So… That’s How They Do It!
By Roy Huntington
Published In The GUNS Magazine 2012 Special Edition
At the invitation of Bill Dermody of Savage, I spent much of a day “building” a Model 10 Precision Carbine to learn just why Savage rifles are so accurate right out of the box. This was a rare opportunity to get hands-on, right on the production floor, working with skilled craftsmen and assemblers, and learn just what it takes to create a Savage rifle. Savage presents this opportunity once or twice a year to writers, in order to help sort of “demystify” what’s going on with their rifles.
Roy will tell you he “built” his rifle, but in actuality the talented craftsmen and
technicians at Savage did the real work. Here, after final fitting and testing, Roy
poses and makes sure to point to the real craftsman in the picture!
Now I understand it’s not black magic, simply design innovation, skill in manufacturing and assembly and a master’s touch in final fitting; all at surprisingly affordable prices. So what has many custom rifle makers scratching their heads when it comes to Savage?
In 1920, Savage Arms Co. purchased the J. Stevens Company, which was associated with the famous barrel maker, Harry Pope. I have a feeling that’s when the Savage reputation for building accurate rifles really began. Pope’s barrels were legendary on the target ranges at the time. Basically, if you wanted to win — you used a Pope barrel. I’ll bet Savage used “secrets” Pope developed to continue to hone their craft, all of which results in today’s consistently accurate rifles.
While I won’t go deeply into the company history, Arthur Savage initially started Savage in 1894 in Utica, N.Y. Soon they developed the justly famous Model 99 (the lever-action, rotary magazine rifle), which is so good, it’s actually still in production today by the same model name! Over the decades the company merged with others, went to “war” in the 1940s, eventually falling on hard times in the late 1980s, where it was reorganized, declaring bankruptcy. But all was not lost.
Ronald Coburn was named president/CEO in late 1988 and honed the focus of the company, concentrating on their flagship Model 110 bolt-action, long famous for accuracy on a budget. Ron continued to keep things on track as the company recovered and expanded, developing new products and new technology like the “Snail” bullet trap system, now in use by virtually every governmental agency there is. In 1995, Ron Coburn raised the money to buy the company and take it private, saving jobs and keeping management local.
There’s lots of “big iron” on the production floor. Many of these
employees have been on the job for decades!
I was surprised by the amount of handwork that
goes into each rifle. Here, an old hand puts a craftsman’s
touch on an action during early preparation.
Savage has become a heavy-hitter in the outdoor industry and has even branched into the tactical and military markets with specific designs for law enforcement. Using the basic technology that’s always made Savage rifles accurate, Savage has expanded the role of that technology, honing it, adding the revolutionary “AccuTrigger” system and “AccuStock” bedding system resulting in rifles that today, virtually stand alone in accuracy in a stock, factory rifle.
Using the basic 110 action, Savage now has an entire lineup of hunting, sporting, target and tactical rifles meeting about any need. From budget-level basic “deer” rifles to fancy target-grade bolt guns, they are basically a 1-stop shop. And if you need a youth rifle, .22 or black-powder rifle, Savage can handle that too.
Ron Coburn is a smiling, modest man, and when you talk to him, you can tell he’s listening intently. It’s easy to understand Savage’s successes under his leadership, as he’s quick to embrace new ideas — and recognize talent when he sees it. That talent he has surrounded himself with, has been responsible for a wide range of innovations at Savage; innovations contributing to the reputation for accuracy their products showcase.
Once the barrel is fitted to an action and bolt assembly, they are then
paired for final assembly and remain together until the rifle is completed.
With a conventional trigger system, the amount of engagement of the sear and trigger mostly governs the quality of the let-off. A light trigger “pull” translates into a higher level of accuracy for most shooters. However, a light pull may also be unsafe at a certain point, allowing accidental let-off should the rifle be dropped or bumped.
With the development of the AccuTrigger, Savage suddenly opened the door to a light trigger release, with the safety only possible with a much heavier release in a standard action. If you look at the trigger, you’ll see an “inner” trigger, this is called the Accurelease, and is a pivoting “bar” effectively blocking the sear if it’s released accidentally by dropping or being bumped off. The “bar” catches the sear as the sear disengages the notch in the trigger in an accidental let-off.
However, as you pull the trigger completely to the rear, your finger first engages the “center” Accurelease, moving it out of the way of the sear, and then as you complete your press, you can take advantage of an ultra-light pull weight. Frankly, the first time you experience the feeling of that release, it’s astounding and hard to believe it’s reliable at such a light let-off.
Savage uses careful heat treatment in many critical areas of each rifle.
Here, actions are undergoing initial heat treatment.
With a good trigger, we need a good stock and bedding system. In many rifles, a custom rifle builder will carefully fit a stock to an action, then “bed” it with bedding compound (like fiberglass). This matches the action to the stock and secures it so there is minimal shifting and repeatable seating if the action is removed from the stock. The only problem with this is it’s time consuming and expensive if done professionally.
