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Old December 30, 2020, 01:34 PM   #1
bladesmith 1
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Damascus barrels

How strong are they and are they safe to shoot. Maybe not quite as strong as our new modern steels, but if they haven't been reamed out they are safe to shoot. Sherman Bell ran a series of articles in the DGJ back around 2005 to 2008. He was given 20 Damascus barrel wall hangers and was ask to try and blow them up. He teamed up with Tom Armburst who had pressure testing equipment. With the first 14, all with pitted barrels, some with loose ribs, and many loose on the action, none of the failed with Remington 18,500psi proof loads. The chambers and bores were miced - nothing changed. They then took a Parker and kept increasing the loads till finally at around 30,000psi the barrels let go in the chambers. Latter he took 7 guns, these with twist Damascus barrels [ twist was considered weaker than pattern Damascus ] and got the same results. Two of them were 10ga guns with 2 5/8" and 2 7/8" chambers and the proof loads were 3 1/2". 3 1/3" 10ga magnum proof loads tested to have 20,000psi in twist Damascus guns with 2 5/8 and 2 7/8 chambers. They did NOT blow up. The chambers and bore stayed the same. The guns did get a couple of thousands looser on the action. That's it. None of the twist barrel guns failed.

The British have always, even to this day, will proof test any set of barrels that have been honed too much. If they pass proof then they get their seal of approval as safe to shoot. Their were also Damascus barreled rifles made, and still proofed. Rifles operate at a much higher pressure than shotguns.

Here in the US when Remington figured out a way to make plain steel barrels without a weld going the entire length, it made barrel making much quicker and cheaper. That and WW1 experienced Damascus barrel makers from Belgium were killed in the war - and experience was needed to recognize proper heat colors for good welds. So American manufactures told everyone how dangerous Damascus barrels were so they could sell more guns. They also had shotgun shell manufactures write on the box not to use the new smokeless powders in Damascus barreled guns. That pretty much put an end to shooting Damascus barrel guns.

Here was the problem. In the beginning when shotgun shells were reloaded at home or in the field, an adjustable measure was used that measured equal amounts of shot and BP by volume. Then bulk smokeless powder was invented. The same measure could be used. Along came smokeless powders with nitro. You couldn't use the old measures, but guys didn't understand this, continued to use the old measures, and blew up their gun. Instead of 80 to over a 100grs of BP only 15 to 20grs of the new nitro was used. So we have gun manufactures wanting to sell more guns and shell manufactures in cahoots with them along with improper reloading procedures.

I got back into the shotgun shooting sports after a 40 year layoff around 2000 and about 2005 started buying and shooting Damascus barreled SxSs. Eight or ten of us at the club shoot Damascus guns, I've been to big national shoots where many shoot Damascus guns, and I put on a SxS shoot since 2005 of around 50 shooters and about half of those shoot Damascus guns. I have 10 Damascus barrel guns and shoot one or the other three times a week at the club. If the chambers haven't been lengthened or barrels reamed or honed too much making them too thin, then in mine, and many other shooters minds, Damascus barreled guns are safe to shoot. I love it when a gun store writes on one " Damascus unsafe to shoot". It means a lower price. Any comments are welcome. Thanks for reading .

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Old December 30, 2020, 01:58 PM   #2
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TL/DR

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Old December 30, 2020, 02:13 PM   #3
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Paragraphs are your friend.
Yea, I couldn't read the whole post and gave up after a couple of sentences. But here are my thoughts.

I have an old shotgun made right sometime in the 1890's with damascus barrels that belonged to my great grandfather. He was born in 1855, died in 1953. It is a 20 ga Bridge gun with exposed hammers.

I was given the gun when my dad considered me old enough to hunt alone, around 13. I used that gun to kill quite a few squirrel, rabbit and a few quail until I earned enough money to buy my own gun at age 16.

I hunted with it a couple of times since, but at some point learned what damascus was, and that it might not be a good idea to continue using it. That gun hasn't been fired since about 1974.

