Editor: This article appears on the Criterion Barrels website. It provides good, conservative advice about barrel cleaning. Understand that cleaning methods may need to be adapted to fit the amount and type of fouling (and the particular barrel). In general, we do try to minimize brushing, and we follow the procedures Criterion recommends respecting the crown/muzzle. We have also had very good success using wet patches followed by Wipe-Out bore foam. Along with the practices outlined by Criterion below, you may want to try Wipe-Out foam. Just be sure to use a fitted cleaning rod bore guide, to keep foam out of the action recesses and trigger assembly.
What is the Best Way to Clean a Rifle Barrel?
We are asked this question quite frequently alongside requests for recommended break-in procedures. Improper barrel cleaning methods can damage or destroy a barrel, leading to diminished accuracy or even cause a catastrophic failure. When it comes to barrel maintenance, there are a number of useful techniques that we have not listed. Some techniques may work better with different barrel types. This series of recommendations is designed to incorporate a number of methods that the Criterion Barrels staff has used successfully both in the shop and on their personal rifles. Please feel free to to list your own recommendations in the below comments section.
We recommend the use of the following components during rifle cleaning:
• Cloth patches (sized for the appropriate caliber)
• Brass jag sized properly for your bore
• One-piece coated cleaning rod
• General bore cleaner/solvent (Example: Hoppes #9)
• Copper solvent of your choosing (Example: Sweets/KG 12)
• Fitted cleaning rod bore guide
• Plastic AP brush or toothbrush
• Plastic dental picks
• CLP or rust preventative type cleaner
There are a number of schools of thought relating to the frequency in which a barrel should be cleaned. At minimum we recommend cleaning a barrel after each shooting session to remove condensation, copper, and carbon build-up. Condensation is the greatest immediate threat, as it can cause the barrel to rust while the rifle sits in storage. Copper and carbon build-up may negatively impact future barrel performance, increasing the possibility of a failure in feed or function. Fouling should be removed whenever possible.
The below tips will help limit the wear of different parts of your barrel during routine maintenance, helping extend the life of the barrel and improving its performance.
The crown is the portion of the barrel where the bullet loses contact with the lands and grooves and proceeds to exit the firearm. The area most critical to accuracy potential is the angle where the bullet last touches the bore of the barrel.
Avoid damage to this area by using a plastic toothbrush and CLP type cleaner to scrub the crown from the exterior of the barrel. Even the most minimal variation in wear to the crown will negatively impact barrel performance, so be careful to avoid nicking or wearing away this part of the barrel.
Reducing Cleaning Rod Wear to the Crown
When running a patch through the barrel, place the muzzle about a ¼” from a hard surface that runs flat at a perpendicular angle to the cleaning rod’s direction of travel, like a wall or the edge of a work bench (pictured). When the jag impacts the hard surface, retract the cleaning rod and remove the patch.
By withdrawing the jag prior to its exit from the barrel, you are limiting the possibility of the brass dragging upon the crown if the rod is at all bent or misaligned. The soft cloth patch will continue to serve as the point of contact between the jag and the barrel, minimizing potential wear.
If possible, insert the rod through the chamber, pushing it forward toward the muzzle. Some rifles, such as the M1 Garand or M14, will require you to insert the cleaning rod through the muzzle. In these situations the use of a cleaning rod guide is recommended to limit the friction placed upon the crown.
Avoid using cleaning rod segments for scraping carbon from the recessed muzzle of an AR-15 barrel. We used this trick in the Marine Corps to impress the armorers and NCO’s with the cleanliness of our muzzles, but it likely played a significant role in reducing the service life of the rifle barrel in question.
Use a Q-Tip soaked in solvent to remove any copper or carbon residue from the recessed muzzle of an AR-15 barrel. A little bit of remaining carbon on the face of the muzzle will not negatively affect bullet travel so long as the crown edge remains consistent around the circumference of the bore.
The Lands and Grooves
This portion of the barrel may experience reduced efficiency due to copper fouling and cleaning rod damage. If copper fouling takes place during the initial break-in of the rifle, make sure to check our barrel break-in article.
For regular maintenance we suggest using a single piece coated cleaning rod rather than the traditional segmented rod or bore snake. While segmented rods and bore snakes may be convenient for field use, the corners between the segments may bow out and catch on the lands, scraping along the length of the rifling. Residual grit and particles from expended cartridges may also get caught between segments, resulting in an abrasive surface working its way down the length of the barrel. Most bore snakes will remove significant amounts of carbon fouling, but may fall short in the removal residual carbon buildup and copper fouling during deep cleaning. Good rods can be sourced from multiple manufacturers, but we have found good results using both Pro-Shot and Dewey brand products.
General cleaning requires the use of patches rather than nylon or brass bore brushes. Brass brushes may be required when aggressive cleaning is required, but can lead to unnecessary wear on the barrel if used frequently. This is not due to the nature of the soft brushes themselves, but from the abrasive particles of grit that become embedded in the material that is being run repeatedly through the bore. We recommend the use of bore guides when cleaning from both the muzzle and breech. These bore guides will help serve to protect the crown and throat from cleaning rod damage.
If significant resistance develops while running the cleaning rod through the bore, no attempt should be made to force it in further. Back the rod out and inspect the barrel to determine the cause of the resistance. The jag may be pushing between a bore obstruction and the rifling, digging a divot into the barrel before pushing the obstruction back through the muzzle. One way to minimize the risk of a stuck rod is by utilizing a slightly smaller patch during the initial push.
