I was wrong. I was dead wrong.
I had one of those moments where everything I had believed about something came crashing down. That moment came when I walked into McMillan’s Facility in Phoenix, Arizona.
I love walnut and I love maple. I know it’s not modern tactical today, but wood once was. I love the feel of a wood rifle stock in my hands. When I touch it I sense something special – human hands shaping and smoothing, finishing, and polishing a custom stock; or the history of the hands of past generations of young soldiers rubbing oil into a surplus rifle stock.
I was totally wrong.
I like the benefits of a modern fiberglass stock. I like the durability, the stability, and the immovability of a modern fiberglass stock. I like the imperviousness to weather, and the ease of refinishing for a like-new look. But I saw them as cold, soulless products of mass production, untouched by human hands. I pictured a Brave New World of rifle stocks, rank after rank, formed by cold machinery, identical, unexciting, untouched by human hands.
My visit to McMillan’s factory floor proved I couldn’t have been more wrong.
“Factory” falls short of describing this facility. “Factory” insinuates automation, machines stamping out parts.
Have you ever walked into a pottery studio? Do you know the feeling that such a place evokes? Dozens of hands molding clay into works of art, wielding paintbrushes, heads bent over intricate work; human hands in the act of creating.
My first impression of McMillan’s facility was just that. What I saw was not just a factory, it was a stock studio! I pivoted speechlessly in a circle, gazing at dozens of artistic hands deftly forming fiberglass art as my preconceived biases unraveled. I walked through the facility and I spoke to the artists. I saw their pride in their work.
I saw that every step of the production of these stocks was accomplished or guided by human hands. I moved from station to station watching the myriad of steps being done by hand.
I will never look at a McMillan stock the same again.
McMillan stocks are touched by up to 30 human hands during the manufacturing process. Each McMillan stock that is ordered is totally unique, custom built for the customer. The customer chooses the action inlet, barrel contour, bottom metal inlet, colors or patterns, molded in or surface finish, stock style, and options. When you order a McMillan stock, someone picks up your order and begins the process of building your stock to your specifications.
The fact that McMillan is producing over 12,000 custom stocks per year is an amazing feat, considering that these are one-of-a-kind pieces.
I have long been aware that many stock manufacturers have several standard inlets that they modify to force their stock to fit a specific barreled action. When you order a stock for your less-common rifle, you may get may a stock intended for a Remington 700, for example, that was then modified to fit your rifle reasonably well. McMillan does not do this.
McMillan uses state-of-the-art equipment to cut for your exact action. They have thousands of precise inlet programs. McMillan can make inlets for all major actions and most obscure ones as well.
The CNC precision inletting of each stock is a hands-on-operation. The computer guides the cutting of perfectly precise inlets. But the process is guided, observed, and checked by a tech to insure precision and accuracy. Each stock then has an action mounted in it to insure a perfect fit. Racks and and racks of test actions hang on the walls for this purpose.
Whether your rifle is a common action, a military surplus action, or an obscure variation of a rare sporting rifle, McMillan does not have to figure out how to make a stock for it; they already know how. McMillan stocks are as close to a 1-to-1 fit as you can get.
They do not require a bedding block. McMillan has invested the time and effort to be able to bed an action correctly without taking shortcuts with bedding blocks. McMillan stocks do not require glass or epoxy bedding. They are drop-in fit without bedding, and have a track record in accuracy to prove it.
As with most suppliers of custom stocks, McMillan generally has a lead time. This is to be expected, since their stocks are among the most sought-after stocks for military and law enforcement snipers, competition shooters, and hunters. Thanks to hiring and training additional craftsmen, today lead times are half what they once were.
Some popular stock/inlet combinations now sit ready to ship. If you find something you like in their ready made selection, you can have a McMillan stock to your door in short order.
So, what do you get when you order a McMillan custom stock?
You get a stock that was made for you from the very start. You get a stock that was made from the ground up for your rifle, not modified or adjusted for it. You get 30 human hands working to build your stock, to test it, to smooth and finish it, and to inspect it to insure top quality. You get the most precise CNC inlet available, not a bedding block that saves the manufacturer money, not a close inlet that needs final fitting, not an inlet that requires glass bedding. You get an exact inlet for your action, your barrel, and your bottom metal. You get one of what I believe to be the finest fiberglass stocks I have ever used.
And I have used them.
I have used McMillan stocks in the military, and installed McMillan stocks on guns for customers. I have a couple of my own projects on the horizon that will get McMillan stocks and I’ll be sure to share the results.
Oh, and remember that sense of history that comes from holding a surplus rifle with a walnut stock? The same feeling is there when I pick up that Vietnam-era sniper rifle and feel the worn fiberglass surface of the McMillan stock in my hands. Somehow it is all the more palpable to me now.