Barrett Firearms Factory Tour

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The Barrett “Light Fifty” is probably one of the most iconic firearms in the world, along with the Kalashnikov, Desert Eagle, and the M16. The M82/M82A1/M107/M107A1 is unique in that it occupies a spot that very few other modern designs have even been able to compete with. That of a .50 BMG anti material rifle, the brainchild of a man who simply wanted to build a .50 caliber rifle because he couldn’t have an M2 machine gun. Indeed, when Ronnie Barrett, a professional photographer first proposed the idea to a fellow in the gun industry, all he got was, “If this was a viable idea, it would have been invented already”. Ronnie said no, and went on to create a stamped sheet metal semi automatic rifle that changed the way much of the free world’s armies work at long range precision shooting.

Christopher Barrett, the current company President left, and Ronnie Barrett, his father, right, with a prototype Barrett 240 Light Weight.

Christopher Barrett, the current company President left, and Ronnie Barrett, his father, right, with a prototype Barrett 240 Light Weight medium machine gun.

While raising a family, Ronnie dived head first into an industry he had absolutely no experience with, especially not any firearms or mechanical expertise on his side. But nonetheless, he started putting together rifles in his gravel floored garage in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, later upgrading to a small building he leased on Manchester Highway. The building used to be a Bluebird school bus repair facility, and it was in here that the majority of the M82s in the 1990s were built at. The company grew until he bought a small building all for his own. This was later expanded with a larger addition, differentiating from the older one as “Up the hill”, the older one being “Down the hill”. The “Hill” is simply a ramp that connects the two buildings in between, as it is affectionately known among the Barrett employees of today. This newer building is much larger, and has a higher ceiling, for the better ability of the company to employ massive CNC machines where the various rifle parts are machined and put together.

Barrett crest proof marking stamp. This is at the magnetic particle inspector station.

Barrett crest proof marking stamp. This is at the magnetic particle inspector station.

REC7 piston operated gas block being machined at the factory.

REC7 piston operated gas block being machined at the factory.

Although Ronnie is taking a step back to let the next generation of designers and leaders take on the company, he is still very much active in the day to day activities of design work. Here examining the 240 Light Weight.

Although Ronnie is taking a step back to let the next generation of designers and leaders take on the company, he is still very much active in the day to day activities of design work. Here examining the 240 Light Weight.

Somewhat between these two buildings is a 100 meter test fire range where every single firearm that leaves the company grounds for sales is proofed with two high pressure rounds, in addition to being fired for accuracy and function checked. Barrett has an acoustic shot group system set up, so employees don’t have to be going downrange and attach paper targets to a display anymore. The entire system is automatic, so a test shooter can see their groups on screen and have them measured extremely accurately, even measuring the velocity of every single round as it goes downrange.

This is a pneumonic air compressor device fixture that is used to blow air at an MRADs trigger, thus remotely firing the rifle with proof rounds, while the tester can stay back behind safety.

This is a pneumonic air compressor device fixture that is used to blow air at an MRADs trigger, thus remotely firing the rifle with proof rounds, while the tester can stay back behind safety.

The test fire room, where every rifle is shot for accuracy, and proofed before being sent out.

The test fire room, where every rifle is shot for accuracy, and proofed before being sent out.

The program used to measure shot group analysis at the factory test room.

The program used to measure shot group analysis at the factory test room.

The company has come along way from the early garage days in Ronnie Barrett’s house in Murfreesboro. Due to recent changes in manufacturing and efficiency over the past decade, the company performs with the precision of a well run machine. Each step of the manufacturing process is very exact, and every single part or group of small parts that is produced has a flow sheet that is attached to it, with employees verifying and tracking the part production at each step of the way. After every major bit of manufacturing, the parts are sent back to quality control, where the QC employees run measurements and checks on it to ensure it is up to standard, before sending it back into the next process, where it is then sent back to quality after enhancing it more. This process continues until the pieces are assembled as a rifle. If at any step in the process a piece is rejected, or isn’t up to standards, it is either sent back a step, or rejected. I was amazed at just how often parts were checked for consistency throughout this whole process as I toured the plant.

