Carbon fiber is used in everything from aerospace and automotive applications to prosthetics, bicycles, and fishing rods. Carbon fiber’s desirable properties include being lightweight, high strength, and stiff. Carbon fiber can also conduct heat well when compared to steel. Several companies use carbon fiber in rifle barrel construction because of these properties.
Helix 6 Precision makes carbon fiber wrapped barrels for bolt action and gas rifles. They are located near me in Vancouver, Washington, so I stopped by to talk to the owner/founder Jon Beagle. Jon has been building precision rifles for 25 years under his company Jon Beagle Rifle Company (JRBC), and he has put this knowledge to work in creating Helix 6 Precision carbon fiber barrels. About four years ago Jon started making Helix 6 barrels out of necessity because he wasn’t happy with what was on the market. While Jon takes care to not disparage the competition, he described the problems he was encountering using other manufacturers’ carbon fiber wrapped barrels when building his custom rifles. “We had customers having problems with their rifles and carbon fiber barrels kept turning out to be the issue,” said Beagle. After waiting for a rifle to be built the customer would have to wait for a replacement barrel from the manufacturer and it wasn’t good for anybody. It was affecting Jon’s reputation as a rifle maker, so he set out to build the finest carbon fiber barrels on the market.
Helix 6 Precision barrels are available in .22 caliber up to .338. They also make .375 and .416 in ELR barrels. Bolt action barrels, pre-fit Savage or Ruger action barrels, and AR barrels are offered in various calibers. Recently they started producing carbon fiber wrapped barrels for the Sig Cross rifle (look for a review on this in the near future). For this review, I am testing an 18-inch barrel in 6 ARC. More on that later.
Point of Impact Shift
Accuracy was the number one goal Jon had when he created Helix 6 Precision. Specifically, consistent accuracy during repeated firing. One test of this aspect Beagle conducted involved shooting a five-shot group at 100 yards and then shooting 80 rounds as fast as possible. Finally, another five-shot group was fired and the point of impact shift was measured. In his test, the Helix 6 carbon fiber barrels had a POI shift of 0.7 inches. The next best barrel was a steel barrel at 1.3 inches, followed by two other companies’ carbon fiber barrels at 2.8 and nearly four inches. I did not repeat this test due to cost considerations.
Although Beagle must be guarded about his manufacturing process, the high carbon-to-resin ratio is part of the magic. Helix 6 uses roughly 70% carbon fiber to 30% resin in their barrels. Carbon fiber efficiently conducts heat so the 70/30 ratio keeps the barrel from heating up as quickly as a steel barrel. Such a high carbon fiber content also makes their barrel stiffer.
Helix 6 Precision outsources the 416R steel core of their barrels. “We don’t make our own cores because we aren’t the best at it. That may change one day, but there is an outfit in Wisconsin that is the best at making the cores. We are the best at carbon fiber wrapping and finishing the barrels,” said Beagle.
Carbon Fiber barrels weigh roughly half of what a steel barrel of a similar profile weighs. Beagle’s barrel design priorities are accuracy first and weight reduction second. This has a direct bearing on the thickness of their barrels. “We could make a lighter barrel, but what good is a light barrel that isn’t accurate” asked Beagle. Good point.
That’s A Wrap
Another design feature that sets Helix 6 carbon fiber barrels apart is how the carbon fiber is applied. Most carbon fiber builds use what is called filament winding, which is what it sounds like. Carbon fiber thread is spun from a bobbin, through a resin bath, and onto the barrel (or fishing rod, etc.). “The Helix 6 carbon fiber process is engineered to this application [rifle barrels], whereas filament winding is not,” said Beagle. Helix 6 Precision carbon fiber is applied in 3k twill fabric and laid down with the minimum amount of resin possible. This is done, per Beagle, because most carbon fiber that has shattered under stress does so at the point of a resin pocket due to a manufacturing flaw. The twill is laid down at 0 degrees, 90 degrees, and 45 degrees. “This is done for very specific engineering purposes,” says Beagle.
