Why swamped barrels?

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Whitworth

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I've been considering building a kit and need an answer to a question. I never heard the term "swamped" applied to a rifle barrel until I started reading the term on this forum. What is swamping and why were barrels swamped? Thanks
 

GANGGREEN

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Lighter weight is nice, but the bigger issue is likely balance. Back in the day, 11 and 12 pound rifles were common (not for me), but you want a rifle to balance well whether it's 6 pounds or 13.
 

tenngun

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And improved balance. I never inletting or owned a swamped barrel but when ever you pick one up you notice how the front seems to hang right where you point it.
And looks. The angling lines are just easy on the eyes, like a Greek pillar or the sides of a ship, or pretty girls. Just a smooth flow.
 

Spikebuck

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Another term was/is "Tapered and Flared" since the breech starts "wide" then narrows to perhaps about 2/3rds of the way down the barrel, then flares back out to the muzzle, generally a little smaller than at the breech. My understanding is that the taper and flare today is somewhat "exaggerated" from what originals were. Helps with weight reduction and balance, but I've also read it enhances the harmonics of the barrel.

Here's an example from Rice's website:

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Larry (Omaha)

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I've been considering building a kit and need an answer to a question. I never heard the term "swamped" applied to a rifle barrel until I started reading the term on this forum. What is swamping and why were barrels swamped? Thanks
Good replies already and I will repeat some. Four items come to mind about a swamped barrel. Less weight, better balance, aesthetically more pleasing to the eyes. A royal pain to inlet 😂
 

rchas

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You could improve weight and balance by simply having a tapered barrel; but you would have to have a very tall front sight blade. I think the taper at the muzzle was added to raise the height of the front sight base to avoid a tall, fragile, and easily damaged front sight.
 

Patch

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One possible explanation I've heard for swamping is it was easier to make a barrel with a swamp in it than one that is perfectly straight. I'm not sure so maybe someone can correct me on this but it makes sense: people nowadays getting worked up and attributing all this meaning to something when in reality it was just at some point an easier thing to do and it worked so it got passed down.

Both straight and swamped barrels were used back then. Out of the ones that were swamped, they ran the full range from almost completely unnoticeable to radically more swamped than anything on the market today.

While they tend to have better balance and weight, the only way to be certain is to handle a barrel before you purchase it, if it's a boat anchor it's a boat anchor and no amount of swamping will change the fact on a finished rifle. On the other hand, I have picked up some straight barreled rifles that were an absolute dream.

A straight barrel has better harmonics and is more accurate than a swamped barrel. The difference is not enough to lose sleep over or keep your freezer empty but it's there. It's one of the reasons why match rifles use some 20 pound straight barreled monstrosity.
 

LawrenceA

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One possible explanation I've heard for swamping is it was easier to make a barrel with a swamp in it than one that is perfectly straight. I'm not sure so maybe someone can correct me on this but it makes sense: people nowadays getting worked up and attributing all this meaning to something when in reality it was just at some point an easier thing to do and it worked so it got passed down.

Both straight and swamped barrels were used back then. Out of the ones that were swamped, they ran the full range from almost completely unnoticeable to radically more swamped than anything on the market today.

While they tend to have better balance and weight, the only way to be certain is to handle a barrel before you purchase it, if it's a boat anchor it's a boat anchor and no amount of swamping will change the fact on a finished rifle. On the other hand, I have picked up some straight barreled rifles that were an absolute dream.

A straight barrel has better harmonics and is more accurate than a swamped barrel. The difference is not enough to lose sleep over or keep your freezer empty but it's there. It's one of the reasons why match rifles use some 20 pound straight barreled monstrosity.
There may be some merit in that. It would be damn near impossible to file a barrel perfectly straight. A definite swamp would hide many imperfections.
Same as a rounded surface is easier to make look smooth and symmetrical compared to a series of flats as the flats will make high and low spots jump out (kinda why you do that first before smoothing).

But it does improve the weight distribution immensely and needs less metal.

all round win
 

rich pierce

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Barrels were forged and made thicker at the breech where the pressure is greatest. Then tapered to save weight, and flared at the muzzle to bring front sight height up to normal and provide a pleasing shape. Hand forging and welding up a barrel is a lot of work. Adding the taper and flare along the way is not that hard for someone who is experienced.
 

oldwood

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Back in the early 1970's , did a rebuild of an old family heirloom with a smashed stock. Had the barrel rerifled be Hoyte , and he made the caliber , "the next size up , .45. The barrel hangars on the bottom of the barrel showed the barrel had been swapped three times before I had it rerifled. Oddly , the barrel was about 1" at the muzzle , and about 41" in length. The 1 1/8 " breech end was tapered about 8" from the breech plug forward , and the barrel seemed straight oct. to the muzzle. The old family rifle came from far southern Illinois , it had an operational back action percussion lock with a drum and nipple . The barrel might have been on an original flint rifle , but who is to know. The last time this old rifle surfaced was when I got a call from Texas . It was a grandson of the fellow I rebuilt the rifle for and he just wanted to talk to the guy who did the rebuild. Payment for the rebuild was a trade. I got an original 1862 Springfield CW rifled musket. Since I already had built an 1862 to shoot , I quickly sold the CW to a gun dealer , and bought more parts to build another rifle. Easy come , easy go.............oldwood
 

pmccoywss

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A straight barrel has better harmonics and is more accurate than a swamped barrel.
Why do you say that? What testing have you done? In the unmentionable world barrels had the equivalent of swamping for may offhand iron critter shooters.
 

qz2026_1

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I'm no expert, for sure, but somewhere I read that they swamped many higher caliber barrels to provide more iron at the breech but if they left the barrel that big all the way down it would be too heavy. Makes a little sense to me but not sure why they did that to the muzzle end. Perhaps for balance?
 

