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Hey, airgunners! How often should you clean your barrel?

I'm asked this all the time. "How often should I clean my airgun barrel?" How about never? That's my stock answer, but I usually add several paragraphs of substantiation to back it up. And most people probably don't believe me. The crazy thing is that the same people who never clean their .22 rimfire barrels seem suddenly driven to clean their airgun barrels. They tell me it's because the airgun stores sell cleaning kits.

Well, car dealerships sell custom floor mats, too, but that doesn't mean your car needs them. This month, I thought I would explore the world of general airgun maintenance and show you what really matters. I'll also tell you what doesn't.

Barrel cleaning--why?

Why would you ever clean a barrel? Well, to remove the byproducts of combustion and to remove the lead and jacket metal that attaches itself to the inside of the barrel. The combustion byproducts come from the burning gunpowder. In airguns, you don't have burning gunpowder, so no combustion products.

You can run a clean patch through the bore of an airgun, and it will come out dirty. That's the anti-oxidant compound that has fallen off the pellet as it went through the bore. Each pellet scrapes out the stuff left by the last pellet while depositing new stuff of its own. So, your bore is always "dirty," and it really doesn't matter.


What about lead in the bore? Jacket metal we can forget because pellets don't have jackets, but they are made out of lead.

Yes, an airgun can have a leaded bore, but the circumstances have to be just right for leading to occur--in an airgun, those circumstances don't happen that readily.

First, the bore may be rough and scrape lead from pellets as they pass through. If that's the case, you're stuck cleaning the bore on a periodic but regular basis. However, most air rifles and pistols have such smooth bores that leading due to roughness isn't a problem.

Airgun bores can become leaded from high velocity, too. As pellet speeds creep up beyond 900 fps, the incidence of leading goes up with them. However, some pellets are destined to lead more than others.

Just as hard-cast lead bullets will lead a firearm bore faster than softer lead bullets, hardened lead pellets will do the same to an airgun bore. The culprit is antimony. As the ratio of antimony to lead increases in a projectile, so does that projectile's index of leading. Pellets made from hardened lead alloy will lead the bore at lower velocities just because the antimony makes the lead smear more as it passes through the barrel.

Pure lead is much less prone to lead a bore, especially at lower velocities. It has a self-lubricating quality, called lubricity, that prevents the lead from smearing on the steel barrel at lower velocities. Most pellets are made from pure lead, but those made by companies that sell repeaters are often hardened.

When I shoot big bore air rifles, I do so without lubricating the bullets, because naked lead bullets are the most accurate. And the bore of my .458 Quackenbush Long Action rifle is completely clean. The 405-grain lead bullets I shoot are an alloy of 40:1 lead-tin that needs no additional grease for the bore. I tried greasing them at one time, but the accuracy fell off, so I quit.

If you want to shoot pellets faster than 900 fps or you want to shoot hard pellets, oil them first. I use a special concoction developed by airgun maker John Whiscombe. Two parts Hoppe's Gun Oil and one part STP Engine Treatment mixed together thoroughly will never separate and will keep your barrel clean for years.

Put a piece of foam in the bottom of a pellet tin and toss in one layer of pellets. Use 20 drops of this mixture dropped on the foam and the pellets will come out with an even coating. Just load them and shoot. This formula has the added benefit of not dieseling in a spring rifle.

When you do clean an airgun barrel ...

Sometimes, you can't escape the fact that the barrel needs to be cleaned. The way to tell that is when accuracy drops off. Don't go by cleaning patches you run through the bore--they tell you less than nothing because of the anti-oxidant compound mentioned earlier. But when a formerly accurate barrel starts suffering, it's time to clean.


What I'm about to tell you applies only to steel barrels. Brass and bronze barrels should never be cleaned--period, end of report.

There's only one good way to clean an airgun barrel. Use a solid rod with a brass or bronze brush on the end. I always use a brand-new brush because this process squashes the bristles to a smaller size.

Slather the brush with JB Non-Embedding Bore Cleaning Compound, then run the brush through the barrel 20 times in each direction. Generally, it'll be extremely difficult to run the rod through the first 10 times, then it becomes progressively easier as the bristles take a set. By the 20th pass, it'll probably be very easy to pass the brush through.

