Scot’s Product Review: Otis Technology Tactical Cleaning System and Ripcord

Otis Technologies is a U.S. firm based in New York State, where they make all of their products. That’s good for them and good for us. The company was founded by Doreen Garrett in 1985 after a bad experience on a hunting trip. She took a fall into some cold mud with her rifle, which wound up with a plugged bore. She wasn’t able to clear it and had a long, wet walk back to their cabin. Making matters worse, it was her grandfather’s Model 94. As she sat warming up, she started thinking about something that could have saved her day. That led the 16-year-old to what she called her Whole Kit and Caboodle kit with a flexible cleaning rod as the centerpiece. Like many other entrepreneurs, she started making them for family and friends and then expanded. She got a patent and went to her first Shot Show, still at the tender age of 16. She admits to fibbing her way in as there was a minimum age of 18 to attend. When she named her company, she decided to call it Otis in honor of her dad, who she credits for much of her success in life.

The core of what she came up with is now called the Memory-Flex cleaning rod. As the name implies, it is flexible and can be rolled up into a small coil. When you take it out, it remembers that it wants to be straight, and it uncoils. They are made from steel cable and covered with nylon. Most of the variants have a connector on each end, so you can attach slotted patch holders or cleaning brushes to one end and a handle to the other. They say these things will handle a 750 pound pull. I didn’t have a way to measure it, but one of them certainly held up my overweight body– 210 pounds– without any sign of stress. I, on the other hand, did show a bit of stress.

They make a plethora of these rods in lengths ranging from just eight inches up to 55 inches in two diameters. One is for .17 caliber weapons, and the other is for everything else.

One feature I REALLY like about these rods is they give you an attachment so you can use a cross piece on the end to pull it. This gives you the leverage you need to pull a tight patch or brush through the bore. It is far better than a little loop you stick a finger in. I’ve seen things you pull through the bore like this that were hard to pull. These aren’t.

One of the key features of these rods is the ability to clear an obstruction in the bore, like what Garrett experienced on her ill-fated hunting trip. Besides plugging a barrel with mud, another common problem is a cartridge case getting stuck in the chamber. This is a bit too common with the AR platform when, among other things, extractor springs get weak, buffers are too light, or buffer springs wear out. The wrong loads can cause it, too. The final bore obstructions we commonly encounter are bullets stuck in the barrel from squib loads.

Unfortunately for the purposes of this review, I didn’t have any of that happen, so I had to simulate it. That’s not the same, but it was the best I could do. I took a fired case, slightly mashed the case mouth and shoved it into an AR chamber with a dowel. It seemed pretty stuck. I was able to get it out with the Otis kit, but, truthfully, I can’t say if this really replicated a real stuck case in an AR chamber. I wasn’t willing to pound a bullet into the bore, so I didn’t test that, either. I’ll report back if I get a chance to use this in a real situation.

In case you wonder about how a flexible rod can push out obstructions, think for a moment. You have a column of steel and the bore keeps it straight. I don’t think it would work as well as a rigid rod, but I think it can do the job.

Otis has a number of kits ranging from their Micro Kits, which cover one caliber, to what you might call macro kits that can do an assortment of calibers. They have three product lines for hunting and sporting, military, and law enforcement. There are also kits for cleaning optics. There is even a kit aimed at young shooters with .22’s and .410 or 20-gauge shotguns, which I thought was a great idea. There are kits for shotguns, pistols, rifles, and air guns. It is a very comprehensive line and too much to describe here, so it is best to poke about on their site. It is unlikely you have something you can’t clean with one of them.

The kit I got to try is their Tactical Cleaning System. I asked to see this kit due to its versatility. It can handle rifles, pistols, shotguns, or air guns. It includes the following items:

  • 8″, 30″, and 34″ Memory-Flex® Cables (one is .17 caliber),
  • Six firearm-specific bronze bore brushes to remove copper deposits and other fouling (for .22, .270, .30, .38, and .45 calibers along with 12-gauge shotgun), plus tips for patches,
  • T-handle and obstruction removal tools for jammed cases and other blockages,
  • Component holder that secures and protects brushes and components,
  • An adapter that allows you to join the rods for more length, and
  • A lightweight, soft pack case with belt loop for convenient carrying, with dimensions of 4″ x 4″ x 2 1/2″.

