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Gun Maintenance, Part 2
By Tim Siewert

In part 1, I covered all the gear needed for good gun maintenance and basic gunsmithing. Now for some information about how to use all of that stuff; let’s turn to cleaning procedures first:

Virtually all firearm manufacturers include disassembly, care, and cleaning instructions in the owner’s manual. If you purchased a gun used without a manual; manuals are available from all manufacturers that are still in business. For many vintage guns, disassembly instructions can be found on-line. Also, there are a number of books available covering assembly/disassembly of almost any gun ever made; these are a necessity for any firearm enthusiast’s library. Failing this, any gunsmith worth his salt should be able to assist you.

Step 1- Almost always upon returning home after a shooting session I first dump my empty brass in the cleaner; after I have dumped my brass in the cleaner I turn to cleaning and start by ensuring the gun to be cleaned is unloaded and safe: no round or empty case in the chamber and magazine removed if applicable.

Step 2- Field-strip the gun. Semi-auto pistols or rifles field stripped as per the manufacturer’s instructions; revolvers- open the cylinder; bolt-action rifles- remove the bolt; semi-auto or pump shot guns- remove the barrel; single-shot, break-open shot guns and rifles- open the action. On most pump and semi-auto shot guns, the barrel can be easily removed for cleaning; rarely is further disassembly required.

Step 3- Clean the barrel. Do this first because the majority of the fouling will be in the barrel and it may be all that is necessary; or if you get interrupted at least the bore of the barrel will be clean. Even if you shoot modern, "non corrosive" ammunition, the barrel should be cleaned as soon as possible. Fouling from current smokeless powder will become more difficult to remove and possibly erode the steel if left for an extended period of time. I always start by pushing a solvent soaked patch down the barrel. One or two strokes with the patch then I wait a few minutes to allow the cleaner to loosen most of the fouling; for heavily fouled barrels I will resoak the patch for a second pass or two. Next, a minimum of ten sets of strokes (down and back is one set) with a bore brush; this should loosen almost all of the fouling.

Then, another clean, solvent soaked patch; a few times down and back followed by the brush again and then yet another solvent patch. If I was shooting some surplus ammo, the first solvent patch will be the GI bore cleaner or some other aggressive cleaner; then all following solvent patches will be with Hoppes. The third solvent patch can then be followed with a clean, dry patch until the patch comes out clean. When you are reasonably sure the bore has been thoroughly cleaned, then push an oil soaked patch through. You may want to do multiple oil patches; occasionally oil will dislodged some stubborn fouling. When I do the final oil patch, I will push the patch down once then before pulling the rod out of the barrel I will re-oil the patch; this insures both ends of the barrel get thoroughly oiled.

Almost all of the rifle ammo I shoot I load myself. For all rifle ammo I have loaded for a number of years I have loaded with moly-coated bullets that I have coated myself. I devoted a complete chapter in my second book on the process of moly-coating bullets. Shooting moly-coated bullets mitigates jacket fouling significantly and makes the chore of cleaning considerably easier. There are other benefits of shooting moly-coated bullets that I covered in the chapter in my book.

Note: while some alleged authorities maintain that a bore brush should only be pushed through the bore in one direction, from breech to muzzle; I use only brass brushes and have never had any excessive barrel wear with my method; with the understanding that I do not use bore brushes on .22lr barrels for the reasons stated in "A special note". Brass is much softer than barrel steel and generally will not wear the bore of a center-fire rifle significantly. The benefit of brushing in both directions is that some fouling may not be loosened by using the brush in only one direction. As long as brass brushes are used exclusively and full strokes employed, i.e. do not reverse direction of the stroke with the brush in the bore, there is little chance of damaging the bore. But, as with many other things in life, too much of a good thing can be detrimental.

