by North American correspondent Thomas Tabor
At one time, Savage Arms was on the brink of financial disaster. However, that was decades ago and the company has moved from such a dismal period in history to a new era of being one of the world’s premier gunmakers. It has achieved that goal by placing emphasis on quality, accuracy and reasonable pricing. Today, Savage builds a diverse variety of different rifles for hunters and shooters throughout the world at a production rate of 2000 to 2200 firearms per day.
A hands-on look inside Savage
When I had an opportunity to tour the current US facility located in Westfield, Massachusetts, I jumped at the chance. This particular tour was unique in the fact that I was given the chance to actually put together a rifle for my own use.
In this case, I chose to create what the company sometimes refers to as its ‘flyweight wonder’, one of the new Model 16/116 Lightweight Hunters. But rather than it being chambered in one of the usual offered calibres, I decided to take advantage of Savage’s custom services and construct it in 6.5mm Creedmoor.
The rifle-building process
My tour began as an overview of the entire plant operations. During this time, I was given the opportunity to actually assemble and construct many of the component parts that go into the rifles. Then once I had a basic understanding of those processes, I began constructing my own rifle.
The rifle-building operations essentially begin with the raw materials, which in many cases is comprised of various types of round bar stock in 4.9m lengths. That steel is used to produce the barrels and actions and is pulled as needed from its inventory and sent to the cut-off area where it is hacked to the appropriate lengths. The production of the barrels and the actions proceed separately through their various processes, but they remain constantly married together by the paperwork accompanying those components.
After the bar stock has been cut, it moves on to be drilled to the proper diameter to either match the bore diameter of the barrel or the appropriate diameter for the receivers. Savage produces its barrels in-house by using the broach method, delivering what is commonly referred to as button rifling.
Once the rifling process has been completed, the barrels move on to be turned to the appropriate outside contours, crowned, threaded and, in some cases, fluted.
All metal possesses built-in stress and often in the machining procedure that stress is released, resulting in twists and distortions of the metal. Savage checks and straightens every barrel using a method that is unique in the business.
After being straightened, the barrels are tumble-polished and washed before eventually being married to their assigned actions. This is an important procedure and involves the first of several headspace checks.
At the same time as the barrels are progressing along their passage, the bar stock for the receivers are also moving through their various stages of development, including the drilling and computer numerically controlled (CNC) machining operations. The actions then move on to be hand-brushed using an electric-powered wire brush to remove any burrs and metal that may have been left behind in the previous stages.
From there, the receivers move on to be heat treated, where only select areas are subjected to the extreme 1204C heat exposure. That process takes only 28 seconds to perform, after which they are reunited with their respective barrels.
For the matte-finished rifles, the barrelled actions must first be sandblasted prior to reaching the black oxide (blueing) tanks, while the high-gloss barrels avoid that step and go directly to be blued. Finally the triggers must be installed, with the most popular being AccuTriggers, which allow the shooter to adjust those triggers down to very low pull weights and still maintain safety in the field.
When it comes to accuracy, I personally give a lot of credit to Savage for constantly checking the functionality of the parts throughout the production. On the surface, it might appear a bit redundant for example to assess the headspace four or five times through the assembly processes, or to monitor at every opportunity the function of the other parts. Nevertheless, this attention to the minute details helps to assure the highest degree of accuracy and overall quality of the rifles.
My own rifle
Actually building my own rifle gave me a more thorough understanding of the intricacies that go into the production of the Savage Arms rifles. The end result for me was a fine example of a quality Lightweight Hunter rifle that I built and assembled myself and one that will assuredly be accompanying me on many of my future hunts.
Look for the April 2016 edition of Australian Shooter for the full story.