The process of cleaning the length of the rifling is relatively straightforward:
1. Check to make sure the rifle is safely unloaded.
2. Carry out any necessary disassembly procedures prior to cleaning.
3. Remove bolt (if possible) and insert fitted cleaning rod bore guide in action.
4. Soak a patch in bore solvent (similar to Hoppes #9).
5. Center and affix the patch on the brass jag, inserting it into the chamber end of the barrel. A misaligned patch may cause the jag to damage the lands of the rifling, so make sure the patch is centered on the jag.
6. Run the patch the full length of the barrel, retracting it upon reaching the end of the muzzle.
7. Let the solvent sit for a minute.
8. Continue to run patches through the bore until carbon residue is minimized.
9. Run a dry patch through the bore to ensure carbon residue has been removed.
10. Soak a patch in copper solvent (Sweet’s or KG-12).
11. Run the patch through the bore, leaving it to sit for 3-5 minutes (do not let solvent sit for more than 15 minutes.*)
12. Repeat this process until no blue residue remains on the patches.
13. Run a patch of Hoppes #9 and a dry patch through the bore to neutralize the copper solvent.
14. Inspect the barrel prior to reassembling the rifle, verifying that no bore obstructions remain.
*Please note that some ammonia-based copper solvents may prove to be corrosive if left sitting in the barrel for an extended period of time. It is essential that these solvents be removed within 15 minutes to avoid ruining the bore.
Proper cleaning of the chamber is a critical component of a general cleaning procedure. Carbon rings can build up near the neck and throat of the chamber wall, leading to feeding malfunctions and pressure spikes inside the chamber.
The chamber can be the trickiest part of the barrel to effectively clean, due to its fluctuation in size and the awkward ergonomics often required to remove carbon residue. Numerous chamber specific devices have been created to address this problem, and while some should be avoided (steel chamber brushes), others can be used to great effect (cleaning stars and plastic dental picks). The simplest approach to cleaning a chamber is to apply solvent to a couple patches, and use the cleaning rod to spin the wadded up patches inside the confines of the chamber. This should aid in removing any excess carbon. A Q-Tip can be used to reach portions of the chamber unreached by patches.
The Barrel Exterior
While the condition of the crown, rifling, and chamber are essential to firearm performance, the finish of the exterior should also be cleaned after handling. Condensation, humidity, direct water contact, and salt residue from skin contact can cause rust or corrosion. An application of anti-corrosion products is recommended when placing a firearm into deep storage for an extended period of time. [Editor: AccurateShooter.com recommends Corrosion-X or Eezox, but other products work well too.]
Finding Cleaning Components
While most cleaning components can be found at your local gun shop, some specialty items may need to be sourced through online retailers such as Brownell’s. Criterion utilizes both Dewey and Pro-Shot brand cleaning components during our day-to-day operations.
Do you have any rifle cleaning tips or tricks not mentioned in the above article? We’d love to hear about them. You can post your comments below.
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Lyman’s digital BoreCam is one of the hottest rifle/gunsmithing accessories on the market right now. The product sells out quickly whenever a vendor gets a few in stock. Make no mistake, this is a good product that works well, and, at around $300.00, is it affordable for most shooters. The BoreCam provides vital information about your bore and chamber, and has the ability to save images to an SD card.
Our British friend Vince Bottomley recently obtained a Lyman BoreCam and put it through its paces. Vince came away very impressed. He says it is an easy-to-use and very capable bore inspection tool at a fraction of the cost of a high-end optical borescope (such as the Hawkeye). Vince says serious shooters should definitely acquire one of these tools: “In my opinion, this product is one of the very best to come along in recent years and I predict that the demand for these [Lyman BoreCams] will be very heavy. I would advise you to place an order as quickly as possible if you want one.”
Here are highlights from Vince’s review of the Lyman BoreCam: “If I were to replace my [Hawkeye optical borescope] today with another Hawkeye, it would cost me well over £700 – stick on a video adapter and we are looking at four figures. That’s what makes the new Lyman digital borescope so attractive – at around £250 including a monitor – it’s an absolute steal!
But £250 – with a video attachment and photo-capture facility – can this really be a useable borescope? Trust me it is! But what use is a borescope. Why do you need one? Well, whatever you shoot, the condition of your rifle’s bore is critical. And I’m not just talking about a bore that’s ‘shot-out’ – maybe you just aren’t cleaning it thoroughly. Or maybe some defect within the chamber or rifling is preventing your rifle delivering the kind of performance you expect. Even at £700, a borescope can be cost-effective – if it saves you the cost of just one new barrel.”
Vince explained how the BoreCam can quickly diagnose problems in a barrel: “A customer started to have difficulty chambering rounds in his 308 Target Rifle…. The borescope quickly revealed the problem – a hard ring of copper and carbon had built-up immediately in front of the chamber. When you use a bore-guide (and you always should do) it can sometimes ‘protect’ this first bit of the bore from the cleaning-brush. Although the rest of the bore was spotless, this tiny section was not. Once we knew where the problem was, it was simple matter to carefully clean it up.”
“A borescope will tell you if your cleaning regime is effective, or inspect for throat-erosion and the general condition of the rifling. In addition, it’s very useful to the gunsmith for inspecting newly-cut chambers – making sure they are free from scoring and other machining defects.” Vince also recommends using the BoreCam to inspect barrel crowns: “Tiny burrs can often be present on newly-cut crowns and even the minutest of damage to a crown… can play havoc with accuracy. For the serious shooter, you could say that a borescope is the equivalent of a doctor’s stethoscope.”
