Thursday, July 29, 2010

Stocks: Bedding

Now that we've studied how stocks are made, it is time to study an operation called bedding. This is an operation that improves the accuracy and life of the weapon. So what is the need for proper bedding of the rifle?
  1. Eliminate stress to the barrel and action, for longer life
  2. Prevent flexing of the action when the weapon is fired for greater accuracy
  3. After the weapon is fired, the action and barrel should return back to the same position on the bedding, to ensure repeatability of shots. This is called the rifle's ability to maintain zero.
Poor fitting of the stock to the action causes many problems with the rifle. This problem is further compounded because of expansion of the metal parts, as well as warping of the stock (especially in the case of wooden stocks). By removing wood from the areas of contact between the stock and the barrel and providing a much more stable substance such as fiberglass composite instead, the fit between the barrel and the stock can be much more precise and eliminate lots of problems.

There are many forms of bedding, but we will look at two major types: Glass bedding and pillar bedding.

Generally speaking, injection molded stocks are not really suitable for glass bedding. It is mostly used for composite hand laid fiberglass stocks, wooden stocks and laminated stocks. There are several ways that people bed the rifles. Some only bed the barrel and leave the action (firing mechanism) floating in the air, some only bed the action and the parts behind it and leave the rest of the barrel not touching any part of the stock, some bed the action and the barrel completely. For a rifle to fire best, there must be constant pressure dynamic between the stock and barrel throughout the length of the stock.

Glass bedding is done by using a slow drying epoxy. The epoxy should have the properties of hardening when dry and should not shrink or expand with temperature differences. To make sure that the epoxy does not dry inside the action and jam it, the trigger assembly is first disassembled. Then modelling clay and masking tape or electrical tape are applied along the holes to make sure that the epoxy doesn't enter there. Release agents are sprayed on or manually applied with a brush to key areas, such as the action and underside of barrel, to make sure that the epoxy does not stick there. In the case of wooden stocks, the surface of the wood in the barrel channel is lightly scraped away with a chisel to remove any oils and greases before the epoxy is applied. This allows the epoxy to get a better grip on the stock. The gun is assembled and epoxy is poured into the barrel channel and allowed to harden. After one or two hours, the excess epoxy is scraped away and then the rest is allowed to harden for a few days. After the epoxy is cured, the parts can be disassembled as the epoxy does not stick to the areas where the release agent was previously applied. The masking tape is also removed and the rifle is now ready for use. The two videos below show how the glass bedding process is done.

Pillar bedding was first invented by the Germans in the late 1800s for the Mauser rifles, but did not really catch on in the United States until the 1980s or so. With pillar bedding, two precision metal pillars are affixed to the barrel using screws, and holes are drilled in the stock to accommodate these pillars. The pillars were originally made of steel, but these days aluminium is more often used. It can be used with injection molded stocks as well as wooden stocks, laminated stocks and hand laid fiberglass stocks, since the vibrations are absorbed by the metal pillars first. The screws and threads on the pillars are precisely machined to allow micro-adjustments as needed. Holes are drilled in the existing stock to allow the pillars to pass through them. The rest of the procedure is similar to glass epoxying in that masking tape and release agent are applied and then epoxy is poured into the channel to harden around the rest.

Stocks: Adjustable Stocks

In the last few posts of this series, we've been talking about how stocks are made. Now we will talk about a class of stocks that are optimized for target shooters.

The above two stocks are made by a German company called J.G. Anschutz, which is well known for making stocks for world-class shooting competitions. The first stock is made of mostly walnut wood and the second one is a laminated wooden stock. Notice though that there are a few metal parts here. For one, the butt pad and comb are adjustable, so the user can adjust where their forearm is placed and where their cheek sits to peer through the sights. There is also a large U-shaped hole behind the grip for the user to place their thumb through. Actually, this particular shape of stock is so associated with the J.G. Anschutz company, that they're sold by other companies as "Anschutz-style" stocks.

The above stock is a McMillan A5. As above, the butt plate and comb are adjustable. The McMillan company is well known for its fiberglass stocks and its precision rifles. Canadian snipers used McMillan Bolt Action Tac-50 rifles to make some of the longest kills in sniper history in Afghanistan.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Stocks: Composite Stocks, Hand Laid Fiberglass Stocks etc.

In our last post, we studied one type of synthetic stocks. Now we will study some other types, made of many different types of materials, but all involving fiberglass somewhere. The first use of fiberglass in stocks was due to Chet Brown and Lee Six in the late 1960s. They later split up and Chet Brown later went on to found Brown Precision Stocks, which is still in business. Lee Six also continued to manufacture stocks and his company was later bought out by Kelbly Stocks.

At the low end, we have the poly-urethane foam stock. Predictably, these are made of polyurethane foam material. Of course, a stock made of pure urethane foam is not strong or rigid enough. Hence, many manufacturers add chopped fiberglass strands to the urethane foam. In addition, aluminium rods are added in some areas, particularly around pistol grips and the recoil lugs. Solid urethane foam stocks are generally lighter than other stocks, but adding aluminium and fiberglass adds extra weight back in, which undoes most of the weight savings. These stocks are not sensitive to moisture like a wooden stock. Unfortunately, they share the same problems of temperature as a wooden stock. They are also the stocks that are most likely to break.

Then we have the hand laid fiberglass stock, as pioneered by Brown and Six from the 1960s. In this type, a cloth made of fiberglass, kevlar or carbon fiber is first laid out on the inside of a mold cavity. Then a polyurethane foam is poured into the mold cavity and allowed to cure. Alternatively, a polyester or epoxy resin may be used instead. With an epoxy resin, the epoxy has a 3-D molecular structure and is lightweight. It is extremely resistant to impact damage and once it is 100% cured, it has extremely long life. Polyester resin is cheaper in cost. However, the molecules have a 2-D structure and it only cures partway (upto 70%) in the manufacturing process and continues to cure for 7 years or so, after which is starts to deteriorate. The outer cloth of fiberglass, kevlar or carbon fiber adds the necessary strength to the stock, that make these stocks much stronger than a foam stock alone. After such stocks are manufactured, a bedding process to seat the barrel properly on the stock is needed. This bedding process may be done as part of the manufacturing process, or separately after the stock has cured.

These stocks are much more expensive to make, as it is a labor intensive process. The curing time can take a while and much of the strength depends on the manufacturing process getting the amount of cloth and resin just right. On the other hand, such stocks are very light, accurate and immune to the effects of weather and temperature. Hence, these are the stocks of choice for many sniper rifle models and hunting rifles.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Stocks: Injection Molded Plastic Stocks

We will now begin our study of the so-called synthetic stocks. One type of stock we will study today is the Injection Molded Plastic Stock. These are manufactured using a typical injection molding process, which is used in plastic industries.

