While no one really knows for sure, industry sources estimate that there are more than 10 million AR-type modern sporting rifles in the US. That’s a lot of rifles, a lot of ammo and a lot of cleaning!
Inspired by the popularity of the modern sporting rifle and its many variants, and the fact that I just like them, it’s time to embark on a series of AR-15 hacks. Over the next month or so, we’ll take a closer look at all sorts of tips and tricks that will help you clean, maintain, use and customize your AR-15.
To start things off, let’s take a closer look at cleaning tips. If you listen to the internet forums, you might believe that cleaning an AR-15 is a tougher chore than scrubbing the boilers of the Titanic. According to some, the design is so bad that more grime collects in the action from each and every shot than that deposited by all the gas semi-automatic shotguns on South American pigeon hunts over a year’s time.
Yes, the AR-15 direct impingement design does vent hot, dirty gas into the receiver and smothers the bolt and carrier with each shot. But in the scope of things, it’s not nearly as bad as it sounds. If your day job is strolling through wadi’s in Afghanistan, where the airborne dust resembles talcum powder, then your results may vary and daily cleaning is probably a necessity. Here, I’m referring to recreational and home defense AR use.
If you’re using your rifle for range gun, competition or as a home defense option, you can take a more practical approach to your cleaning chores. If you own a rifle of at least moderate quality, it’ll run when it’s dirty. Just for fun, I’ve been boycotting a cleaning job on a Smith & Wesson M&P15 OR rifle I picked up last fall. That’s right, almost a year ago. Why? I’m deliberately letting it go without cleaning just to see how forgiving it is as it starts to get grimy. To date, the rifle has somewhere around 1,500 rounds through it in all sorts of conditions, yet it runs. Contrary to popular belief, your rifle does not have to be babied to run reliably – within reason of course.
I’ll assume you already know the basics on how to disassemble your AR-15 rifle, so I won’t go over that here. If you want a really good video overview of how to field strip and clean your AR-15, check out this video produced by the National Shooting Sports Foundation and Gunsite Academy. Here, we’ll focus on tips, tools and cleaning products that will make your cleaning chores easier.
Cleaning set up
If we’re joint to talk about doing things the easy way, step one is to figure out how you’re going to hold rifle parts during cleaning. Unlike a traditional rifle, the AR-15 hinges open, or even separates into multiple parts when you open one or both takedown pins. Holding on to a hinged-open AR that’s flopping around with one hand, while you’re trying to scrub with the other, is kind of like hitting a baseball with a Slinky.
The answer (for me) is a lower receiver vise block. This is a neat little piece of gun maintenance tool that inserts into your magazine well and locks into place. The idea is to put the bottom of the vise block into a workbench vise so the rifle is supported. They’re not as cheap as you’d expect, but good tools rarely are. If you have more than one AR rifle, or are planning to do more tweaking of your rifle, it’s a good investment – you’ll use it forever once you have it.
The best part is, with the lower receiver solidly supported, when you open the rear takedown pin, the upper receiver will hinge down towards the floor. This is important for cleaning the barrel because…
Ideally, you want to clean a rifle bore from the chamber to muzzle so all the powder residue, chemicals and miscellaneous grime dribbles out the muzzle rather than back towards the action. That’s why I’m in favor of the OTIS cleaning system. In the case of cleaning the AR-15 rifle, there’s another, more specific, reason. The barrel extension is perhaps the hardest part to clean in an AR-15. Buried deep within the upper receiver, it makes you work just to get to it, and once you do, you’re confounded by a three-dimensional maze of bolt lug recesses and hard-to-reach nooks and crannies. It’s a pain. If you’re dredging solvent and grime towards the chamber, gunk will collect in those hard-to-reach barrel extension recesses.
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