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Damascus Barrels

Discussion in 'Uncategorized Threads' started by phirel, Nov 6, 2008.

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  1. phirel

    phirel TS Member

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    Today, damascus shotgun barrels are considered to be unsafe to shoot. But, about 100 years ago damascus shotgun barrels were considered superior to barrels forged from a tube of steel. Now, damascus knives and swards are reputed to be much stronger than the ones made from a single piece of steel. With the apparent superior qualities of damascus steel, why are these barrels unsafe?

    I have also read that any shotgun with damascus barrels should be examined by a gunsmith before shooting. How could anyone, through visual examination, determine the strength of a damascus barrel?

    Pat Ireland
     
  2. TOOLMAKER 251

    TOOLMAKER 251 Active Member

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    Pat, What you read was hogwash. Laminated steel is much weaker then rolled or forged steel. Those black powder loads of yore were around 5,000 psi or less. Damascus barrels have no superior qualities other then looks.
     
  3. ebsurveyor

    ebsurveyor Member

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    Pat,

    I shot many light loads through Damascus barrels in the 60's & 70's. I stopped doing it when a three inch section of a friends barrel disintegrated.

    E Bornman
     
  4. shot410ga

    shot410ga Well-Known Member

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    There are weak built-in points in hammered damascus steel. Folded steel allows for internal seperation of the hammered layers. This is not so with tube steel. Ergo: under pressure these stress points of folded steel, will in time rupture. They (damascus barrels) are time bombs when utilizing smokeless powder loads, waiting to happen.
     
  5. wm rike

    wm rike Member

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    Sherman Bell has written a number of atricles in Double Gun Journal that chronicle his escapades with damascus barrels. He's a detail guy and provides gobs of pressure & velocity data from a variety of loads, both black & slow-buring smokeless. I think one of his articles even presented pressure curves. No stone unturned. His bottom line is that if you don't do anything stupid, they're okay to shoot. The articles are well worth the look.

    Some years back I was looking at damascus barrels from a safety standpoint, and got into magnafluxing and x-raying. Nowadays I just check wall thickness and do a visual, inside & out, preferably after drying the bore and maybe hitting it with brake cleaner to remove gunk that would mask pits. I have reason to suspect that a lot of the old guns had pitting removed by a careful reaming - it's not uncommon to see bores of 0.750" and more, so the wall thickness thing is important. A thorough visual and thickness check is probably what you would get from a respected smith.

    I am of the firm opinion that the bad rap damascus get stems mainly from 1) firing badly pitted barrels that should be hung on the wall, and 2) people "testing" the barrel with their favorite 3" magnum load, finding it held, and then deciding that big loads are okay for normal use.
     
  6. KK

    KK TS Member

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    There are many English Nitro proofed Damascus barrels that are safe to shoot. I wouldn't try to put heavy duck loads through them, but using them with target loads and low base hunting loads is perfectly OK. The trick is to have the barrel properly asessed to make sure barrel wall thicknesses are well above minimum tolerances. I have several Damascus barreled side by sides that have barrel walls over 30 thousandths that I enjoy shooting all the time for 5 stand and sporting clays. Don't let those old guns sit in the closet or safe, have them checked out, they make make great shooters. KK
     
  7. Savage99Stan

    Savage99Stan Active Member

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    Damascus barels were made by forging strips of wrought iron and or steel around a mandrel. This was done either by hand or by forge presses. The biggest problem with them is that they were made no less than eighty years ago. The iron and steel, twisted, wrapped, and forged together, have both inclusions and voids which can corrode and weaken them from the inside. I'm sure people have fired thousands of smokeless loads in them without harm. They are among the lucky. I've fired thousands of rounds through both muzzle loading and cartridge damascus barrels, but always with black powder. I've pulled the breech plugs on a couple of old muzzle loaders and found much erosion at the junction of breech plug and barrel on the inside. These were retired. As mentioned in an earlier post, black powder, especially the coarser granulations like Fg and FFg produce pressures much lower than the smokeless loads. (trap loads normally run near 10K psi, way too high for twist barrels). Be safe.
     
