What’s really going on inside that bore? Is something in there causing those flyers, those growing group sizes? How good is the rifling? Is the throat eroding?
Unable to directly examine bores, we can only work on suppositions. Eventually getting a clean patch out of the bore has been the only way to check our diligence with the cleaning rod, and we’ve always had to just trust in the claims of those who make cleaning solvents―and barrels. We have been operating under many assumptions, but now we can replace guesswork with our own visual inspection.
Borescopes aren’t new, but an affordable borescope for the masses has been overdue. Enter Lyman’s Borecam Digital Borescope with Monitor, which breaks the cost barrier and brings with it the added bonus of a digital photo capability.
The Lyman borescope set consists basically of the borescope and a small monitor to display the camera’s image. An SD memory card plugs into the side for downloading photos, and of course there are the associated power and video cables, as well as the power adaptor for standard house current outlets. There’s a few ancillary other items, but we’ll get to that later.
The set is complete and ready to go as soon as you open the box. You don’t have to buy batteries (it doesn’t need them) or even an SD card (a 128Mb card and USB compatible reader is included). Setup is uncomplicated and intuitive, great for those of us who only read instructions after we can’t figure something out.
The unit is refreshingly simple for a digital device, without any unnecessary e-bells and e-whistles to clutter and confuse. You basically turn it on, insert the borescope into your bore and start gaping at your rifle’s interior on the display in childlike curiosity (after the first “Gee whiz!” you’ll settle down for some analytical examination). Want to capture a photo to email to a buddy? Push the “CAPTURE” button. You can use the “MODE” button and the one with the up and down arrows to review and discard photos. That’s about it for controls―every e-thing you need and no e-thing you don’t.
The borescope itself is a 20-inch long metal wand that fits into bores as small as .20 caliber. While 20 inches may seem short at first blush, you can examine longer barrels in their entirety by (duh) inserting the borescope from the breech end, as well as from the muzzle end. The delicate wand fairly whispers, “Be careful, I’m fragile,” so ham-handedness is not an option. Intelligently, it is marked along one edge like a ruler, measuring from zero at the camera mirror to 20 inches at the handle in one-eighth inch graduations, and the handle bears the legend, “Lens” on one side. These are so that you know the mirror’s depth and orientation inside the bore and can pinpoint your spot of interest from the outside.
A tiny light at the mirror turns on with the unit; there are three illumination settings but you’ll likely use only the brightest except in polished, unfired bores. In bores larger than .22LR the borescope has a lot of space to flop about, and it can be an exercise in fine motor control to try holding the borescope immobile with one hand while using the other to capture a photo. Happily, the image stays in focus no matter the distance of the mirror from the subject. The collar at the base of the handle slides forward and fits easily into a .50 caliber bore, but offers only a modicum of stabilization. I found a universal tapered muzzle protector that slides onto cleaning rods to be a bit more useful on smaller calibers.
Yes, of course you know your own guns, but be prepared for some revelations. Mine came when examining the bore of my Danish “club rifle,” a Schultz & Larsen M58 in 6.5x55mm. I found at the last cleaning that I didn’t get all the copper jacket material out of the bore, nor did I remove the last residues of ammonia-based copper solvent. The Borecam showed tiny streaks and clumps of blue glop, apparently spots of copper dissolved by the ammonia and left in place. I must have been late for dinner when cleaning that rifle …
The Borecam is an educational as well as diagnostic tool. If you’re not sure what you’re looking at, or if you’re unsure of the seriousness of what you see, you can capture a photo and send it to someone more knowledgeable. That said, be aware that the Borecam’s low photo resolution of 320x240 pixels does not permit any meaningful enlarging for a closer look after downloading into a computer.
The tiny camera mirror must be spotless for good viewing. Lyman includes lens cleaner solution and cotton swabs, but swabs are much too big to fit into the notch to reach the mirror. Cotton isn’t a good idea anyway because the sharp edges of the notch snag little bits of cotton away to foul the mirror. A standard camera lens brush and lens cloth work fine, and some “canned air” helps, too.
Room for improvement
As cool and user-friendly as it is, a couple of minor things would improve the Borecam. A few caliber-specific non-marring collars that slide onto the borescope wand behind the mirror would help stabilize it in larger bores. The set includes four adaptors for a cosmopolitan variety of international power outlets, but I’d eagerly trade those for a plastic case to replace the Borecam’s cardboard box.
I said at the beginning that the Borecam is affordable. MSRP is $300, but you can find it online for as little as $219―less than we’d pay for a holster-worn police trade-in revolver, if, like me, gun prices are your standard of reference. Lyman warrants the Borecam’s materials and workmanship for one full year; after that repair charges apply.
I don’t recommend the Borecam to the shooter who is obsessively compulsive about squeaky clean bores because this device will clearly expose every fleck of powder and jacket residue―it’ll drive you nuts to see how much you’ve been missing. On the other hand, we can now visually evaluate the claims of bore solvent makers. We no longer have to wonder about the real condition of the bores in our muzzleloaders. We can easily compare before and after bore polishing, check throats for erosion and examine chamber leades to troubleshoot bore related accuracy problems. We can readily evaluate the workmanship quality of new gun chambers, rifling and bores. Handloaders can even peek inside cartridge cases and dies to see what’s going on in there, too.
I think there may more than one, “Gee whiz!” in Lyman’s Borecam set …