Can sustained rapid-fire shooting with no cool-down period wear out a quality barrel more quickly? The answer is “Yes” according to Forum member LCazador, who recently did an interesting comparison test with two .243 Win barrels. He started off with two, identical, match-grade HV taper stainless barrels. Both were NEW at the start of testing, and LCazador shot the same load through each: 95gr match bullets with 38 grains of Hodgdon Varget. After giving both barrels the same, gentle 20-round break-in, 300 rounds were then fired through each barrel — in very different ways. Barrel condition and wear were monitored with a borescope.
Barrel One — Slow Fire, Cool Down Periods, Cleaning Every 50 Rounds
At the end of the 300-round test, Barrel One looked brand new. There was none of the severe fire cracking found in Barrel Two. This barrel was shot no more than 10 times without a cool down and firing was done at a much slower pace. Cleaning for this barrel was done every 50 shots.
Barrel Two — Fast Firing, No Waiting, Cleaning Every 100 Rounds
The second barrel, which received hard use and minimal cleaning, was severely damaged with severe fire cracking at the leade and throat. As a result, the barrel had to be re-chambered. This barrel was shot 100 rounds at time without cleaning and was shot up to 20 times in succession without a cool down.
Don’t let your barrel get too hot, and keep it clean. One afternoon can ruin a barrel!
Monitoring Barrel Wear with Borescope
Some folks worry too much about what their borescopes reveal — many barrels do not have to be “squeaky clean” to perform well. In fact some barrels run better after ten or more fouling shots. However, a borescope can be very helpful when your barrel starts losing accuracy for no apparent reason. Forum member FdShuster writes:
“A borescope is a positive way of backing up your suspicions when the rifle starts to throw an occasional (soon followed by more frequent) wild shot. Using the scope is also an excellent way to determine that the cause is barrel wear and not simply a need for a concentrated cleaning session to remove built up copper and more importantly, carbon fouling.
I’ve had a few barrels that gave every indication of being shot out. But I ‘scoped them out and found the cause to be nothing more than requiring a good cleaning. They then returned to their usual performance. There’s no guessing involved when you are able to get ‘up close and personal’ using the scope. The borescope also provides an excellent view of the all-important condition of the crown. My borescope is one of the most valuable investments I’ve ever made.”
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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.
Smart Advice — Give Yourself Some Leeway
While Pac-Nor’s Barrel Weight Calculator is very precise (because barrel steel is quite uniform by volume), you will see some small variances in finished weight based on the final chambering process. The length of the threaded section (tenon) will vary from one action type to another. In addition, the size and shape of the chamber can make a difference in barrel weight, even with two barrels of the same nominal caliber. Even the type of crown can make a slight difference in overall weight. This means that the barrel your smith puts on your gun may end up slightly heavier or lighter than the Pac-Nor calculation. That’s not a fault of the program — it’s simply because the program isn’t set up to account for chamber volume or tenon length.
What does this mean? In practical terms — you should give yourself some “wiggle room” in your planned rifle build. Unless you’re able to shave weight from your stock, do NOT spec your gun at one or two ounces under max based on the Pac-Nor calculator output. That said, the Pac-Nor Barrel Weight Calculator is still a very helpful, important tool. When laying out the specs for a rifle in any weight-restricted class, you should always “run the numbers” through a weight calculator such as the one provided by Pac-Nor. This can avoid costly and frustrating problems down the road.
Caution: Same-Name Contours from Different Makers May Not be Exactly the Same
One final thing to remember when using the Barrel Weight Calculator is that not all “standard” contours are exactly the same, as produced by different barrel-makers. A Medium Palma contour from Pac-Nor may be slightly different dimensionally from a Krieger Medium Palma barrel. When using the Pac-Nor Barrel Weight Calculator to “spec out” the weight of a barrel from a different manufacturer, we recommend you get the exact dimensions from your barrel-maker. If these are different that Pac-Nor’s default dimensions, use the “custom contour” calculator fields to enter the true specs for your brand of barrel.
