Cleaning a firearm doesn’t have to be a chore. With the right tools, it’s actually a short, simple process. If you can designate a cleaning station on your workbench, or at least keep your tools organized in an accessible location, the cleaning process will be much smoother—and faster. Before you begin the actual process of cleaning, you must take every precaution to ensure safety. A high percentage of firearms-related accidents occur while cleaning. By following a few simple rules, you can greatly reduce the chances of having an accident.
SAFETY FIRST: The most important aspect of safety is ensuring the firearm is unloaded. First, make sure the safety is on and always keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction. Then, open the action of the firearm and look into the breech of the barrel and confirm the firearm is unloaded. Always keep your finger away from the trigger while doing this.
LOCK IT UP: Once you have taken the above precautions, begin the cleaning process by placing your firearm in a solid vise. Different styles of firearms require different methods of cleaning. For this article, we are going to use a bolt-action rifle as our example.
A solid vise is the most important tool one can have for cleaning a rifle. You don’t want to lay your firearm on a bench where it can slip around, and you surely don’t want to have to try to hold the firearm with one hand while cleaning with the other. Doing so is an absolute pain that can easily and affordably be eliminated.
A quality vise will serve a number of functions. First of all, it will have a system for securing your firearm in place—clamps or straps both work. The point is to be able to secure your firearms so it doesn’t move while running tight fitting brushes, mops and patches down the barrel. Adjustable cradles are a big advantage if you own multiple platforms of firearms. A bolt action and an AR-15 are designed quite differently, and may not fit the same vise. You also want to be sure all contact points with your firearm are covered with non-marring pads. You can simply lay a rag across such spots, but I’ve found that tacky rubber will offer more grip and ultimately work a lot better.
BORE GUIDE: An important rule of cleaning a rifle is cleaning it from the rear. The two main thoughts behind this: Cleaning in the same direction bullets travel and protecting the crown. This means you will remove the bolt and clean from breech to the muzzle. To begin, remove the bolt and look down the barrel to ensure it is clear of any obstructions. Next, you want to insert a bore guide into the rear of the receiver.
A bore guide is an important tool that is often overlooked. Bore guides serve two main functions. One, they keep the rod from rubbing the chamber or bore. This is important because a rod contacting the chamber or bore could cause scratches or nicks, which will lead to accuracy issues. Two, a bore guide keeps solvents from spilling on your firearm’s finish or into its action. Spilled solvents can stain wood and damage parts of your firearm not intended to be contacted by solvent.
PROPER ROD: Once you’re set up and ready to go with your bore guide, select the proper rod. Granddad used an old steel, three-piece job that looked pretty beaten up. Far from straight, there’s no doubt he was negatively impacting the interior of his barrel. Steel rods can damage your barrel, so you’re much better off using a carbon-fiber cleaning rod. Carbon fiber flexes, so it doesn’t permanently bend. It’s strong enough for pushing tight patches and it doesn’t pick up particles that can scrape your barrel.
JAG TIME: Now that your firearm is secure in a vise, you have a bore guide inserted and you’ve picked the properly sized carbon-fiber rod, you must select a jag designed to fit the caliber you’re working on. Attach the jag and place a cotton patch on the end. Your bore guide should have a slot through which you can apply solvent. Liberally apply a good powder solvent through the slot. Try to always use cotton patches as opposed to synthetic patches, because they absorb solvent much better. Now run your rod through the rear of the bore guide all the way down the bore. You’re going to repeat this process at least five times. A good tip is to use a patch trap. Doing so will save the hassle of having to pick up your wet, dirty patches.
BRONZE BRUSH: Next, remove your jag and attach a properly sized bronze brush. Run it down the bore 10 times, five forward and five back. Be sure to push the brush all the way through the barrel before reversing course. You will ruin your brush by bending the bristles if you reverse direction inside the barrel. So push it all the way down and out, then pull it all the way back and out. Then repeat. Once you have completed five passes in each direction, reattach your jag, put on another patch, soak it in powder solvent and repeat the earlier jag-and-patch process to remove any fouling you may have loosened with the brush.
CLEAN BARREL: Once your patches are coming out fairly clean (they’ll never be perfect), it’s time to address copper fouling. Put on a clean patch and soak it in a quality copper solvent. Run at least five patches down the bore, dropping them in the patch trap. Next, run a dry patch down the bore. Repeat until a patch comes out clean. The last step is to lightly oil a patch with quality gun oil and run it down the bore. You should now have a clean barrel.
SPOTLESS BOLT: You must also take the time to clean your bolt and action. To clean the bolt, you’ll need a quality nylon brush. There are four places on the bolt you will scrub with the nylon brush. Apply as much pressure as needed to remove any visible fouling. Begin by scrubbing the face of the bolt, followed by the front and backside of the locking lugs. Next, clean the cocking cam and finish with the sear engagement surface of the cocking piece. Once you have cleaned these areas with the nylon brush, wipe the bolt off with a common shop towel and brush the bolt lightly with oil. Now you need to lubricate in three areas of the bolt: the breech side of the locking lugs, the cocking cam and the engagement surface of the cocking piece.
ACTION STEPS: To clean the action of your firearm, use an action tool with a powder solvent-soaked cotton swab. Slide the action tool, which is holding the cotton swab, in all the way up to the locking lug recesses. Rotate it, pressing firmly to help ensure the swab is removing fouling. Pull it out, remove the dirty swab, replace it with a clean one and repeat. Do this until a swab comes out clean.
EXTERIOR: Reinstall your bolt and that’s it, you’re done with cleaning the interior portion of your firearm. But don’t get ahead of yourself. Although the interior of your firearms is what determines its effectiveness, you still want to keep it looking good.
Properly caring for the exterior of your rifle is as much about pride as it is function. I like nice-looking weapons, and I bet you do, too. Once your rifle is reassembled, work the bolt a few times to make sure it is functioning properly. Use cotton cloth and/or a gun brush with light gun oil to clean the rifle. Finally, wipe down the entire firearm with a silicone-impregnated cloth.
It may not have to do with cleaning, but I wanted to leave you with a reminder of the importance of properly storing your firearms. I made a bad mistake in college. For a couple of years, I lived in a basement bedroom with concrete floors. As soon as I moved in, I put all my firearms under my bed. Well, concrete sweats, especially in humid states. You can imagine my horror when I went to take out a shotgun a couple months later and found it to be badly rusted. My heart sank further with each case I opened. I learned the hard way that you must store your firearms in a climate-controlled environment. There is no better place to store firearms than in a climate controlled gun vault. To control humidity, both dehumidifiers and silica gel will work. Just remember to recharge your silica as scheduled.
A properly cared for firearm will pass through generations as an heirloom. Take the time to properly care for and clean your firearms and you will be shooting straight for years to come.