The Ugly Truth Revealed
Here are some inside-the-barrel photos Vince took with the Lyman BoreCam. Vince notes: “This barrel came out of the scrap-bin, but someone had actually been shooting this rifle before he finally gave up and came in for a new barrel. Shooting a barrel in this condition is really throwing good money down range! Buy a borescope and stop shooting long before your barrel gets into this state!”
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When a shot is fired through it, a barrel will exhibit harmonics. Tuning these harmonics (the “waves” that propagate through the barrel) can alter point of impact and, if you’re lucky, reduce group size. Barrel tuners have been used successfully in rimfire benchrest for many years (see photo above). While there are competing theories as to how and why barrel tuners work on rimfire rifles, there is no question that the accuracy of some rimfire barrels can be improved with the addition of a tuner. By changing the position of weights at the end of the barrel, we’ve seen shooters shrink their average group size as well as adjust the “sweet spot” for different lots of rimfire ammo. On the other hand, tuners can be the source of great frustration; some installations may yield little or no benefit. A shooter may have to experiment with a variety of different tuner designs (and weights) to find the optimal configuration.
Centerfire Tuners–Still a Work in Progress
In centerfire benchrest competition, the vast majority of competitors do not use tuners, though a few short-range shooters such as Gene Bukys and Jackie Schmidt have enjoyed considerable success. Gene has won major championships with tuned rifles. In 2011 Gene won both the Super Shoot and World Benchrest Championship (WBC), and Gene recently set a new NBRSA Sporter Class Grand Agg Record.
Centerfire benchrest guns typically employ shorter barrels with a much fatter contour (larger diameter) than rimfire rifles. Because centerfire rounds produce much higher pressures and velocities that a 22LR, a centerfire barrel also exhibits much different vibration characteristics than a typical rimfire barrel. Nonetheless, there are pioneers working with centerfire tuners who believe that tuning may be the “next leap forward” in centerfire accuracy.
Shown below is a switch-barrel benchrest rifle built by Forum member Eddie W. of Texas. It features a dual-port Hall “M” action with a ShadeTree Engineering Tuner crafted by Butch Lambert. The gun is designed to take both a 6PPC barrel for group shooting and a 30BR barrel for score shooting. The gun was barreled by Wayne Shaw, and Eddie did the stock work himself. Eddie reports: “It is a very accurate rifle.”
Will we see more tuners on centerfire rifles? Only time will tell. Some folks believe that, since one can easily adjust the loads shot by centerfire guns (by tinkering with the powder charge and seating depth), tuners have limited utility. On the other hand, tuner advocates such as Gene Beggs believe tuners can help keep your group sizes small even as conditions (temperature, humidity) change. Gene believes that, with an appropriate tuner, you can spend less time fiddling with the load specs (changing your powder charge) and instead “dial in” your sweet spot using the tuner.
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Here’s an interesting $75 product that can help you “tune” the cycling force of your AR-platform rifle. Wilson Combat offers an Adjustable Lo-Profile AR Gas Block for direct gas impingement AR-type rifles. Wilson Combat’s adjustable gas block replaces a standard AR gas block and allows you to tune your AR’s gas system for smoother cycling and enhanced reliability. Wilson Combat explains: “Adjusting your rifle’s gas port will lower or increase your bolt’s cyclic rate. This tailors your rifle’s performance to your unique needs.” When varmint hunting with an AR, we like a less-energetic ejection so the brass lands close to the gun (and doesn’t tag fellow shooters).
A simple adjustment of the hex screw at the front of the block modulates the gas volume allowing you to tune your rifle’s function to your favorite loads. This is very handy when shooting non-standard AR calibers, unusual hand-loads, or suppressed rifles. Adjustable Gas Block systems are sold as complete kits starting at $74.95. Wilson Combat offers two diameters (.750″, .937″) and three lengths (Carbine Length, Mid-Length, & Rifle Length), so you can select the right dimensions for your rifle configuration and barrel diameter. The blocks are Chromoly steel with a Melonited finish.
Adjustable Gas Block (Melonite Finish)
Adjustment Set Screw (Installed)
Straight Gas Tube (Installed, Gas Tube Pin Installed)
12″-Long Allen Wrench to Adjust Inside Handguard
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Sometimes you’ll get a barrel that doesn’t stabilize bullets the way you’d anticipate, based on the stated (or presumed) twist rate. A barrel might have 1:10″ stamped on the side but it is, in truth, a 1:10.5″ twist or even a 1:9.5″. Cut-rifled barrels, such as Kriegers and Bartleins, normally hold very true to the specified twist rate. With buttoned barrels, due to the nature of the rifling process, there’s a greater chance of a small variation in twist rate. And yes, factory barrels can be slightly out of spec as well.
After buying a new barrel, you should determine the true twist rate BEFORE you start load development. You don’t want to invest in a large supply of expensive bullets only to find that that won’t stabilize because your “8 twist” barrel is really a 1:8.5″. Sinclair International provides a simple procedure for determining the actual twist rate of your barrel.
Sinclair’s Simple Twist Rate Measurement Method
If are unsure of the twist rate of the barrel, you can measure it yourself in a couple of minutes. You need a good cleaning rod with a rotating handle and a jag with a fairly tight fitting patch. Utilize a rod guide if you are accessing the barrel through the breech or a muzzle guide if you are going to come in from the muzzle end. Make sure the rod rotates freely in the handle under load. Start the patch into the barrel for a few inches and then stop. Put a piece of tape at the back of the rod by the handle (like a flag) or mark the rod in some way. Measure how much of the rod is still protruding from the rod guide. You can either measure from the rod guide or muzzle guide back to the flag or to a spot on the handle. Next, continue to push the rod in until the mark or tape flag has made one complete revolution. Re-measure the amount of rod that is left sticking out of the barrel. Use the same reference marks as you did on the first measurement. Next, subtract this measurement from the first measurement. This number is the twist rate. For example, if the rod has 24 inches remaining at the start and 16 inches remain after making one revolution, you have 8 inches of travel, thus a 1:8 twist barrel.
