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Bore Cleaning Basics

Bore Cleaning Basics

By Matthew Cameron

The carbon and copper left in a rifle bore after firing a single or multiple shots needs to be dealt with if the accuracy potential of the bore is to be maintained.

Rifles owned by target and benchrest shooters are cleaned frequently to maintain their competitive edge; dirty barrels simply do not shoot to the required level of performance. The cleaning practices and equipment of these shooters is a starting point on how to clean other rifles. There are good reasons for the use of specific items in the cleaning process. Some of the gear might be considered expensive. However, cleaning equipment is much cheaper than a new barrel.

When you mention barrel cleaning a lot of shooters get a bit coy as to exactly how they carry out the process. A basic pull through might be sufficient for a .22 rim fire but is hardly adequate for a centre fire of any calibre. What we need to do is to eliminate all of the carbon and copper that is left in the bore, there are many different ways to attack the problem. Whilst you may be able to eliminate all of the copper, I am not totally convinced that it is possible to totally remove all carbon after the rifle has had some use.

If we fail to clean a bore in a proper manner from its initial pristine condition it may cause problems later on. A friendís 22/250 Remington had a dark ring of carbon at the beginning of the lands. It was very difficult to remove. He admitted that he had not thought much about the initial cleaning and had not used any particular system. Accuracy had deteriorated over time.

If a bore is badly fouled it may take several weeks to remove the accumulated copper and carbon. It happened to another acquaintance of mine who purchased a used rifle. Externally in mint condition, the bore was another situation entirely. It took many different fluids and cleaning techniques to remove the accumulation.

As a starting point, you need some sort of cleaning cradle to hold the rifle. If you are unsure ask your shooting friends and the local gun shop. There are several commercial types available. Nothing is more impossible than trying to hold a rifle in one hand and a cleaning rod in the other.

bore cleaning basics
Residue from a singular primer.


Next, we need a bore guide, considered by some to be useless and an added expense that is not justified. It does a couple of things that are important. Firstly it keeps excessive solvents from leaking into the trigger and bedding; these fluids will attack most bedding and effectively turn it into pulp--useless!

bore cleaning basics
Correct size bore guides are necessary.


Further it will align the cleaning rod with the bore. The best types have an O ring seal and are calibre specific. Pay the price and protect your investment. There is another type that is not calibre specific and lacks the sealing O ring. It is better than none at all. With this type is may be necessary to swab the cartridge chamber after cleaning to eliminate any drips.

bore cleaning basics
Custom bore guide. Note red sealing O ring.


Cleaning rods are the proverbial bone of contention. Everyone has an opinion. You will have to do some research and make up your own mind. Rods are available in one piece, two pieces; and some even more. Target shooters are usually very specific in their requirements; their choice will be a one piece rod with a rotating handle. It is suggested that this is the best type.

The next decision is whether the rod should be plastic coated or bare metal; each type has its followers. The target group favors the coated type. Irrespective of what you choose you MUST keep it clean by wiping with a paper towel or a cleaning cloth after each trip down the bore. This is particularly important with plastic coated rods; you do not want to contaminate the rod with dirt or grime of any sort.

bore cleaning basics
Correct size jags and brushes are important.


To insert cleaning fluids into a bore, there are two distinct schools of thought. One group suggests that scrubbing with a bore brush loaded with the appropriate fluid is necessary; the other claims that the correct fluid alone is enough and scrubbing is unnecessary. The fluid only people use bristle brushes or wool mops, and some use patches, whilst the scrubbing group use high quality bronze brushes. These bronze brushes are calibre specific. They are the next item to consider on the cleaning agenda. Make sure that the brushes you use fit the rod. There are several types available, and they are not always thread compatible.

A personal preference is the use of bronze brushes; loaded with the appropriate solution it achieves two purposes. It scrubs the embedded carbon and also etches the copper layer allowing the copper removing solvent to work more effectively. If you are going to use brushes, have the correct size for each calibre that you own. Worn brushes defeat the initial purposes for which they are used. If you insert the brush in the bore and it can be withdrawn, it is past its useful life and should be disposed of.

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