A special note: using a bore brush on a regular basis when cleaning a .22lr rim-fire is unnecessary for two reasons; whether it be a rifle or a pistol. #1- all .22 ammunition (short, long, and long rifle) uses plain lead bullets; even if it is sold as "jacketed" the bullet "jacket" is really only a thin plating or merely a wash coating. As such, there is very little, if any, "jacket" fouling left in the barrel. #2- the rifling in rim-fire barrels is very shallow, typically the groove depth is only .001"-.002". In comparison, the rifling in a cut-rifled, center-fire barrel is .005"-.007" in depth; consequently, using a bore brush on a regular basis when cleaning a rim-fire barrel may adversely wear the rifling. When I clean a .22 I only use a patch soaked with Hoppes followed by a clean patch. Also, I only push the patches through in one direction; from the breech to the muzzle unless the gun must be cleaned from the muzzle like the Ruger 10/22, then I use a bore guide. I learned this tip from my friend Boots the barrel master. I do however use a nylon brush occasionally; maybe once a season. As far as other rim-fire calibers such as the .22 WMR and the new, high-speed .17s are concerned: while the ammunition for these faster calibers is loaded with truly jacketed bullets, the rifling is still shallow. Therefore I would still caution using a bore brush on a regular basis for the same reason; possible excessive wear.

This brings me to another reason why a cut-rifled barrel is superior to other barrels: the depth of the rifling. Barrels of other manufacture, button-rifled and hammer-forged, have shallower groove depths opposed to a cut-rifled barrel. I devoted an entire chapter in my second book about barrel manufacture.

Eventually, every barrel will wear-out and become unserviceable given enough rounds down range. For the most part, this is due to throat erosion caused by the extreme heat of the burning propellant gases concentrated in the throat. The other part of the barrel most susceptible to wear is the crown; and 95% of the time this is due to improper cleaning methods i.e. not using a bore guide when cleaning from the muzzle. The first reason is inevitable; the second reason is preventable.

The classic symptom of excessive throat erosion is vertical stringing of rounds on target. The classic symptom of a worn or damage crown is erratic rounds on target. Of course a damaged or worn crown can occur with a relatively new barrel but "rule of thumb" for a "shot out" barrel due to excessive throat erosion is 5000 rounds or more.

Step 3A- After completing the barrel cleaning step, I clean the brass bore brush by spraying it with brake cleaner. This will extend the life of the bore brush because all bore cleaners are formulated to dissolve copper fouling and brass is mostly copper. I keep a metal bucket by the bench were I clean my guns. I deposit dirty patches and rags in this bucket and clean the bore brushes over this bucket as well to contain the brake cleaner while spraying it.

Step4- If you have been shooting a gas-operated, semi-auto rifle, shot gun, or pistol, the gas system should be cleaned after every shooting session. Consult the owner’s manual for proper disassembly of the gas system.

The M1 Garande and M14-type (M1A®) rifles should be cleaned with the action removed from the stock or upside down in the rest to prevent solvent and oil from getting in the stock; the barrel must be cleaned from the muzzle end as well. The bolt should be removed and cleaned; the operating rod, spring, and guide should be removed and cleaned as well. The trigger group of these rifles rarely gets any fouling but should be inspected and cleaned if necessary; this is a use for the spray-cleaner and air-compressor. The trigger, hammer, sear pivot points and spring of the trigger group should be lightly lubed. A light coat of oil should be applied to the operating rod, spring, and guide. The bearing surfaces of the bolt and operating rod should be lubed with grease applied with a Q-tip. The bore should get the standard oil patch. The gas system requires no lubrication after cleaning but I do apply a very light film of oil to the piston only. I use a TiN coated gas piston in my M1A. The M1 does not have a gas piston but the end of the operating rod should be cleaned because fouling does accumulate there. Excess fouling in the gas system of these rifles will adversely affect accuracy.