Determining Barrel Twist Rate Empirically
Twist rate is defined as the distance in inches of barrel that the rifling takes to make one complete revolution. An example would be a 1:10″ twist rate. A 1:10″ barrel has rifling that makes one complete revolution in 10 inches of barrel length. Rifle manufacturers usually publish twist rates for their standard rifle offerings and custom barrels are always ordered by caliber, contour, and twist rate. If you are having a custom barrel chambered you can ask the gunsmith to mark the barrel with the twist rate.
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Can you guess what your next barrel will weigh? In many competition disciplines, “making weight” is a serious concern when putting together a new match rifle. A Light Varmint short-range Benchrest rifle cannot exceed 10.5 pounds including scope. An F-TR rifle is limited to 18 pounds, 2 oz. (8.25 kg) with bipod.
One of the heaviest items on most rifles is the barrel. If your barrel comes in much heavier than expected, it can boost the overall weight of the gun significantly. Then you may have to resort to cutting the barrel, or worse yet, re-barreling, to make weight for your class. In some cases, you can remove material from the stock to save weight, but if that’s not practical, the barrel will need to go on a diet. (As a last resort, you can try fitting a lighter scope.)
Is there a reliable way to predict, in advance, how much a finished barrel will weigh? The answer is “yes”. PAC-NOR Barreling of Brookings, Oregon has created a handy, web-based Barrel Weight Calculator. Just log on to Pac-Nor’s website and the calculator is free to use. Pac-Nor’s Barrel Weight Calculator is pretty sophisticated, with separate data fields for Shank Diameter, Barrel Length, Bore Diameter — even length and number of flutes. Punch in your numbers, and the Barrel Weight Calculator then automatically generates the weight for 16 different “standard” contours.
Calculator Handles Custom Contours
What about custom contours? Well the Pac-Nor Barrel Weight Calculator can handle those as well. The program allows input of eight different dimensional measurements taken along the barrel’s finished length, from breech to muzzle. You can use this “custom contour” feature when calculating the weight of another manufacturer’s barrel that doesn’t match any of Pac-Nor’s “standard” contours.
Gun guys are always shipping stuff around the country — whether it’s a barrel to be chambered, or a scope that needs to go back for warranty repair. Or maybe you’ve sold some bullets or reloading dies you no longer need. To ensure your precious packages get to their destination in one piece, it’s important to take precautions when boxing up your items. And by all means insure packages for full value — even if your packaging is perfect, there is always the possibility that your shipment might be lost altogether. Sadly, that can happen, no matter which carrier you choose: Fedex, UPS, or the U.S. Postal Service (USPS). Here are some tips for shipping gun stuff — we explain how to pack items properly and how to minimize the risk of loss.
Tips for Shippers
Dennis Haffner from McGowen Precision Barrels offers some advice on how to avoid damage when shipping gun parts or other valuable or heavy items. Dennis explains:
“First, I started double-packing the contents and in many cases double-boxing. I spend a fortune on heavy-reinforced shipping tape. If the contents are loosely packed, the package is going to get crushed. On real important items or delicate items, wrap the content in plastic and spray the inside void areas with non-expanding foam. They make shipping foam just for this. This method really works. Since I started paying more attention to packaging, I have just about wiped out my issues with all three companies (Fedex, UPS, USPS). Yes, I hate doing it, but in the long run for us, it’s cheaper.
Bullet shipments are the worst — a shipment of 500+ bullets can destroy a cardboard box. I have ordered bullets from individuals who put them in baggies and filled the remainder of the box with foam peanuts. That is not going to work. Any piece of metal, including a die, will puncture a cardboard box, or destroy a padded envelope. Just look at the tracking information and imagine your package bouncing around in the back of the shipping truck, probably under many other packages. My advice is to NEVER use padded envelopes. Barrel nuts or recoil lugs will most likely never make it.
ORM-D items are required to be shipped in heavily-reinforced, double-walled containers. The packages still get a little damage, but the contents usually survive.
How do shipments get damaged? Consider this — one of the shipping companies this year flipped (overturned) one of our new CNC machines (which rendered it useless). Maybe your small packages were in the same delivery truck as my CNC machine. I wonder how many little boxes were crushed underneath it.
As for USPS flat rate boxes — you would not believe what people try to stuff in these boxes. USPS finally put a weight limit on the boxes — they had to. I sometimes take my delicate items packed in an envelope or small box. I spray foam in a larger flat rate box and insert the smaller package, then fill the remainder of the void with foam. It works, and part usually arrives undamaged.”
