Thursday, March 10, 2011

Keep It Clean Folks - Care of Your Rifle

"If I ever get a business card, that's what I'm gonna put on it: Mike Rowe, here to make things worse.'"
- Mike Rowe - Dirty Jobs

So doing my part to "make things worse", a Home on the Range beginners guide on cleaning your rifle. In this case one of my favorite varmint rifles. My shooty friends Miles and Rich D. each recently bought one, though I doubt there's anything I can teach those two about care of a firearm.

Keeping a firearm properly clean will do a lots towards maintaining accuracy as well as reducing wear that can result in mis-fires. When I bought my first pistol, a .45, I was shown by a friend how to clean it. It wasn't until someone more experienced looked at it and showed me all the spots that were missed, even though I "cleaned" it every time I went shooting, that I realized the gun was actually really dirty, simply because I had never been taught properly.

Gun cleaning has come a long ways, with the removal of powder and metallic fouling easier, with advancements in products available. There is no "one size fits all" cleaner, for example powder solvents won't do much for removing copper, yet all of them have unique uses that make them invaluable to have on hand. There are also cleaners that, in addition to their many uses at home, you can take out in the field that will do a great job for keeping your weapon firing efficiently until you can get home.

When you get a new firearm, in this case my Savage, you want to give it a thorough cleaning after the first use, even if you only fire a box of ammo to sight it in and get the feel of it. Keeping a gun clean will go a long ways towards reducing the amount of cleaning you have to do in the future. How so? Though there are certainly exceptions, the amount of fouling in a barrel, is often proportional to the finish of the barrel surface. A "rode hard and put away wet" production grade barrel with some pitting or erosion is going to collect a lot more copper than the well maintained match-grade barrel, assuming the bullet types and velocity are similar. Keeping your barrel clean, will reduce damage to it, and further reduce the amount of grunge that's going to stick to it with later firings.

How to begin:

"Hi, my name is Brigid and I have Bench Rest OCD".

Before you touch anything, make sure your firearm is unloaded and anything that could possible contain a bullet you are handling doesn't have a bullet within 10 feet of it. Eat your vegetables, and don't turn an airplane upside down for any length unless it has an inverted oil system. That's my advice for the day.

You want to start with a place to work. There will be fumes involved with any cleaning, not so much that you have to wear protective gear, but enough that if you set up in your living room, a spouse who is not a gun lover is going to cry "what is that SMELL?" (followed by the "you are so not getting any tonight" SLAM of the door) . Find a nice flat surface in an area where you can get some cross ventilation if needed (why yes, that IS my living room). A garage or a shop it your best bet for those of you who don't live alone. Get everything out before you get started, just as you would in doing a complicated recipe. Have paper towels handy in case of a spill, and a quick way to dispose of such towels. Kitty litter will work on any large spills (oh great, now Barkley thinks I'm getting him his own personal cat). If you wear gloves make them neoprene, and if you spill any of the chemicals on your clothes do not throw them in the wash. To the dry cleaners they must go.

Have things out where they won't get knocked over, and within reach. Knocking over a bottle of Bore Shine as your gun tumbles onto the floor, scaring the dog who knocks over the Coca Cola that's on the coffee table onto your brand new Midway catalog is NOT how you want to start out. (Trust me, I've had the Three Stooges episode of gun cleaning before).

I am going to tell you some of my favorite products but you will have your own. There are a lot of new products out there that can make the job easier as well as protect parts of the rifle such as the stock (on the Savage) or bedding (on other firearms).

Before you start, you need to support your rifle by some means, so you can keep your hands free, with the muzzle pointed downwind to let any excess solvents run out. You can make a wooden frame for this, or use something like that above.

You don't need a light saber, but a cleaning rod is a must. Make sure it is the correct size and length (as short as possible for the barrel length is key). Many are carbon fiber and there are solid steel rods available, and the choice between carbon and steel is an individual one. There are advantages and disadvantages to both. The steel can bend and the carbon fiber can break under a lot of stress. You might also want to get a good bore guide which will fit snugly inside the action and rear end of the chamber.

The one I had on hand for the first cleaning of the Savage did NOT fit, making the cleaning that much more difficult. The purpose of the boreguide is to align the cleaning rod with the bore, thus preventing brushes and jags from gouging into the throat or the chamber and causing damage while cleaning. Some of them have a little rubber o-ring to seal the chamber to prevent a lot of solvent from running down through the action bolt holes into the bedding. You can work without the guide but it takes a precise hand, and more time.