I'm tempted to let my kids, and grand kids each put a few rounds through it, but it isn't worth the risk of injury or ruining a family heirloom.

From what I've seen and read many, maybe even most, may well be safe to shoot. But the problem is that there is no way to be certain until it blows up. Not worth the risk to me.
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Old December 30, 2020, 02:17 PM   #4
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I'd counsel against it.

http://www.thesixgunjournal.net/shoo...eled-shotguns/

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Old December 30, 2020, 09:51 PM   #5
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Did you not read 44AMP's reply in the other thread?

Damascus barrels likely have voids in the welding process. In these voids corrosion can start, and rust the barrel from the inside out.

Pattern-welded steel is not particularly homogenous anyway, and black powder residue is extremely corrosive. When fired this corrosive residue can be forced into cracks in the steel-causing corrosion.

Just because you can't see it, doesn't mean it's not there.

Magnafluxing could be used to find voids, but I would never shoot a damascus barreled shotgun.
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Old December 31, 2020, 12:28 PM   #6
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I'm sorry for coming off as saying any Damascus gun is safe to shoot with any ammo. I don't remember saying any ammo.

You're saying " many have failed " over the years. Back in the day a guy bought a shotgun, couple of brass shells to reload, and used his adjustable measure that measured equal amounts of BP and shot. Then came " bulk " smokeless that was loaded in the same way. Next was powders with nitro in them and now you couldn't use that measure. It took so much less powder. Some fellows didn't get the message or said to he!! with it and continued to use the old measures. Now guns are getting blown up. Something stuck in the barrel. Gun blows up. Do you, or anyone else know why? No. But it must have been because it was a Damascus barrel. Nonsense.

I'm sorry I wasn't more clear in the beginning. Any old shotgun should have the barrels and chambers checked with a barrel thickness gauge. I just don't feel one should say all Damascus guns are unsafe to shoot.

.

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Old December 31, 2020, 12:33 PM   #7
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As I understand it, Mag-na-fluxing can find the voids in the welds, but cannot tell you anything about if corrosion is present or if it has weakened the welds.

Pretty sure the newest Damascus guns have passed the century mark and some have seen a century and a half. There's no way of knowing what has been or is going on inside them today

Enough guns have failed over the years that it cannot be entirely explained by a conspiracy between gun and ammo makers to sell more guns.

IF you're shooting Damascus you KNOW the risks and accept them. That's fine.

telling people ALL Damascus guns are SAFE to shoot with ANY ammo isn't fine. It's damn poor advice.
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Old December 31, 2020, 01:06 PM   #8
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I just put paragraphs in. Hope that measures up to your expectations.

I'm sorry some of us can't read a post longer than a sentence or two. My bad.
To answer both jmr and sarge, there's no way to be certain any gun won't blow up. I've seen post on the internet of modern guns blowing up. Does that mean they're unsafe to shoot ? No, just that old Damascus.

Sarge, no where in your post was it stated that the chambers or bores were checked with a barrel thickness gauge. Maybe there was a big gouge out of the barrel where it blew. Or maybe an obstruction. There's just not enough info to make a sound judgement.

I did not read 44AMPs post. Damascus barrels are NOT likely to have voids in them. That has never been shown, only people repeating what they've read. Corrosion needs oxygen and moisture to shall we say "grow". That can't happen in an enclosed void within the barrel.

Any barrel when manufactured is polished so it shins. You don't see " cracks" because there aren't any. So just how does the BP corrosion get " forced " into the barrels ? Somethings have been stated without anyway to back them up.

I just started this post to try and show where Damascus barrel [ 20 rusted, pitted, loose ribs, and loose on the action ] guns were tested with proper test equipment and didn't blow up. Does that say any Damascus gun is safe ? NO. But it does show maybe we shouldn't put a general blanket on Damascus as being unsafe. If it looks fine and the measurement check out it's as safe to fire as any modern gun.

I do use my own handloads of 8500psi or less with 7/8 or 3/4oz of shot more out of respect for 100+ year old stocks.than worrying about the barrels. My shoulder and wallet also like it.

