Imagine for a moment that it is around 1957, your name is Nicholas Brewer and you work for Savage Arms. Your boss walks into the office one day and says “Nick, we need you to design a bolt action rifle for us. This gun has to be as accurate and dependable as the stuff already out there and you have to figure out some way to make it cheaper. Oh, by the way, don’t violate any existing patents and make it flexible enough that we don’t have to ever retool.” Most folks would take out the want ads and start looking for a new gig.
The Savage 110 was what Brewer came up with and it really did meet all the requirements. Borrowing from a few existing designs, Brewer created a push feed, dual-opposed lug action with a rotating extractor and enclosed bolt face. The bolt head itself was separated from the rest of the bolt body and held in place by a through pin. The 110 also had a few features geared towards ease in production that were all new. The barrel was headspaced by a big lock nut and threaded into the receiver. The receiver itself could be produced from a single piece of seamless tubing and stamped parts were used wherever possible. The use of a separated bolt head (which had never really been tried on a commercial rifle) made the bolt lugs essentially self-lapping and resulted in great accuracy without added machining. The end result was a rifle that could easily compete on the range and blow the completion away on a sporting goods store gun rack.
The number of incarnations and variants that Savage has produced on the 110 action over the years would fill an entire page. In essence, they are all the same sturdy, affordable unit that Brewer designed and they all work pretty well. Savage has even farmed this action out in the form of the Stevens 200 rifle, which has met with great success. The 110 is Savage’s go-to action and by whatever designation it is called will be around for a long time to come.
The 110 lost points a few points in our comparison for: ergonomics, due to a sometimes sloppy-feeling bolt throw, feeding/extraction, due to occasional jamming in feeding. Also reliability, due to the action’s rather high number of parts that, however rarely, do still fail, and fit/finish, due to Savage’s well-known commitment to sacrificing aesthetics in the name of accuracy and cost control. All of the 110’s foibles are well known to 110 owners, but most either don’t care, or stop caring, when they discover how well their surprisingly affordable rifle shoots.