Beyond Basic Weapon Maintenance, by J.B.

Be it a gun, knife, or a bow, if you are going to own and use these tools for survival, it is in your best interest to have more than a basic understanding of these tools in order to keep them functioning. There is nothing worse than being in the field and having a malfunction right when your life may depend on it. Our U.S. armed forces require their recruits to know and understand the function of their weapons, because their lives literally do depend on this equipment. They are trained how to disassemble and reassemble their weapons, giving them the ability to repair them in the field if needed. Over the past several years I’ve contemplated this aspect of the military training, being that I’ve never been in the military nor have I ever received any formal training related to the guns or knives that I own, and being a gun and knife enthusiast along with being an avid hunter I’ve become self-reliant in making repairs or maintaining my equipment. So a thought occurred to me as how many people may be prepping and adding equipment to their survival list but have no real understating of its functionality.

To me, it is beneficial to have a basic understating of most things I use that can possibly malfunction so that they can be serviced and maintained. Because weapons are a big part in a survival situation, it is important to have a little more than a basic understanding of them. Currently most people have access to resources such as gunsmiths, gun shops, and outdoor stores with knowledgeable personnel that can assist with many things. However, in a SHTF situation, these resources are not going to be radially available. It would be in the best interest of anyone preparing for a TEOTWAWKI situation to go ahead and learn about the operations of these tools so that repairs can be made should any malfunctions occur.

Take for instance the knife. There are so many variations out there for knives that people may not know what will work best for the situation at hand. Some may say a knife is a knife and others will swear by a specific brand, style, metal, or the manufacturer. Understanding how knives are made and why they are made in certain processes using specific materials is a good first step. Personally I am fascinated with watching videos or shows about metal forging and may actually attempt to buy a few things as a project to forge some metal myself. What I’ve learned over time is how the metal changes based on the heating and cooling. In my youth and ignorance I used a hot knife to cut something that needed the hot edge. What I didn’t realize at the time was that I actually changed the hardness to the blade’s edge. In effect I ruined the knife, but my heated cut was successful. The knife never would hold an edge after this, because I had softened the metal too much by heating it.

With this basic knowledge, I know now not to use my knife, which I need to keep a hard edge on, as a fire poker. Getting and keeping a sharp edge was also a lesson learned. I remember having a Buck pocket knife in my youth that for whatever reason I could not put a sharp edge on. I literally worked that knife on a stone to the point that it was no longer a simple drop point but more of a pointed wedge-style blade. After that experience, I looked and looked for information on sharpening knives. This was before the Internet, so I had to read articles and books. Finally, I found an article specifically on knife sharpening. I think it was in Outdoor Life magazine. To put it simply, to keep from getting a wire edge that will appear sharp only to break away on the first use, you have to run the stone or sharpening tool from edge to spine, pulling the metal away from the edge. The best method I have found for sharpening a knife with a flat stone was gained from reading this article. In the most basic of explanations, I start at the tip applying pressure with my fingers on the upper side of the blade and push the blade forward following the edge almost as if I am trying to shave a thin layer of the stone off. I keep a constant angle to the stone and with systematic stokes one at a time for each side it doesn’t take long to get a nice sharp edge that lasts.

With the knife I understand the concept behind sharpening them and why, but I also what to study why knives are designed the way they are in order to get the best understanding of how they can best be used. For instance, in the book Patriots by James Wesley, Rawles, there is mention of one of the people getting a duel edge fighting knife for their survival gear and going against the norm. It helps to understand what the normal survival knife is, how it is used, and the multiple uses it has. It is good to know what metal is used in knives to better understand the durability. There are a lot of knives that look useful or intimidating but are not worth two cents. Understanding the how and why of a knife’s design will help me in the selection, use, and care of the knife.

Another item that uses a sharpened edge is the broad head for a bow or cross bow. Just as important as keeping broad heads sharp is knowing how to maintain and fix a bow should something on it break. I am self-taught in this respect through reading, practical application, and trial and error. I used to shoot a compound bow competitively all over the southeast in the 1980’s. I learned as I went along how to tune my bow, make my arrows, and fix things that broke. Having a string break on a compound bow presents quite a daunting task, but this has happened to me. Because the compound bow is under stress all of the time, a slight mishap with a razor sharp broad head can create a violent eruption of parts. Because I never went to the field without my archery tool box, I was able to compress the bow with a hand press, put on a new string, adjust it as needed, and sight it in for twenty yards allowing me to continue hunting that evening.

To me the bow should not be something that is relied on as a primary weapon for protection or hunting in a survival situation. While nice to have for stealthy hunting or fishing, I just would not have this as my primary means for gathering food or self defense. Currently, I have a compound bow for deer and wild pig hunting as well as a takedown recurve bow that I like to use for bow fishing. Along with the tools for maintaining these bows they make a nice addition, but they’re not a necessity, so they are not likely something I’d grab when needing to get out of town. However, if you feel this is a needed item for your supplies, I’d strongly suggest that you take the time to learn how to maintain this equipment and repair it if need be. Also learn how to make your arrows and stock up on supplies, like blank shafts, fletchings, inserts, nocks, arrow glue, extra bow strings or the supplies to make your own bow strings, a portable bow press if it is a compound, extra compound bow cables, and other items that can possibly fail or may need replacing. My bow tool box has all this from collecting parts over the years. It’s not a big box, but it stores just enough to keep my equipment functioning in case of a mishap.

