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Revolver lifespan, lead bullets vs jacketed

Discussion in 'Handguns: Revolvers' started by Mosin Bubba, Mar 20, 2019.

  1. Mosin Bubba

    Mosin Bubba Member

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    The thread on "blowing out lead" with jacketed bullets got me thinking.

    All the revolvers I have are pretty old and have seen some pretty decent round counts - not extreme by any stretch, but put two or three boxes a year through them for 50 years and it starts adding up. I also just bought a Smith Model 10 that used to be a French police gun. They say those police guns are carried a lot and shot a little, but let's just say the hammer and trigger feel VERY broken in. Kinda hoping I didn't get the training pistol, LOL.

    Anyway, I'm not that old myself and would like to keep these guns going for another lifetime, but I'm not big on cleaning either. Jacketed bullets will obviously foul your barrel less than a bare lead slug, but they're not going to be as soft and easy on the barrel either.

    So I guess the question I have, is how much does the "life expectancy" of a revolver change if you shoot lead bullets vs jacketed bullets?
     
  2. edwardware

    edwardware Member

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    For this question, I would point you to a post by @Slamfire here:
    So, the best competitive pistol team in the world (that prints its own money!) replaces 1911 barrels every 180k-250k rounds. Methinks you're not in any danger of wearing out a revolver barrel before the rest of the gun is worn completely out of time.

    A more realistic concern is endshake due to yoke compression. I own two S&W revolvers (1970s and 1990s) that needed yoke peening or shimming to correct endshake caused by a diet of .357 Magnum loads.
     
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  3. iiranger

    iiranger Member

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    Best basic reference I have, Old Elmer Keith wrote that the military dumped the WWI .45 ACP revolvers following the war and so he had access to several thru the Nat. Guard. He said that 5,000 rounds of jacketed bullets would make the barrels, of steel of that era, about a smoothbore. At the same time, a properly made and lubricated lead bullet offers almost no wear and barrel life it "half of forever." With better lubes today, I suspect the lead bullets make almost no wear. Jim Harvey, gunsmith, made a point. You use a pure lead bullet and it "blobs" like a bean bag and you get some real energy transfer. For this reason he came up with the zinc ring on the base bullets which also coat the barrel with zinc leaving it resistant to rust and lubricated... In handguns, except for the Geneva requirements, the jacketed bullet is almost a waste. Happy Trails.
     
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  4. Jonesy814

    Jonesy814 Member

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    I don't recall hearing of anyone ever wearing out the rifling in a S&W revolver. I have heard of revolver a with a lot of rounds through them experiencing eroded or cracked forcing cones. J frames will sometimes have a frame crack where the barrel is threaded into the frame, but worn out barrels don't seem to be an often encountered condition. That being said a lead wadcutters load will be easier on the whole gun than a full power 158gr fmj load would be
     
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  5. blue32

    blue32 Member

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    I think the bullet construction is comparatively irrelevant. I shoot nothing but cast loads in my 686, save some factory JSP to get the brass. The only thing I can tell is a tiny bit of end shake and forcing cone erosion from a steady diet of Lil Gun.
     
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  6. CraigC
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    CraigC Member

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    You 'might' see some issues with 19th century through WWI guns but doubtful anything made after that. Particularly after WWII. That said, I find very little reason to run anything but cast bullets through my revolvers and can't remember the last time I had to scrub lead out of a bore.
     
  7. mcb

    mcb Member

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    The USPSA revolver shooters are shooting thousands if not tens of thousands of round through there revolvers in a year and their barrels last years and years. The wear out cylinder stops and other timing related component far more frequently than barrels due to all the fast double action shooting they are doing. I am just a B-class Revolver shooter and I have two N-frames (610, 625) that have on the order of 20,000 rds through them with no issues and a newer 627 that is approaching ten-thousand rounds. The 610 saw a stead diet of brass jackets bullets (not copper, brass) for almost all the time I shot it competitively (I had a line on Montana Gold Bullets at the time). My 625 got a mix of brass, copper, and polymer-coated led. My 627 is pretty much only getting polymer coated lead. There has been no noticeable wear difference over the number of round I have put through mine.
     
