painiac's Essential Guide to Gun Cleaning/Maintenance (2014)

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painiac's Essential Guide to Gun Cleaning/Maintenance (2014)

Postby painiac » Sat Mar 29, 2014 9:45 pm

painiac's Essential Guide to Gun Cleaning, Maintenance, and Basic Home Gunsmithing

This 2014 edition supercedes my old "Guide to Building a Gun Maintenance Kit".
Bonus section includes a few basic home gunsmithing procedures.

Table of Contents:

Cleaning Kit: Bare Essentials
Cleaning Kit: Intermediate
Cleaning Kit: Luxuries
Field Cleaning Kit
Tool Kit
A Few Things Not to Waste Your Money On

Cleaning and Inspection:
How to clean a gun
How much lubricant?
Cleaning after using unjacketed lead ammo
Cleaning a new gun
Cleaning a “new” surplus military rifle

Basic Home Gunsmithing
Reference Materials
Spare Parts Sources
Iron sight adjustment
Scope installation
Mounting a scope on Picatinny or Weaver rails
Dovetail vs. Weaver vs. Picatinny rails
Barrel break-in
Trigger jobs
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Re: painiac's Essential Guide to Gun Cleaning/Maintenance (2

Postby painiac » Sat Mar 29, 2014 9:50 pm

Cleaning Kits

When I first got into firearms, I found that the topic of products for cleaning and maintenance appears a little overwhelming. I read a lot, I browsed around a lot, and I bought a lot of different products. As I gained experience I found that, unsurprisingly, the miracle products really aren't all that miraculous, and some of the items I bought I never even use anymore.

This guide is written from my research and my own experience. If you’re new to it, you will develop your own style and methods. Most of you already have. If you think what you're doing works better than what I'm doing, by all means continue. Hopefully you’ll still pick up a couple tips to incorporate. In the interest of full disclosure, I declare that I have no financial interest in or affiliation with any of the products or companies discussed.

I'll list the bare essentials for a firearms maintenance kit on a tight budget, and also some minor luxuries that are very nice to spring for. I'll also list a few things I believe to be a waste of money that is better spent on ammo or, I guess, food for your kids...

Kit: Bare Essentials

Many guns are designed to easily field strip for cleaning, but chances are you’ll need at least a few tools on hand. At a bare minimum, a small length of brass rod (three to four inches) and something to hammer with can be used to tap out pins, but real punches with a light hammer are easier to work with.

BreakFree CLP: CLP means "Clean, Lubricate, Protect", and it does all three pretty well. Though not the absolute best product available for any one task, it is a good gentle cleaner and lubricant with superb rust protection. Buy it in a pump bottle and it's thicker, makes less of a mess to use, and lasts longer than the aerosol can. Also available in refillable 0.68-ounce bottles for small kits, and can be purchased by the gallon for about $100. I also think it would make a good cologne, but my wife strongly disputes that.

Ballistol is an excellent (some say superior) alternative, but it’s kind of difficult to find outside of Europe without resorting to ordering online and paying shipping. I have a can and I’ve liked the results so far: it conditions the metal and makes it feel slicker even when dry.

The Slip products are supposedly superior, but are kinda pricey and aren't all-in-one so you’d need several products.

If you’re really lazy or short on cash, motor oil or automatic transmission fluid both do an admirable job lubricating and protecting firearms (and are engineered to stand up to much more pounding and temperature extremes than even full-auto guns are capable of dishing out).

If you decide to use a solvent (which typically isn’t necessary) that contains ammonia, use caution if you have a chrome-lined bore. It is possible that if left in the bore for more than an hour, the ammonia could damage the chrome lining and etch your bore badly. Sometimes this can happen, but anecdotally it usually does not. It bears mentioning only from a “better safe than sorry” standpoint.

Toothbrush, Hard or Medium Bristles: No need to buy a branded “gun cleaning” brush. Any toothbrush will work great. $1

Coated one-piece .22 cleaning rod: Sectional rods that screw together aren’t as strong and shouldn’t be used because they can scratch or gouge your bore/crown. Coated one-piece rods can be had in many diameters, but a .22 rod will fit down any bore and you’ll only need to own one. Get one with a plastic cone-shaped guide to protect the bore’s crown. I like the Safe-T-Clad brand rod, $13. PROTIP: Can also be used to tap obstructions out of the barrel, should such an event arise. Avoid aluminum rods because oxidation makes them turn abrasive, so essentially they become a long rat-tail file.

Bore Snake: Cheating, yes. But highly effective. You’ll need one for each caliber. Takes a lot of the work out of scrubbing down a bore. I like to run them through a few times, then call it done. Clean the bore snake by hand with dish soap after each gun-cleaning session, then hang dry. $15 each
Rags: Save up your old throwaway clothes, towels, dish rags, socks, etc to use as cleaning rags. If you’re really thrifty, you can cut off little strips to use as cleaning patches.

Paper Towels: Very handy in a dispenser on your workbench, and cheap.

Zip-lock Bag, gallon size: When detail stripping firearms, you will find many of them contain springs under tension that like to fling themselves off into shag carpets, unreachable corners, and/or your unprotected eyeballs. Insert such troublesome guns (or receivers) into a Zip-lock bag while working on them to catch these springs when they get loose.

Maintenance Log: The often-overlooked portion of maintenance is to keep track of the number of rounds fired though each gun and when any parts are replaced, so that you know when to perform preventative maintenance such as replacing springs and such. Some firearms, particularly the AR-15, have well-developed maintenance schedules built from years of experience by the military. It may sound excessive on its face to replace springs and other high-wear parts when round counts get very high, but if you can afford to buy that much ammo, replacement springs and such cost a pittance by comparison and will keep your gun functioning smoothly.

Spare Parts: You should have, at the bare minimum: a spare firing pin, extractor, and springs for each of your guns.