To clean an "AR" rifle start by disengaging the rear pin (complete removal of the pin is ill-advised), separate the upper and lower receivers and remove the bolt carrier group and charging handle. Disengaging the front pin is not necessary. A 1 ½"x 1 ½" x 6" block of wood in between the upper and lower receivers will facilitate cleaning the barrel. After cleaning the barrel, disassemble the bolt carrier group and clean all components then reassemble the bolt carrier group. There are five components to the bolt carrier group: bolt carrier, bolt, firing pin, bolt retainer pin, and the bolt cam pin. All five of these components must be thoroughly cleaned. A tooth brush and solvent followed with brake cleaner works well. After cleaning, reassemble the carrier group. I usually clean the inside of the gas tube at some point, usually during the barrel cleaning phase, with brake cleaner followed by a long pipe cleaner. The only lubrication necessary on an AR is two drops of oil in the holes on the side of the bolt carrier to lube the bolt gas rings (note: when reassembling the bolt carrier, ensure that the gaps of the gas rings on the bolt are not aligned); a light film of oil applied with your finger on the bearing surfaces of the carrier; one drop of oil on the hammer and trigger pivot pins; and the standard oil patch down the bore. Any more oil than this will result in possibly gumming up the action and blowing oil in the shooter’s face upon firing.

FN-FAL type rifles, H&K "G" type rifles, and AK-47 rifles all can be cleaned much the same as an AR. H&K rifles do not have a gas system, they are recoil operated rifles; FN-FAL and AK rifles are gas operated though. Consult the owner’s manual or look on-line for disassembly instructions.

For you "wheel-gunners"- Cleaning a revolver is no more complicated than cleaning the bore and cylinder using the standard barrel cleaning procedure and then wiping off the outside of the gun. Disassembly of the action is unnecessary although it is a good time to remove the grips to clean under them and lube the hammer spring. Dirt and moisture has a habit of accumulating under the grips of handguns, both revolvers and auto-pistols. If you shoot a lot of plain lead bullets in a revolver, the forcing cone will get loaded up with lead along with the cylinder face. There is a device called the "Lewis Lead Remover" that is optimum for cleaning the forcing cone. There are solvents specially formulated for lead removal as well. The barrel of a revolver must be cleaned from the muzzle; use a bore guide; the cylinder can be cleaned from the breech end. Pay particular attention to the face of the cylinder and the forcing cone end of the barrel. Typically, this gap should be about .003". Fouling and lead will build up on the cylinder face and the end of the barrel and can impede proper functioning of the gun.

A use for steel wool: a heavily leaded revolver or pistol barrel can be quickly cleaned using a jag wrapped with "0" or "00" steel wool soaked with solvent; I caution though, this should not be considered a routine cleaning operation; the steel wool will wear the barrel steel. For stubborn lead repeat the process. Use of gas-checked bullets in handguns almost eliminates leading.

To clean a semi-auto pistol: first ensure the gun is unloaded and the magazine has been removed then field-strip the gun. Next, clean the barrel using the standard procedure described. Then clean the breech-face paying particular attention to the extractor; crud builds up under the extractor. Fouling will accumulate in the firing-pin hole so check that as well. Also inspect the ejector and clean if necessary. Clean the recoil spring and guide rod if applicable. Crud will build up in the action in the frame as well; brake cleaner works well for this but first remove the grips. If you can afford it, an ultra-sonic cleaner works very well for cleaning the action of a pistol. I use denatured alcohol in mine; it is a great cleaner, leaves no residue, displaces water, and lasts almost indefinitely as long as the sediment is allowed to settle out. Lube the recoil spring and guide rod lightly with oil and the bearing surfaces of the slide and frame with grease on a Q-tip. I also spread a very light film of oil on the outside of the barrel and interior of the slide and frame barrel channel with my finger before reassembly. Propellants used for pistol ammo has a tendency to be "dirty" and the fouling that results accumulates inside the slide, around the barrel, and in the barrel channel. Spreading a light coat of oil in these areas aids the removal of the fouling.

To clean a bolt action rifle simply remove the bolt to facilitate cleaning the barrel from the breech and clean the bolt. Then lube the bearing surfaces of the bolt with grease on a Q-tip and the bore with oil. Pay particular attention to the bolt face, the extractor, and ejector again. I lay a clean rag across the comb of the stock when cleaning my bolt guns to prevent solvent and oil from getting on the stock.

