I have a tendency to like things neat and orderly; so, as you can imagine, I can’t tolerate a dirty gun. And to keep my guns spotless, I have a substantial investment in cleaning gear. But then I have a substantial investment in firearms, so it just makes sense to look after them. However, I’d still rather shoot guns than clean them, and with the help of good tools and chemicals it’s possible to do the latter quickly and easily.
Like many jobs, gun cleaning is best tackled by breaking down the overall task into individual components. After all, cleaning is not just the removal of unwanted debris, it also includes protecting freshly cleaned surfaces from corrosion as well as doing any necessary lubrication. Therefore, any gun cleaning job should always be considered a three step process of cleaning, lubrication and protection. All the tools and chemicals used to clean firearms will fit into one or more of these three categories. Manufacturers have recognized this to the extent of abbreviating cleaning, lubrication and protection into the acronym CLP to designate products which will perform, not just one, but all three of these functions. When you buy any cleaning product, be sure you understand exactly which of these three roles the product will perform.
It’s also useful to further sub-divide the job into the three surfaces that every firearm has and apply the three steps of cleaning, lubrication and protection to each as necessary. Those surfaces include the bore/chamber of the firearm, the external surfaces of the gun and lastly, it’s internal mechanisms and surfaces. That makes for nine steps to a clean gun and sounds like a lot of work, but it’s not nearly as bad as it seems because you don’t have to do everything all the time.
Bore and Chamber
Firing even one shot from a firearm will result in some amount of fouling in the gun’s bore and chamber. This fouling will have one of two sources; either it’ll be from the primer and gunpowder or it’ll originate from the projectile. Of the two, the primer/powder fouling is the easiest to remove. Fouling that originates from the projectile is much harder to eradicate. This fouling can take the form of copper or lead deposits left behind by a speeding bullet, or it can be plastic deposits originating from shotgun wads. In either case, it can be one of a shooter’s greatest cleaning challenges.
Any attempt at bore cleaning has to start with a good cleaning rod, and by good I mean a one piece unit, with a large comfortable handle that spins on ball bearings. The rods, made by J. Dewey are particularly well made and widely available at Canadian retailers. With different sized jags and brushes attached, one rod can cover many bore sizes and look after a variety of tasks.
Solvents useful for bore cleaning are usually intended for either removing copper or powder fouling. A few do a good job on both. Many are strong smelling and their use indoors may make you unpopular with your spouse. Recently, more nose-friendly products have been developed that are water based, safer and more environmentally friendly. My current favourite is a Canadian product called 1st Choice Bore Cleaner, simply because it does a great job of removing powder and copper fouling, doing so with no detectable odour.
So far, I haven’t found a solvent that does a good job of removing lead, so I resort to abrasive means when I need to get stubborn lead out of a barrel. This includes using tools like the Lewis Lead Remover and products like J-B® Non-Embedding Bore Cleaning Compound. These products can be difficult to find in Canada, but are easily available from Brownell’s, the US gunsmith supply firm and are worth the effort to obtain if you shoot a lot of lead bullets.
Here’s a basic bore cleaning routine that will work with rifle, handgun or shotgun. Start with patches saturated with solvent and push them through the bore until they start coming out almost clean. Wait a minute or two between patches, giving the solvent time to work its magic. Follow the patches with a brass brush, also saturated in solvent, and stroke it through the full length of the bore about ten times. Give this a couple of minutes to soak as well and then follow with more saturated patches until they start to come out clean too. At this point the powder fouling should be gone.
The presence of copper fouling is easy to recognize as those last patches through the barrel will exhibit a blue or green colour, indicative of the solvent reacting with the copper. Continued soaking with a solvent will eventually remove it, or it can be removed with an abrasive paste. Lead or plastic fouling is tougher to recognize, but a careful inspection of a bore will reveal its presence. Several companies make chemical products specifically for cleaning the plastic out of shotgun barrels and choke tubes. However, be careful with these because they might attack any other plastic on the gun as well, including stocks and stock finishes.
