The first thing you notice when picking up a rifle with a carbon fiber barrel is how light it is. They are so light it’s actually shocking if you are not expecting the difference when compared to steel.
Many manufacturers are producing rifles today with a carbon fiber alternative to steel because the material is believe to yield many advantages over steel from an accuracy standpoint.
As with anything new, there are many experienced shooters that argue if the assumed benefits are real. Based on my experience with them on rimfire rifles the assumptions are real.
A carbon fiber barrel yields many advantages in preformance over steel including reduction of heat retention, improved stiffness, and less weight resulting in a higher levelof accuracy.
What is a carbon fiber barrel?
A carbon fiber barrel is made up of a steel interior barrel that has been turned down to a much smaller outer diameter making it much thinner and a lot lighter than it’s beginning weight.
It is then wrapped with a polymer composite made up of tiny little carbon fibers which have a very high strength to weight ratio and then adhered to the steel barrel with a special adhesive.
After going through a few other manufacturing operations it yields a barrel that is pretty cool to look at and has some outstanding qualities that make it much more desirable as far as accuracy and weight.
Carbon fibers are touted to be super strong breaking at 5 times their weight individually. This results in barrel that is much stiffer than the steel original yielding less whip during the shot.
Advantages of carbon fiber over steel?
Generally speaking, a carbon fiber barrel will weigh one third to one half as much as a comparable steel barrel. I can tell you that the first time you pick up a rifle with a carbon fiber barrel, you will be shocked at how little it weighs.
I have handled and shot both the Volquartsen Superlite in 22, and the Magnum Research in 22wmr and you almost feel as if you could handle and shoot the thing Both of these rifles weigh less than some air guns I have shot. They feel like they weigh half of what my Savage Mk ii’s and 10/22’s weigh with similar length barrels.
This is definitely a benefit if you need to carry it around in the field but I was concerned at how this might affect accuracy when shooting offhand. When shooting silhouettes offhand, I usually prefer a rifle that is a little front heavy.
This allows me to be more stable, or so I thought. What I found was, the reason I preferred a front heavy rifle when shooting offhand was because the rifle as a whole was so heavy. With a heavy rifle having the weight distributed forward can assist in a steadier hold.
With these rifles being so light, I was able to really get a stable hold and it proved to be at least as accurate as any silhouette rifle I have ever shot. Another benefit I found was it took longer, much longer, to fatigue to the point I needed to rest my muscles to insure accuracy. Light is good.
All rifle barrels move when a bullet is passing through it at very high pressure and temperature. This movement creates vibrations in the barrel which are called harmonics.
This causes a whipping or circular motion all of the way down to the muzzle. For more information on this topic read this article. See the diagram below to get an idea of what happens. This is exaggerated of course to help explain the action.
They key to accuracy for any is to minimize this movement so when the bullet exits the barrel, it’s position is as close as possible to the shot before it. This movement of the barrel can be minimized through glass bedding the stock, free floating the barrel, using barrel tuners and in this case, by making the barrel resistant to movement by making it stiffer.
A stiffer barrel is the goal of heavy target barrels which are mostly made of steel and should be more accurate than a comparable standard barrel found on most sporter rifles. Carbon fiber barrels are touted to be stiffer than steel.
The facts surrounding this lead me to believe this is true and therefore should be more accurate than it’s steel counterpart. In addition, manufacturers claim that the carbon fiber will absorb much of the vibration created during a shot which reduces barrel movement.
The carbon fiber is basically doing the same thing a barrel tuner would do, except better. Carbon fiber barrels are also referred to as tensioned barrels meaning the sleeve keeps the barrel under tension keeping the rifling straighter when hot. Volquartsen also offer an aluminum sleeved or tensioned barrel in addition to the carbon fiber sleeve.
It is a well known fact that barrel temperature is a variable that affects the consistency of shots and therefore the accuracy of any rifle. One of the properties of carbon fiber is that the final material conducts heat at a slower rate than steel.
Therefore the barrel should heat up slower or to a lesser degree. It should also cool quicker because there is less steel that needs to cool. All of this should result in more consistency in barrel temperature while shooting which can do nothing but improve accuracy.
In addition, it has been proven that excessive barrel heat can shorten the life of a barrel. With the cooler shooting properties of a barrel with less steel and more carbon fiber, heat becomes less of an issue which should point to the barrel life being extended under normal shooting conditions.
Is it worth it? It really depends on how important a high level of performance is to you. My Savages and 10/22s, even those that are highly customized work hard to shoot 1 inch groups at 100 yards, or 1 moa.
I have never grouped the volquartsen lite but I do know that this is the rifle was the one used by Dustin Ellerman to shoot the golf ball at 100 yards to win the Top Gun competition. I have grouped the Magnum Research 22 wmr lite with a carbon fiber barrel at 100 yards.
