've long known that trees with particular genetics produce the best walnut for stock blanks. Not any old walnut tree will do; not at ACRS. 


The soils and climate of certain areas also influence the end quality of the wood greatly. This ought to be considered when looking for trees to mill. Size, maturity, growth habit, disease and damage must also be assessed. Sadly, I've met very few people who knew anything worthwhile about this business. I've seen a lot of walnut trees milled by others that weren't worth milling, and a large number of good walnut trees completely wasted by poor milling and processing. A miller and/or blank cutter who really knows the job as it applies to producing gunstock blanks is vital. Without all those aspects thoroughly taken care of, the finest and most stable blanks just cannot be had with any reliability. Crew worth feeding, and who are mad enough to work with you, are essential during most of the work. Such folk are much harder to find than the best walnut trees, but I got very lucky there most of the time.


In the below photo, yet another run of milled walnut trees have been carefully racked out for short-term storage before the slabs are cut into blanks. The storage conditions, timing of cutting the slabs into blanks, and treatment thereafter are critical to the stability and working quality of those blanks. The process I carefully and laboriously refined was begat from a single goal - to achieve the best possible blanks from a stockers perspective, across all grades. 


Looking at it hard, there is not much I could realistically do to improve blank quality to any degree. I always cut for quality, not quantity and looked towards perfection, not profit. The reward for me has been the realisation that my own blanks equal the stability and workability of the very best "outside" blanks I ever worked - consistently and reliably. Such blanks have always been very difficult to buy. For me, the sea of lesser blanks from myriad suppliers are now in the past. I simply won't risk investment in time and effort on blanks that I know, from experience, might well give me grief.


I've decided 2022 will see the final few walnut trees milled by ACRS for stock blanks. 


That means more time for family, gun work, and hunting.


February 26, 2022

Straight-Hand Martini Cadet Pattern

The Martini Cadet is a popular and classic rifle, much revered in Australia. I recently completed a new stock pattern for the Cadet, which is shown above. It's hard to get a true perspective of scale from the photograph, but when combined with a matching forend it's a good basis for a relatively simple and sleek re-stock. To date, fans of Martini Cadets who have seen it in person have been sporting big smiles. 


The new pattern features a straight hand, and this allows the use of the standard factory lever, and it's original "catch plate" and screws. The new ACRS straight-hand stock is about as easy as a cadet re-stock can get and is much easier than doing a neat job of a pistol-grip lever conversion. A stock cut from this pattern has a Length Of Pull of 14 5/16", which can be cut down/changed to suit. The problem of standard cadet stocks being far too short for many adults can thus be solved.

The comb height and drop at heel is a sensible compromise, considering this is not a bespoke stock made to individual fit requirements.  The toe line of the stock is set by the position of a standard un-modified lever and it's catch plate, when the lever is closed. Without bending the lever to a lower (or higher) position when closed, that is.  The height of the comb will suit most shooters using iron sights quite well. In the case of a rifle being fitted with a low-mounted scope, the comb height will still be okay for most shooters, too - but not ideal. There is no cast at toe or heel on this pattern, provided the stock is installed squarely to the receiver socket, and the socket was machined squarely in the first place. The butt is ambidextrous. 
If interested, please enquire about left and right-handed cheek piece versions, with a bit of cast.


I also made a couple of new forend patterns, longer than normal at 9.375" OAL and with a schnabel forend tip. They are relatively slender. One is inlet for a Sportco Cadet, the other for the factory .310 barrel. These can be cut shorter and finished in a more traditional fashion if desired. I also offer other forend styles for cadet rifles and there will likely be one suitable for most customers.


