How to Determine Barrel Twist Rate
Sometimes you’ll get a barrel that doesn’t stabilize bullets the way you’d anticipate, based on the stated (or presumed) twist rate. A barrel might have 1:10″ stamped on the side but it is, in truth, a 1:10.5″ twist or even a 1:9.5″. Cut-rifled barrels, such as Kriegers and Bartleins, normally hold very true to the specified twist rate. With buttoned barrels, due to the nature of the rifling process, there’s a greater chance of a small variation in twist rate. And yes, factory barrels can be slightly out of spec as well.
Before you purchase a bunch of bullets and set off to develop loads it’s wise to determine the true twist rate of your new barrel. Sinclair International, in its Reloading Press Blog provides a simple procedure for determining the actual twist rate of your barrel. Read on to learn how….
How Twist Rate Affects Bullet Stability
Most of you know that the twist of the rifling in the barrel is what puts spin on the bullet. As a bullet is pushed down the barrel and compressed into the rifling, the bullet follows the path or twist of the rifling. The combination of velocity and bullet spin is what stabilizes the bullet. Finding the twist rate for your barrel will help you in selecting appropriate weight bullets for your firearm. Remember, the general rule is that the faster the twist rate for a given caliber, the longer the bullet (of that caliber) you will be able to stabilize. (Generally speaking, a longer bullet will also be a heavier bullet, but the bullet geometry dictates the needed twist rather than the weight per se.)
Determining Barrel Twist Rate Empirically
Twist rate is defined as the distance in inches of barrel that the rifling takes to make one complete revolution. An example would be a 1:10″ twist rate. A 1:10″ barrel has rifling that makes one complete revolution in 10 inches of barrel length. Rifle manufacturers usually publish twist rates for their standard rifle offerings and custom barrels are always ordered by caliber, contour, and twist rate. If you are having a custom barrel chambered you can ask the gunsmith to mark the barrel with the twist rate.
Erik Dahlberg illustration courtesy FireArmsID.com.
Sinclair’s Simple Twist Rate Measurement Method
If are unsure of the twist rate of the barrel, you can measure it yourself in a couple of minutes. You need a good cleaning rod with a rotating handle and a jag with a fairly tight fitting patch. Utilize a rod guide if you are accessing the barrel through the breech or a muzzle guide if you are going to come in from the muzzle end. Make sure the rod rotates freely in the handle under load. Start the patch into the barrel for a few inches and then stop. Put a piece of tape at the back of the rod by the handle (like a flag) or mark the rod in some way. Measure how much of the rod is still protruding from the rod guide. You can either measure from the rod guide or muzzle guide back to the flag or to a spot on the handle. Next, continue to push the rod in until the mark or tape flag has made one complete revolution. Re-measure the amount of rod that is left sticking out of the barrel. Use the same reference marks as you did on the first measurement. Next, subtract this measurement from the first measurement. This number is the twist rate. For example, if the rod has 24 inches remaining at the start and 16 inches remain after making one revolution, you have 8 inches of travel, thus a 1:8 twist barrel.