The Tools - Rifle

Before we get into the mechanics of barrel care, a brief look at the tools necessary is in order. A good assortment of high-quality cleaning supplies are essential to keep from damaging it during cleaning.

Cradles and Vises

Some form of cradle or vise to hold the rifle firmly in place during cleaning will make the process much easier and more efficient. In the home workshop, a vise (with properly padded jaws, of course) will serve this purpose quite well. When cleaning on the range or out in the field, some form of cradle will probably be the best choice. Gun cradles that also provide storage areas for cleaning gear, solvents and other related items are available from MTM and Midway Arms. Sinclair makes a particularly compact cradle, well suited for use at the range and in the field. This aluminum unit breaks down for storage and transportation and is highly regarded among benchrest shooters. Look at several different designs and choose one that best suits your needs.


A cleaning rod is obviously needed to get a patch or brush through the bore. As simple as this function may seem, it can be a source of serious barrel damage. Among competitive shooters, only two types of rods will be found: the one-piece stainless steel rods or the one-piece coated rods by Dewey or Parker Hale. At present, shooters seem about evenly divided in their preference for one type or the other. While these rods are far less likely to damage the bore than other types, they must still be used correctly and carefully.

Most of the better rods today, are available in a variety of diameters. By choosing a rod as close to bore diameter as possible, the rod is less likely to flex within the bore. When a rod is allowed to flex, some peening of the lands may occur. Using a rod intended for a 22 caliber barrel, for example, in a 30 caliber bore will allow the rod to flex badly. This results in the rod’s peening, scuffing and scraping the lands as it passes through. Inevitably, this will damage a barrel over time, resulting in a loss of accuracy. This situation can be avoided by using the proper size of rod to begin with.

The more commonly seen aluminum rods are soft enough to allow abrasive particles to become imbedded into its surface. These particles can act as a lap while in the barrel, causing serious scratching throughout the length of the bore. These rods should be completely avoided, at least for any kind of gun-cleaning chore.

Sectioned cleaning rods may be something of a necessary evil, especially when cleaning gear must be stowed in a minimum of space. Their compact nature does indeed make them easier to take afield, but the areas between the sections provide a natural point for the accumulation of grit. If you need to use a sectioned rod, assemble it, and make sure that there are no burrs, high-spots, or potential snags at the joints that may gouge the bore. Some shooters who use these rods cut a slight bevel at the adjoining shoulders of each section to reduce the risk of barrel damage.

One consideration few shooters stop to think about is the cleanliness of their cleaning equipment. Rods wet with solvent and laid down on a shooting bench pick up dirt, dust and all manner of abrasive material. Unless the rod is cleaned before using it again, all of the grit it has picked up from the bench will be run right back through the bore, possibly scratching or damaging the barrel in the process. While the softer aluminum rods pose the greatest threat in this respect, any rod can damage a bore if it is improperly used. Before you run the rod through your barrel, wipe it down with a clean rag dampened with a bit of solvent. You may be surprised to see how much grit and residue is deposited on the rag — residue that would have gone into your barrel.


Just as with rods, there are both good and bad brushes available.

Benchrest quality phosphor bronze bristle brushes are the best and safest for your barrel. These use a brass core that is looped at the end, leaving no sharp edges exposed that may damage the bore. A poor second choice would be the bronze bristle brushes having a steel core. If this type of brush must be used, extreme caution is needed to get it started straight into the bore. Since the core is generally cut rather than looped, a jagged tip is usually left exposed at the end. If this tip is allowed to gouge into the throat or leade area, bore damage will result. Stainless steel brushes have also become available in the last few years. These brushes are probably best reserved for handguns suffering from extremely bad leading, as they are very aggressive and will cause barrel damage if overused. They should never be used in stainless steel rifle barrels!


There are several different styles of jag tips available, and each has its proponents. Some shooters prefer the “spear” type jag, such as those put out by Pro-Shot, while others prefer the “wraparound” type by Parker-Hale. Dewey offers a jag that can be used either way. Here, personal preference is probably as important as any other factor, as they all do a good job when properly used.

