Cleaning and Lubricating Your Lead Launcher, by Keith H. in Ohio

In the course of most firearms related articles there is the usual debate over caliber, brand names, action types, magazines, super-duper sights, LED lasers/lights, savvy slings, hot holsters and of course the great rail debate. Very little is written on the after effects of all that lead launching other than the firearms needs cleaned. In reality most shooters should spend as much, if not more, time cleaning and maintaining their firearms then they did actually tripping the trigger. The vast majority of shooters I see at public ranges and gun clubs do not even bring rudimentary cleaning and firearm maintenance gear with them to the range.

Countless times I have been at the range where someone brings their new or “kit” AR and they under lube it and have an extraction failure of a spent case or it bogs down with a dry bolt carrier group. New ARs are usually under-lubed and have a lot of wear in burnishing off coatings and the carbon gas blast that builds up in the BCG. Many new AR owners at the range usually do not have any cleaning kit with them so I dutifully (yes, it’s our duty to help the uninitiated) open my well stocked range tackle box and extract a rod kit and pop out the stuck case show them how to properly lube and get the AR going again. New AR platforms are the standard offenders but I have see a good sampling of other rifles and handguns that are shot dry slow down or jam up.

I once overheard a couple of well-heeled and well-dressed shooters (who arrived at the range in a 500 series Mercedes) debating over how to lube their new custom combat carry pieces. The one guy was actually stating that he was not going to put any lube on it at all since the gun store salesman told him that his new Tactical Tupperware could be shot dry. He exclaimed he did not want his gun “sweating oil” onto his dress shirts and pants. I personally knew the other shooter as a local lawyer and recognized the newbie Tactical Tupperware owner as the new “hotshot” member of the law firm. I commented on the nice Mercedes he drove to the range and asked him how well he would expect his Mercedes to run if he did not put any oil in it. He stated that would be stupid and that it would tie up the engine. I stated that it’s better to lube than bleed.

The other shooter/lawyer I already knew personally started laughing loudly and then he introduced me to the new guy. I further explained to the new guy that I had made a living carrying a handgun everyday as a LEO and firearms instructor and had made it to the half century mark without a gun failure due to lubrication issues. I then asked if the he had a cleaning kit for his new gun. He said it came with a brush and that he had bought a small bottle of gun oil and some patches but they were at home.  I explained I have seen too many shooters with over a thousand dollars in firearms hardware, high dollar holsters and cases of ammo without even a $10 cleaning kit from Wal-Mart. I explained the necessity and benefit of bringing a cleaning kit to the range and it’s a mere inconvenience when a sluggish or jammed up firearm is a problem on the range, but if the firearm jams when your life depends on it, it is a really bad day, or maybe the last day it will happen to you.

We in America, for the most part, take for granted the Petroleum products, textiles, and metals that make up our modern everyday lives. We expend untold billions in dollars and untold lives and limbs of our servicemen and women to secure the foreign well fields in places like Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and the Middle East and use tanker ships to bring us crude oil. It is then piped and refined by a vast industry to make and deliver our petroleum products to our waiting hands whether at a gas pump nozzle or your favorite bottle of Hoppes #9. The majority of worldwide textile production and mass clothing production has long been outsourced from the USA to the cheaper labor and cheaper source materials of foreign lands. Every try to grow cotton, spin thread or loom some cloth? How about dig out metal ore, smelt it, refine it and work it into usable metal objects? If you step back and look at the intricate web of delivery chain complexity you quickly realize it is daunting to grasp. In a long term grid down event these long supply chains will quickly disappear and the petroleum products, textiles, and specialty metals (steel, lead, copper and brass) will become highly valued commodities after a very short time.

My first firearms cleaning experience came from my father. My father and his twin brother volunteered for military service in 1940 so they could go through basic together. After basic they split into different units and my father started fighting World War II in the Pacific with the 37th Division the (same islands that their father fought over in the Spanish American War). My father was eventually promoted as a training Sergeant and then was transferred to train troops stateside and in England and he then lead them in beach landings at Normandy on D-Day.

