How I fixed a broken rifle stock.
A story of weakness and strength by
Engineer Emeritus and Backyard Mechanic
A couple of years back a friend on mine went on a horseback hunting trip that was somewhat of a disaster, but in my definition, it was a not-so successful 'adventure' (an adventure and not a disaster since nobody got killed). One thing that happened on the trip was that the friend's main hunting rifle, a 1903 model Springfield 30-06 (built in 1942) with a cheap plastic stock was dropped and the stock broke at the wrist.
The rifle's stock was epoxied together and actually the repair looked pretty well done, but looks can be very deceiving. Fast forward a couple of years to a couple of weeks ago. My friend bought himself a new, very modern and very nice Savage 30-06 rifle and asked me to mount a scope and help sight it in for him. I mounted the scope and later we went to the range. I used my careful and scientific approach and I was impressed with the precision of the Savage rifle. There was nothing I didn't like about the Savage once I got the drop-down magazine from jamming. The Savage is very light compared to the Springfield, but it has a noticeably harder kick.
Once I was assured of the rifle's precision, I then worked on dialing in the scope for accuracy and we were both pleased with the results. Later, at lunch, my friend told me he was selling off some of his rifle collection and asked me if I wanted to buy the 1903 Springfield. Lord knows I don't need another rifle, but the opportunity to own such a fine piece was too much for me and I said I would like to have the rifle, broken plastic stock and all and that's when the trouble began.
I noticed that the plastic ("composite") stock had been very poorly fitted to the barrel and receiver of the rifle, very poorly indeed. Apparently my friend had simply dropped the barrel and receiver into the stock and didn't realize it needed fitting or know how to fit it. I spent a lot of time fitting the stock to the rifle and then I bought a nice quality scope to replace the old fashioned one the rifle came with. I had to spend a whole lot more gunsmithing time getting the scope to fit, but that is another story.
When I was all done floating the barrel and adjusting all the many things that needed gunsmithing, I then held the the rifle by the wrist at a 45 degree angle to admire my work. It was then that the earlier epoxying failed and the barrel, scope, receiver and all cracked off and fell onto the rug with me holding the butt end in my hand and a stupid expression on my face. After I had recovered from my surprise, I looked carefully at the fractured parts and came to the conclusion that no ordinary gluing would hold. The fracture was a smooth conchoidal type of fracture with very little surface area to hold the pieces together, so what could I do?
To increase the surface area and to add many times to the strength of a simple gluing, I drilled dozens and dozens of small holes in both sides of the fracture. I then mixed up a whole lot of "The Real Thing." The "Real Thing" is steel filled J-B Weld, what I consider the finest and strongest metal filled epoxy available on the retail market. I have used the Chinese copy of the stuff before and was completely dissatisfied with its performance, so this job would have to be with "The "Real Thing."
I then began to slather on the Weld and push it into the holes on both sides of the fracture and I could take my time because the stuff ordinarily takes about four hours to set up. When I thought I had enough Weld in enough places, I put the two pieces of the stock together and tied linen twine (don't use man-made fiber twine) between forward parts of the stock and wrapped it around the butt of the stock. This twine put pressure on the broken joint, but it was unstable and I had to manually support it. I certainly did not want to be there for four hours, but I had a plan.
I had my heat gun standing by and while I steadied the work, I applied heat to the joint. I didn't melt anything, but I got the whole wrist area too hot to keep my fingers on it for more than a few seconds (probably around 140 degrees). At that high heat, the twine would not melt or burn and neither did the plastic of stock, but the Weld set almost immediately or at least within a few minutes while I was waving the heat gun around. When I was satisfied that the joint was strong enough, I left the string in place and put the stock aside to cool and set during the next 24 hours.
A couple of days after the Weld had set, I took the assembled rifle and held it at a 90 degree angle from me and shook it up and down to give it the "acid test" and confirm that my gluing technique was actually strong enough to hold up to normal handling of the rifle and I'm pleased to say that the repair passed. I then took the rifle to the range and discovered it is a "tack driver" and now I'm thinking that it was manufactured in 1942 probably as a sniper rifle and that's why it is so precise and so well made.
If you have to repair a fracture with a smooth conchoidal surface, do not simply try to epoxy it together even if you use J-B Weld. If you can't drill holes on both sides of the fracture for the epoxy to extend into the fracture to give it strength, you must assume that no gluing will hold and it is simply a waste of time to continue.
By the way, my brother says that this plastic stock is very cheap looking and is butt ugly. He says that I wasted my time repairing it and fitting the action to it and that a good rifle deserves a good stock. He is probably right and perhaps I will buy a decent wooden stock for it, but right now the fixed stock doesn't look THAT bad and it has sort of "grown" on me.
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