Most shooters don’t really care where their stuff comes from or how it was made as long as it performs up to their standards. If this is you don’t waste your time reading this entire article, you just need to know that Preferred Barrel Blanks, out of Hurricane Utah, makes some darn good prefit/variable shoulder barrels at a reasonable price and with short turnaround times. Now, if you are like me, getting into the weeds is a past time, and you know the details make the difference. That is why the opportunity to see how these match grade barrels are made was such an interesting experience.
My Time in the Desert:
The first thing that should be noted is the guys at Preferred Barrel Blanks (PBB) all enjoy shooting. My factory tour day started off at 0600 (so we could beat the 105 °F midday heat). We drove about 20 minutes out into the desert to a local shooting spot, with steel preset out to 1,370 yards. The boys had installed their prefits on to three different factory actions (Ruger American, Howa 1500, Tikka T3) in three different 6mm chamberings (6mm Dasher, 6×47 Lapua, and 6mm Creedmoor). They did this for a couple of reasons. First, they used different actions to showcase their versatility as well as their ability to take a low-cost action and with the addition of one of their barrels turn it into a rifle capable of shooting sub .5 MOA groups at 710 yards. Second, they chose 3 separate 6mm chamberings to test the efficiency and accuracy characteristics of each cartridge. For more information on their test check out this video on the Preferred Barrel Blanks YouTube channel.
Back to the Shop:
We wrapped up our shooting, with everyone making hits at 1,370 yards, by 1100 and headed back to the shop. Preferred Barrel Blanks perform all operations in house. This is the largest contributing factor to their quick turn around time. In the firearms industry, most manufacturers are subject to numerous suppliers and service providers. For example, some barrel manufacturers have to send out barrels for stress-relieving or coatings. PBB has both a stress-relieving furnace and a certified Cerakoater in their shop. Some other companies chambering and selling prefit barrels are not actual barrel manufactures so their turnaround time is completely contingent on their supply of barrels from manufacturers. It was abhorrence of this sort of dependency that caused PBB to be created so they could provide barrels to their sister company Match Grade Machine (Specialists in the Thompson Center swappable barrel market.) For more info on Match Grade Machine read this TFB article https://www.thefirearmblog.com/blog/2016/10/12/mgm-encore/
The whole process starts with a round bar of either chrome-moly or 416R (Restricted Sulfer) stainless steel. Those pieces are cut to predetermined lengths, then taken to the gun-drilling machine. “Gun drilling” is a term used whenever the hole to be drilled is particularly deep relative to its diameter. Usually, 10:1 qualifies as gun drilling. In the case of .26 cal/6.5mm that would be any barrel longer than 2.6 inches. Many 6.5 Creedmoor barrels are 26 inches long which is a 100 to 1 depth to diameter ratio, so that would definitely qualify. Drilling a hole that deep wouldn’t be a problem if straightness wasn’t an issue, but it is. If you have ever had a rifle that shot so far off to the left or the right you couldn’t zero your scope it is likely the hole drilled down the barrel wasn’t straight and that curvature of the bore (imagine a banana shape) timed to the left or the right throwing you bullets off in that direction. PBB uses a counter-rotating gun drill to not only drill 2 barrels at once but also dampen harmonics resulting in less runout at the muzzle i.e. straighter bores.
After the hole has been drilled down the center of the barrel it is time for rifling. PBB has purchased a single point cut rifling setup, however, at the time of my visit, it was not up and running yet. Their button rifler was in full swing, however. For a little more information on rifling methods check out this TFB article and video. https://www.thefirearmblog.com/blog/2011/05/31/which-rifle-barrel-manufacturing-method-is-best/ . It should also be noted here that PBB has acknowledged the trend of longer, heavy for caliber projectiles and has adapted accordingly with fast twist rate options available for each bore diameter.
Once the rifling has been cut the barrel goes through its final stress relieving process, done in PPB’s “oven” at varying temperatures up to 1050℉. The whole stress relieving process takes 42 hours. After this, the barrel is contoured to the customers’ desired specifications. Once contoured the barrel is ready for chambering.
Many gunsmiths would agree chambering is the most important part of the process. The barrel will never shoot any better than the chamber job. So, even with a perfectly straight barrel with great rifling, a mediocre chamber job will give mediocre results downrange. This is why PBB dials all their barrels into .0015″ or better when chambering. This is about half the runout major manufactures would consider “within spec”. Depending on the cartridge being chambered the chamber is either rough then finished reamed or drilled, bored then finished reamed. PBB has an outstanding array of reamers (Over 100) and thusly a great selection of chambers they can cut.
The final step is purely cosmetic but it is something PBB does very well, fluting and Cerakote. If the customer wants a little extra “bling” PBB is happy to oblige. Of course, they can cut the tradition straight flutes, but they can also cut spiral and other fancy patterns including hex and barbwire. Another eye-catching option is the addition of 1 or 2 tone Cerakote, a skill Marshall, their certified Cerakote applier, prides himself in.
My day with the PBB crew flew by and it was time to jump back on the road and head for home. The guys there are a hoot and they are producing a top-notch product. On top of all that they are based in a very scenic area which gifted me with one final view as made my drive back to the heart of the Rockies.
As always, for more information about Preferred Barrel Blanks check out their website and facebook page.