Cleaning your gun on a regular basis is the easiest and least expensive way of making sure it will work when you need it to. There are two types of maintenance for your firearm field-stripping and a complete breakdown.
Consult your firearm’s manual before doing either one. Some manufacturers recommend that gun owners only field-strip their firearms and leave complete breakdowns to properly trained gunsmiths. Unless something goes wrong with your firearm, there should be no need to do a complete breakdown; and if you clean your firearm regularly, there should be no major problems.
Safety comes first
What I am about to say should be common sense, but I am going to say it anyway: Make sure your gun is unloaded before cleaning it.
How many stories are in the news about someone shooting themselves or someone else while cleaning their gun? The excuse is always, “I didn’t know it was loaded.”
That is ridiculous, and that person should not even own a gun. Again, make sure your gun is unloaded before you perform any sort of maintenance on it.
Before you start
When I was in the Army, I sometimes found myself cleaning my rifle in less-than-ideal conditions. However, that is not what I would have done if given the choice. There might be times when you will have to clean your firearms in imperfect situations.
Fortunately, most of the time, you can control the conditions around you. So, first and foremost, keep your cleaning area as clean and orderly as possible. In addition, many of the chemicals used for cleaning firearms are not good to breathe in or get onto your skin, so precautions need to be taken.
Needed cleaning supplies
Before you begin cleaning, it is important to have all your supplies ready. Bore brushes, patches, pipe cleaners, and cleaning chemicals should be gathered and within arm’s reach.
There are hundreds of cleaning products out there; as with anything else, some work better than others. Always use a high-quality product on your firearms. I have found that products made by Outers and Shooter’s Choice work best for me. Hoppe’s also manufactures a good product.
Be sure to have plenty of cleaning cloths (old cotton T-shirts work well for this) on hand. You will also need cleaning kits for each of your firearms (rifles, shotguns, and handguns). These kits are stocked specifically for the weapon’s caliber and gauge and must be matched to the firearm.
The good kits will include all the tools you will need, including cleaning rods, jag and patch tips, and both brass and nylon bore brushes. Some people swear by bore snakes, which do away with the need for cleaning rods and patches, but I have to take their word for it because I have never used them.
When to clean your gun
After a day in the field, whether I have fired a shot or not, I always field-strip my firearms and give them a cleaning. This usually takes just a few minutes. A more thorough cleaning takes place after firing about 100 rounds on the range.
Some shooters only clean their firearms a few times a year, no matter how much they use them. That could be a dangerous and costly mistake. You have no idea how many times I have seen firearms, either on the shooting range or in the field, malfunction due to inadequate care or the lack of basic maintenance.
Built-up copper and lead fouling can lead to poor performance in both accuracy and mechanical functionality. Burnt gunpowder gets everywhere, and it is corrosive, eating into all metal parts. Once the metal is compromised, any small amount of moisture will create rust. So, the bottom line is to clean often, whether you think it’s needed or not.
Regardless of whether your shotgun is a double barrel, pump, or semiautomatic, the basics are all the same. However, if you are working with a pump or semiautomatic, there are more parts that need to be cleaned, such as the bolt. Don’t overlook any of these parts when cleaning.
I start by laying a towel or newspapers on the floor. I prefer to work on the floor because I can’t drop and lose any pieces if I am already there. After separating the barrel from the rest of the shotgun, I set it aside and begin to work on the receiver.
The first thing I do is spray the trigger assembly and other hard-to-reach places with cleaner/solvent. The spray cleaner cleans out any dirt or fouling that might accumulate there. Then, using a pipe cleaner, I remove particles broken free by the cleaner. Using a clean cotton cloth, I take some bore cleaner and clean the receiver. An old toothbrush works well for scrubbing the crevices.
Once that’s clean, I wipe or any excess cleaner and then put a light coat of gun oil on everything I can get to. I can’t overstate the importance of wiping or any solvent or cleaner from the firearm, especially from wooden stocks and forearms, because they will ruin the finish if they are left on.
Setting aside the receiver, I then work on the barrel. If your shotgun has removable choke tubes, remove them and clean them separately. I clean the choke tube first and then replace it. Mossberg highly recommends never cleaning the barrel without the choke tube in place, because doing so can damage the fine threads in the barrel.