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Old December 31, 2020, 01:12 PM   #9
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Yup. My neighbor the gunsmith had a Damascus gun on the wall with a 2" plug blown out of the left barrel, about where your thumb would rest. Not a major big name, though.

I remember those DGJ tests, also the same people saying that a 2 3/4" shell in a 2 9/16" chamber or a 3" shell in a 2 3/4" chamber would not seriously increase pressure.
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Old December 31, 2020, 01:27 PM   #10
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I have, for some reason, two of my above post are put in reverse. I was doing some editing and screwed things up.
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Old December 31, 2020, 01:36 PM   #11
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Jim, that was the same Sherman Bell. I have the article in front of me where they used 3 1/2" magnum 10ga proof loads in a 2 5/8 and 2 7/8" chambered gun. Nothing happened, but he didn't say how much pressure increased.

In previous articles with the 12ga he did use 2 3/4" proof loads in guns with shorter chamber with no problems. He did a test with 2 3/4" shells in a gun with 2 1/2" chambers. It was here they went up anywhere from 500 to 1000psi, depending on the gun. Most of us shooting D. guns hand load at 7500 to 8500psi, or lower. The increase wouldn't put us in the danger zone.

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Old December 31, 2020, 02:44 PM   #12
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"Any barrel when manufactured is polished so it shins. You don't see " cracks" because there aren't any. So just how does the BP corrosion get " forced " into the barrels ? Somethings have been stated without anyway to back them up."

Because there ARE tiny cracks between the dissimilar metals. as I said, the steel is not homogenous. Pressure from firing can force residue into these surface cracks.

As far as voids in the welds, they can easily happen.

I'm pretty familiar with pattern welded steel. By modern standards it is nothing special as far as strength in guns, or edge-holding in knives.
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Old December 31, 2020, 03:25 PM   #13
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I worked in a gun shop for years and the owners were always "damascus barrels no modern ammo bwa bwa bwa" and to this day I won't own a damascus barrel shotgun. That said, one day a guy I know very well who was a regular customer of the shop and was a post-doctoral fellow and metallurgical specialist at our local nuclear weapons lab came in and said, "That's bull shizzle." and the grumbled through about 10 non-stop minutes of highly technical blather that was largely even above my overeducated head which seemed to suggest "some" damascus barrels are not to be trusted but not all. He did not make clear that there was any process/procedure/technology that would unambiguously answer the question for any particular barrel with merely an external examination by hand and eye so I suspect that his response was one of being tired of people that don't know the first thing about forge welded metals going on about them and less about the fact/false nature of the overall claim that damascus shotguns were not to be trusted with modern OTC ammo.

This is a lot like when I'm at work and someone in Engineering says, "The website is down." and I grumpily refute the idiotic assertion made by that blind sexless hairless ape and note that the website is fine but that feature-X or page-Y is not behaving correctly. It's about definitions. To me the website is down when it's 100% not responding in any way shape or form. To Engineer-N the website is down whenever it is not displaying exactly what they, Engineer-N, expected it to even if their expectations were completely out of line with the way the universe works.

There are 2 issues, 1 is diagnosis by the layman, is that actually possible/practical/reliable? and 2 the quibbles of experts annoyed at non-specialists abusing words that they have no idea the meaning of.

In this case, Bill seems to be a specialist trying to explain something to someone who's not one and the predictable fallacies have to be dealt with.
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Old January 1, 2021, 08:57 AM   #14
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As soon as I saw the title of the thread, I thought of the article that was summarized. I had read it years ago in the DGJ (probably the handsomest gun magazine published). It is worth reading if you can find a copy.....or order a copy from the DGJ.
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Old January 1, 2021, 10:50 PM   #15
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Mu uncle had a Remington double 12 ga damascus . Te let my friend use it for several years. Then chips and small metal wedges began flying off the muzzle end when you shot. He gave it back and bought a modern gun. You guys can do as you will. I however will never wrap my hand around an old damascused barreled gun and pull the trigger.
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Old January 1, 2021, 11:53 PM   #16
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Damascus barrel guns have blown up, blown out or had barrels unravel. This is not a disputable fact.

