bullets, lead or jacketed, between two hard plates (steel usually) to embed
valve grinding compound grit (generic term for lapping compounds you may
be familiar with) into the bullets. Then generally with a reduced load, shoot
these gritty bullets through the barrel.
the tops off the surface finish inside the barrel going around the inside, and then
leaves a finish going WITH the travel of the bullet. It also takes off
burrs and sharp edges from the rifling.
the grit in the bullets breaks down as it travels down the barrel, the gritty bullets
cut less and less as they travel toward the muzzle. Thus you get something
of a "choked" bore & groove, and this in itself is a plus to accuracy.
Barrels that get progressively tighter toward the muzzle are usually quite
accurate. (As a side note, this is
what you get with some "air gauged" barrels... they simply mark the
tighter end "muzzle.")
also advocates its periodic application to rifles shot a lot, the idea being to
smooth up the rough, scorched surface in the throat of the barrel.
he also concedes that fire lapping INCREASES THE DIAMETER OF THE THROAT. And given
that most all throats are cut larger than they should be, especially from
factories, my contention is that while you may make temporary
improvement in accuracy fire lapping existing barrels, you also wipe out
potentially thousands of rounds of throat life by further enlarging it by fire lapping.
I did a
little demonstration Memorial Day Weekend, 2002, when visitors were here. I took a
standard .30/30 factory barrel, had them look at the throat through the bore
scope, then shot only a dozen, 12, rounds of fire lapping ammo through it,
and had them look at it through the scope again. A dozen rounds does a heck
of a lot of damage to an existing throat unless you are using very fine
grits. But you have to run a lot of fine grit through a barrel to make any
significant improvement, and by the time you run enough rounds through the
barrel, you will still end up ruining an existing throat. So don't do it.
contend that fire lapping should only be done when the barrel will subsequently be
re-chambered to a longer cartridge. In the re-chambering process, the old
enlarged throat is cut out, and a new throat is cut in fresh rifling ahead
of the old one.
cut throat diameters minimum, my throats can be fire lapped a little and you won't hurt
anything. The surface in the throat area is crosswise to the travel of the
bullet, and several fire lap rounds with fairly fine grit will help smooth it
up, but so will 50 to 100 rounds of shooting, especially when a "break in"
regimen is followed that does not allow copper to build up in the throat area.
lapping is wonderful... Lapping is what makes good barrels into benchrest grade
barrels in the custom barrel making trade.
unfortunately, chamber throats are a deep, dark mystery highly obscure to most shooters.
Few realize just how much damage they can do to a throat fire lapping it to
any degree. It is one step forward and two steps back. The longer lead
angle on the ends of the rifling produced by the accelerated wear
from lapping may improve accuracy for a time, but in the course of lapping
and enlarging the throat diameter, you go backwards.
mentioned it before, but will mention it here again. I co-authored the chapter on
chamber throats in the 1995 Precision Shooting Annual, and in that same issue
there was a MOST EXCELLENT article about fire lapping, in which the author
documented how he monitored the growth of the throat during the fire lapping
process... proof positive the throat is enlarged.
reason for concern is this. The grit is sharpest and protruding microscopically
from the bullet where it first starts moving. In the process of shoving the grit
deeper into bullet metal as it engraves the rifling in the throat area,
the throat is cut the most of any part of the entire length of the barrel.
you can do a substantial amount of fire lapping to a barrel to the point the rifling
are well rounded at the rear, looking very much like a shot out barrel,
but as you look more toward the front end of the barrel, other than being
shinier, it shows virtually no change. Just like in the process of shooting
out a barrel. They wear out from the breech end forward.
fire lapping. You are doing an accelerated "shooting out" of the barrel, speeding up
the process with grit.
recommend it? Highly, but only when the barrel is to be re-chambered to a longer cartridge.
And when subsequently given a minimum diameter, long lead angle, well
centered throat, you will get outstanding accuracy from fire lapping.
discourage fire lapping barrels that are to be shot as they are with the current
chamber. You make short term gains, but do long term damage if more than just a
very, very few rounds are fired, and at that only with the intent to smooth up
the throat a little. If you are trying to smooth the entire length of
the barrel, you will ruin the throat before you make much gain on the rest of
the barrel. Count on it.
