Rifle Stocks Built to Take a Beating

AG Composites is producing quality, custom rifle stocks that can stand up to anything

Rifle Stocks Built to Take a Beating

On a two-lane road in two nondescript buildings housing intricate tools and about 75 dedicated employees, some of the toughest, lightest carbon fiber composite rifle stocks in the world are being made. 

These beige buildings are about 25 miles from one of the country’s growing tech, space defense and biogenetic research cities. Huntsville is now the largest city in Alabama, and long a hub for engineering-minded development of creations great and small. Known as the Rocket City, it is where Dr. Wernher von Braun and his team of dedicated engineers developed rockets and missiles that helped the military from after World War II until today, along with putting the first U.S. satellite in space and men on the moon. 

When brothers Dave and Matt Tandy founded AG Composites almost a decade ago they wanted to build the best carbon fiber composite rifle stocks possible. They grew up in west-central Illinois, typical small-town kids. Both went into the military. Their paths diverged for several years in aerospace and engineering fields until they came together again. By then, Matt also was building carbon fiber housings and telescopes for astronomers around the world. He also was into competitive cycling, riding and studying the design and aerodynamics of carbon fiber bicycles. He and Dave, both hunters, decided to build rifle stocks inletted for the extremely popular Remington 700 action and common clones. 

Since then, AG Composites has weathered typical ups and downs for a small business. One of the earliest and roughest was when a significant contract fell through due to financial problems. They had rifle stocks in production but weren’t receiving payments. By the time everything went sideways, it almost broke the Tandys’ new company. They righted the ship and got going again, although Matt wryly jokes that “we’re still waiting on that payment.”

Highs and Lows

Normal business hiccups and successes are part of daily life. Someone calls in sick or puts in their notice. A machine part needs recalibration and things slow down for a bit. Supply chain issues, of course, have been part of everyone’s life for the last couple of years. Steel, aluminum, carbon fiber, chemicals, and even boxing materials for shipping all have been impacted in some way. As Dave and Matt learned early in life and then in the military, you figure it out and move ahead. 

Many companies claim the “family” culture but the Tandys practice it. Both Dave’s wife Angie and Matt’s wife Laurie have been involved since AG Composites was crammed into a behind-the-house hybrid garage-barn. They’ve done everything from administrative to hands-on work on the line. Just like Matt and Dave, they talk with employees on the lines, encourage, listen, help by offering advice or suggestions to myriad issues. The four have attempted to foster a positive, hard-working yet compassionate and enjoyable work environment. Their dozens of employees vary of age, gender, ethnicity and educational levels but all mesh to create a smooth, even flow of product on the lines. 

“We pay competitively along with a solid benefits package, have weekly and quarterly quotas that spark bonuses if they’re met,” Dave Tandy says. “We work hard and encourage them to work hard to meet those quotas. They’re not unrealistic but we, throughout the buildings, stay busy on each shift. When the quotas are met we have a staff meeting with everyone and announce who won any bonuses and celebrate that. We do the same for quarterly awards, too. And we have an employee hire bonus, too; if someone brings in a new employee and that person lasts 90 days, the one who brought him or her in gets a $500 retention bonus. All that along with pride in creating a top product helps keep things humming.”


The Process

During a recent visit, Matt walked us through the plant and construction process from start to finish. The first thing that happens is a broad sheet of carbon fiber is laid on a table with pinprick holes. Tape secures the edges. Air being sucked down under it, “like a reverse air hockey table,” holds the carbon fiber sheet perfectly flat and taut. The shape of rifle stocks and other pieces to be hand-laid on the stock form are cut by a computer-aided laser. The computer program gets about 92% yield from the sheet of carbon fiber, maximizing it and creating little waste. With small businesses, efficiency counts. 

“If I could extrude my own aluminum to make some things we need, I’d do it,” Matt says. “As with anyone else, we have some supply chain issues now and then. Getting carbon fiber sheets was a three-month lead time at one point. We design our own programs for the CAD systems and if we get a new piece of equipment, we learn everything about it that we can. That way if something needs to be tweaked, updated or fixed, hopefully we’re able to do it ourselves and have minimal downtime. 

