Firearms have come quite a long way since their initial appearance in China, around 1000 A.D. The Chinese had also previously invented gunpowder in the 9th Century. Now the firearms industry has a plethora of platforms, designs, accessories, and modifications that can be made to any firearm to truly customize and individualize them. In fact, the gun market looks quite a bit like the automotive market: there are many people who like to fully customize and optimize their purchase to make it suit their individual needs and there are quite a few people who are perfectly content with ‘off the shelf’. For those of you that like to tinker or seek optimum performance and reliability, I thought that we would discuss some of the more common modifications that we are asked about at the shop.
Re-barreling is the most common request when it comes to rifles, and for good reason. The barrel is the heart and soul of a rifle, without a good barrel there is no chance for accuracy. As easy as it may seem, barrel installation can be done wrong which is a huge waste of money. There is any number of barrel manufacturers and options available nowadays so it is important to always do your research before purchasing. The most important things to know about barrel manufacturing is that there are only 2 types of manufacturing machines available (specifically for barrels) and that a barrel MUST be straightened and stress-relieved. Because of the amount of precision and limited tooling available the overall quality of the barrel will rest with the skills of the manufacturer. Air-Gauge barrels, such as Douglas or Wilson’s, are by far some of the best barrels that you can purchase, and also some of the most expensive options out there. For those of you who may be unaware, air-gauge refers to a very specific specialty tool that measures concentricity of the entire barrel.
Another customization that can be requested is to blueprint a rifle. Blueprinting is basically the process of disassembling the weapon, measuring every part, and ensuring that every measurement and tolerance is at the optimum specification and if it isn’t than making that way. Blue-printing will need to be done if you install an Air-Gauge barrel.
Chamber modifications can also be done. This request usually consists of altering a chamber to ‘match-grade’. What exactly does match-grade mean? It usually means that the manufacturer should utilize tighter tolerances in the barrel and that the barrel should fit extremely tight against the chamber for increased accuracy. Match-grade barrels are usually a little thicker, which will mean modifying the chamber to ensure a proper fit. It is also important to note that many custom barrel makers will use shorter throats, which can lead to difficulty reloading.
Next to re-barreling, bedding is probably one of the most common requests for rifles. There is a lot of stress that is put onto the stock while firing and a non-bedded rifle may not react the same way to that stress every time, causing fliers. This is due to barrel harmonics, stock vibration, and other things that may be the topic of a future blog. There are also very few rifles that are bedded at the manufacturer; and if they are they are usually only sealed at the recoil lug and then just screwed into place. Pillar bedding and Glass bedding are generally the most frequently used techniques. Pillar bedding doesn’t last as long and is more expensive, but takes less time to complete. Pillar bedding utilizes very small areas of contact, while Glass utilizes much more. It should also be noted that barrels also respond differently to bedding. Some react very well to being fully bedded and floated, while others respond better to only being bedded at the action. Factories generally use a pressure-point system to determine placement during installation. Generally, you want the pressure on the barrel relieved from the action to about 1-11/2 inches from the muzzle. Then when the rifle is fired the stock will apply pressure on the barrel to dampen the vibrations, so that barrel will not move. The issue with most traditional stocks is that they are made of wood. Wood breathes and naturally swells and contracts with temperature, which creates consistency issues.
Moving away from barrels, trigger modifications are pretty commonplace when discussing rifles. Utilizing a better trigger will lead to better action engagement which makes a better firearm. However, you must keep engagement sizes in mind. You do not want to create a situation where the firearm becomes unsafe to use! You should also keep in mind that different manufacturers use different metals for various parts and that steel and aluminum (the most common) contract at different rates. It is possible for temperature to interfere with metal engagement. There are also set-triggers available. These are designed so that they can either function like a more traditional trigger or they can be ‘set’ to act as a hair-trigger.
The last rifle customization we will talk about today is scopes. What is a rifle without its ‘eyes’ that let it fire hundreds if not thousands of yards? The key though is acquiring the right one. The longer the range you are shooting the bigger the bodied scope you will need. This is because bigger bodied scopes allow for more adjustment than a smaller bodied one. It is also important to know that quality scope rings and bases are essential. You do not want the scope to move at all once it is zeroed. If you are wanting to get into long-range shooting or hunting but are on a budget buy a cheap gun, not a cheap scope. A good scope will help a cheap gun but a cheap scope will hurt a good rifle.
Some common handgun modifications include compensators, crowns, trigger-jobs, slide and frame fit, guide rods, springs, grips, sights, and the list goes on. With concealed carry being utilized by more and more people the requests and demands on the market have led to a variety of interesting developments. There are also different things that must be taken into consideration when talking about revolvers, compared to semi-auto platforms.
Most semi-auto and full-auto malfunctions can be traced back to faulty magazines. You should always buy the best ones that you can afford, but if you start to have problems bring them to a gunsmith to see if what you have is salvageable. Magazines should also be thought of like tires on a car, they need to be rotated in and out. The reason magazines can be such a problem child is because most firearm manufacturers do not make their own; they sublet them out to other companies. However, even bad magazines have some uses as they make great concealed carry training tools (for malfunctions).
Handgun barrels are good to look into if you are having inaccuracy issues. This is because barrels are responsible for about 25% of a handgun’s accuracy. When you purchase a barrel you should always have it custom fitted. You can also have your barrel re-lined; this can also be done for rifle barrels as well. This will not improve the accuracy but it will give the barrel new life; which is a good cost effective way of keeping black-powder or hexagonal barrels in service. Along with barrels, it is also important to check the chamber for a nice tight fit and a tight throat. It is also possible to cut and size throats to allow for better feeding, especially for hollow-point rounds. Most off the shelf .45s are not throated to proper specifications.
The number one modification that is made to shotguns is stock fitment. Shotguns are not aimed like a rifle or a pistol, they are pointed. The long gun becomes an extension of your arm and if it does not fit correctly then it will not point correctly and will cause all sorts of accuracy issues. Most often times pitch angle is the culprit. If you take a shotgun and place it so the stock is perpendicular to a wall you will see that the barrel is pointing down slightly. This is the pitch angle, which is up and down. Casting is left and right. Most shotguns have too much downward pitch, up to 2 inches. Pitch angle can also become a point of contention for female shooters, as they have other considerations in the chest area. The best thing to do is to get fitted by a gunsmith.
The second most common modification request with shotguns is recoil management. This is generally accomplished with the use of compensators and porting. Porting is the process redirecting gasses so that 1) the barrel will not float up and 2) the recoil will also be less severe. One of the negatives to porting though is that it will create a much brighter muzzle flash.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of the possible modifications and customizations that can be done. When modifying your firearms the biggest considerations are will it help you accomplish your goal and is it financially worth it? We here at Blue Coat Arms Company are happy to help answer any questions that you may have and we are also available to give estimates if you are looking at possibly having some work done. You can find a more detailed list of our services at our website www.bluecoatarms.com or give us a call at 217-416-5962 to make an appointment today.