With most factory rifles, with rare exceptions, a stock is made to a specification fitting a certain model. On the production line, that action is simply grabbed and dropped into a stock; the bedding screws tightened by a torque wrench and it’s done. Many factory rifles will shoot 1″ to 3″ at 100 yards as they come, but it is a catch-as-catch-can process, with some rifles shooting well, while others print patterns rather than groups.
Savage developed a rigid rail system factory-mounted into the stock. This aluminum rail is carefully CNC machined to perfectly match the rifle action and engages the entire length of it uniformly, offering complete repeatable stability once the bedding bolts are screwed down snug. It’s virtually impervious to heat distortion, torque or pressure and is yet another factor in their accuracy equation.
Here a tech mounts a scope on one of Savage’s “package” rifle deals where
they offer a rifle/scope combo. It comes bore-sighted and ready for final
zeroing by the lucky new owner.
Here, a bank of AccuTriggers waits final assembly. Each one is
done by hand to assure it functions at 100 percent.
Another critical point in a rifle is headspace. That’s the fit of the cartridge in the chamber. Excessive headspace (when the bolt doesn’t close flush against the base of the cartridge case) is both dangerous and is death to accuracy. Too little headspace can generate high pressures (dangerous) and functionality problems. Most factories simply chamber a barrel, then fit it a predetermined distance into a pre-threaded action. The fitter then selects a bolt, uses minimum and maximum headspace gauges, and if the fit is “somewhere between” the action is considered good to go.
So, unless by chance every part just happens to be at exactly the right measurement for a perfect fit, they are never “perfect” and to a certain degree, there is always a bit of compromise. That’s yet another reason some production rifles shoot better than others.
At Savage, they use a combination of precision machining and custom fitting to keep headspace at exactly minimum for every rifle. When the barrel is mated to an action, the fitter uses a “minimum” headspace gauge, seating the barrel against the bolt face perfectly. Then they torque the barrel “nut” down tight, assuring what is essentially a custom-fitted headspace on that particular rifle. So each rifle is set to the perfect specs for that particular action and barrel combination. It’s not magic; it’s simply good engineering — and a talented technician doing the final fitting.
Roy was stunned when the first five shots out of the brand new rifle
went into .55″ on the Savage test range. Here, he’s touching off one
of the five Federal .223 rounds.
The Model 10 presented a serious, almost utilitarian
look and you could tell this rifle was built to perform.
An interesting feature of the Savage bolt is the fact the bolt head, the part in contact with the cartridge, has a tiny amount of “float” preset. This allows a final lock-up, assuring the two bolt lugs are fully engaged in the recesses in the action and the face of the bolt is completely in contact with the base of the cartridge. This consistent lock-up is yet another contributor to accuracy.
Again, with most factory rifles, bolt lugs are simply machined to fit a certain “range” of possible receiver cutouts. It’s a bit of a crapshoot that you may get one where the lugs fit the cut-outs perfectly, but more than likely, you’ll have erratic contact of the engagement surfaces, which leads to potential problems with headspacing, final lock-up, consistency … and accuracy.
The full-length aluminum-bedding rail makes sure the action fits
securely every time it’s installed and is impervious to twisting, heat
or distortion. Another part of the Savage accuracy equation.
Consistency is critical to all phases of manufacture if you want repeatable accuracy and reliability, so Savage “button” rifles their barrels. This careful system methodically rifles a barrel, assuring consistent rates of twist and bore diameter, offering less distortion as the barrel heats up. Additionally, each barrel is carefully hand-straightened by a technician with years of experience. If he can’t make it right with his very critical eye, the barrel doesn’t get used. During my “build” I tried to do it, and it’s a real art — nothing you can do with a laser beam.
The detachable box magazine holds four and you can also top-off
the mag from the ejection port when it’s installed. There is a 10-round
This cross-section of a chamber shows you how it’s set up. The ability
of Savage to use their barrel nut to make a final “perfect” headspace
adjustment is a huge contribution to accuracy in their rifles.
I’d like to say I actually built my rifle from scratch, but that’s simply not possible as, frankly, I don’t have the talent. What essentially happened is the staffers at Savage actually built much of my rifle (barrel, bolt, stock, etc.) and I merely moved from place to place, and mostly got in the way, while “we” assembled it.
But what I learned was, while I said earlier about there being no magic involved; I might have been understating the truth. The combined knowledge of those who worked on this rifle amounted to hundreds of years of manufacturing, assembly, production and engineering skill assembled under one roof. And that’s a bit magical, if you ask me.
Highlights included actually watching the button rifling happening before me. It was obvious the operators were skilled and comfortable with the many steps and the “big iron” machines they did the work with. I noticed many of the machines dated to the 1940s and 1950s (and a few earlier!) but through careful care, were still capable of doing the job. Indeed, many people told me the old gear is often the best, hence the reason it’s still in use.
While I laid hands on some assembly steps (I messed up a few bolts before I got it right), the critical ones I left to the pros. I did try my hand at barrel fitting and even torqued the big nut down on an action or two, but my work was double (and triple) checked by the assemblers. Nonetheless, I could feel the fit as the bolt and barrel came together with a minimum headspace gauge inserted into the chamber. Mystery number one was solved!
