Does Breaking In A Rifle Barrel Actually Do Anything?

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It could be safe to assume that most products will be at their peak performance straight out of the box. Yet, this isn’t necessarily the case with firearms, as a rifle barrel will rarely be in proper shooting condition before it has ever fired a bullet. This is why it is crucial that marksmen “break in” a rifle barrel to achieve the desired accuracy. Here, we want to discuss the construction of a rifle barrel, how to break in a barrel correctly, and the importance of doing so. 

How Rifle Barrels Are Made 

While most parts of a rifle could be fashioned by someone with the right tools, knowledge, and skills in metalworking, a rifle’s barrel is a different story. The construction of a proper rifle barrel is a highly complex process that results in whether a firearm will shoot accurately or even at all.

Types Of Steel

When it comes to rifle barrel materials, two classes of steel are currently used. The barrels used in hunting and military rifles are typically made from a high alloy chrome molybdenum steel. These steels are designated as 4140, 4150, and 4340 types in the United States.

In target shooting rifles, the classic chrome molybdenum steel has recently begun to be replaced with more expensive stainless steel barrels, usually a 416 type, which is hardened through heat treatment like other carbon steels. Because of the longevity and quality of stainless steel barrels, they have come to be the preferred material for accuracy shooting. 

Making A Barrel

Cutting the barrel: The first part of the barrel-making process involves cutting a 1-inch thick and 12-foot long bar from a steel mill into lengths of around 28 to 30-inch pieces. 

Drilling: Once the lengths of steel have been cut, a hole is drilled down the center of the steel using a hollow stem and a tungsten-carbide bit. Drilling this hole accurately in shape, size, diameter, and length is considered one of the most difficult steps of barrel-making.

Reaming: To ensure that the barrel’s diameter is uniform and to size after drilling, the freshly made chamber is now reamed using a reamer tool to cut the exact dimensions of the rifle barrel. 

Rifling: Now that the exact size and shape of the rifle barrel have been established, the rifling of the barrel can take place. Rifling involves etching the spiral grooves on the interior of the chamber to improve the stability of a projectile when fired, also increasing its distance and accuracy.

Air Gauging: Once the chamber has been rifled, an air gauge system detects any inconsistencies in the drilling, reaming, or rifling process.

Straightening: Now, because the barrel has gone through several machinery processes since cutting, it is unlikely that the barrel will still be a truly straight piece of steel. So, the barrel is straightened to perfection by either a craftsman or a turret press. 

Lapping: In some instances, a barrel will be lapped, where an abrasive will be run down the length of the barrel continuously to fix any minor issues and shine the interior. This is not considered to be a necessary part of the process.

Stress Relief: The final step is relieving any stress that can cause warping or other issues through a heat treatment process. What is left is a barrel blank, which will go through a few final processes depending on its intended use before being ready to be broken in. 

What Does Breaking In A Barrel Mean?

When it comes to breaking in a rifle barrel, it’s akin to breaking in a new pair of shoes or sharpening a knife. With a new rifle in hand, the general process is undertaken with the intent to smooth out any rough aspects of a freshly drilled bore. Following this procedure can increase the accuracy of your firearm and aid in the cleaning process.

Materials

Unfortunately, you can’t just start shooting bullets out of a fresh barrel with the expectation of having a perfectly broken-in barrel by the end. Some of the materials and firearm accessories recommended for the process are:

  • Solvent
  • Brushes
  • Cleaning rod
  • Ammo
  • Cleaning patches
  • Gun oil 
  • Bore guide

The Process 

Essentially, breaking in a rifle barrel is the process of firing a bullet that travels down the bore and burnished burrs and rough spots, and the residue and fragments are then cleaned out. When this process is repeated, a rifle barrel is slowly honed for maximum efficiency. While there is a correct break-in procedure, the result should be a nicely broken-in barrel ready for ultimate accuracy and consistency if the proper steps are taken. 

Clear the bore: Before loading and shooting the rifle, the bore must be free of any oil or solvents. Do this using your cleaning rod. Once this is done, it is recommended to fire two three-shot groupings.

Use the bore brush: Using a bore guide, insert a solvent-soaked patch from the breach to the muzzle of the barrel, removing it at the muzzle. It is suggested that this is done until there is no black residue visible on the patch. Next, scrub the barrel using a solvent-soaked nylon brush appropriate for your caliber size. Some experts recommend doing 40 passes through the barrel until finally running a dry patch through, which should come out clean.

Use an undersized bore brush: Next, utilizing an undersized bore brush, run a solvent patch through the barrel another 20 times. If done correctly, the patches should have a blue residue on them from the copper residue. This step should be repeated until no more copper residue is found on the patch. Once again, make a final pass with a dry patch, which should come out clean.

Another round of shooting: Fire another round of two three-shot groupings.

Repeat: Some rifle manufacturers suggest repeating this entire process until a total of 50 rounds have been fired from the rifle. As the process is completed, the shooter should be able to notice a difference concerning consistency and accuracy as more rounds are fired and the barrel is scrubbed and cleaned. 

Why Is It Important?

Although the process of breaking in a rifle barrel can be time-consuming, there’s good reason that both firearms enthusiasts and experts continue this practice. Ultimately, the end goal is to make your rifle as accurate and reliable as possible. Other benefits include:

Reducing Buildup

During a barrel’s creation, it’s not uncommon for residue and other buildup from carbon or copper to build up. Shooting rounds can help to remove these deposits and prevent fouling buildup from occurring down the line. 

Smoothing The Bore

Just like residue is a result of the manufacturing process, it is also not unusual for new rifle barrels to have imperfections on the inside of the chamber, such as tool marks, burrs, or rough areas. Discharged bullets followed by a thorough cleaning can smooth these issues out for better accuracy.

Enhancing Longevity

Despite the fact that rifle barrels are made of steel with the intent of having bullets fired through them, it doesn’t mean they will last forever. Breaking it in can help extend the lifespan of the barrel by improving the overall structure of the barrel and reducing fouling buildup. A broken-in barrel is also easier to clean, increasing its longevity. 

Increasing Shooting Confidence

When it comes to accuracy, any skilled marksman will tell you that they would rather shoot from a broken-in barrel over a fresh one. With a properly conditioned rifle, the shooter can have confidence in how the bullet will react in the barrel and its accuracy with every shot.

 So, if you’ve picked up a new rifle with the intent of shooting to the best of your ability, it’s highly encouraged to break in your barrel like a professional. Not only will it benefit your rifle in the long run, but it might give your shooting the edge you’ve been missing. 

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