Shipping Rifle Barrels (PVC Tube and Tennis Ball Method)
A new match-grade barrel can cost $350 or more, and it might take six months (or more) to replace it, given the current wait time with top barrel-makers. So, you don’t want your nice new tube to get damaged in transit. Forum Member Chuck L. (aka “M-61″) offers these tips for shipping rifle barrels:
“Packing a barrel can be a problem. Here’s a shipping method that won’t stop lost shipments but so far has stopped damage. Get a PVC pipe (of size appropriate to your barrel) with fitted caps for each end. Attach a cap to one end. Tape the barrel threads and tape over the muzzle. Then drop one standard tennis ball into the pipe. Place barrel in pipe. Next add whatever peanuts or foam you can jam in to support the barrel on the sides. Then place a second tennis ball into the opposite end of the PVC pipe. (So now you have a tennis ball on either end of your barrel.) With everything secure inside, attach the upper cap and tape it down securely. With this packing procedure, when the carrier launches the pipe like a javelin, at least the barrel will not come through like a spear and be gone. Label the pipe with very large address labels so no one suspects it’s just garbage laying around. This procedure may seem ridiculous but it has worked for me. Oh and definitely get insurance. If your item is insured, the shippers will look harder to find it.”
Editor’s Note: Fedex also makes a triangular-profile cardboard shipping box. This 38″ x 6″ x 6″ x 6″ Fedex Tube (designed for blueprints and posters) is free for the asking. For most barrels, there should be enough clearance to hold your PVC tube (with barrel packed inside tube). However, don’t ship the barrel inside the cardboard box by itself. Cap and pad the ends and bubble wrap it heavily, or better yet, use the PVC tube method described above, with the PVC tube inside the box.
Ask 10 shooters about barrel cleaning and you’ll get 10 different opinions. This reflects that fact that different fouling problems demand different solutions. For example, solvents that work well for copper may not be the best for hard carbon (and vice-versa). To come up with the right solution, first you must understand the nature of the fouling in your barrel.
The debate about the proper care of a match barrel is a hot one, spiked with folklore and old wives’ tales, Lohman said. He and his staff set out to set the record straight: “We tried to interject some science into the discussion of cleaning a match barrel,” he explained. In his article, Lohman writes:
Why worry about a little barrel fouling when the throat is subjected to a brutal 5,600° F volcano at 55,000 PSI? To investigate these and other questions about taking care of a match barrel, we spoke with a dozen experts and share their knowledge in this first of a series of articles.
After listening to folks who shoot, build barrels or manufacture cleaning solvents for a living, we concluded that even the experts each have their own unique recommendations on how to care for a match barrel. But they all agree on one thing — the gun will tell you what it likes best. Because the life expectancy of a match barrel is about 1,500 to 2,500 rounds, the objectives of cleaning one should include: preserve accuracy, slow the erosion, and remove fouling — all without damaging the gun. This article doesn’t claim that one cleaning method is better than the next. Rather, we set out to interject a little science into the discussion and to share some lessons learned from experts in the field.
Tuners work. So do muzzle brakes. But until recently, you had the choice of one or the other. Now with combo tuner/brakes you can tune the harmonics of your rifle barrel while enjoying significantly reduced recoil (and torque). This is a “Win-Win” for shooters of heavy-recoiling rifles.
Rifle accuracy and precision have come a long way in the past 15 years, particularly for long-range applications. The most recent tool to significantly improve precision is the barrel tuning system. The Rifle Accuracy System (RAS) developed by Precision Rifle Systems, incorporates a precision muzzle brake with the tuner. CLICK HERE for Product INFO.
This system potentially offers meaningful group size reduction through control of barrel harmonics. The RAS tuner/brake system was the subject of a June 2012 Precision Shooting (PS) magazine article, titled “Improved Rifle Accuracy” and was also featured in an article in the November 2012 issue of PS titled “Tuning with Confidence”.
READ MORE about RAS Tuner Tests on .260 AI, .223 Rem, and 22LR rimfire rifles.
Copies of both articles and detailed instructions on RAS installation and tuning can be downloaded from www.bostromgunsmithing.com. Eric Bostrom is the distributor for the RAS.
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So what does a “worn-out” barrel really look like? Tom Myers answered that question when he removed a 6.5-284 barrel and cut it down the middle to reveal throat wear. As you can see, there is a gap of about 5mm before the lands begin and you can see how the lands have thinned at the ends. (Note: even in a new barrel, there would be a section of freebore, so not all the 5mm gap represents wear.) There is actually just about 2mm of lands worn away. Tom notes: “Since I started out, I’ve chased the lands, moving out the seating depth .086″ (2.18 mm). I always seat to touch. My final touch dimension was 2.440″ with a Stoney Point .26 cal collet.”
Except for the 2mm of wear, the rifling otherwise looks decent, suggesting that setting back and rechambering this barrel could extend its useful life. Tom reports: “This was something I just thought I’d share if anyone was interested. I recently had to re-barrel my favorite prone rifle after its scores at 1,000 started to slip. I only ever shot Sierra 142gr MatchKings with VV N165 out of this barrel. It is a Hart and of course is button-rifled. I documented every round through the gun and got 2,300 over four years. Since I have the facilities, I used wire EDM (Electro Discharge Machining) to section the shot-out barrel in half. It was in amazingly good shape upon close inspection.”
Tom could have had this barrel set back, but he observed, “Lately I have had to increase powder charge to maintain 2,950 fps muzzle velocity. So to set it back would have only increased that problem. [And] I had a brand new 30″ Krieger all ready to screw on. I figured it was unlikely I’d get another full season on the old barrel, so I took it off.”
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Forum member Rich DeSimone uses a handy “Stub Gauge” for setting shoulder “bump” and seating depth. The gauge is made from a section of barrel lopped off when the muzzle is crowned. The chambering reamer is run in about 1/4 of the way, enough to capture the neck and shoulder area of the case. Rich then uses his full-length die to “bump” a master case with the ideal amount of headspace for easy feeding and extraction. He takes that case and sets it in this Stub Gauge, and measures from the front of the gauge to the rim. He can then quickly compare any fired case to a his “master” case with optimal headspace. Since the gauge measures off the shoulder datum, this tells him how much to bump his fired brass.
