Floating the Barrel

Unless the rifle is used for short range shooting, as hunting deer in the woods of West Virginia where shots over 50 yards are unusual, I suggest floating the barrel and relieving the action. This is especially true for wooden rifle stocks but can also be justified for synthetics, as neither are completely stable under varying conditions.

The barrel channel and action area should be sufficiently larger than the running diameter of the barrel and action to not allow stock moisture or resident chemicals to cause the stock to warp enough to stress the barreled action under any shooting condition.

The following procedure specifies the absolute minimum clearance between barrel and channel. You can increase the specified barrel channel clearance to about 0.07 inch, just slightly greater than 1/16 th inch, if you like.

picture compliments of my Mannlicher style Ruger 10/22 and Simmons 4X scope

Floating and properly bedding a rifle pays off when needed. I held high on this turkey aiming at center of neck expecting bullet to drop into heart/lung area. I misjudged distance and hit the turkey where I aimed - 63 yards. Don't ask me to do it again.

Floating the barreled action involves relieving all stress points and potential stress points to all metal parts of the firearm. The barrel will have no less than 0.05 inch clearance of stock and greater, up to about 0.07 inch, is better. The action, bolt handle and trigger assembly will have approximately 0.02 inch clearance. The magazine should have a bit more, say 0.03 inch but can be greater, since it is capable of movement non-relative to action. At a minimum a short section from front of magazine box to just past recoil lug will be glass bedded . Pillar bedding is recommended for all wooden stock rifles subject to anything more than short range shooting.

If you are working with a semi-inletted stock complete action and trigger guard inletting before floating the barrel. It may also be wise to not fashion the exterior of forearm until barrel channel has been widened. This will ensure plenty of wood for forearm is left.

Find something cylindrical to use as a sanding form. Including sand paper, it must be less in diameter than the barrel is at forend tip. If too large it may cut the top of barrel channel back too far leaving an unsightly gap. You will also need a small sanding block . A gum eraser should work well. Use the finest grit paper practical working down to finer grits as the work progresses

Find some good plastic adhesive tape. Electrical or plumbers tape will do. If you do not know the thickness of the tape, cut small lengths. Stack a few together and measure thickness with a caliper or micrometer until you find the number of layers needed to achieve 0.05 inch thickness. Cut one short piece of tape. Wrap it around barrel about one inch forward of forend tip. Remove barreled action from rifle stock. Set magazine, bolt, guard bolts and trigger guard aside. They will not be needed for some time. We will tape the bottom half of the barrel circumference to increase its horizontal diameter by 0.05 inch. On the bottom of barrel run one piece of tape from front of recoil lug to the tape band you applied just forward of forend tip. If the tape is not wide enough to cover half the circumference of the barrel another strip or two will have to be run adjacent to it. Uniformly add layers of tape until 0.05 inch has been added to barrel from front of recoil lug to forend tip. The tape should conform to the contour of the barrel. The barrel channel will be expanded to allow taped barrel to seat in stock, at which time the channel will be 0.05 inch deeper at all points than before.

Using the cylindrical sanding form deepen the barrel channel bottom and sides without allowing sand paper to touch the tops of channel. Use the small sanding block for expanding the tops of channel and take care to retain its original contour. Angle the sanding block slightly into the channel as you run it the length of channel. This will help keep the drop into channel sharp and crisp. Periodically check fit with barreled action. Check fit more often as more wood is removed. Wood lose seems to occur more easily at forend tip so take it slow at that area or an unsightly gap will occur. The gaps can be greater than 0.05 inch in areas of the channel that will not be seen and it may help precision. Do not allow gaps that will be seen to be non-uniform in width. When barreled action will seat without friction remove tape. With rifle assembled check appearance. Disassemble and touch up wood that does not conform to contour.

Using the sanding block sand action inlet until you can slip a paper business card between stock and action from front of receiver to tang . Do not remove wood from bedding of action (where guard bolts attach). That should be done during the glass bedding procedure. Likewise remove wood around areas of magazine and trigger assembly. Remove just enough wood around trigger guard/floor plate inlet so that with one piece of electrical tape wrapped tightly around trigger guard the guard will fit snugly into inlet. Do not remove wood from trigger guard bedding (that which it fastens against when assembled). With rifle assembled apply a very thin even coat of inletting black to bolt handle. Close bolt to check for handle touching wood. If so remove high spots until handle touches no wood when dropped into closed position.

When finished seal the sanded areas or glass bed the stock before sealing. It is advisable to glass a short area from front of receiver to just past recoil lug. This will relieve the action from supporting the barrel.

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Other Topics available:
Wood Stains and Gun Stocks
Floating the Barrel
Glass Bedding
Pillar Bedding
Barrel Bedding Block
Inlays, Tips, and Caps
What is M.O.A.?
Calculating Rifle Precision
Target Crowning a Muzzle
Building a Muzzle Loader from Kit
Eliminate Trigger Over-Travel
Attaching the Recoil Pad


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