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The Truth About Your Inner Barrel

It’s 2024 and people are still telling airsofters to “clean” their inner barrels with silicone oil.

This is such a bad idea.

First of all, oil isn’t a cleaner.  It’s not a detergent.  If it’s so great, then wash your dishes in silicone oil.  Seriously.  Right now.  Go do it.  I’ll wait.

How’d that work out for you?  Are your glasses sparkling, and all that left-over caked-on meatloaf from last week scrubbed off?

I dunno… it could be, honestly.. but I doubt it.

Oil is a lubricant.  It’s highly viscous (meaning it’s “thicker than water”) and it creates a film between surfaces to reduce friction.  Think about the pistons in your car’s engine.  They continue to move until you run out of oil, then the heat from the friction can make them stop moving.

On the surface, that sounds great for airsoft, right?  “If I lube my barrel, there will be less friction between the BB and the barrel!”

Well, no, that’s not how it works.

Professor Bear is back and class is now  in session.

BBs are labeled as “6mm”, but in all actuality, they are 5.95+/- mm, and the tightest bore barrel you can get is 6.01mm inner diameter (okay, I’ve just learned that Bolt makes a 6.00mm inner barrel, but that’s just ridiculous for a bazillion other reasons that I’m not going to go into).  Regardless, while 0.06mm doesn’t seem like a lot, deep inside the confines of your inner barrel, that’s the equivalent to a country mile.

When you pull the trigger and that sudden puff of air hits the BB, not all of the air stays behind the BB.  There should be slightly faster-moving air swarming around the BB, effectively centering it in the inner barrel, and creating what’s called a “cushion” of air upon which the BB rests for its journey down the barrel.  This is an important concept to understand because at no time should the BB make any contact with the barrel.  If the BB does make contact with the barrel, it could affect the applied hop spin, it could affect the muzzle velocity, and it could affect the accuracy.

Anyone who has crawled through the mud or moved through some spruce trees knows how very little of a foreign object in their barrel can really screw up their game, at least until they clear the obstruction.  Even with my preferred 6.05mm inner barrels, that leaves half a millimeter of space between the BB and the barrel.  The average size of a grain of sand is half a millimeter (I just googled it), so with my 6.05mm barrels, it may affect the BB path some, those with their Godmode Tightbores™ will experience calamity.  The BB *will* hit that grain of sand and do who knows what.  Add more single grains of sand, and that’s disaster, no matter your bore size.

So back to the oil.  Yes, it will leave a nanometer-thick film inside your barrel, no matter how many clean patches you send down the barrel..  The BB will never touch it, so there goes your plan for having less friction between the barrel and the BB because you oiled it.  However, the viscosity of the oil has other side effects.

Have you even had an oil leak in your car?  Have you ever accidentally drizzled some oil down the outside of the engine block?  Go look at it and tell me what you see.  Seriously.  Do it right now.  I’ll wait.

Yeah, lots of dirt, huh?  And it’s absolutely GUNKED on.  Yes kids, “surface adhesion” is a thing.  The second a tiny speck of anything makes contact with oil, it’s there to stay.  In the more moderate and humid parts of the world, like Maine, that might not be too worrisome, but go play in the deserts of Southern California sometime with your oiled barrel and tell me how long it takes for it to look like sandpaper inside.  What’s the performance from your $1200 fully-upgraded replica like?  Probably pretty shoddy, if the BBs are even coming out at all, because all those high-dollar upgrades have a ridiculously tight bore inner barrel.

So How Do You Clean Your Barrel?

Cleaning the inner barrel is more than just making it shiny.  It’s about removing all foreign objects and debris from the barrel.  Isopropyl alcohol is an excellent choice because not only does it clean the barrel, but it also quickly evaporates, so you don’t have to worry about drying the barrel as well.  Isopropyl alcohol will also NOT damage your hop rubber in any way shape or form.

The best way to clean your barrel is to completely remove it from your replica.  I also remove the hop chamber and the bucking so I’m left with just a metal tube.

  • Take your cleaning rod and thread a lint-free patch through the eye.  I even know a guy who uses alcohol wipes as a patch.  If they are the right size, it’s a great idea.
  • Wet the patch in isopropyl alcohol (I use the 91% stuff from Walgreen’s).
  • Run the cleaning rod all the way down the barrel and out the other end.
    • This action pushes larger foreign objects and bits of debris completely out of the barrel.  If you leave the hope chamber on while cleaning, it’ll push all that junk into the hop chamber.  If you leave the inner barrel installed in your replica while you’re cleaning it, you’re pushing all that crap into your air nozzle so it can be re-introduced to the barrel, but at higher velocities.
  • Pull the cleaning rod completely out of the barrel.  This will help pull out more foreign objects and bits of debris the first pass may have missed.
  • Replace the patch and do it all over again.
  • Set the barrel aside to let the alcohol evaporate.
  • Inspect the patch on your bucking.  Is it dirty?  Use a q-tip soaked in alcohol to clean it up.  Set the bucking aside to let the alcohol evaporate.
  • Use this time to clean out the hop chamber as well, using your cleaning rod and a new alcohol patch.

Take a peek down your barrel.  It should be shiny and clean.  At this point you can reassemble everything and put it back in your replica.

Lapping?

I’ve seen a lot of people “lap” their barrels and claim that it significantly improves the performance.  This is honestly complete bullshit.

So what it “lapping”?  People use their cleaning rod with a patch of some sort connected to a drill, and somehow this miraculously “polishes” the inside of the barrel better than the factory.  This is highly improbable because even the steadiest hand is not going to be as consistently accurate as the sloppiest metal lathe.  Best case is that the barrel gets really clean.

Wax?

I’ve also just found out that some people will wax their barrels.  Don’t do that.  The whole point of cleaning a barrel is to remove all foreign objects and debris.  Don’t reintroduce more crap inside the barrel.  Again, you really just want to remove the foreign objects and debris.

Metal Polish?

Just.  Stop.  Please.

Get the crap out of the barrel and go have fun.

 

 

 

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