Learn the methods behind the construction of double guns and the styles of joining barrels
It is, at times, easy to take for granted the complexity of manufacturing involved in creating a fine sporting rifle or shotgun. As hunters or shooters, finding a gun that fits, breaks clays, or hits birds is foremost in our minds.
As we dive into and explore the construction of modern guns, we quickly begin to see a great diversity of techniques developed over the last 200 years or so that illustrate just how much thought has been put into the construction of the shotguns or rifles we love.
Manufacturing double guns
Except for double rifles, which fall into the larger category of double guns, a vast majority of modern rifle barrels are fitted to their actions via barrel threads. The threaded barrel is similar to a screw that threads into the same pitch threads in the action. A gunsmith will painstakingly cut these threads until proper headspace – the fit between action, bolt, and barrel – is achieved.
Double guns are, in general, manufactured differently, although there are always exceptions. Break action doubles like your Beretta 686, Parker, or Holland and Holland double rifle all have barrels that have been joined together without threading a barrel.
In terms of geometry, if we think about any gun with two barrels, it may be a first intuition to think that the bores are parallel; perfect to one another. This is not the case. For both double rifles and shotguns, the barrels are laid such that the trajectory of the bores crosses down range at some specified distance. This convergence allows a single targeting sight plane to function for both barrels. In terms of double rifles, this is exceptionally important, and regulation of these guns is perhaps one of the most mythological and mystifying procedures I have heard folks speak about in the gun world. There are very few folks in the states that will even take on the task of regulating a double rifle, the process of ensuring a proper cross at a specific distance with particular ammunition.
Needless to say, joining double gun barrels happens in two ways – but terminology first. The breech end of the barrels is commonly called the breech bloc or lump, though the ‘lump’ or ‘lumps’ may refer to individual surfaces that lock an action shut. What I will refer to as the lump or breech bloc contains the lockup surfaces, ejectors/extractor channels, the breech face, and all associated elements. The lump can be created from a single solid piece of steel without barrels connected. Barrels are added after machining the lump by sleeving and braising. Or the lump is formed during the joining process. That is to say that each barrel contains a block of metal on the breech end of the barrel half the size of the lump. Those blocks of steel mate together when two barrels are joined and thus the lump is formed. In this case, the lump is machined after the barrels are joined together, while, other times, the barrels are separate pieces and a third piece is joined to create the lump illustrating the diversity of manufacturing possibilities.
Mono-bloc barrels are formed by machining the chamber portion or lump from a single solid piece of steel and take advantage of modern precision engineering and manufacturing techniques. The biggest advantage is allowing the complex (and very co-dependent) angles to be machined into the action with a high degree of accuracy. The final fitting required on a mono-bloc gun is typically less than others. These guns can usually be produced with less final hand fitting making them less costly.
The two styles of joining barrels
There are two styles of joining barrels that utilize full-length single-piece barrel-lump construction. Demi-bloc and chopper lump barrels both involve joining two halves of the barrels – top and bottom for an O/U and each side for the side-by-side – to make the barrel set. Demi-bloc barrels utilize a male/female dovetail to mate the two barrel halves. Chopper lump barrels simply mate two flat surfaces in the action end of the barrels to form the lump. Shoe lump or through lump barrels are a third option where two full-length barrels are joined with a third machined piece that contains the lump or lumps. Demi-bloc and chopper lump barrels are oftentimes confused with one another and a host of marketing folks have helped to confuse the topic more by calling one the other and so forth.
When considering the pros and cons of each of the above, it is commonly accepted that demi-bloc barrels are the strongest being made of only two full-length pieces and joined by a dovetail. Chopper lump barrels were developed heavily in British guns and produce the thinnest and lightest barrels while maintaining strength. They are also the most time-consuming and difficult to produce but considered the finest in construction. Though lumps are common in American classic doubles that we all know and love, shoe lumps generally tend to be wider and have heavier construction. Finally, so many modern guns take advantage of CNC machining technology and utilize the faster production process offered by mono-bloc barrel construction, particularly in over/unders.
As with dog breeds, E-collars, and upland vests, each has its benefits and detractors. All of the above-described methods of manufacture have produced successful, strong, and well-built firearms though there are some clear winners in terms of strength and time/cost of manufacture. For those wishing to dive into the depths of shotgun Technica, hopefully, this illustrates the complexity of a potentially seemingly simple topic like slapping two barrels together.
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The Gun Room Podcast is presented by Upland Gun Company
Joel Penkala is an Upland Bird Hunter and outdoors enthusiast from New Jersey. His love of all things upland has led him to travel and hunt around the United States and fostered his affinity for double guns and bird dogs. He runs English Setters in his home covers chasing Woodcock, Grouse, and Pheasants.