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Firelapping The 10/22
A Four Barrel Test
J. Marshall Stanton
Ruger’s 10/22 is arguably one of the most popular and widely distributed sporting weapons on the planet, and as such also provides the platform for applying the widest aftermarket selection of parts available for any single firearm model! These little rimfire auto-loaders have proven themselves for decades as rugged, utterly dependable, light weight, handy, affordable and enduring rifles.
Amongst one of the more popular of these aftermarket parts are heavy barrels from a wide array of vendors in a dizzying plethora of configurations. This “upgrade” is perhaps most popular with accuracy buffs who demand surgical precision from their rifles, both at the range, and in the field, as the factory barrels most typically are deemed “adequate” for close range field use and plinking, but lackluster when fired off the bench for groups.
The aspect of factory ORM Ruger barrel accuracy is the focus of this investigation, which conceived here at BTB several years ago, was put on the back-burner until this month due to time constrains. It was with great anticipation and eagerness that we commenced the following tests, firelapping four separate OEM Ruger 10/22 barrels of unknown origin and use, and doing so under conditions controlled to the best of our ability for repeatability, and credibility, and doing so on one parent action.
The concept was to use an ordinary, off-the-shelf, used Ruger 10/22 of average condition for testing, and while doing nothing to the action in terms of accurizing the action, merely substituting a good, clean breaking trigger assembly, and put the barreled action into an off-the-shelf inexpensive synthetic stock.
The trigger group replacement obvious to any 10/22 owner, is to obtain a nice, clean trigger that doesn’t break at 8+ pounds, for best shot and target control. The stock replacement was merely to facilitate uniform fitting of the barrel/action during of barrels, and also to eliminate the OEM front barrel band which can and in some cases does induce yet another set of accuracy variables.
Then the meat of the tests, to shoot the rifle for groups, then firelap the barrel, break it in and shoot for groups post-lapping. Following completion of tests for the barrel, replacing it with another used barrel, into the same action, changing nothing else, and repeating the process until all four test barrels were given equal treatment, then evaluating the results.
Please keep in mind that this article is not a review, or critique, of the accessory items used, nor the ammunition employed in these test; but merely observations reported as necessary to convey the continuity of the testing methods used.
The Test Gun
The test gun is your average condition, used Pawn-Shop-Refugee as we call it here at BTB. There is nothing remarkable about the gun, it has seen honest use, but does not appear abused. It came with a Weaver scope base screwed to the action which wasn’t removed, and used throughout testing.
As previously mentioned, both the stock and trigger group assembly were replaced with aftermarket versions, a Hogue stock, and a Volquartsen trigger assembly as seen in the photos. Also, since our test rifle refugee came with no magazine, a factory ten-round replacement was obtained concurrently with acquisition of the stock and trigger assembly.
For optics in this test, and older, but well trusted Burris Signature 3x9 scope was fitted with Warne QD rings on the existing Weaver base. The QD rings were chosen to facilitate efficient barrel changes between testing, and minimize subsequent re-zeroing time at the BTB range. Although close in tolerances, the scope as mounted, did clear the folded rear sight on all barrels.
The Tests Barrels
Barrels varied in age, and exterior condition, but all exhibited pristine bores regardless of cosmetic outer appearances. All total there were four barrels put to the test, three blued and one stainless steel. All barrels were labeled A through D with identifying tags prior to shooting, and processed in corresponding alphabetical order.
The test barrels were accumulated over quite a time span, some from members of the ShootersForum.com one from a gun show and another from Gunbroker. As a consequence we knew nothing about their prior use or performance. All we do know, is that they were replaced for some reason along the line.
- Barrel “A”- The OEM Barrel on our Pawn-Shop-Refugee at time of purchase. Very average in condition in all respects.
- Barrel “B” – An older OEM Ruger barrel with considerable bluing wear, and perhaps the roughest outer factory finish I’ve ever seen on a 10/22 barrel, sporting rough machining marks full-length of the tube. This is a pre-warning barrel.
- Barrel “C” – This is a 1976 manufacture barrel, marked “Made In The 200th Year Of American Liberty” and is of decent cosmetic condition with a good bright bore.
- Barrel “D” – A fairly recent production stainless barrel as near as we can discern, in excellent condition and appears to have seen little use as observed in the bore and cosmetics of the exterior.