Granules of a thermoplastic material are loaded into a hopper and fed into an injection molding machine. A heater melts the plastic granules into a molten liquid state. The molten plastic is forced into a mold of the desired shape using a screw-type feed or a ramming plunger. The mold is cooled by passing a coolant fluid (usually water) through the mold via hose pipes connected to holes drilled in the mold. The molten plastic is cooled in the die and solidifies, upon which the die is removed and opened to extract the part. Any excess plastic is trimmed off using machining tools.

The initial setup costs are high because of the price of an injection molding machine and the price of machining a high quality accurate mold. However, once the setup is done, the costs of the thermoplastic materials and manufacturing cost of the stock are very low indeed, which drops the cost of each piece manufactured. In fact, the price of an injection molded stock can be far less than the price of a wood stock.

Two rifles with Injection Molded plastic stocks made by Weatherby

Injection molded plastics are usually "foamed", because the weight of a solid plastic stock would be excessive. The finished stocks are typically lighter than comparable wooden or laminated stocks. Typical time to manufacture an injection molded plastic stock, including molding and packaging takes about 30 minutes. The stocks can be manufactured to the same accurate dimensions every time, which makes them suitable for mass production.

Virtually every major firearms manufacturer in the United States makes injection molded stocks and there's a lot of advertising dollars spent on them. These stocks are usually marketed as weatherproof, shock-resistant, accurate, durable etc. So how much of this is truth and how much is hype, the reader asks.

It is certainly true that injection plastics are not affected by moisture, so fog and rain do not affect them. However, they are no more waterproof than a properly constructed laminated wood stock. It is also true that injection plastics are resistant to typical scratches and dings. However, it must be remembered that the material of the stock is a thermoplastic. What this means is that it does get affected by temperature. For instance, if a person were to leave his weapon locked in his car in the hot sun, it could cause the plastic to melt and warp the stock. Conversely, if the person left his weapon locked in the car during winter time, the cold could make the plastic extremely brittle and it could fracture due to a slight impact.

As for accuracy, it is true that injection plastic stocks can be manufactured to very accurate tolerances indeed. However, the flip side is that injection plastics are not as rigid as wooden or metal stocks. This means that it does not really matter if the stock is manufactured to very accurate dimensions, since it flexes when the weapon is fired, thereby affecting the accuracy of the weapon.

As far as durability claims go, it is certainly true that most thermoplastics degrade very slowly indeed, when exposed to the sun and rain. However, most of them are also susceptible to severe deterioration when in contact with liquids like ethanol, acetone, kerosene, ethyl ketone etc. As it happens, these are the very same solvents that are used in practically every barrel cleaner available in the market today.

Despite all the hype, the strength of an injection molded stock is actually not much different than a walnut wooden stock and is definitely easier to break than a laminated stock.

They are also ugly looking, compared to the beauty of a wooden or a laminated stock.

However, these stocks are among the cheapest types of stock to manufacture and hence, they bring down the overall cost of the weapons (or increase the manufacturer's profit margin!!) This is why practically every firearms manufacturer in the United States offers some firearms with injection molded plastic stocks. They are also lighter than stocks made of other materials.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Stocks: Metal Stocks

In our last post, we studied laminated wood stocks. In this post, we will study metal stocks. Metal stocks are a relatively modern development as far as gun stocks are concerned. The metals of choice are usually alloys of steel, magnesium or aluminium. Metal stocks are nearly always of the folding or sliding type, so that the user can reduce the overall length of the weapon as needed. One more advantage of metal stocks is that they lend themselves towards mass production.

The above weapon is an US-made M4A1. Notice the aluminum telescoping sliding stock at the rear, that allows the user to adjust the length of the weapon as needed.

The next weapon we see is an AK-47 with a folding aluminium stock. Notice that the stock attaches to the back of the rifle with a hinge that allows it to fold sideways. Also note that the stock is a skeletal frame. This is to reduce the overall weight of the weapon. Unlike the previous weapon, this one doesn't allow the shooter to adjust the length of the stock to the user's needs though.

It must be noted though that a metal stock does not always imply that the weapon is lighter. A skeletal steel stock is usually heavier than its wooden equivalent. Most metal stocks are also usually coated with a rubber or plastic material on the outside.

Metal stocks can be easily produced in large quantities via mass production techniques. Due to advances in machining technology, they can be produced to very accurate dimensional tolerances. They also have the advantage of being very cheap in price, compared to stocks made of other materials. Metal stocks generally provide superior rigidity than other types of stocks, but offer less in the way of dampening and absorbing shock. Some metal stocks have a shock absorber built in to handle the shock. Metal stocks will expand and contract with temperature variations, which affect accuracy. On the other hand, humidity does not have any effect on them.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Stocks: Laminated stocks

In our last post, we talked about classic wooden stocks, which have been used through much of the history of firearms. While wooden stocks are very beautiful to look at, they have the problem of warping, distorting and cracking in changing weather conditions. This makes the accuracy of the weapon suffer. Another problem with classic wooden stocks is that many stock blanks may have to be rejected because of some minor defects (such as a crack) in the wood. This makes complete wooden stocks more expensive because the manufacturer has to reject many pieces and find perfect stock blanks with no defects at all.

One of the solutions to minimizing this problem is to make a laminated stock instead. A laminated stock consists of separate layers of wood which are glued together. If the layers are properly arranged, then they cancel out each others' distortion and minimize the warping caused by humidity, temperature etc. The result is also free of internal defects. They are also less expensive to make, since cheaper wood can be used. The same blanks that would normally be rejected for classic wooden stocks because of defects, can be used to make laminated stocks, since the manufacturer can cut multiple layers of wood from the blank by working around the defective areas.

The Germans were the first to start making laminated stocks during World War II, for Mauser K98 and G43 rifles, when solid wooden stocks suitable for rifles became difficult to obtain. The Soviets were quick to adapt this idea around 1950.

The process of making laminated stocks is the process of making very high-quality plywood. To make a laminated stock, the maker first cuts thin layers of wood (1.5-1.6 mm. thickness or so). Each layer is individually impregnated under pressure with a strong dye. Since each layer is only 1.6 mm. thick, the dye permeates every bit of the wood, which provides a high degree of water resistance. Next, a waterproof epoxy resin glue is applied to each layer's surface and they are arranged so that the direction of the wood grain alternates between the layers. Alternate layers may also be dyed in different colors to produce an attractive appearance. The layers are then put under pressure and heated to set the glue. The curing process takes a few hours to complete and the glue makes the wood cells close to the surface of each layer almost completely waterproof. The alternating directions of wood grain between the various layers give the stock extra strength. The result is an attractive stock that is stronger than a solid wooden stock and almost immune to the effects of heat and humidity.

