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Chickahominy Charlie

Damascus Barrels on Old Hammered Doubles

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I've been casually looking at old, hammered SXS shotguns for sale. As most of you know, many of them have "Damascus" barrels. Most of these were used in a time where BP was the propellant.

 

My question is "Would these old Damascus barrels handle light, modern loads?"

 

Now, I can tell you that the Win Lite Low Recoil, Low Noise recipes show that these shells produce around 5,500 psi (least that's what I have listed in my reloading stuff). That's pretty low, but I have no way of knowing what the psi would be for a similar BP shell. And yes, anything that I purchased would be checked out by a qualified gunsmith before I start launching shot.

 

What say ya'll?

 

Chick

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The short answer is no smokeless loads in Damascus barrels. Not only do smokeless loads generate more pressure than BP, the pressure builds much faster. The other issue is that some of the numerous tiny welds that make up a twist barrel may have invisible flaws from which a failure can occur.

 

From everything I've read, it's just not worth the risk.

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Rule of thumb with Damascus barrels has always been No smokeless powder should be shot in them and very limited use with BP. They may look great on the out side but the seams (patterns?) could have rust forming where they join and could come apart violently . I have seen a couple that had come apart and it wasn't a pretty sight.I have heard of some people having the barrels lined to a smaller gauge and using them, but that might be cost prohibitive.

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Unfortunately, there are very few qualified gunsmiths how can really tell if a Damascus barrel is sound or not. Barrels made in many small pieces may just go back some day to many small pieces. Due to the large amount of risk of a barrel blowing up after they said it was OK, and the large amount of technical work it would take for a gunsmith to understand how to judge a Damascus barrel, most give one of four answers:

1) Nope, not safe to shoot in any condition or manufacturer or any type of load

2) Nope, probably only safe with BP, but keep the loads light and you might want to proof test it

3) Well, I can send it to England and have it officially proof tested at one of the good gun proof houses there,

4) We can tie it to a tire and set off a few duck loads out behind the shop - let me get a rope for the trigger. But, no guarantees even after that.

 

Most of the fine English gun makers and repair facilities are into relining 12 gauge down to 20 gauge with a high strength forged steel liner, as mentioned above.

 

If you had a very valuable gun that gunsmiths thought was worth the effort, then proofing at an official facility would gain you the confidence to shoot it and maybe even be able to sell it, for another 20 years or so. Most old doubles don't have the kind of value that would stand the $500 cost to have the gun officially proofed in England. But, that does carry the risk that the barrels will be destroyed during proofing.

 

There is a reason that there are a good number of old Damascus doubles in the market place. The work needed to ensure that they are safe (proofing or relining) costs $500 to $1000 and takes months to get done. It takes a REALLY nice condition gun to be able to stand that much work. And most folks value their hands and face at a pretty penny, so they are not willing to just trust to good luck and hope the worst does not happen. And, unfortunately, the guy next to you has even less tolerance for you hurting him than if you hurt yourself.

 

So, that is why there are lots of pretty Damascus doubles floating around, and why they are not being shot anymore.

 

Find a good SKB or BSS or Win 23 and let it go, if you intend to shoot a nice double. Hang a Damascus double over the mantle if it's pretty. But trying to mix shooting and history will cost a lot with these types of guns.

 

Good luck, GJ

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Thanks for the "thoughtful" responses.....and even the smart a$$ ones..... :) That's pretty much what I suspected, but after noticing the low psi for the Win Lite Low Recoil Low Noise shells (I reload them now), it got me to wondering. While I have no authority which says so, I've got to believe that a BP shell (even loaded lite) generates more than 5,000 psi, but I've been wrong before. <_<

 

....and in case anybody was wondering :rolleyes: this wasn't a "I'm gonna do this" but merely a "gee, I wonder if" thought after noticing the low psi on that particular shell recipe. I just like the look of those old shotguns....and I particularly like the tall ears on the hammers.....but that's just me.

 

Thanks again,

 

Chick

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I shoot my 1878 Colt 10 gauge once in a while, but only with BP loads. This gun will never see smokeless shells as long as I own it no mater how light they are.

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If the gun is tight and "on face" and the bores are not too rotten, probably OK with light

loads but BP ONLY!

 

I have an old H.Pieper ten gauge double that I occasionally shoot with

BP loads that don't exceed mild 12 gauge BP specifications. There is so much iron in those

big old barrels that it ain't getting strained any.