Fitting is required - these are not a drop-in proposition. Socket dimensions vary somewhat. Catch plate dimensions and draft angles vary slightly, too. The catch plate used for the pattern was (by a small margin) the smallest and most symmetrical I could find. Because dimensions vary I do not generally cut the catch plate draft angle on the inlet (minimum dimension). This allows for hand fitting of the parts with scant gaps (most probably nil gaps if done well). With the socket nose of the butt scraped-in squarely and the draw-bolt tight, the catch plate can be aligned and it's position marked, then final inletting of the plate can be undertaken. This must be done with care, to allow for a slight interference fit on the lever, such that it snaps home with light resistance yet be positively retained. There will be minor variations in the position of the lever catch itself, they are not all bent the same. If you inlet the catch plate slightly too far to the front or rear, or have a "rogue lever", they are easily bent into correct alignment. I'm sure the factories did the same, as a matter of course, during fitting. Timing screws is a learned art, which applies to the catch plate. I don't offer new screws at this stage, but would consider supplying them.


As well as the straight-hand pattern, I made a new American Classic pattern for the cadet. A lot of work.

March 3, 2022

Pattern Perceptions

A good pattern is an absolute must, if a good stock is to be machined. Exactly what goes into a quality stock pattern is poorly understood by most customers, no matter their background. The making of really good patterns is somewhat different to the making of really good custom stocks, and the reasons are many and quite complex. 


Without completion of a significant amount of all aspects of the work, including the machining of stocks from multiple patterns they have made, forming opinions about patterns and duplication based on everything other than long experience doing the actual work, is pretty shaky!


In the past, I have made in-house entirely, or made significant contributions to the design, development, manufacture, repair and adjustment of patterns for other makers. The work is very time consuming and many of the jobs have been quite testing. I've learned a lot from it on multiple levels and my skills have been significantly extended after thousands of hours doing such. It's hard be too fussy getting a pattern "spot-on".  Good materials are also vital. One of the fascinating aspects is that there seems to be no end to the opportunities to further learning and improvement in this work.


The stocks duplicated by me in the below galleries date to a little before ACRS was formed, but are a good example of significant co-development of a pattern for another maker, one I'd previously completed a fair bit of work for. 


The scope and specifications of this job grew as the makers project ideas evolved. Making one pattern turned into two; one duplicating job turned into three creating a lot of extra work. The second pattern I'd sent to the maker for glass bedding and outside shape tweaks was returned with a bedding job that was askew, and a several new problems with outside (a)symmetry. Some visible, others hidden to most eyes. Some were just minor cosmetic issues easily sorted when finishing the duplicated stock. Other flaws were vital to the "accuracy outcome" of the machine job, which now made the pattern unsuitable for duplication to my standards. Frustrating, but nothing new when dealing with anyone who hasn't actually undertaken my end of the work. By this stage, the job had stretched me far beyond my schedule and rate of pay, but in order for a good job to be done I had to rectify these issues.


It's important to identify such problems and correct them as is necessary, or they will affect the quality of the duplicated stock. It takes experience backed up by decent metrology skills and equipment to identify and correct important issues. I'll note that when errors appear in a duplicated stock, most people assume it to be the fault of the duplicator operator, rather than an unstable "outside" blank, patterns being mussed-up, and/or less than decent fitting/bedding skills. Some makers adopt a sensible approach to correcting such flaws happily, working towards a common goal of getting the job done as well as possible, together. Some have personalities that get in the way of that outcome. 


I was asked to supply the blanks for these jobs. Very fine, ultra-lightweight blanks went into these Remington 40X BR stocks. The first copy would be machined from a one piece blank. The second two would feature laminated forend "wings" to get the blank wide enough to cut the stock from.


Featherweight blanks that are relatively fine-pored and comparatively firm in texture are not easy to find. They are rarities, and I had a lot of time and effort invested in these blanks. The investment was worth it - they machined like a dream, and were wonderfully stable. To machine them into a stock duplicated from anything but a decent pattern would be a great shame.

As the above gallery shows, machined stocks can look pretty plain in the dry, "as-machined" state. A coat of turps gives a better indication of what can be had from them if the finish work is up to snuff. The intense fiddle-back and boldly contrasting colours of orange, deep honey and jet black are much more striking in person. Tricky walnut to finish, without causing the colour contrast and figure to be unduly subdued, but nothing that a good stock maker cannot handle with relative ease.