To clean the barrel, attach the bore brush to your cleaning rod, dip the brush into the bore solvent, and then run it through the barrel a few times to loosen dirt and fouling. After the bore has been scrubbed, remove the brush and run clean patches through the bore.
Do this until the patches come out clean. Repeat this process as needed. Don’t overlook the handgrips or forearm stock. Wipe these parts with a clean, dry cloth. This is important because dirt does get trapped in these parts, as well.
Once clean, lightly oil and then reassemble the shotgun. It is possible that some parts can be assembled incorrectly, so double-check your work often. When the gun is fully assembled—but before loading it with ammunition—work the mechanical aspects of your firearm to make sure all mechanical parts work freely and properly. The final step is to lightly oil the entire outside of the firearm to protect its surfaces and prevent corrosion.
Although they are a little more complicated than shotguns, rifles are easy to keep clean. What makes a rifle a “rifle” are the spiral grooves in the barrel called “rifling.” It is important to keep residue from building up in those grooves, or the rifle will not shoot properly.
In the interest of safety and dependability, make sure to read the owner’s manual before tackling these projects. If you still have questions, consult a gunsmith or the manufacturer. The less complicated the rifle is, the easier it will be to clean.
Bolt- and lever-action riles are, by far, the easiest because they have fewer moving parts. On the other hand, semiautomatic rifles have the most parts, and some of them are very small. Unfortunately, more parts to clean means more parts to lose.
All semiautomatic rifles have a spring; in fact, some have more than one. The spring is the most difficult piece to deal with. It could come flying out during disassembly; it can get bent during reassembly, and I’ve even seen springs reassembled backward. Be very careful when removing and replacing the spring(s).
The big difference between cleaning rifles and cleaning shotguns comes when it is time to clean the barrel. Most shotguns are smoothbores—meaning that they have no rifling—so the direction in which you run the cleaning rod through the barrel really doesn’t make any difference.
However, the same can’t be said for rifles. The best way to clean a rifle barrel is to go in the direction of the rifling—from the breech end to the muzzle. As with shotguns, take your time, and run patches through the barrel until they come out clean.
Handguns are broken down into revolvers and semiautomatics. While the cleaning process is basically the same, there are a few little differences you need to be aware of.
Let’s look at revolvers first. Here is the process for cleaning a revolver:
After prepping the area, open the action and leave it open. Take a thick cloth and wrap it around the hammer and frame to protect it from any damage. Using the appropriate cleaning rod, go through the same process that would be used to clean the barrel of a rifle. Always be sure to remove any remaining bore cleaner with clean, dry patches.
Moving on to the frame:
Use a cloth, a stiff nylon brush, or even pipe cleaners to get debris or fouling out of less-accessible places, especially where the cylinder fits into the frame.
To clean the cylinder, run patches through each chamber, using a brush if they are really dirty. Close the cylinder and wipe the entire firearm with a cloth dampened with gun oil. Cycle the hammer to ensure the firearm will operate properly and to spread the lubricant equally.
Cleaning a semiautomatic handgun is not any more difficult, but it is different. Semiautomatics break down into four parts: receiver, slide, barrel, and spring.
Although all these handguns do break down in a similar manner, refer to your owner’s manual before you perform this step. Once the gun is disassembled, wipe the spring with a clean cloth and set it aside.
Using a pipe cleaner and a dry cloth, wipe down the slide. If there is any residue built up, use a little bore cleaner and a stiff nylon brush to break it free. Wipe it down again until it is clean. Set the slide aside.
Use a pipe cleaner to clean the mechanism in the receiver, including the trigger. Wipe that down and set it aside.
Clean the barrel using bore cleaner and the appropriate bore brush or patches. I have a word of caution for you here: Before putting any oil on the firearm, consult the manual. All semiautomatics have lube points, and too much oil can actually harm the function of the firearm.
Reassemble the firearm.
Ensuring it is unloaded, make sure everything works properly. If it doesn’t, take it apart again and see where you went wrong.
There is one more step I take before I put my firearms away: I always spray them down with a light coat of rust preventative. I really like two products. The first is Rust Prevent, made by Shooter’s Choice, and the second is Strike Hold. Spray your gun down, and then wipe off the excess.
Remember that a firearm that doesn’t function properly when you need it is basically worthless. A little time and care spent keeping your weapon in top condition are well worth the effort. There is no such thing as cleaning your firearm too much!
This article was submitted by Stephen Harris.
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