 

I wouldn't shoot any damascus barreled gun with smokeless loads.

 

The only ones I've seen or heard about that "came apart" were damaged by being fired with improper

smokeless loads.....And that includes steel barreled guns that had been dressed or polished

down so the barrels were too thin to be safe with any kind of load, BP OR smokeless..

 

I traded for an old English double percussion 12 gauge once that had absolutely ROTTEN looking pitted bores.

Before I did any stock work I took the hook breeched barrels out and tied them to an old tire, loaded both with a double normal charge of BP, wads and a "normal & a half" shot charge and touched 'em off with a fuse from a

safe distance...The old gun roared and bucked back several feet tied to that tire, but the barrels came

thru just fine...no damage whatsoever. Fired it couple more times with "normal" 3 dram 1 1/2 ounces

shot, justs to make sure the "proof" firing hadn't weakened it any. No problems.

 

Restocked it and it was nice little gun...Been kicking myself ever since for trading it off.....

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but after noticing the low psi for the Win Lite Low Recoil Low Noise shells (I reload them now), it got me to wondering. While I have no authority which says so, I've got to believe that a BP shell (even loaded lite) generates more than 5,000 psi, but I've been wrong before. <_<

 

It's more than just total PSI -- it's how quickly it gets there. The rapid pressure "spike" of smokeless is what does the damage.

 

Sort of like a carrier launch of an aircraft vs. from a runway. A carrier launch will rip the snot out of an F-16, but an F-18 does just fine.

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Nitro proofing happens at 36,000. First they'll magnaflux the barrels to test for leaks. Then after receiving your permission to nitro proof they put TWO shells in the gun; get behind a blast sheild and pull the trigger(s).

 

If the barrels live through that it's safe to shoot light target loads. If it doesn't live through that you have a totally ruined gun. That's it... are you willing to 1) pay the price and 2) lose the gun?

 

I did on two '78 Colts. They both lived. I've shot them both as SASS main match guns for over 2 years. As far as the gun coming apart, I've personally witnessed about 5 Stoegers coming apart at the line. But, I've never seen a NON OBSTRUCTED shotgun do anything but lose a rib, break a lug, etc. etc. The stories of barrels blowing up are just BS IMNSHO.

 

The sidelocks have been amazingly reliable as have the lever and triggers. As a side note I called Chuck Webb at Briley once to ask about choke tubes for the first one I bought. He laughed that he had done one and it was the hardest steel he'd seen in the 20+ years he'd cut tubes.

 

This tracks with my experience since then. But, when you realize that the gun is $1200- $2000 plus action work and then proofing and magnaflux at about $1000 you gotta wonder if it's worth it.....

 

 

 

.... well hell yes it is! B);)

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It's more than just total PSI -- it's how quickly it gets there. The rapid pressure "spike" of smokeless is what does the damage.

 

Howdy

 

That is correct. You have to look at more than just the amplitude of the pressure curve (max pressure). You also have to look at the duration of the curve.

 

Here is a graph plotting two separate pressure curves against each other. Notice how the smokeless curve is a narrow spike, while the BP curve is a gentler, more spread out curve. Granted, these are 3 dram loads, and the Smokeless powder used is unnamed, but the concept is the same. That sharp spike of Smokeless will shock steel more than the more gentle, spread out curve of Black Powder. The Smokeless shock along with the higher pressure can be enough to shatter older steel, while stronger steel will be able to withstand it. This is the same reason that Black Powder is not recommended in pre-1900 revolvers too. The steel, or iron, in use at the time could not take the shock of the Smokeless pressure curve. Thia is true even with low pressure Smokeless loads. The pressure spike will still be narrow.

 

Pressure Curves

 

When they were first manufactured, high quality Damascus barrels were plenty strong. In fact, some were proofed higher than fluid steel barrels of the same time period. It is the intervening years that have made the dozens of feet of welds in a Damascus barrel suspect. There is no way to reliably know whether the welds are still sound, particularly the portion of the welds that are hidden from view, or whether hidden corrosion has attacked the welds. As has been stated, the only way to know is to reproof the barrels. The barrels may or may not survive being reproofed.

 

Here is a very interesting article that explains it all quite nicely.

