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Custom Rifles - Mastery of Wood & Metal: David Miller Co.

Custom Rifles - Mastery of Wood & Metal: David Miller Co.

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Custom Rifles - Mastery of Wood & Metal: David Miller Co.

353 pagine
2 ore
May 23, 2012


Behind the Scenes at David Miller Co.

Join author Tom Turpin for a look at how some of the world’s finest bolt-action rifles become functional works of art, after first being nothing more than wood and metal.

Learn how true masters ply their talents

See the creative progression of handwork unfold before your eyes.

Experience the process that turns humble wood and metal into art.

This edition will answer many questions and provide insight into the world of precision and custom gun craft.

  • what about rifle stocks?
  • Where does the barrel fit into the picture?
  • How does function dictate form in gunmaking?

No other book in the world covers David Miller Co. or custom guns in the same way. Truly, this book provides a unique insight into one of the premier custom rifle building operations of all time.

May 23, 2012

Informazioni sull'autore

Tom Turpin's nationally published writing career began in 1972 when Petersen's Guns & Ammo magazine published his first article. At the time, Tom was stationed in the great state of Alaska during a tour of duty with the U.S. Army. Not long after that, he had a few articles published in Gun Digest and Guns magazine. He later became acquainted with, and as time passed, a good friend of, the longtime editor of Gun Digest, the late John T. Amber. Mr. Amber introduced Tom around the industry and helped his budding career immensely. During the seventies and eighties, Tom was very busy indeed, balancing a military career, including a couple tours in Vietnam, an outdoor writing career, raising a family and serving as a design consultant to the old German firearms manufacturer, F.W. Heym. He also from time to time, assisted the great German scope manufacturer Schmidt & Bender. These days, after more than thirty years in the business, several hundred published articles, two books of his own and substantial contributions to another two, he is still at the keyboard. He presently is a contributing editor to Primedia's RifleShooter magazine; contributing editor to Gun Digest; and a freelance contributor to most all the other firearms and hunting publications. At any given time, he usually has several magazine articles in progress, another book or two in the works, and two or three custom rifles in varying stages of completion. An avid hunter, he has hunted on four continents. A great fan of the late Jack O'Connor, Tom has found the sage advice contained in O'Connor's writings to be very accurate. As such, Tom's favorite hunting caliber for most situations is the old 270 Winchester. One of his published articles is a tribute to Jack O'Connor on what would have been O'Connor's 100th birthday. That story was published in the March/April 2002 issue of Petersen's RifleShooter. Tom and his wife, Pauline, live and work in the wonderful high desert community of Sierra Vista, Arizona.

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Custom Rifles - Mastery of Wood & Metal - Tom Turpin



I will start this introduction with a quote from my favorite outdoor writer of all time, Jack O’Connor. In his introduction to The Rifle Book, he wrote:

Bottom metal from a current Classic model rifle.

To me the rifle has always been the most romantic of all weapons, and of all rifles the one I love most is the rifle for big game. Some may have the same sort of feeling about other weapons, but I do not, to the same extent, anyway. The handgun I associate with the target range, with plinking at tin cans on Sunday afternoon picnics, with an occasional potted cottontail or grouse. When I think of the shotgun, I see warm September days in wheat stubble with swift doves angling in against clouds piled high and white in the blue sky of late summer, hear the roar of a covey of flushing Gambel’s quail in some wide arroyo, or see again the V of wild geese and hear their lonely cries. But the rifle —Ah, that’s something!

A stainless steel Marksmen with a desert camo laminate stock, topped off by a Swarovski scope in Miller’s magnificent scope mounts.

I like a handgun. I hold a shotgun in high regard; but rifles — well, I love the darned things. To me they stand for wilderness, mystery, romance … the brown bighorn ram high on a rocky comb, the flash of a whitetail’s fan as he bursts out of his cover and dashes for safety, the big hulking moose stalking on long, stilt-like legs through the spruce timber … high mountain passes, glaciers, timberline basins, green, lush, smooth as an English lawn, where grizzly bear digs for marmots and the soaring eagle whistles.

I guess it is common for a writer to muse, I wish I had written that! I know I do it all the time. Nothing I’ve ever read or heard describes my feelings about a hunting rifle better than the words of O’Connor, above. Since this is a book about rifles — hunting rifles — it is only fitting that his words be used once again.

I do not know of any books preceding this one that covers the topic of custom rifles as this one does. The intent is to show the reader the many steps involved in creating a custom rifle. Some makers do not perform all the steps contained in this book. Some perform damn few of them and still call their product custom. Very few perform all of them as contained herein but the few that do, and do them well, are truly the masters of their craft.

I was fortunate to be able to work with the David Miller Co. in Tucson, Arizona, to illustrate the custom rifle building process. Both David Miller and Curt Crum have been extremely generous with their time and their talents in helping me to describe, both pictorially and in words, the process of crafting a custom rifle, as it is done in Miller’s shop. In fact, we will discuss two different varieties of Miller custom rifles, the original Classic and the newer and less expensive Marksmen.