Make sure your scope is protected from any splash of solvent. That will cause harm that could affect its performance.

There are different type of jags, spear tip and the traditional serrated jags. Both have their advantages but having the correct size one will make a difference in the fit of the patches.

Patches come in sizes as well, and for the Savage, .22 patches on hand were simply cut down to make them smaller for the 17 HMR firearm. Even if you're cleaning a .22, sometimes they're too long on the corner and they go past the jag and get stuck. Trimming the corners as in the photo, helps.

I'm not going to get into a lengthy discourse on solvent types as personal preference usually wins out on that discussion. The primary powder solvents such as Hoppe's No. 9 will remove little, if any copper. For copper fouling you are going to likely need specific copper solvents such as Hoppe's Bench Rest. Some of these products, such as Butch's Bore Shine (which can remove both copper and lead), have a strong ammonia base which some say can cause etching though no one I know that uses Butch's has ever experienced that. Unless your barrel looks like it's been through the Bore Wars (I need to stop with the puns), Hoppe's Bench Rest will do the job for you.

Then we have the abrasives such as Gold Medallion, or JB Compound. I know the label says it's not THAT abrasive, but the Slim Fast label also says it will fill you up for four hours. (NOT). Careless use of these products can put wear on the throat of a barrel, though they do an excellent job of removing metallic fouling. Use only the minimum needed, and avoid any big splash of the stuff at either the muzzle or the throat.

Then, we have the CLP's. They are great for a a number of things, including a quick clean in the field, or with products like the Strike-Hold I tried, to clean and protect your firearm when you don't have time for a whole tear down, especially in damp conditions. Strike-Hold is probably the best of its type I've tried, and is now used by the military for use on weapons that need a fast cleaning when time for disassemble isn't there. It's also great as a general cleaner and lubricant. Friends are taking some with them to try out this year Prairie Dog shooting and I'll have a range report from them this summer to see how they like it.

Cleaning Routine:

The first objective is to remove a good chunk of the powder residue first so that it's easier to run the patches through it. That way, the stronger chemicals that remove lead or copper residue in the barrel will react with what's in the barrel NOT the powder residue.

I like Hoppe's #9 to get the initial grunge out to make it easier to run the patches through. Hoppe's #9 is great, and even works on corrosive ammo.

1. Push a patch soaked in Hoppe's #9 or other type of general cleaner, through the barrel. It should not be dripping wet, just saturated. This will wet the bore and removes any loose powder fouling. Once you've pushed it in, do NOT pull it back, pushing it forward until it comes out of the muzzle.
Run the rod through the chamber first so you don't damage the crown on the muzzle. Use a boreguide if at possible, so you don't bang components in the chamber. If you don't have a boreguide, have a steady hand.

You will want to repeat this until the patches no longer come out looking terribly black (usually two or three times is enough). Use a clean patch each time. After a second or third run through the patches should look pretty clean. A little yogurt cup (on the left of the photo below) works well to contain the dirty patches.

(2) Then apply some of the heavier solvent, designed for copper and/or lead removal, such as Hoppe's Bench Rest, Shooter's Choice, Butches Bore Shine, etc., to another clean patch and run through the bore, leave the solvent in for 5-10 minutes and patch it out with clean tight patches. This is to remove the copper and lead fouling after the powder residue is addressed.

If the patches have copper deposits on them, which look greenish as in the pictures above, then I either repeat stages 1 & 2, or you could use a brush depending on how much copper is appearing.

3. I did not brush the Savage .17. The experts believe that brushing in the .17 may do more harm than good, as it may cause abrasion of the barrel due to the tight fit. So I'm going to avoid brushing my .17, if at all possible.

If you have a weapon with a bigger bore than the .17, a brush won't cause this problem with normal use. To use the brush, push the wet brush through the barrel and completely out of the muzzle. Do not pull the brush back through the barrel, unless you can do so carefully and only after it exits the barrel completely (pulling it back mid barrel can harm the barrel because the brushes reverse direction and can gouge the barrel.

As in chips and dip at some fancy party, do not double dip and put the dirty brush into the clean solvent bottle. A good quality brush (the phosphor-bronze type) should not damage the crown but use some care. When you are done, patch out the barrel again with clean, dry patches.

If the patches continue to come out blue or copper colored, you may want to repeat the brush and patch process. The copper solvents are going to react with the copper in the bronze brush and leave tiny traces of blue color, but this is a lot less than would you would see with bullet jacket fouling. If after two good brush throughs, followed by patches, you are still showing strong signs of copper, you may need to repeat, letting the product soak a little longer, up to several hours. If that doesn't do the trick, it may be time to call in the Storm Troopers with a product such as JB compound.