Testing a number of them did not find a failure, and yet we have the physical proof that numbers of them have failed. We can argue over the how, and why but we cannot argue over the fact it has happened, and happened often enough to create the "old wives tale" that Damascus barrel guns are not to be trusted.

How can you argue against that??
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Old January 2, 2021, 12:57 AM   #17
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Originally Posted by 44 AMP View Post
Damascus barrel guns have blown up, blown out or had barrels unravel. This is not a disputable fact.
I have never seen a pic of a Damascus barrel that had unraveled or uncoiled. The ones I've seen that were blown out were either fired with smokeless or had a barrel obstruction. I shoot Damascus but I don't advocate anyone else doing so. Do it at your own risk.
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Old January 2, 2021, 03:06 AM   #18
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Biggest problem with Damascus steel (I will include laminated steel barrels here as well) is not in the steel itself, or how it was produced, or how old they are. Biggest problem is that they have been shot with black powder, and when you shoot black powder it produces water as a byproduct of combustion of the charcoal and saltpeter, which is absorbed by the sulphur to form sulphuric acid. The sulphuric acid erodes the barrel steel, particularly the softer wire part of the Damascus steel barrels, and weakens them. Same for laminated steel, only it erodes between the layers. Short of ultrasound, X-ray or magnaflux, it is not possible for the user to know when the barrels will become too thin to contain the pressures of firing. Add that to the fact that any Damascus barrel you come across is at least 120 years old, and that is enough reason for me (and other gunsmiths) to tell people not to fire them. Your gun, you do what you want, but I still say no way. So tell your lawyer to go somewhere else.
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Old January 2, 2021, 01:23 PM   #19
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Bill, perhaps you can show photos of tiny cracks ?

44AMP, I'm not disputing the fact that Damascus barrels have blown up, but why. Too much nitro powder? Something lodged in the barrel? There are all possible reasons other than they're generally unsafe.

Scorch, I'd be very interested in technical data explaining the actual by-product of firing BP, the strength of that by-product, and just how much it erodes and WEAKENS the barrels. You're saying it erodes BETWEEN the layers of laminate steel, but not BETWEEN the layers of pattern Damascus steel ?

I've been making Damascus steel for knife blades, and have studied Damascus steel for 30 years, and have never read what you've written. I'd have to believe if enough sulphuric acid were produced when firing BP shotgun shells, then one wouldn't see just pitting if left uncleaned, but barrels with parts just plain ate away. It's one of the acids that can be used to etch Damascus blades, and it does remove steel. Of every last Damascus gun barrel I've looked down for the past 20 years [ probably around a 100 ] I have only seen pitted frosted or pitted barrels.
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Old January 2, 2021, 01:26 PM   #20
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when you shoot black powder it produces water as a byproduct of combustion of the charcoal and saltpeter, which is absorbed by the sulphur to form sulphuric acid.
You have the acid formation correct but are slightly off on where the water comes from. There is no H in the Charcoal (C) or the Saltpeter (Potassium nitrate KNO3) The Hydrogen (H) needed to form water (h2O) is pulled from the water vapor in the air, and there is always air in the barrel and in the cartridge too, for that matter. (or the water vapor is bonded direct, I'd have to look up the exact formula bonding) either way the result is H2SO4 sulfuric acid.

Black powder residue absorbs water from the air and HOLDS it against the steel. This is where your corrosion begins.

