Marksman in Training

7.10.2016 – Sunday

I’ve been building. It started last year with a prototype shooting bench. I included a photo in last year’s post Cabin :: changing forest. The Ol’ man had cut some cedar a little over a year earlier and the large rough sawn 2″ thick planks ranged from 6″ to 12″ in width; ideal for a outdoor bench top. The wood was dry and stable and mid-October 2015 it was delivered to the wood shop. The delivery also included some rough sawn 1.5″ old-growth 6″ white pine. Old-growth pine is lovely wood. It is stronger than the sapwood you typically get as construction lumber at home centers and machines cleaner. The home-center lumber has a tendency to be softer and every now and again when cutting it you’ll hit a sap pocket and gunk up your blades.

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I began construction of the cedar top November 26, 2015. The prototype bench taught me a few things about ergonomics and sizing. My original bench was a little tall so I dropped the seat an inch and closed the gap between the seat and the top another two inches. The design was unconstrained by size and grew into an ambidextrous design. So far we only need to accommodate right-handed shooters but with kiddos getting bigger and fond memories of a .22 Buckaroo in the back of my mind, I know the bench will get used by more than just Dad and I.

On to the construction! I began with the top. I milled thick cedar planks to 7/4 and then began to glue up the top. Nine boards were glued up into 3 planks, then the 3 planks were glued together to make the top. I flattened it with a hand plane and then smoothed it with a cabinet scraper.

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A straight board acted as a guide and I trimmed the top to length. A little more work with a reciprocating saw and I had a fully shaped top.

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With things going so smoothly, I decided to try my hand at constructing a breadboard end. This is a useful technique since I have long-planned to build a large kitchen table some day and this technique is proven and durable. Basically, a breadboard is a series of tenons that are pinned into a series or mortises in an end-board. The end-board prevents the table-top from cupping and shifting. Because the end-board needs to float as the width of the top expands and contracts with humidity, only the center tenon is glued.

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The outer tenons have elongated holes for expansion and contraction. The pinned tenons ensure that the breadboard end maintains a tight joint while allowing for some seasonal changes.

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Next was the frame. The frame was then built using oversized mortise and tenon joinery. Each joint is hand fit and locked in place with Gorilla Glue and two large SPAX lag bolts. Each mortise and tenon is labeled below.

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A beam then secures the front legs to the rear legs and allowed me to disassemble the bench in to three frame pieces and the top.

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I chose Defthane polyurethane and applied one quart to the entire bench. Once finish was applied it was sent away to storage.

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Winter came and went. I burned 12.5 cord of wood at my house and created several heirlooms in the wood shop. Soon spring was upon us and everyone was anxious to get outdoors. When we finally got back to the cabin to enjoy the outdoors the kiddos insisted that we fish and catch frogs.

Catching and releasing amphibians and fish seemed like a good idea, and a good excuse to get back to work on the bench. I assembled it in the back of my 5×10′ trailer and hauled it to camp. The Ol’ man had worked in the months prior to assemble the needed materials to complete the project. For strength and simplicity the bench sits atop a sheet of 3/4″ treated plywood that is attached with SPAX to two 4×6″ treated beams. Proving that attention to detail runs in the family, the Ol’ man cut a 45° on the skids and even rounded over the sharp edges with a rasp. On April 30, 2016 the bench was completed.

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I’ve been working on a target/coyote gun over winter and its completion matches up pretty well with the bench and shooting range. I’ve never been much for firearms that deviate from traditional designs and wood grips/stocks. I love Ruger firearms, especially the earlier models like my revolvers and No. 1B single shot rifle. It took a while but eventually I decided to get a sporting rifle (as Ruger calls it) and see what all the fuss was about. I ended up with an SR-556VT before it was discontinued (The ‘VT’ model is no longer available but other SR-556 models are still in production). Piston guns tend to be a bit heavier and I wanted a bench/hunting gun so the varmint model was a good fit. The accuracy is fantastic and it has a great target trigger straight from the factory. Prior to this project, and this firearm, I had never reached out to 200 yards and a .22LR was the largest semi-auto I had owned and shot. I had no idea what I was missing out on.

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I’ve tested out a few different bullet types and manufacturers and found that Fiocchi 50gr. V-MAX Tip Bow Tail bullets and my gun get along great. The bench aids in reducing shooter error, making it easier to evaluate the performance of different ammo. It feels really good to push the gun and ammo to its limit.

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The shooting rest and sandbag combination has been refined as well. After some trial and error the set up is pretty solid now. Wood risers/shims with a durable rubber floor mat material glued to one side grip the bench and provide a good foundation. Leather sand bags also have a good feel and an adjustable front rest simplifies adjustments.

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I’ve already seen measurable improvements in my marksmanship skills. There are lengthy article on how to shoot well. I’ve read a number of them, and while I find the content valuable, it’s no substitute for practice. Currently we have a target at 100 yards that I’m getting some time on. I would like to hand-gun hunt this deer season and part of the decision to take a handgun in to the field is to be proficient at 100 yards. I have equipped a Ruger Super Redhawk chambered in .44 Rem Mag with a Leupold 2x scope and am already starting to shrink my groups. It’s a fairly expensive endeavor since a decent hunting round costs a little over $1 per round for the .44 mag . While I save up for more .44 mag ammo I’ve been practicing on a .22 LR revolver. After all, 100 rounds of .22 LR costs the same as 6 rounds of .44 mag. The Ol’ man donated a few hand loaded .44 mags but they lasted just long enough to sight.

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The bench was a project that started out with a few simple objectives:

  • Provide an ideal platform for sighting in firearms by minimizing shooter error
  • Accommodate shooters of multiple body sizes
  • Suit the needs of left and right handed/eye dominant shooters
  • Last at least 30 years
  • Test out breadboard end joinery/durability

It will take a while for the last two on this list, but the first three can be checked off with confidence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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