Credit Edlongrange for finding the Pac-Nor Calculator
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A quality borescope is a pricey tool, but once you get to use one, it’s hard to imagine how you ever did without it. To learn how a borescope can help you diagnose barrel issues, you should read a Rifle Shooter magazine feature story, What the Eye Can See.
In this article, writer Terry Wieland explains how to inspect for defects in new barrels, how to recognize different kinds of fouling (in both barrels and brass), and how to spot throat erosion in its early stages. Terry uses a Gradient Lens HawkEye BoreScope. The current generation of HawkEyes can be attached to a still or video camera to record digital images of your bore. The most interesting part of the article is on the second page. There, author Wieland provides photos of various types of internal flaws that can appear in barrels. This will help you spot pitting, excessive land wear, rust damage, and damage from corrosive primers.
Wieland notes that BoreScopes aren’t just for barrels: “The borescope has other uses as well. It can be used to examine the interior of a cartridge case to look for the beginnings of a case separation or to examine the interior of a loading die that is giving you trouble. When you consider the number of tubular objects that play such an important role in rifle shooting, it is a wonder we were ever able to function without such a method of studying bores.”
This Gradient Lens video shows how to correctly borescope your barrel:
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A Negligent Shooter Gets Lucky
Here we have a story so filled with negligent acts that I can only marvel that the shooter survived the experience. The photo and narrative were provided by the gunsmith who took in the repair job, my comments are in italics. It’s worth reading, we can’t get enough safety warnings in our hobby. — German Salazar, RiflemansJournal.com
Below is a sectioned barrel showing an 80gr Sierra that was fired in a .223 bolt action with a cleaning rod in the bore. Both the bullet and the rod are still in the bore.
Description of Incident (with Commentary)
The shooter had a stuck case in his .223 chamber. The stuck case was actually a loaded round that didn’t fire. It wouldn’t extract because it was a .222 case that got mixed in with his .223 brass. [He had loaded the wrong brass.] I saw the loaded round with an 80gr bullet in it and a light primer strike. Negligent Act #1: Wrong brass was mixed in with the brass being reloaded.
The shooter removed the stuck case with a 3-piece aluminum rod. Negligent Act #2: Hammering out a loaded round with a cleaning rod. People have been killed doing this as the round can fire and drive the cleaning rod right into you. I remember one such incident about 5 years ago, the shooter was pounding out a stuck round, the cleaning rod went right through him, he didn’t survive.
The shooter didn’t notice only two segments of the cleaning rod came out when he removed it. Negligent Act #3: If you put anything at all down the barrel of a rifle you’d better make darn sure you got it all out before doing anything else!
He then chambered another round and fired it. Negligent act #4: If you’ve had a barrel obstruction of any kind, and if you’ve put something in the barrel, look through the barrel before proceeding! Within the past two years I know of an incident in which a benchrest shooter was killed in exactly this manner. The pressure built up and the rifle bolt came out of the receiver and into his chest.
The shooter is ‘OK’, but did not escape unscathed. He said there was a huge explosion and after regaining his senses found he was bleeding heavily from his forehead. The blood was thick enough that it ran in his eyes and he couldn’t see. In his words “I thought I was going to die”.
He has what looks like a pretty deep cut about an inch long on the side of his head, right in line with his right eye starting where the eye socket turns out to the side of the skull. And no telling what he’s got in the way of brass particles embedded in his forehead.
He was shooting on private property, and was alone when this happened. Negligent Act #5: Don’t shoot alone! Accidents happen, this is just one more example. If we could predict accidents, we wouldn’t have them. Always shoot with at least one other person.
He managed to get the bleeding stopped, or at least under control, packed his car and drove himself home without seeking immediate medical attention. Negligent Act #6: This one could have cost him his life after being lucky enough to survive the incident. There’s no way to know what’s happened just after an incident like this. He should have been at a hospital getting checked for shrapnel in the head.
The rod and slug could not be driven out. Since the barrel had a high round count there was no point in trying to salvage it. Note that the aluminum rod is expanded to a tight fit in the bore for the first couple inches. The base of the bullet is a little over 2″ from the mouth of the chamber.
