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Thread: Stainless Steel Barrels: 410 vs 416 vs 416R

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    Stainless Steel Barrels: 410 vs 416 vs 416R

    The search button here at M4C doesn't turn up much information on this subject, and the relevant information that can be found is hiding in multiple threads. Since I have spent more time reading about the differences between these three types of stainless steels as they relate to barrel making than I care to admit, I thought I'd take the time to consolidate what I have learned into one thread that others can add to. To be clear, I am not a metallurgist, I have no experience in barrel manufacturing, and the only machining I have ever done as of this point in my life was in my High School metals class... 10 years ago. All of the following information was found online and I am just trying to save others who are researching the topic a little bit of time.



    Why stainless steel?

    There are two main advantages to a stainless steel barrels. First is a higher corrosion resistance when compared to an unlined, uncoated standard carbon steel barrel. However, don't be fooled into thinking stainless steel barrels are rust proof... They are not. The 400-series stainless steels (also known as martensitic stainless) used for barrel making are more resistant to corrosion than carbon steel, but will still rust if neglected. In fact, a chrome lined carbon steel barrel with a well oiled parkerized finish will usually resist rust better than a bare stainless steel barrel due to the finishes applied to the inside and outside of the barrel. Likewise, melonite treated carbon steel is much more rust resistant than any of the 400-series stainless steels.

    The second advantage to stainless steel vs plain carbon steel as it relates to barrels is the "toughness" of the metal. Stainless steel is more resistant to heat and abrasion than plain carbon steel. All else being equal, a stainless steel barrel should theoretically experience less throat erosion than a plain carbon steel barrel, given identical firing schedules. This does not mean that stainless steel will resist throat erosion better than a chrome lined carbon steel barrel - it will not. Chromium is much tougher than 400-series stainless.

    At this point many of you are probably thinking, "What about accuracy?" Truth is, as far as I can tell and from what I have gathered from the barrel makers themselves and shooters much more experienced than I, is that accuracy boils down to the barrel making process itself, not the host material. You can make an inaccurate barrel out of stainless steel just as easily as you can make an accurate barrel out of bare carbon steel, however most high end barrels are likely going to made from stainless steel for longer life compared to bare carbon steel. The only notable difference as far as accuracy is concerned is whether the barrel is chrome lined or not. In theory, chrome lining should reduce the accuracy of the host barrel by creating slight variances in bore dimensions. How much depends on how uniformly the chrome lining was applied. That said, FN makes some impressive accuracy claims about their chrome lined, cold hammer forged carbon steel SPR bolt-action rifle barrels...

    If you still don't know if you want a stainless steel barrel, you probably don't need one and can stop reading this now. A chrome-lined carbon steel barrel will meet the needs of the majority of shooters, and in many instances may even meet specific needs better than a stainless steel barrel. Unfortunately I do not have the time to go into the differences in carbon steels, so If you decide stainless steel is not for you, you will have to do the rest of the research on your own. This would be a good place to start, specifically post #15, quoted below, where aOcake outlines some questions you should ask yourself when deciding between a stainless steel or chrome lined carbon steel barrel.

    Quote Originally Posted by a0cake View Post
    I'm somewhat of an "accuracy nut," and give minor advantages in precision between platforms a lot more consideration than I think most people do. A 0.5 MOA difference in accuracy can make or break my relationship with a rifle.

    Because of this, and also because of the fact that my particular profession requires very precise shooting sticks, I have moved almost exclusively to SS barrels for both work and personal rifles.

    For what it's worth, I wouldn't worry too much about the durability of a Stainless barrel for the vast majority of applications. Here's how I'll qualify that statement:

    I've personally put somewhere around 12K rounds of MK262 through an issued MK12 Mod 1 both in training and overseas in the last few years. All rounds were shot suppressed and some were F/A as it was on an M16A1 lower. F/A fire is not really in the job description for a MK12 but given the capability I chose to become intimately familiar with operating the rifle in this way. The firing schedule over the course of those 12k rounds was varied. Sometimes I would only need to shoot 10 or 15 rounds in one engagement over the course of a few hours...on really bad days it would see 6 or 7 magazines in 10 minutes.

