Cleaning A Muzzleloader 1010


Professor Junior Doughty, Ph.D. (Piled higher and Deeper)

Pay attention, class. We may have a pop quiz at the end of this lecture.

Some of the concoctions some people use to clean their muzzleloaders would make a chemist cringe. I've used the same simple ingredients and method for over 20 years, and they have always removed all traces of black powder fouling and they have never—I repeat, never—allowed the barrels of my muzzleloading pistols or rifles to rust.

Those ingredients are:

  • Hot water
  • Dishwashing liquid
  • Boiling water

The step by step method is:

  • Remove the barrel from your rifle and then remove the nipple and the clean-out screw

  • Pretend you're about to wash dishes. Fill your sink with hot tap water and a dash of whatever dishwashing soap you have beside the sink.

  • Put the butt end of your barrel in the hot soapy water and start running a tight-fitting swab through the barrel
Swabing the bore with hot soapy water Here you see me swabbing the barrel of my little .32 caliber Traditions Crockett Rifle, a squirrel killin' dandy, a round ball shootin' marvel.

As you work the swab back and forth the entire length of the barrel, it creates a suction, pulling hot soapy water inside the barrel through the nipple hole and the clean-out screw hole, then forcing it out of the barrel via the same two holes. Do this a dozen or more times or until you're positive your barrel is clean of fouling.

NOTE: I do not use a brass brush on the bores of my black powder firearms. I use a cotton swab or cleaning patch only. Over time, the bore of a black powder firearm will develop a patina much like the surface of a cast iron skillet. A brush removes that beneficial patina. Just as you shouldn't use soap on a cast iron skillet, you shouldn't use a metal brush on a black powder rifle bore.

The one exception to the brush rule is if your rifle has a patent breech. The bore diameter of my Crockett Rifle is .320". However, the base of the barrel contains an un-rifled chamber about .230" in diameter and about 1 " long. I use a .22 caliber brass brush to clean that chamber/patent breech.

Check your rifle. If it contains a patent breech and you don't know it, you haven't been cleaning it. If you've been getting erratic ignition, maybe now you know why. To check for a patent breech, run your ramrod down your unloaded barrel until it bottoms out. Mark the tip of the ramrod at the exit point of the barrel. Then remove the ramrod and place it beside the barrel, carefully positioning the mark on the tip even with the end of the barrel. Now look at the other end of the ramrod. If the end is even with the nipple hole and the clean-out hole, you either don't have a patent breech or the breech is the same diameter as the bore. If there's a distance between the end of the ramrod and the two holes—1 " in my case—your barrel has a patent breech.

Now that your barrel is clean

  • Use an old toothbrush and scrub the area around the nipple hole and the clean-out hole

  • Run hot tap water through and over the barrel and the swab to remove soap

  • Since you forgot to put a rag around the muzzle to catch overflow, clean the floor where you dripped hot soapy water

  • Put a pot of water on the stove and start it to heating

  • While you wait for your water to boil, if there's any dirty dishes in the kitchen, wash them in the hot soapy water in the sink
The step above is particularly important if you have a wife and she just noticed what you are doing in her kitchen.

Swabbing with boiling water

  • When your water starts a rolling boil, place the butt of the barrel in the pot and start swabbing the barrel again
There's two important things I want you to notice in the picture on the right:

  • I'm using a large pot
The boiling water step is dangerous, even with a 4-quart pot like you see in the photo. Using a smaller pot is asking for a disaster because it's so easy for the immersed butt end of the barrel to upset the pot.

  • I'm holding the muzzle with a rag
I'm doing that because the over-flow is very hot, and because the barrel soon gets too hot to hold with a bare hand. Notice the steam rising from that pot! You're not cleaning in this step. The swab is sucking boiling water inside the full length of the barrel. The purpose of this step is to get the entire barrel so hot you can't hold it with your bare hands.

If you're cleaning a black powder revolver, place the cylinder and the loading lever in the pot of boiling water and let them boil for a couple of minutes. While they boil, use a coffee cup and pour boiling water through the barrel from the cylinder end. Then place all parts on a towel or newspaper and let them dry.

  • When the entire barrel gets so hot you can't hold it, stand it butt end down in a corner
I place the butt on a paper towel or piece of newspaper. For insurance, I run a dry swab down the bore. I then leave the barrel alone for about an hour. It is so hot all water quickly evaporates from all exterior and interior surfaces.

When I return to the barrel it is totally dry and warm or even cool to the touch. I then oil the external surfaces with plain ol' 3-IN-ONE oil. For the bore, I use a sodium free vegetable oil. "Sodium free" means "salt free."

To oil the chamber of my Crockett Rifle, I wrap a small, vegetable-oiled .22 caliber cleaning patch around a .22 caliber brass brush and run it in and out of the chamber several times. I then run at least four clean patches through the chamber to remove all but a microscopic trace of the oil.

If you live in the South and plan to store your rifle for more than just a few days, stuff an oiled patch or paper towel in the bore to foil dirt daubers. Leave part of the patch sticking out so you will know it's there.
To oil the bore, I repeat the above process but with a much larger patch. If I plan to store the rifle for more than a day or two, after the forth or fifth patch I run a slightly-oiled patch through the bore and leave the bore oily. Then I use new cleaning patches and remove the oil when I'm ready to shoot the rifle.

That's all there is to cleaning a muzzleloader. Just reinstall the nipple and clean-out screw in the barrel and reinstall the barrel in the stock.

One word of bought advice: put a tiny daub of anti-seize compound on the threads of the nipple and the clean-out screw. The 1 oz tube I use cost about $2 at Ace Hardware. I figure it will last me the rest of my shooting life. If you don't spend that $2, I can guarantee you that sooner or later a gunsmith will tell you, as one told me: "I know it didn't take me but five minutes to remove that stuck screw, but we got a $40 minimum charge in this shop."


Pop Quiz!     JavaScript required!

10 questions

1. From today's lecture, we can assume that Professor Doughty has been shooting muzzleloaders....

since Gabriel's time
for 10 years
more than 20 years
since yesterday

2. Pyrodex is a replacement for

black powder
pipe tobacco
potting soil

3. Which of the following is good for cleaning black powder fouling?

transmission fluid
dishwashing soap

4. We can assume that Professor Doughty likes his?.....

fat belly
Crockett Rifle
whiskey straight
gray hair

5. Always use what in your muzzleloader rifle bore?

silk patches
a brass brush
a cotton swab

6. From the cluttered look of Professor Doughty's kitchen, we may assume that he is.....

happily married
a busy fellow

7. Professor Doughty oils his firearms with......

HD40W Quaker State
sperm oil
hog lard

8. Professor Doughty wouldn't spend how much for a tube of anti-seize, so it cost him how much?

$1 and $10
$2 and $5
$2 and $40
$2.50 and $21.75

9. Dirt daubers are good for......

seasoning in salads
bullet lube
ruining rifle barrels

10. Scrub the area around the nipple hole and the clean-out hole with.....

an old toothbrush
emery cloth
a wire brush

BONUS: Who said that Ph.D. stood for "piled higher and deeper"?

Harry Truman
Earl Long
Archie Bunker
Lewis Grizzard

8 — 10 = You teach the next class

5 — 7 = Expert

2 — 4 = You are a dummy

0 — 3 = Please drop this class

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Copyright 2001 by Junior Doughty

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