One of the major suppliers of laminated stocks to many small arms manufacturers today is the Rutland Plywood company, which sells their raw plywood material under the trademark "Stratabond". This company manufactures stock blanks for many well known companies such as Ruger, Remington, Savage Arms, Sako, Browning, Kimber, Boyd etc. The exact lamination process and the glues used are a trade secret, but it is known that they generally use birch wood layers for their stocks and use around 35 layers of wood veneer per stock. They offer blanks in several colors and patterns per manufacturer requirements and can make customized blanks as well. Some examples are shown below.

A laminated wood stock can be almost as strong as a fiberglass stock and look and feel the same as a solid wood stock. It also absorbs vibration better than a fiberglass or an aluminum stock. A laminated wood stock has more durability and strength than a comparable solid wood stock, has zero internal defects and can be made of cheaper material as well. It is virtually immune to the effects of temperature and humidity changes, thereby retaining its accuracy in a variety of weather conditions. It also has a pleasing appearance that can rival the best quality wood stocks. The only downside is that a laminated wood stock is heavier than the corresponding solid wood stock of the same size and material.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Stocks: Wooden Stocks

Of the different types of materials used to make gun stocks, the most common one used over the ages was wood. Since gun-making was always considered an art-form, it is no surprise to note that the work of making gun-stocks was usually entrusted to master woodworkers. These master woodworkers would generally use high-quality hard woods to make the stocks. The material most used was from walnut trees.

The requirements for a wooden stock generally are:
  1. The material should be a hardwood which is reasonably dense, but not too heavy.
  2. The material should be somewhat hard, but not brittle.
  3. It should be relatively easy to machine.
  4. It should preferably have naturally attractive patterns and grain (after all, guns were always well-crafted products made by skilled craftsmen and it wouldn't do to use low quality wood)
As it happens, walnut wood happens to fit these requirements the best.

The most high-quality walnut wood is obtained from the Juglans Regia, the Persian Walnut (or Common Walnut) tree. This tree is also known as the "English" walnut, because British sailors spread this tree around the world. This name is common in North America, because there is already a native American walnut tree of a different subspecies (Juglans Nigra) and so they call the Juglans Regia as an "English walnut" to distinguish between the two. The tree actually grows from Xinjiang province in China, all the way into Western Europe. It is commonly found in Northern India. This species has great genetic variability and the trees found in Western Europe tend to have larger size, but only one fruiting period, whereas trees in the Eastern range are smaller, but produce fruit for multiple years. English colonists and sailors also took this tree to the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa etc., where it still grows. It was also introduced to Mexico, Chile and Argentina, perhaps by Spaniards.

The wood from this tree is often used in high-quality furniture and firearm stocks. The finely-figured walnut woods are called "English" walnut in the gun trade. Ironically, W.W. Greener mentions in his book, The Gun and its Development, (printed in the early 1900s) that a majority of so-called "English" walnut is not English at all. The walnut trees growing in England at that time were admirably suited for gun-stocks, but many lacked the rich brown color and figured patterns for customized high-end weapons and the second problem was that true English-grown walnut wood was not available in large quantities anyway. Therefore, many manufacturers actually got their wood from the European continent. He goes on to mention that English walnut wood is heavy, well marked, but not gaudy and says that French walnut is lighter than English walnut, has richer color with black streaks and open grain. He says Swiss and German walnut woods tend to be grey and pulpy, but if well chosen and naturally matured, they are equal to the finest French woods. He says that Belgian walnut is not available for sale in adequate quantities and Eastern European walnut wood is of very high quality and available in quantity, but is often not prepared or sawed correctly for the purposes of a gun-maker.

These days, France, Serbia, Romania, Greece, Bulgaria, Turkey, California and Chile are major producers of English walnut woods, while Australia and New Zealand are also beginning to up their exports of this wood as well.

Gun stock made of fine English walnut wood (J. Regia)

In the United States, the American walnut (J. Nigra, also called the "Black Walnut") that we mentioned earlier, is often used due to widespread local availability, particularly in the East coast. This wood has dark color and good density. Like the "English" walnut, it is also heavy and strong, but easily worked. It is extremely valuable and forest rangers are often called in to stop walnut tree poachers. In 2004, there was a poaching case involving one 16 meter long tree, which was worth $2500.

Gun stock made with American walnut (J. Nigra)

Another tree that was often used in North America for a few hundred years was the Curly Maple tree, again due to widespread availability, beautiful pattern and heavy density. Most of the famed Kentucky rifles used curly maple wood stocks. It has a characteristic flame or tiger striping pattern that makes it look very beautiful.

Replica Kentucky rifle using curly maple stock.

Curly maple wood is still used today, notably by musical instrument makers. For instance, rock and roll lovers may recognize many rock guitar players using the famous Gibson Les Paul guitar. Yes folks, that is curly maple wood on the top of that guitar as well.

Beech wood, Birch, Ash, Myrtle and occasionally Mahogany wood are also used for making some gun stocks. Beech wood is heavy, but does not have any pattern in the grain, like the woods seen above.

The grain of the wood contributes greatly to the strength of the wooden stock. It should ideally flow towards the toe of the stock for greater strength. The wood should also be prepared suitably -- it should be slowly and completely dried before working on it, otherwise it could split or lose color later. A high-end stock-maker will typically use wood that has been slowly air-dried for several years (7-8 years is common, but some are even as old as 20 years!), before attempting to machine it. Cheaper wood stocks are often kiln-dried and therefore more prone to splitting and losing color much more quickly. Air drying is what gives the wood the deep dark brown color. The best wood comes from the portion of the tree where the trunk and the roots join.

Here's a video demonstrating some of the things that stock makers look for, when selecting wood blanks to make a stock.

Wood stocks are the most beautiful to look at and have been used through much of firearms history, but they have a tendency to warp under adverse weather conditions. Due to this failing, modern military, hunting and sniper rifles usually use fiberglass stocks instead.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Stocks: Parts of a Stock

We will now study the parts of a gun stock.

The above image shows a typical English stock and an American one. The English stock was built with dimensions suited for about 80% of the sportsmen hunter population in England. Note that the English stock is built a bit more horizontal than the American one (2 inches displacement at the heel, vs. around 2.5" for the American stock). This is because American shooters generally tended to stand with their heads more erect and the same shooting style was also used in some other English colonies such as Australia and South Africa.

