If you visit some online forums (specifically those focused on bolt action rifles, long range shooting, etc.) you will run across a myriad of reasons why someone do rifle bolt fluting. Whether it be justification of money spent, grasping at the straws of perceived performance enhancement, or another reason altogether, you'll likely read about it.
I recently had a handful of rifle bolts fluted for my personal rifles and was intrigued about what this might gain me. I received the rifle bolt fluting service at a discounted price through a 'group buy' on an online forum much like one of the ones listed above. I believe the cost of the fluting and shipping both ways was somewhere between $50 and $75, but I cannot remember the exact cost as of now.
After Chad from Longrifles Inc. had finished machining the bolts, they arrived at the house, where I had been anticipating their return like a kid waiting for Christmas! I unpackaged the bolts and the first thing that you notice when you look at these bolts is how absolutely stunning they look. Rifle bolt fluting can be cut straight, in a helical pattern (what I chose), in a diamond shape, and pretty much anything you can think of.
I had the opportunity to borrow a buddies rifle in the same make/model/caliber to give a little comparison on what kind of diet this bolt went on due to the material reduction in the body. I placed the unfluted Remington Model Seven bolt on the scale and it registered 11.70 ounces. The fluted bolt weighed in a 11.00 ounces, so less than 1 ounce of reduction in weight was achieved through the fluting. Granted the length, width, depth, and style of the fluting will all add to the varying weight that will be shed, but in this case, it is an apples to apples comparison of fluted vs. not.
Remington Model Seven Unfluted Bolt
Remington Model Seven Fluted Bolt
I also weighed a long action Remington 700 .338 RUM bolt and a long action Savage .30-06 bolt, so if you have a comparison of unfluted weight, I'd love to hear what these lost as well. If you're interested in rifle bolt fluting for yourself, you can also see the potential weight loss in the photos below.
Left Handed Remington 700 Bolt (.338 RUM)
Fluted Savage Bolt (.30-06)
So weight loss (albeit very small) can be an advantage, so what might be another advantage? Some say, and its a point of endless contention, that fluting the bolt will make the bolt easier to operate as it reduces the bearing surfaces of the bolt body against the action. To me, this is likely more of an advantage felt between the ears than a real world performance gain.
The last advantage that might be attributed to fluting would be that if there were debris in the action of your rifle, that the flutes would give the debris somewhere to 'ride' when operating the bolt, instead of getting ground between the action and the bolt body. It would be hard to scientifically test the validity of this one, but I think it might hold some water.
After digging into this a bit and actually taking some weights of what was lost, I have to conclude that the main reason that someone might flute their bolt is largely for looks. The fluting can be very eye catching, and I have had several buddies take a peek at these fluted bolts, and watching their eyes glaze over, say “I need it...”
The super ultra lightweight hunter who is already in mountain goat shape and has nothing left to shed weight on might gain from fluting their bolt and other machine work like skeletonizing the bolt handle and trigger guard, but lets face it, It LOOKS good! Is rifle bolt fluting for you? Let me know in the comments below why you did it, or why you chose to put your money elsewhere.