    The barrel was new when I got it so I had a blank slate to work with, which is always a good feeling with an issued gun. Anyway, I established an accuracy baseline in the beginning and found it to be a solid 3/4 MOA gun with MK262. Fast-forward 20 months and 12 thousand rounds (I'm anal about logging round counts with my rifles). I have a ritual of going out to the range every two weeks when possible to confirm zero and make sure accuracy is where it needs to be. Even at the end of my time with that rifle it was still producing the same boringly accurate results after 12k rounds.

    Corrosion wise, I had no issues. The rifle saw austere conditions, summer time humidity, rain, winter sleet and snow...but I always made sure it was oiled and clean. If you take care of a stainless barrel it will take care of you. Neglect it and it and you will have problems. Even relatively cut off from the supply chain in the Afghan mountains, myself and everybody else in the section with stainless barrels was able to keep them in A+ condition. Non-issue unless you plan on not being around a decent CLP for months at a time. That's not real life. While important for somebody's end of the world fantasy, not being able to get CLP on and in the barrel is not a real world consideration.

    On the personally owned side of things (the following is taken from a previous post of mine but much of it applies here):

    What I've noticed about my BCM SS410 barrel is that groups do in fact open up when the barrel gets extremely hot but POI does not shift. The groups just expand but stay centered. Even when the barrel gets to this point (extremely hot), my groups won't open up past 1.5 MOA...better than many chrome lined barrels when cool, and far better than most chrome lined barrels when hot. In the last few months I've put 5K rounds through my SS410 and have noticed no degradation in accuracy. It still prints 1/2 to 3/4 MOA 10 shot groups, only opening up beyond that when really really pushed heat wise.

    ------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Now, after all that, here's what I think people need to look at when selecting a stainless vs chrome lined barrel.

    - Are you in a position to be able to feed it exclusively match grade ammunition? There's no point in going stainless if you're shooting M855. The best barrel in the world won't make inaccurate ammunition shoot straight. If you can't afford / can't use match ammunition for whatever reason...go chrome.

    - If the answer to above is YES, then you are either pretty well off financially or your unit or organization is in a place to provide it. In either of these cases, the monetary cost / practical difficulty of a replacement barrel will be absolutely trivial in comparison to the cost and availability of ammunition. In other words, if you can afford 10-15k rounds of match ammunition, you can afford a new barrel. If your unit / organization can get that much match ammunition, it can get you a new barrel. In either case, barrel life is a non issue.

    - Corrosion problems and sudden catastrophic failures from high volumes of fire are in my experience not relevant or warranted fears. I'm not trying to tell war stories here but I've asked a lot out of stainless barrels in some engagements as large and frenzied as you can imagine in the valleys and mountains of eastern Afghanistan. I don't forsee many other stainless "duty" barrels being faced with 125 red bearded nutjobs advancing down the mountain toward them. Having been in such situations with a stainless barrel I have to question the veracity of anybody who claims that SS barrels are not durable enough for "combat." Gotta wonder what they're basing that off of. Rest assured that a good stainless barrel is more than durable enough for combat conditions. Deliberately doing 10 mag dumps in a row on the range for Youtube is another story. Also not real life.

    So, my position is that if you can take an honest look at yourself and determine that A) you can shoot to the potential of a match type barrel and B) you can afford to feed it a high quality diet and C) You don't mind the extra weight from the SS and beefier contour and D) you will not neglect to maintain your equipment...that you in fact SHOULD choose a stainless barrel for the edge in accuracy.

    If the answer to any of these or the above questions is NO...go chrome.

    Why not stainless steel?

    Now that we've established why someone might want to choose a stainless steel barrel, what are some of the reasons they may not? The first and most obvious is because they have determined that a standard carbon steel barrel or a chrome lined carbon steel barrel will meet their needs as well or better than a stainless steel barrel would, and therefore the extra cost of a quality stainless steel barrel is not justified.

    Aside from that, there are two main disadvantages to stainless steel barrels. The first is a decreased impact resistance at sub zero temperatures caused by "temper embrittlement" that has the potential to lead to barrel failures. While this is not a common problem, it is still something to consider if you are in a region that frequently sees the mercury drop below 0 degrees Fahrenheit at any time during the year when you may use the rifle. The second disadvantage is created by the addition of sulfur to martensitic stainless steels to make them easier to machine. Higher sulfur content increases the likelihood that the barrel steel could develop "sulphide stringers" which are weak spots in the steel that have the potential to cause barrel failure. I believe this was a contributing factor to the barrel failure problems Tikka was experiencing with their stainless steel barrels a while back.

