What Are Damascus Barrels?
Damascus barrels refer to a type of gun barrel that originated over 200 years ago in Damascus, Syria. Traditionally, this method of gunsmithing used wrought iron or steel (called skelp) wrapped rolled into narrow strips to be made into tubing or piping.
As such with many things that originated hundreds of years ago, this method of forging shotgun barrels is very outdated and considered to be inferior quality, and also very dangerous to shoot most modern ammunition from.
The forging of a Damascus method gun barrel used this skelp, wrapped around a mandrel and created spiral that were then hammered to form a tube. Because of the rolling & twisting of steel in the forging process, Damascus barrels are often called “twist barrels”.
You should NOT shoot a shotgun with a Damascus barrel. They were built only for blackpowder shotgun shells.
You risk blowing off your hand if you shoot modern ammunition out of a Damascus barrel.
Here’s a good image to show what it looks like:
And here’s another one of how they get rolled into a barrel:
Deeper Definition of Damascus Barrels:
In the 3rd to 4th century the world was introduced to a new steel called Damascus steel. This metal is thought to have been first developed in northern India, near the middle east. The steel was loved because it was tough, resistant to cracking and shattering, had an incredibly sharp edge, and had a beautiful pattern from the forging of the steel.
You can produce the Damascus steel by twisting and welding together long strips of steel and iron, then flattening it out into a ribbon which can then be manipulated into whatever item you want. The process of flattening out this steel and welding it together is what gives the Damascus steel its unique patterns.
It wasn’t until the late 1800’s when Europe was first introduced to this steel as a quality metal for knives, swords, and guns alike. In fact, during this period, shotguns were primarily made from Damascus steel into what are known as twist barrels (because of the process of creating the barrel for the shotgun).
The way gunsmiths would create these barrels was by forging the steel into the strips mentioned earlier, then wrapping the ribbons of metal around a metal pole (called a mandrel) where the metal would then get welded together to form a tube. You could easily go through over 7 feet of metal ribbons to form a properly functioning Damascus barrel shotgun.
Once the metal ribbons have cooled and were solidly welded together, the gunsmith would pull the mandrel out to have a complete shotgun barrel.
It’s important to note that while Damascus barreled shotguns were popular in the late 1800’s and even into the 1920’s, you should NOT shoot a Damascus barrel shotgun with modern ammunition.
While the steel and the barrel are strong, and can handle blackpowder ammunition, they’re in no way comparable to modern Bessemer-processed steel used in nearly all modern firearms.
The metal threads within the barrel of a Damascus barreled shotgun have the potential to explode if used with regular smokeless ammunition. And there are many fake Damascus barreled shotguns in existence because of their popularity, which adds to the risk.
If you’re in possession of a Damascus barrel shotgun you should go to a competent gunsmith to get a quality check on the barrel. When getting it inspected your gunsmith will go through a process of checking a couple points on the gun.
These points include:
- Rust pitting within the barrel
- Wall thickness of the barrel
- Denting within the barrel
- Any choking modifications
- Reaming of the barrel
- Action locks
If they find any of these signs, they’ll let you know immediately and you’ll need to hang the gun on the wall, you’ll be unable to fire it safely. This is particularly true of any denting which is especially dangerous.
Denting on the barrel will create a weak spot and can prove disastrous to the gun owner who decides to shoot it.
To sum up – Damascus barrels are older model shotgun barrels created mainly in Belgium and England during the late 19th century.
They are quality guns, but only if you have it safely inspected and checked by a competent gunsmith.
It’s highly recommended not to shoot a Damascus barrel under any condition, but if you do plan to use live ammunition you must use blackpowder shells with low pressure burn.
Otherwise you risk blowing your hand off.