The Ugly Ducking- Carcano-Mannlicher Carbine Project

My Uncle Jim passed away last year and left me his guns and tools. Among these was a ‘sporterized’ M1938 7.35mm Carcano rifle of the type that used to sell by mail-order for about $5 before the GCA68. It was un ugly rifle, and standing in a corner unattended for forty years had not improved it.

This is perhaps the least desirable of collectible military surplus rifles, and this one was in miserable shape. Worth about $80 retail it’s not really worth the effort of selling it. On the bright side the bore and action are good, and he left me quite a lot of ammunition packed in the rare and hard-to-find clips. There’s a mix of military ball ammo and soft-points, and by all accounts these are a decent 100-150 yard deer rifle. So… what to do…

I’ve always fancied a Mannlicher carbine, and I’ve taken up gunsmithing as a hobby- why not turn the ugly rifle into one? Deciding to do so and actually doing it were too different things, not the least because a decent piece of wood was going to run a $100. For an $80 rifle? Yeah, not high on my list of priorities.

As fate would have it a friend dropped off a whonking-big chunk of Walnut, thinking I could use it for knife-handles. I told him, ‘Not so much, but I have this project…’ He was cool with that, so now I had the wood. Now it takes a pretty long piece of wood to make a Mannlicher carbine, and the standard stock was a bit short for my manly frame, so I wanted to extend the reach from the trigger. To make the most of the wood- and because of my addiction to ‘snubbies,’ I trimmed the barrel down to 16-1/2 inches (a half inch longer than the legal minimum for rifle barrels) and re-crowned it. Then I make up a rough outline of the stock I wanted and sawed it out.


The original rifle with the barrel trimmed and the stock blank.

Longer than it needed to be, but it’s a lot easier to make it shorter than it is to make it longer. later in the week I took and evening to mill out the slot for the magazine/trigger housing. I used my Uncle Jim’s old Craftsman drill press for this with a 3/8 inch mill.

Then I milled in the magazine slot. The drill press isn’t really designed for this, but with the Shop Fox milling vice and a little care it got done. Not perfect but a pretty decent fit.

The next evening it was time to inlet the action. Aside from milling the ‘tang’ slot the drill press wasn’t really set up for this, and wouldn’t really do the job. As luck would have it among the huge quantity of tools Uncle Jim left me there were a lot of wood-chisels, gouges and carving tools. I sharpened them all up and set to work.

It’s not as hard as you’d think, but it’s plenty hard enough. I mounted the smallest contact wheel on the belt-grinder and cleaned up the barrel channel. I’t set up so that the barrel floats from the rear-sight block to the muzzle. It took hours, and since it uses different muscles than I usually employ in my work it made me stiff and sore as hell. The end result was worth it, though.

This is how the action will sit in the finished stock.

Then is was time to take the wood to the belt-grinder for shaping. The Butt is offset to the left to give a nice palm-swell, and of course it’s shaped and fitted to my hand. Then I went after it with the orbital sander and took it up to 400 grit. It took a little fussing and fitting, but I was pleased with the result.

Friday afternoon I knocked off work at 2:30 and decided to deal with the front sight. I grabbed a piece of 1/2″ mild steel stock and went to work with the grinder. After the basic shape was done I filed the bottom to match the contour of the barrel. of course I couldn’t mount the sight until I refinished the barrel… basically the steel was all dark, dull and pitted from years of neglect in a coastal town, and the salt air had not been kind to it.

The cut-off end of the barrel shows what the condition of the metal was like throughout. I took it to the buffer with some Black Stainless rouge, and after an hour or so things were looking better. I soldered on the new front sight and treated it with Birchwood Casey Perma-Blue. Big improvement!

The original sight was drift-adjustable and was off the the left a good bit, so I soldered the new sight slightly canted to mimic it’s original position. Of course I have no idea it that’s right, but I can always use a little heat to move the sight if needed.

I’b been planning to do an oil finish, but about this time I noticed that the raw wood was picking up oils from my hands, random drops of sweat etc. Can’t have that! As a temporary measure I re-sanded it and applied a hand-rubbed Carnauba Wax finish. It looked so good I applied more coats and kept after it. I may actually stick with this finish!

Saturday night I was feeling a bit restless, so I decided to address the butt-plate. I  fabricated one from half-inch mild steel, finished it to 400 grit with an orbital sander and blued it. Nice. It adds a bit of weight to the gun, but it brings that balance to right where I wanted it. So the gun is now effectively finished until I get a nice piece of horn for the tip under the muzzle, and I’ll likely add sling swivels at some point too.

The end result is a 38 inch overall length, a 15 inch reach from the trigger to the butt (I’m a big guy,) it balances perfectly in my hands, and makes a handy ‘brush gun.’ It’s pretty, too, if I do say so myself. I’ve now made my first-ever rifle stock, too. It won’t be the last, either. So- Uncle Jim’s tools help me turn his old gun into something that is now very special to me, and I think a fitting tribute to him. I think he would approve.

Now to get out to the range…

1 thought on “The Ugly Ducking- Carcano-Mannlicher Carbine Project

  1. Pingback: I Hear the Siren-Song of Eastern-Washington Muleys… – tinker talks guns

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