More on that new fangled steel stuff
K. Paul Trench, Practical Hints on Shooting
There has been a deal of dissension of late as to the material best adapted for shot-gun barrels, some advocating steel, some Damascus, others contending that laminated steel is to be preferred to any other kind of metal; every one, in fact, extolling that which he considered the best. Steel is well known to be lighter than Damascus iron, but in our humble estimation nothing can surpass the genuine English stub Damascus, and for the following reasons: Steel has many drawbacks, not one of the least being the facility with which common iron or base metal may be palmed off as steel. It is not nearly so easy to tell whether barrels are made of genuine metal, as some people are inclined to suppose; and a great number of defects, such as “greys” and soft places, may be hidden under a treacherous coat of black or dark blue.
The greatest objection to steel barrels is, that they are subject to a kind of crystallisation which renders them very dangerous. Whether this fault arises from manufacture, defective metal, or spontaneously from constant use or cold weather is not a matter of great moment; it is sufficient to know that steel, even of the best quality, is prone to this crystallisation, and should consequently be avoided.
When steel barrels burst pieces of the metal are usually blown right away, thereby endangering both the shooter and anyone who may happen to be near him at the time. Such is not the case with Damascus. These generally bulge at the breech-end to a certain degree if over-strained, and are much less liable to fly.
Hence the advantages of Damascus iron over steel are very manifest as regards safety, but the shooting of both is about equal. Of course no conscientious gunmaker would supply a customer with iron barrels under pretense of steel if he knew them to be of iron; but there are, unfortunately, some unscrupulous dealers who have apparently no conscience whatsoever.Steel at the best is poor material for shot-gun barrels when compared with Damascus Iron.
William Wellington Greener, Modern Shotguns
The best solid steel barrels are the “fluid compressed steel” tubes manufactured by Sir Joseph Whitworth's Company. They are very expensive, of uniform good quality, and although they are not, in the author's opinion, equal to best twist barrels, he is very pleased to use them at the request of any sports man requiring them.
Siemens' steel and several other varieties drilled from the solid drawn into tubes in the rolling mill, are offered at a less price than the Whitworth barrels, and are often inferior in quality.
The steel barrel of same weight and size as one of best Damascus or other hand-forged barrel of best material will burst with a less strain, but as to what pressure each will bear has not yet been accurately ascertained; but although a best steel barrel may be broken or burst with a charge of 21 1/4 drams, it will require 23 drams to burst a Twist barrel of the same weight and proportions.