Quality Control room, Every piece the company makes comes here several times during the manufacturing process to make sure everything is up to standard. This table has to be calibrated once a year for the angles it is at, because of the important of measuring critical dimensions of parts on it.

Quality Control room, Every piece the company makes comes here several times during the manufacturing process to make sure everything is up to standard. This table has to be calibrated once a year for the angles it is at, because of the important of measuring critical dimensions of parts on it.

Although Barrett doesnt rifle

Although Barrett doesn’t rifle their barrels from raw stock, they do complete everything else about them. On the left is a REC7 barrel as it arrives from a barrel manufacturer, on the right is the finished product, with the company milling out the profile, drilling the gas port, cutting the chamber, and crowning/threading the muzzle.

M107 pintle mounts so shooters have the ability to mount them to existing machine gun or helicopter mounts.

M107 pintle mounts so shooters have the ability to mount them to existing machine gun or helicopter mounts.

Various fixture devices for the CNC machines.

Various fixture devices for the CNC machines.

This part of the factory is where all the AR platform rifles are assembled, the REC7 direct impingement and piston operated rifles.

This part of the factory is where all the AR platform rifles are assembled, the REC7 direct impingement and piston operated rifles.

But more important than any machines in the building, are the people that run them. Chris Barrett calls this the Barrett “DNA” of the company, the people on the floor making a difference when it comes to manufacturing.  All too often I was introduced to workers who had been at the company for a decade, if not longer. Chris Vasser, one of the top designers at the company has been with the company since its inception. Barrett also strives hard to take care of the people that make the magic happening, offering employees to purchase one Barrett firearm per year, at less than dealer pricing. After working at the company for long periods of time, the company offers paid vacations for the work put in by the employees. I asked one of the men running a CNC machine milling out gas blocks for the REC7, what keeps him focused on his work and he had this to say,”What keeps me going is that I know that the rifles we are making here, are being used by good people around the world, that might find themselves in terrible situations, soldiers downrange. Those people have to know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that when they pull that trigger on a Barrett firearm, that rifle is going to go bang, every time. Because if it doesn’t, it could mean their lives are on the line”. In fact, there is actually an old tale from one of the companies oldest employees where some snipers deployed downrange called the company while at their patrol base in Iraq, and asked how to fix a part that they had bent out of shape in their Barrett rifle. After a brief phone call, and one of the Barrett designers telling them what needed to happen, the rifle was fixed, and back in action.

240 LW bolts, having just been taken out of the parkerizing tank. Underneath them is the flow sheet that tells employees where they need to go next, who signed off on their process, who signed off on quality control, etc...

240 LW bolts, having just been taken out of the parkerizing tank. Underneath them is the flow sheet that tells employees where they need to go next, who signed off on their process, who signed off on quality control, etc…

Preparing 240 Light Weight receivers for parkerizing.

Preparing 240 Light Weight receivers for parkerizing. The black Barrett shirt is more or less the official company uniform.

These two gentlemen are responsible for actually turning all the completed parts into a complete rifle. If you have a large caliber Barrett rifle, chances are these two guys have completed the final assembly of it.

These two gentlemen are responsible for actually turning all the completed parts into a complete rifle. If you have a large caliber Barrett rifle, chances are these two guys have completed the final assembly of it.

Along with the people, comes the life cycle of their rifles. The company has a full warranty and repair department that focuses on nothing but getting rifles back up and running, whether it be a civilian REC7, or a military M107 in active duty service. Along with that, the company offers training classes to do with long range precision shooting, and armorers courses both in house and off site. In fact, the company has an entire classroom dedicated to it, where students can bring their own Barrett rifle in, or they can use a company supplied rifle.

The ready room for all the finished rifles. Cardboard boxes on the walls are for REC7s, while the larger rifles are stacked in movable racks, arranged by type, and waiting to be put into transport boxes.

The ready room for all the finished rifles. Cardboard boxes on the walls are for REC7s, while the larger rifles are stacked in movable racks, arranged by type, and waiting to be put into transport boxes.

