Rebarreling a Savage Model 11
February 04, 2014
I have long been a big fan of Savage 110 series bolt action rifles. They are an extremely good value, usually very accurate and the modular design lends itself to barrel and/or caliber swaps without machine tools. Once you have a receiver you can build it in virtually any caliber you desire by swapping bolt heads and barrels.
"Drop-in" barrels are available from a multitude of barrel makers in different weights and lengths to suit any need. There are a few tools and things to consider if you wish to re-barrel your own Savage rifle.
The rifle on the bench is a standard Model 11 short-action repeater in .243 Win. This is a typical blued basic hunting rifle like you would purchase at a big-box retailer. The customer, who is a target shooter, wishes to re-barrel it to 6mm Rem. with a heavy fast-twist target barrel.
First, we need to remove the factory barrel. To accomplish this task you will need a barrel nut wrench, an action wrench head to fit the receiver and a sturdy vise to hold the action while you loosen the nut. A Remington 700 action wrench head will fit the Savage and that's what I had on hand.
I secured the action clamped in the action head in my hydraulic press but a large vise will also work or you can bolt it directly on to a sturdy bench. This nut was tight, but the addition of a breaker bar to the barrel nut wrench broke it loose. The barrel, barrel nut and recoil lug were removed from the action.
Now that the rifle is apart we will strip the bolt of the ejector, extractor and firing pin assembly. We only need the bolt body, bolt handle and bolt head for the next step. We installed a Brownell's bolt lapping tool on to the receiver, applied some lapping compound to the locking lug seats and installed the bolt, working it to lap the lugs.
The lapping tool I was using was brand new and I discovered the spring-loaded plunger was just a wee bit too short to apply pressure to the bolt face. I had another lapping tool on hand designed for Garands and M1As, so I pulled the plunger out of that one and installed it in the Savage tool. That one worked fine. I'm not sure if my tool is an anomaly or they did a run of them with this problem. I'll probably fabricate a longer plunger from 3/8" drill rod for future use.
After lapping the bolt lugs, we take a critical look at the factory recoil lug. It should be flat. Check it for flatness with a straightedge. This part is stamped and I have seen some that were anything but flat. Ideally, we want 100% contact between the receiver face, the recoil lug ring and the rear of the barrel nut. All these surfaces should be square and smooth.
Now we test fit the new barrel. The barrel we are installing on this rifle is a Douglas Premium air-gauged stainless steel heavy target model. A "go" headspace gauge is inserted into the chamber and the barrel nut and recoil lug are installed on the barrel threads. The receiver with the stripped bolt is screwed on the barrel.
We are checking for a couple problems. First, will the action screw on to the barrel? I have encountered aftermarket barrels where the threads were oversized and I had to run a die over them. If it screws on, does it headspace?
You can see from the photos that the Douglas barrel has fewer threads than the original factory barrel. When I test fitted the action, it bottomed out on the back of the barrel nut before the bolt face contacted the headspace gauge. The nut had to be shortened slightly. Using the original barrel as a mandrel in the lathe, I trimmed the nut so there was enough clearance for the action to headspace normally.
The Douglas barrel was positioned in barrel blocks in the hydraulic press and the action was screwed on to the barrel until the stripped bolt would close on the "go" gauge but not on the "no go" gauge. Then the barrel nut was tightened. When tightening the nut, the action must be kept from turning with the action wrench while torque is applied to the barrel nut wrench. Double-check headspace when you're done.
I make it a point to personally test fire any rifle I rebarrel with factory ammo. The customer supplied me with some test ammo and I zeroed the scope at 100 yards. Groups didn't seem to be what I expected, and when I inspected the contents of the ammo box, it was a mixed bag of two headstamps. I should have bought a new box of ammo for test firing so I could be sure what I was firing.
There are other problems you may encounter when re-barreling Savage rifles we will cover in future articles.