Hand Lapped and Cut to Length
Helix 6 Precision barrels are hand lapped. Beagle does so because he believes with mechanical lapping you lose the feel for any anomalies. “Hand lapping is really one of the last quality control steps in barrel making, and probably the most important for making barrels that shoot well,” said Beagle.
The carbon fiber of a Helix 6 barrel is a structural part of the barrel. Bolt barrels have a 1.2-inch shank and they taper to .640 for the rest of the barrel. The barrels may be cut to any length and be threaded there at 5/8×24 (or 1/2×28 for a .22 caliber barrel). The muzzle device may then be butted up to the exposed carbon fiber. This is unique in the carbon barrel world, and it allows a custom rifle maker to stock one twist barrel for a given caliber and finish it to any length.
Helix 6 Precision barrels are not for everybody. They are expensive. Blanks sell for about $1200 and AR barrels are $1300-$1500. There are three carbon fiber barrel customer types who should consider spending the extra cash. First, there are those who have a need for a low point of impact shift under sustained firing. Competition shooters – Precision Rifle Series or even 3-gun where close range is mixed in with long range – could benefit here. Second are custom rifle makers and their customers. If a customer has a problem after you spend four hours fitting a barrel to an action, that is money down the drain for the gunsmith and frustration for the customer. Helix 6 Precision was created to address this problem. As an aside, I personally know a precision shooter who had a build done by one of the top rifle makers in the country. He used a carbon fiber barrel from another manufacturer. The results were horrible. After over a full year of getting it sorted out the barrel was replaced. He lost an entire year. Finally, there are those who just must have the best. This is the buy once, cry once crowd. You know who you are.
A possible fourth category is hunters, even though they might only fire a shot or two on an annual hunt. Shooting accurately is a perishable skill. Hunters should be practicing in the off-season so they can make the shot when it counts. With a Helix 6 barrel hunters can shoot as rapidly as they wish to without worrying about point of impact shift.
For this review I took an 18-inch Helix 6 Precision 6mm ARC barrel and put it on an AR build of mine (Seekins lower and handguard, Geissele SSA-E trigger, SLR Rifleworks Sentry 7 gas block, and Magpul furniture). The test rifle may be seen at the top of this article. Helix 6 supplied a headspaced MPI bolt (which is a Grendel bolt) that they have built to their specifications. Helix 6 also supplied the gas tube, which is a +1. On the muzzle, because everyone should shoot suppressed, I used my Dead Air Sandman suppressor with the direct thread mount. Hornady helped out with the ammunition and sent over some Hornady 6 ARC with 108g ELD-M projectiles. For a scope, I put my Zero Compromise Optics 5-27 to work.
With the build done, I hit the range and started throwing Hornady 108g pills. The barrel as configured shot beautifully. Tight three-shot groups were easy, but posting those just brings out the three-shot group haters. I had several sub-MOA five-shot groups at 100 yards, the best being 0.64 inches. I considered this good, given the lightweight nature of the rifle (10 pounds with optic) relative to heavy long-range rifles. Though I have yet to hunt with this rifle, the 108g Hornady bullet really packs a punch when it’s moving 2540 feet per second.
Jon Beagle’s carbon fiber barrels are lightweight and accurate. Beyond that, they are just plain good to look at. This is also good old-fashioned American engineering and manufacturing. When you enter Mr. Beagle’s shop you can tell right away this guy knows what he is doing, does it very well, and cares deeply about crafting the most accurate rifles possible.
Really the only ding here would be the price, but as they say, you get what you pay for.
Specs of Test Barrel
Length – 18 inches
Twist – 1:7
Gas Block Diameter – 0.750 inches
Bolt – MPI tested (included)
Weight – 33 ounces
Thread – 5/8×24
Gas Tube Length – Rifle + 1 (included)
Price – $1,337.99
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