  8. Shooting Sailor

    Shooting Sailor Well-Known Member

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    As mentioned above, damascus items, including barrels, are formed by folding disparate metals together to form a whole item, be it a knife, sword, or gun barrel. The barrel, depending upon quality (or the luck of the draw during construction), may or may not have pits, inclusions, etc. These pits can, and indeed , did trap particles of corrosive black powder, which over time could eat its way into the body of the barrel. The casual cleaning most guns got back in the day was not sufficient to remove all the corrosive particles, so some barrels would be pitted to such an extent that they would become dangerous to shoot. Such pitting might not travel from the inside toward the outside of the barrel, but would follow the path of least resistance, otherwise known as the softer metal, creating an invisible channel inside the actual wall of the barrel, which would give way when shot, usually after many years of disuse, leading to the "Damascus barrels are dangerous to shoot" theory. There are, however many old Damascus barreled guns which are perfectly safe to shoot, either because they were cleaned properly after use with black powder, or they just weren't shot enough to allow the particles of black powder to adhere to the barrel and start the corrosion process.
    I seem to recall Ross Seifried writing an article many years ago in Guns & Ammo, on safe, low pressure smokeless loads for Damascus barrels. He used these loads for hunting and games, if I remember correctly, but still qualified his article with "Get the barrels checked by a competent gunsmith who is familiar with Damascus barrels". It may have been that same article which told of a British experiment done on many Damascus barrels, from Best Quality guns like Purdys all the way down to trade gun barrels. The barrels were loaded wth progressively larger powder charges, and then double shot loads. There were no barrel failures until 5 times powder overcharges, and more than double shot charges were used. These were not catastrophic failures, but were bulges and loosening of breech plugs, I believe, in the lowest grade of trade gun barrels from 2 manufacturers. It was at this point that the experiment was called done, having proved the worth of Damascus barrels to the satisfaction of the testers (and the makers, I bet). I wouldn't want to try one of today's guns at 5 times the powder, and a double shot charge.
     
  9. blizzard

    blizzard Active Member

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    Pat, I am a Certified Welding Inspector, ( CWI ), and work in the NDT, NDE field. The company that I work for does every type of inspection from simple visual examination, to Digital Radiography, Eddy Current Testing, Pressure Leak Down, etc. etc.



    A gunsmith doing a visual on a Damascus barrel can only see defects on the surface. He can tell you nothing you couldn't see yourself with a flashlight and a magnifying glass.
     
  10. BigM-Perazzi

    BigM-Perazzi Well-Known Member

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    What about having them sleeved??? or using tube sets, If one wanted a shooter, not ruining a truly collectible.....

    Is this feasible??

    Jim C.
     
  11. timb99

    timb99 Well-Known Member

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    Pat,

    Geek Mechanical Engineer here. What blizzard says is accurate (by the way, NDT = non-destructive testing and NDE = non-destructive examination.)

    I'm sure, Damascus barrels, when made, are very strong.

    But modern, extruded steel tube is much, much better.

    Here's why.

    Imagine a slinky (child's toy.)

    Basically with a Damascus barrel you are taking that slinky, placing it on a metal rod of the proper diameter, and heating and hammering the slinky until it is one continuous tube, then sliding it off the rod.

    This is an oversimplification, but you get the idea.

    Now, there is a tube, but there are also crevices in every one of the laminations. You can't see them, but they are there.

    Every one of those crevices is a place for corrosion to start, and once it starts, you can't stop it.

    Here's another problem. The metal they used when these barrels were made is soft and weak compared to the chromium-molybdenum alloy steels of today.

    Here's a "today's world" example:

    I design power plants for a living. Our plants use pipe to convey steam at very high temperatures and pressures (on the order of 3,600 psi and 1,100°F continuous conditions.) For this steam pipe (and pipe is not that much different from a gun barrel) we use seamless pipe. We would not dream of using seam welded pipe, or even worse, spiral-wound seam welded pipe.

    It just isn't as strong.
     
  12. blizzard

    blizzard Active Member

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    Too many stress risers.
     
  13. dlamar

    dlamar TS Member

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    Pat:

    How many boxes of modern, smokeless powder shotgun shells have you seen recently where the shell manufacturer approved of the use of their product in other than a fluid steel barrel? Do you reckon the manufactures' prohibitions against using modern shells in Damascus or twist barrels just might mean they have a clue it might not end well?

    If you just gotta shoot an old Damascus barrel gun, have tubes installed.
     
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