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Paintball - All About Barrels

Updated on February 9, 2012
Bundle of Lucky Un1techs, my fave barrels of all time.
Bundle of Lucky Un1techs, my fave barrels of all time.

The Lowdown

First, some basic knowledge.

  • Barrel - the thing sticking out the front of the marker. Most are made of aluminum, but there are a few steel, brass, and carbon fiber barrels, sometimes even a combination of materials. Lengths are measured in inches, each length increment increases by 2" (8", 10", 12", etc).
  • Bore - the inner wall of the barrel, the tunnel through which the paintballs travel. Honk your horns & hold your breath, paintballs! There are different bore sizes available, which will be explained later on.
  • Porting - the tiny holes near the front of the barrel. Helps reduce sound signature.
  • 1-piece - barrel made of a single piece of hollow material.
  • 2-piece - barrel made of a back piece & a front piece.
  • Insert - some barrels use a removable tube inserted in the back, to allow for different bore sizes.
  • Kit - can be a 2-piece including various backs with different bore sizes, a 1- or 2-piece that uses inserts, or a collection of 1-piece barrels.

Barrels are available in many brands and a wide range of prices, although after a certain price point, you are no longer paying for performance - you're paying for brand recognition & aesthetic design. Really, the optimum price point for bare-bones performance is $30-40. After that, you're simply paying for something that looks nice.

The Fiction

Plenty of myths surround barrels in paintball, which is odd because there really aren't many myths regarding any other piece of equipment. A lot of these myths spawn from people assuming physics that apply to real firearms or even airsoft guns also apply to paintball markers. Well, squash that noise right now!

  • Myth #1: longer barrels = greater distance. In paintball, that's not even physically possible. Paintball markers are subject to a legal velocity limit of 300 fps in the US (most fields reduce it to 285, many other countries reduce it to 250 or less). If the velocity is limited, so is the distance. Barrel length only helps for the first 6-8 inches, so all force from gas pressure remains behind the ball. After that, the barrel just helps maintain trajectory. But after 16" of barrel length, the ball can LOSE velocity (thus, distance) because of the drag caused by excess barrel material.
  • Myth #2: if velocity determines range, then turn up the velocity. Sure, if you want to break the law and/or hurt someone. Commonly referred to as "shooting hot." Still aren't allowed to exceed 300 fps or less, and funny things happen above 300 fps, anyway - balls break inside the gun, or won't fly straight. Remember, it's a gelatin ball filled with greasy paint, a fluid that can & will slosh around, creating instability. I've seen paintballs go straight, then suddenly zip in random directions at nearly a 90° angles. Imagine how unsafe that can be, not knowing what direction your ball is going to "decide" to go.
  • Myth #3: force a spin on the ball, it'll fly further. Truth is, sort of. If the force makes the ball spin forward, as if it were rolling forward through the air, there's extra momentum each time the ball makes a rotation. But the gain is minimal. Plus you lose accuracy if the ball goes too far, since it's affected by things like air friction (all those wacky gas molecules) & wind. There's also "rifling," which is a spiral etched down the entire length on the inner walls of a barrel. Supposed to make the paintball twirl like a perfectly-thrown football. Works for bullets, but not paintballs - paintballs won't follow the rifling, they just don't care. And even if they did, there's still the velocity limit doing its job.

These matter more than the barrel quality does.
These matter more than the barrel quality does.

The Fact

Having covered what barrels won't do for you, let's cover what barrels will do for you.

  • Fact #1: accuracy is determined more by the paintball itself, and you. Paintballs aren't all the same (see my hub about it!), so it's important to get the fresh, quality stuff. And it's important to learn how to aim. Fulfilling those conditions, most barrels can take advantage of it.
  • Fact #2: all you really want your barrel to be is evenly honed and super smooth inside, and a suitable length that does not exceed 16". Quite a lot of barrels have these characteristics, it's not reserved for the most expensive ones.

Smart Parts Freak full insert kit.
Smart Parts Freak full insert kit.

Bore Talk Can Be Bore-ing

There is an endless debate regarding barrel bore sizing. You see, paintball barrels have different bore sizes, the measurement of their inner diameters. All paintballs are advertised as .68 cal, but actual sizes measure in the hundredths, varying from as small as .679 to as large as .693. So, too, do barrels themselves.

  • Bore Match: most common when sizing is mentioned. The theory is, matching the paintball and barrel bore exactly, which helps promote more consistent velocities & more efficient gas use. The key is making the ball itself create a seal in the barrel as it's traveling through it, but not so tight as to get the ball stuck. The test for this is placing a ball in the back end of a barrel, and having it not roll through, but you can easily blow it out like a blowgun. Such a theory required either owning a barrel kit or only using the paint that matched your barrel perfectly.
  • Overbore: the more popular choice among tourney players in the late '90s & early '00s, when players didn't want (or couldn't afford) a kit or multiple barrels. So they got one barrel that had a huge bore (like .690+) so every paintball ever made would fit. There's no performance theory here, it's really just a sense of simplicity.
  • Underbore: only recently has this begun to pick up steam in the mainstream; having a barrel bore that was smaller than the ball. Traditionally, this is required for the majority of pump markers, as their internal operation places the paintball just at the back end of the barrel instead of it sitting in the breach, so their paintballs don't roll out before they get a chance to shoot. But now, there's a theory forming that makes this a form of extreme bore-matching, where a seal is created, except the seal is SUPER tight. Players claim this lets you shoot at lower pressures, because you don't lose any pressure around the ball, thus being the most efficient use of gas pressure.

My own conclusion - with the exception of underboring for pump markers only, it makes no difference whatsoever. All these theories rest on one assumption - that every paintball in a batch is going to be absolutely, perfectly identical to another in the same batch. Such absolutes aren't realistic, so theories based on them are also unrealistic. Underbore if you play pump, and slightly overbore (like .685-.689) for everything else.

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