Long Range Hunting Online Magazine

Savage Models 12 and 112 Review

The Savage Models 12 And 112 Enter The Switch Barrel Arena

Norman E. Johnson

For the past few decades switch-barrel rifles have become mainstays among my test rifles and hunting rifles. Having some of these rifles limited to one barrel and one cartridge didn’t really make much sense. Tying up a major amount of money in a rifle with a mounted scope and a single barrel simply didn’t prove the logical thing to do.

Savage Models 12 and 112 Review
Shown here are the Savage Models 112 and 12 single-shot rifles with six barrels, prepared by author as switch-barrel rifles.

Back in the formative stages of my switch-barrel plan, I had, thus far, not heard of the method that I later adapted to several different action types. These included the complete Remington 700 line along with the Model 40-X and the XP-100, Winchester Model 70, Ruger Model 77, Weatherby MK V single-shot, Thompson/Center TCR ’83, and a few others. The interchangeable barrels eventually would number upwards of 115 in a wide range of cartridges. While I may not be the forerunner of this sort of switch barrel origination, there are distinguishing traits unique to all of the rifle types in the methods that I use. The leading requirements that made sense to me were being able to switch the barrel of each style of gun without removing or disturbing the action from the stock or removing the scope from the action. This allows pre-headspaced barrels to be conveniently removed or re-installed beneath the scope with absolute precision.


For a time I resisted using this unique feature on the fine line of Savage bolt-action rifles … namely the Models 112 and 12 single-shots. These rifles utilize a special barrel locking nut to retain the barrel and set cartridge headspace. Working this barrel-to-action lock nut requires a special wrench that made it necessary to remove the action from the stock and the scope from the action. A removable style recoil lug similar to that used on the Remington 700 is sandwiched between the receiver face and the barrel lock nut. I will cover later, in more detail, the significant changes I make in the Savage barrel lock nut and recoil lug.

With my system of switching barrels, the stock barrel channel must be enlarged sufficiently to slide the barrel out beneath the mounted scope objective lens. This often requires a medium to high scope mount where a larger than 42mm scope objective lens is used. A bolt-hole style action wrench also is required, which is available for all the actions I use. If not readily available, I make such wrenches, as was the case for the Weatherby Mark V triangularly positioned locking lugs. A good, padded barrel vise also is a necessary item. Anyway, these Savage rifles were next in line for me as viable candidates, particularly the single-shot versions.

I had a good working knowledge of the Savage Models 112 and 12 dating back quite a few years. Then, in 2003 I got to know the Savage Model 12 even better. I attended a Colorado prairie dog hunt sponsored by Savage Arms. I was provided a Model 12 in caliber .223 Remington with the new Savage Accu-Trigger. I ended up owning this rifle, and following testing, wrote an article on it and Savage Arms for the April 2004 VARMINT HUNTER Magazine®.

Savage Models 12 and 112 Review
Pictured here is a Savage Model 12 short action receiver with AccuTrigger as used in switch barrel project. A special action wrench is shown fitted to the Savage barrel lock nut as used to remove the barrel the first time.


If you are not qualified as a gunsmith, you can have much of the initial work done by someone who is qualified in converting the Savage rifle to the switch-barrel method. Later you can change your own barrels fitted and headspaced to that specific cartridge. To start the operation, removing the Savage 110 Series barrels is best performed using a special wrench that fits the barrel lock nut. This is accomplished by holding either the barrel or action in a suitable barrel vise or action wrench. Breaking the initial bond between barrel and action on any rifle will require upwards of 100 foot pounds of torque – sometimes much over 200 foot pounds. This would be similar to removing a very stubborn lug nut from an automobile wheel when changing a tire. Removing and installing barrels thereafter will require only about 40-80 foot pounds of torque … seldom more than 100 foot pounds. Where the barrel shoulder-to-receiver is fit with precision, some shooters claim to get decent accuracy with barrels screwed on hand tight. While such low torque may work for some, tests that I have performed don’t bear this out. Proper cartridge headspace is best achieved with at least a moderate amount of torque. Under 25 foot-pounds is definitely on the low side and may not assure consistent cartridge headspace.

