Wednesday, September 7, 2022

Prepper's Armory: Cleaning Long Guns

Last week was pistols; now we finish this series with cleaning long guns.

Rifles have more variety than handguns due to their many different types, so this section will be bit more general, but I’ll add a few asides for specific actions or components.

Start with basic disassembly (this varies by rifle pattern) and run a patch wetted with solvent down the bore, working from chamber to muzzle if possible. If the barrel has to be cleaned from the muzzle, such as with the M1 Garand, use a muzzle guide to help protect the barrel crown.

Another option with rifle barrels that can’t be cleaned from the chamber is to run a bare cleaning rod down the barrel from the muzzle, attach the patch or brush in the chamber area, and pull the rod back through. While it is more effort to repeatedly attach and remove rod end accessories, this reduces the chance of the rod flexing and the metal patch holder rubbing on the rifling.

Make sure to use a properly sized patch. If it feels like it’s taking too much force to get the patch through, stop, reassess and try again with a smaller patch. A patch that’s too big for the caliber can get wedged in the barrel, possibly breaking the patch holder at the same time, and this can present a challenge to remove. The best solution is often to use a corkscrew-like rod attachment called a worm to pick out the patch a bit at a time. Under no circumstances should you try to force the patch out with another rod, as this will almost certainly make the problem worse. 

Once the solvent is soaking into the barrel, clean all the action parts, making sure to get into the nooks and crannies where fouling can hide. While cleaning the bolt, pay special attention to the breech face and locking lugs for signs of wear or peening. This is especially important with heavier recoiling rifles. When checking the bolt face, look for any brass fragments that might interfere with the extractor or ejector.

For the AR-15 family of rifles, a special chamber brush is available that cleans both the chamber and the space between the locking lugs and the chamber. This gap is a prime spot for residue to hide and impede function. In fact, a chamber brush is a good idea to have in any firearm cleaning kit.

Clean any carbon residue from the tail of the bolt and inside the carrier (another good use for a homemade scraper), and check the gas rings on the bolt and the gas key on the carrier for wear.

Clean the magazine tube, box, or well as appropriate to the type of feed system. Once reassembled, check the magazine and/or feed spring for proper tension. Dummy rounds or snap caps can help with this test.

Finish cleaning the barrel, wipe down all the parts, reassemble, and perform a function check.

Overall, break-open (also called break-action) shotguns are probably the easiest to clean due to their simplicity. Semi-automatic and pump shotguns can be more complicated depending on disassembly and reassembly requirements.

With most break-open shotguns, disassembly consists of removing the fore-end, opening the action, and removing the barrel. With pump and many semi-auto shotguns, disassembly involves unscrewing a retention nut from the end of the magazine tube and then removing the barrel.

Getting into the fire control parts can be more complicated, sometimes considerably so. Thankfully, these components are fairly well sealed against firing residue, so more detailed disassembly isn't usually required.

Things to look for in shotguns include:
  • Loosening of the hinge pin in break-open shotguns
  • Wear to the barrel lockup and magazine spring in repeating shotguns
  • Damage to the firing pin(s)
  • Wear to the firing pin opening(s) in the frame
  • Dents in the relatively thin barrels
  • Plastic wad reside stuck in the barrel
  • Cracks in the stock
Wooden shotgun stocks are prone to cracking above the wrist (the location where the stock attaches to the frame), due to oil draining down out of the action and soaking the wood. Semi-automatic shotguns frequently crack at the rear of the fore-end, often caused by over-tightening the barrel retention nut.

Cleaning consists of the usual wet patch down the barrel; cleaning the action, bolt, breechface, and other parts depending upon the type of shotgun; cleaning the barrel; then wiping everything down and reassembly. Action testing dummy rounds and snap caps are available in shotgun calibers as well.

Shotgun patch holders and bore brushes require a special adaptor to work on rifle-sized rods. If you’re going to be cleaning shotguns frequently, I recommend getting a dedicated shotgun rod, which are heavier and thicker than rifle rods.

Hopefully this overview has given you some useful information for keeping firearms clean and reliable.

Stay safe, and good shooting.

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