Brownells 75th Anniversary - A Shooting Heritage

Doug Shilen From Shilen, Inc.

The Shilen name has been synonymous with high quality barrels for over thirty years. Ed Shilen is a hallmark in the world of benchrest shooting because he has constantly strived to improve not only the quality and accuracy of his product, but the standard for accuracy in the industry.

This interview with Ed’s son, Doug Shilen, the current President of Shilen, Inc., was like taking a walk back in time because of the long history his company has shared with Brownells. If you are in the market for a high-quality, accurate barrel for your favorite firearm, then please take a look at the vast selection of Shilen barrels that our catalog has to offer. You’ll be purchasing a barrel from a family-owned company that has a long, proud tradition of accuracy and quality.

Doug Shilen (l), Ed Shilen (r)

How long ago did your father, Ed Shilen, start Shilen, Inc ?
Shilen, Inc. was formed in March of 1967.

Your father, started doing business with Bob Brownell over thirty years ago. Do you know how and when they first met?
A manufacturer’s representative by the name of Dan McKeever wrote up the initial sales contact. Ed met Bob at an NRA Convention around 1968.

Has Shilen, Inc. always manufactured barrels? What other products do you make?
Yes, the original intent of the company was to produce accurate barrels. We also manufacture a replacement trigger for Remington 700’s and market .22 and 6mm, match quality bullets.

Did you grow up “in the shop” helping your father make barrels?
Ed went into Gunsmithing (rifle hobby turned business) fulltime in 1955. I was 6 years old at the time and was pulling bullet press handles for soda money.

At eight to ten years of age, my father taught me to operate a lathe and a milling machine. My teenage years were spent working trap houses and swaging bullets for spending cash. We moved to Texas in 1966 and I went to work fulltime in 1968. 1974 saw my sister, Mikel, join the company. She ran the deep hole drill for a couple of years, then took over as office manager in 1977. She is the Vice-President of Shilen Inc. Her husband, Gene, came on board in 1979. He is our barrel installation supervisor. Jenifer, my oldest daughter, started with the company in 1995. Her husband, Chris started in 1997. This makes 33% of the company family operated.

You “button rifle” all of your barrels. Why do you think that button rifling is best?
There is not any one rifling process that is more accurate than the other. The difference is in the repeatability of dimensions you are trying to maintain. The button process gives us this repeatability advantage over the cut rifling and hammer forging process.

What type of steel do you feel is the very best for rifle and handgun barrels?
Currently we are using a special grade of 4140 chrome-moly and 416 stainless steel. We have used these basic grades since the 60’s, with the steel company making only minor changes over the years. I am experimenting right now with a 17-4 stainless for barrels that could give some accuracy life benefits if we can get the machining problems worked out. We have played with other grades over the years. You usually find some kind of trade off with the different materials.

Can you briefly describe the process you use to make a rifle barrel?
Making a barrel is a fairly detailed process, but here’s a pretty quick rundown to give you an idea of what it takes. Raw material is received, hardened, stress relieved and sonic checked. The barrel material is cut to length. Machine starting hole for caliber. Deep hole drill initial hole. Quality Check (Q.C.) hole for straightness and finish. Ream hole. Q.C. hole with air gauge for uniformity of size and inspect interior finish. Lubricate bore for rifling process.

Pull rifling die (button) through lubricated hole. Clean lubricant out of bore. Stress relieve barrel in vacuum furnace. Q.C. groove and bore diameter with air gauge and visually inspect bore with 8X bore scope. Oil bore. Profile contour outside shape. Belt sand outside diameter. Clean bore. Q.C. bore size with air gauge. Oil bore. Barrel is ready for shipment.

The worlds’s top shooters have won numerous awards using Shilen barrels. Do you use special machining equipment to make your barrels so consistently accurate?
There are lots of different forms of competitive shooting. Fortunately Ed was addicted to Benchrest group shooting which required the most accurate type rifles in the world. He was able to prove and disprove his ideas on how to make accurate rifle barrels. We still use this medium for our R&D. We really don’t have any “special equipment”, but we do have some special tooling we manufacture in-house. This attributes to our edge in the market.

Shilen Pistol Barrel

You hear a lot of information about “breaking in” a new barrel, what process do you recommend?
Basically, the “break-in” process is to prevent premature powder and jacket fouling problems from an overzealous reloader or hyper prairie dog shooter. We suggest cleaning after every shot for the first 5-10 rounds; then after each 5 shot group for the next 50 rounds. To maintain your best accuracy life, clean after each 15 shot string.

If a shooter has a Shilen barrel installed on their favorite rifle, what’s the single most important thing they can do to help maintain their rifles accuracy?
Use proper cleaning procedures on the barrel. Bore guides are an excellent tool to help prevent throat wear but they are not cure-alls. You still see shooters bending the cleaning rod above the bore line. Even with a bore saver, the rod has to counterbend your input and it goes right on the rifling in the throat. When the throat area becomes off center, accuracy goes away.

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