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Get it Clean

by Dale Mullin

Often, shooters new to the rifle have questions about the correct way to clean their rifle. I'll tell you right now that there are quite a few different opinions on how best to do this. This article is a summary of the techniques I've personally found useful. I should say here and now that though I've been shooting for a long time, I do not consider myself an "expert". I am merely a hobbyist and my experience is with hunting, and varmint rifles. Those wanting information on cleaning techniques for rifles used in Benchrest and other extreme accuracy applications should seek advice from someone else.

First let's talk about equipment. You'll need a good one piece cleaning rod. Either a good coated rod, such as those made by Dewey or a one piece stainless steel rod will do. (I personally use Dewey rods.) Don't use a cheap sectioned rod or an aluminum rod as either could allow abrasives to rub against your rifling. If you're cleaning a rifle of .270 caliber or greater, get a cleaning rod made for .270 and above. This will flex a lot less than a rod made to fit a .22 barrel. With calibers of less than .270 the rods made for .22 caliber and above are what you'll need.

You're also going to need some cotton patches. Many discount stores sell some sort of paper gun cleaning patches, I haven't found these to work well. If your gun store doesn't sell cotton patches, you can buy a couple of yards of 100% cotton from a piece goods store. Wash the cotton to remove the starch and then cut your patches as you need them. A toothbrush will come in handy for cleaning fouling from cracks and crevices. Gun oil or a light machine oil will work as a general purpose lubricant and short term preservative. (For longer term storage, a grease such as RIG should be used.) You should also have a good, gunsmith quality, screwdriver set. (I use one from Chapman.)

Before doing any cleaning triple check to make sure the rifle isn't loaded. If you've got ammunition nearby, move it. Make sure that there's NO WAY that any ammunition will get in the rifle while you're cleaning it.

If possible, it is best to clean your barrel from the breech end so that you minimize any wear to the muzzle end of the rifling. (That is the part of the rifling most critical to good accuracy.) Bolts can be removed from all bolt action rifles and even some semi-auto and lever action rifles will allow you to remove the bolt for cleaning from the breech end. An item that will help protect your rifling is a "rod guide". There are many models available, the better ones are made to fit your action closely. They help guide your rod down the center of the bore. Some rod guides also include seals which are meant to keep solvents from leaking from your barrel into the action.

Clear a work area and put down something which protects your work surface from solvents and also protects the firearm from undue scratching. (Layers of newspaper will work if you don't have something better.) "Cleaning cradles" or "gun vices" are available which will hold a rifle steady for you while you're cleaning it. They make the job much easier and help protect your investment in your rifle.

You're likely to encounter three types of fouling in a rifle barrel. The first is powder fouling. The other two are copper jacket fouling and lead fouling. Which of the later two you get will depend on whether you're firing jacketed or cast lead bullets.

Powder fouling is easily removed with any good powder solvent. (Hoppes #9 is a popular brand.) Use a patch wet with solvent (but not too wet, you don't want a lot of solvent running all over) and run it through the bore. Remove the patch from the jag and pull the rod back through the breech. If you want, you can flip the patch you've just run through over and run it through again using the other side of the patch. Otherwise, wet a second patch and run it through like the first. You may want to keep a paper towel or rag handy for use in wiping the length of your cleaning rod once in awhile. This will help keep contaminants out of your bore. Once you've run a couple of patches, you can look through the bore (from the breech end if possible) toward a light source to see if the powder fouling has been removed.

In cases where the fouling is hard to remove, you may need to use a brush. Use only good quality bronze or nylon bristle brushes. Stainless steel brushes will definitely scratch your rifling. Wet any brush before pushing it through. (Tests have shown that even bronze brushes can leave minute scratches when they're used dry.) I like to keep a small bottle of my solvent separate from that used on patches. I use this small bottle to dip brushes. This keeps the contamination the brush will certainly pick up, isolated from the rest of your solvent. Unless the powder is *really* caked on, a couple of passes with a brush will loosen most of it. Now run a dry patch through the bore to remove the loosened crud. You can follow up with another wet patch to get anything that's left.

Once you've removed the powder fouling, you're ready to assess the situation to see what else you need to do. Run a dry patch through the barrel to remove any excess solvent. (The solvent makes it more difficult to see jacket fouling.) Look through the barrel again. Jacket fouling will appear as copper streaks. Lead fouling is usually just a dull looking area in the rifling. (Though if it's really bad, it can almost appear as a built up area in a groove.)

There are two different methods to remove metal fouling. One is mechanical, the other is chemical. Each method works, but shooters have differing opinions on which is safest for the barrel. I've used both methods and as long as you're careful and follow instructions, they both seem safe enough. It should be noted however, that some in the Benchrest discipline believe that certain of the chemical cleaners can do damage to their stainless steel match barrels. If in doubt about use of a particular chemical cleaner in your barrel, seek expert advice. In a custom barrel, I'd ask the advice of the barrel maker.

USP Paste, J-B Paste, and Remingon Bore Cleaner (not Rem Oil) are three of the most commonly used mechanical cleaners. Put the cleaner on a patch and push it through the barrel according to the instructions provided. Repeat as necessary. This method is used by many and works equally well with jacket or lead fouling.

The chemical cleaning of jacket fouling can be accomplished with Sweets 7.62, Shooters Choice Copper Remover, Hoppes Benchrest Gold, Barnes CR-10, or Shooters Choice MC #7. There are probably other copper removers I've left out, but these are the best known. If you use one of these, follow the instructions on the label very carefully. Some cannot be used in association with others without producing byproducts harmful to your barrel. No problem, if you thoroughly remove one before using the other. I use denatured alcohol on a patch, followed by a dry patch or two to remove one before using another. Once you're done cleaning copper fouling, be sure to apply a preservative to the inside of the barrel as these cleaners may or may not (depending on the specific product) provide any protection from corrosion.

Lead fouling is generally not as hard to remove as copper fouling. I believe that Shooters Choice MC#7, Barnes CR-10, and Hoppes Benchrest Gold all claim to remove lead fouling. Check the labels before buying a solvent to make certain it removes the type fouling you're dealing with.

Once you've got the barrel clean to your satisfaction, you'll want to clean any excess solvent and/or preservative from the chamber area of the barrel. (Lubricant in this area can prevent the brass case from properly gripping the chamber walls and will result in more back pressure against your bolt during firing. You want enough preservative to prevent corrosion, but not enough to prevent good friction between case and chamber wall.) Hoppes sells a bore mop which works fairly well for removing excess lube. (I buy the size they advertise for .40 to .45 caliber for use with most rifle chambers.) Screw the bore mop on the end of a short cleaning rod (or use your longer rod, being careful not to bend it) and rotate the dry mop inside your chamber. (Once a bore mop becomes too full of lubricant/solvent to use, you can either buy another, or clean the old one with lighter fluid, or similar substance.)

Now, use the toothbrush and a little solvent to clean any powder fouling from the action and bolt. Lubricate the moving parts according to the manufacturer's instructions and reassemble. Finish the job by wiping a thin layer of oil on all external metal parts and wipe the excess off with a soft cloth. Try not to get oil on the wood as it will cause deterioration over time. If you get a little oil on the wood, don't panic, just wipe it off as soon as you can.

Once you do the above, your rifle is protected for storage and ready for the next time you shoot it.

copyright 2003 by the author, all rights reserved.

Uploaded: 2/21/2004