To use the JB Compound, wrap a serrated type jag with a good clean patch, making sure that you get a tight fit in the bore. Apply just a little of the JB to the patch and run it through the bore approximately twelve to fifteen times. (If you think 12 - 15 strokes is too much work, you probably spend Friday night at home alone too much.)

After the first application, patch it out with both a solvent and dry patches, then take a peek for any remaining copper near the muzzle (you will need a good light for this). If copper is easily visible, then repeat the process with JB, always cleaning WELL with both wet and dry patches after using it, or any other type of abrasive cleaner.

Now that all your patches are coming out clean, remove the bore guide and swab out the chamber with some patches on a jag or small stick, to remove any dirt and excess solvent. (It never hurts to have a little bag full of various little gadgets handy). Make sure you clean out the bolt lug recess, as dirt in this area can be a problem. This area is the perfect little collection point for material that will get between the bolt lugs and the action. This will reduce accuracy and can also lead to galling or tearing of the bolt lugs.

The chamber can also be cleaned with an action cleaning kit and some more patches. By wrapping the patch around a bore brush, pushing it into the chamber and gently turning it, any surplus solvents or foreign material will be removed.

Since I just did some light shooting, for the action I used Strike-Hold to loosen stuff up, as I was just going to remove powder reside from that. After it had soaked for a while, I then used Powder Blast to remove everything that was loosened by the Strike-Hold. If you don't have a good CLP on hand to clean as I did, you may wish to use some Rem Oil Lubricant with Teflon after cleaning (a CLP too, but it also leaves some Teflon behind). Then, the grease was applied.


Bolt lugs should be wiped off and lubricated every time you take your firearm out to the range. It only takes a small quantity of high quality, light grease Some recommend applying it with a syringe (oh, look, I HAVE one of those) to prevent galling of the lugs.

You also should consider applying some grease to the cocking cam. (Must resist urge to make off- color remark.) The cam is found at the rear of the bolt, on the underside, and is intended for cocking the rifle. The cam's contact surface is designed to withstand the pressure of the firing pin being cocked each time the bolt is opened as you fire the rifle. A little grease in this area will not only reduce wear, but will make things work smoother.

Some final tips:
You should also do some light oiling in the firing pin assembly. A firing pin is easily removed from most rifles with a Remington or custom action. And yes, they do make a tool for this (oh boy! More tools!). This will split the bolt into two parts, making it easy for even a novice to clean. It's also useful in removing tension from the firing pin when the rifle is not being used. Again, removing the firing pin depends on the gun. For some, it would be a bitch kitty to get it back together. Your mileage may vary.

A consistent firing pin strike on the primer is essential for accuracy. If the inside of the bolt is dirty, this accuracy will degrade. Now you don't want to pack it full of enough grease to fry a chicken, just a light oiling is sufficient to reduce the chances of corrosion around the firing pin.

Do not use lubricants to clean the trigger mechanism because the lubricants tend to attract dirt. If necessary, use dry lubricants to clean the trigger mechanism.

The first time you clean your gun after purchase, or especially when new from the factory, take it apart as much as you possibly can (with the exception of pistols such as the Ruger Mark III, unless you're intimate with an engineer). This will help you understand the workings of the rifle as well as see just how well it was greased at the factory.

Care should be taken when removing the action. It should be lifted vertically away from the stock until the recoil lug gets clear. Dry off the stock of any water, solvents and dust and carefully replace any metalwork if your particular model of rifle has any.

I was QUITE impressed with the Savage rifle I bought and the greasing of the internal components. You also want to be able to do this for such times as when you need to really dismantle it. If the stock (or bedding system on guns that have them), gets wet, you will want to remove both the barrel and action from it. Why? Water, trapped between the action and the stock will cause problems including oxidation of both the action and the metallic components.

Now that everything is cleaned, dry where it's supposed to be and greased where it's supposed to be, it's time to put it all back together. When you're replacing an action when a rifle has been dis-assembled, it is important to put the correct tension on the bedding screws. The actual torque isn't critical to the novice shooter, but it is important that the action is held firmly in the bedding with an even tension on all screws. If you have stainless steel screws used with a stainless action, also apply a small amount of grease to the screw thread to prevent galling.