What we’ve seen here is negligence and an absolute indifference to the established rules of safe reloading and gun handling, from start to finish, capped off with the shooter’s foolish avoidance of medical treatment. This shooter is lucky to be alive, but he’s surely used up all his luck. Don’t assume you’ll be so fortunate.
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We can predict, with some certainty, how long a light bulb will last (in use), or a shingle roof, or even a nuclear reactor. But how about barrels? Is there a way to reliably estimate barrel life based on known characteristics? This article explains one effort to quantify barrel life…
How long will a barrel last before the accuracy “goes south”? There are so many variables involved (powder type, bore diameter, bullet coatings etc.) that it’s hard to predict. You might say “Well, my buddy has a .243 and he got 1500 rounds before the throat was shot out” — those kind of comparisons can be useful, but they’re not very scientific, and they won’t help much if you’ve got a gun in a new chambering (such as the 6.5×47) for which long-term test results are lacking.
Is there a more reliable way to predict barrel life — one that will work for a broad range of calibers? Well, Forum member MikeCr has developed an Excel spreadsheet that accounts for a number of variables, and gives a pretty good estimate of useful barrel life, whether you’re shooting a .223 Rem or a 338 Lapua Magnum. Mike’s program predicts barrel life using five variables: 1) Bullet Diameter; 2) Powder Charge weight; 3) Powder Heat Potential (KJ/kg); 4) Pressure (in psi); and 5) Bullet Coating (yes/no). Mike provides a table with Heat Potential ratings for most popular powder types. The user needs to know the pressure of his load. This can be estimated with QuickLOAD.
You can download the lastest version of Mike’s spreadsheet below. You’ll need Excel or an Excel viewer to open the file.
Shown below is Mike’s Spreadsheet, with variables for a 6BR shooting 105gr “naked” bullets with 30.3 grains of Hodgdon Varget powder. The formula predicts 2401 rounds of barrel life. That corresponds pretty well to what we’d expect for a 6BR — about 2500 rounds.
Mike observes: “There has been alot of discussion lately related to cartridge design and resulting barrel life. This is a really important factor to consider amongst a myriad of choices. Barrel life is controversial, and subjective. There are no clear-cut standards for comparison. But a few years ago, I put together a spreadsheet based on Bart Bobbit’s rule of thumb. It worked pretty good, only occasionally failing some tests when validated against posted barrel lives.
According to Ken Howell, I had to account for pressure. And Henry Child’s powder temperature testing provided another piece needed. So, I’ve tweaked it here and there to pass more tests. From 223rem to 300 UltraMagnum. Another element added, but turned off is shot interval. I would need way more tests to lock in on this. But everyone knows, the faster you shoot, the worse the barrel life.
Anyway, another factor hard to define is ‘accurate’ barrel life. This cannot be quantified without standards. Barrels are replaced when expectations are no longer met. I feel that a [barrel] passes peak potential in a finite period due to throat erosion. But that don’t mean it’s toast, if it still shoots well enough. It’s just as likely that many of us never see that peak potential anyway. It’s a slippery thing. Point-blank BR competitors will toss a barrel when it leaves the 1s. I could get another 4000 rounds from it, and be content with its performance, I’m sure.”
NOTE: Mike says: “This spreadsheet may show a lower barrel life than you prefer. But it pretty well spotlights cartridges to stay away from if you plan much time at the range or in dog town.”
Editor’s Comment: We want to stress that Mike’s spreadsheet is a helpful tool, but it is not a definitive “take-it-to-the-bank” indicator of barrel life. Mike cautions that predicting barrel life involves so many different factors (including how hot the barrel is run), that the task is a bit like predicting tread life on car tires. Still, the spreadsheet is very helpful. It can certainly warn us that some chamberings (such as the 6-284) are likely to be barrel burners. That can help you make a smart decision when choosing a chambering for your next rifle.
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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.
Are you re-barreling a match rifle and need to know if you will still make weight? Or perhaps you want to select the right contour to hit an optimal carry weight for a new varmint rifle? Dan Lilja offers FREE software that will calculate barrel weight for straight contour, straight taper, and radius-tapered barrels. Dan’s software even calculates how fluting alters barrel weight.
For general info on barrel weight calculation for straight and straight tapers, read this article on Lilja’s website. Click HERE for another article explaining weight calculation with barrels that have a radiused (curved) contour section.
