Much has been written about what particular guns are best for home defense and SHTF, but I haven’t seen much about taking care of these weapons when gunsmiths are not around. Let’s look at what typically causes firearms to fail.
As a gunsmith, the main cause of firing malfunctions I see is dirt. This can be crud built up from dust collecting in oil forming a grease-like substance, or rust, or build-up from burned powder (carbon), or residue from the casings or shells.
The second most encountered problems stem from magazines, or broken or weak springs. Lost pins or screws, and broken extractors or firing pins tend to be the next [most common] group of failures.
So how do you prepare for these problems? First, if you don’t have an owner’s manual for your gun, go to the manufacturer’s web site and download one. It will give you information on proper operation, how to field strip the gun for cleaning, and lubrication instructions. If it is an older gun, you may be able to find a manual at StevesPages.com. The next document you should have is an exploded parts list and instructions on disassembly and assembly of the firearm. Many of these are also available at StevesPages.com.
The next thing you will need is a good cleaning kit. Be sure you have lots of patches, and extra bore brushes for your particular caliber. A chamber brush is also helpful. There are all types of bore cleaner solvents. Pick your flavor. Here is a recipe for a great bore cleaner that you can make up yourself. It was invented by C.E. ”Ed” Harris. You can always bottle some of it for barter later. It is the widely-used “Ed’s Red” (ER). This cleaner has an action very similar to standard military issue rifle bore cleaner, such as Mil-C-372B. Users report it is more effective than Hoppe’s for removing plastic fouling in shotgun bores, or caked carbon fouling in semi-automatic rifles or pistols, or in removing leading in revolvers. It is not as effective as Sweets 7.62, Hoppe’s Bench Rest Nine or Shooter’s Choice for fast removal of heavy copper fouling in rifle bores. However, because “ER” is more effective in removing caked carbon and abrasive primer residues than other cleaners, metal fouling is greatly reduced when “ER” is used on a continuing basis. It is inexpensive, effective, provides good corrosion protection and adequate residual lubrication so that routine “oiling” after cleaning is rarely necessary, except for long-term storage of over 1 year, or harsh service environments, such as salt water exposure.
CONTENTS: Ed’s Red Bore Cleaner
1 part Dexron II, IIe or III Automatic Transmission Fluid (ATF), GM Spec. D-20265 or later.
1 part Kerosene – deodorized, K1
1 part Aliphatic Mineral Spirits, Fed. Spec. TT-T-2981F, CAS #64741-49-9, or may substitute “Stoddard Solvent”, CAS #8052-41-3, or equivalent, (aka “Varsol”)
1 part Acetone, CAS #67-64-1.
(Optional up to 1 lb. of Lanolin, Anhydrous, USP per gallon. It is okay to substitute Lanolin, Modified, Topical Lubricant, from the drug store)
MIXING INSTRUCTIONS FOR “ER” BORE CLEANER:
[JWR Adds This Warning: All of the usual precautions for handling caustic and flammable solvent fluids must be taken, such as wearing goggles and rubber gloves.]
Mix outdoors, in good ventilation. Use a clean 1 gallon metal, chemical resistant, heavy gauge PET or PVC plastic container. NFPA approved plastic gasoline storage containers are also okay. Do NOT use a HDPE container, which is permeable, because the acetone will eventually evaporate. The acetone in ER will also attack HDPE, causing the container to collapse, making a big mess!
Add the ATF first. Use the empty ATF container to measure the other components, so that it is thoroughly mixed. If you incorporate the lanolin into the mixture, melt this carefully in a double boiler, taking precautions against fire. Pour the melted lanolin it into a larger container, rinsing the lanolin container with the bore cleaner mix, and stirring until it is all dissolved. Divert a small quantity, up to 4 ounces per quart of the 50-50 ATF/kerosene mix for optional use as an “ER-compatible” gun oil. This can be done without impairing the effectiveness of the remaining mix.
Label with necessary SAFETY WARNINGS: RIFLE BORE CLEANER, CAUTION: FLAMMABLE MIXTURE, HARMFUL OR FATAL IF SWALLOWED. KEEP OUT OF REACH OF CHILDREN. Flammable mixture! Keep away from heat, sparks or flame. FIRST AID, If swallowed DO NOT induce vomiting, call physician immediately. In case of eye contact immediately flush thoroughly with water and call a physician. For skin contact wash thoroughly.
The lanolin can be found at better pharmacies like CVS or Walgreens. Ask the pharmacist, they usually have it in the back, not out on the shelves.
