Preventive Maintenance

by Bob Londrigan, published in Front Sight Magazine, September 2004

Most of us know that preventive maintenance such as periodically changing the oil in your car helps keep your engine running smoothly.  But do you realize that a gun also requires this type of preventive maintenance… and if so, do you know what type of preventive maintenance is needed?  If you answered “yes” to either of these questions then this article might provide some useful tips.  You’ll find that preventive gun maintenance can help your match scores and maybe even save you some money that you can spend on more ammo. 

Keeping your gun in top shape requires certain preventive maintenance procedures be done on a regular basis. Such activities include overall cleaning of the gun, the barrel, and the compensator; checking for and, if necessary, replacing broken parts; lubricating all moving components; replacing consumable and worn parts; and checking parts that require periodic adjustment.  We’ll also take a look at some of the shooting accessories that need to be examined for wear such as holsters, magazines, glasses, hearing protection, footwear, etc.  As always, the goal is to produce better match results by catching problems before they occur and then doing something about them.

General Gun Cleaning

I recommend that you clean your top end after every shooting session. Break it down and clean it completely.  A pipe cleaner and Q-tip are good for getting into the firing pin hole and the extractor tunnel.  I use soap, water, and an old toothbrush on the rest of the top end and then blow the gun dry with compressed air.  If you use this method, be sure to spray the top with a light coat of oil such as Rem Oil and then again blow dry to prevent rust (especially in the rear sight.)  A lot of people prefer Gun Scrubber or break cleaner.  Use whatever works best for you so long as you make sure the top is clean when you are finished.  Then wipe down the rest of the gun (lower end) to remove as much powder, residue, and gunk as possible. 

About every 3000 rounds, I take the bottom end completely apart and clean it.  On STI/SV type guns, this includes removing and cleaning the grip.  While I have the grip off, I check it thoroughly for cracks (a common problem that causes a variety of malfunctions including hammer follow). Be careful when reassembling the gun and check for proper function when you are done.  I also recommend that you have at least one practice session left to test the gun after cleaning the bottom end. This helps ensure everything was put back together in the right place.

Cleaning the Barrel

Since IPSC shooters generally shoot many rounds, I recommend using JHP bullets to reduce the amount of necessary barrel cleaning (and cleaning in general.)  If you use JHP’s, your barrel/comp cleaning can be limited to running a brush through the bore a couple of times and then following with an oiled patch.  If you insist on shooting lead or exposed lead base bullets, then be prepared to spend considerably more time cleaning your barrel/comp to get rid of the lead accumulation.  This is a trade-off many people are willing to accept because lead bullets cost significantly less.

Cleaning the Compensator

To reduce the amount of time needed to clean your compensator, your best bet as I mentioned above is to shoot JHP’s.  However, when you do need to clean your comp it’s best to use a dremel tool and a ball toolbit.  Go slowly and be careful – the idea is to remove lead and powder residue, not metal.  I recommend you stay away from the first chamber because you may ding the crown on your barrel which would necessitate a trip to your pistolsmith.

Checking/Replacing Parts

While you are cleaning your gun, examine all the parts for signs of failure.  As you remove a part, look for cracks or signs of unusual wear.  The most common parts that fail are firing pin stops, grips, extractors, sights (front and rear), and firing pin springs. Also check your thumb safety to make sure it is working properly.  Replace any part that is cracked or overly worn.

Lubricating Moving Parts

I use FP-10 in copious amounts on all moving parts.  A light coat of oil on the entire gun also helps in rust prevention, especially if you get stuck shooting in the rain at a match.  Whatever type of oil you prefer make sure it is light and will not slow down your action.  It’s also a good idea to your oil at lower temperatures.  Some of the oils available get too thick at low temperatures and will cause malfunctions.  This is especially true in open class guns.  In addition to the oil, I use a little trigger slick on the hammer hooks. This is the only place on the gun where I use grease. 

Replacing Consumable Parts

Certain parts have a limited life span and need to be replaced on a regular basis.  This includes:

Making Periodic Adjustments

After you’ve cleaned, checked, and reassembled your gun, examine any parts that may need to be adjusted.  A good habit to get into is to check zero and, if necessary, adjust your sights at the beginning of every practice session.  Also periodically make sure your overtravel screw is set properly and has not changed.  Check your trigger pull to make sure it is still the same.  If it has changed significantly, it might be time for a trip to the pistolsmith.

Once you have your gun dialed in, take a hard look at all your other equipment.  Your magazine springs need to be replaced if you are having any malfunctions. I change mine every six months just to be sure. Check your shooting glasses for cracks or signs that they need to be replaced. Same with your hearing protection – replace the cushions or get a new pair, if needed.  Examine your holster and mag pouches for unusual wear.  Also take a look at your footwear and shooting bag.   The key is to replace these items before something breaks.

Preventive maintenance is all about being proactive.   Look for it, catch it, and replace it before it malfunctions, breaks, or otherwise causes you problems.   This will not only save you valuable match points, but may also save you considerable money.

1911 parts at Brazos Custom