Kit: Intermediate

If you want to spend a little money for added convenience (Recommended).

Bore brush, nylon: Very durable. For deeper cleaning sessions only. You’ll need one for each caliber of gun you need to clean, but you’ll only need one of each for a long while. $5 each.

Bore brush, brass or copper: Cleans more aggressively than a nylon brush. I left this out of the strictly essentials because such cleaning isn’t really necessary, and because they’re not a one-time purchase. Bristles wear down and snap off quickly from use, and some cleaning solvents will eat away at them. Unfortunately, you pretty much need them for stubborn deposits. $4 each. PROTIP: Always wet them with cleaner, never run a dry brush down a bore. Also, go only one way: if you try to pull one back out while it’s in the bore, it’ll get stuck because the bristles are slightly longer than the diameter of the bore.

Nitrile Exam Gloves: Keep those harsh or just oily cleaning chemicals off of your hands. Nitrile is far superior to latex gloves in terms of being less permeable to many chemicals, having a much longer shelf life, and not sensitizing your skin into developing an allergy to latex.

Non-Chlorinated Brake Cleaner: Cleans just as well as the fancy spray cans (such as Powder Blast) in the gun cleaning section of the store, at a tiny fraction of the cost. Dissolves away a lot of crap and rinses it out of hard-to-brush areas, and dries quickly. Less than $2 per can in the automotive section. CAUTION: Definitely only use it outdoors, it's very noxious (and will go to work eating right through your nitrile exam gloves!). Not for use on some plastics or paints, so test a drop on an inconspicuous area of your gun first. PROTIP: never use chlorinated anything on most gun parts, as chlorine compounds contribute to stress fractures in stainless steel (but not carbon steel).

Simple Green: Inexpensive general-purpose cleaner, does a pretty damn good job. Seems to remove all oil from metal, and is nontoxic. I learned about this from AGI’s master gunsmith Bob Dunlap, who recommends it in all of his gunsmithing videos. I also liked the results. CAUTION: It’s water-based, so make sure you dry parts thoroughly. Also, the military supposedly says you can’t use it on aluminum receivers because it damages the protective finish (so it’s not for use on ARs). PROTIP: Dry it out after cleaning by baking metal parts in the oven on low heat, or by blowing them off with an air compressor.

Cleaning Patches: Cost a little money, but sure beats cutting up your own.
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Re: painiac's Essential Guide to Gun Cleaning/Maintenance (2

Postby painiac » Sat Mar 29, 2014 9:58 pm

Kit: Luxuries

Blue Shop Towels: “blue shop towel” paper towels cost more than the white ones, but they absorb better, are thicker and more durable, and don’t leave behind little fibers.

Brass scraper: Looks like a flathead screwdriver. Not strictly necessary, but handy for scraping off stubborn carbon deposits. Be careful where you use this: generally, you don’t want to be scraping anything on a firearm.

Brass-Bristled Toothbrush: Handy for occasional scrubbing of stubborn carbon buildup. Always wet them with cleaner first. PROTIP: Never use steel bristles on a firearm unless you like unsightly scratches.

OTIS Cleaning Cable: I like these a lot. Pull them through the bore and there’s no chance of damage such as is possible with a carelessly-used rod. I classified this as a luxury because a rod also has the versatility of being able to tap out obstructions, which this cable cannot do. $11 or so for a bare-bones .22 kit that can be used on almost any caliber barrel except shotguns, with many optional accessories available (including a shotgun barrel adapter).

Tetra Gun Grease: Grease is great for lubing the rails, as it stays where you put it. $5 for 1oz. PROTIP: Grant Cunningham recommends Lubriplate "SFL" NLGI #0 grease, but it’s hard to get as it’s a food service industry item ( I’ve been meaning to try it. In the meantime, I use a 3mL syringe with a blunt tip for surgical application of grease: a spot on each rail is plenty.

Militec-1 Dry Lube: Miserable rust protection, but unparalleled for dry sandy/dusty conditions. Bake it on in the oven per the manufacturer’s instructions, and your metal parts feel SLICK! $18 for 14oz

Field Cleaning Kit:

You should have the bare essentials with your gun in the field at all times. Store them in the handle, stock, or in a pouch attached to the sling.

Sectional Cleaning Rod: Never use these for routine cleaning, as the threaded areas are weak points that can damage your bore. Keep one in a compact field kit only for emergency use, in case you need to remove an obstruction from the bore. $10

BreakFree CLP: Get a 0.68 ounce bottle for about $3, refillable. PROTIP: squirt some down the bore while the barrel is still pretty warm from shooting, run a bore snake or a couple patches down it, then plug the bore with a patch and squirt some more BreakFree in for the trip home. The fouling will wipe out much more easily than if you let it harden first.

Bore snake: As mentioned above, great for field cleaning

Otis cable: Optional, either this or the bore snake for a field kit.

Patches: A few in the field are always good to have.

Broken Shell Extractor: See description in the Tools section below.

Tool Kit:

Hollow-Ground Screwdriver Bits: If you need to use a screwdriver on a gun (and chances are you will), you need a set of these. Regular flat-head screwdriver blades are wedge-shaped (illustrated on the left of the picture) and will mangle the crap out of your firearm screw heads if you have to apply much torque at all, swaging out an hourglass shape. Hollow-ground bits have the sides parallel, and make even contact with the entire screw slot (illustrated on the right of the picture). About $20 gets you a versatile set of bits. I also got a Craftsmen Ready-Bit screwdriver that stores a bunch of bits inside the handle (and replaced them with my most commonly-used hollow-ground bits), but this is kind of a luxury since most sets come with a driver.

Hex-Head Bits: Many guns and accessories use hex-head screws for certain things. Get a set of standard and metric hex bits to use with your bit driver and you don’t have to go hunting for a set of Allen wrenches when you need them. They also take up less space in your kit.