This article originally appeared in Varmint Hunter Magazine, and appears courtesy the Varmint Hunters Association, Inc. The VARMINT HUNTER Magazine is a popular publication of the VHA. Each year, the VHA hosts several 600-yard IBS matches, a coyote calling contest, and an annual Jamboree in Fort Pierre, SD. The Jamboree is a week-long shooting event known as “a summer camp for shooters”.
Once the barrel is removed from the Savage 110 Series action, the separate parts should be thoroughly cleaned, including all threads, receiver face, and the lock nut. Some gun manufacturers use a form of thread bonding material to keep the action together under all conditions. However, some form of lubricant is used on the barrel threads and shoulder later to facilitate removal and re-installation. In working with scores of barrels, I never have had one loosen during use, even while using special barrel thread lubricant, which I will cover later (See “Proper Use of Barrel Vise” article in April/June 2010 TVHM® for further information).

Savage Models 12 and 112 Review
The Model 12 Savage shows three-point pillar bedding with added pillar at rear tang. This photo also shows position of new tang screw at rear of safety tab. This new pillar helped to strengthen the bedding system.


To facilitate barrel removal from beneath the scope with the action bolted in the stock, the barrel channel must be enlarged. The basic approach here varies little among rifles. This means the barrel channel must be enlarged to the greater diameter of the barrel at least for a length beneath the scope objective lens housing. A higher set of scope rings or high scope base may be needed here. In the case of the Savage 110 Series rifle, the barrel lock nut will remain in place, as an integral part of the barrel, as barrels are removed and re-installed. This barrel lock nut is 1.3" in diameter whereas most bolt-action rifle barrels measure 1.2" to 1.25" over the chamber requiring further need for an enlarged barrel channel. The remaining barrel of the Savage rifle over the chamber measures 1.030", a significantly smaller diameter. Most other barrels as received from the barrel maker measure 1.2" through the chamber area for a length of 3 to 4 inches. The majority of the switch barrels I work with are varmint or target weight and the barrel channel on the Savage rifles does not appear overly large. It appears that most barrels are adequately free-floating in the stock channel anyway these days.

Removing the wood from the barrel channel does require a bit of work and can be done with rough sandpaper on a dowel or with a suitable ball-end-mill in a milling machine. Either way, you’ll have to try the barrel in the stock channel at intervals and finally finish and re-seal the wood in the channel. Keep in mind the type of scope and mount you’ll be using as you re-work the channel and try sliding the barrel under the scope objective lens housing. I like to see a minimal 1/16" gap here. I never have enjoyed enlarging barrel channels, but it’s part of the job as you convert to a switch barrel rifle where the barrel is removed, leaving the scoped action undisturbed in the stock. Being able to change barrels in well under 10 minutes sure beats removing the scope from the action, and the action from the stock, involving considerable time and disrupting the scope mounting and action bedding. Such disturbances often require many shots for a rifle to settle down to normal shooting. With the switch barrel method I use, I have regularly shot under minute-of-angle five-shot groups while removing and replacing the barrel for each shot. The Savage Models 12 and 112 are no exception. The accuracy of these rifles will amaze even the most demanding riflemen.


While I’m into the barrel channel, I will discuss the merits of replacing the factory recoil lug with a competition style recoil lug. The Savage factory recoil lug is stamped out with the lug-to-receiver retaining notch also stamped beneath the periphery of the barrel hole within the lug. This type of lug lends little to overall precision as it is sandwiched between the receiver and the barrel lock nut. A close look at Brownells gunsmithing catalog shows six competition style recoil lugs for the Model 700 Remington and Savage rifles. Holland’s Recoil Lug, made for the Remington/Savage rifles, is the one I chose. This double-disk ground lug is 0.250" thick as compared with the Savage factory lug at 0.185" in thickness. This will not reduce the barrel-to-receiver thread purchase as the barrel lock nut or barrel shoulder is moved forward to compensate for the thicker recoil lug. The new barrel lug is a good replacement for those seeking the ultimate in receiver face precision.

We need to be sure the recoil lug mortise in the stock is large enough for the new recoil lug, if used. Either way, there should be ample space for either style lug used.

The recoil lug must be precisely bedded in place with bedding material surrounding it. The fully stabilized recoil lug is actually held in place as an action wrench is used to separate the barrel from the action! This is partly the result of the alignment lug on the recoil lug that fits into the notch at the lower, front edge of the receiver ring. Here I made and fitted a lug that precisely fit the receiver ring slot as an integral part of the recoil lug.

Of course, the barrel is held in a padded barrel vise or whatever means of holding the barrel is used to remove it from the action. Then, as the barrel is removed from the action the recoil lug is essentially free-floating in its precisely bedded pocket. There it remains in place as the barrel is removed or replaced.

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