Semi-auto pistol cleaning: what works for me

If you read the manual that comes with any new semi-automatic pistol there’s a lot of information about how to field strip it but not a lot about how to actually clean the gun. I’ve seen a lot of different techniques but for me there are some basics that I think are worth sharing.

If it’s dirty, clean it. Sounds simple and it is. If you look inside the barrel and it is cruddy, it needs a good scrubbing. I typically use Hoppe’s #9 solvent to loosen the fouling. I apply it either with a saturated patch or just dip the brass brush into the small Hoppe’s jar then put it right into the barrel. Always clean the barrel starting from the chamber so as not to damage the crown (the precisely machined end of the barrel which imparts the final “kiss” to the bullet as it begins its flight). Also don’t stop part way through the barrel and change direction with the brush. This causes the bristles to press against the inside of the barrel with too much force. At the least it will shorten the life of the brush. Always continue all the way out the other end. After letting some time elapse you will want to run clean cloth patches through the barrel until they come out clean. After that you will want to send a patch with lubricant on it through the barrel in order to leave a light coating of lube on all the surfaces.

While most folks pay attention to the lands and grooves, the chamber and feed ramp are just as critical. In fact I’ve seen pistols fail to load due to dirty feed ramps quite a few times. While I’m waiting for the solvent to work inside the barrel I usually take the time to wet down the feed ramp and the other areas surrounding the chamber at the rear of the barrel. Often there will be significant carbon buildup there which can keep the gun from going fully into battery if it builds up enough. Again if it’s dirty, clean it.

A word should be said about cleaning products. I mentioned Hoppe’s #9 but I will often just use Break Free CLP (clean, lubricate, protect) to remove fouling and to serve as the final lubricant. This is especially common if the gun was not very dirty to begin with. Even with the #9 I often use CLP as the final lubricant. It’s good stuff. Also, if the barrel is really bad inside (lots of lead and/or copper stuck in the grooves) I will use Blue Wonder and let a heavy slathering sit inside the barrel for 20-30 minutes. It’s important to turn the barrel quite a bit to insure the slimy stuff evenly coats all the way around. Then just go back to the normal solvent/brush/patch/lube routine. Works great.

Once the barrel is under control the next area I work on is the slide. With semi-autos this will include (among other things) the breech face, the extractor and the slide rail grooves. These areas are critical. The breech face is the area against which the base of the cartridge rests. It can get really cruddy and must be thoroughly cleaned. The extractor is the small hook-like metal finger that extends out and over the case rim. As the gun cycles the extractor is what yanks the case sideways and, with the help of the ejector, expels the spent case through the ejection port. If too much carbon builds up under the extractor it can fail to eject the spent case and case a major jam. I find that an old toothbrush works really well on this area, as well as most everyplace else I’ve mentioned outside the barrel.

While I like Hoppe’s for the barrel I typically do not use it anywhere on the slide. I just don’t like the idea of getting solvent inside the striker raceway and it causing undue wear on the striker and/or striker spring. So, after spraying CLP all inside the slide I then scrub all the fouling loose not only on the breech/extractor area but also the slide grooves and the entire underside of the slide, especially toward the rear of the pistol. Then I wipe it down with a series of clean patches. I use the toothbrush to get the patch down inside all the crooks and nannies…er, something like that. So, what about all the CLP that is down inside the striker raceway, etc.? I hold the slide on a 45 degree angle (upside down with the muzzle end in the air) and use compressed air to blast out all but a thin film of lube. Holding a rag around the bottom will help contain the oil blast.

Getting the excess lube out of the striker raceway is critical since oil attracts dirt and dust and in cold temps it can congeal into a mass that will hinder the striker such that the gun won’t fire. NOTE: do not use an air compressor as its air contains a lot of moisture that can get blasted into your gun. The reason canned air is so expensive is that it is clean and dry. Your gun is worth it!

After the barrel and slide are finished the only thing remaining is the frame. With most pistols there’s not much to do other than wipe off any dust, dirt or oil that has found its way down there. Some designs however integrate the feed ramp into the frame (or at least the bottom of the ramp). In this case rule #1 still applies. The same old drill with the solvent/brush/patch/lube will serve you well. With some pistols a drop of lube between the frame and trigger bar is good also. If I do lube the frame I again get all the excess out with air.

I will mention that I do occasionally clean out the magazine well, usually with a rag with some Tri-Flow on it. This insures my mags drop out easily when I hit the mag release. I don’t do this every time I clean the gun but if the mags have been going in the sand/mud/dirt then I do (along with cleaning the mags themselves).

This method take about 10 minutes of efficient work once you are used to the process, unless the gun is really dirty. Expect to spend 20-30 minutes the first time or two while you are getting to know the pistol.

There are tons of products out there and some may work better than what I use but for now this system works nicely for me on everything from my 1911 to my LCP.

Ruger LCP: ultimate “pocket protector”

When first looking for a CCW pistol I was interested in several criteria: size, weight, conceal-ability, reliability and power. There are lots of manufacturers of 9mm sub-compact guns on the market today and they make some fine pistols. There are also lots of nice compact and sub-compact 1911s out there. All these are nice but sometimes there is a requirement for a really, REALLY concealable weapon. Here’s where the .380 acp round shines. It’s the same diameter as the 9mm but only 17mm long instead of 19 for the Parabellum. The bullet is usually 85-90gr and is going a little slower than the 9mm but many people agree that it is still adequate for close-quarters self-defense work. I certainly think so.

