Firearms maintenance has become something of a lost art thanks to advances in manufacturing technology, firearm design and ammunition manufacturing. Today’s ultra-reliable products can withstand all manner of abuse and keep performing within an acceptable margin of error. This is great news for military operators who push weapon designs to the edge of their performance envelopes or marketing gurus at the firearm manufacturers looking for stunts to promote their latest and greatest. But those who choose to carry a firearm for self defense need to understand how to care for their sidearm.
The simple act of carrying a gun for self defense is an exercise in risk mitigation. We choose a gun to carry based on a number of personal and performance characteristics that we hope will lead to the best possible choice. No one ever says, “I’ll carry a substandard and probably useless piece of junk because I’ll probably never need it.” CCW people are not wired that way; they are trying to stack the deck in their favor.
We carefully choose a particular ammunition and Kydex holster to maximize our performance and possibly some accessories to optimize our gun. Night sights, different grips and magazine extensions are common choices to increase our performance edge.
Then we hit the range. Some people only fire the 50-round box of inexpensive practice ammo they got at the store when they bought the gun, then load up with expensive hollow points and call it good until next year. Needless to say, this is not recommended. Others will practice once or twice a month and rotate their ammo every quarter. Still others will shoot weekly, buying FMJ practice ammo by the case and attending training classes where burning through 1000 rounds in a weekend is the norm.
Each of these CCW types has a different set of maintenance requirements, based on the number of rounds fired and time in service. Oddly enough, each of these shooter types is typically guilty of under-maintaining their guns — but each for different reasons. People who ‘fire and forget’ think they never really got the gun dirty so they will be fine. Others with the mentality of ‘a thousand-rounds a week’ have pushed their guns hard and have seen how much abuse it can take, so they think the gun is good for another 1000 rounds as long as they keep it lubricated. Granted, these are generalizations, but they’re not far from reality.
Even the best concealed carry guns suffer from exposure of environmental factors more so than range-only guns. They are carried close to the body and exposed to sweat and moisture. Leather holsters contain chemicals from the tanning process that can be harmful to firearm finishes. Guns carried inside clothing accumulate lint and other debris that can foul an action or create a bore obstruction. They get banged into things and are shaken and vibrated with every move you make. Body heat and ambient temperatures will quickly dry up lubrication.
Before you strap on your weapon, give it a 60-second check to make sure it doesn’t need additional attention. Is there a round in the chamber? Is the magazine seated correctly? Are clumps of lint protruding? Slide in battery? Are there any rust or corrosion issues? You should also check that the sights are still there, all screws are tight, the grips aren’t loose, the holster is dry and all attachment points are in good order.
Whether you’ve fired your gun or not, you should break it down weekly, give it a good wipe down with gun oil and lubricate the moving parts. However, don’t overdo it — you don’t want constantly oil-stained clothes. Cotton swabs make awesome applicators for “painting” oil on the shiny spots — which are where things rub together, so that’s where you need to apply the lubricant.
Lightly applying lubrication like this will keep your gun from becoming a lint magnet. Doing this weekly allows you to stick with a light coating because you’ll be reapplying it before it can evaporate or migrate to a less useful area.
Make sure you don’t have any lint balls in the barrel of the gun. If it is equipped with an internal locking device, check to make sure it is in the firing position. You don’t want the action locked when you’re desperately trying to defend yourself in a self defense situation.
Reassemble and do a function check — rack the slide and dry fire the gun — which will not hurt any modern pistol or revolver. Wheelgunners should close the cylinder and click through all the chambers while feeling for any hitches in the action.
Almost ready to start – make sure any live ammunition is removed from the area until you are prepared to make your carry gun ready for duty.
Wipe off any extra lubrication, and use a lightly oiled rag to give a good wipe down on the metal parts. Rust spots can be addressed by aggressive wiping with an oily rag. Heavier spots may require gun oil and light rubbing with #0000 steel wool. Scrubbing pads and heavier steel wool will destroy the gun’s finish, but the fine #0000 with a light application of oil will take care of light surface rust. It happens, even on quality stainless steel products.
Every time you go to the range you should perform the weekly cleaning regimen with the addition of scrubbing the bore and cleaning the powder residue from the action. Even if you just fired a 50-round box you got on sale, you need to clean it and inspect it. Look for metal shavings or little pieces of metal that may have broken off, and check the extractor for chips. Additionally, you should look at the chamber face for primer sealant that could potentially block the firing pin channel.
Punch the bore with a brush dipped in solvent to give it a moderate scrubbing. Copper and powder residue can build up in the rifling and have a negative impact on your accuracy. You may need to use a copper solvent every few thousand rounds to get your bore back to factory spec. If you shoot quantities of lead projectiles, you will need to clean the lead out periodically using a kit designed for that application.