Torx-Head Bits: You won’t need these often, but a handful of accessories use the star-shaped Torx bits so it’s nice to have the bits on hand for your driver. Alternately, if you really want to go over-the-top, grab the “100 bits in a box” set from ACE hardware for about $20, which contains a large set phillips and flat heads (not hollow-ground so not for use on firearms!), hex, and torx bits, and a broad selection of bits for “tamper-proof” screw heads that you’ll probably never use but will enjoy knowing you can.

Rubber Mallet: Sometimes you just need to give something a good whack. Do it with a mallet to help avoid damage.

Hammer: The cheap “gunsmith” hammer with a brass head is nifty, but you can get by just fine with any light hammer. $10-$20

Punch Set, Brass: You need these to drive out pins, in conjunction with your hammer. Brass is ideal because it’s softer than the steel of your guns so won’t scratch them. Read reviews online carefully before ordering, as some import-quality punches are just brass-coated steel. Also be aware that the skinniest true brass punches bend and snap easily, and expect it. PROTIP: Drive pins gently with many soft taps, not powerful blows.

Punch Set, Steel: For more stubborn pins, but be aware steel will scratch your guns whereas brass won't. I bought an 18pc set of punches (half are brass, the other half are steel) from CheaperThanDirt for less than $25, and I’ve been quite happy with it. Craftsman doesn’t seem to make brass punches, but buy your small steel ones from them because the skinniest ones will break and Sears will always replace them for free.
Standard punch, roll pin, roll pin punch.

Roll-Pin Punch Set: If you need to remove and replace roll pins (somewhat common when detail-stripping firearms), nothing works better. I bought a 7-piece set from Brownell’s for $30. Roll pin punches have a head designed to hold a roll pin’s shape while directing the driving force where it needs to go. Regular punches tend to mushroom the ends of roll pins, and in extreme cases you may end up having to drill out one that’s too badly deformed. PROTIP: Start the insertion of a stubborn roll pin by pinching the end shut with a visegrip while you gently tap it in.
(standard punch, roll pin, roll pin punch)

Hockey Puck: Drill a hole in the center and you have the perfect block for driving pins into. Cut a wedge-shaped furrow all the way across and you can lay parts at any angle for driving those pins. Thanks go to to Gunplumber Graham for this tip. $1.50 for a practice hockey puck at Dunham’s: I couldn’t find them any cheaper online when I looked. If you want to get really fancy you can copy features of this $20 commercial design (optimized for 1911 pistol disassembly, and looks a lot like a hockey puck, doesn’t it?) and save a handful of cash, but you only really need one or two holes because you can’t drive more than one pin at once anyway.

Broken Shell Extractor: Inexpensive accessory that is used to remove a casing from the chamber the extractor cannot grab onto because the top has been torn off. Insert the narrow end into the stuck case from the action side and let the action close on it. The extractor will hook on, and when you pull the action open the slotted end will flare out and grab onto the case. Doesn’t work every time, such as if almost all of the case head remains, and is not strictly necessary because you can tap them out with a cleaning rod, but on the rare occasion you experience this malfunction in the field (I haven’t yet), you may be glad you have this.

PermaTex Blue Thread-lock Gel: Gel, you say? Damn right. You should always be thread-locking screws on firearms because the vibration of the action tends to work screws loose, and regular thread lock liquid is messy to use and you end up wasting half of it. I paid about $12 for a 10 gram tube (the size of a big glue stick) at Auto Zone, which is a great deal when you consider that a small tube of the liquid that you’ll only get to use half of costs $5. Use blue (color-code for medium) because it resists vibration but still allows you to unscrew your parts. Red thread-lock is for permanent joining, which is a rare application in firearms. Even if you buy almost nothing else from this list, buy this. PROTIP: If you need to remove a very stubborn thread-locked part (such as a new Mossberg magazine tube!) the trick is to apply heat with a heat gun, sterno can, or even a blowtorch just until you’ve heated the metal enough that the thread-lock melts, which you’ll know because it starts to hiss and smoke. Do not make the metal red-hot!

Bench Vise: Get one with interchangeable jaw pads, or make your own pads from rubber so you don’t damage your finish. These can sometimes be found second-hand. Alternately, you could use a couple sandbags as a rest, but you won’t be able to gain any torque from this method.

Action Blocks: Also known as “vise blocks”, these are required when you need to hold a receiver solidly in a vise for a job that requires a lot of torque, such as breaking loose a tightly-screwed-in barrel, or tightly putting one on. They sandwich both sides of the receiver so that its odd shape can be held evenly by a vise’s jaws. You can buy a molded action block for each firearm, but this gets expensive. They typically cost about $50 each. A much better method is to trace out the receiver on a block of wood, then saw it in half and cut out the receiver’s shape with a jigsaw. (Thanks to Gunplumber Graham for this tip).

Air Compressor: Great for blowing/drying out Simple Green, Brake Cleaner, or any other excess liquid. Can often be found second-hand.

Dremel Tool: A Dremel rotary tool is very useful and versatile.I do not recommend that you attempt any trigger jobs unless you really know what you’re doing because you can easily and unintentionally create a hair trigger!

A Dremel is something to be used very sparingly and only after careful consideration when it comes to the metal parts of firearms, because in most cases you will destroy the surface hardening of the parts you’re working with, causing them to wear out much sooner. It is also a very Bad Idea™ to alter the geometry of the parts in any way, which is very easy to do without meaning to. That being said, a Dremel comes in very handy for non-critical jobs such as altering stocks, polishing feed ramps, etc.

Definitely get the corded model, with adjustable speed. The cordless models, though convenient, lack the power and longevity of the corded ones. I like the model 300: it’s adjustable from 5,000 to 35,000 rpm. No matter which model you choose, I highly recommend the flex-shaft attachment which greatly improves its agility. The most common things you’ll use will probably be the wood-working bits, grinding stones, and the polishing wheels.

