Custom Barrels

Elements of Accuracy Five: Custom Barrels

Custom BarrelsProduction rifles have attained an amazing level of accuracy over guns manufactured just 20 years ago. Still, Production guns have several potential drawbacks. So far we have looked at how the scope, trigger and custom loads can increase accuracy. Accuracy is only as good as the weakest link in the chain. Custom barrel manufacturers have BLOWN away the tolerances used by mass production methods to create extremely accurate barrels.

The week point in production rifle barrels is the hammer forged production process itself. While hammer forging is effective and creates accurate barrels, the process of pounding the barrel to achieve the interior rifling cannot match the tolerances that can now be achieved. CNC machines and the button rifling process have achieved tolerances of up to .0003” for bore diameter and a stunning .0001” of variance for the rifling itself.

Custom barrels are made of 416 grade stainless steel which is a higher grade than standard production barrels. After custom barrels are bored and rifled, they are hand lapped to remove tooling marks and variations. Video scope comparisons between standard production barrels and hand lapped custom barrels leave no question as to the improvement in tolerances. The difference is stunning. Check out this comparison bore scope video of a production rifle vs. a custom Lilja barrel. Like hand loading, custom barrels control the variables and produce higher levels of accuracy.

Feeding carefully controlled bullets into precise barrels will improve the output as well. Custom barrels make the biggest actual improvement in rifle accuracy. Scopes improve our interface with the target, and triggers also help control the shooter’s trigger pull forces. Barrel accuracy comes down to improving the actual potential of the gun.

There are many barrel manufacturers out there. The custom barrel trend really exploded in the mid eighties, and options for excellent quality barrels have improved with production techniques. A little research online will put you on the right track. Consult your gunsmith to discuss what barrels he recommends as well.

Changes in barrel contour will mean stock work or replacement as well so make sure you plan with the gunsmith to cover this aspect of replacing the barrel. Overall the barrel is the biggest controllable improvement to accuracy, but without the other elements in place, shooters won’t see the full benefit of the improvement.