Throughout his time in combat his men had to routinely tear down old clothing (mostly enemies) for rags and patches and also use boot laces or cordage as field expedient “bore snakes” to keep weapons running when weapon cleaning supplies did not arrive at the front. Supply chains were often hard pressed enough to get the crucial ammo and food forward. They often used diesel and gasoline fuels mixed with various motor pool fluids to make field expedient weapons lubes. Sometimes too light and volatile of a mix would catch fire or smoke heavily while running the various machine guns and anti aircraft guns and too thick a mix would bind up the weapons when the lighter compounds boiled off. They prized actually getting real firearms rated oils, greases and bore cleaners when they could get them. They routinely would destroy enemy weapons and ammo but they always re-tasked the enemy’s firearms cleaning oils and cleaning supplies.

I was raised in a small town rural community and I started shooting firearms at age of ten. My father first taught me to clean firearms with an old bootlace, old pillow case cloth hand cut patches and some kerosene as a solvent/lubricant. My father said he wanted me to first learn the hard way to clean a firearm so that I would more appreciate the easy methods now available.  After a time he introduced me to an old tooth brush and then eventually a proper cleaning kit with a real bore rod, precut patches, bore brush, gun solvent Hoppes #9, and real firearms oil that made cleaning to his training sergeant  standards a whole lot easier. By the age of eleven I had the responsibility for cleaning all the firearms whenever we went shooting or hunting.  That may seem young by today’s standards but my older brother and I had our father and our other uncles (all WWII combat veterans) raise us properly with respect for firearms and their proper care.

Old threadbare sheets, pillow cases, blankets, shirts, pants, socks and such should be saved and laundered one last time without scented detergents and then prepared for various firearms cleaning duty.  We shooters now enjoy a wide variety of pre cut, sized and specialty cleaning patches and pre oiled rags for our firearm care needs. It is so very easy to simply buy a bag full of patches with a can of gun scrubber, gun oil and maybe a new bore brush at the local gun shop every time we pick up ammo and other gear.

The best gun rags are old lint free sheets and pillow cases, but flannel shirts and socks work well also. The best way to salvage them is to snip and strip them into various sized squares. Resist the urge to pre cut different sizes of cleaning patches for the various gun bore sizes. Patches are usually caliber sized with one inch for .22 caliber and two inch for .30 caliber and so on. If you simply keep the salvaged rags to about sixteen inch squares they then can be stripped off the side of the square into appropriate widths strips and then further torn into caliber sized patches at the actual time of weapon cleaning. If you have ever opened a military cleaning kit that was field carried with bore and chamber brushes rubbing the patches apart into a pile of ratty thread stripped patches you will understand the less raw edges being carried the better.

When you tear down cloth you can make a small cuts perpendicular to the open edge with a scissor or sharp knife and then grasp each half and rip the cloth along the warp long axis or across the weft side weave of the cloth.   As you approach the last 1/8th inch of the tear you should re-grip the two parts with your thumb and forefingers at the last two corner points on each half and give a firm tug pulling the last bit apart. This is to prevent getting a long running string from separating out and running. I routinely use sixteen inch squares. That size folds and rolls up nicely into Military M16 Alice style cleaning pouches that are widespread in the range world.  You can of course custom size to your preferred carry pouch. Tearing apart cloth for gun rags is somewhat therapeutic like popping bubble foam and if timed right around someone bending over it can be downright funny.

