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Old 01-28-2010, 06:19 PM
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Modified barrel break-in procedure

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Modified barrel break-in procedure

With a great number of posts on this forum, and elsewhere, regarding barrel break-in procedure, I decided to take an objective look and see if there might be something to it. I’ve never done a barrel break-in but surely, the many ardent believers couldn’t be wrong. But which process to follow?

Barrel break-in study, plus forum member Humpy’s excellent post on carbon fouling becoming increasingly hard after 24 hours, caused me to re-evaluate my own gun cleaning procedures. In the process I made some conclusions that you may or may not agree with.

First, to evaluate barrel break-in: There are probably nearly as many procedures as there are proponents! So, if there is anything useful to be taken from them, we must identify common actions and effects. Some will suggest cleaning between every round until certain criteria are met; others, firing several shots between cleaning. Some will clean with brushes, some with solvents, others with mild abrasives. The number of rounds fired in the process could vary from 10 to 20 to 30 or more, etc. How can we sort this out?

The main idea behind each unique break-in procedure seems to be, at certain intervals, to clean the gun bore to bare steel. No matter how you do it, the gun must be clean! Then, the next round (or rounds) are fired through a completely clean barrel, and the process repeated – again, at the intervals suggested by the advocate of that unique process.

While the proponents will claim that there is a certain pattern that must be followed to have any hope of success (which amazingly is different for each process but all claim the end result will be similar), let us consider that Barrel “A” may leave a certain amount of jacket fouling after each shot, when fired from a clean bore. If further shots are fired, then we may assume that the amount of fouling increases with each shot. For the sake of argument let us assume this is linear, that is, shot #2 doubles the amount of fouling as compared to shot #1, shot #3 triples the amount of fouling as compared to shot #1, and so forth.

Then, if we consider that Barrel “B” by random chance could accumulate jacket fouling at three times the rate of Barrel “A”- it becomes somewhat obvious that the number of shots fired between cleaning sequences matters little. The common denominator is that the barrel is cleaned of all fouling. To take the opposite side of the argument would mean it would seem necessary for the amount of fouling to be exactly the same for all barrels between cleanings for the process to be a success. This means that the shooter would have to have some means to accurately evaluate the fouling build-up to a very fine degree. While a barrel that accumulated “too little” fouling would perhaps not need to have the break-in procedure used, then one that fouls “too much” by this logic couldn’t use it, even one shot at a time.

Thus, my conclusion is that we are following a “barrel break-in” procedure, every single time we clean a barrel to bare steel. That is something I had not been in the habit of to be honest. Most of my rifles got a couple of sighting shots at the beginning of the season, and then perhaps a few shots at critters, before being cleaned again sometime after the season.

After considering that carbon fouling could build up and become harder over time, I immediately changed my cleaning process to remove all fouling after every shooting session or hunting trip. Can a clean bore in the field cause problems? While a legitimate argument can be made that a perfectly clean barrel may have a different point of impact, this can (and should) be tested by each shooter for each rifle. It only has to be done once and can save a considerable amount of trouble to know what your gun will do with a perfectly clean bore. My own experience has been that a clean bore is not troublesome, but a bore that has been generously oiled is. Thus, after cleaning, a very lightly oiled patch is run through the bore, going back and forth several times. In the climate I live in this seems to be perfectly adequate to prevent rust. Dry patches could be run through the bore before going hunting to remove any excess.

So, which “break-in” process will I now follow? By combining my new practice of cleaning each gun thoroughly after shooting, with the conclusion that the central tenet of barrel break-in amounts to putting some number of bullets down a perfectly clean bore, means I am going to “break-in” barrels by doing what I’ve always done: take them out and shoot them, as many or as few shots as I please. Then, to complete the process, clean them when I get home.

That’s it.

Originally Posted by faucettb
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Old 01-28-2010, 06:38 PM
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Mike, very good post with a lot to think about an consider. Thanks for taking the time. I believe also when breaking in a barrel that one must clean to the metal and I do have my break in procedure. I also believe in taking very good care of the bore during break in and of course during the life of the barrel.
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Old 01-28-2010, 06:52 PM
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I will not argue at all with your conclusion, because I think that is what everyone should do, but I will address one point in your analysis that I don't agree with.

You suggested, "For the sake of argument let us assume this is linear, that is, shot #2 doubles the amount of fouling as compared to shot #1, shot #3 triples the amount of fouling as compared to shot #1, and so forth."

I do not believe this to be the case, at all, and I think this is the crux of why many are convinced barrel break-in is beneficial. From my understanding and experience, copper fouling build-up will be greatest with the first shot in a totally clean barrel, with subsequent shots leaving less fouling behind, while still slowly accumulating. The theory is that this would be a result of the minute tooling marks scrubbing off copper as the bullet passes down the barrel. I know many disagree that the combination of heat and abrasion from copper bullets can "lap" these tooling marks, so that they cause less fouling, but let's consider that possibility.

