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Polishing Revolver Cylinder Chambers
by Roy Seifert

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Disclaimer:  This article is for entertainment only and is not to be used in lieu of a qualified gunsmith.  Please defer all firearms work to a qualified gunsmith.  Any loads mentioned in this article are my loads for my guns and have been carefully worked up using established guidelines and special tools.  The author assumes no responsibility or liability for use of these loads, or use or misuse of this article.  Please note that I am not a professional gunsmith, just a shooting enthusiast and hobbyist, as well as a tinkerer.  This article explains work that I performed to my guns without the assistance of a qualified gunsmith.  Some procedures described in this article require special tools and cannot/should not be performed without them.

Warning:  Disassembling and tinkering with your firearm may void the warranty.  I claim no responsibility for use or misuse of this article.  Again, this article is for entertainment purposes only!

Tools and firearms are the trademark/service mark or registered trademark of their respective manufacturers.

When a revolver comes from the factory, the chambers in the cylinder are often just rough-cut and can contain burrs and cutting marks.  These burrs and cutting marks can make it difficult to extract empty cases, and difficult to remove powder fouling.  Polishing the chambers makes the cases easy to extract, and makes the chambers easy to clean.

The processing for polishing chambers is relatively easy and only requires simple power tools:

  1. Use a special medium-grit hone to hone/polish each chamber to remove tooling marks
  2. Final polish using a fine-grit hone

It is difficult to tell from my photos, but each chamber had tooling marks around the circumference down the entire length of the chamber.  These were left when the chambers were reamed at the factory.  The goal is to polish out those tooling marks.

I have four Ruger® single-action revolvers in .45 LC; two that I use for Cowboy Action Shooting™ and two that I use for hunting.  When unloading my cowboy guns I want the brass to fall out.  For my hunting guns I have some fairly high-pressure loads that I use and are sometimes hard to eject.  These are the cylinders that I want to polish.  Brownells sells a cylinder hone specifically designed to polish chambers in revolver cylinders called a Flex-Hone.  This is the correct tool for polishing chambers and consists of small balls of polishing grit on the ends of a spiral wire brush.  The Flex-Hone comes in two different grits, medium and fine.  The medium-grit hone is used to polish-out the tooling marks, and the fine-grit hone is used to final-polish the chamber.  Brownells states that you should only use their Flex-Hone Oil as the cutting/lubricating agent, and that you should not spin the hone any faster than 750 RPM.  This is well within the slow speed of my cordless drill.

A word of caution here; I do not want to polish the chambers mirror or bearing smooth.  When the cartridge case expands, it needs something to grip against, otherwise I could get excessive pressure.

First, I used the medium Flex-Hone to polish out the tooling marks.  I put a few drops of Flex-Hone oil in the chamber, chucked the hone into my cordless drill and ran the Flex-Hone in and out of the chamber at slow speed.  It took about 10 minutes to polish out the tooling marks.  I added a few drops of oil after every minute.  After every two to three minutes or so, I cleaned the chamber and checked progress.  When I couldn’t see any tooling marks, I switched to the fine Flex-Hone to final polish the chamber.  It took five minutes to final polish each chamber.  Each time, I put a few drops of the oil into the chamber and ran the hone for about 1 minute, then added a few more drops of oil.

Again, it is somewhat difficult to tell from my photo, but the chambers are now smooth after honing.  I placed a small white LED light in one of the chambers and you can see the reflection of the head in that chamber.

Although I have performed this procedure using a hand drill, I found that using a drill press works much easier.  I wrapped a paper towel around the cylinder to pad it, then put it in my machinist vise with the ratchet facing up.  I used a level to make sure the cylinder was straight.  I set my drill press to 720 RPM, locked the hone in the drill press chuck and centered it over a chamber.  I lowered the hone into the chamber and added honing oil, then turned on the drill press.  As the hone rotated in the chamber, I moved the quill up and down.  I added a few drops of oil after every minute.  After ten minutes with the medium-grit hone, I moved to the next chamber.  After all chambers were finished, I removed the cylinder and thoroughly cleaned it, then put it back in the vise.  With the fine-grit hone I spent five minutes on each chamber.

The empty cases from the high-pressure loads I use in these revolvers now eject easily.  Prior to polishing the chambers, the tooling marks would hold soot and powder residue and I would have to spend a lot of time scrubbing them out with a brush.  Now, just two or three patches soaked in powder solvent completely clean the entire cylinder.  Hey, anything that makes a gun easier to clean is great by me.


   © Copyright 2009 Roy Seifert.