What Do You Need to Chamber Rifles? – Ultimate Reloader

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Ever dream of chambering your own rifle barrels? Not just barrels, but benchrest-quality barrels capable of incredible precision? In this video, brought to you by the Colorado School of Trades and OTM Tactical, I walk through the equipment, machinery, training, and investment you’ll need to do just that! (Use code UR5 to save 5% on your entire order from OTM Tactical!)

Disclaimer

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About the Colorado School of Trades

One of the best ways to learn is hands-on. The Colorado School of Trades was founded in 1947 and has evolved with the times to offer a comprehensive and respected program filled with hands-on gunsmith training on machining, chambering and more. We recently traveled to Colorado to take a personal tour and talk with the students!

From Colorado School of Trades

Colorado School of Trades is an accredited institution offering an Associate of Occupational Studies degree specializing in Gunsmithing. Colorado School of Trades is accredited through the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC). Founded in 1947, Colorado School of Trades has offered our Gunsmithing Training Program since the very beginning. 

Are you interested in a career in Gunsmithing? Here are a few things to consider. According to the National Shooting Sports Foundation there are an estimated 423 Million Firearms in the United States, and less than 10,000 legitimate Gunsmiths available to work on them. This equates to over 42,000 firearms per Gunsmith. That shows favorable job security in a marketable career like few others!

Colorado School of Trades has developed a unique hands-on system utilizing project oriented and customer provided training that has been honed for the past 75 years. The school prides itself on a personal approach that allows students to acquire job skills that will prepare them to enter the work-force as an entry level Gunsmith and begin a lifelong career in the field.

In our 20,000 square foot industry simulated facility, Colorado School of Trades can accommodate up to 160 students with new classes beginning on the second Monday each month. This allows for individual class sizes to remain small, putting more focus on student and instructor interaction. All instruction is project and customer based. Using “Real Customer Projects” allows for students to experience many real world work situations under instructor supervision.

Students are offered additional courses throughout the duration of the course. Armorer’s Courses consist of representative from various companies visiting Colorado School of Trades to pass along information regarding certain platforms. These Armorer’s Courses usually carry additional costs that are determined by those putting on the course. Presenting companies may include but are not limited to; Beretta, Glock, Sig Sauer, and Smith & Wesson. Cerakote also provides a free course to all students at the school once a year to supply students with the knowledge and application of their product.

Total cost to attend Colorado School of Trades is approximately $29,850. Tuition cost for our program is $25,200. There are additional costs including approximately $4,500 of tools and materials necessary to complete the program, including all aspects of the bolt action project rifle, as well as a $150 supplemental accident insurance policy. 

Riflesmith’s Mindset/Talent/Disposition

You can have all the equipment you need to succeed, but a riflesmith also has to have some important qualities to go along with it. He/she needs extreme patience, persistence and focus.

A Student Taking a Measurement at a Lathe at the Colorado School of Trades.

These are crucial both during gunsmithing and during the learning process. He/she must be mechanically inclined, have attention to detail, and be willing to problem solve. Manual dexterity, “someone’s ability to use the hands to perform a difficult action skillfully and quickly so that it looks easy,” is absolutely crucial. 

Checking a Barrel for Runout

The willingness to go the extra mile really makes a difference. For example, I check  run-out multiple times when chambering a barrel. I also ensure I don’t have any distractions while I am machining so all of my energy is focused on the process and required mental math. 

Training & Skills

If you have the right attitude and disposition, you can apply yourself to learn the needed technical skills. There are many ways to learn, but I still believe the most effective method is through hands-on, in-person training. Machining skills are imperative. A good riflesmith needs to be able to effectively use a manual lathe and mill and understand and execute the feeds and speeds. (I’m currently looking for a qualified machinist for Precision Rifle Concepts!)

A Student Operating a Manual Lathe at the Colorado School of Trades

I started running lathes in the 1980s while I was attending mechanical engineering school. I eventually bought my own and ran it for years before even considering gunsmithing. You can start machining with the goal of gunsmithing, but expect to spend a lot of time practicing, particularly on plastic and aluminum. Precision is critical. You often cannot afford to make a mistake as the materials may have taken a year to come in and you have a customer waiting. Math and visualization skills are critical for machining work. You have to be able to think in 2D and 3D and do addition and subtraction on the fly. This is also when high school trigonometry pays off!

Gunsmiths also have to be able to read prints and technical drawings, and occasionally create them. Understanding the full rifle system brings this full circle. 

BAT TR Tenon Print

Overhead 

While it’s an afterthought for most people, facility, insurance, and licensing are a must. You have to have shop space, an office/showroom, and a vault or security system. Keep in mind that 3-phase power is highly desirable. We don’t currently have this, but it would be extremely helpful. You also need insurance and the appropriate licenses, at least an 07 manufacturer FFL.

Machinery

For this discussion, I am discussing only manual machinery. The first thing you need is a precision-built metal lathe. I partner with Precision Matthews and every lathe I have used from them is perfect out of the crate. A large diameter spindle allows you to chamber large diameter barrels and to potentially fit all of the rifle action into the spindle. This expedites the process and often prevents me from having to remove a barrel from an action to thread it. The shorter the spindle, the better. 

