Clean as a Whistle

Nothing is more important to a shooter and skirmisher as cleaning his or her weapon properly after each use. Whether you are shooting a $2,000 original or a $100 reproduction you purchased used; whether you are reenacting with a repro or an original -- nothing is more important then knowing how to clean each weapon completely and properly. No single cause is more prevalent in the early demise of serviceable weapons then inappropriate attention spent cleaning that weapon.

An examination of the components of black powder, and the by-products of combustion of that compound, will present the reader with the necessary impetus to clean thoroughly and quickly after each use. Black powder is comprised of approximately 70 parts Carbon, 20 parts Sulfur, and 10 parts Saltpeter (Potassium Nitrate - KNO3). The ignition of black powder with a spark creates both a physical and chemical change within the compound. The solid particles rapidly release gasses and liquids, and under the stress of the rapid temperature changes, new bonds are formed among the Carbon, Sulfur, KNO3 and atmospheric atoms resulting in such damaging compounds as sulfuric acid, H2SO4. Luckily, sulfuric acid is very water soluble, and the quick and vigorous application of water and elbow grease will flush the damaging acids from your barrel and parts.

Cleaning Revolving Pistols

Revolving pistols are unique blackpowder weapons. They are capable of discharging many shots without reloading. If you are carrying around your six-shooter and not discharging all of your chambers in one day, the acids are working longer on your piece and you are losing precious time before pitting and rust take hold. This is more of a problem when you are blackpowder hunting or reenacting with your revolver then it is for a skirmisher.

After use, I like to disassemble my revolvers. I take the cylinder out and immerse it in a soup can full of cleaner. While that is soaking, I take the grips off and set them aside while I put the frame in a bucket of hot water. After the frame has soaked for more then 20 minutes but less then an hour, I pull the frame out and start scrubbing the barrel with cleaner on a bronze bore brush. Scrub hard, and don't use the same bore brush year after year. Invest the two dollars every season for a new brush, it is worth the investment. After a couple of passes with the bore brush and cleaner, I run some hot water down the barrel to rinse out any cleaner residue and switch to the cleaning jag and start running patches through. After the patches come through clean the barrel is done, but the frame needs cleaning too. A good stiff bristled brush should be used on the hammer recesses, the barrel throat and the frame in general.

About every third of forth cleaning, I disassemble the trigger guard plate and clean out the recess where the hand and fingers set. Remove the finger screw and the fingers, then the trigger screw and the hand. Clean these parts well with a stiff brush and cleaner, rinse in hot water and dry. Reassemble with a good dollop of white grease.

The cylinder requires careful attention. Be careful to scrub each chamber completely. Every three or four cleanings, I remove the nipples and using on old bore brush, run that sucker all the way out the other end of each chamber. This has helped keep any residue from building up in the bottom of the chambers. When not removing the nipples, I make sure I scrub each nipple recess completely. Rinse the cylinder in hot water, and apply a strong coat of your favorite solvent to the entire cylinder. Pay close attention to the cylinder pin and the loading lever. A lot of dirt is deposited on these parts, and they have to be cleaned thoroughly after every use.

Reassemble the revolver with a good coat of water displacing solvent, and it will, last you many thousands of rounds with few problems.

Cleaning Breech Loading Carbines & Rifles

Breechloaders require the same careful attention as revolvers. Where gases blow out (and they do), grit and gunk are deposited. If easily disassembled, then the breechloader can be cleaned much like the muzzleloader. Use care in cleaning, such as inverting the piece, so that cleaners and solvents do not enter stock mortises as easily and swell the wood. Every few uses, look at the action parts and grease well, as in the revolver suggestions.

Oversized bore brushes can be used to scrub out cartridge chambers on breech loaders -- the 12 gauge size works well on most. Mount it on a piece of old wooden cleaning rod or a pistol cleaning rod and it will work well.

Cleaning Muzzleloading Muskets & Carbines

By far the hardest cleaning job is a muzzleloading musket. The long barrels and closed breeches make cleaning a hard job. When deposits build up in a blackpowder arm, they actually form little flakes piled up on each other. When the edges of these micro-flakes remain smoldering after a discharge, they ignite in what is called a "coke-off". This term is often mispronounced "cook-off", which is what'll happen to your fingers if they are over the muzzle when it happens!

Blackpowder residues are easily removed during competitions or reenactments by running a few patches soaked in cleaner down the barrel. Enfields are easy to clean this way because the Enfield cleaning rod has the patch holding cutout in the ramrod head. I keep the presoaked patches in an old percussion cap tin in my haversack. Follow a wet patch or three with a couple of dry patches and you can easily fire a dozen more times before another quick-clean. However, once back in camp, the weapon needs a through cleaning. To accomplish this, I like to remove the barrel.

Once the barrel is removed, I have a four foot section of PCV pipe that I fill with hot water. The barrel slides right in and is soaked for up to 45 minutes. My pipe is 4 inches in diameter, and I can easily insert 3 barrels for soaking. The barrels are red hot when they come out, so be careful. When I remove a barrel from the soak pipe, I brush the outside of the barrel, especially the nipple area, with a stiff bristled brush. Bronze is great if you can get one. Use cleaner to get off hard deposits of debris.

While the barrel is in the pipe, wipe off the other parts of the weapon with a rag soaked in cleaner, and then a rag wet with warm water. Inspect the lock and clean and lubricate as necessary each time. Wipe out the barrel channel well with both rags, and apply some light water displacing oil here as well. Be sure all bands and screws are lubricated and clean before reassembling weapon.

I next place the ignition end of the barrel in a coffee can of cleaner, and, taking a wet patch, I slowly force the patch down the barrel. Then drawing the cleaning rod out, I siphon the cleaner in the can into the barrel. After pulling the rod slowly to about half way out of the barrel, I force the liquid back out the ignition chamber by forcing the rod back down. By repeating these steps over and over, I get a flow of cleaner coming into and out of the barrel through they ignition hole. I have found that this method works great at getting into the muck and grime in the breech of a muzzleloader. Change the patch every two or three strokes, and when the patches start coming out fairly clean you are ready to rinse the barrel.

Rinse the cleaner out of the barrel by using a coffee can of boiling water instead of cleaner. Use three or four patches too really wash the cleaner residue out of your barrel. The barrel will get hot, so wear gloves or use a pad to hold the barrel. When the barrel has been rinsed, oil it lightly and reassemble your weapon.

The last step is to wipe the bore with patches soaked in a water displacing oil. You will be surprised at how much more dirt is still in the barrel. If you rinsed the cleaner out well, you should be getting nearly clean patches by the fifth or sixth patch. Store the musket inverted to prevent oil from settling in the threads of your breech. This oil will foul your powder when the barrel heats up next time you use it, and render your weapon as useless as glasses on a boar hog.

Keep your cleaned muskets in a dry place away from high heat and/or humidity fluctuations. Well, I see by the shadow on the wall that it's near deadline time, so I hope you keep your guns clean as a whistle while you shoot safe and have fun.

(C) 1994 Tom Kelley
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