View Full Version : Questions on attaching a barrel and more.

May 2, 2012, 04:22 PM
I'm 21 and have been digging my way as deep into gunsmithing as I can since I turned 18. Have been firing rifles as far back as I can remember though. I do all my friends' gunsmithing, help them pick all their firearms, etc.

However, I have never taken a single class in gunsmithing or machining. I've been a carpenter since I was 15 and I use all my tools from that to get by doing gunsmithing...along with some tools my grandfather left me in his will such as taps and so on. I got into gunsmithing when my brother (range officer USAF) got me interested in an AR, and got more into it when i converted my first Saiga. Since then I have built several AR's, done several more complicated conversions of Saiga rifles, and modified a few others. However, I've hit a wall recently and I'm tired of staring at it.

I have no idea where to begin installing a barrel. When I do an AR build, I always have to buy the upper and barrel pre-built. I cant change barrels on any of my rifles or my friends', and I can't thread a barrel. One day I hope to be able to open a business on the side for gunsmithing and get my proper licensing and such, but I'll never get anywhere until I can learn this. I haven't even wanted to try to do it without advice, because, well, i imagine the repercussions for improperly installing a barrel are somewhat severe. So, is it a simple thing? And what is the deal with "headspacing" do I need major machinery, or can I manage it myself? Also, barrel threading, as I mentioned above.

Thanks for any help you can give.

May 2, 2012, 11:38 PM
You will need a lathe and machining experience. Installing a factory barrel on factory guns with the factory contour just requires checking headspace, but most people who want a barrel replaced are looking for something better than what the factory can offer.

The headspace is a measurement from the bolt face to a point on the cartridge. This point is different on different case styles. Too little and the bolt wont close. Too much and the cartridges sloshes around in the chamber. Adjusting headspace has to do with moving the chamber and/or the barrel to fall with in a window measured by the go and no-go gauges.

AR-15 bolts headspace in the barrel extension. This is set when the extension is installed on the barrel so the armorer doesnt (much) have to worry about it, and can change barrels on uppers without too much thought.

Barrel threading is just like any other threading operation. Turning down a barrel to a different contour can be fun. Machining for gunsmithing is easy to pick up if you have a good teacher.

The best way to learn is to take classes or intern with a master smith. The NRA offers summer courses in machining and rebarreling at a few of the gunsmithing schools. It is probably possible to buy a $3k Grizzly and teach yourself, but you will save money in broken reamers, gauges, and barrel blanks by having someone teach you.

TSJC (the best school) classes are listed here: http://nra.trinidadstate.edu/ Other NRA classes are listed here: http://www.nrahq.org/education/gunsmithing.asp

4V50 Gary
May 3, 2012, 12:25 AM
Take a machine shop class. Learn to use a mill and a lathe.

Then enroll in a NRA summer gunsmithing program that will teach you hrebarreling a rifle. You should also take gun stocking.

Who knows? You may be our next John Browning. Like Gounard's opera Faust? He used to whistle a tune from that opera.

May 3, 2012, 08:20 AM
Thanks a lot guys, I'll definitely look into it. I figured it was probably too complicated for a jackleg novice like myself haha.

May 3, 2012, 09:01 AM
Well, I'd say don't beat yourself up too much. A guy I read about who got into gunsmithing and building guns started out as a jeweler and watch maker/repairman. He started fixing guns on the side for friends; later on he found that he was actually making as much and more doing gunsmithing. He made a career change (said that after working on tiny watch parts that gun parts were positively HUGE in comparison) and never looked back. To the best of my knowledge, he never got "formal" training in gunsmithing; just used his skill and aptitude--with a good deal of common sense mixed in--to make a thriving business out of his work with firearms.

The guy's name is Bill Wilson (Sound familiar? ;)).

If your passion lies in the maintenance, repair and building of firearms, go for it! Best of luck to you.

May 3, 2012, 04:05 PM
1. Wikipedia has a decent discussion of head spacing:

It is critical that you understand this for many things aside from re barreling, such as reloading.

2. There are plenty of youtube videos that explain how to re barrel an AR. It does not require a lathe, just the correct wrench and means to hold the upper receiver. It is strongly suggested that you check head spacing after doing an ar barrel install, but if it is incorrect you simply send the barrel back and complain that it was not mil spec (assuming you did everything right). This assumes you are using a pre-chambered and pre-threaded barrel, if you start from a barrel blank then you need a lathe. Starting from a blank is only done for high-end match rifles, plenty of folks buy a pre-threaded, pre-chambered AR barrel and do the job in their garage.