Don’t overdo the bore scrubbing, though, and use only a purpose-made brush of the correct caliber. Overzealous scrubbing or using improvised materials like steel wool can damage or even remove the rifling from the bore. Always clean from the chamber end to keep the cleaning rod from damaging the barrel crown at the muzzle.
The springs on a gun will wear out with use and need to be replaced. Springs don’t wear out due to age or being kept in the compressed position for a long time; they wear out from repeated cycling — compress/release, compress/release, compress/release. Check your owner’s manual for your gun’s recommended recoil spring replacement interval. Full-size duty pistols like the Glock 17 or 19 or Sig 229 can go about 5000 rounds before replacement. Smaller, subcompact pistols — like the S&W Shield, Ruger LCP or 3-inch 1911s — need more frequent spring changes because they wear out faster. The Kimber Solo requires a spring change every 800 rounds.
A worn-out recoil spring will let the slide cycle faster and harder than a fresh one, resulting in increased stress and wear on the interfacing parts. It can also cause the slide to cycle fast enough that the magazine spring isn’t capable of pushing the next round up fast enough for the slide to catch on the way forward — and you’ll hear a click when you expected a bang.
Many other springs will last much longer under normal operating temperatures. If the gun is run to excessive temperatures on a regular basis, the spring temper may suffer and require more frequent replacement.
Revolver carriers need to make sure the face of the cylinder and the forcing cone area of the barrel are both clean. Carbon can build up on these spots, causing the cylinder to bind when shooting and possibly keeping the cylinder from closing during a reload.
Also, check the timing of the cylinder. This is done by closing an empty cylinder into the gun, then dry firing it while holding the trigger to the rear. This replicates the action position at the time the gun discharges. With the support hand, rotate the cylinder side to side to check for excessive play — it should only be able to move a few thousandths of an inch. Any more than that amount and the projectile will start hitting the side of the barrel and frame which effects three things, none of them good: accuracy, wear on the frame and so-called “spitting lead,” which means bullet fragments shaved off the side will shoot out sideways from the cylinder gap and can hit you or bystanders.
Old toothbrushes come in handy for cleaning the inside of the frame and the extractor star on the cylinder.
If your timing is going out, you will need to consult a gunsmith for a fix. No simple spring swap is going to help. This issue is related to wear of parts and possible frame stretching on lightweight alloy-frame guns.
The powder in your cartridges will shake around inside the shell casings until the finely engineered granules turn to dust. Oil can leak into primer pockets and deactivate the primer. Also, if you unload your gun every night and then rechamber every morning, the top two rounds in the magazine are constantly being chambered every other day. This can cause bullet setback, which means the act of chambering a round is pushing the projectile back into the cartridge case slightly. When done enough times, this action can set the bullet back far enough to where it is compressing the powder charge — which can lead to a high-pressure detonation that can damage your pistol.
For all these reasons, you should change your carry ammunition every three months. Shoot it at a range, see how it performs, but replace it in your gun and spare magazines. Some sources recommend four to six months, but compared to the alternative, fresh ammunition is cheap insurance. In most situations, the bonded hollow point is going to the best type available for CCW.
And while we know you wouldn’t do it, it goes without saying that you shouldn’t carry reloads.
While you are running maintenance on your concealed carry gun, also check out your support gear. Kydex holsters, magazine holsters, gun belts, folding knives and white light gear all need to be checked regularly.
If you have a pistol-mounted light or carry a separate light, change the batteries at least every other time you swap ammo out. Pistol-mounted lasers should get fresh batteries annually.
Check holsters to make sure the mounting straps are solid and the snaps are functioning. Check the adjustable tension to make sure it will retain the gun by placing the unloaded gun in the holster, turning it upside down (preferably over an empty bed) and giving it a good shake. If it falls out you need to adjust the tension. If it is not an adjustable holster, it is time to shop for a new holster.
If you’re serious, you’ll have some sort of folding knife as a backup to your pistol because they never jam or run out of ammo. The same rules apply to cleaning and maintenance as the pistol, especially if you have an auto knife or assisted opener.
These recommended maintenance intervals are just that — recommendations. If you find yourself in extreme environmental conditions, you may need to change up your plan. Did your gun take a quick, unexpected dip while you were playing in the surf? Better clean with fresh water, then apply oil. Were you out in the desert among blowing dust? Step up your quarterly cleaning to a weekly routine. Are you working near the Arctic Circle in Alaska? You may need special lubricant to keep your gun from freezing shut.
Your CCW gear needs regular maintenance whether you fire it or not. If you take care of it, it will be there in working order when you need it.
Comments will be approved before showing up.