As we often confess in this space, we’re tinkerers of the inveterate sort. The caution of advancing age and the lessons of “oopses” have curbed plainly silly extremes (digit count still equals 20), but within researchable safety bounds, this is one of the enduring pleasures of shooting as either hobby or profession: With sense and eye protection, there’s plenty of room to fiddle.
One of our favorites repeats at present, thanks to the recent receipt of two barrels from Suarez International. Regular “First Gear” readers will expect as we do—a very likely treat in terms of both quality and performance.
A modest preamble is helpful when it comes to the whole topic of rebarreling, whether the arm in question is long or short. The rationale is generally the fruit of the same tree: To restore or enhance accuracy. This begs a reasonable question in many minds, “Doesn’t my firearm already have a good barrel?!” Impute a hint of alarm in that interrogative, and you have the whole picture.
Not to worry. In most cases, the reply is an emphatic “yes,” though with qualifiers. First is the idea that the fit of your barrel, particularly in a semi-auto handgun, may be spec’d to mass production (no hand-fitting, in other words)—what are widely called drop-in tolerances. For many shooting tasks, this is more than adequate.
That “many tasks” idea is where things get sticky, and a rifle example from our own experience is apropos. We bought a used Remington 700 almost 30 years ago, thinking—after long research—that it was the most affordable platform to start with in a quest for better long gun, centerfire skills. Our helpful local dealer promised to keep an eye out and borescope poised for a lightly used .308 Win heavy barrel, and eventually a likely candidate was traded in. Some months later, the factory barrel, trigger, Sierra Matchkings and a Burris scope had us nipping at .5 MOA groups of five shots now and again, and three-shots under .25 MOA on good days. Not at all bad for a factory get-up and middling-quality trigger finger.
Now the bad news: It didn’t last. We figure at least 2,500 rounds went down the barrel of that redoubtable Remington, in addition to whatever the previous owner had “sent.” But did that mean end-of-life? Heck no: A new Kreiger barrel, and back to work; the present owner reports accuracy is still improving many thousands of rounds down the road.
And so it can go with nearly any firearm—actions (or frames)—can well outlast barrels. Other reasons for swapping can come up too, even before wear takes a toll. Reloaders will anticipate a ready motivation, namely lead bullets. Vastly easier on barrels due to their comparative softness, they’re also cheaper by several cents per round. Over-the-counter ammo buyers won’t see or use them much, perhaps, but many higher volume shooters use them almost exclusively.
If you took a careful squint at our main image, you may also be able to predict another reason the Suarez samples are so welcome, and provide a sort of glue to our story—we’re tuning up a Glock, and lead is a no-no in the factory “polygonal” barrels of the marque.
Our first example is a Titanium Nitride G17 Match barrel. If the gold color seems at first eye-catching and then a tad, er, bawdy, hold on: This ceramic coating is a noted protector of sliding surfaces. With Melonite underneath, its 1:10 twist bore will spin just about any 9 mm projectile, including those lead bullets that are so easy on the billfold. (We got substantially off the reservation in our tests, venturing from 100 grains up to 160-grain-plus weights. The latter, most barrels simply won’t stabilize, but the TiN Suarez fed and hit with these in the same blasé fashion as everything else.) We’ll be giving this a protracted additional run in a match pistol, you can bet.
All the Suarez barrels start out as Lothar-Walther blanks of chrome-moly, and are machined to their exacting end-state by American craftsmen. Gabe himself explained their genesis to us in a sidebar at a recent class (here and here), remarking that “… none of the aftermarket barrels we tried were up to the standard we wanted, even those that were hand-fit. These are.” Our results have certainly corresponded.
Our other sample is in some respects even more enticing. Of black nitride finish and Glock 19 length, the second barrel is threaded. This begs for suppression, and our still-shiny “Gen5” G19 in combination with an ACC Ti-RANT came immediately to mind.
We did manage to hold our horses, briefly, and can report the barrel itself performed at the limit of our ability (slightly sub 2” groups at 25 yards with standard ammo). With the can fitted but without sufficiently tall sights—we “ghosted” the excellent AmeriGlos onto the target—suppressed shooting was great fun and still surprisingly accurate. Once again, off-the-reservation bullet weights (158-grain factory sub-gun ammo, and our own 165-grain formula) performed well. One caution emerges here—handloaders will want to make sure they’re off the leade to allow complete chambering and locking of the action.
A last thought on threaded barrels—we despair of a truly versatile method of minding the thread protector that is a “must” with these. If you plan no suppressed shooting, a little Loctite may appeal (Blue/243 generally sufficient), but remember it will still have to be removed unless you’re willing to carefully clean from the muzzle end (the Suarez barrels have genuine crowns, so be careful not to damage them—they have a big and beneficial effect on accuracy).
We’ve finally gone to removing them for shooting so they don’t slowly work off, as this prevents the need for a periodic reach near the front of the bore for retightening. It isn’t that this can’t be done with sufficient caution so much as the problematic spectacle it presents to less-knowledgeable shooters. They may not understand what they are seeing, which may in turn give rise to handling safety missteps somewhere down the road. Your call, of course, but think it through: Removing the thread protector before you shoot and replacing it immediately afterwards avoids many issues altogether.
As with many Suarez International predecessors, we’re now concerted fans of their Glock barrels. If there’s any hint that a factory version isn’t measuring up, take a serious look at these as replacements, or out-and-out upgrades.
Find Suarez International products here; Glock barrels are available in a variety of lengths, finishes and terminations, and range from $100-275, and are available for the G17, G19, G26, G34, G35 and G43.Frank Winn has been studying arms and their relationship to tyranny, meaningful liberty and personal security all his adult life. He has been a firearms safety/shooting instructor for more than 20 years, and earned state, regional and national titles in several competitive disciplines.