3. There are also short-chambered pre-threaded barrels sold by a number of barrel makers, like pac-nor. These will supposedly fit standard threads on the actions they are intended for, and then you finish ream by hand in many instances without a lathe. I know this has been done by a lot of people on their own with old mauser actions, but I don't know about other actions. This way, you just need a barrel vice, action wrench, reamer and reamer handle, and headspace gauges.

4. Savage rifles use a nut system whereby you also don't need a lathe. Pac-nor sells a nut system you can use for Remington rifles as well. I have never used these, but my understanding is the nut replaces the receiver shoulder as the crush point for the barrel shoulder, and you simply adjust the nut until headspace is correct on a pre-threaded and pre-chambered barrel. Tons of folks do this with their savages, and again I think there are how-to's on youtube.

Otherwise, the rifleman's journal blog just did a great 4 or 5 part series on how r700 clones are re barreled, starting from a barrel blank:
There are also youtube videos all over showing not only how to re barrel from a blank on a r700, but also how to true up the action.

there is a blogging gunsmithing student, I think the blog is called nerdgun or something like that.

Good luck!

May 3, 2012, 04:50 PM
well, that works too. So AR's are more simple if you get a prethreaded barrel, or a nut system for a different rifle. Another specific question, what about a Mosin Nagant? I see several places selling receivers and heavy barrels. Would i need a lathe for something like that?

It's very encouraging to see that I can do some rifles if I get pre-threaded barrels or factory barrels. As I said before, I'm only 21. I don't have a couple grand to throw at a milling machine or something, not yet. Just managed to finish building my house, and that's the last big spending I plan to do for a while haha.

Do I have my terminology wrong in the OP? Would preparing a barrel for a muzzle brake or suppressor be considered "threading" a barrel, or is that just threading it for the receiver?

Once again thanks for all your help. I plan on taking some classes eventually, but I'd like to learn as much by myself as I can. The Firing Line has never steered me wrong.

May 3, 2012, 05:03 PM
"threading" is any time you take bar stock and add threads. I have never heard of anybody threading a barrel blank with anything but a lathe for the breech end to go into the receiver. Muzzle brake I vaguely remember reading that maybe on some barrels it can be done with a die and a (very) skilled hand, but a lathe is probably the preferred way.

In case it is not clear, a barrel blank is just a cylinder of steel that has the rifling cut down the center. A lathe is then used to contour the cylinder, thread for receiver (and on the muzzle end, brake, silencer, etc), and chamber for the cartridge in question. So a lot of times folks will buy a barrel blank with a .223 or .30 or whatever bore and rifling twist they want, then send over to the gunsmith who then shapes it into an AR barrel or varmint contoured barrel for a bolt varmint rifle.

I have no idea about mosins. Also, for a 10/22, no tools are needed to change a barrel, it is friction fit into the receiver, although some high end custom jobs involve threading the receiver and barrel using a lathe.

May 3, 2012, 07:35 PM
Thanks a lot guys, I'll definitely look into it. I figured it was probably too complicated for a jackleg novice like myself haha.

Nobody is born knowing how to walk; You have to crawl first, then learn.

And, when you make a mistake, the trick is to NOT make the same mistake twice.

May 3, 2012, 07:53 PM
Ah, I understand. So as long as it's pre-threaded milspec, it should fit and be headspaced correctly. If it is not, it's a factory mistake? I guess I can look up anywhere on the internet to figure out how to measure for headspacing though.

I'll have to look into getting a lathe sometime though.

Once again, thanks a lot guys. This morning I didn't know a damn thing about a barrel, now I feel like I at least grasp the basic concept.

May 3, 2012, 08:09 PM
With AR pattern, yes...however to be certain one often buys a new ar bolt with the new barrel that the mfg has already checked for head spacing. it is possible but rare that an existing AR bolt will not head space correctly with the new barrel. Again, the safe thing to do is to check head space with a gauge even when swapping an AR barrel (but in reality many people skip this step). Keep in mind there is a little more to it, such as the gas tube, gas block, etc., and if you change barrel length you have to adjust these things.... My original answer was just to say that you don't need a lathe. You still need to know what you are doing though, but again, it is all online. The main thing I guess is to make sure you have the proper blocks to mount the upper receiver in a vice, because the one thing you can screw up is twisting the upper receiver and ruining it. Most other things you can just give up and take your parts to someone who knows what to do.

