MAKING A LEVER ACTION FOREND
By Steven Dodd Hughes
Early in my gunmaking career I would look at a lever action forend and wonder how I would go about making one. Essentially they are hollow, just a thin shell of wood around a barrel channel inlet and a hole for a magazine tube. Most all of them are machined from patterns so it was easy to believe the factory just put a piece of walnut into a duplicating machine that would carve out a forend.
The first couple of custom lever rifles I built I used the original forend to make a pattern to be machined. The last time one I had machined the fellow doing the work had to make a deep hole drill the appropriate diameter for the magazine tube that I had to pay for. He gave me the drill after machining the stock.
#1A. Mag copy. Tube Drill-
#1A. The drill used for the magazine tube hole is made in the style of a self-centering deep hole drill. One quarter of the circumference is milled away, or fluted, leaving the radius as the cutting edge at about 75˚. The remainder of the face of the drill is ground back in relief. These drills are very easy to make with a milling machine. This one has a diameter of .640”, an overall length of 14” and is fluted for 5”. It was made from drill rod, hardened and tempered for the first few inches

The major problem with having a forend machine duplicated is the possibility of wood movement of both the pattern and the new forend. Looking like a clamshell in cross section, many of these forends actually pinch the barrel when installed. This is the natural way for the wood to move with the open top for the barrel channel and deep hollow of the magazine tube hole.
To insure proper machining, the pattern should be made with two small steel blocks to match the front and rear widths of the barrel to be inserted in the barrel channel making sure the pattern does not pinch smaller during the process. They can be super-glued in place for easy removal. The biggest advantage to these removable steel spacers is that there will be wood left on the machined stock spanning the barrel channel making the forend less likely to pinch or warp before one gets a chance to inlet the barrel. The disadvantage is that the machine cannot reach all the way around the spacers and more hand inletting will be required.
When any stock blank has a bunch of wood removed, especially if it is done quickly, stresses in the wood can be released and there is always a chance that it will move or warp. This is true no matter how small or large the blank. Well-seasoned wood is less likely to move. An unseasoned blank is very likely to warp. With the hollow shape of this type of forend, wood that hasn’t been cured at least three years is almost guaranteed to pinch warp. I prefer to use quarter-sawn wood, especially for these forends, and none less than five years off the stump. It is much less likely to cup-warp than slab sawn. Of course, it must match the wood of the buttstock.
#1 copy. End of blank-
#1. (See steps 1-3.) Both ends of the forend blank must be squared to one another and the exact starting point for the drill marked. Note, this is purposefully not in the center of the blank.

Thoughtful professionals that machine duplicate stocks will often hog off the major external wood, let the blank sit for a week or so, and then carve the inletting and final external shaping. The intervening time between machinings can allow some wood movement, hopefully without affecting the final result.
The most recent forend I made had a magazine tube the same diameter as the drill I previously paid for, so I set about making the forend from a square blank in my own shop. The rifle was a Marlin Model 94 of the old style with a custom barrel contour and chambered for .44-40. Note that the octagon section of the barrel is straight tapered but there is a short round cylinder section at the barrel breech like Ballard rifles. Although much more difficult to machine and inlet, I much prefer this contour with the cylinder section as it provides a clean visual transition from the action and adds a lot of class to the project.
This article is something of a how-to although it is meant more to be a how-it-was-done. I can’t possibly relate all of the details of the process. Most of the story will be told with photos and captions and a list of the many steps for those that wish to try it. Remember, I’ve been in this business for 35 years and had all of the tools and machines ready to go.
#2 copy Blank in Lathe-
#2. (See steps 4-9) The forend blank is set up with the tailstock center on one end and the drill in the chuck at the other. The blank will be hand-held during the drilling operation.

Making the Forend
1. Layout and bandsaw the blank. Be sure to leave plenty of wood all around the final dimensions.
2. Square both ends with a miter saw. (The blank is drilled half way from each end for the magazine tube hole. If the ends are not square to each other the drill holes will not come out matching.)
3. Mark the exact starting point of the drill on each end. This is done by by milling two sides of the block flat and square to each other and scribed using a square. Center punch perfectly.
4. The hole is drilled on the lathe using a deep hole drill in the lathe chuck. A center in the tailstock goes into the center drill hole in the opposite end. Remove the lathe bit holder from the lathe and move the cross feed as far out of the way as possible.
5. The hole is started with a center drill then opened up to the major drill size with a countersink. ALL OF THE LAYOUT AND DRILL STARTING MUST BE SPOT ON OR THE HOLES WILL NOT MATCH IN THE MIDDLE.
#3 copy. Partly Drilled on lathe-
#3. (See steps 4-9) The magazine tube hole has been drilled about 1/3 of the length from one end. Note the hole is slightly off center from the layout, see text.