Step 5- A good time to check for any worn or damaged parts is before completely reassembling the gun.

Step 6- During and after reassembly; spread a light coat of oil with your finger on all exposed metal surfaces, particularly steel surfaces, beyond what I have previously described. This light coat of oil will also facilitate easier cleaning the next time; the Marvel Mystery Oil and the Kano Kroil are particularly well suited for this.

I would like to mention here that while the moving parts of the actions of most guns should be lubricated, it should be done judiciously. Whenever I have written "a light coat" of oil I mean just enough to make the surface appear "wet"; more than this is unnecessary and creates a mess. Oil and grease act like a "magnet" for dirt, fouling, dust and other crud and will become relatively hard over an extended period of storage. I wipe off any gun I plan on using when packing up before I leave home for a range session or a foray in the woods and sometimes perform a cursory cleaning the night before. This usually amounts to a patch down the bore to remove any excess oil along with wiping down the gun.

For that rare occasion when some surface rust may accumulate on a gun, or some part, there is a solution: a product called "PB blaster" sold at any auto parts store or Wal-mart in the auto department can be used to remove surface rust. Spray a small amount of PB on the rusted area; allow the PB to soak for a few minutes; and then rub vigorously with #1 steel wool; sometimes the steel wool is not necessary and just the PB followed by a nylon or brass brush is all that is required. Continue rubbing until the surface feels smooth then wipe the area clean. PB blaster is a lubricant but the area should be cleaned and then oiled afterwards. Oil can also be used for this but PB has special additives that dissolve rust therefore it works even better than oil. Caution: steel wool will remove finishes such as bluing or Parkerizing if used too much.

As I mentioned in part 1 section #3, PVC pipe can be used for a storage container for your cleaning rods to safeguard them from damage. All that is required is a length of 1 ½" PVC schedule 160 pipe and two pipe caps. Cut the pipe about 1" longer than the cleaning rod and glue one of the caps to one end of the pipe. The other cap can be used to cap the other end without gluing; there are pipe screw-caps available if you want to get fancy.

Why using gunsmithing screw-drivers is important: Gunsmithing screw-drivers are made to engage the entire slot of the screw. Standard screw-drivers are made to fit a variety of screw sizes consequently are made with tapered blades and only engage the top edge of the screw slot; gunsmithing drivers are straight-sided and are made to fit only one sized screw slot by engaging the entire screw slot thereby mitigating the possibility of damage to the screw. Gunsmithing drivers are available in a wide variety of sizes to fit all the different sized screws. I have two different sets of drivers with interchangeable bits with a total of 60 different sized slotted bits along with Phillips, Torx, and Allen bits. Using a bit that exactly fits the screw is necessary to avoid damaging screws. Damaged screws resulting from using improperly sized drivers detracts from the value of the firearm.

How to do an action job on a revolver:

1- Remove the grips and side-plate.

2- Polish all bearing surfaces with 400 grit sandpaper followed by 000 steel wool. This should include the hammer, sear, and trigger pins, rebound slide bearing surface, and cylinder hand and bolt bearing surfaces. Polish the sear, hammer, and trigger engagement points with a fine-grit stone; care should be taken to not change the angle of engagement on these surfaces. Polish the rod that the cylinder rotates on.

3- Thoroughly clean the inside of the gun and lightly lube all the points addressed. Lube the rebound spring and hammer spring. Lightly lube the cylinder rod.

4- Reassemble the gun.

This should improve the smoothness of the action and lighten the trigger pull. Stoning the hammer, trigger, and sear engagement points should remove any creep in the trigger.

How to safely remove a stuck live round/dud from the chamber of a firearm:

1- Keep the gun pointed in a safe direction during the entire operation; it is impossible to be overly cautious.

