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Clean Up Your Act

With some elbow grease and the right products, it’s easy to keep your sidearm in tip-top condition.

August 01, 2004  |  by Dave Douglas

Years ago as a diligent new patrol sergeant I had the sad misfortune of conducting my first gun inspection. This was my first squad as a sergeant, and we were assigned the downtown beats of the nation’s eighth largest city.

My 10 officers were lined up out on the patio area of our headquarters building all holding their autoloading pistols at port arms. After years in the Army and 10 more on the department, I was in my element. My squad, my people, my responsibility, all at port arms, I was being a sergeant doing real sergeant stuff. Life couldn’t have been better.

Going down the rank of my squad, I would take each offered pistol and inspect the breach and barrel for obstructions and cleanliness. After performing a function check, I would inspect the magazines and verify that the ammunition loaded was the correct issued type. I’d then hand the pistol back to my officer and make an appropriate positive comment like “Nice job” or “Good work.” After all, that’s the way I was taught to conduct this type of inspection.

A “seasoned” officer had recently been assigned to my squad. He was four years out of the academy. That was really senior for a patrol officer because at the time my department was going through a growth spurt and the average patrol officer’s tenure was about two-and-a-half years.

I stood before this senior officer, took his offered pistol. and conducted my inspection. The gun looked like it had just been picked up off the ground in the Ardennes after the Battle of the Bulge and teleported to the patio. I can’t recall ever seeing a filthier weapon even to this day. The barrel had dust bunnies and chunks of an unknown organic matter in it. Carbon and spent powder were caked in the breach. And when cycling the gun you’d think the rail surfaces were made of 60-grit emery cloth.

I asked, “When did you clean this last?”

His reply was, “Well, they made us clean them in the academy.”

As I said, he was four years out of the academy. So let’s see, that’s four years of quarterly qualification shoots, practice, annual Advanced Officer Training firearms proficiency classes. Wow! No wonder it was dirty.

The moral to this story is, if you really hate your sergeant and want to see him or her blow a brain hemorrhage from a spike in blood pressure, then do exactly what that officer did to me. If not, here are a few suggestions on proper maintenance of the generic autoloading pistol.

Safety First

The one hard-and-fast rule I have on gun cleaning is: Don’t let the sun set on a dirty gun. And if you work the graveyard shift the rule reads: Don’t let the sun rise on a dirty gun.

OK. That said, let’s talk about the process.

First, safely unload the gun before cleaning. I know, it’s silly to have to say this, much less write it. But how many times have we all heard that officer so-and-so was shot while cleaning his gun? If you don’t want to be the subject of such stories, unload your gun and put all the ammunition in another room before you clean it. Then check the gun again. When you are satisfied, check it again. Then do it just one more time for luck.

Now you can disassemble the gun. Your owner’s manual should instruct you on how to properly do it. Just don’t disassemble the gun further than the manufacturer’s recommendations, or you and probably a gunsmith will have a really lovely time trying to get it back together.

Getting Started

Once the gun is disassembled, you can start. It is very important to note that you never run a brush down the barrel first. This can easily damage the firearm and grind in dirt and moisture. Also, if you have dirt or moisture in the barrel, it will get into the bristles of the brush, and the next time the brush is in the neck, it can deposit some of the dirt.

So start with a clean patch. Run it down the bore first and throw it away. A smart gun owner always throws away a patch after using it once. Used patches can redeposit dirt, carbon, and other grime back in your gun. So use fresh patches every time. After all, patches are perhaps the least expensive consumable material in your cleaning kit.

The next step is to take a new patch and saturate it with a good bore cleaner and run it down the bore from chamber to barrel. Remember to always clean in the direction the bullet travels. Remove the patch; remove the rod from the bore, and let it sit for a while to allow the bore cleaner’s solvent to work.

