Issue 44

Semi-Auto Handgun Maintenance

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In the last issue (available here), we discussed maintaining a revolver pistol.  This issue, we will focus on semi-automatic pistols.

As we did with the revolvers, some safety precautions first -
  1. Verify for yourself that the gun is empty.  If you don't know how to do this safely, you shouldn't be cleaning the gun.
  2. Make sure no ammunition is present.  Aside from the obvious safety factor, the solvents that will be used can render your cartridges unsafe or ineffective.
  3. Be sure you're in a well-ventilated area.  Some of the solvents give off pretty strong odors.
  4. Be sure to wear eye protection.  You only have one pair of eyes, so be sure to protect them.
  5. Clean your gun after each use.  The longer the "gunk" stays on your gun, the more difficult it will be to eventually get it off.  Plus, a dirty gun can affect the accuracy of your shots, as well as its safe operation.
  6. Follow the instructions of both the gun manufacturer and the cleaning supply manufacturer.  As I tell my Pistol Orientation class students, if there is a conflict, follow the recommendations of the gun manufacturer, as improper cleaning may void your warranty.
  7. Lubricate sparingly.  Excess oil or grease will attract dust and other particulate which can hinder the performance of your gun.
You will need: A gun cleaning kit for the caliber of your pistol.  At a minimum, it should contain a round bore brush, a soft bristle straight brush, a cleaning mop or cleaning patches, a cleaning rod with attachments for the brush and mop/patches, Q-Tips, cleaning solution, gun oil and an old rag.  Doing the cleaning on a cleaning mat or a LOT of newspapers will save the finish of the work table...

Semi-Auto Pistol

I should also note at this point that this is how you clean a typical semi-automatic pistol.  Some manufacturers make pistols that are difficult, if not impossible for a typical owner to "field strip".  Also, some ultra-compact semi-autos have a "tip up" barrel which will make cleaning it a bit different than shown below.

Field strip your pistol.  Each manufacturer has their own quirks for how to do this.  This will break it down into 4 component parts:  The frame, the spring/rod assembly, the barrel and the slide.

Field strip

Take a round, brass wire or synthetic bristle brush which is made for your caliber pistol, dip it into cleaning solution and run it through the barrel a few times.  You're doing this to "rough up" the build-up of un-spent gun powder, lead and copper in the barrel.  Take your soft-bristled straight brush, dip it in solvent, and scrub all of the nooks and crannies on the exterior of the barrel.

Next, take the soft bristled brush, dip it in solvent and scrub along the inside of the slide along the ridges near the open long side of the slide.  Also scrub the entire interior surface of the slide.  You're not looking to come out squeaky-clean, yet.  You're just getting the gun "wet" with solvent. 

Take a Q-Tip, dip it in solvent and run it along the rails on the frame that are used to hold the slide.  You can also take a whetted Q-Tip and run it around the whole interior of the frame.  Each gun manufacturer will have different areas that tend to get dirty.  A Glock will be a little different from a Beretta, which will be a bit different from a Smith and Wesson.

Then walk away.  Let the solvent do the work for you!  I generally let it work for 5 or 10 minutes.

You now want to take a new patch, attach it to a cleaning rod, dip it in solvent, and run it through the barrel (from the back or "breach" side).  You want to do this 4 or 6 times with the same patch.  It should be pretty dirty!

Change the patch, dip in solvent, and repeat until the patch comes out clean. 

Take a patch in your fingers and dip it in solvent (you might want to wear latex or nitril gloves for this).  Wipe it over the exterior of the barrel, being sure to get it in all the nooks and crannies, as well as the muzzle and breach.  Repeat this until your patch stays clean.

Take another patch and/or Q-Tip, dip it in solvent and clean all of the interior parts of the frame, paying special attention to the slide rails.

Don't clean the spring/rod assembly unless specifically instructed to do so by your manufacturer.

Once all of your patches have come out clean, run a dry patch through the barrel and over all surfaces you cleaned, ensuring they come out clean.  Do the same with a dry patch in all of the nooks and crannies.

You will then finish up with putting a couple of drops of gun oil on Q-Tip and running it along the rail grooves inside the slide.  Also run the oiled Q-Tip along the upper inside front area of the slide (this is where the rear block of the barrel rubs against when you're firing the gun).

Run an oiled Q-Tip along the outside couple of inches of the front of the barrel and along the top and bottom of the rear of the barrel.  Take the oiled Q-tip and run it along the slide rails on the frame.  Go easy on the oil! 

Attach a new patch to the cleaning rod, add a couple of drops of oil to the patch and run it through the barrel.

Finally, take an old rag, put a couple of drops of oil on it, and rub down all exterior metal parts of the gun.  Let the gun sit a few minutes to see if you get any drips from over-oiling the gun.  Give it another rub down with the old rag, and you're (finally) done cleaning!

Re-assemble the gun gently.  Don't force anything.  I will generally manipulate the slide a number of time to ensure it is operating correctly.  I will also do a few dry-fire trigger pulls to verify functionality.

Next Issue:  One-Handed Shooting

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