    The following is a quote by Michael Moyer taken from http://www.finishing.com, and is the best summary of the disadvantages to using 400-series stainless steels for barrel making that I have read.
    (2005)
    A. To understand this subject, one must understand high-strength steel. For the record, I am a metallurgist by trade, and heat treat Quality Manager so I know enough about these steels. I do not like AISI 416 SS for gun barrels and I will explain why:

    To achieve the high strength the steel must possess to withstand the forces produced during firing, AISI 416 SS and/or AISI 4140/4150/4340 must be austenitized, quenched and tempered. After quenching, the average 416 SS will be about 40 Hardness Rockwell C (HRC) and 4000 grades about 50 HRC (To benefit those who do not know this scale, a file will be about 60 HRC, and a hammer will be about 30 HRC). In the "as quenched" state, the material is brittle and unstable. Tempering is employed to reduce the hardness to a "tough" state and stabilize the newly formed martensitic structure. In the case of 416 SS, and to get the hardness to about HRC 30 so it is able to be machined, one must temper at about 1075 F. This is not desirable as 416 SS shows a marked reduction in impact resistance when tempered between 700 F and 1100 F (temper embrittlement). It will also show a marked decrease in corrosion resistance. 416 SS does still, however, exhibit better wear characteristics and corrosion resistance than the 4000 series high-strength grades mostly due to the higher chromium content. It is also readily available, inexpensive, and it looks good so manufacturers use it. The big problem though is that it is not as free-machining as the 4000 series grades so generally sulphur is added to alleviate that problem. What you then have is a microstructure with "sulphide stringers" in it that has been tempered in a bad tempering range so the impact resistance of the steel is very poor. Failures happen, and are not really wide-spread, but I will not buy a 416 SS barrel for that reason. The AISI 4140/4150/4340 grades do not have this temper embrittlement problem, and show superior impact resistance when tempered to about 30 HRC. They are cheaper to buy in a production rifle. One who takes good care of a firearm will never have any major corrosion and wear issues with the 4000 grade steel barrels anyway. And if you do use it an awful lot and it begins to wear out, well then you got your money's worth from the product, just buy a new barrel. Nothing lasts forever anyway. As a note, AISI 410 SS is a better alternative to 416 SS as is does not generally have the sulphur issue, however the temper embrittlement issue is still a concern.

    Here is my opinion: Unless you are competition shooter, buy the non-stainless grade barrels. If you are a professional match shooter find a good AISI 17-4PH barrel as it is a much better choice if one wants corrosion resistance, wear resistance, and impact resistance.

    For my money and safety, it is a 4000-series material.

    Respectfully submitted, Mike M.
    Michael Moyer
    - Green Lane, Pennsylvania

    So what are the differences?

    Now that we have talked about the main advantages and disadvantages to stainless steel barrels in general, what are the differences between 410, 416, and 416R stainless steels?


    410 Stainless Steel:

    Grade 410 is the basic martensitic stainless steel; like most non-stainless steels it can be hardened by a "quench-and-temper" heat treatment. It contains a minimum of 11.5 per cent chromium, just sufficient to give corrosion resistance properties. It achieves maximum corrosion resistance when it has been hardened and tempered and then polished. Grade 410 is a general purpose grade often supplied in the hardened, but still machinable condition, for applications where high strength and moderate heat and corrosion resistance are required.

    Martensitic stainless steels are optimised for high hardness, and other properties are to some degree compromised. Fabrication must be by methods that allow for poor weldability and usually the need for a final heat treatment. Corrosion resistance of the martensitic grades is lower than that of the common austenitic grades, and their useful operating temperature range is limited by their loss of ductility at sub-zero temperatures and loss of strength by over-tempering at elevated temperatures.
    410SS.jpg

    Corrosion Resistance

    410 resists dry atmosphere, fresh water, mild alkalies and acids, food, steam and hot gases. Must be hardened for maximum heat and corrosion resistance. Performance is best with a smooth surface finish. Less corrosion resistant than the austenitic grades and also less than 17% chromium ferritic alloys such as Grade 430.

    Heat Resistance

    Good resistance to scaling up to approximately 650C, but generally not recommended for use in temperatures between 400 and 580C, because of the reduction in mechanical properties.
    Heat Treatment

    Annealing

    Full anneal - 815-900C, slow furnace cool to 600C and then air cool.