Ed’s Red will not dissolve copper fouling, so have some copper remover solution on hand. Be aware that the ammonia in the copper remover can damage stock finishes, and will dissolve brass bore brushes. Have some extra brushes on hand, or use a stainless steel brush.
The next item to have on hand is a quality gun oil. They are all pretty good. Note above that you can make your own from ATF/kerosene mix. If you want to improve on this, add a little lanolin. The lanolin provides longer term protection, since some of the other ingredients will eventually evaporate.
INSTRUCTIONS FOR USING “Ed’s Red (ER)” Bore Cleaner:
Open the firearm action and ensure the bore is clear. Cleaning is most effective when done while the barrel is still warm to the touch from firing. Saturate a cotton patch with bore cleaner, wrap or impale on jag and push it through the bore from breech to muzzle. The patch should be a snug fit. Let the first patch fall off and do not pull it back into the bore.
Wet a second patch, and similarly start it into the bore from the breech, this time scrubbing from the throat area forward in 4-5″ strokes and gradually advancing until the patch emerges out the muzzle. Waiting approximately 1 minute to let the bore cleaner soak will improve its action.
For pitted, heavily carbon-fouled guns, leaded revolvers or neglected bores a bronze brush wet with bore cleaner may be used to remove stubborn deposits. This is unnecessary for smooth, target-grade barrels in routine use.
Use a final wet patch pushed straight through the bore to flush out loosened residue dissolved by Ed’s Red. Let the patch fall off the jag without pulling it back into the bore. If you are finished firing, leaving the bore wet will protect it from rust for 1 year under average conditions.
If the lanolin is incorporated into the mixture, it will protect the firearm from rust for up to two years. For longer term use Lee Liquid Alox as a Cosmoline substitute. “ER” will readily remove hardened Alox or Cosmoline.
Wipe spilled Ed’s Red from exterior surfaces before storing the gun. While Ed’s Red is harmless to blue and nickel finishes, the acetone it contains is harmful to most wood finishes.
Before firing again, push two dry patches through the bore and dry the chamber, using a patch wrapped around a suitably sized brush or jag. First shot point of impact usually will not be disturbed by Ed’s Red if the bore is cleaned as described. It is always good practice to clean your guns twice, two days a apart whenever using corrosively-primed ammunition, just to make sure you get all the corrosive residue out. [JWR Adds: If in doubt about the priming used in any batch of military surplus ammunition or any ammunition of any description that is made in Eastern Europe or China, clean your guns repeatedly!]
Remember, after cleaning, you can apply a thin layer of oil to protect from rust. Blued or parkerized finishes will still rust. But notice, I say “thin”. Excess oil will attract dirt, and can freeze an action in very cold weather.
Now, for spare parts. Replacement spring sets are available for most guns, usually for about $10 to $20. They are inexpensive, and can be purchased from www.Brownells.com or www.Midway.com. The other items I would recommend are replacement pin kits, a spare firing pin, and a spare extractor. If you have an odd or old gun, you may be able to find parts from Numrich at www.GunPartsCorp.com. Some guns like an AR-15 have critical spare parts kits available for around $35. Even if you don’t feel comfortable replacing some of these parts, gunsmiths will be around, and if you have the parts, and diagrams, they can fix it for you.
Recommended tools would include a basic gunsmithing screwdriver set, some pin punches, a plastic faced or rawhide hammer, needle nose pliers, and some sort of vise, with padding for the jaws. Specialty tools might be a broken shell extractor for your caliber rifle.
Battery powered optical sights are great, but be sure to have spare batteries, and some sort of iron back-up sights in the event they break. Extra magazines are also essential.
I don’t want to get into specific guns to buy, but I would recommend a “reliable” one. Cheap or worn-out guns should be replaced now. You can keep old ones for barter, but don’t rely on them for yourself. Also, some guns can cycle reliably on any ammo you feed it, while others are very sensitive to different loads and brands. You may not be able to have the luxury of buying the exact brand that you like in a SHTF situation, so maybe it is time to trade for one that is happy with anything. Most new guns need at least 500 rounds run through to properly break them in. Another good reason to practice!
Another good source of information on particular firearms are the gun forums online. For instance, GlockTalk.com, AK-Builder.com, FALFiles.com, or AR-15.com. You will learn pretty much all that you need to learn from them. Just remember, as with this and any info you find on the internet, use common sense applying it.