Restoring my Dad's Remington 721

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    Rancid Crabtree
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    The Remington Model 721 was first made in 1948 and had a production run of only 14 years but it really is a fantastic rifle.

    This particular 721 is chambered in 30-06 and was made in 1957 and like most rifles has an interesting tale. This one however could be called the “Lazarus” because it was literally brought back from the dead to live again. Here is the story as told to me by my Father.

    The original owner bought the rifle at a sports shop in Stevens Point, WI and during the Nov, 1961 deer season that owner and the rifle were involved in an automobile accident. The only fatality was the rifle. The stock was broken in half at the pistol grip and the barrel was bent. My father knew the original owner well and in the spring of 1962 the owner and my father spoke. Talk turned to the accident and eventually the broken rifle. When the talking was done, my father ended up purchasing the action and bent barrel for $20. I suppose for a 27 year old farmer with a young family, $20 was a lot of money for what was really just a piece of junk.

    My father took that rifle to every sports shop and gun smith in the local area. All inspected the 721 and said there was nothing they could do. He expanded his search to shops further away but got the same response. My father says the barrel was bent in such a way that if you sighted down the barrel you could not see through the bore. Having invested $20, and being a crafty DIY’r with skills of his own he decided he had nothing to lose in trying to straighten the barrel himself.

    Using tools found on the farm such as a welder, hydraulic press and some scrap metal, my father fashioned a device to secure the barrel and a saddle cut from a piece of pipe and while looking down the barrel, be set about undoing that bend. He told of pumping the handle on the hydraulic jack until while sighting down the barrel, the bore looked straight but when backing off the pressure of the jack, a bit of spring back showed he hadn’t gone far enough. After some of “over bending” and spring back, he was satisfied the job was completed.

    With the barrel straightened as best he could, he went back to the local sports shops and bought a replacement stock for $20. He assembled the rifle and shot it (certainly a risky maneuver). The rile functioned well so more shots were cycled through and then it was sighted in. All of this happened while I was too young to care and since our state did not allow hunting until the age of 12, he hunted with and killed a lot of deer with that straightened barrel for 14 years before I began hunting with him. It wasn’t until I was much older that I even heard the story of the accident and the resurrection of the 721.

    I have hunted with my father (who just celebrated his 80th birthday) and his 721 for about 40 years. I’ve be witness to some amazing shots on both stationary and moving deer and some at equally amazing distances with that straightened barrel. Now, 50+ years is not a long time for something so durable as a bolt action deer rifle and if the rifle were used a few days a year and spent 90% of its time in a gun cabinet you would expect perhaps a few blemishes. If however you have ever seen a farmer’s rifle with 50+ years of service, a rifle used to put meat on the table for a family of 8 that has been knocked around the cabs and beds of trucks and corn pickers and plenty of rough service and all without the luxury of a hard side or even a padded case. You would expect a bit of “wear and tear”.

    The case for his 721 was sewn by my mother and was made from an old bed sheet because it could be wadded up and pocketed at the start of a deer drive and used at the end of those drives to get a ride back to the farm (usually in the back of a pickup truck). Many are the times I saw the old 721 come back to the farm soaking wet or frozen. After such hunts it would rest near the wood stove to thaw out and dry up before hitting the woods the next day. When not in use, the normal resting place for the 721 was behind the entrance door in the farm house because there was no gun cabinet until my younger brother built one in high school wood shop in 1985) As such, you would not be surprised at the condition of this model 721 knowing it was used as a tool on a farm.

    One of my hobbies is restoring old firearms and I have restored some of my Fathers firearms in the past but until now I had kept my hands off his 721 but after the 2014 deer season, myself and other members of our hunting party got to talking about his 721. It was decided I would give that tired rifle a make over. In the last few years, my oldest brother would take my Father’s rifle back to his house after deer season to clean and oil it so it was not out of the ordinary that the 721 would be out of sight. During the annual Christmas at the farm I got the 721 and set about the restoration. Like all my restorations, it begins with the “before” pictures. As you will see, there is little original finish left on the wood and the bluing had been polished away leaving silver metal which was once a deep black. Despite the lack of blue, the rifle has little to no rusting.

    Now you have good understanding of what I’m dealing with. Little to no finish and little to no bluing and a few dents and dings and 50+ years of old oil and crud.

    I wanted to bed the stock in the location of the barrel lug so the barrel would float above the stock. Over years of tightening the action screws and the lack of finish, the stock had swelled and is now in contact with the barrel.

    With a bit of epoxy and some steel I remedied the issue with the barrel lug. Now the lug rests squarely against embedded steel rather than old wood.

    In the past I have done restorations with either cold blues or boiling water Herters Belgian blues but for this rifle, I thought it best to send it out for hot bluing. Before sending it off, I disassembled and polished all the metal rather than have the bluer do any of the polishing. Because the bluer would have the action for quite a while, I turned my attention to the wood stock. I planned to rub in a dozen or so applications of oil and they would have plenty of time to cure between applications.

    The wife will never miss this credit card.

    After sanding I applied a bit of filler for the pours in the freshly exposed walnut.

    Since my father is now 80 and a bit smaller than he once was, the bark of the 721 needs to be tamed. To that end I’m cutting off the stock and adding a Pachmayr recoil pad.

    A little tape and a new saw blade will help reduce splintering of the grain.

    Having sawn away the butt plate holes, I need to add new holes at the location of the new recoil pad.

    The pad has one white stripe but Im adding another by using an old plastic 3-ring binder.

    The pad is purchased over-sized and needs to be sanded to fit the stock and the slope of the heel.

    Then a bit of time and a few grits on the belt sander.

    The screws are nicely hidden within the soft rubber.

    With that task complete its back to finishing the wood.

    The old Remington stocks had a beautiful reddish color despite being made of Walnut. I think that color was in the clear coat which I cant duplicate so I messed around with a mixture of dies using the piece of stock I cut off for the recoil pad until I had the color I wanted.

    Here is the stock after the very first application of oil. 11 more to go.

    After several weeks, a bit of fine sanding and 0000 steel wool, the stock was complete. Then it was the waiting game until the action came back from the bluer. Several months passed but it as worth the wait. The “worn to silver” metal once again had that beautiful black finish.

    The once “silver” bolt knob.

    The trigger guard and bottom plate really look nice in black. All that time spent at the buffing wheel really paid off.

    The stock ended up with a candy apple gloss that I didn’t care for. It was a bit “too shiny”. Using 0000 steel wool and paste wax and some elbow grease, I reduced that gloss a bit. Here is the assembled “Lazarus” rifle ready for the 2015 deer season and many years to come.

    Using “poor mans” gold in letting I enhanced the barrel marking.

    Next Friday night during my weekly bowhunting trip back to the farm I will return the 721 to my father. I think he will be pleased. It was a pleasure restoring this storied rifle.

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