Considerations When Building Your First Precision Bolt Action Rifle
You often hear the word “custom rifle” thrown around on the internet. That phrase means three things. One, it was expensive, two, a gunsmith assembled it and three, it shoots sub minute of angle. But what if you could build a custom rifle at home, for a fraction of the price and in a quarter of the time, all while retaining the most important parts, repeatability and accuracy?
Much like its modern sporting cousin, building a bolt-action rifle is a very rewarding experience. One with fewer steps and fewer parts flying off the workbench onto your shop’s floor. You’ve heard the saying “beware of the man with only one gun,” This blog will teach you what you need to know to be that man, or woman.
So, why build a bolt-action rifle? For starters, it’s easier than most people think. We get it. It’s hard to wrap your head around something being easy to build when it can place a tiny projectile at a predetermined location from distances that most people would rather drive than walk.
Before we discuss the components that make up a precision rifle, it is important to decide what kind of precision rifle you intend to build. I break these down into three categories:
- Competition Rifle
- Precision Hunting Rifle
- Hybrid Rifle (Used for both 1&2)
Each category has distinct needs. Component selection will vary based on the intended use. Fortunately, we developed the SOLUS to seamlessly move through all three categories.
The Anatomy of a Precision Bolt Action Rifle
The action is the command center of the rifle. It loads, fires, extracts and ejects a cartridge, as well as attaching the optic. It’s important to choose an action that has quality parts and tight machining tolerances. For instance, here at Aero Precision, every SOLUS action that comes off our line is 100% inspected by a coordinate measuring machine, CMM for short. It is essentially a giant robot that creates a 3D map of the action to ensure it is perfect before leaving. Consistency equals accuracy, every Solus receiver is “.0004 “ nominal.
Feature set is next, we believe that one-piece receivers are inherently more accurate. The reason is called tolerance stack. Tolerance stack creates noise in your system, which can have a ripple effect on accuracy. The optics mounting surface, the body and recoil lug are all machined from a single piece of steel. There are great companies that make three-piece receivers and do a superb job at it, but our goal was to lessen the number of variables for the customer and the one-piece design helps us achieve that.
The bolt is one of those parts that you don’t really get to choose as they always come with the action. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have options. There are different bolts, most common are the two lug and three lug designs. The SOLUS has a three lug bolt head ensuring tight lock up every time. The head is interchangeable, giving you the option to switch calibers from standard to magnum or replace it when necessary.
The footprint is another important concept when considering an action. You want to make sure you choose something that has aftermarket support. This will expand the options you have to choose from, specifically when choosing a chassis, stock or trigger. Those reasons are why our SOLUS action has a Remington 700 footprint. It’s basically the Glock of precision rifle patterns. Everybody makes something for it.
Bolt-Action Caliber Selection
For the sake of time and complexity we are going to keep this section about factory match grade ammunition, or put another way, ammo you can buy locally at a Gun shop, Bass Pro or
What separates match grade ammunition from non-match ammunition? Just like we talked about above in the action section what makes a cartridge match grade is the consistency of the material and how they are assembled to reduce tolerance stack. I’ll spare you an internal ballistics class but the aim here is to first select a brand of brand that is known for consistency, I like Hornady, Berger and Federal Gold Medal. These three brands have always performed consistently for me in terms of cartridge overall all length and chamber pressures. Unless I am handloading ammunition these are the brands I choose to use.
Now that you have a few brands to check out let’s talk about caliber. Current competition calibers tend to be some type of 6mm variety or 6.5 Creedmoor, but .308, .22, and .223 have showings in various types of competitions. Caliber selection largely depends on whether you want to buy factory-match ammo or load your own. If buying factory match ammo, visit your local sporting goods store and see what’s in stock. Generally, 6mm Creedmoor, 6.5 Creedmoor, and .308 will be available online or in brick-and-mortar locations.
The barrel is without a doubt a crucial part of the rifle system in terms of accuracy. If you put an inaccurate barrel on a premium action, you now have an expensive rifle that won’t shoot. Like a Porsche with a Honda’s engine. Each type of barrel has its own intricacies that will illuminate as you shoot them. The accuracy of a barrel depends on numerous inputs and outputs to be accurate.
When the firing pin strikes the primer and ignites the powder in the cartridge, it creates pressure at around 50,000-60,000 psi. Through precision engineering, the material of the barrel flexes and swells as the projectile passes through. The material’s ability to generate consistent pressures, return to a zero state and then repeat the process is a major determining factor of precision.