“Plus, I’m kind of a nerd that way. I like doing that and figuring all that out. We use trigonometry in real-world situations. You learn what goes into the process from start to finish so you can help the employees. You can check on progress at different points in the line. If something needs to be changed, we empower the employees to bring it up, stop the line, show a supervisor. You don’t want something to be missed or to have people scared to say anything. Then you have an issue that is like a virus that spreads through the line. By the time someone catches it, you probably have more than one problem. Seeing and stopping something as early as possible makes a difference.” 

Later in the tour, Matt points to a CNC lathe that makes the company’s QD cups for slings. They used to outsource them but were running into supply issues. The investment in the machine outweighed the cost of outsourcing. A rod is inserted into the machine and the lathe precisely cuts, finishes and spits out the cup. Problem solved. Although they’re not doing it now, it could become a secondary, albeit small, revenue stream. At another station, he explains that a drill’s carbide tips used on the abrasive carbon fiber must be replaced every 25 to 30 runs. 

“You know, with all these machines and the noise and everything going on, you still learn and know the sounds of each one of them,” Matt says. “You know the happy sounds of the machines. If they’re not making happy sounds, you know something’s not right.”

Smooth Operators

From that first carbon fiber cutting table to the finished product, a rifle stock that weighs about 30 ounces has a lot of hands on it. Shooters can have a custom, hand-made stock in 11 models and myriad options of color, cheek risers, QD cups and more. About 60% of AG Composites’ work is for OEM and much of that for hunting rifles. 

As we walked through the manufacturing process, employees deftly created stocks with sure, swift hands and eyes. Movements seemed so fluid as to be automated but, as we saw, humans were handling the tasks. Carbon fiber patterns laid, molds screwed tightly in forms, curing, sanding, trimming, edges cleaned, sandblasting, painting, outer coatings. All the while, the stocks are being scrutinized for any issues, blemishes, anything amiss. As we watched, one station supervisor found something; It looked minor to us, but a handful of stocks were quickly examined. Only one was returned to a prior station for a second review. 

Shooters will find certain additions in the finished stocks that are helpful, too. One is the addition of an aluminum block in the forend from the tip of the stock to where it begins to taper. This can be drilled and tapped for accessory rails. Another plus is the stocks are pretty much indestructible. 

“We have beaten them against things, run over them with vehicles, slammed them with baseball bats, used them for baseball bats, hit different things like trees and metal,” Matt says. “For as light as they are, they’re extremely tough. We have hunters who have dragged them all over the world, law enforcement and tactical teams that have used them, and have had stories about other, um, unique locations. They’re tough.” 

A layer of carbon fiber material is about 40 thousandths of an inch thick, just a little more than the depth of a credit card. It’s flexible yet abrasive. It is porous, thanks to microscopic holes, yet once applied to a form, cured, coated, smoothed and hardened it could wallop a feral hog’s ugly noggin. Wood is beautiful. Synthetic laughs at Mother Nature. Carbon fiber says, “Hey y’all,” to both of those and stands tall. They’re shipped to some of the biggest companies in the industry, and to individuals who buy online, and to FFL holders who put in an order for their shop or store.


Artisanal Work

Back in September I had a chance to shoot the AG Chalk Branch stock topped with a .300 Win Mag and another in .308. Both were lovely, the former with a bit more recoil as expected. But the cant of the grip was just right so that when I laid my palm on it, my index finger was right at the trigger. The ample stock and length-of-pull felt normal, instead of me having to wriggle around getting situated. Few people at the event wanted to plink with the Win Mag, so I took advantage to shoot almost a whole box of ammo. I’d be comfortable with the AG Chalk Branch and either of those calibers hunting big game anywhere in North America. 

“Every stock is unique,” Dave says. “There’s not 10,000 of the same thing. We tell the companies who contract with us to market the stocks as artisanal and one-of-a-kind because they really are. The sponge pattern used for the paint isn’t done the same way every time. We have a couple of people who do that station and each stock is unique. They dab and daub this way one time, and daub and dab that way on the next one. 

“There are more than one million combinations of stocks we’ve done or can do, and every one of them is important. We tell everyone that literally tens of millions of dollars, from Mom ‘n Pop shops to giant corporations, depend on what they’re doing here because you can’t have a rifle without a stock.” 

For more information or to contact the Tandys, visit www.agcomposites.com.


Comments on this site are submitted by users and are not endorsed by nor do they reflect the views or opinions of COLE Publishing, Inc. Comments are moderated before being posted.