In addition, the Stub Gauge can be used to set bullet seating-depth. Rich has a channel cut transversely on one side of the gauge, exposing the throat area. Since the interior of the gauge is identical to the chamber in his gun, this lets him see where a seated bullet engages the rifling. He can tinker with bullet seating length until he gets just the right amount of land contact on the bullet, confirmed visually. Then he measures the case OAL and sets his seating dies accordingly. This is much handier than using a Stoney Point Tool to measure distance to the lands. As your barrel’s throat wears, you may seat your bullets out further to “chase the lands”, but the gauge provides a constant land engagement point, in the barrel’s “as new” condition. By measuring the difference between the land contact point on the gauge and the actual contact point on your barrel, you can determine throat “migration”.
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Berger Twist-Rate Stability Calculator
On the updated Berger Bullets website you’ll find a handy Twist-Rate Stability Calculator that predicts your gyroscopic stability factor (SG) based on mulitiple variables: velocity, bullet length, bullet weight, barrel twist rate, ambient temperature, and altitude. This very cool tool tells you if your chosen bullet will really stabilize in your barrel.
LIVE DEMO BELOW — Just enter values in the data boxes and click “Calculate SG”.
You never want your barrel to get too hot. Accuracy suffers when barrels over-heat, and excessive heat is not good for barrel life. So how do you monitor your barrel’s temperature? You can check if the barrel is “warm to the touch” — but that method is not particularly precise. There is a better way — using temperature-sensitive strips. McMaster.com (a large industrial supply house) offers stick-on temp strips with values from 86° F to 140° F. A pack of ten (10) of these strips (item 59535K13) costs $10.71. So figure it’ll cost you about a buck per barrel for strips. That’s cheap insurance for your precious barrels.
With barrels, one wonders “Can a little more length provide a meaningful velocity gain?” To answer that question, Rifleshooter.com performed an interesting test, cutting a .308 Win barrel from 28″ all the way down to 16.5″. The cuts were made in one-inch intervals with a rotary saw. At each cut length, velocity was measured with a Magnetospeed chronograph. To make the test even more interesting, four different types of .308 Win factory ammunition were chronographed at each barrel length.
Test Barrel Lost 22.7 FPS Per Inch (.308 Win Chambering)
How much velocity do you think was lost, on average, for each 1″ reduction in barrel length? The answer may surprise you. With a barrel reduction from 28″ to 16.5″, the average speed loss of the four types of .308 ammo was 261 fps total. That works out to an average loss of 22.7 fps per inch. This chart shows velocity changes for all four ammo varieties:
Summary of Findings: The average velocity loss per inch, for all four ammo types combined, was 22.7 FPS. By ammo type, the average loss per inch was: 24.6 (Win 147 FMJ), 22.8 (IMI 150 FMJ), 20.9 (Fed GMM 168gr), and 22.5 (Win 180PP).
Interestingly, these numbers jive pretty well with estimates found in reloading manuals. The testers observed: “The Berger Reloading manual says for the 308 Winchester, ‘muzzle velocity will increase (or decrease) by approximately 20 fps per inch from a standard 24″ barrel’.”
How the Test Was Done
The testers described their procedure as follows: “Ballistic data was gathered using a Magnetospeed barrel mounted ballistic chronograph. At each barrel length, the rifle was fired from a front rest with rear bags, with five rounds of each type of ammunition. Average velocity and standard deviation were logged for each round. Since we would be gathering data on 52 different barrel length and ammunition combinations and would not be crowning the barrel after each cut, we decided to eliminate gathering data on group sizes. Once data was gathered for each cartridge at a given barrel length, the rifle was cleared and the bolt was removed. The barrel was cut off using a cold saw. The test protocol was repeated for the next length. Temperature was 47° F.”
CLICK HERE to Read the Rifleshooter.com Test. This includes detailed charts with inch-by-inch velocity numbers, multiple line charts, and complete data sets for each type of ammo. Rifleshooter.com also offers ballistics graphs showing trajectories with different barrel lengths. All in all, this was a very thorough test by the folks at RifleShooter.com.
Much Different Results with 6mmBR and a Longer Barrel
The results from Rifleshooter.com’s .308 barrel cut-down test are quite different than the results we recorded some years ago with a barrel chambered for the 6mmBR cartridge. When we cut our 6mmBR barrel down from 33″ to 28″, we only lost about 8 FPS per inch. Obviously this is a different cartridge type, but also our 6mmBR barrel end length was 5″ longer than Rifleshooter.com’s .308 Win start length. Velocity loss can be more extreme with shorter barrel lengths (and bigger cartridges). Powder burn rates can also make a difference.
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Based on the questions we get on a daily basis on our 800 (Customer Support) line, twist is one of the most misunderstood subjects in the gun field. So let’s look deeper into this mystery and get a better understanding of what twist really means.
When you see the term 1:14″ (1-14) or 1:9″ twist, just exactly what does this mean? A rifle having a 1:14″ twist means the bullet will rotate one complete revolution every fourteen inches of the barrel. Naturally a 1:9″ turns one time every nine inches that it travels down the barrel. Now, here’s something that some people have trouble with. I’ve had calls from shooters thinking that a 1:14″ twist was faster than a 1:9″ because the number was higher with the 1:14″. The easiest way to remember this is the higher the number, the slower the twist rate is.
The last half-inch or so of your barrel is absolutely critical. Any damage (or abnormal wear) near the crown will cause a significant drop-off in accuracy. Here are ways you can check the end of your barrel, using a common Q-Tip.
