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AR-15 maintenance: the barrel.

Barrels get dirty. Barrels need to be clean to shoot their best. Barrels cost beaucoup bucks. Cleaned right, they'll last like they should. The last is so right: a lot of "worn out" barrels are damaged through cleaning. Here's how to do it a right way. (I said "a" rather than "the" because few really agree on everything.)

How often should a barrel be cleaned? If you're a competitive shooter, I suggest cleaning every time you've been out with the rifle, so for me, it's somewhere between 60 and 120 rounds. If you are the sort of person who turns socks inside out to get another day (or week) from them, then you probably won't devote yourself to this whole barrel cleaning "bidness" in the first place.

Next thing is to get the goods together, and the first thing is to know what you're up against. There are three primary sources of grunge inside a fired bore. One is propellant residue. It's mostly carbon. Next is priming compound. It's mostly silica (salt, more or less). Then there's copper. That comes from bullet jackets. The carbon responds well to petroleum-based solvents. The copper won't respond at all to those. Copper fears ammonia. The priming compound won't respond to either, but, fortunately, it's usually just sitting there in little loose pieces and gets swept right out with the first patch or two run through the bore. It doesn't really need to be dissolved to be effectively removed.

Cleaners A-Z

There are a ton and a half of different cleaners on the market. I can't say all are good and none beats all or gets all. "Combo" cleaners containing a good dose of carbon-cutting solvent along with something with an appetite for copper are--no surprise--the easiest way to do the best job. However! Who wants this to be easy? Ha! Actually I do. If you shoot often and, therefore, clean often, one of the mixes, such as Butch's Bore Shine, Montana Extreme, TM, or Shooter's Choice MC7, should be all you need for routine barrel care.

If you have a fouler for a barrel or, through neglect, might be required to get Department of the Interior approval to remove the massive copper deposits inside your barrel, then we need some ammonia. Old-school copper solvents like Sweet's 7.62 still work as well as anything. Hoppe's No. 9 has its place as a "nitro" solvent (that means it's for carbon) and works well paired with a specialized copper solvent. If your bore is disgustingly blackened, get to Mr. Goodwrench and pick up some GM Top Engine Cleaner. It'll get carbon gone in a heartbeat.


You did know this would end up being all about tools, right? Cleaning rod first. I use one-piece coated rods made by J. Dewey. There are others and some are very good, but I stick with Dewey because it is a known commodity with me. Dewey rods are spring steel coated with Surlyn, which is a plastic also used as golf ball hide. Coated rods cushion the inevitable contact between barrel and rod.

Since there's abrasive grunge inside the bore, it will get onto the rod. Just wipe off the rod with a rag as it's withdrawn, every pass. If you don't it can turn a rod into a rasp. There is never a reason to clean an AR-15 from the muzzle end, so don't ever do it. Muzzle crown damage kills accuracy. So the next most important thing is a rod guide. OK, it's not a bore guide. It guides the rod, not the bore. Obviously that's one of them "things" with me. Sinclair makes, hands down, the best for AR-15s and AR-10s. It slips into the upper receiver where the bolt carrier goes and has an O-ring to seal up the chamber against backwash.

Next is something to put on the end of the rod. That's going to be brushes and patch jags. I use "wrap" jags, but the most simple is a "stab" jag, which pierces the center of a patch on a sharp point. I like wrap jags for reasons that don't matter to this article (they are good at carrying coatings, such as moly). Either style works equally well for cleanup. What you don't want is a "loop" jag, which is the kind that looks like a big needle eye. They just don't work as well.

The best brushes are bronze-bristle, copper-core--never stainless steel. Nylon brushes have an important place in cleaning, but not as scrubbers. Replace metal brushes frequently (like every second or third use) because they lose effectiveness if you don't. They are cheap and should be purchased by the baggie full. The bronze brushes are to clean out the black deposits. To use one, run the rod through the guide until it clears the muzzle, then thread on the brush, and then keep this system together until you're done scrubbing with it. Remove the brush when the rod is sticking through the muzzle and then withdraw the rod entirely. Reason? Don't run the brush through the rod guide.

Nylon Brushes

The nylon brush does virtually no scrubbing but is the best at coating the chemicals on the bore. Put the rod through the guide and out the muzzle, thread on the nylon brush, and squirt the cleaning solution on the brush. Then pull it through the bore in three or four short motions to get the best saturation.

Regardless of the type of chemical cleaning solution you're using, let it do its work. Read: let it be. Follow the manufacturer's cautions on the time it can be left in contact with the barrel, but a whole lot of scrubbing should never be necessary. It's kind of like letting a skillet soak instead of scouring it. (Of course, the multi-dimensional sock wearers won't get that analogy either.)

How do you know if the barrel is clean? The barrel is clean when the patch is clean. Always leave something in the bore to protect it. A patch of very light oil, Hoppe's No. 9, or Kroil will keep corrosive evils at bay.

There aren't really any cautions unique to AR-15s. They're actually very easy to clean and, since they are metal, we don't have to worry much about solvent damage to exterior parts, epoxy bedding, or stock finish. Still, I cover the stock.

You're not done yet. Next time we'll look at how to get the rest of the rifle clean and keep it ginning.




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Title Annotation:UP ON ARS
Author:Zediker, Glen
Publication:Guns Magazine
Date:Sep 1, 2006
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