Bore Guides

A bore guide is a closely fitted tube, usually plastic or nylon, which keeps the rod centered in the bore. Most bore guides simply replace a rifle’s bolt (in bolt actions) during the cleaning process, with the rod run through the hollow center of the guide. Ideally, the rod should be a close fit to the guide to prevent the rod’s flexing in the bore. This flexing can allow the rod to peen or gall the surface of the rifling, potentially harming the barrel. Some guides, such as those from Sinclair, feature an “O” ring that seals the chamber to prevent solvent from running back into the action.

For guns that cannot be cleaned from the breech, such as most autoload-ers, lever actions, revolvers, etc., a muzzle guide of some type should be used. A muzzle guide fits into or over the muzzle of a gun, and like the bore guide, is intended to keep the rod centered in the bore. No matter which type is appropriate to the firearm you are cleaning, always use a guide.


What type of material makes the best patches? In the words of a top benchrest gunsmithing firm, “We don’t care what type of material you use . . . as long as it’s cotton flannel.” Highly absorbent, cotton flannel is tough enough to withstand being run through the bore on a tight-fitting jag, making it ideally suited to bore cleaning chores. When using patches, always use the proper size patches; a patch that is too tight may cause rod flexing and possible bore damage. As with bore brushes and cleaning rods, patches must be kept clean. Keep them in a sealed container until they are to be used, and never leave them out where sand or grit may be blown onto them.

Liquid Bore Cleaners

Liquid bore cleaners, such as Shooters Choice MC-7 or Hoppe’s #9, represent the most common and widely used method of barrel cleaning. In practice, a few drops of solvent are placed on a bronze brush and run through the bore several times. This scrubbing action should effectively loosen both powder residue and mild copper fouling, allowing it to be removed easily with a solvent-soaked patch or two. An alternate method is to use the solvents alone, without resorting to brushes. When using only patches to apply solvent, remember that the solvents work chemically and do not actually require any scrubbing. When solvents are used in this manner, use only a loose-fitting patch. In this instance, the patch serves only as a vehicle to transport solvent into the bore. A patch that fits the bore too tightly will be “wrung out,” leaving little solvent to do the work.

After using any type of solvent with a bronze brush, it should be thoroughly flushed with Gun Scrubber, or some similar cleaner/degreaser to stop the action of the solvent. Bronze, after all, is a copper alloy and is attacked by the solvent just as aggressively as is the fouling in the barrel. Flushing the solvents away will increase the service life of your brushes many times over. Regardless of the approach used, if evidence of copper fouling remains, a stronger method may be called for. A more aggressive type of liquid solvent is also available, usually containing a higher (4-5%) ammonia content. Two popular examples of this type of solvent are Sweet’s 7.62, CR-10, and Shooter’s Choice Copper Remover. These will prove useful in removing particularly stubborn deposits of copper fouling but should be used with appropriate care. Unlike the milder solvents, more aggressive solutions should not be used with bronze brushes, as they will begin to dissolve them almost immediately. This creates a second problem, as it gives a “reading” of copper fouling when patches are used next. Whether the traces of blue on the patches actually indicate copper fouling or merely prove that the solvent has attacked the brush and left traces of bronze in the bore will be unclear. Avoid this situation by using patches only with this type of solvent. While many milder solvents may be left in the bore to soak for long periods, some of the stronger solvents may actually etch the metal if left in the barrel too long. Due to the higher ammonia content of these solvents, they are best suited to removing copper fouling, as opposed to powder fouling or carbon buildup.

Mild Abrasives

For particularly stubborn fouling, it may be necessary to resort to a mild abrasive, such as JB Bore Compound or Remington’s Rem-Clean. These compounds, usually in the form of a paste or thick liquid, contain a mild non-imbedding abrasive that when used carefully will cut through fouling without damaging the bore.

Dry Brushing

Dry brushing is a technique in which a bronze bristle brush is run through the bore without the benefit of any type of liquid bore cleaner. While this will help keep fouling from building up quite so rapidly, dry bushing cannot be considered as a replacement for a more thorough cleaning with liquid solvents.