Barrel Maker Builds Around Family

Shaw Barrels marries tradition and technology in high-quality barrels and rifles.

Barrel Maker Builds Around Family

When the boss walks into the shop at Shaw Barrels, no one flinches or suddenly gets quiet. Shaw Barrels has been a family-owned and -operated business ever since it was founded more than eight decades ago. 

Carl Behling Jr. inherited the successful company when his father, Carl Sr., died in 2017. For only the third time in its storied history, E.R. Shaw Manufacturing had a new owner. It is based in Bridgeville, Pennsylvania, a short drive from Pittsburgh, once the nation’s capitol for steel production. Carl Jr. is assisted by his uncle, Bud, who owns a successful fleet management, financing and leasing business in Bridgeville.

Employees are invested in the company. It’s personal and emotional. When you’re working with your hands, creating rifles literally from scratch based on a customer’s request, a connection is forged. 

“We have people who have been here 20 years, 25, 30 years,” Carl Behling says. “They know each other, families, the way we do things. They’re familiar with the machines, the little sounds they make. If something’s not right, they know it. And we’ve had these machines so long, some of them, that they know how to fix anything.” The gunsmith comes from a family of kitchen table gunsmiths, with institutional knowledge of trial and error in younger years turned into exacting experience today. 

There are maybe a few dozen employees, at best, in the three facilities in Bridgeville. That puts a little more pressure on them. If one does something that messes up an order or a machine, it affects everyone, possibly on a greater level than at a larger conglomerate with monstrous facilities and hundreds of employees. Not all of the machines are ancient. Shaw has added CNC machining to augment its older workhorses. You can’t ignore technology when you’re creating custom barrels, rifles and OEM contracting. The latter is a significant part of Shaw’s business. Major companies you likely know of have used and still use Shaw barrels. As often with OEM work, names are kept private. But rest assured, many hunters and shooters have had Shaw barrels on their rifles.

  The family aspect is expanded now, too. Bud Behling admits he’s “not the gun guy.” He’s not poking around the shop. But he’s involved with helping things run smoothly, as needed. Over the years he’s applied advice he learned from different mentors, including his and Carl Sr.’s father. One that stuck with him: “He always said if it costs a nickel more to make it better, spend the nickel.”

Top Picks 

Shaw got away from producing shotgun barrels to focus on rifle barrels. And then after years of producing OEM barrels, including traditional and AR barrels, it began offering its own rifle. The Mark VII bolt-action rifle was a hit thanks to its clean, classic lines and affordability. Hunters and shooters enjoyed building their own custom rifle; pick the caliber, barrel and other parts, and Shaw would build and deliver it. 

Shaw then added the Mark X bolt-action, and today offers those along with others including tactical models. Consumers can choose from thousands of options for calibers, wood or composite stocks, barrel lengths, contours, long or short actions and other enhancements. With its ERS 10- and -15 rifles, buyers can choose different barrel lengths and other options. 

Shaw makes it easy with its “Build Your Own” online configuration feature. Buyers select the barrels, stock, receiver and other options. You see the rifle being designed on the site, along with a running total of the cost. At the end, you can review, make changes, purchase and get a timetable for the build and delivery. Or start over. It’s simple and easy. 

And even if customers go direct to Shaw, they’ll need other things to go with the rifle. It’s a good idea for retailers to get familiar with these guns and understand how to help people complete the package in store. Ammunition. Slings. A scope or red-dot optic. Cases, targets, range items and anything else they need. It’s nothing different than a guy who bought a rifle from a friend or family member, or who has had one for years. The DIY world is big and there’s no avoiding it. Embrace and help is the best option. 

The hottest barrels or rifles always are interesting, too. Behling and his team see the trends in real-time, as they ebb and flow. Whether it’s through custom builds, barrel purchases or OEM work, they have a finger on the pulse. That spans the gamut from hunters going after predators, varmints and big game to competition and recreational shooters. 

“A lot of .223 Wylde for predator hunting,” he says, referring to the hybrid caliber that works with .223 and 5.56 NATO ammunitions. Their regular .223 work “cooled off” for a while, due to the easy availability in the market from multiple sources and other custom builds. “Hunters can get them in their towns, go online to build them, or they already have them. The other big one is the 6.5 Creedmoor, no doubt.” 

The Creedmoor is wildly popular with hunters and competition shooters, despite being widely trashed online and in hunting camps. Yet it continues to knock down deer and other game, and stack up impressive scores at the range. The 6mm and 6.5 are among the numerous calibers offered by Shaw in its DIY builder.

Other Notable Tidbits

Shaw’s barrels are notable for their fluting, which is distinctive and helps distinguish the rifles from others. The flutes can be straight or helical, either six or eight depending on the contour of the barrel. Fluting is available on Shaw’s bolts, too. 

Behling said the fluting is a great part of Shaw’s history, something that sets it apart. The fluting can be done on the chrome-moly or stainless barrels and bolts. Shaw was the first manufacturer to use spiraled fluting on the exterior of its barrels. The flutes minimally reduce weight and, some believe, help the barrel cool faster. Mostly, though, it is decorative. 

Rifle barrels aren’t the only thing drilled at Shaw. Diversity is smart with almost any business. Shaw does custom deep hole drilling and reaming for numerous industries with various materials to customers’ specifications. It could be for petroleum, water or for some other need, but it’s an added specialty that gives Shaw another layer of security and renown. 

Tradition is imbued in Shaw’s facilities, rifles and beliefs. While CNC tech is part of today’s production, the older machines hold a special place in the employees’ hearts. One reamer machine still in use dates to the 1950s, at least, if not earlier. Another machine in one of the plants is about 100 years old. Behling and his team stay alert for news of older machines that may be for sale. It might be worth it to buy one, for parts. 

For decades, Shaw has produced custom barrels for hunters and shooters. There’s no indication it is slowing down anytime soon, with a new generation at the helm.


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