TO BREAK IN A BARREL OR NOT?
HOW TO BREAK IN A BARREL
BARRELS IN GENERAL
This is an industry wide question that is older than most of us. It has remained somewhat controversial for all the years I have been shooting. Does a rifle barrel need to be “broken in”? How do you break one in? The most effective way?
The fact is that all barrels are not made equal by any means. Factory barrels come in all shapes, sizes, and conditions (now colors too). Some can be chrome lined, the metal varies with some and can be softer metal than others too. Even in custom barrels the barrel material can all vary a little. One very successful barrel manufacturer uses an ever so slightly softer material than most and has huge success with it. It can wear out faster than others but it is very accurate and has won so many competitions that they are too numerous to even try and name.
It is rumored that one major manufacturer pays $8.00 for a finished barrel. We have heard that enough over the years from some pretty reliable folks to give it serious consideration. We know for a solid fact that the metal used in even a custom barrel can be of different from one “lot” to the next like gunpowder can be. Most larger custom barrel makers “cull” through the barrel material selecting the best for their companies use. We know for a fact that smaller custom barrel makers do not always have the option or luxury and must accept what is sent to them.
We strongly believe in the 300 Below CRYO process. It does not make all barrels equal but it sure can help. We believe in the David Tubb and NECO barrel conditioning processes for the same reason.
If your firearm has a custom barrel in most cases you need not break it in as it is most likely hand lapped. You must ask your firearm maker to be sure. Over the years we are aware of some less than quality or honest gun makers that actually use “take off” factory barrels and the turn the makers name off of the barrel and sell it as a custom barrel. One is in Arizona and they go around to the different custom makers and buy the “take off” factory barrels (about $20.00 each) they have and do this less than honest process to them. Hard to believe but very very true. Buyer beware!
If your firearm is a regular factory barrel from a major manufacturer like Remington, Winchester, Savage, Ruger, Weatherby and so on that is where a good barrel break-in procedure may help. We can assure you that a factory barrel is not hand lapped and can be really bad. We have seen them over the years so rough you need a bullet with four wheel drive to get down though it. We have seen over sized and under sized bores and even bores with a land missing… the actually land and grooves were cut incorrectly. We have had more than one with an incorrect chamber too. It was short and you could not chamber a round in it because the cartridge would not fit.
Our friend the late Gale McMillan once told me once that the various barrel break-in procedures were all a scheme developed by the ammunition companies to sell more ammunition. He was very serious too. His advice was to shoot the rifle and see how it does first. This will not reduce the success of break-in if determined that it is required. Basically he did not believe in barrel break-in.
We agree with Gale that you should shoot your firearm first before proceeding with a barrel break-in procedure. It will not hurt anything. We agree with the “shoot it first” and see how it does approach that Gale had.
The goal of a break-in is to address rough areas and possible burs in the chamber and barrel left by the manufacturing process (if any). In general the manufacturers do not hand lap the barrels. Many believe that developing a break-in procedure and using it on a new rifle improves the performance of the barrel. Is it true? Maybe. Physiologically it can help any shooter and accurate shooting is in part a physiological thing as anyone will tell you.
Now is one break-in procedure better than the other? A magic and impossible question to answer. What works for one rifle may not work for another. Each piece of metal is different and each machining process is different; even the tooling is different. Made on a Monday or Friday, by a new guy, or an old pro, has a sharp button or reamer are all real factors too.
Enough of that. If you are determined to do a break-in procedure then there are several of ways. We are not telling you one is better than the other though.
BEFORE YOU START- Make sure the rifle is unloaded. You MUST start with a clean barrel. Even if the rifle is new from the maker you should clean it again to be sure. Use some IOSSO bore paste in the cleaning process and it will help get the smoothing out process started. It sure will not hurt.
Procedure One- The “triple nickel” It involves 15 shots. This process is pretty simple. For the first 5 shots you are to thoroughly clean the barrel after EACH shot. It is a slow and tedious process too. For the next 5 shots you clean every other shot. Then the last 5 are shot without interruption and then a good final cleaning and you are done.
- Some have modified this process to shoot the first ten when you shoot and clean on every shot up to ten then proceed with the rest of the process.
Procedure Two- Involves ten shots. You are to shoot and clean after each shot for 10 shots. Do a final clean and you are done.
There are other procedures that involve firing as many as 50 shots and so on but the two above procedures can be helpful. Also look at the two below for consideration.
Procedure Three- A very famous gunsmith friend of ours says “Factory barrels are a wildcard. You never know what condition they’re in. I would shoot and clean every round for 5 then shoot 3 shot groups tuning up the rifle and clean after each group for some period of time. After the third 3 shot group check for copper. It will always be a surprise and some barrels may never get better.” This great gunsmith is seldom wrong, if ever, and we really trust him.
Procedure Four- Use the David Tubb Final Finish process. There are two. One is the 20 round process and the second is the 50 round process. The 20 round process can work very well for many barrels-or not. The 50 round process is by far the best and further assures success.
In the Tubb process the projectiles are fired as slow as possible as long as it is safe. Firing a bullet too slow can be dangerous. You must make sure it leaves the barrel and you do not have ignition of the powder issues (too much air space in the cartridge). Using the lowest charge from your favorite loading manual will work just fine. We recommend using a “flat” based bullet so you have more bearing surface to contact the barrel too. We are mixed on using coated or non-coated bullets for the procedure. We cannot determine if one is better than the other at this point.
You should know that many custom barrel manufactures will void the barrel warranty if you use either the Tubb or NECO process on their custom barrel. We are not aware of any factory rifle makers that have that policy though. From our prospective at Arizona Ammunition, LLC. we have never seen either process make a barrel worse. We do agree that it may not be necessary or help on some barrels.
The NECO process is for severely rough barrels and is twice as aggressive (or more) than the Tubb process.
Moving on-Break-in is seldom about accuracy while doing it either (see Procedure 3 for the exception). On all but Procedure 3 we recommend that you do not shoot at a target while doing this process. Firing safely into the ground, earthen berm, or secure backstop is all you need and pay no attention to the point of impact (as long as it is safe). Just as long as it goes boom and the projectile leaves the barrel.
Keep the barrel cool with a wet towel making sure not to put it too close to the end of the barrel and getting water inside the barrel. This is cooling process is accomplished by using a bucket filled with water and a towel. Soak the towel in the bucket and drape it over the barrel after each shot for a little cooling. (Make sure you do not cover the muzzle brake if you have one Water in the muzzle brake can be dangerous.) Or you can cool after each series of 5 shots. You can use a digital thermometer to check the barrel temperature. You will not damage the barrel in anyway doing this-promise.
In areas with a great deal of humidity and rust can be an issue it would be worthwhile to disassemble the firearm and wipe it down. In 19 years of doing this cooling procedure we have never had that issue though. But we are careful where the water goes; basically it needs to stay on the barrel and not in the action, scope bases, rings, or other areas.
We hope this explanation helps you and you are welcome to contact us in anyway if you have further questions. You can further look on the Internet for procedures recommended by barrel manufacturers too. Read them with an open mind as many do not approve of the Tubb or NECO process and some agree with Gale McMillan that break-in is not necessary. We totally agree on custom hand lapped barrels. We do agree with anyone who speaks against the Tubb or NECO process and we have seen too many successful applications with the two processes over 19 years. Basically we have never seen it NOT work.
Always let us know if you have questions or concerns and be sure to let us know of your experience when using any of these procedures. Your responses will help us and other shooters.
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