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Bolt Action Long Guns Reloading

Change Rifle Barrels In Minutes!

by Lane Pearce   |  June 13th, 2011 24

If you own a Savage bolt-action rifle, you can change calibers by swapping barrels yourself. Lane Pearce shows you how in these easy steps. Follow along as he swaps his Savage .204 Ruger-chambered barrel for an aftermarket barrel kit for the Savage chambered to .243 Winchester.


The assorted tools and equipment required to switch barrels include Wheeler Engineering’s action and barrel nut wrenches, a set of Forster “GO” and “NO-GO” headspace gauges, oak barrel blocks to mount the barreled action in your bench vise and a large rubber-headed mallet will come in handy.


Start by detaching the scope to gain clear access to the barrel nut. The front scope base must also be removed if the action wrench is needed to securely hold the action while loosening and tightening the barrel nut.


A 5/32-inch Allen wrench with an extended handle is used to apply adequate torque to loosen the action screws. The rearmost screw secures the trigger guard in the stock, so it does not need to be removed. Be sure to remove the bolt assembly.


Engage the barrel nut wrench with the barrel nut’s multiple notches, center it, and loosen the barrel nut. Use the rubber-headed mallet if need-be.


After backing the barrel nut off a bit, you simply unthread the action from the barrel. Be sure to note the orientation and relative position of the recoil lug so you can reassemble these parts correctly later.


When you’ve finished taking the rifle apart, you will have the complete action assembly, recoil lug, barrel nut, and barrel.


In this example, the .204 Ruger case head is significantly smaller than the case head of the .243 Winchester. I could have replaced the bolt head on the Savage bolt assembly, but Pearce chose to order a complete new bolt assembly.


With the new replacement barrel wrapped in duct tape, positioned between the oak blocks with the barrel nut wrench in the proper place, and securely mounted in the vise, clean the barrel threads and apply a thin coat of antiseize compound evenly over them. Wipe off any excess material and make sure the barrel chamber face is 100 percent clean.


Thread the barrel nut fully onto the barrel and install the recoil lug with the key properly oriented relative to the notch in the action. Carefully thread the action on the barrel several turns.



Use the “GO” and “NO-GO” gauges to set the headspace. That is a critical procedure. Install the new bolt assembly into the action, carefully insert the “GO” headspace gauge under the extractor into the chamber. Close the bolt completely and thread the action onto the barrel shank.

As the gap between the barrel nut and action is closed, be sure to position the recoil lug on the face of the action so its key engages the corresponding notch in the action. Continue to thread the action assembly (counterclockwise) until the “GO” headspace gauge is firmly seated in the chamber. Turn the action/boltface until it is just hand-tightened to the barrel. Make sure the recoil lug is still positioned correctly and turn the barrel nut clockwise, by hand, until it jams the recoil lug flat against the action face. Hold the action and barrel together firmly and remove the bolt from the action. (This step is much easier to do if a friend helps.)

Be sure to catch the “GO” gauge when you retract the bolt. You must make sure that the barrel and action do not move (rotate) relative to each other. Finally, snugly torque the barrel nut (clockwise) with the wrench to securely “jam” the barreled action assembly together.

Here’s where both headspace gauges are used to verify if the barrel and action are mated correctly. After you install the bolt assembly, insert the “GO” gauge into the chamber, and gently attempt to close the bolt. It should close completely with minimal effort. If it doesn’t, then the chamber headspace is too short (tight) and you won’t be able to chamber a round of ammo. Back the barrel nut off and repeat the barrel/action/bolt/“GO” gauge fit-up steps.

When you pass the “GO” gauge check, the next step is to try the “NO-GO” gauge. It is machined to be a few thousandths of an inch longer than the “GO” gauge. When you insert the “NO-GO” gauge into the chamber and gently attempt to close the bolt, the bolt should only close about halfway if the barrel and action are assembled correctly. If it closes completely, there’s too much headspace, and it may be unsafe to fire the gun. You must loosen the barrel nut and repeat the reassembly and checkout steps.

Assuming the headspace gauges indicate you got it right, all that remains is reinstalling the barreled action into the stock. Align the trigger and magazine with the stock inletting and insert the barreled action into the stock. Be sure to hold everything together by hand and bump the buttstock sharply on a rigid surface to assure the recoil lug is fully seated in the stock. Drop the two action screws into the appropriate holes and turn them in with the Allen wrench until they’re firmly hand-tight. There’s no need to overtorque!

  • dave

    what happens regarding the magazine , follower etc?

    if you were swapping from a 30 06 to a 308 the magazine would be considerably shorter

    • Rod

      Dave, this is a "no can do situation" because the .308 uses a "short action" and the .30-06 requires a "long action".

      This refers to receiver length, not just the barrels and chambers.

      • Scott

        You could put a .308 barrel on a savage long action and be fine, the magazine would just be longer than necessary.

    • King

      Dave is wrong I just rebarreled a 270 to a 260 remington and everything chambers fine. the mag is just a little long but works fine

  • Ray Sanderford

    Question. Concerning the "GO" gauge test, by inserting the GO gauge into the chamber and attempting to close the bolt won't the extractor be in the way of a proper test? Same question for the "NO-GO" gauge.

  • Da Dinger

    It's cheaper to just buy another rifle, unless you need an accu-trigger.

    • jpmaro

      You are so, so very, wrong with this statement. I can buy barrels for pennies on the dollar vs. the cost of a new rifle of similar quality.

