If someone asked me to compile a list of people to discuss firearms cleaning, I would be disinclined to include myself. It’s not that I don’t know how to clean or maintain a gun, I do. I’m a factory trained armorer from Colt (AR-15 and 1911 patterns) as well as Smith and Wesson (M&P pistols) as well a unit level certified armorer from U.S. Army. The reason I would keep my name off the list, is simple. I don’t like to clean guns. For range guns, I do the bare minimum. I keep my carry guns clean, and I’ll clean my rifles before a hunt, but otherwise, I really am a bit of a slob with my guns.
On the occasion where I do clean my guns, I generally stick very closely to the owners’ manual. The people who made the gun, are likely the best first line source for how to disassemble and clean their products. There are a few things I would add to get you started.
First, get your supplies together. A good gun cleaning kit would include several common items. First, a cleaning solution. When it comes to cleaning and lubricating a firearm, people are as devoted to a product as the most pious believers. And I fall into the opposite camp. I don’t care which solution I use for pistol or rifle cleaning. Hoppes #9 (I have yet to see a jar of Hoppes #8 or other preceding formulas) is popular with me, but mostly because of the pleasing odor. MP Pro works nicely, but I only use it because I got a large quantity cheaply. Most any well-known brand will likely do the job, if the job is basic cleaning, primarily of carbon and powder fouling. In conjunction with the solution, I use a toothbrush, or a specific firearms cleaning brush which strongly resembles a toothbrush but with bristles on the smaller end as well as the normal sized bristles. Your owner’s manual will suggest where to scrub. The breach face for pistol cleaning as well as the barrel hood and locking lugs. The cylinder and recoil shield for revolvers. For rifle cleaning, the bolt face is important as are lugs and the races or grooves the lugs ride in.
The barrel itself is critical to keep clean for maximum accuracy. Either a cleaning rod with brush or bore paste works nicely. A bore snake is not quite as effective but much easier to manage. I usually use the bore snake, thus sacrificing cleanliness for ease. About the only gun I always use a rod for is my match rifle.
Once you have removed the carbon and fouling, and cleaned the barrel, you will want to conduct a firearm maintenance inspection. Look for excessive wear (not just discoloration associated with wear of a finish) and any cracks or damage. Sometimes things break catastrophically, sometimes they crack, and will continue to function for a surprisingly long time. Better to replace worn or damaged parts before they cause a problem, especially on a carry or defensive firearm.
Before reassembly, lubricate the firearm. Again, the owner’s manual will have suggestions for this. Almost any respectable lubrication will work. For a while I used motor oil and it was fine. I also use lithium grease, and most of the well-known brands. These days I use whatever I got for free from some vender or manufacturer. If you have something special that you like, run it. The important thing is to lube the gun.
In our classes, we discuss common causes of malfunctions in modern pistols and semi-automatic rifles. The first source of many problems is the magazine. Magazines can be expensive, but at the end of the day, despite a generally long service life, they are consumable items when compared to the life expectancy of a firearm. If your gun starts to malfunction regularly, check the magazine and try a new or different one.
The next most common cause of problems is ammunition related. As long as you are using the proper ammunition for you gun, from a reputable source, you should be fine.
Make sure the gun is lubricated. A wet, dirty gun will run where a dry dirty gun will not. I know this because I have placed lubrication over multiple layers of fouling/carbon and prior lubrication, and had the gun continue to run. (I don’t recommend this unless you are especially lazy, which I can be sometimes.) Eventually the gun will malfunction, but proper lubrication will greatly extend the life, and improve the reliability.
Finally, if your gun is having trouble, and you are confident the magazine, lubrication, and ammunition is not the cause, check the extractor. The extractor is the hook that pulls empty cases from the chamber, after firing. They can be brittle and break, this is relatively rare for most shooters, but in an unusual case, or high-volume shooter this can be a problem.
There are many places to get your cleaning supplies. Because they are usually not terribly expensive, I prefer to shop locally than have them shipped from an internet source. The Pro Shop at California Tactical Academy sells the very popular Otis cleaning kits as well as Frog Lube, Hoppes and KG cleaning products. It’s nice to be able to stock up and at the same time, give some business to a local range as a means of showing support. No matter how well our guns run, if we don’t have a place to shoot them, it won’t matter.
As a final word, before you even consider cleaning your firearm, remember the first rule of firearm safety. Treat all guns as if they are loaded. Check, double check and then triple check to ensure the gun is unloaded and safe to disassemble. Never keep ammunition in the same place you are cleaning the gun. If you are determined to be a statistic, try being the one who doesn’t have a mishap.
We’ll see you at the range.