Freshening a Rifle Barrel

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Freshening a Rifle Barrel
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Freshening a rifle barrel is a method for completely renewing the rifle bore without reaming it smooth and re-rifling it. The tools needed are easily made in the shop and, although labor intensive, the work process is easily mastered. Many period accounts refer to freshening a barrel and, although nearly impossible to date, slugs like the two described here survive.

Start by casting a lead slug around either a wood or metal rod. I have used both pure lead and wheel weight metal and don't see much difference. For a .50 Cal. the rod can be 1/4 or 5/16 and I notch it so the slug will grip. (That may not be necessary when cutting a new barrel but when I used to fresh originals I'd often end up pounding the slug through the barrel.) Just put a cloth patch on the rod and center it in the muzzle. Finished slug should be 5-6 inches long.

I cut the groves first then make a new slug for the lands but if you are removing only 5 thousands or so you could easily just inlet the lands saw in another part of the same slug. Old barrels were sometimes so rough we took out 3 or 4 calibers and then you definitely need a new slug for the lands.

The teeth of both cutters are sharpened more like scrapers than file or saw teeth. In other words the front face is more or less 90 degrees. The teeth are deliberately spaced unevenly to prevent chatter. I stone the actual cutting edge real smooth. You don't want a chip fusing to the edge and gouging the barrel.

I use the real thin paper that comes in new shirts as shim material. It has more body than cigarette paper which some recommend. Start by getting the slug moving smoothly with no cutter. Inlet the cutter so it is just below grade. The inletting deforms the slug so you will need to get it working through the barrel again. Scrape or file the high spots.

Always cut from breech to muzzle. You won't be able to see the groves at the breech so make a mark on the barrel face for lining up with a grove. You may be able to see little numbers on the front end of the slug in one picture. I cut grove 1, 2, 3 etc. go around until it almost stops pulling chips and then shim. Start the new shim in a different grove because it will cut the most on the first pass--before it compresses. Using that thickness of shim I usually go all the way around 3 or 4 times before shimming again. Both cutter in the pictures have a notch at the front so they can be prized out of the slug.

I place a dish or box with a cloth pad at the muzzle end so when the slug drops out of the barrel in has a very short fall. Don't want to jar the cutter out and lose any shims. Clean chips and oil heavily. Job will take better part of a day to re-cut a new barrel and two or three days for a rusted out old one.

Forgot to mention two things about the lands saw. It can be wider than the lands because the outside edges are not touching anything. The lands saw is a slightly quicker radius then the bore so it starts cutting only in the center of the lands. When you finish the bore will be like some 19th century rifles and all the tool marks will be parallel to the rifling so there is less patch cutting. The hollowed lands were specified for contract rifles about 1808-1810 but I suspect they go back much farther.