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(Originally posted by ML on the Hoods Woods Forum, 27 June 2002; reproduced here with the author's permission)
Firearms Maintenance 101 It’s the shot of a lifetime: After two days’ drive, an expensive game tag, and an hour-long stalk, you’re looking through your sights at a fat trophy just a hundred yards off. Meat for the winter. Memories for a lifetime. It’s a cold, blustery day, a spectacular morning after a hard freeze. The wind’s in your face with just a dusting of snow. You’ve settled into a textbook, solid prone position with a tight sling. Your pulse has steadied, you’ve taken your shooting breath, and as the crisply-honed trigger breaks-instead of the anticipated crack and recoil, there’s just a loud snap you’ll never forget. The trophy hears it too, and is gone in a flash. Oh, you’ll have memories, all right--memories that will keep you awake at nights and tie your guts up in knots for the next ten years. Memories of how poor firearms maintenance cost you the biggest bull elk you’ll ever see. ***** A Forum member asks a question about guidelines for basic gun cleaning. I’ve decided to attempt an answer. So settle back while once again I rattle on for some length, or bail out of this post right now, before you descend into yet another of ML’s endless, over-written screeds. ***** Make a promise to yourself: The next time you fire a shot, or the next time you even uncase your rifle, shotgun, or handgun, vow that you won’t sit down to dinner or enjoy a glass or your favorite libation until the firearm is cleaned and secured for the night. Period, end of story, no negotiating, no exceptions. No matter how much back-slapping or celebration the occasion calls for. The firearm deserves your loyalty and attention first. Once you’ve crossed that mental divide. To my mind, periodic firearms maintenance actually falls into five parts: Inspection Cleaning Lubrication Preservation Storage Why not examine them subject by subject?
Inspection When you settle down to clean a gun, give it a once-over first. Checking for loose scopemounting screws, a sling-swivel stud that’s backing out, a scratch or gouge to the finish that requires special attention, a crack in the stock’s tang--anything out of the normal, or any anticipated wear areas. Keep your eyes open during the disassembly and reassembly process as well. Cleaning This means more than just cleaning the bore; it means cleaning every part of the arm which requires attention. The stock and exterior surfaces may need nothing more than a quick wipedown with an oil-impregnated rag. If the arm has been subjected to a lot of dust or moisture, it may require detailed disassembly. Here, some books may be helpful. The NRA has published two excellent works, "Firearms Assembly--Rifles and Shotguns" and "Firearms Assembly--Pistols and Revolvers" (see links here): (Rifle and Shotgun) store.nrahq.org/nra/produ...d=PB+01600 (Pistol and Revolver) store.nrahq.org/nra/produ...d=PB+01590 Jerry Kuhnhausen has written a series of manuals which are absolutely the best available, bar none, and that includes the military publications. You may view/order them here: www.gunbooks.com/catalog.html In addition, your tax dollars have provided some excellent Field Manuals and Technical Manuals (FM’s and TM’s) for the M1903 Springfield, M1 Garand, M14/M1A, M16/AR-15, and M1911. Search for them online or for sale as bound volumes with the following information: M1 Garand Field Manual FM-23-5 M1 Garand Ordanance Maintenance Manual TM-9-1275 M1 Garand Operator and Organizational Maintenance Manual TM 9-1005-222-12 M1 Garand C & D Sniper Rifle TM 9-1005-222-35 M14, M14E2 FM 23-8 M16A1 Operators Manual TM 9-1005249-10 M16, M16A1, Bipod Rifle M3 Operator's and Organizational Maintenance Manual TM 91005-249-12 M16A2, M4, M4A1 Operator' Manual TM 9-1005-319-10 M16A2, M4, M4A1 Unit and Direct Support Maintenance Manual TM 9-1005-319-23 (Highly recommended) M1911A1 Direct and General Support Maintenance Manual TM 9-1005-211-34 M24 Sniper Weapon System (Rem 700) TM 9-1005-306-10 When most shooters think of weapon’s cleaning, they think of swabbing out the bore. Here are some thoughts. First, when cleaning the bore, always clean from the breech/chamber end to the muzzle. Why? Dragging a cleaning rod over the muzzle--and eventually you will--is detrimental to accuracy, as it ovals-out the muzzle’s end. If you can’t clean from the breech (a revolver, certain autoloading rifles like the Ruger 10/22), then at least use a cleaning-rod guide at the muzzle. Better-quality cleaning rods will include one in their construction; usually it looks like a brass "funnel."