The secret to using a Dremel properly is to not press much with the tool, but to let the tool’s RPMs do the work for you. If you apply pressure, you’re likely to break the accessory, which can cause splinters or shards (especially the cut-off wheels) to go flying. Eye protection is a must! It’s also a great idea to wear gloves because if the bit suddenly manages to obtain traction it can go running off of the item you’re working with and skip across your hand at 35,000 rpm, which I’m told is decidedly unpleasant.

WD-40 and 0000 Steel Wool: Now, hear me out. WD-40 is a water displacer (hence the name: "Water Displacement, 40th attempt") and a moderately effective lubricant, but it dries into a gummy residue that traps fouling and clogs up the small moving parts of firearms. It's often debated on the internet whether it can be used for firearms: Yes, it can, even though most products do a better job. That being said, keep a small container of it along with a piece of 0000 Steel Wool for addressing any rust issues early.

Dicropan T4 Touchup Blue: Supposedly the darkest touchup bluing available. From Brownell’s, it’s about $22 for a small bottle.

Aluminum Black: For touching up scratches in blackened aluminum. $8.50 for a small bottle.

Glow Inc. Ultra Green v10: The poor man’s tritium sight. Dab a little of this glow-in-the-dark paint on your sights, charge under a light. $16 for a half ounce in a nail polish jar with applicator brush. Cover with clear-coat nail polish for lasting protection.

A Few Things Not to Waste Your Money On:

I haven’t bought a lot of things for gun maintenance that I regret, fortunately. Just keep in mind you get what you pay for: if you try to buy the cheapest import-quality items to save money, it will fail and you will have to buy it again or buy something better. Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about just how much money really equals your time, so I frown on wasting it. Better to use the money on one-time quality purchases where possible. It is easy to go overboard, though.

Branded “Gun Cleaning” Mats: These are just oversized and overpriced mouse-pads. Any rubber or vinyl type mat will protect your table from your gun cleaning products. You can even just use a towel. Just don’t put it back in the bathroom, unless you want your wife to use your guns on you.

Cleaning stations or all-in-one gun vises: These look pretty cool, but I really can’t justify the price to you so I haven’t bought one. A table works fine.

Cheap Cleaning Patches: Avoid the little rectangular patches from Walmart that look like rice paper, as they are smooth and poorly absorbent.

RemOil: This is just overpriced baby oil. It makes your guns shiny and is a moderately effective lubricant, but has no inherent rust protective properties. Some people love it and it’s fine as a lubricant, just don't expect it to protect. Also not good for genitals.

Hoppes #9: I know this is killing a sacred cow, but I found Hoppes #9 to have only lackluster cleaning ability, plus it smells awful. It is also a chlorine-containing product: remember what I said in the Brake Cleaner section about chlorinated compounds and stress fractures in stainless steel?
Laser Bore-Sighters: An expensive gadget that makes zeroing your firearm moderately easier. You should be able to forego this device and peer down the barrel to get your rounds on paper. A laser bore-sighter will only end up saving you a small amount of ammo that does not come anywhere close to justifying its cost.

Pipe Cleaners: Do not concern yourself with trying to scrub out rifle gas tubes: so much pressure goes through them, it’s physically impossible for enough carbon to accumulate to interfere with the rifle’s functioning. Once in awhile (maybe every 6 months, if that), I like to blow out the gas tubes with non-chlorinated brake cleaner and shake them dry, but this is purely for my own aesthetic reasons. It definitely is not necessary.
Last edited by painiac on Sat Mar 29, 2014 10:14 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: painiac's Essential Guide to Gun Cleaning/Maintenance (2

Postby painiac » Sat Mar 29, 2014 10:01 pm

Cleaning and Inspection

How to clean a gun:

This will run counter to most of what you will have heard, because changing the way things have always been done is an uphill battle. Spending long trying to scrub a bore is a tremendous waste of time unless you're using black powder or corrosive ammo. Carbon deposits in the bore from modern ammo do not cause rusting or pitting. Imperfections in a bore are actually filled in by fouling, which increases a gun's consistency. Accuracy depends heavily on consistency. Scrubbing it out means you're starting from scratch every time, and it takes a lot of effort and harsh chemicals to get a bore spotless. It's been found by people who have gone against the conventional way of doing things (especially trainers who simply don’t have time to scrub dozens of rifles every day) that accuracy isn't measurably improved by cleaning frequently, and the much-feared negative consequences of not cleaning do not actually occur.

Wet the bristle-end of a bore snake with BreakFree CLP and run it through the bore a few times to knock loose any un-burnt powder deposits and to protect exposed areas from rust. Only worry about the bore if you’re using unjacketed lead ammo (see below), or corrosive ammo. Scrub the chamber a little. Brush out the receiver. Lube all contact points well, and call it done.

Reassemble the firearm, and perform a function check. With a little practice, it doesn’t have to take you more than 10 minutes or so to clean a rifle, and maybe five minutes for a pistol. Any time spent beyond that is wasted.


Every time you field strip your firearm for cleaning, do a quick inspection for obvious problems. You also want to familiarize yourself with what the parts of your gun are supposed to look like, so that if something is wrong later you will recognize that it doesn’t look right.

Contact points will inevitably wear and become shiny, and this will show you the places that you need to be sure to apply a heavier coating of lubricant.

About once a year, it’s a good idea to detail strip your firearms so you can give them a thorough cleaning and inspection. Look over each part closely for unnoticed rust spots, excessive wear, and tiny stress fractures. Also look specifically for chipped extractors and ejectors, broken or mushroomed firing pins, and worn springs. Refer to your maintenance log, and if your round count is high you should replace springs even if they don’t appear to the naked eye to be worn out.

