Damascus Barrels?

Discussion in 'Shotguns' started by Fyrstyk, Mar 20, 2021.

  1. Fyrstyk

    Fyrstyk Member

    May 31, 2019
    Central CT
    I have an old 12 gauge double barrel shot gun with damascus barrels. Would it be safe to shoot this old gun with 20 gauge barrel inserts or tubes? I would really like to use the gun instead of dedicating it to be a wall hanger. What do you think?
  2. PRD1

    PRD1 Member

    Apr 24, 2008
    S.E. Arizona
    It might, but the age and design (as well as the quality of manufacture) are also factors. Old guns are often not made of materials equal to more modern ones, and have usually been stressed by long use and/or worn or damaged by neglect, poor maintenance, or just plain old age. Then, too, a 12 ga. double with liners would be a heavier and less 'handy' arm for any use, than a gun originally made for the smaller gauge.
    Many owners of damascus or other pattern-welded barreled shotguns do still shoot them, some with 'light' smokeless loads and some with black or black substitute powders, but the bottom line is that there can be no certain safety margin in shooting a gun with a very old barrel or barrels which are a mass of welds, usually of dissimilar metals, from end-to-end, and no way to be sure of the actual integrity of that assembly at this late date.
    Caution is best, but, whatever you do, if you decide to shoot your double, have it inspected very thoroughly by a competent gunsmith, and a second or more opinions is a good idea, as well.

    PRD1 - mhb - MIke
    tark, 1976B.L.Johns. and ms6852 like this.
  3. PapaG

    PapaG Member

    Sep 12, 2010
    Nothing to add other than +1. Good advice.
  4. unspellable

    unspellable Member

    Aug 30, 2004
    Assuming the gun is sound you will probably want nitro for BP loads. So called "lite" loads do not neccesarily run any lower pressure than full house loads. A nitro for BP load will be specifically loaded to BP pressures for old guns. Or you can go retro and shoot actual BP loads. There are such things as twist steel barrels for nitro loads but most were meant for BP loads. The last twist steel gun I know of was a Holland and Holland made for modern nitro loads, if I rember right it was made circa 1983.
  5. ms6852

    ms6852 Member

    Oct 19, 2009
    Well said!
  6. tark

    tark Member

    Nov 25, 2013
    atkinson, ill
    Damascus barrels can run the gamut from great to junk, depending on who made them. In Britain it used to be common to just nitro proof the Damascus guns. If it didn't blow up, you went ahead and shot smokeless in it. I have an old Double Gun Journal somewhere where they decided to see how much abuse a Damascus Barreled Parker could take. :eek: Before you vomit, the gun itself was pretty wasted and the last six inches of the barrels were mashed flat. They cut off the damaged portion ( while being careful to keep a legal length ) and went to work. They didn't expect any trouble with trap loads of even field loads, and there was none. They chambered a 2-3/4" Magnum and still no trouble. They shot a box of Magnums through it. No problems. Now, we're talking around 12,000 PSI at this point, more than double a BP load. Next up was a 3" Mag in a 2-3/4 " chamber. Nothing.

    Time to get nasty. A 2-3/4" nitro proof load was next. The gun yawned. At this point they decided that they were gonna blow this thing up no matter what it took. They assembled a load that would develop 24,000 PSI. No luck. Long story short, the right barrel let go at 38,000 PSI. :what: !!!!!

    In conclusion, Damascus barrels on a quality gun just may be a lot stronger than you think. PDR1 gives some sound advice. My advise is to just shoot BP in the gun. You might be surprised at how much fun you have. And cleaning a double barreled shotgun after shooting black is about as quick and easy as it gets.
  7. Zygodactyl

    Zygodactyl Member

    Dec 2, 2020
    Condition is everything. One thing that will weaken one is neglect. Rust can remain invisible between the layers of wire and over time make it unsafe.
  8. SixteenGauge

    SixteenGauge Member

    Jan 31, 2021
    Damascus barrels, in good condition, should be safe for the loads in which they were originally intended. However, therein lies the problem with Damascus barrels. There is no reliable or cheap way to test if a Damascus barrel is in "Good condition" or a pipe bomb ready to go off. A Damascus barrel is, quite literally, a mass of iron and steel rods that have been forged together by hand using the senses of the blacksmith to determine how good the welds were, and could harbor flaws in the metal undetectable by the eye and even magnaflux or Xray machines. There could also be areas where the metal either didn't weld or the weld cracked with age and use. The second major issue is ammunition. The majority of Damascus shotguns were designed for shells loaded with blackpowder, which produces pressures of around 6,000 PSI, and usually had either chambers shorter than the modern 2 3/4" or an abrupt forcing cone for the use of brass or roll crimped paper shells. To further highlight the unpredictability of Damascus barrels, I will include a personal anecdote of mine. As a young teen I had an old Belgian double barreled shotgun with 2 1/2" chambered blackpowder proved damascus steel barrels that were pitted like a sewer pipe throughout the bore. That shotgun survived many hundreds of 2 3/4" smokeless shotgun shells before I realized what I was doing was dangerous. A while later, a friend of mine blew up an old Ithaca shotgun that had nitro proved Damascus barrels and pristine bores while shooting low pressure blackpowder shells. I would caution you to not shoot the firearm, but if you are set on doing so, keep the pressures low and definitely test fire it remotely first.
  9. George P

    George P member

    Jan 10, 2018
    IF it proves safe to use (by a competent gunsmith) then Vintager loads from RST would be a good choice to use
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