SOME TIPS ON CLEANING AND LUBRICATING FIREARMS
Copyright (c) 1998-2000 David S. Markowitz
Like any other tool, a firearm must be properly cared for if it is to maintain its usefulness over time. Just like a car engine, it should be periodically cleaned and lubricated in order to minimize wear and tear, and to maximize performance. The purpose of this article is to provide some general pointers on these critical processes so that you can keep your gun ticking.
Please note that this article is focused towards the care of modern guns using ammunition loaded with smokeless powder. For information on cleaning black powder guns, see my other piece on selecting and caring for black powder percussion revolvers.
For cleaning firearms, you will need a solvent to dissolve powder fouling and metal fouling in the bore and action, and the meansand action, and the means to apply it. There are a number of commercially available solvents, the best known off which is Hoppe's No.9 Nitro Solvent, which has been around since about Day One. It works very well in removing powder fouling, and also does a decent job on copper fouling in gun barrels. Also, most shooters find the smell very pleasant. (For some reason, most shooters' wives do not share this sentiment!)
Another good commercial solvent is Shooter's Choice. This is stronger than Hoppe's No.9, and is good if your gun is really dirty. Unfortunately, it stinks to high heaven so make sure you are using it in a very well ventilated area.
If you are shooting high power rifle, and your bore is very dirty, and especially if it's got a significant amount of copper fouling, you might want to try Sweet's 7.62 solvent. This is posibly the strongest solvent I've used, and does an excellent job of removing copper fouling from bores, due to its high ammonia content.
For really stubborn copper or lead fouling, Shooter's Choice makes special copper and lead remover solvents. These are meant to be used after you've cleaned the powder fouling from the bore. JB Bore Paste, which contains a very mild abrasive, is also made for this task.r this task.
However, my personal favorite solvent for gun cleaning is a home brew called "Ed's Red," which was developed from an old Frankford Arsenal formula by noted gun writer C.E. Harris. (To see the recipe for Ed's Red, click on this link.) I've found that it works as good or better than most commercial solvents on removing powder fouling. However, metal fouling is best removed with one of the commercial products.
Besides commercial and home brew powder solvents, you can use several products easily available at auto parts and hardware stores for gun cleaning. Kerosene does a good job of removing powder fouling, and in fact is an ingredient in both Hoppe's No.9 and Ed's Red. Carburetor cleaner is one of the best choices to remove stubborn buildups of plastic wad residue in shotguns. I've also been told that Simple Green works well as a powder solvent.
Note that if you shoot ammunition with corrosive primers (as found in much military surplus ammo), you'll want to ad US GI Rifle Bore Cleaner or boiling hot water to your shopping list.
When choosing lubricants, again there is aagain there is a wide variety of commercial products on the market. Hoppe's, Remington, and many others all make good quality gun oil. However, my personal choice is Dexron III Automatic Transmission Fluid (ATF). Synthetic ATF was originally developed to replace sperm whale oil which was used in early automatic transmissions. Sperm whale oil is one of the finest lubricants extant. The modern ATF is an excellent substitute, offering good lubricating qualities, rust-prevention, and it also contains surfactants which act as a detergent to float dirt away from metal to which it's applied. Finally, it is significantly cheaper than oils sold specifically for use on firearms.
Some guns require the use of grease on certain parts, instead of oil. An example is the M1 Garand rifle, on which you should use Lubriplate grease on the op rod, and some other parts.
Incidentally, there is one oil/solvent which I recommend you avoid for use on guns: WD-40. It is okay as a cleaner, but make sure that you remove all of it and replace it with a good rust-preventing oil before storing any gun. WD-40 doesn't work very well as a gun lubricant or to prevent rust - it's too light. However, it is useful when cleaning to blow fouling out of cracks and crevices.d crevices.
In addition to the solvents and lubes required, you'll also need the hardware necessary to clean your gun. You can buy complete cleaning kits, including a cleaning rod, oil and lube, and cleaning patches, or you can buy them separately.
