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The Infuriating Paintball Barrel Break!

Have you ever found yourself lining up a wide open target, licking your lips at the easy prey – only to spew globs of brightly colored paint out the end of your barrel and have to duck back behind cover to dismantle and swab your marker? Sure you have – almost all of us at one point or another, have had to deal with the barrel break.

A barrel break is when a paintball breaks open in the barrel on its way out of your marker, leaving behind a nasty mess that will need to be cleaned if you plan on firing any accurate shots for the rest of the match! Barrel breaks are not to be confused with its nastier, messier cousin, the “chop” (which will be discussed in a later article). Now that we know what a barrel break is, what exactly causes it? And more importantly, what can we do to prevent them?

Here’s Why You Get Barrel Breaks

There really is no one, single answer as to why a paintball will break in your barrel. Actually there are several factors that may be at play. Lets list the probable culprits that are breaking open your paintballs and making a mess of your favorite barrel.

Paintball caliber to bore mismatch

The first and most likely cause of a barrel break is a mismatched paintball caliber to the bore of your barrel. A standard paintball is .68 caliber (0.68 inches in diameter), and this is pretty consistent across all manufacturers. You CAN get different caliber paintballs, such the .50 or the .43 training rounds, but you won’t generally find those on the speedball or recball fields. Now that we have sized your paintball up, time to find a barrel that has a matching size. Easy right?

Well, no, not exactly. A very common bore size (the size of the hollowed out inside of your barrel) is .689. You will notice that this is slightly larger in diameter than your paintballs to allow them to pass through the barrel easily. If your barrel bore is too small, the paintball will get stuck and likely break inside your barrel. However, if your barrel bore is too large, you will run in to issues with air efficiency and accuracy. Also, with an over sized bore, the compressed air that is expanding to force the ball out of your marker, may pass over or under the paintball as it travels along your barrel causing it to rattle around on its path. Too much rattling, and you may break your paint.

To remedy the issue of mismatched paint-to-bore sizes, you have a few options. You may simply decide to purchase several different barrels with differing bore sizes. There are also two piece barrel kits available that allow you to swap out barrel backs and change your bore size on the fly. The third option is to invest in a kit with inserts for your barrel. These inserts are typically very thin aluminum tubes that slide in to your barrel to change the bore size without the need to swap out your entire barrel.

These options are particularly effective if you find yourself travelling to different fields that use different paint as each brand of paint may behave differently. To ensure that your paint is matched to your barrel, try dropping a paintball in to your barrel – it should neither roll easily through your barrel, or get jammed. You should be looking for a ball that drops in to the barrel, but will not roll out. You should be able to blow the paintball out of your barrel with a small to medium puff of air from your cheeks, like a blow-gun.

Be consistent with your paint

Speaking of paint behavior, it is best to be consistent with the brand of paint that you are using (if at all possible). Getting to understand your paintballs will save you a lot of barrel breaks and headaches down the road. I could explain to you the science behind a permeable membrane in relation to concentration and pressure gradients, but let’s leave that stuff in the class room. What’s important to know here is that as soon as you open a fresh bag of paint, the paintballs themselves will start to absorb moisture from the air and swell.

On a hot, humid day, this can happen in the course of just a few hours!

If the paintballs swell, they may become too large to easily pass through your barrel, resulting in, yep, you guessed it – a barrel break. On the flip side, in cold weather, the shell of your paintball may become extra brittle and your paint may contract, changing the shape and consistency of your ball, again causing issues that will likely result in a barrel break. The fix for this is to find a paintball that works for you in your specific climate and at your price range. Some paint is even formulated specifically for the different seasons.

Low air pressure

Another issue that may be causing paintballs to break in your barrel is low air (or CO2) pressure – typically in conjunction with longer barrels. If the pressure behind the paintball is too low, and does not have enough force to push the ball out of your barrel, the result will be a rattling of your ball within the barrel (as described above) that will create excess friction between the barrel and the ball and may possibly lead to a break. This may be particularly troublesome if your barrel already has a defect such as a knick or burr on the inside of the bore. To avoid this, make sure that your air system is topped up and working properly, and that the inside of your barrel is clean and clear of debris as well as free of any scratches . It should be perfectly smooth and reflective.

The right paint for your marker

Lastly, make sure that you are using the right paint for your marker. A high end tournament paintball marker is going to treat a paintball very differently than a JT Splatmaster™ or a Tippmann 98™. You should find a paintball that will stand up to the mechanics of the marker itself. Typically, the tournament markers are designed to be pillowy-soft on paint balls, and may allow you to use a more brittle-shelled paintball where the same paintball may end up coating the inside of your barrel if used in a marker not designed to fire it.

That should cover the majority of the issues surrounding barrel breaks, but it is important to remember that sometimes they JUST HAPPEN (usually a faulty ball). When you are on the field, you may want to try a few dry fires to clear out the mess left behind by a barrel break by simply holding your gravity fed marked upside down and pulling the trigger several times to blast air out of the barrel to clear the paint.

Next, you may want to run your squeegee through your barrel to scrape out the remains. Lastly, if possible, swab your barrel to clean and dry it out further. If the problems persist, check your barrel, air system and paintballs for any of the issues brought to your attention earlier in the article.

Good luck and get back in the fight!

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