In cleaning the bore, you want to remove powder residue, and jacket or lead residue within the barrel. To remove lead, you’ve got to scrub it out with a stiff brush and solvent. (Certain electrochemical devices exist, and may do an excellent job, but I personally still rely on elbow grease.) To remove powder residue, a patch or brush soaked in solvent will usually suffice. To remove jacket material, an ammonia-based solvent applied with a wet patch and followed with a wet brush, then repeated, will usually do it. To revive really terrible, neglected bores, plug the muzzle, fill the bore with kerosene, and let stand overnight. Scrub with a stiff nylon or bronze brush, and repeat until you’re down to clean metal. To clean a rusty shotgun bore, I wrap a .45-caliber bore brush with 0000 steel wool, soak in kerosene, and scrub away. Additional thoughts Old (pre 1950) ammunition or military-surplus ammunition from Eastern Europe often uses corrosive compounds in their primers. These deposit salts in the bore, which precipitate really aggressive rusting. Cleaning procedures after firing such ammunition requires the use of water; I’ve found a mix of warm water and a mild soap (such as Simple Green) work well. Don’t be stingy with it, either--really pour it down and scrub away, repeatedly. When that step is done, follow by pouring boiling water down the bore. (I know it’s counter-intuitive, but the boiling water will dry the bore if you use enough, by heating the barrel’s metal to the point where any water in the bore will flash evaporate.) Continue with the conventional solvent/patch/brush cleaning for bullet-jacket fouling as you normally would. After firing black powder, clean with lots of the scrubbing/hot water/soap solution as well--black powder fouling of itself promotes aggressive corrosion. A chamber bore guide, while not necessary, keeps excess solvents and crud out of the action/magazine, although I have to admit I hardly ever use one, simply protecting the areas with a paper towel or rag. Special Considerations Some firearms, by the very nature of their design, require special attention. Semi-automatic rifles or shotguns immediately spring to mind. Most of these use propellant gas bled from the barrel to actuate a piston or some other mechanism which unlocks and retracts the bolt. (Blowback or recoil-operated/delayed blowback systems like those of the M1911, Glock, or Remington Model 8 do not use bleed gas, and as such require less specialized attention.) These systems--pistons, ports, and so on--need to be cleaned for reliable functioning. So-called "direct impingement" systems such as the M16’s/AR-15’s blow propellant gasses directly back to the bolt carrier, and as such blow (dirty) propellant gasses back into the bolt/action area, again requiring more cleaning here than, say, a bolt gun. Simply wiping the area down with a solvent and drying with clean fabric will usually do it. Further considerations include "coke" in the system due to over lubrication. Oil, whether in your auto engine or in your autoloader’s gas system--does not burn clean when exposed to sudden,
high temperatures. Rather, it forms a coal-like substance known as coke. This build-up needs to be cleaned from gas pistons, gas ports, etc., and the usual drill is to scrub it off with a brass brush or kerosene-soaked 0000 steel wool. In gas ports, a reamer usually opens the orifice--you’ll often find a port reamer in an SKS or AK/AKM cleaning kit for just this purpose. The M-16/AR-15 family is a tougher animal, and the best bet is to use long pipe cleaners to detail the gas tube and the bolt carrier. Ammonia-based solvents do a wonderful job of removing bullet-jacket fouling by chemically attacking the copper in the jacket material. For that same reason, they pose some threat to chrome- or nickel-plated surfaces. Why? Chrome and nickel don’t especially like adhering directly to steel, so most platers first apply a thin wash or "strike" of copper, and then plate the chrome or nickel over that. Ammonia can attack that copper strike. The result? I once saw a nickeled Single Action Army cylinder which had been left in a jar of Hoppe’s #9 overnight. The nickel lifted off in great, peeling chips, just like old paint on the outside of a neglected house. Personally, I haven’t see in lift chrome off the inside of a rifle bore, but I’ve never let a bore sit full of the stuff, either. SKS-series rifles, many AK/AKMs and some M16/AR-15s feature chrome-lined bores--go ahead and use Hoppe’s or another ammonia solvent, but make sure none remains in the bore for any extended period. Now, if you’ve watched any of the Hoods Woods tapes, you’ll know that every once in a while, The Good Mr. Hood interrupts his narrative to drop in what he calls a Woodsmaster Tip. That’s what I’m going to do here, and in one or two other places. I fussed around trying to think up a clever name (Shot Master? Woods Whiner? Schützenmeister?), but they all proved dry holes. So presuming Mr. Hood’s indulgence, let’s just call this another Woodsmaster Tip of the firearms ilk: If your firearm has been exposed to a great deal of dust, sometimes it will benefit from what I call "dry cleaning"--blowing it off with compressed air. Where to find this in the field, though? I made up a little hose, about six feet long, that screws onto my spare tire’s Schrader valve on one end and on the other has a compressed-air blowgun of the type mechanics use to blow off parts. This lets me use my spare as a portable compressed-air tank in the field, and the modest amounts of air used make no appreciable difference to the tire’s inflation pressure. It’s a joy when afield in the dusty, gritty, arid west and southwest. Cleaning Rod Choice Astute shooters will notice that, used correctly, the patch or brush is pushed through the barrel by the cleaning rod, rather than being pulled through. This puts the rod in compression rather than tension, and puts more of a load on the rod itself. A poor-quality, thin rod will bow and contact the bore--not good. The best rods will be of a one-piece design (stronger), very near bore diameter (stiffer), and made from a hard, polished steel. Aluminum rods or soft steel rods pick up grit, embed it in the rod, and then the rod itself becomes a sort of giant rat-tailed file you’re pushing through the bore--another very bad idea. This means you may need more than one rod, due to bore diameter/rod diameter issues. So be it--a rod is inexpensive compared to fitting a new barrel.
