The phrase “home gunsmithing” conjures up pictures of a guy in knee breeches tending a forge and hammering out a rifle barrel from white hot strips of steel. What it actually entails more often is simply the task of maintaining existing firearms and keeping them up and running safely. Though the concept may sound daunting to many, if you possess average do-it-yourself skills and have an eye for detail, there’s really nothing to hold you back.
For any basic gun maintenance, you are going to need some basic gun-cleaning items. You can go to your local hardware or sporting goods seller and buy a gun cleaning kit, which will come with some copper and/or bronze bore brushes for the heavy duty removal of fouling from the barrel, a small container of bore cleaner, lubricating oil of some kind, a jag or loop to push the cloth patches through the bore, an inexpensive aluminum cleaning rod with multiple sections, grease of some sort, and maybe a toothbrush-style cleaning brush.
The rods, bore brushes, loops, jags and patches come in sizes that match the caliber of your barrel; make sure what you buy matches your firearm. One-piece rods are preferred because they don’t have misaligned joints that will scratch and damage the bore of your barrels. I prefer the plastic-coated ones, although there is a school of thought that says uncoated steel is better.
Always clean the bore from the breech (chamber) end whenever possible. Cleaning from the muzzle will damage the crown and is one of the fastest ways to ruin accuracy. If you must clean from the muzzle because you can’t clean from the breech due to the design of the firearm (pumps and semiautomatics mainly), you can use a pull-through cleaning kit like those from Otis Technologies, or a muzzle protector such as the Pro Shot Muzzle Guards from Brownells.
Stop by your local discount tool seller and get a package of three toothbrush style cleaning brushes in nylon, brass/copper, and stainless steel. Generally avoid using the steel bristle ones, as they will scratch the metal and take the finish off your gun.
You will occasionally need to tighten or remove a screw from your gun. DO NOT grab your handy Stanley mechanics screwdriver and have at it. Gun screws have narrow slots and nothing screams mistreatment by a gun butcher like marred screw heads and stripped slots.
Gun screwdriver tips are “hollow ground” and have parallel sides. This keeps them from camming out of the screw slots under torque and ruining the slot. Once you wreck one, you can’t replace it at the hardware store because gun screws have different threads than the screws you will find at any place other than a specialty house.
You can find small sets of gun screwdrivers with a handle and a dozen or so bits for under $20 in many places. Midway’s Wheeler Engineering sets are useful for the casual user as well, and the best can be had from Brownells and Grace USA. By the way, while you’re at your local hardware store, get yourself a small brass or rawhide headed hammer to persuade parts to move without damaging them, some dental picks, a set of tweezers, and a small long-nose pair of pliers. It is a good idea to carry a multi-section steel rod with you in the field or at the range for those times a cartridge case or bullet gets stuck. A rod is the only way to push them out — this can save the day.
Firearms need to be cleaned so they continue to function, this includes dirt and powder residue from the action and exterior surfaces. Once your firearm is “field stripped” or broken down as far as your owner’s manual suggests, you can use kerosene or mineral spirits as a low-cost cleaning solution. Place the parts in a plastic container with the cleaner and brush the crud out of the gun with your toothbrush. The copper brush and dental picks can come in handy here. Dry with a clean towel and use a hair dryer (available for under $10 at the local Pic ‘n Save — this is a better alternative than getting caught using one that doesn’t belong to you). Needless to say, do all of this in a well-ventilated area or outside.
For occasional cleaning of semiautomatic rifles and pistols at the range, remove the top ends and spray with one of the aerosol cleaners such as Gun Scrubber or Shooters Choice. They will dissolve and blow the gunk out the bottom of the gun (take your magazine out first) and dry quickly. Those of us who clean a lot of guns don’t use them, because we’re afraid our livers will fall out. Finish with a spray of Brownells Advantage CLP (cleaner/lubricant/protectant), or Du-Lite Kwikseal. In dusty climates you can do a quick clean and lube with Hornady One Shot. It is a spray cleaner that dries fast and leaves a dry lubricating film.
Fouling needs to be removed from barrels. This includes powder and plastic residues from shot cups and wads in shotguns, lead and powder fouling in handguns and rifles shooting pistol cartridges, and powder and copper fouling in rifles and handguns shooting copper jacketed bullets.
