Old School Restoration

updated 2021-01-17

While I never have any shortage of projects, sometimes I don’t ask for them ahead of time. Sometimes projects just come to me . . . .

That’s what happened with Old School. This rifle is a 1980’s Remington Model 700 in 243 Winchester. This is actually one of my dad’s guns from back in the day. When I stole indefinitely borrowed the rifle it was in great shape, aside from needing a little oil and a quick bore cleaning. The rifle grouped well at the range: with factory ammo groups were a consistent 1-1/4″ at 100 yards. The clean metal, excellent condition of the bore, and medium-contour barrel were all contributing to good accuracy.

I was planning to take up hunting, and although a 243 is a little light for most Alaskan big game, it would be perfect for lighter critters like Sitka Black Tailed deer. But given that I’m not one to leave things alone I almost immediately started seeing ways to make a good thing better:

  • The stock is beautiful, with subtle figure in the grain and a finish in excellent condition. But the bedding left much to be desired. The direct wood-to-metal bedding would be inconsistent over time.
  • Similarly, the stock itself could become a liability with the extreme temperature and moisture swings found in Alaska. Warpage does not help anything.
  • Part of the stock’s charm was it’s old school design, with white line spacers and a solid butt plate. But even as stylish as the butt plate was, it made the light-recoiling 243 round feel like a magnum.
  • Modern rifle design almost always incorporates a free-floating barrel to prevent shifts in point of aim. This one had inconsistent contact all along the barrel channel.
Remington model 700 before any changes
View of the action area before any changes.

As I developed the plan for how to improve the rifle I kept in mind one overarching goal: to keep the outward appearance as unchanged as possible. In an age of kevlar stocks, anodized aluminum actions, and picatinny rail hand guards there is still a place for a classic design of walnut, cut checkering, and blued steel. Improving something does not always mean reworking it completely.

Remington model 700 short action rifle with wood stock
Side view of the rifle before any modifications.

The final plan for the rifle was as follows:

  1. Everything would be deep-cleaned, oiled, and checked for mechanical or safety issues.
  2. The bore would be polished to reduce the buildup of fouling and ease cleaning.
  3. The plastic butt plate would be replaced by a modern rubber one to cut down on felt recoil.
  4. The bedding would be addressed in two steps:
    1. First, the action screw holes would be opened up and aluminum pillars installed.
    2. Second, the rifle would be glass bedded along the full length of the stock: This would seal the inside as well as reinforce the wood.
  5. A new scope would be installed with improved optics.

The deep-cleaning and mechanical checks went without issues. The rifle was in good shape and so a little stoning of the trigger was all I did to the action. The trigger pull was not reduced, but the smoothness was improved. Bore polishing was also straightforward. I polish every barrel I own with JB bore polish. It reduces the micro texture of the barrel and leaves a much smoother finish that in an stock factory rifle. Cleaning is much easier with the bore polished, and the accuracy is unaffected.

wood stock glass bedded and pillar bedded
Rear area of the stock after glass bedding, but before cleaning up the extra epoxy.

With the basic parts of the project done it was time to really get dirty and start on the bedding. I opened up the action screw holes holes with a dremel and wood carving bit, being careful to keep the holes lined up properly.

I then cut the pillars to the correct length for the holes in the stock, being mindful of the curve one end which matches the curve of the receiver.

I then applied release agent to the action screws and action before assembling the pillars, action screws, and action together. With epoxy added to the pillars and the holes in the stock, the action was then replaced in the stock and clamped in its original, pre-modification position.

After removing the action and checking that the pillars had set properly it was time to do the glass bedding. I used a dremel with sanding drums to relieve wood from all areas where I would be adding epoxy.

I removed an extra amount of wood from the forend and plastic tip; that area needed room for both a layer of epoxy to seal the stock as well as an air space to keep the barrel free-floating. In preparation for bedding I added multiple layers of tape to the bottom of the barrel. Once removed, the tape would leave the desired air gap.

With the epoxy mixed, screw holes plugged with clay, and release agent applied, it was time for the moment of truth. I mixed the epoxy, spread it inside the barrel channnel, and seated the action into the goo.

Glass bedded model 700 with pillar embedded
View of the recoil lug area after bedding. Notice how the aluminum pillar is level to the epoxy. This ensures consistent action screw tension.

A note on the process: the description I have included here omits some of the less interesting, but very necessary, steps like plugging the action with clay, test fitting, and determining how the pillars need to sit in the stock. Before attempting your own glass bedding job be sure to watch videos and read guides covering the whole process.

Stock tip bedded
For this stock I took the epoxy all the way to the tip so as to reinforce and seal the stock. The barrel is floating.

The glass bedding turned out great. The preparation really paid off: making sure there were no bubbles in the epoxy before seating the rifle, roughing up the texture of the wood to ensure adhesion, and taping or filling with clay any areas that had to remain free of epoxy. One area I had concern with was the forend cap. In classic 1980’s style the forend is made of plastic, to which epoxies often do not adhere.

Walnit stock with pillar and glass bedding
Careful taping of the edges prevented any epoxy from marring the finish.

Everything was reassembled, tested for safety, and taken to the range. With the same factory ammo as I used before the test, groups shrank to about 3/4″ at 100 yards. After further load testing I came up with reloads that hold 1-1/2″ groups at 200 yards. Not bad for a 30 year old factory rifle.

Remington model 700 with scope
The new recoil pad is a very welcome addition.

As a final step I removed the plastic butt plate and replaced it with a 1″ Pachmayr recoil pad. That would usually be considered a little over-squishy for a 243 Winchester, but I love it. The vented pad takes the recoil down from minimal to nearly nothing, even with 100 grain loads at near-maximum charges.

Remington model 700 with scope
The finished rifle does not look any different from the outside, and that is the point!

The end result was beyond all my hopes. The rifle kept it’s classic appearance, but was more accurate, more stable, and more weather-resistant than before. What would have been a nice, but forgettable rifle is now one of my most accurate guns. It is lightweight, light recoiling, and accurate. You can’t ask for more than that.