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Of all the ways you can modify a bolt-action sporting rifle, bedding is one of the most foundational. Bedding allows you to firmly secure the barreled action to the stock, protect the stock, and increase the weapon’s rigidity.
Rifle Stock Bedding
In bolt-action hunting and sporting rifles with one-piece wooden stocks, there is a recess into which the receiver and barrel fit. This recess may not be a close fit, or it may contact the barrel.
Bedding is the process of creating a solid and snug foundation on which you can lay the barreled action. This eliminates deviations between the stock and the action, filling contours and securing the two.
Bedding increases the contact between the stock and the action to eliminate movement and secure the weapon. The bedding compound also acts as a sealant for exposed wood, protecting the wood from moisture and chemicals (cleaning solvents and oils).
In the age of modular semi-automatic rifles using synthetic furniture, the act of rifle stock bedding may seem obsolete. However, more traditional rifles, including those designed for precision shooting, can benefit from this modification.
The close fit will eliminate impediments to the inherent or mechanical accuracy of the rifle. This is why bedding, particularly glass bedding, is an accurizing modification for sporting rifles.
A loose fit between the action and the stock can also cause cumulative damage and eventual cracking because the two are not moving under recoil as a single unit, solidly fixed to one another. Instead, the action can move independently of the stock, even to a minor degree. Consequently, bedding also increases the strength and longevity of the stock.
Part of the bedding process is often ensuring that the barrel is free floating. In semi-automatic rifles, such as the popular AR-15, free floating handguards are simply those that attach to the barrel nut in the rear and don’t contact the barrel. The process of installing a free-floating system in these types of rifles is relatively simple.
Free-floating the barrel of a bolt-action rifle is a more laborious project because, in addition to the bedding process, you may also need to remove material from the stock using woodworking tools.
The term free floating simply means that, forward of the chamber, no part of the stock or frame contacts the barrel. In a bolt-action rifle with a wooden stock, the fore-stock can expand or warp in unpredictable ways, applying asymmetrical stress to the barrel and interfering with the barrel’s vibrations during firing. This can shift the point of impact, degrading inherent accuracy.
Although synthetic stocks are not susceptible to water absorption, as wooden stocks are, they still expand from heat at a different rate than steel.
How to Bed a Rifle Stock
When you’re learning how to bed a rifle stock for the first time, you should ensure that you have the correct hand tools and equipment available. You’ll need to designate a working space that is free from clutter.
Bedding a stock is similar to building a gun or detail stripping it for maintenance—you need space and to have your equipment organized and available from the beginning.
What you’ll need will include a bedding compound, chisels, a barrel bedding tool, a neutral type of boot polish or other release agent, and wood files. The bedding compound is a type of industrial-grade epoxy resin that you mix with a hardener.
Place the rifle stock in a vice using a pair of vice blocks to protect the exterior of the stock against damage. Alternatively, if you need to place material between the receiver and the vice, select something soft, such as leather or wood.
If you want to free float the barrel in a bolt-action rifle with a wooden stock, you may start by applying inletting black to the barrel and receiver, then setting the barreled action into the stock, and pressing or hammering the action (with a rubber mallet or other non-marring object) into the stock.
When you remove the barreled action, the inletting black covers those parts of the stock that are high and in contact with the stock.
If you need to remove material, you may begin, depending on where the black deposits, by opening the barrel channel in the stock using a barrel bedding tool. This will create additional clearance between the barrel and the fore-end.
Place bedding tape over the barrel, taking care to leave the chamber area bare. The chamber must be supported by the wooden stock.
Using a bedding tool, remove material from the stock recess corresponding to the position of the action. Use modeling clay to fill in contours, pin and screw holes, and other surfaces in the barreled action/receiver.
If the bedding compound enters these holes and slots, the barreled action may be permanently fused to the stock. Add bedding tape to the front and bottom of the recoil lug.
Apply a release agent to the receiver, chamber, and tape on the barrel. There are a variety of options to choose from, both dedicated and general purpose. A common choice among gunsmiths and hobbyists is a neutral—i.e., non-staining—boot polish, such as Kiwi.
Mix the bedding compound. Depending on the type you’re using, this often consists of an epoxy resin and a hardener. You may also want to add a dye so that the compound, once mixed, does not contrast with the inside of the rifle stock.
Using a paintbrush or other similar tool, apply the bedding compound liberally to the recess in the rifle stock for the action and the channel for the barrel. Wipe away any excess or spillage with a cloth. Once you’ve applied the bedding compound, you can screw the barreled action into the stock using a pair of hand screws. Let the bedding compound cure for 24 hours.
After the bedding has fully cured, you can unscrew the barreled action and remove it from the stock. Use a wood file to smooth the edges and a chisel or other sharp tool to remove any excess bedding that may have entered the magazine well.
Starting Gunsmithing or Gun Building
Bedding a rifle stock is another type of project that fits in the same category as building an AR-15 from the ground up. This process enables you to become more familiar with your rifle and how it functions. It also serves as a good starting point for the budding or amateur gunsmith or hobbyist.
While an involved process, bedding can allow you to gain the most accuracy out of your rifle by eliminating points of weakness between the action and stock. You’ll quickly find that you want to learn more than how to bed a rifle stock.
Glass bedding, when combined with a free-floating barrel, can significantly improve the fit and function of your rifle. If you want to remove a barrier to inherent accuracy and prolong the life of your rifle stock, consider bedding it yourself.