How much lubricant?:

A common question is how much lubricant to use. If ever instructed to apply a light coating of oil, this means to wipe some on so that the part is shiny, but if you were to touch it you would not leave a fingerprint. If the instruction is to apply a heavy coating, you want the oil to be on thickly enough that if you tilt the part one way the oil will almost flow in that direction.

Generally speaking, all contact points (such as the bolt and rails) should receive a heavy coating of lubricant, and non-contact points (such as sections of the receiver that no parts touch) can have a light coating. Never leave more than a very light coating of oil in the bore, because it can obstruct a bullet by making the bore narrower. Additionally, anything left in the bore will be blown out with the first shot and can’t do anything else after that, anyway.

It is inevitable that lubricant will work its way out of the gun, so even those guns you haven’t fired in awhile (and especially a carry gun) should be periodically field stripped and re-lubricated.

Cleaning after using unjacketed lead ammo:

If you fire a lot of unjacketed or uncoated lead bullets, you will end up with lead deposits in the bore. At first this is not an issue, but the lead will accumulate and can cause a dangerous overpressure when subsequent bullets try to squeeze their way through.

There are two good options for removing lead. The inexpensive method is to cut off a piece of Copper Chore Boy scouring pad and wrap it around a bore brush. This will scrape the lead out of the bore. Do not attempt this with off-brand scouring pads, because import-quality ones are copper-coated steel! The more expensive method is Brownell’s Lewis Lead Remover, which has a reputation for working very well.

Cleaning a new gun:

Before a new gun ships from the factory, a protective grease is applied so it doesn’t rust in storage. This grease does a fantastic job of preventing rust, but should be cleaned out before firing the gun, because it can clog up some of the moving parts (particularly the firing pin channel). Also take care to clean the grease out of the bore, because the narrowed channel through which the bullet passes could create an unsafe firing situation.

In most cases, you will also see a little powder residue and probably a few small flakes of brass inside the action. This is normal: new guns are test-fired before they leave the factory. No harm will have been done by its presence, and you’re cleaning out the packing grease anyway.

Cleaning a “new” surplus military rifle:

By “new”, of course, I am referring to older military surplus rifles that were recently removed from storage that haven't had the packing grease cleaned off yet, as these are another matter. Most of these were dipped in melted Cosmoline, which is a thick petroleum-based grease that liquefies around 130 degrees Fahrenheit. The liquid coats all surfaces of the rifle, inside and out, to provide the metal superb protection against rust and to protect the wood from deterioration or moisture damage. This treatment allows rifles to sit in storage for decades and come out looking little the worse for wear.

Cosmoline does present some difficulties in removal, though. There are many proposed methods of removing it, but only a couple of these are worthwhile. Doing it wrong is extremely tedius, messy, and time-consuming, and the worst methods can damage your stock and/or gun. For the lowest-effort safe removal method, you will need rags, a brush, a large oven, a stove, a large pot, some water, and a little dish soap. The alternate method, which takes more effort (but may save you some flak from the wife for making the house smell like cosmoline) requires a few cans of non-chlorinated brake cleaner, a basin or tray (a paint roller tray works well), and some mineral spirits (also known as paint thinner) instead of a pot of boiling water.

Remove the gun from its stock, and disassemble it as far as you are comfortable. Even if you do little else in the way of detail stripping, it’s very important that you completely disassemble the bolt because a lot of cosmoline will definitely have become trapped in the firing pin channel. This is usually the culprit in the commonly-known SKS rifle “slam-fire” malfunction (where the gun fires as soon as a round is chambered), because the firing pin was stuck in a protruding position.

Start by heating the oven to 150 degrees Fahrenheit (or the “warm” setting if your oven doesn’t have a numbered setting this low). Wrap the wooden stock in rags unless you have a suitable drip tray (or improvise one with aluminum foil), and place it in the oven. Take care that the wood or the rags are not close to the oven’s heating coils. Bake the stock, taking it out every 15 minutes or so to wipe off the cosmoline that has melted and seeped out of the wood. Continue heating and wiping it down every 15 minutes or so until no more of the cosmoline is coming out of the wood.

Alternately, if the stock will not fit in your oven you can place it in a plastic bag in direct sunlight, or in a hot car. This can take longer, and you still need to wipe off the cosmoline before it starts to cool and harden back up. Some guys build boxes heated with 100w light-bulbs for this purpose, which would definitely be worth considering if you plan to clean up more than a couple surplus rifles. Never use water, harsh chemicals, or water-based cleaners on a wood stock because they will damage and discolor it.

To clean the metal parts, boil some water in the largest pot you have, with just a little dish soap added to the water. Place all metal parts in the pot to melt off the cosmoline. Lift them out with tongs and wipe them off. The heat should make the water dry almost immediately. Oil them promptly with a light coating of BreakFree CLP to protect them. Alternately, you could bake the parts in the oven along with the stock, provided you set up a drip tray.

The alternate method of cleaning the metal parts is a little more labor-intensive, but can be done outside or in your workshop to keep the wife happy. Submerge all metal parts in mineral spirits and scrub them with a brush. The barrel, as well as any nooks and crannies, need to be hosed out multiple times with non-chlorinated brake cleaner and cleaned with a patch and cleaning rod. Be sure to use non-chlorinated brake cleaner because chlorine compounds are not friendly to stainless steel. Keep these chemicals away from your wooden stock!
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Re: painiac's Essential Guide to Gun Cleaning/Maintenance (2

Postby painiac » Sat Mar 29, 2014 10:01 pm

Basic Home Gunsmithing

("...And that's how, with a few minor adjustments, you can turn a regular gun into five guns.")