Barrett armorer training room.

Barrett armorer training room.

Currently the U.S. Military is only using the M107, and not the A1 version, which has several enhancements done to it. But posters like this are framed all over the factory walls, congratulations and praise coming from military and LE units all over the world.

Currently the U.S. Military is only using the M107, and not the A1 version, which has several enhancements done to it. But posters like this are framed all over the factory walls, congratulations and praise coming from military and LE units all over the world.

However, despite Barretts worldwide success story, the company is not one to be sitting back and letting its products sell themselves. Today, the company is churning out more rifles than it ever has, at any point in its history, due to changes in the clocklike efficiency of the daily operations. More importantly the company is working on newer designs and introducing many of these designs to the market, broadening its product base. Everything from suppressors, to the diverse direct impingement and piston operated REC7 line, the MRAD line, and more recently the Barrett 7.62x51mm 240 Light Weight (LW) and 240 Light Weight Short (LWS) medium machine guns. Would you be surprised if I told you Barrett is licensing a line of high end over and under, Italian made hunting shotguns? Well I certainly was, and sure enough, go ahead and read about the Barrett Sovereign line of shotguns. All this is to prove the point that the company isn’t sitting back on its success, instead it is pushing forward with new ideas, new design concepts, and new products in both the Military/LE world, and civilian world.

Some of the new features that the company has done to the 240 Light Weight, and 240 Light Weight Short in

Some of the new features that the company has done to the 240 Light Weight, and 240 Light Weight Short (in tan). These machine guns have already been sold to several militaries in the world.

REC7 piston operated bolt, as opposed to the gas impingement operated one.

REC7 piston operated bolt, as opposed to the gas impingement operated one.

An AM suppressor ready for shipment, this one is in .30 caliber. They also have the QDL suppressor for the .50 caliber M107A1

An AM suppressor ready for shipment, this one is in .30 caliber. They also have the QDL suppressor for the .50 caliber M107A1

Internals of the suppressor can.

Internals of the suppressor can.

This factory tour is one article out of five that will be coming out on TFB. Next up will be about the M82A1/M107 manufacturing process, an in-depth look at the 240 LW, shooting the REC7 series, and shooting the MRAD.

Special thanks to Jordan Progar, Christopher Barrett, and the entire Barrett team for making this article a reality. 



Miles V

Former Infantry Marine, and currently studying at Indiana University. I’ve written for Small Arms Review and Small Arms Defense Journal, and have had a teenie tiny photo that appeared in GQ. Specifically, I’m very interested in small arms history, development, and Military/LE usage within the Middle East, and Central Asia.

If you want to reach out, let me know about an error I’ve made, something I can add to the post, or just talk guns and how much Grunts love naps, hit me up at miles@tfb.tv


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  • Don Ward

    Iconic? Desert Eagle? I hope Miles you aren’t being Ironic?

    • Heretic2011

      I might call the DE iconic. It is easily recognized even by people who know little about guns.

      • And that, is what I mean by iconic…

        • Brett

          *Que mic drop*

        • Tritro29

          That’s what Iconic means, so yeah no contest there.

  • BattleshipGrey

    I’ve still got the M82 on my list, though I haven’t started actively saving for it yet. I have considered buying .50bmg here and there while it’s cheap though.

    • SirOliverHumperdink

      Ammo costs less than 338 Lapua, that gave me an excuse to buy one.

  • wetcorps

    So, did he get his M2? 🙂

    Very interesting article, thanks.

  • CommonSense23

    Really wouldn’t say the Barret 50 changed precision long range shooting. Great anti material gun, pretty crap sniper rifle.

    • Nicks87

      Well, it’s much more precise than a .50 M2 and it has a maximum effective range of 1800m. That pretty much covers precision and long range but yeah the official designation is material rifle.

