The Rise & Fall of Barrel Lining
Back in the 1950s a method of restoring shotgun barrels, which became known as ‘sleeving’, was developed. It was recognised as a safe and legitimate procedure by the proof authorities and guns subjected to this process were duly stamped ‘SLEEVED’ by the London or Birmingham proof house, once the work was complete.
Sleeving involves cutting the old barrels off about 4” in front of the breech. New tubes are then machined, as are the old breech ends, and the two fitted together and welded into place. Tubes are then struck-up and polished before being blacked. The old ribs are re-laid and the effect is workmanlike if done the ‘budget’ way and just like new barrels if done properly, with the seam TIG welded so as to become invisible. The former costs under £1,000 and the latter around £3,000.
For over half a century, sleeving was recognised as the budget way to rescue a good gun with scrap barrels. Re-barreling is much more costly and in all but the most expensive side-locks it is generally not economic.
Then along came Nigel Teague with something different. His new method was to line the barrels with hard steel, after boring them out from inside. The new barrel was inserted into the enlarged bore, complete with new chamber, and restored the barrels internally. This ingenious system enabled the outer dimensions to remain unadulterated. It was especially good for damascus barrels, as they retained their beautiful patterns.
The fixative for the ‘Teague Liners’ is an adhesive, sandwiched between the two metal skins. For the past half decade, ‘Teague Lining’ became something of a buzz-word in restoration circles. It cost around £1,500 and it seemed for a while that it would replace sleeving as the preferred method of budget re-barreling. Many in the gun trade mused on the long term performance of lined barrels and now we have sufficient evidence to appraise them objectively.
The blunt answer is that the experiment failed. Lined barrels always felt to me as if they were dead weights in the hands. Beautifully balanced hammer guns became dull and barrel heavy. But they looked great! The seams were invisible. Externally the guns appeared to have been restored to their former glory. So, perhaps the negative effect on balance was an acceptable compromise? Many though so and modern shooters used to barrel heavy guns sometimes liked the forward weight.
Unfortunately, there were more fundamental flaws in the process with commensurate effects on longevity. Once lined, the barrels cannot be heated because it would melt the adhesive. Therefore, loose ribs or loops cannot not be repaired. Sometimes, the liners twist in the barrels. Other complaints included a rivveling effect developing in the outer skin. This has been attributed to the cooling and heating of the barrels during use and the different rates of expansion and contraction at molecular level of the three sandwiched components – the liner, the original barrel steel and the thin gap filled with adhesive.
Barrel makers started reporting that dented barrels which had been lined were impossible to repair. The hard lining and the soft outer skin reacted differently to dent raising techniques and dents could not be raised acceptably. The result was often scrapped barrels.
Perhaps the signal which sounded the beginning of the end was when Nigel Teague stopped offering the process he had developed. It was licenced to a colleague in Britain and again licenced to an American representative. The trajectory is downwards and I predict the process will ultimately fall out of favour entirely. As a restorative process, we are again turning to traditional sleeving methods to revive guns with worn-out barrels. With regard to damascus barrels, we are back to square one. Sleeving destroys the very qualities of the barrels that make these guns appeal to so many enthusiasts. Occasionally one does encounter damascus tubes re-used and sleeved to Damascus guns. Such supplies are very hit and miss so it will never be more than an occasional option for the local gunsmith.
Perhaps another method of barrel restoration will emerge in the future but the thought and technology required to approach the problem and exploit what is only a small market is considerable and I very much doubt we shall see any further advances in this regard. Lining was a great idea, the people involved in developing it and the quality of the engineering involved in delivering the finished work were impressive. It looked like a solution but time has shown that its limitations largely outweigh its benefits. British gunmakers are constantly inventive and I wonder if some other clever individual will re-visit the lining idea and come up with a more resilient means of achieving the desired result?