Use Q-Tip for Barrel Inspection
To find out if you have a burr or damage to your crown, you can use an ordinary Q-tip cotton swab. Check the edges of the crown by pulling the Q-tip gently out past the edge of the crown. If you have a burr, it will “grab” the cotton and leave strands behind.
Larry Willis has another way to use a Q-Tip: “Here’s a neat trick that will surprise you with how well it works.” Just insert a Q-Tip into your barrel (like the picture below), and it will reflect enough light so that you can get a real good look at the last half inch of rifling and the crown of your barrel. In most cases you’ll find that this works much better than a flashlight. Larry tells us: “I’ve used this method about a jillion times. Q-Tips are handy to keep in your cleaning supplies anyway. This is a good way to judge approximately how well you are cleaning your barrel when you’re at the range. It’s also the best way to examine your barrel when you’re in the field.”
You have to love it when a prototype product not only performs well, but actually wins a match. For some time, Criterion Barrels has been working on a match-grade barrel for vintage Lee-Enfield rifles. It looks like they got things right…
Over the Easter weekend the New Zealand Service Rifle Association held its annual national service rifle competition. Coming first in the Classic Bolt Action class was Wellington’s Nicole McKee shooting a Lee-Enfield with a new, prototype Criterion barrel. Nicole’s rifle was built by her husband Duncan, a vintage rifle expert who specializes in accurizing the No. 4 and SMLE actions. Nicole’s .303 British handloads featured Hornady 174gr FMJ Boattail bullets (SKU: 3131) pushed by 47.0 grains of ADI 2209 (H4350). ADI 2209 has become the top go-to powder for .303 British shooters in New Zealand.
This video from Brownells talks about a the crown of a barrel and how the crown’s condition affects accuracy. As the bullet leaves the barrel of the gun, the shape, alignment and the condition of the crown can affect the accuracy of your shot. A proper crown is essential to ensure that the bullet leaves the barrel correctly and that the propellant gasses behind the bullet are distributed evenly on firing. A square crown without burrs and a smooth transition will normally ensure consistency from shot to shot. By contrast, a damaged crown can cause unpredictable flyers that open your group. That’s why it’s important to have perfect crowns on all your barrels.
The video explains the different types of crowns that can be used. In addition, the video shows how you can chamfer your muzzle in a home shop. If you use a properly-sized pilot, cutting a shallow chamfer is something that most guys with some mechanical skill can handle. Just be sure to use lubricant, flush chips, and don’t rush the job. Cutting the barrel is another matter. At the 1:20 mark the video shows how to use a hack-saw to remove a damaged muzzle section. While this may be fine for an inexpensive rifle that needs a “quick fix”, we do NOT recommend using a hack-saw with a vise for a competition barrel. The reason is that it is too easy for a novice to produce a cut that is not square. We suggest letting a professional gunsmith cut and crown your competition barrels.
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Our friend Robert Whitley of ARX Enterprises LLC has learned, through careful measurement and testing, that some barrels threaded 5/8″ x 24 tpi at the muzzle may not deliver optimal accuracy. The reason is that the end of the barrel can bell out slightly, like a trombone, because too much steel has been removed. This is particularly true with .30-caliber barrels, but it can also be a problem with smaller caliber barrels (even 6mm). Robert demonstrates this phenomenon in the video below. All gunsmiths, and anyone considering threading a barrel, should watch the video. At 1:00 – 1:30 Robert gauges a 5/8″ x 24-threaded .30-Caliber barrel. You can see the belling effect clear as day.
“When setting up a commercial barrel in the lathe, we noticed that the maximum-sized bushing that would fit in the bore at the chamber end was almost .0015” smaller [than what would fit] at the muzzle. That precipitated my pin-gauging of a number of different commercial barrels that were threaded for 5/8” x 24 tpi. What I found is what’s shown on the video.” – R. Whitley
Solve Problem with a Larger Thread Diameter
If 5/8″ x 24 threading is potentially harmful to accuracy, is there a solution? Yes, you simply need to leave a little more steel on the barrel. (See Video starting at 02:40.) Frank Green of Bartlein barrels states: “We get these questions all the time. I say run the largest thread diameter that is possible.” Robert Whitley has found that a 3/4″ x 28 tpi threading does not cause the “belling effect”. Accordingly Robert recommends 3/4″ x 28 if you need to thread your barrel for a muzzle brake or suppressor. Robert explains: “We only make 3/4” x 28 tpi muzzle brakes and that’s what we recommend to customers.”
“See how much meatier the 3/4″ threading is vs. the 5/8″. The 3/4″ threading offers a lot more metal around the bore. There’s a lot less opportunity for the bore to become bell-mouthed…” – Robert Whitley
Barrel Threading Diameter — What’s Important to Know By Robert Whitley
In truth, the 5/8” x 24 tpi threading never came out of any accuracy-based think tank or set-up, it’s a military .30-Cal threading for barrels that someone has to carry around (they needed to keep the barrel weight down so it was smaller in diameter and the threading had to work with that situation). People have somehow assumed because the military uses that threading for certain things that it must mean that it’s also fine for a highly accurate rifle too, but that’s not really correct.