 

Double Gun Journal Article

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Nitro proofing happens at 36,000. First they'll magnaflux the barrels to test for leaks. Then after receiving your permission to nitro proof they put TWO shells in the gun; get behind a blast sheild and pull the trigger(s).

 

If the barrels live through that it's safe to shoot light target loads.

Brother King is dead nuts on. Make sure you can FIND a source that will do a NON DESTRUCTIVE Dielectric Test. That's the tough one.

About 5 years ago, sans the magnaflux test, there was a 4 part article in Double Gun Journal shooting nitro proof loads through a couple of Damascus shotguns. One was a Prudey - a tough buzzard that took multiple loads to mangle the gun. Interesting article what old QUALITY shotguns can endure

 

Bottom Line Though - stay in safe territory and shoot original gun powder only. That's the only powder used in my several external cocks. I shoot a 1 1/8 oz square load

ALL Damascus shotguns are not of equal quality

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A few years ago I came across a hammered Damascus at a gun show that was made in Belgium for the Henry Arms Company. (No relation whatsoever to the Henry rifle company.) As I shoot a Uberti Henry repro rifle I couldn't resist buying it. The action is tight, with some pitting of the bores. I'm not far from Track of the Wolf so drove there and had them check it out. (They sell authentic 18th century muzzleloading firearms, and are used to determining their condition.) They confirmed my thoughts, which are the same as those mentioned in this thread. Blackpowder only, and don't push the envelope. I tested mine by mounting it in a gun rest outside the back door with a string running inside. Tried a couple of loads in the dove category, followed by loads in the grouse category with zero problems. I have decided not to load any hotter than that.

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Howdy

 

That is correct. You have to look at more than just the amplitude of the pressure curve (max pressure). You also have to look at the duration of the curve.

 

Here is a graph plotting two separate pressure curves against each other. Notice how the smokeless curve is a narrow spike, while the BP curve is a gentler, more spread out curve. Granted, these are 3 dram loads, and the Smokeless powder used is unnamed, but the concept is the same. That sharp spike of Smokeless will shock steel more than the more gentle, spread out curve of Black Powder. The Smokeless shock along with the higher pressure can be enough to shatter older steel, while stronger steel will be able to withstand it. This is the same reason that Black Powder is not recommended in pre-1900 revolvers too. The steel, or iron, in use at the time could not take the shock of the Smokeless pressure curve. Thia is true even with low pressure Smokeless loads. The pressure spike will still be narrow.

 

Pressure Curves

 

When they were first manufactured, high quality Damascus barrels were plenty strong. In fact, some were proofed higher than fluid steel barrels of the same time period. It is the intervening years that have made the dozens of feet of welds in a Damascus barrel suspect. There is no way to reliably know whether the welds are still sound, particularly the portion of the welds that are hidden from view, or whether hidden corrosion has attacked the welds. As has been stated, the only way to know is to reproof the barrels. The barrels may or may not survive being reproofed.

 

Here is a very interesting article that explains it all quite nicely.

 

Double Gun Journal Article

Not trying to be a smart a$$ but what is the difference between fluid steel and Damascus,I was told they are the same ?????

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For what it is worth I have shot Damascus barreled S/S 12 gages for years, I have loaded up shells for Pheasant hunting and used it for that, shot skeet, trap with them..all with Black Powder, real black Powder no Subs..the 2 I shoot now are both Parker Bros. one hammer gun and one a hammerless, I have had no RO run from me, but next time I shoot I'll ask him if he wants to step back..out of courtesy of course..both are from the 1890s period 1896 and 1894 I think, I also have a old Remington with Damascus, but it has ejectors so if I use it I have to remove that..if interested in what loads I shoot in them for SASS send me a PM..

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Not trying to be a smart a$ but what is the difference between fluid steel and Damascus,I was told they are the same ?????

Wow, someone was really misinforming you. Part of the problem - The naming of barrel steel was very inconsistent in the late 1800s and up till about WW I..

 

But, fluid steel is usually a group of steels that were rolled out into bars and the barrels made directly from one piece of a bar. The bar may have been hot forged, Rotoforged (Ithaca's process), or simply turned directly from a bar that was close to the final outside diameter.

 

Damascus steel (and that had many other names, too, but never fluid steel) was made from thin layers of steel (and sometimes iron) heat-welded together (by hot forging). The steel layers used often had differing compositions, so that the damascus patterns would show well, and sometimes so that you could get a "combination" of steel hardness, impact strength and other properties not available from a "fluid steel" bar. By hammering together the heat-softened layers, a lot of weld joints were formed which held the steel layers together. Those weld joints are what can develop corrosion and become lines of failure in that type of steel.