Public domain image from

In the above image, 1 is the butt plate of the weapon (i.e.) the part that rests on the shoulder, 2 is the fore-end or fore-grip of the weapon. 3 is called the comb, which is the part that the user rests his/her cheek upon. The comb is built to support the user's cheek so that he/she can aim through the gun sights comfortably. Some combs also have a cheek-piece shaped on the side of the stock. 4 is the heel and 5 is the toe of the butt. This particular gun-stock, unlike the other two stocks above, has a grip (6) and a thumb-hole (7) for the user to put their hand through. Hence, this stock is called a thumbhole style stock.

The two types of stock are (a) one-piece stock (i.e.) the stock is composed entirely of one piece of wood and (b) the two-piece stock (i.e.) the butt is made of one piece of wood and the foregrip is made of another piece. The one-piece stock is generally used for bolt-action rifles, whereas the two-piece stock is used for assault-rifles, pump-action, lever action and break-open action weapons. Wooden one-piece stocks are usually more expensive to manufacture than wooden two-piece stocks, because it is harder to find a long piece of wood without blemishes, than it is to find two shorter pieces.

There are many factors important in shaping the stock.

1. Balance: This is the center of gravity of the firearm. If a thin thread is passed around the firearm stock, this would be the point where it would balance upon.

2. Cast-off or Cast-on: This is the amount that the stock is offset from the center when viewed laterally. A thin man may require a lot less cast-off than a fat man with stout shoulders, a right handed user may, due to a deformity, aim with his left eye etc. Usually, mass produced firearms don't have cast-offs, but custom-stocks may have cast-offs since these are produced for individual user needs. A cast-on is similar to a cast-off except it is done in the opposite direction for a left handed shooter.

3. Grip: The shape of the grip varies from stock to stock. Some may have the almost horizontal stock as shown in the English stock in the first picture of this article. Some may have a vertical grip like the thumbhole stock or a pistol grip, similar to that seen most modern assault rifles.

Stocks may be solid (i.e.) they do not change shape, or collapsible, such as a folding stock or a sliding stock. Sliding or folding stocks are generally features of military firearms.

In the above picture, we have an US made M4A1. Notice that the stock is two-piece, has a pistol grip and has an adjustable sliding stock at the back of the weapon, which allows the user to adjust the distance between the butt plate and the trigger to their own requirements.


A stock is a part of the firearm to which the barrel and firing mechanism are attached. From the very first firearms, they have always been attached to some sort of stock, as the picture below shows:

In the illustration taken from an ancient manuscript, the reader can see that a firearm is attached to the end of a stick. A second stick is used as a support as well as a ramrod for the firearm. In most early weapons, the stick was made of wood. In fact, the word "stock" comes from the German word stoc which means "tree trunk."

In the very first firearms, there was generally a hollow socket in one end of the firearm, through which, the wooden stick was pushed into and secured. This is similar to the design of many spears of that era. The next development was the bombarde by the French and Italians. This was a small hand-cannon attached to a wooden stick. The stick was curved on the bottom side so that it could be placed on the shoulder and aimed with both hands, as shown in the first illustration below:

In the earliest firearms, people would manually light their firearms with a slow match. It was soon realized that a user could support their firearm better if they held it with two hands and lit the firearms with a separate trigger mechanism. This was the design adopted by early matchlock weapons such as the arquebus.

Soldier with an arquebus

Using both hands to aim the weapon, the user could then brace the weapon against his shoulder for strong support. In the above picture, note the shape of the stock of the arquebus and notice that the shape looks pretty similar to modern rifles as well. The arquebus stock design was so influential that the shape and design has stayed with us, almost unchanged, since the 1500s!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Actions: Rolling Block action

The rolling block action was one of the more successful actions from the 19th century. It was first patented by Leonard Geiger in 1863. The design was later improved by Joseph Rider, the plant supervisor at Remington Firearms factory in Ilion, New York, in between 1863-1865. Rider even convinced Geiger to join Remington Arms and together, they improved the design of this action. This action is the reason for the Remington Company still being in existence today, since they were about to go into financial ruin before they came out with this design. It was so successful that Remington alone produced approximately 1.5 million firearms using this action by the beginning of the 20th century. This action is so much associated with weapons made by the Remington company that it is sometimes also called the "Remington action."

It consists of a specially shaped breech-block shaped like the arc of a circle. The breech-block can rotate about a pin. The breech-block is locked into place by the hammer and therefore prevents the cartridge from moving backwards when the weapon is fired.

To open the weapon, the hammer is cocked back fully, which frees up the rolling block to pivot about the pin, as can be seen in the images above of a typical Remington rolling-block rifle. The user first thumbs back the hammer into full cock position, then uses the finger spur to rotate the rolling block piece, thereby exposing the barrel chamber. The gun is then reloaded and the breech block is rotated back into its closed position. When the user pulls the trigger, the hammer not only strikes the firing pin, but it also cams under the breech-block, locking it firmly into place at the moment that the cartridge discharges. This prevents the cartridge from moving backwards as the gunpowder propels the bullet forward.

The above two images show a rifle using a rolling block action. The top image shows the rifle with its action closed and the bottom image shows the rifle with its action open and ready to be reloaded.

This action was first used in the Remington Model 1865 pistol which was purchased by the US Navy. Remington then made the Model 1867 carbine for the Navy order. However, the US orders were relatively small (only 5,000 weapons or so) and the real success of Remington started when their M1867 rolling block rifle design was shown in the 1867 Paris Arms Exposition. Soon after that, it was adopted by several countries around the world.

Denmark and Sweden-Norway (Sweden and Norway were one country then) all adopted rifles with this design between 1867 and 1868. Denmark bought 41,800 rifles and Sweden-Norway bought 10,000 rifles and 20,000 actions. They also negotiated license agreements to manufacture these weapons in their own countries: Sweden at the Husqvarna and Carl Gustav arsenals, Denmark at the Kobenhaven Tojhuis arsenal and Norway at Hoverdarsenalet and Konigsberg. The companies, Husqvarna and Carl Gustav, are still around today. Egypt was the next Remington customer with an order of 60,000 rifles in 1869. In the same year, Spain ordered 85,000 rifles and 10,000 carbines and also signed a license agreement to manufacture their own rolling block rifles. Order quickly flowed from Netherlands, Japan, France, Argentina, Greece, Mexico, Columbia, Cuba etc. Licensed manufacture in Europe was done by Nagant Brothers (later known for the Mosin-Nagant rifle), Francotte and Westley Richards, among others. In total, 101 countries were quick to accept this rifle. It even features in the present day in the National flag of Guatemala.