2- Remove the bolt from the gun or open the action of the gun to facilitate completely exposing the breech of the gun.

3- Spray the base of the cartridge with WD-40 or penetrating oil; particularly around the primer.

4- Wait a minimum of one hour; this should render the primer totally inert.

5- Gently tap the stuck round/dud out of the chamber with a cleaning rod inserted from the muzzle end of the gun. A hammer may be required for this part of the operation. CAUTION: DO NOT STAND IN FRONT OF THE MUZZLE OR HAVE ANY BODY PART IN FRONT OF THE MUZZLE WHEN PERFORMING THIS PART OF THE OPERATION!!!!! Even though every effort has been taken to prevent a discharge of the round in the chamber, there is no way to be 100% assured of the possibility of this not occurring. Duds have discharged after an extended period of time.

6- After the round has been removed, it should be properly disposed of. The best method for disposal is to bury the round where the likelihood of it being unearthed is slim. CAUTION: DO NOT TRY TO DISASSEMBLE A DUD OR DAMAGED ROUND!!!

The professional way to lap a barrel:

1- Remove the barrel from the gun. While it is almost impossible to do this with the barrel installed on most guns; this can be done to a bolt-action rifle with the barrel on the action. Still, it is much easier with the barrel off the gun.

2- Besides the barrel to be lapped, three things are required: 1) molten lead and a ladle; 2) a cleaning rod dedicated for this operation; 3) 120-180 grit lapping compound depending on how crazy you want to get. Lapping compound in a wide assortment of grits is available from Brownell’s.

3- Wrap the cleaning rod with duct tape about 1 ½"-2" from the business end so the rod fits snugly in the barrel.

4- Insert the rod into the barrel from the breech end to the point where the tip of the rod is 1" or so short of the muzzle end.

5- Fill the cavity at the muzzle with molten lead while insuring that the rod is centered in the barrel and allow the lead to cool for a minute or two.

6- Push the rod out of the barrel to expose most but not the entire lead cast.

7- Apply lapping compound to the exposed lead with a small brush or your finger.

8- Stroke the barrel the same as if cleaning. After the first five strokes, apply more lapping compound to the cast and at subsequent 25 stroke intervals, or as needed. 100 complete strokes (down and back) are standard to lap a barrel; be sure that the cast partially exits the barrel at each end with each stroke. If you are lapping a barrel that is already chambered, then do not pull the rod out too far and disengage the cast from the rifling in front of the chamber. Be careful not to allow the lead cast to fully exit the barrel on the muzzle end either; if this occurs be sure to realign the cast with the barrel rifling.

9- When you are finished: completely remove the rod from the barrel then remove the tape from the rod and put the end of the rod with the cast into the lead pot to remove the cast from the rod end after you have cleaned any lapping compound off of the cast with brake cleaner. Then clean the barrel as you would after a shooting session.

Because accuracy is all about consistency, lapping a barrel increases the accuracy potential of the barrel by eliminating any latent tool marks left by the rifling process. Doing so increases shot-to-shot consistency. All top shelf barrel makers, such as Obermeyer and Krieger, hand-lap their barrels; it is the final step in making a barrel blank.

Lapping can also be done to other parts of a gun to better the performance of the gun. A few examples are lapping of the bolt to the action on a rifle and lapping the slide/frame rails on a semi-auto pistol.

I have several guns in my collection that I seldom use. Consequently, I try to go through my entire collection once a year and at least wipe the dust off of everything and do a cursory inspection. I also really like to fondle my guns; I don’t have any favorites; each one is special to me. Politicians continually try to frame the issue of firearm ownership as one of need. When you come right down to it, everyone has only three needs (food, shelter, and love); beyond this everything is a want. Therefore it has never been about need for me; every gun I own I have because I wanted that gun. I have believed for a very long time that everyone should own at least one gun; I have owned at least one gun since the age of 16. Owning guns gives me a feeling of peace; some may think this to be ironic.

"As long as I have a want I have reason for living; satisfaction is death." - Byron