Here are the free software programs offered by Dan Lilja. Right click and “Save As”:
Are you tired of messing with cleaning rods, bore guides, stinky solvents, and messy JB patches? Can’t wait hours for bore-foam products to work? Well now there’s a new solution ideal for all pistol, shotgun, and rifle shooters. With the new Bore-O-Matic cleaning machine, you can clean your barrels in seconds. Remove copper, powder fouling, and even hard carbon in one ultra-fast operation. The Bore-O-Matic uses a self-deploying snake fitted with a bronze brush to instantly rout out all types of fouling. A powerful 0.5 horsepower electric motor spins the brush at 200 rpm as it snakes its way through your bore, eating away fouling, and leaving a “squeaky clean” interior finish in its wake.
The Bore-O-Matic is easy to use. Simply squirt your favorite solvent* in the barrel, fire up the motor, and let the Bore-O-Matic power its way down your barrel. In seconds you’ll have a perfectly clean bore. Since the Bore-O-Matic’s flexible drive shaft is plastic-coated, no harm can be done.
Bore-O-Matic inventor Tom Bugiardo says that the Bore-O-Matic is perfectly safe for your fine match barrels. “We’ve seen how top competitors brush their barrels like crazy, and frankly, we’re just doing the same thing, but with a motor to minimize the labor.” Additionally, Bugiardo says that the bronze brushes used on the Bore-O-Matic can’t possibly harm your bore. “We all know that bronze is softer than steel so there’s absolutely no risk”. Some potential buyers were worried about the rapidly-spinning bore brushes rounding off the edges of lands or damaging the crown. “Horse-pucky” says Bugiardo, “We’ve researched this extensively on internet gun forums, so we’re 100% confident that running a powered bronze brush at 200 rpm down your barrel can’t harm a thing. Trust us.”
Because the Bore-O-Matic spins as it runs down the bore, gyroscopic forces self-center the cleaning brush. So, no cumbersome (and expensive) bore guides are needed. “Just feed that puppy right down the barrel, and say ‘goodbye’ to barrel fouling forever”, says the inventor.
Along with the $189.99 benchtop Bore-O-Matic unit, a smaller $99.99 hand unit is available. When working in tight spaces, or when cleaning at the range, the battery-powered Bore-O-Matic “Hand-Jobber” is ideal. The Bore-O-Matic handheld unit conveniently fits in a range box and runs off long-lasting, rechargeable Lithium-Ion batteries.
With the compact Bore-O-Matic “Hand-Jobber” you can also easily dip the attached cleaning brush in a tub of JB or Iosso bore cream. Bugiardo tells customers: “Slather that JB on your brush and run ‘er right in the muzzle if you want a mirror finish in your bore. Remember, nothing says ‘pride of ownership’ better than a bore that shines like a spit-polished diamond!”
Currently the Bore-O-Matic is available only from Bugiardo’s company, TB Plumbing Supplies, in Lizella, Georgia (no website yet). Bugiardo expects the product will soon catch on with shooters nationwide and it will be carried by major retailers and online webstores.
*With its high-speed rotary brush, the Bore-O-Matic is so efficient that you don’t need expensive, specialty solvents. Bugiardo uses a simple solution of Windex, Ammonia, Drano Gel, and baking soda. “Makes my barrels shine, inside and out”, Bugiardo says.
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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.
Before you purchase a bunch of bullets and set off to develop loads it’s wise to determine the true twist rate of your new barrel. Sinclair International, in its Reloading Press Blog provides a simple procedure for determining the actual twist rate of your barrel. Read on to learn how….
How Twist Rate Affects Bullet Stability
Most of you know that the twist of the rifling in the barrel is what puts spin on the bullet. As a bullet is pushed down the barrel and compressed into the rifling, the bullet follows the path or twist of the rifling. The combination of velocity and bullet spin is what stabilizes the bullet. Finding the twist rate for your barrel will help you in selecting appropriate weight bullets for your firearm. Remember, the general rule is that the faster the twist rate for a given caliber, the longer the bullet (of that caliber) you will be able to stabilize. (Generally speaking, a longer bullet will also be a heavier bullet, but the bullet geometry dictates the needed twist rather than the weight per se.)