      • CommonSense23

        Really wouldn’t consider it more precise than a M2. You give me a M2 with a RWS or the Barret, going to take the M2. The barret is a anti material rifle that has been forced to fill a sniper rifle for the regular army and marines. Its not a precision rifle by any means. Reason why in Army Sniper down at benning you shoot at tanks and apcs to qual with the .50. While courses that use the MK15 shoot at standard targets at the same range.

        • Giolli Joker

          I take the M2, Hathcock and an Unertl scope. Thanks.

      • iksnilol

        If you think 1.5-2 MOA is precision then you’ve got a lot coming.

        • CommonSense23

          A M82/107 would be blessed to shoot 2MOA.

          • iksnilol

            Are they that bad?

            I was thinking with match ammo. Though I see now that you guys probably use regular MG ammo since that’s good enough for anti-materiel purposes.

    • Giolli Joker

      Indeed it’s never been a sniper rifle.

  • Nicholas C

    Wow awesome article Miles. I am curious how their 240L compares to the FN America 240L? I am confused, does FN American license out the 240L design to Barrett? Or does no one own the 240B design?

    • So the Barrett 240 LW is in direct competition with the FN M240L, but not as in a solicitation compeition, but as in Barrett wants to make their own version and better than FNs. Since FN’s design goes back to the 1950s, with the MAG-58, the technical data package is actually out in the open, just like a patent expires, anyone can have access to it now. In fact, Colt won a contract to produce 240s for the Army in 2009- http://www.defensereview.com/colt-defense-wins-126-million-126m-contract-to-produce-m240b-machine-gun-mmg-for-us-army/

      • Nicholas C

        Thanks for the clarification.

      • FYI: Colt ultimately had their M240 and M249 contracts pared back.

    • The FN M240L uses titanium receiver plates to achieve its weight reduction over its older steel siblings. In contrast, the Barrett M240LW still uses a steel receiver, but uses a different construction technique to shave off weight. FN uses multiple steel plates and sub-assemblies riveted together. The Barrett receiver is cast as two independent halves with the some of the sub-assembly mounting points formed integrally to the casting. The use of casting also allowed for the removal of metal from non-critical areas without resorting to extra machining steps.

      Here is Chris Barrett’s patent for the design:

      https://www.google.com/patents/US7937877

      • MPWS

        The gun is still a pig and is destined to stay that way. It is design of yesterday. It is true however, that the casting technique is beneficial for cost saving (M240 is atrociously expensive).
        Weights of major designs for comparison:
        M240B……. 12.5 kg
        M240L……. 11.1 kg
        MG3………. 10.5 kg
        PKM………. 7.5 kg
        What is most “rational” (they are all kind of dummy) is the Polish version of PKM chambered in 7.62 Nato.

        • Tritro29

          The UMG 2000 is not bad @ 8.2kg it’s the Lightest, probably most reliable Stanag GPMG out there.

  • MPWS

    “This is a pneumonic air compressor device fixture that is used to blow air at an MRADs trigger …..”
    What the heck is that (pneumonic a. c. device fixture)? Does it in induce pneumonia or what? What it is, is pneumatically controlled function test device; my best guess.

    Other than that great article with lots of picture. Picture is worth of 100 words.

    • Giolli Joker

      Sounds like nothing more than a pneumatic piston used to remotely operate the trigger.

      • iksnilol

        Barret is too fancy to use the time proven “really long string” method of test firing.

        Way to move from your humble roots, Barret!

  • All gun manufacturers should strive to have the ethics of Barrett.

  • Justin Roney

    So few companies understand that their employees are their most important asset. Taking care of your employees and keeping them happy means they will stay with you for a long time through thick and thin. Kudos to Barrett.

    • nadnerbus

      If you offered me a dozen apathetic, minimalist employees, or three motivated, creative, hardworking employees that care about the work they do, I will take the three every single time.

  • Geoffry K

    “That of a .50 BMG anti material rifle, the brainchild of a man who simply wanted to build a .50 caliber rifle because he couldn’t have an M2 machine gun.”
    WHY does everyone make this mistake?

    “An anti-MATERIEL rifle (AMR) is a rifle that is designed for use against military equipment (materiel)”