We have three different lathes of three different lengths, the PM-1440 GT, PM-1440HVT-2, and the PM-1660 TL,  which offer us some flexibility. The PM-1440GT has a 2.050” spindle capacity and 15.5” length. The PM-1440HVT-2 has identical spindle capacity but a 17.375” length. The PM-1660TL, our largest and heaviest lathe, has a 2.550” spindle capacity and 24” length.

Precision Matthews PM-1660TL

The swing, the diameter of what can be turned on the lathe, is not super critical, but the distance between centers is. (I often use the PM-1660TL with 60 inches between centers though 40” is generally adequate.) Mass, weight, and rigidity are also very important. Heavier, more rigid machines are best. You should also consider availability of parts, repairs, and support. I’ve had great experiences troubleshooting with Precision Matthews customer service.

4-Jaw Chuck

Lathes are like guns—you may need a number of accessories that don’t come with it. These include 3-jaw and 4-jaw chucks, an outboard spider, steady rest/follow rest, pressure flush system, reamer holders, and a tailstock DRO. Some of these items, like the outboard spider and rigid reamer holders, I designed or made myself. (I learned about rigid reamer holders from Bruce Thom, owner of BAT Machine.) 

Outboard Spider

While lathes are the easiest way, it is possible to do considerable rifle barrel work including stock work like barrel channel inletting, on a milling machine. I use a PM-949TV, a 9” x 49” table bridgeport clone.

PM-949V Mill

No matter what mill you use, I highly recommend getting a DRO — x-axis travel is important. The longer the table and the longer the travel, the more inconvenient it is to change between handles. The size of a mill comes with advantages and disadvantages. (Gordy Gritters likes small milling machines for stock work.)

The final piece of machinery we have is a PM-712G band saw.

This is handy for swift barrel cut-downs. I do cut barrels on the PM-1660TL, but it is often more trouble to part barrels on smaller lathes than it is worth. 

Tools

Precision measurement tools are one of the most valuable investments you will make. I keep the following at each lathe: 

  • 0-6” Digital Calipers
  • 0-1”, 1-2” OD Micrometers
  • 0-1”, 1-2” Thread Micrometers 
  • Depth Micrometer
  • Thread Pitch Gauges (inch, metric)
  • 0-1” 0.001” Indicator/Base
  • 0.0001” Indicator/Base

Gunsmithing and hand tools come next. These include a barrel vise, action wrenches/set, ejector removal tool, punches, and many more! While reamers and gauges immediately come to mind while chambering, the disassembly tools are also very important.

I’ve been using Short Action Customs barrel vises, both the Bravo and Modular. Short Action Customs also offers a handy modular action wrench with various interchangeable heads

Reamers, Gauges, & Bushings

For each chambering job you will need at least one chambering reamer.

It’s helpful to keep common reamers in stock.

A finisher is a good one-size-fits-all whereas a rougher is great to have for volume work. I recommend having a few bushing sets to start: .22 caliber, 6mm, 6.5mm and .30 caliber. Each of these will come in a nine-piece set or so. Keep in mind these are the minimum calibers I recommend you have bushings for.

You should also have indicating rods and go/no-go gauges

Laser Engraving

One tool that will put your barrels above the rest is a 30-50 watt fiber laser engraver.

This makes it easy to professionally and clearly mark barrel details. You can also do ATF-Compliant engraving and Cerakote laser imaging.

Cerakote laser imaging is a great opportunity to make extra money!

What Does All This Cost? 

The cost for a basic setup is approximately $23,000 while the cost of a premium setup is over double that at $55,000.

This pricing is for brand-new items and does not include training, books, facilities, licensing, storage, benches, Cerakote equipment, tool chests, general shop tools, reamers, gauges or CNC. This table includes the essential items you need to chamber barrels. 

Cerakote is worth mentioning on its own as it is another growing opportunity for gunsmiths. I highly recommend attending Cerakote’s certified applicator training. Setting up a Cerakote shop comes with its own needs: a sandblaster, prep area, booth and spray guns, ovens and Cerakote inventory.

We use Built American ovens and their DSBE-1500 spray booth. Use code UR5 to save 5% at Built American! 

Conclusion

With failure not an option, precision machining provides a similar exhilaration to what surgeons may feel cutting into a heart. There are considerable costs and training involved, but it can be an incredibly rewarding and profitable experience. 

Get the Gear

If you’re interested in attending the Colorado School of Trades, check out their website or call 303-233-4697! 

OTM Tactical offers a variety of actions, barrel blanks, triggers and more.

Use code UR5 to save 5% on your entire order from OTM Tactical!

Precision Matthews Equipment

Short Action Customs Barrel Vises

Short Action Customs Modular Action Wrench

Use the code UR5 to save 5% sitewide on BuiltAmericanEquipment.com.

Built American DSBE-1500 Spray Booth

Built American BAE-0100 Desktop Capacity Cerakote Convection Oven

Built American BAE-0200 Standup Capacity Cerakote Convection Oven

If you’re interested in taking the Cerakote Certified Applicator training, I would suggest enrolling ASAP as there’s a bit of a waitlist. If you’ve taken the class, consider the advanced course!

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Thanks,
Gavin Gear

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