Hey guys, it’s your favorite Viking raider again. Continuing the saga of his journey to Wisconsin. Last I ended where I was rushing off to make it to Germantown, Wisconsin. My next destination, Germantown Wisconsin the home of Criterion Barrels. I left Vortex at 11, traveled roughly 1 hour 45 minutes to Criterion Barrels. On the way I stopped and grabbed a rather lovely pork tenderloin sandwich for lunch. In addition I found out just how completely rotten the Apple maps app is when it comes to Wisconsin’s completely screwy addresses, which lead to my car nearly getting stuck in the mud on the side of a road when I pulled over and tried to figure out exactly where I needed. Combine this with an emergency pit stop to tank up the car, and I was running a bit late.
The Arrival At Criterion Barrels
After all the trials and tribulations that I had to deal with I finally made it to another nondescript building with a sign reading customer pickups in the rear, and visitor’s parking in the front. Once again I called my contact Josh to make sure there are no additional security procedures we need to deal with. We were good to go though. Walking in to Criterion Barrels I was immediately struck by the sense that this was a place where there were people doing a good day’s work. It’s kind of hard to explain exactly what it was that told me that, but it’s come from years of putting in a good day’s work myself. I was only in the front office, but I could tell that just behind a door there was a busy workshop actually making things. And this was less than 3 seconds after stepping through the door.
I finally had a face to put to the name Josh, and we shook hands. He also introduced me to their head of operations, Stephanie. We sort of flowed into the nearby office where I met the owner of the company, Steve. We shook hands, sat down, talked about a couple of things. Steve has one hell of a poker face and when he’s sizing you up it’s almost as if you’re being nailed to the chair. I definitely got the impression he was not a person to be crossed, which works out because I wasn’t there to do anything of the sort. After our brief chat he was on his way out and done for the day, which is fine because he typically gets to work at about 5 in the morning. I’m definitely more the opposite.
The Tour Begins!
Anyways, after that brief little meeting we got down to the reason why I was there that day: the tour. Stephanie had a wonderful dog and pony show that was really well thought out and informative. As much as I wanted to, I didn’t go on a photo snapping spree. Partly because we discussed in the office that they had proprietary processes and equipment that they’d rather not show the whole wide world, and partly as an act of courtesy to the people working that day who didn’t want to be bothered. So sadly, I couldn’t take as many pictures I wanted and some of the things I saw will remain undisclosed.
We stepped through the door from the office area right into the shop area. At this point my expectations of a busy workshop were proven to be quite correct. The level of noise was such that it became difficult to hear each other. We walked through the shop floor, and actually right out the back of the shop. It was at this time I learned that Criterion owned all the buildings on the property, with room to grow into, as well as additional buildings that they rented out to others. Stepping into another building, I found out this was where the process for making a barrel started. This was where they stored their barrel blanks, cut them to a working size, and did one later process that I’ll get to soon.
After they are cut to a working size, the steel then went back to the building we started in. Criterion uses some fairly interesting equipment to make their barrels, and I’m sure you’ll agree. The very first thing they do is drill the bores. This is important because they use a button rifling process rather than a cut rifling process, and if they were to contour the barrel first and then rifle it they could actually end up really messing up the barrel. One of the very interesting things that was pointed out to me was some of the plates on their barrel drills.
The fact is that Criterion uses barrel drills that have been helping to make barrels for the rifles the US took to war, and that’s very cool. When I asked Steve about that the next morning he said there were a number of practical reasons to use it as well. He told me “They are still some of the best equipment you can use, and there’s nothing that breaks on them that you can’t fix.” After they drill the barrel they ream it to the proper size, and further finish it with some other processes that went somewhat over my head.
Rifling came next, using the button rifling machine, followed by chambering and contouring. Unfortunately, I hadn’t figured out how to take videos yet with this blasted camera, so I only managed to grab a few pictures of that. We then proceeded to crowning, and finishing. One very solid point to make here is that each and every barrel that Criterion produces is hand lapped. And that goes for the ones that go into OEM rifles as well. One of the most special moments for me personally though was being able to actually see where the barrel I ordered was in the production line, and and being able to pick it up and touch it. I discovered that I was actually lucky I ordered it when I did, because if I had taken an extra day it would have added another 6 weeks for delivery time.
After the tour Josh and I spent a little bit longer talking about a number of things, including the range we would be heading to tomorrow. The weather was forecast to not be as good as it was looking a week ago, but we’d deal with it. At this point in time it definitely has to be said that my head was full. After driving for at six hours, getting two wonderful tours, still having to check in at my hotel, and find dinner, it had definitely been a long day. 100% worth it though considering I know more about Criterion Barrels as a company, and the barrel making process and the amount of work that went into making one. I still had a lot to write, and I knew the following was going to be an excellent day as well. At this point I’m going to leave you with a final picture to get you ready for the next piece. It’s my personal rifle compared to the one we’d be shooting tomorrow at the range, as well as an AR-10 in .308 Winchester that we were planning on shooting as well.