Bore Cleaning in the Good Old Days

In my post of February 17th on the Picatinny Rail, I mentioned the lack of anything in print on bore cleaning until quite recently, and the commonly held belief that bore scrubbing was something you didn’t need to do. Blogger DanielM wrote that to the contrary, there was quite a bit written about it, going back quite a way, and cited Hatcher’s Notebook as one source. So I got out my copy of Hatcher’s and looked and couldn’t find a word on copper fouling or bore cleaning, aside from a sentence or two in connection with corrosive primers. My copy is the 1966 Stackpole edition, so if DanielM can give me the page number of the dope on bore cleaning and metal fouling, I will eat crow in public. (It would not surprise me if there is an article of that sort, or several, in old issues of The American Rifleman, and if someone can find one or several, let me know.)

I also looked through Warren Page’s The Accurate Rifle, which was published in 1973, and is probably the best surviving example of what was known on the subject at that time. Page was dead against cleaning a hunting rifle in the field except in the most dire circumstances, but he said that competition rifles (by which he meant benchrest) should be cleaned after each 15-shot string. So far, so good.

But he was very casual about which cleaners to use, and his method of cleaning—bronze bristle brushes and Hoppe's No. 9—would not begin to make a dent in most of the copper fouling I've had to deal with. (I once asked him what he used to clean his rifles, and he answered "Whatever's free.")
Lefty was a child of his time. Back then no one, including Page, had a bore scope, so when you peered down a barrel it looked nice and shiny, and you saw no need to scrub the hell out of it.

But today, if you stick a Hawkeye Borescope down that shiny tube, or up it, whichever turns you on, you will see things more horrid than a Clinton/Warren presidential ticket. You can see pits, scorching, annular toolmarks, thin washes of copper, and great gouts of copper. Some of that can’t be dealt with by cleaning, but the copper can.

I haven’t tried all the bore-cleaning methods in the world, but of those I have used, J-B compound is the only thing what works without fail. And Page detested it. According to his book, it first came out in 1957, and established a reputation for being able to “…completely rejuvenate a barrel seemingly shot out but actually suffering from bad fouling.” The reason Page disliked it was that “Used unwisely it could have a lapping effect and bell the muzzle and chamber ends.”

Maybe, but cheap cleaning rods and improper technique have wrecked a lot more bores than J-B. I’ve been using it on a whole slew of rifles for the best part of 20 years now, and have yet to see any damage.

Shooters now are a lot better informed. It used to be that J-B was available only through Brownell’s and a very few gun stores, but today it’s readily available.

Years ago, I ordered half a dozen jars from Brownell’s and told the nice lady who was taking the order that the reason I used so much was because I also brushed my teeth with it. It tasted lousy, I said, but it made your fangs gleam white. There was a very long silence on the other end, and then she said:

“Oh…my…God.”

I said I was just kidding, and I don’t do things like that any more.