Of course, on the end of the rod, you’ve got to attach a brush or a patch somehow. I’ve stated my preference for nylon- or bronze-bristle brushes. There are two options: the familiar slotted rod tip, or the button-ended jag. I use both, but for different purposes. When I want to introduce solvent or oil into the bore, I use the slotted-end tip. This allows me to use a smaller-diameter, loose-fitting patch really soaking with the solvent or oil, and lets me mop the bore with it thoroughly. When I want to dry the bore, I use a full-sized patch, centered over the correctly sized jag, and push it through. It "squeegees" all the oil or solvent out ahead of it (you’ll note how dry the patch will seem due to the tight fit, even though the bore was sopping). Lubrication One of the greatest sins of firearms maintenance I see again and again is improper lubrication. Too little, and a firearm functions poorly. Too much picks up dust and grit and turns it into a cruddy, abrasive slurry. Lubrication means applying oil or grease only to moving parts, not slathering it everywhere--that we’ll cover in the next subcategory. Lubrication is what you want when you want one part to slide smoothly over another. Lubrication cuts down friction, and that’s all--got it? Likely points of lubrication are a bolt’s body, lugs, cocking cams, a revolver’s cylinder pin and interior lockwork, and so on. A small amount of oil or grease is usually what you want. Use gun oil, not motor oil, as the latter turns gummy and thick when oxidized and exposed to the air for any length of time. And much grease--even so-called gun grease--dries and hardens over time, too. Here, I’ll recommend a brand name: Lubriplate. It’s a thin molybdenum-disulfide (moly-dis) grease used in machine shops and some marine applications, and it’s great for thin, high-pressure applications like an M14/M1A’s bolt roller. Like the famous hair goop, a little dab’ll do ya. There’s another downside to excessive lubrication, whether it’s oil or grease: generally, it thickens with cold. That’s the downfall of our elk hunter at the beginning of this little epistle. Too much oil or grease on a firing pin or coil mainspring can slow the pin’s fall to the point of failed primer ignition. The solution? In dire cold, strip the oil or grease off with a solvent (gas, paint thinner, kerosene) and use no lubrication, or a non-thickening type such as powdered graphite. Here’s another one of those Woodsmaster Tips: I did my undergraduate and graduate work using a black-enameled 1941 Remington Rand Model 17 typewriter--one of the finest old hammerkeyed manuals ever churned out by the engine of democracy. And as an English major, I did one hell of a lot of typing. I’d take a day out of my life at the end of each semester to clean, inspect, adjust, and overhaul the beast, and along the way I picked up a great trick from an old typewriter repairman I’d befriended. Typewriters like that require thin amounts of precise lubrication--just like the lockwork on a Smith and Wesson revolver. Too much attracts lint and gums them up; too little and friction
increases the force at the keys (or at the trigger). By volume, I’d take ten parts Ronsonol lighter fluid--the same stuff you can still buy to fill up your Zippo--and mix it with one part gun oil, then fill a syringe with it. I’d squirt the mixture into the typewriter’s key gallery (or the Smith’s lockworks). The Ronsonol thins the oil so it creeps into very small spaces, then flashes off and leaves only the thinnest coat of lubricating oil behind. The syringe controls the placement of the lubrication precisely. Brilliant! Preservation Fine firearms need protection against the elements, especially corrosion and oxidation. Often, the same oil you use to lubricate moving parts is used as a protectant. After you’ve cleaned and dried the barrel, a loose-fitting patch saturated with gun oil and swabbed down the bore is the standard procedure. Make sure you oil the chamber as well. A patch that fits too tightly will have all the oil squeezed out of it early on, resulting in dark corners where the weapon’s lands and grooves meet. A rag saturated with gun oil, lightly wiped over exposed surfaces, will protect the surfaces and remove the acids and salts left behind from fingerprints. Gun oil is a poor treatment for wood, though: raw- or boiled linseed oil or Tung oil is a better choice for natural-finished wood; so is lemon oil or even most furniture polish. Synthetic stock finishes are pretty impervious--just a fast wipedown is all they usually need. Protecting oil, in the bore and especially in the chamber, should be removed before shooting. At the moment of ignition, a cartridge case expands to tightly grip or seize the chamber walls; when this happens, because the case is seized tight, the backwards thrust