Breaking In Your New Gun
by Bob Londrigan, published in Front Sight Magazine, May 2007
Now that youíve received that new gun you have been waiting for so long, you just want to go out and shoot it. You can and you should shoot that new gun first chance you get. However, when you do, follow a program that will ensure the gun is properly broken in. The subject of this article is how you should go about breaking in a gun so that it will provide you with years of reliable service.
First off, breaking in a pistol, especially a semi-automatic one, is nothing like breaking in a rifle. After all, a rifle requires a much higher level of accuracy than a pistol. For our game, the most important factor is reliability. Getting the highest reliability potential out of your gun is the primary goal of the break-in procedure. A properly built custom gun is built to very close tolerances. This results in clearances that are so close that as the gun heats up and the metal expands, the components will rub enough to slow down the slide. This can cause all types of malfunctions. The objective of breaking in a gun is to wear enough off of these tight-fit surfaces so there is sufficient clearance to enable them to slide smoothly over one another even when the gun is hot, while not adversely affecting accuracy.
The number of rounds needed to break-in a gun will vary greatly depending on the type of gun (open or limited), who built it (factory or custom), type of finish (blue or chrome), loads, and even springs. In general, open guns take longer to break-in because the compensator removes some of the energy available to cycle the slide. Any gun where the slide-to-frame fit is very tight will take longer for the same reason. Guns that have been chromed also take longer because the chroming process leaves of microscopic edges that must be smoothed before the slide will cycle at full speed. The criteria I use for determining whether a gun is broken in or needs more testing is how it ejects. A properly broken in gun will eject consistently, and the ejection will be the same whether the gun is hot or cold. The ultimate test is that you are able to run 1,000 rounds in succession without a malfunction.
When breaking in a gun, be sure to shoot the gun as it comes from the maker. Do not make any changes Ė springs, add on parts, etc. You want to reduce the number of variables as much as possible in the event you do have problems. It is also important that you use good ammo and well functioning magazines. Chamber check all ammo and only use magazines you know are good. If you are using new magazines realize that they too require a break-in period to let the springs settle and to let everything smooth out. Tuned magazines will reduce problems in this area. Once you have your ammo and magazines sorted out, make sure the gun is well lubed with a medium to light oil. I use FP10. However, any oil that is light enough so it does not slow down the slide yet heavy enough so it will not evaporate will work. Lots of lube is important during break-in -- you really canít use too much.
Load up your mags and start shooting. Watch your ejection pattern Ė if it starts to change after 50-60 rounds as the gun gets hot then the gun needs some break-in to totally eliminate the possibility of malfunctions. As an example if the gun is throwing empties six to eight feet, then shoot until the rounds are just barely ejecting or you start to get numerous malfunctions. This way you are getting the gun hot enough to cause some friction but not hot enough to do any damage. Let the gun cool off and repeat until you can shoot a couple hundred rounds without seeing a significant change in the ejection pattern and no malfunctions. If needed, lube the gun between sessions. What you are trying to do is get the gun hot enough so that the parts rub together and wear in. The high spots will rub and be reduced enough to let the gun cycle properly under any conditions. If you donít get the gun hot you will still get some wear but the process will take much longer. Be careful, though, to get the gun so hot that you cause damage. I suggest loading 60 to 100 rounds up in your magazines and shooting some drills with little time between each. To make sure you donít get the gun too hot, do not go more than 100 rounds at a time.
If you get any type of malfunction during this test, clear it and donít worry about it. Do not make any changes to the gun based on malfunctions seen during break≠-in. You may be fixing something that is not broken and this may cause problems later on. If you do continue to have problems after the gun appears to be broken in or if the problems continue after 500 to 1000 rounds, then make detailed notes on what type of malfunction you are having (pictures help if you can get them), how often it is occurring, and where you are in the break-in cycle of the gun. Then when you talk to your gunsmith you will be able to give him feedback that will help determine the nature of the problem. ≠If you have changed anything on the gun (I cannot urge you strongly enough not to), make sure you tell the gunsmith this.
If everything is working right, the gun will get better and better as you continue to shoot. Once you have the gun to the point where it is doing the same thing each time as far as ejection, even when the gun is hot, go ahead and shoot some regular practice drills. Stop if you have any malfunction and make notes as previously described. A couple of good hard practice sessions and you should have enough confidence in your gun to take it to a match and test it there.
Some final tips
If followed, the break-in procedure I have described will result in a gun that is clearanced enough to function reliably without losing any of its accuracy.