The following gallery shows two more duplicates machined after I laminated the extra-wide forend "wings". Finding the wood to do so was not easy. To be honest, I blew so much time and effort on the jobs that I only had time to arrange for photos showing the last two stocks with only dry walnut. It's hard to see the nice figure and contrast in both stocks, but they were beauties. The stocks are shown straight off the duplicator. No filing up, sanding etc to make them presentable - just a good clean machine job, in good stable walnut. An ideal start to a custom stock job, and easy as it gets from here methinks.

March 29, 2022

How Not To Prepare A Pattern

(First Example)

A poor quality pattern often begins with minor modification of a factory stock for use as a pattern, where the goal is to replicate it in really fancy walnut, perhaps with some spiffy checkering. I don't see how that can be called a custom effort. There are always exceptions, such as restoration of a classic/historic firearm to original specification. Most often, however, the main objective is a fancy looking rifle with the least expenditure of money, time and effort. What follows, then, is that the pattern preparation/modification is also done as quickly and easily as possible, rather than with a focus on quality.


For illustration purposes, photos are attached of such a job. A "custom" pattern which the Maker supplied, being a factory stock, lightly modified with the bare minimum of time and cheap, nasty materials that lumped me with problems I had long learned to avoid. It's a great example, because I'd already taken pains to explain repeatedly to the customer over the years of machining stocks for him what NOT to send me, and WHY. I'd also made it very clear to the maker that I would not accept further jobs with the same old issues, but the jobs just kept rolling up  - in the end without prior arrangement. I've posted an explanation below to explain my viewpoint, to newer customers.


The biggest problem with the job stemmed around the continued use of automotive body filler in an entirely unfit way - so much so that during freight the poorly prepared and bonded filler had come adrift from the pattern in several areas, despite the packaging being in good condition.  The job is a good example to demonstrate why the use of automotive body filler is a poor choice for most pattern work:


Most of the automotive body fillers (I call the stuff "bog") comprise of a 2-part Polyester Resin, into which a predetermined ratio of hardener is mixed. Silica, micro-balloons, fibre glass, carbon fibre and the like are added in various formulations to provide strength and/or volume and they are mostly very abrasive. That equals stylus (follower) wear. A set of followers used to "trace" the pattern stock are precision-machined items here at ACRS, and with proper pattern preparation they will last hundreds - if not thousands - of jobs. Experience tells me that auto putty is so abrasive that I can nearly always see visible wear after just one or a few jobs run over raw bog! 


Further to that, dust not cleaned from patterns risks chopping out the duplicators linear motion bearing and way seals, and then working it's way into linear motion bearings. Rough operators are welcome to expose their machines to premature wear - but not on my machine! A good clean down and well sealed in with a hard varnish, and it can be useable for one or two copies - but then it's still not a good job - and below is why:


In thin sections, this stuff is too brittle for pattern use in my opinion - it will chip eventually. It is also not able to expand and contract with seasonal movement in a wood pattern, and will often eventually crack and come adrift. Perhaps not too badly in a very stable (dry) climate, but where I live it's a major issue.


These polyester resin fillers normally cure quite quickly, and generate quite a bit of heat. Slapping the stuff on in great thick wads generates a lot of heat. This can temporarily or permanently warp the wood underneath, which isn't acceptable on a pattern. I've seen subsequent warping more than once, and I can only assume the person sending the pattern didn't pick the problem, or it occurred during transit to me. Some of the cases have involved quite alarming wood movement around very thick areas of bog, such as several add-on cheek-pieces that have caused warping of the grip and butt.


For a decade or more I've rarely accepted a stock pattern with any automotive fillers, for the above reasons. I quit using them myself fairly early on, once I discovered their downsides. If you want my thoughts on how to do the job much better, call me.


The final frustration on this job was the stock blank itself. An outside-supplied blank of local walnut, it moved so much during the resting phase of manufacture (after machining oversize) that I could not quite recover the full pattern. That is despite two such phases, where the job was machined far more oversized than I do with my own wood, and allowed to rest much longer. The pattern and blank issues added up to significant loss of time here at ACRS.

June 30, 2022

COVID 19 ANNOUNCEMENT

Please be advised that as of 04/07/22 I tested positive for CV19. 


