View Full Version : How bad can a barrel be and still shoot?

03-18-2006, 02:55 AM
I've been lurking around these boards for some time and decided to jump in for some advice. I picked up some muzzleloader barrels sold as machinest stock on Ebay. They appear to be scrap from the Knight/MML factory, including cut off pieces from 10-21 inches long and receivers with maybe 10 inches of barrel left on them. Some are stainless and perfect inside, others vary from beautiful to near perfect with maybe one small pitted patch to sewer pipes. Most are .50 with a few .54s thrown in. My pet project is to build a matching .54 cal carbine and pistol to use with minie or maxie bullets. Sadly, of the two barrels that are prime candidates for this, the longer has a pitted patch maybe 3/8" about 4" ahead of where the breech plug will sit, and the shorter has several small pitted patches and a strip of pitting in one groove in an otherwise crisp shiney bore. So my question is this: How bad can a barrel be and still give acceptable performance? I guess another way to phrase the question is: What are your experiences shooting BP firearms that may not have had the best of care (from some previous owner, of coarse) and may be in less than perfect condition?

03-18-2006, 04:30 AM
I would clean the bores out good with some JB bore paste to see if you can get some of the pitting smoother and give it a try from the sounds of it I have heard of worse that still shot so I think you will be ok. The 32 rifle I am working on has some pitting too but the bore is about 95% shiney so I think I will be ok too. I still got some black out of the barrel using the bore paste even though it looked shiney. As long as they do not look like a sewer pipe they should be ok and I have heard some guys that had sewerpipe milsurps that said they still shot good so I guess you will have to try them to be sure but if the pitting is minimal as you state I would think you will be fine. Jim

03-18-2006, 10:01 AM
.................Heck, there is no way (especially without being able to see them) to tell. Actually even inspecting them might not tell. I've heard of barrels with bulges and good sized knots in the barrels that still shot well.

I bought a pretty cheap import 58 cal Zouave way back in the mid-late 60's. I was about 16 years old and made money mowing lawns. That was typicly $3/per and maybe $5 if it included other stuff. You can see it couldn't have cost much. It didn't look like much either.

I had no real knowledge of muzzle loaders beyond the basics and in actuality at the time, no real desire to be serious about it. I suppose it was just a smokey, stinky noisemaker. The whole reason for this ancient history was to build a background for how abysmally this rifle was treated. Many was the time it wasn't even cleaned but just tossed under the bed.

Several times I recall 'getting the bug' to shoot it and there was that dull orange of adolescent rust crawling up out of the muzzle. For the first few shots getting even a Minie' down the barrel was a chore but eventually the rust was shot out of it. After I got out of the Navy, one day the old thing crossed my mind. I clamped it in dad's benchvise and with a pipewrench I cranked the breechplug out.

Things looked fairly dismal in there. It had the typical 3 lands and grooves which were visible in patches here and there. This might even have been my first experience with steel wool in a rifle barrel because that's what I used. It wasn't any 4-0 either but some burly hairy stuff my dad had for paint removal.

I about wore my arm out but it seemed to smooth up somewhat. After shooting it a bit it again was set aside for some time. Years later a shooting buddie's young teenage son decided he'd like to shoot BP and bought himself one of those cheap Hawken looking things everyone sells. I remembered the Zouave and said he could have it and a Lyman 575213 mould.

Several years passed and he was going off to college and gave me the rifle back. I got to checking it out and the nipple was so burned out you could drop a 16D nail through it. I decided I needed to do something to it, so I whacked the barrel off and shortened the stock to make a quasi cavalry carbine out of it.

I installed a new nipple and one Tuesday (range day) took it to the range. I'm a sunuvagun if the old beat to crap thing didn't want to shoot! Years previuos to this I'd accumilated a P58 Naval Pattern Enfield and a Parker-Hale Whitworth, so I was a bit more edjumakated at this point in muzzle loading, and they were no longer mere noisemakers!

The entire point is that that old Zouave could only have been treated worse if it had been pitched in a river. However maybe 25 years after I'd bought it I finally realized it was a pretty fine shooting rifle (now carbine). The barrel is pretty evenly scabby internally, yet that doesn't seem to make much difference.


03-18-2006, 04:17 PM
The most important part of a M/L barrel is the muzzle end. Wool or paste the rough patches to make sure that they are reasonably smooth and you shouldn't have much trouble. Knowing the source of those barrels, they should surprise you pleasantly with their accuracy. They were match quality when they came from the barrel factory.

03-18-2006, 11:14 PM
Got to agree with buckshot.I have seen some right nasty barrels shoot pretty good with minnes.The pitting at the breech end is not going to be a problem for the boolet,It will just catch fouling and need to be cleaned more often
Know a guy that bought a Navy arms Smith carbine.They all come with wide 3 land rifleing.This one had 2 and 1/4.Looks like the 3 one had a busted cutter.Thing shoots fine though.Go figure?

03-20-2006, 09:47 PM
I think "reasonable smooth" has a lot of meaning here. It seems, at least to me, that if you are shooting a round ball & patch the darn thing just might surprise you.
Perhaps with Minies, or conicals it's a different story, but the patch seems to be most forgiving when it comes to barrel condition.....especially pitted bores with obvious signs of what we think of as rust damage.

Still yet others that may look "perfect" to the eye, and may not shoot worth a tinkers darn....go figure.


03-21-2006, 05:48 AM
Thank you all for your insightful answers. I like the idea of using JB paste. I had thought of lapping the barrels, but that seemed a bit much. Sounds to me like if that Zouav still shoots, I should be in great shape. I notice that Lee has 2-holers with one cavity cut for a REAL bullet, and the other a round ball. Sounds like a cost-effective way to find out what shoots best. There's one other thing about this project that's kind of eating at me, so I'll throw it out for consideration. When the factory decommissioned these barrels, they cut most of them off just behind the rear sight. If I use them as is without shortening them even more, I'll have screw holes drilled and tapped right over the Boiler room, with probably less than 1/8 inch of metal between the hole and the powder charge. If this were a project involving smokeless powder, this would scare the snot out of me. However, black powder arms normally have flashholes, drums, clean-out screws etc. drilled/threaded right into the rear of the barrel. Should I chop off this section of the barrel and go from carbine length down to "Buggy Rifle", or am I just over thinking this......JIM

03-21-2006, 07:57 PM
Don't bother chopping them. It won't cause any problems at all within normal working pressures. I really wouldn't worry even with an overload of 150gr, enough to recock the hammer in a caplock. It's not even a big deal in a centerfire if you keep the loads mild, and they develop much much higher pressures.