We have chosen a material and manufacturing process we believe to be optimal for precision. Once a barrel is finished, it is 100% Inspected using an interferometer. We use a laser probe that measures dimensions through the interruption of light, which allows us the ability to probe the bore and outside diameter and compare parallelism and concentricity. It also allows us to map the barrel with a detail that rivals a digital image.
A Note About Rifling
Modern Manufacturing has allowed the improvement of processes that were once thought of as less premium to yield superior results. Our barrels are button broached. There are some distinct advantages to using this style, the biggest being that it is very efficient to manufacture which translates to cheaper production costs, some people say Button rifling will not perform as well as cut rifling when extreme heat and stress are present but it is our belief that with proper material selection and modern processes this is no longer true.
Shouldered Prefit Barrel
A shouldered Prefit has its head space set at the factory. They only fit specific types of actions that are configured properly for that barrel. If you want to use another manufacturer’s prefit, then you will need to select a Zermatt/Big horn Origin cut. Don’t forget to pick up the SOLUS action wrench and barrel-vise you will need them to remove and torque the action. For cut rifled, carbon fiber, and wildcat caliber options, our partners at Proof Research have stood up a line of prefits that work perfectly with the Solus.
Non Shouldered Barrel
A non-shouldered barrel uses a barrel nut as the torquing surface. You will need a set of go/no-go gauges to time the barrel correctly. All SOLUS actions ship with a barrel nut and barrel nut wrench. You will need to find a barrel compatible with a savage small shank.
Shouldered Prefit vs Non Shouldered Barrels
The great thing about this action is that it can use both types of barrels. We designed it this way to defeat any dogmatic thinking about what is better. A theme when designing this system was to use modern manufacturing practices to dispel any tribal thinking about what is good and what is bad. You will still hear people discussing thread run out and other types of problems with non-shouldered barrels. These statements were accurate 10-15 years ago but are no longer the case. If you install a quality barrel with the proper torque settings, you will not have any issues.
Chassis and Stocks
Shaken or stirred, use case or preference? How about both? The Remington 700 footprint of the SOLUS Action gives you numerous options for choosing what to put your barreled action into. What is important and common between the two is that they provide a consistent connection and free float the barrel. This article is geared towards building a rifle to compete with so we will discuss chassis and Hybrid style stocks.
For the sake of this conversation, when I say stock, I am talking purely of an aesthetic. Most of you will use a hybrid system that has an aluminum back bone that functions the same as a chassis and does not require traditional bedding. We offer the Solus with a KRG bravo and a Carbon Fiber composite stock, Great for hunting and as an entry level competition stock that keeps popular options shooters love. Other companies like Grayboe and Foundation stocks have inletting specifically for the Solus.
Machined aluminum, highly adjustable and customizable. Chassis use bedding-less attachment points called bedding blocks, there are several types, V blocks, A blocks, radial cut etc. essentially these are precision machined points within the chassis that align with the action mating surface to create a connection point for the action screws to be torqued. Once torqued, the barreled action is assembled in the chassis, creating a very repeatable and robust connection. Not only are they simple to assemble, but chassis also provide near unlimited rifle fitment. Fitting a rifle to a shooter is crucial in precision shooting, as it provides a comfortable repeatable position.
The SOLUS Chassis can be broken down into four distinct parts:
- Center Section (where the action connects to the chassis)
- Handguard, offered in 7.5-, 15- and 17-inch lengths with Mlok and full length Arca
- Stock link that creates a rigid fixed or folding option
- Buttstock adjustable HOC & LOP
So, whether you buy a fixed stock and want to change it to a folding stock or you want more or less rail space for plates, bridges, and whatever else your heart desires, you have that option.
Deciding to build a rifle is a fun and challenging endeavor. Sure, you can jump online or go to your local sporting goods store and pick up a complete rifle, but there is just something different about a sub moa gun built in your garage. It is more intimate; you know that rifle better than ones built by a stranger. It is a deeper level of understanding. When you build, you’re invested, you’re not just laying down behind a rifle and shooting. Every successful engagement is a testament to your craft. We designed the SOLUS product eco system to be accessible to both experts and novice alike, with clear and easy to follow instructions. So, head over to the knowledge center and get a download of the tools and steps to build your rifle.
If you’ve built your own precision rifle before, let us know how it went in the comments!