Out of 5 groups and 2 different types of ammo, my worst group was around 1 inch. My best was right at one half inch. Yes one half inch. I don’t have the footage to prove it but below is footage from Gunblast.com whose footage can prove it’s entirely possible. His groups were about the same out of this rifle using different ammo which speaks volumes on how good this rifle / barrel combination is.
Disadvantages over steel
Here is the one disadvantage. In general a carbon fiber barrel costs about 3 times what a normal steel barrel will cost.
My favorite factory rifles with carbon fiber barrels
Magnum Research 22 MLR22AT
Below are the manufacturers claims and I can tell you that nothing is exaggerated. It is bascially a glorified / improved 10/22. All small bore rifle shooters should own at least one of these. It’s pricey but worth it to me. The ambidextrous lightweight thumbhole 10/22 stock is made of polypropylene with fiber additives for maximum strength.
The stock comb height is designed high enough to comfortably and properly shoot with optics. The stock design also features a semi palm swell on both sides of the pistol grip, and a molded-to-fit hard rubber butt plate attached with screws.
This rifle is equipped with the Magnum Lite revolutionary patented graphite bull barrel, exclusive to Magnum Research. The patented uni-directional graphite fibers, parallel to the bore axis, results in a barrel with six-times the stiffness of conventional steel.
The lighter barrel weights (from 13-16 oz, depending on barrel length) are easier to wield and dissipate heat up to 43% faster than steel. The result is rim fire performance of extreme accuracy.
Other features include a .22LR Benz target chamber designed specifically for semi-automatics; full floating barrel for maximum accuracy, CNC-machined receiver from 6061-T6 aircraft aluminum forging with an integral weaver-type rail for optics and a black anodized finish. The MLR22AT has an approximate weight of 4.25 lbs, barrel length of 17 inches, and over all length of 35.5 inches.
Magnum Research Magnum Lite 22 WMR
For an affordable shooting experience, try our MAGNUM LITE® .22WMR graphite barrel teamed with a classic Hogue® OverMolded™ stock and our MLR-1722M receiver! Our MAGNUM LITE® .22WMR rifle has an entirely new and unique operating system. It is called a “gas assisted blowback”.
This MLR-1722M custom receiver features integral scope base, precision machining, custom “french grey” anodizing. With our MAGNUM LITE® .22WMR graphite barrel and our custom manufactured match bolt this rifle offers the ultimate in rimfire performance and accuracy.
The two rifles above are priced in the $700 – $900 range. This is really a lot cheaper than you could build it. If you aren’t set on a custom build, these would serve you well.
It features a super lightweight but ultra tough CNC-machined aluminum hard anodized receiver rather than the stainless steel receiver on which our other Volquartsen rifles are built. The Superlite also comes standard with our lighweight THM tension barrel.
The Superlite features a removable 32 Hole Compensator that is threaded on using 1/2 x 28 threads. These rifles are priced in the $1300 to $1600 range. This is top of the line rimfire equipment. You will never go wrong with Volquartsen.
Thompson Center TCR22, Semi-automatic Rifle, 22 LR, 17″ Threaded Carbon Fiber Barrel, Black, Hogue Overmolded Stock, 10Rd
The Performance Center T/C T/CR22 rimfire rifles operate using the reliable T/CR22 semi-auto rifle action and 10 round rotary magazine, while maintaining compatibility with most aftermarket 10/22 parts and accessories.
Features built-in picatinny rail on top of the receiver for easy, secure mounting of optics; large bolt handle provides easy cycling operation; ergonomic stock designs promote a steady hold and hand filling forend with textured grip panels; and threaded muzzle with 1/2-28 UNEF threads- Performance Center Compensator installed. Includes sling swivel studs.
- Action : Semi-Auto
- Caliber : 22 LR
- Barrel Length : 17″
- Capacity : 10+1
- Safety : Trigger Push Button/RTS
- OAL : 37″
- Weight : 5.24 lbs
- Stock Description : Hogue OverMolded Thumbhole
Carbon fiber barrel manufacturers
If you are looking for a replacement for one of your old barrels or are intent on building your own rifle, the manufacturers linked below are worth checking out. They are all at the forefront of this industry.
Are carbon fiber barrels worth the money?
If you are looking for the ultimate in long range rimfire accuracy, and don’t mind paying for it, you should take a hard look at carbon fiber barrels. From a performance standpoint I haven’t found a negative to owning one.
On the other hand, how much is a group that is one half inch smaller at 100 yards worth. Based on the prices of these barrels compared to steel, I would say about $500-$700 dollars. But what is money if you don’t enjoy it. You can’t take it with you. Enjoy it while you can.