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Rifle Cleaning

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So, you've been issued a nice shiny L85A2 but it's not shiny enough, either because you fired it all because someone with stripes or crowns on their sleeve thinks it's a great idea to kill some time up to midnight. How do you do it?

According to the PAMs, of course! You know, lots of scrubbing with Scotchbrite and pullthroughs and rags, being careful not to use abrasives on any treated surfaces (i.e. any surface which does not look like natural steel), even though there is absolutely no other way of getting it off using what is provided. And lashings of light weapons oil, which has the cleaning properties of mud. In fact, in certain circumstances mud might even be better...

But that method is balls and takes forever!

Of course, but providing you with better products would cost the taxpayers money. The MoD has much better things to spend their money on than adequate rifle cleaning supplies, such as chairs. Or croquet sets. Or rifle components rendered unserviceable due to excess use of abrasives because they have no money for decent cleaning supplies (it's a different budget, you see!). So it's scrubbing for you, sonny.

Hmmm. Perhaps I'm not asking the question correctly. So, let's say you were to own privately a nice shiny L85A2 that you have just befouled by taking it on a joyous range day in the blazing sunshine, with bucket loads of free ammunition. What would you personally do with it to bring it back to its former state of glory?

  • 1. Strip the weapon down completely.
  • 2. Place the gas plug and gas cylinder in a small container (the old seven-cigarette containers from ancient rat packs are an excellent size), add a wee dram of your favourite powder solvent (e.g. Brunox, Ballistol, 009, Hoppe's No. 9, Young's .303, BreakFree CLP, etc. NOT a metallic-fouling solvent like Sweet's, Robla Solo, Hoppe's Benchrest, or anything else which smells strongly of ammonia. Mostly because they are unpleasant and possibly a little toxic, although myth frequently has it that they will dissolve your rifle on contact, which is nonsense otherwise people would not use them. Some of them will damage the finish on treated parts if left in contact for long periods though. Many powder solvent claim that they will dissolve metallic fouling, such as Brunox, but their action is extremely mild and they are absolutely harmless to use on metallic parts, treated or not -- again, if they were not, people would not use them.). Give it a good shake to make sure everything is covered, and set it aside. These parts are the most heavily skanked up all, and will be dealt with last after the solvent has done the majority of the work for you.
  • 3. If the chamber requires cleaning, use the chamber brush with some solvent on it. Then, using a Boresnake (a sort of uber-pullthrough), clean the barrel. Do this by putting some solvent on the start of the woven portion and pulling through several times. Even better -- if your solvent comes in a squirty can you can squirt some of this down the barrel, leave it to soak a while, and then pull through. Do not attempt to put any cloth or anything else in the loop of the boresnake, because then it won't fit down the barrel in the case of 5.56 mm and you will have what is commonly known in the art as "a serious problem". The bore should now be nice and shiny. If it's not, either your boresnake is filthy and requires cleaning (they're actually machine washable if you put them in a laundry bag), or you probably need to clean more heavily, and to do this you require a cleaning rod and a phosphor bronze brush in good condition and of the correct calibre. Normal pull throughs are balls, which is why you won't see civilians use them. Soak the brush in solvent, push it all the way through the barrel and pull it all the way back about half a dozen times. Do not change the direction of the brush when it is in the bore, since this will knacker the brush. Contrary to popular belief, a phosphor bronze brush will not scratch the bore steel, unless the brush is full of grit and sand (in which case it's the grit and sand which are damaging the steel). Now, using a jag, and patches no larger than 40x40mm, dry the solvent out of the barrel. The vast majority of the crud will come with it, and the bore will look very shiny. Cruddy, damaged, worn, or old brushes should be replaced.
  • 4. Using some rags with a dab of solvent on, clean the inside of the receiver, the bolt, the bolt carrier, the barrel extension, the spring guide rods, the outside of the barrel near the gas parts, the inside of the handguard near the gas parts, the TMH, and anything I have forgotten. You will be amazed at how easily the crud comes off. Useful things to have at hand for the awkward parts are your mate's toothbrush, cotton buds (Cue-tips if you are a spam), and pipe cleaners (which can be bent double and used to get into difficult places, such as under the extractor). You should not need to use Scotchbrite on anything at all at this stage, except perhaps the breech face and then only if absolutely necessary.
  • 5. Give the gas vent hole a swizz with the reamer and a solvent soaked cotton bud if you really insist -- this part is inaccessible on most rifles, including the SLR, and never really causes a problem. The hole in the gas block into which the gas plug is engaged should also be cleaned as best you can with solvent, however.
  • 6. Turning our attention now to the gas parts which have been busily stewing in solvent for the best part of 10 or 20 minutes, extract these from their container. The vast majority of the fouling should now wipe off, and you will find that a cotton bud fits rather nicely down the inside of the gas plug, where some of the nastiest fouling lurks. Using a rag and the combination tool, you should be able to get most of the crap out of the gas cylinder as well. Use the reamers on the combination tool to get at any baked on chunks (a bit of additional solvent at this stage will help). The outside of the gas cylinder on the A2 is coated in black stuff (teflon, apparently), so keep that dirty Scotchbrite away from it -- the surface treatment is there for a reason and should remain there for the same reason.
  • 7. Admire your shiny handiwork, lubricate up, including a thin film on the inside of the barrel, ensuring that all untreated steel parts have a thin layer of oil, and reassemble. Use the issue oil for this -- it might have the cleaning properties of an encrusted wank sock, but it's actually a very good lubricant.

Would you condone anyone using this technique on an issued weapon?

Of course not. I would never ever condone anyone doing something the most efficient and best way when the bean counters sitting on their £1000 chairs in the MoD have decided that there is a cheaper way to do it. Working within your limitations, and all that... In any case, all that would happen is that you will clean your rifle far faster than anybody else and you will just be forced to help the slack Mongs who are trying to clean their rifles by dribbling into them and sticking the gas parts into their nostrils, and you will end up cleaning multiple rifles... (ahem!)...

I see. Do other armies issue better cleaning supplies?

Yes. Many issue Breakfree CLP as an all-round product (Spams, Dutch, Danes, Canucks..........), and some issue separate solvents and lubricants (Swiss, Germans?). This is, of course, much more expensive.