6. Starting with a couple of inches of the drill protruding from the chuck and the block centered in the tailstock, the blank is hand-held and the major diameter drill started in one end. With the lathe at a slow speed, advance by rotating the tailstock wheel frequently backing it out and clearing the chips. The drill is lubed with very light water displacing oil that will eventually evaporate from the wood.
7. If the stock is chattering or jumping around it is probably not centered properly.
8. Carefully advance and drill hole to the halfway point. The drill will get very hot, lube and let cool. Don’t force or rush the drilling.
9. Turn the blank around and drill from the other end. My hole came out about 1/64” from perfectly meeting in the middle. You will see in the photo that the hole in one end wasn’t started perfectly and this is about equal to the amount of error. Running the drill all the way through from each end and sanding the hole with course grit paper on a split dowel will help correct the misalignment. Make sure the tube fits through the hole without binding.
#4. Milling channel-
#4. (See steps 10-11)An undersize octagon channel is milled from the forend. Note the depth of the cut is nearing the tube hole. This rough cutting can be done by hand with a mallet and large gouge.


10. The rest of the forend inletting, the barrel channel, action and forend cap must be aligned from, and built around the tube hole. The first step is to match the barrel channel inlet to the magazine tube hole. A milling machine is used with an undersize octagon cutter to rough out the barrel channel. The drilled blank is chucked in the mill vise with the drill in the hole. The drill is leveled and squared to the mill table from the portion extending from one end of the block. (The inletting can be done entirely by hand using a gouge and mallet to rough in the channel and the back-saw techniques described a bit later. The important thing is to layout the barrel channel inlet from the magazine tube hole. They must correspond to each other.)
11. Rough mill the barrel channel inlet with an undersize octagon cutter. Make note of how much space there is between the magazine tube and the barrel when installed together. Most are close enough that there will be no wood left in the bottom of the barrel channel inlet.
#5. Bars clamped to barrel- copy
#5. (See step 12) The barrel is C-clamped into the undersize channel and two steel bars are clamped to the side flats of the octagon.

12. All of the rest is handwork. Set the barrel on the rough inlet so that it sits down far enough so the side flats are about even with the top of the forend block. C-clamp the barrel in place. Now comes the trick to achieving a perfect inlet. Two 1/2” by 1/4” cold rolled steel bars are used. (See photos) One is clamped to each side of the barrel to perfectly match the tapered contour. These are wood screwed to top of the block with the screws far enough away from the channel so the holes will be trimmed away later.
13. Once they are clamped and screwed to the forend block the barrel can be removed. This leaves the bars matching the barrel taper.
#6 copy.Forend and bars-
#6. (See step 13) The steel bars are wood screwed to the forend to match the barrel contour. Note that very little wood will be removed from the sides of the inlet. A corresponding amount of wood must be removed from the other inletting surfaces as well.
#7 copy. Saw & Forend-
#7. (See steps 14-15 Using a very fine-cut back-saw held parallel to the bars and very tightly against them, the inletting for the side flats is established. Note the tape on the saw blade marking the depth of the cut.

14. Using a very fine-cut backsaw layout the depth of one half of the width of the side flats and mark with tape on the side of the saw blade.
15. Carefully saw straight down (or just slightly inward to give the cut a slight inletting draft) to depth. If you have a courser backsaw, grind the curf off one side of the teeth to prevent undercutting. A very fine-cut backsaw will leave the channel just slightly undersize.
#8 copy.Barrel inletted-
#8. (See steps 16-18) Once the barrel is inlet to full depth the barreled action is inlet forward until the front of the action is touching the rear of the forend.