Selection of ammunition may raise some eyebrows amongst the readership of this article, as no premium ammo was selected for this investigation. The spirit of the test was to use common means, and ordinary methods to test the lapping effects on the barrels of this exercise.
Unfortunately, ammunition quality hampered absolute numerical quantification of lapping results due to the extremely inconsistent performance of the two bulk-packed bargain loads employed.
- Federal Champion .22LR 36g HP Bulk-Pack
- Remington Golden .22LR 38g HP Value-Pack
- CCI Mini-Mag .22LR 36g HP 100/Pack
Pre-Lapping Test Firing
A stringent cleaning regimen preceded shooting for groups with all barrels, and after cleaning, twenty rounds were fired to settle the barrel before zeroing the scope for each individual barrel tested.
A covered benchrest at the BTB range using sandbags, under mostly overcast skies, with no wind with temperatures in the mid 70’s best describes shooting conditions for both pre-and-post lapping trigger time. All shots for record fired at a measured 50 yards.
The old Alpha Chrony that we’ve used here for years gave up very early in these test, so rather than postpone the tests, we continued without the aid of a chronograph, and therefor the chronograph readings viewers of these articles customarily see, are conspicuous in their absence. Non-the-less, this aspect in no way impeded or invalidated the subsequent results obtained through this lapping project.
With each barrel, five unhurried rounds were fired at each target, with four targets per page, using each of the three types of ammunition listed above. This amounts to a total of sixty pre-lapping rounds for-record with each test barrel.
All barrels were processed, from start to finish before switching to the next test subject on the receiver. Meaning simply; that all pre-lapping targets were fired, followed by firelapping, cleaning, break-in, and post-lapping targets shot before moving on to subsequent test barrels.
Lapping The Barrels
Lapping was conducted as per the instructions found for rimfire firelapping in the Beartooth Bullets Technical Guide following that procedure to-the-letter with each and every barrel. Lap loads were prepared using CCI CB Long .22 ammunition (This is crucial, and absolutely essential to use the low-velocity CB Longs for optimum lapping results!), and Beartooth Bullets Lapping Compound.
In efforts to keep results objective, a uniform regimen of shooting 20 carefully prepared lapping loads were fired down-range, cleaning the chamber after each round, and cleaning the bore thoroughly after every five rounds. All barrels received the exact same treatment regardless of age, condition or previous wear.
Following the last five lapping rounds, the barrels were cleaned, then polished using the process described in the Technical Guide and employing a .17 caliber bore brush as the polishing-bob base. One hundred brisk strokes were applied to each barrel prior to final cleaning and break-in.
Regarding break-in procedures: we feel that this simple step is crucial to attaining best barrel performance. Post lapping, we have a pristine, fresh bore, free of fouling, and a prime candidate for following a break in process just as we would optimally perform on a new barrel
Shooting for groups proceeded precisely as the earlier shooting pre-lapping. After break-in of the newly lapped bores, twenty rounds were fired downrange through each test subject before actually shooting for groups. Range conditions varied little over the four days of shooting in these tests and every possible effort to keep variables the same was exercised.
Note that all targets fired were numbered and labeled corresponding to the barrel used, and firing order of the various ammunition was consistent as well.
That firing order was:
- Federal Champion .22 LR 36g HP Bulk-Pack
- Remington Golden .22LR 38g HP Value-Pack
- CCI Mini-Mag .22 LR 36g HP 100/Pack
Note too: Subsequent to shooting each brand of ammunition for groups, the barrel was cleaned thoroughly, then fired twenty rounds with the next type of test ammo before shooting groups for record. This attempt was made to negate variables perhaps induced in the bore by fouling from previous brands influencing performance. This treatment was given to the barrels throughout the testing sequence, both pre-and-post lapping.
Some Observations On Ammunition & Accessories
Early in the article we mentioned regret at ammunition selection, even though we sought to give results very typical of what the average shooter might experience with their favorite plinking rifle.
The bulk packed ammo gave “bulked packed performance”, or lack thereof!
The Federal Champion was the worst offender, as when the trigger broke on-target you never knew whether it was going to go CRACK, pooof, or Pop! The inconsistencies of this ammunition was bewildering to say the least!
The Remington Golden was a few steps ahead of it’s Federal counterpart, but it too showed marked inconsistencies in report volume and resultant impact location on-target.