When the gun is all assembled, put a tiny bit of gun oil on the very corner of a large cleaning cloth. Rub the moistened part of the cloth on the outside of the barrel, then wipe the cloth around all of the metal to clean off fingerprints and dust. When done, wipe it dry with a clean area of cloth.

Then, it's time for a nice Hoppy Porter. You're done.

I know this sounds like a lot, and I hope I didn't miss a step, because Gunsmith, I am NOT. But had I learned these steps when I first started shooting I wouldn't have ended up with a firearm that looked like three college students had been living in it. With practice, it takes little time at all, and if you set up your cleaning station in front of the TV, you can watch Mike Rowe in Dirty Jobs at the same time.


  1. 3 college students living in it...... hum...... that be one big boring breech.

  2. Hey! I'm an engineer and the Ruger MKIII I would not touch! Evil magic going on in that one.

  3. Brigid,

    Wow!!! Just call me "grasshopper". I have much to learn!
    Awesome post!


  4. Keads - I'm an engineer too and I own a Ruger Mk III. Disassembly and reassembly is no problem. Just follow the manual. :-)

  5. Hi, my name is TmjUtah and I collect Mosin Nagant rifles.

    I have come to accept that the bore on one of these is never, ever truly clean. And I've finally gotten to where I am okay with that.

    Hoppes #9, followed by their Copper and Lead solvent, finished with a bit of CLP. I don't own any steel brushes, and normally will only use a phosphor bronze brush the first time a rifle/pistol is "new" to me.

    I've got Mosins that I've owned for over five years that sill STILL show green on a dry patch right out of the safe.

    Most of them are rifled so deep that it takes ten or twenty rounds just to get an reliable grouping out of them.

    I use Sweet's infrequently - usually on my M1 or the Remington 700 after a lot of same-day rounds - but since it is ammonia based I always chase it out with boiling water, then clean as normal.

    Great article, ma'am.

  6. MkIII is easy. Just follow the manual.


    And, while I no longer sell Strike-Hold, you'll find that it is excellent for removing copper and lead.

  7. Brigid...all kinds of fun innuendos buried in a really great post. Feeling a little naughty this evening?

    In Army OCS at Benning's School for Boys on the Upatoi, we could NOT get an M14 past a white glove inspection!

    Re: the Ruger Mark III's, as many times as I have disassembled/assembled one, I wouldn't think of trying it without these two YouTube videos:

    If you have a Mark II, either of these will lead to to the appropriate videos.

    Happy Cleaning!

  8. I aint never gonna take my Mk111 apart again, ever!
    Do like Butchs' for the long guns and Hoppes for the peestols.

  9. hmmm...

    Hoppes #9 and Rem Oil are not fumes...

    They are aftershave and air freshener...

    Well, that's what I keep trying to tell my wife.

    Dann in Ohio

  10. I decided to go in the opposite direction than your Savage Roach Slayer.

    I'm currently lusting for a .505 Gibbs, and an African Safari -in Texas- to shoot it on.

    I have a .54 blackpowder gun.

    It's my ambition to own a rifle I can clean by tying a few strategic knots in my -3X- T-shirt.

  11. Must admit that I have the Hoppe's #9 Air Freshener in my car......

    Also, for periodic quick cleaning, the Hoppe's Bore Snake viper cannot be beat.

  12. For those (like me) in colder climes, I avoid greasing or oiling the firing mechanism. I use graphite lock de-icer.

    I learned my lesson on a Remington 7600 that wouldn't lock up, much less fire, if it was below 25F. Lucky 'yote. Grrrr!

  13. I've gotten to the point with most of my guns that after several rounds of good cleaning, followed up by CLP, I'm now able to just use CLP and a bore snake. I guess that teflon does seem to do the trick. Then a quick go over with a plastic pick and cotton patches and it's ready to shoot next week.
    My Sig Pro I'll happy run under hot water in the sink for a while to get the crud out of it though. I'm still leery about running it through the dishwasher...

  14. I use the Hoppe's #9 for the cleaning. I have found the glory of using pipe cleaners for small nooks and crannies. I also just got an air compressor to deal with spots I can't get to.

    For lubrication, I found Brian Enos' Slide Glide. It's a specially developed grease and I use it on all of my guns, the 1911 cycles like butter and the XD is running like a dream. It also works very well on my AR because it doesn't splatter and it doesn't dry out. It stays where I put it.

  15. My name is Gator and I have sinned. I pulled out one of the rifles the other day and there's a rust pit on the bolt. I NEVER used to let the guns go that long without an inspection and cleaning. I'm truly ashamed.


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