January 13th, 2024
Modern Barrel Honing Technology — High-Tech at Work
Some custom barrel makers are now honing barrels (after drilling) to improve bore diameter uniformity, smooth the interior finish, and reduce barrel lapping times. For years, large-scale manufacturers of hammer-forged barrels have employed honing. Now the process is being used by smaller, “boutique” barrel-makers. This article explains how and why barrel honing is done. Take the time to watch the video. For anyone with an interest in barrel-making, this video from Sunnen Products Co. is an eye-opener.
Barrel Honing Process Demonstrated (Worth Watching!):
For custom barrel makers, honing is a time-saver and cost cutter. A few minutes on a honing machine can cut lapping times in half, leaving a cross-hatched surface finish in single or low double-digit Ra. Honing is the same process used to make diesel fuel injectors with bore roundness and straightness controlled to fractions of a micron (<0.000040″), with surface finish Ra ≤0.15 µm (6 µin).
A key manufacturing process used for hammer-forged barrels is now getting attention from the makers of custom button-rifled barrels. This process is precision bore-honing. Honing produces a high-quality bore surface fast, which is critical to hammer forging. (Why is honing so important with hammer forging? Surface finish is the one feature of the barrel that cannot be controlled in hammer forging. Surface imperfections in a barrel blank tend to be amplified as the blank is formed on the rifling mandrel. And if the bore is chromed afterwards, imperfections in the surface finish become even more obvious.)
Honing dramatically improves bore diameter size uniformity and accuracy, surface finish and roundness throughout the length of the barrel. It can certainly be used in place of a pre-rifling lap. The chief difference between a lapped and honed bore is the direction of the finish lines in the bore. Honing leaves fine spiraling crosshatch lines, while a lap leaves lines going longitudinally in the bore. After rifling the manufacturer can remove the crosshatch finish with a quick lap if desired. Honing is fast, accurate, and can be automated. Its surface quality and geometry can duplicate lapping, except for the longitudinal lines of the lapped finish.
In 2015 Frank Green of Bartlein Barrels told us: “We worked with Sunnen and we did all the initial testing on the prototype machine for them. The machine works great! We ordered and received … a new manufactured machine with the changes we wanted on it and [subsequently] ordered a second one.”
The Sunnen hone secures the barrel blank in a 3-jaw chuck, with honing oil pumped into one end while the tool works from the opposite end. Sunnen’s specialized Long Bore Tool uses metal-bond diamond or CBN superabrasives to quickly remove reamer marks, waviness, tight spots and other imperfections left by upstream processes.
Sunnen states that: “Honing is an ideal replacement for hand-lapping barrel blanks before rifling. It quickly removes reamer scratches and surface waviness without labor-intensive hand lapping. By producing a consistent bore diameter (±0.0001″ or less), parallelism, roundness and surface finish end to end, honing yields more consistent performance from rifling buttons and cutters, resulting in a constant groove depth. The ideal bore geometry reduces distortion of the bullet shape.”
Honing can be done with great precision through the use of advanced, computer-controlled honing machines. Sunnen Products Company offers an advanced machine for .17 to .50-caliber barrels (see control panel below). The spindles on this machine can correct bore size imperfections so small only an air gauge can measure them. The consistency this allows improves bore uniformity, which, in turn, produces more accurate barrels for the precision market.
Sunnen Products Company is the world’s largest vertically-integrated manufacturer of honing systems, tooling, abrasives, coolants, and gauging for precision bore-sizing and finishing. Sunnen’s customers include manufacturers of diesel and gas engines, aerospace components, hydraulic components, oil field equipment, and gun/cannon barrels. Sunnen employs more than 600 people worldwide.