I am using the term “gunsmithing” rather loosely, because without specialized training and skills all we’re really doing is being “kitchen table Dremel jockeys”, which is the firearms version of the shade-tree mechanic. For any complicated or difficult work, you should definitely take it to a professional with a good reputation. For simple stuff, though, you can probably do it on your own. You’ll save some money, and there’s a great deal of satisfaction to be gained from doing your own projects.

Reference Materials:

Disassembling a firearm, like any other machine, is typically not at all difficult: re-assembling them is the hard part! It’s important to know where to obtain the instructions and diagrams you need to re-assemble your firearms, before you start. Most gunsmiths can tell you they’ve had more than a few people shamefacedly bring them a Zip-loc bag full of loose parts because they disassembled their gun and can’t figure out how to put it back together.

The owner’s manual is always included with a new firearm, but these are frequently lost when guns are resold (and the very old manuals are rare enough that they are considered collector’s items). You can usually contact the manufacturer to obtain a copy of a manual if you need it, and in fact most manufacturers have a section on their website where you can download a copy of the manual so their customer service departments don’t have to get bogged down filling this routine request. Unfortunately, this only works for companies still in business and where the manual isn’t out of print because the gun was discontinued years ago. Often the manual can be found through Google.

However, in most cases the owner’s manual will only tell you how to do a basic “field strip” for cleaning purposes and how to reassemble it from there, and will contain an exploded diagram and parts list. It can be very difficult to decipher these tiny diagrams. The idea is the manufacturer doesn’t really want the average owner doing a “detail strip” (total disassembly), preferring instead that this job be left to a certified gunsmith for liability reasons. There’s actually not a whole lot of damage you can do with reassembly as long as you follow instructions, don’t try to force anything, and perform a function check after re-assembly before you attempt to fire the gun.

It is often possible to obtain armorer’s manuals for specific guns, which have detailed diagrams and disassembly/reassembly instructions, as well as all of the manufacturer’s maintenance and troubleshooting procedures. Once in awhile you can even find them online for free download.

The American Gunsmithing Institute (AGI) has a superb series of videos, each video dedicated to a specific firearm. A master gunsmith discusses and shows you the gun’s internal mechanisms and function in detail, and demonstrates total disassembly and reassembly. For those of us who learn best by seeing and then doing, these are top notch.

The internet is also a hugely useful resource. Start by searching Google for the gun and the problem you’re having with it, for example “Ruger 10/22 jamming” or “1911 reassembly”. The more popular models of guns will have at least one big website devoted to them, and these will usually have disassembly/reassembly guides with photos that far exceed the helpfulness of your owner’s manual. You can sometimes even find instructional videos for disassembling your gun on YouTube if somebody’s bothered to make one, so this can be worth a look. Although production values are subpar, seeing it done might just show you the solution to something that’s been stumping you.

One of your greatest resources for getting clarification will be forums. Popular gun models each have entire discussion forums dedicated to them, and there are plenty of other firearms-related forums where you can ask specific questions about any gun and probably get an answer from at least one person who has dealt with your problem or at least understands the topic well. Be sure to use the forum’s “search” function to see if anyone has asked your question already, and take a look at the “stickied” posts that are set to always stay at the top of the list of recent posts because they usually address frequent topics. You should do this because we gun nuts are an opinionated lot, and seeing the same questions innocently asked every week by new members can stir up a lot of nerd rage.

Spare Parts Sources:

If the manufacturer is still in business, they might be your best bet, but they probably won’t be the fastest.

Between Brownells and Numrich Gun Parts, there aren’t too many spare or replacement parts you can’t find. As a last resort, a skilled gunsmith can fabricate most small unobtainable replacement parts such as springs, extractors, etc.

Iron sight adjustment:

I classified sight adjustment under home gunsmithing, but really it’s a minor procedure that is done with a simple tool (sometimes specific to the gun or type of sight) at the range or in the field, where proper alignment can be tested and dialed in through trial-and-error with a target.

Unless you are a fantastic shot (and if you are, you very likely don’t need to be told how to do this), dialing in sights should be done from a shooting rest, to minimize the movement of the gun as much as possible. Pick a range at which you want the point of aim (what the sights are aimed at) and the point of impact (where the bullet actually hits) to be the same. This is known as the sight’s “zero”. A common zero range for a rifle is 100 yards, but as you become more adept at shooting you may find that you want to increase this range. For a .22, a common zero range is 50 yards.

For handguns (which generally do not need adjustment unless the sights are replaced), 25 yards is a reasonable zero range. Handgun sights are typically held tightly in a dovetail cutout in the slide, and are difficult to move. You could tap them out with a brass punch and hammer, but the best method is to use a specialized sight adjustment tool, appropriately called a “sight pusher”, that resembles a vise clamp. They are sometimes sold specific to one model or brand of handgun, but universal ones exist.

One important note here is that sight pushers will probably not work on a Springfield XD pistol, because Springfield makes the fit so tight that they have to install the factory sights with a press: you can remove the sight by making a relief cut with a cutting wheel, but this doesn’t help with the problem of only adjusting the sight or installing a new one. Sight replacement or adjustment on XD pistols is a task for a gunsmith with the expensive equipment to do it properly.

To zero: A target, preferably one with a grid, is shot three times from the distance you wish to zero and then examined. If the holes are very close together but not centered, you know this was a good test and you now know in which direction you need to adjust your sights so that POA and POI line up. If none of the holes are close together, it may be the ammo or it may be that the bore or crown are damaged, but it’s much more likely the fault of the shooter.

If the rounds aren’t hitting the paper at all, repeat the test by aiming for the top of the page, then the bottom, and each side if necessary to determine where the rounds are going. If you remain stumped, move the target in closer. Once you’ve figured out in which direction the sights are off, adjust their POA for windage and/or elevation as required.

