Damascus Steel/Belgian Best Rolled steel? Shotguns?


August 12, 2009, 04:32 PM
I have a Belgian best rolled steel double barrel 12 gauge, exposed hammers. I wanted to shoot it but my grandfather said he was told not to shoot it. How do you know if it is safe to shoot or not? Whats the deal with them?!


Manhattan Arms Co. is the Manufacturer.
-Belgan Best Rolled steel
-Model: The Interchangeable


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August 12, 2009, 04:38 PM
Damascus barrels were made by laying up steel wire and hammering it into the shape of barrel walls.

There can be rust that forms between the wires, and it may not be possible to see it. On the other hand, some of the old guns, if well cared for, can work as well as when they were made.

You can't expect the barrels to handle more than black powder pressures, even if they're perfect.

If they're not perfect, they can explode.

People do shoot them, with black powder. Generally, they proof test them first, and just accept that the gun might explode in testing. The guys I know who do this acquire the guns for cheap, and they have no sentimental value to them, nor high collector value.

Personally, I'd skip shooting it, keep it oiled and hang it on the wall.:)

Loading and shooting black powder is a whole hobby unto itself, and, as I wrote above, the gun could explode when it's proofed, and you wouldn't even have a nice wall hanger.

August 12, 2009, 04:40 PM
Folks DO shoot them - BUT, it needs to go to a GOOD smith who knows what he's doing to evaluate it for pitting, cracks, etc. and even IF it passes, only LOW pressure loads should be used - more than likely 2-1/2", NOT the standard 2-3/4".

Try doublegunshop.com - those folks have a lot of experience in shooting those old guns

August 12, 2009, 04:43 PM
it needs to go to a GOOD smith who knows what he's doing to evaluate it for pitting, cracks, etc. and even IF it passes

Even if it "passes" an inspection, I wouldn't put it up to my face until it's been proofed. No way, no how.

One of the guys I know who does shoot them has only one eye (100% HIS FAULT) but still never wears safety glasses, and I mean NEVER, when he's shooting, or when he's working in one of his machine shops. One of my favorite people, but I always apply a major fudge factor to what he considers "safe".:)

August 12, 2009, 06:17 PM
The old process that was used to wrap steel wire around poor steel to begin with is not strong enough even for black powder. WHY?? Because time: more than 100 years of wear and shrinkage of the layers between the two different types of metals used leaves spaces, that are actually small cavities, that causes a weakness. Buy an old gun that says Fluid steel and you will be safe.

August 12, 2009, 06:24 PM
Is it truly a "wire-wrapped" barreled shotgun, or is the damascus pattern chemically etched into the barrels

I have an OLD (1890s?) 10 gauge double barrel set (shorter quail barrel, longer goose barrel) that is always referred to as "damascus barreled", but it's really just a surface pattern

August 12, 2009, 06:29 PM
More info found out and added up top^

August 12, 2009, 07:11 PM
Once upon a time, Belgium wasn't exactly the most prestigious firearms producer, either.

John Browning did even more for Belgian firearms manufacturing than they did for him.

I would keep the thing oiled, and hang it up. It's a really neat-looking gun, and that's probably its best attribute.:)

.38 Special
August 12, 2009, 08:04 PM
Ross Seyfried has had, for the past several decades, a generous standing offer for anyone who can show him a Damascus barrel damaged with SAAMI loads. Last I heard, no one has yet collected.

Fred Fuller
August 12, 2009, 08:06 PM
I wouldn't shoot it, period. IMHO it needs a good cleaning, several coats of Johnson's paste wax, and a nice cozy place to hang on the wall. If I did anything to it, that would be to have a 'smith remove the firing pins and hide them under the buttplate to keep anyone from accidentally shooting it, ever.

There are too many good modern SxS shotguns available for a few hundred $$$ to risk life, limb and facial features on shooting a who knows how old shotgun in who knows what condition.


August 13, 2009, 10:29 AM
Modern steel is made by heating and smelting the "elements" of Iron, cobalt, chromium, and nickel and sometimes other elements such as Titanium in a chemical soup to cause the Atoms to chemically bond with each other. This is much stronger than the "Physical" process of heating wire of steel and hammering it together around a mandrel, as was done in the older Damascus barrels.By altering the amounts of the metals to the "soup" one can make different qualities of steel for different applications.

August 13, 2009, 10:56 AM
But rolled steel isn't damascus is it? It isn't laminated steel either is it? Or is it?