With my bow equipment I don’t have to rely on a pro shop to repair or even set up a new bow. I can’t say the same is true for all the guns that I own. However, I have gained enough knowledge in putting guns together and repairing them that I am not overly dependent on a gunsmith. What I’ve done over time is take guns apart for cleaning and put them back together. I moved beyond the normal field stripping to full disassembly, taking note of how each piece interacts with the other. Of course, I also download material and view instructional videos to help me learn the process. Let’s say for simplicity that I’ve only got one gun, perhaps a .45 ACP 1911 model hand gun. Okay, then the first thing is to learn all I can with how it operates and become proficient with shooting it. After this I would want to learn how to field strip it for cleaning. There are several good publications on this as well as some videos online that I’d reference. From here I’d move further on to see how the trigger works and operates, taking note of the spring placements and what their primary functions are. I’d become so familiar with it that I’d be able to pull it completely apart, clean everything, and reassemble it ensuring that it fires and feeds properly. This doesn’t qualify me as a gunsmith, but at least if it starts misfiring I’d have a good idea as where to look for the problem.

The beauty of a 1911 model is the parts availability. Now not all .45 ACP 1911 models are the same, so not all parts are interchangeable, but from what I’ve seen there are some very nice model 1911’s from different manufactures on the market, and I am sure there are many parts available for them. A little research will reveal the most popular and easiest to work on. I also like to see if spare parts kits are available for popular models like the 1911 as I like to keep spare parts on hand.

The example above is with one gun, so what about the multitude of guns that I do own? As mentioned I am a gun enthusiast, so I don’t expect people in their preps to necessarily have an arsenal like mine. I am sure there are some who have too many guns to count. For myself, I own somewhere around seventeen different handguns, fifteen different rifles, and about a dozen shotguns. It’s a moderate amount of a mixed arsenal. I can honestly say I have not broken down each one or learned the workings of each one, but I have done this with the ones I shoot the most and the ones I’ve assembled myself.

Speaking of the assembly of guns, I’d have to say that if you are thinking of buying an AR platform rifle, do yourself a favor and buy all the parts and build it yourself. First, there is nothing more gratifying, and secondly it gives you an intimate knowledge of the gun’s operation. I had already put together two Mauser action rifles by buying the guns from pawn shops and then re-barreling and re-stocking them, so I wanted to try something on the AR platform. I already had a 5.56 AR and wanted something different, so I built a 300 AAC blackout. Once I had all parts in hand, it took me thirty to forty-five minutes to assemble. I did run into a cycling issue and after some quick research I discovered that the buffer spring I received was way too stiff to work with that caliber. I took the buffer spring from my 5.56 and put it in the Blackout, and the gun functioned flawlessly. So I ordered a buffer spring specifically designed for the 300 Blackout, and the rest is history. It was a really fun project, and I have since talked two other friends into building their own.

No machine work was needed in this project. All the parts are available and can be put together by following simple instructions. I would caution however that if you are not familiar with head spacing to go ahead and have this checked by a gunsmith just to be safe. I’ve heard that the way the barrel is locked to the receiver on the AR platform that head spacing is not required, but I strongly urge anyone fitting a barrel to any action to check the head spacing with the proper gauges or have a gunsmith do this part for you.

Okay, so you likely have figured out that I like guns. It’s true; I do like guns. I like shooting them, working on them, and building them. Again, I am not a gunsmith, but I do have a little more than the basic knowledge of how these guns operate and how to maintain them. If you already own an AR platform rifle then I’d suggest buying yourself a parts kit or two while they are inexpensive. It is nice to be able to get a spare parts kit off the shelf or through mail order, but for some guns this may not be an option. For some of my guns I have more than one of the same make and model. These could be considered as a backup or a parts gun. For instance I have two SKS guns. One is a classic Russian-made collectible, and the other is a beater. Both are fully functional, but one could be robbed of parts if needed. I’m not saying this is the standard, but it is an option if you find yourself with two of the same make of gun. This is where shopping pawn stores, gun shows, and local listings help by finding a beater that someone just wants to get rid of. It never hurts having a spare just for the parts. For me, I own three Remington 870 shotguns, which gives me the option of parts if needed to keep one or two fully functional. I also have two Ruger 10/22’s that can complement each other if need be, although neither is a beater in any sense of the word.

One of the 10/22’s has a custom stock, fluted bull barrel, and a threaded end for a suppressor, while the other is the take down pack model. With the take down Ruger 10/22 it had a feeding problem brand new out of the box. I personally did not want to hassle with taking it back and decided to resolve the issue myself. After several observations and comparisons to my other 10/22, I came to the conclusion that the firing pin was projecting beyond the bolt face causing the following round to hang on it and not feed properly. I took the bolt assembly apart and saw two ways to correct the issue. I could remove the firing pin and widen the gap on the retaining pin hole which would allow the pin to fall further back into the bolt assembly or I could file a few thousands of an inch off the end of the firing pin until it was flush with the bolt face. I chose the latter. After filing and checking it then filing it some more until it was flush with the bolt face I reassembled it. Manually cycling rounds showed it would work so the next step was test firing it. It worked just like it was supposed to. I had no further issues.

This simple fix came from the fact that I had moved beyond the basics of how the gun should work and that I had gained knowledge over time of how to correct an issue like this without having to rely on others. Having taken the time to learn how to completely disassemble guns and put them together gave me the ability to correct this issue without relying on someone to do it for me. So if prepping for a SHTF situation and you’ve added a gun, knife, or bow to your preps, then don’t forget to take it a step further while you still can and learn the internal workings, the whys, and the how’s of the equipment to be able to make repairs and maintain the equipment. As a final note, don’t ever dismiss the professionals. They know a lot more than I ever will, and I love learning from them. So while you still can, you too should take the opportunity to learn from them. Take your regular maintenance to the next level, so when placed in a situation where you have to do it yourself you can.