To move the POA of iron sights, either move the front sight in the opposite direction or the rear sight in the same direction. For example, to move POA to the left, you must adjust the front sight to the right or adjust the rear sight to the left. You can remember this with the mnemonic “F.O.R.S.”, which stands for “Front Opposite Rear Same”.

Scope installation:

Installing a scope isn’t a particularly difficult procedure, there are just a couple things you need to take care with. You could buy a “scope mounting kit”, but these aren’t a great use of your money. The only tools you need are an appropriate screw-driving bit, and something to degrease with (non-clorinated brake cleaner which you should already have in your kit works very well, as does acetone with a rag). A torque wrench (at 30 pounds per inch) is helpful if you already have access to one so you don’t over- or under-tighten, but isn’t required. You will also need a tube of blue thread-locking compound such as Loctite (I prefer the gel because it’s much easier to work with than the liquid).

Loctite is very important because firing a gun subjects the parts to a lot of shock and vibration, so unsecured screws have a strong tendency to loosen. More is not better, though, because excess Loctite will just be squeezed out and make a mess. Use blue Loctite, which is medium strength and removable: do not use red Loctite, which is permanent.

The most important thing is to buy quality rings and a quality mounting platform. Cheap rings and rails are made of low-quality steel or aluminum, and they will break loose, peen out, or otherwise fail you eventually. When the gun is fired, it moves backwards under recoil and the scope’s inertia means the rings are pressed into the scope rail. Soft metals will be peened by this battering, eventually loosening the ring’s hold on the rails and allowing the scope to slop around. When your scope moves even a little bit, so too does your point of aim. A set of quality steel scope rings that do not allow the scope to move will cost you $50 to $100 or more, which seems like a lot but they are the only ones that can do the job and they are a one-time purchase. Beware of the old-style Weaver rings that only have tightening screws on one side, because they will rotate your scope towards the screws when tightening, no matter what you do to try to prevent it.

A cautionary word here on scope screws: the two sizes used for mounting scopes to firearms are pretty much not used for anything else. If you lose or damage a screw a replacement isn’t hard to order, but don’t count on finding it at your local hardware store. If you get a screw at the hardware store that looks like it might fit, chances are you’ll get it stuck and mess up the receiver’s threads in the process. Traditionally a 6-48 screw has always been used for mounting scopes, but the reason this thread was chosen was probably lost to time and nobody except those in the firearms trade uses it. Custom gun makers typically use larger 8-40 screws to secure scopes to rifles, because they are much more suitable for standing up to the recoil of harder-hitting cartridges. Gunsmiths will occasionally drill out old 6-48 holes with an 8-40 tap, and many believe that all of the manufacturers will eventually come around to using the larger and more suitable 8-40 in the first place.

Before starting, be sure to degrease all the screw threads, the scope base, the mounting holes in the receiver, and inside the scope rings. After degreasing, it’s helpful to apply powdered rosin or some silicone (not silicone-based lubricant!) to the inside surface of the scope rings where they will contact the scope tube, to prevent the scope from sliding. Some rings come with a non-slip coating on the inner side already.

First, you need to install the scope base. If your gun doesn’t have holes to mount a scope base, any gunsmith can drill and tap screw holes into the receiver for you. If your gun already had a scope base installed when you bought it, you should remove it, degrease the base and the screws, and perform the following procedure to ensure that it will stay put for you.

If this is a new scope base, if there’s any possibility you may have lost track of which screw was where, or if the base was installed by somebody else and you don’t know for sure they didn’t mix up the screws, start by screwing the scope base onto the receiver without using any Loctite, and work the action to ensure that the screws do not interfere with its movement. Some mounts have screws of differing lengths to accommodate thicker parts of the receiver: ensure that you’re using the screws in the correct places so that the longer ones don’t protrude into the action and interfere with the movement of the bolt. Once you’re certain everything is properly arranged, one at a time remove each screw and apply a small amount of blue Loctite to its threads, then re-insert the screw most of the way. After all of the screws are most of the way in, go back and tighten each one a little at a time so that the base is tightened down evenly.

Do not over-tighten the screws! The most common mistake made in scope mounting is to torque the screws down as tightly as possible. Conventional wisdom says to screw them in as tightly as you can, and as is often the case with conventional wisdom this is wrong. There are two very good reasons not to over-tighten. Firstly, by tightening the scope down more than it and its mounts were intended to be tightened, the tube of the scope is flexed: this alters your point of aim. Secondly, the threads are subjected to much more stress than they are capable of withstanding, and sooner or not much later they will fail and the screw will come a little loose: conventional wisdom blames this loosening on not having had the screws tightened down enough, and consequently this poor practice is reinforced and the mistake repeated. The screws should be snugged down, but only to 30 pounds-per-inch of torque: you should not feel like you are straining your wrist and forearm to tighten them. Since you’re following these instructions and using Loctite on the threads, you won’t have to worry about the screws coming loose until you’re ready to take them off yourself.

If necessary, you can tweak the scope’s alignment by shimming the base and/or the rings: appropriately-sized shims can easily be cut from an empty aluminum drink can. You want the scope to be centered and aligned with the bore as much as possible, so that extreme corrections will not have to be made with the scope’s dials later.

Next, attach the bottom portion of the rings to the scope base. Lay the scope on the rings, then look through the scope to ensure that the eye relief is correct. To obtain proper eye relief, be sure your cheek is positioned on the stock exactly where it will be when you shoot (known as a “cheek weld”), or your scope will be in the wrong position when you get it to the range. While looking through the scope, move it forward a little at a time, until the image starts to darken at its circumference: when this happens, move the scope back just a little bit until the image is clear and bright again.

Also ensure that the reticles are level: a scope that is canted only a couple degrees will move your point of aim at any distance. A vise (with non-marring jaw inserts) is very helpful for this, but a couple of sandbags work nearly as well. Optionally, you can also buy an inexpensive scope level to assist you with this (pictured right). When you’re fairly sure the scope is where you need it, lay the top half of the rings on and install the screws just tightly enough that the scope won’t move while you pick up the rifle to double-check things.