upon the bolt face is lowered greatly. How much? Most of today’s modern, centerfire rifle cartridges are designed to operate at between 48,000 and 52,000 psi. When you lubricate the chamber, the cartridge case still expands, but the lubrication keeps it from seizing tight. Consequently, thrust on the bolt face is equivalent to a 70,000-psi cartridge being fired--about equivalent to a "blue pill" proof load. Dry that chamber before firing! Now, let’s say you’re out hunting and you didn’t get a shot. You’ll want to re-oil the bore and chamber. No cleaning rod with you? Here’s another Woodsmanster Tip: Make up a pull-through you can keep coiled up in a 35mm film can or a tiny ziplock bag. Just take a single strand of the inner line from your 550 parachute cord (see Volume 2 of the Hoods Woods video series) that’s a bit longer than twice your barrel’s length. Double it over. On one end, attach a small splitshot fishing sinker--a sinker about 1/8-inch (0.125) in diameter will do nicely. At the other end, form a small loop, and insert a cleaning patch. Soak the patch in oil (pre-soak it before you set out), and drop the sinker end down the barrel from the chamber. When it leaves the muzzle, pull it through, using your Swiss Army Knife or a cartridge case as a "T" handle. Repeat if necessary--your bore is protected until you can give it a proper cleaning. If you anticipate really severe weather, a coat or two of hard-paste automotive wax will often provide better protection to exposed metal surfaces than an oil wipedown. Likewise, a layer of black electrician’s tape over the muzzle will keep water from running down the bore, but will not cause a dangerous rise in pressure the way a bit of rag will. Keep a foot of the stuff wrapped
around the barrel just in front of the stock if you’ll be out in the rain. (Note--even stainless steel barrels benefit from this tip, as droplets of water in the bore can cause a bulged barrel at the time of a shot.) Storage This is the last part of our cleaning mindset. No matter how much work you’ve done cleaning your firearm, improper storage can undo it all. The two biggest culprits, outside of putting away a dirty gun? In my opinion, gun cases and holsters. Fleece or fabric-lined gun cases often absorb the protecting oil from a gun’s exterior surfaces, and then collect moisture from the air, causing evil rust. Leather (and to a lesser extent Nylon) holsters do the same thing, and the acids in the leather may hasten the process. Store your guns in a secure, cool, dry environment, uncased. If they will be stored for any appreciable length of time, give the metal surfaces a coating of Cosmoline, Rust Inhibiting Grease (RIG), or even Vaseline-and that includes the bore. Naturally, grease inside the bore MUST be removed COMPLETELY before firing, as even a thin layer constitutes an incompressible obstruction. I once was witness to a unique storage scenario. We opened a 200-liter steel drum (equivalent to our familiar 55-gallon drum) to find a dozen German M1888 Commission rifles inside. They’d been separated from their stocks, and the drum had been filled with what was apparently diesel, coal oil, or fuel oil. When the drum head came off, the room stank to high heaven, but the rifles themselves were in pretty fair condition. The stocks, though, were completely saturated with the oil--I still have one of those rifles, and to this day (very nearly 30 years later) it still sweats out oil on hot days if left in the sun. Excess oil will ruin a wooden stock, saturating it and weakening it. ***** We come to a close. Throughout, you’ll notice I’ve largely avoided brand names. The simple fact is I don’t have tremendously strong preferences in many cases. Hoppe’s and Shooter’s Choice products are widely available and perform satisfactorily in my experience. In a pinch, even simple kerosene will do. Brownells (see link) www.brownells.com/index.html is, as always, an excellent source for all your needs, including not only brushes, patches, chemicals and greases, but desiccants, long-term storage bags, Mil-Spec P-3420F rust-inhibiting paper and more. Mr. Hay contributes a caveat concerning Teflon oils in a rifle’s bore. I’d pay great attention to anything he says. And finally, keep your firearms secure, where they are unlikely to be accessed by unauthorized parties, be they children, fools, or thieves. Caramba! Look at the time! I hope those of you who’ve made it this far have gleaned something of interest. I hope I’ve caught most of the mistakes, and I hope other Forum members will
contribute more information. To a certain breed of us, a whiff of nitro solvent on blued steel smells better than a dab of Chanel #5 on a supermodel’s earlobe or heaving cleavage. Ah, the life! Good shooting, and regards,
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