A highly skilled technician with years of experience did final assembly of the trigger group and the final “check” of the rifle. It was in his hands the parts actually became a rifle. At his bench, he does the careful fitting of the trigger, verifies bolt fit, safety function, trigger pull weight, fit and overall finish. Once it passed his very critical eye, we took “My Rifle” as I was beginning to think of it, to be proofed in the test-firing chamber.
The Safe Direction Urban Rifle Target setup in Roy’s “Backyard” is a half-inch
of hardened steel able to withstand just about any rifle round, up to 3,250 fps.
Roy used it to showcase the “Tactical Milling Reticle” on the Leupold scope.
The horizontal and vertical lines offer a fast, sure way to adjust hold “on the go” if needed.
Each rifle is fired with proof loads to make sure everything works as required. While I confess I gritted my teeth a bit as I pulled the trigger on the test load, but it went off with a thump and all was well.
With the rifle functioning as required, we returned to the production floor to mount a temporary scope on it for test firing. Interestingly enough, when Savage sells a “package” rifle with a scope, it comes pre-zeroed which should allow a shooter to at least have his initial rounds on-target, making final zero much easier. All the mounts are properly torqued and the scope correctly centered on the action.
Savage has a 100-yard range upstairs, above the production floor. The test-fire range has an office-sized main area, then a long steel tube (which you can see above you from the production floor) where the “range” is. I was astounded when the first five rounds from this brand-new rifle I had even helped build a bit, went into .55″! We were using Federal Premium .223 (can’t recall which bullet weight) and after three groups, allhovering around that half-inch mark, I found myself smiling. All that with a new rifle, an inexpensive scope, the first factory load we tried and the first time I’d shot the rifle.
You simply can’t beat that.
The Savage Model 10 Precision Carbine shot about everything well.
Here’s one of the “bad” groups using 55-gr. ball ammo. That measures
about .60″! The overall average with all the ammo fired hovered around
the .65″ to .75″ mark, with many groups down into the .40″ area!
Once home, I zeroed the rifle and fired it at “Roy’s Backyard” and it kept me smiling. I found the detachable magazine (holding four) to be easy to work with, and functioned 100 percent. The 1 in 9″ twist rate is a good compromise for both heavy and light bullets. But honestly, it seems to be something that changes rifle to rifle. I’ve had some with 1 in 7″ that wouldn’t shoot a thing well, then others with different rates that would deliver great accuracy with the “wrong” bullet weights. The forums are full of fighting about twist rates but so far, in my experience, a 1 in 9″ usually works well. Keep in mind, basically, faster twist rates are for heavier bullets — mostly.
This Savage Model 10 Precision Carbine seemed to digest most loads just fine. Even cheapo Winchester “white box” 55-gr. loads went into about .75″ at 100. But the real star was Black Hills 77-gr. HPs delivering an average of .45″, also at 100. I had one group really going (like .30″!) until I pulled one slightly, but it still delivered .42″ or thereabouts. Not surprisingly, this rifle is a real shooter!
The Caldwell Stable Table and Hyskore Black Gun rifle rest made final
testing much easier than a rickety table and rolled up towels! The Stable
Table breaks down for carry, but at about 50 pounds, is also heavy enough
to offer good stability … hence the name. That Hyskore rifle rest is unique
in that it can also handle long-magazine AR-type rifles too. The muffs,
called the Over & Out by Hyskore can be adapted for communication
radios and have built-in white and red LED lights.
While this was a bit unusual to actually be allowed to watch this process occur right in front of me, I understand why Savage does it. I’m sure it’s a pain in the neck for them, and for the staffers on the production floor who had to put up with me, but it makes a point.
Some shooters like to confer almost mystical beliefs in their favorite rifle — “It shoots like a laser beam!” — and I think that might even be fair in the case of many “normal” factory-made rifles. While not mystical or the work of gnomes — it does sometimes take a good dose of luck to get one that truly shoots spectacularly.
However, after having fired at least a dozen modern Savage rifles, I can tell you from first-person experience I’ve never experienced anything other than sterling accuracy from any of them, regardless of caliber. The AccuTrigger is a simple, yet sophisticated solution to the age-old problem of how do you get both a light trigger pull and still keep your rifle safe. And that single improvement may be the most significant portion of this accuracy equation.
Coupled with the other engineering improvements in the concept of the rifle as seen by Savage, and the equation is complete. No black magic, no mysteries, no chanting, no burning incense — simply solid engineering and top-notch production care can, and does, yield predictable results. And an accurate rifle.
It’s almost funny, but when I see a Savage at a rifle range and the shooter is complaining about it not being accurate, I know what I can rule out of the equation right off the bat — the rifle.
Savage Model 10
BBL length: 20″
Action: Bolt, short-action
Twist: 1 in 9″
Weight: 7 lbs (approx.)
Magazine: 4 rounds
SKU #: 18605
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