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.
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.
This rifling illustration was created by Danish graphic artist Erik Dahlberg. It is published here courtesy FireArmsID.com, an excellent website for forensic firearms examiners.
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If you do home gunsmithing or swap barrels frequently, you need a good barrel vise. PMA Tool is now carrying a quality 6061 Aluminum barrel vise, with spring-loaded clamps and a durable, baked-on powdercoat finish.
PMA’s Pat Reagin tells us: “These Deluxe Barrel Vises are made by our friend Bob ‘The Viper’ Pastor. Bob’s barrel vises feature hardened bolts and nuts along with fully-captured return springs. The return springs prevent the top of the vise from flopping around, making inserting and removing barrels from the vise much quicker and easier.” This feature, along with the non-slip powdercoat finish, protects your barrels from scratches and, importantly, protects the crown of the muzzle. Pat says: “You will not find a higher quality barrel vise with these features anywhere.” Price for the Pastor barrel vise, machined from 6061 Aluminum, is $60.95. CLICK HERE to order.
Product tip by EdLongrange. We welcome reader submissions.
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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.”
How much does it cost you to send a round downrange? Ask most shooters this question and they’ll start adding up the cost of components: bullets, powder, and primers. Then they’ll figure in the cost of brass, divided by the number of times the cases are reloaded.
For a 6BR shooting match bullets, match-grade primers, and 30 grains of powder, in brass reloaded ten times, this basic calculation gives us a cost per shot of $0.51 (fifty-one cents):
NOTE: If you shoot a larger caliber that burns more powder, and uses more expensive bullets and/or brass, your total cost per round will be higher than $0.51.
$1.00 Per Shot True Cost? Yikes!
OK, we’ve seen that it costs about $0.51 per round to shoot a 6BR. Right?
Wrong! — What if we told you that your ACTUAL cost per round might be closer to double that number? How can that be? Well… you haven’t accounted for the cost of your barrel. Every round you fire down that tube expends some of the barrel’s finite life. If, like some short-range PPC shooters, you replace barrels every 700 or 800 rounds, you need to add $0.60 to $0.70 per round for “barrel cost.” That can effectively double your cost per round, taking it well past the dollar per shot mark.
Calculating Barrel Cost Per Shot
In the table below, we calculate your barrel cost per shot, based on various expected barrel lifespans.
As noted above, a PPC barrel is typically replaced at 700-800 rounds. A 6.5-284 barrel can last 1200+ rounds, but it might need replacement after 1000 rounds or less. A 6BR barrel should give 2000-2600 rounds of accurate life, and a .308 Win barrel could remain competitive for 4,000 rounds or more.
The table below shows your barrel cost per shot, based on various “useful lives.” We assume that a custom barrel costs $540.00 total to replace. This includes $300.00 for the barrel itself, $200.00 for chambering/fitting (conservative number), and $40.00 in 2-way shipping costs. These are typical costs shooters will encounter when ordering a rebarreling job.
The numbers are interesting. If you get 2000 rounds on your barrel instead of 1000, you save $0.27 per shot. However, extending barrel life from 2000 to 3000 rounds only saves you $0.09 per round. The longer you keep your barrel the more you save, but the savings per shot decreases as the round count increases.
How to Reduce Your TRUE Cost per Round
What does this tell us? First, in figuring your annual shooting budget, you need to consider the true cost per round, including barrel cost. Second, if you want to keep your true costs under control, you need to extend your barrel life. This can be accomplished in many ways. First, you may find that switching to a different powder reduces throat erosion. Second, if you’re able to slow down your shooting pace, this can reduce barrel heat, which can extend barrel life. (A varminter in the field is well-advised to switch rifles, or switch barrels, when the barrel gets very hot from extended shot strings.) Third, modifying your cleaning methods can also extend the life of your barrel. Use solvents that reduce the need for aggressive brushing, and try to minimize the use of abrasives. Also, always use a properly fitting bore guide. Many barrels have been prematurely worn out from improper cleaning techniques.
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