16. Begin inletting the barrel straight down with transfer blue on the front section (smallest diameter). (I usually draw file the side flats of an octagon barrel with a slight draft to half depth before inletting.) Inlet the barrel removing wood until barrel bottoms out.
17. Now, using the barrel taper as an inletting draft, inlet the forend rearward, removing wood equally from all portions of the inlet until the forend block touches the face of the action.
18. The barrel will probably have squeezed upward a bit so check the depth at both ends and make sure it is inlet slightly deeper than half depth. Check alignment of magazine tube into the action.
#9 copy. Action & Inletting-
#9. (See steps 19-20) The action inlet is started. Note the pencil line marking the outside of the action lips. The excess wood has been slabbed off the sides and bottom. The corners have been pared away to make the inletting easier. Also note the transfer blue on the face of the action and the stock.

19. Install the forend and trace the face of the action lips on the end of the wood. This is a good time to slab off some of the excess wood on the sides and bottom of the forend and pare away the extra wood at the corners of that end leaving the entire pencil line.
20. Inlet the forend rearward using transfer blue to the correct depth in the face of the action. Check alignment with the magazine tube as inletting progresses.
#10 copy. Forend Tip-
10. (See steps 22-23) the forend cap is inlet straight back onto the forend. Note the angled spot where the forend meets the cap hanger. The inletting must be done with the forend cap hanger, magazine tube, tube stud and forend in their installed positions. The forend cap must correctly align with each of these and the barrel.

21. Install forend cap hanger to the barrel dovetail, trim forend to length and inlet to the forend to fit the small angled area of the hanger. Remember, it is this hanger that holds the forend back against the action, not the forend cap. Install magazine tube stud and again, check alignment of magazine tube with all parts in place.
22. Inletting the forend cap is one of the most tedious parts of the process because of the difficulty of installing the forend and tube to the stud with the cap in place. Inlet the forend cap straight back making sure it aligns with everything and fits properly to the barrel.
#11 copy. Completed Forend-
#11. (See step 23) The forend is completely fitted and dressed down to near final dimensions. All that is left is to finish the shaping.
#12. Spokeshave shaping-
#12. (See step 23) Ninety percent of the forend contouring is done with a spoke shave working from each end towards the middle. Then a flat bastard file is used to insure true flats.

23. All that is left is to trim all four sides to finished dimension and shape by rounding the corners between the flats. I prefer to use a drawknife for shaping if, as in this case, the wood is quarter sawn. Each side in reduced to three flats then each is split in two and knifed until the forend is nearly oval contoured. The next shaping operation is done with a 12” flat bastard file laid parallel and worked lengthwise to ensure true flats from tip to action. All of this is done with the forend completely assembled to the barreled action. The final operation is establishing the thin flat next to the barrel that is very carefully done with the forend removed from the barrel.

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There are two other applications for deep hole drilling gunstocks that I have used extensively. Through-bolt, or draw-bolt holes in two-piece stocks are drilled the same way on a lathe. The hole must then be counter-bored for the washer and bolt head. I do this with an oversize piloted drill. I’ve also drilled many ramrod holes for muzzleloading guns using the same type of deep hole drill. For a fullstock, the ramrod channel in the long part of the forend is used for a guide. For a half stock, the ramrod pipes soldered to a rib on the barrel are used for a guide. In both cases, the hole is drilled blind from one end.
I didn't conceive of the barrel channel inletting method using the steel bars. I learned it from a John Bivins article in an old
Rifle Magazine. Bivins taught the method for inletting a 44” swamped octagon barrel into a chunk of hard maple entirely with hand tools. I can guarantee that is a lot more work having done it myself. That is why I came up with the undersize octagon milling cutters.

Making a forend for a single shot rifle with an octagon barrel can be done it the same way that is a lot easier without the magazine tube.

I keep track of all of the bench hours on all of my jobs and this Marlin forend, to the point you see it in the photos, took a bit more than 20 hours, a lot of time for sure. Is it a time saver over having the forend machined? Adding up the time it takes to alter and glass bed the original forend, the cost of precision machining as well as the time to fit and inlet the new forend, I’d call it a wash.
The satisfaction of finishing a project I’ve always wondered how to do: priceless.

#13 copy. Rifle profile-
#13. I’ve included a full-length view of the rifle to illustrate the deluxe Marlin styling, and how cluttered a workbench can get achieving it.

M-94 SDH right long-