Clearing Out the Carbon

Now you can work on the slide or receiver. The slide is relatively easy to clean on most modern autoloaders. Again, start with a clean patch and wipe down the slide rails and all the flat areas of the slide, then throw that patch away. Using good quality solvents, soak another patch and apply the solvent to the internal portions of the slide. I also like to use a military type, double-ended nylon brush to scrub the slide rails and flat areas. Then I use a stainless-steel brush on the breach face because it normally will collect most of the tough to clean carbon buildup and requires a little more attention.

After a good scrubbing, take another solvent-soaked patch and go over all the surfaces again. Then use a clean patch on the surfaces. Keep alternating a solvent patch and clean patch until the dry patch remains clean.

Next, shift to the receiver. Much of the powder buildup will be in the area of the feed ramp. Use much the same technique as you did on the slide, alternating a solvent patch with a clean, dry patch. The nylon brush works well here, too.

Make sure that you remember to clean down the magazine well. Powder residue can collect in the mag well and, when it builds up, it can cause dirt and grime to be pushed up into critical areas when a magazine is inserted.

Down the Barrel

Once you’ve cleaned the slide and the receiver, it’s time to return to the barrel. Push another solvent-soaked patch through the barrel. (Again, remember to always clean in the direction the bullet travels.) Then take a brass brush and make at least 10 passes with it. Use one more solvent-soaked patch and then follow with clean, dry patches.

The guide rod and spring require attention as well. If your gun has a captured recoil spring and guide rod assembly, use a nylon brush soaked in solvent to scrub the entire assembly. Then use clean, dry patches to remove the solvent and clean the assembly.

On separate guide rod and spring systems, a solvent-soaked patch works well on the rod and the nylon brush does a good job on the spring. Again, remove all the solvent with clean, dry patches.

Finishing Up

You are almost ready to re-assemble the gun now. But first it needs to be lubricated.

The most important thing to remember about gun lube is to use what you need and no more. Have you ever been at the range and looked over at the shooter next to you and noticed that he has little dark brown or black spots all over his face? If that guy looks like he has some unknown type of pox, then he probably used too much lube.

A very little amount of lubrication goes a long way on the modern autoloader. Find where metal rubs on metal and then put a very thin coating of lube on it. The slide rails require only a small drop. The hammer-cocking bar needs a thin coat, and the external portion of the barrel should also be thinly coated.

To lube the inside of the barrel, take one clean patch, put a small amount of lubrication on it, work it into the patch so it evenly coats the whole patch, and run it down the barrel in the direction the bullet will travel. Take it off the rod and then remove the rod. Do not pull the patch back through the bore. Then take a clean patch, attach it to the rod, and pass it down the barrel. This should leave an appropriate amount of lubrication in the barrel.

Lastly, use a small amount of lube on a patch to coat the guide rod and spring. OK. You can now reassemble the gun.

Magazine Care

Your gun is now cleaned and lubed, but you are not finished taking care of your weapon. The weakest mechanism on any autoloading pistol is the magazine. Improperly maintained magazines are responsible for a majority of failure-to-feed problems. So make sure you clean them when you clean your gun.

Disassemble each of your magazines and use a solvent-soaked patch to wipe out the inside of the mag body and a nylon brush to scrub it. Then wipe away all the solvent. Clean the spring with a solvent patch being careful not to stretch it, and clean the outside of the mag as well. Then wipe all the parts with clean, dry patches. The follower requires a good wipe down as well. A thin film of lubrication is all you will now need for both the inside and outside of the magazine.

I also like to replace my magazine springs annually. These springs are not expensive, and replacing them yearly is great insurance against failure-to-feed problems.

Cleaning Supplies

OK, I have one last suggestion: Put together or purchase a gun cleaning kit with high-quality components. They will last longer and actually do a better job for you than the cheap stuff.

There are a number of really good kits and gun care products available. The following is a quick look at some of them.

CONTINUED: Clean Up Your Act «   Page 1 of 3   »

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