Removing all this foreign matter is the largest chore in cleaning your firearm’s bore, and once it’s done, all that ‘s left is to prevent any damage while it’s in storage. The traditional way to do this is to run an oiled patch down the barrel and then store the firearm with a light coating of oil in the bore. That still works, but these days we have rust preventing products that work better than oil. I still run a protective patch through all my barrels, even the stainless steel ones, when I’m done cleaning, but it’s most likely to be something like G96 Gun Treatment or another product that provides rust-inhibiting protection.
Unlike a firearm’s bore, where the major goal is debris removal, the primary task in caring for external surfaces is protection. After all, the external surfaces of any firearm are what gets handled and exposed to the elements the most. Cleaning those external firearm surfaces requires little more than a wipe and normally doesn’t require any lubrication. Protection is the goal, especially if the gun is manufactured from a conventional carbon steel that is much more prone to rusting than stainless steel.
This is where moisture displacing products and rust inhibitors play a big role. I’ve had great success with the previously mentioned G96 Gun Treatment but there are other products that will perform this role as well. Whatever you use, the method is the same. I normally spray the product onto a clean cloth and then wipe the gun down thoroughly, including the stock. This takes care of most of the firearm’s surfaces, but there are always a few nooks that can’t be reached. To look after those, I use an old toothbrush, again lightly coated with a protectant, and scrub into those crannies that the rag can’t access. This process lifts off any light debris and leaves a thin film of protective material that will keep metal surfaces from rusting.
With the bore and chamber clean, and the external surfaces wiped off and protected from corrosion, it may be desirable to lubricate some parts of the firearm. This will depend on how much shooting you’ve done and on the gun’s design. Lubricate as necessary and you’re done with what might be called a routine cleaning. However, if you’ve just done a lot of shooting or perhaps are doing a complete yearly cleaning, it’s time to consider the firearm’s internal surfaces.
When do you clean a gun’s internal surfaces? That’s a question to which there is no pat answer, unless you’re in the military; and then the answer is always. But in real life, if you’ve just fired twenty rounds at the range to sight in a hunting rifle, you don’t need to strip the bolt and clean it, or even remove the barrelled action from the stock and clean all those hidden surfaces. There’s no need. But if you’ve been out hunting on a wet, miserable, rain-soaked day and didn’t fire a single shot, then you should consider pulling the gun apart and cleaning everything, just to prevent rust. So, you see, it all depends.
Likewise, if you fire 200 rounds of jacketed, lead free ammo through your semi-auto pistol, little cleaning will be needed. But shoot the same number of rounds containing lead bullets and leaded primers, and the difference will be dramatic. In the latter case, you’d better strip the pistol and clean it. Just remember that the three steps of clean, lubricate and protect must be followed here too.
When it comes to internals, most firearms have at least one complicated group of parts that shooters are reluctant to disassemble, the trigger assembly being a common example. Cleaning these is as easy as spraying the assembly with a CLP product and then thoroughly blowing away the excess with compressed air. This does a great job of blasting away grime, while leaving a very thin layer of protection and lubrication.
As good as manufacturer’s claim their CLP products are, I’m old school enough to prefer products specifically made for lubrication on a firearm’s high friction areas. Places like the slide rails of semi-auto pistols, the centre pins of revolver cylinders, the locking lugs of rifle bolts and the hinges of break-action shotguns are crucial surfaces that deserve high-performance, dedicated lubricants. Which is the best lubricant? I have no idea, but I won’t use any lube that isn’t a synthetic. I think it’s clear that synthetic lubricants outperform everything else and fortunately, there are lots of good choices in the marketplace; pick a thin oil if you need the lube to flow into hidden areas and a thick grease if the lube needs to stay in a specific spot to do its job. If you’re not sure where to put this lubricant, consult your owner’s manual or contact the firearm’s manufacturer. Failing to lubricate properly is a quick way to ruin a good gun.
Be willing to experiment in your gun cleaning chores. Find out what techniques, tools and products work for your gun and ammo combinations. Just remember that the goal is always three-fold—clean, lubricate and protect. Apply each of those steps to every firearm part that needs it and your gun will love you for it.