    Process Anneal - 650-760C and air cool.

    Hardening

    Heat to 925-1010C, followed by quenching in oil or air. Oil quenching is necessary for heavy sections. Temper, generally within the range 200-400C, to obtain a wide variety of hardness values and mechanical properties as indicated in the accompanying table.

    The tempering range 400-580C should generally be avoided.
    Main Source: http://www.azom.com


    416 Stainless Steel:

    Grade 416 has the highest machinability of any stainless steel, at about 85% of that of a free-machining carbon steel. As for most other free-machining stainless steels the improvement in machinability is achieved by addition of sulphur which forms manganese sulphide inclusions; this sulphur addition also lowers the corrosion resistance, weldability and formability to below that of its non-free machining equivalent Grade 410.

    Grade 416 is sometimes used in the unhardened or hardened and highly tempered condition because of its low cost and ready machinability.

    Martensitic stainless steels are optimised for high hardness, and other properties are to some degree compromised. Fabrication must be by methods that allow for poor weldability and usually also allow for a final harden and temper heat treatment. Corrosion resistance is lower than the common austenitic grades, and their useful operating temperature range is limited by their loss of ductility at sub-zero temperatures and loss of strength by over-tempering at elevated temperatures.
    416SS.jpg

    Corrosion Resistance

    Useful resistance to dry atmospheres, fresh water and mild alkalies and acids, but less resistant than the equivalent non-free-machining grades. Less corrosion resistant than the austenitic grades and also less than 17% chromium ferritic alloys such as Grade 430. High sulphur content free machining grades such as 416 are totally unsuitable for marine or other chloride exposure.

    Maximum corrosion resistance is achieved in the hardened condition, with a smooth surface finish.

    Heat Resistance

    Fair resistance to scaling in intermittent service up to 760C and up to 675C in continuous service. Not recommended for use in temperatures above the relevant tempering temperature, if maintenance of mechanical properties is important.

    Heat Treatment

    Full Annealing - Heat to 815-900C for hour per 25mm of thickness. Cool at 30C per hour maximum to 600C and air cool.

    Sub-Critical Annealing - Heat to 650-760C and air cool.

    Hardening

    Hardened by heating to 925-1010C, quenching in oil, and tempering to suit the mechanical requirements. See accompanying table.

    Note: The tempering range 400-580C should be avoided, due to poor ductility.
    Main Source: http://www.azom.com


    416R Stainless Steel:

    416R is a proprietary steel produced by Crucible specifically designed for rifle barrels. The main difference between 416R and standard 416 stainless steels is the addition of Molybdenum (which is present in 410 but not 416 stainless steels) and a lower sulfur content than 416 stainless steel (but still higher than 410 stainless steel). Crucible also states that barrels made from 416R may be safely used at temperatures as low as -40 degrees Fahrenheit. For more information on 416R stainless steel, please see Crucible's 416R Datasheet.


    Summary

    In conclusion, if you are in the market for a stainless steel rifle barrel I would offer the following recommendations:

    • Avoid lightweight or thin profile stainless steel barrels. This recommendation is echoed from multiple barrel manufactures due to the potential issues with temper embrittlement in martensitic stainless steels. The thicker walls of a medium, heavy, or bull profile barrel will strengthen the barrel and make up for the shortcomings of 400-series stainless steels as a barrel steel.
    • Avoid standard 416 stainless steel barrels. 410 and 416R stainless steels both have a lower sulfur content, making them less prone to developing sulphide stringers which may result in catastrophic barrel failure.
    • If the rifle will never see freezing temperatures, 410 stainless steel will likely be your best option. 410 stainless steel has the lowest sulfur content of the three grades we discussed, and will be the least likely to develop sulphide stringers. Avoiding sub-zero temperatures and using a barrel of adequate thickness should also minimize the temper embrittlement issue.
    • If the rifle may see freezing temperatures, 416R stainless steel will likely be your best option. 416R stainless steel is rated for use at temperatures as low as -40 degrees Fahrenheit and has a lower sulfur content than standard 416 stainless steel. However, you should still ensure the barrel is of adequate thickness.

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    Very well done. Let me add here-

    What makes SS barrels attractive to the accuracy crowd isn't greater resistance to heat erosion, in fact, I'm not certain SS does have better resistance. It's how SS reacts to erosion. Carbon steel barrels start losing material slowly with each shot. That means your groups are slowly growing larger and will do so until either the barrel no longer provides the required accuracy, or the bullets start tumbling in flight.