If you’ve been shooting old military ammo with “corrosive” primers, use Hoppe’s No. 9 to clean the bore. It was originally designed to neutralize the corrosive primer salts and prevent the rusting and pitting they can cause. It also works great for lead and powder fouling. Shotgun shooters need a bore cleaner that dissolves the plastic fouling, such as Shooter’s Choice Bore Cleaner. It also dissolves and removes the copper fouling from jacketed rifle and pistol bullets. If you use it on brass or copper bore brushes, be sure to rinse them afterward with alcohol or lacquer thinner, or the solvent will dissolve them as well.
Wet a patch and push it through the bore and remove it after it comes out. Do not pull it back through the barrel, why drag all of the dirt you just pushed out right back through the barrel? Let it sit for a few minutes and then wet the brush with solvent and push it back and forth through the bore a dozen times or so, then repeat with patch and brush until the patch going through looks clean upon exit. Run a couple of dry patches through, followed by a last one with a bit of gun oil or CLP.
Remove black powder fouling
Black powder fouling needs to be removed from the barrel both during extended shooting sessions and after hunting. If you lube your bullets properly, the fouling will stay soft enough to use through the second or third shot you might need.
At the end of the day, the bores should be brushed out with warm soapy water, followed by clear water and dried with patches. Finish a patch with a few drops of CLP to protect the bore. The nipple — or pan/frizzen/touch hole — can be cleaned with the same soapy water and pipe cleaners.
Firearms need lubrication to function without excessive wear or cessation of function during extended shooting, whether that be competition, practice sessions, or other events.
The same lubricants already mentioned are excellent for general gun lubes, while the rails and operating parts of centerfire semiautomatic guns need heavier lubes like Slip 2000 EWL or Shooter’s Choice All Weather High Tech Grease.
Protect with oil, grease or coating
Firearms need to be protected from rust and corrosion with oils, greases, or special coating. The particular chemicals used are greatly dependent on where you live, hunt or shoot. You need a heavy-duty protectant like Shooter’s Choice Rust Prevent in marine or rainy, humid climates. In dusty desert climates, a lube that feels dry to the touch like Frog Lube CLP won’t attract dirt and grit.
Inspect while cleaning
Firearms need to be inspected either during the cleaning and lubrication process (the best time), or prior to use for proper function, feeding and extraction of the ammo you intend to use. The fire control system needs to be checked to ensure the safety works, and that a jar to the gun does not cause it to fire. Failure of these systems to work properly, and with 100 percent certainty, causes very loud, unintentional noises, emotional upset, possible property damage, injury or death, and is referred to by professionals in the field as “a very bad thing.” The American Gunsmithing Institute makes DVD courses on the design, function and repair of many popular firearms. They use cut-away guns to show how parts and systems operate, and more.
The addition of sights, the collimating (“sighting in”) of those sights, addition of recoil pads, smoothing actions, and everybody’s favorite, the “Trigger Job,” are topics for another article and more experience.
The temptation to “improve” a firearm strikes many of us over the course of the years, and giving in to that temptation is what drove many of us into the gunsmithing field — we were forced to learn how they worked and where to buy expensive parts and tools to correct our ignorant (and in some cases, dangerous) mistakes. Learn from someone who learned the hard way — avoid giving in to those temptations until after you learn what to do and how to do it. The information is available today at a reasonable cost and you won’t have to go to Europe for a five-year apprenticeship.
You wouldn’t turn your 5-year-old loose to “improve” the brakes and throttle systems on your new Ford pick-up, so don’t do the same with your guns. But with proper knowledge and training, a seemingly overwhelming trade may be approachable for those willing to dig in.
Looking for more on hunting? Fifty fall hunting tips that’ll make you more successful in the field.
The four basic rules of firearm safety as taught by Col. Jeff Cooper are difficult to improve. They are:
- Rule I: All guns are always loaded.
- Rule II: Never let the muzzle cover anything that you are not willing to destroy.
- Rule III: Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target.
- Rule IV: Be sure of your target.
Gun maintenance and repair
For gun maintenance and repair, we add:
- Always remove the magazine and make sure the firearm is unloaded before you begin any repair or maintenance operation.
- Work the action several times to ensure that no rounds are hung up in the tubular magazine.
- Visually inspect the chamber and stick your finger in it if possible.
- Never have any live ammunition in the same room where you are working.
- Inert action proving dummies for checking feeding are available from Brownells.
American Gunsmithing Institute
Hundreds of video courses on DVD covering design, function, repair, gunsmithing, maintenance and cleaning of firearms.
Jack Landis is the tech services manager for the American Gunsmithing Institute, the editor of GunTech Magazine, and instructor in their series of gunsmithing video courses. He can be reached at email@example.com for questions.