To check head space you use a "go gauge", "no-go gauge" and sometimes a "field gauge". Basically the bolt closes on a go gauge but will not close on the no-go. People make a no-go by putting scotch tape on the base of the go. Google those terms and it will all be clear....these gauges are basically dummy cartridges of specific lengths. This is for bottle necked cases that head space on the shoulder datum, I'm not sure how rimmed case chambers are checked.

May 3, 2012, 08:33 PM
Yeah, I had planned on doing some mega google researching on all this, but I wanted to get an idea on what to look for...guidelines, i guess from some guys who know what they are talking about, just to make sure i get all the terminology right and such. Better safe than shrapnel.

May 4, 2012, 07:47 AM
Doing gunsmith type work covers a broad spectrum of tasks. Barreling is one and is pretty close toleranced work. I would suggest first taking a "continuing education" (after school) machine shop course. This will get you familiar with machine tools, micrometers, and gages. Foremost it should teach you to have a " light feel " and not be heavy handed when fitting sights, chambering and headspacing barrels, fitting a recoil pad, or any close toleranced job.

It should teach you about tolerances and just how big one thousanth (.001") is. Few realize that one sheet of standard loose leaf paper is about .003" ( 3 thousanths ) thick. Typical headspace tolerance is about .006". I would further suggest you read, read, read as much as possible. I am a toolmaker, retired from a gov't arsenal and can tell you there are many ways to do a particular task, some better than others.

Gun work requires patience and it should not be rushed, it is very rewarding when watching a customers eyes light up when he views your handy work. I have done hot salt bluing and found it to be very rewarding but also labor intensive. While I still have all the tanks and equipment I no longer do it as it was very time consuming. I was very picky about it and occassionaly had to start over on a gun because " I " was not satisified with what came out of the tanks. Perhaps I didn't charge enough?

Just don't give up your day job! This should start out as a hobby and progress from there. Chances are you'll make more money doing carpentry work than doing gun work. With our present anti-gun gov't. and depressed economy I could not suggest to "go for it". Pay attention, learn alot, and take it from there.
Good luck!

May 4, 2012, 08:31 AM
With all due respect to the above poster, the firearms industry is one of the few sectors in our economy that has not just survived the economic downturn the last five years, it has thrived and grown exponentially.

I can't explain it. People have less discretionary income, but it seems that many in the shooting sports, or in the interest of self-defense, have decided to spend their dollars on firearms instead of a new big screen TV, or computer, or what have you...

I have grown tired of trying to survive the construction downturn here in FL, and am in the process of setting up a new business, will be buying a 4-axis CNC, a lathe and getting into the business myself.

Good luck with it!

May 4, 2012, 10:48 AM
tobnpr, If you can operate cnc equipment you are light years ahead of the poster my response was intended for. Having neither the experience/ knowledge, or financial means to, starting a specialized business of that sort is IMO not prudent.

Myself, being from the Empire/Vampire State of NY where we are being slowly bled to death I have seen a decline in the old type gunshop. While there is an increase in the type of shop that can sell you a firearm, mount a scope and that type of, I will call it " non technical " work there are very few " full service" gunshops here anymore. Couple that with extremely restrictive gun laws and I would have to say that NY is not a gun friendly state. In those states where firearms are widely accepted, such as Florida I would have to agree with you. The fact that you could take on general machine work should the " gun work " slow down is an added +.

In any case the young man mentioned previously needs to learn more about firearms work as well as the machining business before he quits carpentary. Do it, whatever it is as a hobby first. I would never tell anyone at any age to stop learning.

May 4, 2012, 10:48 AM
Both very valid posts, above. One thing that should be mentioned is that most gunsmiths now have a speciality area--example, riflesmithing, pistolsmithing, restoration and refinishing.

I was an active gunsmith from 1988 to 1995. My speciality was refinishing and pistolsmithing. Doing good work is not hard--however, it IS very time consuming--and you'll want to definitely mind your P's and Q's here. Because the thing that defines a successful gunsmith from a failed one is quality and customer satisfaction.