I don’t think there is any better and realistic option than the 3/4” muzzle threading, and we also do it so there is no relief cut behind the threads on the barrel (i.e. put the relief cut on the brake or jam nut, don’t chop down on the muzzle of the barrel). For some reason many have a hard time grasping that the metal at the muzzle end of a rifle is “sacred” and you should not cut it down any more than absolutely necessary. A little threaded pencil diameter nub on the end of a barrel is not ideal for accuracy especially if it’s threaded and you need to torque on it. I cringe when I see a barrel with something like an MTU or Heavy Varmint contour, only to have an itty-bitty pencil thin threaded nub right at the muzzle so someone can “screw on a can” or a muzzle brake.
Lessons Learned Over the Years
A number of years ago I did a 30BR rifle project with Craig Kostyshyn who was big in the 30BR game and he made some of the best 30BR rifle barrels for benchrest competition. When I did the project I wanted a medium-heavy Palma type contour barrel I could use and also have a muzzle turndown for a front sight band. When he found out I was going to have the muzzle turned down he said “whoa, I need to provide for that when I make the barrel because if you turn the front down later you’ll be shooting a trombone” (i.e. the muzzle bore dimension would open up).
What he did was rough contour the barrel with the turndown (about .010” oversize) before he lapped the barrel, then when he lapped the barrel he took it easy in the muzzle area and worked the back of the barrel more. I thought he was a little bit excessive in his concerns but the barrel shot great and I wasn’t going to argue with him, after all he was shooting groups in the ones. I kind of just filed that away and never thought about it until recently when I went to have Fred from Sabreco do some chamber re-work on a commercial .30-caliber barrel I had. When setting up the barrel in the lathe and indicating things Fred noticed that the maximum-sized bushing that would fit in the bore at the chamber end was almost .0015” smaller [than what would fit] at the muzzle and he mentioned it to me. That precipitated my pin- gauging of a number of different commercial barrels I had that were threaded for 5/8” x 24 tpi. What I found is what’s shown on the video.
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Advancements in barrel technology in recent decades have been impressive. Today’s premium barrels deliver accuracy that could only have been dreamed-of decades ago. And now a new development promises to help barrel-makers craft the most uniform, consistent, and stable barrels ever.
What’s the new technology? You may be surprised. It’s not a surface treatment, or a cryogenic bath. The latest development in barrel manufacturing is Degaussing — the process of de-magnetizing metal objects. Degaussing is now used in many industries to uniform metallic products and to prevent unwanted interactions with magnetic fields. LEARN MORE.
Degaussing is the process of decreasing or eliminating a remnant magnetic field. It is named after the gauss, a unit of magnetism, which in turn was named after Carl Friedrich Gauss.
At the recent IWA show in Germany, Vallon GmbH, a German manufacturer of degaussing machines, told us that two major Wisconsin barrel-makers have purchased Vallon industrial degaussing units. The units sold to the American barrel-makers are similar to Vallon’s EMS unit show below. This can degauss (i.e. de-magnetize) 50 barrel blanks in one pass.
The Vallon degausser works by passing the barrel steel through a coil. Vallon explains: “The density of magnetic field lines is at its maximum in the coil centre, and is strongly decreasing towards the outside. If a ferromagnetic work piece (steel) is introduced into the coil, the field lines are concentrating and flooding the work piece. The conductivity of steel is up to 800 times higher than that of air. Degaussing is done during a continuous movement of the work piece, leading out of the coil. Decreasing field strength is achieved by a slow extraction from the coil.”
How Degaussing Improves Barrel Steel and Rifle Performance
So what does magnetism have to do with barrel performance? How can degaussing help make a barrel better? Vallon’s scientists tell us that degaussing has three major benefits. First, it aligns ferrous elements within the barrels, strengthening the steel at the molecular level from the inside out. Second, by reducing static surface charges, degaussing reduces chatter during drilling, which creates a straighter bore with a better surface finish. Lastly, there is evidence that degaussed barrels produce slightly more velocity. When a copper-clad bullet spins through a non-degaussed (magnetically-charged) barrel, this creates waste electrical energy. The energy expended reduces velocity very slightly. You can see this effect yourself if you spin a copper rod in the middle of a donut-shaped magnet. This creates an electrical charge.
Here a barrel is checked after degaussing with a Vallon EMS. The meter records a zero magnetic value, showing complete degaussing success.
Degaussing Will Add $50.00 to Barrel Cost
We know what you’re thinking: “All right, degaussing seems beneficial, but how much will this add to the cost of my new barrel?” Based on off-the-record conversations with two barrel-makers, we estimate that degaussing will add less than $50.00 to the cost of a new barrel blank. That’s a small price to pay for greater accuracy and barrel life.
Ask a Sailor — F-Class Champion and U.S. Navy Veteran Explains Degaussing
We asked reigning F-TR Champion James Crofts about barrel degaussing. A U.S. Navy veteran, he immediately understood the potential benefits of this process. “I served in nuclear submarines. Since before World War II, the U.S. Navy degaussed its subs and smaller warships. This had many benefits. Principally, it helped reduce the risk of triggering magnetic mines. But that wasn’t the only benefit — the degaussing process gave the steel greater resilience and longevity. And that’s why the Navy degaussed non-combat vessels as well. Will a degaussed barrel shoot better? Honestly I can’t say. But based on my Navy experience, I bet degaussed steel will be more uniform and will last longer. I’m glad somebody is trying this out on rifle barrels. Put me on the waiting list!”
The above photo show a U.S. nuclear submarine during a degaussing (also called “deperming”) session. This reduces the vessel’s electromagnetic signature, making it more stealthy. Deperming also adds to the vessel’s longevity. With steel-hulled ships, static electricity builds up as the hull slices through the water. A powerful, constant static charge will cause the steel to deteriorate. Degaussing (deperming) helps prevent this, extending the life of the hull.
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