Another fine Arkansas gobbler taken with the 12 gauge English Fowler.
The Importance of Barrel Quality Steel!
Caywood Gunmakers has always striven to produce and deliver only the highest quality products for your enjoyment and safety. One of the most critical aspects in the realm of safety is barrel steel. I use only certified gun-barrel quality steel and there are several reasons for that. First and foremost, I want to provide our customers with the SAFEST product possible. By using only gun-barrel certified steel, you can be assured that if you overload, incorrectly load, double load, double-ball load, double powder load, short load or accidentally stick your muzzle in a snow-bank, your barrel will not shrapnelize. In layman's terms, shrapnelize means blow to small bits!
I have talked to metallurgists whose job it is to know the properties and characteristics of steel and concerning the relative safety of various steels used in barrel making. There are many modern steels used in gun barrels and some are practically indestructible. Unfortunately, there are some steel products being used for purposes for which they were not designed. Leaded steel is typically designed and used for making screws. It is not a good barrel steel because of its tendency to shrapnelize when loaded improperly or obstructed in the bore. Leaded steel has particles of LEAD dispersed through its composition. This added lead makes the steel easier to drill, ream, rifle and hone. BUT, it does not stand up to extreme pressures. It is also very prone to shrapnelize at low temperatures with normal pressures. When the temperature gets down to about 10 degrees, leaded steel can become very dangerous just with normal loads. And needless to say, we all hunt in low temperatures all the time. Leaded steel is cheaper for a manufacturer to purchase, he can machine it quicker and sell it cheaper. Which all sounds good... until you realize the potential hazards associated with it's inferior characteristics. There are also gunmakers using steel tubing for gun barrels. Needless to say, I would recommend avoidance of this type of material. Although black powder's pressure is considerably less than modern smokeless powder, it still produces dangerous levels in non-certified applications.
I use 2 kinds of steel in the barrels, 1137, heat-treated and annealed and 8620, and both are high carbon! My barrels and blanks are produced by experienced and conscientious manufacturers. These steels are Magna-fluxed or x-rayed (essentially) to spot any weakness. They realize the risks of using cheaper steels and refuse to cut corners. It is not worth one single injury or life, just to cheapen a product. I am steadfast in my obligation to provide SAFE products to my customers. You rely on my expertise. You rely on my commitment to quality. I respect my customers and have committed to using only the best materials available. With only a moderate cost increase, you can be assured that your barrel is the safest available. My profit is no higher than any other supplier, but the safety level is certainly higher.
Another very important reason for using the safest materials available is that it allows us to design a barrel contour and weight that truly replicates the feel of the finest original firearms. If you have ever had the pleasure of holding original English fowlers, French fowlers or similar fine guns, one of the most striking distinctions is their incredibly light weight and beautiful balancing characteristics. The very thin barrel walls necessary for the fine handling characteristics cannot safely be replicated when using inferior steels. I have very thin walled contours designed for our firearms because they look and feel like originals, but provide the level of safety that we insist upon. For instance, my 12 gauge English fowler with a 41 inch barrel weighs just a bit over 6 POUNDS!!! I have very high confidence that this incredibly light barrel contour provides a level of safety to insure that an overloaded or improperly loaded charge will not injure someone.
One more, and an important reason, to use high carbon steel is that it erodes so much more slowly, if at all, than leaded steel. This comes into play when you are dealing with touch-holes. I use an outside coned touchhole that cones up to within about 1/16 of an inch from the bore. So there is a thin web between the cone and the bore. I have never had a touch hole erode and some of our guns have over 10,000 shots. I personally have a leaded steel barrel which, without that many shots through it, has eroded significantly. It loses 3 fg powder through the touch hole requiring great care when loading. Needless to say, those that must have touch hole liners would have a much more enduring and safe system if the liner was installed in a non-leaded steel surface. The threads would erode less and be much stronger. (Though I do not recommend touch hole liners at all.)
When you are considering the purchase of a firearm, these questions concerning barrel steel are necessary to insure not only your safety, but of bystanders as well. When it comes to 18th century firearms, it is quite beneficial to recognize that there is little accuracy to the statement that there is a "good cheap gun"! You get what you pay for and you pay for what you get.
If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact me. As a manufacturer, it is my responsibility to educate customers about the products I deliver. Many things can impact the safety of a barrel, from proper breeching to barrel steel choice, to contour designs. All are worth considering and I will be happy to take the time to answer your questions.
My commitment to my customers begins and ends with safety. I can go to bed at night secure in the knowledge that my customers have a safe product in their possession and if somebody does incorrectly load a gun, a hard kick on the shoulder will be the only result...plus probably a few smirks from close buddies! GOOD SHOOTING!!!