  • Robert J. Mayor

    This is so interesting. I appreciate getting this info. Do you have for Ruger also ? Thank you..

  • Terry De Pew

    Say, where is the video version of this? I have a very nice Savage rifle. I'm not interested in changing calibers, but may want to install another barrell at some point.

  • B. Scole

    It's cheaper to get another rifle? I guess you could go out and buy an average rifle and get average groups, I'm in the process of doing this very thing. $510.00 gives me a match 30" 300 WM barrel and a Timney trigger. All told I have about $1200.00 dollars spent and that includes a new stock, tools, gauges, and the Stevens 200 the action came from. Let's see you buy a custom rifle for that! Make no mistake that's what it will shoot like when assembled.

  • Roy Collinsworth


    In the September issue of Shooting Times you talked about the "tent stake" you have Have you found any takers for it? I would gladly take it off your hands since I own a .357 max and have plenty of ammo.

  • Kirk Bright


    I would be happy to take your 'tent stake' off your hands. I have a 270 max that I shot silhouette with and 256 Winchester max was a wildcat that silhouette shooters used. I can come up with a die from a fellow silhouette shooter….

  • R. P. Nadjiwan

    I see the work as straight forward, but I don't think I'd like to do it without some guidance from someone with more experience in doing the barrel swap. Having said that, I'd like to swap out a 300 WSM barrel with a 325 WSM. In fact if it was ever produced, I'd even step up too a 338 WSM barrel swap out from the 300 WSM.

  • Curt B.

    Sometimes I really have to scratch my head!! There is a way to understand what cartridge can be used in what action/s…that is by reading. Reading reloading manuals is a first logical reference source one can gleen a starting understanding of where cartridges originated…parent cartridge/hybreds/improved/etc/etc…wikipedia works well by the way!!

  • Curt B.

    The original post is old….so I do not think anyone is going to read this…..but if you do and I hope you do….building a rifle from a Savage action…whether the Stevens 200 or Savage 10/110 (Short or long action)….there is only the trigger difference. Actions are the same. To be honest…you should check the barrel nut torque on a Savage/Stevens rifle right out of the box…You'd be surprised how many rifles from the Savage factory have very little to no torque on that barrel nut. And I am a Savage believer since I have to say that I have at least…a "few" Savage rifles, so I know.

  • Curt B.

    But other than that…for the most part….buy the Savage rifle ready to go from the factory. Whether tactical/target/hunting. It can start to add up to a lot of $$$$$$$ to redo an otherwise fine shooting firearm. Other than the cheap polyurethane stocks, not the AccuStock mind you or the Boyd's laminated stocks Savage uses (These laminated stocks do need to be glass bedded however!!!)…one can spent much $$$ for no gain. BUT…this is not the reason people such as myself rebarrel Savage actions!! It is that sense of assembling a personal firearm that will shoot well and usually better than one of those $3,000.00+ custom rifles and spending another $1000.00 for optics and mounts!!

  • Curt B.

    I have a Savage Model 10 in 308 Winchester…$650.00 FOR THE RIFLE….$400.00 for optics…$200.00 for mounts and rings and $200.00 for a Choate Varmint Stock. Pull the math = $1,450.00. Not cheap per say, but not killing the pocket book. What do I have for this? A 308 that will shoot cloverleaf patterns day in and day out. And that is a bargain!!

  • Curt B.

    Just build the Savage rifle for building and ego sake…and enjoy the fact that "YOU" put this rifle together and it works great!! If you just want to go hunting….buy an AccuStock Savage rifle in 30-06 and hunt deer/antelope/elk/pig and buy your ammo anywheres ammo is sold!!

    Ahhhh…but then there is the reloading to consider if one builds a shooter!!! See where this leads one into?!!

  • Curt B.

    Yeah…had to split up my post…so pardon me for this. Hope this entices someone to learn cartridges and hopefully someone will build ones own shooter rifle…..and enjoy that when a person brags about their fine custom made rifle that will not shoot as well as our poor ol Savage shoot'n Iron!! Funny…the Savage Target Team is kicking some serious ACE with Savage rifles!!

  • Curt B.

    Oh…one more point to make about switching your Savage action barrel. Buy a precision recoil lug!!The factory recoil lug is a weak point for Savage rifles. Go with a .250 thick precision ground recoil lug…just Google up recoil lug for Savage rifles and have it shipped…THIS IS CRITICAL for a Savage build!! If you have a WSM cartrifge…these take a large shank recoil lug…anything else is a small shank. Very simple.

  • Reddogdixon

    thanks for all the info!

  • Robert

    I have a 110 Savage tactical in 300 Win.Mag. Cal.,i've been looking at ordering a barrel in the 6.5 284 cal.what problems do you forsee in swapping out these two barrels,is it doable..Thank You

  • Mike

    Iam looking in making switch barrel savage rifles. I have my action wrench and barrel nut wrench, what will I need in the way of holding the barrel? I see in the photos that they made them from oak blocks, can you tell me what size you made it from and what size hole did you drill through before cutting the block in half.


    One thing you need to check before proceeding is shank size .Savage makes two. Most calibers are standard shank , wsm cals are large . You need to take barrel ourt of action and measure . large shank barrel has small step in it just ahead of the locking nut ,but if it is already an aftermarket barrel , who knows . nice thing about this is you can build almost whatever you want .. Just ordered Shilen ss. bbls ,, 22-6mm 1×7 twist ,22-250 1×8 twist .. anxious to see how they work ..

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