I have been lapping barrels off and on for 20 years, initially machine lapping new barrel
blanks. Later after reporting my "playing around" shooting gritted
bullets back in the early '80s, the idea took root and others decided to
capitalize on it selling expensive kits, but with very little
understanding of throats in the first place and the damage the fire lapping does
There is no reason to
pay $50 or so for a kit.
buy little cans of Clover compound or other lapping compounds for about $10 and lap
probably a hundred barrels with it. As for bullets, you don't even have to
use bullets. I have drilled appropriate size holes in 1x2" boards, and
poured them full of lead to make slugs to roll in grit when I did not have the
required bullet mould and wanted to use lead instead of jacketed bullets,
which is another area in itself.
need then is a couple steel plates or any flat steel surfaces you can roll a bullet
between after dabbing lapping compound on them. I go as coarse as
220 grit if I will be lengthening the chamber much, and may finish no finer
than 400 grit.
a big deal about using ultra fine grits and getting a super fine finish, which is
well and good, but after you shoot a few rounds of normal ammo, you will
improve the finish left from somewhat coarse grit, or 2) degrade the smooth
finish to a rougher one by shooting! In the end, you get whatever finish
shooting regular ammo produces.
objective is to get all of the surface finish in the barrel that contacts the bullet
going WITH the travel of the bullet instead of crosswise to it and
making the finish more prone to picking up copper.
Done judiciously, fire lapping does wonderful things to barrels. Done blindly,
it is good business for barrel makers and the guys selling the kits, but guess
what? You lose in the long run more than you gain in the short run.
The only way to do any amount of significant fire lapping is to do it in the
original chamber, then re-chamber to a longer cartridge that cuts out the old
throat damaged by fire lapping.
Mr. Bellm, I just finished reading your article about
fire lapping barrels. Since fire lapping will cause accelerated wear in the
throat area, I was wondering about hand lapping. Would the gains made be any
different than fire lapping, and will the throat erosion be on the same scale?
If hand lapping is OK, how would you go about it? I have problems with copper
fouling in a couple of guns, and would like to see if this will help.
There are a lot of things done with good effect that
really should not be done. Every so often I hear of someone using a tight patch
on a cleaning rod and valve grinding compound to smooth things up.
every place the cleaning rod contacts inside the barrel, the rod itself will be
lapping away material. Assuming you are working from the breech end, first point
of contact between the rod and the bore is the throat, i.e., where the rifling
start. Fire-lapping removes material in a pretty uniform manner around the
circumference of the bore and grooves, but the rod will be cutting away on the
delicate ends of the rifling in a very irregular manner. I would not do it. Will
there be someone who will jump up and swear by the process? Probably, but he is
good business for the barrel makers.
could control the alignment of the lap precisely with the throat, hand lapping
would have the potential of not opening the throat diameter as much as fire
lapping, but how are you going to accomplish this?
is that no lapping whatever should be done to a chambered barrel unless the
throat will be cut out by re-chambering and a new throat cut. And I feel the
same way about the crown. Nothing should go back in it like a hand lap or a
barrel spinner once it is cut.
will add that one of the barrels I lapped recently had a Muzzle Tamer factory
brake on it and some really nasty burrs and dings rolled to the inside of the
barrel at the crown inside the brake. I was about to "bag it" on that one and
contact the owner regarding re-crowning it, but went ahead and fire lapped the
barrel. Edge of the crown cut was still a bit irregular, BUT the fire lapping
cleaned the burrs and dings out of the inside of the barrel very nicely, enough
so that I felt pretty good about the crown after the fire lapping was done.
lapped Hart benchrest blank will copper foul. Fire-lapped barrels copper foul.
It is the heavy, irregular build up of copper that is a problem. Do a normal
amount of cleaning, shoot it, and eventually it will smooth up. I'd do as much
cleaning by soaking as possible and pass the cleaning rod through the barrel as
little as possible.
principle, I do not like adding abrasive of any kind to a cleaning rod... or a
dirty cleaning rod. Dirt and grit cut metal. Period. Coated rods and hard steel
rods do less damage, true, but anything gritty passing over metal under some
degree of pressure is going to cut something. For this reason, I have never
brought myself to use JB Bore cleaner, the abrasive type, though many swear by
it. I'll hold off passing any further judgment until I spend some time with it
and the bore scope to see what is actually happening. I don't think I'd use
anything on a cleaning rod more aggressive than JB.
parting, let me remind you that I don't think I have ever seen Don Bower clean a
barrel at the range. He goes out and shoots and shoots and shoots. Good idea? Or
bad idea? Nonetheless, he and his students shoot some mighty impressive groups
way, way far out there.
ideas are welcome, but those that can be substantiated with the bore scope are
the ones of substance we need to look at.