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Handlapping

Question:
Mr. Bellm, I just finished reading your article about fire lapping barrels. Sinc
e fire lapping will cause accelerated wear in the throat area, I was wondering a
bout 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 y
ou go about it? I have problems with copper fouling in a couple of guns, and wou
ld like to see if this will help.

Thank you,
Charlie Baker

Answer:
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.
However, 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, fi
rst point of contact between the rod and the bore is the throat, ie., where the
rifling start. Firelapping removes material in a pretty uniform manner around th
e 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. Wil
l there be someone who will jump up and swear by the process? Probably, but he i
s good business for the barrel makers.
If you could control the alignment of the lap precisely with the throat, hand la
pping would have the potential of not opening the throat diameter as much as fir
e lapping, but how are you going to accomplish this?
My opinion is that no lapping whatever should be done to a chambered barrel unle
ss the throat will be cut out by rechambering and a new throat cut. And I feel t
he same way about the crown. Nothing should go back in it like a hand lap or a b
arrel spinner once it is cut.
However, I 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 lappin
g cleaned the burrs and dings out of the inside of the barrel very nicely, enoug
h so that I felt pretty good about the crown after the fire lapping was done.
A new lapped Hart benchrest blank will copper foul. Fire-lapped barrels copper f
oul. It is the heavy, irregular build up of copper that is a problem. Do a norma
l 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.
In 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 ste
el 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 brou
ght 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 th
e bore scope to see what is actually happening. I don't think I'd use anything o
n a cleaning rod more aggressive than JB.
For subjects like this, it would be good for us to have our own forum, since I a
m sure your question would draw many opposing comments.
In parting, let me remind you that I don't think I have ever seen Don Bower clea
n 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 gro
ups way, way far out there.
Opposing ideas are welcome, but those that can be substantiated with the bore sc
ope are the ones of substance we need to look at.
All the best,
Mike Bellm