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  8. CraigC
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    CraigC Member

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    I agree that you're far more likely to have to rebuild the action than replace the barrel. In fact, you may rebuild the action several times before replacing the barrel. Even then, usually just setting it back a thread or two and recutting the forcing cone are sufficient.
     
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  9. ColtPythonElite

    ColtPythonElite Member

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    I have one revolver I bought new. I have shot mostly hot jacketed bullets through it. At about 30k rounds the barrel started coming unscrewed. I took it to a gunsmith fully expecting the barrel to need setting back. It didnt need it. He put the barrel back on with Red Loctite. I have only put about 5k through it since then....As far as wear to the rifling goes, if there is any I can't tell it. The gun is as accurate as it always was.
     
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  10. alfsauve

    alfsauve Member

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    Might look for some of Mickleck's writings/videos. I seem to recall he consider 10,000 rounds as just the break-in period.

    Like MCB my competition revolver, 686 5", has around 20,000 rounds.
     
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  11. Dave T

    Dave T Member

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    If you're interested in preserving the functionality of your revolvers I would learn to clean them regularly and stop worrying about barrel wear.

    Dave
     
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  12. ColtPythonElite

    ColtPythonElite Member

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    I don't worry about regular cleanings, either.
     
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  13. Mosin Bubba

    Mosin Bubba Member

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    Thanks for the feedback guys. I know that rifle barrels tend to wear down after several thousand rounds, and figured a hot 357 for example would have a similar impact on a shorter barrel. Sounds like it is just not a real concern for revolvers.

    If you've got any more revolver abuse stories though, I'd be interested in hearing them.
     
    Last edited: Mar 21, 2019
  14. Jim Watson

    Jim Watson Member

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    I read Elmer to say that every time his navy buddy made port, he would send him a 1911 barrel and a case of ammo. Were bullets harder and/or barrels softer then? A barrel will surely last longer than 5000 rounds today. Bill Wilson's first book showed a .38 Super barrel that was badly eroded, but it was 30,000 hot rounds old.

    Wear out a revolver barrel with lead bullets? You bet, a PPC shooting friend has killed off a couple, about 150,000 each.

    I had a large supply of Harvey Pro Tex Bore bullets, came in trade with a gun. I don't know what was wrong with them, cast too hard - Harvey wanted them soft - or the zinc washers didn't fit the barrel; but they leaded like crazy. I applied Kal-Guard to some, Corbin dip lube to others and got them to shoot fairly well, but the fouling scraping and Sheradizing did not happen for me.
     
  15. Tallball

    Tallball Member

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    I own dozens of revolvers. Only one has visible wear on the inside of the barrel. It is a S&W Military and Police in 38 special that was made in 1915 or 1916. It still shoots fine, though it has obviously been shot a whole lot. None of my other revolvers, though many of them are over 50 years old, show any wear inside the barrel.

    I am guessing that a good revolver with moderately-powered rounds will last close to forever for the average shooter.

     
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  16. Eddietruett

    Eddietruett Member

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    With today's powder being less corrosive than ever and bullets that are more uniform than ever, I don't think any of us will live long enough to "shoot out" a barrel in a quality revolver. I would guess and could be wrong, that the older powder and the corrosive primers contributed to the "wearing out" if any of some of the vintage guns.
     
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  17. Jim Watson

    Jim Watson Member

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    Older powder? They've been making and we've been shooting Bullseye for over a century and I doubt it is wearing out the guns faster than any other fast burner.
    Corrosive primers? All they need is wet cleaning and the barrel will last.
     
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  18. labnoti

    labnoti Member

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    It's the powder that can erode barrels much faster than either type of bullet. With most powders, the heat affected zone made when firing is very thin and I would expect the barrel to last well over 100K rounds. But some of the high-nitroglycerin powders can produce a more severe HAZ and cause erosion very rapidly. I was very skeptical about this, but I've done it myself now. Apparently, the high oxygen content of nitroglycerin is causing extreme flame temperatures (think oxygen lance). We normally associate this with flame-cutting the top strap, but that's probably a less severe problem than the deep HAZ is creates on the barrel face and forcing cone. Any bullet can mechanically erode those areas where there is heat and chemical damage. I have not gone to the point of wearing out a barrel, but I could forsee it happening in just a thousand rounds of cartridges purposefully designed.
     
