How to Clean a Bolt Action Rifle: A Complete Guide

How to Clean a Bolt Action Rifle:  A Complete Guide

Any gun requires a certain amount of maintenance and care, and bolt actions are no different. Removing dirt, powder fouling, and lead fouling keeps your rifle as accurate as possible and ensures that it stays functioning at its best. Removing salt and water promptly ensures that these substances won’t damage your rifle.

How frequently and thoroughly you need to clean your bolt action rifle depends on the conditions in which you’ve used it. If you only fired off a handful of non-corrosive rounds at the range, you could probably get away with a quick cleaning.

However, if you just returned from an extended trip where your hunting rifle got wet or dirty, or if you’ve used corrosive ammunition, a more thorough cleaning is required.

Before we delve into the step-by-step cleaning process, it's important to have the right equipment on hand. Red Hawk Rifles offers a wide range of gun cleaning products, including kits and individual pieces that you can use to put together your own cleaning kit.

Now, let's walk through the process of cleaning your bolt action rifle.

Disassembling Your Bolt Action Rifle 

Safe Handling of Firearms

Safety is paramount when handling firearms. Before beginning any cleaning procedure, keep your gun pointed in a safe direction with your finger off the trigger and ensure your rifle is unloaded. That includes making sure that the magazine is removed and the chamber is empty. Then check again. Then at least one more time.

Don’t forget that the gun isn’t the only potential danger. Gun cleaning solvents and other cleaning chemicals can be quite harsh and potentially even carcinogenic, so be sure to wear gloves and eye protection.

Remove the Bolt from the Rifle

Throughout disassembly, be sure to follow your rifle manufacturer’s instructions carefully. Each rifle is bound to have a handful of unique features. For routine cleaning, only break down the rifle to the extent that the manufacturer’s instructions describe. If your rifle is so dirty that you feel like it needs to be disassembled even more, take it to a gunsmith unless you know what you’re doing.

You’ll start the disassembly process by carefully removing the bolt from the rifle. Typically, this involves pulling the bolt back, pressing the bolt stop or release, and lifting the bolt out of the receiver.

Break Down the Bolt into Its Components

Disassemble the bolt into its individual components, such as the bolt body, bolt handle, firing pin, and extractor. If necessary, disassemble the trigger group and remove the stock. Take care to keep track of small parts and springs during disassembly.

Steps to Cleaning a Rifle Barrel

1. Choose the Right Cleaning Rod and Brush

Select a cleaning rod appropriate for your rifle's caliber and attach a bore brush designed for removing fouling. A nylon brush is gentle on your gun’s rifling and sufficient for mild fouling, but for more severe buildup, you’ll want to use a bronze bore brush. Ensure the rod and brush are long enough to clean the entire length of the barrel. You may also use a bore snake as an alternative to a cleaning rod and brush.

2. Apply Solvent and Scrub the Bore and Chamber

Start the bore cleaning process by applying a suitable bore solvent to the brush or patch and run it back and forth through the rifle barrel several times. Pay extra attention to areas with heavy fouling. Run the wet patch or brush through the entire length of the barrel, including the chamber and muzzle, five to ten times.

Avoid inserting cleaning rods and brushes from the muzzle end, as this can cause damage to the muzzle. Always insert brushes and rods starting at the chamber end of the barrel. If for some reason your rifle’s design prevents this, using a bore guide will help prevent damage. The Red Hawk Rifles Team actually always recommends using a bore guide regardless of the bolt action rifles being used. This precaution is crucial as brushes and rods have the potential to scratch the chamber, harm the throat, and result in accuracy problems. Plus, neglecting to use a bore guide can even cause spent cases to become lodged in the chamber.

If you’re having a hard time getting into the nooks and crannies around the chamber, wrapping a clean patch around a rubber wiper is a great way to remove powder residue. The flexible shape of the wiper allows it to conform to the shape of your rifle’s particular shape.