Being a sole trader, and in strict isolation, I am unable to conduct mail/freight deliveries or in-person business until my term of isolation has formally ended. I have also been, and am still too ill to work. My wife and one of my children also recently tested positive, and I must care for them as much as possible. I apologise to customers who have had their work delayed - expect further delays due to CV19. I will respond to enquiries/orders as I am able, hopefully by the end of next week. 


Kind Regards, 

Gordon Cusens 

Australian Classic Rifle Stocks / Australian Classic Rifles

8 July 2022

VALE

Brian "Barney" Websdale

A salute to Brian Websdale of Dargo, who passed away July 19, at nearly 85 years of age. 


My heartfelt condolences to Brian's family.


Barney enjoyed a remarkable and full life, which he shared wonderfully with family and friends.


His iconic personality, gentlemanly ways and bush wisdom will be proudly remembered. His kindness, loyalty and genuine friendship, always cherished. My sincere thanks to Lesley and Murray for informing me.


Barney's significant and steadfast involvement in walnut blank production is held in the highest regard, and will not be forgotten. Barney is pictured below, next to a lovely Dargo walnut tree. This tree was one of the final pair of walnut trees that he recovered for stock blanks.

5 August 2022

Diet. Make Fit. Improve Handling. Improve Style. Checker. Refinish.

The owner of this stock was quite happy with the barrelled action of his 416, but asked me to attend to the stock as best I could. It being another makers work, it was far from a job I wanted or needed but the owner also needed a rifle tailored for his demanding employment. A discussion revealed the following needed sorting out:

- Finish soft, wears quickly and stains clothing.

- Finish appeared to subdue the natural colours, contrast and figure of the wood, which the owner thought could be improved upon.

- Recoil pad too hard for owner; replace.

- Adjust Length Of Pull to suit owner.

- Adjust comb height to suit owner, for iron sight use.

- Factory stock very hefty, affects handling, needs slimming up.

- Reshape cheek piece to be more graceful, it being very deep yet very shallow.

- Re-cut laser checkering; currently not sharp enough, and cannot see colours through the "toasted" walnut.

- Overall result to be sympathetic to makers style.


The butt-stock was very large indeed and during re-shaping a surprising amount of walnut was removed. I reduced the drop to allow better use of the open sights, and the butt was so wide that I finished up with a cheek piece of realistic depth, yet the butt was still suitably wide for a .416. The owner also gained some useful cast-off as a result of this. The grip was re-worked, though the factory grip cap prevented me taking it down to what I'd have preferred to see. In those few areas where I could not remove much wood, the factory stain remained in the walnut. This was stubborn but it was removed such that any stain remaining in the wood is barely noticeable, if at all. These areas comprised only the top and bottom "decks" of the stock, and the bottom 3/8" or so of the grip where it met the grip cap. To have removed wood here would have ruined the fit of the stock, leaving metal proud. The rest of the outside shape was re-struck to fresh wood, much of it heavily. Along the way, there were also other issues to make the best of. The end result was something of a compromise, but the stock was now drastically improved and about a good as I could accomplish, all things considered.


The walnut this stock was made from was of fairly firm texture and of suitable density. Compared to what I normally work, it was brittle and I found it crumbly in texture. This made shaping very tedious and the ability of the walnut to hold a fine edge and other detail was less than what I find satisfactory. Pores were large, and it was time consuming sealing them off. Finish is hand rubbed all the way, including the pore fill. I could have done it quicker, but not to the same effect. Checkering was not easy due to the texture of the walnut, and the nature of the job. In a scant few areas, remnant of the original checkering pattern remained, so I was pretty much forced to re-instate the original design. This fitted in with the owners wishes, and it just had to be done that way. As a result, the job features a couple of design elements I'd otherwise never do.


In the end, a stunningly beautiful piece of walnut was revealed, with the owner being very pleased with the improved gun fit, handling and appearance of the stock. For the most part I enjoyed the work, though I'm not sure I'd do another one of these. Too many unexpected, unseen issues slowed down the work and made it much more difficult to get a nice result compared to working with better-textured walnut. The reality is it took much of the time required to make a new stock. The gallery below shows the completed job, followed by the owners "before" images:

5 December 2022