  19. edwardware

    edwardware Member

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    Interesting. Can you explain doing this looked like? Are you talking about a measured correlation between powder chemistry and wear rate?
     
  20. Jim Watson

    Jim Watson Member

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    It is well known that double base powders have a higher flame temperature than single base.
    Old Hi Vel No2 was a great shooting powder but rifle barrel life was appreciably shorter than with IMRs.
    The British went 'round and 'round with Cordite in the .303, changing the powder, changing the barrels to get better service life.
    One hunter, Elmer Keith, maybe, said his .500 Nitro Express had visible erosion in the throat of the right barrel, little or none in the left. Critters hit with a .500 seldom need a second shot.
    But a pistol isn't burning much powder. My friend mentioned above loads nothing but Bullseye and it took him a long long time to wear out two barrels.
     
  21. CraigC
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    CraigC Member

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    High pressure cartridges using ball powder and lighter jacketed bullets will eat away at the forcing cone. Some powders are worse than others, like Lil Gun. Freedom Arms even warns against using Lil Gun in their guns. The forcing cone will probably have to be recut a handful of times before the bore is actually worn appreciably. I would suspect with high round counts of high pressure cartridges, more barrels are replaced because they can no longer set the barrel back and recut the forcing cone. Rather than worn rifling.
     
  22. Varminterror

    Varminterror Member

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    Maybe I missed it, but I think the OP's picking up pennies between dollar bills here...

    Revolvers don't wear out because the bore is shot out - they give up the ghost when they work out of proper time. Whether it's peening of the locking notches, wear/peening of the bolt, wear of the hand, or galling of the cylinder ratchet - or all of the above, revolvers shoot loose long before the bores go to hell. Other than Lil' Gun, and 327/329's, of course...
     
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  23. labnoti

    labnoti Member

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    Lil'Gun. I did my own experiments and found it can be used to chew out the barrel face and forcing cone very quickly. Note that I said "it can be used to..." and not that it will in the case of every use. I won't detail it further than that because my work wasn't enough to draw more decisive conclusions. If you're curious, get some and try it.
     
  24. forrest r

    forrest r Member

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    FWIW:
    Back in 1987 I bought a nib s&w 586 along with a 6-cavity h&g #50 mold & a 4-cavity lyman 358311 mold.
    H6iZxrO.jpg

    Used a lot of ww452 & unique when I 1st started reloading for it. For hot loads I'd use ww820 back then I'd buy cases of it (4 #8 jugs/#32) at a time from pat's reloading when he'd setup at the medina gunshows. I started getting into swaging jacketed bullets in the early 90's but I mostly shot cast bullets in that 586. I'd keep track of the primers I bought for that 586. That revolver saw a lot of lite target 38spl wc loads. But it also burned a lot of that ww820 & full house 357 loads also.

    @ the 100,000 round count I had to send it back to s&w. The timing was shot it was spitting lead bad. They redid the timing & re-cut the forcing cone.
    @ the 200,000 round count it went back to s&w to get the timing redone along with the forcing cone re-cut.
    @ the 275,000 round count the bbl was done. The accuracy just wasn't there anymore & a pet load (15.0gr 2400/358311) lost 75fps.

    I took the bbl off that 586, this is what it looked like. You can see a sharp edge on the non-drive side of the lands & the drive side is rounded. Also note the flame cutting on the forcing cone.
    Sg4LjIe.jpg

    Hard to see but the cylinders were ate/etched pretty good also. They shouldn't have that "step" in them, that's flame cutting
    IZlwpUY.jpg
     
  25. Vern Humphrey

    Vern Humphrey Member

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    Right -- what wears out modern revolvers is pressure. A steady diet of high-pressure rounds will erode or crack forcing cones and promote a bit of frame stretch, resulting in end-shake. It doesn't matter if those high-pressure rounds are lead or jacketed.
     
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