For copper fouling, which can be especially stubborn, you may need a dedicated copper cleaner to do the job. Be warned that copper cleaners work by soaking the mess over several days, or at least overnight, so you’ll want to make sure that you’ve properly scheduled your shooting plans around cleaning.

Similarly, for particular stubborn carbon fouling, you may want to pick up a carbon remover. 

3. Dry the Barrel

Using an absorbent brush or a fresh, dry patch, remove the solvent and the loosened fouling from the barrel. Repeat this step until the cleaning patches come out free of residue. Finally, dry the barrel with another clean cotton patch.

4. Inspect the Barrel for Damage

After cleaning, carefully inspect the barrel for signs of corrosion, pitting, or other damage. If any issues are detected, consult a professional gunsmith for further assessment and potential repairs.

How to Clean Rifle Bolt Components

1. Remove Dirt and Debris from the Bolt

Wipe off any loose, visible dirt or debris from the bolt components and any other small metal parts using a clean cloth or brush. Pay particular attention to the bolt face and extractor, as these areas are especially prone to fouling. Avoid paper towels or cloths that can leave lint behind. A microfiber cleaning is usually best.

2. Clean the Firing Pin and Extractor

Apply a small amount of solvent to a cloth or brush and thoroughly clean the bolt components. For more stubborn grime, you may need to use a utility brush. A copper brush, bronze brush, or nylon brush can all be effective choices and are often included in pre-assembled cleaning kits.

Clean the firing pin and extractor carefully using a solvent-soaked cloth or brush. Remove any fouling or residue that may hinder their proper functioning.

3. Reassemble the Bolt

Use a fresh, clean rag to pick up any leftover solvent on the bolt components. Once the bolt components are nice and clean, apply a light coat of lubricant or gun oil to ensure smooth operation. A cotton swab is also a helpful tool for getting into any hard-to-reach areas. Reassemble the bolt components in the reverse order of disassembly, ensuring each part is properly aligned and secured.

Steps for Cleaning the Trigger Group and Stock

1. Remove Dirt and Debris from the Trigger Group and Stock

Now you can more or less repeat the same process with exterior components. Using a brush or cloth, gently remove any dirt, dust, or debris from the trigger group and stock. Pay attention to crevices and hard-to-reach areas.

2. Apply Solvent and Lubricant

Apply a small amount of solvent to a cloth or brush and clean the trigger group components, including the trigger, trigger guard, sear, and safety mechanism. Wipe down the stock with the solvent to remove built-up grime.

3. Reassemble the Trigger Group and Stock

Once all the components are clean and lubricated, carefully reassemble the trigger group according to the manufacturer's instructions. Ensure that all parts are properly seated and secured. Then, reattach the stock to the rifle.

Final Inspection & Reassembly of Your BA Rifle

Inspect All Components

Before reassembling the rifle, conduct a thorough inspection of all the cleaned components, including the barrel, bolt, trigger group, and stock. Check for any signs of damage, wear, or missing parts. Replace or repair any components as needed.

Reassemble the Rifle

Follow the manufacturer's instructions to reassemble the rifle. Carefully insert the bolt into the receiver, ensuring it locks into place. Attach the trigger group and securely fasten the stock.

Perform a Safety Check

Once the rifle is reassembled, perform a safety check by verifying that the firearm is unloaded, and the safety mechanism functions properly. Cycle the bolt to ensure it moves smoothly and test the trigger for proper operation.

Check out Red Hawk Rifles for quality Rifle Upgrades!

Regular, proper cleaning of your bolt action rifle is essential for maintaining its performance, accuracy, and longevity. Please note that while we focused on bolt-action rifles, these same instructions can be used for just about any rifle, though a semi-automatic rifle will require a few extra steps.

Remember to always prioritize safe handling of firearms and follow the manufacturer's instructions for disassembly. And for high-quality gun cleaning products, hit up the selection available at Red Hawk Rifles. Take care of your rifle, and it will continue to serve you well for years to come.

Jun 2nd 2023

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