Rimfire Barrel Cleaning
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- Last updated: 25/09/2021
Cleaning a rifle after use has always been a bit of a hit and miss proposition amongst shooters and it varies from a quick wipe over with an oily cloth, to the obsessive squeaky-clean brigade. I fall somewhere in-between, but I always take more care of the inside of the rifle’s barrel than the outside. It’s the part that actually contacts the bullet, so any dirt, fouling or corrosion will affect the bullets flight, pressure and accuracy down range.
We are all used to keeping our centrefire barrels clean but many, me included, tend to forget about our rimfire barrels. This is mainly due to a historical upbringing with people telling us it’s not necessary as it’s only lead bullets at slow speeds in a rimfire, not high-velocity copper jacketed bullets. Well, that’s just plain wrong, rimfire barrels need cleaning and attention too, especially when it comes to HMR rounds that do use copper-jacketed bullets, but that’s a subject for another day.
One thing that is still paramount for anyone shooting a rifle - you will not achieve optimal accuracy if you do not clean your rifle correctly. There is no miracle product designed for perfect cleaning, and I’m afraid you still have to put in the effort, use the correct solvents and equipment as well as establish a good cleaning routine. This last point is actually key but two rifles seldom require the same cleaning regime, mainly due to the different materials used in their construction. Much as you would handload ammunition to achieve peak accuracy from your cherished rifle, so should you draw up an exact individual cleaning regime for that cherished rimfire.
Rimfire shooters who neglect cleaning will ultimately suffer the consequences of poor accuracy and reliability from leaded up bores and powder build-up. Rimfires have their own set of criteria but the principles and kit are basically the same as their full bore brothers.
Of paramount importance is choosing the correct cleaning equipment for the job. You can wreck a barrel just as easily as maintain it with poor quality kit, so using the correct cleaning rods, bore guides, jags, brushes, solvents, mops and lubricants is essential.
The cleaning rod is the most important tool and must always be one piece in construction and coated in a synthetic material. The reasons for this are a coated rod has far less wear effect on the barrel during the cleaning regime. Every rod flexes as you clean the barrel, and it is this bending and possible contact with the all-important rifling, that you are trying to minimise. True, a coated rod can suffer from an ingress of dirt and therefore, it’s a good idea to keep a rag handy to wipe the rod periodically during cleaning. I use Dewey, Pro Tech, Pro Shot and Tipton rods as they are very well made and true in length. The rotating handle allows you to feel the patch or brush pass through the barrel, so you can alter your tension to coincide with rough or smooth spots.
The bore guide is a great piece of kit that serves to protect the throat of the rifling from damage. It does this by centring the brush/jag with patch and rod within the bore and stops the protective rod coating from being damaged by the rifles action. Most bore guides are no more than a synthetic tube that replaces the bolt. They often use ‘O’rings to seal in the rifle’s chamber and feature a solvent port extending out the back of the action. This stops any loose debris and solvent from seeping into the action and stock area. I use either a Sinclair custom-fit or the more universal and very adaptable Stoney Point model.
The jag used to hold your patches is commonly a pierce-type, where the patch is speared to the jag. There are many types, but I use Dewey or Sinclair pierce-style in conjunction with any correct rimfire cotton patches. I like the circular patches for rimfires, they seem to pass smoother down the barrel.
Whereas a jag and patch are used to carry the solvent, the brushes are used for actual cleaning. Brass cored and bronze or nylon-bristled makes are recommended. The nylon brushes are good where a particular solvent may attack the bronze bristles, and I like to use a variety of manufacturers, to be honest. I consider them consumables but don’t skimp on quality.
Finally, there’s actual cleaning solvent itself and there are lots to choose from, as you would expect. Some are copper solvents, some are copper and powder residue solvents, whilst others just target lead fouling. For .22 LR rimfires, I use Bore Tech’s Rimfire Blend. It’s specially formulated for lead and carbon removal and can be used as a protective oil at the end of the cleaning regime. I also their C4 Carbon Remover for really stubborn carbon build-up.
One caveat that may seem odd, having just explained about having an ultraclean barrel, is the perverse truth that rimfires, unlike their full-bore brethren, actually shoot better with a certain amount of fouling in the barrel. How much, depends on each rifle make.
The main reason here is that unlike the severe copper fouling from jacketed bullets, rimfire shoot lead, lubricated bullets at lower velocities, so a certain amount of ‘conditioning’ of the bore helps keep shots consistent. However, this is no excuse for not giving the bore a really good clean to remove a build-up of powder residues.
After removing the bolt and magazine (if the rifle has one), do a good pre-clean to dislodge any loose debris such as unburnt powder and waxy deposits. Next, swab the ejector slots with a degreaser like Gun Scrubber or KG3, and allow to soak in order to loosen any stubborn fouling. Care should be taken not to allow any dislodged grime to fall into the trigger area.
Now insert a correct fitting bore guide. This is especially important on a rimfire due to the small diameter of the cleaning rods, as they can bend very easily. Run two or three (more if necessary) wet patches soaked with Bore Tech Rimfire Blend down the bore, to remove any loose grime. Remember, a loose patch is beneficial here as you don’t want to embed the grime back into the bore.
At this stage, waxy deposits should be minimal. Attention is now drawn to the carbon fouling and lead. So, replace the jag/patches with a brush. Phosphor bronze ones are good but I prefer a nylon brush that can be ‘worked’ a lot easier. Soak the brush in Bore Tech and then long stroke back and forth slowly about 15 times. I then follow this up with dry patches until they come out clean.
If the patch is still a bit dirty, then just repeat the soak and brush procedure until the following dry patches come out clean. If you shoot a lot of ammunition through your rifle because it’s a semiauto, then you may wish to use Bore Tech C4 Carbon Remover to eat away at stubborn build-ups. Alternatively, I scrub the bore with JB Bore Shine paste on a patch or nylon brush, to remove really stubborn fouling. I then use Kroil to remove the paste and debris until the patches come out clean. Finally, I use Butches Bore Oil (any good bore oil is fine) to lubricate the bore to prevent rust.
The best way to run a rimfire barrel back in after cleaning is to set up a chronograph and shoot the rifle off a bench. Shoot 5-shot groups at a target until the velocity variation is consistent with the accuracy level that suits you. Every rifle is different and in this manner, your own individual rifle’s preferences can be recorded. Usually, 20 to 30 rounds are sufficient to get your rifle shooting at its peak.
Rimfire cleaning is all about finding that sweet spot of cleanliness for your own rifle. Different rifles favour different solvents and cleaning regimes.
A semi-auto will obviously need more cleaning than a bolt action. I would gauge your own gun’s cleaning regime needs by shooting a series of rounds before cleaning it and seeing how many rounds it takes to re-condition the barrel again. I have had rimfires that love a good clean and others that hate it, although, these are usually older guns with worn bores. Try a good clean and see if it improves things for you.
Norman Clark GUnsmiths - www.normanclarkgunsmith.com
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Shooting Sports UK - www.shootingsportsuk.co.uk