I don't care how much you have in an advertising budget; 90% of your advertising is done word of mouth, from customers to potential clients. If you do quality work, you'll soon have a waiting list and you'll pull in the money; if you do not turn out quality work, you'll be looking for another job real quickly.

James K
May 4, 2012, 11:36 AM
A poster on another site said that he wanted to thread and install a barrel and didn't have or need a lathe. He was going to use a triangular file. Haven't heard from him for a while, I guess he is still at it.


May 5, 2012, 09:55 AM
Your points are well taken. Not an easy decision to make, and I haven't made the jump yet...initially, I will concentrate on what I know (carpentry) and custom gunstocks/duplication and certain small parts for which I feel a market exists. This will not require the FFL for startup. I do have a degree in Business Admin. so I'm realistic about projections and business models.

The versatility of the CNC, as said, would allow me to take on a pretty unlimited range of other custom projects as well. Tough to make a career change past 50, but....

I've spoken with ShopBot, and I'm going to see one of their machines that's local to me. No CNC experience. I will have to learn; but, it is my intention to hire someone with the experience to teach me what I need to know.

I'll have to see if this old dog can learn some new tricks.

Ideal Tool
May 16, 2012, 12:26 AM
Hello, everyone. Great posts! If I may add my own observations.. I have been a Tool Maker for over 35 years. tango1niner is spot on about learning basic machining skills..including bench work..learning how to file and fit parts.
When the CNC machines started to come into our shop in the late 70's, all the new hired apprentices were given extensive training on them. Some became very proficent. BUT..if a critical part on the production line had broken..and it was handed to one of these fellows in three or more pieces..and told they needed a new one NOW!...they were lost. You see, they were only trained in setting up the machine by given math data for a particular job.
If any hand filing were needed for fitting, they were lost. New technology is nice..but a master machinest using just simple hand tools is hard to beat!

May 16, 2012, 01:24 AM
I have no idea of your skills because working in carpentry tells me nothing. You can take all the classes you want, but mechanical ability can not be taught. You either have it, or you don't. My old man was a carpenter/cabinet maker for 60 + years and he knew and understood nothing about metal. I used to make my own bows and he did not understand the mechanical properties of different woods either. Pick up some old junkers and start working on them. I think almost half the guns I repaired were "Broken" because the customer tried to take it apart first. Not as easy as it looks. If you don't reload start doing that and read all you can. (Books, not magazines)

May 16, 2012, 05:43 AM
To add a bit more, here are some of the things I've picked up over the years. This might give you an insight on working with firearms....

1. Drop in parts....aren't.
2. The best money maker for the fledgling gunsmith is knowing the proper way to disassemble and clean a gun.
3. The next best money maker is the "box o'gun". (which happens when an industrious customer can not get the darned thing back together.)
4. ALWAYS cut the cheapest part first.
5. Measure twice/three times/four times; cut once. And cut SLOWLY. You can always take more off, but you can't put it back.
6. Buy once, cry once. You don't have to purchase a tool van and a machine shop to start off. Buy the tools you need as you need them--but buy QUALITY. If you don't, you'll find yourself frequently replacing tools, and you'll spend more on replacement tools than buying the best in the beginning.
7. The probability of having a part spring out/fall out/roll away for parts unknown increases exponentially if you have thick carpet. Clear plastic bags are your friend.
8. NEVER be afraid to admit that you don't know something--but always be willing to learn about it.
9. Do not be afraid to call an experienced gunsmith to ask for guidance. Brownell's, for instance, has a tech staff that will spend time with you to guide you in the right direction.
10. Finally--ALWAYS to the best job you are capable of. NEVER do the "quickie" repair job or patch work. ALWAYS do it RIGHT, instead of doing it cheap or easy.

Best of luck to you, and I hope that you truly enjoy working with guns.

(By the way...while working on the M16/AR family is straightforward, it takes attention. There are eeevil little parts, lurking in the AR series rifle that want more than anything to make your life difficult. Don't ask how I know....:eek:)

James K
May 16, 2012, 02:10 PM
Hi, Powderman,

I almost agree, but...

2. No, the best moneymaker is a sonic cleaner so you don't have to take the gun apart but you can charge the same as if you did.

3. The "box o'gun" ALWAYS has broken or missing parts, which you are expected to replace at no charge as part of putting the junker (they are always junkers) together. If you charge a reasonable amount for your time, the customer tells you the junker isn't worth it and to keep it, then walks out without paying.