Design improvements were quick to follow. Research in the US military showed that people were reluctant to reload the rifle with the hammer at full-cock position, in case the hammer could accidentally discharge. The Remington model 1871 had an additional half-cock safety. In this, when the breech is closed, the hammer automatically drops from full-cock to half-cock. The user must then re-cock the hammer to fire. The Remington Model 1871 rifle was one of the most accurate in the world for its time and demonstrated this at the international rifle matches of 1874. This model was also manufactured under license as the Springfield M1871 rifle.

The rolling block design was manufactured for approximately 70 years (not counting modern-made replicas). Rolling block action weapons were manufactured, not only by Remington, but also license manufactured by other countries. It is estimated that over 70 million firearms were produced using the rolling-block action. It has been used from weapons ranging from .22 caliber rimfire cartridges to .58 caliber weapons and used for pistols, shotguns and rifles. It was reputedly made for every possible caliber offered by any black powder cartridge and even the early 7 mm. Mauser smokeless powder cartridge and the 8 mm. French Lebel cartridge. It was popular with military forces around the world and also with big game hunters.

Why was this action so successful, one asks? The reason is that it is a very strong action, but it is also very simple and reliable. It has only a few moving parts and is not prone to jamming by dirt and rough handling, like some of the other actions we've studied previously. The action is so simple that even an illiterate person could be taught how to maintain this action very quickly and because of its simplicity and reliability, it found favor with several military forces. There is very little that can go wrong with the rolling block action, other than occasional breakage of springs and extractors. It also can be fired equally well by left-handed or right-handed users, since the parts are equally accessible from either side. The other main competitor was the tilting-block action used in the Martini-Henry rifle. The Martini-Henry action has 37 moving parts, whereas the rolling block action has 22 moving parts and they seemed to do better in dirt and sand.

Here's a video of the Remington Rolling Block rifle in action:

The Remington rolling block action had a long history of service due to its reliability and ease of maintenance. The parts were precision made with quality steels and heat treatment, with close machined surfaces, ensuring a long life and reliability.

One disadvantage of the rolling action is that the holding bolts are below the center line of a cartridge. Rolling Block rifles began to be replaced by bolt-action rifles mainly because of their higher rate of fire and also stronger actions. A bolt-action holds the cartridge both below and above the center-line of the cartridge, which allows more powerful cartridges. A bolt-action can also be fitted with a multiple cartridge magazine, allowing faster reloads.

The rolling block rifles did enjoy a long history and replicas are still being made today.

Actions: Side-motion Action

The side-motion action is one of the more unusual actions in the history of gun-making. It was considered a pretty strong action and second only to the break-open action of the Lefaucheux gun.The above image shows a Jeffries Side-motion breech loading shotgun from 1862. In his design, the barrels are mounted on the edge of a circular disc. A long lever under the trigger turns the circular disc. Since the barrels are mounted on the edge of the disc, they move eccentrically to the side. Mr. Jeffries manufactured weapons of this type in his factory for years, before finally abandoning this design. A manufacturer named Fox also made guns of this type, but did not achieve much success in America. The break-open mechanism was considered superior by most sportsmen worldwide and hence this mechanism was abandoned.

The same idea was also employed by a Prussian gunsmith named Dreyse, who we've already heard about when studying the Dreyse Needle Gun, which was the first bolt-action weapon as well. Dreyse used the side-motion action for a hammerless gun:

In the Dreyse Hammerless gun, operating the lever not only moved the barrels in an eccentric circle, but also cocked the weapon in the same movement.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Actions: Tilting Block Action

We've recently seen the falling block action, where the breechblock slides up and down on grooves when a lever is operated. Now we will study another similar action called the Tilting Block action

This is a mechanism that was used in several famous rifles. The original action was invented by one Henry Peabody and was used in the Peabody rifle. In this type of action, the breechblock is attached to a hinge on the rear of the block. When the lever is operated, the block tilts about this hinge and exposes the chamber of the rifle.

The above picture shows a Peabody rifle with the action open. The reader may observe the breechblock is tilted down towards the right, opening the chamber. Also note that the top of the breechblock is hollowed out to aid in inserting a cartridge into the chamber easily.

The Peabody action was later improved by a Swiss officer named Friedrich von Martini. In the Martini variation, the lever that operates the tilting block also simultaneously cocks an internal hammer. Meanwhile, the British government started a competition to replace the Snider-Enfield rifle in their service and one of the entries was submitted by Alexander Henry. While the British government liked Henry's rifle barrel design, they did not like his action and preferred the Martini action instead. The result was a rifle that used the Henry designed barrel with the Martini action which was called the Martini-Henry rifle.

The picture above shows a Martini-Henry rifle. In the top picture, you can see the lever behind the trigger guard is opened, which opens the action and cocks the rifle. The breechblock is tilted forward, exposing the chamber. When the user pushes the lever back, as seen in picture B, the breechblock moves upwards and closes the breech.

In the picture above, the breech block is B and K is the firing pin mechanism. The top of the breech block I is hollowed out to assist inserting a new cartridge when the mechanism is opened. When the user pulls lever E, it moves the tumbler G, which makes B and K pivot about the pin C. The front end of B and K drop and expose the chamber J, where the user can remove the old cartridge and insert a new one. When E is pulled back, G moves and makes B and K rotate back up so that K is in line with J. When the user pulls the trigger, the hammer strikes the back of K, which moves the firing pin to strike the primer of the centerfire cartridge and discharges the weapon.

The Martini-Henry first entered British service in 1871 and was involved in several British colonial wars, most notably in the Anglo-Zulu wars in South Africa. The Martini-Henry was partly blamed for the British defeat in Isandlwana (along with being caught by surprise, with overwhelming numeric inferiority), but also did extremely well in the battle of Rorke's Drift where 139 British soldiers successfully held off thousands of Zulu troops. A study by the British Army determined that the African climate made the action overheat and foul and the poor quality of the brass in the metallic cartridges and its black powder content were the direct causes of the jamming issue. Later versions (such as Mark II, Mark III and Mark IV) used a slightly longer lever to apply more torque to the action to prevent jamming and they also changed the brass of the cartridge cases with a stronger brass, which made the new Martini-Henry rifles very reliable in battle.

Martini-Henry rifles were later scheduled to be replaced in 1889 by the bolt-action Lee Metford rifle (which had a higher rate of fire), but somehow, they still managed to remained in service with the British Army until the end of WW-I. Martini Henry rifles were also used in many of the British colonies, including Australia, New Zealand and India. They were notably copied by gunsmiths of the Afridi tribe in the Khyber pass region of India (now part of North-west Pakistan) and are still manufactured by them to the present day. It must be noted that these Khyber pass copies are made of inferior quality materials and manufacturing techniques. Hence, the present day Khyber pass weapons are actually of lower quality than original weapons made by the Enfield Royal Small Arms factory in the 1880s!