Now shoulder the rifle and gain your cheek weld as you would when firing, to verify scope placement. You may have to make some adjustments. When everything is aligned, put the rifle back in your vise or on your sandbags. Now just like you did with the base, one at a time remove each screw, apply a small amount of Loctite to the threads, and replace it most of the way. After each screw has been Loctited and replaced, tighten down each screw a little at a time so that the rings are clamped down on the scope evenly. Tightening them unevenly can turn your scope a little bit, and you probably won’t discover this happened until you’ve finished.

If you’re using a base with many mounting points, such as a Picatinny rail, try to get the rings close as you can to centered on the scope tube for aesthetics, but aesthetics are secondary to proper eye relief and sight picture. If your base has only one mount point, the scope will have to be moved forwards or backwards in the rings to obtain proper eye relief.

If your gun is a type where you can open the action and peer down the bore, you can “bore sight” it by roughly aligning what you see in the bore with what you see in the scope at a distance of about 25 yards. Then when you take it to the range, start by zeroing the scope at 25 yards and your shots will be on the paper from the start, making the zeroing process go faster. Then zero the scope out to the range you want.

Mounting a scope on Picatinny or Weaver rails:

When placing a scope that already has rings attached, move it forward on the rail one slot at a time until the image begins to darken at its circumference, then move it back one slot. Press the mounts as far forward in the slot as you can, and tighten them down. The reason you push them forward is that the scope’s inertia when you fire the gun will make it stay put while the gun moves backwards, so by pushing it as far forward as it can go, the scope’s position will not be able to shift forward despite repeated firing.

If you have a Weaver rail that only has a few slots, you will have to adjust the position of the scope in the rings using the procedure described above.

Dovetail vs. Weaver vs. Picatinny rails:


Many firearms have (and just about any can be drilled and tapped to accept) mounting rails made to fit the contour of their receiver. Some of these rails are specifically made or contracted by the firearm’s manufacturer, while others are completely developed and sold by third parties as aftermarket accessories. In either case, they allow you to mount scopes or other accessories using standardized attachment rings.

Some accessories use a dovetail rail (see Fig 1). They rely exclusively on a binding force provided by tensioning screw which pinches the mount onto the lips of the rail. These are typically only seen on airguns, but I mention them because you might see them on some cheap accessories, which is an excellent sign to avoid that accessory. A dovetail rail is not suitable for standing up to recoil. Worse, you have no way of knowing if your scope has been knocked forwards or backwards unless you’d painted or scratched a mark on the rail, and it is very difficult to place the scope in exactly the same position if you have to remove it. You’re more likely to see a dovetail with an improved design that also has a cross slot to prevent the mount from sliding forwards or backwards.

Both Weaver (see Fig 2) and Picatinny (see Fig 3) rails are similar in their basic principle to the Dovetail, but the rail is flatter and wider, and there are cross slots to prevent the scope from shifting forwards or backwards. The main difference between Picatinny and Weaver rails is the width and distribution of the slots.

Weaver slots are 0.180 inches wide, but there is no standard for how many slots there will be: many weaver rails have only few slots (as pictured), while others have an even distribution along the entire rail’s length. Weaver rails are often (but not always) zero-hold, meaning that any optic you remove and put back on is able to be mounted in the same place so you don’t have to re-zero the scope.

Ruger firearms use a proprietary rail that is very similar to the Weaver design.

Picatinny rails were originally developed in the 1980s, but became standardized for the US Military by the Picatinny Arsenal (as Mil-STD-1913) in 1995. Picatinny slots are standardized to always be 0.206 inches wide and 0.118 inches deep, spaced 0.394 inches apart. The slots provide maximum flexibility in positioning options, as well as allowing the rail to expand without distorting its shape when it becomes hot. Picatinny rails are required to be zero-hold.
Some mounts are designed to attach to both Weaver and Picatinny rails, but a mil-standard Picatinny mount will not fit on a Weaver rail.

Barrel break-in procedure:

The practice of “breaking in” a new barrel is controversial, with very strong opinions on both sides of the issue. The idea is to fire specially designed, progressively less abrasive rounds a few at a time, carefully cleaning the barrel between every few shots, in order to smooth out the bore. Competitive bench-rest shooters who subscribe to this practice believe that it increases consistency to improve accuracy.

For average shooters like you and I, we will never see any useful accuracy gains by doing this. In actuality, a bore that is totally clean is not consistent from shot to shot, because it will become progressively more fouled after the first round. Consistency is achieved under normal shooting conditions just by having a little fouling in the bore that fills in tiny imperfections.

What is certain is that by using abrasives to smooth out the sharp edges of the rifling, you are deliberately accelerating the wear process and dramatically reducing the usable life of your barrel. This is great for barrel makers because they get to sell more replacement barrels. Breaking in a “match barrel” is a waste of time, because you already paid a premium price to get a barrel that was carefully made to be smoother than a mass-production barrel. Custom barrel makers include instructions on a break-in procedure only because many of their customers insisted that they do so.

If you are capable of shooting very tight groups out past several hundred yards, where your group sizes are competitively measured in thousandths of an inch, then you don’t need my lowly opinion on whether breaking in a barrel is worth the trouble and you should continue doing what works for you.

Trigger jobs:
I mention trigger jobs only to encourage you not to attempt them. The idea is to smooth out a gun’s trigger pull by sanding and polishing the surfaces where the hammer and seer interact. This should not be performed because internal gun parts are surface-hardened, and when the surface hardening is sanded away the parts will wear out much sooner. Additionally, altering the geometry of these pieces in any way can easily result in a gun that fires when dropped or jarred, obviously creating a gun that is very dangerous to use or carry.

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