It weighs about 10 ounces and is in a sturdy round soft carrying case. If you envision two large cans of shoe polish stacked together, that’s about the size. There is also a tube of their O85 “all-in-one cleaner, lubricant, and preservative (CLP).”

Since most everything in life is two-edged and has both good and bad sides, the desirable compactness of this kit means you can’t carry a bunch of cleaning and lubricating products in it. Otis supplies us with their O85 CLP product in most of their kits. CLP products became popular when the military started issuing them in the post-Vietnam War era. Having one product that does everything has a big appeal, as it means less stuff to stock and carry around. Today, there are many brands of CLP with a number of different formulas. While a CLP is perfect for this kit when you carry it in the field, I think you should also have some more products on your bench at home. CLP, like any “Jack of all trades”, is not the master of any. O85, like most CLP’s, does a good job of removing carbon, but there is more than carbon fouling in your barrel. There could be lead, copper, or plastic from shotgun wadding. I’ve not had much luck getting all of that out with any CLP.

This is also a good lubricant, but I think you need something heavier, like grease, for some of the heavy friction spots on a firearm, such as a pistol’s slide rails. CLP’s often dry off, leaving a thin lubricating film, and some components just need more than that. Bear in mind to be sure to choose grease with a temperature range suitable for your climate. It stays pretty warm where I’m at, so I don’t need to be very particular, but folks in other areas need to pay attention to this point. Cold weather can turn some grease solid. A German veteran of the eastern front in 1941 could tell you a lot about this point.

Like most CLP’s, O85 seems to do a good job of protecting weapons from rust. Otis didn’t have any data from salt spray tests to share, however.

Otis does sell a number of specialized cleaning products (O12-GP), but they weren’t included in this sample, so I can’t speak to how well they work. I suspect, however, that they will do a fine job.

All this aside, you can keep your gun running pretty well with a CLP. You just aren’t going to get the bore as clean as possible, and you will need to pay attention to lube points by making sure they stay lubed. You can keep the bolt on an AR properly wet, too. CLP is great stuff in the field, but you can do better when you are home.

Many of the Otis products specialize in allowing you to clean a weapon without disassembly. They rightfully, in this case, discourage you from flooding it with solvents and oils. I like to disassemble and flush things out with a lot of solvent. Otis does make products that can do this, but they are things you would need to add to the kits. There are, in fact, weapons that are best not disassembled frequently, and the Otis approach is perfect for them. An AR or 1911, though, can be. I often drop as many of the parts from these sorts of guns as I can into an ammo can full of solvent and then blow the excess off after scrubbing and before lubing properly.

The stuff in the kit worked fine. The brushes are good quality and tight enough to do the job. The rods also worked well. One point to mention is that you can use a larger brush than the bore size to clean the chamber of your weapon. You can use the short Memory-Flex rod with the T handle to give it a good scrub. Semi-auto rifles will really appreciate this. Since the rod flexes, you can easily get into the chamber of a Garand, Mini-14, or M1A. One of the Otis videos shows how to clean chambers effectively as well as why to do so.

Otis very correctly makes a big deal out of breech to muzzle cleaning. You insert the flexible rod through the breech and pull it through the muzzle being careful to keep it centered. The muzzle is easily damaged, and when damaged, it can badly affect accuracy. A conventional rod tends to flex as you shove it through the bore, and if you start it at the muzzle, you can easily cause wear and damage your barrel. You can also damage the barrel cleaning from the breech with improper use of a conventional rod. There are some weapons that don’t give you access to the breech with a rod, like the Mini-14 or Garand, but the flexible rods allow you to have the cleaning brushes and patches start at the breech, which is a very good thing. These will probably become my standard tools for these sorts of weapons.

I have always made a point of using rod guides, when available, when cleaning weapons, but you don’t need them for this system. Since you are pulling the rod out, it isn’t going to flex and rub against the bore as long as you are careful to keep it centered.

The Otis 12 gauge brush uses the same threads as rifle and pistol brushes, but they give you an adapter so you can also use standard shotgun cleaning attachments.

One of the interesting issues with this system is that since you are pulling the patch through the bore, it trails the rod tip. This means the patch isn’t supported by the tip and pressed against the bore. Otis takes care of that with a clever system of slotted patches that are tucked back through the tip to create a swab that is dragged behind the tip. A very cool aspect of this is that you can create swabs that handle everything from a .17 caliber to a 12-gauge shotgun with just two sizes of patches. You can also easily flip the patch over and use it several times, which helps save a bit of money.