The above picture shows the action of a fake Martini-Henry rifle made in the Khyber pass factories. Note the poorly struck VR (supposed to stand for Victoria Regina after Queen Victoria). Also note the N in ENFIELD is reversed and the D is tilted a bit compared to the other letters indicating the letters were stamped individually. The 1901 indicates the supposed year of manufacture of this rifle (which may actually be true) and the II indicates that this is supposed to be a Martini-Henry Mark II rifle, but unfortunately, this is too late for the Mark II rifle, considering that the Mark IV version was already out in 1888! Also Queen Victoria passed away on January 22nd, 1901, and was succeeded by Edward VII. So unless the rifle was made before she passed away in January, an original rifle should have been marked as ER (for Edward Rex) instead of VR (for Victoria Regina).

Tilting block rifles were also manufactured by Marlin firearms in the 1880s and many are collector items. Since this action is very strong, rifles made using this type of action could fire heavy loads and were good for long range shooting. This action is also suitable for both left-handed as well as right-handed users, as it is easily accessible from either side. The only downside was the manual extraction and reloading of a cartridge. The tilting block weapons started to be replaced when bolt-action was invented, since bolt-actions can also extract the old cartridge and load a new one from a magazine automatically as the action is operated. However, older weapons were not phased out and people still encounter tilting block action weapons today in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Actions: Falling Block Action

In our last two posts, we studied the pump-action and the lever-action, both of which are used in repeating weapons (i.e.) they allow the user to fire multiple shots one after another without reloading the weapon. In this post, we will study an action from the 19th century that is normally used in single-shot weapons. We're talking about the falling block action.

We've already seen an action where the back of the breech is closed by a pretty solid block. We're talking about the Ferguson rifle which we looked at around a couple of months ago. In a Ferguson rifle, the seal is provided by a screw plug. A falling block action uses a similar idea, except that instead of using a screw plug, it uses a solid block of metal that slides vertically on two grooves.

Click on image to enlarge

The above picture shows a rifle with a falling block action. The lever to activate this action also doubles as a trigger guard, similar to many lever actions. Now we will take a look at the action itself.

The above figure shows a Sharps rifle, one of the earliest weapons using a falling block action. The picture on the left shows the action with the breech closed by the raised block. The picture on the right shows the breech open. Notice that the block has slid straight down and you can only see the top of the breech block in the picture on the right.

When the breech block is open, the user can pull out the old cartridge and insert a new one into the chamber. Then the user manipulates the lever to close the breech. When the breech is closed, the solid breech block forms a very tight and rigid seal indeed. This is such a strong action that is it not only used in small-arms, but also in heavy artillery pieces as well.

One of the early rifles that used this type of actions was the Sharps military rifle that was used by a unit in the American civil war called the Berdan's Sharpshooters. They were led by Hiram Berdan, who we've already heard of before: He's the same gentleman who later invented the Berdan type of primer for centerfire metallic cartridges, which is still used to this present day. The Sharps military rifle was much more efficient than the old muzzle-loaders and was reknown for its accuracy and speed of fire. It became very popular as a sniper weapon during the US civil war, due to its shooting qualities. The Sharps company also released a smaller carbine version which became very popular among both the Union and Confederate armies and was also later used in wars with the Native American tribes. The Sharps rifles of the civil war era used percussion cap technology, but by 1874, they began to use centerfire cartridges. The Sharps Borchardt model 1878 rifle was a strong and accurate buffalo hunting weapon with arguably the strongest action known until the latter half of the 20th century.

Original author Arthurh. Used by permission from under the GNU Free Documentation License.

The above picture shows a Ruger No. 1 rifle that uses a falling block action. The picture shows the rifle with the action open. This action is so strong that the designer, Lenard Brownell once said, "There was never any question about the strength of the action. I remember, in testing it, how much trouble I had trying to tear it up. In fact, I never did manage to blow one apart."

Falling block rifles were famous for their accuracy and strength of actions and they were used by several military forces in the end of the 19th century. It was the invention of the Mauser 1898 bolt-action rifle that made it lose popularity in the 20th century, because the bolt-action could be loaded by a magazine and could therefore shoot a bit faster. There are still some falling block action weapons such as the Ruger above, that are manufactured as hunting weapons.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Actions: Pump Action

In our last posts, we studied the lever action and the bolt action. In this post, we will study another action that works on similar principles, called the pump action or the slide action. Most people have probably seen pump-action weapons used in several movies, such as Terminator II. They are very popular in repeating shotguns, but there have been some pump action rifles as well.

The above picture shows a Winchester 1912 model pump-action shotgun. Like a lever-action rifle, this weapon too has a tubular magazine that stores cartridges under the barrel. However, the weapon is operated similar to a bolt action, except that the cocking lever is under the barrel. Notice the brown handgrip under the barrel. That grip can slide back and forth horizontally and is called the fore-stock or fore-end

The user initially loads the magazine with cartridges, usually from a port in the side, as is the case with a lever action weapon. Then when the user pulls the fore-end lever back, it unlocks the bolt and moves it backwards, ejecting the old cartridge. As part of the same motion, it also cocks the weapon and a new cartridge from the tubular magazine is pushed onto the lifter spring (also called the elevator spring), which lifts the cartridge from the level of the magazine to the level of the barrel. On the forward movement of the fore-end, it picks up the new cartridge and slides it into the chamber. The final part of the movement of the fore-end locks the bolt in place and ready to fire.

As always, let us watch a video of one of these in action.

Notice how the users pump back the weapon after every shot to reload the next cartridge. Also note how the cartridges are loaded into the tubular magazine before starting to shoot.

From the video, we may note several advantages and disadvantages of this type of action. Unlike the bolt-action and lever-action, it is not necessary to take your finger off the trigger, as the loading action is performed by the other hand. This means it is faster to reload than a typical lever-action or bolt-action weapon. It is also possible to keep the weapon pointed on target while performing the pumping action. Since the action is manual, it can be used with low-power cartridges as well. This allows the user to mix and match different types of cartridges as the situation demands. The user can also reload the magazine at any time and keep shooting. Like the lever-action, a pump-action also lacks "handness" i.e. it can be fired equally well by right-handed or left-handed users, as the pump action is easily accessible by either hand. In fact, in the video above, note that the first shooter fires the shotgun right handed and the second user fires the same weapon left-handed.