The Classic is the top of the line in custom rifles; the Rolls Royce, the Rolex, and the Beluga caviar of the craft. The Classic leaves nothing to chance and takes about everything imaginable into account. Curt and David spend more time on the barrel of a Classic than many makers devote to their entire rifles. They can afford to do so as they have, over the many years that they have been turning out exquisite rifles, built up a client base that is willing and capable of paying the cost of such labors.

The Marksmen rifle costs about half what a Classic will set one back, but has many of the same features of the Classic. We will discuss the differences as we proceed along the different parts of the book.

A fixture for securely holding bottom metal during polishing and stoning was designed and fabricated in the David Miller Co. shop.

While I am a huge fan of both David and Curt and their rifles, this is not the reason I chose to use their shop for this project. Neither is that we are close friends and hunting companions on numerous occasions the reason for choosing their shop. The primary reason is that the high end of custom bolt-action rifles are built there, and therefore make fine examples to use. Although still some 75 miles away in Tucson, it allowed me at any time to drop in for ongoing questions and photos. Thirdly, I have known David and Curt for twenty-seven-plus years now. I have watched each and every aspect of building a custom rifle as it is done in the Miller company shop. Those reasons played a large role in the decision but the real reason is that no maker in the business today is more competent, more thorough, more precise or more persistent than the David Miller Co. David and Curt both follow the pledge that they will never let less than their best efforts out the door, no matter what.

David Miller and Curt Crum test-fire all the rifles they craft many times before delivering them to their clients. If the rifles do not shoot and function in accordance with the David Miller Co. rigid standards, they do not get into the client’s hands.

Even so, with each visit I make to the shop, I invariably learn something new. Having known them for so many years and having spent so many hours during that time in their shop, I thought I had a pretty good handle on what they did and how they did it. However, since I’ve been working on this book and spending so much additional time with them, documenting both in words and images the custom rifle building process, I’ve learned that I just thought I knew what was going on. They let me down gently. Usually!

These are the tools, along with another batch (next page), required to install a Miller rifle grip cap.

I also have learned the value of fixtures and tooling in the process. I don’t know just how many fixtures there are in the Miller shop but it is surely more than a hundred. They don’t do much without the aid of fixtures. The goal of the shop is that each and every Miller Classic rifle is the same as the ones that preceded it and those that will follow it. David told me that the only way he knows how to do that is by the use of fixtures and special tooling in almost every step of the crafting process. It has taken this dynamic duo more than twenty-five years to come up with their fixtures and they are still in the modifying and development stages when it comes to the tooling they use.

The Marksmen in the vise is being glass-bedded. Curt has found that surgical tubing holds the barreled action to the stock perfectly during the curing process.

Over time, their rifles have changed, or perhaps evolved is a better term. The evolution process has also required changes in the tooling. I think it is safe to say, that at times there is more time devoted to developing tooling than in crafting a rifle. Once the tooling is developed and perfected however, it basically will last forever. David once told me that he really felt empathy for a new guy who is just coming into the business. His reason had nothing to do with the trials and tribulations of dealing with the public or looking for business to earn a living. His real reason was all the work ahead for the young man in just developing and crafting all the fixtures and tooling that he will need to succeed.

This set of tooling completes the fixtures (see previous page) required to make and install Miller grip caps.

The rifle that Dave and Curt craft today is not the same as the rifle they made when I first met them more than a quarter of a century ago. When I first visited their shop, they were using both Mauser actions and Pre-64 Winchester Model 70 actions in building their rifles. They completely rebuilt each and every action, to include reheat-treating them. They told me at the time that Mausers were usually too soft and Model 70s too hard. Back then they would, on occasion, do less than a complete custom rifle for a customer — a stock job or a re-barrel job and the like.

Just a few of the many wonderful stock blanks that David Miller Co. clients have available to consider for their stocks. These particular blanks are still in the drying and curing stage.

My personal Miller rifle is one of these latter jobs. It started life as a FN Browning factory rifle chambered for the 270 Winchester cartridge. A client brought it in to be rebuilt and restocked. The rifle shot very well in its factory guise so the barrel was retained. They rebuilt the action, polished and tweaked it here and there during the process. It was then restocked in a nice, not really fancy, piece of English walnut. The client quite happily took it home.

This fixture, rarely used in the Miller shop today, was fabricated for making the safety lever for a two-position Model 70 type safety on a Mauser action.

A few years later, the owner got seriously into shotgun sports and traded the rifle to a dealer in California on a swap for a high-grade shotgun. David found out about the rifle being for sale and brought it back to Tucson. The rifle had seen little use since leaving the shop but David and Curt went through it with a fine-toothed comb. They then offered it to me for a very reasonable price and I couldn’t turn it down. A reasonable price for a Miller rifle is still a lot of beer money though and it took me quite some time to come up with the cash. I picked up the rifle about a week before departing for Alaska and a combined moose and caribou hunt. Although a 270 is not exactly an ideal moose cartridge,

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