Monday, September 5, 2016

Gun Cleaning, Part 1: Requirements

Tools that don't work properly (or at all) do not help you. In an emergency situation, that can be seriously embarrassing and possibly bad for your health.

A while back I talked about lubrication, but you must clean before you lube. If you don't, sooner or later you will build up gunk to amazing levels, and your boomstick won't work well, or even at all. Since cleaning can get interesting, I'm going to break this down into several posts, starting with

How Often Do You Need to Clean Your Guns?
This is one of those topics that can start an argument, which comes down to either "Just shoot it until things start getting sticky, or slow, then clean it" vs. "Clean it after every session, or it won't hold up, and it'll rust! It'll be terrible!" I fall in the middle: I hate leaving something more than a couple of range sessions without cleaning, but scrubbing the hell out of a gun every time it's fired will put more wear on some parts than shooting will. You must decide on which side you fall.

 A modern firearm -- assuming it was properly lubed to start with and using only modern ammunition -- doesn't have to be cleaned every time you shoot it; in fact, you don't even have to clean it after several trips at the range* (barring you shooting a bleepload of ammo and getting it flat filthy). This means if you have to fire it, and then have a long slog getting home or to your bugout location, and in bad weather, it'll still work.

Note that this does not take local conditions into account. For dusty areas, you should use something to blow the dust off/out regularly at the very least; for wet conditions, drying and wiping down is a very good idea.

Surplus Ammo
The biggest reason for regular cleaning are cartridge primers: some older ammunition -- military surplus in particular, but some newer European-made stuff as well -- has primers that are often referred to as 'corrosive', but they really aren't; the proper term is 'mercuric', due to a mercury-based chemical in the priming compound. When it burns, it produces traces of salt which wind up in the bore and (especially with a semi-auto firearm) the receiver. Now salt isn't actually corrosive either, but it does attract moisture (the term is 'hygroscopic'), and that will cause rust. In a humid environment, this will happen quickly, such as within a few hours to overnight. In a dry area you can often put off cleaning till the next day, but you really need to clean it then**, and it requires a different cleaning method than modern non-mercuric-primed ammo (this procedure will be covered in the next article).

The second reason for cleaning is that a lot of steel-cased ammo (7.62x39 and 7.62x54R are the best examples) use propellants that burn dirty. Fire twenty rounds of Winchester ammo and inspect your firearm, then fire twenty of the import stuff and inspect again; there'll be a lot more propellant fouling in there.

Surplus stuff costs less, and not all is corrosive-primed (check labels carefully), but even the non-mercuric stuff will require cleaning more often.

If you have firearms, regardless of how often to you do it, you need to know how to field-strip them for cleaning. If you have a manual, it should have instructions; if you have no manual, go online and find it, or contact the manufacturer; they're usually happy to send you a copy.  I recommend you do not just start by trying to pull things off or unthreading screws; that can end up making things really interesting, really quickly.

Basic Tools
Most firearms do not require much, if anything, to take them apart for cleaning; you might need something to move a part, but nothing intricate or expensive is usually needed. A Smith & Wesson M&P pistol, for instance, has a piece in the magazine well (the area in the grip where the magazine goes) that has to be flipped down before you can disassemble it; a small screwdriver or toothpick will work for that. 

But there are a few tools you need to actually clean a gun, the most basic being:
  1. A cleaning rod of some type to clean the bore.
  2. Brushes and jags for the rod.
  3. Patches.
  4. Some type of cleaning solution.
  5. Lubricant for after.
I'd also recommend some nitrile gloves, as some cleaning solutions will mess with your skin if you get them on you.

Cleaning Rods
Cleaning rods come in several styles: coated steel, non-coated, carbon fiber, brass, and cable (such as what comes in the Otis Tactical Cleaning System). I prefer carbon fiber rods because they don't get crud stuck (embedded) in the surface where it can wear on the rifling; they stay straight; they'll flex instead of bend under pressure; and they're pretty much impervious to any cleaning solution I've tried. Get the best you can; it'll be worth it in the long run.

The biggest thing to remember is that if you have something that has to be cleaned from the muzzle (most lever-action rifles, some semi-auto or pump rifles and shotguns), you need to get a muzzle guide like at right to keep the rod from rubbing on the rifling at the crown; that will screw accuracy worse than wear anywhere else.

There are lots of kits out there with a rod in sections that you screw together; some are not bad at all, and some are crap. I'd suggest staying away from these in steel (except the coated) and find one in brass or aluminum. Some say those are trouble because stuff can embed in the surface (brass and aluminum are fairly soft), but my objection to the steel rods is they (especially the cheap ones) tend to have a 'step' where the sections screw together, and I'd worry more about that wearing on the rifling than some crud I can wipe off.

Brushes and Jags
You'll need bronze or brass brushes to clean the bore in the proper size for your gun. They're usually marked something like '.30 Caliber' or have an actual number like '7mm' or '.338'.

jag (these can be had individually or in kits) is a fitting to hold a cloth patch while you push or pull it through the bore; again, these are made for different calibers, though there is some crossover: you can use the same jag for 9mm and .38-caliber barrels, but a .40-caliber jag will NOT work as it's too large.

Slotted jags (also called patch holders) do work, but they don't clean the rifling as well.

Patches can be bought, or you can do what lots and lots of people do and save worn-out or damaged t-shirts and cut them up. This works well as they're quite absorbent, both for holding cleaning solution and soaking up fouling.

Cleaning Solutions
There are dozens of them out there, everything from the been-around-forever Hoppe's No.9, to high-tech copper-removing stuff. Hoppe's still sells a lot of No. 9, because it works. 

Be aware that you do NOT want to leave some of the aggressive copper-removing stuff in the bore for very long, as it can wind up attacking the steel. It's wonderful stuff if you need to remove copper fouling, but read the directions and follow them. You will also need something to clean the traces out of the bore, and be sure to oil it afterwards. 

A CLP (Cleaner/Lubricant/Protectant) can handle the whole mess; it won't clean as well as a dedicated cleaner, and it might not lube as well as a WONDERLUBE! (TM), or protect as well as a dedicated product like Hoppe's, but it'll still get the job done.

These were extensively covered in a previous post.

Next Post
 Actually using this stuff!

*Picking just one example, people have run AR-15 rifles for incredible round counts (as in tens of thousands of rounds) without cleaning, just squirting a little oil in when the bolt carrier group starts bogging down too badly. This isn't recommended, but it proves the point.

There's no problem with cleaning after every range session, though; I usually do that myself, by wiping out the bore and chamber to remove powder fouling if nothing else (and this depends on the firearm). You do not have to strip it down to nothing but parts (detail strip) and scrub everything; just do a basic breakdown (field strip) to clean off and lube the primary parts. Wipe the outside off as necessary to prevent rust, and you're good.

**At one time there was a bunch of 1960s-era German-made 8x57 Mauser ammo available for purchase. It was reliable and pretty accurate, but the residue from the primers was downright evil about causing rust; it took extra scrubbing to get it out. Ask me someday how I know this...

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