The disadvantages of the weapon are also fairly obvious. Like most lever-actions, there is often no separate detachable magazine. Hence, the user cannot pre-load a bunch of magazines with cartridges in advance. Some newer weapons feature detachable magazines, but it is not common. Also, as you may have noted in the video above, at least two shooters did not realize that they'd fired all their bullets, as there is no visible way to tell how full or empty the magazine is.

These days, most pump-action weapons are usually shotguns. These weapons have found favor with hunters as well as many police and military forces around the world.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Actions: Lever Action

In the last post, we studied a popular mechanism called the bolt-action. Now we will study another mechanism that is also still being used today, the lever-action.

A lever-action weapon uses a lever that is located near the trigger, to load new cartridges into the weapon. Often, the lever is formed in such a shape that it also does double duty as a trigger guard as well.

Image courtesy of Click image to enlarge.

In the picture above, we see a Winchester model 1873. This was one of the most popular lever-action guns and was known as "The Gun that won the west", though the Colt Peacemaker may also have a claim to that title. Notice the large loop next to the trigger guard. The user can put his hand in the loop and rotate the lever around the trigger. This cocks the hammer and opens the chamber to unload the previous cartridge. Spring pressure moves a new cartridge from the magazine into a position where it is ready to be loaded. The user then pulls the lever back to its initial position and this closes the chamber and the weapon is ready to fire.

Also note the little depression to the north east of the trigger. That is the loading port of this weapon. The magazine of this weapon is a long tube inside the stock. The user can push the cartridges in to the magazine one at a time via the port. Typically, most weapons of this type can hold about 8 to 16 cartridges in the magazine, depending on the size of the cartridge.

The best way to illustrate how the mechanism works is to show one in use. Note how the gentleman in the video loads and fires this weapon.

The first weapon to use this type of action was the Spencer Repeating Rifle in 1860. Unlike the later Winchester 1873, using the lever on a Spencer rifle only removed the old cartridge and fed in the new one. The user still had to cock the hammer as a separate action. The weapon used rimfire cartridges and could hold 7 of them at a time in a tubular magazine. It was shown to Abraham Lincoln and he was impressed enough to order that it be adopted by the United States army and navy. A normal user could fire approximately 20 cartridges every minute using a Spencer rifle. Unusually, the Spencer rifle had the magazine tube in the butt of the weapon.

The first rifle that also cocked the weapon upon operating the lever action was by one Oliver Henry, an employee of Winchester. This rifle was called the Henry rifle in his honor. Unlike the Spencer rifle, this one had the magazine located under the barrel, which is where most lever actions have it located today. During the American civil war, while the rifle was never issued officially to the Union army, many soldiers saved their pay so that they could purchase one with their personal funds. The Henry rifle could hold up to 16 cartridges in its magazine and fire at the rate of 28 cartridges per minute. In fact, the confederate forces, who were still armed with muzzle-loaders often derided the weapon as "the damned yankee rifle that they load on Sunday and shoot all week!"

Winchester also continued to make more rifles, under the Winchester name, such as the Winchester model 1873 and Winchester model 1894 named after their respective years.

In the above image of a Winchester model 1873 rifle, you can clearly see that the cartridges are stored in a magazine under the barrel, as was the case in the Henry rifle as well. Contrast this with the earlier Spencer rifle that stored extra cartridges in the butt of the rifle stock. The lever action mechanism can also be clearly seen. As with the Henry rifle, manipulating the lever ejects the old cartridge, loads a new one and also cocks the weapon simultaneously.

A significant competitor of Winchester was Marlin. The Marlin model 1894 which was first built in 1894 is still being manufactured today. In fact, if you look at the video above, you'll notice the gentleman is firing a Marlin 1894 as well.

Lever action rifles have a few good things going for them: They lack "handness", i.e. they can be fired equally well by a right-handed or a left-handed shooter, as the lever is accessible from either side. They also offer a higher rate of fire than a bolt-action weapon, since all that is required to fire is to pull and push the lever back. They are also shorter than bolt-action rifles, which makes them easier to manipulate by people riding on horseback. This is why Winchester lever-action rifles were so popular with frontiersmen in the Wild West. During the American civil war, many groups of scouts, raiding parties and skirmishers used Henry lever-action rifles for the same reason.

On the other hand, they also have some disadvantages. Since most of them use tubular magazines which are inside the stock, the balance of the weapon is altered. Pointed spitzer type bullets can occasionally detonate inside a tubular magazine, as the sharp pointed tip of each bullet rests on the primer cap of the next cartridge. It is also harder to operate the lever when one is lying prone on the ground. This is why they didn't catch on much with military forces around the world. Most lever action weapons also don't have detachable magazines, hence it is not possible for a user to pre-load a bunch of magazines ahead of time.

Lever actions are also not as strong as bolt-action weapons, so they cannot be used for longer-range rifles. This is why the cartridges used by lever-action rifles are not as powerful as those used by bolt-action weapons. Since hunting usually needs shorter range weapons and also since the weapons are shorter overall and have higher firing rate, this type of action is popular with hunters and they are still used by them to this day.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Actions: Bolt Action

In the last couple of posts, we studied the break-open action and the sliding barrel action. Now we will study another type of action that is known for its sturdiness and is still with us. This action is the bolt action.

We actually studied the first weapon to use a bolt action a while earlier. It happens to be the Dreyse Needle Gun. This gun had a number of firsts to its name:
  1. It was the first mass-produced military weapon using breech-loading technology.
  2. The ammunition it used burned almost completely, so it didn't need to eject the paper casing after firing the weapon. This was a precursor to caseless ammunition.
  3. It was the first bolt-action breechloading weapon.
The action was a significantly new invention in 1841, when the Dreyse needle gun was first introduced. It allowed the user to reload significantly faster than the opposition who were still using muzzle-loading weapons (almost 5 times the shooting speed). It also had the advantage that the user didn't need to stand up to reload the weapon and therefore could hide behind cover.

The basic idea of a bolt-action weapon is a manually operated bolt, which is manipulated by a handle, typically on the right side of the weapon. The handle is used to unlock the bolt and open the breech cover. The old cartridge case is then ejected from the breech chamber. The opening of the bolt may also cock the weapon in some models. Then a new cartridge is put in the chamber and the handle is then moved forward to close the bolt. In some models, the action of closing the bolt cocks the weapon. The weapon is then ready to fire.

In some models, opening the bolt causes an extractor lever to automatically pull the old cartridge case out of the chamber to eject it. The magazine has a spring that pushes a new cartridge into the chamber, when the old cartridge case is pulled out by the extraction lever. Such a mechanism is used in many bolt-action rifles, such as the Springfield M1903 rifle which carries a 5-shot magazine under it. This speeds up shooting because the user doesn't need to waste time pulling out the old cartridge or feeding a new one by hand.

