View Full Version : What ever happened to nickel-steel barrels?

Esquire M Busterbury
August 30, 2006, 07:38 PM
I started talking with my uncle (a gun guru) wondering why my grandfather's old Winchester model 12, 12 gauge, never rusts while a brand new mossberg with all it's blueing intact will rust like crazy if not checked on repeatedly. He said that it was due to the old nickel-steel barrels. I would like to know why no respectable manufacturer 'makes them like they used to'. What possibly reason could there be to make inferior quality barrels besides cutting corners? Surely SOMEONE out there still makes them, right?

August 30, 2006, 07:45 PM
Nickel was used as an alloying material to make the steel stronger. It made the steel terrifically hard with only moderate heat treating. It also had the effect of making the steel more resistant to oxidation.

Unfortunately, nickel is expensive, and if you get too much nickel into the alloy the steel becomes hard to work. Now they use Chromium and Molybdenum to increase the strength of the alloyed steel. Or Silicon. Or Cobalt. Or Vanadium. Or Zirconium.

They still make nickel steel and use it in guns, only now they add some Chromium too and call it stainless steel.

Esquire M Busterbury
August 30, 2006, 07:49 PM
Yet for some reason I feel like 'stainless' steel would rust faster than nickel-steel. Is any considered more resistant than the other or are they both about equal?

August 30, 2006, 08:11 PM
no steel is stain "less" some steels are highly stain/oxidation resistant,, but steel is of course an alloy itself, and some grades of "stainless" are surprisingly soft,, I have absolute faith in high carbon steel, for firearms, I think it's the best, but it will rust in a heartbeat,,, can anyone say "fingerprints"?

September 1, 2006, 01:05 PM
Nickel steel will rust, firearms-grade stainless steel just kind of gets blotchy and discolored, and will pit badly if you let it. It will eventually rust if you let it, but the discoloration you see is in fact oxidation, just like surface rust on carbon steel.

One advantage the older guns had over the newer guns is they absorbed a lot of good old-fashioned oil during their lifetimes, as silicone lubricants were not available until the 1950s or so. Silicone goes on thinner and just on the surface, so it will also wipe off or wash off easier, too.

Lots of opinions on this, but it all comes down to what is the cheapest and easiest steel to machine, and that is what they will use to make your next gun. If you remember back in the 70s when stainless first started making an appearance in mass produced guns, there was a lot of griping about how badly stainless galled. That is due to gunmakers choosing a grade of stainless that was easy to machine but was not well-suited to making parts that slid against each other under load. Some gunmakers actually folded because their guns were failing when fired. They looked fine, but you couldn't shoot them and expect them to make it through the day without problems.

On the other hand, it did spawn a lot of products specifically for lubing stainless, like RIG gun grease, Super Lube, RemOil, and others.