If you have a OTIS style cleaning kit you can buy regular round patches of similar diameter and fabric type in bulk (about $10 per thousand).) You can make your own cut patches by taking about a half inch stack of regular round patches and place it on top of a double fold piece of brown cardboard box. Under the stack of patches and cardboard box pieces place a plastic cutting board. Take a real OTIS patch and lightly use a fine tip Sharpie marker to highlight the slits in black. Take an X-acto knife straight chisel blade of the appropriate width and vertically plunge down through the stack at the appropriate highlighted locations. Take care to keep the stack straight and flat to keep slot placement equal during the vertical plunge cuts. You know when you are through by the cut into the cardboard. You can make OTIS style patches for about $10 per thousand material cost this way verses factory OTIS of about $60 per thousand. I made a permanent template out of a thin aluminum disk with a Dremel tool. Remember to sharpen the blades as needed for a clean wiggle plunge cut. You can use a sharp hammer hole gasket cutting punch to make round patches in stacks of used cloth on a pine board also.

We are spoiled by the quick and easy access to gun oils and cleaning solvents. Commercial gun oils are various and proprietary mixes that each has their specific viscosity and lubricating characteristics. There are more viscous oils such as Break Free CLP or FP 10 and thinner Clenzoil and Rem Oil types. Firearms types and seasonal weather require various lubrication plans. In small bottles gun oils run about $1 or $2 an ounce. When you buy it by the gallon the price drops greatly and usually varies from about $40 to $80 dollars a gallon (128 oz) or about 1/3 the price depending on the gun show or gun shop you find it in. Gun Scrubber is priced at about $8 dollars a can and the cheaper “non chlorinated brake cleaner” scrubber by various auto store brands at about $2 dollars a can. These solvents to help quickly cut the nasty carbon build up of our firearms. Remember when using any petrochemical solvents to do it in a well ventilated, non smoking and flame free areas away from any live ammunition. If you are planning on supporting a group sized shooting operation or a training range you can also obtain non chlorinated brake cleaner cheaper by buying it in drums through auto dealers and car shops. You can get small hand held spray bottle from auto parts stores that are charged with an air compressor.

There are a variety of homemade firearm oil recipes on the web and I have tried many and found few to come close to the readily available commercial brands. It may be worth your time to web search and store hard copies of formulas [such as Ed’s Red] for the long term emergency. You will probably be more hard pressed to find the varying ingredients called for in the home made recipes in a grid down situation than to just  stock up bulk  firearms grade oils and solvents in multiple locations now. The firearms industry has taken great time and effort in coming up with good compounds. Most times trying to reinvent the wheel is time wasted.

For good firearms cleaning you need to use a proper sized bore brush and chamber brush to really get the build up out of the rifling, chambers, and locking lugs and wear points. It is almost impossible to improvise a proper bore or chamber brush. I have seen various attempts at improvised brushes by twisting fine wires and then snipping them off. IMHO it never works to a reasonably degree and usually ends up breaking off fine wires in the bore which tend to align with the rifling in the oils and are a pain to remove. Short of possessing a bore brush twisting machine, a warehouse full of raw materials and backup power the most reasonable thing to do is to stock up as many as possible in various calibers.  Learn to use them properly by pushing them all the way through and never reverse them in the bore. Also never dip them into the cleaning solvents. Always apply the solvents to the brushes with a dropper or dipped clean patch. I use slightly worn brushes for my initial passes and then switch to better brushes as the bore gets progressively cleaner with solvents and patches. Old dental picks and free tooth brushes from your dentist are handy for the hard to reach nook and crannies. Plain Scotch bright green pads without soap coatings from the laundry isle are a real time saver in scrubbing off dirty bolts. Specialty carbon scraper tools for your rifle bolts are a bit pricey but a time saver also.  A variable speed battery operated drill on your firearm cleaning bench makes quick work of a dirty AR chamber with a chamber brush mounted on a short cleaning rod section. Take care not to bore too deep or too fast to prematurely ream out the chamber neck and bullet throat area.

Take the time to read the users manuals for all your firearms and clean and lubricate them properly. Also take time to learn other firearms types you do not currently possess as you may have to learn a new firearm you come across on the range or in life’s real world adventures.

And as always: Buy cheap and stock deep in multiple locations.

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