To clean the inside of the gun's barrel, you need a cleaning rod of the proper length, and the proper tips for it. For rifles, I recommend a one-piece stainless steel cleaning rod long enough to clean the entire bore from the breech end (if you rifle's design permits this). The handle should swivel freely, so that the rod can follow the rifling as the rod is pushed through the bore. Sectional roads are okay for bringing to the range or field use, but one-piece rods are better because they are more rigid, and their sections don't get unscrewed constantly. Stainless steel is best, because it's hard and won't pick up grit like aluminum rods. If you cannot clean your rifle from the breech end of the barrel, you should get a bore guide or muzzle protector, which centers the rod in the muzzle and prevents it from rubbing as you move the rod through the bore. If you look at a lot if old military rifles, you'll see that the muzzle is worn because a muzzle guide wasn't used. This will eventually ruin the gun'sy ruin the gun's accuracy.
You'll need a couple items to attach to the end of the cleaning rod. First off, you'll need a brass or nylon bore brush. You'll use this to apply bore solvent to the inside of the bore and scrape out the fouling. Next, you'll need a jag or slotted tip to hold cleaning patches.
Cleaning patches should be of the proper size for your gun's caliber (see the patches' packaging to make sure) and made of cotton flannel cloth.
I also find these items to come in handy when cleaning my guns:
- An eyedropper or pipette to apply solvent to patches, brushes, and spots on the gun.
- Old toothbrushes are good for scrubbing gun parts.
- Fine steel wool for severe carbon fouling in autoloaders. You can also use Scotchbrite.
- A solvent-resistant container in which to let parts soak.
Cleaning & Lubrication
Any time you get a new gun you should properly clean and lubricate it before shooting it for the first time. First read the manual which came with the gun so that you know how to take it down properly. If youdown properly. If you didn't get a manual, most US manufacturers will provide one free of charge for the asking. If you get a military surplus gun, you may need to do some research, either on the Web, or in reference works like Small Arms of the World to find out how to field strip the piece.
Let's not forget that the very first step you must take is to make sure the gun is unloaded! If your gun is an autoloader, first remove the magazine, then work the action several times to make sure the chamber is unloaded. Then, visually check the chamber to ensure you've completely cleared the piece.
Another reason to get the gun's manual is that it may have special instructions for its proper lubrication. For example, Glock pistols should not be over-lubricated - they actually are less reliable if you add too much lubricant.
Most guns come from the factory or importer with a protective coating such as grease or Cosmoline on the metal parts. This should be cleaned off with either one of the solvents mentioned above or something like mineral spirits or kerosene. Be careful not to get these solvents on your gun's stock, since they'll damage the finish!the finish!
After you remove the protective grease, lubricate the gun as indicated in the gun's manual. If you're not going to take it to the range immediately, give the metal parts a light coat of oil, or wipe them down with a silicone gun and reel cloth to prevent rust.
If you've just shot your gun, you should clean it before placing it back in storage. You'll need to clean the bore and the action. It is not a bad idea to run a brush or patch wet with solvent through the bore before you leave the range. This way, the solvent can work on the fouling in the bore on your drive home, and you'll have less work to do later.
To clean the gun's bore, I like to run a wet brush through several times and then let it soak while I clean the rest of the gun. I then follow this up with several patches wet with solvent, keeping this up until the patches come out clean. I'll then run one or two dry patches through to remove the solvent, and then put a coat of protective oil in the bore for storage.
If you shoot corrosively-primed ammunition, you'll need to be very thorough when you clean the bore and any other parts which gas froms which gas from the burning powder come into contact with. This is especially true if the bore on your gun isn't chrome-plated. Basically, you'll need to clean the bore with boiling water or GI Bore Cleaner. These will get out the corrosive salts deposited by the primers. I then like to follow up with a few patches using Ed's Red, dry patches, and then coat the bore with protective oil. (I use ATF.) When the US Army used corrosively-primed ammo, standard operating procedure was to follow the initial cleaning with additional cleaning for the next three days, to ensure that no corrosive residue was left. In dry climates this probably isn't necessary, but you should at least check the bore the next day by running a patch through it, and then oiling the bore. Better safe than sorry.
When I'm cleaning the rest of the gun's mechanism, I like to flush parts with solvent and scrub with an old toothbrush until the parts are clean. The solvent is then wiped off with a patch or paper towel, and the parts are lightly lubricated with an appropriate oil or grease. After assembly, the entire gun is wiped down with a silicone rag to keep the exterior from rusting. That's really all there is to it.
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