Laminated being plates wrapped and welded around a mandrel instead of the wire used for damascus.

Just curious.

I've seen mention on the net of Belgian guns by Manhattan Arms Co. called The Interchangeable with 3 different barrel markings: damascus, laminated and rolled.


August 13, 2009, 10:57 AM
Mine is rolled

August 13, 2009, 01:00 PM
If I am not mistaken, rolled steel is another name for Damascus. Largely a piece of iron wrapped around a mandrel, the heating of steel -rolled wire and hammered while very hot to the iron metal. A soft type of steel -iron mixture results from the process but inherently weak compared to the smelting and Chemical bonding that occurs in modern steel making.The atoms that are negatively charged(ions) bond with the positively charged atoms (ions) of the other metals in the"soup" which is very strong. I have 2 old stevens that were made about 1900, that are hammer guns and they are "FLUID" steel. Another name for modern smelting - chamically bonded atoms. This is what you want to shoot modern ammo in. Also my Brother has an old Remington that has Fluid steel barrels. There are a lot of older shotguns made this way that are very beautiful in my opinion to shoot safely. My 2 cents Snooperman-Retired chemistry teacher.

August 13, 2009, 01:23 PM
Don't know where you are, Birdmang, but I suspect these people would know all about shooting the old thing, if you really want to.


August 13, 2009, 01:24 PM
I think I am just going to hang it on the wall, sounds like an easier plan.

THanks for all the help though!

August 13, 2009, 08:15 PM

"The Model 1887ís... Popular special order options were limited to grade of the stock, barrel length and type of barrel. The standard barrel was three-blade Damascus steel, with four-blade Damascus available at extra cost. In addition, rolled steel barrels were offered later in production.

I'm determined to figure this out. By next week anyway. :)

August 13, 2009, 09:13 PM
I still think if it isn't cracked, then it is safe to shoot - I know a few folks who love shooting their damascus steel "twist" guns (JohnBT - I think rolled isn't damascus either)

Again, doublegunshop.com - folks shoot old SxS all day long

Larry Ashcraft
August 13, 2009, 10:17 PM
I still think if it isn't cracked, then it is safe to shoot
No way. Rust forms in the pockets left by the welds.

Not safe to shoot. No way, no how. There's plenty of modern shotguns out there.

Don't take chances with your face. It's not worth it.


murdoc rose
August 14, 2009, 01:58 AM
lol i've owned one and shot it too walmart bird shot and it didn't blow up however i do not advise it. they can blow up

August 14, 2009, 07:51 AM
The rolled steel that is hammered together with the iron over time separates leaving small cavities too small to be seen with the naked eye. Moisture finds its way into them causing rust making the cavity larger and the barrel weaker. You can not see them as they are internal. X-rays will show them. With all the good guns that are safe out there, why would anyone want to take a chance on this is beyond me. However, I know there are those among us who are a little more daring and do not mind taking chances , and a certain number will probably pay a price for that kind of behavior.My 2 cents

Bud Tugly
August 14, 2009, 08:56 AM
If he really wants to shoot it, how about using a set of reducing tubes? Wouldn't that be a way the gun would still be usable without the risk of barrel explosion?

August 14, 2009, 10:54 AM
This gun will never be shot.

I have enough shotguns. Thanks for the info.

August 14, 2009, 03:33 PM
Old guns can be sleeved.....they CAN be shot, but only after a thorough investigation. To blanketly say no to all of them is absolutely false. There are thousands of American, Belgian, English and others out there being enjoyed everyday otherwise companies like Polywad and RST et al would be out of business...........

August 14, 2009, 03:47 PM
To blanketly say no to all of them is absolutely false.

True, though there are early guns that don't have Damascus barrels, too. I'm sure plenty of Polywad is shot through them; that's what I've used the stuff for, not Damascus steel.

But anything short of the utmost caution is to invite serious injury.

August 14, 2009, 05:04 PM
But anything short of the utmost caution is to invite serious injury.

I do not believe anyone is in disagreement there.....

August 14, 2009, 10:16 PM
I read in one article about rolled steel being a type of Damascus, but then in another where Winchester made some 1897 pump guns in rolled steel before going to fluid steel. I am , to say the least ,a little confused, and may be wrong in my early assumption that they are one in the same. I can not find a definitive answer. Also Baker and Manhatten made both Damascus and rolled steel barrels too. Why isn't there more information on this is perplexing. Why?? Because if your gun says on the barrel Rolled steel and it is the same as fluid steel , it makes a big difference in the gun being able to safely shoot modern powder loads to some degree.