 

For the most part, Damascus steel shotgun barrels were considered superior to fluid steel until about the 1910s or 20s. But certainly not anymore.

 

Good luck, GJ

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As in al things in life, timing is everything in the burn of powder. BP burns slow, like being pushed by a slow-moving bus. Nitro burns quick, like being hit by a hammer. The bus of BP may even exert MORE force than the hammer, but so so slowly, so the steel can take it, where the hammer of nitro may fracture it.....

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Wow, someone was really misinforming you. Part of the problem - The naming of barrel steel was very inconsistent in the late 1800s and up till about WW I..

 

But, fluid steel is usually a group of steels that were rolled out into bars and the barrels made directly from one piece of a bar. The bar may have been hot forged, Rotoforged (Ithaca's process), or simply turned directly from a bar that was close to the final outside diameter.

 

Damascus steel (and that had many other names, too, but never fluid steel) was made from thin layers of steel (and sometimes iron) heat-welded together (by hot forging). The steel layers used often had differing compositions, so that the damascus patterns would show well, and sometimes so that you could get a "combination" of steel hardness, impact strength and other properties not available from a "fluid steel" bar. By hammering together the heat-softened layers, a lot of weld joints were formed which held the steel layers together. Those weld joints are what can develop corrosion and become lines of failure in that type of steel.

 

For the most part, Damascus steel shotgun barrels were considered superior to fluid steel until about the 1910s or 20s. But certainly not anymore.

 

Good luck, GJ

so a fluid steel barrel is suppose to be better I am just making sure because I do not like to be miss informed

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Not trying to be a smart a$$ but what is the difference between fluid steel and Damascus,I was told they are the same ?????

 

Whoever told you that had no clue of what he was talking about. Another example of a gunshop expert spreading erroneous information.

 

Fluid Steel was also known as Fluid Compressed Steel, Whitworth's Fluid Compressed Steel, or just plain Whitworth Steel. One of the problems with steel produced by the Bessemer process was porosity. The Bessemer process involved forcing compressed air up through the molten pig iron in the converter. The oxygen in the air combined with various impurities in the iron, such as silicon, manganese, and carbon to burn off the impurities. Once the impurities were removed, a controlled amount of carbon could be reintroduced into the converter, turning the relatively pure iron into steel. Unfortunately, the process of introducing the compressed air resulted in large quantities of trapped gas bubbles resulting in porosity.

 

Sir Joseph Whitworth developed a method for removing the bubbles by subjecting the still partially molten ingot to great pressure in a hydraulic press. The gas bubbles were collapsed and welded shut under the pressure. This process was perfected for commercial application about 1859.

 

Gun barrels made of Fluid Steel were drilled from a solid bar of steel, just like modern barrels. Damascus barrels were laminated from many layers of steel and iron. High quality Damascus barrels were plenty strong for the powders of the day, but it was much more labor intensive, and therefor more expensive, to produce a barrel by laminating than to simply drill a hole in a bar of steel.

 

If you read the article I linked too earlier, you will see that some of the high quality Damascus barrels of the day could actually be proofed to higher pressures than Fluid Steel barrels produced at the same time. Not the cheap ones, the really good ones. But with a Damascus barrel, time is the enemy. Barrels made over 100 years ago may have developed hidden pockets of corrosion inside the barrel wall at the juncture of the many welds. So a barrel that was in proof when it was made may no longer be as strong as it once was. Generally speaking, most barrels made from a solid bar of steel are not going to have hidden pockets of corrosion inside the barrel wall.

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so a fluid steel barrel is suppose to be better

Not necessarily. Check out the Double Gun Journal link at the bottom of Driftwood's first post. It does a nice job of explaining things.

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Howdy

 

That is correct. You have to look at more than just the amplitude of the pressure curve (max pressure). You also have to look at the duration of the curve.

 

If you've ever heard Bill Cosby's definition of an "intellectual"...well, he says, "an intellectual is somebody that has to read and understand what everybody else already knows." :lol: I guess I'm an intellectual. :rolleyes:

 

Thanks for that detailed (and supported) explanation. It makes perfect sense to me now.

 

Chick

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