Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Your First Handgun: Proper Maintenance

A handgun, not unlike an automobile, needs to be properly maintained to function as designed. In the case of a car, you need to maintain proper air pressure in the tires, change the engine oil every 3,000 miles, and not abuse it by traveling over treacherous terrain. A handgun also requires proper care: shoot only authorized ammunition, don't drop it or otherwise physically abuse it, and clean it as specified in the operator's guide.

How Often Should You Clean A Handgun?
Most handgun operator guides will specify that you clean your firearm after each and every time that you use (i.e. fire) it. In truth, I will admit that I don't clean my own handguns after every firing session at the range. However, I do know that I am supposed to keep them cleaned and don't let too many rounds go down my barrel before handling the task of proper maintenance.

Further, firearms that have been stored away and are not actively being used should be cleaned every three months. An inactive firearm should be tended to, inspected, and cleaned regularly to head off potential rust and corrosion problems.

Cleaning a handgun does not take a lot of time - about 15 minutes - and is not a difficult task to perform. In fact, it is quite easy. Just like everything else, those things that are easy to do are also easy not to do. The real crux of the matter is that cleaning a handgun is not the most exciting thing to do in the world.

First-Time Handgun Cleaning Reluctance Is Understandable
First-time handgun owners may experience some angst about their initial cleaning of their firearm as some handgun owner's manuals don't give a lot detailed info as to how this routine task should be performed.

For example, when I bought my first handgun I remember reading my owner's guide several times before attempting to clean it and I still came away from the experience not fully understanding how it should be performed. In my opinion, the owner's guide did a great job of informing me how to 'field-strip' (i.e. disassemble) my autoloader into its four major components, but it left out the details about literally how to clean it.

This casual approach - in some manuals - to information delivery may give the brand new handgun owner a lack of urgency with respect to maintenance. New handgun owners may have some understandable reluctance about cleaning their handguns because they have never cleaned a firearm and don't want to make a mistake. A lack of information and perhaps a bit of embarrassment about their plight may ultimately lead to a handgun being neglected.

Consequences Of Not Cleaning Your Handgun
Make no mistake about it, a failure to inspect and clean your handgun can have dire circumstances. In the worse possible case scenario, the handgun may be needed to defend its owner against a threat and fail to fire because it jammed. A neglected firearm, especially an autoloader, can jam if its barrel is ladened with lead deposits from repeated firings without a thorough cleaning.

In a less severe scenario, a handgun owner's neglect can lead to his firearm being unnecessarily damaged because a small defect went un-noticed and eventually blossomed into a major repair job. With regular cleanings, the handgun is inspected and potential physical problems can be quickly identified and remedied.

Handgun Cleaning Resources To Be Consulted
A new handgun owner - having some difficulty understanding how to clean his firearm - should consult with a knowledgeable person. Many resources come immediately to mind: the gun dealer who sold him the handgun, the web site of the handgun's manufacturer, a local gun safety expert, and/or video tutorials available over the Internet. Many firearms enthusiasts have posted video clips on Youtube™ on how to clean a variety of handguns. There's probably one available for viewing about your handgun.

In my specific case, I was fortunate enough to have a brother-in-law who already had owned the same firearm model I had just bought. He was very familiar with his firearm and he demonstrated to me in short order how to clean my handgun.

How To Clean A Handgun
Obviously, all handguns are different. Thus, no one article can inform anyone how to exactly clean every handgun model on the market. However, in general terms you will need a handgun cleaning kit. These kits are available at all gun shops and some major general purpose retail outlets like Wal-Marts™.

Handgun cleaning kits usually contain the following components: a variety of different wire bore brushes, cleaning extension rods, and a case. Additionally, you will need to separately buy bore cleaner, cleaning patches, and gun oil.

The first thing that you will need to do is to unload or verify that your handgun is unloaded while keeping it pointed in a safe direction. It is absolutely critical that you are sure your gun is unloaded; some models require you to pull the trigger on your firearm before it can be field-stripped.

If the handgun is a revolver and has been unloaded or verified to be unloaded the action is already opened to facilitate cleaning the firearm. If the handgun is an autoloader it should be field stripped into its major components: frame, slide, recoil spring, and barrel.

In either case, revolver or autoloader, the proper sized bore brush from the cleaning kit should be located, have an extension rod attached to it, and have cleaning patches draped around the brush's bristles. Bore cleaner should be liberally applied to the covered brush.

The brush should be then used in the bore of the handgun's barrel to scrub away lead deposits. The patches should be changed often and the process should be repeated until the patches are no longer sullied by lead from the handgun.

After the bore has been cleaned, any present chambers should be cleaned. Autoloaders have only one chamber and revolvers have several chambers in the cylinder. Whatever the case, all applicable chambers should be thoroughly cleaned.

Next, gun oil should be applied to the specified areas of the handgun as detailed in the operator's guide. Typically, only a drop is needed at each contact point.

The gun should be thoroughly inspected for wear and then made operational. For a revolver, close the action. For an autoloader, re-assemble the handgun.

Bottom Line:
A handgun needs to be properly maintained to ensure that it is available for use when needed. Most firearm manuals will stipulate that the handgun should be cleaned and inspected after each usage. Handgun maintenance is relatively easy and does not take a lot time to perform. New handgun owners unsure of how to maintain their firearms should consult with available resources to prevent their handguns from being neglected.
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