Priming compounds also play a part, with old "corrosive priming" being the result of chemical salts left in the bore attracting water from the air and holding it on the steel.
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Old January 2, 2021, 01:30 PM   #21
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A friend had bought a 1889 Remington Damascus barreled gun that needed a part or two to fire. While I was at it I removed a couple of dents in the one barrel. I used a hyd. dent remover, then did a bit of sanding on the outside. The dent came back. Up on further examination it was found the barrel could be push in with my thumb. That was how thin someone before him had honed it. I fit another set of barrels that were safe. But I've always thought what could have happened, and how that dangerous Damascus would have been blamed and not how thin the barrels were.
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Old January 2, 2021, 01:39 PM   #22
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Thank you. How fast does the corrosion begin and how much is the barrel weakened ? I'm assuming this also takes place when BP is fired in modern MLers. I started shooting MLers in the early 70s, and all my barrels still look just fine. Even sometimes waiting till the following day to clean them. So, we still have some of us claiming that shooting BP will weaken barrels. And it will get in between some Damascus steels, but not others ?
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Old January 2, 2021, 02:47 PM   #23
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The one thing I'd like someone to explain is " why the British Proof House " still to this day re-proofs Damascus shotguns that are honed bigger than their standards if they're to be resold ? If the sulfuric acid is getting between the layers of laminate Damascus and we now have corrosion acting from the inside out, weakening the barrels; how can they say they're safe to shoot if they pass proof ??? Or there are cracks allowing corrision to start, and we can't see it ??? Or there are unsafe voids in the barrels making them unsafe to shoot ??? And they also re-proof rifle and pistol Damascus barrels, which operate at a much higher pressure. No one has answered that question.
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Old January 2, 2021, 03:41 PM   #24
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Here are the differences between laminate, twist, or pattern Damascus steels.

Twist, the easiest and there for cheapest to make, is layers of iron and low carbon steel forge welded together, stretched out and then forge welded around a mandrel.

Laminate, actual all Damascus steels are laminated layers of iron and steel, but the one called laminate steel has higher percentage of steel and a better steel. To quote:
The Science of Gunnery, as Applied to the Use and Construction of Fire-Arms, 1841, may be W.W. Greener’s description of his claim for inventing Laminated Steel
I have had as high as three-fourths of steel to one of iron, and where proper attention is paid to clipping of the steel to pieces, corresponding with the (horse-nail) stubs, and properly mixing the whole (into a ‘bloom’ of molten metal), welding (in an air furnace) and forging by the heavy hammer, reducing by a tilt ditto, and rolling down to the…rod, a most excellent, tenacious, and dense body of iron is obtained; while, by cutting into lengths of 6 inches, bundling a number together, and re-welding them into a bar, you gain an increased density and tenacity…rendering it…considerably more powerfully strong than any explosive fluid ever yet compounded could burst…" - hmm - no layers.
The laminate barrels were considered the strongest of any Damascus. The process was stopped there for a random looking pattern, or it was rolled into rods and then the rods laid side by side and welded into a flat bar that was wrapped around a mandrel and forge welded to together. This laminate had a pattern, so to speak.

Pattern Damascus is just that. A square piece of smaller pieces of iron and steel stacked next to and on top of each other in a certain manner would produce different patterns. Sometimes layers of steel and iron were welded and then twisted to form long, small rods. Two, three, four, five or six could be then laid side by side and forge welded to form different patterns.

Most the Damascus being made was done with heavy [ several tons of weight ] trip hammers run by water wheels. The men running such equipment had years of experience watching colors for proper welds. One void would ruin an entire piece of Damascus that took hours to produce. The one type of laminate didn't have layers per say, but a molten pool of iron that was hammered out.

For one to say, without actual experience or knowledge, that Damascus steel has " cracks " or " voids " is inaccurate.
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Old January 2, 2021, 04:09 PM   #25
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I believe that book to be by William Greener, founder of the company.
His son, W.W. (William Wellington) Greener wrote 'The Gun and its Development' in 1881 with revisions up through 1910. Looks like it repeated a lot of material from the elder Greener plus coverage of breechloaders.

W.W. wrote that the fine London Twist was the strongest, but the Belgian makers did fancier patterns. Peiper had barrels with their name spelled out in the pattern.

Greener will still sell you a shotgun with Damascus barrels, old stock from ca 1903. They include a set of steel barrels in case the pattern makes you nervous or you want to shoot short magnums.
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