After you finish, thoroughly clean the bore with clean, dry patches. That takes longer than just a few passes. Following this procedure, I've used over 30 patches before the bore was entirely clean.

Now that the bore is clean, consider oiling your pellets in the future. I have guns that shoot very fast and also have over 10,000 shots through them with no evidence of leading. But I use the oil mentioned above.


What about cleaning pellets?

Never use them. They do nothing but get in the way and allow some guns to dry-fire. Many newer airgunners rationalize, "Well, why would they sell cleaning pellets if they didn't work?" Just remember, they sell rabbit's feet and magnetic bracelets, too.

When should I oil my gun?

There are two reasons to oil an airgun. The first is to promote sealing, so no air or compressed gas is lost during firing. This is the most important kind of oiling for airguns, and how you do it varies with the kind of powerplant.

If it's a C[O.sub.2] gun, oil every C[O.sub.2] cartridge you install with one to three drops of Crosman Pellgunoil. Not 3-IN-ONE oil; not WD40--Crosman Pellgunoil.

This is very important to the good health of a gas gun! I have purchased C[O.sub.2] guns from owners who felt sure they were leakers, only to "fix" them with one or two fresh cartridges and generous dollop of Pellgunoil.

I leave most of my gas guns charged all the time, and they hold gas for years! Fail to use Pellgunoil, and you can expect your gun to start leaking within a couple years of purchase.

If you own a multi-pump or a single-stroke pneumatic, oil the pump head at least every six months. To find the head, read the owner's manual. You'll find the pump head pictured in a paragraph that talks about oiling the gun--I'm not kidding!

You can flip many pneumatics on their backs, raise the pump handle and read the words "Oil here" on the gun itself. In one case, on some late Benjamin guns it says, "Do not oil" next to a small hole under the pump handle. That refers to putting oil down that hole. But you are supposed to oil the pump head of that gun as well as all other multi-pumps and single-strokes.

If you own a spring gun, oil the piston seal about once every 3,000 shots or once a year. Use one drop of silicone chamber oil that's been formulated to have a high flashpoint. It goes in the air transfer port, located immediately behind the breech.

The air in front of a modern high-power spring-piston gun rises as much as 2000[degrees] F. when the gun fires. Regular petroleum-based oil will ignite in that environment, causing a dangerous detonation in the gun. Silicone chamber oil is specially formulated to prevent that.

Other oiling of mechanical parts

The second reason to oil an airgun is the one most shooters think of--to reduce friction! Save your 3-IN-ONE oil for the pivot points and mechanical linkages in your airguns. They're like anything mechanical--they need lubrication to move smoothly. But when you oil an airgun, make sure the petroleum-based oil cannot find its way inside the powerplant.

The single exception to the ban on petroleum-based oil is for those weaker vintage spring-piston guns with leather seals. Weaker spring guns that have leather piston seals are okay for petroleum-based oils. They don't generate the pressure of the modern guns, and those leather seals really need that oil to stay flesh and pliable. And when you oil the piston seal, don't forget the breech seal that's usually found around the rear of the barrel.


If you don't know whether your airgun has leather seals or not, there's no easy way short of disassembly to find out. Just assume the seals are synthetic and oil them with silicone oil. That also works well with leather seals.

The main difference between leather and synthetic seals is the oiling frequency. Leather seals need oil more frequently. When a gun's power drops off or the piston squeaks when the gun is cocked, it's time to oil.

Oiling a gun with synthetic seals too frequently or too much at one time will cause dieseling and detonations. Dieseling is accompanied by smoke and the smell of burning oil. Detonations sound like a rimfire cartridge has gone off. Detonations can destroy your gun, but some guns diesel most of the time.

Who ya gonna call?

So, a week from now, when you've forgotten this article and misplaced this issue, what do you do? The owner's manuals for most modern airguns are on the websites of the manufacturers. Pyramyd Air maintains a huge library of owner's manuals on their website at Most of the barrel cleaning and oiling information can be found there, though my instructions are more detailed and to the point.
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Author:Gaylord, Tom
Publication:Shotgun News
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 20, 2009
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