    SS barrels erode differently. Instead of gradually losing material, it starts developing micro cracks in the lands which look much like the platelets of crack mud of a dried lake bed. When the erosion gets bad enough, the platelets break away and accuracy loss is sudden. What that means to a competitor, is that barrel precision is consistent throughout the life of the barrel.

    The hard chrome used to line barrels is very hard but it's no better than the underlying material. It will extend the life of the barrel, but it's not a magic coating by any means. The underlying steel will still get hot, will still become plastic and deform if heated to that point and the chrome will still erode away. I assume the same it true for meloniting.

    While there is talk of SS becoming brittle at sub-zero temperatures, I've yet to hear any first hand reports of it being a problem. Many folks are out in the dead of winter with the SS barreled ARs calling coyotes. That's not high volume shooting, but if barrels were bursting, we'd hear about it. Not saying it's not a concern, but I'd like to hear real world experiences.

    Good write up. It looks like you've done quite a bit of research!
    Last edited by MistWolf; 10-27-13 at 20:13.
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    And this is why I love this site. Thank you for this info Badger as this is a wealth of info I didn't know and will definitely come in handy in the future.

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    Well done!

    Very good info. The post by a0cake is a must read.

    Along with the points Mistwolf stated, stainless also tends to pick up less copper fouling compared to CMV barrels.
    Last edited by Servo; 10-27-13 at 18:08.
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    Thank you!!! Another member and I were just talking about this the other day and we were pretty thoroughly confused and uninformed.
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    Quote Originally Posted by MistWolf View Post
    While there is talk of SS becoming brittle at sub-zero temperatures, I've yet to hear any first hand reports of it being a problem. Many folks are out in the dead of winter with the SS barreled ARs calling coyotes. That's not high volume shooting, but if barrels were bursting, we'd hear about it. Not saying it's not a concern, but I'd like to hear real world experiences.
    This is something that comes up now and then... and of course you normally get the standard drivel from internet forum experts that amounts to "that's bullshit, I have hunted with a stainless steel barrel in Colorado for 14 years and have never had a problem... don't believe everything you read!"

    In this instance, the last part of that statement in all that holds water.

    The reason Elmer there has never had a problem with his SS barrel, is because the barrel manufacturer won't make a SS barrel in a profile that is too thin - product liability is a bitch. Now if you ask people that make barrels, they will tell you that SS is more likely to fracture when exposed to extreme cold (-20 or colder) than an *identical* CM/CMV steel barrel. Some barrel companies say on their webpage that they will not make ultra-lightweight barrels in SS, Krieger has a warning about it...

    All metals become more brittle as they get cold... sulfer content is a key consideration - one thing to keep in mind is that you also have to consider the stress induced by suddenly heating the barrel metal when the gun is shot... to say that temperatures encountered in nature are not low enough to be a concern is foolish; google and read about cold metal fractures in the hull of the Titanic.

    Anyway... it is not really a concern for the average consumer, as the manufacturers are already concerned about it - if you are planning on turning your own barrels, you may want to look into it more. I am told that if you keep the barrel diameter 3.5 times the caliber of greater, you won't have anything to worry about!

    Hell... even James Stewart figured out in 1951 that cold wx can make the ass of your plane fall off

    ETA: Advancements in stainless grade alloys have mitigated this somewhat, the above is a "common generality"
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    Quote Originally Posted by K.L. Davis View Post
    I am told that if you keep the barrel diameter 3.5 times the caliber of greater, you won't have anything to worry about!
    That's interesting, I didn't run across any hard number for barrel diameter. Do you know if that recommendation applies to the average diameter of the entire length of the barrel, or the minimum point? If it is referring to the absolute minimum recommended diameter at any point of the barrel, all of us using .750 gas blocks are screwed... (not to mention muzzle threads being 0.5").

    0.224" X 3.5 = 0.784" minimum diameter
    or
    0.219" X 3.5 = 0.7665" minimum diameter

    Even if that number is close (say it should be 3x or something) I wonder how that would apply to fluting? There are a lot of bull barrels out there which would have a pretty small minimum diameter if measured from the bottom of the flutes. A .900" barrel with 1/8" flutes equals out to a 0.650" diameter at the bottom of the flutes...

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