(My "for sake of argument" comment is...) If each time you fire a bullet down a totally clean bore, you smooth out some of those wrinkles, however little, the end result would be a barrel that causes less copper fouling. What does accumulate would clean up easier, as there are fewer "snags" for the copper to be removed from. Conversely, failing to ever remove that copper fouling, completely, "protects" those tiny imperfections, ensuring the barrel continues to foul more than it might otherwise.

By taking a barrel, whether brand new, or 30 years old, and cleaning all copper fouling after each shot, for as long as it is indicated, I submit that you will possibly improve accuracy, maybe improve barrel life, but most assuredly create a barrel that is easier to clean!

I know a bunch of folks are going to be yelling "hogwash!" at me, but the thing is, I've seen this, personally, in numerous rifled barrels. It started with a friend's brand new M700 and I have repeated the results on everything from a 1930's single-shot .22 to my 10 year-old pet .270.

For any of you who don't buy it, at all, I offer this simple test: Fire 5 rounds from your currently clean gun, then clean it until you are sure you've got all the carbon and copper fouling off. Note the amount of time and effort this takes. Then, fire 1 round, and clean thoroughly, again. You may be surprised at how much copper fouling there is after just that 1 shot. Repeat this process 20 cheating! Clean to the bare steel, each time. You will find this taking less and less time, with each shot you fire, even though you are being meticulous.

Now, fire another 5 rounds, like you did at the beginning, and see how long it takes to clean your gun. Worst case scenario, you've put 30 rounds through your gun and your elbow is sore from cleaning. If you see no difference, either I'm nuts, or you had a very good barrel, to begin with. If my observations are right, you've just made your gun a lot easier to clean, even if it improves in no other way.
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Old 01-28-2010, 07:05 PM
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broom_jm, when breaking in a new barrel like I will when my 340Wby Custom comes in - I will shoot one round and clean for 30 rounds or less if it cleans up quick before I get to the 30 rounds then I begin shooting three rounds cleaning after each group until the group starts to tighten up some. At this point I go five rounds clean after each five shot group and do this for four groups. Usually at this point my rifle is broken in. Your observations of what takes place is my experience over the years with my new rifles and also with the twelve custom rifles I have had built for me.
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Old 01-28-2010, 07:20 PM
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Good post and good thoughts, Mike. Aside from the initial break-in procedure, that's what I do after shooting....clean them. So, I figure, not only am I performing a break-in when new, but a continuing break-in after each shooting session!

I agree with Broom, too. Even IF accuracy or barrel life is not improved, ability to clean the bore improves.
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Old 01-28-2010, 07:34 PM
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great post mike, i like the point you made about cleaning your rifle normally will amount to break in. If you clean your bore down to bare steel every round for 20 rounds, or if you clean down to bare steel and clean after shooting session or when groups open up, after 20 cleanings you accomplish the same thing.
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Old 01-29-2010, 07:58 AM
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You guys are getting it

It might take me a month, or 20 years, but I'll get it broken in, eventually

Originally Posted by faucettb
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Old 01-29-2010, 08:00 AM
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Right on, Mike - that's my preferred method to break in a new barrel. Shoot and enjoy. The shooting will eventually slick up that bore!
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Old 01-30-2010, 01:28 PM
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I find this method works best.
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Old 02-25-2010, 03:06 PM
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Originally Posted by MikeG View Post
.... I am going to “break-in” barrels by doing what I’ve always done: take them out and shoot them, as many or as few shots as I please. Then, to complete the process, clean them when I get home.

That’s it.
I like your conclusions, MikeG. Barrel break-in procedures is one of many things I'm not a believer in. I've become a real skeptic of many of the "must do" things which seem built into the lore of shooting. Over the last several decades I've tested a lot of them for myself and found no basis for a large percentage of the lore passed along as laws of sorts to new shooters.

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Old 02-26-2010, 02:55 PM
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To be perfectly honest, I never really broke in a barrel so to speak. For instance my 300 is 9 years old, and I might have shot 70 rounds through it at this point. For the last 8 I know I have gone to the range and shot maybe 3 to 5 rounds each time out of it to check the zero. I know the first year I had it I put a box of shells through it, and this past season I shot some 150's , 165's and 180's ( stuff I had left over) and that may have equaled 15 rounds.

I had always practiced shoot, go home, and before you do anything else clean the rifle. Every now and then run a patch down the barrel with some powder solvent on it, and then every now and then run a patch down the barrel with copper solvent, if I find copper fouling when I am do the normal cleaning.

I have not found accuracy issues in any of my rifles following my cleaning practices.
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