Red Owl

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My issue is dovetails, etc. On a swamped barrel it would seem you would go more shallow in the middle???
 

Patch

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Why do you say that? What testing have you done? In the unmentionable world barrels had the equivalent of swamping for may offhand iron critter shooters.
Rifle harmonics is just another way of saying vibrations in the barrel caused from discharge. The less vibration you have the less it deviates and the more consistent you are shot to shot and therefor the more accurate your rifle is. The best way to decrease these vibrations is to add weight and rigidity to the barrel and the best way to do that is to add surface area. Swamping decreases surface area and weight as it tapers down and therefor creates more vibrations. I don't want to cross the line on what can or can't be discussed on this forum, but since I've seen cap and ball revolvers with fluting in them on this forum we'll use that as the example: the benefit to fluting is that it increases surface area making it more rigid and therefor have better harmonics.

Now, on the topic of which is better? Whatever makes you happy, I prefer a swamped barrel when appropriate as the benefits for me outweigh the limitations. I was just making the point that one is not the answer to everything and the other should be completely disregarded.
 
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Tom A Hawk

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I'm building a swamped .54 Isaac Haines right now. Its 3 lbs. lighter than my .54 full stock Hawken and I'm really liking the way it hangs. I still have a lot of work remaining and looking forward to completion.
 

dgracia

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I've been considering building a kit and need an answer to a question. I never heard the term "swamped" applied to a rifle barrel until I started reading the term on this forum. What is swamping and why were barrels swamped? Thanks
A swamped barrel is wider at the breech, tapers towards the middle, and then anywhere from about 12" to 18" from the muzzle it flares back out to be wider again at the muzzle. Sort of like an hourglass tipped on its side though no where near as dramatic in the changes. This was how rifle barrels were made back in the 1700's. They were made by hammer forging a flat piece of wrought iron around a mandrel; removing the mandrel; reaming out the hole to make sure it is smooth and perfectly round, and then rifling the barrel. Because of this method the resulting barrels made from the same mandrel could vary in caliber, which is why the gunsmith always included a ball mold for the correct size lead ball for that particular rifle.

Longrifles of course evolved from the Jaegar rifles that the Moravian gunsmiths had been making in Germany for the previous 100-years or so before migrating to America. Those Jaeger (hunter) rifles are much shorter, stouter rifles typically around .62 caliber. They also used swamped barrels for balance and weight reduction (nothing light about a Jaeger rifle). They also used very short blades on the front sights, which carried over to the longrifles. Some of that swell near the muzzle may have also been to get that front sight a little closer to being on the same plane as the rear sight, but that is conjecture. Modern reproductions of swamped barrels as well as tapered and straight modern barrels tend to come with much taller blades as the front sights.

I have two longrifles. My first one was a Traditions Pennsylvania Longrifle and it has a 40¾" straight octagon barrel. It is very nose heavy and is best shot from a rest (tree branch works fine!). It is much more heavily decorated than you would have found during the Rev War Reenactments, but I used it for years without a problem.

My second one is a beautifully made Early Lancaster/York rifle that was made by "tg" who used to be a member here. It has a 44½" long barrel which is wonderfully balanced and a pleasure to shoot off-hand. It is a little more than 2-pounds lighter than the Traditions rifle, mounts easily; swings easily; stays on target; and the balance is in my left hand on the forearm where it is easy to hold it. I don't have to push my hand way out to get the balance point or pull it in close. Balance is right where I'd normally and comfortably place my left hand. And my Early Lancaster is a long, longrifle. It measures 60¼" from butt to muzzle. There is just no comparison between this and a straight or straight tapered barrel. The swamped barrel is far more comfortable to use!

It's commonly an extra $100 to $150 option for a swamped barrel when a builder is making a gun for you but it is worth every penny. Price is more not only because of the price of the barrel itself, but also because of the additional carving of the stock it takes to fit a barrel with varying dimensions down its length. If I had to skimp, I'd skimp by going to the next lower grade of wood than what I wanted before I would go without the swamped barrel.
 

oldwood

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If you want a handy rifle barrel in a tapered and flared style , try a 38 " in in any caliber you want. I've used .50 to .62. All were accurate . Just depends if you want to tote around more length and weight. When I used to shoot in competition , Was young and strong . My rifle was a Getz , "C" wt. tapered and flared .50 X 44" long. The precarved plain maple stock was a copy of the famous Bicentenial rifle Bivin's did. 1976. Used the 9 1/2 lb rifle for competition ,deer, and target practice until the mid 1980's. It was very accurate , more so than the "B" wt in .50. ............oldwood
 

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