Walther PPK
Bersa Thunder 380 CC

My first experience shooting a .380 was, like many of us, with the venerable Walther PPK. Anyone who grew up watching James Bond movies would immediately recognize this pistol. Unfortunately, like much Hollywood fare, the reality was less than expected. The PPK has a nasty habit of slide-biting the shooter and I just never really liked them. Enter the Argentine manufacturer Bersa and their Thunder 380. I got my hands on a CC model and that replaced the XD9 sub-compact I had been carrying. I liked it quite a bit but I somehow felt something was missing.

Eventually I decided to go back to the 9mm as my primary CCW caliber but I wanted a deep-concealment option in the form of a .380. I shot a couple of Kel-Tec P3AT pistols and was not happy. The snappy little thing would consistently jump up in my hand with every shot such that I would go from two fingers on the grip to only one thus requiring a grip adjustment between every single shot. Having a gun trying to jump out of your hand is not a good feeling, especially if this was a life-and-death scenario.

Kel-Tec P3-AT

When Ruger released the LCP it looked so much like the P3-AT that I figured they were simply trying to cash in on the mouse gun’s popularity by cloning the design. This was certainly not the case. I tried shooting a couple of different LCPs and I was really impressed. The ergonomics are subtly different such that with a firm grip, the pistol stays exactly in place while firing. It is also accurate, as much as it can be given the size and very low-profile sights.

The LCP is not a particularly pleasant gun to shoot. With its low mass the .380 round makes it a real handful to shoot, but like anything with regular practice it becomes routine. I find that I can keep all my hits in the A zone at 10 yards, even shooting rapidly. Given the long

Ruger LCP

double-action only trigger that does take some practice.

Tucked into a nice pocket holster (get one with the rubber strips on the side so it stays in your pocket when you pluck the pistol out) this pistol is almost not there. I like the square pocket holsters because they keep the gun properly oriented for a quick and easy draw and they avoid the dreaded “printing” issue.

With it’s ultra-thin, ultra-light form factor and it’s excellent quality, I consider the LCP my ultimate “pocket protector”.

Pistol review: Sig Sauer 226

My friends Kevin and Bill are long-time Sig fans and after some teasing about me being Ruger-centric I decided to try one out and see what all the fuss was about. Bill loaned me one of his 226s and I checked it out over the last week.

To be fair, I had shot Kevin’s 229 and this 226 previously but only a few times. The plan now was to really put some rounds through it and get a good sense of the pistol. My experience was a mixture of confirmed assumptions and surprises.

The 226 has been around a long time and it is no accident that it remains a popular pistol. With its metal frame and slide it is a durable, solid pistol that feels massive and does a good job mitigating recoil. It looks good too. I shot factory 115 gr Georgia Arms ball ammo and my own handloads (124gr JHP from Montana Gold, 4.1gr Titegroup, CCI small pistol primers using mixed brass) and found that from a recoil perspective it was very pleasant to shoot. Two other things struck me immediately: first, the grip is fat and second the pistol is really accurate. Ergonomics being all the rage recently this pistol is not a great fit for my small hands. I found it uncomfortably large compared to my SR-9 and my 1911. Nevertheless I found that I was very accurate shooting at 10 yds.

The first day shooting the 226 was shared with my friend Neil who was at the range fighting with his new PPK. Just for fun he tried the 226 and was astonished at how much he liked it. In fact he shot most of the ammo I brought and was contemplating a trip to the gun store to pick one up on the way home.

The 226 has an exposed hammer, a de-cocker and no manual safety. This means that to fire a round left in the chamber requires the first shot be taken as double-action. This is not a simple task for those of us accustomed to DAO guns or the locked-and-cocked 1911. I’m told that you get used to it but there’s no question that the first shot is going to be either slower or less accurate or both. I just don’t see how you can get around that.

So I figured I would try the gun again after our next practice just to see how it felt on a second day and then I would write the review. Yesterday when I got to practice I was very unhappy to discover that when I reassembled my SR-9 after cleaning that I had left out the take-down pin. I then remembered that I had brought along the Sig so I used it instead. The results were impressive.

Bill, Mike and I shot “Can you count?” and “Mini-mart” from the USPSA classifier book and even with the double-action first shot I was able to really move through the first stage very fast. The trigger’s short reset and short, crisp single-action pull make up for the first shot. The big surprise for me was my accuracy. Sure, these are not long-shot stages but as anyone who has shot with me knows, I tend to get wide when I’m blowing through stages. Interestingly enough, on this day I had quite a few runs that were all Alpha hits and I had no Mikes and no No-Shoots. I broke into the six and seven hit factors, respectively. You can’t argue with success.

After about 200 rounds we concluded the practice and I gave the pistol back to Bill. It is worth noting that I was using a nylon holster that was loose on my normal leather belt. Once the front fiber optic sight caught on the holster during a draw and cost me at least .5 seconds. I suspect with a Bladtech DOH I would have done even better.

So, am I (like Neil) headed to the gun store? I don’t think so. I certainly was surprised at how this gun performed under stress. My groups looked really good. But I couldn’t shake the ergonomic issue. Not only that but the double-action first shot costs, regardless of how nice the remaining shots are.

I always think of Jack Bauer when I see that pistol and for many people it is the perfect competition and/or carry gun. For me it is a fun gun but not for serious business.

Your Mileage May Vary