Compared to other actions, the bolt-action has a few advantages. It is extremely simple to make, yet has very high accuracy. It is very cheap to manufacture and very light-weight. Best of all, it is a very strong action and can handle powerful cartridges. The only downside to it is that it doesn't support a very high rate of fire compared to some other alternatives. Since most modern military rifles are semi-automatic or selective fire weapons, they don't use this mechanism. However, the simplicity combined with the accuracy and the ability to handle high powered cartridges make it ideal to be used in sniper rifles. In fact, the bolt-action is overwhelmingly the action of choice in most of the sniper rifles used throughout the world. This mechanism is also used in many hunting rifles, where rate of fire is not as important as accuracy and power.

There are three major variants of bolt-action rifles which we will study below.

The Mauser M-98 system was first introduced in 1898 (hence M-98) with the Mauser Gewehr 98 rifle, which was used by the Germans between 1898 and 1935. This highly successful bolt-action design was later used in a lot of other rifles and is the dominant form of bolt-actions used today. In this type, the rifle is cocked when the bolt-action is opened. The Gewehr 98 has a 5-round magazine.

Click image to enlarge

The image above shows an original Mauser model from 1898. The weapon was designed with a lot of thought. The bolt handle is securely attached to the bolt and there are a couple of gas vent holes built into the bolt, so that if there is a rupture in the cartridge case or primer, the hot gases will vent out of the magazine hole instead of near the user's face. The "controlled feed" extractor claw holds on to the cartridge the moment it has fed from the magazine and holds on to it until the cartridge case is ejected. The weapon is cocked as the bolt is opened (actually, it specifically cocks as the bolt handle is rotated upwards, before pulling back to open the bolt) and the rear part of the striker protrudes from the back of the bolt, which allows one to quickly check if the rifle is cocked or not visually. The original mauser design was not given to cheap mass-production.

The cock-on-bolt-opening design was later adopted by other rifles as well, notably the Springfield M1903 (like the one shown in the picture above). The M1903 was used in the US military from 1903 all the way into the Vietnam war. The cock-on-bolt-opening design rifles are slightly slower to load than the other variant which we will study below. However, it is the more common of the two variants of bolt action and is used in nearly all modern hunting rifles today. It was also the dominant form of action used between the 1890s and the mid 1900s.

Another variant of bolt action is the cock-on-bolt-closing design. This is famously called the "Lee Enfield design" as it was first used in the Lee-Enfield rifle of 1895, otherwise known as the SMLE (Short Magazine Lee-Enfield) rifle. This rifle was heavily used in the British Commonwealth and its descendant is still used by Indian police, which makes it the longest serving bolt-action rifle model in existence.

The above is an example of a Lee-Enfield Mark I rifle. In this rifle, pushing the bolt closed cocks the rifle. This makes opening the bolt a lot faster and smoother, compared to the cock-on-opening design of the Mauser. This feature, coupled with its larger capacity 10-round magazine meant that a user could shoot 20-30 times in 60 seconds, making it the fastest bolt-action rifle of its day. The Lee Enfield rifles fire a 0.303 bullet. Note that the 0.303 bullet actually measures 0.311 inches in diameter, as we have noted previously.

The Indian Ordnance board later made a variant of this rifle called the Ishapore 2A1, which was based on the Lee Enfield Mark III rifle model.

The main difference is that the Ishapore 2A1 rifle is chambered to fire a standard NATO 7.62 x 51 mm. round. As a result of this, the steel used in this weapon is also improved to handle the higher pressures of the NATO cartridge. This rifle has the distinction of being the last bolt-action rifle designed to be used by a regular military force (other than sniper rifles, which are for special forces only). It is still used by police in various states in India. It is also popular with civilian shooters in the UK and USA.

The Lee-Enfield cock-on-closing-bolt system was also used on a number of other rifles, mostly made in the UK and other commonwealth countries.

A third variant is the Mosin-Nagant system, which was first used by the Mosin-Nagant rifle in 1895. Unlike the Mauser system, the bolt head rotates with the bolt and lugs, whereas the Mauser has the bolt head is an integral (non-removable) part of the bolt. It is also unlike the Lee-Enfield where the bolt head remains stationary and the bolt alone rotates. It is a rugged design, but is complicated. This type of bolt-action was mostly used in Russia, but one version called the M28 was manufactured by the Finns. The M28 is widely regarded as one of the finest and most accurate military rifles ever produced and was used by the most successful sniper of all time, a Finn named Simo Hayha.

There are other bolt-action systems, but never caught on as much as the above three systems.

Bolt actions are more accurate than semi-automatic rifles, which is why hunters and military snipers still use them. The reason is because when the cartridge is fired, the entire energy is devoted to propelling the bullet out of the rifle, unlike a semi-automatic or automatic weapon, where part of the energy is diverted to eject the old cartridge, auto-cock the weapon and load a new cartridge. It also has less moving parts than most other action types. The only parts that really move in a bolt-action when it is being fired are the spring and the firing pin. This simple and strong design means it can fire magnum cartridges as well. One more advantage for snipers is that it does not eject the spent round automatically, which is beneficial to the sniper because it does not give away his position and he can decide to eject the round himself when it is safe to do so. The only disadvantage is that it is slower to use than some other actions. So, while it may not be as useful to an ordinary infantryman, this action is more valuable to snipers and hunters and has thrived for these reasons even to the present day.

Actions: Sliding Barrel Breech Action

In the last post, we discussed the break-open or top-break action. In this post, we will study the sliding barrel action.

The image above shows a French-made Bastin Lepage double-barreled shotgun using pinfire cartridges. This mechanism is fairly straightforward and easy to understand. The stock has a central groove cut along its length and the barrels slide along this groove. The movement of the barrels is actuated by the long lever on the underside of the gun. The barrels move sufficiently forward, so that the user can easily insert cartridges into the barrel. The user then pulls the lever back, which moves the barrels back into position. There is a catch on the stock that holds the long lever in place so that the barrels don't move when the weapon is fired. In practice, the catch never held very well, which is why this action is rarely used these days.

The above example is another double barreled sliding barrel shotgun made by another French manufacturer called Darne. Notice the top of the barrel has a cylindrical projection that fits in a hole on the other side when the breech is closed. Darne started making sliding breech guns around 1897, but the above example was made in the 1950s. Darne still makes shotguns like this to the present day.

This is a rare action and only a few firms like Darne still use it.