I saw a review that criticized this system (though they admitted that it worked well) as you are supposedly forced to use nothing but Otis patches. Otis may not be happy with me for saying this, but you can very easily convert any patch to work with their system. All you need is a utility knife to cut some slots in it. Presto, instant patch!

Another criticism I saw of this system is that the ejection port on some firearms is too small to admit the rod with attached cleaning tips. Otis points out, however, that you can sometimes insert the rod and then attach the tip when the rod is in the weapon. It is more trouble, but it can work in some cases. They add that the .17 caliber rod has a permanently attached patch slot, which makes for a much shorter assembly that will fit into many small ports and allow you to pull a patch through. I found that I could not get a brush through a Ruger 10/22 without disassembly of the rifle, but I had no problems using the .17 caliber rod to pull a patch.

One of the few problems I found with the system is that it is so small, it was hard for Otis to get the type on their instructions big enough for me to read. I went to the Otis web site and watched some of the excellent videos. I found the ones on using the patches especially helpful.

I was especially intrigued with the little rubber donuts that you use to adapt their patches to shotguns. They slip over the slotted tip for the patches to increase the diameter of the swab and to apply pressure to the bore. I found they really worked well in both 12- and 20-gauge barrels.

Otis also sent me one of their Ripcord one pass cleaning rods for .223. It uses the same cable as their Memory-Flex cleanings rods, but it has a rubber layer that is then covered with Nomex fabric. Ten inches of the Ripcord are larger in diameter to provide more aggressive cleaning. I have used similar products that worried me, especially after one broke in an AR. I was lucky; enough was left hanging out the breech to get it out. I don’t see that happening with the Ripcord, with its really strong core. A very nice feature of the Ripcord is that you can attach tips to both ends. You can use the handle on one end and a patch on the other. This looks like something that would be great to keep in the range box and use before you case up your weapons. The Ripcord will get out the loose stuff, and if you pull it through with a patch soaked in CLP on the end, by the time you get home, the CLP will have loosened a lot of the fouling. If you are bad and don’t do a full cleaning, the CLP will protect the bore until you do (unless you were shooting corrosive ammo)!

I shocked some of the residents of my safe by cleaning them with this kit. I really don’t like cleaning guns that much, so I often simply patch the bore a couple of times with CLP and wipe down the exterior with some more CLP and lube the appropriate parts after shooting. The problem with this method is that the grime accumulates, layer upon layer, as time goes by. When I finally get around to cleaning, it is usually a real chore. I was pretty surprised at how well the Otis CLP worked. It did a great job of getting lead out of the 12 gauge I cleaned. I suspect it has something in it to help it penetrate under lead deposits so they lift out. I’m looking forward to trying it on a leaded-up revolver, but unfortunately mine were clean at the moment (a rare event). The CLP was also very good at removing carbon and powder fouling. I’m not convinced, however, that it is the best choice for copper fouling. When I tried it on a rifle, I was still able to pull out copper with another product afterwards. Perhaps more time would have allowed it to do better, but copper is hard to remove. I have no doubt, however, that using their CLP will allow you to get your guns clean enough to store without problems.

These are good products. The strongest point is that you can keep a cleaning kit with you virtually any place you go. I think it would be a wise idea to carry one with you whenever you are in the field. They also work fine at home, though as I said above, I would add some more cleaning and lubrication products to supplement what is in the kit. I’m still torn as to whether I like conventional rods better at home; I was surprised to discover that these worked so well, and they are making me think about switching. The kits take up a lot less space than one with conventional rods, even those with sectional rods. One of them would be a great gift for a starting shooter, as you can do so much with it for less money than a kit with a comprehensive set of rods. I would probably throw a wipe down cloth into the kit too. You could moisten it with some CLP and seal it in a zip bag to be ready to protect your gun after hunting or a range trip. Even if I decide not to use the rods at home, I think I need one of these kits for my range box.

Otis has a number of discounts for instructors, military, and law enforcement. They also do a lot of community outreach as well as support for the shooting industry. They have made a major effort to support our military. I find it a pleasure to do business with this type of company. – SurvivalBlog Field Gear Editor, Scot Frank Erie