August 14, 2009, 10:35 PM

The 1897 Sears catalog has some guns listed with Damascus and some with rolled steel barrels - like the 2 Winchester shotguns. "Finest quality, patent rolled steel barrels."

August 15, 2009, 03:02 AM
"Damascus", or what was called "damascus" was pattern welded stock wrapped around a mandrel to give it a pretty pattern. The edges overlapped on each wrap and those edges got forge-welded together by hammering on them while hot. Twist steel was strips of steel wrapped around a mandrel with very little overlap and most often a butted joint. "Rolled steel" is just what it sounds like. It's steel sheet wrapped around a mandrel with a 100% overlap that's welded into a solid tube by forging it the same as a damascus or twist barrel was. Think roll of aluminum foil. Rolled isn't damascus. Rolled doesn't tend to get weak with age. Rolled steel barrels were used on Belgian shotguns up until the 1920's and they were almost always nitro proofed for smokeless powder.

If it scares you, use black powder loads. If that scares you, hang it on the wall.

Take off the forearm and post any and all markings you find here and we'll see what you have.


August 15, 2009, 10:02 AM
So rolled is what a lot of sources call laminated? They describe wrapping a thin sheet of steel around a mandrel and welding the seam. And then wrapping a second layer on with the welded seams staggered, and one source mentioned using an additional partial layer or more on the chamber end to add thickness.

They might have been nitro proofed, but I've read more than one statement that the welds were prone to the same weakening over time as found with Damascus.


August 16, 2009, 02:41 AM
They might have been nitro proofed, but I've read more than one statement that the welds were prone to the same weakening over time as found with Damascus.

With damascus steel, all the welded joints are on the outside exposed to the air. Rolled steel isn't. It would be the same as if you unrolled half a roll of aluminum foil and found a rusted spot half way through the roll.

August 16, 2009, 08:46 AM
The description of rolled steel barrels that I have read describe a series of increasingly larger tubes, each with a welded seam. The seam on the outermost tube is exposed.


Robert Wilson
August 19, 2009, 10:22 PM
Double Gun Journal ran a series of articles wherein they attempted to blow up several dozen different Damascus guns. To the best of my recollection they were not able to do it even with proof loads. They eventually got tired of endlessly firing proof loads and resorted to silly things like obstructing the barrels with cleaning tools, and thinning barrels to half of the traditional "safe" wall thickness, and still found that while many barrels blew, many others didn't.

Their conclusion was that the weakness of Damascus barrels was largely mythological, and traced the origin of the myth to the transition to smokeless powder: at the time, quite a few loaders used the new smokeless powders just the way they had with black, then blamed the results on the gun.

I think it's a shame to make wall hangers out of these beautiful and useful guns. But it does keep the prices down!

August 20, 2009, 09:19 AM
I read an article like that once. Were they using quality guns like Parkers and Smiths? The point being, the Damascus could have been several grades better than what was used in a workingman's gun.


August 20, 2009, 11:49 AM
I think it's a shame to make wall hangers out of these beautiful and useful guns. But it does keep the prices down!

Same here, Robert.

I've been loading for them and shooting them for close to thirty years. At one time I had over 140 singles and half that of doubles in my collection. That's pared down a lot these days, but I have yet to see one blow up except by the liberal application of some really fine quality stupidity. If you're not an Elmer Keith setting out to blow one up or a teenager Rambo wannabe looking for the most powerful thing you can shoot out of a gun, chances are you'll have no probs. I've seen far more modern guns blown up than old ones.

I sure do miss the days when you could walk into a pawnshop and pick up an old Folsom or Crescent for $25-30, though. Belgians used to be a dime a dozen, it seemed. Nowadays, if it looks old, common beater-type gun or not, someone expects to put their kids through college on it.



Robert Wilson
August 20, 2009, 10:43 PM
I really should dig out those back issues, but laziness is one of my leading qualities.

Again to the best of my recollection, the tested guns were mostly low end and no-name. They didn't want to destroy fine guns anymore than we would, and they did set out with the goal of making a mess.

Robert Wilson
August 20, 2009, 10:46 PM
Oh, and an even fuzzier recollection: I believe one of those articles posited that the low end guns might actually be stronger than the fancy ones, because the finer guns tended to have thinner and lighter barrels for better handling. That is truly a fuzzy recollection, though, so i wouldn't hang your hat on it.

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