The CCI Mini-Mag quite performed out of it’s price category and shined like s new silver dime in contrast to the bulk-packed ammo utilized in these tests. It was extremely predictable, and in post-lapping tests, mosts fliers could be called before looking at the target! Quite simply, the CCI Mini-Mag .22LR ammunition is a bargain!
Below is a chart that shows the failures to fire and the failures to eject using the various ammunition used in this test. By-the-way the FTE’s were because there was insufficient propellant in the cartridge to cycle the action… they went poooophhh.
Failure To Fire
Failure To Eject
Federal Champion .22LR 36g HP Bulk-Pack
Remington Golden .22LR 38g HP Value-Pack
CCI Mini-Mag .22LR 36g HP 100/Pack
While the Volquartsen trigger assembly we purchased for the Ruger 10/22 used in this test was light years ahead of the factory trigger in all aspects, we were mildly disappointed at the performance of this unit. No, it didn’t fail to operate, there were no mechanical failures or safety deficiencies of any kind, however, the trigger pull, for an aftermarket accessory trigger group of this price, it fell short. VERY SHORT! Yes, the data on the Voquartsen website for the TG2000 trigger group assembly specifies that the trigger take-up is adjustable, it also states that it is factory set for “optimum” performance. Too, the trigger does not come with any instructions of any kind! Suffice it to say, that this trigger had an extremely LONG take-up and felt more like a military two-stage trigger at the bench. After some trigger time, and getting used to the feel of the unit, some fine targets were fired. BUT, for the money, and the hype regarding this unit we felt it didn’t uphold its reputation.
We gave a disclaimer at the beginning of this article that it is in no way intended to be a review of the products used, so we’ll get off the soap-box and back to results and conclusions.
Results & Conclusions
Due to the vastly inconsistent ballistic performance of two brands of test ammunition, we felt that conventional group measurements before and after lapping would be not only inconclusive, but perhaps misleading as well. The variations in both the Federal and Remington ammunition performance greatly skewed what would otherwise be straight-forward group evaluations.
So, rather than attempt to numericaly interpolate the results, or manipulate the data to fit the circumstances, we felt it best to just present the targets for each barrel, both pre-and-post-lapping for each of the loads fired, and let them speak for themselves! (what a novel thought in today’s world… let the reader make up his/her OWN mind!)
That being said, even casual comparisons of the pre-lapping and post-lapping targets presented below demonstrate an overall improvement of group sizes in the test barrels after just 20 lapping rounds. This, despite the entry level ammunition performance of the bulk-packed product. Barrel lapping isn't going to erase erratic ballistic performance and fliers due to propellant charge weight variations, but even in targets fired with this type of ammo, groups appear overall tighter.
It is interesting to look at the Remington Golden .22LR shooting results, comparing pre-and-post-lapping targets shows a marked improvement post-lapping in most targets, despite the bargain-grade ammo. No, it certainly didn't shoot groups as tight as the CCI Mini-Mags, but overall it improved remarkably after lapping the barrels.
In looking at the groups fired with the CCI Mini-Mag .22LR ammo, group improvement ranged from modest to impressive, and in no case was there an overall deterioration of accuracy from the lapping process, with any of the ammunition employed.
While all barrels were given identical treatment for this test, in order to keep as many variables the same as possible, not all barrels necessarily require as much lapping as applied in this exercise, and some require more. As a note, barrel "D", the stainless barrel in this test was given another 12 lapping rounds after conclusion of these tests, and groups shot with the CCI Mini-Mag .22LR equalled, or exceeded the accuracy of test barrel "B" with the same ammunition.
The goal of this evaluation was realized, and that being to take an ordinary, bone-stock Ruger 10/22 barrel, and improve it's basic shooting accuracy with a minimum of invested time and expense. Any time you can make one of these stock barrels shoot 1/2" or smaller groups with most holes touching at 50 yards, when using hunting ammo, (not expensive 6-10 dollar a box target ammo), and do it on command, you have a respectable shooter, which will be very capable in the field.
It was an interesting test to say the least, and quite satisfying to finally complete a project that’s been on the back burner for several years. It was far more time consuming than originally conceived, but a worthwhile pursuit none-the-less.
We hope that it is both instructive and beneficial to those who have taken the time to read what’s presented here.
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