Modern firearms are, by and large, made to handle hot rounds. However, these modern rounds tend to be copper lined if not completely jacketed. (Hollow points being a classic example of one that is “wrapped” in copper but does not include a “complete” or “all encompassing” copper “jacket”)
It is possible to mold copper jackets when making rounds, and electroplating the copper jackets into place is even more preferable, though the equipment and materials to perform these functions can be both expensive in terms of cost, and the requisite learning curve … and ammo that may very well foul the barrel is not something I would recommend anyone fire through their firearms at all, much less by choice. In short, the vast majority of home made rounds are lead.
Lead is readily available, comparatively inexpensive, easy to smelt and to mold and all things being equal, an ideal solution for home made ammunition and reloading. However, when fired through modern firearms, there are certain precautions and extra procedures that need to be carefully weighed and considered and the shooter must be willing to pay a little closer attention to certain details.
One of the more popular local shotgun rounds was created by the father of a friend of mine. These were shotgun rounds molded out of lead, using split-shot molds for .33 caliber … double-aught buckshot may be a term more familiar to some people.
The buckshot was molded directly on to a piece of guitar string or piano wire, anywhere from eight to eighteen inches long depending on what size round he was making the rounds for. He called them garrote rounds, and they were, by stories I heard, very effective at cutting through the brush and forests locally.
These never leaded up any barrels as far as I know. Most modern shotguns will not generally fire rounds hot enough to lead up the barrel unless lead slugs are fired through a choked barrel. In this case, the area where the barrel is choked down may scrape the slug sufficiently to lead up the barrel some. Slugs should never be fired through a choked barrel and if they are, even inadvertently, care should be taken to sure to clean any and all of the residual lead out of the barrel as soon as possible.
Modern rifles and pistols however, are another beast altogether when it comes to shooting solid lead rounds, unprotected by copper jacketing. The lead rounds can be molded easily enough, at least with the proper molds and other equipment necessary when making rounds, but these rounds should never be loaded as “hot rounds” even to the extent that such a round would be quite a normal round with the addition of copper plating or a more standard copper jacketed round.
It has been my experience that even relatively “light rounds” fired out at one thousand to twelve hundred feet per second, will inevitably result in some leading up of the barrel … or lead residual in the barrel. These leading of the barrel can and will lead to malfunctions in the firearms if it is not cleaned out immediately.
When firing any lead rounds through a modern rifle, extra cleaning procedures will have to be taken and additional time should be set aside to ensure that the firearms are properly cleaned. The barrels should be removed completely, and a high-intensity light beam should be focused through the barrel to ensure that even minor particles of matter built up inside the barrel can be effectively noted and targeted for cleaning.
Likewise, the breech needs to be carefully inspected as well. The most common locations for leading up of a barrel will be where the barrel is attached to the breech, inside of the rifled grooves within the barrel and at the muzzle.
Lead buildup in the muzzle and where the barrel and breech meet can be effectively removed without any major headaches, especially if the barrel is completely removed from the breech. This lead built up can generally be cleaned out with the gentle application of a metal dental pick, my personal tool of choice, though other small, sharply angled and pointed objects of a similar nature can also be largely effective.
Care however, should be taken so as not to scratch the barrel any more than absolutely necessary and none at all if it is possible. Minor scratching along the interior of the barrel may seem inconsequential at first, but it can lead to corrosion which will eventually lead to the degradation of the steel, and ultimately, may eventually cause major issues with accuracy and/or safety.
This is especially true in barrels that have been blued using a cold bluing process and not hot bluing. The cold bluing process, while effective, will never offer the same level of protection for the steel that a hot bluing process will allow.
Avoiding any real damage to the barrel when getting the lead out, as was noted, is not so difficult or challenging when cleaning the muzzle or the breach. Cleaning residual lead out from the rifling in the barrel is not only essential, but also more difficult to do without creating lasting damage to the rifling or to the barrel itself.
For clearing lead out of the rifling of a barrel … an imperative measure should the accuracy of the rifle be of any real consequence to the shooter, there are numerous brushes built to clean residual powder or burnt powder residue out of the grooves. Some of these brushes are heavier than others and it will take some time, especially if the rounds that have been fired were “hot” loads … even those that are “normal” or “light” loads based on the capacity of the firearm itself but still hot for solid lead bullets.
Lead slugs are routinely fired through shotgun barrels at velocities between 1000 and 1200 feet per second or FPS; though it should be noted that there is a major difference in that the shotgun barrels are not rifled, and thus, the occurrences of leading up of the barrel are greatly reduced. Compare that to an old style “Long-Rifle” firing a lead ball at substantially lower speeds and having to get the lead out as soon as possible when the rifle is no longer needed … after the battle was done in days of old.
Utilizing the solvent of choice, add in a touch of 3-in-1 oil, and begin working the brush in and out. Ideally, the barrel should be removed from the rifle and secured in a vice or other location where it will not move. The brush “strokes” should be even and extend all the way from the muzzle to the breech.
If this is done properly, the added wear and tear on the barrel should also be consistent throughout the length of the barrel, allowing for a better retention of accuracy. More ideally however, will be dropping the loads down sufficiently wherein leading the barrels is not a major concern.
Modern firearms ammunition is great, but if and when the day comes when it starts to run out, it may be time to get the lead out, in more ways than one.
How This Lesson Was Learned
When I was a kid, one of my most prized possessions was a Charter Arms Pug calibrated for the .44 special. I loved that pistol and was surprisingly adept with it, especially given its short length. When my friends would talk to me about how well they could shoot “anything”, this was generally my firearm of choice for testing them … and most failed the test.
In fairness, this was not only due to the two inch barrel that was not even long enough to allow even the hottest of powder to burn completely, but also the rounds I made for that weapon.
The Charter Arms Pug is a very well made, heavy-framed revolver and quite capable of shooting compressed rounds, though I would strongly recommend using a Shooter’s Bible and NOT venturing out into unexplored territory in terms of reloading heavily compressed rounds as I did.
It can and will be dangerous if you make even the slightest mistake, and those mistakes can be fatal … so bottom line, just do not do it.
However, what I ultimately ended up with, was a forty-four caliber, 240 Grain copper jacketed round with a factory serrated tip that was particularly effective. I was pushing it out at roughly twelve hundred and eighty feet per second. It would hurt your wrist if you fired it too quickly with a single hand.
However, those rounds would also readily pierce grade three military kevlar, a top of the line product in those days. Suffice it to say, it was not an easy firearm to handle for many people or one that many people could wield accurately.
One day my Dad had been out shopping and brought back a box of one thousand lead rounds, replete with paraffin filled rings, chambered for the forty-four. “Don’t compress your GD loads with these!” he told me … but I was still as much a kid as a man … so I compressed the loads.
It took me almost a month to clean the lead out of the barrel, and probably just as much time to disassemble the rounds I had not fired so that I could reclaim the rounds (or at least those I was able to extract without damaging them) and start over from the beginning … with loads that were not compressed this time.
Let us know what you think please!